“I’d say one of the things you always liked about me is that I told the truth. I never sold you a line of crap, and I was never afraid to tell it like it is. Would you say that’s fair?”
My heart immediately began speeding up as I remembered him telling Shanna, I’m in love with your roommate.
“…that’s fair,” I grudgingly agreed.
“Okay, here it is: I don’t trust many people, Kaitlyn. Every… single… fucking… person out there wants a piece of me,” he said, and for the first time I heard real bitterness and anger in his voice. It was a tone I’d only heard him use when he was talking about his despised step-father. “And as far as journalists go, if I won’t give it to them willingly, they’re more than happy to cut it off of me. Their little pound of flesh.”
Then his tone changed.
“But I trust you. I trust you to be evenhanded and fair. You might write some shit that I won’t like… but it won’t be to settle a score, or to be oh-so-clever, or to fuck me over to make a big name for yourself. That’s why you’re here. Because I trust you.”
My heart was beating faster. “…is that the only reason?”
He stared into my eyes. “You’re asking if I still want to sleep with you.”
That, of course, was the real elephant in the room.
The other two were small potatoes in comparison.
“…yes,” I murmured.
“Of course I do.”
I felt afraid and elated all at once.
“…but is that one of the reasons I’m here?”
He grinned. “Of course it is.”
The fear got worse – and the elation got even higher.
“I’m not sleeping with you,” I said.
He leaned back and sipped his drink. “I’ve heard that before.”
“From me, or from every other girl you’ve slept with?” I asked bitterly.
For the second time he looked like Aha. “Now I get it.”
Suddenly his face darkened, and a touch of anger colored his voice. “Are you angry because after you ripped out my heart and walked out on me, I had the audacity to get on with my life?”
Pure, unadulterated shock.
That’s what ran through me.
“I didn’t rip out your heart – ” I protested, almost gasping.
“Maybe not intentionally, but you did.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but he cut me off.
“You did, Kaitlyn. You can say you didn’t all day long, but you weren’t around afterward. You can ask Ryan, he saw everything.”
I’d never even considered what his feelings might have been. I just figured he’d forgotten me and gone back to the hot girls throwing themselves at him.
I swallowed hard. “My heart got ripped out and stomped on, too.”
He gave me a dark look. “Yeah, well, you did that yourself.”
I couldn’t really argue with that one.
I reached over and took a gulp of the wine. I couldn’t help myself – I needed something to steady my nerves.
Damn, that was good…
“Is that what this is?” I asked, my voice a bit steadier now. “Revenge?”
His forehead wrinkled. “What?”
“Are you planning to seduce me and then stomp on my heart, too?”
All the anger and hurt faded, and he gave me a sad, wistful smile. “No, I’m not. I’m honestly, genuinely glad you’re here.”
He looked at me with that disarming openness I remembered so well. “Because I think we need to finish what we started.”
My stomach did somersaults in my belly.
“I’m not sleeping with you,” I said again, starting to sound like a broken record.
He narrowed his eyes. “You still with whatsisname?”
“Kevin. No, I’m not.”
The hardness was gradually creeping back into his face. “How soon after you left me did you break up with him?”
I didn’t want to answer the question, but I saw no good reason not to.
“…about five months.”
Derek just nodded slightly, like I was confirming a theory he’d had for years. “And was it worth it, passing up on me to stay with him for five months?”
I really didn’t want to answer… but even if I said I didn’t want to talk about it, he’d know the truth.
“Well, you’re not with Mr. High School Sweetheart – you with anybody else?”
“That’s why you’re afraid, isn’t it?” he said in that infuriatingly cocky way of his, like he had me allllll figured out. “You don’t have an excuse anymore.”
“I’m not afraid,” I protested.
“You said you were guarded.”
“Guarded. Not afraid.”
He seemed amused now. “So what’s the problem with sleeping with me, then?
“I’m a journalist.”
He gestured like, Yeah? SO?
“It would be unethical of me to sleep with an interview subject,” I said, channeling my J-305: The Ethics of Journalism professor.
He burst into laughter. Literally rolled over in his seat and disappeared beneath the edge of the table. He was still chuckling as he pulled himself back up to a seated position.
“Is there some reason you hate me so much?” he asked, though he was smiling when he said it.
I frowned. “I don’t hate you.”
Quite the contrary.
“Well, the reason you had for blowing me off last time was pretty good. The guy wasn’t, but the reason was. But this? This just sounds like you’re making shit up.”
“It’s journalistic ethics – ”
“Whatever,” he said dismissively. “What’s the real reason?”
I stared him down… but I had to take another drink of wine before I answered. “Same as last time.”
“You just said you don’t have a boyfr– ”
“You use women,” I interrupted.
He got an irritated look on his face. “I sleep with women. I don’t use them.”
“I’m pretty sure some of them wouldn’t see it that way.”
“This isn’t about other women. This is about you.”
“Okay, then: from my perspective, you use other women. And I don’t want to be used.”
He shrugged. “Fair enough.”
Then he just sat there, drinking his drink, not saying anything.
It was a looooong silence.
“What, you don’t have some big speech laid out?” I asked, annoyed.
He grinned. “Was that an intentional pun, ‘laid out’? Or just a Freudian slip?”
I suppose it was a Freudian slip, but I wasn’t about to admit it.
“Pun,” I snapped. “So – let’s have it.”
“That sounds like another Freudian slip,” he teased.
“Why does this conversation remind me of when we were at the gyro place, and you always steered it towards sex?” I asked angrily.
“What, are you going to walk out on me again?” he asked, clearly enjoying himself.
I wanted to. I was weighing the options of having to pay back Rolling Stone for my plane ticket when he started talking again.
“There is no big speech. I just don’t make promises I can’t keep. And to me, it sounds like you want a wedding ring to sleep with a guy, so… no. No big speeches.”
“I don’t want a wedding ring to – ”
“This isn’t like before,” he said, his voice edging towards anger. “I’m not standing in front of you with my heart in my hands. I went down that road once, and I got my heart crushed.”
I felt horrible as he said it, but I didn’t have time to speak.
“So, no – no promises. Just let yourself go for once. Just…”
He put his fingers around an invisible object in the air.
“…pry those fingers out of the cold, hard, controlling grip you have on yourself, and life, and everything… and maybe you’ll have some fun. Just do something for once without a big plan… without any promises… without any contracts… without any expectations… and you might not get let down.”
“‘Might not,’” I mimicked him sarcastically.
He sighed like he was giving up. “I can’t promise you anything, Kaitlyn… except I’ll talk to you for the article. Whatever you want. And the only thing I expect from you is that you’ll be fair to me. Do we have a deal?”
I still could have walked out.
God knows I wanted to.
Even after all these years, he affected me more than any other man I’d ever met.
Annoyed me, infuriated me…
And I had discovered, with a kind of sick dread, that I wanted him just as much as before.
But I wasn’t going to cave.
I was here because I had a job to do, and I wasn’t going to run away from it.
“…deal,” I said, and stuck out my hand.
He grinned, then shook it.
Like so many years before, a surge of electricity, of chemicals, of some sort of primal connection passed between us.
I felt it.
I know he did, because the resignation from earlier suddenly turned into a spark of lust in his eyes.
Had we been in a bedroom, alone, he might have reached out and tried to tear off my clothes…
…and I might have let him.