Stroked long, p.4
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       STROKED LONG, p.4

           Meghan Quinn

  “If you want, you can have some of my ass. It’s impossible to find jeans that fit around my rear end that can still cinch around my waist without falling off.”

  “Do you tailor your own clothes?”

  “I don’t have much of a choice. I usually get dresses because it’s easier, but when I do buy jeans, I’m left with having to tailor each and every pair, which is such a huge pain.”

  She shrugs and lifts the menu back up to look at it. “Hey, at least you can fill your blouse. If I wore a bra, no one would be able to tell the difference. I only wear one so you can’t see my nipples through my white shirts.”

  “Nipples are fun,” I tease.

  Laughing, Eva sits back and nods. “They really are. Lauren has the best nipples, all small and pointy all the time.”

  “You know I love you, Eva, but I don’t want to talk about your girlfriend’s nipples.”

  “You don’t? That’s odd. I thought you’d like to discuss how when she’s lying down they fall to the side, so far that I think they are trying to crawl up her arm pits.”

  I laugh out loud and shake my head. “Nope, not on my list of things to talk about. Maybe next time.”

  “For next time.” She points at me.

  “What can I get you two ladies?” the waitress asks.

  Eva orders for the both of us. “The minx across from me will have a venti green tea and one of those Rice Krispy treats, and I’ll take a venti of your dark roast with one of those cake pop things, red velvet.”

  “They come in threes.”

  “Perfect, I will take all three in red velvet.” When the waitress leaves, Eva turns her attention on me, places her chin in her hand, and leans against her side of the table. “Tell me, how did your meeting with Bodi go?”

  “Good,” I answer, thinking back to three nights ago. It was an odd night for me. He’s VERY particular about things, like the distance of his pen from his notepad, or the way his glass of water had to stay perpendicular to the cookie he had one nibble on. Could that stem from his childhood? Maybe it’s just him. Or the fact that his house was completely devoid of anything warm or welcoming. There wasn’t one knickknack out, no curtains, not even a throw pillow in sight. Just a basket of throws organized by color. Every square inch of his home was white, with square furniture, cool surfaces, and not one single touch of a human being. It was a complete contrast to my tiny studio apartment, which is full of life.

  Then there’s his attitude. I knew he was closed off, but at times he was almost so abrupt that it startled me. I’ve never met anyone like him, so unwilling to hold a conversation, so uncomfortable all the time. It almost looked like he was going to break down from how nervous he looked. The man I’ve watched preparing for a race—okay, drooled over while watching—I never would’ve thought could be the same man I spent an hour with in his condo.

  “Uh oh, by the look on your face, it seems like it didn’t go as well as I hoped.”

  “What do you mean?” I ask, eyeing her.

  “You know what I mean, with the foundation. I thought you would be the perfect fit, someone he could trust.”

  “I think that part went all right. When we spoke of the foundation, our conversation was flawless, it was the moments in between that were incredibly . . . awkward.” I cringe, hating to bash her brother. “I don’t mean to be rude about it. I enjoy his company very much, but I just don’t think he gets me. I can be a little much at times.”

  “Don’t blame yourself.” Eva waves me off. “It’s not you, it’s him, and I mean that.” Eva pauses and looks to the ceiling, contemplating what to say next. “Bodi’s had a pretty hard life, and the things that happened to him when he was younger affect him to this day. He’s sought out help and sees a therapist every week, but he still has his quirks.”

  “I can relate to the quirk part.” I laugh. “Look at me, I’m wearing a purple dress with a green cardigan and a red belt because it reminds me of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I’m more likely to do a little jig and sing you a song than sit still and shake your hand.”

  “But that’s what I love about you. You’re unique, unlike anyone I’ve ever met.”

  “Yeah, I sure did a great job introducing myself to Bodi the other day in front of Rita. I had a circle of glitter plastered on my face, and I’m pretty sure when I introduced myself, I gave your brother my jazz hands.”

  Eva claps her hands together, throws her head back, and laughs. “Oh, that’s fantastic.”

  “He looked at me as if I had five heads,” I counter, remembering his horrified face.

