I STARE UP AT the ceiling, piecing together the last few interactions I’ve had with London. It’s odd to have things ended so abruptly and have no say in it. I get why she doesn’t want to hook up again. I get why she thinks I’m not her type. The problem is, she’s Stonewall London right now, and there’s no convincing her that I’m worth her time.
I forgot how much I hate the twisty restlessness of feelings.
The partners at the firm are all at Lake Arrowhead for a meeting, and the pre-law legal interns most definitely aren’t included. We can barely be trusted to carry a legal brief from one office to the next let alone have input on firm policies and the most critical cases. It means I have a few days off, but the timing is awful. I don’t want to be left alone in my own head.
I’ve filled the day with errands: taking Grams to her physical therapy, helping Andrew move his old fridge out of the garage, swimming some laps. And by the time I need to leave to have lunch with Dad, I can feel the tension in my shoulders, all along my back.
This is normally when I’d be in the mood for a good fuck, but London, Mia, a blur of limbs and mouths and eyes in between . . . I can’t seem to find exactly what it is I want.
The UC San Diego campus nearly vibrates with the impending end to the school year. Students lounge on the open lawns, throw Frisbees over clusters of seated groups, and walk lazily down the path as if there isn’t a class to attend.
Ahead of me is a guy who looks really familiar . . . it takes my brain only a second to place him, and when it does, my stomach drops.
Ansel is speaking to a female student. He’s tall, and has bent slightly to make eye contact and gestures with his hands while he talks. There’s nothing remotely sexual in the way he’s so attentive, but even just looking at him I can see how much it matters to him that she understands whatever it is he’s saying.
Goddamnit. He’s a nice guy.
I glance over my shoulder down the path, back the way I’ve come. I could avoid him by retracing my steps and walking around the humanities complex, but for some reason I don’t move, even when the option occurs to me. With each second that ticks past, I lose my ability to disappear without him noticing.
And then he looks up over her shoulder, and sees me standing there watching. I can see the mental filing he needs to do to place me, can see recognition dawn, and then he swallows and looks back down to the girl.
Within two seconds, she’s making her way down the path, and he’s making his way toward me.
What would I do in his shoes? Would I just serve up a right hook? Would I keep walking?
He stops a few feet away “Luke.”
We exchange the briefest, most awkward handshake in the history of time.
Up close, and away from the dim light of the bar, I can tell that he’s got a few years on me. It’s not just in the set of his brow, but the way he’s watching me: even, calm, unintimidated.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
“My father is a director of the Biocircuits Institute. He works just . . . over there.” I point past him and he follows my attention behind him and toward the science buildings. “We’re meeting up for lunch.”
When he looks back at me, his brow lifts, and he lets out a quiet, “Ah.”
“But I saw you there, and wanted to talk to you.”
Ansel nods once, a clear So go ahead and talk gesture.
“I was a complete dick the other night. I want to apologize.”
His dark brows shoot up and his head jerks back slightly, telling me this isn’t what he expected me to say.
“I knew Mia was with someone,” I tell him, “and I knew that she’d moved on. I mean,” I quickly add, “I had, too, of course. But I didn’t know she was married. It threw me.”
He nods, but his expression remains unreadable. “I can understand that.”
“Still, I was a little surprised by my own reaction when we met.” I smile. “Because it would be crazy to still have baggage over a girl four years later, right?”
He laughs, eyes relaxing somewhat. “Maybe not,” he admits. “We are talking about Mia here. I might have baggage a century later.”
This makes me laugh a little, too. “Fair enough.”
His smile straightens. “And we’re talking about a very traumatic time for both of you, no? You were together for a very long time, and then she nearly died.”
I feel like I’m punched in the stomach anytime I think about that day: the call from Harlow, my frantic drive to the hospital, pacing the waiting room for the entire fourteen hours she was in surgery. And it never really got better. It was the worst thing I could have ever said to her but no matter how much I regret it, it still feels true: It feels like the girl I loved died under that truck.
“She needed someone after the accident, and it wasn’t me,” I tell him, realizing—maybe for the first time—how true it is. “It really is that simple.”
