Edwin was definitely not the sort of guy I fell for. Not even close. I fell for wild boys who partied hard. Boys in black leather jackets with lots of tattoos and rings in their noses. The bad boys, the loud boys, the boys who knew where to find the best parties on Friday and Saturday nights. I knew they were trashy and rude, but I liked it. I couldn't help myself.
I liked boys who blew me away with the pace of their passion; boys who left me breathless. Which pretty much sums up the reason why I found myself kicked out of art school at 19, moving back in with my dad, and accepting a job working with Edwin at his boring old bookstore. I took the job partly to keep my dad from wringing my neck, and partly because I needed the money so I could eventually move back out and have a real life again.
Living with my dad was such a drag. I was really sorry about messing up college, but he wouldn't even listen to my apologies. He said I was a failure and wouldn't amount to anything else. He hardly ever talked to me anymore, spending all his time on the phone and computer with his new, long-distance girlfriend, Moira. And when he did talk to me, all he did was shout. All I wanted was to save enough money to get an apartment of my own, so I took the job at Edwin's bookstore even though I was sure I'd die from boredom.
Edwin was really nice to offer it to me. He was my dad's friend from when they were kids and I knew he was doing my dad a big favor hiring me. I was also pretty sure I was the last person he'd imagined working there, me with my mismatched clothes and punk rock haircut, but he never seemed anything but glad to have my help. He treated me so kindly and with such respect it almost bowled me over. He was more than twice my age, had grey hair and glasses, and from what I could tell only had one hobby: reading. Definitely not the kind of guy I fell for, but I fell hard.
The job itself was simple enough, working the cash register, answering the phone, and shelving orders when they came in. Mornings were busy with lots of people buying papers and magazines, but by the afternoon things got pretty quiet and Edwin and I would take turns watching the store while the other went to get lunch. When Edwin returned he sometimes brought back a few treats from a bakery down the block and we'd eat them together and talk.
Maybe it was the pastries that started it, or the way he carefully asked about my experiences at art school without actually mentioning that I'd been expelled. Or maybe it was the warmth of his voice and the fact that he really listened to what I had to say, he actually seemed interested in my opinions and observations. He even remembered that I especially liked the hazelnut butter cookies and always included one when he bought a selection of cookies for us to share. Whatever it was, I found myself honestly enjoying the quiet hours at the end of the day and had no trouble getting up in the morning when my alarm went off, something I'd never really experienced before.
Still, it took me by surprise when I realised, after working with him for four months, I'd been thinking of him as good-looking. I liked his olive skin and neatly trimmed, grey mustache. I liked how poised he was at all times, how even and sure of himself he seemed. So different from the swaggering self-confidence of the guys I'd known at school. I felt inexplicably drawn to him. Even his wavy, grey hair and the wrinkles at the corners of his honey-brown eyes made something stir inside me.
Maybe, because he was not the sort of guy I fell for; there was no way I could see it coming. So much about him was exotic to me, so completely different from anything I'd ever known, I couldn't have predicted what would happen between us. It was a complete surprise at every turn, but not an unwelcome one.
It was closing time on a Friday night, typically our slowest time of the week, and Edwin was busy shelving the last of a delivery that had come in. I was at the register waiting for the clock to tick to the top of the hour so I could close down the store. I watched him working, his reading glasses at the end of his nose, and felt a vague and unexpected affection building in me.
I can't explain it, or how it managed to build to such a degree, but watching him working I found myself growing more and more attracted to him, more and more aroused by the thoughts I was having. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him, if it would be different than other guys I'd kissed. I wondered if he'd be slow and careful or if he was one of those guys who turned into an animal when he was aroused. What would it be like to be with a much older man, to be with Edwin? I stared and I wondered, secretly holding that thought in my head, when he turned and caught my eye, startling me out of my dream world, I could tell by the look on his face that he'd been aware of me staring at him.
"Are you all right, Leah?"
I blushed and quickly looked away, noticing for the first time that it was 5 minutes past closing. I hurried to switch off the computer and turn the sign to CLOSED; noticing with some alarm that my heart was beating hard and there was a growing heat between my legs. I grabbed the cash drawer from the register and slid out from behind the counter, heading to the office in the back of the store. I could see him watching me the whole time, his eyes following me over the tops of his glasses. My heart skipped a beat with the thrill and inappropriateness of it all.
