Since You Happened by Holly Hall

Chapter 4

Thanks for the night, Blake?That’s it? That’s what he leaves me with? I find myself stuck on those five words whenever there’s a lull in my day, and even when there’s not, for half a week. Landon hasn’t texted me, he definitely hasn’t called, and I’ve tried to focus all my attention on work while keeping my distance from the bookstore. However, what happened in my apartment Saturday night has been replaying on repeat, hanging over my head when I’m not occupied at the hospital.

Though our encounters have mostly just been friendly, if I can even call them that, I can’t stop thinking that the kiss meant something. I saw it in the way he looked at me, and a guy like Landon isn’t going to kiss just anyone who frequents his bookstore. A guy like Landon? What the hell am I thinking? I don’t even know who Landon is.

What I know for sure is he’s definitely not going to approach me about it. And I’m not going to find any answers dozing off during Parks and Rec, so, after I spend the rest of Thursday catching up on sleep after my shift, I head to the shop without giving myself a chance to chicken out. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m not certain why I’m making an effort until I’m halfway there. I have chosen not to date anyone seriously in years, so why am I so interested in making this man admit to feelings I’m not even sure are there? My mother always told me I was prideful to a fault. Maybe that’s what it is. 

When I arrive, I make a beeline back to the office and sink into the chair across from him without knocking. He’s kind of cute when he’s focused. I shake my head subtly. Dangerous thoughts. He rubs his eyes and sits back in his chair, his hands coming to rest on the armrests. “What’s up?” he asks, his confusion evident.

“Nothing. I just wanted to come see you.” I run my hands over the armrests of my own chair.

“You wanted to come see me?” His voice is brimming with speculation. Yep, this was a mistake.

I plow forward, ignoring all the signs that I shouldn’t. “You kiss me like that and you’re really questioning if I wanted to come see you?”

He regards me carefully, shutting his laptop so I know I have his full attention. “I thought I made it clear, but if I led you to believe that was anything other than a kiss, I guess I owe you an apology.”

“So you do believe it was completely innocent? That you felt nothing?” The heat is rising in my chest. I expected this, but I also know what I felt between us that night, and if he’s going to sit here and deny feeling it too, when there’s evidence of the contrary, then he’s more stubborn that I thought.

“Blake,” his patronizing tone grates in my ears. He sighs, and that’s just as bad. “Look, there’s a reason I haven’t dated in four years. A lot of women have tried to change that, thinking they’ll save me from myself or something, but believe it or not, I actually prefer life this way. Yes, I kissed you. You’re a pretty girl. But that’s where this ends.” He gestures between the two of us.

He said “pretty girl” like it should be a compliment, but it feels like an insult. I don’t care that he’s not head over heels for me, or even that he doesn’t like me at all, I just want him to admit that some part of me weakened him enough to let just a portion of his guard down. He just looks back at me, as unaffected as ever. His steadfastness is a little impressive, and a lot infuriating.

“God, you’re dim sometimes,” I say bitterly.

“And you’re a gigantic pain in the ass all the time,” he says, sighing and running a hand through his hair. It’s a comment that’s normal coming from him, but tonight it fans flames of anger that are already building. Maybe if it was said with that cocky half-smile on his face, I wouldn’t be as mad as I feel now.

“Well, you’re not much better yourself. In fact, you act like a grumpy old man who doesn’t give a shit about anyone. It’s infuriating,” I shoot back. His gaze holds mine, and I see the spark there, like I just blew on the embers of a dying fire and it’s flaring up again.

“Maybe I don’t. Have you thought about that? You’ve probably been too busy thinking of the next question you’re going to ask me to wonder if I am the way I am on purpose. Maybe I don’t want to get to know you.” The volume of his voice heightens with every word, until they sting more than usual. I’ve concluded that some bitch had to have burned him bad four years ago to change him from the guy he described at the bar into the guy he is now. But I’ve been a trooper, weathering the storm of his moods, and frankly, I feel like I’ve been too easy on him.

“Let me make this clear, Landon: I’m not trying to ‘change you,’ or follow you around until you eventually fall in love with me. You’re not the first good looking guy to kiss me, believe it or not, and I can recognize someone who’s a lost cause when I see them. I found you interesting when I first met you, and I don’t know a lot of people in this city. So if you expected me to just avoid asking you questions when I’m in your company, you shouldn’t have invited me to lunch, or to the bar.” My voice raises right along with his, but I don’t pause for long enough to contemplate if we should really be doing this in his bookstore.

“So that’s why your mad, is it? You’re mad because I won’t let you in? That I won’t ‘share part of myself’ with you? Well, I have some news for you, Blake, you’re not the first to feel that way, and you damn sure won’t be the last. Get over yourself.” The words hit me like a freight train, and I stand without even realizing what I’m doing. Has he listened to one word I’ve said this entire time?

