She pulled her into the supply closet and locked the door. For a few breathless seconds, it felt like Kate would kiss her - her head spun as she saw sparks crackle in her grey eyes - but instead, she exhaled and leaned against the piles of colored construction paper.
“So?” she said. She wasn’t one to mince words.
She touched her cheek. There was an unfamiliar mania in her eyes that had never darkened her eyes before Tom. It perplexed her, but worry had eclipsed it months before.
“Yes,” she said, nodding slowly. “I’ll do it.”
It was then that Kate gave herself permission to relax. Her shoulders dropped, and she listed into her arms.
“Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” said, hugging her tight. She remained rigid, taking in the scent of cigarettes and jasmine in her dark blond hair. She felt warmth on her shoulder, and when she met Kate’s gaze, it swam.
“Why the fuck do you even stay with him, after Sasha?” she said. “This shouldn’t even be a-” her mouth snapped shut. It was no use pushing it, or her. She knew too well how deeply complex certain relationships could become. She was an expat herself. An American in Scotland, but for all the wrong reasons.
Kate exhaled. Her limbs trembled the slightest bit, and she couldn’t tell whether it was anxiety, or relief.
“I have to know,” she said, nodding. “Whether it’s gonnae be a thing with him, before we marry.” She looked down at the solitary stone on her important finger.
“You know he will. I know he will. Have you ever seen his eyes when he thinks no one’s looking?”
Kate gave her a bruised look. “Have you … been looking?”
She shrugged. There was something about him. She sensed it the moment they met at the local 4 months before - he wanted to come off as sweet, but there was an air of bitter to him. Something that anyone wise would spit out, lizard brain buzzing poison.
After her falling out with Sasha, she was completely bemused why Kate would insist on giving him another chance. They were all friends, and she still spoke to Sasha, but whenever she would broach the subject of Tom, the mischievous shine in her eye would go flat. Her mouth would smile and her posture would remain poised, but the eyes … they would dim. The conversations would inevitably go to Kate, and how much she missed her and how sorry she was, but Kate wouldn’t have any of it so she stopped trying to play mediator.
She took her hands, squeezing the fingers together hard enough to feel the flesh and bone move. Her engagement ring was small, but it was painfully fine. Bile filled her mouth. Is that why she stayed? Because he was a doctor? Was she that shallow?
“If we do, will you drop him?”
Kate’s eyes danced to the left, then back to her. “If it goes public, I can’t avoid it, can I? Couldn’t stand the humiliation.”
She stared at Kate. “You know, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t adore you?” she said.
“You’re my best mate.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it,” she said.
“I know,” she said, and laced her fingers through hers. “I know. Give me time.”
“You didn’t need time before Tom.”
They both held their breath. Kate looked away. Tom often made derogatory little comments about Kate’s ‘sexual confusion’, shaming her for her once open bisexuality. He said he didn’t believe in it, and cited his stern country beginnings in a village called Kirkdarroch in the ass end of Scotland. It was disgusting. But Kate would hold him tighter, and laugh it off.
Kate laughed, but she was scared. She didn’t show it - it always came off as irritation - but she had lain cheek by jowl with the emotion long enough to see through to the truth. What she couldn’t figure out is why. Tom was a garden variety asshole, a rube with an inferiority complex trying to make it in the big city. He was always very well put together, but no amount of darning, spit, and polish could hide the fraying collars, or the hole in his dress shoes.
She had dealt with far more formidable men. If she could successfully hide her disgust, it was in the bag.
“Wear that dress I like,” Kate said, running her fingers through her hair. She was jonesing for a smoke.
“You like all of my dresses,” she said, smiling.
“That’s because you look spectacular in everything. The yellow one, I mean. The one that nips in at the knee to show off your arse.”
She nodded, sighed.
“See you around, luvvie. I’ve got to finish planning,” Kate said, planted a quick kiss on her lips, and left.
She sucked her lower lip, and followed.
After class, Kate burst into her office and threw something on her desk. She looked up from a pile of student evaluations.
