Friday, March 30, 2018

New Book: Baby Crazy

My newest book, Baby Crazy, is finally available in the Kindle store!


Reasons why Anna Harper never wanted to have children:

-- The lifetime cost of raising a child is a quarter of a million dollars.

--The baby might vomit. And then she would have to have the entire house sterilized.

--What if while she was driving in the car, the baby managed to open its car seat, and then she got into an accident while the baby was out of the car seat?

--What if the baby doesn’t like her? After all, she has observed that most people don’t.

Reasons why Anna Harper has started trying for a baby:

--Her husband is baby crazy. And it’s beginning to seem like he can’t be happy without one.

Buy it on Amazon for only $2.99 or FREE if you have Amazon Prime or KU!

You can read the first chapter here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Update: Shadowboxing 12, pt. I

Hello all, here's this week's update. I've decided to split Chapter 12 into two posts, in order to avoid having to take a skip week next week (I'm extremely busy with family events this week and weekend). Luckily it's a long chapter altogether - though it didn't have a natural breaking point, so I apologize if it feels like it breaks off ungracefully.

Shadowboxing, Chapter 12, pt. I: Meet the...
Table of Contents

I hope you enjoy, and thank you yet again for all the friendly and appreciative comments!

- R

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Hi all!  This will probably be the last chapter I post of Baby Crazy!  Hope you enjoy.....

Chapter 11

Table of Contents

Also, if you go to my seldom updated blog, you can get updates on my releases and discounts by signing up for my mailing list on the sidebar!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Update: Shadowboxing 11

Hi all -

Last week was the morning after Asher and Roy's first time together - the two worked through some baggage, with a few doses of flirting and teasing to sweeten the sour spots.

This week, we finally get to see Roy in his natural habitat...

Shadowboxing, Chapter 11: Bobbing and Weaving
Table of Contents

...except it's mostly about feelings! AGAIN! Thanks for riding along on this incredibly (for me) self-indulgent relationship-navigation extravaganza. :)

- R

Monday, March 19, 2018

New Devo Diary

I'm back! My adventures in Taipei continue. After wallowing in self-pity last chapter, this chapter things perk up again. First, I join a community chorus and start making more friends, then an obsession with a new dating site leads to a blast from my dev past. Not exactly romance, but lots of thoughts on dating while dev in this chapter.

Devo Diary Chapter 43: OkCupid

Thanks again for all your comments!


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Update to Baby Crazy

This will probably be my second to last update to Baby Crazy.  I still am getting the vibe that this is out of the realm of what most of you are looking for here, so I'm going to put up a little bit more, then those of you who are still interested can read the book.  I have something new to post starting in April!

In the last chapter, Matt was trapped on a broken stair-lift....

Chapter 10

Table of Contents

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Update: Shadowboxing 10

Ten chapters?! I've never written this much of one story before in my life...

Shadowboxing, Chapter 10: Aftershocks
Table of Contents

Thank you so much to all for the supportive messages last week. I'll be honest that my year is only going to keep on getting busier from here, and I'm quickly running out of my posting backlog. But I'll try to plan ahead better in the future to make sure that any necessary posting breaks are at least announced further in advance (and come with Roy+Asher doodles :) ).

- R

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Update to Baby Crazy

In this chapter, Anna and Matt break the news to their parents.  It's a pretty intense chapter... hope you enjoy!

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Friday, March 9, 2018

An Encounter

Hi everyone, we have a special treat for one-shot Friday! PD member Tykes has contributed some steaming hot erotica from the point of view of a para. I'm posting it on his behalf. If you enjoy it, let him know in the comments or over on the message board and maybe we can persuade him to post here on a regular basis 😘
 
 
 
An Encounter 

The hotel door closes behind you, you look round nervously, no words have been said, and there is a sexual tension in the air you had long forgotten could exist.  You turn to see me approach, a steely glint in my eyes, and you back away as I wheel towards you, until your back is pressed against the wall with my frame pressing against you, pinning you against the wall.

Without a word, my hands reach up, fingers searching for the buttons and unbuttoning your blouse, pulling it open, my hands stroking then squeezing your breasts, falling to your thighs, running up and down your thighs then slipping under the hem, my hands outstretched sliding up your thighs, fingers hooking the waist of your panties. 

Pausing ... Looking you in the eyes ... 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

No Shadowboxing this week

Hello all,

Apologies, but I got flooded with work at the beginning of this week, so I haven't had time to revise this week's chapter like I'd wanted to. (I'm a compulsive reviser.)

Retroactive spoiler: if you ever wanted to skip straight to the sex scene, last week was your chance. :)

Last chapter: Chapter 9
Table of contents

Thank you to all who've been reading and leaving enthusiastic feedback - I'm so happy that folks are enjoying the story. To make up for this week's gap, I have two Asher + Roy doodles beneath the cut -


Monday, March 5, 2018

New Devo Diary

Hi everyone, I'm back again with the latest installment of Devo Diary.

In this chapter, I move overseas temporarily and have to restart my social life in a new place. Sorry the PWDs are a bit thin on the ground, but even in a new city I'm still in the SM scene. First, I meet up with my old friend Phil. Don't worry if you don't remember him, we haven't seen him since the very end of Chapter 8 (!!) (I can't believe how much I've written). Then I hear from Warren again. Remember in the last chapter just before I left he promised to come visit me, let's see how that goes...

Devo Diary Chapter 42: Phil

Table of Contents

Thanks again for all your comments, I really appreciate it a lot! Please leave a comment!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Update to Baby Crazy

Back again today with an update to Baby Crazy.  Things are about to get a lot more intense.....

Chapter 8: The First Trimester

Table of Contents

Also, for those of you who haven't had a chance to check it out, The Best Man is on sale for 99 cents for a very, very limited time in the US and UK.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend: Chapter 2

Noah’s cabin isn’t as small as I feared it would be.  I expected some tiny little hut wedged between two trees where we’d all be forced to share one giant bed, but this cabin is more like a single-story house, with a large patio containing a porch swing and a rocking chair.  I catch a glimpse of the back porch, which seems to have a barbeque grill, as well as a table and chairs set up.  There’s a chimney, as well as a paved path leading to the front door.  It looks large enough that we’ll probably all be sleeping in at least two giant beds. 

True to form, the urge to use the bathroom has completely left Lily by the time Noah pulls up in front of the cabin.  I’m not sure of the mechanism behind how all the pee vanishes from her bladder the second we actually find a toilet.  Maybe Noah the Doctor could explain it to me.

Noah doesn’t even offer to take my bags this time.  I heave them out of his trunk and he waves a hand to lead us inside.  There are two small steps to get up to the patio, and I watch him hold onto the railing as he carefully climbs the steps.  Again, it’s not anything anyone would notice if they weren’t looking for it.

Thank God, it looks like this cabin has all the comforts of home—there’s a fully stocked kitchen, a sofa, a loveseat, and at least one indoor bathroom.  I had been seriously worried I might be squatting in an outhouse.  I think I can deal with being here for a week.

“Gwen!” Dad calls as the woman I recognize as Noah’s mother comes out from a room in the back.  She looks mostly as I remember her, although slightly older.  The lines on her face are deeper, but she still has the same strawberry blond hair pulled into a messy bun. 

