I’M SHAKING BECAUSE WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN THAT I HAVE A RING THAT LOOKS LIKE A WEDDING RING AND WHY CAN’T I REMEMBER WHAT WE DID? The only thing I remember after pulling Ansel down the hall last night is more alcohol—a lot more—and flirting.
Flashes of a weaving limo ride.
Harlow shouting out the window and Ansel’s goofy smile.
I think I remember seeing Lola kiss Oliver. The pop of a camera flash. Dragging Ansel down the hall and sex. Lots
I sprint to the bathroom and lose the contents of my stomach. The alcohol coming back up is sour, tastes like shame and a hundred bad ideas poured down my throat.
I brush my teeth with a weak arm and shaking hand while giving my reflection the dirtiest look I can manage. I look like shit, have about seventeen hickeys on my neck and chest and, I’ll be honest, from the looks of my mouth, I sucked dick for a long time last night.
I gulp water from the faucet and stumble back out into the bedroom, pulling on a shirt from the first suitcase I trip over. I can barely walk, collapsing on the floor after only about thirty seconds of hunting for my phone. When I spot it across the room, I stumble-crawl over, only to realize it’s completely dead and I have no idea where I put my charger. Cheek pressed to the floor, I give up. Eventually someone will find my body. Right?
I really hope this story is funny in a few years.
“Harlow?” I call out, wincing at the gravelly sound of my own voice, at the scent of detergent and stale water emanating from the carpet so close to my face. “Lola?”
But the enormous suite is completely silent. Where the hell did they end up last night? Are they okay? The image of Lola kissing Oliver returns with more detail: the two of them standing in front of us, bathed in cheap fluorescent lighting. Holy fuck, are they married, too?
I’m almost positive I’m going to throw up again.
I take a moment to breathe in through my nose, breathe out through my mouth, and my head clears slightly, just enough to stand, get a glass of water from the tap. To not vomit all over the expensive place Harlow’s dad is paying for.
I devour an energy bar and banana I find in the mini-bar, and then drink an entire can of ginger ale in almost two gulps. I will never get enough liquid back into my body, I can feel it.
In the shower, I scrub at my aching skin, shaving and washing everything with trembling hungover hands.
Mia, you’re a disaster. This is why you’re a sucky drinker.
The worst part isn’t how horrible I feel or what a mess I’ve made.
The worst part is I want to find him as much as I want to find Harlow and Lola.
The worst part is the tiny curl of anxiety I feel knowing that it’s Monday and we’re leaving today.
No, the worst part is that I’m an idiot.
As I dry off in the bedroom and pull on some jeans and a tank top, I look over to where I’ve left his note on the mattress. His tidy, slanted handwriting faces the ceiling, and a slim thread of a memory pushes into my thoughts, of my hand on Ansel’s clothed chest, pushing him out of the bathroom and sitting down on the toilet seat with a stack of paper and ballpoint pen. To write a letter? I think . . . to . . . me?
But I can’t find it anywhere; not under the enormous pile of blankets on the floor, not in the dismantled couch cushions in the living room, not in the bathroom or in any of the chaos of the suite. It has to be here. The only other time I wrote myself a letter, it was the one thing that guided me through the hardest point in my life.
If a letter from last night exists, I need to find it.
AFTER THE MOST nauseating and anxious elevator ride in history, I’m finally downstairs. I see the guys in a booth across the restaurant, but Harlow and Lola aren’t with them. They’re arguing in that way they seem to constantly argue, where it’s really all just the man version of cuddling on a couch. They yell and gesticulate and look exasperated and then laugh. None of them looks like they’re recovering from some sort of massive crime spree and I feel my shoulders relax the tiniest bit, fairly confident that wherever Harlow and Lorelei are, they’re safe.
Frozen near the entrance, I ignore the perky hostess asking me repeatedly if I need a table for one. My headache is returning and hopefully someday my feet will start to move and she’ll go away.
Ansel looks up and sees me, and his smile vanishes for a beat before it is replaced by something much sweeter than a smile. It’s happy relief. He shows everything, so easily laid bare on his sleeve.
Finn and Oliver turn to look over their shoulders and see me. Finn says something I can’t hear before rapping the table twice with his knuckles and pushing away in his chair.
