Anything for You Ch. 01byevanslily©
The silence, already long, now seemed to be spiralling into eternity.
Oh God. What the hell had I done?
Drew looked up at me at last, the confusion in his brown eyes only serving to deepen my mortification. "This is a joke, right?"
For a split second, I toyed with the idea of agreeing with him. That of course I'd been kidding, only pulling his leg. That I'd just wanted to see the look on his face. But I hadn't. And now, even more humiliatingly, my bottom lip was starting to wobble. Shit, I was going to cry...
"You're not joking." His tone softened.
"No." My voice sounded equally small.
"But you're nearly twenty-five!"
"I know! Why d'you think I never told you before? Oh—" And uttering a groan, I buried my face in my hands. "Never mind. Forget I asked, okay? Just pretend I never said anything."
Like that was going to be possible. I could already feel Drew's gaze boring into the top of my head.
"Please?" I peered at him through my fingers, the wash of shame now making me clammy all over. "I've forgotten all sorts of things for you. Like that time you rode your scooter over old Mr Roberts' allotment and smashed his prize marrows. And that time you put bleach in your sister's shampoo. Not to mention the time you left the bath taps running until the kitchen ceiling collapsed."
"You've forgotten all those things?" He sounded amused.
"I never told anybody else. Drew, please!"
His eyes narrowed. "Is that what you're worried about? You think I'm going to tell everyone what you just told me?"
I wouldn't have blamed him if he had. I'd just fed him a line that could win Olympic Gold for gossip-worthiness.
"Samantha Bloom." He blew out a sigh. "For heaven's sake, is your opinion of me really as low as all that?"
No. Not at all. Because I wouldn't have asked him what I'd just asked him if it was, would I? But I didn't say it. Couldn't say it.
I swallowed. "Look, I don't have a low opinion of—"
"That's not what I meant."
Of course it wasn't. I knew Drew of old—and there was no way in hell he was going to let me off the hook. "Why what?" I muttered, playing for time.
I felt his strong hands circle my wrists, prising my fingers away from my heated face. "You know what." He leaned forward, holding my arms either side of my head, his grip infuriatingly secure. In seventeen years of play-fights, I'd been the victor a handful of times and only then, I suspected, because he thought he'd better let me win every now and again or I'd refuse to wrestle with him anymore. "Why are you—?" He stopped abruptly, shaking his head. "Jesus, I can't believe I'm asking this question."
"Then don't?" I suggested hopefully.
"Oh no, I'm going to ask. I have to ask." He held my gaze, his brown eyes locking on mine. "Why the fuck are you still a virgin?"
As I stared back, the unwitting aptness of his words sank home. "Well, here's the thing," I said, my lips twitching as his own smile began, illuminating the dimples at the corners of his mouth. "Quite simple really. In order to stop being a virgin, you have to fuck."
He nodded solemnly. "And why haven't you fucked?"
God bless him, but he was making this easier for me, the coarseness of the words stripping back my declaration of chastity to its crudest elements. "I don't know," I admitted, biting down on my lower lip. "Got close a couple of times. Fooled about a bit. But when it came to the nitty gritty, the getting your kit off bit..." I let my voice fade, aware my cheeks were on fire yet bizarrely feeling relief at confessing my darkest secret.
"You backed off? Or did they?"
They. I closed my eyes, experiencing a ridiculous surge of guilt. There'd been three guys in total, Carl, Tim and Joe. Carl had dumped me within minutes of me knocking him back. Subtle. Tim had been rather more patient but it hadn't stopped him attempting to inveigle his way into my knickers at every given opportunity. I dumped him eventually, claiming he was sex-obsessed.
Joe had been the most accommodating of them all. We managed to 'go steady', as my Gran would've put it, for six months, with me steadfastly refusing to let him remove any part of my clothing. But then one day, he'd bumped into his old flame Victoria while shopping for groceries in Tesco and by the evening, bumping had become humping. I couldn't really blame the chap. How long would I have made him wait?
"I did," I confessed at last.
There was another lengthy silence. So lengthy in fact that for a brief moment, I dared to hope this might be a dream, but aren't all Sagittarians known for their unfailing optimism? I opened my eyes again, just to check.
Drew was still there. "Why?"
That question again. "I don't know."
"Sure you don't know?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" I muttered, scowling.
He pursed his lips in response and raised his eyebrows. He knew I knew what he meant.
