3. The Grace I've Known Ch. 10-12byinspirixis1©
WINTER, SOPHOMORE YEAR
It was a cold Saturday night in early February and Grace was trying to make good on her new years resolution to improve her social life. She had agreed to go out to one of those stupid parties that Adrian liked to go to. She thought they were so lame, just a bunch of jocks getting drunk and hitting on girls, but Adrian liked them so she went along.
Adrian liked to drink. It was idiotic of him. He was supposed to be an athlete, and in her mind that meant being responsible when it came to your body. She didn't think a drink or two here or there was a big deal but Adrian liked to get rolling drunk on a regular basis.
He wasn't a bad drunk, he just got all sloppy and slurred his words and made even less sense than usual. Grace had to drag him out of there in order to catch the last train home.
"Why can't we just stay at my place?" He complained. His place was walking distance from the party they'd been at.
"Sorry babe, you know I have to sleep at home. Besides, it would just be that much further to get to the gym in the morning," she tried to reason with him.
They still went to the gym on Sunday mornings, but now it was just the three of them, they'd never seen Mariko again and Grace was glad.
"Gracie, there's no fucking way in the world I'm going to the gym in the morning," he stammered. He didn't say it in a mean way. He was just stating the facts.
She didn't doubt it. It wasn't uncommon for Adrian to stay over on Saturday night but skip the gym on Sunday. Sometimes when she and Nicholas got home after working out he would still be asleep, still sleeping off his hangover.
When they got home Nicholas was there with the guys from his band. They'd had a gig and they were sitting around talking and drinking beer.
"Hey...Nic-las," Adrian slurred. He had a big groggy grin plastered across his face as he crossed the room and plopped down on the couch beside Nicholas.
Nicholas looked up at her and raised his eyebrows. She shrugged her shoulders.
"Hi guys," she greeted Nicholas' friends. "How was the gig?"
"Good," Brandon, the lead singer replied.
"Could have used some female vocals," Leon, the bass player added.
Grace had gone with Nicholas to practice once because she was having a bad day and she didn't want to be alone. They'd gotten her to sing backup vocals and realized that she had a voice. Not like an opera singer or anything but she could carry a tune better than most. Since then they'd always slip in little comments about how they could use a female vocalist. They were nice guys.
"Sorry I missed this one," she said.
"We went to a party," Adrian explained.
"Oh yeah, how was it?" Nicholas asked. He had an amused look on his face.
"Fucking awesome dude! They had two kegs..." Adrian held two fingers up unsteadily. "Two." Adrian looked up at her. "Gracie, come sit with us. What're you doing over there? Take your coat off. What? Were you born in a barn?"
It made no sense. Grace had already taken her coat off and he had closed the front door behind them when they came in. She smiled and shook her head at him as she walked towards him. He held his arms out for her, but when she got to him it wasn't his lap that he pulled her into, he shoved her into Nicholas' lap.
"Adrian, what are you doing?" She asked as she tried to move away.
Adrian kept hold of her arm so she couldn't move. In any other situation in might have freaked her out, but it was Nicholas that she was sitting on, Nicholas was her safe place.
"Just sit there for a minute. I want to talk to the boys."
She looked at Nicholas. His face was only inches away and just a little bit below hers. He just looked back at her, he didn't say or do anything. He didn't make any sort of facial expression that belied what he thought.
She sat there, feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to do. Adrian released her arm and she continued to sit.
"This dude..." Adrian put his arm around Nicholas' shoulders. "...Is an absolute fucking legend. I have never met anyone like him in my life... He saved me from a psychotic bitch who was trying to fuck me..." Adrian seemed to loose his train of thought. He was staring blankly out into the room at nothing in particular.
Grace reached out and touched his arm. "Babe, lets go to bed."
He looked at her for a few moments then nodded, got up and walked away towards her bedroom.
Grace sighed and got up off Nicholas' lap. "Goodnight," she said to them as she followed Adrian down the hall. She went to the toilet and brushed her teeth before going into her bedroom.
