Audra & Jason’s story is a FREE, online novella. It is written one chapter at a time, unedited, and sent to my newsletter subscriber. It’s a Rumors series spin-off novella. It is recommended for you to read the first two books in the series (minimum) before reading this novella to fully understand what’s going on. Warning: there are spoilers of book 6 toward the end.
The ache inside my chest is starting to dull already. It’s been two days since Keegan broke up with me without giving me a reason. The fact that Justine’s heart is broken as well has helped heal my own.
That sounds horrible, doesn’t it?
It’s just that, with both of us in a similar state, we’ve leaned on each other for support and it’s helped us move on.
Well, it’s helped me.
Justine is still down in the dumps. I can’t say that I blame her.
Losing Keegan might be the best thing that ever happened to me. I can see now how toxic our relationship was. How he tried to control me, control my thoughts.
I want to be with someone who wants me just the way I am. No strings attached. No ultimatums. I’m never going to change a single thing about myself for a man again.
Though I may always love Keegan, it’s not for the reasons I once thought. I’ll love the memories of the good times we shared, but more than anything, I’ll love him for letting me go. For helping me realize my own worth.
Because I’m worth more than my virginity, which I’m pretty sure is the only reason he was holding on to me. He wanted someone pure, though from what I’ve heard the last few weeks from mutual friends, he was far from it.
He was making us wait for marriage yet running around with other women.
Rumors are what they are… a mix of fact and fiction. Truth and lies.
I won’t allow myself to get caught up in what might have been happening. If I do, that’ll be the end of the healing process for me. Plus, he may have only wanted me for my virginity, but I wasn’t saving it for him.
I was saving it for me.
Until I found a man that was worthy of giving it to. A man who wanted to share that special moment with me and knew how precious it was.
Turns out, Keegan wasn’t that man.
Looking around the grocery store, I search for the source of the voice. I recognize it but can’t seem to find a familiar face among the crowd. I’m not surprised. This is one of the many reasons I hate stopping at the store after I leave school.
It’s always filled with people rushing home from work. They need one or two things, just like me, and push through the aisles like the place is on fire. They leave their manners at the door, their actions purely selfish.
Like the lady who bumped into me when I was reaching for a head of lettuce. She practically pushed me aside to get one for herself and never even apologized. Grab and go.
It’s annoying and I can’t wait to get out of here. If only the line wasn’t so long to check out.
Turning in place one more time, I almost trip over my own feet when my eyes land on his.
It should be illegal for teachers to be that sexy. Seriously. I feel bad for every teenage girl in his school. If I were his student, I wouldn’t learn anything in his class. I’d be too busy staring at his gorgeous face. His long eyelashes. Or that sexy smirk he’s sporting right now.
I feel like a schoolgirl as I watch him walk toward me.
“Audra Marks. The greatest high school English teacher I know.” The heat in my cheeks rises so I duck my head in hopes he doesn’t notice.
“Hi, Jason. How are you?” From a distance, it would appear I’m having a conversation with the dirty tile at my feet.
Jason’s hand comes into view and then my chin in being lifted. Taking in his body as my eyes travel, I notice the lack of dress clothes. He’s wearing running shorts and a t-shirt. It looks damp.
I’m guessing he’s fresh out of the shower based on the cool, clean scent I’m getting.
“I’m up here,” he jokes as I take a step back, away from his touch. The line is moving forward and the lady behind me cleared her throat to let me know.
Jason steps forward with me.
Maybe he only wants to cut in line? That’s why he came over to say hello.
The lines are long right now. He might be in a hurry. It would make perfect sense.
“So, how are you?” he asks as I unload my basket onto the belt.
“Good. You?” I counter, attempting to make conversation like a normal person. Someone who’s not affected merely by his presence.
When I met Jason, I was in awe. He’s outgoing and upbeat. Everyone seems to be drawn to him. He was the life of the conference, and that’s huge considering any event that involves groups of teachers tends to be boring.
The first time I heard his voice, a shiver ran up my spine. Goosebumps covered my arms. My heart picked up its pace and it felt like it was trying to run toward him.
And it scared me.
Because I was still with Keegan.
I shouldn’t have been having those kinds of reactions to another man.
Then, when he asked me if I was single, I avoided answering him directly. He wasn’t just asking me, he was commenting on how hard it was to find time to date in our profession. Yet, I never admitted to having a boyfriend.
That was wrong.
But now… Keegan’s no longer around.
“Great now that I ran into you again. I was hoping we might be able to get together, for dinner.”
Holy shit, he’s asking me out!
“Um,” I start but never finish. I don’t know how to answer him. Would I like to go out with him and get to know him? Of course. I’d be a fool not to. What I know of him already is too good to be true.
Is it a little too soon? Probably.
“Is that a yes?” He urges as we take another step forward. It’s almost my turn to check out. Our little encounter will be over, ending too soon but not soon enough at the same time. I need to give him an answer…
“Sure,” I blurt out.
“Great. I’ll give you a call later.”
Doubt washes over me immediately but when I turn to object, to correct myself and explain why I shouldn’t go out with him right now, he’s gone. Nowhere in site.
Maybe I dreamed him up. Maybe it was all in my imagination. I mean, it made me feel great about myself so I could have been having an illusion, right?
“You’re one lucky girl,” the previously impatient lady behind me remarks.
Nope. Not my imagination.
Justine’s nowhere to be found when I get home. I want to talk to her, to tell her about him. I know she’s still upset about Devon, and my happiness should take a backseat to her needs, but I’m freaking out.
