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Flipping The Script

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            “That's an African Bull elephant. Your first clue is the size of the ears and tusks, but what reaaaaaally gives it away is the fact that we're in Africa.”

            One of my sons laughed; the other was too interested in the animatronic jungle creatures to notice a word our tour guide said. I did that thing that's more than a smile, but isn't quite an audible laugh, either. The jokes were really lame, but the guy telling them managed to make the whole thing somewhat endearing. The fact that he had a sweet smile and wore his uniform well didn't hurt, but it was his tone of voice that really got me. He seemed to be having fun with the schtick, and it pulled everyone in.

            I thought briefly about how I'd deliver hokey lines like that, but it didn't take me long to conclude that I lacked the charisma and patience. The ride only lasted ten minutes, so how many times a day would you have to do the exact same piece? These people must be superhuman. I looked at our guide with new admiration.

            Eventually my children drew my attention back to them, and it would have been weird of me to not even glance at the scenery that made up the actual ride. But when it was over, and we had a chance to take a photo with our “skipper,” I took the time to ask him about it.

            “Doesn't it get old, doing the same show over and over again all day?”

            I'd said it conversationally, but he stared at me as though I'd uttered something shocking. “Are you real?”

            I gave an apologetic little laugh. “I know...you probably get that question so often it's like a part of the show. Sorry.”

            He was already shaking his head when I finished. “Actually no, hardly ever.”

            “Oh!” That was surprising, but it put his odd statement in a different light. Maybe he thought I was nice, instead of a weirdo. “Well, does it?”

            “Yes,” he said without enthusiasm, and the polite, boyish smile momentarily slipped from his face. “But it pays the bills.” He got the smile back in place quickly, but it that split-second I'd seen someone a lot different from the charming, laughing skipper.

            “I would hope so,” I exclaimed, trying to convey how genuinely impressed I was. “You're really good. It's got to take a lot to be convincing every time.” Especially if he was actually completely sick of his job. I never would have guessed.

            He was smiling as he thanked me, but I was starting to suspect that smile was, and never had been, real. I walked away from the ride with my kids, but I couldn't get him out of my head. When we reunited with my parents after lunch, I asked if they wanted to take the boys on a few rides by themselves. And then I went back to the Jungle Cruise.

            After half an hour waiting in line I made it to a boat, only to find it had a different skipper. I pretended I had a phone call, waving people ahead of me until the boat was full. I wound up repeating that scene two more times, feigning increased irritation and feeling more and more ridiculous. But then the Congo Queen arrived, and I recognized him. Dan, I read on his shirt as I sat down near the front. He didn't so much as glance at me, and I doubted he remembered me from earlier.

            I told myself I was totally creepy to waste my time like this. Stalking an Adventureland employee? Sad, Sharon. Sad.

            And yet, here I was.

            This time I pretended to watch the animals, but whenever I felt I could get away with it, I watched Dan instead. That same sweet smile, same long legs and dark hair, same jovial delivery of the lines. But the smile never quite seemed to reach his eyes. And there were a few moments, when he must have thought everyone was looking elsewhere, that he let his face relax. When he did, he looked older—maybe he was about my age, after all. And he looked tired...no, more than tired. Miserable.

            Then it would be time to make another lame joke, and he'd slip right back into character as if it had never happened.

            I don't know exactly at what point I decided to do something stupid, but by the time the ride ended I had extracted a piece of paper and pen from my purse. While other tourists were taking pictures, I wrote down my first name and phone number in my clearest handwriting. Then I waited as if I wanted a photograph, too.

            I almost chickened out several times, and my heart was pumping hard enough to make me feel sick. This was utterly stupid. Even if he called me, what was going to come of it? I didn't even live on the west coast. And most likely I was just going to make a fool out of myself. Maybe he'd be grossed out. I didn't want to do this.

            ….but I really didn't feel like I could not do it, either.

            So when I was the next person in line, I walked right up, gave him my best smile, and started spewing words.

            “I am nervous as hell right now and I don't want to sexually harass a Disney employee—I know you don't fuck with The Mouse, haha—but I'm in town three more days and I'd love to get to know you a little bit so. Uh.” I shoved the piece of paper toward him, blushing when he allowed me to put it into his hand. “If you're interested, I mean. It's okay if you're not. I'm going to run away now before embarrassing myself any more.”

            I registered another look of surprise on his face as he realized what I was doing, but I didn't give him a chance to say anything before I turned tail. I didn't look back, either; there were still a few people waiting to get him in a picture. By the time I made it back to my family my heartbeat was starting to slow, and aside from a residual feeling of embarrassment and inexplicable longing, I was able to go about the rest of my day like normal.

           

*

 

            I didn't really expect him to call. Of course, no one does in this day and age, but I didn't really expect him to text, either. I'd almost managed to forget about my brief departure from sanity by the time I finished dinner with the family.

            And yet, there it was, staring up at my from my phone screen. Unknown number. Is this Sharon?

            Yes, I wrote back with fingers that trembled from nerves, and waited.

            The response wasn't immediate, but still pretty quick. This is Dan from Adventureland. What did you have in mind?

            My mind immediately went into the gutter, but the reply I actually sent was more cautious. Dinner, I suppose? I hear that's what people do.

            After thinking a moment, I sent an addition: On me, of course. Though I have no idea what's good around here.

            Oh, are you some rich divorcee or something?

            Nope, middle-class widow who didn't even bring a dress on vacation. So bear that in mind when you make your recommendations.

            Got it.

            I was surprised you decided to write. You must have much better offers.

            Not really. I was surprised you asked.

