“What is this incessant need for me to like you? Why do you think you’re entitled to my affection? Why does any man think they’re automatically entitled to any woman’s affection? Is it that much of an oddity when someone doesn’t desire you? When the Hollywood A-list propaganda doesn’t work and you’ve one less fan?”
“I’m not any man. Interesting you use the word desire.”
Oof. The arrogance. I roll my eyes to temper the attraction. “No, not really. Do you have mommy issues? Aren’t I—we like 10 years older than you?” I ask motioning to both me and Ali.
“Six and probably,” he says, his lips twitching with mirth. “I got lots of mommies and I love them dearly. All of them. Daddies too and yeah, loads of issues.”
“Oh, I bet you do,” I tell him in bland amusement.
“This coming from someone with mommy and daddy issues? Really, Willa?” Ali pipes up looking up at us over her black-rimmed glasses fitted on a fresh face clear of makeup, surrounded by her curly mess she pinned up haphazardly in haste. She returns back to work on her laptop. “Don’t let her scare you, Nik. She has a bigger bark than bite.” And she smiles. That secret seductive smile that’s small and sharp and only for me.
I look down back to my skillets of scrambled eggs and bacon to hide my own smile and flush of something deeper, and more meaningful.
Dawn stretched around the corner to curl against the building blanketing every fixed bend. The rumbles began to rouse as the sun grew bolder and taller in the sky. Cali awakes slowly, as do its many inhabitants, quirky and slow to shake and stir. Nik—already been and gone and been again—sits at our table looking wet and raw. His outer veneer deems something rough and tumbly in direct conflict of what he should look like. I say this having weakened my own logic to shun him and the stereotype I forced onto him. He was one and the same and not, and it confused me, and my emotions. Atypical, he broadened and challenged my notions of who he was supposed to be.
I didn’t like it. It pissed me off.
But, it didn’t.
He flashed grins and grew remarkably bolder as he and Ali’s relationship expanded. Having spent the night, I heard them enter late and the subsequent conversation thereafter while hiding in my room, sitting on the floor, next to my open door, arms curled protectively around my legs and self.
“Will we wake her?”
“Probably. She’s never really slept soundly. Insomnia. And dreams. Sometimes though. She can be a real bed hog.”
“Why? Is it because of her…family?”
There was a long pause. Ali sighed: “Yes. The rest you’ll have to get from her. I won’t divulge her confidences.” A kiss exchanged: “She’ll let you in. I know it. Please keep trying. She’s worth it.” And the kiss escalated with hushed whispers I couldn’t hear and an escalation in desires I tried not crave. They exited up the stairs to Ali’s room and I was left bereft and longing to follow. For so many reasons I couldn’t quite understand.
It confused me.
Relentless, he complicates my life in many ways. Temptation mostly. A sin of sins grow. The sinkhole draws me closer each time. He muddles my thinking pulling me to and fro so much so I hesitate to act, and when I do, I reveal parts of me I should not. At least to him—to the world. It’s an abandonment unlike I’ve ever known with anyone or anything other than Ali and art, and it scares me. Ali knows and sees this. An agitator to his catalyst, she prepares the spark of which Nik ignites and as it grows in heat and flames, so do I.
It’s ridiculous. I hated it. Control surrendered and caprice conquered. Handily and readily. Embarrassingly almost to a shameless degree.
This temptation embodies a number of things and not simply my attraction to him. A safety and lure, he illustrates qualities that coax me out of my hole. Some more than others.
She was right. If he continues probing, he’ll break me. And this frustrates me and fuels something else in me. I will not go willingly. I’ll fight it to the end.
“Come out with us. Tonight. We’re doing karaoke,” Nik asks.
My eyes widen.
Ali laughs. “You would need to get her really high to sing karaoke in front of an actual crowd.”
“Really? That can be arranged.” His smile sneaks up on me and flattens me. I take a breath.
“Hmmmm…” he sighs out loud, chin in hand on the counter staring at me. He turns solemn. “What are your dreams about?”
The spatula pauses, eyes downcast, I hear Ali’s fingers pause over the keys of her laptop. All sounds halt.
“Why not?” A long beat later: “I have this one reoccurring dream. My dads—well, they can be a handful.” He sits straighter and stares out through a sea of parental consequences. “They struggle between identities forced onto them and it oozed all over me. Them being Marines—that forcefulness and strength doesn’t come naturally. It’s a lot of work. My constant worry is that I’m letting them down and that shows up in my dreams. Bizarrely sometimes.”
“Is that why you choose all those mindless action movies? I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re hot—and you’re hot in them…” Ali asks.
“Mindless? Ouch. Harsh, love.” He feigns hurt grabbing his chest. His smile says otherwise. Shy and sly, he winks. She blushes. Her knees coiled on the sofa, feet bare, I see her toes curl and her grin flourish. He turns his attention back to me. “Families are necessary burdens but they make us who we are. For better and worse.” He folds his arm and places his chin on them looking up at me somewhat demurely. “Will you come with us?”
I hesitate before answering. I make him wait. He’ll have to work for it. “Maybe. Not yet,” low and coarse, almost a whisper, I relay so many things and reasons in so few words.
“It’s okay. I understand. I’m here. When you’re ready. I’m not giving up on you.”
A hot flutter.
And the temptation grows.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins