“It went okay.” I check my watch.
“But not great, if you’re outside my building. Or are you here to report good news?”
“Oh, shut up. I wanted to . . . I don’t know. See where you live. How could I resist? I was thinking about putting a dead fish in your mailbox one day. You saw where I live. It’s unfair and uneven.”
He won’t be distracted. “Did you kiss him like we agreed?”
I look at the streetlight. “Yes.”
While I dither he puts his hands on his hips and looks down the street, apparently at his wit’s end. I wipe the back of my hand across my lips.
“The date itself went fine,” I begin, but he steps close and cradles my jaw in his hands. The tension is crackling like static.
“Fine. Fine and great and nice. You need something more than fine. Tell me the truth.”
“Fine is exactly what I need. I need something normal, and easy.” I see disappointment in his eyes.
“That’s not what you need. Trust me.”
I try to turn my face away, but he won’t allow it. I feel his thumb trace across my cheek. I try to push him away but end up tugging him closer, his T-shirt in my fists.
“He’s not enough for you.”
“I have no idea why I’m even here.”
“You do know.” He presses a kiss to my cheekbone, and I rise to my tiptoes, shivering. “You’re here to tell me the truth. Once you stop being a little liar.”
He’s right, of course. He’s always right.
“No one can kiss me like you do.”
I have the rare privilege of seeing Josh’s eyes flash bright from something other than irritation or anger. He steps closer and pauses to assess me. Whatever he sees in my own eyes seems to reassure him, and he wraps his arms around me and lifts me clear off my feet. His mouth touches mine.
We both let out twin sighs of relief. There’s no point in lying about why I’m here on the wet pavement outside his building.
It starts as nothing more than breathing each other’s air, until the pressure of our lips breaks into an open-mouth slide. I said earlier, What does it matter? Unfortunately for me, this kiss matters.
The muscles in my arms begin to quiver pathetically at his neck and he holds me tighter until I can feel he’s got me. My fingers curl into his hair, and I tug the silky thickness. He groans. Our lips sink luxuriously into kisses. Slip, tug, slide.
The energy that usually lashes ineffectively inside each of us now has a conduit, forming a loop of electricity between us, cycling through me, into him. My heart is glowing in my chest like a bulb, flashing brighter with each movement of his lips.
I manage to take a breath and our slow, sexy slide is cut into a series of broken-up kisses, like gentle bites. He’s testing, and there’s a shyness there too. I feel like I’m being told a secret.
There’s a fragility in this kiss I would never have expected. It’s the same as the knowledge that one day this memory will fade. He’s trying to make me remember this. It’s so bittersweet my heart begins to hurt. Just as my mouth opens and I try to slide my tongue, he ends the kiss on a chaste note.
Was that a last kiss?
“My signature first-date kiss.” He waits for a response but he must see from my face I’m not capable of human language right now.
He continues to hold me in a comfortable hug. I cross my ankles and look at his face like I’ve never seen this person before. The impact of his beauty is almost frightening up this close, with those eyes flashing bright. Our noses brush together. The sparks are in my mouth, desperate to reconnect with his.
I picture him on a date with someone else, and a punch of jealousy gets me right in the gut.
“Yeah, yeah. You win,” I say once I regain my breath. “More.”
I lean forward but he doesn’t take the hint. As gorgeous as it was, it was only a fraction of what he’s capable of. I need the intensity of the elevator.
A middle-aged couple walking arm in arm pass us by, breaking our little bubble. The woman looks back over her shoulder, her heart in her eyes. We clearly look flippin’ adorable.
“My car is that way.” I start to squirm and point.
“My apartment is that way,” he points upward and carefully puts me on the ground like a milk bottle.
“Tiny. Little. Chicken.” He’s got my number, all right. My turn to try out some scary honesty.
“Fine. I admit it. I’m scared shitless. If I come upstairs, we both know what will happen.”
“Or Something will happen. That one time I was talking about. We won’t make it to the interviews next week. We’ll both be crippled in your bed, with the sheets in rags.”
His mouth lifts in what I think is going to be one hell of a heart-exploding smile so I turn and point myself in the direction of my car. I lift one foot and begin to run.
No you don’t,” he tells me. He walks into the building lobby with me under his arm like a rolled-up newspaper. He even checks his mailbox.
“Relax. I’m just going to let you see my apartment, so that we’re even.”
