Authors: Teresa Noelle Roberts
“Truth on both counts.”
She set her backpack down on an unoccupied area of her workbench and unzipped it all the way in order to find her notebook. Which was still in the bottom of the last unpacked kitchen box. She’d gotten distracted, first by Drake fantasies and then by the need to get away from Drake and embarrassment and, well, Drake fantasies. As she rummaged, the new kitchen curtains spilled out. Sean, always curious, peeked at them. “Crazy colors.” Then his eyes lit up. “That gives me an idea. The teapot shape is iconic. Something that reflects a Union Jack, maybe.” He grabbed the nearest piece of paper—Jen thought it was the wrapper from his lunch—and began to scribble.
As Jen gathered the curtains back into the pack, the colors struck her again. That cozy brown. That aqua. Next to it, that deep rose towel.
The vase sprang full grown into her mind, all layered colors. Brown on the bottom to ground it, then rose, then aqua, moving from earth to sky, but with some swirling together of the colors. Easy peasy. Not a completely symmetrical shape. A sweeping arch that looked free-form, although it would be carefully planned since it would be easy to screw up. “Like a wonderful glass parfait!” she exclaimed.
Sean snorted but didn’t react otherwise. He was used to her outbursts, as she was used to his occasional profane rants, and they were both accustomed to Ryoko’s muttering to herself in Japanese. She looked around for paper, didn’t find any immediately.
“Paper,” she said abruptly to Sean, popping across the room to hover at his left shoulder.
“Only the greasy part’s left.”
“Don’t care.” She snatched it up and shook the lunch remains into the trash. This was a draft. Once she had the idea more solidly in her head, she’d copy it into the precious notebook, along with the color formulae she planned to use, and any subsequent adjustments she’d needed to get the color perfect or technical notes on how she made the actual piece come close to the one in her vision. Who cared if there was grease on her messy first notes?
Opening the box of colored pencils she kept on her worktable, Jen began to sketch.
Setting down her pencil after what seemed mere minutes, she looked at the scribbles on the sandwich wrapper, and others on the brown paper bag the sandwich came in and a few other pieces of paper she’d managed to find lying around the studio. Not bad. A good beginning, in fact.
She’d barely begun the studio work on her Green Man sculpture, but she didn’t have her sketches and notes with her. Today she was supposed to be making some basic vases, but with this new idea staring at her, Jen was itching to experiment with getting the colors right.
She refrained. Part of the reason she kept copious notes was that glass was far from free and the minerals she needed to create the colors she craved even less so. Somewhere in her notebooks, either the current one or one of her many archived ones, was the information she needed, or at least a place to get started and maybe a note that would point her to the right reference book, the right source on the Internet. Sigh. Time to go home to a place that wasn’t really home yet.
While she was there, maybe she could find her underwear. Oh, and see if she had anything to eat. She was unaccountably starving and didn’t think she could hold out for whatever leftovers from the day the bakery was offering the night bakers. Must have burned a lot of energy thinking—or maybe coming. It couldn’t be all that late. She’d been drawing for only a few minutes.
Maybe longer than that. Sean had stepped away, and he’d made a lot of progress on his angular pseudo-bowl, though she’d be damned if she could guess whether it was done. Maybe it had been an hour or so.
When she got outside, the sky was the deep bluish purple of dusk except for a coral glow to the west. Well past seven p.m… No wonder she was starving! And she still needed to sleep, a quick nap at least. Jen slept less than most people, but no sleep at all for several days was pushing it, and that was what she was running on now. As she pedaled home, she hoped she had some coffee in her still-scant kitchen stores. The bakery crew always made themselves a pot or six. It was the only way to get through the night shift sometimes. But she wasn’t going to last until the night shift without coffee.
Her new home provided food—or at least ramen, which was close enough to food in a pinch once she’d spiced it up—and her precious notebook. It even provided clean clothes for work, though, annoyingly, her bra and panties didn’t match each other, let alone anything else she was wearing.
