Page 29

Author: Tara Sue Me


My heart gave a horrible lurch. He wanted to meet and talk? To explain? Was I ready?


“Okay,” I said.


He smiled. His face lit with joy and excitement. “You will? Really?”


“Yes.”


“Should I pick you up? Or would you feel more comfortable meeting me somewhere? Whatever you prefer.” His words came out quickly, rushed.


He wanted to do what made me feel comfortable. That concession alone made me feel better. But I wasn’t ready to be in a car with him. Or to have him in my apartment.


“The coffee shop on West Broadway?” I asked.


He nodded, the excitement growing in his eyes. “Yes. One o’clock tomorrow?”


“One o’clock will be fine,” I said, as my heart threatened to beat right out of my chest. The song drifted slowly and simply to its ending.


“Thank you, Abby,” he said, leading me off the dance floor. “Thank you for the dance and thank you for agreeing to meet me tomorrow.”


When I finally made it home later that night, a package waited in front of my door.


I opened the note taped to the top and read the flowing script.


To Abby,


For being right about the labels.


Nathaniel


I ripped the package opened and giggled.


A pile of label-less cans filled the box.


He arrived at the coffee shop first the next day and was sitting waiting for me at a corner table in the back. He jumped up when he saw me approach.


“Abby,” he said, pulling my chair out. “Thank you for meeting me. Can I get you something to drink?”


“You’re welcome and no, I don’t want anything to drink.” I felt nervous enough as it was—if I drank anything, I’d probably throw it up.


He sat down. “I don’t know where to start, really.” He twisted a napkin in his hands. “I ran this through in my head a hundred times.” He looked up and smiled. “I even wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget anything. But now…I’m at a complete loss.”


“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” I said.


He took a deep breath and dropped the napkin. “First of all, I need to apologize for taking advantage of you.”


I raised an eyebrow.


“I knew you had never been in a relationship like ours before and I took advantage of you. The safe word, for example. I told you the truth when I said I’d never had a submissive use her safe word before, but beyond that, I didn’t want you to leave. I thought if I made the safe word a relationship-ender you wouldn’t leave me.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Of course, that backfired on me, didn’t it?”


“It was your fault.”


“Yes, it was.” His eyes grew soft. “You gave me your trust. Your submission. Your love. And in return, I took your gifts and threw them back in your face.”


I looked straight at him. I wanted to make sure he understood this point. “I handled everything you gave me physically. I would have handled anything you gave me physically, but emotionally—” I shook my head “—you broke me.”


“I know,” he whispered.


“Do you know how much that hurt? How it felt when you pretended that night meant nothing?” He winced at my words. “It was the most amazing night of my life and you sat at that table and told me it was a scene. I’d have been better off if you plunged a knife in my heart.”


“I know.” A tear slipped down his cheek. “I’m sorry. So very sorry.”


“I want to know why. Why did you do it? Why couldn’t you just say, ‘I need time to work this out,’ or, ‘we’re moving too fast’? Anything would have been better than what you did.”


“I was afraid. Once you found out…” He paused and focused on the window behind me.


“Once I found out what?”


“Our relationship was a house of cards I’d built. I should have known it wouldn’t take much to bring it down.”


What the hell was he talking about?


He took a deep breath. “It was a Wednesday. Almost eight years ago. I was—”


“What does eight years ago have to do with anything?”


“I’m trying to tell you,” he said. “I was meeting Todd for lunch on campus, he wanted to meet at the library. I saw a woman running up the stairs. She tripped and fell, then looked around to see if anyone was watching. I went to help, but you made it to her first.”


“Me?”


“Yes, it was you,” he said. “You knew her, and you both laughed as you picked up her books. There were several people nearby, but you were the only one who helped.” He picked the napkin back up and resumed his twisting. “I made sure you didn’t see me and I followed you into the library. You did a group reading of Hamlet. You read Ophelia.”


Oh my word.


“I stayed and watched,” he said. “I wanted more than anything to be your Hamlet. Am I making you uncomfortable?”


I shook my head. “Go on.”


“I was late meeting Todd,” he said. “He was upset. Then I told him I’d met someone. It was only a little lie.”


“Why didn’t you come up to me? Introduce yourself? Like a normal person would?”


“I was already living the lifestyle of a dom, Abby, and I thought you were a young impressionable co-ed. In my mind, there was no way we would have worked. I had no idea of your submissive inclinations until your application crossed my desk. Even if I had known, I had a collared submissive at the time and I am always monogamous once I collar a submissive.”


“My submissive inclinations?” I asked.


He leaned across the table. “You’re a sexual submissive, Abby. You have to know that. Why do you think you hadn’t had sex for three years before you were with me?”


