“More?” she asks, her tone guarded.
“Yes. More. I don’t know what that means, and I can’t have this marriage promise hanging over our heads. We’re friends first. And whatever happens between us, I’m not willing to lose you as a friend. I need you to understand that before things go any further.”
“I understand.” She takes a moment, her eyes wide, watching me. “So you don’t want me to leave?” she asks, her voice small.
“Of course not,” I say. There is so much unexplored sexual tension between us, but more than that, there are real feelings too. A strange feeling comes over me and my chest tightens. It matters to her how I feel, if I’m eating, if I’m happy. It’s kind of like how my brothers understand me, even when I’m barely stringing two words together. Mia just gets me. The real me. I know I don’t deserve her tenderness, the concern she’s shown me the last few days as my ex moved out and I threw myself into my work. I had a girlfriend I’d been stringing along, all because I was scared of my future with Mia. She’s a forever kind of girl. And after my mom died, I didn’t want to give my heart to another woman. But the thing about Mia is that she had it already. She’s had it all along.
“But why did you get me my old job back?” she asks.
“Because it didn’t sit right with me knowing that your name had been tarnished. Because you spend all your free time looking for a job, and whenever you talk about your past, your face gets this pouty expression. I wanted you to have choices. Not to be stuck here, living with me by default. That’s what Tatianna did… I’m not looking to be anyone’s second choice.”
“You could never be my second choice,” she whispers. “You were my first everything.”
I give her hand a squeeze. Regret over the night I took her virginity still churns inside of me but I push it aside. “Are we okay?” I ask.
She nods. “Yes, but what happens next?”
“That depends. If you go back home to your old job, we keep in touch and visit as often as we can. And if you stay here…we have a lot of catching up to do from the past fifteen years.”
“If you’re sure you’re okay with it, we do have a lot of catching up to do…”
We’re both quiet as the meaning behind this moment sinks in. Mia is moving in with me. Tatianna is gone and all but forgotten.
“Are you pissed at me about how I handled things with Tatianna?” I ask.
“No,” she says, without hesitation. “I think it had to happen that way. We both needed time.”
I nod. “I still think about that night, you know.”
Her eyes, bright with desire, dance on mine. She knows exactly which night I’m referring to. “I do too.”
“I still feel like an asshole,” I admit.
“What? Why?” she asks, like she genuinely doesn’t know.
“I saw the blood smears on your inner thighs. I know I hurt you. I didn’t know what I was doing and … I still hate that you didn’t get off.” The weight of my admission presses down on my shoulders. It’s been buried inside me all this time and it feels good to finally talk about this.
“You didn’t hurt me.” She shakes her head. “Well, I mean, you did, but not on purpose. Your size was….well…” She becomes flustered and clamps her mouth shut. She takes a deep breath, then she starts again. “You were so tender. It was exactly what I wanted, please don’t feel bad about it. You were sweet and careful. I remember it perfectly. Don’t ruin it for me.”
“You remember it quite differently then,” I manage. My throat feels tight as I watch her.
“I remember the weight of your body on mine and how you stole my breath when you first entered me, and then how we found our rhythm and moved together. And how it lasted longer than I thought it would.”
My chest swells with pride. That surprised me too. I remember thinking it’d be over in about a minute, but then I was so worried about her, and over thinking everything that it distracted me from the immense pleasure threatening to overwhelm me.
“Come here.” I pull her close and she curls her body into mine, letting me hold her. She looks beautiful, even with her tear-stained cheeks and pink nose. I hold her the way I should have done that night so long ago. The warm weight of her against my side eases some of my guilt.
I want to hold her in my lap and kiss her, but I don’t want to rush her. Something tells me neither of us would need much convincing to take this upstairs and tear each other’s clothes off. And considering the sheets I shared with another woman are still on my bed, it wouldn’t be right.
Unable to resist the temptation of her warm body pressing against mine, I tilt her chin, angling her mouth just right, then I lean down and kiss her. It’s an innocent kiss, my lips touching hers just lightly, tasting her sweetness. But it’s a kiss that holds the promise of more to come. And even though we kiss until we’re out of breath, it ends much too soon.
When we part, she stays glued to my side, one arm flung around my middle, like she’s unwilling to let me go.
“Did you say one hundred thousand dollars?” she asks, her mouth curling into a silly grin.
I chuckle, despite the intensity of the mood. “I did. And you deserve every cent for the way they dragged your name through the mud and booted you out without a proper investigation.”
“Thank you for always being my hero,” she says.
“Thank you for always being my gremlin.” I smile at her and she smacks me in the arm.
“Can’t believe you still call me that stupid nickname.”
“Speaking of the Gremlin, tomorrow is Sunday. I invited the whole crew to join us on the yacht if you’re up for it.”
“Of course,” she says. “I would love to.”
It felt good to clear the air last night between me and Mia. Better than I could have imagined, actually. So today, I’m relaxed and happy as we board the Gremlin. Pace carries Max around the boat, showing him every gadget and knob while Kylie watches them lovingly. Colton and Sophie arrive next and stroll over to where Mia and I are standing beside the railing, looking at the water.
“Mia! It’s so good to see you,” Sophie says, pulling her in for a hug.
Colton’s eyes meet mine, and he seems to understand that Tatianna is gone for good. “Good fucking call, bro,” he says, thumping me on the back. He and Sophie rarely joined us on the yacht when it was just Tatianna and I. He didn’t enjoy her company, and I can’t say I blamed him. Now that I’m free of her, I just feel better. More lighthearted than I have in years. It’s strange what being in Mia’s presence does for me.