“I knew you’d still be here. Workaholic,” she said, and smiled at her. The corners of her eyes were catlike with anxiety. Her eyes drifted to the desk. It was a bullet shaped tube.
“Lipstick?” she said, sticking her pen in her bun.
“Wear it. Tonight, I mean.” She pointed at it, and cocked her head to the side and smiled. It was strange body language, for her.
She picked it up and pulled off the cap. It was a rich, bombshell red. She whistled.
“It’s not really my style,” she said, smelling it. “Too rockabilly reject for me. Also, don’t you think he’ll notice it’s not me? We’ve all spent enough time together. If I give a whiff of tryhard, he might not bite.”
Kate’s face moved through several emotions, and settled on a smile. “Please. You trust me, right?”
“I do,” she said.
“Just … wear it.” She hugged herself and stood in front of her desk for a few seconds, quietly, then walked out. In a few seconds, she came back in. “And I’ll be by for you at 7. Be ready.” She winked and left.
She slowly closed the folder she was working on, and put her head down.
They were sat around Kate’s small round table after dinner, laughing at a story from Kate’s uni days.
“-I ended that night sleeping in Eddie’s car. I nearly froze my baws off,” Kate said, shaking her head. “Took a full two days to warm up again.”
Tom’s face did not reflect the mirth everyone else was demonstrating. His eyes were on Kate’s face, unmoving.
“I didn’t know you got into … that sort of thing,” he said finally. The other couple there, Frankie and Tara, stopped laughing.
“Getting wrecked and losing the keys while my roommate was too busy shaggin’ blind drunk to open up? It happens to the best of us in uni,” Tara said, crossing her legs in defiance.
“Never been much of a drinker, myself,” Tom said, shrugging. “It’s a little … sloppy, to be peshed in public,” he said, pointedly eyeballing the full glass of wine in front of her. “Anyway, I wouldn’t be much of a doctor if I was pickling my brain every weekend, would I?”
“I suppose not,” Kate said. “But other people who aren’t doctors can have some fun once in a while, right?” she said, rising to pour herself more red.
“Other people can do whatever they please,” Tom said smoothly. “Other people don’t affect me.”
She smiled wide, but left the glass of wine at the counter, untouched. Frank looked at Tara, and they seemed to pop up together.
“Thank you so much for dinner, Katie,” Tara said, giving her a tight hug. “I’ve got an early day tomorrow, so I can’t stay.”
“But, I have dessert. Lemon mousse cake,” she said, pouting.
“Sounds delicious, but I’m watching what I eat, remember, love. I couldn’t even if I wanted.”
“Not the worst idea,” Tom said, standing and taking his plate to the sink. Everyone looked at him, serious. “It’s a step in the right direction to watch what you eat, especially after you get to a certain age. It physiologically gets harder to keep it off.”
Kate’s smile blinked, then came back on. Frank’s jaw worked. Tara slid her hand in his, calming him. “You’ve got better willpower than I, darling, and it shows,” Kate said, gripping Tara’s waist. “Good night.”
“See you,” she said, kissed her cheek, and leaned in.
“Take care of yourself,” she whispered, and squeezed her hand. “And call me. We don’t see each other much anymore.”
“I will. Love you,” she said, kissing her cheek. They walked out, and Kate turned and smiled.
“Come on, Wendy. We can have a slice of that cake,” she said, and winked at her. Tom leaned against the counter, watching.
“Let me help you with the dishes first,” she said, standing from the table, wine in hand.
“Nonsense. You’re a guest in her home. She can tidy up. Take your wine into the den,” he said, and walked into the other room. She gave Kate a pained look. Kate nodded.
When she went into the den, Tom was already on the sofa, legs crossed. “Please. Sit,” he said, patting the place beside him. She smiled and sat, taking a sip of her wine.
“I’ve always thought that the wise drink white,” he said, nodding at her hand.
“I don’t know about all that - doesn’t red wine have tannins or something that make it healthy? I just avoid it so my teeth don’t turn purple.”
