You want to talk? I asked, feeling at once terrified and full of adrenaline.
Like you said, he wrote back, probably easier to explain in person.
I’d been waiting two and a half months to have that conversation. I missed Alex so badly, and finally there was nothing in the way of us speaking plainly, no reason to hold back or tiptoe around each other or try not to touch.
Except for Bernard.
He kayaks at sunset with us. Rides along on our tour of the family wineries gathered together a ways inland. Joins us for seafood dinners every night. Suggests a nightcap afterward. He never tires. Bernard, Alex whispers one night, might be God, and I snort into my white wine.
“Allergies?” Bernard says. “You can use my hankie.”
Then he passes me an honest-to-god embroidered hankie.
I wish Bernard would do something awful, like floss at the table, or just anything that would give me the courage to demand an hour of space and privacy.
This is the most beautiful and worst trip Alex and I have ever taken.
On our last night, the three of us get roaring drunk at a restaurant overlooking the sea, watching the pinks and golds of the sun melt across everything until the water is a sheet of light, replaced gradually by a blanket of deep purple. Back at the resort, the sky gone dark, we part ways, exhausted in more ways than one and heavy with wine.
Fifteen minutes later, I hear a light knock on my door. I answer in my pajamas and find Alex standing there, grinning and flushed. “Well, this is a surprise!” I say, slurring a little.
“Really?” Alex says. “With how you were plying Bernard with alcohol, I thought this was part of some evil plan.”
“Is he passed out?” I ask.
“Snoring so fucking loud,” Alex says, and as we both start to laugh, he presses his forefinger to my lips. “Shhh,” he warns, “I’ve tried to sneak over here the last two nights and he woke up—and came out of his bedroom—before I even made it to the door. I thought about taking up smoking just so I could have an ironclad excuse.”
More laughter bubbles through me, warming my insides, fizzing through them. “Do you really think he would’ve followed you over?” I whisper, his finger still pressed to my lips.
“I wasn’t willing to take that chance.” On the other side of the wall, we hear a wretched snore, and I start giggling so hard my legs go watery and I sink to the floor. Alex does too.
We fall into a heap, a tangle of limbs and silent, quaking laughter. I smack futilely at his arm as another horrible thunder-roll snore roars through the wall.
“I’ve missed you,” Alex says through a grin as the laughter’s subsiding.
“Me too,” I say, cheeks aching. He brushes the hair out of my face, static making a few strands dance around his hand. “But at least now I have three of you.” I grip his wrist to steady myself and close one eye to see him better.
“Too many wine?” he teases, slipping his hand around my neck.
“Nah,” I say, “just enough to knock out Bernard. The perfect amount.” My head is pleasantly swimming and my skin feels warm beneath Alex’s hand, rings of satisfying heat reverberating out from it all the way to my toes. “This must be how it feels to be a cat,” I hum.
He laughs. “How so?”
“You know.” I rock my head side to side, nestling my neck against his palm. “Just . . .” I trail off, too contented to go on. His fingers scratch in and out against my skin, tugging lightly on my hair, and I sigh with pleasure as I sink against him, my hand settling on his chest as my forehead rests against his.
He sets his hand on mine, and I lace my fingers into it as I tip my face up to his, our noses grazing. His chin lifts, fingers graze my jaw. Next thing I know, he’s kissing me.
I’m kissing Alex Nilsen.
A warm, slow drink of a kiss. Both of us are almost laughing at first, like this whole thing is a very funny joke. Then, his tongue sweeps over my bottom lip, a brush of fiery heat. His teeth catch it briefly next, and there’s no more laughing.
My hands slip into his hair and he pulls me across his lap, his hands running up my back and down again to squeeze my hips. My breaths are shuddering and quick as his mouth teases mine open again, his tongue sweeping deeper, his taste sweet and clean and intoxicating.
We’re frantic hands and sharp teeth, fabric peeled away from skin, and fingernails digging into muscles. Probably Bernard is still snoring, but I can’t hear him over Alex’s deliciously shallow breath or his voice in my ear, saying my name like a swear word, or my heartbeat raging through my eardrums as I rock my hips against his.
All those things we didn’t get to say no longer matter because, really, this is what we needed. I need more of him. I reach for his belt—because he’s wearing a belt, of course he’s wearing a belt—but he catches my wrist and draws back, his lips bee-stung and hair mussed, all of him rumpled in a completely unfamiliar and extremely appealing way.
“We can’t do this,” he says, voice thick.
“We can’t?” Stopping feels like running into a wall. Like there are little cartoon birds twirling dazedly around my head as I try to make sense of what he’s saying.
“We shouldn’t,” Alex amends. “We’re drunk.”
“Not too drunk to make out but too drunk to sleep together?” I say, almost laughing from the absurdity, or from the disappointment.
Alex’s mouth twists. “No,” he says, “I mean, it shouldn’t have happened at all. We’ve both been drinking, and we’re not thinking clearly—”
“Mm-hm.” I scoot away from him, smoothing my pajama shirt back down. My embarrassment is the total-body kind, a gut punch that makes my eyes water. I shove myself off the floor, Alex following my lead. “You’re right,” I say. “It was a bad idea.”