Authors: Helen Hoang
“I was all sweaty, and I was afraid the condom would leak and get her pregnant. I took a shower. That seemed appropriate.” Wasn’t it?
Quan continued scrubbing his head. “Well, shit.”
“Why do you keep saying that?” Khai asked.
Quan dropped his hands from his head and focused a steady gaze on Khai. “Imagine you’re a girl, and— I’m serious, don’t laugh— you let a guy touch you, but when things start to feel really good, he stops. And then you’re telling yourself it’s okay, you’re glad he had a good time, but he leaves you right away and washes you off, leaving you alone in his bed. How would you feel?”
Quan looked up at the ceiling. “Yeah, and used and sad and shitty. They get extra sensitive after sex, and you gotta make sure they feel cared for.”
“I second that,” Michael said.
Khai released a heavy, defeated breath. When it came to women, what Michael said was as good as gold. Khai had fucked this up royally. Because of deficiencies in his fifth-grade health curriculum and his stone heart.
“What do I do now?” he asked, completely at a loss.
Michael and Quan spoke up at the same time.
“Can you give an example of what I should say?” he asked. A script would be best. He could memorize it and repeat it to her.
“Don’t tell him, Michael.” To Khai, Quan said, “It’s best if you come up with something on your own. It’ll be genuine that way. But first, I have some books for you.”
“What books?” Michael asked.
“Sex ed books. What? Yeah, I read. Surprising, I know.” Quan shook his head at the phone. “I think you can go back to sleeping or banging your woman now. I got some stuff to talk to Khai about.”
“Which books? I have—” There was a barely audible female whisper, followed by something that was distinctly a kiss. “I’ll catch you guys later. Call me if you need anything.”
The screen of Khai’s phone went black, and Quan got up. “I’ll be right back. They’re in my bedroom.”
Khai watched as his brother strode down the hall. It wasn’t long before Quan returned with a stack of books under his arm.
Sex for Dummies?
” Khai asked. “
“It gives a good overview. I like this one best, though.” Quan set the books on the table and moved
She Comes First
to the top. “Don’t take everything in there as hard rules. They’re just suggestions. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s a good place to start.”
Khai reached for the book but hesitated with his hand inches away. “Are these books safe for touching?”
“Yes, you dork, they’re safe for touching. I prefer jerking off to porn, not how-to books. Keep them. I’m done with them.”
“Okay, thanks.” Khai picked up
She Comes First
and leafed through it, lifting his eyebrows at the diagrams. He hadn’t done
But he wanted to.
“There are videos where they demonstrate stuff with fruit on YouTube. You should check them out. But I’d save those for later. You need to speed-read that book and then apologize ASAP.”
Khai gathered up all the books. “Right, got it. Thanks again.”
The corner of Quan’s mouth kicked up. “Anytime, Khai. I shoulda prepped you earlier, but—”
“I wouldn’t have listened. I wasn’t ready.” He probably never would have been ready if it weren’t for Esme. “I am now.”
Quan looked at him for a good long moment before he said, “Be careful, okay? You guys are both grown-ups, and you can make your own decisions and shit, but just ... be careful. With yourself and with her. I really do like her for you, and—”
“Quan,” someone called from the other side of the condo. “I’m getting cold.”
Quan clapped his hands and rubbed them together like everything was settled. “I think we’re done here. Feel free to call me if you have questions. But not until ten at the earliest. Good luck. Oh, and maybe you wanna buy a box of condoms on the way home. I’d give you some of mine, but I only have two left.”
Khai headed for the door. “Got it.” That seemed really optimistic, considering where things were with him and Esme right now, but it was best to be prepared.
As he headed out, he heard Quan say, “Don’t forget to apologize. First with words. Then with your tongue.”
sme tried her best to focus on studying, but thoughts of Khải kept intruding on her United States history. Why had he looked so confused? Did he treat all his women that way? Was she supposed to be grateful he’d slept with her and beg for more?
She sneered. Not in this life. Not even in her next life when she was a catfish.
After reading the same page three times, she shut her textbook. She wasn’t trying to impress him anymore. She wasn’t sure why she continued studying. It wasn’t like any of this information would help her clean bathrooms any better.
A wave of homesickness hit her. She checked the time, but it was too early to call home. When she couldn’t talk to her family, the next best thing was fruit. Fruit and home were connected in her mind. Everything Cô Nga had bought was long gone, so she raided the pantry. Fresh was best, but canned was better than none. She opened a big can of lychees, poured them into a bowl with ice, and brought them to the living room, where she queued up
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
She was sitting cross-legged on the carpet in front of the TV, shoving lychees into her mouth with a soup spoon, when Khải walked through the front door. He glanced her way for a quick second before he focused on removing his shoes with a furrowed brow. He was wearing his reading glasses and looked especially accountant/assassin-like in his black T-shirt and pants. Beautiful mind, beautiful body.
This man had kissed her like he was drowning last night.
And then he’d discarded her as soon as he’d finished with her.
A lychee lodged in her throat, and she forced it down with an uncomfortable swallow. She picked up her half-finished bowl of lychees and prepared to run.
“No, don’t go.” Khải took a step toward her, and plastic bags swayed at his side. “Please. I wanted to talk to you.”
She considered running anyway, but the pleading in his eyes kept her still. She prodded at a floating lychee with her spoon as she waited for him to say whatever it was he needed to. She had no idea what to expect. He’d never been predictable.
Instead of speaking right away, he crossed the room and sat on his heels in front of her. The plastic bags rustled as he set them down. “I got these for you.”
The distinct red spiny shells of rambutan fruits were visible from the top of one of the bags, and she gasped and snatched them close. “For me? Where did you get them?” They didn’t have these at the regular grocery store that was within walking distance of his house.