I carried the cash drawer to the office at the back of the store and heard Edwin turn his key in the front door, locking us both inside. I sat down at the desk and started to count out the cash, my fingers shaking, my mind racing, as I tried to keep track of the exact amount. I couldn't get my heart to slow down or the arousing images of Edwin out of my head.
I took a deep breath and relaxed slightly. I closed my eyes but saw him in my mind. I snapped them open and grabbed the calculator, trying again to count out the change from the drawer.
The phone rang and I heard Edwin answer it at the front of the store. I took a deep breath and started over, carefully counting out the dollar bills.
"Leah?" Edwin stuck his head into the office and held out the cordless phone to me. "It's your father." he said, quietly as I took the phone.
"Hi, Leah, listen, I forgot to tell you Moira's here this weekend." he said quickly. I could hear the sound of water running the background and the clatter of pots and pans. "I'm making Shrimp Madagascar." he added with obvious pride. My dad almost never cooked for just us, but he loved to make big, elaborate meals for his girlfriend.
"Oh." I said, slightly annoyed, but not sure why he was telling me this.
"So do you think you can go out tonight? So we can have a nice night alone?" There was more pot-clanging in the background and I heard him swear under his breath as something dropped.
"Go where?" I said, my anger rising quickly. I hated how he catered to Moira and expected me to just keep out of their way. They never included me in anything they did and I resented it. I knew I was being petulant but I couldn't help it. I felt left out. "You won't let me see any of my friends anymore."
"That's not true, Leah." he said exasperated, "Call Amber or ... that other girl who lives in Redmond. Just find something to do so Moira and I can ... be together, ok?" he paused, waiting, while I said nothing. "Come on, Leah. How hard is it to do this one thing for me?"
My temper flared. I felt like all I did was what he wanted and it made me so mad. "FINE." I said through gritted teeth, "Have a fucking fantastic time with your precious Moira." I pressed the OFF button on the phone, fuming, but my stomach knotted up immediately. I knew I'd be sorry for that last remark.
I reached for the stack of dollar bills and started counting again, slipping the bills roughly through my fingers as I counted. Suddenly a wave of emotion hit me and I dropped the money, buried my face in my hands and began to cry. I hated my dad. I really did. I jumped when I felt Edwin's hand on my shoulder. I sat up quickly wishing I hadn't fallen apart like that. I wiped my eyes on the backs of my hands and tried to act like I hadn't just been sobbing loudly.
"I'm sorry," Edwin said in a quiet voice, removing his hand from my shoulder. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just heard you crying and--"
"It's ok." I said quickly, sniffing, still trying to wipe the tears from my face. I didn't want him to see me like this, crying over a stupid argument with my dad. I reached for the calculator and the pile of dollar bills I'd been counting, but my eyes suddenly filled with tears again and I gasped as a sob rose up in my chest.
"What's happened, Leah?" he said in that same, quiet voice. It was so warm and gentle I turned to look at him despite the fact that I didn't want him to see me so ugly and upset. His face was full of concern, his eyes holding mine.
"Oh nothing." I managed to say, trying to sound casual but feeling the tears coming again. "My dad is just a complete jerk." I said, my voice breaking as I started once again to cry. I swallowed hard as Edwin reached across the desk and pulled a box of tissues closer. He drew one out and handed it to me, leaning himself against the desk and watching me with that same, concerned look on his face. I thanked him quietly and mopped my eyes, looking away from his intense gaze.
"Is it Moira?" he asked quietly. I nodded, wondering if he'd heard what I'd said to my dad at the end of our conversation or if he'd just guessed. I knew he and my dad had lunch together sometimes, so maybe my dad had told him Moira was in town this weekend. "He's making some kind of romantic dinner for her so he doesn't want me around to mess things up." I sniffed again and reached for another tissue.
For a moment we were both silent then Edwin spoke, in a louder voice. "Well, I have thrilling plans tonight." he said, making me look up. "I was planning on having dinner alone." He smiled slightly, leaning forward just a little and whispered, "And then," he paused for a heartbeat, "reading a book." He lifted his eyebrows impressively and I laughed, despite myself. "Care to join the fun?" he said and my heart did a little flip-flop in my chest.