            Come on, there must be tons of single moms trying to get with the cute skipper.

            Shoot me, please.

            Not exactly what I had in mind for a first date, sorry. I'm not big into being tried for murder. I've got kids, man.

            Oh right. How old?

            Six and ten, two boys. You?

            None that I know of.

            Ha. But you like them?

            Depends on the kid.

            Good enough for me.

            So when are we talking here?

            Tomorrow? What's your schedule like?

            Eight hours of faking it on a boat. Then nothing after six.

            I can't wait to hear more about how you love your job.

            And the texting continued. Constantly for the next twenty minutes, at which time I had to put the boys to bed, and sporadically after that until past midnight. By the time I finally made myself stop, we had specific plans set for the following night, and I was beyond excited for it. When I'd given him my number, I'd been taking a chance on something based mostly on looks and a few brief interactions. Now I thought I was getting a feel for the man, and I was enjoying it tremendously. His sense of humor was there, but it was a lot darker than the scripted jokes he'd been telling on the boat earlier this afternoon.

 

*         

 

            After my initial pleasure at having him come to see me in person, I was starting to have second thoughts. We'd met at a packed little burger joint that smelled amazing, and gotten a seat in a booth near the back. He'd given me a lifeless smile, ordered a drink, and said little. I wanted to get past that exterior and find the guy who'd texted me half the night, but so far no dice. At this point I'd even have settled for the Skipper Dan version, despite it being an act. I gave up on both asking him about his background (Oregon...yeah, it's wet...nope...ten years...) and my bright, perky attempts at sharing facts about myself.

            I tried a different approach. “Rough day in Adventureland?”

            The effect was immediate. He shut his eyes, and his face collapsed into dejection and sorrow. The unhappiness was so transparent that it hurt my heart to watch him. Tentatively, I reached across the table and touched his arm. “Would it help to talk about it?”

            He shook his head without opening his eyes. “That'd just be like reliving it again. Besides, all the days kind of blend together. I don't know if I'd be telling you about today or yesterday or tomorrow.”

            “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” I murmured sympathetically. “Creeps into this petty place from day to day.”

            His eyes opened up. “You know Macbeth?”

            “Well, I majored in English and minored in Theater, so yeah.”

            He made a grand gesture with his hand to indicate everything around us. “And did you dream of Hollywood, too?”

            I considered that, ignoring the patronizing, almost angry tone of his voice. “Briefly, I guess. What teenager doesn't? But I was never great. Starred in a few high school productions, had a lot of fun building sets, took some supporting parts in my little liberal arts college. That's it. Besides, I hate big cities and like having privacy. I was never A-list material.”

            A little furrow appeared in his brow as he studied me. That was clearly not the response he'd been expecting. I smiled at him, a little sadly. “I think you've been in LA too long. You're looking at me as I've just said something strange.”

            He gave his head a little shake. “Everything you say is strange. What do you want, then?”

            I shrugged. “To read, and write. To bake, and take long walks in nature. To play with my kids and make crass jokes and live somewhere with hot showers and soft beds. To be able to buy things for—and spend time with—the people I love. I'm not too complicated, really.”

            “Okay...and where does asking out loser tour guides tie into that?”

            I narrowed my eyes, giving him what I hoped was a stern look. “Wouldn't know. Never done it. I asked out a cute guy I met at Disneyland because he seemed interesting.” I paused, and handed over a little more truth. “I don't really expect this to go anywhere, you know. I figured you must be taken or something, and it's hard to get to know someone well when you're only in town a few days. But I couldn't seem to stop myself.”

            For just a minute, he smiled at me. He glowed from the inside. It was like watching a fire start to kindle, and then get blown out by an ill-timed gust of wind. Abruptly, he changed the subject. “You said you're a widow. When did that happen?”

            I blinked a few times, processing the sudden switch. “Four years ago. It was a car crash.”

            “I'm sorry.”

            I gave a wan smile. “Thanks. It seems like a lifetime ago, though.”

            “What'd he do?”

            “Assistant DA. I think he'd have wound up in politics if he'd lived, though; he loved reading about them and could charm almost anybody.” I smiled fondly. “Not that he was perfect. No one is. Anyway, he had a good life insurance policy, so we're pretty comfortable. In the midwest, that is. I doubt we could afford a one-bedroom apartment out here.”

            Dan laughed very dryly. “Probably not.”

            Silence fell. We both sipped at our drinks, and I thought about what everything he'd just said—or rather, not said. “What do you want?” I asked him.

            He stared blankly into his drink, and for a moment I thought he wasn't going to answer. Then said, hollowly, “Nothing. Not anymore.”

            I stood up, walked around to his side of the table, sat back down, and gave him a sideways hug. Surprisingly, he leaned into it, resting his head on my shoulder. I tightened my arms just a little, and felt him relax. Neither of us spoke for a minute. I had no clue what to say, which was why I'd acted instead. And he didn't seem to want to talk. I shifted slightly toward him, but left my arms around him. I could feel him breathing.

            Finally he sat back. “No one does that out here.”

            This time my brow furrowed. “No one hugs out here? Dude, why do you even live in LA? It sounds horrible.”

            He shrugged as if he didn't care, though the fact that he'd clearly needed a hug rather desperately betrayed the lie of that. Almost as if he sensed that he'd given himself a way, he scooted a few inches further from me in the booth and took another defiant sip of his drink. I stayed put.

            “So,” I asked conversationally, “What's your favorite Shakespeare play?” He clearly knew his Bard, and it wasn't often I got a chance to have that sort of intellectual discussion.

