“Need me to walk you to your car?”
“No, I’m fine, Bill, thanks,” Chris said.
She wasn’t the last to leave, so there were still a few cars in the lot. A couple of times she was the last to leave and didn’t think twice about taking someone up on their offer. She wasn’t worried about the customers so much as it was dark and she was leaving the place with cash on her.
It’d been a good night. She hadn’t wanted to take this job, certainly hadn’t wanted the later shift. She’d been hoping to make decent enough tips with the lunch and early evening crowd. She did make decent tips; certainly she had nothing to complain about. It wasn’t until she pulled a double one day, filling in for one of the girls who called in sick last minute, that she realized what she made during the day was nothing compared to later in the evenings.
The management had asked more than once if she was interested in working later shifts and they would have gone with her school schedule better. She’d always said no, using needing to study as an excuse so they didn’t think she was being a snob or a prude. After that night though, filling in for Beth. Well, she’d let them put her on that shift anytime they wanted as long as she didn’t have early class the next day.
She got home, going straight to her room to put her money away. She shared a house with three girls she went to school and belonged to the same sorority with. It was how she’d gotten the job. There’d been a fourth girl who graduated after fall semester who knew Chris was looking for a way to save up money for her trip to Europe this summer.
The trip was a graduation present from her parents. They were paying her airfare and hotel expenses, but anything beyond that she was on her own for. (Her mother told her she could charge meals to her hotel rooms and they’d pay for those, too.) She’d been waitressing throughout college. Her parents paid for her school expenses, but living in the D.C. area was expensive. She’d taken a job so she had money to do things. There was so much to do here. She’d come here with her eighth grade class, but it was different seeing the sights as an adult and with as much time to spend on each one as she wanted. She had no idea how many times she’d been to the Smithsonian during her time at Georgetown.
So, when Annie had said she’d put in the good word for Chris if she was interested in possibly doubling her tips. Chris wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, not with her trip to Europe approaching. Really, she knew her mom would give her some spending money, but she wanted to be sure that she and Brenda were able to do everything they’d been dreaming about since plans of the trip had begun back in junior high school.
'Hi Chris, it’s me,' came Brenda’s voice over Chris’ answering machine.
Each of them had their own phone line. It made it easier than to keep track of everyone’s portion of the bill. The only downside was that they could only talk on the phone in their bedrooms. 'I guess you’re working. When aren’t you working? Then again, maybe you met someone really cute at work and are out with him right now. You have to call me back and give me details if that’s the case.'
Chris laughed as she took off her clothes, trading them for her much more comfortable (and less revealing) pajamas. If only she could work in these clothes! If she did that, she wouldn’t come home with close to two hundred dollars in tips like she did tonight.
She pulled the shoebox out of its hiding spot in her closet, adding tonight’s money to it. She had a checking account, but her bank was back home out of her parents’ bank so she got money orders once a month or so and sent it to her account that way. The shoebox was just a precaution. She trusted her roommates, but she didn’t know all of their friends and if they knew she had this much money in her room there was no telling what someone would do.
After a brief stop in the bathroom to finish getting ready for bed, she returned to her room and called Brenda back. Her lifelong friend was a night owl, so Chris had no qualms about calling so late. Brenda was the only person she could call this late.
“I’m just calling you back to let you know there was no date.”
‘That’s very disappointing.’
“I know,” Chris said with a laugh as she settled her head against her pillow.
‘Another night at work then?’
“Yes,” she said, unable to keep the irritation out of her voice.
‘It’s only for a few more months.’
“I know, but you know when I’m going to law school next year, it’s going to be kind of hard to go back to cheap tips at regular places.”
“Brenda,” Chris said.
‘What? It’s not as if you’re dancing topless or stripping.’
“I know, it’s just,” she said, biting her lower lip.
‘I know,’ Brenda said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with it and you’re parents aren’t going to find out unless you bring your uniform home with you the next time you come here.’
“That’s not going to happen. I’m just glad you’re the only one who knows what I’m doing.”
‘Again I say there’s nothing wrong with it. A girl’s got to make a living.’
“Thank you, I know you’re trying to make me feel better.”
‘Chris. If there was anything wrong with it they wouldn’t be in business. You serve people food and drinks. You do it wearing something a little skimpy and knowing that flirting is part of the deal, but they don’t expect you to give them lap dances.’
“I don’t even want to know how you know about lap dances.”
‘I’ve watched Real Sex.’
'What? I have! We have free HBO in our dorms.'
"There has to be better things on to watch than that."
'Not really,' Brenda said. 'Especially late at night.'
Chris knew that was true. Cable was great. She remembered when her parents brought home their first cable box. More options than network television. She'd come to learn there were just more channels to choose nothing from later at night.
‘So, I won’t see you until I fly there?’
“No,” she said. She went home briefly for Christmas, but had no plans on going home again. She loved visiting her parents and seeing her friends, but her parents still expected her to abide by their rules when she visited. It was getting kind of ridiculous considering she was an adult graduating college soon.
‘Have you heard from Dan?’
“No,” she answered simply.
She glanced at her nightstand and the picture of the three of them at a Cubs game the summer after her senior year of high school. She had more pictures of him, but she’d put them all in a box and sent them to her parents’ house when they broke up over Thanksgiving. She’d kept this one because it was such a fun day. It was taken a couple of months after the night they’d met. The fact that he’d included Brenda in his plans for the day had endeared him to her immediately.
Funny thing, he was a good guy all around. He was smart, funny, good looking, and had nice manners (something her mother appreciated more than Chris but she recognized it just the same). He didn’t pressure her about sex, and seemed to understand that it wasn’t marriage she was waiting for necessarily but stability in her life. He got along well with her parents and friends. She was sure until Thanksgiving that she’d found a good guy. The guy.
Until he’d confessed he cheated with someone he met while on a business trip she thought she’d found Mr. Perfect. He’d insisted it was just the once. He’d had a few too many drinks and things happened from there. He’d picked the one thing that she just couldn’t tolerate. The humiliation of not just Sesame Plexor but her entire senior class knowing how she’d been dumped by Mike Toddwell was something she’d never quite gotten over. Not to mention, the woman he’d done the cheating with was someone he’d see again on future business trips. They didn't work for the same company, but their paths would cross again. He'd admitted as much because she was someone he'd met before the night in question.
‘Maybe he’s waiting for you to call him.’
“Brenda. He cheated on me. That’s not going to happen. He knows that.”
‘Yeah, well,’ her best friend said.
“There is no excuse for it. Especially because he knew how Mike and I broke up.”
‘I know. I just. Can you blame him, really?’
“I know you liked him, Brenda. I did, too, but how is it my fault?”
‘I don’t know. I guess I don’t understand why you never had sex with him.’
“I don’t know either. Maybe this was the reason. I don’t want to have hurt and heartbreak associated with my first time whenever I think about it. I want to remember it and be happy. It’s not like we never fooled around. I know he’s not as bad as Mike was, but I think about all those girls Mike led on. I know I wasn’t the only one who thought she was important to him. How many of those girls fell for his lines and lost their virginity to him? Another notch on his bedpost.”
‘You wouldn’t have been a notch on Dan’s bedpost.’
“Probably not,” Chris admitted, but there was a reason she’d held back that last bit of intimacy from him. She got absolutely livid with him one night when he admitted to having a rubber in his wallet. She’d never once implied or suggested the summer before her freshman year of college that she was going to have sex with him. And yet he’d assumed.
She presumed it was over after that night. He’d called, though. It had taken him a few days, but he called and apologized. She’d accepted the apology and they’d continued from there for almost four years.
He insisted he’d only cheated the once, but in the back of her mind would always be the question of what he did at the frat parties his house had. Were the rubbers he’d bought for her used with someone else? Moving to the present instead of dwelling on a past she couldn’t change, he would see the woman again the next trip. And the next. He obviously found her attractive, too much to drink or not. She might presume it would happen again. Or what if she went with Dan sometime and met her? She'd look at every woman she ever met and wonder if she was the one.
‘I don’t get what the big deal is about losing your virginity anyway. Everyone does it.’