I didn't say anything at first, but I looked at him and felt that same creeping arousal inside me. My dad's phone call wasn't forgotten, but all of the sudden it didn't seem so important. "I'd love to." I said, suddenly feeling quite breathless.
"Well then," he said, his smile widening, "let's get that drawer sorted out."
It was ridiculous how fast my heart was beating as we drove across town. Edwin's car seemed strangely intimate, and I could smell the faint scent of his cologne in the air. We talked very little, only to discuss whether we should pick up Chinese, Thai, or Indian take-out. I snuck peeks at his profile as he drove and found my arousal growing faintly. I let my mind run away with the idea that maybe Edwin had more than just a friendly evening in mind. By the time we got to his
house with two sacks of curry in our arms, my anger at my dad was completely gone, replaced by a nervous excitement fueled by my imagination.
Edwin's house was small but comfortable. Books lined most of the walls, the few places without bookcases held antique clocks and small, dark oil paintings. I peered at a seascape as I hung my jacket in the entryway, feeling a strange rush of affection for this quiet man and his simple life. In the kitchen Edwin set out plates and silverware, unwrapping our take-out at a small table by a window. When I walked in, he was taking wine glasses down from a cupboard. He turned and smiled at me. "I think beer goes better with curry but I'm afraid all I have is wine." he said, placing the glasses at the table. "We'll have to take our chances." I smiled and we both sat down, filling our plates with Indian breads and jasmine rice.
Over dinner we talked about all kinds of random things, shifting from one subject to another with no real direction. I drained my wine glass twice, feeling tipsy and warm and happily lulled by the sound of Edwin's voice. It was soft and warm and gentle, calming and arousing at the same time. And when his kind, brown eyes met mine I shivered to my core.
More than once he paused in the middle of a sentence, looking at me, slightly confused, and I realised I was just staring at him, staring and loving what I was seeing. I guess I had no skill at hiding my thoughts or feelings because at those moments Edwin would lose his composure and for a moment just stare back at me and swallow hard.
After dinner he made coffee and we moved to a sitting room at the back of the house. He sat down first while I let my eyes roam over the titles of the books on some of his shelves. I hoped he was looking at me, hoped he had romantic intentions. I allowed myself a full minute with my back to him, feeling very happy in my fantasy world. I sat next to him on a long, brown leather couch and turned so that I was facing him slightly.
"I think your father is going to ask Moira to move in with him tonight." Edwin said, taking a sip of his coffee.
"What? Are you serious?" I asked, slightly shocked, my fantasy deflating. "He never tells me anything." I felt suddenly angry again. Irritated that Edwin was talking about my dad, irritated at what he'd said. "I don't think I can live with that woman." I said emphatically.
"Is she so terrible?" he asked, that warm voice making me doubt myself slightly.
"No..." I said slowly, "She's not terrible. I mean, she's just..." I searched my feelings, looking for the right words, "My dad just acts like she's perfect. He's always talking about how beautiful and stylish and elegant she is. And worse-- how she has these beautiful daughters ... these two beautiful, talented daughters." I continued, emphasizing the adjectives. "He acts like I'm the stupidest, ugliest thing he's ever seen."
"He doesn't think that, Leah." Edwin said evenly. "No one could possibly find you stupid or ugly."
"He does." I insisted. "He's so ashamed of me since I fucked up college so royally. I told him I wasn't ready for college, I wanted to take a year off and work, but he didn't listen. He never does." I put my cup of coffee down on the glass-topped table at our knees and put my face in my hands trying to stop the tears. I heard Edwin put his coffee cup down next to mine and then felt his hand on my knee.
"I'm listening, Leah." he said very quietly, his hand moving up to my wrist, gently pulling my hand away from my face. I looked at him and saw so much sincerity there. My heart leapt in my chest and, despite my bitter sadness, I noticed with a keen longing that he'd moved closer to me, our knees were touching, and if I just leaned forward our mouths would be lined up perfectly for a kiss.
