/sigh.... I just didn't know how to move forward after the last chapter, which I was oh so proud of. I know this chapter would be considered extremely late, but maybe I'll have a second up later if I can focus my concentration. Back-to-back hockey games make it hard to write! All the usual, you guys are awesome, thank you bunches, and of course: Let's Go, Pens!
Soundtrack Song - Lily Allen, Who'd Have Known?
When my alarm rings at 6:30 in the morning, I have to reach across the sleeping man next to me to turn it off. When he's asleep, he's dead to the world, impossible to disturb or rouse. Instead of getting out of bed and hopping into the shower like I should, I sidle up next to him and rest my head on top of his chest. The steady sound of his heart beat lulls back to sleep.
I wake back up at quarter after seven. I didn't really mean to fall asleep again, especially for forty-five minutes. Now I'm going to be late for work if I don't get my ass in gear now.
But I'm just so tired. I didn't get nearly enough rest, and my whole body aches. All I want to do is stay beside him in bed. I truly have to force myself to get up and leave the room; not before I look back at him in my bed just to watch him breathe and sleep, his mouth agape and his eyes closed. My heart leaps in my chest just to see Max in my bed like that, and I can't suppress the smile that breaks across my face that no one can see.
I'm stuck in this dreamy, half-awake state that I don't really want to get out of. I don't really want to start my day yet, and waking up will signal the end of that absolutely disastrous but yet strangely blissful night and the start of another day. There's enough light shining through the glass-block privacy windows in the bathroom that I don't bother turning on the light as I take off Max's tee shirt and my panties and turn on the shower head. As I undress, I remember the way Max playfully chastised me for putting clothes back on in the middle of the night, especially teasing me for putting on his shirt, but he sure didn't let that stop him as he made slow, languid love to me again that wasn't as urgent but no less passionate. I can't believe we used up my entire supply of prophylactics in one night. Not that I had that many to begin with, but still....
As I step under the hot spray, first holding my face up against the water and then dipping my entire head under, I think about how incredible Max is. Not just as a skilled lover and a man, but as a person. I mean, he's phenomenal. Unbelievable. So patient and considerate and understanding, but not in a desperate, forced sense. He's strong, steady, reliable, dependable, like the mast of a ship, and I am just the flimsy sail flapping at the mercy of the wind. Max is constant. Perfect.
Because even when I misspoke, he was the better person and forgave me. I would not have been able to forget and move on like he did. I know that people make the mistake of using other people's names, in worse situations too, but.... I just can't believe I did that. So stupid! Sure, we're not boyfriend-girlfriend, but we did agree to be exclusive. He accepted it was a horrible mistake on my part, the worst social gaffe of all, and I still don't how he could be so magnanimous. I truly don't deserve someone as saintly and, well, as perfect as he is.
It's never a good idea to fall into the line of thinking that someone is perfect. No one is. But right now, I can't even find fault in any of Max's shortcomings and drawbacks. Not after how sweet he was. So what if he's loud and boisterous and pushy and kind of demanding? Are those always bad things?
And since we're asking questions, when will I ever be able to let go of the past and move on? Let me rephrase that last one: when will my past let go of me? I was done with it, done with John, and yet that was still interfering with my capacity to move on and be happy. Because that's what I want: to move on. To move forward. With Max.
I'm pulled out of my thoughts as the light is turned on and the small room is illuminated. My eyes snap shut as my pupils constrict, unprepared for the bright assault. Knowing Max was unconscious in my room, I assume it's Gina barging in on my private moment and, likewise, my thoughts. "Can you turn that off?" I say, still groggy.
"Sorry." The voice is not Gina's. The light is turned back off. "How can you see?"
It's not that dark in here; he's exaggerating. Everything just has a gray tint to it, not to mention my sight is blurred, since I'm not wearing my glasses or contacts. "I can see well enough. I thought you were sleeping," I respond as I grab the bottle of shampoo, but I drop it and it lands on my foot, making me curse.
"I woke up, and you weren't there. I heard the water running." The shower curtain gets pulled back, and Max picks up the dropped shampoo bottle for me. Then I notice that he's naked, stepping into the shower beside me and grinning as he looks at me, all of me. "So I figured I'd join you."
I want to ask him if he walked through my apartment naked into the bathroom. Or if he knew that it was me in here, or else he could have given Gina an early morning surprise. I also want to tell him that he can't be in here now. Showering together sure sounds like a whole heck of a lot of fun, but I have a strict washing routine that I must stick to, and he's going to ruin that. And I refuse to embarrass myself by using my anti-blackhead face wash in front of him. "As positively tempting as this is, Max, I can't do this with you. I'm already going to be late for work."
"Okay," he says, giving me a little pout, and I think I've won. That is, I think I have until he adds, "Then why don't you let me help you speed things up?" He squirts a dollop of shampoo into his palm, rubs his hands together quickly, and then begins massaging my scalp. I'm purring like a contented kitten. My eyes close and I lean against his chest, rendered useless by his soft, gentle, innocent touch.
Max chuckles at me and my compliance. Like I can ever tell this man "no." He continues to wash my hair for me and then moves me back under the spray to rinse out the shampoo. I love the feel of his hands in my hair, using the perfect mixture of his fingernails and the pads of his fingers as he works out the suds. I'm letting him take control in this most vulnerable of situations. I'm letting him take care of me.
My eyes snap open as I realize that. Did I like Max? Yes. Did I care about him? Of course. But letting him take care of me.... I was opening myself up to let him take care of me, and that's a major step. I mean, it's one thing to want to do nice things for him. But being able to accept that he wants to do nice things for me is a whole nother story. It's a recipe for disaster.
