Stroked long, p.2
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       STROKED LONG, p.2

           Meghan Quinn
 

  “Yes, is she okay?” I ask, a little worried.

  “Of course.” Rita waves her hand in front of her face, dismissing my worry. “She’s done very well for herself and made quite the donation to start a foundation in honor of her mom, who used to volunteer here.”

  “Oh, how wonderful.”

  Eva and I know each other from school. When she was getting her master’s, I was completing my bachelor’s, but we were part of the same dorky art clubs and became good friends. Something tragic happened to her parents when she was young, but I never went into great detail about it with her, because frankly it’s none of my business. But I do know she and her brother donate as much time here as possible.

  Yes, her brother . . .

  Sigh.

  Bodi Banks, Olympic royalty, masterful swimmer, gorgeous human being, and the most closed-off and quiet man you will ever meet.

  The man is incredible.

  I’ve spoken two sentences to him the entire time I’ve known Eva, and they didn’t generate much conversation.

  One being: “You’re Bodi Banks, the swimmer.”

  Well, duh, Ruby, he knows who the hell he is. You try coming up with something intelligent to say when a beast of a man is standing in front of you, his denim blue eyes staring through you.

  Second time: “So you like swimming, huh?”

  Another classic question coming directly from a bumbling idiot.

  He politely grimaced at me, yes, grimaced, and walked away. It was humiliating. But, I always tell myself, it could have been worse. I’ve been known to throw a little fun punch here and there, so the fact that I held my fist at my side instead of saying, “So, you like swimming, huh?” while tapping his shoulder is a feat in itself.

  Point to me!

  But yeah, Eva’s brother is one of those mythical men you read about and follow on Instagram, wondering if he really does exist or if someone is Photoshopping your average Joe to make all women salivate over a little IG newsfeed.

  Let me state for the record: he’s real. He’s so real I may have accidently poked him during my first encounter when I pointed out who he was . . . to him.

  “You’re Bodi Banks, the swimmer.” *Pokes finger to chest*

  I’m awkward as hell. At least I didn’t poke his nipple and then make it hard. Lord knows if that happened, I would have laughed and pointed at the hardened tip while restraining my fingers from flicking it once more.

  “Do you think you’re up for it?” Rita asks me, pulling me out of my Bodi Banks-induced reverie.

  Shoot, what did she ask me? I think back to a few moments ago. Foundation, something to do with Eva, and then all that comes to my mind are images of Bodi’s abs. Miles and miles of delicious, contoured, deep, succulent abs. Like a pack of buttered biscuits sitting on his stomach, waiting to be licked up by any willing and capable person.

  “Sure.” I smile, not wanting to disappoint Rita, hoping I didn’t just sign myself up for crayon melting in the hot sun kind of fun. It’s on the schedule for next week and I’m dreading it.

  “Fantastic. Come with me.” Rita pulls on my arm and guides me out of the arts and crafts room and straight into an empty classroom next door where Bodi is sitting on a counter, his feet dangling just inches above the floor, his head down, looking at his phone.

  When he hears us come in, he looks up and his blue eyes penetrate me once again. Hopping down from the counter, he adjusts his hip-clinging jeans and walks toward us, a confused look on his face.

  I ignore his facial expressions and take him in. He’s wearing a forest-green Henley shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. His grey jeans are modern in their fit, clinging to his body all the way down to his white Nikes. His hair is covered by an Oakland A’s baseball cap, the brim barely curved. He’s casual, but mouth-wateringly sexy.

  Plus . . . he smells like heaven. As if God cried into a pail, blessed it with every magical and mythical creation, and swirled it altogether with His mighty finger only to douse it all over Bodi. He’s blazing sex, and those dark, soulful, clouded eyes spur on my need to get to know him better, despite my failed and pathetic previous attempts.

  “Bodi, you know, Ruby, correct?” Rita asks.

  Please God, let him remember me. My days and nights will be made if he acknowledges my presence.

  In a deep, incredibly masculine voice, full of rasp, he says, “Yeah, Eva’s friend.”