Ansel stays at the table as his two friends walk toward me.
“Wh-where,” I start, then pause, straighten my shoulders, and say, “Where are Harlow and Lola?”
Oliver lifts his chin toward the elevators down the hall. “Slaypee. Me bee shaah.”
I squint at the Aussie. “Huh?”
“‘Sleeping,’” Finn translates with a laugh. “‘Maybe shower.’ The accent isn’t quite as thick when he’s not hung-over. I’ll tell them you’re down here.”
I raise my eyebrows expectantly, wondering if there is any other information they want to share.
“And?” I ask, looking back and forth between them.
Finn’s eyebrows draw together. “And . . . ?”
“Did we all get married?” I ask, meaning I expect he’ll tell me, Nope, it’s just a game. We won these expensive gold rings playing blackjack!
But he nods, looking far less disturbed by this turn of events than I am. “Yep. But don’t worry, we’ll fix it.” He looks back at the table and gives Ansel a meaningful stare.
“Fix it?” I repeat, and oh my God, is this what a stroke feels like?
Turning back to me, Finn lifts a hand, rests it on my shoulder, and looks at me with dramatic condolences. When I look behind him to Ansel, I can see his . . . my husband’s? . . . eyes are lit with amusement.
“Do you know what a Brony is?”
I blink back to Finn, not entirely sure I’ve heard him correctly. “A—what?”
“A Brony,” he repeats. “It’s a guy who is into My Little Pony.”
“Yeah, okay.” What the . . . ?
He leans in, bending his knees so he’s at face level with me. “I ask you this not because the man you married last night in a drunken haze is a Brony, but because he thinks the whole idea of Bronies is fantastic.”
“I’m not sure I’m following,” I whisper. Am I still drunk? Is he? What the hell kind of world have I walked into this morning?
“He also once took an actual bath in Jell-O because someone dared him to and he was curious,” Finn tells me. “He loves to open wine bottles with only a shoe and a wall. And when we ran out of cash in Albuquerque and the restaurant wouldn’t accept credit cards, he paid for our dinner by dancing next door at this run-down little strip club.”
“I need coffee before I can understand a single thing you’re telling me,” I say.
Finn ignores this. “He made about seven hundred dollars that night, but that’s not my point.”
“Okay?” I glance back at Ansel again. There’s no way he can hear what we’re saying, but he clearly knows these guys well enough that he doesn’t need to. He’s outright laughing.
“My point is to keep all that in mind when you speak to him. My point is Ansel falls a little bit in love with everything he sees.” When he says this, my chest tightens inexplicably. “It’s what I love about the guy, but his whole life is basically . . .” He looks up at Oliver for guidance.
Oliver pulls a toothpick from his mouth. “Sayren deepty?” he says before sliding the toothpick back in.
“Serendipity.” Finn pats my shoulder as if we’ve wrapped things up here—as if this conversation made any kind of goddamn sense—and steps around me. Oliver nods once, solemnly. Neon lights flash in the reflection of his glasses and I have to blink away, wondering if throwing up again might be preferable to the conversation I’m sure is about to transpire. What are they even talking about? I can barely remember how to walk, let alone figure out how to deal with the thought that I might be legally married to a guy who loves everything about life, including Bronies.
With a nervous flip in my stomach I slip between two tables and walk over to the booth where Ansel is smiling up at me. In however many minutes we’ve been apart—or however many I’ve been unconscious—I’d forgotten the effect of him up close. Nerve endings seem to rise to the surface of my skin, anticipating his hands.
“Good morning,” he says. His voice is hoarse and slow. He has dark circles beneath his eyes and his skin looks a little pale. Given that he’s clearly been up longer than I have, looking at him doesn’t make me especially confident I’ll feel better in a couple of hours.
“Good morning.” I hover at the edge of the table, not sure I’m ready to sit down. “What was Finn talking about?”
He waves his hand, already dismissing it. “I saw you coming and ordered you some orange juice and what you Americans like to call coffee.”
