I’m definitely not faking the screams. But I wasn’t last time either.
Last time was hungrier. This time is slower and more gentle. Tim really takes his time. It gives me a hint at what things might be like if we lived in the universe where there was any chance the two of us could be in a relationship. A universe very different from this one.
After another six incredible orgasms, I find myself again lying in his arms, both of us sweaty and smiling like a couple of idiots. For the first fifteen minutes or so, we just lie there, too tired to even talk. Tim lays one kiss on the top of my head, which is oddly sweet.
“God,” I murmur into his shoulder. “That was nice.”
“I hope it helped relieve some of your stress.”
“Among other things.” I let out a long sigh. “Usually it’s not that good. I mean, it’s fine. But it’s not like that.”
“For me either.”
I run my fingers over the dark hairs on his chest and the taut muscles in his abdomen. “I wish I could lie here forever, but…”
“I’m starving. And kind of dehydrated too.”
Tim laughs. “I was actually thinking the exact same thing. I haven’t eaten since lunch.”
“But I don’t want to leave this apartment.”
“God forbid. Pizza?”
My little fling is not doing good things for my cholesterol. But the truth is, pizza sounds amazing. What is it about sex that makes you crave fatty foods? “Extra cheese?”
“Hell yes.” He reaches for his phone that he dropped on my nightstand. “I’ll call for it. You got a place you like?”
“Andrina’s. It’s two blocks away. They’re fast.”
Tim orders a large cheese pizza with extra cheese. It seems like a lot of food for just the two of us, but right now, I could devour entire pizza all on my own. But I shouldn’t. I’ll eat two slices, and anything that’s left over, I’ll freeze it.
It’s going to be forty minutes before the pizza arrives, so I snuggle back into Tim’s arms. Despite how hungry and thirsty I am, I don’t want to move from this spot. I’ve never felt so contented in a man’s arms before. I don’t know if I’ve ever been with a guy who wasn’t itching to leave. Or if he wasn’t, then I was.
“Better get dressed,” Tim eventually says with a tinge of regret in his voice.
“It’s only been half an hour,” I complain as I nuzzle my head into his shoulder.
“Yeah, but I’m not quick.”
Tim gently disentangles himself from me and sits up in bed. Even under the dim light of my lamp on the nightstand, it’s obvious he has a great chest. He’s lean, but he has tight muscles in his chest and arms. I watch them flex as he pulls his boxers on followed by his jeans.
I grab for the oversized Mets shirt that I sleep in most nights. Hopefully, he’ll think it’s cute despite the fact that it’s so old, the white lettering has nearly worn away. After I throw it over my head, Tim gets his shoes back on. He mentioned it’s hard for him to walk without them, and now I see why. He’s got plastic braces that strap to his calf and slide into his shoes. You can’t see them with his pants on.
He throws his shirt on last, which is a bit of a disappointment. I liked him better without his shirt.
Tim reaches for his crutches that he had laid down beside the bed, then heaves himself back to his feet. He notices me watching and smiles crookedly. “Sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing?”
“I’m not sure. You were just looking at me like… I mean, I realize this isn’t the sexiest thing in the world. It’s… awkward.”
“I don’t mind.”
He rolls his eyes.
“I don’t. Why would I?”
“Because. Come on.” He says it so matter-of-factly. He doesn’t even sound bitter about it—I suppose you get used to things when you’ve lived with it your whole life. But it’s clear I’m not going to be able to convince him otherwise. It would be like trying to convince him the Earth is flat.
I chew on my lip. “Can you walk without the crutches at all?”
“Oh, sure. I mostly just use them for decoration.”
Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. I’m about to ask another question, but then the intercom buzzes loudly. Our pizza has arrived.
He swings his crutches forward, then pulls each leg along behind him. He’s quicker at it than you would think, but still slower than I would be. “Let’s go eat some pizza.”
We argue for about two minutes over who’s going to pay for the pizza. In the end, Tim whips out a twenty and I don’t have a chance. It’s sweet that he’s so intent on paying. But I’m the one who has to hold the pizza box, because he doesn’t have a free hand thanks to his crutches. I see the look on his face when the pizza delivery guy gives me the box—he doesn’t look happy about it.
