I sleep late into the morning. It’s been so long since I slept deeply that I feel trapped, like I want to wake but I can’t, like I’m beneath a sheet of ice on a frozen lake. I claw my way to the surface while the warmth and comfort do their best to drag me back down. As I come to I realize it’s not warmth of comfort from my bed alone.
Riley is wrapped so tightly in my arms it’s a wonder I haven’t suffocated her. Clearly I’ve been clinging to her like a life raft in the night and I’m a little embarrassed to be so needy – and so hard. Her long, lithe body is naked, twisted into mine and my body reacts with the disbelief that I still feel in my heart.
“Morning,” she says without opening her eyes. I almost let go of her, so embarrassed to be caught out with my hard-on spearing the soft flesh of her hip. She rolls experimentally, just a few inches, and stops. Then she giggles.
But she’s sliding underneath me. Her eyes open and they’re beautiful – clear and bright. She pushes my hair back from my face in two handfuls and draws me down to kiss her lips. As she does, she parts her thighs and takes me between them. I’m trembling I’m so ready to be inside her and she doesn’t make me wait.
I realize how nervous I was last night to be with her for the first time. After everything, especially Anna standing in the doorway screaming that I’d never pleased her, it was just another chance for Riley to finally realize that I was not good enough for her. Instead it was incredible. I felt swept away and Riley was right there with me. We had made love, not just had sex, and it had changed things between us yet again.
Riley guides her body down until my tip is just teasing her slit then takes me in. I have to close my eyes against the sweet softness that presses me tight.
“Morning,” I whisper with awe in my voice. It’s another sign that she wants me as much as I want her.
“I was dreaming about you.” She breathes softly, her body stretching to make room for me. I go slowly, more because it feels so intense than wanting to draw it out. I know the minute we are done I’ll be ready to go again.
Once I’m in deep and moving, I lose track of everything but the noises she makes. My mouth is everywhere on her body that I can reach – rolling her nipple between my lips, nipping the tender skin of her neck. She slides her tongue between my lips and matches the pace of my cock inside her. Before long we’re both gasping.
I’m not scared to lose myself. I lost myself to Anna and she used it against me. Riley feels ready to lose herself to me in return. I want to make her see stars, I want to make her scream my name and keep her up for days just flooding her body with pleasure. I want to hold her in my sleep, I want to bring her home to Montreal. I want to sit with her on the couch and pretend to watch TV while I just listen to her breathe.
Kris’s gaze is so intense that I have trouble holding it on the brink of orgasm. He’s so strong, so thick and heavy that he mixes me like batter for a cake. I could have come ten times already but I’m fighting it because I want to go together.
Last night was tremendous – the best first time I’ve ever had with someone. Of course I’ve never known anyone like Kris. He could still be wandering broken through the minefield Anna left, but instead the beads of sweat on his brow say he’s enjoying himself, that he’s enjoying me. I moan without thinking as his hips roll my entire body deep into the soft sheets of his bed.
“Come with me,” I whisper. I can barely take my hands from his incredible hair to feel the flexed muscles of his shoulders and back. I’ll need a lot more nights if I’m to know his body to way I want to.
“Oui,” he says softly. He ramps up his pace, making it harder for me to hold on. I buck and shudder until I lose the fight; he cracks me open like an egg. My hands lock around his thick biceps and I arch my back off the bed. I swear I hear him laugh before it turns into a growl against my neck. He slams up hard four times, coming high and hard deep inside my eager body. When he’s still, his eyes stay open.
“Do you still have that key from last night?” he asks. He’s tossed across me so I can’t move, but just nod yes.
“Good,” he pants. “Keep it.”
Riley wraps her arms tightly around my back. There’s probably something to do or somewhere to be today, maybe even a game tonight. But I settle in as close as I can, close my eyes and drift back to sleep.
-- end --
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There it is, the un-question: do you want this? Will you stay?
I have harbored the fear that Riley is mostly interested in me because I am unreachable. That she knows some part of me is broken and when it’s fixed she will no longer want me. It’s unfair to her but I don’t trust my good fortune.
Then she said what she said to Anna. Not just ‘get out,’ or ‘you lose.’ She said ‘best thing you ever had’ and ‘taken your place.’ She said those things about me. And so I tell her the truth, the thing I had to tell myself in order to keep moving forward. Next time, I promised. Next time I’ll make her want to stay.
Well she’s here now, poured onto the couch like a mold that fits perfectly against me. She closes her eyes for a moment, taking in what I’ve said and everything that’s just happened. When she opens them I think she’ll smile. I worry she’ll shake her head no. Instead she slowly kisses me, her light eyes on my dark ones, and tells me without a word that she has every intention of staying.
I’m up in a second and I lift her right off the couch. She clearly didn’t think I could do that, but she’s in my arms and I carry her right down the hallway into my bedroom. New sheets, new mattress – if I have my way they’re about to get a very warm welcome. I lay Riley down and swing myself on top of her.
I would have told that bitch off last week if I’d know it would get that kind of reaction.
I giggle as I think it. In reality things have gone exactly as they should have with Kris – I believe he’s healed enough to get back in the game. And the fact that he just carried me into his bed means the game is definitely on.
My hands can’t stop from moving in his thick, dark hair. I hold it back from his face and kiss his soft lips as he settles the weight of his body all along mine. He slides his lips to my neck again then uses his fingers to slowly tug the neckline of my dress open and kiss out over my shoulder. He follows the fabric along my chest, pulls to reveal the cup of my bra then traces over the smooth, seamless material. His big thumb has my nipple hard in a second. He draws down the thin satin and puts his mouth to my skin. While he kisses and licks at me, the slightly rough tips of his fingers drag lightly over the sensitive round of my breast.
