You have been thoroughly warned.
If you are squeamish about colorful language, don't like sex scenes, and honest dialogue makes your hair curl, walk away now. Do not read this.
I'll be posting installments every day until the end. I don't know how many days that will be because I am still writing this story. You can read it or not, share it or not, like it or not. It's up to you. Unlike me, you have a choice. I can't not write it.
As You Were
Copyright © 2013 by Melissa Lummis
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
I stared straight ahead, my throat tightening over the memories. Gina had left me no less than twelve voice mails and sent me endless texts apologizing. They morphed into angry tirades against me until I threw my cell phone into the back seat, ignoring its bleeps and blips all the way back to D.C. Jack hadn’t been home when I got there later that day. I snorted out loud, and Erik stopped.
“She felt horrible, you know,” he said.
I laughed, but it was devoid of humor. “Yeah, her nasty texts really conveyed how hurt she was.”
“Hey, I was there when she left all those voice mails. She was crying.”
And I was crying again, just like that. I covered my face with my hands. “I don’t know why it hurt. I was…”
I couldn’t talk, the sobs choked me so bad. Erik hugged me close and I let him rock me in his arms. “So why did you answer my call, but not Gena’s?”
It took me a minute to compose myself, but I managed. “Because I could rationalize it with you. You were the good-time guy, Erik. If it had been anyone else, I don’t think I would have even been mad at you. Annoyed, yes. Irritated, yes.”
Erik kissed my hair and a part of me broke. I suddenly found it impossible to pull away from him, to stem the tide swelling in my head and body. I sagged against him and he stroked my back with one hand while the other arm tightened around me.
I huffed through my nose. “It’s been too long. What do I say? Hey, Gena, how are you? I’m sorry I took off like that and never gave you a chance. Ten years of friendship means nothing to me, but oh, by the way, I talked to Erik and he explained it was a one-night, what-might-have-been kind of thing and we’re good.” I laughed sadly while I buried my face in Erik’s neck.
“But we weren’t good, were we?” Erik mumbled into my hair. Suddenly he pushed me away and held me at arm’s length, his fingers digging into my arms. “You can’t marry that Jack guy. That's why you’re here, right? A bachelorette thing?”
I swung my arms up and broke his hold on me. “You have no right to say that to me.” And I stomped down the beach, my hands flexing and unflexing into fists, my heart thudding in my chest. Who the hell did he think he was?
He caught up to me at a brisk jog. “The wedding is next week, right? July eleventh.”
“No.” My head was banging with the threat of a headache, or was it the absurd notion that even self-absorbed Erik saw the signs that I had completely ignored? Even Erik saw from a distance the doomed nature of my relationship with Jack—his cool, aloof demeanor; my blind, stoic commitment to the idea of marriage. I had steadfastly denied that not only had the passion died, it had never really been that big of a flame to begin with.
“Uh uh. I remember. I remember because I’ve been obsessing about it for the last month.” He sucked a breath in through his nose and let it out in a whoosh. “I’ve been trying to build up the nerve to call you and tell you, you can’t do it.”
I slowed my pace, glancing over at him. He was watching me with a pained expression, although in the dim glow from the pier lights ahead, I couldn’t be sure. We’d wandered beyond the boardwalk into the private homes stretch. The darkness was a blanket around us; the constant rush and crash of waves creating the illusion of being cut off from the rest of the world.
He nodded as we slowed to a stop. “You can’t do this to yourself. You’re either going to be divorced with a kid in a few years—“
I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up a hand. “—or you’ll stay married out of obligation and try to make life work. You’ll be miserable and won’t know why. You’ll look back and regret things and look forward and be filled with dread.”
My mouth fell all the way open. “And what, pray tell, gives you this deep insight into my love life?”
He stepped up and took both my hands into his. “I know because I know you. You are not cut out for the quiet, desperate thing. You have better things to do.”
As I stared into his eyes, they bore into me, daring me to deny what he was saying. I considered putting him in his place, telling him he didn’t know thing one about me or the kind of life I required. But, ultimately, I couldn’t. He was so right it was downright scary. He was so right, I was swamped with a dizzy, nauseating sweat.
“Oh, Christ, Erik, why didn’t you say something sooner?”
And I staggered into him. He held me for a moment, then lifted my chin. “You don’t have to go through with it. Don’t go through with it just because you don’t want to waste the money or the dress or whatever. It’s a small price to pay for your sanity. For your life.”
Laughter bubbled up from somewhere—insane, giddy, gushing laughter that threw my head back and took my breath away. I clutched at my head and him, laughing so hard I had cramps in my stomach and my knees buckled.
“Anne, you okay?” The concern in his voice made me laugh harder as he fumbled to steady me to the ground. “Anne?”
“We broke it off, Erik.” I finally managed to speak a few words between spurts of laughter. “He was cheating on me the entire time.” I shook my head as I let it hang down, my chin almost grazing my chest. The laughter subsided. “Maybe even before he asked me to marry him.”
Erik didn’t say anything. Just held me by the arms while I sniffed and lifted my head, no longer concerned about how I looked. “He said he thought I was the perfect woman to marry, but he never felt the spark.” I wiped the snot off my upper lip. “He said I was the right kind of woman to take home to mom, to have kids with.”
I shuddered through my next breath. “But that I wasn’t anything special in the bedroom. I wasn’t the kind of woman that made men’s hearts pound or drove them crazy with desire.”
All the dejection I’d been suppressing surfaced under Erik’s steady gaze. Jack had said I was okay looking, even attractive, but I lacked that sensual something that he needed. He couldn’t imagine living the rest of his life without that deep, wrenching desire and the passion that I lacked. What I heard wasn’t that we were incompatible; I heard that I was less than. That no man would find me desirable in that way.
Jack had confirmed a secret fear of mine: that I wasn’t sexy enough to ignite passion in a man. I’d had a taste of it with Dan, but we were only teenagers and as good as the sex had been, I wondered if there wasn’t more. I’d dated a few others between Dan and Jack, but other than the thrill of the bad boy, the danger of dating the dark, quasi-hazardous man, I’d floundered in my search for the soul-shattering.
Erik reached out to cup my cheek in his hand. “Anne.” His thumb brushed across my lips. “He was a fucking moron.”
I snorted, but shook my head, my shoulders slumping in on themselves. “No, he was right. I’ve never felt that, you know. Not with anyone. And…” I collected my courage, took a deep breath. “And maybe part of what I was so upset about when…you know…” I gestured at Erik. “When I opened the van door, I got a glimpse of it. You and Gena…you had it. And it was only a few months later Jack opened my eyes to the truth. I knew. I knew and I didn't even know I knew. Does that make sense?”
Erik wrapped his hand around the side of my neck and tugged me close. “Yeah." He cleared his throat. "But what you saw between Gena and me. That wasn’t what you thought it was.” He pressed his forehead to mine and my breath caught in my throat. “That was two lonely people trying to recapture a mirage.”
He ran his tongue across his upper lip. I held my breath as he shifted into me, gently touching his lips to mine.
“You are the sexiest woman I have ever met.” He spoke into my mouth. “You know that, right?”
I swallowed and my breath hitched like a child’s at the end of a crying jag. “No.”
End of Chapter 3.