I met him at the candy store. He turned around and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children’s candy store, mind you—this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss’s wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
I’ve been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears. Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake.
The problem with wanting is that it’s like pouring water into a vase full of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don’t apologize for who I am or what I’ve done in—or out—of bed. I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven’t wanted anything else.
Until Dan. Until now.
This is what happened.
I met him at the candy store. He turned around and smiled at me. I was surprised enough to smile back.
This was not a children’s candy store. This was Sweet Heaven, an upscale, gourmet candy store. No cheap lollipops or chalky chocolate kisses. The kind of place you went to buy expensive imported truffles for your boss’s wife because you felt guilty for fucking him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee.
He was buying jellybeans, black only. He looked at the bag in my hand, candy-coated chocolate. Also in one color.
“You know what they say about the green ones.” The rakish tilt of his lips tried to charm me, and I resisted.
“St. Patrick’s Day?” Which was why I was buying them.
He shook his head. “No. The green ones make you horny.”
I’d been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears. Sometimes I went home with one of them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake, and they usually disappointed.
“That’s an urban legend made up by adolescent boys with wish fulfillment issues.”
His lips tilted further. His smile was his best asset, brilliant and shining in a face made up of otherwise regular features. He had hair the color of wet sand and cloudy blue-green eyes, both attractive but when paired with the smile…breathtaking.
“Very good answer,” he said.
He held out his hand. When I took it, he pulled me closer, step by hesitant step, until he could lean close and whisper in my ear. His hot breath gusted along my skin, and I shivered. “Do you like licorice?”
I did, and I do, and he tugged me around the corner to reach inside a bin filled with small black rectangles. It had a label with a picture of a kangaroo on the front.
“Try this.” He lifted a piece to my lips and I opened for him although the sign clearly said ‘no samples.’ “It’s from Australia.”
The licorice smoothed on my tongue. Soft, fragrant, sticky in a way that made me run my tongue along my teeth. I tasted his fingers from where they’d brushed my lips. He smiled.
“I know a little place,” he said, and I let him take me there.
* * *
The Slaughtered Lamb. A gruesome name for a nice little faux-British pub tucked down an alley in the center of downtown Harrisburg. Compared to the trendy dance clubs and upscale restaurants that had revitalized the area, the Lamb seemed out of place and all the more delightful for it.
He sat us at the bar, away from the college students singing karaoke in the corner. The stools wobbled, and I had to hold tight to the bar. I ordered a margarita.
“No.” The shake of his head had me raising a brow. “You want whiskey.”
“I’ve never had whiskey.”
“A virgin.” On another man the comment would have come off smarmy, earned a roll of the eyes and an automatic addition to the “not with James Dean’s prick” file.
On him, it worked.
“A virgin,” I agreed, the word tasting unfamiliar on my tongue as though I hadn’t used it in a very long time.
He ordered us both shots of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, and he drank his back as one should do with shots, in one gulp. I am no stranger to drinking, even if I’d never had whiskey, and I matched him without a grimace. There’s a reason it’s also known as firewater, but after the initial burn the taste of it spread across my tongue and reminded me of the smell of burning leaves. Cozy. Warm. A little romantic, even.
His gaze brightened. “I like the way you put that down the back of your throat.”
I was instantly, immediately, insanely aroused.
“Another?” said the ‘tender.
“Another,” my companion agreed. To me, he said, “Very good.”
The compliment pleased me, and I wasn’t sure why impressing him had become so important.
We drank there for a while, and the whiskey hit me harder than I thought it would. Or perhaps the company made me giddy enough to giggle at his subtle but charming observations about the people around us.
The woman in the business suit in the corner was an off-duty call girl. The man in the leather jacket, a mortician. My companion wove stories about everyone around us including our good-natured bartender, whom he said had the look of a retired gum-drop farmer.
“Gum-drops don’t come from farms.” I leaned forward to touch his tie, which featured a pattern that upon first glance appeared to be the normal sort of dots and crosses many men wore. I, however, had noticed the dots and crosses were tiny skull-and-crossbones.
“No?” He seemed disappointed I wouldn’t play along.
“No.” I tugged his tie and looked up into the blue-green eyes that had begun vying with his smile for best feature. “They’re harvested in the wild.”
He guffawed, tilting his head back with the force of it. I envied him the free and easy way he gave in to the impulse to laugh. I’d have been afraid people would stare.
“And you,” he said at last. His gaze pinned me, held me in place. “What are you?”
“Gum-drop poacher,” I whispered through whiskey-numb lips.
He reached to twirl a strand of hair that had fallen free from my long French braid. “You don’t look that dangerous, to me.”
We looked at each other, two strangers, and shared a smile, and I thought how long it had been since I’d done that. “Want to walk me home?”
He didn’t attempt to make love to me that night, which didn’t surprise me. He didn’t try to fuck me, either, which did. He didn’t even kiss me, though I hesitated before putting my keys in the door and smiled and chatted with him before saying good night.
He hadn’t asked for my name. Not even my number. Just left me buzzing from whiskey on my doorstep. I watched him walk down the street, jingling the change in his pocket. He faded into the darkness between the streetlamps, and then I went inside.