I moan quietly. Everything about Kris is hot – he’s hot to the touch, his mouth is hot on my bare skin. The room is getting really hot. I slip my hands under his shirt and up his back. There are muscles and angles I’ve never known to exist. He lifts his chest so I can pull his sweater off completely.
Mother of God. It’s not much a leap to imagine what Kris looks like shirtless but holy shit, it’s a good thing I didn’t see this before. My palms run over the bulging muscles of his arms and over his shoulders and chest. He uses the pause to peel my dress from my shoulders and arms then unsnap my bra. Now we’re even.
I make another wordless noise as Kris buries his face in my chest more urgently now. My hands are so full of his beautiful body that I am distracted and don’t think – I lift my hips into his and grind against him. His breath catches against my breast and he groans.
“Okay, ma cherie,” he laughs as he lifts away.
He stands bare-chested over me in the half-light spilling from the hallway. My dress is around my waist but not for long – I lift my hips to help as he pulls it slowly from my hips. Then I sit up and unbuckle his belt. There’s no way I’m missing my chance to do this. I run my fingers up and down the sides of his zipper and he half-laughs, half-curses. Finally I slowly draw the zipper down and push his pants toward the floor. The soft gray of his boxer-briefs is all shadows around the angles of his hardening length. Without thinking I lean in and run my mouth over the soft cotton, all along his shaft.
That gets a real curse from him.
I think I’m going to pass out. The blackness I pray for when my head aches threatens to wash over me now, but there’s no way I’m missing my chance to feel this. Riley’s breath is hot through the thin fabric of my shorts and the press of her lips to my throbbing cock. A lesser man would hold her down and run it right down her throat. I’m trying to resist the urge.
Riley has other ideas. She deftly pulls the waistband out and down, freeing me to stand at attention before her. Then she looks up at me, those light eyes shining in the dim light. And with a tiny smile she slides my tip between her soft lips.
I moan. I don’t even try to stop. The hot, wet squeeze of her mouth is nearly enough to finish me off immediately. As she works her way down, licking and sucking, I put my hands into her silky hair and whisper a plea for strength. Then my tip touches the back of her throat and the blackness is back, waiting.
“Mon dieu I can’t….” I pull her free and push her back onto the bed, climbing on top of her in one motion. She giggles. I should go slow but rather I push her knees apart and quickly kiss my way up the inside of her milky thigh. She wears black panties – a lace waistband with a solid piece running down between her legs. It’s silky beneath my tongue as I lap over the heat radiating from her.
“Kris,” she whispers. I’m going to make her say that a lot.
My fingers are clumsy as they reveal her sweet spot. Their slight callous pulls at the smooth sheen of her delicate lips. Another whisper as I take a moment to trace around her slit then I taste her. My tongue slides slightly between her folds and I may actually pass out.
She tastes of honey. She tastes the way she’s made me feel – better, lighter, intoxicated. My cock pulses hard knowing she’ll feel even better. But for now Riley is twisting her fingers in my hair, whimpering as I take my time enjoying this first taste.
“Kris,” she says again, louder. I oblige by twisting my tongue and running it right up her smooth slit into her clit.
“Oh God!” Her hips buck against my face and I lose the ability to stop – I just go at her. My finger slips deep into her pussy, followed by another, while I stay zeroed in on her button. It rolls against my tongue like a candy. I am going to make her come once, just for me, as selfish and needy as I am. I need her to feel like this for me at least once before we feel it together. She has given me that much.
Holy shit. I’d have done this the second I saw him if I knew how it would feel.
The soft burr of his beard against my feverish skin. The added tickle of his moustache as he works my pussy into a hot mess. The silky fall of his hair brushes my inner thigh with every move. Then his thick, wide fingers pump at me, searching. My abs tighten and I’m about to lose it over nothing but his tongue when he brushes the spot inside.
“Oh God,” I say right out loud. My hips jerk up, begging for more, and he slides free for a moment. Just tongue. Then his fingers, lightly this time but right on target. I buck and he teases again, just his tongue twisting and rolling against me. He does it ten, twenty, a hundred times until I’m practically dead.
“Kris, please,” I say. Such a gentleman, that’s all it takes. He presses two slightly rough fingertips to my g spot and holds, catching my clit between his lips and rolling and sucking hard. The orgasm runs me over like a train – I arch my back, twist my hands in the sheet, and come hard for him. That velvety tongue drags and sweeps as I shudder and buck, lapping me up and licking me clean. When I finally flop out, two thoughts cross my mind:
The first is: before I have to fake it my ass. Anna clearly didn’t know a thing.
The second: I want you right now.
Okay, so I said that second part out loud.
I’m completely overwhelmed by the sensation of making Riley come. I’m so hard I’m practically humping the bed as I work away at her perfect secret spot. Her moans tell me she’s enjoying it and that makes me want to work harder. When she bucks against my face I give in the game and just swing for the fence, hoping I’ve gotten it right. Because I really want to get this right. She bursts like a fruit, sweet and delicious, and I grind my lap into the mattress to keep from coming myself.
Nothing Anna said was true. I can do this. I can take care of Riley the way she’s taken care of me. I’m not broken and Riley believes me.
When I’m searching for any last drop, telling myself to be calm and make sure I’ve taken care of her, I hear Riley say:
“I want you right now.”
I go on blind instinct. I slide up her body, catching the way her eyes get slightly wide as they see the flex of my arms and shoulders. Then she’s under me, kissing me, and the pulsing tip of my dick finds its way right to her slit. I’m dizzy with anticipation. She’s right there with me.
“Kris, I want you,” she says. I slide inside her and press slowly against her tight little pussy. The pressure is exquisite and I push forever until I feel her ass against my thighs. We both sigh with pleasure.