“Hi, Lenny.” Gwen’s face breaks into a smile.  “How was the trip in?”

“Long,” Dad admits.

Gwen bends down next to Lily. “And you must be Lily!”

Lily nods shyly.

“I’m so glad to meet you,” Gwen says. “I got you a little present, if that’s okay.”

Lily nods more eagerly this time. Is it okay?  When has being given a present not been okay with a six-year-old?  What planet does she think this is?

Gwen straightens up and comes eye to eye with me.  She has blue eyes—Noah’s eyes.  None of the warmth that was in her voice when she spoke to my daughter is in her expression anymore.

“Hello, Bailey,” she says stiffly.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Yes,” I murmur. “Good to see you too.”

Gwen glances at Noah’s grim expression, then back at me. “It was quite a surprise to realize who you were, but…” She shrugs helplessly. “It will have to be water under the bridge, I suppose.”

“Yes,” I say again. “Water under the bridge.”

Ha.

“Come on, Bailey,” Noah says to me.  “I’ll show you your room.”

I follow him down a short hallway to a set of closed doors.  He indicates the first door, “That’s the bathroom.  We’ve got one and a half bathrooms, so we’re all going to be sharing a shower for the week.”

That’s fine.  Lily can go a shower-free week without blinking an eye—actually, it would be her preference.

He opens the second door to reveal a room with a small queen-sized bed and a cot on the floor next to it.  There’s a small dresser and a window that gives us a great view of the woods.

“This is great,” I say as I drop the duffel bags on the floor.  “Perfect.”

Noah doesn’t say anything for a minute.  He leans over and shuts the door to the bedroom, closing the two of us inside.  I suck in a breath, staring at those blue eyes, terrified of what he’s about to say to me.  Preemptively, I say, “I’m sorry.”

He raises his eyebrows.  “Oh, are you?”

I take a deep breath. “If… if it helps, I’ve spent every moment since then regretting it.”

“It doesn’t help.” His blue eyes flash and I cringe.  “You think I give a shit that you feel a little bad about the whole thing?  Are you aware what you did to me?  You have no fucking clue, do you?”

I squeeze my fists together. “Why did you invite us here? To berate me for a week?”

Noah snorts. “Please, Bailey.  Don’t flatter yourself.  I invited you here for my mother’s sake.”

“Why? Does she want to berate me for a week?”

“No, but she wants to marry your father.” He shakes his head. “Despite the fact that I told her it would be a huge mistake to get involved with anyone from the Chapin family.  But she doesn’t want to listen to me.  She’s in love.  So you and I need to get along.”

“Right,” I mumble.

He frowns at me. “I’ll be cordial, okay?  For her sake, I’ll pretend that…”

He doesn’t complete his sentence, and for that, I’m glad.

“But let’s get one thing straight,” he says in a low growl.  “I don’t forgive you.  I will never forgive you.  We will never be friends.” 

I bite my lip.  “You really hate me, don’t you?”

Noah is quiet again, as if really thinking about his answer.  “‘Hate’ doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about you,” he finally says.

I wince.  Somehow in the time since I’d last seen Noah, I’d thought maybe he… well, maybe not forgave me, but at least didn’t think back on me with feelings of loathing.  I figured he’d moved on—got married, had a couple of kids, etc.  But that’s obviously not the case. 

“I’m sorry,” I say again. 

He shrugs, like he couldn’t care less about my apology.  Which I guess is true.

If Noah Walsh murdered me, I don’t think he’d go to jail.  There would be a trial, of course, because there would have to be.  But if the judge and jury heard the entire story, I think they’d let him off scot-free.  They’d decide he did the world a favor by getting rid of me.

*** 

I catch my father unpacking alone in the bedroom he’ll be sharing with Gwen.  He’s pulling out a pair of boxer shorts and whistling to himself. 

When is the last time I’ve heard him whistle like that?  When is the last time I’ve seen him smiling that wide?  Especially while unpacking underwear.  Some of his hair even seems to be growing back.

He looks up at the sound of my footsteps and his smile falters.  I don’t take it personally.  He knows why I’m here. He doesn’t seem any happier when I shut the door behind me.

“What the hell, Dad?” I snap at him, forgetting my age-old rule about never cussing in front of my parents.  If there’s ever a time to cuss, it’s now, damn it.

“I didn’t know,” he murmurs.

“No kidding.”  I take a deep breath, trying to control my anger.  I don’t want to yell at my elderly father, especially when he looks the happiest he’s been since Mom died.   “How could you not know?”

“Well, she told me she had a son named Noah,” he says.  “But… I didn’t realize he was that Noah.  Noah Walsh isn’t an uncommon name.  It’s not like he’s called… Benedict Cumberbatch.”

I wring my hands together.  “Did Gwen know?”

Dad shakes his head.  “No, she didn’t.  When I talked about you, I always called you Bee or just said ‘my daughter.’  She never put it together until… well, apparently Noah told her while we were on our way here.”

I bow my head and rub my temples.  “This is really awkward.”

He shrugs helplessly.  “I know, Bee.  I’m sorry.  I would never have brought you here if I realized…” He sinks down on the bed.  “But we’re here now, and I think you should make the best of it.  Gwen promised me Noah is fine with the whole thing.”

Fine with the whole thing.  Right.  Aside from despising me with every fiber of his being, he’s totally fine with it.

“Obviously, he’s doing really well for himself,” my father points out.  “He’s very successful.  He’s got an apartment up in the city, and this cabin down here, and he’s a doctor like he wanted to be, so…”

“Yeah,” I mumble, looking away.  I wanted Noah to be successful.  I wanted him to have everything he ever dreamed of.  But for some reason, now that I’m faced with it, it stings.

His brows knit together. “Bee, if you feel like you need to go back, I’ll make something up to Gwen.  Do what you need to do.”

I look at my father’s face.  It’s been less than ten years since Mom died, but Dad looks at least two decades older.  I forget how hard it’s all been on him.  He deserves happiness.  I don’t want to mess anything up for him by throwing a tantrum over something that happened a long time ago. 

Noah says he’s willing to try to put this behind him.  I guess I’ll stay.

***
 
Lily spends some time in the living room playing with her new Barbie doll while I hide in my room.  I get my sketch pad out from my bag and attempt to draw a picture of the cabin from memory.  I want to go out and take a look to see what details I’m missing, but I don’t dare leave the room.  I don’t want to risk another confrontation with Noah. 

A couple of hours later, Lily comes into our bedroom, holding her new Barbie doll.  It has blond hair and an impossibly skinny waist.  I’ve shied away from buying Lily too many Barbie dolls because they’re expensive and also because I feel like it would be nice for her to have a doll that looked more like a real woman. Of course, now there are all these dolls from other television shows like Monster High that look just look Barbies. I mean, it’s not like I’m overweight or anything—being destitute is a great diet.  But it would be anatomically impossible for me to have a figure like this doll that Lily is fawning over. 

At least, I think she’s fawning over the Barbie.  Then I discover it’s not Barbie she’s fallen in love with.

“Noah is going to cook us dinner tonight,” Lily informs me.

“Oh, is he?”

“Uh huh.” Lily nods excitedly.  “He said he’s going to make stuff on a grill.  Like with a big fire.”

