I absolutely don’t mind.
We’re both breathless. Water clings to his lashes in little spikes, his cheeks are pink with exertion—or from my foot—and I have that weird disorienting feeling that we’ve never really seen each other before tonight.
His eyes are brown and twinkly; his grin is enormous. He licks his lips, and then bites the lower one. A surge of goose bumps slithers along my skin, and it has nothing to do with the temperature of the water.
I know the moment he really notices our position because the giddy smile slips from his mouth and melts into something serious. His eyes flicker across my face and down to my mouth, and he blinks once, twice.
“Sorry,” he whispers, and I feel his breath as it mixes with mine; the heat ghosts across my lips. He moves back, and on instinct I reach for his hips.
Seconds tick by, and the water laps against the side of the pool, jostling us together and apart. Together. I look at his mouth, wondering how I never noticed the bow of his top lip, the fullness of his bottom. His boxers sink low on his hips under the weight of the water and my thumbs press against the bare skin there, able to discern bone and muscle. My nipples are hard beneath the fabric of my shirt; my lace bra is useless against the temperature of the water. If I leaned in, even an inch, would he let me kiss him? Would he want me to? Do I?
I lick away a drop of water, and his eyes follow the movement before meeting mine again. He gives me a nod—so imperceptible I’d’ve missed it if we weren’t so close, chest to chest and breathing the same air. I have a room upstairs, a bed. So does he. It would be so simple to kiss him. There are barely inches between us.
But I’ve been single so long, I’m not sure how this is done anymore. I falter. Did he really nod? Is his expression more sympathy, less sexual intent?
My heart pounds inside my ribs, and I don’t know which of us decided to move first but then he’s there, and his mouth slides over mine, once, then again. He pulls away with a tiny kiss to the corner of my mouth, and we look at each other. We’re still at the point where the kiss could be blamed on the movement of the water, maybe. Or, ha ha, such a weird, exhausting night.
But then he leans forward again with a smile, and in the space of a gasp we’re kissing like we need to: lips and tongue and the occasional dirty drag of teeth. His hands move down to my waist, holding me to him, and when he presses forward, I lift my legs, weightless, wrapping them around him.
It’s been so long, but even still I don’t think anything has felt as good as Ja—
“Don’t get her pregnant!”
We jump apart, eyes darting upward to see a few of the boys from earlier standing in one of the open windows. I tug my tank top strap back up over my shoulder. James treads water a few feet away, eyes moving from the balcony and slowly back to my face, searching. Nothing sucks more than getting busted, and the tension of the moment has been totally punctured. I’m suddenly aware of how cold the water is, how late it’s grown.
But I’m also aware of what we just did, how he felt against me, and how much I liked it.
James gives the pubescent assholes a stiff salute as if to say Thanks for the tip, you little fuckers, and I climb out of the pool, grabbing the first towel I see.
Partial transcript of interview with
Carey Duncan, July 14
Officer Ali: So you and Mr. McCann were growing close.
Carey Duncan: What makes you say that?
Officer Ali: There seems to be a lot of him in your recollection of what happened.
CD: That’s just because we were together nonstop.
Officer Ali: So only as coworkers?
CD: What is this, The Bachelor?
Officer Ali: Let me remind you that you can refuse to answer any question, at any time.
CD: I vote for that, then. I don’t want to talk about James. Whatever did or didn’t happen between us has nothing to do with what happened last night.
Officer Ali: All right.
CD: You’re writing that down?
Officer Ali: I’m taking notes, yes. But as I mentioned at the beginning, this interview will all be transcribed and kept on record.
CD: Great. Is it public record?
Officer Ali: Let’s switch gears a little. The Variety announcement. What was that for?
CD: The new show, Home Sweet Home. The Tripps had been filming it in secret while they wrapped up New Spaces. It was a lot like what they’d been doing before, but this time there weren’t any costars to fall back on. This time the pressure was all on them.
Officer Ali: And how were they handling that?
CD: Will the phrase “hot mess” be clear enough for your transcription?
Officer Ali: Yes.
CD: Then that’s my answer.
Officer Ali: So the success or failure of Home Sweet Home would rest entirely on the Tripps.
Officer Ali: Did Mr. McCann like the Tripps?