Excited to go out with him, yes.
Freaking out because I have no idea what to wear, yes.
Worried I’m jumping into another… whatever this might be too soon, absolutely.
None of those feelings compare to the internal war I’m battling with myself right now, though. To tell him I’m a virgin, or not. It’s not like I can wait that long. I’d hate for him to get his hopes up that he’s going to get lucky on the third date.
I need to talk to someone. Anyone.
Scrolling through my contacts, I realize how pathetic my life really has become.
Keegan didn’t approve of most of my friends. Hell, he didn’t approve of Justine. The only reason she’s still around is because we live together, even though he tried to get me to kick her out on multiple occasions.
I use to go out all the time. Hang out with friends on the weekends. We’d go camping or to the beach. Wine nights every Wednesday. Movie night on Sundays before the rush of the workweek started again.
Keegan was so sly about removing me from everyone, I didn’t even realize it was happening. It started as, skip wine night and stay in with me. Then there were little things that kept us from hanging out with my friends. He didn’t like the husband. Wasn’t in the mood to be around kids.
What it all boiled down to was the fact that their beliefs didn’t match his.
And if I was going to be in a relationship with Keegan, our beliefs had to align.
Slowly, over the first few months of our relationship, I stopped talking to most of the friends I’d had for years. Every night was spent with Keegan, more than likely his way of making sure I didn’t realize what was happening. That I didn’t feel alone. Aside from Justine and the other teachers I work with, I didn’t talk to anyone.
Basically, I dropped off the face of the planet. No one called. They all probably saw what happened, even though I was blind to it.
That changes now.
He’s done controlling my life. I’m done letting him.
ME: Hey, long time no talk. I’d love to grab a coffee and catch up.
The minutes tick by as I wait for Courtney to reply. The nice thing about cell phones, especially if you both have the same brand, is you can see if they’ve read your message.
Yet, she hasn’t responded.
Maybe that means she’s not interested. Or she’s over the fact that I stopped coming around. Or-
COURT: Wine Wednesday?
ME: Perfect! Same place?
COURT: Always. See you then.
Or she’s a great friend who is forgiving and willing to give me another chance.
I need to talk to someone now, though. About Jason. I can’t wait two days to figure this out. What if he calls before then?
Who else can I call? Who gives great advice?
ME: Got a sec to chat?
Erin: Yeah… what’s up?
ME: Can you come over?
Erin: Is Justine home?
Erin and Justine don’t exactly get along. I’m not even sure why. They used to, back in college, but ever since, they clash. Erin won’t even look in her direction if they’re in the same room.
ME: No. She’s off somewhere. I haven’t heard from her.
Erin: Okay. Be over shortly.
Great. Now I have someone I can talk to tonight. Someone who will hopefully help me decide if I should go out with Jason or not. Because, as much as I want to, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
I don’t want to get my hopes up, that’s all.
I mean, being a virgin is something I’m proud of, but it’s also something you don’t find often, especially in people my age. Most have either given in to temptation or gotten married by now.
Even before Keegan, I promised myself that I would never give in. The right person will come along and when they do, they’ll understand why I want to wait and respect my decision.
I’m sure Jason’s been with a woman. He won’t want to wait.
So maybe I shouldn’t go out with him. In my mind, it’s the equivalent of dangling the keys to a brand new car in front of someone who drives a piece of junk.
Here, I have this for you, but you have to wait a while before you can have it. You have to work for it, but I’m going to be here reminding you that you can have it, just not right now.
And that’s if he gets it. If he understands and respects my decision to wait.
Which I’m guessing he won’t and that’s fine. Most people don’t. It was a personal decision and the only person it needs to matter to is me.
“He broke up with you? Are you sure it wasn’t the other way around?” Erin asks, clearly surprised.
“Yep. He didn’t even give me a reason.”
“And you’re okay?”
“I am. Our relationship was toxic but I couldn’t see that when we were together.” It’s the best way I can explain how I feel right now. Am I hurt? A little, but deep down I’m starting to feel more relief than anything.
“Well, we saw it. All of us. From the beginning. I have to admit, I was hoping I was wrong, but then you disappeared. I called a few times but he always answered and said you didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I knew he was lying but what could I do? I couldn’t get you on the phone.”
That asshole. You’ve got to be kidding me!
If I knew where he was right now I’d go kick him square in the dick.
“I had no idea. I’m really sorry.”
“I know you didn’t, but that’s the kind of person he was. When I saw your text, I knew you weren’t with him anymore. I had this feeling. I’m happy for you, Audra. Really. You look like you’re happy too.”
Pressing my lips together to keep from smiling even bigger, I shrug my shoulder and Erin starts laughing.
“What’s his name?” she asks. She’s always been good at reading people.
“And where did you meet him?”
“A work conference.”
“And when are you going out?”
We banter back and forth, twenty questions style for a while. My heart swells in my chest as I tell her everything I know about Jason. It swells, even more, when I realize that not only am I going out on a date with the sexiest man I’ve ever met, but I have my friend back.
I’m not alone anymore.
Keegan may have controlled my life for a while, but I’m in control now. And I plan to start living the way I want to.
I’m starting to realize that I’m not as patient as I thought I was. Sure, I can hold onto my virginity for the rest of my life, no problem.
Waiting on a phone call? That’s going to kill me.
It’s been two days since I ran into Jason at the grocery store.
Two very long, very challenging days.
