She won’t look at me.
She isn’t interested, obviously not in the mood to rehash the past. The past is all I can think about; it’s all around me.
Her brother, who is also my best friend, married the girl he’s been with since freshman year of high school. All of our old friends are here, mostly married with children. It’s like I’m having one of those dreams that don’t make sense with people you used to know in starring roles, doing and saying bizarre things that don’t quite match up with the fading memories of them in your head.
A girl—Lexi? Alexis? whatever—I used to fuck back in the day walks in with her husband. She used to do a tremendous amount of coke. She probably shouldn’t even be alive. She comes over and talks to me using big words in not the quite right ways, and Alexis’s husband stands next to her proudly.
I get away from them as soon as I can and look back at her.
I stare at her, her gaze touching everyone but me. I wish I could have a fraction of her composure. I hate her fucking ambivalence more than I hate being at this fucking wedding. So I decide to be a dick. I order a big drink and slink up to her, all false bravado.
Her dark eyes flick over to mine, but her expression hardly changes. She doesn’t verbally greet me; instead, she nods. Fury temporarily flares in my chest but I temper it with a forced smile.
“I heard you just got in. How’s school?”
She sips her drink before she answers. Her drink is something pink and alcoholic and girly. “Good. How’s work?”
So this is how it is going to be between us. This detached bullshit is wearing thin. I’ve been inside her, for God’s sake.
“It’s good,” I shrug. “Making more money now. Can’t complain.”
Her eyes are watching her brother fling Theresa around on the dance floor. “Good for you.”
She says that like she means it, and I wonder if that isn’t worse.
“Yeah.” The words are tumbling out before I can stop them. “I’ve missed you, you know.”
Valerie doesn’t answer. She is standing there, all adult-like, and it drives me crazy.
Her smile comes, but it’s not real. It’s not the smile she used to give me. But she ends up looking at me and I realize I can’t be a chooser if I’m already a beggar.
“Thanks.” She looks at me closely, analyzing every wrinkle. “You look different. I can’t figure out what it is.”
I just lift my shoulders up and drop them down. Then we drift into an uncomfortable silence. Her throat shifts as she swallows her drink. Heavy lashes flutter, casting shadows across her cheeks. Unbidden, memories flash through my mind—Valerie laughing, Valerie happy, Valerie kissing, Valerie cumming, Valerie, Valerie, Valerie.
I still want her. That never stops. That gnawing desire has been with me so long I can’t imagine what it would be like not to want her. But just like always, it’s a temptation I can’t allow himself to have. I’ve given in before and it’s only made me feel like a bigger piece of shit.
“What are you thinking so hard about?”
Valerie’s voice is soft and she almost sounds like she used to, like she still cares about me.
“The past.” I don’t need to elaborate. The way she shuts down tells me she knows what I mean.
She digs into her purse for her phone and checks it. The angles of her face are illuminated in the unnatural and eerie glow. “No wonder you had a frown on your face.”
“I’m really happy to see you, you know,” I tell her.
Her expression changes. “Really?”
She throws her phone back in her bag and sighs. “I knew I was going to see you. I tried to prepare myself but ... It’s always a shock.” Her hand toys with her hair, a darker brown than it used to be. “I’m seeing someone, you know.”
I did know that. When her brother told me, I thought it was a good thing. Now, hearing it from her lips cements it and makes me ache. “Yeah, Tom said. That’s great.”
The strap of her bridesmaid’s dress is falling down her arm. It makes her look vulnerable somehow. My fingers twitch, eager to adjust it and feel her warm skin, but I resist. She has someone in her life now.
“He’s really ... stable.” She reaches over and pulls the strap up herself.
Her eyes are a little sad. Knowing Valerie, I don’t really see that as a compliment. I feel worse, reading between the lines. After me, she probably longed for someone safe.
“Good.” I don’t mean it, and I think she can tell by the tone of my voice because a tiny smirk flits across her face.