“Wow,” she says quietly. I open my eyes and she’s biting her lip, eyelids half closed and fluttering. My lips find her neck, right at her pulse point, and confirm that she’s running at full speed too. The hot, wet squeeze of her body is making me sweat.
I stroke slowly, testing that I can survive the first few pulls and pushes. She’s more confident than I am – because she can’t tell how incredible she feels – and twists her hips against mine. I groan into her neck. She arches her head back with a gasp as I return the favor. That sound is more than I can take. I go. She goes. We pump and thrust and I’m stroking into her while trying to run power play drills in my mind to keep from coming. It’s not working. There is nothing on Earth that can block out the feel of Riley beneath me, around me. I’m way too close way too soon.
Riley’s hand press down my sides and she digs her nails into my ass. “Oh God, Kris,” she sobs. I feel a telltale flutter in her hips, lean forward and feel it in her stomach too. My pace slows – her body is clenching and it’s tougher to push and pull. But it feels even better and I work hard to maintain. Riley moans, low and soft.
“Come for me, Riley,” I whisper. It’s a very forward statement for me, something I would never have been comfortable saying to Anna. Too intimate, too obviously a warning that I’m not going to make it. Anna would have ridiculed me. But I feel like telling Riley she’s amazing, incredible, unbelievable. “You feel amazing,” I tell her.
She whispers my name. Just my name. “Kris.”
Then she comes. It’s like a little star going supernova – her sweetness bursts like it did in my mouth, only the sensation is heightened by how tightly I’m held, how deeply I’m buried. She moans and squeaks as I carefully do exactly what I was doing when she went. My name is said again, “Oh God, Kris.”
I’m right there with her. The extra warm wetness that fills her coats me, transferring even more electricity between our bodies. I bite down gently on her soft shoulder and let myself come.
Her skin fails to bury my cry. It’s half-grunt, half- shout as I burst inside her. Relief comes with release – actual, real relief of tension and fear and pain and the release of anything else I was holding onto. The release of Anna. My cock pulses, beating itself out inside her tight snatch and everything that I was holding onto pours away. Her lips find mine and I know she can feel it too.
It’s embarrassing but I can’t help it. I stay buried inside her, willing it to stop, but a tear leaks from the corner of my eye. Great, now I really am the loser, crying after sex. My face is pressed to her cheek but she knows it anyway.
“Shhh,” she barely says. Her thumb draws lightly across my cheek. And that’s it – she doesn’t make it a big deal. She simply brushes it away like it’s over and I believe her.
I have barely caught my breath before Kris comes, taking it from me again. The sound he makes is almost like an animal – it’s a cry for help and a threat at the same time, like he’s wounded but not giving up. The stimulation of having him buried inside me is so much that I could cry.
I’m not surprised that he does, just one tear that I see. The guy has been through a lot and I’d worry if he didn’t feel it. Normally something like telling another girl off would affect me for days, but I’ve been distracted by Kris. I hope I have provided the same for him. So I brush away the tear and kiss him again. Because all that stuff is over.
“Riley.” It’s soft and there’s shame in his voice.
“You are amazing,” I tell him honestly because I have just had the night of my life. And I want to do it again soon so I can’t risk losing him now.
“Please stay tonight,” he says.
I stretch my arm out and scrunch up the blanket in one hand, then fold it over our half of the bed. We don’t need it with our own heat but it’s comforting nonetheless. I’m not going anywhere. It takes less than five minutes and I don’t know which one of us falls asleep first.
I'm so sorry for being AWOL! I'm changing jobs and moving and this week just got away from me. I will make it up to you, I promise.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” she says.
She’s prettier than I expect, this girl who tore Kris to shreds. Blond hair and light eyes – next to him she must have looked like a ray of sunshine. Boots, leggings, layers, scarf, jewelry: she’s put together in that effortless way I could never hope to achieve.
But her face is hard. I register her the same time she registers me: intruders in each other’s undefined space. There’s a flash of something soft, like maybe she came here to beg forgiveness or win him back. When she sees someone else where his arms, she gets mean. “This whole time you’ve been seeing someone else. All that sad puppy dog bullshit and here you’ve got some other girl too. Jesus, Kris, I almost felt bad about you.”
I watch him decide what to do. The clenched fist wants to tell her to go fuck herself. The slumped shoulder wants to explain that he would never do cheat. The closed eyes just want this whole thing to be over.
Of course I’m already mad. Anna could meet the business end of my boot and land somewhere around the stop sign on the corner. But Kris needs to fight his own battles. I need to see if he can.
“Get out, Anna,” he says.
No explanation, no apology. Just GTFO. Good man, I think.
“I came for my stuff.”
“I dropped it at Maureen’s. All of it.” Kris’ hand is still on my arm. He squeezes down now.
Anna tilts her head, mocking. “Well I don’t live there anymore.”
“But that’s where you got the spare key, right? Because you sure as hell didn’t go to Sidney’s for the other one. Maureen couldn’t find it when I brought your stuff over; now we know why.”
Like a kid caught stealing, Anna recoils. “Fuck you, Kris. Acting like you’re better than me when you’re really just a better liar. I should have fucked your friends when they all tried to pick me up.” Then she turns to me. “Take my advice honey, and land a teammate. Unless you’re into holding hands and crying before you have to fake it.” She looks me up and down with pursed lips, judging. “They’re not picky, I’m sure one of them would fuck you.”
Kris’ hand is so tight on my arm he’s touching bone. He’s either fighting the urge to kill her or asking me not to. That perfect jaw line is locked and his teeth grind audibly. The idea of this hard, horrible girl with beautiful, gentle Kris churns bile in my stomach. There’s no instinct to defend myself – I don’t give two shits what she says about me. I wish Kris would stand up for himself but he looks so exhausted. My instinct is to protect him.
“Get out, Anna,” he repeats like it’s all he can manage. She huffs shortly, she’s not done arguing.