But she couldn’t find coffee. The coffee canister had been Melinda’s and had stayed there, but Jen was sure she’d grabbed a bag of coffee at GreenStar. Apparently, though, it was partying with her matching panties.
And that left her with only two options: go somewhere for coffee, or throw herself on Drake’s mercy.
The latter, embarrassing as it was for a number of reasons, was the only viable recourse. She wasn’t about to go out and pay a stupid amount of money for just one cup of coffee, and in the time she’d waste riding her bike to a grocery store and back, she could get a lot of planning work done on one of the new pieces, or maybe more unpacking to make tomorrow less discombobulated.
She steeled herself, wishing she had some actual steel armor to protect herself from Drake’s eyes, his desire or his scorn, and took the interior stairs down to the main part of the house. Jen breathed deeply for a few seconds in the hallway, envisioning her imaginary shiny armor, then envisioning Drake in his own armor so he’d look untouchable. This wasn’t about Drake. It was only peripherally about her. And it certainly wasn’t about sex, or the non-status of their non-relationship. It was about something far more important at the moment: coffee.
She knocked, and jumped at the way the sound boomed in the silent house.
Drake barely managed to suppress the urge to jump when someone knocked on his door. It was rare for someone to come by when he wasn’t expecting company, and it was the wrong time of year for Girl Scouts selling cookies and other neighborhood kids hawking overpriced candy or wrapping paper for their school. Sighing, he unfolded from his chair, where he’d just settled with a cup of coffee and a science fiction book, and took two steps toward the front door.
The knock came again, and this time, he did jump. It was coming from inside the house. What the hell? He’d gotten lost, first in math and music and then in his book. It took him a second to remember he had a tenant now…and all the delectable, confusing, utterly unsettling aspects of the first day with said tenant.
Well, this was going to be interesting. Was she going to rip his head off, jump into his arms, or just ask for help moving her furniture to a better position?
He put up mental shields as one of his kendo mentors had taught him, a bright, impenetrable wall of equations. Logically it shouldn’t work. Logically another person’s energy and actions shouldn’t affect his if he chose not to let it, but visualizing the shields apparently told his subconscious not to let himself get rattled by things he couldn’t change. Thus armored, he opened the door, reminding himself to stay cool, to approach this awkward situation from a point of calm and self-control.
“Hi,” Jen said in a small but determined voice, not making eye contact. “Is there any chance I could borrow some coffee? I’ll pick some up at work tonight and pay you back but…”
Drake saw her nostrils widen as she smelled the coffee wafting out of his kitchen. “I just made a pot. Come in.” He beckoned her in, taking care not to put his arm around her waist like he wanted to do.
She followed him into the kitchen, a spot of color in a bright green Staff of Life logo T-shirt and a pair of rose-colored painter paints, in a space dedicated to stainless steel and pale wood. Her multicolored hair, damp from a shower, was pulled into a ponytail. It looked almost tidy, but wispy bits were already starting to escape around her face. He wanted to brush them away, gently.
Then he wanted to grab that ponytail and use it to force her head back, make her look him in the eyes until she saw how much he wanted her.
From there, his brain skipped to Jen on her knees in front of him, him using that crazy ponytail to control her as she sucked him.
His libido was jumping the gun again. Coffee first, then conversation, then maybe down the road and if everything worked out, sex. He forced his mind out of the sewer and up as far as the gutter, and made himself ask, “Milk?”
“I take it black, thanks.” She wrapped her hands around the mug he poured for her and inhaled. The look of bliss on her face was almost erotic, which, he reflected, was something he shouldn’t have thought. His cock twitched immediately, reminding him that her expressive little face was even more rapturous when she was coming. She was staring at the coffee, and he couldn’t decide if she was deliberately avoiding confronting him or just fascinated by the precious contents of the mug. Since Drake had a close and deeply satisfying personal relationship with caffeine himself, he understood. “Should I let you two be alone for a while? I feel like I’m intruding.” Joking was easier than silence and far easier than talking about what they needed to discuss.
“That smell lures me in every time.” She sighed and took a cautious sip, obviously wanting to gulp but equally obviously not wanting to burn her tongue.