  “Does that upset you? Would you want him to look at you differently?” Eva leans closer, looking for some dirt.

  I point at her with a knowing finger. “I know what you’re doing; you’re trying to hook me up with your brother.”

  “Well, duh!” She rolls her eyes. “Isn’t it obvious? He needs someone like you in his life, Ruby. And let’s be honest, you can’t sit here and tell me you don’t think he’s a looker.”

  “Eh.” I wave my hand, trying to hold back the snort that wants to erupt from my blatant lie.

  “You are such a liar; it’s written all over your face.” She pushes my arm from across the table. “Come on, admit it. He’s hot.”

  “It’s disturbing you’re saying that as his sister, his lesbian sister.”

  “Hey, just because I have a woman at my side doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the male form. Not that I’m checking my brother out, but I know a good set of abs on a man can tip the scale for any woman. So just come clean and talk to me.”

  Sighing, I cross my arms over my chest in defiance and lean against my chair. “Fine, he’s hot.”

  With a loud slap to the table, Eva sits back, glee plastered all over her face. “I knew it!”

  “Here are your drinks, ladies,” the waitress says, interrupting the embarrassment I’m running through.

  “Thank you.” Eva hands her a fifty and tells her to keep the change. The waitress gawks for a second and then thanks her profusely.

  Once the waitress is gone, I say, “Thank you for my drink and treat, you didn’t have to pay. You’ve already done so much for me.”

  “Please, I know what you make over at the Boys and Girls Club. I’m sorry it’s the only thing I could hook you up with, but this foundation stuff should give you some good experience, especially putting together a gala. That will be great for your résumé.”

  I nod and take a sip of my coffee after I blow on it. ““I agree. I’m excited to get started—”

  “Oh, no you don’t, we were talking about Bodi, let’s go back to that.” Eva holds up her hand to stop me while her lips are on the rim of her cup.

  Of course she wouldn’t let me get away with skipping over the Bodi talk.

  “What is there to say?”

  “You said he’s hot, let’s talk about that.”

  My forehead rests in my hand. “This is so embarrassing.”

  “Why? Because I’m his sister? Oh please, you won’t believe the amount of times I’ve had to hear other women talk about Bodi. The only difference is I like you. Now spill.”

  I bite a chunk out of my treat and talk while I chew. “I don’t know what you want me to say. He’s hot. He has the whole package. The beautiful eyes, the gorgeous messy hair and very light stubble, the body that is only developed in romance novels, and the demeanor of a sexy, yet distraught man. He’s attractive to me in every way possible, especially when he’s in one of those tiny bathing suits.”

  “Am I interrupting something?”

  I’m mid bite when I freeze and look to Eva, who has a giant smile on her face, literally stretching from one ear to the other.

  That deep, husky voice. I would know that from anywhere. Swallowing hard, I look up and see him hovering over our table, wearing his A’s hat, a plain white T-shirt, and dark wash jeans.

  Awkwardly, I raise my hand, twiddle my fingers in greeting, and say, “Oh no, just talking about, uh, Reese
King, right, Eva?” My eyes plead with her. Why I chose Reese King, I have no clue, but I wasn’t sure how much Bodi heard, and I didn’t want to make this situation more awkward than it already is.

  “Yeah, we were talking about Reese King,” Eva says with a smirk. I have a desperate itch to punch her non-existent boob.

  Bodi nods and says, “I can wait while you two finish up.” Bodi starts to step aside but Eva stops him.

  “No, I wanted to talk to you both about the foundation since I’m in town. Grab a seat, Bodi. Can I get you a drink?”

  He shakes his head and pulls a water out of his back pocket. “Got a water.”

  “Of course you do.” Eva points her thumb at Bodi. “The boy doesn’t go anywhere without a water.”

  Feeling uncomfortable, I can sense my “Ruby” starting to break out and it’s evident in my response. “I like water. Gosh, I can’t get enough of that clear stuff. Guzzle guzzle, that’s me. Just hook me up to the reservoir.”

  Bodi gives me a strange look as Eva tilts her head and studies me.