            He narrowed his eyes suspiciously, as if it was some sort of trick question. “You first.”

            “Twelfth Night, I think. At least, of the comedies. Though I saw it as a groundling at The Globe, so that might have colored my opinion. I like Much Ado a lot, too. I think of the tragedies, I like King Lear. I always wished I could play Regan. Yeah she was despicable, but that's kind of fun. And if Lear hadn't so obviously played favorites, maybe she would have grown up differently, you know?”

            This answer seemed to alleviate his suspicion. He sat back in a more relaxed manner. “Maybe. It's good to get into the psychology of the character. If you're going to play her, you have to be on her side.”

            I nodded. “I had a drama teacher who told me a story once. A reporter asked a guy who had a bit part in Streetcar—he played the psychiatrist at the very end—what the movie was about. And he said that it's about a guy who comes to rescue an emotionally scarred woman and take her someplace safe. And for his character, that's what the story was. I thought that was brilliant.”

            “Exactly!” Dan nodded enthusiastically. “If you don't become them, how can you convince the audience?”

            I grinned. “So go on. What's your favorite?”

            He did, too. “I know it's the easy answer, but I like Hamlet.”

            “Ah, poor Hamlet.” I continued to grin as I talked. I was amusing myself. “He was just a poor college kid who comes home for break and has his life go off the rails. 'Hey, your dad's dead. No, you can't go back to school. By the way, here's your new daddy, Uncle Claudius! Oh, you're seeing ghosts now? A mission from your father to avenge him with murder? Nice. Whoops, killed an innocent man? Betrayed by your college buddies? Girlfriend went crazy because you were too into the vengeance thing and fucked up her life? That's a bummer.' I mean, shit! Poor guy. I wish I could write a play about what his life would have been life if he'd never come back to Denmark. Just him hanging out with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, studying, going on to marry some nice girl and get a real career. I guess that wouldn't go down as an immortal classic though, eh?”

            I was watching him as I spoke, enjoying the flickers of humor that flirted with his features as I went on my goofy rant. I expected him to say something similarly funny.

            “I played Hamlet in college.”

            My eyes nearly popped. “You played Hamlet?” Dan nodded. “The actual lead role?” Another nod. “At the college level?” He nodded again, and this time the edges of his mouth were pulling back in something that might grow into a smile. I was truly awed by this revelation, and spent several seconds with my jaw just hanging open, trying to find a way to articulate my feelings. “That...” A few more seconds passed as I searched for words. “That is amazing. That's amazing. I am so turned on right now.”

            He rolled his eyes as if I might be joking. He was not allowed to think that. “No, seriously.” I dared to trail one finger lightly over his forearm, because it seemed a lot classier than dry humping him in a restaurant, and I needed to somehow convey just how serious I was. He didn't pull away and shifted slightly in his seat, so I must have succeeded on some level. “I don't want to go all stupid fangirl, but I would also be totally down with going back to your apartment right now.” I smiled as I said it, trying to lighten the mood. I wanted him to know I was serious, but not desperate. That I wasn't going to try to kiss him or start stalking him—not anymore than I already had, anyway. Time for a change of subject.

            “So where did you go to college?”

            He was regarding me with interest now. I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but at least he was engaged. “Julliard.”

            I felt my jaw drop again, and felt like an idiot. But I mean... “Really?” He nodded, looking inexplicably embarrassed. “Wait, wait, you went to Julliard? You're a real actor!”

            He managed to laugh without any humor at all. “Yeah, a real actor. On the Jungle Cruise ride.”

            Abruptly, it clicked. I closed the inches between us again, and rested my hand gently on his knee. “So what went wrong?”

            “Nothing,” he said heavily. “Nothing happened.” He put his own hand on top of mine. His skin was warm and dry, and I liked it far too much. “Nothing went wrong. I did everything right! I studied hard. I worked hard. I know I was good. I got great reviews in all the small-time shows I did. I made connections and paid my dues and got my headshots and then...nothing.” He stared glumly at the air in front of us.

            I gave his knee a sympathetic squeeze. “Not even any auditions?”

            Still staring at something I couldn't see, he shook his head. “I went to any open ones I heard about. Just wasn't what they were looking for.”

            “Oh, Dan,” I said softly. Hearing that even vicariously was like a punch in the gut; I felt ill. For him to have actually lived it must have been excruciating. The ugly self-doubt it must have bred! The resentment and slow resignation. “Are you even trying still?”

            He didn't say anything, which was its own answer.

            I kissed his cheek, and he turned his blank gaze on me. “That's bullshit,” I told him directly. “It's not fair and it's stupid and wrong. But Hollywood's not known for being kind. They're known for being assholes, really. So nothing happening doesn't mean you're not every bit as good as you thought. It just means no one with the brains and authority to use you properly has found you yet.”

            “And at this rate, they're never going to.” He might have sounded angry or frustrated, saying words like that. Instead, he just sounded tired.

            “And because they're idiots, you should stop doing what you love?” I demanded. “Jeez, even if you don't actively chase the dream, indulge yourself a little in the evenings. Don't give up completely!”

            He gave me his Skipper Dan smile, the one that didn't reach his eyes. “What exactly do you suggest? Acting classes? Home movies? Community theater?”

            I ignored the sarcasm. “It's better than nothing, isn't it?”

            He was already shaking his head. “I'm thirty-five and I work on the Jungle Cruise ride. If I was going to be anything better than that, I'd already be it. It's boring...and degrading...and annoying...” He sighed. “But it could be worse, I guess, right? It's still acting, kind of.”