Adrian was already asleep. He was sprawled out naked on top of the covers. Grace looked at him for a while. He was a magnificent looking man, grand in every way. He was huge in height and breadth and he was all muscle. If she were a normal woman she was sure that she would appreciate his penis too.
She sighed. She couldn't sleep in here tonight. She couldn't sleep in the same room with him naked. She hadn't even made it through an entire night with him in his boxer shorts yet.
She pulled a clean pair of pajamas out of her dresser and went to Nicholas' room. Hopefully he wouldn't need to bring his friends back here for anything. She got changed, threw her dirty clothes in his laundry hamper and crawled into her end of his bed.
She woke when he came into the room. He didn't turn the light on and she wasn't sure if he had seen her. He started to get undressed. He mustn't have seen her. She should say something. She knew she should say something. He was down to his boxer shorts, she could see the light from the window reflecting in a soft glow off the skin of his sculpted shoulders. Then he stripped his boxers off and she saw the strong lines of his muscular thighs and buttocks. He must be going to put clean clothes on to sleep in she thought, but he threw his dirty clothes across the room at the laundry hamper and climbed into bed.
Shit. She hadn't expected him to do that. He hadn't noticed her. Maybe if she slept very quietly and stayed very still he wouldn't notice her at all and she would be able to sneak out early in the morning and he would never know.
Suddenly he sat up quickly in bed and she instinctively shut her eyes. He had noticed her.
She pretended that she was asleep and he must have bought it. She listened to the sounds of him slipping out of the bed, padding across the room, opening and shutting draws of his dresser and then he left. She waited for him to come back but he didn't. He must be sleeping on the couch. He must not want to sleep in the same bed as her. They hadn't shared a bed in a long time, not since that night when Mariko assaulted Adrian. That was three months ago.
The next morning they went to the gym without Adrian. He was still passed out naked on Grace's bed. She didn't even try to rouse him, she just popped her head around the door and saw that he was still asleep.
When they got back from the gym he was up and dressed. She cooked breakfast and they ate and chatted. Adrian was in a quiet mood. He asked her if she wanted to for a walk beside the river and she accepted. Usually they went their separate ways after breakfast on Sundays so that they could get homework done before the week started but he seemed like he had something on his mind, so they walked.
Actually the reason they didn't hang out on Sundays was so that Grace could do homework. Adrian had very little interest in schoolwork. He didn't seem to know what a text book was. He read voraciously, but they were all crime novels or the biographies of criminals. Grace had finished assignments for him on a number of occasions last semester just so he could get them in on time. He didn't really seem to think that school was all that important.
They walked down to the Weeks Footbridge and he paused on it and looked out over the frozen water. Grace stood beside him.
"Is everything okay Adrian?" She asked.
His brow furrowed. There was clearly something bothering him.
"Gracie..." she looked up at him. He had a pained expression on his face, his eyes looked sad. "Please believe me that this isn't about sex. If it was just the sex thing I could deal with it, but it's not. I don't think we should see each other as a couple anymore."
Grace was shocked. She hadn't been expecting this. "What are the other things?" She asked.
"What about Nicholas?"
"Well... I know you don't have a physical relationship with him, I'm not accusing you of cheating or anything, but you two are more of a couple than we are."
"What? Adrian, that's absurd."
"If you could only have one word to describe what Nicholas is to you what would it be?"
Grace thought about it. Nicholas was her best friend, but he was more than that. He was her cousin, but that didn't capture it either. "I guess I'd say family. He's my family."
Adrian nodded. "But not your cousin. He's more than your cousin?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"He's your husband Grace. I know you're not married and that you don't have sex with him, but in every other way you two act like a husband and wife."
Grace was gob smacked. She didn't know what to say to that. It was completely preposterous. "Adrian, I think you're over reacting. If you're jealous of Nicholas there must be some things that we can do to make you feel better about him."
Adrian shook his head. "But that's just it. I'm not jealous of Nicholas. I like him. I think you two are good together."
Grace couldn't believe what she was hearing. "But we're not together, I'm with..."