“Where do you keep the plates?” he asks.
“Do we need plates?”
He grins at me. “I don’t if you don’t. I thought maybe you were the sort of girl who uses a plate and a knife and fork to eat her pizza.”
“If you got out a knife and fork to eat a slice of pizza, I don’t think I could ever speak to you again.”
I lay the pie down on my dining table, and we don’t bother with the plates. I grab two cans of soda from the fridge, and also a couple of napkins. Tim sinks down into his seat, and he shoves his crutches under the table like he did at the bar last night. He lets me take the first slice, then he takes one himself. I bite into the cheesy goodness, and it’s absolutely amazing. Why does pizza taste better after good sex?
“Jesus Christ,” Tim says. “This is really good pizza.”
“I know. I love Andrina’s pizza.”
As I take another bite of the pizza, my own words echo in my ear. I love this pizza. I loved that burger last night. I feel a lot of affection for my food, but not much else.
“One thing Marley said,” I blurt out, “is that she regretted never being in love. Like, in her entire life.”
Of course, that was the FaceTime version of Marley. Whoever that really was. But the more I think about it, the more it feels like Marley. But he assumes I mean something she said to me before she died.
“Even with pizza?” he jokes. But then he sees the look on my face and the smile drops off his face. “I know what you mean.”
I take another bite of pizza, chewing thoughtfully.
“Have you ever been in love?” he asks.
My cheeks grow warm. “I… I’m not sure.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“Okay.” I let out a sigh. “No. The truth is, I haven’t. Once I thought… Well, maybe. But looking back, it wasn’t love. I’m sure of it. So… no. I’ve never been in love.” I hesitate. “How about you?”
He’s quiet for a moment. So quiet that I can hear when he swallows a bite of his pizza. “I thought I was once also. There was this girl I was dating for a couple of years. I thought we’d end up getting married. But… it didn’t happen.”
“Yeah, well.” He reaches for another slice of pizza. “Lesson learned: if your girlfriend is having doubts about you, don’t take her to a wedding. We went to this wedding, and all the time when I’m watching the ceremony and thinking how I need to get her a ring, it’s suddenly occurring to her that she doesn’t want to spend her life with the guy sitting next to her. And the reception sealed the deal. All she wanted to do was dance, and as you can imagine, that’s not my forte.”
“She never expressed any interest in dancing before, but all the sudden, I was ruining her life because I couldn’t do it.” He takes a swig from the can of soda. “We broke up that night.”
“Don’t be. It was for the best.”
I try to remember how Richard and I broke up. We didn’t, I guess. We just gradually stopped having sex, and then one day I realized it was over. But I don’t want to tell that story.
“I like being single,” I say. “Relationship drama is more than I can handle right now. I’m happier this way.”
“Yeah, that was my way of thinking after Cynthia.” He takes another bite of pizza. “I felt like I spent my entire twenties putting myself out there and getting rejected most of the time. I thought I was done with that when things got serious with Cynthia, and after she broke up with me, I just had no desire to go back there. I like my job. I’ve got lots of nieces and nephews. And for a guy like me, being single is the default. I basically just have to avoid the blind dates—it’s not like women are throwing themselves at me.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
“Hmm. I really don’t think you do. You’re beautiful woman, so I’m sure you have to fend off a lot of guys.”
Considering I really only go out for work functions, that’s not the case at all. The only men I have to fend off are guys like Nick Danvier, who act like hitting on me is part of their job description. And all those guys are married. “Not as many as you think. And anyway, you’re pretty hot too.”
He snorts. “Well, thanks. But let’s be real here. Most women don’t want a guy with cerebral palsy, who has to drag himself around on crutches. And it’s not like I can hide it on the first few dates and then bring it up later when we’ve already gotten to know each other. I pretty much have to put it on the table immediately.”
I start to tell him that he’s wrong, that women aren’t that shallow. But it’s obvious he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been living this his whole life.
“Anyway.” He shrugs. “It wasn’t bad being single. Aside from my family nagging me, I liked not having don’t worry about women. Until…”
I frown at him. “Until what?”