            Something inside of me ached for him. It was so tangible, what he was feeling. I wanted to make it go away and see how he could be without that wrong turn in life. Like Hamlet. I hardly knew him, and I just wanted to hold him and make it all better.

            “I think you do more acting every day on that stupid boat than half the people topping the box office do in their entire lives.”

            He lifted an eyebrow skeptically. “What do you know about it? You've never even seen me act.”

            “I watched you laugh at those lame jokes two times in a row yesterday. If that's not talent, I don't know what is.”

            “Thanks.” He gave me a weak half-smile. “But I meant on the stage. In a real role.”

            “No, but I'd like to.” I revised that. “I'd love to.”

            The smile did its disappearing act again. I wanted to caress the shadows under his eyes and hold him all night, when he looked like this. When he smiled, or talked about doing Shakespeare, I wanted to throw myself at him and lose all my clothes in a hurry. The two seemed rather incongruous.

            He was shaking his head again. “What do you care, anyway? It's not your problem. I don't know why I'm even talking about it.”

            “Because I asked!” I exclaimed. “And I mean it. You might have had your dreams crushed, but I'm still starstruck here. It's the first time I've had dinner with a Julliard-trained actor. I'm dying to get you out of here and read through some scenes with you. Or just sit back and watch. I'm serious. Fuck dinner. Do you have an apartment? Let's get out of here.”

            Dan glanced down at the beverages on the table. “Are you drunk?”

            I rolled my eyes. “I am not drunk. I am asking you to take me someplace private and ravish me with Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Miller.”

            That actually won me a grin. “That sounds like one hell of a gangbang.”

            I returned the smile. “It does, doesn't it. So what do you say?”

            He thought it over. I could actually see him doing it. “Please?” I added hopefully.

            “Yeah, okay.” He bumped his hip into the side of mine, the universal language for scoot over so I can get up. “Fuck this place. They didn't come back to take our orders yet anyway.”

            “Have a little sympathy,” I joked as I pulled some bills out of my purse. “They're probably all aspiring actors.”

            “Why should I? Bet they don't have any for me. Let's go.”

            We walked about a block in what I considered thoughtful silence. For my part, I was thinking about Dan's eyes, and the sharp line of his nose, and how much taller he was than me (a fact more obvious to me now that we were walking side by side), not to mention what sort of scripts he might have lying around his apartment, and what it might be like there. I was also worrying that I'd completely embarrass myself if I tried to read a scene with him—he was pretty much a professional, whatever he thought, and I had two years of bit parts at Alma College.

            I'd assumed he was thinking along similar, though obviously not identical, lines. I didn't realize he had anything else on his mind until I followed him around a corner and he grabbed me. I barely had time to register what was happening as he gripped my shoulders, pushed me backward into a brick wall, and put his mouth on mine.

            I was frozen in surprise for the first second, but after that I warmed up and went with it. Kissing him was like being caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea. His hands lifted me upward as well as into the wall, so that I was standing on my tiptoes and had nowhere to go, no choice but to surrender. He kissed hard, with a sense of urgency so great I thought we might wind up ripping off clothes right there. My knees trembled in a show of weakness, but when he finally released his grip long enough for me to get my heels back on the ground, it was only so that he could shove his hand up under my shirt.

            I gasped against his lips, and moved the arm that he'd freed around his lower back, pulling him tight against me. I wasn't thinking about what I was doing. I wasn't thinking at all. I was riding the tide. I was drowning.

            “I'm going to take you back to my apartment,” he growled into my ear, pausing to bite into a corner of my neck. I moaned as I felt him sucking the blood to the surface. Jesus Christ, I hadn't had a hickey in twenty years.

            “I'll take you back there,” Dan repeated himself, still with his hand cupping my breast under my shirt, “and I'm going to fuck you until you scream my name. I'm going to keep going until you forget yours.” He kissed me again, this time biting into my lip. “I am going to keep you on your knees until the crack of dawn, and you're going to beg for me not to stop.”

            I was shaking—not just trembling, no, I had crossed the threshold into something closer to convulsions. It was hard to draw breath. “I--” I panted hopelessly.  “You—you--”

            He grinned, and his teeth flashed white in the dim lighting. It really was some sort of alley we were in. “You're going to let me,” he told me with utter conviction. “We've had this date with each other from the beginning.”

            Under the overwhelming sense of desire, I felt a smile emerge to quirk my mouth. “Did... did you just quote Streetcar to me?”

            “All the best pick-up lines have already been written,” he whispered, and went back to kissing me.

            “Dan,” I murmured helplessly, when his mouth was not seducing every good intention I'd ever had out of me. My hands were riding the top of his jeans, as if they could pull him close enough to do him right through the layers of clothing. With great force of will, I pulled my palms up to his chest instead, in an effort to hold him at bay. He didn't stop, but moved back to my neck and made a small grunt of acknowledgment. “Dan!” I repeated with a bit more confidence. He repeated the grunt. This time it was easily interpretable as I'm listening but I'm not stopping. I fought to get my breathing under control. “Two things,” I managed to gasp, at length.

            He slid his hand down the front of my pants, and I lost my train of thought.

            When I finally got myself back under anything resembling control, it was to weakly protest “We're in public! We'll be arrested.”

            He laughed softly into my ear. “This is LA. No one cares.”

            “How are you going to follow through on your promise to do all those things in your apartment if we never leave this alley?”

            “I know. I've been thinking about that problem myself.”

            “And?”

            “I'll just do it right here instead.”

