Stroked long, p.13
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       STROKED LONG, p.13

           Meghan Quinn
 

  “You don’t have a personal assistant?”

  “I don’t trust anyone to do my things for me.”

  And right there, that’s a little window into his world. He doesn’t trust anyone besides the ones closest to him. I know the only reason he trusts me to work on the foundation is because of Eva. Am I in his inner circle? I don’t think so, but I’m getting pretty damn close.

  At least I hope I am.

  “What do you do?” he asks, pulling the attention away from himself.

  “I don’t pay bills and answer fan mail if that’s what you were wondering.”

  Chuckling quietly, he says, “Oh yeah, fan mail is answered on Mondays for you, right?”

  “Only with my pink gel pen. If I don’t have my pink gel pen, then no fan mail.”

  “You’re ruthless.”

  “I have my standards,” I joke.

  “Do you ever think about selling your art?”

  I cringe. “Would anyone even want to buy my art, is the question. It’s not much. I play more with color than anything.”

  “I think it’s something,” Bodi replies, still caressing my hand.

  Seriously, my heart is about to explode in my chest.

  “Thank you, but I don’t plan on having my own gala. I paint more for therapy.”

  “Eva did the same thing growing up,” Bodi says almost absentmindedly.

  “The reason for the foundation—art and sports—outlets that shaped who you both are today.”

  “Yeah,” he sighs, not fully agreeing with me.

  It’s obvious I struck another chord with him, one I don’t want to cross so I switch gears again. “If you could cheat on your little lettuce and kale diet, what would you eat?”

  “I like lettuce and kale,” he says, brightening up again.

  I look around the room, and then whisper, “You know it’s just us, you don’t have to lie, it’s okay if you hate eating shrubs every day.”

  He laughs and I commit the sound to memory. “Honestly, I really do like kale and lettuce, but if I had to go outside the crisper in my fridge, I would say Double Stuf Oreos. Well, any kind of Oreos really but Double Stuf are my favorite.”

  For some reason I thought he was going to say something manly like buffalo wings, or a five-pound burrito, but Mr. I-Don’t-Eat-Sweets has shocked the hell out of me with his little Oreo answer. Why do I find it so adorable? Why does the image of Bodi with a package of Oreos in front of him make me melt inside? I can picture it so vividly, him twisting the two cookies apart and eating the filling. It’s so cute it sends a pang straight to my heart.

  “Oreos, huh? That’s kind of adorable, Bodi.”

  “Adorable?” he lightly sneers. “How is that adorable? I said Double Stuf, that’s a manly cookie.”

  Reaching up, I pat him on his stubbled cheek. “Oh Bodi, Double Stuf Oreos are not a manly cookie. Double Stuf Oreos were specifically engineered by Nabisco for raging pregnant woman and for those of us riding the red tide into Crampsville, but you’re cute for thinking otherwise.”

  He ponders that for a second. “But they’re double stuffed.”

  “With frosting. It’s not like they are double stuffed with a half-pound of bison meat.”

  “So they’re not manly?” His lips quirk up as he asks.

  “Not so much.”

  “Damn.” He chuckles quietly. “Despite being labeled as a hormonal woman, I will stick with my answer. What about you? What’s your diet breaker?”

  Frowning, I answer, “Bodi, come on, the only reason I work out is so I can have my daily intake of doughnuts, pie, or cookies. But if I have to pick one thing I hypothetically would eat to cheat on my so-called diet, I would have to say Funfetti cupcakes with Rainbow Chip frosting.”

  “Good choice. I remember having those as a kid.”

  “A kid? I call that my Friday night, but you have to use the Betty Crocker Rainbow Chip frosting, not the Pillsbury crap.”

  “What’s the difference?” Bodi asks the same time lightning flashes through the room followed by a burst of thunder. I’m too upset by his question to be too startled. Still, he grips my hand tighter.

  “What’s the difference? Oh my God, Bodi! That’s like asking what’s the difference between a regular Oreo and a vanilla one. There is a huge difference. Betty Crocker, that magnificent bitch, put the sprinkle chips inside the icing while Pillsbury, the lazy asshole, separates the sprinkles for you to put on yourself, giving you absolutely no wonderment if you’re going to be delighted with a little sprinkle chip or not.”