I moved without thinking, my brain barely processing what my body was doing, and quickly pressed my lips to his. It only lasted a second, but the warmth of his soft lips under mine sent a shiver through me. He drew away swiftly, his face registering shock. "Leah!" He stared at me for a moment and then, in a voice barely above a whisper, he asked, "What are you thinking?"
My head swam suddenly with so many different emotions. I felt aroused but foolish. I wanted him like I'd never wanted anyone else before but I wanted his respect too. With the boys I'd dated in college I'd never even thought about whether they liked me. If they'd wanted me, that was enough, but Edwin was different. I wanted him to like me, I cared what he thought.
"I'm sorry!" I said, pulling back from him quickly. "I'm sorry. I just wanted-- I mean I thought... When you look at me sometimes... I mean, I..." I couldn't look at him now. I blushed, feeling stupid as I stumbled over my words. "I thought you liked me." I finished, knowing how weak and childish it sounded.
Edwin exhaled in a strained way. "Leah." he said, making a sigh of my name. "I like you very much." He paused, and seemed to be thinking. "I do look at you, you're right. And I like what I see." I looked up to find a very tense look on Edwin's face. "You're beautiful. I don't think you even know how beautiful you are." His hand lifted slightly as if he was going to reach out and touch my face. He paused, his hand in mid-air, then dropped it and took my hand, looking into my eyes very seriously. "You're the most interesting and sensual woman I've ever met, Leah, but--"
My heart beat hard in my chest. "Don't tease me..." I said, interrupting, unable to believe my ears. "Don't make fun."
Edwin's face was just as serious as it had been. He gripped my hand slightly and I felt a lightness fill me as I looked into his face. "I wouldn't." he said gravely. I labored to understand what was happening, what he was saying. The warmth of his thumb stroking the back of my hand made it so hard to think. I opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. I pulled his hand toward me, aiming for my waist, and stared at him, wanting him very badly.
"Please." I said, moving toward him, "Please kiss me. Just once." I leaned closer, still pulling his hand to my waist. I saw him shake his head as I inched closer and closer to his mouth again but I didn't stop. I kissed him, closing my eyes and savoring the sensation of his mouth on mine. He reacted immediately, his hand sliding onto my waist, his lips opening against mine, sending waves of pleasure all through my body. He kissed me gently and I felt like I might melt in his arms. Then he drew away and our eyes met again.
"It can't happen." he said simply. "We can't."
"But why?" I asked, my voice on the edge of pleading. My body felt hot and weak. I wanted more of him. Everything he could give me. I wanted him more than I'd ever wanted anything before. "Why can't we?"
Edwin sighed shakily. "I'm 51 years old, Leah. You're only 19." He said. "And even if you weren't so young, you are my best friend's daughter." He paused for a full heartbeat, adding very quietly, "You are completely off-limits."
I stared at him, hearing, but not wanting to understand. My body ached with longing. I noticed he still held my hand in his. He'd moved back from our kiss but our knees were still touching. If he didn't want this, he wasn't resisting very hard. I made a bold decision, shifted my weight and leaned forward again. I slipped my hand from his and moved it to his shoulder, pressing my lips to his once more. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling him toward me slightly. I kissed him and he returned my kiss, his mouth slightly open under mine. His body remained rigid and still and when I broke our kiss and pulled back to look into his face I saw he was pained.
"Oh, Leah." he said quietly. "We can't. Think of what it would do to your father." I looked at him for a moment. His brown eyes were so wide and warm, but his face was tense. He looked almost scared.
"It's not any of my dad's business." I said. I moved toward him once more and allowed one of my hands to touch his cheek. It was so warm under my fingertips. I brushed it gently, feeling the roughness of stubble, and saw his eyes flutter just slightly. "Besides, I'm old enough to make my own decisions."
"Are you?" he whispered. His tone was even but I knew he was thinking of my failure to make good decisions in college. And I knew he was right to question me. But everything about this was different. Edwin had a pull on me unlike anything I'd ever known. I wanted him so much, wanted to be close to him, wrapped in his arms and covered with his kisses.
Arousal surged in me, making me draw a quick breath. I pressed my hand to his cheek and he half closed his eyes, his chest heaving slightly. "Oh Leah." he murmured, his eyes closing completely as he lifted his hand to cover mine.