            He kissed me urgently again following those words, enough to make me wonder if he actually meant it. My hands were above me, both buried in his short hair, when we came back up for air. “You are the sexiest man alive,” I told him, meaning every syllable. More kissing interrupted my words. “But I'm not a horny teenager.” I rolled my hips against his crotch in a direct contradiction to that. “I'm a grown woman.” I broke away from his mouth to run my lips over the smooth underside of his throat, deciding whether I wanted to kiss or bite. “I'd enjoy this even more with lots of space—oh God oh God--” He was making it so hard to speak! “--and a shower for the inev-inev-ohhhhhh....inevitable clean-up. And I still want to hear you read.” He made a low growl of desire deep in his throat, and bit into my lower lip.

            “I've got good news, then,” he said when he let go.

            “Oh?” It was the best response I could manage.

            “I live here.”

            “You live in an alley?”

            We both laughed, the crazy sort of laugh you get from too much adrenaline.

            “This way.” He stepped away from me to lead the way back out of the alley, and I immediately felt bereft. My body craved physical contact now, and it took all my willpower to follow him around the front of the building and through what must be the main door without throwing myself at him. We made it up a whole flight of stairs before I caught his arm; that was all the encouragement he needed to turn around and pin me to the wall again. After another minute of groping each other like sex-starved idiots, we made it up two more flights and stopped in front of an unassuming door. Dan fumbled for some keys in his pocket while I fumbled with the button on his jeans. I got it undone while he was unlocking the door, and he slammed it shut behind us while pushing me back into the nearest wall.

            “You have a thing for pinning me, don't you,” I observed before his lips met mine. I didn't care in the slightest; I found the way he was pressing against me from the front, with no escape or flexibility behind me, to be almost painfully erotic. Instead of trapping my shoulders this time, he held my head in place with one large hand, sneaking the other between my butt and the wall to lift me. I fought against a moan and lost the battle, but succeeded in using my free hands get his pants totally unzipped and shoved down to the tops of his thighs. I managed to get my own undone, too, so that there just two thin layers of underwear separating us where it counted.

            I could feel the heat and the shape of him, knew how hard he was, sensed every twitch of enthusiasm. I groaned again and pushed my hips forward harder, as if I could make the fabric disappear through sheer willpower. He pushed me further up the wall, and I wrapped my legs around him as I struggled to pull my shirt off my head. As soon as I'd dropped it on the floor, I wrapped my arms around him, too. He unclipped my bra, and I let that fall on the ground, too—but when he tried to move his hands to my bare skin, there wasn't enough force holding me against the wall. I started to slip down, and had to take my legs back so that I had something to stand on.

            “You were right,” he told me brusquely. “Beds are nice. Come on.”

            I followed close on his heels through an apartment lit only by the city lights seeping in from the windows. Luckily, it wasn't a large place, and I tumbled onto a mattress after only a few seconds. I ripped my pants and underwear off as soon as my back hit the bed, and heard a soft sound that could only be Dan stepping out of the rest of his clothes. Sure enough, when he lowered himself down over me, all I could feel was heat and skin, everywhere. I turned my face up toward him, and reached a hand up to guide his mouth back down to meet mine. This time his hands found my breasts with no complications, and I arched into them as he squeezed experimentally. “Harder,” I breathed, and he listened. I shuddered, and he rubbed his thumb over one of my nipples. “Oh God,” I panted, writhing under him. “Oh God.”

            “Dan,” he reminded me, and there was humor mixed with desire in his roughened voice. “Told you I'd make you scream it.”

            I was shaking, I needed it so badly, but managed to make myself nod. “Dan,” I repeated in a pant. “Dan, Dan, Dan—!” The last one crescendoed and became incoherent as he pushed into me, but he got the idea.

            I came almost immediately, because of the intensity of the build-up, but he didn't stop and the sensation rolled over on itself and started building all over again. I very nearly did scream, during the times I found that I could make sound. Other times it felt like all the air had been sucked out of me, and all I could do was silently mouth his name. He'd go at it hard, then back off a little as we kissed or he used his mouth on a different part of me, then speed up again. He must have been getting off on how crazy he was making me, as much as the sensations themselves. But there was no doubt he was enjoying himself. He made almost as much sound as I did, which served only to make me that much hotter.

            By the time he came, I was a sweaty, breathless mess spiraling into my third orgasm. I clung to him as the aftershocks shook both of us, and kissed him slowly as my body began to relax.

 

*

 

            “When did you decide...”

            “To sleep with you?” He plucked a loose strand of hair off my face, tucking it back behind my ear. “Oh, I always intended to.”

            “Really?” I was incredulous. “You didn't come on that strong at the restaurant.”

            “Your hair is gorgeous, you know that? I bet it's your natural color, too, isn't it.” I nodded, and he ran his fingers back through it again. “It's like touching silk.”

            “You're dodging the question,” I smiled.

            One of his shoulders lifted in a half-shrug. “Well, I was being myself. Most of the women I...”

            “Wait, most? And here I thought I was special.”

            “You are. Let me finish.” I dropped the fake pout and rested my head back down on the bed where I lay on my side, staring at him. We had gotten up to turn on the light and grab a few tissues, but nothing more. “Yeah, I get some MILF on a tour every now and then who takes it into her head to give me a tip with her phone number included. And sometimes I follow up on it and she gives me a hotel room number and we have a good time. Give me a break, I'm not going to turn down a chance to feel good about myself for half an hour if I get a chance.”

            I nodded. My pride was a little wounded, but I understood, and I couldn't blame him. I was also waiting for a “but.”

