He had a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled. And his eyes reminded Lucy of the creek behind her house when it was swollen with rain. They were muddy and warm and soft.
The first time she saw him was shortly after a day like that. The air was still sticky and full of water; humid. She and her roommates were out at their neighborhood park for one of the concerts that the city put on for free entertainment. Nearby, someone was grilling burgers and hotdogs, and the smell of barbeque had mixed with the honeysuckle that was blooming around the stage like huge fluffy and white clouds. It was hard to tell if it was the honeysuckle or the smoke that made your nose itch.
She was waiting in line by the grill, a ten-dollar bill clutched in her hands, bobbing her head to the twangy rock music that filtered through the speakers. It drifted across the crowds of people on spread out blankets. He was standing just behind the grill, holding a spatula in one hand, occasionally reaching down to touch the meat that was slowly cooking, flipping burgers and pushing around brats and hotdogs. In his other hand was a Blue Moon, and Lucy could see a slice of orange bobbing around on the inside of the glass bottle that was tilted to the side in his hand, like an afterthought hanging in the air. Oh yeah, it seemed to say, casual.
He wasn’t remarkable. He was attractive, but Lucy wasn’t struck the first time she saw him. She merely glanced his way, her eyes flickering across his sandy brown twelve o’clock stubble and his flannel shirt that he’d rolled up to just below the elbows even though it had to be eight degrees and hotter standing behind that grill. She was more concerned about the hamburger with American cheese and pickles, please, that she wanted. When she yanked her eyes back up to his, he was staring straight at her, that dimple she had noticed earlier starting to edge into the smooth freckles of his check. Fighting the heat of the blush that rose around her neck, Lucy self-consciously rubbed at her nose, wondering if she’d not noticed frosting or chocolate when she’d gotten home from work at the bakery. That is when he smiled, pearly white teeth appearing between his lips, a crooked incisor laying neatly on top of another one of his teeth, and his tongue flicked there, running across its sharp ridge.
“Hotdog?” He asked, reaching up to grab a paper plate, his hand hesitating over the bag of hotdog buns, and Lucy shook her head, quickly.
“Hamburger with American, please,” she said, stuffing the ten dollars into the Mason jar that sat on top of the folding card table with “TIPS WELCOME” written in swoopy writing in a thick black sharpie. He nodded, grinning at her one more time before focusing just over her shoulder at the customer behind her. Lucy strayed off to the side, hand still resting on the card table. A reminder. I’m still here. Don’t burn my burger.
Her boot clad foot tapped in time to the music, and she stepped forward when he slid her plate onto the table a few minutes later. As a blue moon, complete with an orange slice stuck in its neck, slid on to the table next to it, she stopped, looking behind her.
“Oh, I didn’t,” she said, stuttering slightly, wondering if it was someone else’s order and she was mistaken. She motioned toward the drink as she spoke, knowing that food was free but that booze was extra.
Starting, Lucy spun around, ready to apologize to the man behind her for nearly taking his plate over her own. The apology died on her lips when she saw that she was quite alone. Confused, she turned back around, he was smiling, his muddy brown eyes sparkling like he had just been let in on some inside joke or learned a secret. He judged the drink forward, this time adding a napkin over the plate.
“On the house,” he said, winking at me, turning back around to flip another burger patty. Lucy stared at him for a moment, before picking up the plate and the bottle with her other hand.
“Thanks,” she called, figuring he wouldn’t hear her as she had already started her retreat from the card table and grill, back toward the swelling of the music and the blanket that her friends were sitting on, waiting for her to get back so that they could go order their own meals before the show.
There it was again. A low murmur, like someone was talking directly into her ear. But it didn’t sound like it was coming from nearby, more like it was coming from her head. She turned, looking over he shoulder at him. Slowly, he looked up from his work, shooting her that easy smile, his expression quizzical. What? It seemed to say. Were you expecting someone normal?
“Lucy!” She turned back at the sound of her name, breaking whatever connection was going on between her and the stranger. Her lips pulled back into an involuntary smile when her best friend, Clare, through her arms around her waist, nearly lifting her off the ground, and kissing her cheek by way of hello.
“Who is the cutie?” she asked, nodding over my shoulder at the boy with the gorgeous eyes, knowing her she probably winked at him, too. Lucy laughed, shrugging as she disentangled herself from her friend. “And when did you start shelling out for beer?” She asked, snagging the drink out of Lucy’s hand to take a sip.