It wasn’t until my students called me out today that it really hit me how distracted I’ve been.
For the first time this year, they don’t have homework over a long weekend. No paper due or a book to finish so we can discuss in class next Monday. Their Thanksgiving holiday belongs to them.
Because I was hoping my weekend would belong to me. That it would be filled with fun and excitement. In the back of my mind, I was hoping I wouldn’t have time to worry about grading. I would be too busy.
As of three o’clock this afternoon, that wasn’t the case.
It stung a little.
Instead of me dangling keys to a brand new car in front of someone else, those keys were dangled in front of me. The only difference… I don’t even get to take Jason for a test drive.
There’s not much I can do about it except sulk and the best way to do that is with a tub of ice cream and a giant spoon on the couch while watching a sappy made-for-tv movie.
Sadly, I’ve mastered sulking the last few days which means I’m out of ice cream and have to deal with the crowd at the grocery store for the second time this week.
As I walk through the automatic doors, my phone chimes in my purse. It’s Courtney, making sure I’m joining her for wine tonight.
Shit! I completely forgot and I’m not really in the mood.
Against my better judgment, I lie. Well, it’s not completely a lie. I don’t feel well but it’s not flu symptoms that are keeping me from wanting to be social.
“We really need to stop meeting like this.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as Jason’s sexy voice whispers in my ear. I can feel the shiver that wants to make its way up my spine as I stare into the open freezer door. At least I’ll have something to blame it on other than the fact that he’s standing incredibly close to me.
“Are you stalking me?” I ask as I reach for a small tub of chocolate ice cream. I really want the bigger container but with him standing behind me, picking up the family size would make me look pathetic. I can just imagine what would go through his mind.
She’s buying ice cream in bulk.
Gee, I wonder what her plans are. Oh, wait! I bet she doesn’t have any.
Why am I wasting my time on her again?
“A little,” he confesses. “Well, maybe a lot. The number on the school website wasn’t working so I may have been hanging out here hoping to run into you again.”
Turning around to face him, effectively trapping myself between him and the freezer, I realize he’s without a shopping basket. He has a messenger bag slung over his shoulder and his car keys are in his hand. He’s dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with his school logo on it.
He came right from school.
To the grocery store.
To find me.
“Oh, well here I am.”
“I see that. Are you busy right now? I mean, aside from picking up ice cream.”
I was expecting a phone call or a text message when he asked me out. Not face to face. I can’t hide my excitement or fear if he’s staring at me.
“Umm, not really. I just need to drop this off at my place. Before it melts. It’s for my roommate,” I lie, stumbling over my words.
“Great. I was thinking we could grab a bite to eat if you’re hungry.”
“Yeah. Sounds good. Where should I meet you?”
As Jason starts talking about a great little place he knows around the corner from the grocery store I space out. The words food and wine register but beyond that, I hear almost nothing. It’s like I’m in a trance.
The sound of his voice. The way he’s looking at me with his big brown eyes hidden behind those long, dark lashes. More than anything, it’s his lips. They’re full and soft and when the corner turns up in a smile, I become aware that I’m busted for staring at him.
“Why don’t I follow you back to your place and we can ride together,” he suggests.
My conscience screams stalker but I ignore it.
Sure, he came back to the store looking for me and now he wants to know where I live, but that’s no big deal. Right?
Before I realize what I’m doing, I put the ice cream back in the freezer and we’re walking out of the store, side by side. I’m getting in my car and waiting for him to pull up behind me so he can follow me to my house. Then, we’re standing outside my building and I’m inviting him in while I change.
Who am I?
What kind of spell has he put on me?
I don’t invite random people in the apartment. Guys especially. I’m more cautious than that. I’m smarter. We haven’t even been out on one date. He shouldn’t know where I live. Or what my kitchen looks like.
He certainly shouldn’t feel comfortable enough to be rummaging around in my cupboards, looking for wine glasses. Or opening the bottle of wine Erin brought me the other day we didn’t end up drinking.
Yet, here we are. Standing in the kitchen, clinking glasses. Apparently celebrating the start of something new.
“To us,” Jason says as he taps his glass against mine and takes a sip.
I follow suit because I don’t know what else to do or say. He’s caught me off guard even more so than I’ve caught myself off guard.
“So, you live here alone?”
“No,” I say as I swallow the rich red around the lump in my throat almost causing myself to choke. “I have a roommate.”
“Where are they right now?”
They. Not him or her. He’s sniffing around for information.
“I’m not sure. She’s probably at work still.”
That damn smile, the one where only one side of his lip turns up, is back and in full force. How do women not fall at his feet all day every day? Combine that with the way he’s looking at me right now and I feel like my legs are going to give out on me any second.
That’s the moment I fall. Not in love, but in lust.
And then I pray.
For multiple things at once.
First and foremost, that he won’t run when I tell him I’m a virgin. That he’ll understand my reasoning and respect my decision.
More than anything, I pray that he’s the one. The one who’s worthy of the gift that I want to bestow upon him. Because, right now, all I can think about is what it would be like to be with Jason. Just once. Virginity be damned.
Dating has never been my strong suit. Sure, I can hold my own during a conversation, no matter what topic is brought up. I can even change topics when I become uncomfortable.
All under normal circumstances.
This feels far from normal.
It’s been years since I’ve been on a date with anyone other than Keegan and even those dates, weren’t always dates. It was dinner with his family. Or drinks with his friends. Meetings with members of his church for afternoon brunch.
Everything was always formal.