“Or maybe they already have.” Now she’s trying to goad me into a fight. “Is that what you were doing while he was with me, fucking your way down the food chain till you ended up here? Sid’s sloppy seconds keeping you warm at night now, Kris?”
She’s kicking him while he’s down. I can’t stop myself.
“What are you doing here if it was so bad? Did you run out of other guys to fuck? No one wants your sorry ass anymore, nowhere to go, and so you’re back to get for the best thing you ever had. Well too late, bitch. Someone smarter has taken your place.” I stand up – even in Kris’ socks I have a few inches on Anna. I get close enough to throw a punch but instead hold out my open hand.
“And now I’ll take that key.”
I am wobbly. My weight seems to double and the couch threatens to swallow me as Anna stands there spitting insults. She’s so hawkish, so brittle and festering that I wonder how I could have ever loved her. How I could ever have seen anything but ambition in her eyes.
The words she says are meaningless, so false as to be almost comical. I was loyal as a puppy to her and my teammates never liked her, would never do that to me. Max or Jordan might do it to each other, TK would take whatever he could get, Crosby could have anything he wanted. But they know I couldn’t survive such a hit. Even so they didn’t want Anna – if anything they wished I were rid of her long ago.
Riley bristles visibly, her posture straightening with each lie Anna tells like her vertebrae are clicking into place. I should throw Anna across the street, defend myself and show some self respect. But I’m so tired. Two minutes ago I felt invincible, stopping my smile only long enough to kiss Riley again. Now I feel deflated and resigned but that doesn’t mean I am defeated.
“Get out, Anna.”
Despite everything, Anna knows when my mind is made up. I hope this will be enough but she turns on Riley. If she can’t make me take her back, maybe she can make Riley leave. I’m no good at being alone – if she can separate us, I’ll be an easier victim to hunt.
I almost laugh. Anna wouldn’t stand a chance against Riley. A part of me wants to tell her I’ve only known Riley a few days. To say that Riley has gotten in deeper, has given me more, has been a better person in a week than Anna ever was. I want Anna to know she’s been bested by the new girl. But Riley does that herself.
“Someone smarter has taken your place.”
Anna looks back to me once more, unable to believe she’s actually losing a fight in this house. She was the undisputed heavyweight champion for a long time. But she sees no mercy in me and a seasoned boxer knows when they cannot win.
“And now I’ll take that key.” Riley’s voice is cold as ice.
It may be only favor Anna has ever done for me: she drops the silver key into Riley’s hand and slams the door hard enough to knock a picture off the wall. I should have known Anna wasn’t done with me, that she’d never go quietly. It was just luck she showed up when I wasn’t alone.
“Sorry,” I tell Riley. “You shouldn’t have had to be part of that.”
She presses her lips together in a tight smile. I can still feel them against mine, taste the ice cream we shared. Minutes ago I was kissing her and all she got for it was slandered and shouted at.
Riley looks down at the silver in her hand then turns the key until it’s between her thumb and forefinger. She holds it out to me. I take her wrist and pull her and the key into my lap. With a surprised squeak she lands on me, right where I wanted her to be before Anna barged in. My arms fall around her waist and hold her close.
“I’m sorry,” I repeat softly. “She tries to ruin everything.”
Riley rubs the tip of her nose against mine like we’re Eskimos. “All she ruined was our ice cream.”
“There’s more in the kitchen.” I’d get her a scoopful from the North Pole if she asked, but she just smiles.
“I don’t think we need it.”
Riley slides her hands into my hair and kisses me deeply, the way she was about to before the door opened. Her lips scrub away the angry words I didn’t say to Anna. I didn’t need them; only this can really help.
At some point in the evening I was being gentlemanly but it’s a distant memory as I tip Riley backward onto the couch and she goes down willingly beneath me. Her legs twist in mine, allowing me the deep comfort of full-body contact that has been reserved for our hugs. She fits against me just as perfectly this way. I get my arms under her shoulders so I can squeeze her at the same time.
The reserve Kris has shown is gone. Whatever part was tentative and maybe a little scared has clocked out early and he is kissing me for all he’s worth. He still tastes of ice cream and fudge. The scent of clean, strong boy and the weight of his thick, broad body overwhelm me until I’m melting faster than dessert. There’s no sense of time as we kiss for what seems like a week.
When we finally come up for air, Kris can’t keep the smile off his face. We’re twined together and I couldn’t move if I wanted to. Which I don’t.
“Thank you,” he says.
This isn’t the same gratitude that made me uncomfortable before. I have actually done something this time and feel proud of it. I kiss my answer onto his soft lips and that sets us off again. Within minutes I’m fighting back a whimper. He’s shifting his weight like maybe his lap is getting uncomfortable. We come apart panting.
“We don’t have to rush this,” I say before he can. His gorgeous brown eyes flicker. There’s no mistaking the way my body arches up to meet his, the heat we’re generating or the fact that his knee is firmly planted between my thighs. It’s obvious we want each other but it doesn’t have to be right now. The encounter with Anna and the sudden increase in our speed has probably taken a lot out of him.
He frees one arm to gently brush the hair behind my ear. Then he leans down and whispers something in French – I don’t understand, but it is the single sexiest thing I have ever heard. His breath tickles my skin and he follows it with his lips against my neck.
A swarm of butterflies dive through my stomach. I actually shudder. Kris waits for the moment I quiver and strongly, deliberately rolls his hips firmly down into mine. I gasp at the thrust and an elfin smile crosses his face.
“Do you know what I said?” His lips are inches from mine as I shake my head no. He tips his head down and whispers again. “That last time you left here I made myself a promise: if I got you here again, I’d make you want to stay.”