He swishes around the little bit of soda left in his can. “Until I saw you sitting in that bar. And then I realized I wasn’t as okay with being single as I thought I was.”
I snort. “Oh, please.”
“I mean it.” He lifts his blue eyes to look into mine. “There was something about you. It was this crowded bar with dozens of people, but I couldn’t stop looking at you. It was like you were the only person in the room. And I knew if I didn’t send you a drink, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”
I want to ask him if he regrets it now—now that he knows who I am. But I’m afraid to ask that question. I’m too afraid the answer might be yes. So instead, I ask the other question going through my head: “You really can’t dance at all?”
He stares at me up for a moment, then his face breaks out into a grin. “Why? Do you want to enter us in a swing competition?”
“No.” I reach for my second slice of pizza. “I’m not a big dancer. At all. But I love music.”
He considers my question for a moment. “I can’t do any fancy dance moves. But with the right partner, I can handle slow dancing.”
“The right partner?”
“I need a little support. I’ve got to be with somebody I trust.”
“Do you trust me?”
He lets out a breath. “Yes…”
I wink at him. “Want to give it a whirl?”
“No time like the present.” I rise to my feet. “Come on. Let’s slow dance.”
He glances around the room and tugs at his shirt collar. “But there’s no music. You need music to dance.”
“Oh, fine.” I find my phone where I left it on the kitchen counter. I fumble through my music playlist and hit the first tune that pops up. “There. Now we’ve got music to slow dance to.”
He frowns. “Ebbie, this is from the Hamilton soundtrack.”
“Come on, Tim. You don’t want to waste your shot, do you?”
He finally smiles. “No. I definitely don’t.”
He supports himself on the table with one hand as he gets to his feet. Even though he wouldn’t say so explicitly, it’s obvious he needs those crutches to walk at all, or at least for some sort of support. He leans heavily against the table as he takes a few steps, but then when he clears the table, it’s all me. He’s got his arms around me, leaning against me with each step.
“You okay?” he asks.
“I’m stronger than I look.”
“Yeah, no offense, but I’m getting nervous.”
“Just one more step,” I promise as he grunts loudly.
He was right. This is an awful song for slow dancing. I should have taken an extra minute to find something better. But strangely, it doesn’t matter. Because he’s got his arms around me, and I’m pressed against his body, and this is the sexiest slow dance I’ve ever had. Even though we’re slow dancing to rap.
I rest my head against his shoulder and I can hear his heart beating against my ear. It’s a really soothing sound.
“Hey,” I murmur.
“This is nice.”
I lift my head from his shoulder. “Would you lose your balance if I kissed you right now?”
He grins at me. “I won’t if you’re careful.”
I am so careful. I lift my lips so that all he has to do is lower his head and then we’re kissing. He’s still holding onto me for support, our bodies squeezed against each other. I feel his dick thickening against me, which excites the hell out of me. Every time I kiss this man, it’s like fireworks. I can’t control myself around him. And that’s a bad thing.
I think it is, anyway.
“Want to go for another round?” I breathe.
He nods eagerly. “Just help me back to the table and I’m good to go.”
“You sure are.”
He kisses me again. “What can I say? You drive me crazy, Ebbie.”
I feel the exact same way. But somehow I can’t make myself say it.
My alarm is going off.
I crack my eyes open, feeling strangely disoriented and again dehydrated. I open my eyes wider, confirming that I am in my own bedroom, lying in my own bed. I reach for my alarm and hit the button to turn it off. I never snooze. Why set your alarm for a certain time if you’re just going to wait ten more minutes to wake up?
It takes me a good thirty seconds to realize what’s different.
There’s a man in my bed.
It all comes back in a flash. After we went back to my bed, we made love for another two hours. When we were both completely spent, I snuggled against him while we talked softly. I remember thinking how comfortable I felt in his arms. How easy it would be to fall asleep here. And then I guess I did.
I sit up straight, my heart pounding. I put my hand on Tim’s muscular shoulder, shaking him as hard as I can. He groans and covers his eyes. “What? What’s going on?”