“I always thought you’d live underground somewhere, near the earth’s core,” I manage to say as he hits the button for the fourth floor. Watching his finger gives me flashbacks. I look at the red emergency button and the handrail.
I try to discreetly smell him. I bypass discreet and press my nose against his T-shirt and suck in two brimming lungfuls. Shameful addict. If he notices he doesn’t comment.
“Uncle Satan didn’t have any apartments available in my price range.”
It’s a big elevator and there’s no reason for me to remain under his arm like this. But four floors is such a short distance, there’s hardly any point in removing my arms from his waist. He’s got his fingertips in my hair.
I spread my hands slowly, one across his back, the other across his abdomen. Muscle and heat and flesh. I’m pressing my nose back against his ribs, inhaling again.
“Creep,” he says mildly, and we are walking down the hall. He unlocks a door and I am teetering in the doorway of Joshua Templeman’s apartment. He strips off my coat like a banana peel. I brace myself.
He hangs my coat near the door. “Come in, then.”
I am not sure what to expect. Some kind of gray cement cell maybe, devoid of personality, a huge flat-screen TV, and a wooden stool. A voodoo doll with black hair and red lipstick. A Strawberry Shortcake doll with a knife through her heart.
“Where’s the dart board with my picture on it?” I lean in a little farther.
“It’s in the spare room.”
It’s masculine and dark, lusciously warm, all the walls painted in chocolates and sand. There’s a zingy scent of orange. A big squashy couch sits center stage in front of every male’s prerequisite giant flat screen, which he hadn’t even turned off. He was in a big hurry. I step out of my shoes, immediately shrinking a little more. He disappears into the kitchen and I peer around the corner.
“Have a snoop. I know you’re dying to.” He begins to fill a shiny silver kettle, setting it on the stovetop. I let out a shaky breath. I’m not about to be ravished. No one boils water beforehand, except maybe in the Middle Ages.
He’s right of course. I’m dying to look. It’s why I came here. The Joshua I know is no longer enough. Knowledge is power, and I can’t get enough at this point. A silent, exhilarated squeal is lodged in my throat. This is so much better than only seeing the sidewalk outside his building.
There’s a bookcase lining an entire wall. By the window there’s an armchair and another lamp, with a stack of books illuminated beneath it. Even more books on the coffee table. I’m intensely relieved by this. What would I have done if he turned out to be a beautiful illiterate?
I like his lampshades. I step into one of the big bottle-green circles of light they cast on the oriental rug. I look down and study the pattern; vines of ivy curving and twisting. On the wall in his living room is a framed painting of a hillside, likely Italian, maybe Tuscany. It’s an original, not a print; I can see the tiny dabs made by a paintbrush, and the gold frame is ornate. There are buildings clustered on the hill; church domes and spires, and a darkening purple-black sky overhead. A freckling of the faintest silver stars.
There are some business magazines on the coffee table. There is a fancy, pretty cushion on the couch made of rows and rows of blue ribbons. It’s all so . . . unexpected. Not in the least bit minimal. It’s like a real human lives here. I realize with a jolt that his place is far lovelier than mine. I look under his couch. Nothing. Not even dust.
I spot a little origami bird made of notepaper I once flicked at him during a meeting. It is balanced on the edge of the bookshelf. I look at his profile in the kitchen as he arranges two mugs on the counter in front of him. How strange to imagine him putting my tiny folded scrap in his pocket and bringing it home.
On the next shelf down is a single framed photograph of Josh and Patrick posed in between a couple who I assume are his parents. His father is big and handsome, with a grim edge to his smile, but his mother almost glows out of the picture. She’s clearly bursting at the seams to have two such big handsome sons.
“I like your mother,” I tell him as he approaches. He looks at the photograph, and his lips press together. I take the hint and move on.
He’s got a lot of medical textbooks on the bottom shelf, which look pretty dated. There’s also an articulated anatomy statue of a hand, showing all of the bones. I fold the fingers down until only the middle one remains raised, and smirk at my cleverness.
“Why do you have these?”
“They’re from my other life.” He disappears into the kitchen again.
I hit Mute on the TV remote and the silence drenches us. I creep past him into his kitchen. It’s sparkling clean and the dishwasher is humming. The orange scent is his antibacterial counter spray. I notice my Post-it note with the kiss on it stuck to the fridge and point at it.
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