Stroked long, p.17
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       STROKED LONG, p.17

           Meghan Quinn

  “Why?” My brow furrows.

  “Because.” She lowers her hands and grabs another Oreo. “You’re Bodi Banks. You don’t have to worry about cash flow, people are practically licking your neck to get you to endorse them.”

  “That’s not true, no one has licked my neck.”

  “You know what I mean.” She pushes my thigh.

  “You shouldn’t be embarrassed in front of me, Rubes.” It’s not the most eloquent thing to say but fuck, I’m bad at awkward situations like this. I’m usually good at making them awkward, but I’ve never been one to pull the conversation away from awkward and into normal. That’s what Ruby does.

  “It’s about to get a whole lot more embarrassing.” She plays with the packaging of the Oreos, avoiding eye contact with me when she says, “I kind of need your help.”

  Not liking this sullen Ruby, I grip her chin with my thumb and index finger and force her to look at me. “What do you need help with?”

  Once again, her cheeks blush with embarrassment, and the crazy thought of kissing those pouty lips crosses my mind. Would she like that? I know I would fucking like it. Shit, I would more than fucking like it. I would love it, to feel her mouth on mine, to taste her sweet lips, to know what it’s like to connect on a more intimate level. Fuck, I crave it.

  Pulling me out of my reverie, she says, “Um, there is this job as a seamstress that would be perfect for me. It would work with my hours at the club, and it pays well.”

  “Okay, what do you need my help with?”

  “I need a recommendation.”

  “No problem,” I say without skipping a beat.

  Her face twists as if she has something else to day. “It’s more of an ask than a recommendation. You see, the job is with Bellini Chambers . . .”

  “You want me to ask Reese to put in a good word for you?”

  Realization hits, as in, Reese, who she stalked and then sprayed with Coke in the grocery store, Reese. She wants me to talk to Reese King for her since they are supposedly dating. That makes sense. She looks so fucking nervous, sitting there, wide-eyed, almost trembling. Little does she know, I would do just about anything for her.

  “Is that asking too much?” Her hands are twisting in her lap now. “I know you’re not the best of friends with Reese, but I figured it’s a shot. I could really use the money. If it’s too much, just tell me, I would totally understand. I mean, it’s a—”

  I cut her off with my hand to her lips. “It’s not a problem at all. I will talk to him tomorrow. I’m pretty sure he and Hollis will be in the weight room when I’m there.”

  “Really?” She sits up, a ray of hope in her eyes.

  “Of course.”

  Throwing her arms around my neck, she pulls her body into mine and hugs me with all her might, her hair floating across my nose, her breasts pressed up against my chest. Fuck, it feels good.

  Reciprocating the hug, I encompass her small waist with my arms and revel in the way she feels in my embrace. I’ve hugged Lauren and Eva, even an occasional woman I’ve had sex with. It’s never felt like this before, like the world has stopped spinning and the only thing in existence is the connection I have with Ruby. With her it feels . . . safe. Right.

  And that’s just a hug. What would it be like to kiss her? I guess having her lips pressed against mine would no doubt make me unsteady, wobbly, totally consumed by her.

  “Thank you, Bodi. This means so much to me.”

  “Sure,” I answer awkwardly and give her a pat on the back, totally breaking up the intimate mood we were sharing. Yup, leave it to me to fuck that up. Needing to break the tension, I ask, “What are you watching?”

  Releasing her tight hold from around my neck, she sits down next to me—like, right fucking next to me so our arms are touching—and she says, “Gilmore Girls. Have you ever seen it?”

  “Pretty sure Eva watched it at some point. I might have caught an episode.”

  “You might have caught an episode? Bodi, this show is amazing. How can you not have watched it?”

  I hold back the disgusted face that wants to peek out. “Maybe because it’s a girl show.”

  A gasp escapes Ruby, followed by a dramatic hand to the mouth. She reeks with horror. “How dare you say such a thing? Gilmore Girls is a show for everyone.” Reaching for the remote, she snuggles up next to me, her arm looped in mine and points to the screen. “See, that’s Luke, he is a role model for all men.”