After skiing or roller skating, when you lay down, it still feels like you’re moving. For hours after a boat ride, the solid ground beneath your feet seems to pitch and roll. That’s how I felt after Kris.
I lay awake in the dark, replaying every kiss, remembering the silky fall of his hair and the downy brush of his beard. If you move a sparkler quickly enough, you can leave a trail of bright fire in the sky. The imprint tonight reads Kris’ name.
I wonder if he’s thinking of me. I wonder if he compares me to her, the girl who left wounds still fresh and stinging. Maybe I’m a stitch meant to seal, maybe I’m just a salve to ease the pain. Everything about Kris says that he is deeply invested in us already. But I have never known someone so sensitive, so open about his own vulnerability. Perhaps this is simply Kris’ way to being, if it were possible to make the entire world fall madly in love with you. Tomorrow’s date cannot come fast enough.
The next day I have a message after my noon appointment. Kris is done with practice and wants to know if he can pick me up at six. I dial his number.
“Hi Kris. I got your message. Six tonight is great.”
“Is there anything you don’t like? I was thinking about Italian food.”
“That sounds perfect.”
My hands shake as I snap my phone shut. The afternoon drags on, my mind wanders through the story of last night then spills into predicting tonight’s events: tt goes well, then badly, then another good scenario. I’m making myself crazy. By five thirty I’m laughing at myself in front of the bathroom mirror. I choose a cute black dress with boots and a chunky necklace of green beads. There’s even time for half a glass of wine before my phone rings and Kris is here.
He stands at the passenger side of his car waiting for me. His hair is pushed back and he wears dark slacks under a long jacket with a red scarf. He looks like the mysterious love interest in a foreign movie.
“You look beautiful.” His voice has no edges, just waves and curls.
“Thank you.” I gather my bearings before kissing his cheek, but that only lasts only a second. We both turn and our lips connect gently, melting into a real kiss. Everything I have goes toward not opening my mouth and fully making out with him on the sidewalk. My next job will be training the Army to withstand torture.
His hand closes around my wrist – not body contact, surely we couldn’t handle that, but the imperative that he wants me to keep kissing him. In reality I can’t or I will lose my mind. I press my lips together and smile, his cheek still touching my nose. He laughs softly and licks his lips.
“You taste like berries.”
I could climb this building like Spider-Man and have his clothes off faster than a paramedic in an emergency. Instead I press one more short kiss to his lips and lower myself into his sexy car.
We talk a little on the way to dinner. If hormones were liquid this car would fill and we’d both drown. By the time we reach the tiny Italian restaurant I am gasping for air. Our table is for an intimate two-some, so small that sitting across from each other is like sitting on each others’ laps. The low lighting makes everyone look beautiful, and thus turns Kris’ already perfect face into something resembling the white light you walk toward when it’s time to ascend to Heaven.
Gorgeous dark hair falls into his face so that I almost miss it. He breaks a piece of bread, looking down at the dish of oil and vinegar mixed on the table. There’s surely garlic in it. A shy little smile crosses his lips before he dunks the bread and eats it. Now I can have some too, and still kiss him later.
“Tell me about growing up in Montreal.”
Kris recounts his childhood, playing hockey on any available surface like all the other kids. He is an only child, so hand-me-down equipment came from neighbors and that embarrassed him. Still he says everyone had cast off jerseys with duct taped rips and battered, scuffed helmets. It wasn’t until he got to juniors that he ever played with anything new. He talks about his mother and step father traveling to games, waking up before dawn to drive to the ends of the frozen north. Their support obviously meant a lot to him. I picture this soft-spoken kid, gangly in the way that only teen boys can be, searching the stands in some windswept town for his parents’ faces.
The first course arrives and it’s delicious antipasti, accompanied by a glass of red wine. When the food is gone but the wine isn’t, Kris reaches across the table for my hand. He tells me about being drafted in the third round and how hard it was to sit and wait, feeling like he’d been punched every time the name called wasn’t his.
“No one drafted before you was the number one All-Star vote-getting defenseman in the NHL this year,” I point out. It makes him smile.
Riley is a really good listener. I usually don’t tell too much of this to girls I’d dated – it wasn’t a sad growing up at all, it just wasn’t flashy. Probably my childhood was like everyone else’s – not very sexy. More than anything I worry girls will find me boring. Of course when I ask about them, they tell me what they had for lunch every day in grade eight and the license place of every car they’ve ever driven.
Over entrees of pasta and cream sauce and other things I shouldn’t be eating, she tells me about growing up in New Jersey and going to college in California. She studied English but got into massage therapy there and pursued that education later. Her light eyes seem darker in the sultry lighting and her skin is smooth where I circle my thumb over hers.
“I missed the winters, so I moved home. But it was too much like high school – most people never left, still the same stupid fights and stories. I visited Pittsburgh for a wedding and decided it was the place for me. Massage therapy is not the highest-paying job there is, but it goes a pretty long way here.”
I’m struck by an urge I never get – to tell her about my best friend Luc who was killed in a motorcycle accident. This story is sad but it’s important to me and I feel at this point I’d be keeping it from her. So I start the short version, the one I can get through without crying. As always, the mention of his name makes the tattoo on my arm tingle like the needles are etching my skin again. Her fingers tighten around mine.
“I know some of this, about him. If you don’t want to talk about it.”
I lean over the tiny table and kiss her. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about Luc and Riley has already seen me vulnerable. But I really don’t want to tell a sad story on our first real date, when we should be having fun together. I’ve been a downer since we met, with the exception of last night in the bar, and I know she’ll quickly tire of me moping around. So I catch her soft lips to mine with relief.
“Someday,” she says, making it clear she’s ready to hear when I’m ready to talk.