Adrian cut her off. "He does your laundry Grace. He handles your panties and bras and it doesn't bother you in the least."
How did Adrian know that?
"He knows the names of all of the girls on your rowing team and which ones you like and don't like. He knows which classes you're taking at school and when your exams are. He even knows when you have your period."
It was true. Nicholas never said anything to her about her period but five days a month he made her chamomile tea in the morning instead of black tea and it always coincided with the end of her cycle. She assumed that he must notice what she put in the bathroom trashcan and when.
Adrian looked off into the distance.
"And you..." He continued. "You're a walking encyclopedia of Nicholas. You know what foods he likes, what music he likes. You know which companies he is researching to buy shares in. You know the password to his computer and his bank account. You visit his grandparents with him on his birthday...
"We've been dating for eight months, and you still make his pancakes last. You always make his pancakes last."
Grace didn't know what to say. It was all true, but she still didn't think that made them husband and wife. Nicholas didn't even find her attractive.
"What do you want me to do?" Grace asked.
Adrian turned to her. "Nothing. What you and Nicholas have is special, what we have is friendship. We are friends who sometimes kiss, let's just stop the kissing part."
Adrian walked her home to her apartment and hugged her on the front stoop. Then he left.
Grace went inside.
"What's wrong?" Nicholas asked. "You look upset."
"Adrian just broke up with me."
"Oh Gracie..." He said tenderly. He walked to her and enveloped her in a hug. "I'm sorry milaya." He rubbed her back the way he always did when he was trying to comfort her. Is that what husbands did?
"Do you want some tea?" Nicholas thought that tea made everything better. Every time she had a problem he would ask if she wanted tea.
She sat at the kitchen table as he made the tea. It was probably just the ritual of it, the physical action of making tea that he liked. It gave him something to do while he thought of the right thing to say. Nicholas always said things that made her feel better. It didn't matter what the problem was, he always thought of something to say that made her feel better.
He set the teapot, cups and strainers out on the table and sat down opposite her. Sweet peppermint wafted on the air. He had made peppermint tea, her favorite.
"What are your favorite things to do Grace?"
Where did that come from? "I don't know. I like rowing."
"Yeah but that's your sport. What are the things that you like to do in your free time?"
Grace thought about it. "I like museums... I like learning about random things... And I like walking. I like walking around places I've never been before, but I also like walking around places I know... So I guess I just like walking."
"Not frat. parties?"
"No, I think they're kind of stupid."
"Did you ever go to any museums with Adrian?" He asked.
"No. He's not exactly the museum type."
Nicholas gave her a knowing smile and turned the teapot. It was one of those strange quirky things he did. He always turned it clockwise for three rotations and then counter clockwise for three rotations.
He poured the tea and handed her a cup. He had already put honey in it and it was sweet and fragrant and soothing.
"You were together for eight months right?"
"Eight months and you never did the thing that you put at the top of your list of things you like to do."
Grace could see his point. The only times she'd been to museums or galleries since leaving Denver she had been with Nicholas. The MFA was free on Wednesday nights so they'd been there a few times, and when they had gone down to New York to visit his grandparents on his birthday this year they'd stayed the night in a hotel and gone to the Guggenheim the next day. It had been a good day for her, but Adrian would have hated it if he were there. She guessed that she and Adrian really didn't have that much in common outside of rowing.
"Do you think Adrian likes leaning about random things?"
Grace laughed. Adrian didn't even like learning about subjects that interested him.
Nicholas leaned over and put his hand on top of hers. "Gracie, Adrian is a nice guy and I think he's a good friend, but he's not really boyfriend material for you. You need someone smarter, someone who likes the same things that you do."
He squeezed her hand gently, then retracted his and turned his attention to his tea.
There was only one smart person that she knew who liked the same things that she did and that was Nicholas, but he didn't seem to be suggesting that they should start dating, he was just sitting there drinking his tea.
Curiously, she didn't feel better after talking to Nicholas that day, she felt worse. It wasn't because of breaking up with Adrian, she actually didn't feel too bad about that. In a way she was relieved, now she wouldn't have to feel like a constant disappointment for her inability to perform in bed, and seeing that they had never actually done anything more than kissing there was a pretty good chance she would be able to remain friends with him without feeling too awkward.