“Ooh,” I say.  I wonder how old Lily will be before she can recognize my phony enthusiasm.  I hope that it doesn’t happen until her artwork gets a lot better.

“He went out this morning and bought lots of hot dogs because Grandpa said I like hot dogs,” she says.

“That’s nice of him.”

“And he said he’s going to take us to a movie this week!” Lily says.  “Maybe Dogcat.”

I grit my teeth. “We already saw Dogcat.” We saw it, it’s done, and we never have to see it again.  Never.

“Oh.” Lily’s excitement seems dampened.

“Maybe he can take us to another movie?” I suggest. 

“Okay!” Lily agrees, and before I can stop her, she runs out to find Noah, who is apparently her new hero.  Lord knows, she doesn’t have a father to be her hero.

A minute later, Lily bursts back into the room breathlessly.  “He says he’ll take us to see anything we want.”

Despite everything, I feel a rush of affection toward Noah for being so kind to my daughter. 

“Also,” Lily adds, “he’s going to take us out on his boat and we’re going to catch fish!”

I imagine being stuck out in the middle of the lake with Noah on a tiny boat while we wait for fish to nibble on our bait.  Lovely.

“I like Noah,” Lily says, her little face beaming.

“I can tell,” I say.  I grin at her. “Do you think he’s handsome, Lil?”

She giggles and hides her face in her hands.  “Mayyyyybe.  A little.”

I can’t exactly blame her.  I was certain that if I ran into Noah by now, he’d have been long since snatched up. 

“Is he married, Mommy?” she asks me.

“I don’t think so,” I say.

“How come?”

I shrug. “I guess he hasn’t met the right woman yet.”

Lily nods solemnly. “Do you think he’s looking for a woman to marry?”

“I…” I really don’t want to have this conversation with my child.  And I really hope Noah isn’t able to hear us. “I don’t know.  Maybe he doesn’t want to get married.”

 She thinks about this a minute.  “I think he should get married,” she decides.  “He’d be a good husband.”

I swallow. “You might be right.”

I look down at my sketch pad, down at the likeness of the cabin.  I’ll focus on my art this week.  Try not to think too much about the past.  I can’t change it, after all.

“Mommy?” Lily says.   

God, I can’t talk about Noah anymore.  “Uh huh?”

“Why is there a chair in the bathtub?”

I look up at Lily’s wide blue eyes.  “A chair?”

She nods. “When I went to the bathroom, there was a white chair!  In the bathtub!  And a bar sticking out of the wall!”

I bite my lip. “I don’t know, sweetie.  You’ll have to ask Noah.”

I don’t dare tell Lily that I know the answer to her question. 

***

By the time I emerge from the bedroom, Noah has already fired up the grill, and the tantalizing scent of grilling meat wafts from the back patio into the cabin.  They’ve got a table out on the patio, and Gwen is instructing Lily on how to set the table.  It’s such a homey scene.  I imagine an alternate universe in which the man grilling the meat is my husband, and the woman teaching Lily to set the table is my mother.  Instead, the cook hates me and my mother is dead.

“Smells good,” I comment as I emerge onto the patio.  I hope the food is close enough to done that I don’t have to make awkward conversation for too long.

Noah lifts his blue eyes briefly to glare at me as I take a seat.  He doesn’t seem quite ready to be cordial with me.  It’s a good thing we’ve got a whole week out here.

“I want a hot dog!” Lily calls out.

“Right, I got it,” Noah says.  “You want a hamburger.”

Lily giggles. “No, I said a hot dog!”

“Two hamburgers for Lily, coming right up!”

“No!” Lily is laughing so hard now that her face is turning pink.  “I want!  One!  Hot! Dog!”

Noah nods. “Got it. Ten hamburgers for Lily.”

“Be careful,” I say to Noah.  “You’re going to end up playing this game with her for the next hour.”

He winks at my daughter. “At this rate, I’m going to be grilling hamburgers for Lily for the next hour.  So you want twenty hamburgers?”

It’s sweet.  He’s good with her—I have to give him that.

The hot dogs are done first.  Noah grabs a paper plate, opens up a hot dog bun, and drops her hot dog inside. He asks her if she likes ketchup and she says yes. And before I can warn him, he gives the hot dog a spritz of ketchup.

He wouldn’t know.  He doesn’t have kids of his own, so he probably has no idea that you never add a condiment to a child’s food without asking exactly how it should be added first, because omg, you could ruin it.  Lily likes ketchup, but is very clear about the fact that you never, ever put the ketchup directly on the hot dog.  It’s the eighth deadly sin, in Lily’s eyes.  Hot dogs can only be dipped in ketchup, never slathered.  Now it’s ruined.  If we were at a restaurant, I’d be sending back the hot dog as we speak.

Lily looks down at the offending hot dog on her plate, then back up at Noah.  I would have bet my life’s savings that she wouldn’t have touched that hot dog, but to my utter shock, she sits down and starts eating it.  I can’t believe my eyes.  She must really love him.

“What do you want, Bailey?” Noah asks me without looking up from the grill.

“A cheeseburger, thanks,” I say.

Noah finishes grilling burgers and hot dogs for everyone else.  When he grabs the bag of hamburger buns off the table next to him, and they slip from his fingers and fall to the floor. He looks down at the buns on the ground and lets out a barely audible sigh.  I open my mouth, ready to offer to grab them for him.  But I suspect doing so will only make Noah hate me more.

 I pretend to look away, but I can’t help but watch him out of the corner of my eye as he holds onto the table for support as he gets down on one knee.  He picks up the buns, then hauls himself back up, still gripping to the table for dear life.  Once he’s back on his feet again, he looks in my direction, but I’ve busied myself by staring out at the lake in the distance.

“These hamburgers are amazing,” Dad says to Noah once we all have our plates of food.

“Thanks,” he says.

“Noah loves the grill,” Gwen says.  “He buys charcoal by the truckload.”

The cheeseburger in front of me smells so amazing that my stomach rumbles, reminding me that my lunch consisted of a bag of Doritos on the train.  I pick up the burger and take a bite and…

Ugh, this is terrible!

The burger Noah served me is charred to a crisp.  I feel like I just ate a mouthful of somebody’s incinerator. 

I look at my father and Gwen, who are happily munching on their burgers.  There’s no way their burgers taste like mine.  This is practically inedible.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Lily asks.  “Don’t you like your burger?”

I notice that Noah is watching me, a tiny smile playing on his lips.  “Yeah, Bailey, is something wrong with the burger I made you?”

I swallow hard.  “It’s just…” I notice that everyone is staring at me. “It’s a little bit burned.  That’s all.”

Dad seems aghast at my comment. Gwen glares at me.  “It’s from a grill.  They have a char to them. It’s not going to taste like the burgers at McDonald’s.”

“Right.” I feel my cheeks growing hot.  “Actually, it’s fine.  Just… you know, a tiny bit burned.  Not even.  I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

I take another bite of my burger.  It takes superhuman effort not to spit the damn thing out.  I glance over at Noah, who is chuckling to himself.  Asshole.

“If you don’t like it, Mommy,” Lily says to me, “Noah says we’re having more for dessert.”

I frown. “More?  You mean, more burgers?  For dessert?”

