- Secrets Vol. 4
"I want to see these." I slide the paper toward Jesse.
He looks it over and nods. Only a few weeks have passed since my confrontation with Cole on the beach. Jesse's been around more, trying to be supportive. "Some of these are in the hood, Anna."
"It's all I can afford." That's the problem. Starting out, I won't have much and the rent on the studio space makes up more than half of my expenses. Actually, it will take at least six sessions just to pay rent and that doesn't include any profit for me or stuff that's important, like electricity or water. It sort of limits my options.
Emma chimes in as she walks down the hall. Talking over her shoulder, she shouts, "Check the price of warehouse space on Long Island. It'll be cheaper than retail and as long as it's heated and cooled, you're in business."
My smile widens. "Want to spend the day looking at studio space with me?"
Jesse's expression brightens, "You know I do." He glances down the hall to make sure Emma is out of range. "And anything else you might want." He reaches out and places his hand over mine. Our eyes meet and my heart starts pounding harder. "I've been thinking about it and I shouldn't have told you no. If you still need me like that, I'm here for you." He means, If you still want me to be your sex toy, I'm down with that.
I didn't see this coming. I look at my hand and back at his face. I wanted a rebound guy. The nights are so horrible that I can't manage them alone. Everything reminds me of Cole. But if I have someone there, doing things to distract me - well, it sounds like a good idea. Jesse watches me carefully, like he just said something he shouldn't have.
I'm not sure how I feel about him. Jesse is more than a friend. He's sexy and has the ability to make butterflies erupt in my stomach. He can evoke a smile easily, even with me in a funk. We have so much in common. Everything about him would have dazzled me and I would have jumped at the chance to date him, but Cole found me first. Cole had become my unattainable god. Compared to Cole, Jesse was a nice guy. The contrast didn't work in Jesse's favor, but Cole isn't mine. He'll never be mine, and Jesse is sitting across from me, offering me anything that I need.
As these things rush through my mind, I look into his face. I'm silent too long, thinking about things - about him and what I want. Before he has a chance to pull his hand away, I hold it tighter. "Thank you." The words are barely a whisper. Jesse nods once and looks at me from under his brow. It's the cutest expression I've ever seen.
He stands and steps in front of me. The way he moves makes my stomach drop. I wanted this, I asked for this, but it still feels like he's the one advancing on me. It stirs something inside of me, a longing for Cole that's gone unanswered for too long. Jesse's eyes lock with mine and he lowers his face, inching slowly toward mine, until our lips gently brush together. He doesn't touch me, he doesn't force a bigger kiss. My breath catches in my throat as my body responds to him. I need to move on. When I look at him, I see that chance and don't know if I should take it.
Jesse pulls back a little bit, but remains close enough that I can feel his breath slip across my lips. He smells good, like fall and spices. When Jesse speaks, he whispers, "I won't pressure you. If you want more, you'll have to say it." My cheeks flush and he smiles, pressing his forehead to mine. "Damn, you're adorable. You blush."
I look up at him from under my lashes, "You have no idea."
I pull into the parking garage after 8:00pm with Jesse clinging to me. When I stop the bike, he jumps off and unfastens his helmet.
Wiping his hand across his lips, he says, "I think I swallowed a bug."
I laugh, "Yeah, all part of the charm of riding a motorcycle. All sorts of stuff flies into your face, and sometimes you're lucky enough to swallow." An evil grin spreads across my face.
Before Jesse can respond, Edward appears. He's wearing jeans and a light sweater, like he's dressed for a casual night out. Good. Maybe he finally got over me and started dating again. I nod hello at him. Jesse is pleasant enough, but says nothing. Edward looks between us, and says, "Nice night for a ride, huh?"
"Yeah, it was." I look over his shoulder and don't see anyone else. Jesse steps closer to me, but doesn't touch me. It's a territorial move, which surprises me. "We went looking for studio space. Long day. Are you meeting someone or looking for Em?"
Edward nods and smiles politely. "Both. Meeting Em for dinner." Edward looks Jesse over so fast that he barely glances at the guy. "So, is this the new boyfriend?"
I start to cut him off, but Jesse steps next to me and takes my hand. "As a matter of fact, I am. Jesse," he says, holding out his other hand to Edward.
Edward raises a brow and looks at me. He looks at Jesse's hand but doesn't take it. "Well, good luck is all I'm saying."
"Edward," I scold, but he doesn't say more. Instead he gestures for us to go first. We all leave the garage together in silence and walk back to my apartment. My feet are sore, and so is my back from being hunched over on the bike, riding two-up all day. I unlock the door and we head inside. Edward veers to the couch and sits, waiting for his sister. I shout to Em to let her know he's here.
Jesse sits at the counter as I go around the half wall and into the kitchen to grab us something to eat. Trying to ignore Edward, we talk. "Which did you like the best?" We saw so many options today.
"The one out in Islip looked promising, but it bumps up against a shopping center that looked kind of sketchy." Jesse leans on his elbows, and hunches his shoulders forward.
"I liked that one too, but yeah, it kind of gave me the creeps."
"Do you need a studio? Can you shoot on location or something for a while and then get one later?" Jesse's eyes meet mine as he asks the question. It's not a bad idea and I've thought about it before.