In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t recall the last time the two of us went out to eat alone. Just for fun. Just because we wanted to.
Sure, I cooked for us a lot. I love cooking. We ate meals together all the time. Yet, dinner out for no special reason wasn’t something I remember us doing all that often.
So this, this feels like foreign territory.
We’re both wearing jeans. I threw on a sweater and Jason has on a fleece jacket. Our topics of conversation have all been around our jobs, the kids we teach, our love for what we do. And I’ve let him lead the discussion, mainly because I feel so out of place.
“Not to change the subject,” he begins and immediately my stomach lurches. “But I have to ask. After the conference, I asked around about you. I swear, I’m not a stalker, just interested in getting to know you.”
“You keep saying that yet here we are after two coincidental run-ins at the grocery store,” I attempt to joke but instead my words come out sounding serious as I choke on my own spit.
“Listen. I like you, Audra. I knew it the moment I met you. You were sweet and smart and looked gorgeous in that navy blue dress you were wearing.”
Oh my God, he remembers what I was wearing.
“I had a hard time keeping my eyes off you and the urge to know more has practically consumed me. But one thing stopped me from pursuing you those first few weeks. You have a boyfriend. At least, that’s what I was told. A fairly serious one. Then, I overheard my students talking one day. They were talking about a friend of theirs that went to your school, who was feeling bad for his English teacher because her boyfriend broke up with her. When they saw I was eavesdropping they made a suggestion that stuck with me. They wanted me to ask you out. They thought if nothing else, it would bring a smile to your face. They even told me what grocery store you shopped at.”
Well, that explains all the random questions my students have been asking me. My favorite color. Where I like to shop. What I like to do in my free time.
“I didn’t know it was you they were talking about but I hoped it was. I had a good feeling about it and told them I would think about it. That didn’t stop them from pushing, from feeding me information about you. I knew I was going to approach you, that I wanted to ask you out, but I also knew I needed to give you time. I wasn’t sure how long you dated but breakups are hard. It’s been almost a year since my girlfriend broke up with me and I didn’t even realize I was ready to date until I met you.
“So I guess what I’m asking is this. Are you available and if so, are you ready to date? Because I’d like to see you again but not until you’re ready.”
My mouth must have popped open at some point during his speech because my tongue is dry and I’m having a hard time finding my words.
“Um, yeah. Yes. I’m still processing the breakup but I’m okay with it. I mean, I see our relationship in a different light and know now breaking up was a good thing.”
Jason nods, accepting my answer, but doesn’t respond. When I remain quiet, he lifts his eyebrow and tilts his head, urging me to continue. Does he need more of an explanation? I’m not sure I’m ready to dive in that deep with him. Not right this moment. Talking about Keegan will never be easy because at the end of that conversation comes the next one. And that topic is off limits tonight.
“I’m not sure what else I can say. He wasn’t the man I thought he was and the way he treated me wasn’t the way I deserved to be treated. Does that make sense?”
“It does because anyone who treats you as less than a princess shouldn’t be in your life. You deserve to be worshipped by the man in your life, Audra. You deserve someone who cares for and about you. I have no idea where this is going yet, but I’d like to think I could be that person if you want me to be.”
Would it be wrong to jump out of my chair and scream yes?
Hell, I haven’t even kissed him and my thoughts are going to marriage and children and a future growing old together. That shouldn’t happen on a first date. I’m not in love with him. I barely know the guy.
The one thing I am certain of, though, is that I want to. I want to get to know him. I want to know everything about him.
“I’m not sure what I want, but I do know that I’d like to do this again. Maybe after I get back from Thanksgiving with my parents?” I suggest.
A smile slowly begins to spread across his face as he leans forward and takes my hands in his.
“I’d like that. A lot. But I was thinking maybe Friday night.”
Before I can make up an excuse why I can’t see him again that soon, even though I want to, he lifts my hand and kisses my palm, his lips lingering for a few seconds.
Yep, not going to be able to say no to him. Not tonight. Probably not ever. He has charm and charisma and I really hope he’s not a womanizer because I will fall for everything he throws at me. The fact that I’m ready to hop across the table and into his lap was my first clue.
When I find myself leaning over the table and meeting him in the middle. Our lips connecting ever so gently.
Please, please, please don’t let this be a game for him. I don’t need a prince to rescue me. I can’t handle a man that’s only after one thing. The one thing I won’t give him.
I need something real. Someone who wants me and can handle the fact that nothing will happen between the sheets. I’m a good person and I deserve a good man.
And I hope like hell Jason is that man.
You know that moment when you’re positive you’re about to be kissed? The mood is perfect. It’s the end of the night and he’s walked you to your door to make sure you get inside safely. Even the lighting in the hall is working in your favor.
Those moments are magical.
Until they don’t end the way you were sure they were about to.
Does that make him a gentleman for not kissing me?
No. No, it doesn’t. It makes him a dumbass. We had already kissed at the restaurant. Why wouldn’t he kiss me at the end of the date?
So here I am, in a state of frustration, tapping my fingers against my phone with more pressure than necessary as I type out a text to Erin.
Why isn’t Justine home when I need her? I haven’t seen her all week. She’s been elusive, working late, coming home and heading straight to bed.
ME: OMG! Amazing first date. We kissed at the restaurant and then he didn’t kiss me goodnight. WTF?!?! Is there something wrong with me? We’re supposed to go out again tomorrow night. Do you think he’ll cancel on me? Should I even go? I don’t know what to do.