He nods, blinking away and over my shoulder. “At any rate, there’s nothing you need to fix with me,” he says. “I know that those memories cause Mia pain and she feels like she’s lost someone in her family because she doesn’t know you anymore. I’ve learned from experience that it’s never a good idea to try to move on and pretend nothing ever happened.” His easy smile from the other night returns, and I find myself thankful; his professional expression is so much more intense. “You should come over for dinner sometime. We have an amazing new house and Mia is dancing again—she is very happy. She would love to see you there.”
With a pat to my shoulder, he moves past me down the path.
BY THAT NIGHT I need to get out of the house. Dylan texts just as I’m leaving to grab some soyriza nachos and when he asks if I want to meet up, I can’t think of a single reason to say no. I’m not really in the mood for the whole club scene, but as much as I want to see London, I can’t bring myself to go to Fred’s, either. There’s a fine line between hanging out to flirt with someone who may or may not return your interest, and being pathetic. I feel like I’m dangerously close to that line.
We meet up at Clove—a newer club I’ve only been to a few times—and unless London has obtained a third job, I assume she won’t be there to overhear me acting like a total and complete dick.
We find a table near the bar and have a few drinks, and by the time Daniel and Andrew meet up with us I’m feeling pretty good. The music is great, the girls are hot, and if I’m not mistaken, there’s a long-legged brunette in the corner who definitely seems to be paying me some attention.
I can feel her watching me, our eyes meeting for just a moment when I glance over Andrew’s shoulder. I blink away, hoping it looks like I’m just sweeping my gaze across the room. I’m split entirely down the middle. On the one hand, a good fuck tonight would be amazing for distraction. And also because sex? Is good. But the other half of me still feels a touch of hesitation over the remote possibility of London turning into something good. I wonder if maybe I should have gone to Fred’s after all. I want to go back and poke at her, tease her, find that easy rhythm we had. I hate feeling like the only way I can talk to her is if we’re going to fool around. I prefer the idea that she was right, that I don’t need my dick out for someone to like me.
The brunette works her way through the crowd, and once she’s within a few feet of me, we make eye contact again and I know there isn’t an easy way to escape this without being a total jerk.
“Hey,” she says, and then perches her straw between her glossy pink lips.
“Having a good night?” she asks.
I nod, giving her my easy smile. “Pretty good.”
She tilts her head and holds my gaze for several breaths. “I’m glad you’re here.”
My brows go up. “I’m . . . glad I’m here, too.”
I expect her to give me her name, to ask me to dance, to do anything but say what she does: “Do you want to get out of here?”
“Do I—?” What?
“Yeah,” she says, biting down on her straw. “My place.”
I blink, hard. I mean, even for me, that’s fast. But adrenaline dumps in my veins and I become someone familiar, someone less complicated, reflexively relaxing at the prospect of bending her over the bed and fucking her until I forget London’s name. I nod, putting my beer down on a cocktail table behind me and taking her offered hand.
I feel good.
This is good.
This is easy.
And what the fuck, Margot, really? This is a perfect example of what happens ninety percent of the time: a woman approaches me, in a bar, and clearly wants to get laid. And yet I’m the one who needs to evaluate his actions?
Come to think of it, I feel pretty great after a week of downtime, after the interaction with Ansel. Maybe what I really needed was some closure with the Mia situation, some better way to let that ship sail. Margot is right: it’s good to know Mia is happy, to know that she’s living a life that she chose, that she’s built. After I talk to her directly, I’ll feel even better.
The nameless brunette walks me toward her Camry and unlocks the door. She has a great chest, toned legs, and a full, fuckable mouth. “Want to ride along or follow me?”
But there’s no sparkle in her eyes, no fire, no quick tongue and teasing smile. No dimples. I close my eyes against the image of London. London was just a trigger, a catalyst, a shove. I need to clear the air with Mia, and in order to do that, I had to feel something first. London made me feel something, however brief; I know that now.
But I also know that if I drive myself, I’ll drive myself home.
“I’ll ride with you.” I open the passenger-side door and look across the top of the car at her, pointing to my chest. “Luke.”
She laughs, nodding her head like what I’ve said is really obvious. “I know, silly.”
And then she climbs into the driver’s seat.
