Sometimes the fear of losing everything is our last, best chance to be who we truly are.
Though I hadn’t seen it in more than eight months, it was as familiar as if I’d been there yesterday. The same couches, the same slightly musty smell in the office, the same view of the city, the mid-rise office buildings across the street, packed so tightly together you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began, the sinuous curves of steam, caught upon the breeze, rising from chimneys here and there.
It was afternoon, which was when we used to come here. When I still thought there was hope.
I wasn’t surprised to find that I was there first. He was always late, though I never really learned if it was intentional, or if it was a sign of his fear, a signal of how much his reluctance kept him from really opening up.
Opening up, and what that might lead to, were the only real reasons it was worth even coming here. I sipped from the coffee, the liquid bitter, hot, slightly burnt. It was too quiet in that office, that solitude making me force myself to confront the reasons why I was there. There was the squeak of the entrance door, the hinges badly needing oil, heralding the entry of someone else into the office suite. Dennis had allowed us to use his personal office, for this first time anyway. He’d said it was “neutral ground” but honestly, I don’t think he ever expected us to actually show up. Not that I blamed him, considering how we’d behaved on more than one occasion in the past.
The door to the inner office where I waited creaked open, whispering against the fringe of the deep pile carpet. At first, I didn’t look up to see who it was. I knew very well it was Nick, but the last thing I was going to do was make him think I was eager to see him. Of course I wasn’t, but the thought that I might actually lead him to think so, even unintentionally, was even worse. It was much too late for that, far past the point where such a consideration even mattered anymore.
The scent of his cologne, an appealing combination of sandalwood and soap, and that indefinable male note that I’ve never been able to resist, was on the air.
“Hello, Eva.” His voice was lower than I remembered. It was then that I looked up at him… and had to will my jaw not to drop to the floor. I said the words almost on autopilot, shock at what I was seeing momentarily short-circuiting my ability to be circumspect, disabling my inner filter.
“Nick. Oh, you look—good.”
His chuckle was rich and deep, exactly as it had always been. It was one of his most appealing—and dangerous—qualities. But it wouldn’t matter, the power and seductiveness of the man’s laughter no longer had any effect on me. Or so I hoped. This was complicated enough and having to deal with him pouring on the effortless charm was only going to make this more painful.
For a moment, he stood there, his hands in his pockets, utterly at ease. It was a… new confidence, something I hadn’t seen in him in a very long time. I wasn’t really sure what to make of it.
“Thanks, Eva. I… It’s good to see you.” The words were kind, but they were belied by the flat tone of his voice, the taut line of his lips, the subdued light in his eyes. Was it resignation? Regret? There was really no way I could figure it out, for Nick was exceedingly good at disguising his motivations, at obfuscating what it was that really animated him.
And never truly letting me in.
Wasn’t that one of the reasons we were there, at that moment?
He was slimmer, and it suited him. Nick had never been fat, or particularly overweight, but the last time I’d seen him he’d been…a little soft around the middle. There was a roundness, a paleness to his face that I could never admit how much it turned me off. To me, that look bespoke a man who wasn’t a master of himself, a man not quite in control of his urges, his compulsions. Perhaps that was unfair of me, but it was the truth—as uncomfortable and uncharitable as that truth might be.
He was wearing a set of faded blue jeans that hung low on his hips, looser than anything he typically wore yet still highlighting the muscles of his thighs, the compact curve of his ass. An ass that hadn’t looked that good since we were in college.
“Have you been working out? I mean, you look like you’ve been…taking care of yourself.” I hated the words as soon as I said them, feeling like a clumsy cross between a come on, and a backwards compliment, the implication clear—if unintentional—that he hadn’t been taking care of himself before.
Rather than show any sign of irritation though, his blue eyes, like a sparkling shade of cobalt, glinted just the slightest bit. The side of his mouth curved up into a cross between a smile and a sneer.
Don’t do this, Eva. You don’t have to do this anymore.
