Authors: Eliza Freed
“Charlotte, I’m sorry,” Noble laments. I start to sit up and he pulls me back down.
“It’s okay,” I lie. “Really, it’s not a big deal. I’m thankful you’re looking out for me, too.” I lay my head on his chest. Noble seems cautious but satisfied I’m not going to have some type of breakdown. Loving me must be a special form of torture. “Now, do you want to go out for breakfast or lie low and make something here?”
“I don’t ever want to leave this house,” he says without a hint of humor.
“I’ll go warm up the griddle.” I kiss him with all the heart I can muster after seeing a text Jason sent through the universe moments before.
“I’m going to grab a shower.” He gets out of bed and walks into the bathroom completely naked. I sigh at the sight of him. How did I not attack him at Rutgers?
I put on yoga pants, a T-shirt, and the hoodie Noble gave me for my birthday. It’s ten o’clock but feels like the afternoon. I pull out some eggs, cinnamon bread, and bacon. I start the bacon first and turn on some music.
The back door opens as Sean walks in. How does he move so fast?
“How’s it going?” Sean says, his version of
“It’s going,” I say, and get back to work.
Sean takes out a plate and arranges a half-dozen donuts on it. They remind me of my mother, placed so daintily.
“How’s Sinclair’s right arm? I heard he was swinging it like a hammer last night.”
I shake my head. “I’ll never get over how fast word travels around here.”
“It’s the day after the biggest event of the year. The whole town is out talking about it. How did you guys get out of there without getting arrested?”
“Noble,” I say.
As if on cue, Noble comes into the kitchen wearing just a towel and drying his hair with another.
“Man, that felt great,” he says as he puts the towel around his neck. The sight of Sean stops him from speaking and moving. Sean and I both laugh at him.
“Hey, Sean,” Noble says, and holds out his hand.
Sean shakes it with a warm smile. “Did you guys have fun last night? At the dance?” Sean asks Noble, totally screwing with him.
Noble grins. “It was lovely. I’m going to go put some clothes on.”
“Not necessary. I’m just here for the food,” Sean says.
“I’m fine with what you’re wearing.” I give Noble an appraising glance and Sean and I laugh again. Noble leaves us alone, cracking each other up. He returns properly dressed and seems ready to start the morning over.
* * *
Noble goes home and I pick up BJ before I head back to bed. I haven’t had a nap in weeks and it’s been almost a year since I took one contented and not completely depressed. I wake up to BJ jumping on my bed and licking my face. I usually don’t let him in my bed, but I’m in such a good mood I let him disappear under the covers. He burrows in next to my ankles and I close my eyes, at peace.
Thank you, God, for peace.
After a solid two hours, I get out of bed as BJ crawls on top of the covers and looks at me sadly.
“What? I can’t lie in bed all day. Even though you’d love that,” I say, rubbing his ears. “Maybe for your birthday that’s what we’ll do.” BJ tilts his head back and forth, listening. “What do you think of Noble Sinclair?” BJ’s tail starts banging the quilt. “Yeah, yeah. He’s a crowd pleaser.”
keep looking in my closet. I go through each hanger one by one. There must be something in here I can take to Key West with me. The plane departs at 7:50 a.m. tomorrow, which leaves me today to assemble a suitable island wardrobe to celebrate Violet’s last few days as a bachelorette. I still don’t know how Trey convinced Violet’s dad to pay for all of us to go, or even more unbelievable, how he convinced Blake to agree to a joint bachelor/bachelorette party.
“Good morning, Naked Girl,” Noble says groggily, staring at me from my bed. He’s rolled onto his back and is lying with one arm behind his head. He’s yummy. I walk over and kiss him, rubbing my fingertips over the inside of his bicep. “What are you busy doing without your clothes on?”
“I’m trying to find something to wear in Key West,” I say as I get back up and remember my bottom drawer is full of bathing suits. “This trip’s kind of snuck up on me.”
“I wish you weren’t going. I’m going to miss you.” Noble pauses and breaks into a wide smile. “Plus, I think that guy Trey is going to spend the whole trip trying to fuck you.”
“Noble, is that any way to speak to a lady?” I ask dramatically.
“Well, it’s true. I can’t blame him. It took me years, literally, to get this far.” He laughs, but I don’t think Noble’s version of our “courtship” is all that funny.
“Based on your predictions, it doesn’t sound like you’re the right person to take shopping for some resort attire. Maybe Clint’s free.”
“Oh no. I’ve seen what you and Clint come up with.”
I sit down on the bed next to Noble and lie across his stomach on my side. “Noble, do you trust me?” I’m smiling, but the question is serious.
