tagRomanceUsed Ch. 02

Used Ch. 02


The problem, (and for the record it was a problem), was that he knew where she worked, which soon enough turned into knowing where she lived. It had happened innocently enough. He found errands to do close to where she could be, around the time she might be there. If say, she was leaving work at 5 o'clock, he could be leaving the dry cleaner's down the block at five o'clock. It was just that easy.

Her SUV was easy to spot, pearly white and freshly washed against the gray of the now-dirty snow on the roadways, glinting in each street light she past. It was easy enough to pull in behind her, one more older-model pick-up on the streets of Anchorage. He got off the highway where she did, but didn't pull into her apartment complex. The point was not to watch her get out of her car, hoping she would look his way and praying she wouldn't. Watching to see which door was hers, which deadbolt her key unlocked each night. Which light turned on when she closed the door behind her, shutting the cold and the world and the sometimes cold world out behind her.

So he kept driving, and instead went home, and found the door that his key could open, and went inside and shut himself in and sat in the dark, feeling wrong about this small violation, and promising that it would not happen again. And it didn't happen again, not for another few months when he was in the area and it was 4:45 and some of his button-down shirts were in a plastic shopping bag on the floor of the passenger side of the cab of the truck, waiting to be laundered and pressed by professionals with no tolerance for wrinkles. And so he found the dry cleaner's, and stopped for coffee next door, and low and behold it was 5:05 and he was exiting one lot as she was exiting another, across the street, and he felt the same tug and the same yearning for what he'd had fleetingly but forgot to hold onto. He'd forgot to tell her that it wasn't about Ben or Audrey, who were still together and still In Love (or at least Audrey was). And if it had been about them, in the middle somewhere, before they were finished and she'd pushed him away from the smooth damp warmth of her thighs, pushed him aside and compartmentalized, it had been about two other people. About Esme. And Barry. And Esme and Barry and everything it shouldn't, but did, represent.

But this time, the second time he followed the pearly white SUV, it did not drive home. It, and she with it, pulled into the parking lot of a dive-bar with a sparse but loyal clientele. And Barry found his pick up pulling in behind it, and parking an aisle away. And it was dark and cold and poorly lit but he could see her dark curls in the interior light of the cabin of the SUV when her door opened, see her reach across the seat and grab for her purse, see one lean leg exit the vehicle, followed by the second. High heeled shoes gingerly avoiding slush puddles caused by the intermittent melting of snow and ice, the black wool pea-coat being pulled in tight against her body as she closed the door behind her with a 'thud', and all was dark again, and she was just a shadow to him.

And as much as he'd like to say that, for Ben's sake (and for Audrey's sake... for surely his choice here would affect Ben, would alter his behavior in some small but dramatic way which could only inevitably destroy a small bit of his sister's heart), for everyone's sake he would like to say he turned the ignition on the truck, and that it roared to life and that, after watching her disappear into the bar he drove away. For his own sake, maybe, he wanted to be able to say this. But instead he got out, and he followed her inside. And neither of them was surprised that she had a beer waiting for him at the bar.

Esme had seen him exiting the parking lot of the small shopping center, seen him make a rather brave left hand turn after she made her right onto the Glenn Highway. She had watched the black older model Chevy pick up, and it had to be at least 20 years old, moving along behind her. He was not keeping a lot of distance between their vehicles, he was not trying to camoflauge what may or may not have been a mere coincidence in circumstances at that time. She wasn't sure, didn't decide, really, that he was following her until she made the decision to pull into the parking lot at the bar. She'd intended to go straight home after work. She had made plans with her sister. They weren't big plans, it would not be a hassle if she were late, or had to cancel. It was a shared interest in a particularly crass reality TV show which drew their shared attention and facilitated them, spending time together. But it was a weekly show, and she recorded all episodes in the event that the plans which ever so slightly renewed her link to her sister were canceled, as they were at least once a month, usually on Elisa's end. A volunteer meeting, or a children's sleep over, or a make-up yoga class.

This will go better, she knows, if she speaks first. About what happened between them. The only way to move past his reasons for sleeping with her were to give them voice, and take away their mystery and thus their power.