  “I know I’m not drinking it now, but in order to have green tea, you have to start with water, am I right? Green tea is actually a very beneficial drink to the human body, not just because of the water, oh no, there is actually a plethora of benefits from drinking it.” I point my finger in the air and continue, “Fun fact, green tea reduces plaque and bacteria in your mouth and prevents bad breath, so look out, I’m in the running for make-out queen with this spic-and-span mouth. I don’t drink green tea for just the hell of it, I drink it for the opportunity to be a good partner in the act of tonsil hockey.”

  Bodi doesn’t acknowledge my lunacy, he just stares down at his water bottle as Eva shakes her head. “I forgot how you love to ramble on about random things. I missed you.”

  I take that as a compliment. I have to in order to avoid self-hatred. “Yeah, it’s a real treat for all.” I hold my snack out to Bodi. “Rice Krispy?” Scanning the marshmallow and cereal object in my hand, he then looks up at me, his eyebrow slightly raised.

  “Trying to get me to eat sugar again?”

  Oh God, was that a joke? Did he just joke with me? Would anyone else consider that teasing? I hate that I want to paint a rainbow across his face in pure joy.

  “What’s this, did you offer him sugar the other night?” Eva asks.

  “I made oatmeal raisin cookies,” I answer for the both of us. “He had one small nibble, smaller than a mouse. It was like he was an itty-bitty baby and took an itty-bitty baby bite, smaller than one whole raisin. I think it was the size of a pea.”

  “It was bigger than that,” he says softly, retreating back into his shell.

  “But he had a piece!” Eva raises her fist in triumph. “That’s more than I’ve ever been able to do.”

  “I didn’t want to be rude,” he offers.

  “Such a good host.” Eva pats his arm. “But you should know, Ruby, since you will be working closely with Bodi, he doesn’t eat anything that will put an ounce of fat on his body.”

  “So that’s a no on the Rice Krispy treat then?” I smile shyly.

  “No thanks.” He then turns to Eva and says, “Want to get to the reason I’m here?”

  I want to believe the way he phrases his sentence isn’t meant to be insulting, but his dismissal and urge to get this meeting over with does hurt the old ego just a little.

  “You don’t need to be rude,” Eva chastises him, causing him to stare back down at his water bottle like a bruised puppy dog.

  And there goes my heart. It is torn out of my chest and flopped on the table, willing and waiting for Bodi to grab hold of it. With one deflated pose, he has me wanting to reach out and hug him. How is that possible?

  He rubs the back of his neck and peels the label on his water bottle. “I actually have some things to get done. Can you just email me the details?” Bodi starts to walk away but before he can get far, Eva is out of her chair, halting him with one hand to his arm.

  They step aside, out of the way of others, and Eva speaks softly to him while he continues to stare at his bottle. I can’t hear what they are saying, but I’m sure it has something to do with what just transpired. All I see is Eva speaking softly and Bodi nodding his head in agreement. I observe the way she speaks to him, her hand carefully touching his arm with comfort, the way her posture isn’t commanding, more welcoming, and how even though he’s not looking at her, she looks at him, bending just a little to try to catch a glimpse of his eyes under the brim of his hat.

  Leaning over to her ear, he whispers something that causes her to shake her head. She proceeds to grip his hand in hers and squeeze it while speaking softly. To be a fly on the wall, to hear what she’s telling him, to know what drives him to be so softly spoken, so isolated. I want to know. I don’t know why, there is just something about Bodi that drives me to get to know him, to see what makes him tick and what makes his heart stutter.

  “Come on,” I hear Eva say, pulling on his hand. She addresses me as they near the table. “Sorry about that, Ruby. Bodi has a really busy schedule; we should get to the point of the meeting so he can be on his way.”

  “I can schedule for a different time if you would like,” I offer. “I’m pretty flexible.”

  “Not necessary,” Bodi answers, taking a seat. “Go ahead, Eva.”

  Clasping her hands together, she rests them in front of her. “Yes, so I wanted to let you two know I won’t be around to help out with the foundation. I have a pretty tight schedule as well with my art shows and then will be traveling to Omaha for trials and also to Rio.”

  “We aren’t sure I will make it.”

  Eva gives him a “get real” look.

