To Betty and Bob, following up their wedding with a movie was the logical thing to do. I felt too weird to join them - wedding couples should have time alone, no matter how eccentric their choice of activity - and the drive from Minneapolis plus the 6 am wake up call did wipe me out. Besides, that chick from breakfast was going and there just wasn’t enough room to hide her body in my trunk.
I excused myself so I could crash, planning to throw together a dinner for them before Betty and Bob returned that night with their parents in tow. We all stopped back to change clothing, and I assumed Mark would disappear to his family’s place across town.
As soon as we arrived, I shot into the bathroom and changed to my jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. I was such a quick change artist - a leftover habit from my sluttier college days - that Betty, Bob and their friends were still milling around their house when I emerged. As I sank to the couch to zone out, I realized I made a grave miscalculation. Mark was still with all of them. I kept very, very silent, hoping that he would not notice my presence in the crush of people.
It almost worked.
Bob stood at his bedroom door and bellowed, “Everybody on their way to the movie, out the door now!” Everyone followed suit except for me. Mark trailed behind, and looked set to go, when Bob said, “You sure about staying here, Zee?”
Mark paused at the door, looked back at me, and then changed his course. “I’m staying here to hang,” he said to Bob. “I hope that’s OK.”
Betty turned to Bob and wiggled her eyebrows. “Use some condoms, kids!” she said. I flipped her the bird. They laughed and left, and Mark sat down on the other end of the couch.
I grimaced and grabbed the TV remote; they kept an Invader Zim DVD in the player at all times. I could generally watch about two episodes before it went from funny to grating.
I stared at the screen, zoning out and half-hoping I’d doze off. After all the wedding, travel, and additional pressure of Mark’s presence, I needed a fucking break.
Mark sat beside me, saying nothing. I made it through two episodes, and realizing he was going to stay planted on that couch no matter what I did, I rallied myself into the kitchen to wash the gigantic stack of dishes despite my exhaustion.
Mark followed me a few moments later. He stood in the doorway, watching my hands scrub back and forth at the crust on a cereal bowl. “Miss your dishwasher?” We’d had a six month argument about what I paid in rent for my place - just for the convenience of a full size dishwasher.
I grit my teeth, scrubbing harder. “Yeah.”
“I’d be afraid to touch any of that.”
“I am, but I’m not letting it stop me.” Betty had a baby on the way, and Bob didn’t know yet. I figured reducing some of the daily biohazard might give the kid a sporting chance.
“Can I help?”
I swallowed a sigh. I wasn’t getting rid of him, and the not-quite of our situation made confronting him about my feelings totally inappropriate. I had told him how I felt about him when we’d known each other three months. He friend-zoned me. It wasn’t going to happen, I knew it wasn’t going to happen, and yet hear I stood two years later washing dishes while part of my brain had us fucking on the kitchen floor. And catching God-knows what diseases.
If I had to go through the hell of standing beside him, unable to touch him, I might as well get some shared labor out of the deal. “There are towels in that drawer,” I gestured with my head. “Dry.”
Mark began wiping down dishes with a thorough touch, his broad hand completely covering each utensil. They were large enough that he could easily cup my breasts in his hand, encasing it completely.
I scrubbed harder on my dishes, trying to find something so gross it pushed the image of his hands rubbing my nipples and sliding down my body from my mind. Think about penguins. White elephants. Mark’s cock springing free from his - dammit!
We worked in a speechless rhythm, the shhh-shh of my scrubbing and the occasional clink making the only sounds as Mark stashed dishes in the cabinet. At last, he broke the silence. “Where have you been?”
Avoiding you. Avoiding that you just want to hang out. Avoiding that I have to struggle not to throw myself at you whenever you’re within a mile of me. “Same place as always. Home, work, stuff. Mostly I just go to work and go home, with stops for groceries.”
“That can’t be healthy.”
“Just staying home all the time? That doesn’t sound like you.”
I was on my last dish, a wooden cutting board that looked like it came from a tree dinosaurs ate. If I scrubbed much more, it would reduce to a splinter. I kept my eyes on it, rubbing at the wood with the steel wool pad - probably the worst thing for it. “I’m not the party girl everyone keeps making me out to be,” I snapped. If I was out, I was avoiding my feelings. I had already accepted that I could not run from them, and my liver was not about to let me run from them this time.
The year I’d had was hard, not made easier by my reality that I was in love with a man who did not reciprocate and now seemed dead-set on spending every second of this trip with me. Any woman in my shoes would have opted to stay in more, too, and watch Buffy reruns if just for the hope of relationships that didn’t end the world.
I paused in my scrubbing as the tears and snot made their appearance. Ah, a wedding followed by the maid of honor’s humiliation. I brushed my sleeve across my face and went back to scrubbing. The way I was going, there was going to be nothing left of that cutting board.
Mark’s hand closed over mine, and then, towel wrapped around his other hand, he deftly pried the cutting board from my hands while holding me in place. I felt my pulse rise and my breathing speed. Without letting go of me, Mark set down the cutting board, dropping the towel.
His fingers wrapped around my wrist and tapped my pulse; there was no hiding my feelings here. He rubbed his thumb deliberately against the fluttering point in my wrist, a small smile playing around his lips at the increase. He raised my hand above my head, out of the way of our bodies and stepped into me. “So you’ve been avoiding me,” he said conversationally, as though every inch of him wasn’t pressed into me.