“Get over myself?” I chuckle bitterly. “That’s rich coming from you, the king of self-righteousness. You’ve somehow gotten it into your head that because you’ve been hurt, or whatever has happened to you, that you deserve to treat everyone around you like shit. The world doesn’t work that way, Landon! Maybe if it did, I could walk around using anger and excuses to avoid life’s consequences.” I feel myself gaining momentum, but I can’t find the restraint to stop.

“One day you’ll realize how alone you are, and that you’ve spent so much time pushing people away that they’ll gladly decide to give you your space, and by that time it will be too late.” Tears sting the backs of my eyes, but I refuse to let them spill over. He doesn’t deserve my tears.

I stalk toward the front door, barely containing the scream that bubbles up inside me when I push and discover that it’s locked. I flip the lock, slide through the door, and slam it as hard as I can. The bell jangling above me is the only thing that punctuates the silence.

Regret hits me almost instantly on the walk home. Maybe it was unfair of me to unleash that tirade just because I read more into something than I should’ve. He gave me fair warning not to. But it’s too late to turn back now. I have too much pride to take everything back, and to be honest, it felt kind of good.

I’m two glasses of wine down, curled up in the corner of my sectional sofa, when I hear a knock at the door of my apartment. I tug my shirt down to ensure that it covers my underwear, expecting to see my neighbor Karen through the peephole. She complains often when my TV, which sits along the wall adjacent to her apartment, is playing at normal volume.

The sight of Landon, his hands splayed on either side of the door, makes me recoil in surprise. I pause for a moment, asking myself if I really want to open it.

Who am I kidding? Of course I do.

When I yank the door open as far as the chain allows, he looks up at me in surprise. “Come to yell at me again?” I ask, throwing the words at him through the crack.

“No,” he responds softly, and I recognize the look in his eyes as defeat. It’s a strange look on him, and it tempers my anger enough to take the chain off the door. He walks through and stops in the entryway.

“What are you doing here?” I lock the door and lean against it with my arms crossed over my chest.

Landon shoves his hands into his pockets, stares at the tile for a few moments, then looks back up at me. “I came to tell you that you’re absolutely right. I’m a miserable person. I’ve been horrible to a lot of people, and I’ve been horrible to you. There are a few times when I haven’t even regretted it afterward, because my soul is just that . . . ruined.” He says everything matter-of-factly, as if he’s no stranger to these thoughts.

His soul is ruined? Whatever happened to him in the past must’ve been worse than I thought.

I follow him into the living room, and he drops onto the couch, his elbows on his knees and his eyes on the floor. When he looks up, his gaze begins at my feet and runs up my bare legs to the hem of my t-shirt. It gives me a warm, swirly feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“But the most selfish thing of all is how much I want you, knowing damn well I can’t—won’t—give you what you need.”

My heart plummets and rises, all in the span of a few beats. He’s just admitted it. And a few noteworthy guys have wanted me over the years, but none of their affection has been as hard-won as this one’s. I know he’s basically a stranger, and I’ve only kissed him once, but here, now, I somehow see him and all his imperfections plainly laid out before me, despite his secrecy. The strange thing is, I don’t see him as the broken man he makes himself out to be; I see him as the only person who can fill the insatiable need that mixes with remnants of anger and consumes me right at this moment.

For four years, I’ve denied myself this satisfaction. For four years, I’ve said no to my selfish desires. And for once, I want to quit worrying about the consequences. I just want to feel.

“You can give me what I want,” I say, barely above a whisper.

He sits back a fraction, analyzing that statement, and I cross the room to where I’m standing between his legs. I don’t even consider how unwise it is to do what I’m about to do next, but I straddle his knees and lower myself onto his lap. I may not know this man, but I recognize him. He carries the same weary look I see when I look in the mirror. Landon’s hands come to rest on my hips, but he doesn’t move. It’s like if he allows himself to, he knows he’ll be too far gone to stop.

I look down to where our bodies meet, feeling the heat of him through his jeans beneath me, then back to where his caramel eyes are simmering. They make my insides feel like they’ve melted all together, but it’s an enjoyable sensation. I forgot how nice allowing yourself to melt feels. I only break eye contact when I pull my shirt over my head. Then I cup my hands around the back of his neck, running one upward and into the softness of the hair I’ve thought about touching since the first day I met him.

Last chance to back out and leave this be. A particle of my conscience tells me it would be wise to do just that, but every cell in my body is screaming, drowning out reason. I bring his mouth firmly to mine, leaving no room for protest.

His hands run lightly up my back, sending chills racing down my arms before his fingers dig more firmly into my shoulders to pull me closer, crushing my chest against his. Once I’m pressed against him, they travel down to where they cup my ass and pull my hips toward him with more force than he’s let himself use thus far. One hand wraps in my hair and pulls my head back, exposing my neck. His lips travel from my ear down the column of my throat, alternating kisses and sucks over my collarbone. My back arches automatically, and when his tongue circles a nipple, I emit a low moan. At just that soft utterance, he stands from the couch, holding me to him with his hands secured firmly over my backside.