“Sometimes it seems as if you don’t trust yourself, Charlotte,” he says as he runs his fingers through my hair.
“What do you mean?”
He grazes my face with the backs of his fingers. I lean into his hand and stare into his eyes.
He stops and asks, “Do we have to talk about this today? I want our last day together to be memorable in a good way.”
“A good way like you’re going to have sex with me until I can’t sit down on the plane tomorrow?” I ask.
Noble pulls me down and under him. He kisses my neck and brushes across it with his lips. “Do you have any idea how crazy you make me?” His words are a hot whisper in my ear.
“It’s the last thing I mean to do,” I say.
He again kisses my neck and I fight for a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I add weakly, already finding it difficult to complete a thought.
“You should be. You’re forcing me into uncharted territory.”
I lean into his kisses, his breath and tongue tickling me.
“What’s that?” I ask, not hiding my arousal.
“You’re the first girl I’m terrified of losing.” With that statement, his lips land on my mouth and crush any response my brain might have concocted.
I want my clothes off me, but I don’t want him to stop kissing me. His hunger is conveyed by his tongue in the most enticing way. As if sensing my need, Noble pulls back and lifts my dress over my head. My exposed breasts stand at attention for their master and he rewards them by taking each one in his mouth until I moan.
He pulls me to the edge of the bed and sinks to his knees. Noble’s tongue has its way with me, and just before I think I’ll lose my mind completely, he stops.
“Not yet, Charlotte.”
“Please, don’t stop,” I beg.
“I want to be in you when you come.”
Noble stands up and delicately enters me. He feels twice as big as I’ve ever known him. He’s gentle and teasing me and depleting my self-control. When he pauses, I take my middle finger into my mouth and slowly remove it. I begin to play with myself and hold Noble’s stare as long as I can, but when he begins to thrust into me again, the look in his eyes is too much. I arch my back and see my ceiling fan spinning above my head just before losing my entire grasp on reality; my orgasm surrounds Noble as he comes, too, my hand still in place, touching myself.
Noble pulls out and lies down beside me. I’m lost in myself and cover my eyes with my forearm, enjoying my stupidity.
“I want you to touch yourself every day in Key West and think of me while you do it.”
“It will be my pleasure” is all I can muster.
* * *
I open my eyes and realize it’s still light out. Noble lies behind me and my head’s resting on his scrumptious bicep. I gently kiss it because I love it, and him, so very much. He stirs from the affection and rolls toward me, spooning me. I’m torn about whether to get up and make us dinner or lie here until tomorrow morning. Being in bed with Noble makes me wish I wasn’t going to Key West. Things are perfect right now, exactly the way they are.
“How did we fall asleep?” Noble asks with his eyes still closed.
“Good sex will put you right out,” I say, and roll over to face him. I want to revisit his comment about being terrified of losing me. I want to tell him it’ll never happen, that he can trust me, that there’s nothing in this world that could tear us apart, but all I’m able to say for sure is, “I love you, Noble.” He kisses the top of my head, not realizing my inability to make a guarantee. “Are you hungry?”
“I’m completely satisfied.” He grins. “But since it’s your last night in town, let’s go out to dinner. You can wear your new jeans.”
“Your ass looks amazing in them.”
“I’m hopping in the shower.” I extricate myself from his heavy arms and make my way to the bathroom. I turn on the shower to give the water time to warm and head back to Noble. I sit down next to him on the bed and bounce up and down a few times.
“You know, I’m still able to comfortably sit down. Would you like to join me in the shower?”
Beneath the sheets, I see Noble’s answer before he speaks as his growing hard-on bulges. “That sounds like a challenge.” He pulls me down to the bed, kissing me as he pins me under him. My groin aches with anticipation, its memory short. Noble stands and pulls me up and over his shoulder. I yelp in surprise and laugh as he places me down right under the showerhead. I laugh right up until the minute he steps into the shower, and suddenly the humor is sucked from the room.
“Bend over,” he says, hungry and rough. I oblige and bend over, my back to him as he runs his fingers up and down me, one trailing the next, until he slides one, then two, into me. He continues in and out until I’m as wet as the shower. Noble pulls out his fingers and slaps my bottom just hard enough. I yelp with pleasure and turn around to look into the eyes of the man who’s about to fuck me.
“You may have to stand on your tiptoes.”
I do and Noble guides himself into me. I hold on to the ledge in the back of the shower and balance on my toes.
“Is it okay?” he asks.