“I didn’t think you were going to show up,” Nick said, his voice low and smooth. He laced his fingers together upon his lap as he sat down on the couch opposite me. His black boots were scuffed, pleasantly worn, the silver of a couple of the buckles catching the light as it poured in through the plate glass window. His long-sleeved navy dress shirt was form-fitting, stretching across his chest to emphasize the breadth of his shoulders, the solid strength of his neck, the bulge of his pectoral muscles. His waist was as tight and narrow as I’d ever seen it. Even more than when we were back in school.
Whatever he’d been doing, it seemed he’d transformed himself. It wasn’t just his body that seemed to have changed, either.
“I could have said the same thing about you.” I looked around the office pointedly, then fixed my gaze upon him. “But here we are. Now what?” My lower lip wanted to tremble as I said the last words, and I had no idea why. I had nothing to be embarrassed about, nothing to be so much as nervous about. And yet I was.
How many times had I stood in front of the mirror, and replayed all the things that I planned on saying to him? And yet when I first laid eyes on him as he walked through that door, I sounded like a nervous teenage girl.
I wasn’t there to revisit feelings. I was there to end it.
And I was certain he felt the same.
“Now what…is up to us. You remember what he said, don’t you?” Nick’s eyebrow arched, a devastatingly attractive gesture in the past, but one that I took great pains to ignore now.
It wasn’t that simple. Nothing was anymore.
“Why don’t we just make this quick? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say neither one of us wants to be here today.” I took a breath, gazing out the window at the city outside bathed in late afternoon sunshine. “So, yeah, I remember what he said. But he also said we could stop, that we could end it at any time. We don’t have to do this, Nick. So, why are we?”
“I’ve got my reasons, but I’m more interested in what yours are. So, why don’t we start there?” He fixed me with those blue eyes, and for just the briefest of moments I was back there in college. Intro to Philosophy, the class had been. Tall, rangy Nick Fletcher had sat down next to me on that first day of class. And I think I’d fallen in love with him the first moment those eyes had fixed upon me.
“Why I’m here doesn’t matter, not really.” I said the words not because they were true, but because I wanted him to give up. I wanted him to understand that it wasn’t going to be like it was in the past.
“Actually, Eva, it’s the most important question of all,” Nick muttered, his gaze sliding away, fixing up on the huge bookshelf dominating the wall next to the plate glass window. The dusty shelves were filled with tomes, and volumes, and manuals, the academic and professional imprimatur conveyed by the texts, completing the overall look of the office. But what usually happened in this space wasn’t about learning, and it wasn’t about teaching, either. It was, if one were very lucky, about honesty.
And on more than one occasion, it was about pain too.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Can we just not play these games? I didn’t come here to go round and round with you, about why or why not. My reasons are my own, and that’s going to have to be good enough.” I knew that would piss him off. I didn’t care. Well, I cared a little. Angering him was unlikely to make this session get over with any faster. But maybe I’d get lucky.
I looked up at the clock on the wall, the oversized black characters, Roman numerals, taunting me. The second hand, clicking away, moved at an almost glacial pace.
Just as we both knew the rules stated, the clock started at the appointed time. When we were supposed to meet, the countdown began. It didn’t matter that Nick was almost ten minutes late, the clock began from that time. In fact, it was better for me. But still I couldn’t suppress the upwelling of dread—and something else entirely—at seeing how little time had actually elapsed. Was it that I wanted it to get over with? Or was I shocked at the realization that with each minute elapsed it was one less to never seeing this man again.
That thought should have been comforting, even something that would make me actually happy. But it wasn’t.
No, it wasn’t anything of the sort.
“That’s not good enough for me, Eva. You know the rules.” He didn’t move at all as he said the words, still as a statue at the other end of his couch, his hands softly stroking the worn ornate arm he leaned against, the lacquer peeling away in several spots, revealing the faded color of the raw, bare wood beneath. “Answer my question. Just tell the truth.”