I order another round of wine and tell her gossip from the team. She knows a few stories about Marc, apparently he tries out some of his pranks on Vero before perfecting them. Max and Jordan are a source of endless hilarity as well – not just their drunken carousing, but some of their stunts are so highly organized she is amazed.
“Once on a high school field trip, the guys in my class wrestled this girl Megan into a chair and taped her to it. Like mummified her with tape. She couldn’t touch the floor. Then they put the chair in the elevator and just left her sitting there. It was a good twenty minutes before someone pushed her out into the lobby, but then it was even more hilarious.”
I start thinking… and she cuts me off. “You guys could get Conner, maybe. He’s little.”
When the dessert menu comes, Riley suggests we go somewhere else for a treat. I’m warm and happy here but once the dinner is over, the night is over. Probably. I’ll do anything to make it last longer – hopefully she wants to have desert in Washington, DC. She lets me help her into her coat, and I sneak my hand across the soft, inviting skin of her arm. We could wait inside, but as we stand on the sidewalk she nestles in close to my side. Totally worth the temperature drop.
“I have two ideas for dessert,” I announce. I simply cannot take the waiting anymore and I need to know where this is going tonight before I lose my mind. “There’s a great ice cream sundae place nearby, or we could go to the market and make our own sundaes.”
That’s right, I just invited myself over. Kris weighs the options like he might be trying to save me from myself.
“Market,” he says.
In the most unladylike move of the night, I laugh.
Kris drives in the direction I recognize to be toward his house. Maybe it’s because he knows where the grocery stores are. Maybe he thinks coming over to my place would be too presumptuous. Maybe maybe maybe. Damn. We’re out of place in the 24-hour supermarket, me in my high heels and Kris in his fancy coat. I settle on Neopolitan ice cream while he loads up on hot fudge and whipped cream. On second thought, this is probably a bad idea. When he adds a jar of Maraschino cherries I almost whimper. He’s gotten infinitely more playful and confident as the night has gone on, which I hope means he’s having fun. I want him to feel comfortable and safe around me.
The checkout clerk is sixteen, female and I think she gets her first orgasm the moment she sees Kris. I want to tell her I know how she feels – no one should look that good under florescent lighting. Oblivious to his own powers, Kris just swipes his card. When we get to his house, I feel awkward stomping around in my high heels. I place them inside the door, lined up next to some of Kris’ shoes and boots, and walk barefoot into the kitchen. I have the stuff all lined up on the counter before he comes back.
“So your feet aren’t cold,” he says, holding out a pair of white tube socks. I pull the socks on, slouch them down and know with absolute certainty that I have met the nicest guy in the world. I busy myself warming the hot fudge so he’ll scoop the ice cream, just a blatant excuse to watch him flex. He lines up two bowls, I spoon chocolate onto them and he shakes the whipped cream. Then he holds it upside down, in the air, toward my face.
“You want to,” he says. I let him put it right into my mouth. It’s delicious and cold and ridiculously suggestive. This is Kris coming out of his shell. When he’s done and we’re both laughing, he brings his thumb up to wipe a smear from my bottom lip then licks his own finger.
Riley is testing me. I left her alone last night and she’s dying to know if I’ll do it again. If I’m even capable of it. For all I know Vero or the boys have told her a million stories of hockey players behaving badly – some of them could have been about me, and few of them may have even been true. But I don’t sense that she’s afraid of being loved and left. If anything, she might think I’m afraid to get that close.
I’m not afraid. I’m not even hesitant. Getting to know Riley, as much as one date will allow, has confirmed everything I couldn’t believe I felt before.
She sits next to me on the couch, feet tucked up underneath her in my bright white socks. I allow myself a single victorious thought – Anna would never have done that. She’d have changed her whole outfit or frozen to death before she wore tube socks with a dress, even around me. Then the thought is gone from my mind because Riley is making me jealous of a spoon.
“This is really good,” she says. The warm chocolate is amazing on the ice cream, and I also taste vanilla and strawberry. Three flavors plus all the toppings and whipped cream – there’s a lot going on one my tongue right now. Riley makes a face like it’s the taste of pure joy and I have to know, right then, if it’s the same for her as me. I toss her bowl onto the coffee table and kiss her.
Warm and cold, the soft chocolate and the sharp bite of strawberry plus the velvety surface of her tongue – the taste is even better on Riley. Her surprise lasts a moment before she’s kissing me back. It would be so easy to pull her into my lap or throw her down on sofa, but instead I stay still and just lose myself in the kiss. There was simply no way it could have been as good as I remembered from last night. Not just sweet or sexy, the way kissing a beautiful woman should feel, but honest and fun and sure. I hadn’t had fun or been sure in a long time.
“Sorry,” I say when we come up for air, handing Riley back her dessert. “I had to see if….”
She waves her spoon. “Wait, let me get ready again.”
We laugh, but as soon as she’s gotten two bites I’m kissing her again. This time I bring her toward me until her knees rest atop my thigh, leaving enough room between us for some good decision making. Maybe. Still my hand sneaks up the smooth curve of her arm.
It’s like a car wash inside my brain. A high pressure rinse of a dingy room - suddenly there are colors I remember, places so long covered by dust I had forgotten their existence. Spring cleaning maybe; clearing the doubt that lingers after you are well and truly defeated.
I’m so lost in the kiss that I don’t register familiar sounds. A hundred cars have pulled into my driveway, and thousand people climbed the steps. Even the jingle of keys doesn’t break my reverie.
Until the door opens and Anna is standing there.
It’s exactly like nothing I’ve ever felt before. Riley gasps, her mouth open slightly so she steals the breath from my lungs. Her lips are soft and the sharp light of pain goes out behind my eyes. There’s nothing else but this kiss. She doesn’t pull away, doesn’t turn or run. It takes a long moment but she leans slowly forward and secures her mouth to mine.