I lower myself in beside her and before I even have my seat belt buckled she cups my junk, leans across the console, and whispers, “I want you to come all over me.”
Pulling back, I force a smile as I try to hide my mild revulsion. I mean, it’s a hot image and usually I like when girls are honest about what they want, but this one lacks all subtlety. She’s jumped from introductions to straight-up porn.
Her hand is all over my thigh as she drives, from my knee to my hip and then over my dick and she rubs and rubs, half-chafing, half-pleasurable. I have to close my eyes every time she touches me so I can feel it.
Otherwise, I’m oddly numb. Is it her? Is it me? I feel like I’m watching this happen from the hood of the car, looking through the windshield.
She does a tiny striptease at every red light, and with every button she unfastens, the question pounds in my temples:
What is your name?
What is your name?
What is your name?
It matters. Would it have mattered two weeks ago? It might have been funny; a story I shared with the team about the-time-I-fucked-a-girl-at-her-place-and-never-got-her-name. But now not having a name only makes me uneasy. London made it matter.
I squeeze my eyes closed again and my stomach lurches as she careens into a parking spot, tires squealing as she stops.
Her building is only about a half mile from my place, and once inside the lobby she presses me against the stairwell, kissing me, smearing lip gloss on my chin and mouth. Each time she pulls away, it feels like a sticker being peeled from my skin until all the lip gloss is gone and it’s finally her soft mouth, the feel of real skin on skin. She’s making these tiny giggling moans every time I grab her ass, dig my fingers into her waist. I switch it up, hating this sound she makes because there’s nothing genuine about it, nothing honest.
Turning, she takes my hand and leads me up one flight of stairs to apartment 2A, and I’m shaken by a wave of déjà vu. She rubs her ass against my crotch as she bends to unlock the door and then turns, pulling me inside by the hem of my shirt. I look behind her into the apartment and concerned awareness warms my neck, my face.
I’ve been here before.
I look at her face—her lip trapped between her bleached-white teeth, her eyes hooded and seductive—and I suddenly need her to tell me her roommate isn’t home, her roommate is asleep. Something.
I’m terrified that I’ve fucked the roommate, and that she’ll show up and find me here and it’ll turn into a complete nightmare.
“Do you live alone?” I finally manage.
She shakes her head. “Melissa’s at work.” Now her eyes glint. “Why? Do you think she should join in? She’ll be home at midnight.”
I exhale in relief. That’s two hours from now. “I’m good like this.”
She gives me a wolfish smile and grabs my belt loop before turning and pulling me down the hall behind her.
In her bedroom, she shoves me against the wall and grabs the collar of my shirt, ripping the buttons off. It’s so comical, so over-the-top that I want to laugh. This girl is all Blue Steel Porn Star. I stare in bewilderment as she starts to strip, whipping me across the chest with her shirt, wiggling out of her jeans, dragging her panties down my chest.
I have the most ridiculous thought: if Margot could see this moment, she would be on her ass laughing. It’s so funny, so absurd that I want to be laughing with her.
But God, that is not helping get my dick hard.
I close my eyes and let go, give in to the rush of hooking up with a complete stranger. Her hands are determined and rough, scratching down my chest, jerking my jeans down my hips. On her knees she’s everything women think men want: all tongue and teeth, big eyes focused on my face, sucking and popping and cooing on my dick.
Condom on. She wants to ride me. I’m hard in a desperate way, like I might lose desire, not like I might go off in a flash. Her sounds are over-the-top and all for my benefit: gasping, screaming, little growls about how big my dick is, how she’s going to come all over it, how she wants me to fuck her sore and then something incomprehensible. Her hands are in her own hair, pulling in the agony of the pleasure of it.
She’s a terrible actress, and if anything it’s making me lose steam. I’m a lazy asshole, falling back on easy habits. I squeeze my eyes closed harder at the mild sting I feel at the thought.
But when I close my eyes, on impulse I think of London—her warm skin, the weight of her breasts in my palms, and the sounds that burst out of her, escaping as if she’s losing a battle—but there is nothing reminiscent of sex with London in this moment, no matter how desperately I dig for the memories of her.