Her mother calls her name and she walks away, not looking at me again.
Tom comes over to me at some point. I must look worse than I think because he claps his hand on my shoulder.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have forced you to come.”
“Nah, man, I’m glad to be here.”
He looks down at the empty glasses in front of me. “Sure.”
“I mean it. I’m happy for you.”
“Things ended up as they should have,” he says.
I know what he means and I agree. It is amazing our friendship lasted what happened with Valerie. That Tom can sit here and care about me, joke with me, is a testament to what kind of guy he is.
I fucked his baby sister, then I fucked her over. It is my modus operandi. Love ‘em and leave ‘em fast, like a real winner. It dates back to my childhood, but doesn’t everything? It’s boring to rehash all of that.
My eyes catch Valerie laughing and the ache burns in my chest.
“I never deserved her,” my drunken mouth says.
Tom shifts next to me. “No one does. But you specifically made sure you didn’t, right?”
Wincing, it all floods back to me. Valerie was happy with me when she graduated high school. We held hands. We were young. She was young. Then it was too much. I was pulled to one side of the country. She fled to the other after she caught me making out with her friend.
Now she’s in fucking graduate school and she wants to get her doctorate and be a shrink. She probably understands me better than I do. Maybe that’s how she could stomach talking to me tonight.
“Look, man, let it go. Let it go for tonight. Dance and hang out with our friends. They are the same guys, I swear.” He laughs. “They can’t believe you’re here. They want to shit on you so bad for your new job.”
“My kindergarten teaching career? I’m ahead of my fucking time.”
Valerie is surrounded by Tom’s new wife and the other bridesmaids. I want to see her face. It’s disgusting how desperate I’ve become.
“None of them can picture you around sticky kids.”
“I’ve changed.” I stare at the linen tablecloth. “I’m not the same asshole I was. Not even the same asshole I was a year ago.”
“Oh, God. No.” I look at Tom and he’s shaking his head at me. “You wouldn’t.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You want to try again with her. Valerie.”
I snort. “What? That ship has sailed.”
“Don’t you fucking dare try to get her to come into your room tonight or our friendship will officially be over.”
“Tom, I don’t—”
“You do. You’re always going to love her. You’re always going to regret her. And you’re never going to have her. That’s the end of it, do you hear me?” He gets up and stares down at me. “I have forgiven a lot. You know that. Don’t make this harder on me, please.”
He sees a relative waving at him and forces a smile, leaving me behind.
I’m anxious. This is typically when I’d cast my net and find the most available girl here, take her outside and fuck her or something. Get it out of my system. But I feel Valerie’s eyes on me sometimes and it feels like such blasphemy to do something like that here, near her. It feels wrong touching anyone else.
Around midnight things are winding down. The band is tired. Theresa is hammered and Tom is embarrassed, apologizing to his grandmother after Theresa knocks off her wig.
Valerie sits at her table alone, texting. Who? I wonder. Probably her boyfriend.
Tom says he’s a lawyer, or trying to be a lawyer. He says he has his shit together and treats her really good. They’re talking about moving back to the east coast. Back to New York, maybe. That simultaneously thrills and terrifies me.
I want her as close as possible, but it hurts like it would hurt hugging the sun.
Now my thoughts are getting poetic, so I go off to have a tequila shot. Some kid I used to be friends with, Jefferson, spots me and his smile is fucking vile. He remembers who I used to be and hasn’t learned yet people grow up. At least in some ways.
“Hey, man.” He slaps my arm in greeting. “Long fucking time no fucking see. What are you doing here?”
“Yeah, but you know, the whole Valerie thing. Shocked to see you, that’s all. Not as shocked as she was, I bet, though, right?”
I kind of want to punch the shit-eating grin off his face but that would undoubtedly cause a scene.