He sat down next to her, and they sat next to each other for a long moment, neither of them saying anything or looking anywhere except straight ahead at a flickering Budweiser sign. Esme spoke first. "I'm not as horrible as you think, if that's what this is about again. I didn't go back to him again, so you can save it. I don't deserve it."

"I wish you wouldn't assume I'm going to accuse you of something, or berate you or call you names. It makes what I'm going to say harder, if you are bracing yourself against whatever it is before I've even said a word."

"You fucked me to get back at him. I fucked you to get back at him. That's the only other thing between us that calls for discussion, except there isn't any need. It is what it is."

"And that's all it is."

Fucking men. Go to the trouble of letting them off one hook and they close their mouths around another. Esme took a sip from her beer. They'd served it in the bottle. She'd ordered them Newcastles because nearly every man she's ever dated loved Newcastle, and she realized again that she disliked Newcastle much like she disliked nearly every man she'd ever dated. She could feel his eyes on her, but as usual she couldn't have wagered a decent bet on what he was thinking.

They were quiet for a minute, until Barry's curiosity got the better of him. "You haven't seen him at all? He hasn't called?" And she knew the tone, it was pity. It was 'Oh, you slept with Ben again, and he didn't call you...again'. As usual she didn't want the pity, and this time she didn't deserve it. This time she didn't want Ben calling her. Didn't bring her cell phone into bed with her, didn't close her eyes to better remember the feel of his hands on her.

It had been a few months since that morning with Barry, and his hair had grown enough that when he cut it the blond was gone. He was back to dark brown, his hair cropped just short enough that it only betrayed a hint of wave.

Esme took another sip of beer, tried not to wince at the taste, and turned her attention to Barry only to find he'd moved in closer and was watching her with interest. "What?" she said.

"Sometimes I think about that morning, and I think it wasn't right. I think maybe we should have waited, should've given us a chance, separate from him...but mostly when I think about being with you," Barry lowered his voice to a near-whisper, "I know it was right, and I want to do it again."

Esme found her eyes drawn to his, found him irristitible in this moment and, absurdly, in every other moment they'd ever had. Every moment when she had resisted, had dismissed him in the way she dismissed other visually pleasing things. A nice car, but known for maintenance issues. Cute boots, but low quality leather. A striking watch, but she has a perfectly good watch. His eyes, sad looking eyes, searched hers.

"Clever trick." She said, pushing away from the bar, grabbing first her beer and then his, and moving away from the bar and towards a booth in a darkened corner.

It took Barry a few minutes to catch up with her, but she refused to look until finally she thought maybe he wasn't coming and she glanced around for him. He was making his way toward the table, a new drink in his hands. He set the glass on the table in front of her, sat down and moved in until his back was against the wall, so that he was next to her instead of across from her.

He pointed at the drink. "Seven and seven. What trick?" She took a sip and pushed her beer toward him.

"With the eyes. The seductive yet vulnerable look. Sexy, but approachable. Wanting to be approached."

She sighed, and found herself tired all of a sudden. She hadn't eaten yet, would be tipsy when she showed up at her sister's house. There'd be a discussion. What are you doing with your life? Where can you go from here? Where could anyone go from where you are? It exhausted her just thinking about it.

It had only been a few months since she'd seen him but Barry must have lived in his leather jacket. So pristine not long ago, now worn and creased and infinitely more rugged looking.

"What are you doing tonight?" Barry asked, abandoning the contentious nature of their previous conversation. She seemed to relax into herself a little, took another sip, ended up with a piece of ice that, not wanting to spit back into her drink, she warmed in her mouth until it was small enough to swallow.

"My sister and I have a standard TV night thing on Fridays."

"You watch television with your sister on Friday nights? Isn't Friday night for going out and getting drunk and finding someone you could potentially have a lasting, meaningful relationship with but turns out really to be a bit of a loser or an alcoholic or is maybe even unemployed and living in a mother-in-law apartment attached to his parents' house."

She offered up a small smile at this. The first of the night, it was tentative, a twisting of her mouth up at one corner. It was followed by another sip of her drink, another piece of ice, maybe even a little of her resistance being melted and swallowed away.