Suddenly, the idea that I need to think of London in order to stay hard lights a fuse of panic in my chest. I’m a fucking idiot. I know what I want, and I’m wasting time not being near her. I’ve earned my college degree, played water polo with some of the best athletes in the world, but I’m exactly the same person I was over four years ago, the day I walked into the beach condo and fucked Ali Stirling.
I reach for the overacting beauty riding me, needing it to be over before I think too much, get too deep into introspection and freak out right here. I stroke her just right—pressing, circles, steady—and she surprises herself when she starts to need more, and faster, and the pleasure turns real. I recognize the stutter in her hips, the jerking tension in her thighs.
Desperate eyes meet mine. “Slap my tits!” she yells. “Slap my tits!”
Startled, I blink up at her. “Wh-what?”
“Slap them. Bounce them. Fuck, just do it!”
I hesitate, and with my blood instantly cooling with dread, reach up, doing as she asks and feeling myself wilt inside her even as she’s coming with a scream, nails dug into my chest.
Like it’s flipped some switch, I know why she didn’t tell me her name.
I know why the apartment felt familiar. I never fucked her roommate.
I’ve fucked this girl before.
MARGOT CAN BARELY breathe she’s laughing so hard.
“You were so wrong to tell me,” she gasps when she finally comes up for air. “I am never going to let you forget this night. Not ever.”
This has easily been the worst night of my adult life. I am so disgusted with myself and I know there are only two people I can share this with who will hold me accountable: Margot, and Dylan.
“I didn’t want to tell you,” I growl. “I called Dylan first, but he was too high to engage in a conversation. I had to talk to someone.”
“God, I can see why. This is so bad. Like how could you not recognize her? Her face? Her boobs? Anything!”
I shake my head against the phone, lying down on my couch with a groan. “I don’t know! I think she was blond before? She looked sort of familiar? But Margot—and this is the worst thing I’m ever going to say but too fucking bad, you’re stuck with me—she sort of looked like a million other girls. Long brown hair, skinny, big tits, lip gloss.”
“So when did you figure it out?”
Slap my tits! Slap my tits!
Shaking my head, I say, “No. No way am I telling you that.”
“Oh, God, you’re right, I don’t want to know.”
We both fall silent and I can hear her television in the background. “Will you come sleep here tonight?” I ask.
“Luke, it’s late.”
“Margooooooot,” I whine. “I feel gross and this house is so big and empty.”
“Are there even sheets on my bed?”
“I’ll put some on.”
She huffs out a little breath and I know I’ve won. “Fine, you big baby. I’ll be there in ten.”
MY BIG SISTER makes me popcorn and hot chocolate and then lets me have the good throw pillow. Her price: a foot rub while we cue up Jimmy Fallon on the DVR.
“Thanks for coming over,” I say, skipping through the first commercial break.
She closes her eyes. “Shut up.”
I give her a series of overly dramatic wide-eye blinks. “You’re the best big sister ever.”
“I know.” She stretches, pressing her foot into my hand. “More on the arch. I was standing all day today at the bench.”
I wince. “Your feet smell.”
Margot snorts. “You went home with a stranger before realizing you’d already boned her before.”
Sighing, I admit, “You’re right, I’m grosser.” I take a deep breath before telling her the other important event of the day. “So, hey. I ran into Ansel on campus today.”
She opens one eye. “Ansel?”
Her mouth forms an O several seconds before she lets out a small “Ohhh.”
“You would have been proud of me. I went up to him and apologized for being a dick to Mia.”
She pushes up on one elbow, eyes wide. “And?”
“And . . . he’s a good guy.” I tell her about my conversation with him. “I still need to talk to Mia, but I felt about a million times better about it after.”
“Luker, can I ask you something?”
I press my thumb into the ball of her foot. “Sure.”
“Do you ever look at Mia and think about—”
I drop her foot, holding up my hand. “No. No. Not anymore.” At her blank expression, I add, “I don’t want to sleep with Mia.”
She bites back a laugh. “Okay.”
Margot can barely keep from cracking up and dread settles in my gut.
“That’s not what you were going to ask me, is it?” I ask her.
I drop my head. “Damnit.”
“Luke: you have a problem with sex.”
I smack her calf. “Just finish your question.”