She was upset because of Nicholas. She was confused about the feelings she had for him. When she had used the word family to describe Nicholas she hadn't meant cousin, or brother and he definitely wasn't like a father to her, although at times he did remind her of her dad. So what other family relationships were left other than husband?
But she and Nicholas weren't like her mom and dad. Her parents' relationship had physicality that hers and Nicholas' lacked. Not just sex, her parents played with each other non-stop. They were always touching each other, kissing or tickling or patting or pinching or just plain cuddling outright. Nicholas only touched her when she needed soothing.
Grace was perplexed. On the one hand it seemed that they had a relationship that was approaching that of a seriously committed couple, but on the other hand she knew that Nicholas didn't find her attractive.
They had shared a bed for almost a year and never once did he try and touch her, never once had he gotten a hard on. Last night, when Grace had been in his bed, he had gotten up and left when he had realized she was there.
So no, even if on the outside they had a marriage-like relationship, Nicholas didn't want to be her husband, or even her boyfriend. He had seen how badly damaged she had been and he didn't want to go where all of those disgusting men had been before. His penis never got hard when they were in bed together because he didn't want it to go near her, let alone in her.
Grace instinctively relaxed when she felt Nicholas hands on her shoulders and heard his deep smooth voice. How was it that the person who was causing the stress could also be the one who dissipated it?
"You've been looking at that same page for almost an hour. Let's go out and do something. Take your mind off him."
Nicholas assumed the reason she wasn't getting anywhere with her homework was because she was thinking about Adrian.
She sighed. "What do you want to do?"
"How about we go downtown and start the Freedom Trail? We don't have to do the whole thing at once, we can just do one or two stops."
Grace looked at her watch. It was just after eight on Sunday night, usually she went to bed between nine and ten at night but she had a break in the middle of the day tomorrow so she could come home and take a nap if she got tired. She decided to go.
It was cold outside. It had been snowing and sleeting on and off for days and brown slippery snow was piled on the edges of the sidewalk.
They took the train to Park Street, which was basically where the trail began. The first 'stop' on the trail was the Boston Common, the big park near downtown. Grace had been here a couple of times before but she didn't really know anything about it.
Nicholas had printed out a guide from off the internet and he read out the blurb about The Common. 'Redcoat' soldiers had camped here before embarking on their 'fateful trip to Lexington and Concord.' Grace didn't actually know which fateful trip the guide referred to and nor did Nicholas.
"I'll look it up when we get home," he said.
They walked around the park in the dark. It was quiet and peaceful. They stopped to look at the monument to the soldiers and sailors and then went to the southwest corner of the park.
"The Charles River used to have its bank right here," Nicholas said.
It was weird to think of how much humans had changed the landscape. Someone had decided that Boson didn't have enough land and so they'd filled in part of the river and built houses and apartments and shops on it.
"Look at this map Gracie."
They were standing near a lamppost and Nicholas moved close to her so she could see the map that he'd printed out. It was a map drawn in 1775 by some guy called Lieutenant Page. It showed a tiny little island of land joined to the mainland by a skinny peninsula. She found The Common on the map and confirmed that they were indeed on the edge of the natural land.
"Can you imagine how different it was? None of this existed back then," she said as she gestured to the land in front of them.
"Mm... you would have had a lot more water to row on back then."
They stood in silence for a moment. Presumably Nicholas was imagining what it was like over two hundred years ago, but Grace was just enjoying the stillness of the night. A year ago she wouldn't have been able to do this, she would have been too scared, even if Nicholas were with her. Now she just stood and enjoyed being able to be outside in the dark without being fearful.
Nicholas put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her on her hair, and then rubbed her arm as if he was trying to warm her up. He must have taken her silence for sadness. "Home?" He asked.
She nodded. "Can we walk?"
"Sure." He took them the long way. Neither of them said anything about it but Grace knew it was so they wouldn't have to walk past the overpass.