            “But,” he obliged, “they all have these perfect prissy outfits and entitled airs about them. They're never surprised to hear from me. And they all so obviously don't really want me. They want the skipper.  As good as it feels, and as hot as some of them are, it's exhausting just being that guy for long enough to get laid. They don't ask me if I ever get bored at work. They don't offer dinner and give me hugs and try to talk about Shakespeare. But you...you don't want Skipper Dan, do you.”

            “Just the real thing,” I whispered, and leaned forward to kiss him gently.

            He wrapped his arms around my bare shoulders and pulled me deeper into the kiss. I squirmed closer and lost myself for a minute. The desperate hunger was gone for now, and he kissed like a wet dream: urgent, hot, moist, but so soft. The feelings it gave me recalled his earlier words to mind, and I found myself smiling. “So you don't usually push them up against alley walls and threaten to fuck them until they're nothing but a dripping mess?” I inquired playfully.

            Dan closed his eyes. “Not so much. It's a lot less empowering and a lot more like prostitution.”

            “I thought you said it made you feel good about yourself!” I protested.

            “I said I take what I can get!” he retorted.

            “You poor thing,” I cooed, stroking his hair and letting my hand drift down his cheek and neck to rest over his heart. “So am I good for your ego?”

            “I don't have an ego. I'm a dreamless, worthless automaton.”

            “You sounded pretty confident when you told me earlier I'd be begging you not to stop.” I paused to trail my fingers in the little dark curls of hair on his chest. “That's the other thing I don't get. Why didn't you just wait till you got me back here to jump me?”

            He shrugged. “Poor impulse control?”

            I brought my eyes up from his chest to meet his eyes. “That is a terrible answer.”

            He rolled over onto his back. I rolled with him, reluctant to remove my fingers from their new little playground. I loved chest hair, and he had just the right amount. Not some stupid weak little trail, but not Robin Williams, either. Crap. Desire was building back up in me already. We'd been resting all of five minutes!

            “You really have no clue that you're beautiful, do you? You probably think all those made-over soccer moms in tight pants were more desirable that you, right?” I couldn't deny it, and kept my eyes firmly on his chest. “You have no fucking clue, and that's what makes you so hot. You were walking along, because you'd asked me to take you to my home, like that was no big deal, and you'd admitted you wanted me but not pushed the issue, and I could just tell you were walking along thinking about me. I wanted you right then. I wanted something, wanted it bad. I wasn't going to waste that.”

            I just lay there for a while, watching him and feeling his heart beat under my hand. I didn't dare speak, because I could feel a lump of emotion in clogging my throat. “That is the sweetest, most romantic thing anyone has said to me in a very, very long time,” I managed at last.

            “Careful now. I don't want you thinking I'm actually nice. Do I need to slam you up against the wall and make you scream again?”

            “I was hoping you would.” I smiled deviously. “But you are nice. And don't think you're off the hook, you know.”

            “Off the hook?”

            “You promised you'd let me completely embarrass myself by reading a scene with a Julliard-trained actor.” I snuggled closer to him. “You didn't think I'd forget, did you?”

            He sighed. “I'd hoped.”

            I sat up, looking down at him in dismay. “You don't mean that?”

            “Why do you care so much?” He sounded sullen.

            “Well, two reasons.” I stayed propped up on one arm, but resumed trailing my fingers over his chest. “First, as much as I want to go for round two, realistically I figure we could use some recharge time. I guess we could order a pizza, but I like theater so I think that'd be a fun way to spend it.”

            I stopped talking, which forced him to look up at me. “And the second reason?”

            I swallowed on that annoying little blob of emotion still hanging around my throat. “I like you,” I said simply. “I don't do just sex, sorry. I like you and I want to see you do something you're g...” I paused, went back, and corrected myself. “Something else you're good at. Especially since I think it might make you happy.”

            “You don't know me. How do you know what'll make me happy?” He continued sulking.

            “Oh, stop,” I scolded him. “You're just scared. Anyway, how did you know I wasn't going to scream sexual assault or knee you in the crotch a little while ago?”

            Dan sighed heavily, but this time it had a taste of drama to it “Fine, fine, but only as a distraction. I also promised I'd keep you on your knees until dawn, didn't I?”

            Another little surge of lust swept through me. “I haven't spent any time on my knees yet. We're really going to have to fix that once you've recharged.”

            “Once you're recharged, you mean. I can go all night. I only stopped out of consideration.”

            I giggled. Had that actually been a joke? “Biologically, that sounds very unlikely.”

            “If you scream my name like that again, I'm pretty sure I can defy biology.”

            “I'm not sure I believe you.” I leaned down to give a long, slow kiss. It accelerated.

            We were already naked. He gave me a light push on the shoulder, and I lay back down. “I'm willing to try, though,” I acquiesced.

            He was shaking his head, and fresh desire had turned his face into something almost frightening in its intensity. “Keep turning.”

            I obligingly rolled over onto my stomach. “You know, when you said 'on your knees,' I thought you meant...”

            “Oh!” He got my meaning before I'd even finished speaking. “Oh, well. There's plenty of time. All night, remember?”

            “With breaks for drama,” I reminded him as crawled on top of me.

 

*

 

            “Do Antony!” I exclaimed after my latest round of applause. I was stretched out across his bed, still naked, propped up on my elbows as I watched the show. It was absolutely the best seat the in the house.

            Dan hadn't bothered to put on any clothes, either. I'd never seen Shakespeare in the nude before, and given how I had spent the last few hours getting to know every inch of him very well, the fact that he was naked should have been distracting. But his acting was so compelling, I hardly even noticed.