I hated this rule. I’d hated it when Dennis had first said it, but I’d ignored it. I assumed it would all be academic anyway, that Nick wouldn’t even bother to show up. But he had.
Which left me in a position I hadn’t gamed out in front of my bathroom mirror.
“He said it himself, didn’t he? I want to see it through. To be able to tell myself that I had tried everything.”
Nick’s gaze seemed to harden as I said the words, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was anger or the realization that I wasn’t going to make this easy for him. That I wasn’t the same Eva I’d been all those months ago.
He was about to find out just how much I had changed. He was about to find out that it really was too late.
“Now you have to answer my question, don’t you? So, I wanna know. Why did you come today?” In truth, I didn’t really care. But I was curious. He’d already surprised me once by simply showing up.
He had been someone who, in the past, liked to sometimes avoid a situation, rather than confront it head on. It wasn’t so much passive aggressiveness as it was a reluctance to engage in conflict. At first, I’d found such a thing calming, even refreshing, so unlike most of the men I’d been involved with in the past. There was almost a serenity to him.
But over time, I’d seen it for what it really was—weakness. Timidity. Reticence to handle confrontation and conflict.
In short, it was something I realized I needed in a man…and I’d concluded that Nick didn’t have it.
“Because I wanted to see if you’d really follow through. If you would, for once in your life, own up—and do as you’re told.”
“No, wait a second. I don’t think you under—”
He held up hand, shaking his head slowly. “You know the rules.”
I did, and I gritted my teeth as I realized Nick did too.
The rule seemed simple enough—answer any question asked and expect the same in return. But it was the second part of that rule, that even now I still couldn’t believe was going to be a part of this.
That for that one hour…I had to do whatever it was Nick told me to do.
I glanced up at the clock. Fourteen minutes left. That should have been a relief.
But under the circumstances…it seemed an eternity.
“I understand the rules, Nick. But this is…this is not going to work.”
His head tilted just the slightest bit. “Does that mean you’re putting an end to this? Are you saying you won’t do it?”
It was an important question, worded exactly as we’d been instructed it needed to be worded. The “escape hatch,” Dennis had called it. Ask the question, say the words, and it would all stop.
But in that case, it wouldn’t be just an ending. It would be a failure too.
And there was no way in hell I was going to fail. That was Nick’s strong point. “No, I’m not saying that. But that doesn’t mean we have to…do anything where that matters.” I didn’t like how nervous I was saying the words, the way my fingers wanted to tremble as I clasped them together around my knee, my legs crossed in an unconscious gesture of self-protection. What was I protecting myself from?
But I knew. It was the same thing that I’d been fleeing from for a long time.
We sat in that same office for several minutes, both of us staring off at the city, so much unsaid, so much I wished I hadn’t said. The silence stretched on until I began to wonder if Nick had lost his nerve. It would be fitting if that was the case.
Then he took a deep breath, his chest expanding as he inhaled. “I want you to stand up and take your top off.”
“I’m sorry, what?” I was certain that I’d misheard him. He couldn’t possibly have asked such a thing. Right?
“I said I want you to take your top off.” His voice was firmer as he said it this time, a hint of something else in the tone, steel, a resolve that both infuriated me and intrigued me.
But I wasn’t about to let Nick know that.
“Why?” My question was almost as absurd as his statement, but I couldn’t help but ask him. Of all the things I expected to come out of his mouth at that moment, that most definitely was not one of them.
“Two reasons, actually. One, because I told you to.” His gaze flashed, a warning, the tone of his voice dropping an octave. “Two—and the most important reason—is that I want to get a look at your tits.”
A little less than an hour ago I had been sitting in my truck, parked two blocks down the street from Dennis’ building, trying for the hundredth time to convince myself to drive the fuck back home.
I didn’t know why I’d said it. I’d had no plans to do something like that, but the order seemed to spring from my lips with a will of its own.
