He let out a long, shaky breath but kept his eyes closed as my fingers continued to massage through his hair. At first, he looked like he was in ecstasy, so I didn’t stop. After about a minute, though, his breathing became heavier, and he started to fidget.
He shocked me when he suddenly opened his eyes and turned to me. “What the fuck are you doing, Amelia?”
I retracted my hand. My heart started to pound as I attempted to come up with an excuse. “I’m sorry. I…I got carried away.”
“I see. Blame it on the alcohol?” he scoffed.
He got up and walked to the other side of the room and pulled on his hair in frustration as he paced. Then, he did the most bizarre thing. He dropped to the floor and started doing pushups in speedy succession.
Trying to fight the tears of humiliation that were stinging my eyes, I watched as he kept with the exercises for several minutes. He was panting and exhausted by the time he collapsed onto his back. He finally sat up, bowing his head toward the floor as he looked deep in thought. Sweat was pouring off his back.
Deciding that I’d already done enough damage for one night, I got up and started to go upstairs.
His voice stopped me. “Don’t go.”
Turning around at the foot of the stairs, I said, “I think I really need to just go to sleep.”
“Come here,” he said quietly.
When I returned to my seat on the couch, his voice was more demanding. “I said come…here.” He pointed to the floor next to him. As Justin sat with his arms wrapped around his shins, I planted myself on the ground beside him, still too ashamed to look him in the eyes.
He turned his back toward me. “You asked me what this tattoo on my back meant. Look at the numbers in three sets of four under the barcode.”
They just seemed like random numerals in no particular order. Three sets of four. What did they mean?
The first set finally came to me: 1221. “That’s December twenty-first, your birthday.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
The next set was 0323. “What’s that one?”
“March 23rd, 2001,” he said.
“What’s the significance of that date?”
“You don’t know?”
“That was the day we met.”
“How on Earth did you remember the exact date?”
“I just never forgot.”
I looked at the next set of digits: 0726.
Now, that was a date I could never forget.
“July twenty-sixth was the date I left Providence in 2006.” I stared off for a bit before saying, “The barcode represents your birth and the beginning and end of our relationship.”
“Yeah. Defining moments of my life.”
“When did you get this tattoo?”
“The night I got it, I was in Boston finishing my first and last semester at Berklee College of Music. I knew I wasn’t going to be returning, because I couldn’t afford it. I was depressed and sad and missing you like hell that night. But I’d refused to speak to you when you tried to contact me the year before, and I wasn’t going to budge. I was young and stubborn. I wanted to make you pay for running away. The only way I knew how to achieve that was to do to you what you did to me—disappear. I found a tattoo place near school and had this inked on me. It represented letting you go once and for all.”
“Did it do the trick?”
“You know…after that day, I really followed through with my vow to move on. And every year, it did get easier to forget everything, especially after I moved to New York. Days and weeks would go by without thinking about you. I thought I’d put you in the past where you belonged.”
“Until you couldn’t avoid me anymore.”
He nodded. “Coming here, I had no idea what to expect. When I laid eyes on you that first day in the kitchen, I quickly realized that all of the feelings hadn’t really gone away at all. I’d just been suppressing them. Seeing you again as a grown woman…it was jarring. I didn’t know how to handle it.”
“Besides being mean.”
“At first, I was still so fucking angry at you. I wanted you to be a bitch to me, so that at least the anger would be justified. But instead…you were sweet and full of regret. The object of my anger has slowly been shifting from you to myself…for wasting all those years in bitterness. So, you know what this tattoo represents to me now?” He paused. “Fucking stupidity.”
“I was the stupid one for ever leaving you. I—”
“Let me finish. I’ve got to get this out tonight.”
The next thing that came out of his mouth was totally unexpected.
“We need to talk about our attraction to each other, Amelia.”
I swallowed. “Okay.”
“That text from your friend…she was right. I want to fuck you so badly right now that I’m practically shaking. My conscience is the only thing stopping me. It’s wrong and so messed up.”
My body was in flux upon his admission, unsure of whether to feel turned on or sick to my stomach.
He continued, “Ever since that day I caught you watching me in my room…I haven’t been able to get you out of my head.”
“I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have. But the thing is…I couldn’t even be mad at you, because you watching me jerk off was just about the hottest fucking thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Wow. I didn’t think he felt that way about it.
“I figured you thought I was perverted.”
“I would’ve done the same thing if I walked by your room and saw you touching yourself.”
“You have a beautiful body, Justin. It was hard to look away.”
“What were you thinking about?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you were watching me. What were you thinking about?”
Since he was being so honest with me, I decided to tell him the absolute truth. “I was imagining that I was with you.”
His breath hitched, and he turned away for a moment before making eye contact. “Have you always been as attracted to me as you are now?”
“Yes. But even more so now. I know it’s wrong, Justin.”
“Right or wrong, we can’t help who we’re attracted to. I don’t want to want you like this. Just sitting next to you right now is hard for me. But wanting someone and acting on it are two different things. That’s why when you were touching my hair, I had to stop it.”
“I really wasn’t trying to sleep with you. I just missed touching your hair. That’s all. It was selfish.”
“Believe me, I understand. I’m not innocent in all of this. I’ve looked for excuses to touch you, too. But I have a girlfriend. We have a good life in New York. There’s no excuse. I’m starting to feel like my father, totally out of control with no concern for anyone else.”
“You’re not your father.”
“My mother was just as bad.”
“Well, you’re not your parents.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, either, Patch. I’m so fucking confused. This situation with sharing the house makes things very awkward.” He closed his eyes for a long moment before continuing, “Maybe we should work out an arrangement next year.”