“I don’t know. I guess it’s not a huge deal, but I want it to be good. Something I can tell my daughter about.”
‘You’re going to tell your daughter about losing your virginity?’
Chris laughed. “You know what I mean. Something I can tell her about how it should be, not with hurt or meanness associated with it. Remember Steph Hanson?”
‘Oh God, yes,’ Brenda said.
Steph Hanson had the misfortune of losing her virginity to a complete and total ass. He’d broken up with her the next morning and then spread rumors about their night together around school. While Chris hadn’t exactly paid attention to the rumors because she knew Stephanie, one of the rumors was that she’d had sex with not just her boyfriend but his friend, too. Chris never was sure who’d started that one, but it seemed once they’d started circulating they didn’t stop for weeks.
“I want to tell her my first time wasn’t like that.”
‘Who wouldn’t?’ Brenda agreed. ‘You know he didn’t have to tell you.’
“I know,” Chris said. “I do, and if he called I admit I’d probably talk to him. It’s not like I just stopped liking him, but that doesn’t mean I could trust him again. I just can’t, Brenda, and I shouldn’t have to. Not to sound like my mother, but I deserve better than that.”
‘I shouldn’t have brought it up, but he’s not the reason you’re not dating. Is he? You’re not secretly hoping he’ll call or fly there on a whim, beg your forgiveness in person, pledge his undying love, and propose.’
“God, no,” Chris said. Leave it to Brenda and her vivid imagination to come up with a scenario like that. Not that it was out of the realm of possibility; Dan’s company had clients in the area so he could have arranged to get here if he wanted to.
“I haven’t met anyone I want to go out with. You know? For almost four years I didn’t have a reason to look at guys that way, so I’m still getting used to it. Some of the other girls at work are so open about the stuff they do.”
‘With the customers?’
“Sometimes. Some of the customers are pretty nice looking.”
‘I’ll bet some of them are kind of creepy, too.’
“Yeah, there are those, too,” Chris said with a laugh. She yawned then and so did Brenda on the other end.
‘Maybe that’s what you should do.’
“What?” Chris asked.
‘Just meet someone, get good sex out of the deal, and be done with it. Then it’s no longer such a big deal. I don’t know about you but guys I meet they hear the word virgin and immediately assume I’m going to start picking out china patterns and wedding dresses after the first date.’
“Wow. Really? This is your advice?”
‘Well, why not? No expectations. Fun. You work at a place that has to have lots of possibilities.’
“Well, I guess it should mean something,” Chris said.
‘I don’t know, Chris. I’m just saying. You know, maybe it doesn’t have to mean anything more than what it is.’
“Why don’t you do that then?”
‘I’m not the one who went out with a guy for years and wouldn’t have sex with him.’
“Brenda! Whose side are you on?”
‘I’m not on either side. I’m just saying. You’ve made it clear you’re not waiting for marriage, which I could totally understand if you were.’ Brenda yawned and so did Chris. ‘I just don’t want you moping about him.’
“I’m totally not. I swear. I just haven’t met anyone, but if I do I’ll be sure to think about what you said.”
‘Yeah right,’ Brenda said. They both knew the likelihood of that happening was pretty remote.
“Sounds like we’re both ready for bed.”
‘I guess so. June can’t get here fast enough.’
“It will speed by.”
‘You’ll let me know if Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome walks into your life?’
“Only if you promise to do the same.”
“You’re too hard on yourself, Brenda. It’ll happen. You’ve talked about a few guys.”
‘Who’ve all ended up being friends with me. Study buddies. Sometimes I think I should have taken my step-mom up on her offer to get that boob job.’
Chris laughed. “Brenda. You’re beautiful the way you are.”
‘Not compared to you.’
“Oh God, Brenda, I’m not perfect.”
‘I’m not the one who had her body double as a Playboy centerfold.’
“Can we not bring that up?”
“It’s okay. I’m just tired I guess, but I wanted to call you before I went to bed.”
‘Thanks for calling back,’ Brenda said. ‘I wish you’d called to tell me you’d had a date.’
“You don’t have to thank me. I love talking to you, Brenda.”
‘I know, but I know it’s not something you want to do after working all night.’
“You make it sound like talking to you is a chore, up there with doing laundry or washing dishes. You’re my best friend, Brenda. My having a job or a boyfriend isn’t going to change that.”
‘I know,’ Brenda said, though Chris knew that the insecurities her friend had back in high school were still there, even if they weren’t as bad now. The glasses were gone, replaced with contacts but she was still so shy. The pressure her step-mom put on her didn’t help. Who offered an eighteen-year-old a boob job as a high school graduation present?
“Love you,” Chris said. Funny how saying those words came easiest for Chris where Brenda was concerned.
‘You, too,’ Brenda said before hanging up.
He had no business coming here again once he realized someone he knew from his old life worked here. He should have reported immediately to his boss, Nick, that his new life here could be compromised. At the very least he should have stopped coming here. He did neither, instead holding onto that belief in fate that had gotten him to this point in his life. Running across her once was incredible enough but twice was something worth seeing to.
So, he returned to the eatery, avoiding being seated in her section by requesting a table far from her group of tables. He ate wings and drank beer much like the other customers. Unlike the other customers, though, he only had eyes for one of the girls working there. Many had roving eyes and were quick to flirt with whoever gave them the time of day. Not that Joe couldn’t appreciate beauty in all of its forms represented at the place; he just wasn’t interested in flirtation or meaningless banter with someone paid to entertain him in that way.
He watched her discreetly. He’d always been good at staying under the radar, but his time since leaving Chicago had made him exceptional at it. He no longer worked in the field, having earned his stripes and the ability to work in-house doing research the easy way. On computers. He was still called to the field occasionally when a hands-on expert was required, but his days of job after job were done.
He had an issue of the Playboy magazine that had catapulted him to this new life stashed away in a box in his closet. It was one of the few things he’d asked to keep from his previous life. Nick probably thought he was some sort of pervert when he requested the magazine be retrieved from his South Side apartment before his mother could clear his stuff out after being told of his death. Joe didn’t think the centerfold named Chaylene was Chris Parker and he didn’t do anything as childish as beat off to it pretending she was. He kept the magazine as a reminder, something physical, of where he’d been and what he’d been willing to sacrifice for someone he believed to be innately good.
Chris Parker was that. And more. He knew that night she was everything he could ever ask for in a woman. Brave, resourceful yet not afraid to ask for help, beautiful, and while he didn’t get the impression she was Mensa intelligent she was smart. Even if she hadn’t realized at first what he was doing in the car where they’d first met. Anyone under the circumstances could have not stopped to think it through. So, he didn’t hold that against her. Hell, she’d gotten out of that night alive which is more than most could say who’d come up against Bleak and Grayson.
If it was possible to fall in love with someone in a matter of hours, he’d done it with her and since then she was the one he compared anyone else to. Not that there’d been a lot and none had held up to her. Seeing her again after all these years was like a punch in the gut, a reminder of feelings he’d long ago started to believe were exaggerated or imagined.
A couple of weeks of observing her in such a fashion left him feeling nothing, except like some sort of stalker. He was familiar enough with her laugh to know when it was her doing so even when the place was crowded. He found himself wondering more than once what the customer had said to make her laugh.
Today, he’d taken a late lunch so the place wasn’t real crowded. A few minutes observation clued him in to which section was hers. Instead of requesting a table as far from it as possible as he usually did, he specified one in it.
Time to shit or get off the pot.
She wasn’t too busy today; perhaps that was what inspired him to finally sit in her section. Clearly, staying away wasn’t an option. He wasn’t that fond of the food here to keep him coming back. It was her that got him thinking there may be life outside his job and life as essentially a ghost.
Nick had encouraged him from the get-go to integrate back into society. Joe had been hesitant to do it, not liking to build relationships based on lies. Whether those relationships were friendships or of the more serious variety didn’t matter to him when most everything after the word hello was bullshit. Oh, he was able to mix in some truths with the lies, but essentially no one he'd met since the day he'd turned himself in knew the real him.