  Cringing, he says, “I think I’ve only had the Pillsbury kind.”

  “That’s obnoxious. Absolutely obnoxious. What kind of man has never had rainbow chip frosting on a Funfetti cupcake? You know what? I can’t stay here.” Joking, I start to get up but Bodi stops me with one pull of my hand, bringing me even closer to his heat.

  “You can’t go; you might drown in the flooding waters. We all know you can’t swim your way out of a gutter.”

  “Hey,” I say with a mocking horrified look. “I can doggy paddle just fine.”

  “Doggy paddle will get you nowhere, Rubes.”

  Rubes.

  Yup, that little nickname just made my heart thump harder, my toes tingle faster, and a deep ache take place down below. Not to mention how close we are lying. So close that if I stretched just a little more with my body, I would be able to easily lean in and kiss him.

  What would he do if I kissed him? Would he kiss me back? Would he palm my face and put an arm-length distance between us while dry heaving? The latter would literally force me to become a nun.

  I want to ask why he’s still holding my hand, why we are so close right now. I want to ask, like the little school girl I am, if he likes me. Not just as a friend, but if he likes me as a lover.

  Lover? Is that the right word? Sounds so Madge and Ken like. Hello, this is my lover—said in creepy seductive voice.

  Let’s not go with lover, let’s say if he likes me as a lady. Hmm . . . nope, don’t like that either. How about if he feels as though I’m worthy enough for him to stick his tongue in my mouth. Yes, I like that. Is my mouth worthy of your mouth? Does your tongue want to play house with mine? How about your penis? Is it looking for a home in my vagina?

  Maybe that’s going a little far.

  Bodi’s long yawn pulls me out of my thoughts. “Are you getting tired?” I ask. It’s kind of obvious; he is if he’s yawning.

  “Long day. What about you?”

  “Yeah, I guess so.”

  Silence falls between us and just when I think he’s asleep, he says, “Ask me another question.”

  I smile to myself. What he doesn’t know is I can play this game with him all night, so he has no clue what he’s asking of me.

  “Another question? Okay, what’s your favorite sport other than swimming?”

  “Easy.” He smiles, his knee connecting with mine. We are so close to cuddling that I almost can’t breathe. It’s taking everything in me not to throw my body at him and bury my head in the nook of his neck. “Baseball.”

  “Oh duh, I knew that. The Oakland A’s, right?”

  “Yeah. Growing up, my room was decked out in Oakland memorabilia. I still have some of it packed in storage. I can watch baseball all day.”

  “It’s such a shame,” I say, shaking my head.

  Confusion laces his face. “What is?”

  “That you’re an A’s fan.”

  “Why?” He sits up slightly, his face hovering over mine. God, even in the dark of the storm I can see his muscles ripple in his chest as he moves to get a better look at me. “What team do you like?”

  I smirk and say, “If my hand was free right now, I would be flapping my Angels wings.”

  And just like that, he releases me and grips his head as he falls flat on the bed. The warmth from him dissipates and leaves me feeling cold inside, but I’m not too bothered by it because for one of the first times ever, I get to see an anima
ted Bodi. A Bodi who actually is enjoying himself, who’s showing his true colors, and I love every second of it.

  I feel honored I can bring that part of his personality out.

  “No. You are not an Angels fan. Please tell me you’re kidding.”

  I prop myself up on my elbow to get a better look at the agony in his face. “I’m afraid so.”

  “Why?” he asks through his hands, muffling his voice.

  “It was 1994, Tony Danza and Danny Glover graced the big screen in one of the most epic sports movies of all time.”

  Sitting up to meet my eyes, he gives me an incredulous look. “Are you trying to pass off Angels in the Outfield as cinematic brilliance?”

  “I am. Do you not agree?”

  It’s obvious he doesn’t agree but I love playing around with him. Actually, I’ve come to crave that with him. To see that smirk, to hear that chuckle, to see the change in his facial expressions—it’s addicting. And I suspect not many others see this side of Bodi Banks. So, I also feel privileged.