Lily nods eager. “Yeah, Noah says it’s the best dessert. More!”

Noah grins at her. “No, that’s s’mores.  We’re having s’mores for dessert.  We can make ‘em right on the grill.”

“I don’t think she knows what s’mores are,” I tell Noah.

His eyes widen.  “Lily, you’ve never had s’mores before?”

Lily shakes her head solemnly as she always does when she knows she’s going to experience something really meaningful or delicious.

“Really?” Noah is incredulous.  “But your mom and I used to…”

He cuts his own thought off mid-sentence.  I wonder if he’s remembering the same thing I am.  The two of us, cuddled together by a campfire, roasting marshmallows on sticks we found in the woods.  The woods used to scare me, but with my head resting on Noah’s broad shoulder and his arm around me, I felt completely safe and warm and happy.

I used to love s’mores.

“Hasn’t your dad ever taken you camping?” Noah asks Lily.

Lily crinkles her nose. “He doesn’t like that.”

“Theo isn’t what you’d call the outdoors type,” Dad volunteers.  “He’s more the lazy, deadbeat musician type.”

And then everyone laughs.  Ha ha, my ex-husband is a big loser and I’m a loser for having married him.  Real hilarious.

“Well, I’ll have to show you some cool outdoorsy stuff this week then,” Noah tells Lily. “Starting with s’mores, okay?”

Lily nods eagerly. “What are s’mores?”

“Basically,” he says, “you melt some marshmallow on a piece of graham cracker, then you cover that with chocolate.”

I think he had her at “some marshmallow.”

To be continued....
 
P.S.  I've been debating how much of the flashbacks from Noah and Bailey's past to include here.  There was one that's in the original that I cut out to keep the flow and get to the devvy parts faster.  But what do you think?  Include flashbacks or no?

My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, Chapter 3

An hour later, everyone goes back into the cabin, bellies full of meat, marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers.  Lily officially loves s’mores.  And Noah.  She definitely loves Noah.

Noah stays behind to scrape and clean the grill.  I do my part by wiping down the patio table, but I’m watching him out of the corner of my eye.  I see his impressive biceps flexing as he scrapes the char from the lines of the grill.  He’s still so built—it’s hard to tear my eyes away.

“Thank you for being so nice to Lily,” I say.

Noah glances back at me briefly, then goes back to the grill.  “I know what it’s like to have a dad who isn’t around much.”

Noah’s father left his mother when he was about ten years old, but was usually absent prior to that. There were issues with alcohol, but in general, he just seemed like he wasn’t a great guy. A loser, Noah always called him. I remember Noah telling me about a heart-wrenching Boy Scout trip where every dad showed up but his. It was one of his goals in life to be completely different from his own father.

“Anyway,” he says, “she’s a sweet kid.”

I smile at the compliment. “Thanks.  She likes you too.  Actually, I think she has quite the crush.”

Noah snorts. “Yeah, I get that a lot from the little girls who show up at the emergency room.”

“The moms too, I’ll bet.”

He doesn’t look at me as he mumbles, “Yeah.”

The female patients must go wild for Noah.  A handsome, young doctor with no ring on his finger?  He must have to bat them away.

“So,” Noah says quietly, “does Lily know about me?  Did you tell her?”

I bite my lip. “Tell her what?”

He turns to glare at me.  “What do you think?”

I wince at his anger, which is probably deserved.  “No.  I haven’t told her anything.  Do… do you want me to?”

He doesn’t look terribly surprised that I hadn’t told her. He shakes his head. “No, let me.  I’m used to telling people.”  He shrugs. “Can’t be any worse than telling a woman I’m out on a first date with.”

“Oh,” I mumble.  “Is that… I mean, do they react… badly?”

Noah slams down the spatula and glares at me. “Well, gee, Bailey, how the fuck do you think they react?  You think they rip their clothes off with desire?”

“No,” I say quickly, then when I see the look on his face, I backpeddle.  “I mean, I’m sure there are some women who… there have to be women who… I mean, you’ve had girlfriends, haven’t you?”

I see the look on Noah’s face and recognize at this point that I’m not making this situation any better.  “Jesus Christ,” he says.  “Of course I’ve had girlfriends.  What the hell do you think?  This is really insulting.”

“I’m sorry.” I run a shaking hand through my hair.  “I didn’t mean to… I mean, you’re the one who brought it up.”  I chew on my thumbnail—an old bad habit of mine.  “I feel like I can’t say anything without you yelling at me.”

“Sorry to make things uncomfortable for you,” Noah shoots back.

I scoop up a package of unused paper plates from the table.  I want to throw them at him.  “If you want me to leave,” I say, “just say so.  I’ll have Lily and me on a train to New York first thing tomorrow.”

He studies my face as if he’s really thinking about it.  I know he said he invited me so that we could learn to be cordial with each other, but I think it’s a lost cause.  It’s clear Noah doesn’t have it in him to be nice to me, even if he thought he did. 

“No,” he says finally. “I want this to work out.  For my mother’s sake.  She deserves to be happy.”

“Fine,” I say, “but you have to stop being such an asshole to me.”

He opens his mouth as if to protest, but then thinks better of it.  “I’ll try,” he finally says.

Our eyes meet across the patio.  It surreal that we’re standing here, struggling to be civil to each other.  This wasn’t where I thought we’d be ten years ago.  Everything went horribly wrong, and I know there’s nothing I can do at this point to fix it.

***
 
Sketching is better than psychotherapy for me.  When I’m feeling awful, all I need to do is get out my sketchpad and let my mind go blank as I watch the image take shape before me.  I don’t think about anything else when I’m sketching other than the drawing in front of me.  There was a year when I couldn’t draw because of… well, everything that happened. That was one of the worst years of my life. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars in therapy bills thanks to my hobby.  (Good thing too, because I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on therapy.)

So instead of getting worked up about the fact that Noah is in his bedroom, thinking about how much he hates me, I sit out on the sofa and sketch while Lily plays with her new Barbie.  Gwen and my father have gone out for their “nightly walk” so it’s very quiet in here.  I’m sketching Noah’s small kitchen, with its small wooden dining table, creaky chairs, and humming refrigerator.  (The challenge is to sketch “humming.”)  As the image takes shape, the tension gradually melts from my shoulders and the sharp pain in my temples subsides to a dull ache.

Until Noah comes out into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water.

He walks into the room with that barely perceptible limp.  His T-shirt is far from tight, but it still can’t hide all the muscles in his chest and arms.  I hate that he still looks every bit as good as he did a decade ago.

He grabs a glass from the kitchen cabinet and fills it with filtered water from his refrigerator.  Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “I thought you always said water filters were bourgeoisie.”

Noah puts his water glass down on the kitchen table with an aggressively loud thump.  Great—why did I say something to antagonize him?  I should have stuck with a neutral topic, like the weather.  Why oh why didn’t I talk about the weather?

“This isn’t the suburbs.” He shakes his head at me like I’ve said something too stupid to believe. “You can’t drink the water unfiltered out here.  You’d get really sick.”

“Okay,” I mumble.

