I stared after Audrey, dumbfounded, as she walked to her building. My lips still burned from our kiss. My cock still ached and throbbed from her grinding on my lap. And I, like a fool, clung to her final words, "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Fuck, how I wanted her to call me. Wanted it like a teenage boy waited by his phone for the pretty girl to ring. The idea of it made me nervous and excited and...stupid.
That's what I was. Stupid.
Because even if she did call me, there was no way I could accept her call, except to tell her that I was sorry for the egregious way I'd acted the night before.
Yet I wasn't sorry. Not truly. Not at all.
"Fantastic," my driver said dreamily, breaking my stupor.
I looked forward to find him also staring after Audrey.
Irritated, I scolded him. "What are you looking at?" He was even older than I was. It was inappropriate for me to be eyeing her. It was disgusting that he was. How I could feel both a fatherly protection and an indecent attraction to the girl, I had no idea.
That was a therapy session for another day.
"To the hotel, sir?" he said, moving his eyes back to the road where they belonged.
I didn’t answer right away, staring at the phone still in my hand. I'd had no texts from my son. When I’d seen him at lunch, I'd suggested we go out for a late movie tonight. He'd said he'd get back to me. I’d felt the sting of rejection, but he was thirteen now--independent and awkward. Moody, too. Even though I traveled across the ocean to see him, he wavered these days from wanting to see his dad and wanting to spend all his free time with his friends. I remembered this age. Remembered parenting this age. My stepdaughter, Amanda, had been thirteen when I'd married her mother. I’d done this teenager thing before.
So I understood.
We were at a delicate phase, Aaron and I, and I knew it. I didn't want to press, wanted him to reach out to me if he wanted to spend the evening in my presence. I’d known somewhere inside of me that I would be blown off. I wouldn’t have gotten inebriated if I’d expected otherwise.
Disappointment sounded in my tone nonetheless when I finally replied. “Yes. The hotel."
The car signal clicked rhythmically as we waited at a light to turn uptown. I sunk back in my seat, letting myself remember, for a moment, the person I’d been when I’d married. Such a child then, only twenty-five years old.
My, how I’d grown up since.
And now my thoughts turned back to Audrey, younger than I'd been when I'd wed, but just as enthusiastic and charmed with love and life as I'd been.
I opened my texts and found where she'd sent herself a message. A million people in the city, and you and I met. That's kismet.
I laughed out loud. My driver was spot on--she was fantastic. Fantastic and trusting and young and that was enough reason to delete both her number and the whimsical message from my phone.
But I saved it instead. Not because she’d hooked me, but because I needed to know it was her when she called. If she called.
She wouldn't call.
She couldn’t have been more than ten years older than Aaron. Why would a girl her age have any interest in me? Our encounter had been one of the moment. It had been dark, and we were alone and tipsy and aroused by good conversation. Nothing else. It would be forgotten by tomorrow.
Though if she really could forget that kiss...
I was still thinking about the malleable way her lips fit to mine when I reached my hotel room on the upper east side. I’d forgotten and left the Do Not Disturb sign on my suite door when I’d left for the day so the bed was still rumpled and my coffee pot still sitting on the desk. Sloppy end cluttered weren't usually my style. An embarrassing space to bring a woman back to, not that there was one with me now. Not that I'd thought about asking Audrey to accompany me to my room.
If I had, would she have said yes?
She may have, and I would have devoured her. Would have spent the whole night showing her all the ways a man could please a woman, ways that she yearned for but couldn't yet imagine.
Fantasizing about it made my earlier hard on return. I took off my suit jacket and hung it on the back of the desk chair before I sat in it myself, fumbling with my belt, eager to play this daydream out with my cock in my hand.
But just as I got my zipper down, I stopped, a sickening wave of guilt rolling over me. It felt crass and wrong to beat off to thoughts of this girl who could be my daughter. Even though she'd never know that I'd done it, it was degrading and a violation of sorts.
I zipped up my pants and stood. I loosened my tie and then moved to the buttons of my shirt, undressing furiously. I needed a shower. A cold shower, that was what would take care of this.
Just as I dropped my shirt on the desk chair with my jacket, my phone rang.
My heart leapt so high, it was practically in my throat as I scrambled to look at my screen, hoping it was her name that I'd see lighting up on the caller ID.
The name I saw instead caused me to let out a groan.
With resignation, I clicked the accept button and answered. "Hello, Ellen." Ellen Rachel Wallace Starkney Locke. She was just Ellen Wallace again now, having shed both the name I'd given her and the one she’d received in her previous marriage. Eight years had passed now since the paperwork had become final on our divorce, and, still, she made my blood boil every time I had contact with her.
"I haven't even spoken yet and you already have a tone," she greeted me, with a tone of her own. So nasty. So like Ellen.
Now there was a boner killer.
"Yes, I think I earned the right, don't you?" I didn't need to bring up her past sins against me. She knew them.
"Honestly, Dylan," she said, letting out an audible sigh. "Move on. I have. It's time you joined me."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. She was a liar. She hadn't moved on. She was still stuck underneath the emotional avalanche that had fallen upon her the day Amanda had died ten years ago. Instead of facing her pain, Ellen had buried it, becoming rotten and disconnected as she did.
If she’d really moved on, if she’d let herself heal, would she and I be apart today?
I couldn't imagine it. Didn't even want to anymore. Because I had moved on--moved on from her and any notion of happily ever after. She’d proven to me that love always died, and I’d accepted it. She was the one in denial.
I didn't want to go there with her, though, not tonight. Not ever. It was pointless and we'd gone there so many times in the past, never resolving anything.
So I ignored her comment and redirected the conversation. "Why are you calling, Ellen? Anything you have to say could have been said to me tomorrow when I pick up Aaron."
"That's what I'm calling about. Aaron won't be able to see you until the afternoon. Oh, and then he has Latin lessons at four, so it will be evening, actually, before you can get him."
I ran my palm through my hair and clutched a handful tightly in frustration. "Christ, Ellen. He can't skip Latin one week while his father was in town? I flew from another continent to spend this time with him."
"Lessons are paid for in advance. There are no makeups. Latin is a foundational language and it’s so important these days."
No. It wasn't. Not as important as spending time with his father.
But there was no rationalizing with the helicopter tiger mother that was Ellen Wallace. "And why is it I can't see him during the day? I chose this week to visit because he had time off from school."
"While he doesn't have school this week officially, tomorrow the teachers will be in the classrooms available for makeup work and tutoring. I signed Aaron up for the full day."
I leaned against the desk, my knuckles curled. Aaron didn't need tutoring or makeup. He was a fine three point four average student. This was Ellen being spiteful and stubborn.
"Cancel it. I can tutor him."
"On seventh-grade advanced chemistry?” she retorted patronizingly. “Even if you could understand it, he needs a lab."
"Why is a thirteen-year-old even taking advanced chemistry.? Aaron doesn't have a scientific bone in his body. Are you shoving these classes down his throat?" I might have lived far away from my son, but I still knew him.
"I'm insuring his future," Ellen said, raising her voice.
"Ensuring that he's going to hate you one day, if not already. Cancel the tutoring."
"It's too late. He’s signed up.. And I'll not let you get in the way of his success."
"His success," I echoed incredulously. He was still just a boy. Did she ever give him a chance to just be a kid? I was so angry, I went low. "I'll pick him up myself. I'll sign him out from the school as soon as you drop him off."
"It would be kidnapping. They won't let you take him without my authorization." She was just as nasty as I was. Nastier.
"I'm not on the school's parental records? We'd always agreed it would be both of us in case there was ever an emergency!"
"I reconsidered. If there was an emergency, you'd be too far away." She sounded proud of herself. "I have my sister listed as emergency now. And Donovan Kincaid is there as a backup to her."
I had to stop myself from kicking the chair, and only because I was concerned that I’d break a toe with as hard as I wanted to kick it. "Donovan Kincaid doesn’t know what to do with a kid. This is you trying to keep him from me, like you always do." This conversation reaffirmed my decision to get a second apartment in New York City — so that I could visit more often and have more access to Aaron.