“Hi there. Would you like something to drink to get started?”
“Uh, yeah, just a Bud Light,” he said. “And a basket of wings.”
“All right. Celery and blue cheese?”
“I’ll put your order in and be right back with your beer.”
“Thanks,” he said.
She hadn’t really looked at him yet so he wasn’t completely discouraged that she didn’t seem to recognize him. She probably wasn’t expecting to see him here to begin with, looking like he did now. He didn’t wear suits unless someone important was coming into the office, but he’d come a long way from the night they’d met.
She returned a few minutes later, placing a coaster on the tabletop by his hand before setting his frosty mug of beer on top of it.
“Thanks, Chris,” he said.
He felt her eyes on him then and he met her gaze evenly, daringly even. At least more daring then he was accustomed to being these days. It was hard to look someone in the eye after a while when you knew everything you were saying was bullshit.
“Oh my God, Joe,” she said finally. “I’m sorry I didn’t even recognize you when I took your order. What are you doing here?”
“Taking my lunch.”
“Well, obviously. I mean, here. D.C. Not,” she said.
“Moved here a while ago,” he said, cutting her off before she could say anything about Chicago.
“I see,” she said. “Why haven’t I seen you before now?”
“I’ve sat in other girls’ sections.”
He shrugged, taking a sip of his beer. Why indeed. “Wasn’t sure how to approach you.”
“You don’t need an approach,” she said with what seemed to be a genuine smile. Hard to tell with the women who worked here, most all of them were very good at appearing sincere.
She laughed. A sincere laugh as if what he’d just said was ridiculous to her. Maybe it was.
“Of course not. How long’s a while?”
“Four years,” he said.
“Yeah, not too long after that night.”
“Yeah,” she said, seeming not to want to talk about that night any more than he did. He doubted his boss had the restaurant bugged on the chance he came here, but it was ingrained in him to be cautious and not reveal anything about his former life. “It’s too bad I didn’t know that before. I could have looked you up when I first got here.”
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “It would have been nice.”
“Why?” he asked curiously.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came here my freshman year.”
“College,” he said with a nod. Of course she was in college.
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug.
“Done this year?” he asked, thinking she’d been a senior in high school the night they’d met so should be pretty close to graduating. Unless she was on the five-year plan some were fond of.
“Yes! Europe this summer with my friend Brenda who is the reason I met you that night. Then right back to it.”
“Thanks,” she said with a smile. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to.”
“See to your other tables. I get it. No problem.”
She was attentive to him, more so than her other tables unless he was seeing things that weren’t really there.
“Listen, I realize you probably get asked this every shift at least a dozen times, but I'll kick myself if I don't at least ask. What time do you get done?”
“Six,” she said without hesitation.
“Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Why not? You knew me before today. It’s not like you’re picking me up. Or letting me pick you up.”
“I know. I just,” she said and he could tell she was thinking about it. Processing the pros and cons. Evidently, the pros won. He could tell somehow when she’d made up her mind and what her decision was before she said anything.
“I’d have to go home and change first.”
“No problem. Just tell me what time to meet you.”
“Six. You can follow me home and we can take one car from there.”
She shrugged. “Why not? If you’d wanted to hurt me, you would have that night not wait four years.”
He chuckled. “Good point. All right,” he said. “Six then. I’ll just wait in the parking lot,” he said.
“Okay. I’ll see you then,” she said, turning away.
“Hey, Chris,” he said, thinking about a reservation. “Is there anything you don’t want to eat?”
“Anything but chicken,” she said with a wide smile and he couldn’t help but laugh again.
“All right. I can live with those limitations.”
Hell, he’d go to a place that served only soup and sandwiches if it meant spending time with her. He’d dreamt of it more than once. He always woke up wondering if how he pictured her in his dreams was true to life. He found it hard to believe anyone could be that nice, trusting, and good, but Chris had done nothing the night they met to suggest she was anything but that. There was a sweetness, a kindness to her that just couldn't be faked. His mother had spoken of people with good souls. He'd never understood what she'd been talking about until he'd met Chris Parker.
He was a little early getting there. He hoped this would be the last time he came here for a while. He’d gone home to change after work. She was a college student so he figured jeans were a better choice than the nicer pants he wore to work. It was cold out, so standing outside of his car wasn’t really an option so he’d backed into the parking space he’d found so that he could see when she came out. He should have asked which car was hers, but hadn’t thought of it at the time. Or the fact that six o’clock would be a busy time for the place. He wondered the likelihood of her getting off right at six, judging by all of the cars in the parking lot and the fact it took him three times around to find the space he currently occupied.
He spent the rest of his afternoon debating the wisdom of this path he was about to embark on. He knew full well one date with her wouldn’t be enough. He’d tried to find her a couple of times after that night, but there were just too many Parker’s in the Chicago Suburban area for him to narrow it down. Same with Anderson’s, the name of the kids she’d been babysitting that night. So, he’d contented himself with their paths crossing being a one-time thing, a means of getting him out of the dangerous life he’d been leading and into something more secure. Not exactly safer, but he had people watching his back and supporting him. Something that he hadn’t had while boosting cars. If he’d gotten pinched for stealing a car, he would have been expected to keep his mouth shut and do the time. Mr. Bleak would have taken care of him when he got out, but he’d have to earn that assistance with silence.
His boss, Nick, would probably be ecstatic that Joe was finally out there, making friends. Until he found out that Chris Parker wasn’t a stranger to him. Somehow, Joe would see to it that Nick never got that piece of information. Four years he’d been here and he hadn’t forged any real friendships. He tipped back a beer or two with a couple of other guys that lived in his neighborhood, but they weren’t friends.
Nick had told him more times than Joe could count that he needed to solidify his life here, that Kaufman didn’t like employees to stay so far to the sidelines as Joe did. He couldn't help it that he didn't make friends very easily and that he was somewhat of a suspicious guy by nature. Years of working the streets made him that way.
He got out of the car when he saw her leave the restaurant, catching her eye with the movement accompanied by a wave.
“I wasn’t sure you’d get done on time,” he said.
“They’re usually pretty good about it, unless we’re in the middle of a big table or a really busy game night.”
“No Super Bowls tonight then?”
She smiled with a laugh. “No.”
“Good. Listen. Do you mind if I make a request?”
“Uh, I don’t know. That depends I guess.”
“Well, my car,” he said, gesturing to the vehicle that paled in comparison to the one he used to drive around Chicago in. Different life, though. Nothing flashy or flamboyant about him as a computer tech.
“What about it?”
He wasn’t sure how to phrase it without giving away too much.
“The people I work for. They’re paranoid you know, and I’m pretty sure they have a tracking system on my car.”
“I don’t want to lead anyone to your house.”
“Joe, listen if you’re involved.”
“It’s nothing illegal or dangerous; I’m just trying to keep you out of it.”
“You agreed to dinner with me not to have people knocking on your door, asking questions about me and our relationship.”
“They’d do that?”
“They might. Let’s just say my taking a woman out would definitely pique their interest.”
“So, what is it you’re asking me then?”
“Well, I could wait for you to go home and change and meet you somewhere we decide to meet.”
“I could just go with you in your car.”
“Okay,” she said and he realized that the innocence, that sweetness, he’d noticed about her that night was still there. Here she was in D.C., a virtual stranger inviting himself to go for a ride in her car and she was going along with it.
She shrugged. “Like I said earlier, if you’d wanted to hurt me you could have that night. Or are you saying I shouldn’t trust you, Joe?”
“You should, definitely.”
“Well then, come on,” she said.
“Is my car going to be all right parked here?”
“Yeah, people leave their cars in the lot regularly.”
“I imagine they do,” he said with a chuckle.
“Because we call them cabs if they’ve had too much to drink.”
“I’m sure that’s one reason they leave their car here.”
“Yeah, I’m sure there are others.”
“Are you going to get in trouble?” He fell into step with her as she walked toward the rear of the parking lot. He imagined this was where all employees had to park, leaving the prime spots for the customers.
“Coming out with me?”
“No. Why would I?”