Given how much he hates me, I’m hopeful he’ll bring the water back into his room, but he doesn’t.  He sits down with it at that wooden table in one of the rickety chairs with an ungraceful plop.   And he sips his water painfully slowly, watching me over the rim of the glass.  It makes it hard to do… well, anything.

“I wonder when your mother and my father will be getting back from their walk,” I say, because sometimes it’s hard for me to shut up when I’m nervous. And Noah is making me very nervous. “I hope they’re okay.”

Noah looks down at his watch.  “They’re adults.  They’ll come back eventually.”

“Yes, but…” I look at the door.  “Your mother took her purse, didn’t she?  Could they have gotten… mugged?”

“Mugged?” Noah snorts.  “Here?  You’ve got to be kidding me.”  He takes another sip of water.  “No, around here, the bigger worry is coyotes.”

My heart speeds up.  “Coyotes?”

He nods solemnly.  “And snakes.”

He’s messing with me.  That’s his mother out there—he wouldn’t send her out to be eaten by coyotes and snakes.  But my calm from a moment ago has been completely shattered, and I feel a rush of relief when I hear footsteps right outside our door.  Human footsteps.  Nothing four-legged or slithery.

Gwen and my father burst through the door, and I see right away that Gwen is limping.  Despite the fact that I’m certain Noah was teasing me about the coyotes and snakes, he looks alarmed when he sees his mother. 

“Mom!” His light brown eyebrows scrunch together. “What happened?  Are you okay?”

I know how close Noah always was with his mother, especially since his dad walked out on them.  As a teenager, he chased out a guy his mother was dating when the guy got too fresh.  He liked being able to protect her.  It must gut him to see her hurt.

“I’m fine!” Gwen hobbles into the living room and collapses onto the sofa.  “I just got scraped up by some evil branches.”

But Noah insists on taking a look. He is, he points out, a doctor.  My father holds her hand while she straightens out her left leg—sure enough, there are angry red marks all over her calf, which are oozing dark red blood.  I close my eyes, not willing to let them see how much the sight of Gwen’s injury is bothering me.  I’m trying not to think about that dark red blood.

“That’s a lot of blood,” Lily comments. 

Thanks for the observation, honey.

“Let me get this cleaned up,” Noah says.  “Bailey, could you grab the first aid kit in the closet over there?”

He’s pointing to the closet about six feet from where I’m sitting.  It’s an entirely reasonable request, except if I try to stand up, I will definitely pass out.  Even without standing up, it’s a coin flip whether I’m going to stay conscious.

“Um…,” I murmur.

Noah raises his blue eyes to look at me.  I see a flicker of amusement on his features—almost affection.  “It still bothers you so much, Bailey?”

I turn my head away, unable to even mumble a response.

“I’ll get it!” Lily yelps, abandoning her Barbie on the floor.  She’s too eager to impress Noah.

Unfortunately, Lily doesn’t have the slightest idea what a first aid kit looks like. After a moment of contemplation, she pulls an umbrella out of the closet and holds it up triumphantly.  I don’t get that.  Yes, she might not know what a first aid kit should look like.  But she does know what an umbrella looks like.  My father finally has to go over to help her, but he can’t find it either.  Noah finally has to fetch it himself.

While Noah is rifling around the closet, looking for the kit, my father holds Gwen’s hand.  He smiles at her in a way that makes me wish I had a boyfriend of my own around for all the various cuts and scrapes I’ve had over the years. Not only am I single, but there’s nothing even remotely on the horizon.  I am uber-single.

“Must be nice having a son who’s a doctor,” Dad comments.

Gwen smiles and nods.  “Yes, it is.”  She flashes me a pointed look.  “He always looks out for the people he cares about.  That’s just the sort of person he is.”

Oh God.  Way to rub it in.

Noah fishes out his first aid kit from the closet after a minute of searching.  The sight of it is painfully familiar. I don’t know if it’s the same one he had in college, but it may as well be.  I’ve been watching Noah break out his first aid kit for a long time, at even the slightest excuse.  It was sort of his thing. I used to tease him about how a papercut doesn’t warrant a first aid kit.

I still remember the first time I saw that first aid kit during my freshman year of college.  My party animal roommate Carla had left a bottle of Corona on the floor of our dorm room, and I knocked it over accidentally, shattering glass all over the wooden floorboards of our room. During my angry attempt to clean it up, I slashed my hand on a large piece of glass.

I ran out of the room in the direction of the communal bathroom to get myself cleaned up.  But it turned out I wasn’t alone in there.  The first thing I noticed when I got inside was a cloud of steam coming out of one of the shower stalls. And that’s when I saw Noah, standing at the sink in nothing but his boxers, his usually light hair darkened from the water.

The sight of those tight muscles in his chest and arms made me forget all about my bleeding hand for a minute. It’s not like I hadn’t seen men without their shirts off at the beach or at the swimming pool, but none of them looked like Noah.

Wow.

He blinked water droplets out of his eyelashes.  “Bailey, right?”

I just stared at him, somehow rendered speechless.

His light brown eyebrows bunched together.  “Are you okay?”

“Yes?” I managed.

“Um… you’re dripping blood all over the floor…”

Noah later claimed he saw my eyes roll up in their sockets.  I’m not so sure.  My knees were definitely very wobbly, but I don’t think I was about to hit the floor.  I do remember him yelling, “Oh, shit!”  And then I felt his arms grabbing me, supporting me.

A second later, he was scooping me up in his arms like I was a princess and he was the gallant handsome prince carrying me off into the sunset. And also, he was shirtless. I wish I could have appreciated the sexiness of it, but I was just mortified that my hot neighbor had to rescue the dorky freshman from fainting.

“I’m okay,” I murmured.  “You don’t have to…”

“You almost fainted,” he pointed out.

My body was pressed against his own bare chest.  I’d never felt such a troubling combination of turned on and queasy.  I finally gave in, resting my head against his shoulder, and let him carry me back to his room, where he lay me down on the futon.

“Are you going to faint, Bailey?” he asked me.

I shook my head no.

“Throw up?”

My cheeks burned. “No.”

“Let me see your hand.”

I squeezed my fist shut and held it protectively to my chest.  “I’m okay.”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m going to go get my first aid kit.”

Noah disappeared into one of the bedrooms.  When he emerged again, he was fully dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, but he wasn’t any less sexy fully clothed.  He was also holding a plastic box containing bottles of antiseptic, band-aids, alcohol swabs, and gauze that he laid out in front of me. 

Noah held out his hand to me.  “Give it here.”

I looked away as I held out my injured palm.  I buried my face in the futon, trying to pretend this wasn’t happening.

I heard Noah laugh.  “Wow, you’re really squeamish, aren’t you, Bailey?”

“Pathetic, right?”

“No, it’s cute, actually.”

Cute.  The hot guy next door who had to save me from face-planting onto the bathroom floor just called me cute.

I felt Noah wiping away the blood on my hand.  It stung like crazy. I held my breath, biting my lip so hard I worried I was going to make that bleed too.  “Do I need stitches?” I asked him.

“Naw,” he said.  “It’s a bleeder, but it’s not that bad.”

When I opened my eyes again, Noah was done and the wound on my hand was neatly covered by two Band-Aids. 

“Thank you,” I murmured.

He grinned crookedly at me. “Any time, Bailey.”