We don’t move, nothing more than our lips touching and the feel of breathing together. I could stay there in the dark kissing her forever. I don’t even register time passing – until the door opens, throwing light against the wall. We nearly fall off the bench jumping apart. I crack an eyelid in panic and am relieved the light doesn’t sear into my brain.
“Guess you’re alright then?” Coach chuckles. He wants to be mad or at least stern but the strain of trying not to laugh shows on his face. “You two done playing doctor?”
“Oh my God,” Riley says, putting her head onto my shoulder. Then she jerks backward, her face twisted, finally registering the smell of my gear. Coach loses it and laughs out loud.
“Come on, Tanger.” He leaves, but the door stays open.
I turn toward Riley. She’s biting her lip sheepishly, wondering if we’re in trouble, wondering what just happened between us. But I know for sure. I kiss her again, more squarely this time. Her eyelids flutter closed for a second. I put my hand to her cheek and move my lips to her forehead.
“Thank you,” I say. I’m grateful for so many things.
She smiles. “Be careful.”
Kris hustles from the room, not slowing under the blazing hallway lights. I guess he feels okay. I feel like a Sno-Cone in the machine: bright blue and red, whipping around and yet somehow frozen at the same time.
He pulled me in hard. It was a confident move and surprised me more than the kiss itself. Then his lips were smooth, holding still and simply asking permission to keep devastating me. My mouth replied eagerly.
And then he thanked me. I should be thanking him.
I climb down from the table and test my legs. I would fail a sobriety field test for sure, but I manage to trip along the route I took to get here. The stairs down to our seats are tougher, but I see Vero searching for me.
“What?” Her face is close, her eyes narrowed as she searches mine. I open my mouth but nothing comes out, gaping like a fish. Finally I find my breath.
“He kissed me.”
Vero about faints with relief. She actually lets her knees bend and slumps down into midair. Then she’s back up, pulling me by the hand toward the concourse. Right through the teeming crowd of snack-and-beer buyers, we tuck into a far corner against the wall.
“WHAT?!” A couple of people turn at her shriek and I’m very glad she didn’t do that at the seats. We’d have to tell the whole section. Without waiting for my answer, she throws her arms around me then suddenly freezes. “Wait. Did you kiss him back? I mean, did you… do you want to?” Again no words will come so I just nod. Now she hugs me like a squid. I tell her the whole story, stopping so she can squee loudly and often. Her hand beats at my arm. By the time I’m done, she’s vibrating so hard she’s blurry.
Deep breath. “Riley,” she says, “you are good for him. I know you have doubts but I know Kris. I wouldn’t support this unless I was sure. And he can be so good for you, he will be. He doesn’t know how to be bad.”
Screaming erupts from the arena as the Pens take the ice for the third period. I know Kris will be there and I feel magnetized to the ice – I must see him. More than knowing he’s really okay, I have to know he’s even real. Vero keeps her hand on my arm throughout the period. Kris takes a few shifts but the Pens are up and his presence is less obligatory. I wish away the final four minutes then cheer madly at the buzzer to dispel some of my nervous energy.
I can’t get off the ice quickly enough. I hardly played in the period, just to be sure I wasn’t hurt. We’re thrilled with the win and two points, but I have some unfinished business to take care of. Coach talks as we strip off our gear and as soon as he’s done, I’m in the shower then into a suit.
“Buchanan’s?” Jordan suggests a local bar. It’ll be slow on a Monday but the boys want to celebrate. I catch Marc staring at me – he can always tell when something is going on.
“Let me check with Vero,” he bails me out.
They’re next door in the lounge. They have to be. I am afraid to go in there in case I maul her in front of everyone. What will she think if I don’t? I already did that once tonight. What will she think if I do, that I assume she’s as into this as I am? Maybe she just didn’t want to shoot me down in the middle of a game. After all I was practically helpless already. There’s still a chance she’s going to let me down easy and walk away, sending me back to my empty house feeling as lonely as it ever did. The thought anchors itself in my mind and I slow, fixing my tie needlessly and fiddling with my bag.
“Mon ami, ready?” Flower asks. His perma-smile only makes me send up a wish that I am not wrong. I follow him out like a man awaiting trial. The lounge is loud and crowded after a good win and Vero’s head bobs above the others, then she moves and I see Riley. My fears evaporate immediately. She’s got the sleeves of my sweater twisted into her fists and she chews her lip uncertainly, pretending to listen. Her mind is somewhere else but when she catches me staring, I know that I’m the place.
I really like her. I really want her. Seeing her here, surrounded by the people Anna feared and envied, I know that Riley is different. And I think that maybe because of her I can be different too.
Without so much as a tiny falter of step, Riley dodges the bodies between us. Her palms press the cuffs of the oversized sweater to my cheeks. That’s where she hesitates – unsure if I want to do it again, if I want everyone to know. My shyness has been a plague lately. But now… I feel new. And so I kiss her squarely on the lips. It only lasts a moment but it nails me to the floor.
“You okay?” she asks.
I don’t say anything to Marc or Vero. I just grab Riley’s hand and lead her away from the lounge, past the locker room. By the time we’re in the hall we’re running. She doesn’t bother to put her coat on, we just jog through the lot and I open my car with the remote. Before we’ve stopped sliding across our respective seats, we’re kissing again.
If Kris turns on this seat warmer, I will have an orgasm. His hands are in my hair, holding me close as if I ever intend to stop kissing him. His surprisingly strong tongue is velvety in my mouth as we paw at each other over the center console. He only breaks the contact to speak.
“Riley, I’m sorr…,” he starts.
“Don’t. Don’t apologize for what someone else did to you. You have every right to be hurt and sad and I don’t want to rush yo….”
He puts his fingers over my mouth. “I was going to say that I’m sorry I waited so long to kiss you. You deserved to know before now.”
