The Hook Up
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Addiction is best defeated with abstinence. So I’m going to be strong. I’m not going to reach out to him. I just need to get off my ass and do something.
On the table beside me, my phone dings.
I’m hoping it’s Iris telling me where she is so I can join her. But it’s not.
Unknown: Hey. It’s Drew. You busy?
I stare down at the screen, my mind trying to make the letters form comprehensible words. Drew? Texting me? I glance over my shoulder, as if he might be behind me or something. Which is stupid and juvenile. I’m still pretty sure he’s made me insane. There is a part of me, however, that gives a little leap of excitement. The lower part of me, I think darkly as I text him back.
Me: How did you get my number?
I rise and head into the apartment, the feeling of being watched still riding strong.
Unknown: Class study roster. ;)
I snort as my thumb taps on the screen.
Me: Damn study roster.
Unknown: Highly grateful for it myself.
“Yeah well, you would be,” I mutter, but, who am I trying to kid? I am too. The phone dings again.
Unknown: Where are you now?
My cheeks start to hurt from my repressed smile.
Unknown: Where’s that?
I pause, my heart now giving a little leap as well. This is stupid. He’ll hurt me. Without even trying. I have to protect myself. The thought barely forms, and yet I find myself responding.
Unknown: I want to know, obviously.
Me: Is this a booty call?
Damn if all my happy parts aren’t perking up now. Traitors.
Unknown: In the spirit of the brutal honesty in which we interact, yes. Yes, it is.
I laugh, too shocked not to. And a stupid grin pulls at my cheeks when I respond.
Me: Brownie points for that honesty, Baylor.
Unknown: Then give me the address, Jones. My list of semi-public places has grown thin. I’ve come up with janitor’s closets and bathroom stalls. Both unsavory. And I don’t want someone other than me seeing your gorgeous butt. I’d like to refrain from punching people, if possible.
I have to agree about the lack of privacy, although my brain’s stalled out on his reference to my butt. He thinks it’s gorgeous? Okay. I can do this. I can keep it about sex. Only sex. Awesome, hot, perfect…
Before I can talk myself out of it, I tap out my address. Sweat blooms along my skin the second I hit send.
My phone is quiet. For too long. Shit. When the text signal chimes again, my heart skips a beat.
Unknown: I’m on my way.
My heart promptly begins to race. And so do I. I practically slam down my phone as I fly into action, grabbing strewn clothes, trash, a sock, my ratty comfort bra, and a variety of other junk that’s cluttering the place. It all goes into the closet. Okay, I shouldn’t care what my place looks like. If I’m a slob, I’m a slob.
But I’m also a girl, and I’m not letting him see my place in any other condition than pristine.
I don’t know how far away he is; why didn’t I ask where he was? Skidding into the bathroom, I look myself over in the mirror. At least I don’t have a zit or anything. Which makes me think of George and his zit analogy. Fucking George.
I look all right, but Drew’s coming here for one thing, and I’m now slightly sweaty. I don’t have time to wash my hair so make do with washing my body, shaving all pertinent areas in record time and dashing butt-naked out of the shower and into my room. I stub my toe on the dresser.
“Fuck!” I’m hopping around on one foot as I tug on some yoga pants. The doorbell rings and I’m still half dressed. “Fuck, f**k, f**k!”
Grabbing a sweater hanging over my desk chair, I shove it over my head. A quick, frantic look down to check for stains—please don’t let there be stains—calms me somewhat; the sweater is a nice one, deep green and silk wool knit.
One second before I open the door, I pull out my hair tie and fling it into a far, shadowy corner of the living room.
And then Baylor’s standing before me, hands shoved in his pockets, short hair tousled as if he’s run his fingers through it. Golden eyes under straight dark brows, a little dimple on his left cheek, body to kill or die for. He makes my knees weak and my skin heat. Every damn time.
We stare at each other, him grinning, and me with my heart pounding like a kettledrum. Do we talk? Are we just supposed to go at it? I suppose I should invite him in first.
“Hey.” My stunningly witty opener.
“Hey, yourself.” His gaze runs over me. “You look pretty. Flushed,” he adds, his grin deepening, “but pretty.”
“Yeah well,” I stand back and wave him inside. “I’ve just run all over the house cleaning it so…” I shrug.
He laughs a little, walking into the center of the living room. God, but he’s tall. Without heels on, I’m an elf next to him.
“I’d say you were joking with me, Jones,” he turns and catches my eye, “but I know how honest you are.”
I bite back a smile and close the door. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Funny, I thought I was giving you a compliment.”
“Have we drifted into the compliment stage?” I’m a little too breathless, and I have no idea what to do with myself. So I’m stalling by being a moron.
“Jones, I’ve been giving you compliments since day one.” His voice is low and easy and it makes my toes curl into the carpet. “You just haven’t been paying attention.”
Taking a breath, I ask him the important question. “You want a drink?” Or do we just start f**king like bunnies?
I don’t even know what answer I’d prefer until he says, “A drink’s good.” Something in me eases a bit, when really I ought to be more agitated.
He follows me into the open kitchen, his eyes taking in everything, from the decorating by Ikea and secondhand furniture to Iris’s hot firemen of NYC calendar hanging on the dividing wall to the kitchen. “Nice place,” he says kindly. Because it isn’t that nice.
“We did what we could with my mom’s castoffs. Though some of it has seen better days.” I glance at the big brown sofa. “I think Mom got that thing when I was ten.”
“I did the same. When my parents…” He trails off, looking pained.
“When they what?”
He clears his throat, ducking his head as he gives the back of his neck a scratch. “Ah, when they died.”