"Drew!" I could pretend I didn't. "Just because I'm still a virgin at the damned-near geriatric age of twenty-four doesn't mean there's something wrong with me!"
"Hey, I wasn't saying there was, okay? Though you have to admit, it's not exactly..."
"Not exactly what?" I prompted when he stopped mid-sentence. "Normal?"
He looked suitably chagrined. "I wasn't going to say that."
"No, but it's what you thought, isn't it?" Why did I suddenly feel so angry? "And you'd be right, of course. It isn't fucking normal. But I don't know why, okay? I don't know why I've waited this long. I don't know why I've always backed out at the last moment. I just have, all right? And—oh God..." Feeling my lip begin to quiver again, I spun away to the window, my eyes filling with tears as I stared out at the darkened street.
The very same street where we'd played as children. I could almost see us out there still. My brother, Paul, two years older than me, his unruly brown curls sticking out in all directions as he bombed up and down on his bike. Drew's sister, Charlotte, sitting on the kerb playing Jacks, me perched at her side, watching as she scooped up the metal pins between bounces of the rubber ball. And there was Drew himself of course, blond hair shining in the sun as he cycled alongside Paul.
Why do you always picture summer days when you have flashbacks to childhood?
I felt a hand on my shoulder, the warmth of Drew's fingers oozing through my T-shirt. "Okay," he breathed, the sound of his voice next to my ear sending a fizz of electricity down my spine. "The way I see this, we have two options."
"We do?" Good grief, what the hell was going on? He'd been this close to me a thousand times before, maybe more. It'd never felt like this.
"Yep." He sounded amused, matter-of-fact. "Option one. We pretend we never had this conversation. Pretend that when I asked you what you wanted for your birthday, you never said, 'Oh, I don't know. Maybe you could take my virginity'."
Bollocks. I could feel myself reddening all over again. I'd really said those words—exactly those words. In vino veritas, I thought, casting a bitter glance at the empty bottle of wine on the coffee table. "And option two?"
There was a pause, a pause just long enough for me to realise that once again, I'd forgotten to put my brain into gear before opening my mouth. When Drew finally spoke, I could hear his barely-repressed laughter. "I think you know what option two is."
Did I know? Or was he about to turn the whole thing into a 'Ha ha, gotcha!' moment? Because, after all, I knew what Drew could be like. I'd known him since I was seven. My brother's best friend, he'd been a fixture of my life for pretty much as long as I could remember. I'd watched him grow up, captain the school football team and date a succession of pretty girls, do his exams and leave school.
There'd been those few years when I'd barely seen him of course, when he'd been studying at Manchester University and then working in London at a top law firm, courtesy of his first class honours degree. But then, much to everyone's disbelief, he'd thrown in his job and returned home, securing a much less high-powered position at Hunter Mills in Oxford. When questioned about it, he'd only say that he'd realised life in the fast lane wasn't for him.
The fact that I never pushed him for further details was probably one of the reasons our easy friendship had picked up where it left off. And I know this might sound strange, but hand on heart, it'd never occurred to me that our relationship could ever amount to more than just that: friendship.
"Option two," I said slowly, pretending to mull over the possible alternatives, readying myself for his 'just kidding' line. "That'd be the option where you tell me that actually, you've just realised you're gay, right? That's why you dumped Kayleigh last week. You couldn't go on living a lie."
"I didn't dump Kayleigh," Drew said calmly. "We had a very grown-up conversation and decided it wasn't to our mutual benefit to carry on seeing each other. And as for being gay..." His fingers tightened over my shoulder as he twisted me around to face him. "I think I'd have no trouble at all proving to you that I'm not."
My mouth went dry as I saw the glint of promise in those velvety brown eyes. He wasn't kidding. "It would change everything," I got out eventually, shaking my head.
"Only if we let it." Drew's gaze was unflinching upon mine. "Depends on how you look at it. If you were just to look at it as me doing a favour for a friend..."
A favour? I swallowed hard. "But then I'd owe you."
He grinned, those tiny dimples reappearing. "I'm sure I could think of something you could do in return."
I was certain he could.
"Oh!" I wailed, shrugging helplessly. What the hell was I supposed to do now? Say now? "Drew—"
"All right." With a placating smile, he lifted a hand and brushed my hair back from my face, causing another tingle to zing through my traitorous body. "How about option three? I'll book a hotel room for the two of us for Friday night. Champagne, room service, super-king-sized bed."