I go all one-dimensional as the tension and nerves and blood drain out of my body and leave me shellacked to the seat. I speak into his hand. “It’s only been five days.”
“And I should have known on the first one.” He pulls his fingers from my lips and draws me in gently for another kiss. I sigh like a Mouseketeer. “Do you want to go out with the guys?”
I want to rip the steering wheel out and throw it through the sun roof so I can climb into his lap. But that’s not the way this should be – we’re going slow, for each other. It seemed to take a lifetime to get where we are now. We’re not firmly in the track yet, we shouldn’t be moving at high speed no matter how much my mind is racing into the red.
He can’t hold my hand and drive the standard transmission, so he places it softly back in my lap like he’s sad to see it go. For the first time since we met I stare openly at his profile – the strong jaw fuzzed over with beard, the upturned point of his nose. His eyes slide toward me, catching me and he smiles.
We’re the first ones to the bar. Maybe Kris planned it that way. All I know is he takes a space at the far end of the lot, kills the lights and kisses me again. His hair, his lips, his smell – everyone about him is so soft. Well maybe not everything, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I push the thought away as my hands twist into his gorgeous locks. He has one hand on the back of my neck and the other on my cheek, again holding me close against the threat of running away.
I fly up like it’s an ejector seat. Max and Jordan grin down wolfishly through the glass outside my window, waving like idiots. Kris chuckles and pushes his hair from his face.
“Are you okay with this? That everyone knows? I should have asked you, before I just kissed you where they could all see.”
“Kris, I’m happy.”
Relief quickly washes over his features, followed by that tiny glimmer of gratitude I’ve seen in his eyes. I’m certainly not doing him any favors and I don’t like the uneven footing we seem to always be on. I catch his arm before he can open the door to leave.
“Hey,” I say and he turns. Then I kiss him, hard and sure, to the sound of Max and Jordan howling outside. It surprises him but he quickly eases into it. For twenty or thirty seconds, I try my best to convey a message without words. When we break apart I say it anyway, just in case. “I want this too.”
She must be reading my mind. I don’t question the spark between us, the connection that I have felt since I met her. But if I can’t be the guy for her, someone else will. One of my teammates will want her – hell, they all want her. But one or two of them are actually good people and I wouldn’t want to take her away from something that could make her happy.
“I want this too,” she says.
She wants me. The words coat like medicine as they travel down my nervous system. Jordan practically lifts her from the car and hugs her, then passes her to Max. They’re beaming like idiots – Riley will think I’ve never had any luck with girls before the way these two carry on. But she teases them back and when I come near, reaches for my hand. Jordan whistles like he’s seem something impressive.
“Lucky bastard,” he bumps against me, knocking me into Riley.
I squeeze her hand and let myself get cheesy for a second. “I know.”
They roll in ahead of us and tell everyone, so when I hold the door open for Riley it’s like we’re being announced at our wedding reception. If our reception were ten people in an otherwise empty bar with a sad Johnny Cash song on the jukebox. But my friends are smiling and more than a few look relieved. Vero doesn’t even wait for me to drop Riley’s hand: she hugs me tight and I feel how my pain has hurt her. She’s like the mother bear to our little group of cubs and when we’re in trouble, she gets defensive. I return her hug, adding it to the list of things I’m thankful for.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. If Riley and I are even a couple, it’s been exactly two hours and ten minutes. Hardly time to cut the cake. After the initial excitement, and aside from the fact that Riley’s legs are pressed against mine under the table, things go quickly back to the way they’ve always been. Max hits on the waitress, Jordan hits on the waitress, Kelsey makes fun of TK when he tries to hit on the waitress. We laugh and talk and hockey comes up every five seconds. I hook my foot around Riley’s, order her another drink, and for the first time in ages, just relax.
It ends to soon, the way things always do when you’re trying to remember them. I hope that someday this will be The Night. The night we got together, the night we kissed. I’m looking forward to looking back on this day.
“Can I take you out tomorrow? On a date?” I ask, leaning in far closer than is necessary and breathing the clean, fruity scent of her hair. She left my jersey in the car but didn’t change – she just wears a plain black long-sleeved t-shirt. A silver hoop earring taps against my jaw as I speak.
“A first date? I’m kinda nervous,” she says. Her lips are so close it’s a miracle she gets a word out at all. Everyone pretends they’re still talking but I feel them watching.
“Me too,” I admit. She nods and it all goes sideways – I push my lips to hers and get a whole second before someone starts clinking glasses together. She lifts one hand and slowly, almost gracefully gives them the finger. TK calls for another round.
We leave the bar to a chorus of “wear a rubber” and “pulling out doesn’t work!” I blush hotly and realize there might be a decision to make. Any other guy would have taken her straight home from the rink. But I want to do this right. I wanted to take her out to slow things down a bit. If we race right to the end there may be nothing left to wake up to.
“Where do you live?” I ask when I’m safely behind the wheel.
The low, smooth ride of the car feels sexy as I glance at her, watching the world slide past by the lights of dash. She twists her long neck, illuminated in the faint glow, and I almost groan. I want so badly to kiss her, love her, take her home and make her my prisoner. She see me in the reflection.
“I knew you’d take me home.”
It catches me off guard. “I… uh, do you want to….”
“No,” she smiles honestly. “This feels right.”
I brush the back of my hand up her thigh before returning it to shift gears. Riley turns her shoulders and angles toward me. “It’s not that I don’t want….” Want to what? Tear your clothes off? Hear you moan my name and map your ticklish spots and wipe sweat from your brow? I clear my mind by clearing my throat. “This isn’t easy,” I confess.
“Worse for me,” she shrugs.
Hardly! But I don’t yell. I simply ask, “How’s that?”
Again she looks out the window. “I’ve seen you almost naked.”