My insides lurch on a jolt of prickly heat. “Your parents are dead?” Of course they are, he just said that, you idiot. “I mean… Hell, Drew, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
The corner of his mouth lifts in a weak attempt at a smile. “How could you be expected to know?”
“This is probably one of those common knowledge things about you, isn’t it?”
“Maybe. But then we both know you don’t follow football or my life.” He sounds oddly relieved about that.
“Did you,” I fight to keep my voice from wavering, “go live with your grandparents or relatives?”
He clutches the back of his neck again. “Naw. I don’t have any. It was just me and my parents.”
Jesus. All I can think is that he’s an orphan. Alone in life. And look at what he’s accomplished. It isn’t my business to feel it, but pride and admiration swell within me. Not that I can tell him that without it sounding patronizing.
“Drew, I am sorry,” I say. “That sucks.”
“Yeah. It does.” He doesn’t look at me.
“How…” I wince. “Never mind.”
“Nothing wrong with being curious, either.” A small, wry noise leaves him. “It happened the summer after I graduated high school. They were hiking in Colorado. A flash flood came and…It was… I don’t know. I mean, who the f**k expects something like that?”
No one. I want to hug him so badly that my arms ache. But I don’t think he’d appreciate the gesture. If it were me, I’d take it as pity. As if he’s worried about that very thing, he glances toward the kitchen. “Can I still have a drink?”
“Sure.” I snap out of my daze and move to the fridge. “Right.”
Baylor leans a hip against my breakfast bar.
“We’ve got,” I open the fridge and peer in, “One Blue Moon, bottled water, white wine, and orange juice.”
“I’ll take a water.” His stomach gives a loud and impatient gurgle. A flush washes over his cheeks and his mouth tips wryly. “Sorry.”
“Hungry?” I say, raising one brow.
“Almost always.” He doesn’t even try to make it sound like an innuendo. And yet somehow it does. Probably because I can’t be in the same room with Drew Baylor and not think about sex. But I behave as I open the fridge again and rummage through it.
“Okay, there’s cheesecake, two pieces of chicken satay, yogurt, though we really shouldn’t touch that or Iris will kill us…”
Behind me, Baylor twists open his water and takes a long drink before peering over my shoulder. “Iris? Your roommate, right?”
“The very one.” Every muscle in my body twitches at the close proximity of his. But I affect calm. “She’s on a Greek yogurt kick.”
“There’s also…” I peek under an aluminum lid, “…ooh, kebobs.”
“Did you have a party or something?” His arms rest on the edges of the door, bracketing my shoulders, and I feel oddly sheltered.
“They’re from catering gigs. The right to bring home left over food trays is one of the main reasons I took a job in the catering department. Iris and I save a boatload on our food budget.”
Baylor’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “I’m pretty sure you are every athlete’s dream roommate.”
I do not ask if that includes him, but turn back to the food. “Well? What will it be?”
“You’re really going to feed me?” He sounds surprised.
“Of course I am.” I shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Or don’t you want me to?” Because I can take it back. I can simply lead him into my room and—
“No, I mean, yeah. I want it.” Baylor full-on blushes now. “Shit. Food. I mean—”
I laugh. “I know what you meant.”
He groans and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just make the kebobs.”
Still laughing, I pull out the container and a pack of eggs. “Okay, but I don’t do reheats. I like to think of leftovers more as raw material for new meals.”
His self-deprecation melts away, and he leans back against the counter. “What are you making me, Jones?”
“A frittata.” I grab a small hunk of Gouda that we actually do have left over from a party. “With cheese.”
It’s surprisingly easy and fun with Baylor in the kitchen. He helps me free the meat and veggies from their skewers, and then I chop it all up into smaller sizes while he grates the cheese for me.
“You know how to cook,” he observes as I begin refrying the kabob pieces. The scent of onions and beef perfume the air.
“I’m proficient.” I whisk a bowl of eggs and pour it into the frying pan. “Growing up, it was just my mom and me, so I helped where I could.”
Four generations back, my mother’s family immigrated, not to New York with the rest of their Italian brethren, but to Georgia. But my father is pure Irish, and fresh-off-the-plane when he met my mother. Pictures of him as a young man paint him in tones of milk white and vivid orange. I ended up a physical blend of them with pale, ivory skin that tans but also freckles, dark green eyes and dark red hair.
I really don’t remember much of my dad now. Time has a way of fading the sharp edges of a person’s image. Unfortunately it also has a way of letting a wound fester and burrow deep beneath the skin.
“Iris is the real cook here,” I babble on. “She’s like a fifth generation Mexican-American, and her family owns this kick-ass Mexican restaurant in Tucson.”
Drew watches me push the eggs around. “What happened to your dad?” It’s a quiet question. Because he knows firsthand that my answer might be bad.
Is it? I’m fairly numb to the whole dad thing. Until I have to talk about it. A familiar lump of pain settles at the back of my throat. I ignore it and shrug. “Out of the picture since I was seven.”
Baylor is looking at me now. I focus on scattering the cheese over the half-cooked eggs and tossing the whole pan under the broiler. “There,” I say, “in a minute we’ll have a frittata.”
My voice is over-bright and too brittle. I shouldn’t have talked. I shouldn’t have cooked for him. This is a hook up, not some after-school tell-all. But it’s too late now. And he’s still watching me with eyes that are too knowing.
“Why is he out of the picture?” he asks softly.
I pull out two dishes and get the forks. “It’s a shitty story.”
“I told you my shitty story.” He sets the plates and forks out, one set next to the other. “Besides, I’m a great listener.”
While his job is to give orders and think fast, something about his calm demeanor and quiet strength makes me want to confide in him.
“When I was seven,” I say, “my father told my mother that he couldn’t handle parenthood, that I was too much of a pain in the ass, always whining for attention.” My smile is weak and wobbly. “His words.”