"She's got a little girl, so I usually go over and hang out with them until Trina, her daughter, goes to bed. Then we drink wine and watch TV."

Barry sees the opening, steps through, gingerly but feigning confidence. "Are you and your sister close?"

"This is my step sister. She's a year younger than I am, and I moved into her dad's house with my mom when I was seventeen. I only lived there another year before moving to the dorms so we weren't close. My mom kept our old house and rented it out, but used it as our permanent address so I could stay in the same school. But we're trying. She went away to school, graduated in three years, and came back here."

"Is she married?"

Esme nodded. "He's an engineer, works in the villages a lot."

"They met in school?"

"No, they met right after she came back up here. Had I think what Casey meant to be a fling, but ended up with Trina and never looked back."

"And they're happy?"

The look she gave him was thoughtful. She looked remarkably unhurt when she said, "Well, she wouldn't tell me otherwise."

And Barry didn't understand this at all, because there wasn't one thing he wouldn't tell this woman if she asked. But that was maybe the answer, because she wouldn't ask. She wouldn't ask her step-sister, whom she saw every week, and she wouldn't ask Ben and she most assuredly wouldn't ask Barry. And that's what it would be like, he knew, if he moved into her gravitational pull. And there was no mistake, it was her gravitational pull. It was him being pulled. She wasn't much affected by it. She might slow down, she might list to the left, but she would keep spinning in space as if he weren't there. Weren't orbiting around her waiting for her to relent, and let him in. And he could be waiting a long time.

They had a limited amount of time before she had to leave, and he leaned in the kiss her. Her lips were cool to the touch, and his own mouth felt hot in comparison to hers. She drew in a shaky breath when his lips descended on hers, but gave in to the kiss without thinking about it. She made a soft sound in her throat when his teeth tugged on her bottom lip, pulling away just as the tempo of his heart started to race.

"I think your phone is ringing," he said when he pulled away. Esme looked unconvinced, but reached into her purse and pulled out the cell phone. It hadn't rung at all, and she showed him the screen to correct him. "Not me"

He took the phone from her hand and started dialing. This time a phone rang, but the sound came from inside his coat. He ended the call without answering his phone and handed her cell back to her, letting his hand linger when he placed it in her palm. "I've got your number," he said, smiling.

Esme blushed, and the start of a smile was startled away from her when the phone rang loudly.

She smiled apologetically at Barry and answered the phone. Her responses gave little away about who the caller was, and her expression was even less telling, but when she said, "Not at all, I'll see you next week, then," he figured it was her sister.

"No TV night?" Barry asked when she slid the phone into her purse.

"No TV night."

"Any chance I can have your spare evening? We could rent a movie and—"

She interrupted him. "Why?"

"We don't have to rent a movie, we could go to a movie, or go..I dunno, bowling? We could just have dinner and—"

"Why the date?"

Barry raised an eyebrow.

"Or the spare evening or whatever you're calling it. Why me? What is this?"

She was looking at him with those big brown eyes and Barry's heart lurched in his chest a little. She was on the verge of saying yes but he could tell it was not because she wanted to.

"This is me just like I've been since what happened. This is me not being able to think about anything except the sweetness of your breath against my mouth. This is weeks of hemming and hawing and deciding that no, I shouldn't, only to decide that yes, I had to. Because I want to be with you again."

She didn't speak for a moment, and then she did speak, and her voice was soft and unsteady. "Then take me home."


He followed her to her apartment, and when they closed the door on the world outside she immediately moved into the kitchen and pulled a bottle from a cabinet and some cokes from the fridge and started to mix drinks. "Why don't you put on some music?" She called to him, and he did, moving toward the entertainment center where most of her electronics were kept. A TV, a stereo, a rack of CDs and movies, and her phone and answering machine. She had one message. He wondered absently if it was Ben, wondered how many messages Ben had left on this very machine over the years.

The CD already in the stereo was Bruce Springsteen. He left it in and found a track he liked, but made sure the CD was set to repeat once it was over.

