Alex was a good kisser. The best kisser, actually. He didn’t do too much, nor too little. There was always the right amount of moisture, he always knew what to do with his hands. Sometimes he kissed Maxie gently and slowly, running his fingers through her hair, pulling back every few minutes to look at the emotion in her expression, in her eyes. Other times, his affection was hungry and aggressive. He’d kiss her with longing and fervency, holding her body impossibly close to his, exploring every part of her figure as if he didn’t have enough hands to touch enough of her at once.
That night was one of those nights.
They lied on the couch, limbs entwined, his lips ravishing her from her mouth down to her chest, while his hands conquered the rest of her. They seemed to be everywhere at once, touching everything. Her heart hammered inside of her, heat radiated from between her legs. She bit down on her bottom lip to keep from crying out every time his fingertips found the right spot.
She wasn’t ready for this. She couldn’t go where he was taking her, yet she couldn’t find the words to stop him. She was like a puppet, and Alex had complete control, manipulating her with just the flick of his fingers.
“Alex,” she managed, breathlessly. She opened her eyes, blinked, but immediately felt them drifting shut again. “Wait, Alex.”
Finally, he stopped kissing her and pulled back. “What’s wrong?” he asked, brows furrowed.
She paused, struggling to gather her bearings. “Nothing,” she said after a moment. “We’re just…” She swallowed hard. “I think we should relax.”
With a sigh, Alex rolled over to lie beside her. Frustration was evident in his features, though he said, “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry.”
She buttoned her pants and fixed her shirt before turning to face him. “Are you upset?” she asked. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have let us get so carried away.”
“We’ve been getting carried about a lot lately.” She nodded. “Maybe that means something. Maybe it means it’s time. Have you ever considered that?”
She hadn’t. Because she knew it wasn’t time. Often, she wondered if it would ever be time. If she would ever trust Alex enough to give him every part of her. After nearly six months, what part of her did he have? He held her interest most of the time, with his stories of his work and his travels and his experiences as a successful photographer. He always had so much to say, so much to tell, and Maxie was a gifted listener. But what about her heart? Didn’t he need to have her heart before she gave him her body? You’ll never love him, a voice in the back of her head echoed. Why is he even here? And then an answer came: Because he’s yours.
Yes, that was it. Alex belonged to her. Who else could she say that about? Maxie had been engulfed by Van’s world when she was just fourteen. She’d lost both of her parents. She had no siblings. She never kept many friends. Just Savannah Trimmel, whose family gladly opened their arms to the newly orphaned girl in school. They took her in, cared for her, loved her, accepted her as one of their own.
But she wasn’t.
Kathy was Van’s mother. Tony was Van’s brother. The girls they hung out with were Van’s friends. They shared a bedroom growing up, as adults they shared an apartment. They ate the same food, occupied the same space, breathed the same air. Maxie had forgotten what it was like to have something without Van, someone. Until she met Alex.
In the beginning, he was her escape. He’d called her his ten-second car; their relationship had went from zero to sixty before she’d even been able comprehend what had happened. Sometimes she’d leave her apartment with Van and disappear with Alex for days, with no word of where she was going or who she was with, with no worries of Van ever finding out unless Maxie wanted her to. Even after she’d grown indifferent to his presence, she remained in it because the thrill of having something of her very own never died. She’d spent all of her free time with him for nearly two months before introducing him to her roommate. Then, one evening, she’d cooked dinner and they all ate together. Once Alex left, Van went to Maxie and wrapped her arm around her shoulders. “I know you like this guy,” she said, “and I’m happy for you, believe me. But I think you can do better. I mean, he talked about nothing but himself all night.”
Maxie had turned to her friend, a bit taken aback at first, and then she smiled. She didn’t mean to, but she couldn’t help it. “So you’re the only one who’s allowed to talk about nothing but yourself all night, huh?”