“I hadn’t found anyone who…” I trailed off as I realized where he was going.


“Who would dominate you the way you needed,” he finished.


I squirmed in my seat. Was he right?


“Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”


“I’m not embarrassed. I just hadn’t thought of it like that before.”


“Of course you hadn’t. Which is why you were so angry when I suggested other dominants for you.”


“I hated you for that.”


“I was very much afraid you would take me up on it. I searched my mind trying to find someone I thought would suit you. But I just couldn’t bring myself to imagine you with someone else.” He looked sad. “I would have done it if you asked, though. I would have.”


“You were thinking of me and what I needed when you suggested other dominants?”


“I knew you had asked specifically for me, but after actually being a submissive, I knew you would need to do it again. Then I saw how you reacted, so I’m sorry for that as well.”


He was apologizing a lot. I wondered if he meant it all. But one look in his eyes told me he did. Nathaniel was still in pain.


And if I were honest, so was I. I hadn’t moved so far on that I’d left all the pain behind. All the longing. The wanting.


Or, damn it all, the love.


“Jackson keeps saying you should have done more, tried harder to get through to me,” he said, “but he doesn’t know the details. What I did. It’s easy for him to place blame. He doesn’t understand there was nothing you could have done that would have changed my mind that morning. Nothing would have changed the outcome. Don’t blame yourself.”


“I pushed,” I protested. “I shouldn’t have expected so much so fast.”


“Perhaps not, but you could have expected more than I was willing to give you. Instead, I shut you down completely.”


I couldn’t very well argue with that.


“But there’s more,” he said.


“Todd?” I asked.


“I didn’t pursue you, but I couldn’t let you slip away either,” he said. “I would watch you at the library, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. He knew I was watching someone, but I told him I was working up the courage to speak to you.”


“He believed you?”


“Probably not, but he knew I wouldn’t do anything improper.” He reached across the table and then pulled his hands back without waiting for mine. “And I didn’t, Abby. I promise you. I only saw you at the library, I never attempted to find out any more about you. I never followed you.”


“Except the morning I left you,” I said, remembering the car behind me.


“It had been snowing and you were upset,” he explained. “I had to make certain you were safe.”


“So when you saved my mother’s house—you knew who she was? You knew she was my mother?”


“Yes. I did it for you. I knew your name from the library, it was on the bank paperwork as well. You were the goddess I longed to worship. My unobtainable dream. The relationship I could never hope to have.” He picked up the discarded napkin. “When we were in Tampa, after we played golf, Todd joked with me about the library girl from all those years ago. Dinner the night before had jogged his memory. I told him it was you and he got angry.”


It was that simple. Things were always simple when you got right down to them.


“A relationship like yours demands complete truth and honesty,” Nathaniel said. “That’s what Todd told me. And I was not being truthful in keeping my past knowledge of you a secret.”


The story’s end was close. I could feel it.


“He wanted me to tell you and I agreed,” he said. “I asked for three weeks. I thought that was enough time for me to plan how to tell you and he thought that was reasonable.”


“But we never made it to three weeks.”


“No, we didn’t. I would like to think that if we had, I would have told you. I had every intention of doing so. But then, that night happened and I was afraid you would think I had tricked you or somehow manipulated you.”


“I might have.”


“I’ve never felt for anyone the way I feel for you,” he said and I noticed he spoke in present tense. “I was scared. You were right about that. I thought it would be easier to let you go, but I was wrong.”


While we had been talking, the coffee shop had grown quiet. The staff eyed us. We still hadn’t ordered anything.


“I’m in therapy now.” He smiled. “Twice a week. It feels strange saying that. I’m working through things. Your name comes up often.”


I bet.


“I haven’t allowed you a chance to get a word in,” he said. “But you haven’t run off screaming. Dare I hope any of what I’ve said makes a little bit of sense?”


He had just admitted he had known me for years, had admired me from afar. Had wanted me. Was scared of what he felt.


Did it make up for what he’d done? Or what he’d said? No, but I could understand.


Partly, anyway.


“I need to think,” I said honestly.


“Yes,” he said, standing as I did. “You need to think things through. It’s more than I could hope for.”


He took my hands. Kissed my knuckles. “Will you call me later this week? I want to talk more.” He looked in my eyes as if gauging my reaction. “If you want to, that is.”


The feel of his lips branded my skin. “I’ll call you,” I said. “I’ll call you regardless.”


CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE


I spent much of the next two days thinking over what Nathaniel had told me. I replayed our conversation over and over, trying to decide how I felt about what he’d admitted.


That he watched me for years.


That he refused to approach me.


That he kept it from me.

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