“Thanks.” When I sit, I suck in a breath at the throbbing ache between my legs, and the reality of our night of wild—and maybe a little rough—sex is like a third person at the table. I wince, a full-body wince, and Ansel notices. It sets off a comical chain reaction: he blushes and his eyes drop to the marks he’s left all over my neck and chest. I try to cover my throat with shaking hands, wishing I’d brought a scarf to the desert, in the summer—which is ridiculous—and he bursts out laughing. I drop my head onto my crossed arms on the table and groan. I’m never drinking again.
“About the bite marks . . .” he begins.
“You kept asking me to bite you.”
“You were very specific,” he says with a grin. “And being the gentleman that I am, I happily obliged.”
“Apparently we had a wild night.”
I lift my head, thanking the waitress when she puts a carafe of coffee in front of me. “The details are slowly returning.”
And they are, finally: the way we crashed into the hotel room, laughing and falling onto the travertine floor just inside the entryway. He rolled me over to playfully check for scrapes, kissing along my neck, my back, the backs of my thighs. He undressed me with fingers and teeth and words kissed into my skin. Far less artfully I undressed him, impatient and practically ripping the shirt from his body.
When I look up and meet his eyes, he rubs the back of his neck, smiling apologetically at me. “If what I feel today is any indication, we, ah . . . took a long time.”
I feel my face heat at the same time my stomach drops. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this particular bit of feedback. “I’m sorry my body is sort of . . . hard to please. Luke used to work forever to get me there and when we were first together sometimes I would even just pretend to come so he wouldn’t feel like he failed.”
Oh my God did I actually just say all that out loud?
Ansel scrunches his nose in an expression I haven’t seen on him yet and it’s the portrait of adorable confusion. “What? You aren’t a robot, sometimes it takes time. I quite enjoyed figuring out how to give you pleasure.” He winces then, looking even more apologetic. “I’m afraid the one taking forever was me. I had a lot to drink. Besides . . . we both wanted more after each time . . . I feel like I did about a million crunches.”
And as soon as he says it, I know he’s right. Even now my body feels like an instrument that had been perfectly played for hours the night before, and I seem to have gotten my wish: last night I did have a different life. I had the life of a woman with a wild, attentive lover. Beneath the haze of my hangover, I feel stretched and worked, the kind of satisfied that seems to reach the middle of my bones and the deepest part of my brain.
I remember being carried to the couch in the living room, later, where Ansel finished what he’d started in the lounge’s hallway. The feel of his hands as he pushed my underwear aside, sliding his fingertips back and forth over my sensitive, heated skin.
“You’re so soft,” he’d said into a kiss. “You’re soft and wet and I worry I’m feeling too wild for this small, sweet body.” His hand shook and he slowed himself down by pulling my underwear all the way down my legs and off, throwing them onto the floor. “First I’ll make you feel good. Because once I get inside you, I know I’ll lose myself,” he’d said, laughing, tickling my hips, nibbling at my jaw as his hand slid down my stomach and back between my legs. “Tell me when it’s good.”
I was telling him almost immediately, when he pressed his fingers against my clit, sliding back and forth until I started to shake, and beg, and reach for his pants. I shoved them down awkwardly, without unbuttoning them, wanting only to feel the heavy pulse of him in my hand.
I shiver as my body remembers that first orgasm and how he didn’t let up, pulling another one from me before I pushed him away and rolled off the couch, taking him in my mouth.
But I don’t remember how that ended. I think he came. Suddenly I’m consumed with panic. “In the living room, did you . . . ?”
His eyes widen briefly before that light amusement fills them. “What do you think?”
It’s my turn to scrunch my nose. “I think so?”
He leans forward, resting a fist on his chin. “What do you remember?”
Oh, the little fucker. “You know what happened.”
“Maybe I forgot? Maybe I want to hear you tell me.”
I close my eyes and remember how the carpet felt on my bare knees, the way I initially struggled to get used to the broad feel of him in my mouth, his hands in my hair, his thighs shaking against my flattened palms.
When I look up and he’s still watching me, I remember exactly how his face looked the first time he came against my tongue.
Reaching for my coffee, I lift it to my lips and take a giant, scalding gulp.
