I’m glowing. Positively radiating contentment. I’m so deliriously happy that not even the sound of the dryer buzzer blaring out from my bathroom can make a dent in my mood. If it didn’t drive the dogs berserk, I’d be singing.
Two days ago, Ben and I had sex. Mind-blowing sex. Sex that was in turns gentle, rough, sweet, funny, and so intimate that I don’t think I’ve ever felt that connected to another human being. Every time I remember of the look on his face as he came, a little shiver of pleasure runs through me.
I switch the laundry, haul the clean clothes up my stairs, fold them, and then retreat back downstairs into my little art studio tucked in the very back corner of the house. It’s a closet of a room, but I keep most of my supplies stowed elsewhere, so only a desk and a chair and whatever medium I’m working with on a given day clutters it up when I’m using it.
Right now, a throw cloth is strewn over the floor, on top of which sits my easel. I came in here this morning thinking to start a new line of artwork for next year’s calendar series. Yeah, that’s not happening. On the canvas, Ben is coming to life in watercolors. It’s a portrait painted in greens and blues and golds, warmer hues of each, because I can’t think of him without picturing the technicolor lights of summer.
I stand in the doorway staring at it for a full minute, a stupid, self-satisfied grin on my face.
My phone chimes from the desk. I nearly trip in my rush to reach it.
As I hoped, it’s Ben.
What are you doing? he wants to know.
Painting, I tell him.
Do I answer honestly? Is it weird that I’m painting him? Screw it. I’m too happy to be neurotic right now.
You, I answer.
Really? Can I see?
Sure, but it’s not done yet. I can send you a picture.
Out in the living room, the dogs start to bark their heads off. I peek out the window to see his Jeep coming up the driveway. Butterflies erupt in my stomach as I race down the hallway toward the front entryway.
“Go get him,” I tell the dogs, yanking the door open.
They race out.
I shove my feet into my boots, tug on a jacket, and follow them.
He’s already out of the Jeep, petting the dogs as I all but sprint down the front walk. I catch movement in the window behind him, and look to see both puppies batting at it like, lemme out, lemme out!
Ben straightens up as I near him. Just in time.
“Hi,” I say, taking a flying leap at him.
He catches me out of the air with an “Oof.”
I wrap my legs around his waist and cling to him as I pepper the side of his face and neck with kisses.
“Glad there’s no awkwardness between us now,” he says, and I can hear him smiling.
“God, you smell good,” I say, ignoring his teasing. “You want to come inside and then come inside?”
The groan that rumbles up out of him in response goes straight to my core. His hands are on my ass, keeping me upright, pulling me close, so that I can’t miss the way his dick is already swelling in response.
I hear a muffled yip over the sound of my own racing pulse and crane my head up to see Boots and Doodle now watching us from inside the Jeep with their tongues hanging out.
“The dogs,” I say, unhooking my legs from around his waist.
He lets me go slowly, so I slide down him, his erection pressed between us in a way that makes it difficult to think about anything else.
“The dogs,” he repeats, his expression a little fogged as he stares at my mouth.
A thrill of power zings through me. There’s something infinitely satisfying in realizing that I might be able to drive him to distraction in the same way he does me.
I’ve been absolutely useless since we got naked. I burned dinner last night because I was lost to my memories. The skin on my fingers pruned in the shower this morning because I was couldn’t stop daydreaming about next time. Every hour or so, I pause in the middle of whatever I’m doing to giggle.
Ridiculous, I know, but realizing I might not be the only one makes me feel much better about it.
I lift myself up onto my toes and press my lips to his, briefly, not trusting myself to linger.
“The dogs,” I say, pulling back. “Doodle looks about ready to diddle on your car seat.”
The lust clears from his expression in a flash, and he steps away from me to pull open the back door. It’s too high for the puppies to jump safely down from yet, so we each take one and place them gently on the ground. They’re immediately swarmed by Fred and Sam, who sniff them over like concerned parents. I can almost hear them consoling the puppies about the discomfort of car rides.
Ben reaches out and pulls me to him so we can watch them together, turning me so that my back is pressed against his chest. One long arm wraps around my waist while the other snakes across my shoulders. I end up smothered within his warmth while the dogs tumble after each other through the snow.