With an evil grin, she asks, “Do you ever look at Mia and wonder whether she’s gone home with someone she’d already banged before, but forgot?”
Reaching for her ribs, I dig a knuckle there, tickling her until she shrieks.
“Fuck you,” I yell over her screams, “ask the real question.”
“Okay! Okay!” she gasps, swatting at my hands. “Do you ever look at Mia and think it’s cool to see her so happy again?”
I let my head fall back against the couch so I can think on how to answer, because the truth is, I feel a lot of things. The simple answer is I am happy for Mia, because she’s an amazing woman with so much love to give, and deserves it. But it’s also complicated. I feel bad I couldn’t be what she needed. I feel disappointment in myself for the way I reacted to that part of my life closing, and that I went to such extremes to open another. I hate that I’m still sad sometimes over the way things ended with Mia, and even sadder that it wasn’t until I met London that I felt anything at all.
“It is cool, yeah,” I tell her, and Margot must see everything behind my eyes because she gives me a small smile, and then kicks me in the stomach.
“Ow! Jesus Christ, I changed my mind, I don’t want you to sleep here.”
She pulls her feet from my lap. “I just wanted to knock you out of that little funk you’re slipping into. You had a shit night, but you’ll learn something and move on. You might be an idiot sometimes, Luker, but you’re not dumb. Just don’t make the same mistake again.” She hesitates, adding, “I mean, again.”
I rub a hand over my ribs and glare at her.
“Now, it’s late and I need to get to bed.” She leans over and kisses the top of my head. “I love you. Don’t stay up too late.”
“I won’t,” I say, impulsively adding, “I think I want to call London.”
I expect a certain degree of shit for this but instead I get “I think this is a great idea” before she walks down the hall to her bedroom. Once the door clicks closed, I pull my phone from my pocket. It makes me laugh, a little, that I’ve missed seventeen texts in the time I’ve been talking to my sister, and none of them are from the girl I want to talk to.
Even in the time it takes me to work up the nerve to call her, two more come in: one from Dylan, telling me to come join them at Andrew’s, and one from a girl I spent one night with and who lives in Seattle.
What the fuck is my life?
Without thinking more, I swipe my screen and find London’s name. She’s probably at work and won’t check her phone for a few hours. I’m afraid I’ll lose my nerve in a few hours. I press her work number.
“Fred’s Bar,” she answers, and my heart does an irritating clenching thing.
“Logan? It’s Luke,” I say.
She’s quiet a beat too long for my liking before she says, “Hey.”
“Hey.” I know she’s at work and I have to cut to the chase before she’s called away. “So I was thinking, maybe we could hang out.”
“Yeah,” I say, smiling. Never before have I felt like such a nervous idiot. “It’s a saying the kids use these days when they want to do something together. We could hang out at the beach. Or hang out at dinner. See?”
Laughing, she says, “I don’t think that’s a great idea.”
“I know you don’t,” I tell her, sitting up straighter. “But I promise I will make it one hundred percent worth it. I’ll turn off my phone. I’ll pay for dinner. I won’t order a single Heineken.”
“You’re calling me at work to ask me out on a date?”
“I worried you wouldn’t answer your cell if you saw it was me calling.”
I close my eyes at the sound of her laugh again. It’s breathy, and in it I can hear both exasperation and the “no” she’s about to give me. “When are you thinking?” she asks.
Hope explodes, warm in my blood. “Tomorrow?”
I can imagine her chewing her fingernail while she thinks. “I work tomorrow night,” she says.
“How about during the day? I mean, obviously the law offices are closed.”
“During the day?”
Her hesitation lasts a million years. “I have . . . inventory.”
“All day,” she says quickly. “It’s, um, starting at like ten or maybe earlier? I need to look at the calendar, that, um, Fred has in the office. And then it goes until, maybe like right when I start work?” She pauses, adding, “Actually, the next couple weeks are really bad for me overall.”
I can’t decide if I love or hate that London is the worst liar in the history of time. It feels like the real-life version of watching her gun me down on-screen.
“Oh, yeah, no worries. Well, have a good night at work,” I tell her. “And maybe we can find another time.”
I end the call and fall back on my couch, swearing up a storm of frustration into a pillow.