“It’s perfect,” I say without turning around. With that he begins an absolute onslaught, ramming himself into me until I forget the shower water is even falling on us. His rhythm quickens as he pulls me to him each time by my hips. It is rough, and carnal, and dirty, and I almost forget it’s Noble behind me as he pounds me again and again and again. I cry out as I come and Noble wraps his arm around my waist to keep me on my toes as he finishes. His mission accomplished, a delicious rawness endures as he pulls out for the last time.
I stand up and already feel sore. I stretch and Noble kisses me, his gentle kisses that I love. He takes shampoo and lathers my hair, being careful not to let soap fall into my eyes. I return the favor and wash his hair and his whole body with the bubbles from the shampoo. His arms, his wonderful arms. I would linger there except I can’t wait to get to his shoulders.
“You have incredible shoulders,” I say absently. I hear him chuckling at me as usual. I rinse my hair as Noble finishes and steps out of the shower, leaving me to condition my hair, shave, and body-wash the rest of me.
I can’t screw this up—not the shower but Noble.
ur flight lands in Tampa and we all head to the nearest bar. We have a two-hour, forty-minute layover, and this group is ready to put the party in bridal party. I still can’t believe Trey convinced Blake to agree to it. I text Noble that I’ve made it to Florida; he was unusually quiet when I left for the airport.
“Charlotte, what’ll you have?” Trey asks. He’s been quite attentive on the trip thus far. We were seated next to each other on the plane since Trey suggested mixing up the group to break the ice before our weekend together, and Violet’s father agreed it was a great idea.
“Umm, I’ll take a vodka and grapefruit juice,” I answer, unsure of what I feel like drinking. We’ve missed lunch, but no one mentions hunger—only thirst. Trey hands me the glass and I miss Noble, or maybe I just feel guilty being here without him. His words from yesterday still ring in my head:
It seems as if you don’t trust yourself
. “Thank you. I’ll get the next one.”
“Charlotte, I haven’t seen you all day!” Violet says as she closes in between Trey and me.
“I know! These crazy seat assignments,” I say, and Violet knows exactly what I’m thinking. “I’m hoping we don’t use the same logic with the sleeping arrangements.”
“You’re going to love where we’re staying,” Violet says, and Julia moves in for the information. “It’s an island off the coast of Key West with cottages on it. We’ll take a boat from the Westin.”
I have so many questions. “How many cottages?” is where I start. “I mean, how many bedrooms?”
“I think there’s one cottage for the guys and one for us.” I relax slightly. “Of course, we’re going to have to shift things around a little because I’m probably going to sleep with Blake every night.”
“Of course” is all I can respond.
Julia shoots me a look like, “What the hell?” and we both take a big gulp of our drinks. Sydney joins the three of us at the bar, and it strikes me that we’re the group that should be traveling today—without guys. Finally together, the four of us fall into our usual party rhythm and laugh our way through three more rounds.
“By the way, I ran into Renee on Tuesday,” Julia says, and lowers her voice. “She said to tell you to party like you’ve got a thumb up your ass.” I almost choke on my vodka and grapefruit. “There’s seriously something wrong with her,” she proclaims.
I finish my drink and ask Julia to watch my bag as I go to the bathroom. I’m practically skipping back to the bar when I stop, frozen by the sight ahead. At a magazine kiosk about ten feet away is Harlan Wilder, Jason’s best friend in Oklahoma, possibly in the entire world. My brain screams at me to run, instinctively avoiding all things Jason, but I don’t run. I look in every direction around him expecting to see Jason not far away. Harlan finishes flipping through the magazine and turns toward me. Seconds become minutes that I stand facing Harlan. He cracks a smile, small at first, but when I don’t throw anything at him, it turns into his signature enormous grin. Without a nod, a smile, or a wave, I turn around and begin to walk away.
“Oh no you don’t, Jersey,” Harlan says as he runs to stand in front of me. “You’re not gettin’ away that easy.”
“Believe me, nothing is easy,” I say, and consider my options with Harlan barricading my escape route. I’m deathly still, staring at him, my petrified heart unclear of its reaction.
Harlan’s tall and broad. He has sandy blond hair and green eyes, a black suede hat, and a giant silver belt buckle to match. His face is as sweet as the last time I saw him, but it doesn’t move me. Harlan, and the memories of him, are all mixed in with my feelings for Jason. He absolutely had to know about Stephanie. Harlan knows everything about Jason.
“Charlotte, it’s like you died. I’ve been worried sick about you.”
“You should have been. I almost died,” I admit, still unwilling to feel any emotion. “It’s been as close to hell as I ever want to be.”
Harlan grabs my hand and starts to walk toward the chairs lining the concourse. I pull it away and stop walking.