Without a doubt, I am a hopeless romantic. I'm a sucker for this sweet shit. Kind gestures. Whispered sweet nothings. I love all that. And Max is Mr. Smooth; he's got that routine down pat, so much so that I wonder how much of it is part of his general charm and how much is genuine. Not that I mind either way, because I enjoy hearing those things and being the recipient of those gestures as long as I knowingly take it with a grain of salt. Which I have done, up until this point.
But this situation is, to me, more personal and intimate than the sex and the cuddling and the hand-holding and the whispered promises made in the heat of the moment. I'm stripped down, exposed, vulnerable, and at his complete and total mercy—but this has nothing to do with sex. It's not about fulfilling each other's physical needs; it's about demonstrating emotional desires and how Max is living up to every one of my possible expectations. This is the kind of thing that can make me fall in love, and that's exactly what I can't allow myself to do.
"Are you okay, baby?" Max asks me, noticing how I've suddenly tensed.
"I'm fine," I reply with a curt smile. "I'm just trying to wake up." In more ways than one.
Max grabs the conditioner and goes through the same motions, working it into my hair, as I lather up my loofah and scrub at my skin. I reach out and begin the same process across his chest, but he stops me with a growl. "Don't start anything you don't intend to finish."
I have to laugh at him, which makes him frown even more. "Oh, how I would love to! But I'm going to be late. Otherwise I'd take full advantage of the fact that you're naked and wet in my shower. Besides, you've got a game today. I should let you get your energy back."
"You are a tease. I hope you're enjoying making me miserable."
I snicker but don't otherwise respond to his joking comment. Instead, I hand him the soapy loofah and step fully under the shower head, rinsing off completely. Then I leave Max in the shower to finish his business as I move to the other side of the curtain and grab a towel to dry off. I wrap it around myself and stand in front of the mirror, using a second towel on my hair.
The water turns off, and Max pulls the curtain back. I see his reflection, dripping wet, and I eye him up and down before I catch his eyes in the mirror. "Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to get me a towel?" he asks.
"I don't know," I counter with a smile. "I kind of like you just like that."
He narrows his eyes at me playfully, as if calculating his next move. Max reaches out across the tiny bathroom and grabs the towel that surrounds my body, ripping it away from me before I can react and stop him. Now we're both naked. "You know, I would really enjoy playing this game with you if I had the time," I tell him.
"Why don't you play hooky then? I have a couple hours before the morning skate," he gladly informs me.
"I can't, Max," I sigh, wishing that I could. "I don't have personal or sick time at my disposal."
"That doesn't seem fair," he says, toweling off quickly, wrapping the material around his waist, and stepping behind me. There's probably more room for us to stand together in the shower stall than there is the tiny bathroom. Max takes the other towel from my hands and takes over drying my hair. I close my eyes and let him, knowing that I shouldn't for several reasons but lacking the willpower to stop him. Instead, I curl my fingers around the cool porcelain of the sink and lean my head backward to give him better access as he rubs the excess moisture from my hair.
I'm not the type of person who can easily keep an emotional detachment from the physical aspect of a relationship, especially when Max can readily anticipate my thoughts and wants. Because when he does that, it's almost like he's a part of me. I know that sounds so sappy, like I ripped it straight from a Harlequin romance novel, but it's so true. I chalk it up to his experience and talents, but when he's being sweet and caring and gentle like this, I feel even more of a connection to him. He is taking care of me, and I like it.
Max stops and rubs the backs of his fingers against my hipbone. I feel a twinge of pain as I look down to see him caressing a fresh black-and-blue mark. "Did I do this to you?" he asks quietly.
I smile. "Isn't it funny what feels so good during the night makes you hurt in the morning?" There are other parts of my body that ache, and I know Max isn't without pain, either. There are still indentations on his shoulder left by my bites and red scratches down his back, dotted by scabs.
"I'm sorry," he apologizes, kissing the back of my neck as he wraps the towel around my body.
"Don't be," I say with another smile. "I'm not." I work on my make-up as he leaves the bathroom, I'm assuming to get dressed in yesterday's clothes.
I sloppily French-braid my hair and then head back into my room. Max is dressed, sitting on my bed, and he watches as I wordlessly slip on my clothes as modestly as I can. "Would you like me to drive you into work? Would that save you some time?"
Glancing at the clock, I reply, "That would be great, actually. I might make it there on time."
"Sure thing, baby. It's probably my fault you're late anyway."
"It is," I laugh. "But I think it was worth it. Do you want breakfast or anything? I don't really have time to cook, but I have cereal. I can make toast."
Max laughs. "That's so tempting, but completely unappetizing. Do you want to stop at Starbucks or something, get a coffee and muffin to go?"
I shake my head. "No, I wasn't planning on eating."
He looks at me with a puzzled expression. "Then why did you offer me breakfast?"
"Because it's a polite thing to do since you spent the night," I say, as if it's the most obvious explanation in the world.
"Well, I think I'm ready to go." I walk into the living room and grab my things. "Are you?" He nods and we head out, and I lock up behind me as we go. With Max driving me to the school, I make it to work with two minutes to spare. I kiss him goodbye. "We're okay, aren't we? I mean, you're not still mad, are you?" I ask.
Max nods wordlessly. It's less than reassuring, but I take it at face value. I have to. I don't want to think about the alternative. He wouldn't have stayed the night if he were mad, would he? He grabs my arm before I can step out of his car and leans over to kiss me again, not appropriate at all for a simple goodbye. When I slide out and close the door behind me, my head is not where it should be. I don't feel like I should be walking into work; I feel like Max and I should be speeding off to one of our places for another romp between the sheets.
As I head for the main doors, with my badge in hand to show the guard, some of the students do a double-take. They certainly don't expect one of their tutors to be driven to their school in a BMW. I smile to myself as they give me subtle nods of respect as I walk by.