As I lay there, I looked at him, really looked at him, and I knew. It wasn’t a conscious thought, but later when I had time to think to myself, I knew that I had to say goodbye sooner rather than later. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for him. In fact, that was entirely the problem.
In his own words, he told me that it didn’t matter that we’d spent the entire summer sharing a bed and dream, or that we’d caressed each other intimately. We were friends. Really-really, good friends. Fuck buddies, he’d called it. Hearing those words had hurt a part of me that I hadn’t expected—my heart. Somehow, I had managed to convince my brain that I had felt the same way, but later, when I was alone, it struck me that it was a lie. I really cared for him. Not loved him. Neither of us had allowed that to happen, but he still meant something to me and that made it painful to think of letting go.
It didn’t help to see him lying across from me in my bed and it especially didn’t help that he wouldn’t take his eyes off me. He’d always looked at me how I’d wanted a boyfriend to look at me, but I kept reminding myself that that was just him looking at me as a friend. For a very long time, I struggled with how to act towards him because of those looks. They made me want to reach and touch him to make sure that he was really there. They made me want to tell him things I’d never told anyone. Like how I secretly loved scars because they told me about the kind of risks those people were willing to take.
But I’d learned differently. So rather than tell him my secrets or allow my finger tips to draw invisible figures across his skin, I tucked an arm under the pillow and placed the other one flat against the sheets.
Let’s go back to the beginning of summer.
I was lying in bed, pushing back the moment when I had to throw back the covers and drag myself from bed when my phone began to vibrate. Its loud buzzing resonated in the silence of my room. A glance at it caught me off guard. His name flashed across my screen and my heart raced. I hadn’t heard from him in weeks, months. With shaking hands, I reached out and brought the phone to my ear.
“Hey, Sara, how’s it going?”
I let out a deep breath, one I hadn’t realized I’d been holding, and snuggled deeper into the covers, “Not a lot. I’m just having a lazy day here at the house. What about you?”
I could hear the dull roar of a television in the background as he responded. “Not a lot. I was wondering if you wanted to hang out today.”
My breath caught and for a moment I didn’t know what to say. A part of me really wanted to, but that was the part of me that wasn’t hurt by the fact that I hadn’t heard from him in ages. The other part of me that was hurt wanted to say I was too busy and never talk to him again, but instead, the first part answered. “Sure.”
“I’ll be right over!” he responded.
Before I could say anything back, the call ended and I stared straight ahead, completely dumb-founded. A moment later, when I’d recovered and realized he was going to be there in less than fifteen minutes, I flung back the covers and slid out of my platform bed. I fumbled my way through the dark room, around a desk chair, and over some piles of clothes. I should have been cleaning my room—not seeing Brian.
When I made it to the attached bathroom, I reached out to finger the light switch. Right before I flicked it on, I squeezed my eyes shut and counted quietly aloud, “One, two, three.” Even through closed lids, I could feel the intensity of the light. Slowly, I pried one eye open and then the other. A few blinks cleared my vision and brought to attention the remnants of last night.
Mascara and eyeliner lay smudged under my eyes and the curls I had carefully constructed were a tousled mess. Quickly, I rubbed at my eyes to wipe away the raccoon eyes, managing to only smear it further. An exasperated sigh escaped me as I made another attempt to clean myself up.
By the time he arrived, I had just sat down, but because I didn’t want it to seem like I’d made a big effort, I took a deep breath and shuffled slowly across the room. Without even glancing through the peephole, I swung open the door.
There he stood on my doorstep, a smile in place and in six-pack in hand. He didn’t bother waiting for an invitation to come in. He stepped through the doorway, scooping me up in a one-armed embrace. My feet dangled above the ground as he held me and I fought back a giggle. “God, I missed you so much,” he whispered against me neck.
A small smile I couldn’t fight turned up the corner of my lips. “I know.”
Setting me down, he pushed the door shut with his foot and made himself at home. It was hard to believe he was really there and I didn’t take my eyes off of him as I settled into the couch. I watched him move about my house, his walk more of a saunter than a strut. His walk was one of those weird quirks he had that I liked… It was kind of sexy…
When he finally made his way back over to me, he plopped down on the couch and laid his head in my lap like he hadn’t been gone for a ridiculously long time. I shook my head as he nestled his head against my thigh and smiled up at me. His scruff tickled my leg. “How’ve you been?”
“Good,” I said with a shrug. Even I was surprised by how even my voice came out. “Just keeping busy with work. What about you?”
“Oh you know, same here.”
“Yeah, I know, I haven’t heard from you in forever.”
“Sara,” he mumbled, “don’t be like that. You know I was busy and that I was out of town.”
I sighed and turned my attention towards the TV. Images of Jeremy Wade fishing off the banks of some third world country flashed across the screen, but I didn’t actually see any of it. “Yeah, I know.”