            He'd started out with Edmund's bastard speech from King Lear. He'd still been lying down then, with his hands crossed behind his head, and started reciting it from memory. But a few lines into it his arms had unfolded themselves and he'd sat up, looking at me and gesturing as if this was actually a conversation. I was in bed beside Edmund and he was telling me, personally, how unfair it was that being born on the wrong side of the sheets had so profoundly affected his lot in life. I found myself nodding in agreement, which was impressive because Edmund was the main villain of the play.

            “Wow,” was all I could say when he finished. I tried to find words, and couldn't. “Wow,” I repeated, and then Dan was back. He grinned at me, temporarily forgetting that he should be on a real stage with a standing ovation, and simply pleased to have left one woman speechless. “You were incredible,” I managed after a minute.

            “I know, but what do you think of my acting?” His eyes had lit up, and he almost looked like a different person with that smile.

            I shook my head in wonder. “Your acting's better. And trust me, that's saying a lot.”

            “So what do you want more of?” His grin had turned a little wicked. I shuddered pleasurably.

            “Both. But!” I held up a finger. “I would kill for a drink of water, and I need to let my parents know not to wait up for me.”

            “Your parents? What are you, twelve?”

            I laughed. “If I was twelve, you'd be under arrest. My parents came out here with us, they're watching my boys tonight. I, uh…” I snorted in amusement as I remembered the lie I’d told. “I told them I was having drinks with an old friend from college.”

            “Ah.” His smile quirked as he laughed at himself. “That makes a lot more sense.” He stood up. “I'll go get you a drink.”

            I touched a hand to my heart. “A gentleman, too! Thanks, it'll only take a sec.” I slid out of bed and crawled around on the floor until I located my phone under my abandoned clothes. I pulled up a text to my mom and typed in Having a nice time. Don't worry about me, and don't wait up. See you in the morning. XO

            They were probably all already asleep, I decided after glancing at the time displayed on my phone. But better late than never.

            Dan came back in with two bottles of water. He sat down on the bed and passed one to me before downing half of his own bottle in one go. I followed suit, and he took another gulp. I twisted the lid back on, set it down, and crawled back onto the bed as he lay down again.

            He was still smiling, and I couldn't help myself—I leaned in for another kiss. “That was amazing,” I murmured. “You are amazing.”

            “Which thing are you talking about again?” he laughed.

            “I don't know,” I admitted freely. “Both, I think. Do I get an encore?”

            His hand came to rest in the curve of my side, and he slid it upward. “What sort of encore?”

            I wriggled closer, and laced my arms behind his neck. “First one, then the other?”

            “Mmm,” he agreed, deep in the back of his throat, and stroked his fingers down the length of my arm. Abruptly he grabbed it, painfully tight, and his face turned fierce. “Are you honest?”

            “I...what?”

            “Are you fair?”

            “What?” I looked at him, puzzled, and he glared at me. “What are you talking about?”

            “That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.”

            Ah, now I knew what this was. But I didn't know the line! I shrugged and turned my hands upward helplessly to indicate as much. He gave no indication he'd understood, but he must have, because he resumed talking. “The power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.”

            I swallowed, hard. I felt like Ophelia: completely taken a back, wounded, confused. I couldn't remember the exact line now, but I knew the gist. “I know you did,” I replied in a shaken whisper

            “You should not have believed me,” Hamlet snapped, standing up and turning away from the bed. “For virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it. I loved you not.”

            I winced. He sounded so hard, so cold. I bit my lip and shut my eyes, letting Ophelia's pain show through. “I was the more deceived.”

            He spun back around, changing from icy cold to furious heat in an instant as he shouted in my face. “Get thee to a nunnery! Why woulst thou be a breeder of sinners?” I recoiled, backing away from him across the mattress. He calmed again, but anger still leeched out of his every pore as he seethed and ranted. “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all. Believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.”

            And then, just as suddenly, he was Dan again. “There's more, but you don't know the lines. Not bad, though, considering you didn't have the script.”

            I laughed shakily. “You made it pretty easy to get in character. Poor Ophelia.”

            “Poor Ophelia? Not poor you?” He was grinning again, from ear-to-ear. “I really blindsided you there.”

            “You did,” I agreed, smiling back. “And it was incredible. Let's do another one.”

            So he got out his copy of The Complete Works, and we scrounged up scenes. He outclassed me by a mile, but it didn't matter. He could draw me into the scene so quickly that all I had to do was react genuinely to what he was doing, and my own acting was elevated. We exchanged banter as Beatrice and Benedick. We threatened each other as John and Abigail. We tentatively rediscovered each other's better natures as Linde and Krogstad.

            And then I sat back and watched him on his own. He had to pull out some scripts for reference, but he gave me Henry, from A Lion in Winter; Blake, from Glengarry Glen Ross; and Marius, from Les Mis. He finished with John Proctor's final big speech in The Crucible, and nearly tore my heart out. “How may I live without my name?” he demanded with tears in his eyes, angst and dismay filling the whole room. “I have given you my soul, leave me my name!”

            I was almost crying as I applauded. He was wasted at the Jungle Cruise. I was as confused as he seemed to be about the fact that he was still working there. The world was not a fair place.

            But it meant I got private showings, which was nice for me. I suggested Antony's speech, because I'd memorized it several decades ago and wanted to see it done well.

            Dan stopped to have another long drink of water, wiped his mouth, and looked over at me. “You're insatiable.”

            “You love it.” I stood up and crossed toward him. “It's three in the morning, and I'm not even tired.”

            “Jesus Christ, is it really?”

            I nodded, putting my palm lightly against his chest. “I cannot describe how much I've enjoyed this. I feel like I won the lottery tonight. I don't want it to end.”

