When I woke up, he was still holding me. His hand was in my hair and his lips against my cheek, but the steady rhythm of his breathing seemed to indicate he was still sleeping. As carefully as I could manage, I extricated myself from his arms. I had no idea what to do about him, so I decided to start with smaller problems—like the fact I had bad breath and needed to pee. Maybe after I caffeinated, I’d be able to work my way up to the six-foot-tall problem stretched out across my bed. Once I finished in the bathroom, I followed the scent of freshly brewed goodness to the kitchen, hoping Maggie had already left for work.

She hadn’t.

“You look surprisingly ornery for the morning after a hot date.”

I ignored her and got myself some coffee. Then I remembered that there is no ignoring Maggie.

“How was it?” she asked. “No wait! Don’t tell me; I want to guess. I bet he was really good—and huge. So how big was it? There’s something about Cullen that screams ‘I could be in porno.’ Then again, you’re probably not a good judge of this. I mean, any guy would seem well-endowed after that needle dick you used to date. Oh my god! That must be why you look so miserable. Cullen is huge, and you’re sore. I mean, you’d have to be sore. You’ve had no sex at all for over a year, and before that you were having sex with shaftless wonder. You must feel like you lost your virginity all over again. There’s a hot water bottle under the sink, you should put it on your poon.”

I couldn’t follow any of what she was saying, only that she was doing so far too loudly.

“Would you keep your voice down?”

“What are you, hungover? Please tell me after all that you weren’t so drunk last night that you don’t remember fucking him. Because that would be the ultimate in bad luck—even for you.”

“Shut up, Maggie,” I whispered in a tone meant to let her know I meant business.

She clapped her hand over her mouth in realization. “Oh my god! He’s still here, isn’t he?”

Before I could confirm his presence, my bedroom door swung open and out strode Cullen, all bed hair and and chest muscles. If that wasn’t enough, the stubble was back. After his uncharacteristic display of virtue the previous evening, it was downright cruel for him to look as good as he did.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to ignore the fact my cheeks were more than likely the color of my hair. It was possible he didn’t hear her. God couldn’t hate me that much. And even if he had, there’s no way he’d acknowledge doing so with Maggie in the room—he wasn’t that much of an ass. Then I’d have until tomorrow morning to either figure out a cover story or throw myself off the Walt Whitman Bridge. It could work, provided I could figure out a way to get him the hell out of my apartment.

“Good morning, ladies,” he said before turning to Maggie. “I want to apologize for my lack of attire, but it wasn’t up to me.” He shrugged. “Your sister drives a hard bargain.”

Cullen squeezed past me, picked a mug out of the strainer beside the sink, and after turning to face the counter, helped himself to some coffee.

Maggie’s eyes went straight to his ass. “Apparently, not hard enough.”

“Huh?” he said.

“I would have insisted on full nudity.”

Laughing, he opened the fridge and retrieved the milk, pouring some into his coffee before putting it away. I stood there dumbfounded as he picked a teaspoon out of the strainer and stirred. When he was finished, he brought the spoon to his lips, licked it clean, and then placed it in the dishpan in the sink. The way he was acting, you’d think he lived here.

Holy sense of entitlement, Batman.

“Well, as much as I’d like to stick around and enjoy the scenery, I’m going to be late for work.” Maggie put her empty cup in the sink and picked up her backpack. “Catch you later.”

“Nice seeing you again, Maggie.”

She waved as she pulled the door closed behind her, and for a moment, I hated her almost as much as I hated him.

“Make yourself at home, Cullen.” I was certain my voice conveyed the appropriate amount of sarcasm.

“Don’t mind if I do.” He leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed his one of his ankles in front of the other. Even his feet were attractive.

After he finished his coffee, he poured himself another cup and assumed his previous stance. He looked comfortable—maybe even relaxed. And he gave no indication he had any intention of leaving in the foreseeable future.