“When the cutie you were talking about gives it to me for free,” Lucy responded, grinning slightly as she reached to take the beer back.
“Did you get his name and number?” Clare asked as she bumped shoulders with Lucy.
“I really hope not, that would throw off my whole game tonight,” Marcus drawled. He had just walked up behind Clare, his hands tucked into the pockets of his faded, low slung jeans, an easy smile spread across his lips. It reached his dark eyes, which sparked with friendly energy.
“You don’t have to worry about a thing, Sugar,” Lucy teased, causing him to chuckle, when she caught Clare’s eye, she winked, making her tilt her head back and laugh. The sound rang across the yard. Reaching out, Clare looped her arm through Lucy’s taking her beer again.
“We’re going to find our blanket,” she called to Marcus. “Get me a burger, will you, Sugar?” Before he had time to respond, she dragged Lucy away from him, leading them across the green and through the gathered people to where they had already spread out on of her giant quilts. “You know, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to make that boy think you are hopelessly in love with him,” she sighed.
“We’re really close friends, I think he knows when I’m teasing. He doesn’t need you giving me the third,” Lucy retorted, snatching back her beer.
“Yeah, but you’re going to break his heart if you’re got a hottie giving you free drinks at the park when you won’t even let Marcus grab you a burger he doesn’t have to pay for.” She reached into the brown paper bag they had brought with them from the house, and pulled out a bottle of water cracking open the lid to take a drink. She slanted her eyes in Lucy’s direction. “Unless,” she said, “you’re lying and you just wanted to get drunk tonight. In which case, you could have just said.”
“I swear, he just handed it to me. Said it was on the house.” Clare only nodded, and they sat in silence for awhile before Marcus came back and edged his way between them, handing Clare her food and throwing his arms around their shoulders.
The sun had just started to set as the first chords from the guitar on stage began to fill the warm night sky, painting it pink and orange as it sunk below the horizon. The crickets began to chirp, adding to the bluegrass rock that drifted through the speakers. Clare had darted up and dashed toward the flatter area of the lawn, right in front of the stage. Her boots brought up small puffs of dirt as she tugged at Marcus’ hand in an attempt to make him dance with her. Lucy smiled form her place, the paper plate now sitting off to the side and her free beer, along with a few other cheap cans they’d brought in their bag, were lying on their sides on the ground.
(Dance with me?)
Starting a little, Lucy’s eyes jerked open from their lull as she sat up, heart beating rapidly in her chest. No one was next to her, or even nearby, and Marcus was already down on the lawn in front of stage, dancing with Clare. How drunk was I? I’d never heard things before – was that even something that happened? – or was I just going crazy?
Lucy had already started to turn her head to look, some gut instinct guiding her when she heard the voice whisper in her head. He was standing at the top of the hill, maybe fifty feet from her. He was smiling, his eyes warm and welcoming, and there was another beer in his hand, a Budweiser bottle this time, again held in his hand as if it was an afterthought. She blinked, twice, confused as to why she felt like only she could see him, and not the others around him. Like some bad romcom.
He started moving toward her with slow steps, and he kept his gentle, lingering smile on his face the whole time. Lucy stayed where she was, though her brain was screaming at her to get up and move, to go dance down in front of the stage with Clare and Marcus, and to ignore this stranger for the rest of the night. Soon, though, his smooth steps brought him to a stop right in front of her. On his way down to her, he’d set his beer down and was now holding his hand out to her, to help Lucy up off the blanket.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Lucy hadn’t noticed it earlier, but he had a voice she could wrap herself up in. Warm, deep, and just a little smoky; it reminded her of chocolate. It warmed some hidden part of her deep in her stomach, sending butterflies racing and making her toes and fingers tingle in anticipation.
He kept his hand out, and her gaze flicked between it and his eyes, judging the distance between them, staying seated. “Just one dance?” He added, and it seemed like was working hard at using his mouth to speak. Lucy looked past him, just to his side, watching as Clare and Travis danced, hoping to catch her eye and ask her what she thought.
She looked back up at him, thinking for a moment that he had asked her out loud.
If she gave in and answered him, then she was recognizing that he was talking to her without moving his lips. She was acknowledging the possibility that she was potentially insane. Did she really want to do that? Biting down on her lip, she sighed. What the hell?