“I’ve been a customer for the past few weeks. You said earlier you shouldn’t.”
“I knew you before now. What can they say? I wasn’t sure I should because of me not them.”
“Just making sure.”
She unlocked her door and slid into her seat before using the button to unlock his side automatically.
They were quiet most of the way to her house. He had no idea what to say, really. That and the fact he couldn’t believe he was sitting next to her after all of this time.
“So, you’ve been in D.C. for four years?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Not too long after I met you.”
“What do you do?”
“Research. Computer work mostly.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Sounds lame, I realize, but it’s not so bad. It’s just the people I work for. They’re pretty suspicious, part of the government who know my past. Some think it'd be easy for me to fall into old ways, you know.”
“And you think they’d spy on your date?”
“I think they’d be interested in how we met and why I’m taking a woman out after all this time.”
“You don’t date?”
“Nah,” he said.
“Too busy doing other stuff.”
“Hmm,” she said, pulling onto a driveway he assumed was hers. It was a pretty big house for a college student.
“You live here?”
“Rent it with three other students. Yeah.”
“I couldn’t believe we got it, honestly. A lot of people wanted to live here, but for some reason the landlord chose us. There was a fourth, but she graduated after first semester.”
“And you haven’t needed to fill her spot?”
“Not so far.”
“I can just wait out here,” he said when she'd turned the car off.
“Don’t be silly. Come on in. I’ll be a few minutes and it’s cold enough out you don’t want to sit out here.”
“All right,” he said, following her in.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked once inside.
“Positive, Chris. You don’t have to wait on me. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. Come on up,” she said, blushing a little and he liked that she did.
He followed her upstairs to her room. He’d wondered a few times over the years what she lived like. Now he knew, though he imagined this stuff wasn’t nearly as nice as the stuff she had at her bedroom back home at her parents’.
“I’ll be quick, I’m just going to wash up a bit so I don’t smell like food and change clothes.”
“Take your time, I’m in no rush.”
“Thanks,” she said, opening her closet. “You can turn the TV on if you want to.”
“What?” He was busy watching her sort through her things he hadn’t really been listening.
“Well, I don’t want you just sitting here bored.”
“All right,” he said, taking a seat on the edge of her bed. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a woman’s bedroom for any reason other than sex. The remote was right there, so he turned the TV on. He looked around the bedroom a little. Her stuff was pretty decent from what he could tell. She didn’t have a lot of it, which he would expect from someone still in college. He chuckled at the set of milk crates she was using to store records and books.
He turned the TV off and stood when he heard her coming back into the room.
“Wow,” he said. She’d traded the skimpy work uniform in for a dress that covered a little more but not much. “Now I feel severely underdressed.”
“You look great,” she said. “Honestly, I bought this a couple of months ago and never had a reason to wear it until now.”
He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was checking her out. She had a very nice set of legs, he realized. He hadn’t had a chance to look as much as he would have liked the night they met. Plus it was cold that night so she was pretty covered up. Not tonight, though, and he wondered why she’d agreed to come out with him. Surely she had to have a boyfriend. While she was in the bathroom he’d noticed a picture on the stand by her bed of her, a guy, and a girl. It was an older picture; he knew that because she looked almost the same in the picture as when they first met. It could have been just two close friends, except the guy had his arm around Chris and she was leaning against him. The happy smile on her face wasn’t missed by him either.
“I shouldn’t have changed into jeans.”
“I like you in jeans,” she said.
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but seeing you today in those pants and the button down shirt,” she shrugged. “It was part of the reason I didn’t recognize you at first. That and not expecting to see you sitting at my table in D.C.”
“Yeah, I suppose that was a bit of a shock.”
“A little bit of one. Even with the nametag that tells them my name, I’m more used to honey or something than customers actually using my name. So, shocking works.”
“Hopefully a good one.”
She shrugged. “Well, yeah, I always wondered what happened to you after the night we met.”
“Me, too,” he admitted.
“The thought of something bad happening to you because of me, what you did for me, the Anderson kids, and Darryl. Well, it bothered me.”
“Well, I came out all right of that mess.”
“Good,” she said. She set her hand against his chest, running her fingers along the front of his shirt. He’d changed out of the button down shirt he wore to work into a Polo. “I wasn’t saying I didn’t like the button down shirt. I mean, it looked nice and everything, don't get me wrong.”
“Well, good because I do wear them sometimes.”
“Not all of the time?”
“Nah, there was a meeting I had to sit in on, so that’s why I wore one today.”
“I see,” she said. “I, on the other hand, wear the same thing to work every day.”
He slid his arms around her waist, something he wouldn’t have done so soon ordinarily on a first date. She touched him first, though, so he was going with that. He tugged her to him with little effort, his hands skimming to her hips.
“I can tell you first hand that it isn’t a hardship watching you work.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, really.”
“Not sure you should thank me for admitting to freely checking you out when I had the chance, but all right.”
“Did I like what?”
She blushed a little, ducking her head so he almost missed it but she wasn’t quite fast enough.
“What you saw?”
“Wow. You’re really asking me that?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“I’m standing here with you, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, that doesn’t mean,” she shrugged.
He slid a hand to her chin, drawing her face up so he could look her in the eye. She was serious, wasn’t fishing for a compliment. Maybe a little, but he could tell that she really didn’t know how attractive she was.
He leaned in and kissed her then, hoping that settled her insecurities better than words. He groaned softly when she opened her mouth, not real wide but enough he took the kiss further. He deepened it as he slid his hands from her hips to her ass. She didn’t kiss as if she had a whole lot of experience, not that she didn’t kiss well just uncertain.
He’d pictured this over the years, dreamt about it more than he cared to admit even to her if she ever asked. Wearing a dress as she was, it would have been easy to make a move. They were already in her bedroom. It would be easy to slide his hands down, lift her skirt up, and prove to her just how attractive he found every inch of her.
He’d asked her to dinner, though, not expecting her bedroom to be part of the evening at all. He drew away then, hands back at her hips.
“Yes, I really like what I see.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, lips a little puffy from the kiss.
“I, yeah, dinner would probably be good about now.”
She smiled a little at that, that blush was there again, too.
“So,” she said, grabbing her coat from behind him on the bed. He did the gentlemanly thing and held it for her so she could put it on easily. “Where did you have in mind?”
“Well, there are places near where my car is so you don’t have to drive completely out of your way to drop me at it.”
“Sure,” she said, grabbing her purse as she shut off the lights.
Dinner was a little awkward for both of them. It wasn’t as if they were friends bumping into one another unexpectedly. All Chris knew was the attraction she’d felt for him that night years ago hadn’t gone away. It scared her a little because she’d met Dan that night, too, and that hadn’t turned out well. Over three years spent only to find out he was really no better than Mike. He just took longer to get to the unfaithfulness.
Outside of the restaurant, he adjusted her coat’s collar around her neck. It’d gotten colder in the time they had eaten.
“So, are you sick of me yet?”
“Why would I be sick of you?”
“I don’t know. You didn’t start the day planning on having dinner with me. I imagine I’m probably the last guy you ever imagined having dinner with anyway.”
“Not the last,” she whispered.
“No? I guess that’s good news for me then.”
“What?” she asked. He’d finished adjusting her collar, but hadn’t moved. He was looking at her rather intently. Did she have something stuck in her teeth?
“Just thinking about that night.”
“What about it?”
“There was something I wanted to do and didn’t. I’ve regretted it ever since,” he said. He slid a hand from the collar of her coat to her face. “Twice in one night seems too good to be true.”
“What did you want to do?”
He kissed her then, she wasn’t completely surprised but hadn’t been expecting it either. It took her a minute to process that he said he’d wanted to kiss her that night and hadn’t for whatever reason. She gave a soft moan into the kiss, remembering more than one dream she’d had about him doing more than kiss her before she and Dan had started going out steadily. Their lips parted almost simultaneously, tongues meeting as she stepped closer to him, her body flush against him as she slid her arms around his neck.
