The sun is peeking its head through the curtain, letting me know that it's time to wake up. But I don't want to get up yet, if ever. Not when I'm comfortable as I am right now, curled up in bed surrounded by a warm body, feeling sated and completely at ease. Like all the tension has been erased from my life. For a moment, I do nothing but breathe and hope to remember how this feels. So whenever I need to think happy thoughts, Peter Pan-style, this is what I'll think of.
Everything's out in the open now. No secrets, no pretending, no more masquerading. Life doesn't get any better than this.
I blink repeatedly, mad at myself for sleeping in my contacts again. Not like I had a choice, though. Seems like I do this all the time when I stay over his house, but I have to remind myself that this is only the second time I've woken up in his bed. Maybe I've just been imagining this in my fantasies for so long that it feels that way. Or maybe it's because this feels so natural and easy, like we've been doing this forever.
I can hear my phone beeping downstairs; I try to ignore it, but the incessant alerts get on my nerves. My intentions were to stay here in bed beside him until he wakes up and sees my smiling face for himself, just like I promised him last night—or rather, just like he forced me to promise him. Instead, I prise myself out of his arms, albeit reluctantly, so I can roll out of bed in order to find my clothes and stop the noise. The last time I woke up here, we weren't tangled up in each other's bodies; it's almost like he didn't want to let go so he'd know I'd still be here.
Stepping back into my jeans and putting on my bra, I pad through the cold house and feel that familiar ache and soreness between my legs. This time, I don't mind it at all. In fact, I kind of like what it means; it's a sweet reminder of more than just sex. I find my shirt in the living room. Can you be predictable after only doing it twice? Because Max and I are definitely following a pattern. I pull the shirt over my head and then rummage through my purse to find my phone. I have five new texts, all from Gina, each progressing in length and intensity.
Where r u
R u coming home 2nite?
Dude. should I call police? it's 2 am
Srsly. it's the morning now. u still have my car
I HAVE 2 GIVE LESSONS IN 1 HOUR!! WHERE R U?!?!
My eyes widen. I forgot. Gina's going to kill me. I call her to let her know I'll be right there, but before I can get a word in, she's yelling at me. "Charlotte! Where are you? If I'm late and the kid leaves, then I don't get paid—"
"I'm sorry, Gina, I promise, I'm leaving now. I'm on my way. I'll see you in five minutes," I tell her, yanking my arms into my jacket and slipping into my shoes. "Better make that ten," I add, looking toward the stairs. I hang up the phone and head up to the bedroom to wake Max up. I was not going to screw this up again.
I take the stairs two at a time until I almost trip, after which I slow my pace until I'm back in his room. Kneeling on the bed, I lean over and shake him gently to coax him out of his deep dream. "Max." He doesn't move. I check to make sure he's even breathing. "Come on, Max," I coo, wishing I had more time to give him a special wake-up.
He starts to rouse, rolling toward me and grabbing my arm. He pulls me down closer to him and forgoes saying good morning. Max opens his dark cerulean eyes, looks at me, and smirks. His accent's a little thicker. "You're wearing clothes. Why are you wearing clothes?"
I smile down at him as he rubs my arm in a circular motion. "I'm sorry, but I have to go. Gina needs her car back."
"I'll come with you," he says, not releasing me and not making any indication that he's ready to leave the bed yet.
"You don't understand. I have to go now, or else she'll be late for the lesson she has lined up this morning. And I need to shower anyway. You can come over later, if you want," I tell him, trying to pull away. But he doesn't let me go and instead pulls me down to the bed with him. I squeal and giggle as he rolls on top of me. I feel like we play that wrestling game like Nala and Simba in The Lion King, to see who can pin the other.
Max nuzzles his face in my neck, and the sensations immediately send my body into overdrive. Oh, he's going to be the death of me. But what a way to go. "Are you sure you have to go now?"
I have a serious moment of indecision, wanting so badly to stay right where I am. But I know I can't. "Gina will kill me." I poke his chest. "And then she'll come after you, too." When he hears that, he relents and lets me get back out of bed.
"Do you have anything to do today?"
"Not really," I answer, heading toward the door since I have to leave as soon as possible. I look back at him. He's on his left side, propping his head up on his arm. The sheet is pulled up just below his waist, revealing his ink jobs. Max looks every bit the bad boy with his tattoos and scruffy face. Just give him some ripped jeans and a worn leather jacket, and he'd fulfill every one of my bad boy fantasies. I bite my lip to get my thoughts out of the gutter. "Chores and shopping, probably."
"Good. I'll be over in a little. Don't shower until I get there," he says, promising me amazing bathroom sex with the lustful look in his bedroom eyes. I can feel my body instantly react and prepare itself for all that he's implying. Dear lord, this man is insatiable. I simply nod at him, unable to speak with my dry mouth, and make my way out of his house and toward the car.