“Please, darlin’. Don’t be like that. I just wanna talk.” Harlan could always make me laugh. “I didn’t do anything.” His plea weakens me ever so slightly and I relax the scowl on my face. Harlan moves to the side and holds out his hand, directing me to lead the way. As we sit down, I notice a large group of cowboys at the gate facing us. Some of them I recognize from Oklahoma.
My chest tightens and I swallow hard. “Harlan, is he here?”
“No, and he’s gonna rip the head off a bull when he finds out he missed you. He came in yesterday.” Harlan’s prediction unearths a smile. I can’t help myself. Harlan was the one guy Jason almost trusted me with. He treated me like a little sister, always looking out for me when we traveled to rodeos.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
“The Pro Rodeo’s at the Florida State Fairgrounds this weekend. We’re waitin’ for the second flight to land. A bunch of us made the trip.”
A bunch of us as in Stephanie and the baby, too?
I feel sick at the thought of them being anywhere near me. If Jason had never been with Stephanie, I’d be at the rodeo with them this weekend.
“What’re you doing here? You goin’ to the rodeo?”
“No. I don’t go to the rodeo anymore,” I say. “I’m on a bachelor/bachelorette weekend. It’s in Key West, but we have some time before our connection.” I look down at my hands resting in my lap and realize as much as I’ve moved on, I still want Jason. God I wish none of this ever happened.
“When are you coming back to Oklahoma?” Harlan asks as if I’ve been away on a vacation. “Don’t you miss me?” He’s as ridiculous as he always was. “Don’t you miss him?”
“There’s no time to miss him. I’m too busy hating him.” My voice is too loud, trapped in a half-laugh, and I’m on the verge of hysteria. Harlan joins in and I can’t stop myself. “I mean it! I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I hate him more than anything in this world! I want to kill him. I’m exhausted from hating him so much.” Harlan and I keep it up and I’m beaming in the wake of it. To an observer, we probably appear like we’re talking about something hilarious, rather than my desire to kill his best friend. “And don’t think because I’m laughing that I don’t hate you, too.” Harlan roughly hugs me, still horsing around.
I quiet down and try to collect the courage to ask him the question that’s haunted me since August.
“Why did he do it?” I swallow hard and squeeze my eyes shut, unsuccessfully fighting tears stronger than my will.
“Oh, Charlotte,” he says, and pulls me to him, “I don’t even know if he knows. I do know this, though—he loves you more than the earth loves the sun, and not seein’ you is killin’ him. That boy’s in misery.”
I take a deep breath and close my eyes. If only it was last year again. Being with this cowboy reminds me of what it was like to be with the other, and I feel alive. It’s my soul. I know it. I left it in Oklahoma.
I lean on Harlan’s shoulder for what feels like a few seconds, but it must have been much longer because Sydney walks up to us and says, “Uhhhh, Charlotte? You okay? They’re getting ready to board our flight.”
“Sydney, this is Harlan, my friend from Oklahoma that I haven’t seen or talked to in months,” I explain.
“Pleased to meet ya,” Harlan says as he tips his hat to Sydney.
“Likewise.” Sydney is uncharacteristically lost for words. “Okay, are you coming?”
“Maybe you can catch a later flight?” Harlan suggests.
“Maybe I should get Julia,” Sydney says, and starts looking behind her for reinforcements. “Oookay, I’m sure you’d like to catch up, but if you aren’t on that flight, Violet’s going to pitch a fit.”
She’s right, of course.
“How long are you in Key West?” Harlan asks.
“We fly home Sunday afternoon,” Sydney answers quickly.
I stay resting on Harlan, not focusing on what I should be doing.
“If you can stay a little while, I’ll call Jason and he’ll meet us. In fact, someone’s probably already talked to him. I’ll bet he’s on his way here now,” Harlan says as he motions at the group of cowboys near the gate. The majority of them are still staring at us.
On his way…here…now.
His words reverberate in my head, and a familiar pounding returns. I stand up next to Sydney.
“I should go.”
“Don’t go, Charlotte. He’s dyin’ to see you—and I’m dyin’ to see you. Please don’t go.” Harlan grabs my hand again as we hear the announcement for my flight to Key West.
“Harlan, I can’t see him.” My resolve returns. “It’s taken me this long to start living. Seeing him will dismantle me.” Harlan’s defeated. I take back my hand and move a few steps back.
“I’ll see you around, Harlan.”
“Will you?” he asks hopefully.
“Not a chance.” I shake my head and smile warmly at Harlan. He’s hard to hate. I turn and walk away. Sydney and I join our party waiting in line to board. I ignore the cowboys staring at me, and my friends who are staring at me and the cowboys, and I walk onto the Jetway without looking back.