And even as I said the words, I didn’t really expect she’d follow through with them. To actually do what she was told.
Doing as she was told was something that I had long ago accepted just wasn’t in Eva’s DNA, no matter how much I might like it to have been.
She sat there so still that I began to think she was going to just walk out that door. Not that I would blame her, really, as what I’d asked her—what I’d ordered her to do—was plainly crazy. When a man finds himself in a dire situation, knows he’s moments from complete disaster, sometimes taking a chance and rolling the dice is the best shot he’s got.
She said something under her breath then, but I couldn’t quite make it out. It was definitely a protest, but it was more irritated than defiant. She wasn’t going to go for it, I knew that. I wanted to see how she would react though, to understand what it was she was truly thinking. Because I had long ago learned that the words that came out of her mouth and the thoughts deep in her mind, the emotions that she struggled with…were all too often not at all the same thing.
“Well? What are we doing here, Eva?” I turned slightly in my seat, wanting to make her feel my gaze upon her, to make her understand that I wasn’t going to relent on this. This was part of the rule.
It’s not like you have anything else left to lose.
At precisely the moment that I was about to tell her that it was over, she stood up.
The black slacks she wore clung to her ass and her legs, very much like the type of pants she would typically wear to work. But this was no work trip. She’d flown in this week just for this.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she said, shaking her head slowly, gazing out the window as if looking at me would somehow make this worse. I wondered if it would, and if I should force her to look at me anyway. After all, she had to do what she was told, didn’t she?
The form-fitting, cream-colored long sleeve blouse she wore, buttoned up to a high collar, was a look I hadn’t seen her wear in a very long time. That top certainly was not something that she would have worn to work though, and I found it quite attractive indeed. I didn’t want to admit how good she looked.
We were both pushing forty, and while I was beginning to feel my years, she’d just seemed to get more beautiful as time went on. I’d heard about women supposedly hitting the wall—but if Eva had hit that proverbial wall, it hadn’t slowed her down one bit.
“Take it off, and turn toward me when you do it,” I said, tightening my hand up on the arm of the couch. I was waiting for her to blow up, to snarl at me, to stomp out of the room, cursing me out as she did.
But she didn’t do any of that. All she did was gasp. All she did was flutter her gorgeous, dark eyelashes, her hands, visibly trembling, playing at the fabric of her shirt. It was as if she couldn’t quite will them to obey the order I’d given.
My cock started getting hard at her nervousness. That surprised me.
Why would her skittishness in this situation arouse me? In that moment, I simply accepted it, too fascinated by the possibility that she might actually do what I’d told her to do. And in the instant that I saw her fingertips, the painted red nails bright and gleaming in the light, picking at the top button, it was my turn for my breath to catch in my throat.
For a long moment, I watched her as she slowly undid each button in turn, revealing the paleness of her throat then her chest, then the teal lace of her bra.
“Lose the bra too.” I didn’t know why I said it that way, but I found I was enjoying barking orders at her. After all, in just a few days I’d never get the chance to do it again.
“Why are you doing this?” Her pretty brow furrowed deeply, her warm hazel eyes fixing up on me for the first time since I’d entered that office. “Is this just some kind of a…power trip? Taking advantage of the situation? Show me who’s really boss?”
I chuckled at that, actually appreciating that she’d caught me off guard with that question. “I don’t know why I’m doing it, to be honest. I guess I didn’t think you’d really do it.”
Her shirt was open all the way down to the waist, the lace of the bra cut quite daringly, clearly revealing the inner curves of her cleavage. She’d always been blessed with the clearest, palest skin, and now I marveled at it one more time. She truly was beautiful, but there was no way I was going to tell her that. She was probably used to men falling all over her, telling her so. Used to the men who didn’t understand what really made Eva tick.
I didn’t want to think about how many men she’d already fucked, how many bucks she had sniffing around her as soon as word got out that she might be back on the market again.
The thought made me more irritated than I really understood.