When I did the exaggerated throat clearing thing, he gave me a smile which might have been genuine. Regardless, I felt as if he was taunting me. I needed to reclaim some power before lab tomorrow.

“My previous statement was meant to be derisive.”

“Huh?” He was momentarily confused, then nodded in understanding. “Oh. You’ll have to forgive me; I’m somewhat slow in the morning.”

“Great.”

I folded my arms and waited for him to get his stuff together and get out of my apartment.

Except he didn’t—he just stood there and drank his coffee, seemingly impervious to my glare. I ran a hand through my hair as I let out an exasperated sigh.

“What?” he asked.

“Shouldn’t you be on your way now?”

“Esme.”

I recognized his tone all too well. It was remarkably similar to the one I used on Maggie when she was being ridiculous. Coming from him, it was infuriating.

“I know what’s going on here,” he continued, “and it’s okay.”

“Is it?”

If that was the case, what the hell was he still doing here?

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “It’s not your fault your ex-boyfriend had no shaft.”

My fists clenched at my side, and it took everything I had not to pummel him.

“As if you’re any better!”

“Well, I haven’t exactly sized up the competition, but you did lead me to your bedroom with your hand around my cock. If that wasn’t enthusiasm, I don’t what it was. Unless…” He shook his head. “Never mind.”

“Go ahead and say it. This morning couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

He straightened his posture and his demeanor became almost gentle.

“Sexual frustration is a normal byproduct of celibacy. Given the amount of time you’ve been abstaining, your reaction was perfectly natural.”

“I’m not sure which is more mortifying,” I muttered to myself. “The fact you overheard Maggie, or that you’re using having done so as an opportunity to practice your bedside manner.”

“You were more than willing for me to practice my bedside manner on you last night.”

“Would you please leave?”

“Why?”

“Because you turned me down! You—quite possibly the least discriminating man on the planet—didn’t want me! And I’m supposed to stand here and have coffee with you and pretend that your refusal to have no-strings-attached sex with me didn’t damage my ego? To not be upset that you overheard details about my personal life that weren’t meant for your ears, then mocked me with them? Do you have any idea how shitty I feel about myself right now?”

I turned away from him and bent over the counter, resting on my elbows so he was gone from even my peripheral vision. I didn’t understand any of it—why I reacted to him the way that I did and why he wouldn’t just cooperate so I could learn about anatomy in lab rather than obsessing over his. Most of all, I didn’t understand why my eyes were filling with tears.

There was a rustling behind me, followed by the creak of my bedroom door. He was finally leaving. I only had to retain my composure for a few more minutes and then I could let it all out. I could do it. I wouldn’t let him see me cry. After I heard the front door open and close, I let my body go slack against the counter for a moment, willing the morning’s tension to leave me, and some of it actually did.

Then I heard his voice, and it all came back.

“I can’t stand the thought of you being upset. I wish I could make you understand, but I don’t think I can.”

“Understand what?”

“What it’s like to have everything handed to you, to go through life with everyone kissing your ass. And then there’s you. You’ve been rude bordering on downright hostile since the moment we met, and maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I like it. Not the actual insults you hurl at me—those are fairly obnoxious. But your biting wit, your sarcasm, your honesty—it’s all so refreshing, because it’s real. I don’t have to question your motivations—any compliment you give me, any time you spend with me—it’s because you want to. And I want you to want to.”

“Then why did you turn me down last night?”

“Because I’m falling in love with you.”

Yeah, right.

I had no idea what his game was, just that I was done playing it.

“Fuck off.”

“I fully expected you to react this way,” he said, laughing. “I’ll go back to my apartment now, but you’re far from rid of me.” He opened the door then turned back to me. “Just because I’m enjoying the challenge, doesn’t mean I don’t intend to win.”

“Win what?”

“You.” He stepped into the hallway and pulled the door closed behind him.





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  1. on 03 Aug 2010 at 1:30 pmThe Cheekbones

    I think Reed gets his inner monologue from Kath and not Whit, which I wouldn’t have expected.

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