And then I remember being carried into the bedroom, Ansel wildly kissing and licking every inch of my body, sucking and biting. I remember us rolling from the bed to the floor, the crash of a lamp. I remember, however many hours later, watching him roll a condom on, his bare torso looming over me. I don’t think I’d ever felt so greedy for something as I had for the weight of him on top of me. He was perfect: sliding in carefully even as drunk as we were, rocking in small, perfect arcs until I was sweaty and frantic beneath him. I remember the groan he made when he got close, and how he rolled me over, my stomach flat to the mattress, his teeth bared on my neck. Leaving one of so many marks.
Ansel watches me from across the table, a tiny, knowing smile curving his mouth. “Well? Did I?”
I open my mouth to speak but with the mischievous look in his eyes, maybe we’re both remembering when he lifted me against the wall, pushing roughly back into me. Where had we been that he moved me to the wall? I remember how hard the sex was then, how a painting rattled a few feet away, him telling me how perfect I felt. I remember the sound of glasses tipping over and breaking near the bar, the sweat of his exertion sliding across my breasts. I remember his face, his hand pressed flat to a mirror behind me.
But no, that was a different time.
Jesus, how many times did we have sex?
I feel my brow lift. “Wow.”
He blows a breath across his drink; the steam curls in front of him. “Hmm?”
“Yeah, I guess you did . . . enjoy. We must have done it a lot.”
“Which was your favorite? Living room, or bed, or floor, or bed, or wall, or mirror, or bar, or floor?”
“Shhh,” I whisper, lifting my cup to take another, more careful sip of coffee. I smile into my mug. “You’re weird.”
“I think I need a cast for my penis.”
I cough-laugh, nearly sending a hot mouthful of coffee through my nose.
But when I lift my napkin to my mouth, Ansel’s smile disappears. He’s staring at my hand.
Shit shit shit. I’m still wearing the ring. I can’t see his hands below the table now, and the crazy sex we had last night is officially the least of my worries. We haven’t even started talking about the real issue: how to disentangle ourselves from this drunken night. How to fix it. It’s so much more than being relieved we used condoms and having an awkward goodbye. A wild one-night stand isn’t legally binding unless you’re stupid enough to get married, too.
So why didn’t I take off the ring as soon as I noticed it?
“I d-don’t—” I start, and he blinks up to my face. “I didn’t want to put it down and lose it. In case it was real or . . . belonged to someone.”
“It belongs to you,” he says.
I look away, eyeing the table, and notice two wedding rings there, between the salt and pepper shakers. They’re men’s rings. Is one of them his? Oh God.
I start to slip mine off but Ansel reaches across the table, stilling me, and then lifts his other hand, his finger still decorated with a ring, too. “Don’t be embarrassed. I didn’t want to lose it, either.”
This is too weird. I mean, way too weird for me. The feeling is like being pulled under by a violent wave. I’m suddenly hit with panic knowing that we’re married, and it’s not just a game. He lives in France, I’m moving in a few weeks. We’ve just made a huge mess. And oh my God, I can’t want this. Am I insane? And how much does it cost to get out of this sort of thing?
I push back from the table, needing air, needing my friends.
“What is everyone doing about this?” I ask. “The others?” As if I need to clarify who I mean.
He swipes a hand over his face, and looks over his shoulder as if the guys might still be there. Turning back to me, he says, “They’re meeting in the lobby at one, I think. And then I guess you girls plan to head home.”
Home. I groan. Three weeks living at home with my family, where even the adorable boy chatter of my brothers playing Xbox can’t drown out the killjoy of my father. And then I groan again: my father. What if he finds out about this? Would he still help pay for my apartment in Boston?
I hate depending on him. I hate doing anything that triggers the giddy little smirk he wears when he gets to tell me I screwed up. I also hate that I might throw up right now. Panic starts like a slow boil in my stomach, and heat flashes across my skin. My hands feel clammy and a cold sweat prickles at my forehead. I should find Lola and Harlow. I should leave.
“I should probably find the girls and get ready before we . . .” I wave vaguely in the direction of the elevators and stand, feeling sick for an entirely different set of reasons now.
“Mia,” he says, reaching for my hand. He pulls a thick envelope from his pocket and looks up at me. “I have something I need to give you.”
And there’s my missing letter.