Where is that coming from?
Did it really matter though? This was the end, or at least getting close to it. Maybe now all there was to do was enjoy these last few days. If I was very lucky indeed, I might make a few happy memories before this was over. Even if by next week I’d have no one to share them with.
Maudlin much? You sound like a little bitch, Nick.
No, those days were over. And I was about to show Eva just how.
“You’re not done.” I lifted a finger, wagging it toward her. “I want the shirt and the bra off. Come on, stop stalling.”
This time she scowled at me, revealing two tiny laugh lines around her mouth that weren’t there the last time I’ve seen her. They should have been flaws, but they just made her look more…interesting. It was the height of irony that not seeing her for the better part of a year did such an amazing job at refining and highlighting, revealing all the things about her that drew me to her from the very beginning.
Just when I was about to lose her forever, she moved. A hiss escaped her tight lips as she peevishly yanked the fabric of her shirt out of the clasp of her slacks. Her bare belly was revealed, and I wanted very much at that moment to reach out and touch it, to delve a fingertip inside the warmth of her navel, to run the backs of my hand down the soft, smooth flesh just as I used to do.
She shrugged the shirt off her shoulders, the weight of her breasts jiggling slightly within the clasp of the teal lace. Her dark eyes, harboring an almost haunted light now, fixed up on mine once more. Her perfect white teeth nibbled the corner of her mouth, her fingers playing with the loose fabric of her top. Then she shucked it entirely, and it fell to the carpet.
“Nick, this is crazy. I don’t think we—”
“Take it off, Eva. You know the rule.”
Her eyes went wide for a moment, as if she was realizing that I really was serious. That I wasn’t going to let her off.
My cock throbbed at that possibility.
I’d have to come back to that—and soon.
“I hate you,” she said, her voice suddenly tight, a tremolo to its tone.
“I know,” I murmured casually, making certain she’d never know how much her words stung.
Bright tears welled in those hazel eyes as she flipped the catch at the front of her bra. Then at last, the bra fell away to either side revealing her breasts. Her nipples were coral colored and thick, surprisingly hard despite the warmth of the room. I wondered if she was afraid or embarrassed, or simply seething with good old rage. Her words seemed to indicate the latter.
I made her stand like that for long moments, as I took in the loveliness of her breasts. Though she was generally slender, her figure was curvy at hips and tits. Unlike me, she hadn’t lost weight since I’d seen her last. If anything, she appeared to have gained a pound or two. But it seemed it had mostly shown up in the even more generous curve and heft of those round, gorgeous breasts.
“Had your fill, Nick? Are you enjoying yourself?”
“I want you to put your hands behind your back. Straighten your shoulders. And be quiet.” My cock was a steel bar now as I said the words. Her snark and the caustic tone of her reply only motivated me more, spurring me on to show her that the Nick she’d left months ago was not the Nick sitting before her now.
Incredibly, she did as she was told. Her gaze slid away, and she appeared to look at a point somewhere on the wall behind me. Twin smudges of pink colored her cheeks. Her lashes fluttered anew. Her breathing was coming faster now, the soft, heavy breasts rising and falling with each inhale and exhale.
In silence I watched her, remembering the feel of those breasts in my hands, her moans when I squeezed them, the texture of her nipples upon my tongue, the taste of the salt upon her skin.
And in that moment, I felt the first twinge of sadness since I’d arrived. I did still wish that this road hadn’t led us to this point, even as I knew there was nothing to be done about it now.
I looked up at the clock. “Time’s up, Eva.”
Her arm pressed across her breasts, and she crouched quickly, snatching up the shirt and bra from the floor. A single tear coursed down her cheek as she fled from the room, throwing the door wide as she left.
“You’re such an asshole, Nick.” There was a muted thunk as the door closed behind her.
I nodded slowly, gazing out at the last dying light of the early evening sun illuminating the angles and planes of the buildings across the street. “I know.”