“Maybe I knew that. Maybe I was baiting a trap for you.”
“It would explain why you made coffee at eight p.m… I start work at midnight, but most people want to sleep at some point.” Jen’s eyes met his finally, and he saw a teasing gleam in those green depths. She might be as bollixed as he was by what was going on between them, but at least she wasn’t upset. Not so upset that coffee wouldn’t cure it, at least.
“Coffee doesn’t affect me much—I OD’d on caffeine in grad school—and I love the flavor.”
“Here I was hoping you
trying to lure me in.” She blew on the surface of the coffee. The pursing of her lips just about killed him. As she sipped the coffee, he watched the muscles in her face and throat.
This wasn’t the time to talk. Jen was on her way to work, and he didn’t want to rush this conversation. Couldn’t afford to rush this conversation the way he’d rushed so many things between them already. He needed to take his time, get the words straight in his head. Rehearse, even—he might sound stilted that way, but at least he wouldn’t forget something Jen really needed to know, or skip over some critical question or important boundary that would come back to bite him or, worse yet, Jen later.
He tried to tell himself all that. But Jen derailed his resolve. Derailed all the thoughtful, deliberate parts of his brain. All he could do, at first, was stare, imagining all the deliciously deviant things he’d like to do to her. Imagining that instead of swallowing his coffee, she was swallowing his come. His erection jumped inside his sweats, feeling big and awkward enough to knock over the kitchen table.
Jen said something. It took a while to translate it from meaningless, sensual music to, “What’s your favorite bread? I’ll try to bring some home from work.”
“Something multigrain,” he replied absently, “or pumpernickel.” It occurred to him as he spoke that he’d left out his actual absolute favorite, crusty white sourdough, but it didn’t seem worth the effort to correct himself, because Jen had just set her coffee cup down and her hands were free. Her hands were scratched up and two nails were broken, probably from moving. It made him feel curiously protective.
Drake captured her hands. He resisted the urge to grab her wrists, but the way he placed his hands over hers was as much immobilizing as affectionate.
Jen let out a small whimper that he suspected wasn’t just surprise. She welcomed the decisive contact, he thought, as much as he did. Certainly she wasn’t protesting or pulling away. “We need to talk,” he said, letting himself put a hint of command into his voice. “Things started recklessly between us—no conversation, no discussion about what we wanted, just diving in.”
Jen looked at her mostly empty coffee cup. “This is where you apologize and say it won’t happen again, right? You have a girlfriend or something and this wasn’t cool, though it was fun, but you hope we can be friends.”
He squeezed her hand, liking the hint of bitterness in her voice. She didn’t want to be brushed off, which was a damn good thing. He had no intention of brushing her off.
He just hoped she’d be happy about that once she knew what she was getting herself into.
He smiled. He couldn’t help smiling. “No, this is where I say I hope to hell it happens again. And I do hope we can be friends, but also more than that. Friends with benefits, at least. Maybe more down the road…”
Jen tilted her head to one side. With her green eyes, she reminded him of a ginger cat studying something it found curious and possibly edible. “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” She pronounced it
, and there was a teasing glint in her eyes, though her expression was otherwise serious.
“Something like that. But there are a few things you need to know about me.”
“Is this where the girlfriend comes in?”
“I don’t have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, for that matter.” He leaned across the table toward her and released her hands. What he was about to say might come off as creepy if he didn’t. Still might, but she’d come this far, so he suspected she wouldn’t be appalled. “There’s a reason for that. When I said that I could be cruel and domineering, I meant it. I like rules in place in a relationship, even something like a friends-with-benefits relationship. I like playing with pain and power. But I only like doing these things with people who can handle it.” He paused. That wording wasn’t quite right, but at least Jen hadn’t run upstairs, locking her door behind her. He didn’t think it was just because she wanted more coffee, although that might be a factor. “I only like doing these things
people; that’s too passive—who actively crave them. Makes it harder to find the right person for a relationship, especially in an incestuous place like Ithaca, where everyone knows everyone’s business.”