  “Please, Bodi. Reese might beat you at trials, but you always get a slot, and you always take home the gold, so don’t give me that shit. I have a condo already booked in Rio, to hell if I will be staying in some hotel while I’m there. I will be living in luxury. I owe it to Lauren. She deserves a good vacation.”

  “Sounds wonderful. Rio will be beautiful to visit. I heard it’s such a richly cultural environment. And that giant Jesus statue. Man, I would love to see that fella in person. Actually, did you know their giant Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year? Which is odd because God controls the lightning, you know, throwing bolts up there when he’s feeling frisky. You would think he would avoid striking his stone son with shards of electric energy.”

  “Not sure a lot of people know that.” Eva smiles at me. “Anyway, I saw your notes on the project and I agree, the gala is the way to go for raising awareness and funds. I would like to see incorporating swimming and art together.”

  “What do you mean?” Bodi asks, avoiding eye contact with me.

  “Well,” Eva thinks for a second before answering, “both art and swimming are so important to us; I would love to see art depicting swimmers for sale. I’m sure we can invest in some artists around town to help us out and, of course, have the kids paint a few canvases for us.”

  “Might be cool.” Bodi shrugs.

  “Here’s an idea,” I say, feeling a little nervous from what I’m about to say. “Why don’t we use Bodi as a model.”

  “I’m not comfortable with that,” he says quickly before I can finish. “I don’t want to pose or anything.” His voice is rough with a hint of flaring anxiety. Eva notices and puts her hand on his shoulder casually to calm him down.

  “I didn’t mean for you to model in front of people,” I respond quickly, waving my hands to avoid any misconception. “I meant you can be the artist, in a way.”

  “How so?” Eva asks.

  Bod turns to me, and his eyes meet mine. Those blue irises cut deep with the soulful look they carry.

  “Well, it might be cool to have him swim against the canvas, do different strokes with his arms covered in paint.”

  Eva rapidly claps her hands together in excitement while she squeals. “That is a fantastic idea! Oh God, we have to do this, and I want one of t
he paintings for my own collection.”

  “I don’t know anything about painting,” Bodi states, clearly not as excited about the idea as Eva.

  “You don’t need to know anything,” she counters. “You just need to know your different strokes. God, I can’t believe I didn’t think about this. We can use the stroked pictures as high-ticket items to really generate some profit. Hell, right about now I would pay a decent price for Bodi’s swimming to be plastered against a canvas. I’m sure long-time fans with heavy pockets would feel the same way.”

  Bodi turns to Eva and says, “What would I have to do? Would you help me?”

  Cringing slightly, Eva says, “I will be out of town, Bodi, but I know Ruby wouldn’t mind stepping in. Literally, you would just make swimming motions against a canvas while your arms are painted.”

  “It will be really simple,” I step in. “We can even do different variations based on how you feel.”

  “What kind of variations?” he asks, his eyes peeking up at me past the brim of his hat.

  “Well, we can paint the upper half of your body, position you in a swim pose and then press you against the canvas. We can paint you, lay you on the canvas, and have you make motions, maybe using different hues. Or, we can even give you paintbrushes that are dripping with paint, lean you over a canvas and have you stroke above it, making splatters of paint on the canvas.”

  “I like all of those ideas!” Eva cheers. “The last one would be a fun one to do with the kids. We could use those canvases for the gala as well.”

  “Fantastic idea,” I say, feeling really invigorated about this idea.

  Eva and I are discussing color schemes when Bodi chimes in by clearing his throat. We both stop our chatter and turn to him. “We could call it Pennies for Paint STROKES. Keep the word stroke all capital.”

  Eva and I turn to each other just in time to see both our faces light with glee. “Brilliant!” Eva shouts, drawing attention to our table.

  I’m impressed, really impressed actually. I turn to tell Bodi what a fantastic name it is, and I’m surprised to see him looking at me. His face is still half hidden beneath his cap, but I see just the smallest of grins on his face. If I hadn’t looked at that very moment, I would have missed it, because he barely made a motion with his lips. Stunning. And he was looking at me. Smiling. That little tweak I was able to catch makes all the difference in my day. It has gone from humdrum to extraordinary. Bodi Banks smiled at me.

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