They went across the street to a bar for a drink neither saying a word about the kisses they shared. They grabbed a booth as soon as it became available, only Joe didn’t sit across from her as he did at the restaurant. He sat next to her instead. She wasn’t big on public displays of affection. Working where she did guys tried all sorts of things and she was always careful not to cross the line of fun and flirtatious yet innocent banter to where it could mean anything else. Joe sitting next to her, though, fresh from kissing him outside put her in the mood to do more of it. He didn’t seem to mind either. After the one in her bedroom she wasn’t sure what to expect from him. Had he kissed her just to make her feel pretty? She wasn’t sure until he’d done it a second time.
Sadly, she was still kind of new at this whole thing. She'd gone from dating Mike right to dating Dan with hardly any time in between breaking up with Mike. There'd been no one before Mike, no one serious anyway. She and Dan had been apart for so long other than breaks. So, dating and simple things people probably took for granted like kissing on first dates were very foreign to her.
“I have a favor to ask,” he said midway through their second drink.
“Oh?” Chris asked.
“Yeah. I want to see you again. Straight up, I’m telling you that.”
“Okay. That’s a favor?”
He chuckled, taking a sip of his beer. “No, that wasn’t a favor. I hope you want to see me again, too. I know dinner was a little weird.”
“It wasn’t that bad, it’s not as if we don’t have tons of things to talk about and learn about one another.”
“Good point. And one day I’ll probably pick you up at your house or take you back to my place.”
“That’s where the favor comes in. Anyone asks, we didn’t meet until now.”
“I can’t explain without telling you things I can’t, but it’s important or I wouldn’t ask you to lie.”
“Okay. This job must be super-secret or something.”
“Something like that.”
“Hmm, and they won’t think it’s weird that you just picked up a random waitress?”
“No more than it would be if they found out how we really met.”
“So, you’re okay with that? I mean, pretty much only you and I can know the truth. No one can know we knew each other before now.”
“My friend Brenda.”
“She’s never seen me.”
“No, but I’m sure she knows your name. I told her about you.”
“I don't see a problem with that I suppose as long as she doesn't walk around announcing it either."
"I doubt she'd do that, but she will ask about you. I'd feel better telling her I knew you from that night rather than just randomly let a customer pick me up."
"I can see that. You told her about me?”
“Yeah, Sara had Thor. I had you. You know. Our heroes.”
“Wow, I had no idea. How is she, by the way?”
“Sara? Fine, I guess. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years. She’s in junior high now, though. Her brother’s at U of I, I think.”
“Good. I’ve thought of all of you over the years.”
“Yeah. Tried finding you a couple of times, but there are a lot of Parker’s and Anderson’s in the suburbs.”
She laughed, leaning in to give him another kiss. He had no idea that he’d just made her day by saying that. The first month or so of going out with Dan she’d hoped more than once that she’d be able to find Joe somehow. To know he’d wanted to find her, too, made her feel better about the attraction she’d felt for him from the moment he promised not to hurt the kids she was responsible for that night.
“You probably would have saved me from getting my heart broken a second time.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she said with a shrug. “I met him that night, too, actually.”
“Really? Popular woman then.”
“Not really. He helped us out, gave us a ride to Mr. Dawson’s garage. Sara forgot one of her skates in his Jeep so he brought it back to her.”
“I see. Too bad I didn’t have an in like that.”
“Honestly, you had a pretty good in without the skate.”
"Is that so?"
"Yes," she said simply.
“So, what happened?” he asked.
“We broke up last fall. He cheated on me when he was on a business trip.”
“He lives here?”
“No, he’s in Chicago. He told me. Brenda says I should have forgiven him because he didn’t have to be honest with me about it. I would never have known, but cheating. I just hate cheating, and if he did it once,” she shrugged.
“Yes, and it’s not because I personally don’t want you to get back with him.”
“Well, it’s a little late now.”
“Nah, women do that all of the time. Men, too, I suppose, you just don’t hear as much about it when it happens that way.”
“I know, but I won’t.”
“Yeah. Maybe there was a reason I couldn’t find you right away after that night.”
“What could I have given you? You probably would have laughed and tried to let me down as gently as you could.”
“I wouldn’t have!”
“You say that now, but our worlds were so different. Still are, but at least I’m on the right side of the law this time. I have a decent thing going.”
“So, if I had found you then, it probably wouldn’t have worked. You know? My fault, yours. Who knows? I just know I’m in a better place then I was then. I can actually ask you on a date and not think that I’m paying for it with dishonest money.”
“There is that.”
“Yeah,” he said with a chuckle.
“Do you work in the morning?”
“Yeah,” he said. “That your way of telling me it’s getting late?”
“Well, I do have class in the morning.”
“Oh man, you didn’t say anything.”
“It’s okay. It’s at nine o’clock so it’s not that early.”
“You sure? I didn’t even think.”
She slid her hand into his; squeezing it a little before she kissed him.
“I’m positive. I’m glad you finally talked to me.”
“Me, too. I just. It’s complicated and I don’t want you to think I’m hiding stuff or lying to you. That’s not who I am, but this life and that life aren't really supposed to cross paths. You know what I mean?”
“I get called out of town from time to time.”
“Yeah. And some of the time I won’t be able to tell you where I’m going. At least not specifically.”
“I get it.”
He smiled a little. “Yeah, but I could probably work phone calls in.”
She kissed him again, not pulling away right away with this one.
“Come home with me,” he whispered.
“What?” She started to draw away, surprised he’d said that.
“Not for that. I mean, I wouldn’t say no to that, but I know where you live, it only seems fair you know where I live.”
“Joe,” she said.
“I promise you can leave anytime you want.”
“That’s the problem, I’m not sure I wouldn’t want to stay.”
“Is that bad?”
She looked at him, taking in his face. She didn’t know much about him at all. She didn’t even know what he did for a living. He could be lying about his job being legal, but she doubted it simply because of how they’d met. Like he’d have to hide anything from her.
“I don’t know.”
“I said I wasn’t inviting you over for sex.”
“I believe you; it would just be tempting to stay. Another time?”
“How about this weekend? I’ll cook dinner.”
“Yes. Single guy, living alone, I do all sorts of things that might surprise you. Clean, laundry, dishes, grocery shop, and I even balance the checkbook.”
She laughed. “Things my father doesn’t know anything about.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I actually have Friday off. They try to rotate the weekend schedule since those are our busiest nights.”
“Yeah, and it also means we get a weekend night off once in a while.”
“Great,” he said. “I’ll get you my address when we get to your car.”
“And my number. Do you have a cell phone?”
She laughed again. “No, remember I’m just a poor college student.”
“You do, I suppose.”
“Yeah, nothing fancy, but in emergencies it’s nice to have.”
“I try not to use it too much because the cost for the minutes are outrageous, so I’ll give you my home and beeper numbers.”
“The beeper has voicemail, but it’s a work-issued beeper, so just type in the numbers for your name on the phone and I’ll call back.”
“You really are paranoid.”
“Not paranoid, just want to keep my personal life separate. You know? It’ll take them a while to get to talking to you if they’re not tipped off right away there’s a woman in my life.”
“In your life, huh?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“I mean, I hope whatever happens we can be friends. It’s been so long since I’ve been home.”
“Why?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I can’t. Work keeps me busy and it’s just better if I don’t. Keeping the past in the past.”
“All right, let’s get me to my car so you can head home.”
“Okay,” she said.
The parking lot was much emptier this time, though there were still quite a few people inside from the looks of it. She was able to get a space next to his car, though. She gave him a piece of paper from her purse and he gave her his numbers. She did the same.
He got out, leaning in a little bit. “If I haven’t said it yet tonight, you’re even prettier than I remember you being.”
“Joe,” she said.
“No, you are, and believe me I thought my mind had built you up into something the reality could never live up to.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m what you thought I was.”
“Me, too. See you Friday. Around six again?”
“If you need directions or get lost, call me.”
“I should be okay,” she said, regarding the address.
“Good night, Chris.”
“Night, Joe. Sleep well.”
After kissing him like she had most of the evening she wasn’t at all sure she’d get to sleep anytime soon, but she had to try so she’d be good for classes tomorrow.