Van had recoiled as if she’d been slapped. “I didn’t… I mean… That’s not what I said, Max. I just don’t like the guy, that’s all.” Well, it turned out he didn’t take too well to Van, either. It was then that Maxie decided to keep him around indefinitely.
“Max,” he said, climbing back on top of her and pulling her from her thoughts. “I’m sorry, okay? I don’t mean to pressure you. I just want you so bad. You’re my girlfriend, I care about you. I wanna be with you for a long time. You can’t expect me to not want to take it to the next level.”
“Yeah, but…” But what about love? What about forever? She didn’t have a chance to say any of that, not before his lips were on her again, his hands touching her again.
Suddenly, Van’s bedroom door opened and she sashayed into the living room. Alex groaned loudly and rolled back over as Maxie sat up to give her friend a onceover. She whistled her approval. Van spun around to give Maxie the full view of her impossibly tight and even more impossibly short dress. It hugged every curve of her figure, and left not an inch of her long, flawless legs to the imagination.
“What do you think?” she asked.
Alex propped himself up on his elbows and raised an eyebrow. “I think it’s snowing outside.”
Van glared at him. “I wasn’t asking you. Maxie, what do you think?”
With a small chuckle, she replied, “I think you look amazing. But it is cold outside.”
Van shrugged. “Well, I don’t dress for the weather, I dress for the occasion.”
The corners of her lips turned up into a wide smile. “I have a date. With Isaac.”
Maxie nearly choked on her saliva. Isaac? She hadn’t heard Van talk about Isaac in over a week. “You guys are still keeping in touch?” she asked, trying to remain enthusiastic, but the inexplicable disappointment weighing down on her was hard to ignore.
“Yep. He’s taking me to dinner, and then to a jazz show.”
“You don’t like jazz.”
She shrugged. “Tonight I do.”
Maxie’s eyes fell to Van’s red pumps. “Are those mine?”
“I bought those!” Alex snapped.
“Oh,” Van said with a small shrug. “You never wear them. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“I mind!” he said.
“And I guess you didn’t think I’d mind if you used my nail polish again either?”
Van looked down at her red nails. “It’s just nail polish.”
“My nail polish. And my shoes. All you have to do is ask!”
“Alright! I’ll just buy you a new bottle of nail polish! And you don’t even freaking wear these! They’re four hundred dollar shoes, just sitting in your closet, collecting dust! Alex, you should be thanking me.” He scoffed. The scowl didn’t leave Maxie’s face. With a sigh, Van said, “I’m sorry. I really didn’t think you’d mind.”
Defeated, Maxie sat back. Did she mind? Sure, it annoyed her when she found Van wearing her shoes, or her purses, or her fifteen dollar nail polishes, but was that what annoyed her that night? “I don’t mind,” she said. “You look beautiful. Have fun, okay?”
Van clicked over to the couch and leaned down to kiss Maxie’s forehead. “Thank you,” she said. “For everything, I mean. The compliments, the shoes, getting hit by Isaac’s car on Christmas—”
“That’s who you’re going out with?” Alex cried.
“—And letting me have him. He’s really great, Max. I have a good feeling about this one.” When was the last time she had a good feeling about a man? Maxie couldn’t remember. Van entertained, dated, slept and carried on with countless men, but in the end she only compared them all to her father. Arnold Trimmel was like a wound that wouldn’t heal.
Maxie smiled weakly. “Good. I’m happy for you,” she managed.
Flashing one last smile, Van pushed her pin straight locks over her shoulder, and headed out the door. Once she was gone, Alex turned back to Maxie. “Let her have him?” he asked. Maxie shrugged. “Was he interested in you first or something?”
“No. Van just thought I may have been interested in him. Which I wasn’t. So, really, I didn’t let her have anything.” With a sigh, she added, “He was hers for the taking.”
“Whatever. I’m just glad she’s gone,” he said, shifting his weight back on top of her. “Where were we?”
If Maxie had had any excitement left, Van took it with her when she left. Raising her hands to his chest, Maxie stopped him. “Let’s just watch a movie or something, okay?”