He smiled slightly. “I had to drive around a little, but I found them in San Jose.”
“All day?” she asked.
“No, not all day.” He ducked his head and laughed a little. Was it her, or did his cheeks redden? “I did some reading.” He removed his glasses and stuck them on the coffee table.
“Thank you,” she said, more touched than she cared to admit, but then she noticed the box inside the second plastic bag. She knew what kind of box that was.
Her eyes went round. If he thought she was having sex with him again after last night, he had a few things to learn. These fruits were coming with her to her room, and she hoped he got ants all over his house. She’d secretly feed them and lure them to his bedroom, so they bit him in his sleep.
Just as she lifted the bowl and bag and unfolded her legs so she could get up, he looked at her directly and said, “I’m sorry.”
The words were so unexpected she didn’t know what to do. She stared at him without blinking.
“I screwed up last night. I didn’t realize— I didn’t know—” He made a frustrated sound and looked down at his knees. “I swear I practiced this, but it’s not coming out right.” His eyes met hers again, determined now. “Last night was my first time.”
She shook her head, not understanding.
“My first time. Ever. With a woman. With anyone.”
“You never ...?” she said before her throat dried up.
“I know it’s not a great excuse. I should have prepared ahead of time to make sure I did right by you, but ...” His expression softened. “I’m glad it was you.”
She didn’t know how to respond. She’d never dreamed she’d be anyone’s first, and being this guarded man’s first meant something.
“I suppose that’s a selfish thing to say, considering you didn’t like it,” he said, grimacing slightly. “Will you give me another chance? Let me make it up to you?”
She parted her lips to speak, but nothing came out.
“Or have I screwed things up too badly?” When she still couldn’t bring herself to reply, his chest deflated. His lips curved with an almost-there smile, no dimples, and he averted his eyes and came up onto his knees. “I’m going to go to the office. I’ll see—”
“If I give you another chance, what will you do?” she asked.
His eyes searched hers before they dropped to her lips and darkened. “More kissing. A lot more kissing.”
She shivered as his gaze tracked over her body. “Who gets to touch? Only you?”
His brow creased. “You can touch me if you want.”
He was halfway through a nod when he said, “Except for one place.”
“Ha, no. You can touch me there. You already have.”
“Then, where?” she asked.
A thinking expression crossed his face. “It’s not important unless you decide to give me another chance. Are you?”
She worried the inside of her lip before she said, “Maybe.”
“How can I help you decide?”
She set her fruit aside and rose to her knees so they were nearly at eye level. “Kiss me like the first time.”
For a suspended moment, he went completely motionless. Then his arms were wrapping around her, drawing her close, his hands tipping her head back. Their lips crushed together, and she gasped as heat arrowed through her. He gentled immediately, like he was afraid to hurt her, and the kisses turned slow, drugging.
She grabbed handfuls of his shirt as she struggled not to touch him, and he pulled back, saying, “Sorry, did I—”
He kissed her like she was his whole world, and if she weren’t already kneeling, she would have collapsed to the floor. Grasping at his shirt, she returned each aching press of lips, each stroke of tongue.
They kissed until they were straining against each other on the floor, lips swollen and breathless, and then they kissed more, each lost in the other. When his hand slipped beneath the waistband of her pants, however, she snapped out of her daze, and her entire body tensed. She broke the kiss as a wave of inexplicable panic turned her skin cold.
“What is it?” he asked. His cheeks were flushed, but his eyes watched her with confusion and concern. “Have you changed your mind?”
She shook her head quickly. She wanted this, him. But that was the problem. She’d wanted him from the start, had opened herself up to him over and over, and what had that gotten her?
“I’m scared,” she whispered.
His face creased with something that looked like pain. “Of me?”
She shook her head again. “No, I’m scared you’ll push me away again when I touch you wrong, scared you’ll leave me again.” Against her will, her eyes watered, and tears spilled over. She turned her face away from him and swiped at her eyes with the back of a sleeve, embarrassed now. Even to her own ears, she sounded pathetic.
He cupped her cheek and gently urged her to look at him. “I won’t,” he said in a rough voice. “At least, I’ll try not to.”
She nodded and attempted to smile in response, but it felt off. “I’ll try not to” didn’t sound very convincing.
He surprised her by gathering her tightly fisted hands together and kissing her knuckles. “You did this yesterday, too.” He eased her stiff fingers open, and when he saw the deep grooves her nails had left in her palms, his eyebrows drew together. “No more of this.”
After a brief hesitation, he sat back on his heels and pulled his shirt off, revealing broad expanses of smooth skin stretched over sculpted muscle.
“The place I’m asking you not to touch is ...” He took a breath, squared his shoulders, and said, “My bellybutton.”
She couldn’t help it, a smile spread over her mouth and a laugh threatened to escape. “Your bellybutton?”
“Yes, my bellybutton. I know it sounds funny.”
“A little.” She tried to wipe her smile away, but that only made her grin bigger.
“I mean it,” he said with a level gaze. “I can’t stand being touched there. If you try, I might accidentally hurt you. I can’t control my reactions when it comes to that place. I don’t even like
“I won’t touch you there. I promise. But ...” She edged closer to him. “I can touch everywhere else?”
He nodded once. “Yes, as long as—”
“No light touch, I know.”
She lowered a hand toward his chest, and he held still, not making any move to stop her. Before making contact, she withdrew, paused for the span of a heart’s beat, and took her shirt off just like he’d done. As usual, she wasn’t wearing a bra— she hated them— and he consumed her with his gaze, making her feel like the most desired woman in the world. She brought their bodies together from chest to knees, rested her cheek against his shoulder, and gingerly wrapped her arms around him. Holding her breath, she pressed her palms firmly against the hard planes of his back, even though she knew he couldn’t see.