To this day, I can’t look at a first aid kit without remembering the first time I fell a little bit in love with Noah Walsh.

***

I wake up in the morning with Lily’s feet staring me in the face.

Lily and I are no strangers to being forced to share a bedroom.  We’ve shared one for the past three years, since Theo took off.  And about half the time, at some point during the night, Lily migrates to my bed. 

I want to say it’s a joy sleeping with my daughter.  I do love having her warm little body encircled in my arms, and I’m sure she likes it too, which is why she comes into my bed.  But Lily is a very restless sleeper.  It’s not at all out of the ordinary for her to turn 180 degrees during the night and end up with her feet on her pillow, intermittently kicking me in the face.  In fact, when she does have her head on the pillow at the end of the night, I suspect it’s only because she did a full 360 turn. 

Well, at least her feet don’t smell too bad.

I sit up in bed, massaging a crick in my neck.  It’s not yet seven in the morning—I’m probably the only one awake in this house.  But looking on the bright side, that means I can hit the shower before anyone else can get there.

I tiptoe out of bed before Lily wakes up.  I grab the towel Noah left for me as well as my toiletries.  I nearly bring a change of clothes, but then I figure I can just wrap a towel around myself for the three-foot-long journey back to my room.  It will be fine.

The door to the bathroom is shut, but the light isn’t on, which is Lily’s usual MO.  I got her in the habit of closing doors behind her, so she always closes the bathroom door, which drives me nuts when we’re in someone else’s home because I’m never sure if it’s occupied.  I open the door to the bathroom, thinking I’ll have a little talk with Lily later.

Except as it turns out, the bathroom is occupied.  By Noah.  Who just finished taking a shower.

It’s not like I never walked in on Noah just after a shower before.  Hell, I’ve walked in on him during a shower many, many times.  On purpose.  And in a lot of ways, he looks very much the same as he used to back on the day he bandaged my wounded hand.  He still has a full head of hair plastered to his skull, although it’s shorter than it used to be. He still has those strong, tight muscles in his shoulders, arms, and chest, but that’s no surprise since I could see them through his T-shirt earlier. He does have more hair on his chest than he used to, but I suppose that’s normal with aging. And… well, let’s just say my favorite part of his anatomy is just as I remember it.

But the Noah before me is entirely different than the Noah I used to catch coming out of the shower.  That Noah wasn’t sitting in a wheelchair.  That Noah had two strong, muscular legs sprinkled with golden hair.  This Noah has two pale stumps, half the size of what his femurs used to be and half the width, with white scars where the rest of his legs used to be.

“Bailey,” he gasps.

“Oh my God,” I say.  “I’m so sorry!”

I slam the door shut, but of course, it’s far too late.  If I have earned any goodwill whatsoever in the last day, I have instantly lost it.

To be continued...
 
PS Did you guess??? :)

My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend, Chapter 4

I lie in bed awake for the next hour, the image of what I just saw burned into my brain.  It’s not like I never saw Noah that way—sitting in a wheelchair, his legs gone.  I have.  But then it all seemed so surreal, like maybe some hero doctor would rush in and tell us that they managed to save his legs after all.  The scars were fresh back then. Now it seems so… permanent. Forever.
 
When I was a kid, I found a starfish at the beach with my mother, and she told me that if you cut a starfish’s arm off, it would grow back.  That doesn’t happen with people, obviously.  Once your legs are gone, they will always be gone.
 
Even Lily gets out of bed before I do.  I absolutely refuse to leave my room until Lily grabs me by the arm and insists that I come out to breakfast.  “Noah is making pancakes!” she announces happily. 
 
I’d rather eat mud.  Which is a good thing, because I’m sure he’ll make sure my pancakes taste like mud.
 
I put on a pair of my running shorts and pad out to the dining area, where Noah is back on his feet again, fully dressed in jeans, a wrinkled T-shirt, and sneakers, standing at the stove.  He glances up when I enter the room, and the look he gives me almost physically hurts.  I bet he’s sorry he didn’t tell me to leave last night.
 
“Here you go, Lily,” Noah says as he sets a plate of food down in front of her.
 
It’s a large pancake that fills the entire plate.  He’s taken a bunch of blueberries and formed them into eyes, a nose, and a smile.  It’s a smiley face pancake.  Theo would never make Lily a pancake that looks like that.  Hell, I would never make Lily a pancake that looks like that.  Lily actually gasps with delight at the sight of it.
 
“It’s a smiley face!” she announces happily.
 
Noah smiles.  “Glad you like it, Lily.”
 
Lily chows down on her pancake, but every thirty seconds ago, she looks up at Noah and smiles adoringly.  She’s so infatuated with him—it’s really cute.  But that’s the way it’s always been with girls and Noah.  Even my mother fell in love with him the first time she met him.  She couldn’t stop talking about him for days afterwards.  She told me I should “go for it with him,” while I assured her he was solidly out of my league.
 
 But as it turned out, Noah was only one tragic act away from being mine.
 
Lily gobbles up her pancake while Noah gets to work on mine.  I don’t know where my father and Gwen are, but it’s clear they’ve gone out.  It’s just the three of us in the cabin.  Just me, my daughter, and a guy who despises me.
 
A couple of minutes later, Noah lays down a plate in front of me that has three pancakes on it.  They’re not burned or disgusting or anything like that.  They look perfect and delicious.  He probably put poison in them.
 
“I’m done, Mommy!” Lily announces, having gobbled up every bite of the smiley face pancake in record time.  “Can I go play with my Barbie?”
 
I don’t want Lily to leave.  I need her to be the buffer between me and Noah.  But she’s already getting up and running for the living room, so there’s not a lot I can do.  We don’t do formal dinners in our tiny apartment at home.
 
Noah sits down across from me at the table, glaring at me like he was just forced to cook pancakes for Hitler.  When Lily is out of earshot, he hisses at me, “Ever hear of knocking?”
 
My cheeks grow warm.  “The light was out.  I didn’t think anyone was in there.”
 
“There’s a window in the bathroom,” he says. “I was using natural light.”
 
“Well, I’m sorry,” I say, for what feels like the millionth time during this trip. 
 
Noah glances down at my untouched pancakes.  “Are you going to eat those?  Or did seeing me in the bathroom make you lose your appetite?”
 
“Noah…”  I want to tell him it’s not true, because it’s most definitely not, but I know that my words will sound hollow.  There’s too much bad blood between us.  Really, I should just leave now.  Except Lily is having such a great time.
 
Before I can say anything else, Noah stands up abruptly and leaves the room.  He goes out on the patio and sits there, staring out at the lake in the distance, probably thinking about how much he hates me.
 
I hear a ringtone in the distance and realize that someone is calling me.  I wonder if it’s my father.  God, I hope he’s getting back soon.  I can’t take too much more one-on-one time with Noah.
 
Except when I get to the bedroom, it turns out the caller is Theo.  I see his name flashing on the display and consider letting it go to voicemail. It’s hard to recall even one positive interaction with Theo since our divorce. I don’t know if I can handle him right now.
 
My relationship with Theo was a direct reaction to my relationship with Noah.  Theo was everything Noah was not.  Theo was an artist while Noah was hardcore pre-med.  Theo was scruffy and grungy, while Noah was relatively clean-cut.  Theo was moody while Noah was even-tempered.  Theo dropped out of college, while Noah graduated summa cum laude. 
 