“I actually came over here because I want to talk to you about something,” he says, sounding serious all of a sudden.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“You know how my parents were going to fly out here next week?”
“Well, we pushed the date up. They’re on a flight out right now.”
I stiffen in his grip, nervous about meeting them in person so soon after our relationship changed. “Okaaaay. And the reason for this was?”
“I scheduled the advanced tests for CTE. I’m going to meet them in Boston tomorrow.”
Oh my God.
Fear and anxiety swells up within me to drown out my lust.
I need to look at him after that declaration. I move, and he releases his hold on me just enough so that I can turn within his arms.
“How are you feeling?” I ask, my gaze flying over his features.
His expression is drawn, not giving much away. “Honestly? Terrified.”
I wrap my arms around his waist and hug him, burying my face in his jacket. So many words are crowding together in my mind, of comfort, of consolation, but I hesitate to say them, feeling like none of them are worthy.
“I’ve been terrified about this for months,” he continues.
I hug him harder.
He drops a kiss on the top of my head before continuing. “The fear isn’t going away, or getting any better. If anything, I’m worried it’s getting worse. I don’t want to be crippled by anxiety-induced procrastination. I can’t live like I have been, trapped in ignorance. That’s not a healthy place for me to be. Not while battling depression. The only way to move forward is to actually know once and for all what my future might look like.”
I don’t tell him it’s going to be okay. Because – don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry – it might not be.
I don’t validate his fear or worry. He’s intelligent, and more in tune with his emotions than most men I know. Plus, he has a therapist who has probably done a way better job helping him unpack all these feelings than I ever could.
I also don’t offer to go with him, though I want to. We’ve only been friends for weeks. We’ve only been lovers for days. My tagging along would be selfish. Filling my own desire to be there for him. And if we were photographed together? The paparazzi might go nuts. I could be identified and then his whole cover here would be blown.
Instead, I say the only thing that seems like it fits.
“Whatever you need, I’m here. To watch the puppies or clean the house or just to be there for deliveries. Seriously, anything Ben.”
“I already asked Jack to watch the dogs and look after the house,” he answers. “But I’ll let him know you’re available for backup.”
A question is on the tip of my tongue, and I pull slightly away again, so that I can look up at his face. I want to read his features, see if I’m pushing him on this, so I can stop before I push him too far. God knows how stressed he must be on top of the fear, and I don’t want to force him to talk about this if it makes it worse in any way.
“What tests are you having done?” I ask.
The wind catches a strand of my hair, blowing it in front of my face, and he tucks it behind my ear before answering. “Some of them are pretty new,” he tells me. “Like, not really approved by the FDA new.”
I frown. “Are they safe?”
He nods. “As safe as any of the others. For one of them, I’m not even in the first stages of their human guinea pigs. My results will add to the two dozen military vets and ex-USFL players they’ve already tested.”
“How is it different from the MRIs and cognitive tests?”
“They inject you with a molecular tracer that bonds with the abnormal proteins that lead to CTE and then scan your brain. It’s the one that shows the most promise out of all of them, because they also scanned the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and noticed an actual difference between the two.”
“Are you having the others done too?” I ask, thinking of all the tests I’ve read about.
“Yeah,” he answers. “I’ll be gone for a few days at least.”
His expression tightens then, and he lifts his gaze from mine to look out at the dogs.
My own fear creeps in again as I stare up at him. He might have CTE. This big, strong, caring man might one day be brought low by a degenerative brain disease. His depression might get worse. He could end up with mood swings. Violent outbursts. Memory loss.
The thought makes me want to break down sobbing, and I pull free and turn away from him before he can see it on my face. He’s already afraid. No need to add my own terror to his.
“Fred, what are you even doing?” I call, thankful for the distraction of the dogs.
Fred is holding a frisbee in his mouth, just over Boots’ head. Whenever the puppy jumps up to try and get it, Fred moves it out of reach. Like he’s teasing him.
“I swear they’re like human kids sometimes,” I grumble, marching through the snow toward them. “Give me that, you jerk.” I take the frisbee from him and wing it across the yard.