* * *
In the cab along with me are Violet, Blake, and Trey, and I’m reminded again that this whole bachelor/bachelorette concept isn’t going to be easy to navigate and that it’s stupid. Who throws eight more-or-less strangers on vacation together when the theme is debauchery? This isn’t MTV. I notice Trey looking at me and turn my gaze out the window. I’m going to have to shut him down soon. Seeing Harlan stole more of my energy than I thought and I need every reserve to make sure Violet has the time of her life.
We’re dropped off at the Westin and a bellhop takes our luggage. Blake and Violet disappear into the hotel lobby and I survey the grounds, but I don’t see any cottages. They return with a waitress holding a tray of drinks. I take one and gulp it down; it’s definitely something with rum. I turn my attention to the water view beyond the lobby area. The crystal-blue water meets the cloudless blue sky and soothes me instantly.
The waitress motions for us to follow her and leads us past the hotel lobby and the pool to a dock. There we all board a boat. The captain welcomes us, asking if this is our first time to Sunset Key and I mentally correct him, thinking Key West, but when we take off, I realize we’re heading to a separate island and everything Violet told us in the airport starts to make sense. Very impressive.
There’s an element of safety because we’re not staying in Key West proper, although even for Jason a trip to Key West would be extreme. He knows where I live, after all. From the boat, we climb onto golf carts that take us to our cottages. They’re next to each other, both oceanfront. Sydney, Julia, and I run into ours, giddy to see what a Sunset Key cottage is like. From the doorway we can see there are two bedrooms in each cottage with two king-size beds and a full bath. A staircase to the second floor leads to the kitchen and family room, opening onto a large balcony that faces the Gulf of Mexico. It’s absolutely magical. “So, to go out in Key West we take a boat to the mainland first?” I ask, stating the obvious.
I hang up my clothes, totally wrinkled from the suitcase, and jump in the shower. I select the least damaged maxi-dress. It’s red and white striped with spaghetti straps, a deep neck, and crossed straps in the back. This will have to do. I leave my hair down. It’s long and Nadine just lightened the color, so it’s a sun-kissed blond. Not an easy feat in New Jersey in April. That and a spray tan and I’m ready for a night out in the Keys. I go upstairs to make a cocktail while the other girls get ready. I find Danny and Trey sitting in my living room as if they’re anxiously awaiting their prom dates’ entrance. Violet’s plan of a group dinner and happy hour must have been agreeable to the groomsmen as well.
“Well hello, gentlemen. Don’t you guys look handsome,” I say, appraising both of them in their cargo shorts and “tight in all the right places” shirts.
Trey is instantly on me. “Hello yourself. You look great.”
“Do you want a drink?” I ask, ignoring him. Danny and Trey say yes at exactly the same time. “Vodka?”
“Why not?” says Trey, and Danny nods in agreement.
We finish our first drink and start on our second as the rest of the group arrives. I make another round for everyone but hold off myself. I’m still starving.
* * *
We arrive at the Hog’s Breath Saloon and secure a table for eight. I’ll never get used to the idea of being on an island off the coast of an island.
When the bartender suggests the clothing-optional bar, the Garden of Eden, to the girls, it seems like a fun idea, a great story to tell. Our naïveté makes the final decision and we’re on our way to our first ever naked night out.
I couldn’t care less. I’ll stand around nude if they want. We all agree we won’t tell the boys. We’re downright giddy on our way upstairs to the entrance.
I’m the first of us to walk into the bar and the bartender has the biggest breasts I’ve ever seen, hanging down to her waist. “What’re you having?” she asks, and all I can think of is milk.
“Four vodka and grapefruits, please,” I say, and suddenly feel very thankful for my small breasts. I don’t ever want anything on my body to hang down that far. Dealer’s choice, I guess.
Violet’s the first one to spot the body painter and suggests we all get painted.
“Why don’t we get a scene that when you put the four of us next to each other it makes a picture?” I ask.
“Yeah! Like a daytime scene on the front and a sunset when you turn us all around,” Julia adds, now in on the brainstorming. The painter seems excited to try something different and luckily there isn’t a line of any kind. He plots things out in his head and starts on Violet. The rest of us keep drinking and try to not gawk; we wouldn’t want to give her a complex.
He does a fantastic job. Each of us has an incredible paint job, but when you put us together it’s a work of art. He asks if he can take a picture for his portfolio; he waves his hand at a bulletin board full of pictures.
“Only if you take one for us, too,” I say.
Julia bites her lip, probably afraid of her naked, painted body being splashed all over the Internet.