Theo was the sort of guy I’d always been attracted to before Noah.  I met him when I was out with a friend at a bar where he was playing with his band.  He had a great voice—raspy and deep.  When he buried his face in the microphone, crooning an old Nirvana single, his stringy brown hair falling in his face, I felt something stirring in me that I thought was permanently dead.  I came up to him after his set was over and told him how much I loved it.  He asked me out, and soon after, we were dating regularly.
 
One year later, I found myself pregnant with Lily.  Theo asked me to marry him, and despite growing reservations, I said yes.  At the time, I figured it was better than being a single mother.
 
I figured wrong.
 
Theo was great in theory.  He was sexy and a true artist and great in bed.  But in practice, he was a mess.  His band was a failure—they could barely book non-paying gigs and there was constant inner turmoil among the band members.  They kept on their coke-snorting drummer way too long, even though he’d routinely not show up for their sets.  But Theo wouldn’t consider any other career aside from the one he’d always dreamed of, so he took side gigs waiting tables or bartending to pay the bills.  That was fine in his early twenties, but not when he was in his thirties and had a wife and child to support.
 
Also, the long hair was much less sexy when his hairline started to recede.  I told him he should consider shaving his head completely, and he blew up at me so violently that I never mentioned his hair again.
 
I could have lived with all of that though.  I could have dealt with the poverty, the moodiness, the bad hair—all of it.  But what I couldn’t deal with was the other women.  When he’d come home sweaty after a gig, smelling like another woman’s perfume, that was too much for me to tolerate.  Worst of all, he was blatantly unapologetic about it, claiming I’d tied him down too early with a child.  As if that broken condom was my fault.
 
I stare down at the phone now, wondering what Theo wants from me.  Of course, now that Noah has been reaming me out, my feelings toward Theo are warmer than usual.  Theo may be a deadbeat, but at least he doesn’t outright despise me.  He’d move right back in if I’d let him.
 
I grab the phone just before it goes to voicemail.  “Theo?  What’s going on?”
 
“Hey, Bailey.”  The anger that had been in Theo’s voice during our last conversation is gone.  Thank God. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about yesterday.”
 
“Oh.” It’s a rare moment when Theo apologizes for something.  I should relish it. “That’s okay.”
 
“You’ve never taken Lily anywhere out of the state before,” he points out.  “I just freaked out.”
 
He was worried, and I can’t entirely blame him.  If he had taken Lily on a big trip without telling me about it, I would have gone ballistic.  Just because he sometimes blows Lily off, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her.  He’s her father, after all.
 
“I’m sorry,” I say.  “I should have told you.”
 
“Where are you, anyway?” Theo asks.
 
I tell him the approximate location of the cabin, best I can.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where we are.  And I’m not about to ask Noah.
 
“And you’ll be back in a week?”
 
“Yeah,” I say. “Lily has school next week so we’ll be back for that.”
 
“When you get back,” Theo says, “maybe I can take Lily someplace really special.  What do you think she’d like?”
 
“Maybe the Bronx Zoo?” I suggest.  Then I regret it, because I know the admission fee is more than Theo can afford.  “Or Coney Island maybe?”
 
“Sure,” he says.  He’s quiet for a second.  “And maybe you could come along too?”
 
I grit my teeth.  This is a typical Theo move.  He begged me not to kick him out, even though he could never promise to be faithful.  Every once in a while, he makes a play to get me back.  But I’m too smart for that.  “Maybe,” I say, just to put him off.
 
“No pressure,” Theo says.
 
“Listen, I should go,” I say.  “But… we’ll coordinate things when I get back.”
 
“Sure.  Have a great trip.”
 
“Thanks.”
 
I hang up the phone, feeling a modicum better.  Even if Noah is being a jerk to me, at least Theo was nice for a change.  I don’t think I could handle being attacked by both of them. 
 
I go back to the dining table to finish my cold pancakes.  Noah is back in the living room and he’s talking to Lily.  She’s listening to him intently, her little heart-shaped face beaming with happiness.  God, she’s got one hell of a crush.
 
“Mommy!” Lily shrieks when she sees me.  She’s waving her hands to get my attention even though she’s right in front of me.  “Mommy, Noah is going to take me to see his boat and then we’re going to go get some crabs at the lake!”
 
“Wonderful.” I take a bite of my pancake.  Even cold, it’s pretty tasty. 
 
“And then, Mommy,” Lily continues, “he’s going to cook the crabs for our dinner!”
 
I look at her in amazement.  You’re going to eat crabs?”  Lily subsists primarily on a diet of frozen chicken nuggets and hot dogs with a side of macaroni and cheese.  And the chicken nuggets must be shaped like dinosaurs.  Or else.
 
“Noah says he makes them taste really good,” she says.
 
Wow, she really loves him.
 
I look up at Noah sitting in the living room, remembering when I felt the same way.
 
 
 
14 YEARS EARLIER
 
I’m on a date.
 
It’s my first date of college. Even though my crush on Noah Walsh is still very much present, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that our relationship will consist mostly of waving hello when we pass each other on campus, or maybe some small talk in the hallway. Noah isn’t really my type anyway—I’ve always preferred more artistic guys than straight-edge, athletic, pre-meds.
 
Derek Malone is more my type of guy.
 
He’s in my Visual Studies course, and he’s an art major like me.  Long hair, ink-stained fingertips, a goatee.  And I like him just as much after our dinner out at an Italian restaurant.  We talked about our common class, although less about our visual relationship to nature and culture than we did about how our professor has the strangest, unidentifiable accent.  Derek guessed he was French—I thought Russian.  It was quite a debate.
 
As Derek walks me back to my dorm, I wonder if he’s going to kiss me good night.  It will be my first kiss of college—something surely memorable.  I wonder if Derek’s goatee will feel scratchy against my chin.  I wonder if he’ll try to slip me some tongue.  Or if I’ll let him. 
 
“May I walk you upstairs?” Derek asks me as we approach the door to my dorm.  The wind is blowing his long, brown hair into his face, and he looks very much the artist.  If he were a musician, this could be his album cover.
 
I smile.  “Of course you may.”
 
We make it up to my front door and that’s where our date will come to an end.  Derek turns to face me, a tiny smile playing on his lips.  “I had a great time, Bailey.”
 
“So did I,” I reply honestly.
 
We stare at each other for a minute while my heart pounds in my chest.  Is he going to kiss me?  I want him to kiss me.  If he doesn’t kiss me, I’ll spend the next week wondering what I did wrong. 
 
But I don’t have to worry much longer.  Derek leans forward and presses his lips against mine.  Derek’s tongue probes my mouth just a little more than I would have wanted, but I forgive him for that.  It’s hard for guys to know the exact right amount of tongue. And bonus points for pulling back at exactly the right moment.
 
This is the perfect end to this date.  All I can think about is when we’re going to have our next one.
 
Except then Derek leans forward and kisses me again.  This kiss is more aggressive than the first one, his tongue more probing and insistent.  I feel his body pressing me against the door to my room, getting closer than I’d want him to on a first date.  Not that I’m a prude, but…
 
“How about we go inside?” he breathes in my ear.
 