“You spent the night here!”
He yawns loudly, showing off his perfect white molars. He doesn’t seem nearly as upset as I am over this turn of events. “Yeah. I guess I fell asleep.” He cracks his eyes open and looks at the clock. “Christ, it’s early. Let’s go back to sleep.”
And then he tries to pull me back down against the pillows to snuggle against him. There’s no way that’s happening.
“I’ve got to get to work! You’ve got to go!”
“It’s six in the morning and it’s the day before Christmas. You really need to get out of bed right this instant?”
I give his shoulder another shake for a good measure. “This is when I get up! You weren’t supposed to sleep here!”
“Well, sorry.” He yawns again. “I didn’t mean to.”
As he stretches, I can’t help but think that Tim looks pretty damn sexy in the morning. And if I didn’t have to be at work, well, I wouldn’t mind going for round three. But I feel like that would send the wrong message. Three times in two days? A little more of that, and I’m going to end up with a boyfriend.
I can’t have a boyfriend. After my screw-up yesterday, I have to focus all my energy on making things right at work.
I shake Tim’s shoulder one more time as I clutch the blanket to my chest. “Get up!”
“All right, all right…”
He’s moving glacially slow as he pushes himself into a sitting position. He rests his elbows on his knees and leans forward to rub his eyeballs. Then he fumbles for his glasses. Oh God, this is going to take forever.
“Can’t you get up any faster?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve never tried.” He flashes me a crooked grin that isn’t at all cute. Well, maybe a little. “Why don’t you get ready for work? I’ll be ready before you’re done.”
I’ve still got the blanket covering me up from the boobs down. “I don’t want to get dressed in front of you!”
He tilts his head to the side. “Excuse me? Do you think I’m a different person from the guy who fucked your brains out last night?”
“It’s different now!” And it is somehow. It’s one thing to be naked when you’re in the throes of passion. It’s another thing to be naked in the harsh light of the morning. There’s good naked and bad naked. Right now, I’m bad naked. Plus I’m scared to look in the mirror and see how bad my makeup situation is right now. There’s probably mascara smeared all over my face. My lipstick has rubbed off ages ago. “You have to leave. Right now.”
“Okay. I got it. I’m going.”
Tim is good naked right now as he pulls his T-shirt on over his lean, muscular chest. He puts his jeans on next, then he has to struggle to get his shoes on. It’s taking him forever to get his braces and his shoes on. At least, like, twenty seconds.
“Can you go any faster?” I say after he’s got the first shoe on.
Finally, finally, he’s got his shoes on and he’s fully dressed. He scans the room and spots his crutches leaning against the wall by my nightstand. Out of his reach. I put them there when I nearly tripped over them when I was going to the bathroom during the night.
He glances at me. “Do you think you could grab my…” His eyes drop to the cover I’m still clutching to conceal my body. “Never mind. I forgot I’m not allowed to see you naked.”
He manages to get to them on his own. He rests his weight against my nightstand, and hangs onto it while he reaches for the crutches. It takes him another few seconds to get them in place. And then he’s good to go.
I feel a stab of guilt as I release my stronghold on the blankets on my chest. Wow, I was being a real bitch to him. He didn’t deserve that.
“Thanks for getting ready so quickly,” I say as earnestly as I can. “Sorry I rushed you.”
A tiny smile touches his lips. “No problem. I know you’re a busy lady.”
“Listen.” He adjusts his grip on the crutches. “My mother always has this big dinner on Christmas Eve. You should come.”
I snort. “Doesn’t she hate me?”
“She’s not like that. She doesn’t hate anyone. And anyway, she’ll be nice to you if you come with me.”
My grip on the blanket tightens again. “I don’t know if I can make it. I have to work late tonight.”
“On Christmas Eve?”
“It’s a Wednesday night. The fact that Christmas is tomorrow doesn’t mean I don’t have work to do.”
He shifts his feet. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know.”
For a moment, I’m hoping he’ll ask one more time, but he respects my wishes. He limps out the door, shutting it gently behind him.
Ms. Scrooge is out on the Kindle tomorrow!!!! Preorder it now!