I vaguely direct him toward my bedroom by shaking my head or nodding as he stops in front of what few doors are in my apartment, all while my lips remain on his. When he finds my bedroom, he pauses in front of my dresser and lowers my feet to the ground, my body brushing against his all the way down.

“Blake,” he breathes, his face just a few inches from mine. “You’re sure this is what you want?”

I stare back at him, wondering how, after everything I’ve done tonight, my intentions are still unclear. “Yes, Landon.” I pull his mouth back to mine earnestly, but he places his hands on my shoulders.

“I’m serious, Blake. This will go nowhere.”

“It will if you stop talking and take off your clothes.” I’m unconcerned with how “nowhere” this is going; my mind is firmly stuck in the gear of now. I run my hands down his chest to the hem of his shirt. Just as I’m drawing it up to reveal the ripples of his stomach, his hands close over mine, and he spins me to where I’m facing the floor-length mirror beside my dresser, trapped against his chest with his arms around me. The sight of me stripped down to nothing but panties, held in front of him while he’s still fully clothed, is strangely one of the most erotic things I’ve ever seen, if not a little unfair.

He lowers his head to where his breath comes out hot on the side of my neck. “This is what you want?” he asks, one hand caressing my breast while one travels further down my stomach.

“Yes,” I breathe, my eyes fixed on the hand that’s skating lower and lower. I want him more than words can express, but I’m not going to beg. I can feel through his jeans that he wants me just as much. His fingertips dip just beneath the lace band, then come to a stop.

When I grip his forearm to try and hurry him along, he withdraws, stroking his fingers back up toward my belly button. “Tell me this is what you want.”

“This is what I want,” I repeat, and his hand travels all the way down to there. He slowly circles, causing my heart to pound and delicious tension to build. My nails dig into his arms as he sucks lightly on the dip where my shoulder meets my neck, and I press my hips back against him. His hands disappear, and he spins me again to repossess my mouth, but I’m finished with serving as a spectacle for him to look at while I’m powerless. I want to watch him lose his mind.

I remove his hands from my backside and take hold of his shirt, whipping it over his head before he can resist. Then I undo his button and zipper, running my hand slowly down the length of him through the thin cotton of his briefs. He looks at me through hooded eyes, kissing me deeply before shoving down his jeans and briefs and stepping out of them. He retrieves a foil packet from his front pocket, and I wait for him to roll on the condom before I push him back onto the bed.

Landon’s fingers glide through mine as he pulls me atop him, and I sink down, adjusting to the feel of him. If I thought he was attractive when I met him at the bookstore, it hardly compares to the image of him lying beneath me, his hands gripping my hips and helping me to move. His eyes are watchful, and they hold my gaze as the inhibitions I didn’t know I had fall away piece by piece. We are two individuals who know next to nothing about each other, yet that seems to work to our advantage. We know nothing of each other’s baggage to preoccupy our minds and temper the sensations that are consuming us at this moment. 

Without warning, he sits up and snakes his arm around my lower back, covering my gasp with his mouth and kissing me deeply. The change of angle and the depth of his kiss is tantalizing and maddening at the same time. Then, as if he can’t stand to be restrained between me and the sheets, he shifts me with one swift move to where I’m beneath him and he is in control. I grip his back, relishing the feel of taut muscles working beneath his skin as he lowers himself and kisses my neck.

Once he begins to move again, it’s not long before I begin to feel a familiar stirring, the tension mounting to unbelievable heights, until finally, I wrap my legs around him as I tip over the edge, shuddering out my release. He finishes soon after with a few long, slow thrusts. Then he withdraws and drops onto his back beside me.

We lie there for several moments to catch our breath before Landon stands and disappears into the bathroom. My mind is slower to catch up to everything my body has experienced in the last half-hour. Regret is nowhere to be found, no matter how hard I search for it, but the physical aftershocks of what just happened are still very much present.

The chill of the air conditioning makes goosebumps arise on my rapidly cooling skin, and I roll onto my stomach and reach over to pull my fluffy white comforter across half of my body, leaving a leg and an arm out to balance my temperature. I stretch languidly, enjoying the delicious feeling of tired muscles that haven’t been worked in far too long. When I look up, Landon has paused in the process of pulling his briefs back on, his attention directed somewhere near my backside, which is partially exposed. I lay my head on my folded arms, looking up at him. He really is beautiful.

“Something happen to your tongue?” I ask, taking his pause in movement as a chance to examine his body shamelessly. I wonder what he does to stay in such great shape. He’s broad-shouldered, with well-muscled arms and abs that taper down into a V that leads directly to the organ I’ve just become acquainted with.

“No. Not yet, anyway.” Much to my disappointment, he forces himself back into his jeans, fastening the button before picking up his shirt.

“I guess I—” he begins, but I beat him to the chase.

“Goodnight, Landon,” I say, fluttering my fingers in a wave. There’s no reason to make this awkward.

He pulls the hem of his shirt down over those abs, which is really quite a shame, and then he nods and disappears from my room. I hear my front door shut a few seconds later.