I felt my eyes widen.
"But you get to decide what we do," he added quickly. "We don't have to do anything, in fact. We could just slob about in bathrobes, watch movies all night and get rip-roaring drunk."
Now that was an idea. "The Park?" I prompted carelessly, not expecting him to agree for a moment. It was the most expensive hotel in town; I'd always wanted to spend a night there.
"Bloody hell, woman." But Drew was laughing again. "Sure, why not? It's your birthday after all." And leaning forward, he planted a kiss on my forehead.
"What?" Astonished, I gazed at him for a moment in silence, the butterflies in my tummy flapping wildly. "You'd really—you'd really do that for me?"
Drew smiled, allowing his shoulders to rise and fall in a slight shrug. "You're my best friend, Sam," he said simply. "Isn't that what mates do?"
I thought long and hard about the word after he'd gone. And no, I concluded at last, asking your best mate to relieve you of your virginity was something you really shouldn't do.
"Fuck," I muttered aloud, startling Bluey, my parents' long-haired Persian cat, as he stalked across the kitchen towards his newly-replenished bowl of Kitty-Crunch. "Yes, you heard me," I went on grimly. "I said 'fuck', okay? Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."
He gave me a baleful look.
"Well." I glared back. "It's all your bloody fault. If you'd just gone to a cattery like any normal cat. But not you, huh, Your Royal Highness?"
Bluey was the reason I'd temporarily moved back home. My parents, seemingly hell-bent on spending every last penny of their hard-earned savings, were currently on a three-week luxury cruise of the Caribbean. And why not? It was a great way to avoid the worst of a British winter, and besides, I wanted them to have some fun now that Dad had retired. Well, to at least try to have fun, anyway.
But if I hadn't been staying at Mum and Dad's place, Drew wouldn't have stopped off on his way home from work, would he? He wouldn't have seen the light on in the living room and guessed I was there. And then we wouldn't have sent out for a Chinese takeaway, we wouldn't have drunk that bottle of wine—well, because Drew was driving, I drank most of it—and I wouldn't have been so stupid as to blurt out the first thing that came into my mind when he asked what I wanted for my birthday.
Why couldn't I have asked for a box of chocolates?
The phone rang, startling me so much I actually shrieked. Reaching across the counter, I picked up the phone, my gaze shooting to the clock on the wall. Ten past midnight. Who the hell could be calling now? "Hello?"
"All booked," Drew said.
"Booked?" I echoed stupidly, the light dawning a second after I'd spoken.
"What, already?" Even though I'd just checked the time, I couldn't help looking at the clock again.
"Uh huh." There was a distinct note of masculine pride in his voice. "The reception desk at the Park is manned twenty-four seven, so I thought, why not call them straightaway? You'll be pleased to hear we'll be occupying The Regent Suite."
"Mmm." He sounded amused. "See, I figured if we had two rooms, two beds, we could decide on the night whether—or not..."
A lump rose in my throat as he left the sentence hanging. "But that must've cost a fortune!" I spluttered, another surge of heat rushing to my face. "Listen, you have to let me pay half—"
"No bloody way. I can afford it, you know that. And it's your birthday, Sam. I wouldn't dream of letting you pay. Besides..." When he hesitated, I could almost hear him smiling. "I can't believe how much I'm looking forward to this already."
"Hey." His tone softened. "I meant what I said. Far as I'm concerned, we're two mates who're gonna spend a night living it large at a posh hotel. And come the morning, we'll nick all the toiletries and see if we can smuggle out the bathrobes."
I closed my eyes as I slumped against the counter top, the beginnings of a helpless smile curving my lips. "You sure there'll even be any bathrobes?"
"Oh yes. I checked."
I bet he had as well. I wouldn't have had the nerve.
"So I'll pick you up on Friday, okay? About six o'clock. Will you still be at your parents' house?"
"No." I shook my head, even though he couldn't see me. "They'll be back by then, thank God." All sun-tanned and looking sickeningly healthy, no doubt.
"Excellent. Well, in that case, I'll pick you up from your place. See you then."
"Wait!" I wailed, realising he was about to ring off. "What do I pack? What should I wear? What do I need to bring to stay in a place like that?"