ERIN: First, calm down. Second, open that bottle of wine I left and pour yourself a glass. Third, I’m on my way over. Give me an hour. I’m in the middle of something.
I can’t pour myself a glass of wine. We drank it all before dinner.
ME: Um… can you pick up wine. That bottle is gone.
ERIN: Sure. Be there soon.
I wear a path into the rug in front of the couch while I wait for Erin to arrive. Back and forth I pace, replaying our date over and over again in my mind. Focusing on the kiss. The words that he spoke before it happened, but especially after.
What changed? Where did things go wrong?
I need expert help here. And there’s only one person I know that is an expert when it comes to dating.
But if she’s with Justine right now, I don’t want to call her. I don’t want Justine to know about Jason. Not yet. Not until I’m sure there’s something between us. And right now, I’m not sure I’ll ever see him again.
ME: Hey! I thought you would be home tonight. What are you up to?
JUSTINE: Layover in Chicago. Headed home for Thanksgiving.
JUSTINE: Yeah. I need to clear my head and get away from it all. Things are getting worse, not better.
ME: Want to talk?
She needs someone right now. Someone who isn’t part of the office gossip. Someone who can be impartial. Most importantly, someone who knows what she went through with that jackass JP.
I get it. I understand where she’s at. She would never do the things they said she did. She wants nothing to do with him ever again yet, he once again found a way to ruin her life.
JUSTINE: No. I’ll be back on Saturday morning. Friendsgiving at Ryder’s house.
ME: Okay. I’ll be home from my parents Saturday afternoon. Call me if you need me. Love you.
JUSTINE: Thanks. Love you too. Hope you’re doing okay.
ME: I’m good. Promise. We’ll talk when you get home. Give your mama a hug for me.
Justine heading home is a like a red flag waving in the wind. As much as she loves her parents, they tend to be a little chatty. The one thing Justine will not want to do right now is talk. I feel for her because her mother is going to get under her skin and break her down.
My phone vibrates in my hand with an incoming text.
JASON: Just wanted to say I had a great time tonight and I can’t wait until Friday when we can see each other again. Happy Thanksgiving.
What the hell?
Is he serious?
I’m so confused right now. How do I even respond to that?
ME: Are you sure you still want to go out with me?
Nope. Delete. Show no weakness.
ME: Happy Thanksgiving.
Too informal. Delete.
ME: I had a great time, too. Thanks again for dinner. See you on Friday.
That will have to do because I’m not really sure what to say and I don’t have time. Erin’s knocking at the door.
“Coming,” I holler as I shuffle toward the door. She’s early. I wasn’t expecting her for at least another forty-five minutes. Maybe my lack of wine got her moving.
Because when I open my door, it’s not Erin standing on the other side.
“What are you doing here?”
There’s no hiding the shock or panic in my voice. He’s the last person I was expecting to see tonight, or ever again.
“I saw you earlier. With him. Laughing. Drinking wine. Kissing like a little whore.”
Keegan’s words are meant to hurt me, but they don’t. Even the way he enunciates the word whore as if he truly believes that I am one.
“I’m sorry if what you saw hurt you but you’re the one who broke up with me. I’m moving on and you should too. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m expecting company.”
When I move to shut the door, he kicks his foot out and stops me.
“You’re sleeping with him already. After all the time I waited for you to be ready, all the times you pushed me away, and you let the first man you meet after me jump in your bed. My mother was right about you. You are trash. I can do so much better.”
There’s anger and hatred in his voice and all I can do is laugh.
“Not that you deserve an explanation since you didn’t even give me a reason you broke up with me, but he’s not coming over, Erin is. You know, my friend you lied to and told I never wanted to see again.” Kicking his foot out of the way, I slam the door in his face and then holler “Goodbye Keegan,” as I slide the lock into place.
As I take a seat on the couch I finally let myself process what just happened. The fact that seeing him didn’t make me feel sad. In fact, I didn’t feel anything except annoyed.
My heart used to pick up the pace when he’d walk in the room. I’d get excited when I knew he was coming over. There was an overwhelming feeling of love that would envelop me when he’d show up and surprise me.
All those feelings have been drowned in gasoline and set on fire. The moment I realized that what he felt for me wasn’t the same as what I felt for him, I let it all go. I opened my eyes and saw him for who he really was.
And he wasn’t the kind of man who deserved my love.
Erin laughed when I told her about Keegan. To the point she couldn’t breathe. Not what I was expecting from her but once she explained herself, I began laughing myself.
What are the odds he would be at the same restaurant, at the same time as Jason and me? Very slim I’m sure. The fact that he saw us kiss… it’s like icing on the cake.
I only hope he leaves me alone now. Not because I have Jason in my life, in whatever capacity that might be, but because I’m done with him. With his accusations and controlling ways.
Pouring each of us a glass of wine, Erin and I dissect the many possibilities of why Jason didn’t kiss me when he brought me home. I don’t like any of the reasons we come up with except one.
He respects me.
Ugh! It feels like I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other. Keegan was pushy and controlling and Jason is laid back. My mind is spinning and all I want is for it to stop.
That won’t be happening any time soon I have a feeling.
I think about him the entire drive to my parents Thursday morning for Thanksgiving dinner. I’m in my own world most of the day replaying every word, every action. By the time I wake up Friday morning I’ve confused myself even further and all I want is to crawl in my bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep until Monday.
But I can’t.
We have a date tonight.