He gave her a lingering look. In the golden light of Kate’s faux Tiffany lamp, his eyes seemed to glow. They were almost animalian … but she couldn’t deny the fact he was hot. What irked her is, he knew it too. He licked his lower lip.
“Wendy the American,” he said. His hand seemed to move independently, caressing the arm of the sofa with evocative grace. Her mouth went dry. She took a burning gulp of wine. “Where do you come from, in America?”
“Nowhere you’ve ever seen in the stereotypical American films,” she said, crossing her legs. The cloth of her skirt rustled, and rode up above her bare knees. He made a point to look.
“Come from the wrong side of the tracks, do you?” he said, blinking slowly.
“I’ve always hated that term,” she said, leaning forward to put down her glass - and giving him an enticing look at her breasts. “Like, what does it even mean, anyway?”
“It means poor,” he said glibly.
“I know what it means,” she said, shaking her head in irritation. He gave her a sympathetic look.
“I certainly didn’t mean to offend,” he said. He touched her arm - just a split second of contact. She sighed and licked her painted lips. The colored wax felt heavy on them, and tasted chemical. She wondered why Kate insisted. Tom dared to lean in.
“I suppose I might come from similar circumstances. Small village, not a lot of opportunities,” he said, staring at her mouth. His lips parted.
“A village in Scotland is not the same as Southeast Baltimore,” she said, her eyes wide. “You can believe that.”
“And how was it, then?” he said. He put his arm in the back of the sofa. “Danger lurking ‘round every corner?”
“Didn’t even have to go out in my case,” she said, and sipped. His eyes changed for a second, then went back to lazy seduction.
“Daddy fancy the drink too much?” he said, emoting sympathy. He was very, very good - it would be undecipherable as anything else to someone who hadn’t grown up with a stonehearted manipulator. She let her shoulders drop a few centimeters, and blinked quickly.
She had learned well.
“No. He was a teetotaler,” she said, shaking the glass. “He believes only sinners and whores drink.” She took a sip.
“And how did you end up falling so far from grace?” he said, giving her a slow look from her exposed legs, to her breasts, to her face.
“It’s a couple of glasses of wine, not adultery,” she said, evincing defensiveness.
“Funny you should mention adultery, and not theft, or murder … or covetousness.” His eyes lingered. Her insides shook.
He isn’t as bad as her father. Not close. Not nearly.
She exhaled. “You know the commandments?” she said.
“Like I said, I grew up in the country. Also, my mom had a thing for … unavailable men.”
“The minister?” she said.
“God,” he said smoothly, and took the glass of wine from her hand. “I don’t really have time for fairy tales.”
“You’re a man of science,” she said, daring to meet his gaze. Now her knees trembled. She squeezed them still. “Maybe I should check on Kate?” she said, trying to stand up. He put his hand on her knee. Her first, visceral reaction was to hiss, but she disguised it with a giggle. She let herself fall back to sitting.
“She’s a grown woman. A few dishes won’t hurt her,” he said.
“Helping out is the polite thing to do,” she said.
“Is that what daddy taught you, in his wisdom?” he said. She smiled and shook her head. “Don’t worry about Kate. She’s not put out. It’s not like she slaved over a hot fob for three hours - it was takeaway.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, biting her lip. She darted forward to grab the glass of wine again, but he put his hand on her wrist.
“A woman like you doesn’t need intoxicants,” he said. “Also, alcohol makes you wrinkle before your time, as does smoking. You wouldn’t want to ruin your pretty face.” He spread his thighs, conscious of how it looked in his tight jeans.
She resisted rolling her eyes. The rush of disdain offset the other emotions slowly rising from her subconscious.
“You know, most women wouldn’t much appreciate your tone,” she said. “We can do what we like nowadays.”
“And we wonder why the world’s going to hell,” he said, but the edges of his luminous eyes crinkled with mirth. “Ho ho. A joke.”
“Uhuh,” she said. “Most misogynists try to hide their true colors with humor. It’s not slick.”