  “Rubes, that movie is fucking embarrassing with the wing flapping and horrible baseball playing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have shame for partaking in that film.”

  I study him, really give him a once-over and place my hand on my hip. “Bodi, do you believe in angels?”

  “Are you quoting the movie?” His grin is turning into a full smile.

  Drool worthy!

  “I don’t know, can you hear inspirational music in the background and see a poor little foster kid flapping his arms in the stands, a look of pure determination on his face, hoping and praying that the manager, George Knox, believes his story about angels guiding his team to win the pennant?” I poke his side. “Well, do you?”

  “I can’t handle you right now.” A full-on laugh escapes him as he turns to face me, rolling his eyes and gripping my hand in his once again. “An Angels fan. Just my luck.”

  Just my luck.

  Those three words give me hope, hope that he might actually like me, that he might open up to me more and give me an exclusive spot in his inner circle. And right now, I crave that.

  Tonight may have started with intentions of working on the foundation, but instead, it’s ending with the development of something more than a friendship. At least that’s how I feel.

  Friends don’t hold hands in bed.

  Friends don’t stare you in the eyes with such a powerful force that flip your insides.

  Friends don’t inch closer and closer to you during a thunderstorm, so close that your knees touch.

  He might be closed off, and he might be short with me, but his body language is telling me an entirely different story. His body language is speaking loud and clear; he wants more than friendship.

  ***

  The pitter-patter of rain against a skylight wakes me from a deep slumber. A grey dim of light fills the room, morning barely poking through the continuous storm that hasn’t stopped overnight. Feeling out of sorts, I take in my surroundings.

  Soft bed.

  Cool, silky sheets.

  Monotone colors.

  Behemoth of a man wrapped around me.

  Bare hand spanning the width of my stomach.

  Wait, what?

  Catching my bearings, I carefully look down and see Bodi’s body wrapped around mine, his hand barely up my shirt—just enough to be gripping my stomach—and his wonderfully handsome face is buried in my hair.

  Bodi Banks is one hundred percent spooning me. Not only is he spooning me, but his hand is up my shirt, and he’s glued to my back, to the point that it almost feels like I’m his lifeline.

  I’m not going to lie. I’m a cuddler. It’s intimate, it soothes the soul, and it’s a way to connect with another human being without pulling down your pants to let your privates meet up and have a party.

  The question is, where do I go from here? Does he know he’s cuddling me? He looks at peace, which seems to be something he doesn’t find very often.

  Before I can get too comfortable, the distinct sound of his alarm starts to beep and I hear his front door opening.

  What was once a comfortable cocoon of Bodi muscles and warmth has turned completely cold as Bodi shoots out of bed, bare chest heaving in panic, his eyes wide with absolute terror in them.

  He looks down at me but doesn’t quite register what I’m doing in his bed.

  Instead, he looks frantic with his hands gripping his head, his eyes wide and wandering, and his chest falling heavily as he sneaks around the bed, tiptoeing to his door.

  “Bodi, I let myself in. Hope you don’t mind,” Eva calls out.

  A tidal wave of relief washes over Bodi; he visibly relaxes hearing his sister’s voice.

  “Are you still in bed? I brought your favorite bran muffins. You know the ones that have zero taste at all. Rise and—”

  Her words are cut short when she bursts through his door, a pink bakery box in one hand and a Styrofoam cup of coffee in the other. Frozen in bed, I lie there, clothed in Bodi’s Team USA T-shirt, with a bare-chested Bodi only a few inches away from the bed.

  “Oh dear.” Quickly turning around, she says her apologies and retreats, giggling.

  Yes . . . giggling.

  I’m mortified. Completely and utterly mortified. And we didn’t do anything. Yes, we held hands and yes, Bodi’s hand was under my shirt at one point in time, but nothing happened.

  “Fuck,” Bodi mutters, taking a quick glance at me and then sprinting after his sister.

  Oh, this is awkward. This is so very, very awkward. What do I do? Lie here and wait to be called out to join the party of tasteless bran muffins? Do I call from the bedroom that nothing happened and how awkward I’m feeling—that seems like a Ruby thing to do. Or do I slip on the oversized sweatpants and sneak out quickly?