My mom and sister try to get me to talk about it, noticing my awkward silence most of the day. I brush them off, using exhaustion as an excuse. They try again as I’m getting ready to leave and I don’t even bother to make an excuse, ignoring their questions.
I’m not ready to talk about him yet. I don’t know why. He’s amazing. They would love him. My father especially. I can see the two of them watching football and shooting the shit. I can also see him in the kitchen with my mom, helping her cook. He would fit in with our family great, and as much as I want to admit that to myself, I have to shake the thought from my mind.
We’re not there yet.
Not even close.
If I get my hopes up now I’m bound to trip myself and fall flat on my face.
So I drive home with the radio blaring, singing at the top of my lungs to try and drown out all my thoughts. All my insecurities.
I made a plan last night before I went to bed.
I’m going to be straightforward with him. I’ll ask him why he didn’t kiss me. The next step we take, if we take one at all, depends on his answer.
In my mind, it’s the perfect plan until there’s a knock at the door promptly at six o’clock and my body tenses up.
“Hey,” I greet him as I swing the door open with more force than necessary. It bounces off the wall with a bang causing him to raise an eyebrow in suspicion. “Too much coffee,” I lie.
“You look beautiful,” he replies, ignoring my awkwardness and leaning in to kiss me on the cheek. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah, just let me grab my purse.”
Leaving the door wide open, I snag my purse off the counter in the kitchen. When I turn around to leave, Jason’s behind me.
Taking my hips in his hands, he pulls me to him, lowers his head and captures my mouth. It’s a slow, sensual kiss that seems to go on forever yet not last long enough. When he finally pulls away, my legs feel like they’re going to give out on me and my lips are tingling.
I didn’t mean to say it aloud but the moment a grin begins to spread across his handsome face, my regret melts away.
“I agree. I’ve been wanting to do that for days. How would you feel about ordering in so we can do more of that?”
Jason. Here. With me. Alone?
That seems like a recipe for disaster or a great segway to the conversation we need to have.
“Okay,” I whisper before I lose my nerve.
OMG! I need to call Justine. Or Erin. Someone. I need advice. How am I going to invite him in, to be alone with me, to make out, and then spring it on him that he’s not getting any?
I’m a horrible person. I’m teasing him.
“But before we do that again, there’s something we need to talk about,” he starts, my heart coming to an abrupt halt in my chest.
Jason releases my hips, shuts and locks the door and then guides me to the couch. It takes all I have to keep my body from shaking. Not
“Tell me about your ex.”
“Keegan?” I asked, shock evident in my voice. This is not where I thought this conversation was going to go. “Why?”
“What was he like?”
“Controlling. Kind of an asshole to everyone around, including me sometimes. Why do you want to talk about him?”
“Controlling how? Like, is he crazy?”
He continues to ignore my questions and it concerns me. I don’t want to talk about Keegan. I want him to be my past, not my present, yet I can’t seem to get away from him.
“I don’t think he’s crazy but I’m starting to realize there’s a lot about him I didn’t know even after the two years we dated.”
“Well, I think he might be stuck on you still,” he starts, taking my hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. “I saw him the other night, watching us. I’m pretty sure he followed us back here and I’m pretty sure he was sitting in the parking lot when I pulled in tonight.”
All the pieces of the puzzle slide into place and I can see the picture clearly now. Keegan was watching us and Jason knew. That’s why he didn’t kiss me.
“Seriously?” I ask, quickly standing and moving to the window.
Sure enough, Keegan’s car is parked right in front of the entrance to the building. His lights are off but I can see it’s running.
“I didn’t want to worry you but you needed to know. That’s part of why I wanted us to stay in tonight. Maybe he’ll go away if he realizes you’re with someone else now.”
No, that won’t work. He’s an asshole. He doesn’t want me to be happy.
“He came here the other night. After you left. I was waiting for a friend to come over and opened the door without looking. He saw us kiss at the restaurant, said some nasty things about me, accused me of being a whore and sleeping with you. He’s just jealous because-”
“Because?” he urges me to continue.
I was going to tell him anyway. I guess now will have to do.
As I continue to stare out the window at Keegan’s car, I tell him the one thing that may end our relationship.
“I’m a virgin. I want to wait until marriage. Keegan always said he felt the same way but toward the end of our relationship, he became less understanding about it. He thought I was teasing him. That I wasn’t really waiting for marriage but that I didn’t want to have sex with him. That’s why he automatically assumed I was sleeping with you and called me a whore. It’s his only line of defense, even though he broke up with me.”
“He sounds like a piece of shit,” Jason counters.
“He’s not a great person, that’s for sure. Unless you ask his family. He puts on an amazing show in front of them, in front of the church, anyone that matters. It’s all about appearances with him.”
“Well,” he begins, his voice closer than before. “He can think whatever he wants about you. You know the truth.”
When his arms wrap around my waist and pull me away from the window, I smile. He’s not running away yet.
“I think the most important thing for you right now is to continue to live your life. But until your roommate comes back, I’d prefer you not be alone. He may not be crazy but sitting in your parking lot and stalking you…” His voice trails off.
“Yeah, I know. I should have stayed home one more night.”
“How about you stay with me?” he suggests. My body tenses in his arms at the thought of spending a night with Jason. Did he not hear what I just said?
“I heard what you said, Audra. I’m not trying to get you in bed, well, I am, but not for that reason. I want you safe and you’re not safe here alone. We can stay here or at my place, wherever you’re more comfortable. I can sleep on the couch, it’s fine. I don’t want to pressure you into anything, I swear.”
