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THE THIRD

 

A smile because the nights are short!

And every morning brings such pleasure

Of sweet love-making, harmless sport:

Love, that makes and finds its treasure;

Love, treasure without measure.

-- “A Smile and a Sigh,” Christina Rossetti

 

I.

Eric walked Shelly up the creaking steps of her apartment building and nodded at the door. Rain plastered his wavy hair to his face and he swayed a bit on his feet, the vodka shots he had knocked back with his bandmates after the show finally starting to show themselves in his bloodstream.

“Well,” he said, nodding at the door again. “Sorry Joey and Heather took off on you.”

“Yeah, Heather does that,” Shelly muttered. “She’ll go after anything with a drum kit.”

Eric chuckled. “In any case, you’re safe, you’re home, so …” He spread his hands. “See you at the club again sometime?”

She frowned. “You mean you’re not going to try and talk your way into my apartment?” She tried to figure out why she was so disappointed, then chalked it up to the way he had strutted around stage with the band that evening, his long fingers stroking his guitar as he purred against the microphone.

He shrugged and gave a half-smile. “Not that I don’t want to,” he assured her. “I just didn’t want you to think--” He blushed and didn’t finish his sentence.

Shelly watched him, thought of the lonely days she spent as a social worker, the depressing stories, the pain and trauma she saw on a daily basis. So different from this handsome, incongruously shy stranger, a stranger she very much wanted to get to know better. … Besides, Sarah was gone for the night, tomorrow was Saturday … She deserved to live a bit.

“Know what I think? I think you’re cold and wet and a little drunk.” She fumbled in her purse for her keys. “And you should come upstairs.” She held the door open for him.

“Really?” Shock was thick in his tone.

She nodded, already wondering how he had torn down her defenses so easily. “Really.”

II.

She was kissing him even before she could fasten the deadbolts on her apartment door, savoring the bitter taste of alcohol in his mouth and the way their wet shirts clung together. Her hands slid slowly down his torso to rub his groin, to feel him stiffen, his jeans tighten, against her palm. God, it had been forever since she had done this, just let herself go, so she dug the fingers of one hand into his hair and gently worked his lower lip between her teeth.

He pressed his hands against the small of her back, under her shirt, and returned her eager kisses. In one smooth movement, he spun her around and pushed her back against the wall, reaching down for her hands and sliding them over her head. She moaned as he nipped her earlobe then continued to kiss down her neck, his nimble fingers leaving her hands momentarily to slide her shirt off over her head.

Shelly lost herself in his touch, trusting him with her body in a way she had grown wary of trusting anyone with anything. His mouth explored her neck, her breasts, her nipples until every nerve in her body begged for some sort of release. She pushed herself up against him, the hard heat of his erection sending a pulse of desire racing down her spine, and, oh, the bed was too far away, clear across the room, how would she stand this building pressure long enough to walk twenty paces ….

“Come on,” she whispered, and he clumsily worked her jeans and underwear down her hips while she reached for the zipper on his pants. 

“Oh God, sweetheart,” he mumbled as she slid a hand beneath the waistband of his boxers and started to work him out of those as well. “I’ve got -- I’ve got a condom in my jacket --” He was suddenly fumbling with the many pockets on his cargo jacket like a man on fire, and when he found the condom Shelly grabbed it from his trembling hands and worked it open with a fervor of her own.

Eric choked on a moan when Shelly slid the condom into place, his eyes closing as she slid both hands up and down his length and let her anticipation build. Fuck, it had been so long since she’d been with someone, so long since she hadn’t spent a Saturday night alone … 

She pressed herself close, inviting him in, and then all rational thought left her mind as he slid into her. God, he was hard and warm and the way he moved his hips against hers, even in this mental state that allowed only for instinct and pleasure, left her gasping his name.

Fuck ,” he gritted out against her ear, then nipped at her neck as he thrust inside her again. “God, Shelly, you’re fucking amazing --”

She tightened her legs around his waist, plunged her hands beneath his jacket so she could dig her fingernails into his shoulder blades beneath his tight t-shirt. Closer closer closer oh god closer , her mind iterated, and then the next movement of their hips brought him so deep inside her that she couldn’t breathe.