            He took my hand in his, and kissed the tips of each of my fingers. “This was probably better than sleep in terms of getting me through the rest of the week. Thanks.”

            “Just don't pass out from lack of sleep and fall off the boat.” I stood on my tiptoes and tipped my head up, trying to get closer to his lips. “Think you've got enough energy for one more?”

            “Antony's overdone.”

            “I wasn't talking about Antony.” I kissed his neck, then his chest, then sank down onto my knees and kissed the inside of his thigh. It got an almost immediate response. I moved my lips a few inches inward, and his hands gripped either side of my head, fingers winding into my hair and yanking me forward. I gagged and felt a burst of arousal deep inside me at the same time. He controlled my head, and I used my tongue, and I could feel his hands and legs trembling. Then he pulled me off, and I made a high keening sound of disappointment. He pulled me to my feet and walked me backward toward the bed, spinning me around and shoving me face down into the covers.

            I pulled myself forward and got my knees under me, which was all he was waiting for. I gasped in anticipation as he put his knees on either side of mine. I was already so wet, and we'd tread this ground so much already, that he slid in all the way with one thrust, and I pushed my face harder into the mattress to muffle a guttural moan. One of his hands was on the left side of my hips, holding me in place, but he moved the other one around to my face, slapping one large palm across my mouth and pulling my head up. I moaned again, harder, but the meat of his hand swallowed most of the sound. He held my mouth closed tightly, holding me almost completely immobile as he drove himself into me repeatedly.

            The pressure mounted quickly, and I was so raw from our previous escapades that it was as much pain as pleasure. When he finally let go, bringing his hand down to my breast instead, an animal cry burst out of me. I wanted to buck and scream, kiss him all over, find some outlet for this unbearable level of bliss.

            It must have gone on for ages. At some point he forgot his promise about keeping me on my knees, and rolled off to pin me on my back, instead. I came in waterfalls and fireworks, with his hands all over me and his name on my tongue, and when it was done I could do nothing but lay there.

            I exhaled in satisfaction and exhaustion, and he sighed contentedly. I was enjoying his relaxed weight on top of me, but eventually it became too much and I gave a little wiggle. Obligingly, he rolled off, and I turned to nestle my head in his shoulder. It felt very intimate for someone I'd just met, but after a nightful of tearful monologues, real discussions, and mind-blowing sex I rather felt that intimacy had to be redefined. I listened sleepily to him breathing in and out, and debated the merits of getting up to grab a tissue for my thighs.

            I was on the verge of falling asleep when a thought occurred to me. “Dan?”

            “Hmm?” He sounded barely conscious, too.

            “Why'd you stop me?”

            “Stop you?” There was quiet as he processed the question and woke up enough to respond. “Oh, head?” I felt, rather than saw, his shrug. “I'm a pervert. I like having total control.”

            “And hearing me say your name?” I teased.

            “It sounds so good when you're barely coherent and still screaming it. I'm still power-tripping a little bit.”

            I rolled my hips ever so slightly against him. “How did you get so good at it?”

            “Natural talent,” he replied smugly. “I could ask the same of you.”

            “Practice plus enthusiasm.” I left my fingers drift through his chest hair again, and sighed happily. “It's a good thing you live so far away, you know. Otherwise my kids would never see me.”

            “That would be sad for them.” His hand settled comfortably on my shoulder. “I'm sure you're a great mother.”

            “Thank you,” I yawned. “It alright if I sleep for just a little bit?”

            “Mmhm.”

            “Good.”

            I'm not sure which of us fell asleep first.

 

            *

 

            I did not want to wake up when the alarm went off. I tried to ignore the incessant beeping, but Dan groaned and leaned over me to hit the button. I was hoping he'd hit the snooze alarm and pretended I was still oblivious so that I could slip back into sleep, but it was no good. I felt him withdraw his body heat, swing his legs over the edge of the bed, and sit up. A minute later the bed shifted as he stood up. I turned my head and opened my eyes to watch him. His hair was adorably mussed, and the strong line of his long legs, bare butt, and back made a nice picture.

            I yawned and stretched. “Thanks for letting me sleep here.”

            He yawned back, and stumbled out of the room. I heard running water in the bathroom. I would have loved a shower, too, but I thought that might be pushing it. Ignoring my pounding head, I plopped onto the floor and started yanking on items of clothing. I tried running my fingers through my hair, but it was a disaster. I checked my phone, and saw there were no new messages yet, and flopped back down as I smothered another yawn.

            My eyes opened again when I heard footsteps, and I looked up to see Dan staring out the window as he brushed his teeth. I went to stand beside him, and saw the Hollywood sign from a distance. “Nice view.”

            “I am so tired.”

            “Me too.” I yawned again, proving my point, and rubbed a hand over my face wearily. “But it was totally worth it.”

            “Yeah it was.” He turned toward me, and I briefly wrapped my arms around him. “Time to kick you out, though.”

            “That's okay.” I tried to dredge a smile up out of my tiredness. “I knew it was coming.”

            He walked back to the bathroom, and I heard him spit in the sink. Then he stood in the bedroom doorway and waited for me. “Coming?”

            I followed him to the front door and then we stopped, awkwardly aware that we had to say goodbye but reluctant to do so. I smiled wistfully. “I don't even know your last name, Dan-from-Adventureland.”

            “Douglas.” He smiled softly. “It's Dan Douglas.”

            I cupped his cheek tenderly in my hand. “It's been a pleasure, Mr. Douglas. I'm Sharon Summers.”