The sincerity in his voice, mixed with optimistic caution, surprises me. I truly believe he’s not trying to seduce me. He offering out of the goodness of his heart to protect me and nothing more.
“Your place,” I whisper, turning in his arms and wrapping mine around his neck.
Jason leans in to kiss me and I meet him halfway. There’s more passion than either of the other kisses we’ve shared but it’s also more tender. A slow burning begins to build inside me and I realize what it is but it’s too late. I want him and that feeling is going to consume me.
Hand in hand, we walked past Keegan’s car, my duffle bag hanging from Jason’s shoulder. I tried not to look. Tried to ignore him, but I failed. As soon as I was safely inside the confines of Jason’s vehicle, I chance a glance in his direction.
Hidden in the shadows, I can make out his body, turned in our direction, but I can only see his lips. They’re pressed together in anger. I imagine if I could see his eyes they would tell me the same story.
Jason warned me he wasn’t going to respond well to seeing us leave together. Hell, he didn’t respond well to seeing us together the other night. Still, I was hoping he would be gone when we walked outside to leave.
I took my time packing a bag. One nights worth of clothes and I spent twenty minutes in my room. Then, I stalled, pretending to look for my phone charger when I knew it was plugged in next to the coffee maker.
It wasn’t until I locked the door behind us I realized I wasn’t stalling from nerves of staying with Jason. Everything I did was because of Keegan. He, once again, had found a way to control my life and he’s not even apart of it anymore.
Damn his mind games and controlling ways.
Damn him for scaring me into doing things I don’t need to do.
I teach my students to be fearless. To approach life in a way that you can conquer anything and that if they do fail, to get up and try again.
Because failure is a part of life. It is inevitable. Everyone fails at some point in time but the strongest people pick themselves back up and don’t let failure define them.
I’m letting Keegan’s choices define me.
I’m letting his wants and needs determine my actions.
I did the same thing when we were dating. I covered for him, made excuses not to see my friends and did everything I thought necessary to ensure his happiness, all while compromising my own.
And that needs to end now. It should have ended when our relationship did.
“Do you think he’ll try and follow us?” I ask as Jason closes his door and fires up the engine.
“He might but I’ll make sure he doesn’t follow us all the way to my house.”
“Maybe I should just tell him to leave me alone.”
“You and I both know that’s not going to work. Listen,” he starts, placing his hand on my thigh and giving it a squeeze. Tearing my attention away from Keegan’s car, I turn to find him looking at me with understanding in his eyes. “He’s going to do whatever it takes to get under your skin. He wants to make sure you’re miserable. Your goal is not to let him. You need to ignore him because giving him any attention is only going to spur him on. If he doesn’t go away in a week, we’ll call the police and file a restraining order.”
God, I hope it doesn’t come to that. He’s the one that broke up with me. He doesn’t want to be with me anymore so why is he here?
Still, I nod my head in agreement and watch as Keegan’s headlights pop on when Jason pulls out of his parking spot. They fall in line behind us, leaving little distance between Jason’s car and his.
He wants us to know he’s following us.
He underestimates me and the lengths I’m prepared to go to ensure he leaves me alone.
“Take a left up here,” I say as we approach the first major intersection.
“Where are we going?” he asks, sliding into the turn lane, Keegan following like I knew he would.
“Just trust me.”
As I guide Jason through the outskirts of town and into the neighborhood I know so well, Keegan remains behind us. He’s so focused on following us he must not realize where we’re headed.
“Pull up in front of the next house.”
Sliding in behind a little black sports car, Jason shuts off the engine and waits for my direction. I watch as Keegan sits in his car behind us, waiting for our next move. It takes him a few minutes to realize where we are but once he does, he roars past us and disappears down the road.
“Care to fill me in?” Jason asks as he navigates his way back out of the neighborhood.
“That was Keegan’s parents house.”
“And you were planning on doing what?”
“I don’t know. Walking in and telling them their son is stalking me. They never really liked me so they probably wouldn’t have listened but he doesn’t know that.”
“How could they not like you?”
“I mean, they were always really nice to me and welcoming, but I got the feeling they didn’t approve of our relationship.”
“They didn’t realize how lucky their son was. My parents would love you, I guarantee it.”
Not the topic I wanted to breach tonight. I mean, we’re on date number two. No need to meet the parents yet. No need to even think about it.
But now I’m thinking about it. It’s all I can focus on as he makes his way back across the city and into an unfamiliar neighborhood.
“I wasn’t saying that to freak you out.”
“So why are you quiet all the sudden?” he asks, “You clammed up the moment I mentioned them.”
“I don’t know. The thought scares me. To think that you’d be comfortable introducing me to your parents already when you barely know me yourself,” I say as he turns into a driveway and presses a button on his visor.
The house is beautiful. Much bigger than I thought he would have, especially on a teachers salary. It’s dark, but as the garage door lifts, I take in the clean garage in front of me, and the SUV parked inside.
A bright blue one with those stick people stickers on the back window. This one has the mom, dad, two little boys and a dog.
Does he live with a family?
Was he trying to drop hints on the way over here? Is that why he mentioned introducing me to his parents?
It would explain the nice house on the shitty salary. I’ve dreamt of owning a home like this but unless I get married and there’s a second income to support the monthly mortgage payment, it’s never going to happen.
Teachers don’t teach for the money, though. They teach for the rewarding feeling they get when a students eyes light up. The moment it all clicks for them.
At least that’s why I went into teaching.
Jason carefully pulls in next to the SUV and shuts down the engine.