  Right about now, the last option seems like the best idea. I would like to save face and sneaking out seems like the best way to do that.

  Needing to act on my plan, I quickly retreat from the most comfortable bed ever and head to the bench where I folded up the sweatpants from last night, but I pause when I hear Bodi and Eva talking.

  “What the hell are you doing?” Bodi practically yells, jolting me upright.

  “What the hell am I doing? Better question is what the hell are you doing?” Eva says in a more even tone, stern, but controlled. Not frantic like Bodi.

  “It’s not what you think,” Bodi says. True, very true. I can only imagine what Eva might be thinking.

  “Kind of looks like you slept with Ruby last night.” I wish I could see Eva’s face right now. From what Eva and Lauren have hinted at, I wouldn’t think they would be opposed to something happening between Bodi and me, so it would be nice to read Eva’s features rather than only the tone of her voice. Is she mad?

  “I didn’t sleep with her,” Bodi responds, aggravation clear in his voice.

  “Shall I go back in your room and double-check? Pretty sure I didn’t see a Ruby mirage in there.”

  She must be walking toward the bedroom because I hear Bodi’s bare feet pad across the floor, followed by him saying, “Don’t fucking go in there. Yes, she stayed the night but nothing happened.”

  “Oh really?” Now Eva’s pressing him, pushing his buttons, buttons I wouldn’t dare push because I think she’s over his threshold and treading on dangerous explosive territories.

  “Yes, really,” he grits out. Yup, he’s not a happy camper. “You can’t just walk in here whenever you want without letting me know. You . . .” he pauses, and in my mind I see him wracking his brains for the right words, “you scared the shit out of me, Eva.”

  My heart splits in half, splinters right down the center from the almost boyish way Bodi admits his fear.

  “I sent you a text, Bodi. Maybe if you weren’t in the middle of getting frisky with your foundation partner—”

  “Jesus,” Bodi roars. “Nothing fucking happened between us. She came over to work on the foundation. She was soaking wet from the rai
n. I let her borrow clothes and since the storm was so bad, I did the gentlemanly thing and told her she could crash here instead of waiting in the rain for the bus that was never going to show up.”

  “Then why were you sharing a bed? There is a perfectly good couch in your living room.” Eva doesn’t sound mad now, more amused than anything, as if she’s trying to get Bodi to admit something.

  “She was scared, so scared that she was trembling at one point. I wasn’t going to make her sleep in a strange place by herself. Believe me, nothing happened and nothing is going to happen, Eva. Ruby is not my type. She’s just an acquaintance, a coworker, someone who’s helping with the foundation, nothing more. So, drop it.”

  Ouch.

  Just an acquaintance, a coworker? Someone he’s working on the foundation with? Is that all I really am to him? Nothing more? Not even a friend? I would at least consider us friends if nothing else.

  I guess my perceptions of last night were completely off-base, leaving me feeling humiliated and embarrassed for thinking someone like Bodi Banks would be interested in me.

  What little hope I had for Bodi and me has now been taken away and replaced with a ball of emptiness. Not wanting to be here any longer than I have to, I secure the sweats, tying the drawstring tightly, and head to the main living space.

  I don’t make eye contact. I don’t even say hi to Eva who stopped mid-sentence when she saw me walk out of the bedroom. The condo is silent, as neither Bodi or Eva make a sound. All I feel is their eyes watching me. In the half-bath off the entryway, I retrieve my clothes, which are still damp, and my rain jacket. In the entryway, my purse and foundation papers are perfectly placed on a side table, typical Bodi. I pick them up, take a deep breath, and without turning around say, “I will be sure to return the clothes during our next meeting.”

  “Ruby,” Eva calls out, but I ignore her because for some reason, there is a big ball in my throat.

  I can’t stay any longer without making a scene so I let myself out, not caring about triggering his alarm system. The faster I can get away, the better.

  “Ruby,” Bodi calls from his doorway, still shirtless. “Wait.”

  I don’t turn to look at him, I can’t. He will see my eyes watering, and I don’t want him to see what a pathetic mess I am right now. I need to stay strong. I need to be the coworker he sees me as.

 
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