“That’s not the leg I limp on. I am not a misogynist.”
“Than what would you call what you just said?”
“Concern. Maybe I know that, deep down, certain women want to be taken care of. Doted on...” he said. He canted his hips forward. She couldn’t help but watch. It was a deliberate act, and beautiful. “...Possessed,” he finished.
“Possessed?” she said before she could stop herself. He searched her eyes, and seemed satisfied at the reaction to his words.
“Yes,” he said, and looked away. His profile was imperfectly lovely. She wondered whether his lips would be cold.”Does it need defining?” he said, turning back to her and giving her an intense gaze. It jumpstarted her heart.
“No,” she said simply.
“Good,” he said, cocking his head to the side. His eyes softened to something akin to kindness.”How’d you end up here? It’s a long way from where you’re from.”
“It was honestly a snap decision,” she said. “I was sick of where I was, so I closed my eyes and pointed to somewhere on a map. It was here. I got on a plane 16 hours later and haven’t looked back since.”
He seemed interested at her confession. “And your dad? Your mam? Do you have siblings, or anyone who cares about you in the US?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes you’ve got to do crazy things for your peace of mind,” she said.
He started to stroke the nubbly sofa cushion behind her head - a slow, rhythmic three finger stroke that made her belly flutter.
“Is moving to a much smaller country where they speak the same language all that crazy, though?” he said, smiling.
“For the first two years of being here, it didn’t sound like it was the same language,” she said, and laughed. “I was fucking perplexed pretty much 24/7. I’d surmise what people were trying to say by their expressions, which wasn’t smart, since it was mostly irritation with me.”
He curled forward, laughing with his whole body. It was contagious, and soon they were both holding their stomachs. Every time she looked at him, they’d get started again. In the back of her mind, she wondered what Kate was thinking. She felt a hot bolt of shame, then pushed it aside. Why shame?
“You’re alright for an American, Wendy,” he said, dabbing at the corner of his eyes. His skin was flushed with merriment, which only made him look better. His lips were a pink so hot it made her mouth water.
Hot. His kiss wouldn’t be cold. Couldn’t be.
She tried to reach for the wine a third time, and he smoothly grabbed the goblet and stood up. “I’m gonna check in on Kate - I’ll drop this in the sink for you,” he said, and walked to the kitchen. In a few seconds, she heard Kate exploding, and she ran into the kitchen. She held a now empty bottle of white, which he was trying to take away.
“Oh feck off. It’s my party, my house and I can have a bloody drink if I wanna,” she said, throwing the bottle into the trash. “I might even finish the bottle of red,” she said, and hiccuped. Her eyes burned.
Kate wobbled a little on her feet, giving Tom a defiant gaze that dissolved into misery as she darted to the sink and retched. Tom sighed and turned to her.
“As ever, she drank too much, too quick,” he said, eyeing the trash with disgust. Kate curled over the sink, and they heard a splash.
“Oops,” she said, slurring a little. “Haven’ tasted secondhand white in a while,” she said, and giggled. She ran the water and splashed it on her face, then shook herself off like a pup. Her mascara ran in black rivulets down her cheeks.
“How much did you drink before?” Tom said, taking her face in his hands and looking in her eyes.
“I might’ve had a drop or two before the party. You know, for courage,” she said, and let out a whooping laugh.
“Did you drink with her?” Tom asked Wendy with a searing intensity that made her shiver.
“No, not really,” she said, honestly. Katie was acting well. But she was scared. Soon, it would be time for her act.
“I told you not to drink,” he said, his jaw working with irritation. “You’re absolutely flying.”
“Woosh!” she said, grabbing his waist and trying to kiss him. He turned away, his lips pressed together.
“Put me to bed, Tommy,” she said, tugging at his shirt. She looked like a melted clown. Her heart contracted with love for Kate.
“But, you’ve got a guest, remember?” he said. Kate squinted at her.
“She can take a bus, can’t she?” she said, then turned to her. “Or a cab. It's fine. She's a grownup.”
“Did you drive her here?” he said.