"I could, especially if I was shooting weddings, but I'm not." I avoid saying what I intend to do because of Edward. I wish he wasn't sitting there, but Em isn't ready yet. "For this I need some place that's safe for both of us, you know what I mean? I don't want to be the icky shooter that meets people in hotels, and shooting at their house doesn't work. What if someone walks in on us? It'll look bad and I don't want my face punched in by some jealous idiot. No, I think the studio is a necessary evil. I guess I should keep looking." My hopes deflate a little bit as I stare into the fridge, not seeing the food, just thinking about what I should do next.
Jesse makes a sound of agreement.
When Emma walks out of her room, she looks stunning. She's wearing a little black dress that makes her have that vintage bombshell figure. Em's all curves. The shoes she's wearing are too awesome. I stare at her, my jaw agape. "Holy shit! You look extra hot." I glance at Edward in confusion. "Why'd you get dressed up to go out with your brother?"
Em grins, "Guys give me their number whether I'm with another guy or not. I figured, why risk meeting the perfect guy when I'm wearing jeans and a tank top." Her eyes widen as she looks over my outfit and backtracks, "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."
I laugh. I'm always wearing jeans and a tank top. It's my go-to outfit. Besides, it's not like I can ride my bike wearing short, fluttery skirts. I glance at Jesse and his eyes are locked on my neckline. I've never noticed him checking me out before. Tilting my head, I give him a look.
Busted, he smiles sheepishly and says, "I like tank tops."
Em snorts, "You would. You'd want to do her if she was wearing a trash bag. You're love-struck, little boy." She meant it to be funny, but the way Jesse looks at me, with horror seeping across his face, says Em hit the nail on the head. Before she can do more damage, she's out the door and Jesse and I are alone.
I feel like I should say something, but I don't know what to say. Finally, Jesse says, "It's not like that."
"It's not?" I ask, relieved.
He shakes his head. "No, not really. I just know what I want and Emma sees it, that's all."
I nod slowly. I can think of a hundred different things to say that would make him feel better and lead us to my bedroom, but I can't say any of them. Jesse's gaze locks with mine. I want to move on. I want to want him, but I don't feel it. I wonder if Cole broke me, if this is what Cole felt like around me because of Sophia. Internally, I cringe thinking about it.
After we ate and watched a movie, Jesse left and I was alone. I intended to go to bed early, but I can't sleep. I just lay there, the same way I do every night. I sit up in bed and pull the covers around my shoulders. This has never happened to me before and it kills me that it's happening now, with someone I didn't even have sex with. I shouldn't have thought of sex. As soon as I do, it lights my body like a raging fire, making me remember Cole's kisses and how they drifted below my waist. I shun the memory. I can't stand it. I have to know what happened to Cole, what he's doing. I pick up my cell phone off the nightstand and pull up his name. There's a picture and his number. I want to press it, I want to call him and hear his voice again. My thumb lingers over Cole's number, but I can't do it. Things didn't work out between us and it wasn't my fault. I tried to tell him that I had nothing to do with Sottero's spy, but it looked damning. It's a classic Anna issue: wrong place, wrong time. Part of me wishes that I knew who the snitch was, who got the information Sophia wanted, but in the end I know it doesn't matter. Cole didn't believe me. I'm not sure what I'd do if he suddenly did, if he showed up apologizing. Sometimes I'm not sure which was wounded worse, my pride or my heart. I don't know. They seem muddled together lately. I look at his name, knowing I can't dial and put the phone down. I rub my eyes with the heel of my hands. I can't stand this.
I get out of bed and throw on a black sundress and pull my hair into a pony tail, before putting on my sparkle Chucks. I look like a twelve year old, so I swipe on black liner and mascara. That's a little bit better. I head for the door. There's a bar down the street and I intend to get plastered. The sidewalks are littered with people. Most look like they're on their way home from a date or work. I shoulder past them and round the corner, not really paying attention to anything when I feel the back of my neck prickle. Stopping suddenly, I turn around. I scan the crowd. There's no one there, well no that's obviously reason for the icy dread that's crawling up my spine. I look around to dart into a shop, but they're all closed. I rush on, thinking that I'm losing my mind, but the feeling doesn't dissipate. It lingers, choking me like stale smoke. When I get to the bar, I try to hurl myself through the doors.
The bouncer stops me, and then laughs, "Holy shit, I nearly didn't recognize you, Anna." When he spoke, his voice rumbled through the room. Several heads turn to look at me, and I feel my face warm.
Damn my blushing. Why do I blush all the time? "It's okay," I say, after peeling myself off his arm. "Long day. You want this?" I hold my ID between two fingers, but the bouncer shakes his head.
"Nah, I know you're barely legal," and he lets me through.
I walk to the far end of the bar and sit with my back to the door. If I see anyone else tonight, I'll die. I hope Emma doesn't come in here. I order a shot, knowing it'll go straight to my head. It burns my mouth and throat, but I manage to swallow it and ask for another. As the alcohol warms me, I stare at the amber liquid in the tiny glass. I want Cole. I want him so badly that it feels like my chest will cave in and I won't be able to breathe if he doesn't come. I pull my phone out of my purse, but put it down on the bar. I stare at the plastic case, at the scratches and dents, and feel lost.