His face dropped but he didn’t object. Maxie almost wished he had. As she got up to get a movie, she wished that he would get upset, annoyed, fed up, and perhaps leave. She just wanted to be alone. Alone to dwell on the things that could have been, the things that weren’t.
When Maxie woke the next morning, Alex had already gone. She wondered if he even waited out the night, or if he snuck away right after she fell asleep. The thought only passed through her mind; she didn’t care much either way. It only meant one less person to cook breakfast for.
She freed her hair from its tie and shook it loose, pulled on an oversized sweatshirt over her bra and panties, and made her way to the kitchen. She glanced at Van’s door as she passed it, wondering what time she’d returned home from her date. An aching resentment rose in her gut that she quickly suppressed. Isaac was just a man, after all. What did it matter that Maxie’s thoughts had remained constantly on him since the moment she woke to find him in her hospital room? He was just a man. There would be others. Others that her best friend wasn’t interested in.
In the kitchen, Maxie put on a pot of coffee and began to mix batter for pancakes when she heard Van’s door open. “You’re up early,” she called. “It isn’t noon yet, you still have three and a half hours—”
The familiar— but unexpected— voice made her jump. She spun around, nearly turning over the whole bowl of batter, and gasped. “Isaac?”
He stood before her, wearing nothing but boxer-briefs and socks, an expression on his face of conflicting surprise and remorse. Maxie’s eyes moved down the length of his body— his flawless, godlike body— and for a moment, the reality of the situation got away from her.
Isaac was standing half naked in her kitchen. It only meant one thing.
Blinking, she quickly looked away from him. “I’m sorry,” he said, though he didn’t move an inch to cover himself. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Why would you?” she asked. “I only live here. You, on the other hand…”
She allowed herself to look at his face. His brows were furrowed, his jaw was taut. “I spent the night with Van,” he informed her, his voice low and heavy. Nodding, she looked away again. “We’d been drinking,” he said. “I couldn’t drive all the way back to Brooklyn—”
“You don’t need to explain,” she said, raising her hand to stop him.
“—I didn’t even mean for anything to happen—”
She shut her eyes tightly. “Please don’t explain.”
He stopped. She gazed at him, at his perfect face. She couldn’t speak. There it was again, that familiar shortness of breath that she’d gotten when she was with him the week before. Only this time, it wasn’t just his good looks that had her gasping for air. The immense disappointment settled on her chest. Disappointment for what? she asked herself. Had she expected something different? Was she hoping for another outcome? She realized that a small part of her was. A tiny part that she’d ignored for days as she’d daydreamed of him. How stupid of her.
Before either one of them could speak again, Van plodded out of the bedroom, hair unkempt, makeup smeared, and naked accept for a skimpy, satin nighty that barely reached the back of her thighs. Maxie had to look away. “Here you are,” she said, going to Isaac. Even Van, three inches taller than Maxie, had to look up to him. She laced her arms around his waist and kissed his collarbone. “Good morning.”
He looked down at her with dark eyes. “’Morning,” he mumbled.
“Maxie’s cooking you breakfast, huh?” She looked at her roommate and her eyes widened. “Maxie! What are you wearing?”
For the first time, Maxie realized that she was half naked. She looked down at her sweatshirt, just long enough to cover the swell of her behind, and her bare legs. She felt her face grow hot and shut her eyes for a moment, struggling to contain her overflowing humiliation and anger and jealousy. Van chuckled.
Pulling the hem of the sweatshirt down, Maxie opened her eyes and met Isaac’s gaze. His stare was dark and unwavering, glued on her face and not budging. “Right. Well, I’m just going to go in my room,” she said, struggling to keep the emotion from her tone. “Good seeing you again, Isaac.” Moving past him, she added, “Not at all awkward.”
“I like your hair,” he said, his eyes following her past him. Another chuckle came from Van before Maxie disappeared into her room and shut the door behind her. ©
Chapter 3, part 2 coming Sunday, May 26, 2013
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