  Eva’s Friend! Yes! For some reason, I am more than elated to be known as Eva’s friend. I can’t help it. I go all Ruby on him.

  Placing a finger on the top of my head, I twirl myself one full 360, stop in a jazz-hand way, shoot him my fake guns, and then hold out my hand. “Ruby Hearts at your service.”

  Yeah, it might be a little much but memorable for sure . . . as a crazy person.

  Slowly, scanning me up and down, he grabs my hand, shakes it, and politely says, “Good to see you again.” I hold back the drool that demands to fall out over his hand connecting with mine. I’m in utter glory, reveling in the way his skin feels against mine, fighting the impulse to hold my hand in the air and shake it about, claiming Bodi Banks touched it. “I don’t remember the, uh, glitter last time,” he adds, pointing to his eyes with two fingers.

  Glitter?

  Oh yeah . . .

  Damn you, Charlie, you little rat bastard!

  My hands quickly go to my face where I try to cover the glitter mess, parting my fingers just enough so I can still look at Bodi.

  Pay attention. This is what they call making a good impression with another human being. Take lessons, I know what I’m doing.

  “Ever have a glitter fart blast you in the face?”

  He cringes, and I realize Bodi is in his late twenties; he’s not a child, and he wouldn’t appreciate a good glitter fart joke.

  Casually shrugging it off, my hands still covering my eyes, I say, “Yeah, me either.”

  Clearing her throat next to us, Rita steps in, a few seconds too late. Damn you, Rita. “Shall we discuss the foundation?”

  “That would be lovely,” I respond, bumping my hip against the counter to strike a casual pose . . . glitter face and all.

  “Thanks to Eva and Bodi’s donation to the center, we are starting a new foundation to raise scholarship money for kids who want to pursue a degree in the arts and athletics.”

  Complete waste of time, but I don’t say that out loud. Much help it did me. Then again, Eva majored in art and look at her. Apparently you just need to do anything but art history.

  “That’s very commendable,” I say to Bodi who just nods his head, his hands stuffed in his pockets.

  “It is, but we are going to need more of a backing, and that’s where you come in, Ruby. We need help developing a campaign through the art department that will resonate with big donors. We need to tie both sports and art into this program. Bodi will work closely with you on this initiative. He has some great ideas already, so I will let you two get to it.”

  “Great. Thanks, Rita,” I respond with a cheery voice as she retreats. I turn to Bodi and smile shyly. “Where do you want to start?”

  Pulling out his phone, he scans his schedule, “Do you mind meeting up at night?”

  “Not at all. I’m flexible.” I stick my leg out and start stretching my hip flexors, showing him just how flexible I am . . . in a massively dorky way.

  He just nods and gruffs as he continues to look at his schedule, ignoring my minor stretch. Not much of a talker, this one. That’s okay, I do plenty of talking for everyone.

  “This is so exciting. How fortunate that you and Eva are able to give back to the very place your mom used to volunteer. You must be very proud.”

  He glances up, a quizzical eyebrow directed toward me. “Do you have tomorrow free? I would like to get this going before the games.”

  “Games? What games . . .?” I pause and then say, “Oh, the Olympics. Gosh, you say it so casually, as if it’s some weekend cricket match you plan on participating
in out in Napa while sipping wine. You know, yucking it up with the sweaters and talking about argyle and all those important things.”

  The room stills as his gaze is pulled away from his phone and he studies me, a slight tilt to his head. Blinking rapidly and turning away with a shake to his head, he says, “Um, so tomorrow. Just come to my place. I like to stay private. Put your number in my phone.” He hands me his phone abruptly and pulls on the back of his neck while I type in my number.

  Just because I am the way I am, I create a new contact for him, putting my name in as Ruby *heart emoji* followed by an “s”. So clever.

  When I hand him back his phone, I expect him to smile, maybe grin at me, but there is no change in his stone-faced façade.

  “I will text you a time and my address. Please don’t share my number with anyone.”

  “Wouldn’t dream of it. You can trust me, Bodi.”

  Curtly, he nods and steps aside. I watch his retreating back when he stops and faces me again. He points to my face and asks, “Are you going to have that cleaned off by tomorrow?”