“She knew I was coming.” I scan the room, desperate for an exit. The last thing I need is this idiot drumming up trouble for me. He’s probably about to pull out coke or some pills from his coat pocket and I don’t think I’m strong enough to back away from that. Not tonight.
The bartender comes over. “Tequila shot, please.”
Jefferson snorts. “Tequila? No, no, we want shots of Jameson. Everyone at the bar gets a shot, woo!”
Valerie is down at the end of the bar. I missed her come up there somehow, and now she’s laughing blatantly at the asshat beside me.
The bartender gives us two Jameson shots apiece, probably in hopes we’ll go collapse somewhere.
“So, I got some awesome shit with me tonight.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“The finest shit you’ll ever lay your eyes on.” He lets me have a little peek at a bag of crystals in his coat pocket. Meth. “Wanna come outside with me?”
God, the temptation is unbelievable. I thought I’d be strong tonight. I’d see Valerie and it would suck and it would be what I’d deserve, but I never thought I’d have to stave off the temptation to use again. That rabbit hole, that fucking dark tunnel of drugs, is one I never want to stumble down again.
But Valerie is beautiful and not mine. I’m being a pussy about it but it’s so much harder being so close to her. I haven’t seen her since she came back that last time to pack up her stuff.
She loves another guy. Someone who deserves it, too, probably. I hope so, at least. And he loves her and he takes care of her and he probably even “makes love” with her and it all makes me so sick and furious that I want to punch someone in the face.
“Can I squeeze in here, you guys? No room on the other side.” Valerie’s little body slips in between me and Satan himself. She’s pressed up close to me—too close—but I smell her perfume and I’m practically touching her, and I forget all about the delicious high I could be having right now. She smells like peaches with a hint of vanilla. I feel like such a dork thinking that but it’s true, and I really wish I could spread her out on the bar and see if other parts of her taste like peaches, but we’re in a public place and she doesn’t even want me.
I wouldn’t care about any of this if I snorted. But that would be cheating.
Jefferson’s smile turns flirtatious. “Valerie, you look beautiful. I told you before but I’ve gotta say it again.”
“Thanks,” she says. She says it casually, not because she’s vain but because I can tell she hopes he’ll get the message and scurry off.
“Your brother tells me you’re in grad school these days. So grown up!”
She just smiles.
“And you’re seeing someone, right? What’s his name, what’s he like? Tell Uncle Jefferson.”
“Wade, and he’s great.” She doesn’t seem uncomfortable relating this information, and again I’m struck with feeling insulted, ridiculous as it sounds. She doesn’t even seem to care I’m sitting right here, listening to this fabulous life she’s cultivated without me.
But who am I shitting? It’s what I deserve, and it’s a good distraction from the crystals in Jeff’s pocket (it’s not, really, but it’s good to keep telling myself that so I don’t tackle him and take all of them for myself).
“Why couldn’t he make it?”
She takes one of the little tiny straws on the top of the bar and plays with it. “He actually had a funeral to go to.”
“Holy shit,” Jefferson says, faking sympathy. “Makes you think about life, right? A wedding and a funeral.”
“I think your date is looking for you,” Valerie murmurs. “Over there. By the bathroom. Maybe you have something she wants.” Valerie shrugs. “Something she needs in the bathroom?”
Jefferson starts. Those sentences have a multitude of meanings. Some innocent, some not. He’s not a complete idiot, and she’s not a complete saint, so he deduces he better actually scurry off before Tom punches his brain in.
“Right. Well, it was good to see you both. Behave.”
“Loser,” Valerie says under his breath when he’s far enough away. Then her angry and dark eyes glare at me. “I cannot believe you were going to go use with him.”
“What?” I need a drink. I turn to the bartender but Jefferson is now monopolizing him on the other side. “What are you talking about?”
“I know Jefferson like I know the back of my hand. Total sleaze and druggie. And I saw him show you something in his breast pocket and I’m not a moron.” Valerie waves over the bartender. “I’ll have a gin and tonic. He’ll have a glass of water,” she adds, pointing at me. “A big glass, okay?”