Reaching up, he gently tilted my head back towards his, “I thought about you every day and I missed you. I called out the moment I got back to town, didn’t I?”
I couldn’t answer. My feelings were hurt, so rather than choke on my words, I nodded.
“I knew you’d understand,” he said as his hand dropped to my leg.
Silence filled the room as he rubbed his other hand along the backside of my calf. The feeling of his warm hand against my smooth skin sent a heat wave through my body to my core. He always made me feel that way ands and I hated it. It reminded me of the first time I’d seen him. It’d been at one of my friend’s house parties and all he’d done was look at me from across the room and I’d felt it. My body was a traitor.
“Brian,” I said softly.
“I missed you too.”
Sitting up, he leaned against the back of the couch and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “I know.”
My arm rested around her shoulder and for a moment I felt content. I used to want to drink for days on end when I came back to town, but then it changed and it became moments like that that I craved. It made me hate that I always had to leave and go out of state for dive trips, but it wasn’t anything I could control. It was just part of the job and I knew that deep down she understood—it was why she always let me come back into her life.
Gently, I leaned in and kissed the side of her neck. It was one of her spots, sent a chill right down her spine and made her squirm. I liked that I could make her react that way. It wasn’t that I couldn’t make other girls react like that, but something about Sara struck something deep in me. I wanted her all the time and not just in that primal way that makes a man want to bed a woman. I wanted her in a way that made me think of ways to make her smile and laugh. She was the driving force behind me to make me work faster and harder. I never wanted to leave her. But that right there was the same reason I had to keep myself from calling her when I was out of town. She was the worst distraction.
“Brian,” she murmured breathily, “stop it.”
Pulling back, I smiled, “Why?”
She smiled back, her cheeks flushed, “You know why.”
“Know what?” I asked coyly.
She laughed and pushed me away. “You’re turning me on.” Her voice was breathy and I grinned.
“Why’s that a bad thing?”
“Because.” She said again.
“Because why?” I enjoyed this game we played. She wanted me and I wanted her and we both knew it, but we both pretended it was this big secret that the other one didn’t know.
“Because I don’t want to be just one of your girls that you sleep with when you come back to town.”
Hearing those words fall from her lips stung, but I knew why she was saying it. On our first date I’d made the mistake of telling her how many girls I’d been with. It was a high number—almost triple-digits—even I know those numbers were enough to scare most people, but under the stars, she looked so innocent and sweet that when the conversation arose, I couldn’t lie. I wanted her to like me for me. All of me. Especially the messy parts.
Let’s go back to last summer.
He stood in the open doorway waiting for me. He’d been pestering me for weeks to hang out with him and each time I made up a lame excuse not to go, but tonight had been different.
Part of it was that I was tired of hearing my friends tell me I should stay away from him, another part of it was that I was more than intrigued by his persistence, it was something I wasn’t used to. Not at all. The other part was that I was bored. I’d been sitting at home, all day, by myself when he had called, so rather than say no again, I said sure.
“’Bout time you came around, girl,” he called out teasingly as I trotted up the walkway. I was in running shorts and tank and didn’t feel the least bit sexy but the way his eyes watched me told me otherwise.
“Oh hush,” I replied teasingly. Breezing past him, I entered the apartment. “So this is your place, huh?”
I turned around in time to see him smile sheepishly. “Kind of.”
Arching an eyebrow, I asked. “What do you mean kind of?”
Shrugging, he grabbed my hand and led me into the kitchen. “Well I live here with my sister and three other girls. And trust me, I know that sounds lame and weird, but it’s because of my job. I’m always out of town and it seems pointless to have my own place when I’m never there.”
Nodding, I pulled my hand from his and leaned against the yellow counter. The kitchen was dated and dark and everything you’d expect to find in a college town. If it hadn’t been the town we lived in, I probably would have been grossed out, but being that I was also on a budget, I understood. “Oh, okay.”
He smiled at me from across the room and cocked his head to the side. “So what made you finally decide to say yes?”
“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. His smile turned to a grin. “So what’d you have in mind?”
It was his turn to shrug. “How about a hike?”
My eyes widened and I glanced to the microwave display beside him. “It’s eight. Is that safe?”
“Are you serious?” he asked with a laugh. “Oh God, you’re coming with me.” Before I could protest, he led me across the house and right back out the front door I had just entered and to his car. It was dark grey sports car with low slung seats, further reminding me that he was a bad idea “Get in,” he said as he slid into the other side.
I climbed in and we sped off. Within minutes, I was myself standing to the entryway of a trail I had never been to or even heard of before. I glanced down at my flip flops and then over at him, “Brian, I’m not wearing the right shoes.”
He smiled again and shrugged. “Neither am I.” He shot me a look out of the corner of his eyes and then proceeded down the trail.
Not wanting to get left behind, I hurried along after him. “Well don’t leave me out here by myself!” We had barely disappeared into the trees when I large rock formation came into view. “Are we climbing that?”
“Don’t be a baby,” he teased.
“Oh, I’m not,” I shot back at him. “I was just making sure.” Pushing past him, I began the ascent. It wasn’t steep enough that I needed to climb it using my hands, but it wasn’t a gentle slope either.
By the time we reached the top, it was nearly dark and we were both breathing harder. The moon was out and dusk was fading fast. “I can’t believe I’m out here in the woods with a stranger,” I said. “For all I know, you could be taking me out here to kill or rape me.”
He chortled and asked, “Are you fucking serious? Why would you even think that?”
“I dunno, maybe because I hardly even know you. I’ve met you like one time and here you are dragging me into the woods at night.”
Shaking his head, he grabbed my hand and pulled me along. “Shut up, I’m not trying to rape you. I just wanted you to see something.”
I kept my hand in his, enjoying the warmth of it. It’d been a long time since I had let someone hold my hand. Two years to be exact.
“There’s this really cool spot just ahead where you can see for forever.”
“Yeah, I think you’ll like it.”
We reached an outcropping of rock that jutted out a little further than the rest of the trail. Pushing a handful of branches aside, he allowed me to step out onto them.
“Sit,” he said. I settled down on the ledge, my feet dangling over and watched him take his place beside me. When his eyes met mine in the dim light, I couldn’t help but smile. He raised a finger and pointed out, “I know it’s a little hard to see know, but that’s a good view. One of the best in this rinky-dink town”
Begrudgingly, I looked to where he was pointing. The town was behind us, and ahead lay the hills. They were covered in trees that were lush and full, I could only imagine what it looked like during the fall. I wanted to see the Missouri hills in all their autumn greatness with hues of the most vibrant oranges and reds imaginable. It was easy to picture as I stared out into the vast expanse of land.
“Just wait until the stars are all out,” he said. I was turning to say something when he leaned in and captured my lips. It was a soft kiss that I couldn’t help but respond to. He brought a hand up and rested it against my cheek. “Thanks for coming out here with me.”
As I lay there, I looked at her, really looked at her, and I knew. Things were different. Something had changed in the months I’d spent out of town. I’d thought about her every damn day, to the point that my boss had repeatedly had to remind me of the task at hand.
I soaked in the sight of her—she looked good. She always did. She wore little to no makeup, with her long hair down, and a simple outfit, shorts and a black tank. I shook my head. I shouldn’t have called.
But I’d known that the moment my fingers and dialed her number. I’d fought with myself for all of twenty minutes, telling myself I needed to put the phone back down, but once I’d heard the ringing, I knew I couldn’t just hang up. Even though she deserved better. She deserved a guy who could actually spend time with her. Who wasn’t always on the road. Who didn’t have a sleazy background with nearly a hundred girls. But I wanted her more than any of girl I’d ever wanted. Despite the fact that she wasn’t my type. She was too sassy, too mouthy, too smart.
She was the kind of girl who’s good at using her words to throw out witty and sarcastic retorts in the blink of an eye. She was the kind of girl who shuts guys down, who drives them away. Hell, she had turned me down countless times. I should have let her go the first time…
But still, as I lay there next to her, I couldn’t help but be excited. I’d been thinking about that moment since the last time I’d seen her. Crawling out of her bed and not knowing when I’d see her again was the one of the hardest things I’d had to do in recent years and I should have kissed her goodbye that day or left her a note, but I hadn’t wanted to wake her, so instead, I’d left without a backwards glance.
My mind raced. I needed to feel her body against mine, but the tension in her shoulders kept me at a safe distance.
“Brian,” she called out softly.
“Hmmm?” I asked as I looked over at her. Her hair lay in soft waves—a look she didn’t wear often—down past her breasts. I loved her long hair wavy. There was something about her untamed curls that made my fingers itch. I wanted to reach out and slide my hands into those strands and relish in its softness.
“You okay?” she asked. “You seem kind of distracted tonight.”
“I know, I’m just thinking about some stuff.”
“Oh… Do you want to talk about it?”
Shaking my head, I reached out and pushed a lock of hair off her cheek. “Not really.”
“Okay,” she said softly. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears as she dipped her head. Something tightened in my chest and rather than lying there looking at her, waiting for her to come to me, I grabbed her and pulled her against my chest. Her body was soft and warm, just like I’d remembered and she snuggled into me. One arm lay tucked under her head and the other trailed fingers across my skin. It was one of her nervous ticks, but it didn’t only calm her. It calmed me and made me feel like I’d found home for the first time in a long time.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she murmured. She wasn’t.
I squeezed my eyes shut tight and fought the urge to coax it out of her. Instead, I pressed my lips against her forehead and held her, hoping that she’d get the message—that I’d changed my mind about her and about us. There was no way I could be just friends with her. I needed her.