My skin broke out in goose bumps and I had to shift in my seat to alleviate the sudden throbbing between my legs. What was happening to me? My experience with men was minimal. It was hard to date when I didn’t like people coming within striking distance, let alone touching me intimately. My sex life consisted of myself, a few imaginary fantasies, and that was about it. But this mystery man? Just thinking of him had my whole body pulsing to life and all five of my senses begging for him.
Leaning back in the chair, I looked at the ceiling and groaned. Emotions of any kind were not fun to deal with. Which was why I tried not to. I had been on the receiving end of my mother’s rage and love for years. That was the tricky part of dealing with someone who was bipolar. I never knew which version of her I’d get. She could go from such hate to such joy in a matter of hours and it wasn’t until I felt her nails slice across my face that I knew which state she was in.
Even keel. All the time. That’s where I preferred to be. That was where it was safe.
Now if only I could get my stupid body to understand that.
“How was your first day, Miss Tits and Ass?” Brian sat in the chair on the other side of the living room and unleashed that all-American, boy-next-door smile at me. Too bad I was immune to it. Had been since junior year of college, when I met him. All Brian had to do was aim that grin, shaggy blond hair, and stubble at an unsuspecting female, and they’d instantly swoon. It was how he’d snatched up Megan, and the two had been dating for over a year now.
“You do know that T.A. means Teaching Assistant, right?”
He shrugged and sprawled on the overstuffed chair, beer in hand. Megan and I had rented this apartment during freshman year at college. Since we’d moved in four years ago, Mondays were designated “sweatpants and take-out night.” It was my favorite. Especially when Brian came over to hang with us, even though he donned his normal ripped jeans and baseball cap instead of pajamas. Besides Megan, he was my best friend.
“Tell Brian how you almost got creamed!” Megan yelled from the kitchen, where she was dishing up Chinese food.
“I wasn’t watching where I was going and almost got hit by a car.” Crisscrossing my legs on the couch, I took a bite of my chow mein.
“Jesus! Are you okay?” Brian leaned forward, his forearms resting on his knees, and looked me over as if I were a walking bruise. We joked around a lot, but at the end of the day, we were all friends. He was as close to a big brother as I’d ever get, and like Megan, treated me like I should be wrapped in Styrofoam and sheltered from the atmosphere itself.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just stood there with coffee dripping down the front of me like a moron.”
“But then Mr. Tall, Dark, and Dramatic sent her a new blouse,” Megan finished as she walked into the living room.
“Wait. The guy who almost hit you with his car sent you clothes?”
I glared at Megan, who just shrugged me off. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Brian, but another person weighing in on the oddity of this whole situation was the last thing I needed.
“How did this guy find you?”
“I don’t know. He knew my name and where I was going and I guess just figured it out.”
Brian frowned. “That seems freaky.”
“I think it’s nice.” Megan grinned. “And I think he’s hot.”
I took a drink from my longneck. “You haven’t even seen him.”
“So? You described him and he sounds hot. I trust your judgment. Besides—” Megan took a bite of her lemon chicken. “—this would be a perfect opportunity to ask him out.”
“I don’t even know his name.”
Megan shrugged. “He found you. Maybe you can find him. All I’m saying is that you’re beautiful and smart and you have a lot to offer. Why not get your toes wet in the dating pool? You don’t have to get too close—maybe a cup of coffee or something?”
“This is assuming I ever actually see this guy again.”
“All I’m saying is that you smile a lot whenever you talk about him.”
“I haven’t talked about him. You’ve been making me talk about him all night.”
“I don’t like it,” Brian stated.
That didn’t really surprise me. Since I didn’t date, the issue had never come up, but where Megan thought that branching out was good for me, Brian obviously disagreed.
“This guy is obviously thoughtful and it’s Saks Fifth Avenue. What’s not to like?” Megan spat back.
Around a mouthful of noodles I mumbled, “I’m really sorry I told you guys.”
“Don’t be! It’s Brian who’s being an ass.”
“Oh, I’m the ass?”
I threw my hands up. “I thought we established that I was the one with the ass, so both of you shut up.” We all smiled. Megan rolled her eyes at Brian, but he didn’t seem to care.
Dinner hit the spot and as I ate, I thought about what Megan had said. Hunting down this mystery guy wasn’t an option, but if I was given a chance to re-do that first meeting, I would. Either way, it was time I took action. My past wouldn’t hinder me. If I wanted to be treated like a normal woman, I needed to start acting like one. A cup of coffee wasn’t scary.
“How about lunch tomorrow?” Brian asked.
“I can’t. I’m actually running Professor Martin’s lecture.”
“No shit? That’s awesome!”
“It’s the intro sociology class, but I’m pretty excited.”
“You should be,” Brian said. “But, ah, do you think you’ll be able to handle that?”
Anger swelled in my chest. I knew he cared. Knew Megan cared. But I wasn’t a child. Yes, I had anxiety problems and issues with personal space, but I wasn’t breakable. Being treated like a fragile doll was frustrating. And I’d decided a long time ago, when I walked out of my mother’s house, to stop being weak.
“I can handle a lot, Brian.”
He opened his mouth to say something, but Megan cut him off. “What time are you done? We can both meet you afterward for dinner.”
“Lecture gets out at four-fifty, so let’s aim for five.”
“Perfect.” Megan clapped and Brian nodded in agreement. “We can celebrate your first lecture on the other side of the fence.”
I ran my palms down the front of my black pencil skirt. The emerald fabric matched my eyes and, as usual, my long curls hung loose around my face and down my back. This was my power outfit. The curtain my hair provided was my security blanket. Staring down a theater of one-hundred-plus students, I needed all the security and confidence I could get.