There was a message from him when she got home; just telling her to have a good night and that he’d enjoyed dinner. She fell on the bed, clutching a pillow to her as she listened to it. Was it stupid to get all giddy over a phone message? Probably, but she couldn’t help that she liked hearing his voice and was glad that he’d called. She didn’t want to be the first one to call.
He’d asked her to his place. She was certain she’d made the right choice in saying no. A couple of drinks in each of them coupled with the attraction they both clearly had for one another could lead to things happening she wasn’t sure she was ready for.
It was the reason Mike and Dan had cheated, she supposed. While she wasn’t saving sex for marriage, she had been too young when she got involved with Mike. Boy was she glad she hadn’t given into him! The embarrassment of being another notch on his bedpost aside, she probably would have caught gonorrhea, syphilis, or something like that.
It was one of the reasons she’d stayed with him for so long. He seemed to understand that she was waiting until her life was secure. She loved Dan, though she saw signs toward the end that something was wrong. That was the real reason she wouldn’t get back together with him. She knew it wouldn’t work. He wanted her to stay as she was, the Chris Parker he’d met that night.
Living in D.C., away from her parents had changed her. He wasn’t overly fond of some of the changes. Neither was she in him, for that matter. Three years with no sex probably seemed like a long time for some, but Dan had never pressured her. She’d been tempted a few times when he’d spent the weekend with her here, but always in the back of her mind was the feeling that it wasn’t right. Her life was still so temporary. It was what had hurt most about his confession. Not that he'd done it so much as he'd never expressed being mad at her or losing patience with her. So, it had sort of come out of nowhere.
She was closer now to her goals. The trip to Europe was the last frivolous thing she’d do relying on her parents to foot the bill. She was sure they’d help her once she finished law school, but once she passed her exams and started working she’d feel guilty taking hand-outs from them even if they could afford it.
She picked up the phone and without a second thought dialed her most frequently called number. Maybe Brenda wasn’t completely wrong what she’d said the other night about just picking someone up and getting her first time over with.
“Hi Brenda. It’s Chris.”
‘Well, hello, Chris. What’s up?’
“Well, you told me to call you if I had a date.”
‘Really? Oh my God. Tell me.’
She filled her lifelong friend on the details of the night, glossing over the fact that she’d known Joe from Chicago. She did say that she knew him before tonight, though.
‘Oh my God. You kissed him?’
“It was good.”
‘Good,’ Brenda said and Chris knew her friend was smiling the same as she was.
“So, Friday night he’s cooking me dinner.”
‘Oh wow. Are you excited?’
“Yeah, and a little nervous.”
‘I can understand that. Just be careful.’
“He’s not an axe murderer, Brenda.”
‘I hope not.’
They talked a little more about Joe, Chris describing him as best as she could. She found a lot of stuff she’d learned about him the night they met coming back to her tonight. The conversation eventually moved on to other, more boring, things and then they hung up. Chris just felt better telling Brenda about her date.
She kissed him. Really kissed him. She’d never really done anything like that before. Been assertive. Kissed first. Sure, once she’d been dating Dan a while, but not at first.
She got ready for bed and then read for a little bit, knowing there was no way she’d fall asleep right away. She was excited about the night and nervous about Friday night. She was surprised when her phone rang. Her parents would never call this late and she’d just talked to Brenda, so that didn’t leave too many other choices as to who it would be.
“Hello,” she said.
‘Is Chris there?’
She smiled widely, recognizing his voice immediately. What did it say that just hearing his voice got a reaction out of her? Probably that she was in trouble.
‘Yeah, thought so. Hi, it’s Joe.’
“I know,” she said, setting her book on the nightstand next to her bed and turning off her light. She was going to dream about him tonight anyway, so she may as well talk to him in the dark.
“Yeah, I recognized your voice.”
‘Well, good,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to make sure you got home and everything.’
“Yeah, I did, thank you. That’s sweet of you.”
‘I tried calling a little bit ago, but it was busy.’
“Oh,” she said, her heart skipping a beat at that thought. “I was talking to my friend Brenda.”
‘You don’t have to explain yourself. I’m sure you and your roommates have friends. You said there’s a few of you living there.’
“We each have our own phone line, though.”
‘Ah, that makes sense.’
“Yeah, makes it easier.”
‘Well, good. Listen, I’ll let you go. I just wanted to see that you got home and say good night again.’
“Are you tired?”
‘I’m glad I talked to you today.’
“Me, too,” she admitted. She was probably happier than she should be.
‘Good,’ he said. ‘It’s been a while, so I wasn’t sure how to go about it.’
“Out of practice?”
‘A little, yeah,’ he said.
“I can’t imagine why.”
‘I told you.’
“Yeah, your job.”
“Well, I’m glad I’m an exception.”
‘You most definitely are. And on that note, I do think I’m going to let you go before I say something I’ll regret tomorrow.’
He chuckled. ‘Yeah. A couple beers in me I’m liable to tell you how often my thoughts drifted to you since the first time I saw you.’
“And that would be bad?”
‘Potentially,’ he said.
“I see. Well then, I’ll let you go so you don’t say anything embarrassing.”
‘Thank you. I’ll see you Friday night.’
“I’ll be there.”
‘Good. And jeans is good.’
“No dresses then?”
‘I didn’t say that. Wear what you want. I’d love seeing you in another dress. I just don’t want you to think you have to get dressed up for dinner at my house.’
“Okay, I’ll see what I can come up with.”
‘I look forward to it.’
“Me, too,” she said before hanging up.
Friday she was a bundle of nerves for a few reasons, all of which had to do with seeing Joe that night. Her last class was at one o’clock, so she had plenty of time to get ready, and to get nervous. She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous. It was just dinner, but it was her first date with someone other than Dan since high school.
She found his place easily. It was a pretty nice neighborhood of condos. He let her in almost as soon as she rang the buzzer on the panel. She laughed a little, wondering if he’d been waiting by the door or something.
She heard a door open upstairs so knew he was up there even if he hadn’t told her he was on the second floor the other night.
“Wow,” he said once he’d taken her coat from her.
“Thanks,” she said, knowing she was blushing. She’d borrowed a dress from one of her roommates since she didn’t really have time to go shopping. Not to mention she wasn’t even sure what kind of dress she would look for. She’d spotted this one in Lisa’s closet, though, and known it would be perfect. Short and black without being too fancy.
“No, no, thank you,” he said. “Really. I did say jeans were fine, right?”
“You did,” she said. “You’re complaining?”
He laughed softly. “Not in the least. Just making sure I’d actually said that and hadn’t just thought it.”
“All right. You found it fine I take it.”
“I did. I had a professor who lives not far from here. My freshman year I couldn’t get home for Easter and he and his wife invited a couple of us to their home for dinner.”
“That was nice.”
“Yeah, it was. A very nice house, too.”
“I’ll bet. Sorry to disappoint you if that was what you were expecting,” he said, leading her into the kitchen. He offered her a glass of wine, which she took.
“Don’t be silly.”
“How were your classes?”
“Good. And you? Work?”
“Fine. Usual day.”
“That’s good, right?”
“It is. Anytime I don’t have to train someone who hasn’t the first clue what a mouse even is is a great day for me.”
She laughed. “Are there really people like that?”
“Yeah, more than you might think.”
“Huh. I’m not a computer whiz or anything, but they started teaching us basic stuff in junior high.”
“Yeah, I know what stuff you’re talking about. Not everyone had the education you did, though. Trust me; my friends growing up had no access to a computer let alone a computer lab for their class.”
“I just assumed.”
“Easy to do.”
“How did you get good at computers then?”
He shrugged. “Just happened. Started out I had a knack for being able to troubleshoot and went from there. So, you want the tour? I haven’t started cooking yet.”
“Assumed I’d be late?”
“Nah, just wanted an excuse to make you stay longer.”
“You think you need an excuse?”
“I don’t know. Do I?”
She smiled a little. “I admit this wasn’t at all what I pictured.”
“No,” he said. “Better?”
“Yes,” she admitted.