"Jesus, Char, where have you been?" Gina asks, running around to the driver's side door as I open the car door and stand up, leaving the car in park and the engine running for her.
She tosses my keys at me so I can get into our apartment, since I borrowed hers last night to drive out to Marc and Véro's. "It's a long story. But I am really sorry for stressing you out like this. I totally forgot."
Gina should be rushing into the car and speeding off, but she looks at me inquisitively. "What happened to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Your face is all blotchy. All around your mouth. Did you eat something you're allergic to?"
I give her a confused look as I feel around my lips. What is she talking about? "No. I didn't even eat at the party."
"Well, something happened," she says. Then it hits me. Max happened to me last night. I try to suppress the smile before she notices, but I can't quell it quickly enough. "You know. Tell me."
"It deserves a long, detailed exposition, and you have to go," I answer back.
"Come on, don't leave me hanging! Just explain real fast."
"Okay," I say, feeling very smug because I know she's going to flip. "Max."
I laugh as I watch her face changes, her eyes go wide, and her lips curl into a ginormous grin. "You have to tell me everything! And I mean: everything!"
"You're going to be late," I inform her, and she places her hands on her hips and narrows her eyes at me, even thought she's still smiling like the Cheshire Cat. "But I promise to let you in on it all later."
"Jesus H. Christ, you'd better!" she laughs. Gina shakes her head and gets into her car, leaving me on the sidewalk, staring after her. I know she's going to give me the third degree later, but at least this time, it'll be good news I'll be sharing.
I trot up the stairs and slip into my apartment, glad to be home alone. I've got that giddy energy bubbling over inside me, that energy that only takes over when something incredibly happy and good happens, and I need to let it out before I burst. I turn on my computer and search iTunes for that perfect song that's going to be my outlet. There's one that always gets my blood pumping, no matter my mood, and today it's going to let me burn this off. I scroll until I find Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse's cover of "Valerie." Immediately, my feet start tapping and I'm dancing like an idiot in no time.
"Stop making a fool outta me! Why don't you come on over, Valerie!" I sing and kick my legs, making windmill motions with my arms. I certainly was never an Amy Winehouse fan, but I love this song.
While I continue to move around, I removed my dry contacts and change into a more comfortable shirt. Then I straighten up the apartment a little in preparation for Max's visit. It's not that the place is a mess, but it just looks lived in. Our stuff is everywhere. I make sure all the dirty dishes are at least in the sink, the counter and table are wiped off and clean, and the carpet is vacuumed. Next, I play "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones, now jumping around as I do my best punk-rocker impression.
I can't help it; I'm feeling good. Are things perfect? No. But I've learned that even when you think things are great, that may not always be the case. So maybe the opposite's true, too. Things may not be wonderful, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy the good while it lasts.
And things with Max are good. I like him, and he likes me back. Right now, that's all I need to know. I mean, I do still wonder about what this means, because I don't know what's supposed to happen next. I don't want to have to go through all the ups and downs involved in being in a serious relationship. And once you add the element of sex into a relationship, chances are, it becomes serious to some degree. Unless you make it clear from the get-go that you don't want serious. Which neither of us did. So, now what?
Ugh. I'm rambling in my own thoughts.
Despite all this uncertainty about where we go from here, I still like him. I want him for myself; I certainly don't want him dating anyone else or screwing around anymore. It's not like I want to play the field or anything.But I want him without the additional burden of having to be the perfect girlfriend. I don't want to bother with playing that role again so soon. So, I want the perks of having a relationship but not the responsibility. Not to mention having to reconcile that with whatever Max was thinking.
Okay. Rambling again.
The future was still up in the air for us, but I'm the new Charlotte, the girl who is living in the moment. Play it as it lies and make the most of it. I was going to ride the wave and see where it takes me.
Half an hour into my dancing- and cleaning-fest, I hear the rap on the door. I run over and fling the door wide open. Even though I had seen him less than an hour ago, I'm excited beyond belief. I chalk it up to giddy infatuation. Max is looking incredibly sexy in his dark sweater and glasses. If he had the appearance of a bad boy this morning, now he looks like a student at Harvard Law. I'm left a little speechless by his utter gorgeousness, and he takes it to his advantage, striding in through the threshold and taking me into his arms, pushing me against the wall, and giving me a deep, lingering kiss. It's not hot and demanding; his hands are on my hips and my arms are around his neck, and that's where they stay.
When he pulls back, I lean my forehead against his and say, "Now that is the perfect way to say 'good morning.'" Now that he's here, all that energy I had is gone and the emotional exhaustion of what happened in the past twenty-four hours is catching up with me.
"Are you saying you could get used to that?" he asks.
"Because that's something we didn't talk about last night."
"Okay, I need you to be a little more clear about what you mean by that."
"Well, we like each other, right?"