  I know about Luke. Eva had a crush on him. Yes, lesbians are allowed to crush on men. She would always swoon over him for some reason. Was it the flannel?

  “He’s wearing a backward hat,” I point out.

  “So, you wear a hat.” She flicks the bill and leans in closer. And this is what I’ve missed. This . . . comfort. Acceptance. Warmth. Shit, if watching Gilmore Girls means cuddling with Ruby, I’m all in.

  “Yes, but my hat actually represents something. His hat says he’s too lazy to do his hair in the morning.”

  “Isn’t that what hats are for? Lazy people?”

  “Not necessarily. Hats are an accessory for men.” The minute the words slip out I realize how much Ruby is going to give me sass for them.

  “An accessory?” Her body shakes against mine, her laugh ringing out into her small apartment. “I wasn’t aware of your need to accessorize, Bodi. What other accessories are there for men?”

  I shake my head, knowing fully well she’s not going to let this go.

  “Oh, come on.” She pokes my side and then pulls up her finger, shaking it in the air. “Jeeze oh petes, your side is like steel.”

  “My whole body is steel,” I assure her, focusing on the TV, listening to the non-stop banter between the mom and daughter.

  “I never expected you to brag.”

  “Not bragging.” I turn toward her and tip her chin with my finger. “Just telling the truth.”

  Searching me, her eyes float around, delight radiating from them. “I missed you,” she says honestly.

  Her confession hits me like a brick to the stomach. I’m not good at reading people, pretty fucking pathetic at it actually, so I’m never sure where Ruby stands when it comes to me. Is she interested? Does she only want to be friends? Is there something more between us? I sure as fuck hope so.

  That little confession, those three words, they give me hope. Hope that maybe, just maybe, she’s able to look past the broken man that sits before her and see me for who I am. Because, like I said to Eva, I want more with Ruby. My Ruby.

  Wrapping my arm around her, I pull her closer to my side and without making eye contact, because I’m too damn nervous, I say, “I missed you, too, Rubes.”

  Chapter Thirteen


  Just as I thought, Hollis and Reese are in the weight room working out together. From the outside, looking through the glass, I observe their easy-going friendship and admire how effortless it is for them to interact with one another.

  Me, on the other hand . . . I don’t have any guy friends. I’ve kept it that way because it’s too fucking hard to open up to someone other than Lauren and Eva. I’ve confirmed that difficulty with getting to know Ruby on a level other than a colleague. It’s taken a lot of strength and stepping out of my comfort zone to develop the relationship I have with her—however that may be defined.

  And hell, that comfort zone was blasted out of the water. Gilmore Girls? Eating Double Stuf Oreos? Human contact? With Ruby, I’m way out of my league, treading in the deep end looking for some kind of raft.

  Despite feeling uncomfortable, I’m here for a reason, to help Ruby.

  Entering the weight room with a towel draping my neck, I awkwardly stand in front of Reese and Hollis who are on the floor doing planks, stepping in on their conversation.

  “Hey,” I say, pulling both of their attention.

  “What’s up, Bodi?” Reese asks, standing, and Hollis follows quickly behind him.

  “I have a question for you,” I say, getting straight
to the point. I’ve never been good with small talk. I’m not one to ask about how someone feels or about the weather. Ruby, now she can small talk for days.

  Before Reese can open his mouth, Hollis the smart-ass says, “Are you asking him out? I tried already today and struck out, but you’re thicker than me, maybe he will give you a chance.”

  I’ve never really understood Hollis. He’s an odd fucker. The best diver of our generation, no questions asked, but a fucking weirdo. He’s feminine in a way, but also a self-centered prick in a comical sense, as if he never takes himself too seriously. Pretty sure I’ve never heard something serious come out of his mouth. He’s had a cushy life and would be the first one to tell you. Because he’s Reese’s best friend, I’ve come to know him, but only through interactions with Reese, nothing on our own. I don’t see that changing.

  Without acknowledging Hollis’s question I turn back to Reese. “I know someone who is interested in Bellini’s seamstress position. She could really use the work, and she’s good. Do you think you could put in a good word for her?”