“Good,” he said with a nod. It was a pretty big place as condos went. Really as big as a single story house, just without the basement or attic or anything. “I admit my room’s a little neater than it usually is.”
“Expecting me to end up in your room?”
“To show it to you, yeah.”
“Hmm,” she said, walking to his bookcase.
“Was that the wrong answer?”
She laughed softly, glancing at him over her shoulder. “Not really.”
“See anything interesting?” He was right behind her now. So close she could feel his warmth against her back.
“Lots of computer stuff,” she said, turning to face him. "And car magazines?"
“It’s what I do. And, hey, it’s a great way to cure insomnia.”
“I can relate. I have a few textbooks like that, too,” she said, biting her lower lip.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she frowned.
“You look like that’s not true.”
If only he knew. She couldn’t tell him what she was thinking. Well, she could, but he wouldn’t understand. So, she decided it was time to act instead of talk.
“You,” she said, honestly. It was practically all she’d thought about the last couple of days.
“No complaints there, I don’t think.”
She leaned in and kissed him then. Far more difficult than it should have been given they kissed quite a lot the other night. She was just not used to being the one to initiate them. She could tell he was kind of surprised, but he didn’t hesitate for more than a second in kissing her back.
She remembered what his hands had felt like on her the other night; touching her in places he’d really had no business touching her. She hadn’t stopped him, though, and had in a way been disappointed he’d wanted to go to dinner.
She touched him this time, too, hands tugging his shirt out of the waistband of his jeans. She reached under it, groaning softly at the feel of him. So very different than Dan. Dan while in good shape wasn’t the type to workout excessively and a few too many frat parties with beer had left him soft in places she felt nothing like that on Joe.
She lifted her hands up further, pushing the shirt up along his chest and eventually off with a little help from him.
“You have me at a little bit of a disadvantage,” he said, during the break in their kissing.
“Huh?” she asked, using her hands to touch him. He gave a soft hiss as one of her thumbs grazed a nipple. She kissed his jaw and neck, lower to his collarbone and then finding the same nipple she captured it with her mouth.
Hands at her thighs, he slid them under her skirt. Her breath hitched at the feel of him touching her.
“Stockings?” he asked when he touched bare skin instead of more panty hose.
“Mm hmm,” she murmured, kissing his chest and shoulder before finding his ear.
“Wow. Real ones?”
She gave a soft giggle against his ear. “Is there any other kind?”
“Well, yeah, there’s the kind with elastic tops or whatever so they stay up without a garter.”
Never having been this assertive in her life, she placed her hand over his through her dress and slid it just a touch to the side so he felt the strap.
“Does that answer your question?”
“Uh yeah,” he whispered, looping a thumb through the little bit of fabric there. “I didn’t think women wore these anymore.”
“You thought wrong.”
“Obviously,” he said. She knew when he found where the strap fastened to the top of the stocking. He gave a hiss of frustration and she gave a little laugh.
“Again,” he said, “you have me at a disadvantage.”
“You never said what you meant.”
“You can see what you’re doing with my shirt off and all. I’m not so fortunate and maybe you’re a pro at getting these things on and off, but I’m not.”
“Oh,” she said, kissing his neck again before stepping away and turning around. She brushed her hair away from the back of the dress so he could see the zipper clearly. If he had any idea how nervous and clueless she was he didn’t give anything away. A part of her brain was telling her to run. Get out of there before it was too late, but her body, heart, and another portion of her brain were in this to the end.
“Chris,” he whispered, closing the distance between them again. Not that there was that much to begin with. He found the base to the zipper and worked it down, pushing the dress over her shoulders. Her arms around her waist stopped it from falling away completely. He kissed the back of her neck and she groaned softly when he touched her shoulders, cool now from suddenly being uncovered.
“Yes,” she whispered with a shiver. And it wasn’t completely due to being chilled. His tongue grazing a path along the back of her neck to her ear was partly responsible for it as well.
Hands slid from her shoulders, lower to cup her breasts and she wasn’t sure for a moment her legs were steady enough to keep her from falling.
“Move your arms,” he said.
She laughed softly but did as he asked, letting the dress fall to her feet.
“Now it’s me that’s at the disadvantage.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, letting his hands wander freely along whatever parts of her body he could reach just then. Fingertips slid inside the waistband of her panties, causing her to cry out when he touched the sensitive spot there.
She shrieked when he picked her up, not expecting it in the least. He set her down on his bed so gently she almost wondered if he was even aware of what he’d just done.
“My imagination wasn’t even close,” he whispered.
“Thank you,” she whispered, eyes fluttering closed.
“Nah uh, keep ‘em open.”
She frowned, opening them, watching as he shed his pants before joining her on the bed.
“Is that what you wanted me to see?”
“Part of it. I want you to see all of it.” He leaned in and kissed her hard enough she was certain she’d have bruising there when they were done. Mouth and tongue found her ear and she whimpered softly. “I’ve pictured this in my head so many times, you have no idea.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Really,” he whispered. It was the last thing he said for a very long time. She watched as he asked her to as he kissed and touched every inch of her. He even had her roll onto her stomach and touched and kissed her that way, too. She found out the same time he did that she was immensely ticklish when the small of her back was licked.
And then she was on her back again, he was between her legs licking and sucking her so there was absolutely no question she was ready. Nervous as all get out, but ready.
After a while, she returned the favor, touching and kissing him everywhere as well. She and Dan had done things, but never anything like this. It would have been far too tempting to go all the way with him. That was, of course, her purpose tonight. Brenda’s advice aside, Chris liked Joe and thought there were far worse people out there that she could experience her first time with. So far he hadn’t disappointed.
She took him into her mouth, licking and sucking his length as she cupped his sac with the palm of a hand. She stroked him there with her thumb, which he really seemed to like. She was totally winging it, so she was glad to taste evidence that what she was doing was working.
“Chris,” he whispered.
She stopped, glancing at him.
“Come here,” he prompted and she slid up along his torso to kiss him. He moved them so he was on top of her. He’d slid her panties off long ago, but reattached the stockings once he’d done that so she was left wearing only them and the garter belt. She sensed somehow he liked it so hadn’t complained about leaving them on. The guy was supposed to get turned on, wasn’t he?
And then he was there, sliding inside of her. Hard, fast, and deep he was there, causing her to cry out as a result of the suddenness of the invasion and him to utter a curse word or two as a result. He didn’t stop, though, and she didn’t want him to. Fingertips dug into his sides as he reached between their bodies, finding that spot on her again to bring her off. She tried to remain quiet, but he wasn’t so quiet, whispering things she’d never heard before in her life but that left her aroused, aiding in him being able to bring her off.
He wasn’t too far behind her and then he was there on top of her, holding on to her as if his life depended on her staying right there. She didn’t think she’d be able to move again anytime soon, so he certainly didn’t have to worry about her running away.
He was quiet. Too quiet. He hadn’t said anything since finishing. Hadn’t looked at her or kissed her or anything.
“Did I?” she stammered, trying to put into words what she was thinking. “Was I not?”
“Shh,” he whispered. “You were great. Perfect. I, on the other hand, should be asking you.”
“Asking me what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Did I hurt you? Did you mean for this to happen? Why didn’t you tell me you’d never?”
“No, you didn’t hurt me. Yes, I meant for this to happen. And I didn’t realize that was a requirement.”
“A requirement,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows to look at her. “Chris. I could have really hurt you.”
“But you didn’t. I knew you wouldn’t.”
“Well, I’m glad, but a guy likes to know these things.”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t have.”
He frowned at that. “I don’t think that would’ve been a problem.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Well, now I feel kind of guilty.”
“Why?” she frowned.
“I could have been sure you got off at least once more before I did.”
“I would have fed you first.”
“I didn’t want to eat first.”
“What was so urgent? I assure you I would have been just as into you after dinner.”
“I just knew if I waited until later I’d have second thoughts.”
“And that would have been bad?”
“Yes,” she said. “I assumed you’d offer to show me around and your room would be last.”
“Care to explain that?”
“I don’t know how to. It’s like this huge thing.”