CD: As much as he could, I guess. I don’t think it occurred to me until yesterday, but it’s possible Melly knew when she hired him that James had come from a company that had gone down in scandal. Maybe she knew he was desperate and used it against him. She knew he wouldn’t fight back when she essentially made him Rusty’s assistant. He didn’t have any power.
Officer Ali: So you think Mr. McCann took the job because he felt trapped?
CD: I think he took the first job that came along.
Officer Ali: So he would have been glad to have a new situation present itself?
CD: Are you suggesting that James would have a reason to ruin the Tripps?
Officer Ali: Let’s take a five-minute break before we continue.
If someone had asked me at the beginning of this job—even this tour—whether I could see myself at some point wildly making out with Carey Duncan, I would have given an easy “No.” In hindsight, I’m guessing I might have even been a bit of a dick about it. The glaring truth that Carey and I come from two completely different worlds used to seem like a barrier between us: she’s a small-town woman who’s only ever lived in one place, and I left the Southwest ten or so years ago to live on the East Coast for school, then work. At first blush, we had nothing in common.
But there we were—kissing madly, with a fever I haven’t felt in what seems like ages and feelings that seem to grow exponentially with every conversation we have—and now here I am, watching Carey bolt out of the pool and back into the hotel without a backward glance.
I glare up at the balcony just when the kids from earlier duck back inside. They should feel like monsters for breaking up a moment like that, but I’m sure they’re oblivious, so there’s no convenient outlet for my irritation and disappointment. An electrical storm rages along my skin. I count a slow fifty then climb out, grabbing a towel from a shelf and padding back over toward my clothes.
The concrete is icy beneath my feet. It’s jarring to be pulled so immediately back into the most banal of bodily sensations when the feel of Carey’s tongue and mouth and skin is right there at the front of my thoughts. Did I know the second I stepped outside tonight that I wanted to act on the quiet longing that’s been pulsing in the background of my thoughts? Or was it the way she opened up to me with such unguarded sweetness?
I’ve never been with anyone like her. My previous relationships have always been with women who seemed to be cut from the same cloth as I am. The last person I was with was a medium-term girlfriend—nine months or so. I knew we were over when we stopped excitedly telling each other every detail of our day, stopped wanting to bring each other along to every outing with friends, and the sex started to feel safe and quiet. I rode it out for another month, but when I realized neither of us was all that invested and she was never going to admit it, I finally put us both out of our misery. The idea of spending the rest of my life in the routine we’d fallen into—of monotonous workdays followed by takeout, polite conversation, and quiet, focused missionary sex—sounded terrible.
But I can already tell there’s no chance of that with whoever ends up with Carey. She may take a passive role in her job, but I can’t possibly be the only one who sees the passionate woman trying to fight her way out of the mold she’s been pressed into. Whenever she manages to figure out what she wants in life, she’ll be a force of nature.
I head upstairs for a long, cooling shower. Maybe tomorrow we’ll laugh off the abrupt end to the night and the weight between us will still be there. Maybe we’ll carefully and quietly shape this into something worth pursuing. Or, maybe Carey regretted the kiss immediately, and tomorrow—an already loaded and stressful day—will be awkward and exhausting. Realistically, the odds of the two of us ending up together are minuscule. A disappointed ache corkscrews through me.
The upside, I guess, is that I don’t have to spend much of the next morning worrying about it, because I wake to a flurry of texts and notifications. The Variety announcement—that the first season of the Tripps’ new show, Home Sweet Home, can soon be streamed in its entirety on Netflix—hits all of our socials just after eight a.m. Melissa has texted me to let me know that a stylist is coming to get Rusty ready, and I’m to accompany Carey over to Boulevard restaurant at the Embarcadero to help set up for the party this afternoon. Based on our itinerary, there will be about fifty guests, and Melissa wanted something iconic for the sit-down lunch. By the time guests arrive at noon, we should (according to Ted) have a pretty good idea what the show buzz is, and we’ll know in a few days whether it gives the Tripps the expected boost they’re looking for in book sales.
I have barely enough time to get myself presentable—let alone spend any of it worrying about how things will be today. By nine thirty, I’m waiting at the curb, ordering a Lyft for us, when there’s a tap to my shoulder.
Carey stands there, hair blowing across her cheek in the San Francisco wind. The woman can’t hide a blush, and relief passes through me seeing that she’s nervous, too.
“Hey,” she says. “I didn’t know you’d be coming with me.”
“Melissa’s instructions.” I give a lame little salute.