I shake my head, reaching into my pocket for some cash.
“If you like Evanovich, you gotta check out Bond too.” She held up the second book. “It’s used, so I’m gonna toss it in no charge. Just ignore the worn pages. She is freakin’ awesome. If you get a chance,” she shrugs. “Check it out.”
I smile, counting out bills and passing them over. “Thank you—I will.”
She bags the books and walks around the counter, handing me the green plastic bag with a smile. “Thanks for coming in. You want me to show you to the bathroom?”
Right. My imaginary need to pee. I shake my head. “I’m good. Thanks for the book.”
I take a right out of the store, walking down the dim hall and locking myself in the dirty bathroom, standing in the middle of the germ-infested space and trying not to touch anything. I take a deep breath and try to relax. Two minutes later, I use a paper towel to flush the toilet and open the door handle. I avoid looking into the bookstore, walking quickly through the dark bar and back into the bright light. The bench where I sat with Shannon is empty, a pink post-it stuck to her spot, an intense frowny face drawn on it in blue ballpoint pen. I glance around, seeing no sign of her, and crumple the sticky note, dumping my coffee into the trash and casting one, final look for Paul. Then me, and my green bag of deception, left the sandy boardwalk of Venice Beach.
VENICE BEACH, CA
I am, for the next two years and three months, sterile. Then it will be time to pull out the hormone implant in my arm and replace it with a fresh one, and I can make that humongous decision again. To have a kid or not to have a kid. That is the question. It was an easy decision two years ago. But I am already waffling now. In two years I will probably be beside myself with the hefty choice. In a way, choosing a kid will be like choosing between my boys. It will be a conversation I will have to have with both of them, and I can already foresee their stance on it. Stewart won’t have time for a child, and will tell me so without hesitation. Any financial obligation he would support. But anything more... I’d be on my own. It’s just the facts of his life. Paul will ask what makes me happy. And whatever I say, he will go with. It is how our relationship has always been. He does what makes me happy. It is why he accepts the f**ked up threesome that we currently live. While Stewart wants me to have a second man to keep me off the streets, to keep me from being lonely, to keep me in his life – Paul accepts that I have a second man because it was what he signed up for. And now, as in the beginning, he’d rather have half of me than none of me.
Paul and my first experience, under the Santa Monica pier, led to dinner—meat lovers pizza under the dim lights of Joe’s, cold beers downed, our bare legs brushing under the slanted brick bartop, knowing smiles exchanging space with flirtatious looks.
I thought that’d be it, but he persisted, got my number, called the next day. Showed up at the bookstore and pestered me till he snagged a second date. He didn’t have to work too hard. I knew who he was, had wandered down to the surf after Bip went oh-my-god-that’s-Paul-Linx crazy, spilling words like ‘surfing god’ and ‘sweetheart’ as if he was onceinalifetime special. I sat on the beach, sand smudging up my dress and sticking to my skin, and watched him on his board, watched the speed and dare of his ride, and let my mind wander down the what if road. What if I went on a second, then third, then fourth date? What about Stewart? What about his idea of a second, consistent boyfriend? Could I bring up that scenario? And if I did, how would Paul respond?
I watched him, admired the flex of muscles as he crouched, then jumped into the water, emerging with a big smile, his gaze catching and lingering on me in the sand, a question of recognition in his eyes. Then he waved, the smile broadening, and I waved, and I knew I would have to try.
I broached the subject on our fourth date, at which point I had grown a little attached to his quick smile and always-ready cock. I waited till after sex, when we were stretched out on his bed, his hand running gently down the line of my back, the room quiet, save our contented breaths.
“Bring many girls here?” I teased, the words playful, the thoughtful look he gave me not.
He reached over, dragging me atop him, till my head rested on his chest, my bare br**sts on his stomach. “Not since I met you.”
“Well that’s an impressive feat,” I joked. “Seeing as we’ve screwed in this bed ... What? Three of the last four days?” I pushed up with my arms, crawling forward with my legs and sitting, straddling him. I tucked my hair behind my ear. “No girlfriend’s clothes hanging in that closet?” I tilted my head to the door—an accordion-style set that was probably, ten years earlier, painted white.
He stretched back his arms, locking them behind his head and studied me, his face serious. “Why would you be here if I have a girlfriend?”
I shrugged. “Maybe she’s busy. Out of town.” His eyes follow me, staying on my face. “Maybe she doesn’t care.”
“I wouldn’t be with someone if they didn’t care,” he said softly.
My eyes, which had been tracing the lines of his chest, his shoulders, the muscles enhanced by his position, finally came to his eyes, blue I had been avoiding as I attempted to find words that were unspeakable. “I ... have someone ...” His abs tensed underneath me, and his hands loosened beneath his head, his face tightening as he listened. “Someone I date—it’s not an exclusive thing.” I rush out the words, watching his features relax a bit. “He doesn’t care. I mean, he cares, but he doesn’t mind me dating other people. He’s too busy for a full-time relationship.”
My eyes pulled back to his, surprised at the resolve behind him, the insistence to wait out this conversation until it reached final destination. I grimaced, and pulled the bandaid off with one, painful rip, anxious to get it out and move the hell on.
“This guy ... he’s a part of my life. I love him. I just wanted to put it out there. I don’t know what you’re looking for, if it’s a f**k buddy or—“
“I want a relationship,” he interrupted me, his face unreadable, and I fidgeted slightly on his hips.
It was too early to ask him the question, but I was already there, and he was waiting. Waiting while I was treading water, trying to figure out whether to dive deeper or swim for shore. Wondering if Stewart was worth this headache while knowing, before my mouth even opens, that he was. “With me? I know it’s early to ask that but—“