“Just one,” she finally responded, hesitant, and he smiled, grabbing her hand, and helped her to her feet. He spread her fingers with his own, easily filling the spaces between them. As they walked it occurred to her that he was holding on tightly, as if he were afraid that she would slip away.
It was louder down there, closer to the stage, and the music was steadily picking up as the night grew darker. It seemed like too much of a coincidence to her that the music grew as hot as the night not to be noticed, but there was something intoxicating about holding hands with a total stranger as they wove their way down and into the crowd.
They wound deeper, ending up somewhere halfway between the stage and the edge of the group. As they stopped, he spun her around, that grin on his face making a giggle rise up in Lucy’s throat. He pulled on her arm, whipping her back in so she twirled and ended up tight against him, her hand pressed into his chest. Her fingers found his steady heartbeat before she pushed away, giving herself more space. She moved her arms up and over her head and into the air as she swayed her hips in time to the music, spinning in a slow circle as she did. As she moved, she threw her long blonde hair out behind her, shaking it back and forth so that it tickled the small of her back. She barely noticed as the songs slowly faded from one to another, her movements easily sliding to find the next step and turn and touch with the new beat, spinning around and around.
In the yellowing light of the stage that reflected down onto them, his eyes were glowing. Sweat beaded down the back of her sleeveless corset top, and she flicked her tongue out, running it along the top of her upper lip, finding herself wondering what his mouth would taste like against his. It had to be the beer, making her think that way, she thought. The sane part of her brain would make her regret all of this in the morning, she was sure, thinking of the empty beer cans that had littered the area near her blanket. Across from her, he rose his eyebrows, making her feel like he could read her thoughts – couldn’t he? – before he moved toward her. His hands found her hips and he stepped in rhythm slowly around her, she followed him, trying to keep him in her line of vision. The result was a slow, gyrating circle.
He began to move back away from her. As the music pulsed through her, seeming to match the beat of her heart, she reached out and fisted the opening of his shirt in her hand, pulling him tight against her. Their breaths came out in ragged pants, intermingling as their faces hovered close. She smiled as his fingers dug once more into her hips, following their movement before pulling their bodies completely together so they could move like liquid against one another, or maybe more like flames.
Releasing the grip on his shirt, Lucy wrapped his arm, instead, around his neck, the crook of her elbow resting across the nape of neck, slick with sweat. She ran her fingers through his hair, their faces hovering near one another, lips brushing. Feeling a flicker of a warning in the back of her head, Lucy dipped her head back, leaning away from him, though his grip on her lower body only made her hips dig further into his. She bared her neck and shoulders to him as she moved, and his head followed her movement down. His lips lingered just over her neck and shoulders and chest, and she could feel his breath there, lingering cool against her hot, hot skin.
Alarmed at the spark in her belly that that sensation caused, she stood back up from her dip. But as she came up, he went down, still moving to the music that seemed louder to her ears than it had before. She could feel his lips and nose drag across the muscles of her stomach before he came back up, following the curve of her breasts. Lucy dug her fingers through his hair again, relishing the feel.
Her hand fisted in the hair by the nape of his neck, then, as he moved back up, and she pulled him into her, pressing the length of her body against his. His arm came around her waist, engulfing her as he finally pushed his lips down on hers.
Something clicked in her body, and she sighed against his lips as his tongue swirled gently into her mouth.
Somehow they continued to dance in time to the music despite how caught up they were in each other. His arm abandoned her waist as he buried his hands on either side of her head, her eyes fluttered closed.
“My house,” she muttered against his lips at a panting pause in the kiss, and a shiver ran through her body as he pulled away to kiss down her neck and jaw, sliding down her body again, his hands planted firmly on her hips, following their swing. “Across the street.” He came back up, nipping at her lower lip, and her hands slipped around his back and into the back pockets of his faded blue jeans, curving around his ass and squeezing. “Let’s go.” He pushed his lips against hers again, harder than before. “Now.”
It didn’t even catch her off guard this time, the words ringing clearly in her head over the jumble of desire and lust and music. In fact, some dark part of her appreciated it; any amount of time that she didn’t have to spend away from his lips was wonderful.
“Positive,” she breathed, and the pressure on my hips left as his hands found her own, filling the spaces between her fingers with his, just like he had before. He kissed her one last time, dipping her head back further, leaving her tasting of him and wanting him even more.
“Lead the way.”