“Well, it should be, especially for women like you. I mean, nice good women.”
“It wasn’t for you?”
“Nah. It was just another day.”
He slid out of her and she groaned softly as he slid next to her.
“I guess I wanted to prove I could.”
“No question there. Why was there doubt about that?”
“You get cheated on once because you don’t put out it’s one thing, but twice by someone who claimed to love you.”
“They were assholes. You were with the last guy for like three years, so that means the guy before that you were what? Seventeen? Christ.”
“Thanks,” she whispered.
He drew the covers around them, seeming to sense she was uncomfortable laying there naked in front of him.
“Thank you,” she whispered again.
“Just so you know. I don’t expect. I mean, you know. You said you wanted to be friends.”
“I said at least friends. I would hope this means we’re going to be more than that. I know guys have a reputation for just wanting sex without strings and all of that, but if that’s all I wanted I could have gotten that anywhere. I wouldn’t have asked you out, I would have chosen one of the other waitresses.”
“I just don’t want you to think I expect. You know a relationship or anything.”
“Does that mean you don’t want one?”
“I didn’t say that,” she said, sliding her leg along his calf as she nestled in against him.
“All right,” he said, sliding an arm under her to draw her even closer. She liked it. She’d never slept naked with someone before and despite that found it very easy to close her eyes.
“Hey,” he whispered.
“Um, yeah,” she said. She gave a soft laugh when she felt his fingers sliding along her thigh, toying with the strap there.
“Do you still want dinner?”
She opened her eyes then, regarding him. She reached for his face, touching him with the back of her hand. His skin was still smooth so he’d obviously shaved before she got there. She kissed his jaw and then his shoulder.
“Not particularly. Why? Do you?”
“I’m fine right here, but I did invite you over for dinner.”
“I’m in no hurry.”
“All right,” he said, pushing the covers back. He worked the fastenings at the top of each stocking before rolling them down her legs and off.
“You’re good at that,” she said with a chuckle.
“Is there a bad way to do it?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugged as he reached for her waist and worked the garter belt over her hips and off. “Tired of it?”
He chuckled. “Hardly. Just realized they’re probably not made to sleep in,” he said, rubbing a fingertip along her thigh. “I don’t like the idea of being the reason you’re marked up.”
“It doesn’t hurt or anything.”
“Just the same,” he said, hands skimming along her thighs now.
“I like the way you look touching me,” she whispered.
“Well, that’s good for both of us then, because I definitely enjoy touching you.”
“No, I mean,” she shrugged, grabbing his hand and lacing her fingers through it. “The way you look against me.”
“Ah, yeah, heard that can be a turn on.”
“It isn’t to you?”
“Well, yeah, just never had the opportunity to find out before tonight.”
“No,” he said, returning to his spot next to her. He moved her so she was on top of him, hands on either side of him.
“Any reason why not? You’re a good looking guy.”
“Growing up, it wasn’t an option really, just weren’t many white girls in my neighborhood. And then I met this one white girl years ago.”
“Hmm,” she said, lowering her mouth to his. “And that made you swear off of them?”
“On the contrary. I couldn’t find another one that compared to her.”
“She must have been something,” she whispered.
“I couldn’t even begin to do her justice. The most amazing person I’ve ever met.”
Eventually they got to dinner. He’d planned something a little nicer than eating at the breakfast bar in his kitchen. He had set his dining room table and everything, a piece of furniture he couldn’t remember the last time he ever used if he ever had.
She sat in the kitchen with him while he cooked, between the two of them they finished off the bottle of wine and opened up the second one he’d bought just in case. She hadn’t put her dress back on, instead was wearing his bathrobe which he thought looked much better on her than it ever did on him. He’d put a pair of sweatpants on, leaving a shirt off at her insistence.
He found out a little more about her trip that summer to Europe, envying her a little. He traveled for his job but never got to do much, if any, sightseeing. Always he was wherever they sent him to do a job. In and out. He wondered what they’d think if he wanted to take some time off one day and go somewhere. He’d never thought of needing to do that really. He had his job. He worked out, played softball with a league during the summer, and was on a bowling league in the winter. He didn’t do much else, but it kept him busy for the most part. He wasn’t sure how happy it made him, but it made work happy to see him doing something. Vacation time he had he took a day off here and there, but never went anywhere. He had an old Charger in his garage that he liked to work on when the mood struck him.
She helped him clean up the kitchen, which didn’t amount to much more than loading the dishwasher but it was still nice to have her offer. She went back to his room ahead of him while he put the detergent in and started the machine. Fortunately, it was a newer model so was pretty quiet compared to some of the ones he’d heard over the years.
He was surprised to see her sliding her stockings back on. He wasn’t sure what it said that he started getting hard watching her do just that little thing. He knew it meant he was probably in big trouble where his heart was concerned, though.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Getting dressed,” she said.
“I,” he frowned, confused. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Well, you invited me over for dinner not to spend the night.”
“So, you what? Think that means I don’t want you here after midnight or something?”
“I don’t want to overstay my welcome. You didn’t plan on this, Joe. I know how it works.”
“How what works? I haven’t asked you to leave or suggested I wanted you to.”
“You’re too nice, you wouldn’t.”
“Wow. All right. I don’t get a say in the matter then?”
“What’s to say?”
“Don’t go home.”
“No, Chris, come on. If you don’t want to have sex again, that’s fine.”
“You could do that? Just sleep with me?”
“I make no promises I won’t touch you or anything, but yeah, I have some control over parts between my legs.”
She glanced at the mentioned area. “You do, huh?”
“You’re a beautiful woman, and my robe is hanging open just enough I can see you. So, yeah, I reacted. I’m human and a male.”
“Joe. I just don’t.”
“I get it. I understand. Really. I’m not asking you to stay out of any sense of obligation. If you want to go home so badly, I’ll go with you.”
Her eyes shot up to meet his then. He’d surprised her with that, he could tell.
“You’d do that?”
“Sure. Why not? Not as private as my place, but sure.”
“I just. God, I’ve never done anything like this.”
“That’s fine. I love that about you, really, but you don’t have to leave unless you have to for work tomorrow or something.”
“I’d have to go home before then.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I imagine you would. Just saying. Stay. Having you in my bed for real is better than dreaming about it.”
“It is,” she said. “The other night when you called after we had dinner, I knew I was going to dream about you.”
“Yes,” she said softly.
“Was it good?”
“I almost asked you if you wanted to come back over that night.”
“Wow, guess I shouldn’t have been so quick to hang up then.”
She laughed a little. “I chickened out, it wasn’t you.”
“Oh well, I feel a little better then.”
He knelt between her legs, sliding the stocking back down and off. He kissed her knee, running his hands along her foot and calf. Up a little to kiss her thigh.
“I do like the stockings, by the way. I didn’t think women your age wore them.”
“I guess it’s because of my mom, watching her get dressed when I was a girl. It's what she wore, so I did, too. Well, when I got older anyway,” she shrugged. “It’s just how I always dressed when I’ve gotten dressed up.”
“Remind me to thank your mother.”
She laughed softly, reaching to touch him and lifting his face to meet hers. “I don’t think she had me getting undressed by you in mind.”
“Probably not, but still. I appreciate it.”
“I’ll remember that for next time.”
"I hope there are a lot of next times. We have years to make up for."
"You do know I'm leaving for the summer, right?"
"Yes, I heard you, Chris. I'll be here when you get back. They have postcards and post offices in Europe I'm pretty sure."
"Yes, I know. I'm not sure how many postcards I'd get sent, but I will get some I'm sure."
"That's all I need. Unless you're trying to say you don't want to be tied down when you go."
"I didn't say that. I've been planning this trip for years I don't want it suddenly to become an issue when it's time for Brenda and me to get on the plane."
"It won't be. I promise. I'm not that kind of guy. I'm jealous, I admit, wish I could go, too, but maybe one day we can have our own trip."
"I'd like that," she said.
“Now about this robe,” he said, joining her on the bed.
“It can’t stay on.”
“Only if you take your pants off.”
“Not a hard request to fulfill.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com