I shake my head. “Not tonight.”
 
“Come on,” he whines.  “Just for a little while.”
 
Before I can answer, he kisses me again.  This time, I don’t allow my tongue to respond to him at all.  This kiss is most certainly unwelcome.  Especially the way he’s pressing his body against me so firmly that I can hardly move or breathe.  Derek is thin but wiry.
 
“I’m just sort of tired,” I say when he pulls away for air.  “I think I’d like to go home.”
 
“But we’re having such a great time,” he points out.  “And it’s still early.”
 
“I think my roommate might be home,” I mumble, even though it’s eleven o’clock on a Saturday night, which means there’s no way in hell Carla’s home.  She calls me pathetic when she comes home at three in the morning to find me already asleep in bed.
 
“Why don’t you check?”
 
I swallow. My perfect date is completely ruined.  Why is Derek being so goddamn pushy?
 
“Listen,” I say, “like I said, I’m tired, so…”
 
“But I bought you dinner,” he says.
 
I frown at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
 
“It means that maybe you should stop being a cocktease.”
 
I stare at Derek.  I can’t believe the guy I was just thinking was so romantic only minutes earlier is turning into the biggest jerk I’ve ever met.  All I want is for him to leave. 
 
But Derek isn’t taking the cue.  He pushes me against the door again, kissing me more roughly.  That’s when I notice that nobody whatsoever is in the hallway.  It’s Saturday night, and every single person is out with friends or at a party or just gone.  I’m all alone here with Derek.
 
I try to shove him off me, but his fingers grab my wrists and further pin me against the door.  He’s kissing my face and my neck and his body is pressed against me so hard that I can feel his erection.  I try to struggle against him, but I can’t budge.  He’s so goddamn strong—at least compared to me. 
 
Shit, what am I supposed to do in this situation?  Why didn’t I take that campus self-defense course when I had a chance?
 
I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping he’ll get sick of it when he sees I’m not responding, but he doesn’t.  He’s kissing me more roughly while I squirm helplessly under his grip.  “Please stop,” I beg him.
 
“Oh, cut it out, Bailey,” he says. “You know you want this.”
 
Tears are forming in my eyes.  I can’t believe this is happening.  I can’t believe Derek is going to assault me right in the hallway outside my dorm room.
 
Except before the tears can escape, I feel the weight of Derek’s body being lifted off me.  At first I think that Derek realized I didn’t want his advances and decided to leave me alone.  Then I open my eyes and see none other than Noah Walsh throwing Derek against the wall, so roughly that his body makes a resounding thump on impact.  Derek tries to make a run for it, but Noah grabs him by the collar and shoves him backwards, pinning him against the wall.
 
“What the fuck did you think you were doing to her?” Noah practically spits in his face.  I can see the anger in his blue eyes—if it were directed at me, I would have been terrified.
 
“Listen, this is none of your business,” Derek says weakly.  “Bailey and I were out on a date.”
 
“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?” Noah releases Derek for a second, then buries his fist in Derek’s stomach. Derek doubles over, gasping with pain. Derek might have been able to overpower me, but Noah’s both taller and stronger than he is. 
 
“You listen to me, you little shit,” Noah hisses at Derek.  “If I ever see or hear about you laying a finger on Bailey ever again, I will personally break every bone in your puny little body.  You don’t touch her, you don’t speak to her, you don’t even breathe on her. You got me, asshole?”
 
Derek nods, still hunched over and clutching his stomach.
 
“Now get the fuck out of here,” Noah growls at him.
 
Derek doesn’t need to be told twice.  He limps off in the direction of the staircase, still holding his belly.  He doesn’t look back.
 
Noah turns to me, breathing hard.  The fire has left his eyes and he furrows his brow.  “Are you okay, Bailey?”
 
My legs have given way underneath me, and I crouch against the door, trembling.  I manage to nod, wiping my eyes self-consciously.
 
“I just…” He glances at his own room.  “I was out at a party and came back to grab a bottle of vodka I had in my room, and I saw…”
 
I don’t say anything.  Part of me feels like I might never speak again.
 
He looks down at his right hand, as if in amazement. “I never hit anyone before,” he breathes. 
 
His blue eyes meet mine, and they are so kind that the tears I’d been holding back all this time spill over.  I wipe them self-consciously, as Noah crouches down beside me. This isn’t the most comfortable place to be sitting, but he stays there with me while I cry it out.  At some point, he fishes a crumpled tissue out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.
 
“Do you have your room key?” he asks gently.
 
I nod and fish around in my purse until I find it.  I pass it over to him, and he gets to his feet.  He holds his hand out to me to help me stand up—his hand is big and warm and safe.  He opens the door for me and leads me inside.
 
“Go lie down, okay?” he tells me.
 
“Okay,” I murmur.
 
Noah closes the door behind him while I settle down on my bed.  I’ve never been a stuffed animal kind of girl, but now I wish I were.  I want something to cuddle to feel safe.
 
“You’re going to be fine,” Noah says gently, kneeling down by my bed.
 
“What if he comes back?” I manage to say.
 
Noah thinks for a moment.  “I’ll stay.  As long as you want.  Keep guard.”
 
“What about your party?”
 
He shrugs. “So what?  There are a million parties.”
 
“Aren’t they waiting for the vodka?”
 
He shakes his head and laughs.  “So they’ll just have to make the supplies last a little longer.  It’s fine.”
 
I look at Noah sitting cross-legged on the ground, leaning best he can against my desk. It looks incredibly uncomfortable. He’s watching me intently, an unreadable look in his eyes.  I feel a sudden and almost overpowering rush of affection toward him, something far deeper than my Freshman Crush.
 
“Thanks for saving me tonight,” I whisper.
 
“No problem,” he whispers back, his eyes never leaving mine. 
 
The truth is, I can’t stop looking at him either.
 
“You look uncomfortable on the floor,” I observe.
 
He waves his hand and smiles crookedly. “I’m fine.”
 
“You can lie next to me,” I say softly.  “If you want.”
 
His eyes widen.  “Uh… I don’t… I mean, you don’t need to feel like you have to…”
 
“I’d feel safer if you were next to me,” I say.  I’m not sure if that’s true.  I feel safe with Noah on the floor.  But I still want him next to me.
 
He doesn’t have to be told again.  He gets up off the floor, slips off his sneakers, and climbs into my bed next to me.  His body feels warm and large next to mine.  I scoot over to get closer to him, but I can tell he’s not entirely sure what to do.  Which is weird, considering he hasn’t had any shortage of girls accompanying him to his room this year.
 
I slide into the crook of his arm, feeling safe and comforted by the heat of his body.  I rest my arm on his chest, feeling the muscles of his abdomen under my hand.  He puts his own arm around my shoulder, gently pulling me closer.
 
I look up at his face.  God, he’s sexy.  He lowers his head slightly, but I’m the one who bridges the gap.  I kiss him first, and despite what nearly happened with Derek, I realize I want this.  I want Noah desperately, and I can’t hold back another second.  It feels so right to be here in Noah’s arms. I’ve never been kissed like this before.
 
And as he kisses me, the fleeting thought goes through my head that this is the boy I’m going to marry someday.
 
To be continues...