Lucy could hardly focus long enough to dig the keys to the front door out of her pocket and find the right one to fit the lock with his hands moving up her chest and down her stomach, his breath hot in her ears as he cupped her breasts from behind. He ground his hips against hers as he waited, and Lucy blew out a frustrated breath as she finally managed to get the key into the lock and twist the deadbolt open.
They stumbled, nearly falling, into the little entryway of the empty house, their murmurs and laughs echoing through the space as he spun her around to kiss the hollow of her throat. Lucy sent up a silent prayer of thanks that her roommates were still out at the concert, she had seen them up by the concession stand when they had stumbled out of the park and down the street, and hadn’t come home to interrupt the magic that was happening now.
Distantly, she heard her purse and keychain hit the floor, though the sound was dull compared to the roar of need in her ears. Her fingers fought for purchase on the buttons on his flannel, starting to take them off one by one. His lips curved against hers in a smile, and she let out a yelp as his hands came up under her thighs, pulling her up so her legs were wrapped around his hips. She ended up with her arms around his neck and his hands holding her up by her ass.
Both of them fought for the upper hand in the kiss as she dug her fingers through his hair, her chest rising and falling rapidly. She could not remember if she had shut the door behind them when they’d finally gotten inside, or if she should text her roommates and tell them not to worry. But, as he kicked the door to her bedroom closed behind them and her back hit the mattress, she completely forgot about the front door, or her roommates, or locking up behind herself. All she could think about was the feel of him against her, and getting more.
He stood back for just a moment, giving himself time to pull off the white V-neck t-shirt he had on under his button up that Lucy had managed to claw off halfway up the stairs over his head, letting it drop to the floor. She reached out to him, wanting to touch his bare chest, marveling at the definition of muscles and wanting to entertain the notion of running her tongue along each line. When he came down over her, his arms braced on either side of her head, she wrapped an arm loosely around his neck, and he carefully unzipped the back of her shirt, pulling the shell off of her.
Funny, she had the same thought about him.
“Stop talking,” she panted, unbuckling his belt, and finding his fly, pulling it down. “Just stop.”
“Talking, I got it,” he interrupted, his lips free enough to talk and laugh at her expense as he pulled her denim shorts down off of her hips. She could see the smirk pulling on the corner of his lips and swatted lightly at his shoulder, though she gasped when he grabbed her wrist, yanking her up against him. His hand went down the curve of her spine, circling her hip, and her head fell back on her neck as he kissed down her collarbone, a quiet moan working its way out of her mouth.
“Yes,” she whispered, her voice raspy and nearly gone as he settled her down in his lap, having her straddle his hips. A tiny mewl left her throat as he touched her. “Yes.”
Sunlight filtered into her room between the slats of the blinds the next morning, and she blinked sleepily, wincing against the light and her buzzing head. Pushing herself up, Lucy clutched a pillow to her chest, looking around the empty room. The other side of the bed was empty, but hanging on my doorknob was the flannel he’d worn the night before. She stood, running a hand through her hair, shaking it out and wondering how socially acceptable it was for day-two-hair after nightly activities. Grabbing the flannel off the knob, she pushed her arms through it, chuckling to herself at the few missing buttons as she pulled on a pair of gym shorts before walking down the steps to the kitchen.
The kitchen was just as empty, and except for the sound of coffee gurgling to life, it was equally quiet. Her roommates were still tucked into bed, fighting the morning like she had, clinging to the bad habits that college had formed.
The hardwood floor was warm against her bare toes as she grabbed the plastic bag of bagels out of their bread basket, popping the sliced pieces into the toaster and pressing down the lever. Upstairs, she heard the creak of feet walking across the floor and smiled to herself.
“Mornin’,” Lucy called over her shoulder, still standing at the toaster as Clare and Reagan came into the kitchen. Clare was wrapped in an oversized, fluffy pink robe tied with a sash at her waist, making her look like an hourglass with long blonde hair. Reagan, in all her her redhead, bedhead glory was wearing a baggy t-shirt with their university’s name and logo splashed across the front in faded blue letters, her long legs poked out of the bottom, and Lucy had the distinct feeling she wasn’t actually wearing any pants.
“Morning,” Clare responded, pulling open the fridge door and rooting around, only emerging once she had her strawberry Greek yogurt and the half gallon container of orange juice tucked safely under one arm.