The bartender smiles at her.
“I’ve told you a few times in our lives that I can’t stand by and watch you be a doofus. You can be a doofus tomorrow or the day after that, if you like, but tonight we’re stuck in a room that isn’t big enough and I can’t bear to watch you get annihilated.”
I am quiet for a minute. She cares, it dawns on me. She still cares. She was always sort of crazy; it shouldn’t surprise me.
She moves a little closer to me and sips on the gin and tonic the bartender happily puts in front of her.
“Be careful with that, lightweight.”
“Just because I’m talking to you doesn’t mean we’re friends,” Valerie says, cutting me down. “I’m not much in the mood to joke around with you.”
I shift on my feet. “Sorry.”
The silence is awkward and I hate it.
“I hear you’re considering moving back at east.”
She looks at me beneath her lashes. “Where did you hear that? Tom?”
She blows a puff of air out and I smell the alcohol on her breath. It didn’t occur to me before but now I realize with a strange mixture of amusement and annoyance she’s drunk.
“It’s a faint possibility at this point. Wade is debating a position he’s been offered, and we both miss our families out here.”
I fight back my urge to make fun of his name, reminding myself his name could be Dirk and he’d still deserve her more than I do.
“I’m sure it would make your parents really happy.”
Her eyes come back to me, still half covered beneath those thick mascaraed lashes. “Would you be?”
Something snaps in my chest like a tightly wound rubber band. “I don’t think we’d see much of each other.”
She puts both elbows on the bar and squeezes her upper body between them, pushing her breasts together in the most mouthwatering, erotic way imaginable. She catches me staring and laughs, but doesn’t call me out on it.
“Don’t you see a lot of Tom?”
“Not as much as before.”
Before. So much meaning can be packed in a single word.
She calms down a bit, losing her tipsy goofiness. “I hate that what happened between us fucked up your friendship. He was your anchor.”
“Anchor? What do you mean?”
“He could always bring you back to earth. No matter what bender you went on, or how bad you fucked up, he could bring you back. I hate to think there’s this huge rift between you.”
As if he can sense us talking about him, Tom’s head snaps in our direction and his gaze narrows at me. What he said earlier floods back into my mind and I realize we’re dangerously close to one another. I step back and shake my foggy head.
“I think I need to go sit down.”
“All this time I’ve imagined you fucking anything with a pussy and two legs,” Valerie whispers. “Tom said it wasn’t so, you’d calmed down and grown up, but I thought he was just cheering me up. Because in spite of everything? I wanted the best for you, and I think he was worried that if I got an idea of how bad things were it would put me in a funk.”
Her eyes catch mine. “But you have been doing well, haven’t you?”
“Tonight must have been really hard on you. And you have a lot of temptations around you.”
She has no idea.
“Why are you being so nice to me?” I ask, sounding like a needy teenaged girl.
“Two reasons. One selfish, one selfless. Both are so tangled up I can hardly tell one from the other. Wanna hear?”
“Can I get a drink first?”
Valerie grins that fucking grin and I could almost get hard just from the curvature of her lips. I’m such a pussy.
She waves over the bartender again. “Two shots of Jameson, please.”
“What! You don’t do Jameson, and I don’t really, either.”
“You did with Jefferson.”
“I had no choice!”
The bartender comes back and gives me a fucking smirk, knowing this shot is the one that’s going to put me over the edge. He probably thinks I’m exactly like Jefferson. Douche.
I eye the shot like it’s going to stab me. Valerie giggles. “It’s just a shot, Michael. Don’t be a pussy.”
It’s the first time she’s said my name all night. I turn to her and she must notice it, too, because her cheeks turn pink.
“Do the shot, Michael.”
The whiskey burns like fuck but it’s worth it. Valerie’s face twists with disgust, but once the liquor settles she smiles at me. “Whoa.”