  “What seamstress position?” Even though I’m not good at reading people, it’s obvious Reese is confused.

  “Something about religious wear.” I wish I had more information than that, but I was too busy watching Gilmore Girls with Ruby last night to bother asking for more information. Damn that Lorelai Gilmore for keeping me interested. And her mom, straight-up bitch. There is no way I would have dinner with her every Friday night. Fuck no, I would be hanging out with Luke.

  “Oh, her dog clothes.” Reese shakes his head in disgust. “Sure, not a problem, man. What’s her name? I will text Bellini right now.”

  Clearing my throat, not wanting to make a big deal out of asking, I say, “It’s Ruby Hearts. She applied this morning. She actually knows my sister through the Boys and Girls Club.”

  “Nice, let me send this over to her real quick.” I watch Reese text Bellini, not really interested in saying anything else.

  Once he sends the message, he looks at me and asks, “Do you know Ruby well?”

  Do I know Ruby well? Given the fact that she was cuddled to my side last night while we binged on Gilmore Girls and talked about everything from her very first crush to my favorite color underpants, I could say I know her well.

  For the record, her first crush was Jason Booth and my favorite color is black, it’s all I have. She was not shocked by this answer.

  Pulling on the back of my neck, I nod casually. “Yeah.”

  Being the asshat he is, Hollis asks, “Ooo, do you like her?”

  I glance up at Hollis, not breaking a smile. “She’s a friend,” I bite out for some reason, not liking to be teased and then turn to Reese. “Thanks for putting in a good word. I appreciate it.”

  “Not a problem at all. Are you ready for camp?”

  “Yeah, my coach had me doing repeats all morning. Pretty sure I’m ready to taper now. What about you?”

  “Same here. I’ll be happy when these two-a-days are over. I’m starting to feel my age.”

  Reese has been in the Olympic circuit for a while now; he’s got one more game under his belt than me. This is my third shot at the Olympic Games, and I’m hoping to hit one more in four years to tie Reese in appearances.

  Speaking truthfully, I say, “I’ll be sad to see you go. You’ve always pushed me to do better.”

  “Same here, man.”

  His phone beeps, and I hold my breath as Reese reads the text he received back from Bellini. He’s texting back and forth and I start to worry. Are they arguing? Did I put him in a bad spot? Is she going to say no?

  After what seems like forever, Reese looks up from his phone with a smile on his face. “Looks like your girl is getting a chance.”

  “Really?” Damn, I’m excited, but of course I doubt that is communicated in my monotone answer.

  “Yeah, I assume Bellini will call her in the next few days. Just warn Ruby if she’s working for Bellini, she’s going to have to have thick skin, and if anything, Bellini expects perfection. I hope Ruby is up for it.”

  “She is.” I smile wistfully. Ruby is going to be so fucking excited. “Thanks.”

  “Seriously, no big deal. I’m going to head to the showers. I’ll see you at camp.”

  “Yeah, take care.”

  Sticking my neck out for Ruby was scary, but so fucking worth it. My Rubes will be proud of me, at least I hope so.

  Now I need to cash in on the favor I did for her. I really hope she’s game. Pulling out my phone, I text her.

  Bodi: Reese said to expect a phone call from Bellini in a few days.

  Her response is immediate.

  Ruby: What? Seriously? OMG Bodi, thank you so much!

  Bodi: Anytime, Rubes. But this little favor doesn’t come free. You owe me.

  Ruby: Is that right? What form of payment are we talking here?

  Bodi: Are you free tonight?

  Ruby: Besides organizing my ribbons, I’m not doing anything.

  Classic Ruby. I don’t know any other person who would plan for a riveting night of ribbon organization.

  Bodi: Put the ribbon on ice. I’m picking you up at five. Wear something comfortable, something you can flap your angel wings in.

  Ruby: *fans face* OMG!


  I didn’t even have to knock on her door when I arrived at her apartment. She must have been looking through the peephole, waiting for me, because she opened the door immediately only to throw her entire body into mine and ask relentlessly if we were going to an Angels game.