“I did. She doesn’t have a license,” Kate said.
Tom looked at her, then back at Kate. “I’m putting you to bed, and taking Wendy home,” he said, gripping her waist and guiding her to the bedroom. Kate bounced in, ripped off her dress and launched herself into bed.
Wendy stood at the door. “I can find my way home, Tom. It’s no bother. It’s not even that late,” she said.
He brought a towel and handed it to Kate. She wiped her face savagely and fell back to the pillows, sighing.
"No! That’s unacceptable. You shouldn’t have to be standing in the cold rain because Kate couldn’t keep her head for one night,” he said pointedly. Kate reached out to him, and he slapped her hand away and pulled the quilt up above her breasts.
“Are you sure?” she said, backing into the dark hallway.
“Certain,” he said, giving her a quick smile. “Give me five minutes, and we can be on our way. We’ll take my car.”
“That old thing? You sure it’ll make it?” Kate said, and chuffed. The top of Tom’s cheeks reddened, but his expression didn’t change.
“It gets me where I need to go. I don’t have a well-off mam and da to buy me a new car and pay my flat every month,” he said.
“Nope,” Kate said, and turned on her side. “Bye, Wendy. Hold on to your knickers-” she said, her voice rising with mirth. Tom swatted her bottom, and guided them both out of the bedroom.
“Don't mind her. Get your coat and meet me in the foyer. I’ll be out in a tick.”
As she left the apartment and down the two flights of stairs, she couldn’t keep her heart rate under control. She loved Kate, but she knew she wasn’t perfect. When she was trapped, she could be borderline toxic, and downright mean- but it didn’t change the fact that Tom was …
She stared at her reflection on the plate glass door of the apartment building.
He was what? Controlling? Bossy? Taciturn?
She shook her head like a punch drunk boxer. Pretty, he called her. The thought made her get her bearings back. She hated the term. Only middle school boys and bitches called grown women pretty. She could keep the upper hand. Stay frosty, regardless of what would happen. She was good at goodbyes-
He startled her back into the present. “Lost in thought?” he said.
“I suppose,” she said, looking worried.
“Shall we go?” he said, and opened the door for her. She walked out and waited for him to guide her to his car. As he walked to the curb, she looked behind her. Kate’s bedroom curtain trembled. She smiled.
Time to shine.
He opened the passenger door of his beat-up SUV and held it for her, gallantly standing in traffic as he closed the door. He ran across and got in.
“So, where to?” he said as he pulled into the road.
“Not far. It’s a 10 minute drive at this time,” she said. She told him the address.
“Oh yeah. You’ll be safe at home in no time,” he said.
They rode in silence for a couple of minutes.
“I apologize. About Kate,” he said, and adjusted the rearview mirror.
“I think that’s for her to decide,” she said. Her arms were crossed tight.
“Decide what?” he said, looking at her.
“Whether she’s sorry for getting drunk at her own party,” she said. “In her own home.”
“It was rude, and thoughtless,” he insisted, turning into her street. “And I’m sorry you had to go through it, at least.”
“She does like to overdo it sometimes,” she said softly. Tom gave her a more lingering look.
“You’ve noticed,” he said as he parked on the curb. “I won’t varnish it - I worry about her.”
“She’s just stressed out. She doesn’t like her job, or this city, or-” she stopped and shrugged. “Different people deal differently.”
“It’s not fun when they hurt other people when ‘not dealing’,” he said, taking off his seatbelt and getting out to open her door. She stepped out, and he smiled at her. “It was lovely to see you again, anyway.” He held out his hand. She smiled and took it, and he pumped her hand comically. “So … goodnight. I suppose it’s back to chez Kate and a cold shower.” He let his words hang in the air.
“Goodnight, then,” she said, biting her lip and giving him a sideways glance. Men like him ate that shit up.
“Let me walk you to the door. This isn’t the best neighborhood,” he said, walking beside her.
She laughed. “It’s way better than were I came up,” she said. “It’s idyllic.”