She crooks a finger over at the bartender.
“I literally can’t drink anything else,” I tell her.
“Relax, baby, it’s for me.”
She says “baby” meaning infant, but my mind goes back to all the times she called me baby before. Sweetly, usually before she said she loved me. Shocked, when I said something really obscene. Lustful and desperate when my mouth was—
“Here.” She shoves another glass of water at me and miraculously produces two aspirin. “Drink.”
So I listen, watching her suck down another gin and tonic.
“Alright, so as to why I’m being nice to you.” She hops up on a bar stool and swivels around. “One is that of course I still care about you and I want to see you do well. I know you’re sorry. I got your letters. Tom even admitted it. I know you’re sorry, okay? I know it. And I appreciate it. It’s nice to hear it from someone who broke your heart.”
“Shush,” she interrupts, putting her little finger against my lips. She stares at my mouth, nearly transfixed, but she stops herself from showing any more emotion and whips her hand back. “The other reason is because I want to fuck with your head.”
That stops all my drunken thought processes. “What? Fuck with my head?”
“Yeah. I’d say I’m doing a pretty swell job at it, too.”
I look around for Tom. “You’re drunk.”
“Yep,” she giggled. “Not as drunk as you.”
“That’s not true.”
“We just hold our liquor differently. In this moment, right here, I’m more powerful than you.”
I look her up and down. I don’t know this woman standing in front of me, her black bridesmaid dress silky and begging to be torn off. I like her like this, but it aches me to know the Valerie I once knew is different. Cynical. Maybe even a touch cruel. “You’ve changed.”
“I grew up.” She steals a cherry from behind the bar and sucks on it. “You’ve changed, too.”
I barely listen to her. She’s sucking on a fucking cherry and it’s so red as it slips into her wet, pink mouth.
“I see what you mean about fucking with my head.”
Her mouth twists. “Don’t you think you deserve it?”
“What does fucking with my head entail?”
“Mostly what I’ve done. Being nice to you. I didn’t plan it, if it makes you feel any better. I was terrified to see you. I was afraid my heart would splinter into thousands of pieces and I’d collapse right on the floor. But then I saw you and it was like, I just knew I was going to be okay. I thought, okay maybe we’ll say hello and that’ll be it. But I saw your eyes, how they watched me. And it infuriated me that you thought you had any right to look at me that way.”
“Valerie. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do here. I’m really drunk and confused. I should probably head back on the bus to the hotel. It’s coming soon, right?”
She gets closer to me. Her breasts are against my chest and I swear to fucking God I can feel her hard nipples through her dress and my shirt. I wonder if she’s wearing a bra. A quick glimpse makes me think no. And fuck, her skin is so pink and white against the black dress, so creamy and tasty-looking. I’d fuck her right here if I could get away with it.
I’m swaying on my feet and reach out to hold the bar.
“You’re coming back with me.”
My lungs and my heart stop pumping, squeezing, releasing. “What?”
Blood rushes straight down into my cock.
“What?” I ask again.
Her grin is wicked.
“Are you fucking with me again?”
Her white teeth bite into the juicy cherry, and then she tosses the stem on the bar.
“Yes, but I mean what I said. You’re coming into my room and you’re fucking me.”
My cock wants out of pants and inside that warm, wet and tight pussy I know so well. My head doesn’t even give a fuck what she’s doing anymore, what her incentive is. I forget about Tom, about things like repercussions, that I might be tearing open wounds that had only slightly begun to heal.
I don’t give a fuck. I just want to sink into her and forget everything that’s happened. Pretend like our two years apart didn’t happen.
My dazed eyes travel down her body. Her long white legs swing back and forth, sometimes letting her heels cling against the metal pole of the stool. I imagine them wrapped around my back as I drill her.
“Because you do it so well. And because I think we owe our relationship, the memory of it, a better ending than you fucking Laura.”