There oh god there that’s -- that’s -- oh fuck it Eric that’s perfect,” and she hated saying it out loud, hated that she sounded so vulnerable, but then he started to move more slowly, paying more attention to the twist and sway of their tangled bodies now that he knew where to apply the most pressure --

And then she was gasping for breath, lost in such a sweet, warm wave of sensation that nothing else in the world registered but Eric’s body around and inside her. She bit down on his neck, hard, to keep from screaming, and the sting of her bite brought him over the edge with her, and then she buried her face in his long, sweaty hair, wondering how she had possibly gone her whole life without wild sex against the wall of her apartment in the arms of a small-time musician. 

Shaking, Shelly unwound her legs from around his waist and let him set her back on the floor. He pressed his mouth to hers for another long, dizzying kiss, then pulled away and simply looked into her eyes with an incongruously bewildered expression.

He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “You --”

Then the phone rang.

Shelly and Eric startled back to reality, their eyes meeting then widening as the reality of the situation set in.

“Oh God,” Shelly muttered, pushing him away and bending to retrieve her shirt from the floor. She pulled it on as she walked towards the phone. “I told Sarah to call if she had any problems with her mom tonight, God, I shouldn’t’ve gone out.” She grabbed the receiver.

“Shelly?” It was Sarah.

“Oh, hey, honey.” Shelly worked to catch her breath and turned apologetically to Eric. He was sitting on the bed now, elbows on his knees, face in his hands. Shelly was relieved to find that he had made himself decent, though she wished she had gotten a good look at him naked. She’d seen the highlights, but the more she thought about it, the more she definitely wanted to inspect the rest of him.

She frowned and tried to concentrate on what Sarah was saying. “No, hon, that’s fine. I’m free this weekend. I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning, I promise. Okay. Sleep tight. Good night.”

She hung up the phone and crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly unsure what to say to the man she had just been so close to.

“Your sister?” he finally asked, looking up.

“Girl I met through a women’s shelter,” Shelly corrected. “I’m not supposed to form connections with clients, but her mom’s a druggie who sells herself on the side and Sarah needs a place to stay.” She shrugged.

“That’s a good thing of you to do,” he murmured. “I was … I mean, I went through a lot of foster homes until the guys and I were old enough to move into the warehouse district, start the band. Could’ve used someone like you.” He stood suddenly. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t usually do this, I don’t go home with women I meet at shows, I don’t do one night stands--”

“Neither do I,” she reassured him. “I’m not groupie material. I mean, not that I regret this--”

“Oh, fuck no,” he said, and Shelly blushed. “Sweetheart, I’m not saying I regret it, because God knows it was fucking amazing, but I don’t want you to think I’m just …” He lay back on the bed. “Do you mind if I stay the night?”

“I would love it if you stayed the night.” Shelly joined him on the bed and he rolled over to put his arms around her and pull her close. The intimacy of it, the smell of sweat and sex mixed with her light perfume and the musky scent of his jacket, sent a stab of longing through her; what if she could find someone like this to hold her and touch her and love her every night? What if this could be more than a one-time thing, what if she could get at least a few more nights out of this man who was staring at her as though he had never seen anything more beautiful?

He trailed one hand down her arm. “So, Shelly,” he said, placing a kiss on her nose, “so that neither of us feels like this is a sordid, mindless, one-time thing, I suggest a rapid-fire interview session before we crash.”

Shelly’s lips curved into a smile. “I think that’s a lovely idea,” she agreed, using their proximity as an excuse to run her fingers over his chest. Mmm, he was very well-defined, and she scolded herself again for not insisting on the whole picture.

“Favorite color?” Eric asked, kissing her forehead

“Amber,” Shelly replied. “Favorite band?”

Eric pressed a kiss to her lips. “Joy Division, no question. Favorite song?”

Shelly had to think about that. “Right now? Um, I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie, so maybe Five Years?”

Eric grinned. “If I proposed to you right now, would it be too soon?”

Shelly laughed. “Maybe. But maybe we could continue to get to know each other through more conventional channels.”

Eric pulled her so close that she could hear his heart beating, feel his chin resting on the top of her head, and suddenly she was exhausted.

“Mmm, Shelly, I’m counting on it.”

III.

Flushed with excitement, still wearing the fishnet tights and leather minidress from the night before, Heather fumbled with her keyring and let herself into Shelly's loft.