  The minute I saw the A’s were playing the Angels this week, I bought tickets in hopes of taking Ruby. Thankfully I didn’t have to persuade her to come. Actually there was no coaxing at all.

  Seeing her in Angels gear was a serious fucking turn-on to me. She’s beautiful in dresses and colorful cardigans, but seeing her in a pair of jean shorts and a red Angels tank, paired with a worn Angels cap with her hair loosely braided to the side . . . yeah, fucking boner worthy. She sure as hell knows how to dress for sporting events.

  Those shorts, with the loose frays and worn-out hole in the back are going to be the death of me though.

  The drive to the stadium was ideal, we only ran into traffic for ten minutes, the rest of the trip was an easy drive with Ruby asking insane questions as I answered them. I was tempted to hold her hand on the way but I refrained, despite the burning need deep in my gut.

  Lucky for us, I have some connections and got us parking in the players’ lot, along with seats I’m hoping are going to win me some extra brownie points.

  “I’ve never parked here before. Look at you, knowing people,” she coos, her face plastered against her window, checking out all the fancy cars in the lot. My truck looks like pure shit next to the Lamborghinis, Lexuses, and Range Rovers that grace the rest of the parking area. I might have some great endorsements but, I don’t spend money on frivolous things like cars. Instead I’m the fucking weirdo spending my money on state-of-the-art security systems for myself and my family.

  “Do you think we will run into any of the players?” Her excitement is contagious. I let my mind soak it in, trying to push away the negative thoughts I have of myself.

  “Probably not. They’re already in the stadium warming up.”

  “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”

  Putting the vehicle in park, I get out just as Ruby does, making me wonder if I should have asked her to wait in the truck so I could open the door for her. But then I remember, this isn’t a date. It’s only an outing between friends.

  Friends, that’s all we are.

  I meet her at the tailgate. Her purse is slung over her shoulder like a messenger bag, her hands are in her pockets, and her eyes are bright with excitement.

  “Are you ready?” I ask her, locking the truck and pocketing the keys. I made sure to wear my Oakland A’s gear: a jersey and baseball hat, paired with a comfortable pair of jeans, and my favorite Vans. We could not be more opp
osite in our attire.

  “So ready.”

  Just like every other time we’ve walked together, she loops her hand in the crook of my elbow and holds on tight as we walk toward the gate.

  We quickly get through security, have our tickets scanned, and find our way to the field level where we are sitting a few rows from the backstop.

  “Are these really our seats?” she asks, looking at our view of the field in awe.

  “Yup. Have you ever sat this close before?”

  “No. I’m always up in the nosebleeds.” She’s practically bouncing in her seat as she speaks. “Now I can daydream about all the players up close.”

  Yeah, I don’t like that.

  She must see the distaste for that comment on my face because she’s pushing my shoulder and laughing. “Hey, Mr. Jealousy, want to erase that scowl?”

  “I’m not jealous.” I shift in my seat, pushing my hands down on my thighs to readjust my jeans.

  “You are so jealous.” Ruby points at me with that endless smile of hers. “Don’t worry, Bodi Bear, I will make sure to give you equal attention.” With a wink, she turns back to the field, puts two fingers in her mouth and blows a loud whistle.

  Bodi Bear?

  Oh hell.

  Chapter Fourteen


  “He’s out!”

  “He’s so safe.”

  “Are you blind?” I turn to Bodi, beer in one hand, pretzel in the other while he sits there, a smirk on his face and a water bottle in hand. Water—insert eye roll. “He is so out, by a mile.”

  “Really? A mile? Wow, I didn’t even think the entire base path equaled a mile.”

  “You know what I mean,” I deadpan. “Come on, he was so out.”

  “How much do you want to bet?”

  The spark in Bodi’s eyes ignites something inside me, a warm, all-consuming throb. Currently, the umpires are gathering while the play is under review, a new aspect to the game that I’m still getting used to.

  “You’re willing to bet me on this?” I ask, loving the way he’s coming out of his shell.

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