“We didn’t fuck.”
She looks down and stares at my throat. “You might as well have.”
“Hey,” I whisper, reaching to touch her cheek.
She slaps it away. “This isn’t going to be lovemaking, Michael. I don’t want that. We aren’t the same people we were before. I just want to be fucked by you. I want you inside me, so hard and fast. I want us to slide against the sheets. I want the people staying in the room beside mine to hear us. I don’t want apologies and whispers and delicate tender touches. Don’t even dare do that.”
“This is really fucked up.”
“I’m in room 34C. Come if you want and I’ll make you come all night.”
It only now dawns on me I’m standing between her spread legs. I’m sure she can feel my hard-on on her thigh. I push against her a little and her eyes flutter shut.
“Do you know how wet I am right now?”
My own eyes close. “No, but I really want to.”
“34C,” she whispers again.
Then she hops off the stool and heads back over to her family, her familiar smile back on her face. If we didn’t just have that conversation, I would assume the woman in the long heels is the same Valerie I knew and loved two years ago.
But I know better now. I fucked her up big time, and she’s intent on bringing me to my knees.
And I’m intent on letting her.
I’m soberish by the time the party bus takes us back to the hotel. She was on the first round of buses so I’m not forced to watch her and wonder what the hell she’s really doing. Is this for me, or for her? And does it matter?
Tom watches me like a hawk when we get back. Everyone files into the hotel bar. The advantage of a NY wedding is never taken for granted. The bar is open until 4am. Many of the partiers have no intention on stopping now, and they’re too drunk to remember this isn’t an open bar and they’re probably about to drop hundreds.
I’m sipping a beer (and a water) in the corner. Tom comes over and pulls out the seat next to me.
“What were you and Valerie talking about before?”
“Our relationship,” I say smoothly. “You know, finding closure.”
He doesn’t believe me. “She got dark, man. I know you see it now.”
“I loved her. I feel like I still do. I feel responsible.”
Tom looks around and settles back in the chair. “Be careful. She’s gonna try to tear you apart.”
“I didn’t want to tell you. Didn’t want to guilt you. Shit happens, people break up. Yeah, I got put in the middle and that sucks but I never really blamed either of you. You acted like a dick, absolutely, but she was young and everything was messed up.” He gets up and puts his hands on my shoulders. “Stay away from her. For your own good, for hers. Okay?”
“I don’t know if I can,” I confess, bracing myself for a punch in the eye. I feel shitty that Tom has to worry about all this on his wedding day. “I love her.”
He moves around and picks up his beer, shaking his head. “I was hotheaded before. I love you. You’re my brother. And you and Valerie have always been toxic, one way or another. Do what you think is best, though I can probably guarantee it’s not. Just leave me the fuck out of it. I don’t want to know anything. Don’t confide in me, or whine to me, and you can tell her the fucking same.”
He is probably drunk but I’m taking this as permission. I’m a guy, after all, and my cock’s been tormenting me since her little bar scene.
I get up, nearly knocking over my seat, and hurry up to 34C. I knock and it takes her fucking forever to answer, so long I debate running away hundreds of times. But then there she is, standing in the doorway, her hair still pinned up and her makeup perfect. The only difference is she now stands in a black silk robe.
There are no preliminaries. No chit-chat. She drops her robe and I drink in the sight of her body, the dips of skin between her ribs, the delicious heaviness of her perfect bests, the dark pink of her nipples. Her neck is longer and more regal than I remember. Her hair’s grown, and the dark locks just whisper against her nipples.
Her soft smile is almost sweet, but not bashful. Two years beforehand she would have been embarrassed on display, blushing and trying to cover herself. Now she stands proudly, hands on her side so I can see everything. Each breath she takes lifts her luscious tits and it takes everything inside of me not to rush her and throw her on the bed and fuck the crazy out of her.
“Want to watch me finger myself?”