"Just yourself." Once again I could hear the laughter in his voice. "We're not even going to leave the room, remember? And I don't give a toss what you wear." There was a pause. "Whether you wear anything, in fact."
"N'night Sam," he interrupted, deadpan now. "Sleep tight, gorgeous."
Whoever invented the word 'hangover' had it spot on. Hangover was exactly right. I didn't want to stand, I wanted to hang over something. Scrub that. I wanted to lie down, sprawl across the sales counter and press my aching forehead against its cool Formica surface. How could I be such a lightweight? I'd only had three quarters of a bottle of Chardonnay.
I attempted to blot out the sound of my name. The last thing I wanted was to engage in conversation. Come to think of it, I'd been attempting to blot out most things from the moment I'd woken up, having discovered my head hurt a lot less if I didn't allow myself to remember anything from the evening before.
Alice wasn't going to give up.
"What?" I mumbled irritably, forcing myself to straighten up and turn around before wincing with guilty gratitude at the sight of the mug of tea in her outstretched hand. "Thanks."
She set it down on the counter then reached for my hand. "Here," she said grimly, uncurling my fingers and dropping two blue and white capsules into my palm. "Either take these or go home."
"Oh." I gazed at the painkillers, my throat already constricting at the sight. "Alice, you know I don't—"
She gave a loud snort before I could finish my customary spiel about not liking to interfere with my body's natural restorative mechanisms. But of course, she knew the excuse was a crock of shit and that actually, I had an almost pathological fear of taking medicines. "Fine," she said, even more brusquely than before. "In that case, you'd better take yourself back home again, hadn't you?"
Sometimes, I had to remind myself who employed who. Exactly who was the boss and who had the right to call the shots. But the fact remained that even though Alice was my senior by more than thirty years, I was her employer. The shop was mine—and had been for nigh on three years. "I'll be fine," I said with practised stoicism. "Just need a few glasses of water to get myself rehydrated."
Alice sighed. "There's no helping some people," she grumbled, plucking the capsules back out of my hand and dropping them into a side pocket of her voluminous black handbag. "At least drink the tea."
That I could do. Grimacing at her, I took a sip, then grimaced even harder as I realised she'd sweetened it with so much sugar, I could probably have stood up a spoon in the resulting gloop. "I look that bad?" I asked resignedly.
She nodded before strolling to the rail of clothing in front of me and straightening dresses on their hangers. "Good job we're not busy this morning. You'd frighten the customers away."
"Don't mention it. I thought you said you were staying in last night?"
"I did stay in." Wrapping my fingers around the earthenware mug, I blew over the top of the steaming liquid. "Not my fault your nephew came round." I thought I'd said the last part sotto voce, but when Alice turned to give me another searching look, I realised I hadn't said it quietly enough.
"Andrew?" Her expression had brightened. "Oh, that was nice of him. You know that he and Kayleigh have...?"
Averting my gaze, I nodded into her deliberate pause. "So he said."
"Such a shame," Alice rattled on, her light tone belying her words. "I only met her the once, of course, but she seemed such a lovely girl. Sometimes I wonder if that boy'll ever settle down. I told him the other day when he told me, he can't go on playing the field all his life. Still—" She sniffed, turning back to the rail of dresses. "You young folks. I keep forgetting things aren't like they used to be. You think nothing of waiting until you're in your thirties before getting married and having babies in your forties. It's a different world."
As if to prove her point, the tiny bell over the shop door tinkled as it swung inwards, a blast of wintry air heralding the arrival of a heavily pregnant woman we both knew to be forty-two years old, thanks to Alice's insatiable nosiness. I'd long since given up trying to persuade her that it was neither politically correct nor tactful to enquire as to our clients' ages. "Anne-Marie!" she exclaimed now with a broad smile of welcome. "Goodness me, look at you! How wonderful to see you again!"
And this was why. As Anne-Marie beamed back at her, I marvelled anew at Alice's ability to remember the name of every customer. "Hi," she said shyly, looking a little pink. "Back again."
"We're delighted you are." From any other person's lips, that might have sounded patronising, but Alice always managed to say such things so warmly, it would have been impossible to doubt her sincerity. "How many weeks now? Thirty-four? Thirty-five?"
"Thirty-five," Anne-Marie agreed, still smiling. "Not long now."
"No, indeed! So, dear... Are you just here for a browse or is there something in particular you were looking for?"