We stay outside for several minutes longer, playing with the dogs, not speaking, distracted by our thoughts, the air between us heavy with fear and worry and anxiety.
I lead him inside when the puppies start to flag. We towel the dogs off together, strip off our winter gear, and then watch as the little ones take off into my house, sniffing all the new things, trailed by Fred and Sam in a way that makes it look like they’re giving them a tour.
And this is where we stand when we’re waiting to be fed.
Over here you can see our dog beds, artfully arranged.
This is where Mom keeps all of our toys.
Yes, sure, you may play with my squeaky.
Doodle chews on the toy with a mania that’s impressive given how tired he looked outside. The good thing is that his little mouth isn’t capable of squeezing it all the way, so the squeaks coming from it are both quiet and few and far between.
“Can I see that painting?” Ben asks, breaking the silence between us.
“It’s back here,” I tell him, leading him down the hallway.
He’s right behind me, his heavier footfalls telling me how close he is. We’re passing the bathroom door when his fingers curl up over my shoulder.
I turn to him and the pressure between us snaps.
We move at the same time, our lips crashing together. His big hands are in my hair, pulling me close, while my own fumble at the buttons of his flannel shirt. We turn sideways and together, bumping into the doorframe as we squeeze through it.
And then his hands are under my armpits, lifting me up onto the washing machine.
My fingers are too slow. I grip his shirt and tear it open, popping buttons. He’s wearing a white undershirt beneath it, and I press it up with shaking hands and revel in the feel of his warm skin, his toned stomach.
He’s as rushed and clumsy as I am, his own hands abandoning the hem of my shirt to lift me up enough so that he can slid my leggings and underwear down over my butt. The metal is cold against me, but does nothing to cool my ardor. I want him. Now. Hard. Deep inside me. I need to be so full of him that there’s no room left for thoughts of CTE.
Ben tugs the garments off my right leg, but my underwear tangles in the fabric of my leggings and gets caught on my left ankle. He moves to pull it off, but I make a sound almost like a growl and pull him back to me.
Our lips crash together and open, tongues sliding together briefly before I break it off.
I’m still soaked from when he first got here. I don’t need or want foreplay right now. So I pop the button of his jeans and shove his boxers down just enough to free his dick.
He wraps a big hand around his length and fits himself to my opening. The spin cycle kicks on just as he slides into me, so that the vibrations shoot through both of us.
And then his mouth is on me again, his tongue working against mine as he works himself into me. The angle of my hips makes me so tight that I can feel each delicious inch of him filling me up.
Not fast enough.
I wrap my legs around his lower back and use them to pull him in so that he slams fully into me.
Both of us moan, swallowing down the sounds with our mouths.
His need mirrors my own, and he grabs my hips and begins a fast rhythm that pushes me so high so fast that light bursts behind my closed eyelids.
I wrench them open as I break the kiss, leaning back just enough to brace my hands on the top of the washing machine, using it as leverage to shove my hips forward to meet his thrusts.
The sight of him pounding into me is my undoing. My clit becomes hypersensitive. Pleasure gathers deep inside of my core from where he’s stroking in and out of me, over and over again.
“Ben,” I gasp, arching my back so that his lower stomach hits my clit with every thrust.
His pupils are blown out with lust. Inside me, his dick swells.
“Ella,” he says.
I tumble over the edge first, forcing my eyes to stay open even as I lose myself to the pleasure that roars through every nerve of my body and every synapse of my brain.
My inner muscles clench around him as I come, spurring on his own orgasm. He thrusts hard into me, once, twice, and then loses the rhythm, slowing as he leans forward to brace his forehead against mine.
I wrap my arms around his shoulders and pull him closer as he slows. It’s only when he kisses me and I taste salt on my tongue do I realize that I’m crying.
He must taste my tears too, because he pulls back just enough to look at me, his eyes running over my face as if memorizing it.
We don’t say anything. The threat of CTE has swelled to monstrous proportions between us and taken all of our words. How do you possibly voice the enormity of it? What could we possibly say to make this better?
Silently and gently, he leans in to kiss the tears from my cheeks.
I love you, I want to tell him.
Because I do.
Copyright © 2018 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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