If he doesn’t live alone this is going to be awkward.
“Sorry about the tight squeeze getting out,” he says as he helps me shimmy between his truck and the car. “I normally park in the center of the garage when my mom’s car isn’t here.”
His mother’s car.
In his garage.
He does live with his parents!
Holy shit! What now? I can’t run. I have no idea where I am.
My head whips in his direction, uncertainty written all over my face as I stop walking, our bodies pressed together between the vehicles.
“Don’t’ worry, she’s not here. She parks here when she leaves town. She went to visit my grandparents in Florida this weekend and it’s only a ten minute cab ride to the airport from here. I’ll make sure we’re gone before she gets back on Sunday so you don’t have to meet her yet.”
An audible sigh echoes through the garage but instead of commenting on my relief, Jason pulls me close and gently kisses me on the lips.
After showing me around, Jason drops my bag inside the door to his room and we settle at the kitchen counter with a glass of wine. His house is extremely nice but modestly decorated. It reminds me of a bachelor pad with it’s leather couches and gigantic television.
“I like your house,” I say as I take a sip of the crisp white wine.
“Thanks. It’s getting there. I bought it about a year ago but haven’t had the time to get much done since then. I want to paint over winter break and get some color on the walls. This nude tanish color is not really my style.”
A year ago. Right about the time he broke up with his girlfriend.
Coincidence? Probably not.
We talk more about what he wants to do to the house, his plans for each room and I offer to help with a few details. Painting, planting flowers, curtains. Mostly the decorating part which he willingly hands over to me.
His ideas are good. He wants a modern look which surprised me a little. I would have pegged him more of a classic guy. He’s already replaced the appliances in the kitchen, converting from an electric stove to a gas and upgrading to stainless steel. He’s also replaced the carpet in the bedrooms but wants to get new hardwood floors for the rest of the house.
The conversation is flowing nicely until I hear a clock sound in the other room. Counting each chime, I’m surprised when it reaches twelve and the room goes silent.
“Are you tired?” he asks, sliding off his stood and standing next to me.
The truth is, I’m suddenly more awake than I was ten minutes ago. My mind is reeling with what might happen next. He claims he doesn’t have any expectations but I’m not sure what to believe.
He has needs.
I agreed to stay at his house.
Am I giving him mixed signals?
“Why don’t we turn in for the night,” he suggests, taking my empty wine glass over to the sink and rinsing it out.
My voice is hesitant. He said he would sleep on the couch, but the way his voice was filled with promise, I’m wondering if he’s changed his mind.
“Can I ask you something?” He steps up next to me again and turns my chair so I’m facing him. When I nod, he continues. “I know you’ve never been with a man sexually but have you ever done anything? I don’t mean that to sound rude or pushy, I promise, I’m just curious as to how far you’ve gone.”
“Yes, but not much. My high school boyfriend and I came close to having sex but that was a long time ago. Keegan-” The moment his name slips from my lips, I clamp them shut.
“Go ahead.” Jason urges.
“He thought all forms of intimacy were wrong. He wouldn’t even change his clothes in front of me. I tried on a bathing suit at the store one day and he freaked out when I walked out of the dressing room where other people could see me.”
Jason wrinkles his nose but doesn’t comment.
“So basically it’s been a while since I’ve done more than kiss.”
My admission surprises me. I knew we’d have to have this conversation, and I knew I wanted to be honest with him, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about my lack of experience. It’s also dampened the mood.
“What about you? Have you ever been with a woman?” I joke, causing him to grin at me.
Leaning in and placing a hand on either side of my chair he whispers in my ear. “Only one.”
The single word is out before I can stop myself.
He rights himself and crosses his arms over his chest defensively. I’m offended him and I didn’t meant to, especially after how kind he was when I told him I was a virgin.
“Yes. My last girlfriend and I were together for a long time. I thought she was my future. She’s the only woman I’ve been with and I thought, for a long time, she was going to be the only one I’d ever be with. Then I found out she was cheating on me. With more than one person over the years.
“I was obviously hurt, kicked her out, and decided the bachelor life was meant for me. I was going to go wild, have parties, sleep with whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It turns out, that’s not me. I had one party, asked everyone to leave after a few hours and went to bed alone.
“I’m not looking for a hook-up or a one-night stand, Audra. I’m looking for something deeper. A connection with another person that doesn’t revolve around sex or money. I want real love, the kind that make your ache for the other person when they’re not around. Love that hurts when you’re fighting or angry. The same love that causes you to be light headed when they walk in the room.
“Yes, sex is amazing but only with the right person. It should bring you closer, you should feel connected on a different level after. For most people, sex is meaningless. A momentary high that quickly fades until you have sex again. I’m talking about making love to another person. Giving a piece of your heart and soul to them. That… that I’ve never done.”
My jaw is hanging open and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was drooling right now. This man is everything I’ve ever dreamed I would find. He’s picture perfect inside and out. I would be a fool to let him go.
It’s a good thing I don’t plan to.
“These things we can do that aren’t sex,” I start as I slide out of the chair and stand in front of him, looking up into his beautiful eyes. “Maybe we should explore them a little.”
“How about instead, you let me hold you until you fall asleep and tomorrow we can revisit that.”
Yes, this is the man I’ve been looking for. I’ve dangled a carrot in his face and he ignores it, staring past it and straight into my soul.
“I like that idea.”
The only problem with his plan is that with his arms wrapped around my body, the last thing I want to do is sleep.