I bite my lip and give him a lop-sided smile. "I think we established that."
"I'm trying to be serious here, you smart ass," he laughs.
"You should stick to what you're good at, Max, and being serious is not one of your strong points."
"Always so negative. Remind me why I like you again?" he counters.
I know he's just teasing me. He's not mean-spirited to do something like that. The insecure version of myself wants to ask Yeah, why do you like me? but I hold that in, banter back with him, and say instead, "Because you know I'm right."
"So, Little Miss Right, you tell me. What now? Where do we go from here?"
"Well, where do you want to go from here?" I ask. I'd answer his question, but I truly don't have a reply. I just don't know.
"I'm going to be honest with you. I haven't played the role of boyfriend for a long time. I don't know what you're going to expect from me now that we're together."
My voice lowers. "Well, John was really my one and only. I don't know what to expect from you here either. But if we're going to be truthful to each other, Max, I don't know if I'm ready to have another boyfriend just yet," I tell him as he turns this face away. "But I still like you. And I like what we have right now. Just like this."
"I've put too much time and effort in this for it to just be about sex, Charlotte," he counters. Is he mad? "This is more than that."
"Please don't put it that way—"
"Put what what way?" he asks, making me giggle a little at his awkwardly phrased question. This isn't a time for laughter.
"I required 'time and effort'? I like I was such a chore."
"You know what I mean. I had to wait a long time for you to come around. I had to work to get you to trust me."
"There you go again. 'Work,'" I laugh.
Max shakes his head and chuckles. At least we're on the same page with our humor. "I'm still trying to be serious. Will you be serious here?"
"I am," I tell him, my arms still around his neck. "I'm being serious when I say I don't necessarily want serious from you. I'm not ready for that, and I know full well your reputation. Don't you think that it's a solid compromise?"
"I know my reputation, too. I know what I've done in the past, but that doesn't mean that's who I am. It's not like that with me."
"Don't our actions in the past reveal our true character?" I ask. I know people can change; hell, that's what I'm going through now. I'm learning from my mistakes and becoming a better person for it. But the key to that is that the person must truly want to change for that to happen.
"Listen, I'm not saying that I've always made the smartest decisions. But I'm not like that. I don't avoid relationships; they just never happened for me. Girls didn't expect it from me, so I didn't from them, either. So I may not have the experience under my belt, but I'm willing to try for you."
I take a deep breath. His eyes behind his glasses show me that he is being honest. It may not have been the most eloquent thing he's ever said, but the weight of it moves my heart. "I appreciate it. Just that you want to try means a lot to me. And I want more than just sex and I want more than friends, but I still don't know if I'm ready for boyfriend-girlfriend. You understand why, don't you?" He nods. "Can't we find a happy medium between the two?"
"You want the relationship, so let's do that. You don't want boyfriend-girlfriend, so let's not do that. So we'll date, but be exclusive."
I think about it. Dating exclusively. I'd get to have Max, spend time with him, be with him, but without all the added pressure of playing the doting girlfriend. Could I do that? Could I give it a shot? "Is that okay with you? Because I could try that."
"I think it's perfect. It's like baby steps, for both of us." He leans in and kisses me again. Yeah, I could get used to that.
"We're going to have to do something about this beard," I tell him, rubbing his cheeks. "If you want to kiss me this often, you'd better start shaving more, or else my face won't have any skin left on it."
"I thought you liked this. You liked it last night," he says throatily.
"I do. But you're at the really stubbly stage. Like, if you had more, it would be softer."
Max runs his hand over his face, feeling for himself. "I could grow it out a little more. Anything for you, baby." We kiss again. I feel like I'll never get tired of this, but I wonder if I'll ever reach the point when I don't want to do it constantly.
"Anything? Can we close the door?" I laugh. My neighbors are walking by, gawking at us. We're not doing anything inappropriate (yet), but they seemed surprised to see Max Talbot in their apartment building.
"Good idea. We could use some privacy." He kicks the door shut, and we walk farther into my apartment. I'm not sure what to expect at this point. Not that I don't want sex, but Max has made it clear that this is more than that. So will we do it, or not? "I have a game tonight. Do you want to come?"
"Do you want me there?"
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't."
"Oh. Okay, then sure. When's your morning skate?"
"It's optional. I'd normally go, but I'm feeling unusually tired," he says. "Didn't get much rest last night. I think I need to get some more sleep before the game."
"We can go into my room, if you want?"
Max doesn't answer me, but he does let me lead him to my bedroom. He pulls off his sweater, takes off his glasses, and collapses onto my full-sized bed. I slide out of my jeans and jump under the covers quickly before he can get too much of an eyeful. We sidle up to each other and intertwine our legs. As sleep pulls at my eyelids, I feel his hand brush my hair away from my face and his lips at my temple. I fall asleep with a smile.