“What makes you say that?” I gulped for breath and licked my lips. The smell of his cologne made me dizzy to the point of cross-eyed.
“This,” he said, gently increasing the pressure of his thumb. With his other hand, he traced the fluttering pulse at my neck. “This,” he said, and, dropping both hands to my waist, kissed and savored the galloping vein while I shivered. “The rapid breathing that changes whenever I leave the room clues me in, too.”
“Stupid small house. No damn secrets here!” I said.
His hand cupped my face, and he tilted my chin so that our glasses never touched. He exhaled gently on my lips, eliciting a moan from me before I could stop it. I could feel his teasing smile before he pressed his lips against mine, fitting his lips so that nerve met nerve. His tongue licked mine, gently. He coaxed my mouth open, slowly, cleanly, while I melted.
I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned into his embrace just to stay standing. Balance seemed to disappear; Mark would have to stay standing for both of us.
The liquid pit of longing at the bottom of my stomach became roast flame, and I became aware of my breasts pressing into his chest, of his slightly callused hand stroking the side of my neck as his other hand placed gentle pressure on the small of my back.
Mark broke the kiss slowly, reducing the intensity of his tongue and giving my lips a playful nip before he stopped. He stopped both his hands to my waist, steadying me, and then took a step back. I could feel the shadow of our heat in the space between us. As the space cooled, this sudden confident Mark disappeared, and I saw uncertainty in his ice blue eyes.
“I’m glad to know you wouldn’t kick my ass for that,” he said, and I could sense a small amount of agony in his tone.
Kick his ass? I was fighting the urge to knock him on the floor and grind on him until we both came. I took a deep breath, then another, then three more.
Inhale, exhale, that’s how it goes. Cool down, Zee. I hated this moment, whenever it came: it was the moment of decision. It was a moment I gave up ever having with Mark, and now, because it was Mark, I was more sure of myself and how I wanted him than ever – and less sure of him than I had ever been before. A moment’s calm could wipe it all away, and as it was I was in danger of that fucked up hookup zone when you hooked up with someone you friend zoned, and then the person you did it with was stuck with feelings that would stay after you found someone else to have an orgasm with.
I already knew how the rules worked: if I walked away, cleared my head, and asked myself what I really wanted, I would lose the moment. For all I knew, this was just casual seduction on Mark’s part, a way to pass the time until we returned to our regularly scheduled lives. 6 hours away, the painful talks over coffee awaited. I hated him for a moment - what he was doing was exactly what you DON’T do with a woman that’s in love with you, not if you have a conscience.
Mark pressed his hands into my waist. “Say something,” he begged. He looked terrified.
“I’m scared,” I said. It was the truth. I didn’t want to lose Mark, but I didn’t really have him the way I wanted him, and the only solution to that as far as I could tell was to distance myself. Which wasn’t happening with those hands on my body right at that moment. I also guessed saying “I’m in love with you,” would kill the mood faster than “Does the blow up sheep need batteries?”
Mark pulled me closer to him, his beard tickling my cheek. “When you wouldn’t see me, or answer my calls, that hurt. That hurt more than I thought it would.” He pushed me back, both hands on my shoulders, looking earnestly into my face. “I’d be out with other women, and thinking of you.”
“I called you,” I said mildly. It was always me calling him. I’d gotten tired of it.
“I know. You were so chipper that I knew something wasn’t right. I’d finally worked up the courage to tell myself how much I really wanted you, and then you started slipping away from me –“ his eyes filled, became an ocean of agony that matched my own.
My heart broke for him, and in the riptide of emotion, I kissed Mark with all the passion I ever held for him. Every memory, every casual touch, every thought whether passing or longing, flooded through me in that kiss. What began at his mouth moved to his neck. My hands took on their own agenda, unbuttoning his shirt as my lips followed in their wake. I pushed the shirt off Mark’s shoulders, pausing to run my tongue around each nipple.
Mark gasped at my boldness. I pulled his shirt off, shoving it over his arms and onto the floor, pausing as his kisses on my lips and fingers distracted me. I gave Mark a lingering kiss, taking back my attention span and control as I did so, dropping to my knees, fingers working his belt buckle made clumsy from both my exhaustion and my arousal.
Mark clasped his hands over mine on his belt, pressing them into his erection. “Stop!” he whispered.
I looked up. Mark’s hair was the mess I had fantasized about making it, and he looked a bit rattled. His glasses were slightly crooked. I gazed up at this man I adored, my hands over his rising cock, waiting for him to find his breath. He gazed back, and then croaked out, “Condoms.”
I walked over to the kitchen shelf where Betty hid her liquor, and reached behind the gin. Betty and Bob both hated gin. Sure enough, behind them was a box of Trojans. I pulled out two, and grinned at Mark.
He gaped. “How did you know that was there?” he asked.
“Betty and I kept condoms stashed all over the places when we were in college,” I explained. “It’s an act of courtesy.”
Mark’s eyes widened as I, more sure of myself this time, undid his belt buckle and unzipped his pants. I ran my hand beneath his boxers, delighting in his gasp. “I think it’s safe to quit thinking,” I whispered in his ear. God knows that last thing I wanted right now was for either of us to come to our senses.