"I'm not keeping him from anyone. You are delusional."
"And you’re ice. Cold and bitter and mean. Exactly the qualities that drove me to leave you." Maybe I was going there after all.
"You didn't leave me because I was cold and bitter. You left because I cheated on you." She’d destroyed my heart with her betrayal and she almost sounded like she was gloating.
To hell with her.
"You were ice cold and bitter before that. It simply took the act of you cheating on me to recognize that I couldn't…" I paused and inhaled deeply. I didn’t need to relive this. I didn’t want to remember how deeply I’d once believed in her. In us.
"That you couldn't save me?” she finished for me. “Couldn’t make me whole again? Is that what you were going to say?" She was callous and cruel as she pointed out how naïve I had been to think that I could love her better.
Yes, Ellen, we are in agreement there. I'd been stupid in those romantic notions.
I knew better now.
"I’m picking Aaron up from school when he’s done with the day," I said firmly, refusing to dwell on the past any longer. “I'll make sure he reviews his Latin before I drop him off at home. And, by god, Ellen, you better have me approved to retrieve him or I’ll get my lawyer involved." Then, before she could refute me, I said goodnight and clicked off the phone.
What a goddamned shrew.
I was energized with rage, my heart racing with the power of it.
But underneath my temper was a dangerous longing. A yearning for a different time. A time when I could afford the innocent enthusiasm for human connection. Before I knew how cruel people could be. Before I understood the downfalls of being vulnerable.
What a rose-colored world it had been--a prettier, more tolerable world--when I’d believed wholeheartedly in commitments and forever. When lust and love were two sides of the same coin. Sex, an expression of feelings rather than just a pleasurable release.
I longed to be free of the reality that I wore like chains around my neck.
And then! Then I could ask a girl back to my hotel room without caring about age differences or impropriety or what state my suite had been left in. I could get lost in the breathlessness of her kiss, not worrying about anyone’s feelings or what might inevitably happen if I put my trust in her embrace. I could imagine it so vividly, what it would be like to be that kind of a man again, what it would be like to kiss a girl like Audrey, undress her, teach her. Make love to her.
My pants were bulging again with the fantasy. I was throbbing and thick. I couldn't make it to the shower if I tried.
I shoved down my pants and pulled out my cock, fisting it with my right hand as I sat down on the chair. With my eyes closed, I remembered vividly the weight of Audrey on my lap, remembered the pleasurable burn of her rubbing up and down along the imprisoned length of my hard-on. Remembered the press of her breasts against my chest, her nipples so taut they spiked through the layers of clothing between us. Remembered her mouth as it gave in to my wicked desire, my tongue caressing and schooling her at once. My lips memorizing her and debauching her.
My palm stroked angrily across the inflamed skin of my cock, faster and faster, punishing myself even as the pleasure built and built and built, like static on a balloon when rubbed against a headful of hair. Like stockinged feet, trudged across the carpet. Like too many plugs jammed into a wall socket, my orgasm surged through me with electrical shock. Cum spilled out over my fist as I tugged and tugged, past the point of comfort, until everything inside me had fallen in thick ropes across my bare stomach, dirty and filthy and obscene.
I sat for several minutes, staring at the mess I’d made, my hands shaking from the release as, little by little, the delirious flash of bliss dissolved into cold, hard reality.
I was alone. I would always be alone.
I’d learned the hard way that alone was the most sensible way to live.
There was no benefit of vulnerability. There was no “making love”. There was no reason to trust. Hearts were for pumping oxygen through the body. They didn’t break. They beat on.
Audrey had called me a liar when she’d suggested that I secretly believed in her religion of romance, but she was wrong.
I wasn’t a liar. I was a man who could no longer believe in the lie.
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Sweet Liar will be published in full in ebook, paperback and audio in March of 2019. It will end without a cliffhanger, but there WILL be a part two, Sweet Fate, released in April of 2019 for those who want to continue with the story.