“How was your night?” Reagan asked, a sly smile painted on her lips. She bumped her hip against Lucy’s as she stood next to her, grabbing a painted mug down from the open shelves on the walls and filled it with fresh coffee. Lucy pushed a hand through her hair, saying nothing as she pulled the toasted bagel out and tossed it on a plate, pulling a knife out of the drawer to spread cream cheese. Despite her attempts to remain cool, Lucy couldn’t keep the smile from tugging on her lips.
“Where is he, anyway? He was the one that got you the free beer, right?” Clare asked, sitting down at the island, licking the aluminum lid of her yogurt, grinning. I knew something was going on between you two.”
“He wasn’t here when I woke up,” Lucy conceded, shrugging as she tossed her knife in the sink and moved to sit next to Clare.
“Men,” Reagan said, rolling her eyes, “Clare said she didn’t peg him for a love ‘em and leave ‘em type.”
“I mean, it didn’t seem like he was going to leave last night,” she said quietly, a deep blush rising up on he cheeks and neck. The other girls laughed, Reagan slapping her palm on the counter.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she snickered.
“We’ll find him, then you can throw a beer in his face,” Clare said around a mouthful of yogurt. “He’s bound to be working at the park during another concert this summer, we’ll go next weekend. What was his name, anyway?”
“You know,” Lucy said, taking a keen interest in examining the bite marks on her bagel, staring at the perfectly straight curves of teeth and refusing to meet anyone’s gaze as they snickered into their breakfasts, “I never got around to asking him.”
Ignoring the knocking on the closed bathroom door, Lucy’s bloodshot eyes continued to trace the grout on the black and white tiled floor, trying to calm down the low whistle of breath coming in and out of her mouth. The panic that had clutched her was immense, she could hardly breathe.
“Lucy! Luce, open this door.” Reagan, that was Reagan. She was knocking gently, even now, keeping her voice soft. Despite it all, Lucy had to laugh, Reagan had always been the calm one, the one that had always kept a level head about things with the trio. “Lucy, come on, tell me what’s going on in there,” she added, wiggling the door handle that Lucy had locked when she’d come into the bathroom.
On the counter sat a rectangular blue box. It was torn open, and six more were littered around the trashcan on the floor. She had called in sick at work that day, something a business owner wasn’t supposed to do. But Avery, her assistant manager, had assured her that would be able to handle a Wednesday morning lull. She had insisted that her boss stay home and get feeling better. But right now, Lucy wasn’t sure that was ever going to happen again.
“Lucy, open the damn door.” That was Clare, not nearly as calm as Reagan, but her tone caused Lucy’s lips to twitch in response. Pushing herself to stand on shaky legs, she tugged on the ends of her hair, leaning against the wall.
The reflection of the girl opposite her was one she barely recognized. The red eyes and black streaks of mascara that had dripped down her face looked so out of place, that she scowled at her own reflection before turning on the faucet. Holding two shaking fingers under the stream of water, she slowly massaged the soap on the counter into her skin, rubbing carefully under her eyes and on her cheeks, thinking that if she washed away the makeup she would start to feel more like herself.
The box on the counter stared up at her accusingly, and Lucy stared back. It didn’t make any sense. She had taken all of the precautions. She was on birth control, her friends had even driven her to a pharmacy the next morning to pick up a morning after pill, just in case.
But after two missed periods, she couldn’t keep ignoring it.
Leaning down, Lucy splashed water up onto my face, running her hands from her forehead down across her eyes and under her chin, swiping at the bubbles from the soap. Her friends on the other side of the door must have heard her moving around because they had quieted down.
After a few weeks of looking around for the stranger from her drunken escapades, Lucy and her friends had realized when it was smart to just give up. They weren’t going to find him, for all they knew he was a stranger passing through or a friend of some college kid’s in town that was just there for the party. He had all but disappeared, though the haunting memory of his voice in her head would linger for a while. Toweling her face off, Lucy lifted her chin, staring back at herself defiantly.
The harder she tried the less it seemed to make sense.
Mechanically, not quite feeling like herself, Lucy turned to the door and opened it, staring at the worried faces of Reagan and Clare. Licking her lips, she forced a smile onto her face, acutely aware of Reagan’s eyes searching the bathroom behind her, and even more aware of her expression when she found what she was looking for.
“Oh, god,” she whispered, and Lucy turned to her first, trying that smile again, trying for nonchalant. It is no big deal. I’ll be okay.
Taking a deep breath, she instead turned to Clare, whose worried eyes hadn’t left her friend’s face since she stepped out of their little bathroom.