  “What, you don’t like raccoon glitter eyes?” I do a little side-to-side head dance for him while moving my body up and down and snapping my fingers at my side. “I think it’s very becoming.”

  No response, just a nod, and he’s off toward the door. It’s mesmerizing the way his shoulders flex under his shirt with each movement as he walks away. I would say I’d love to see him without his clothes on, but almost everyone in the world has seen that body. It’s hard not to. He’s all over the Internet as best swimmer’s physique.

  There’s a dispute between who’s hotter: Bodi or Reese King. Yes, Reese has the dark smoldering look going for him, but Bodi? There is something about his light brown hair, dark blue eyes, and damaged soul that calls out to me.

  There is no contest where I’m concerned.

  Not that it really matters though. Bodi is a business associate I’m now working with on a project that actually might be a lot of fun. At least it will get me out of the babysitting job for a little bit and get me into something a little more unique, something of higher caliber then teaching kids how to properly wash paint brushes.

  Tomorrow night can’t come soon enough and not because I will be going to Bodi’s house, but because I will get the chance to start something new and refreshing. Maybe I can put all my skills to use.

  Returning to the classroom, I take a quick peek at my phone because I’m that excited about starting this project, not because of Bodi or the way I could see his six-pack through his shirt. There is a text from a strange number. I know it’s him because he tells me.

  This is Bodi. Tomorrow, 8pm, no dinner just work. 8 walnut dr.

  Well, he gets to the point, doesn’t he? Just because he said no dinner, that doesn’t mean I can’t make dessert.

  As I gather the rest of the paint supplies and clean them out, I think about all the desserts I can make for Bodi. If anything, I know how to paint, draw, sew, organize ribbon, scrapbook, and bake. I’m a regular fifties housewife. Time to turn that fifties charm on Bodi. Just so I can make him smile.

  Chapter Two

  BODI

  Doors locked.

  Floors cleaned.

  Carpets vacuumed.

  Bathrooms bleached.

  Doors locked.

  Windows locked.

  Dishes in the dishwasher.

  TV dusted.

  Garbage taken out.

  Doors locked.

  I go over my nighttime ritual in my head, over and over again, repeating my checklist, double-checking my precisely laid out list.

  Scanning my open-concept condo that overlooks the ocean, I take in everything. Chairs are lined up along the back of the rug, remotes are perpendicular to the TV, throw blankets are rolled and organized by color in the basket, counters are completely clear, and all the doors are locked. I double-checked them along with the windows. Three times. Reiterating in my head their strength and the alarm system I have in place, to let me know if there is a lock out of place.

  Now I just have to wait . . . for her.

  Ruby Hearts was not my first choice when it came to working on the foundation with another person but Eva didn’t have time, Lauren wasn’t interested, and no one else at the club was deemed trustworthy enough to work closely with. Eva assured me Ruby would be sweet and able to keep things confidential.

  It’s not that I don’t like Ruby, I do. She’s nice and quirky in her own way, but I don’t know her like Eva does. I choose not to expose others to my demons and insecurities. Who would want that anyway?

  I’m flawed mentally, and my personality doesn’t shine like it should, given my stature and position in the sports community. There is a high demand for my time and attention in the public eye, for my assistance in raising money, in teaching camps, but I’m jaded, skittish, barely able to function in social settings other than ones I’m already comfortable with.

  I swim, train, lift weights, volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club, eat, and sleep. I don’t have a social life; I don’t have friends, and the only people I talk to are my coach and my sister.

  But the insistence of my person is demanded outside that comfortable little square I’ve put my life in, thanks to my sister and her idea to start a foundation. How convenient she can’t head it up herself. At first, I told her I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it, but then she threatened to put someone else in charge of it, someone I didn’t know or trust, therefore I caved, but I can’t do it on my own. That’s why I’m sitting on my couch, staring at the wall while my knee bounces up and down as I wait for Ruby to show up.

  A wave of nervous internal sensations rolls through me. My stomach quivers, my mouth goes dry, and the palms of my hands are extremely clammy.