“Fuck. Are you sure you didn’t grow up in Sarajevo, then?” he said, opening the front door of the apartment building. They walked inside and he kept going, confident.
“There certainly are some areas that look like warzones,” she said, and slid her key into the door.
“Just … look?” he said, looking deep in her eyes. Her fiction about her father. She had him.
She opened her door and stepped inside, she leaned into him as she took off her high heels.
“Thank you … for the ride,” she said, looking up at him.
“It was nothing,” he said. His gaze skidded over her red mouth, and the tops of her breasts. She let him take a good look.
“Yet another night of wine and contemplation,” she said, waving her hand at her dark apartment.
“You don’t need it,” he said, giving her a crooked grin.
“The wine?” she said.
“Neither,” he said.
“So, no thinking?” she said, walking into her apartment. The door was open. She looked behind her, and smiled.
“Sometimes, it’s nice,” he said, stepping in, and closing the door.
She walked surely into her kitchen.
“Then what do you suggest-” she said airily, but he grabbed her waist and kissed the air out of her lungs.
“Tom-!” she said when she could take a breath. She pushed at him weakly as his lips moved to her neck, kissing hungrily. “Wait-”
“Do you really want me to stop?” he said, and pushed her against the sink. He took her hand and guided it to the growing bulge in his jeans. She whimpered and caressed, looking up at him. His lips were pale magenta with her lip paint, which somehow only added to his loveliness. “That’s what I thought.”
He kissed her again, his hands restless in her hair. His tongue snaked its way into her mouth, and she moaned with surprise. He was sweet. Of all things, sweet. She tried to pull away to catch her breath, but his hand turned to a fist in her hair and he leaned in, crushing her against the counter. She wrapped her arms around his waist and got on tiptoes, sliding her tongue into his mouth. At that, he pulled back.
“Bold,” he said, and smiled.
“How?” Her hand moved back between his legs, where he throbbed. "I can be so much bolder."
He gripped her hair painfully and sucked his teeth. “Not if I don’t say.”
“Oh?” she said, unbuttoning his jeans and sliding her hand inside. She exhaled as she took in his girth. “Oh my god. Doctor...” she said breathlessly.
He gave her a slow grin. His grip loosened in her hair, and he rolled his hips forward.
“If you endure the exam, you just might get a lolly,” he said, sure of himself.
Her smile faded, and she blushed. “I don’t - I can’t do this,” she said, stepping back. “You’re with Kate.”
“I’m with you, now,” he said, touching her cheek.
She shook her head, but let him grip her waist. “It’s not a good idea.”
He rubbed his lower lip against the tender area right below her ear. “If I were to get on my knees in this kitchen, lift up your skirt and bury my tongue in your pussy-” she shivered and gripped the back of his shirt “-and lick, and lick-” she cried out as his hand went up the inside of her thigh and slid into her panties- “and suck your sweetness until you explode in my mouth-”
She fell into him as his fingers found her clit and caressed, bested. She was soaking wet, and he grunted as he slid two fingers inside her.
“Tight,” he said, and kissed her again. His tongue went deep in her mouth, swirling and finding hers. She surprised herself by responding, and rolling her hips into his slow, rhythmic trolling between her folds. His fingers were delicious, deliberate - his gestures were not false advertising.
Her greed was clouding her mind. He ground into her, pressing his hard cock into her hip as he began to finger her expertly, milking her g-spot while rubbing his thumb on her clit.
“Wait - Tom -” she said, and took a whooping breath into his mouth as pleasure exploded in her lower belly. He knew. How did he know? She would come, burst and betray her trust sweet hot Kate sweet hot fuck -
“Sweet Jesus!” she groaned, and bucked as she came, convulsing on his fingers. He looked at her and licked his lips, his rhythm steady.
“That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” he said. “But I can go now …” he brought his fingers to his mouth to taste her. “Or stay and do what I whispered in your ear.” He ghosted his lips against her trembling mouth. “That was nothing,” he said, gripping her pussy, hard. She curled into him, exhaling. “I can make you feel so much more.”