Her house was tidy, lots of storage spaces, everything in its place. There were pictures of her around, and he noticed that she was standing toward the back in most of them, looking happy but guarded. Part of the group but not engaged. Not at all like Ben, the center of nearly every photo, always the biggest smile. Usually slightly drunk. It didn't look like Esme drank much, which made sense, since she seemed tipsy already.

"Here," she said, handing him a rum and coke. He took it, let his fingers brush against hers as he did. She was holding her own drink in her other hand. She'd either already drank a quarter of it or she'd poured herself a smaller glass. His bet was on liquid bravery.

"So now what?" she asked, taking a drink and moving toward the couch. He hadn't gotten a good look at her clothes in the bar, the lighting was too poor, but he saw now she was wearing a short black skirt over thick black tights and a turtle-neck sweater of deep purple cashmere that hugged her curves enticingly. She sat down, keeping her knees together primly, looking uncomfortable. Barry sat next to her, letting his leg rest against hers. The heat from her body seemed to soak into him. She smelled faintly of clove, which he found a little disconcerting.

"Is what you said at the bar true, Esme? Ben really hasn't called you? I'm not going to say anything, I just need to know."

She looked at her drink, eyes downcast, she opened her mouth to speak. He could see she was preparing to lie. She brought her eyes up just before she spoke, looked him in the eye when he did it, and spoke with such conviction that he sensed what she said was true. "I haven't spoken to Ben since that morning."

And it was true, and he knew it was true, but it wasn't the truth. She hadn't answered his question at all.

"Has he called you?"

She looked at the drink again. Bruce Springsteen couldn't fill the void, and her silence almost swallowed his determination to have her. She took a breath and he leaned across her to set his glass on the end table, took her glass and set it next to his. He took her hand, lacing their fingers together. He had to tell her.

"They're getting married, Esme. She's going to marry him. Please just tell me, tell me if he's been trying to see you. Tell me if he's called you. I just need to know." He kept talking but she'd shut down after his first sentence. Ben was getting married. She hadn't heard anything else. He could feel her shock, the hurt was palpable, and it made him angry that Ben could hurt her this way just by wanting someone else. There was an anger attached to the hurt, her eyes watered for a split second before she got her tears under control. Ben had hurt her, and she was angry, and that's how it would be for Esme and Barry. She would be forever reacting to Ben. Maybe not quite so dramatically, but it would be there, underneath the surface, the background static of any relationship they built, whether as friends or lovers or not-quite-friendly-lovers.

"How dare you," she said, her words a hiss. And he rethought everything, because it was him she was angry with.

"Don't blame the messenger," He said, knowing the words were like lighter fluid on a flame but unable to stop himself. Luckily, she hadn't seemed to hear him.

"How dare you pretend to come here under the pretense of sex to ask me about Ben? You obviously didn't say shit to him about cheating on Audrey, and you know what?, that's fine. But don't you bring me into this. And don't you pretend you're here for me when you aren't. You're here for her, to protect her. And I get it, she's your little sister, and that's your job. Well, go fucking do it somewhere else and get the fuck out of my house and don't—"

She is all quiet rage and biting tone but all Barry can think is that he provoked the anger, provoked the hurt, and that maybe there's a chance that he isn't just a Ben-substitute, that maybe something inside of her already turned itself off to Ben and that somewhere, he had his own place in her thoughts.

Esme moved to stand up but Barry caught her before she was upright, pushed her back into the couch cushions and leaned over her. She was startled speechless, and he used the opportunity to lower his mouth to hers. He kissed her fiercely as he grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap so that she was straddling him. Her hands were pressing against his chest as she tried to regain some control and put some distance between their bodies. The more distance she put between their chests the closer her hips came to his and he loosened his grip on her arms. Their lips broke apart as her hips inadvertently pressed down into his, and she found him erect through their clothes. Her body stilled, her eyes closing momentarily when she found him hard and hot against her.

Barry let his hands slide down her body until he gripped her waist and pulled her down onto him. "I meant what I said." He told her, one hand leaving her hip to bury itself in her dark curls. "I want to be with you again. Inside you again." Almost unconsciously, she started moving her hips, dragging herself over him, rubbing herself on him. He put his hand between them, feeling between her legs and finding her hot and damp.

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