  Ding dong.

  My doorbell startles my heart, sending it into overdrive as I look at my watch. Eight o’clock exactly. She’s right on time.

  Giving my palms one last swipe over the thighs of my jeans, I stand and straighten my T-shirt, fidgeting with it just to give my firing nerves something to do.

  You can do this, Bodi. It’s just an hour or so talking about the foundation. Nothing more.

  But what if she wants to get to know me?

  My hand stretches for the doorknob just as my mind thinks of all the things she could ask me.

  Why is it so clean in here?

  Why are all the blinds shut?

  Why are you adamant about your security system? I grip my hair and pull on the stands, retreating from the door, just as she knocks.

  “Fuck,” I mutter, trying to steady my erratic breathing, my fingers twirling in my hair, pulling tightly enough to cause pain to radiate through my skull.

  Steadying myself, I look at my reflection in the entryway mirror, taking in my appearance. My eyes are heavy with fear, my hair is volatile, and my jaw is tense with anticipation of what stands behind my front door.

  It’s just Ruby, Eva’s friend. She’s not a reporter, she’s not a super fan, she won’t probe, and she is not here to dive deep and explore your demons.

  I repeat that sentence a couple times in my head, take a deep breath, and open the door.

  “Hi.” She smiles at me brightly with Tupperware in her hand.

  The glitter that graced her face yesterday is no longer circling her big brown eyes, but instead, she is wearing brown-framed glasses that are modern but look vintage. Her long blonde hair frames her face and her thick full bangs cover the top of her eyebrows, draping her forehead in golden splendor. She’s wearing a red sundress paired with a green belt and a navy cardigan. She’s a kaleidoscope of colors, but it works for her, unlike me, who’s wearing gray jeans and a black shirt. There are no bright colors in my life. Besides grey, black, and white, I will wear green on occasion to support my A’s, but that’s pretty much it.

  “Come in,” I say, stepping aside and quickly shutting the door and locking it. I then disarm my alarm system to make sure it doesn’t go off.
After I type in my code, the itch to unlock and lock my doors again to make sure they are truly secure is overwhelming, to the point that my entire body feels itchy. I refrain from rechecking them to avoid embarrassment in front of Ruby. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a look back at the door to make sure everything is in place.

  Everything is locked.

  “Wow, what a great space,” Ruby says, looking around.

  “Uh, thanks,” I reply, grabbing the back of my neck with one hand while the other one goes to my pocket, trying to hide the nervousness shaking through my bones.

  Turning and holding out her Tupperware, she says, “I made my famous oatmeal raisin cookies. They’re famous because they’re soft and chewy on the inside with just the slightest crunch for texture on the outside. Don’t even try asking for my secret ingredient.” She winks and pauses, waiting for me to say something, but I don’t, so she carries on. “I know you said no dinner, but you never said anything about dessert. Whenever I am invited to another person’s house, I always like to bring something. It’s proper etiquette. Here you go.”

  “I don’t eat sweets. It’s not in my diet plan.” The words slip out of me before I can be a gracious host and accept her gift.

  Her face falls flat as she lowers the Tupperware full of cookies. “Oh, I didn’t consider that.”

  Great. Not only do I feel like my skin is about to crawl off my body from nerves, but now I feel like the biggest dick on the planet.

  “Um, I actually will take one,” I say awkwardly, holding out my hand. God, Banks, could this be any more uncomfortable and stiff?

  “That’s okay.” She waves me off. “You don’t have to eat one. I should have asked before making them.”

  “No, I would like one.”

  Placing her hand on my forearm, she gently says, “Bodi, don’t worry about it. Just means I get to take them home and gorge on them while binge watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Sighing, she looks toward the living room. “Shall we?”

  Studying her, wondering if I should make one more attempt to eat one of her cookies, I see that her eyes ring with sincerity, so I drop it. “Sure.” I motion to the dining table where I’ve set up notepads, a pen for each of us, folders, and some reading materials, all precisely organized and straight where I made sure to line them up horizontally with the edge of the table.

 
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