"I swear," she called, "that was the best fucking night of my life. Pity you didn't go home with Eric, Joey said he was eyeing you all niiiiiiight !" She swung her purse playfully as she crossed the threshold and closed the door. When she looked up from dropping her keys back in her purse, Shelly was standing in front of her, frowning, her bathrobe drawn tight around her.

"C'mon, Heather." Shelly ran a hand through rumpled hair. "It's not a good time, I need my sleep, I’ve gotta go get Sarah in an hour.” She looked back over her shoulder at the queen bed pressed up against one wall, but her blue eyes darted to the kitchenette long enough for Heather to get suspicious.

"You always make me coffee on Saturday mornings," Heather protested. "Then I tell you what a sexually progressive female I was the night before, you roll your eyes, and I fall asleep while you watch movies." She narrowed her eyes. "You okay?"

"Hey, babe, how do you like your eggs?"

Shelly and Heather turned to the archway leading to the kitchenette. A tall man with broad shoulders and long dark hair stood halfway in the kitchenette, wearing nothing but tight boxers. When he saw Heather he flinched and waved awkwardly, then made a hasty retreat back to his cooking before Shelly could even answer his question.

"Oh. Oh my god," Heather giggled, eyes wide. She grabbed Shelly's arm and pulled her close enough that they could speak in a whisper. "You went home with him?"

Shelly stared at the floor. "He walked me home, remember, because you and Joey took my car and this isn't a good neighborhood. Then he stayed because it was raining and, uh, he lives pretty far away and it was late ..."

Heather grinned widely. "Oh my god," she repeated. "Shelly, oh my god, I am so happy for you! Joey says Eric's a great guy, very sweet, he's making you breakfast ohmygod, how long has it been since you--"

Shelly closed her eyes against the onslaught of questions. "Look, it’s not any of your business--”

Heather raised an eyebrow. “Girl, you’re blushing like you just gave your first blowjob in the backseat of a Chevy.”

"Shhh!" Shelly hissed, jerking her head back towards the kitchen. "This isn't the time, okay? He’s staying a little longer, then we’re going to get Sarah and pick up his equipment from the club.”

Heather waggled her eyebrows. "So you didn't fake it?"

Shelly glared. "We’re. Not. Talking. About it." She tried to maintain her anger but deflated when Heather grinned and clapped her hands together. Heather pulled her friend out into the hallway, away from the object of their conversation.

"So?" she begged. "C'mon, Shelly, just tell me a bit, then I'll go away and leave you to your ... friend."

Shelly flushed and bit her lip. "Look, I just ... he didn't even make a move on me, so I thought, you know, maybe it's time to get back in the game, and we'd talked the whole time you and Joey were all over each other." Her blush deepened. "So I kissed him, and God, it was so good I didn't want to stop, but I just couldn’t ..." She hugged herself tightly and glanced up at the ceiling, a dreamy look in her eyes. "God, Heather, it's like you find someone who was just made to fit you, you know?”

Heather raised her eyebrows. "Well. I have never, and I mean never, seen you in this deep, so I'm glad it's Eric you latched onto, because he's the one the other guys bitch at for being too nice to take girls home." She winked. "So. I guess ... have a nice day?"

Shelly tried to bite back the smile forming on her face. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I will."

Heather started back down the hallway and Shelly went back into the apartment, only to find Eric setting out plates and utensils at the battered table in one corner of the loft.

"So, how much did you hear?" she asked, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest. She had to admit that he was gorgeous, square-jawed and dark-eyed, his hair hanging in black curls to his shoulders and his mouth set in a crooked grin. It was obvious he worked out; his body was beautifully proportioned, and Shelly suddenly wished he wasn’t wearing anything at all. ... She bit her lip to block the thought and remembered that she should be embarrassed.

Eric shrugged. "Do you want the truth?" he asked sheepishly.

Shelly flinched and nodded.

“The truth is that I’d like to see you again,” he said seriously. “A real date. Dinner and a movie, or a gig and then an arcade, I don’t know. Haven’t been on a date in awhile.”

Shelly let out the breath she had been holding. “I’d like that.”

“Also,” he grinned proudly, “I made you pancakes and eggs!”