Just about the time that I thought I’d either have to kiss him again or combust in flames, JC frowned and said, “Look, I hate to ask this, but…birth control? Do you…? Or the morning-after…”
He was nervous, and I had to stifle a giggle. It was hard to imagine JC ever being anything other than completely cool, even as I was witnessing it in front of me. “We’re good. I have an IUD.”
It was subtle, but he relaxed. “Good.”
“I don’t get periods anymore either because of it.” I reddened. “I don’t know why I told you that.”
“That’s good to know as well.” He chuckled, and I could tell he was laughing at himself as much as at me. “I didn’t realize how worried I’d been about it. Not your period but the birth control. I’m just usually really careful about being protected.” He leaned toward me—how were we suddenly only a foot apart?—and added. “Also, periods have never been something to scare me away, but it’s much more convenient to not have to worry about them.”
Goose bumps ran down my arms as I tried not to infer too much from his statement and yet wanted to all at once. “Well, like I said, we’re good. On both counts.”
I pulled at the hem of my shirt, suddenly not knowing what to say, half fearful I’d blurt out something else that was unnecessary or embarrassing. “Oh. I’m clean too. I haven’t had a test in a year, but I’m scheduled to get one next month and I can get it to you, if you want.”
“No. That’s fine. I’m sure you’re clean.”
It struck me as odd that he cared so much more about an unexpected pregnancy than a potentially life-threatening STD. Did he really fear children more than disease? Typical guy.
Then a horrible thought crossed my mind. “Are you saying I couldn’t have had sex in the last year? Is that why you don’t need to see a report to know I’m clean?”
“No! No. Of course not.” He was closer now, and he reached his hand out to brush my cheek. “I’m saying I trust you.”
His touch on my skin felt so right. The only thing that stopped me from leaning into it, begging for more, was the impact of his words. They equally affected me. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” One side of his mouth curled into a sneaky smile. “And it’s also likely you haven’t had sex in the last year.”
I started to say something—something not very nice—but he stopped me with a finger to my lips. “Hey, hey, not because of anything except that you’re denying yourself for some reason.”
My frown remained but I settled somewhat.
“Look, Gwen, you could have your pick of any guy. I have no doubt of that. You just don’t pick any. It’s not a put-down. You’re a very controlled woman.” He brushed a strand of hair off my face, sending another buzz of awareness through my body. “That’s admirable. A lot of people—most people—would kill for that skill. Control is the solution to weight loss and keeping money in your wallet. It’s something to be proud of no matter what anyone tells you. Me included.”
They were the words I’d been wanting to hear—words that assured me that I was okay like I was, that I didn’t need to change as Norma seemed to think I did. I was flattered and grateful and moved.
But I also sensed an undercurrent of something else to his tone. Condescension, maybe. Arrogance. Or maybe it was simply that I realized that JC’s compliment wasn’t really that complimentary. Because even if control were remarkable, even if other people would kill for that skill, I worried that if I didn’t find a way to sometimes let it go, my control might kill me.
So I was thrown. Again. Caught between being the person who’d banged a stranger in the kitchen and the person who alphabetized her spice cabinet. Caught between wanting JC to say more things like he just had and wanting him to take them all back.
Caught between wanting to tell him to go away for good and wanting him to never go away.
Confused and frustrated, I did what I often blamed Ben of doing—I ran away. I pushed JC out of my personal space, and in case the physical act wasn’t enough, I pushed JC away with words too. “By the way, I’m sorry I derailed your plans the other morning.”
If he was disappointed by my withdrawal, he didn’t let on. “My plans?”
“With Alyssa.” I could barely say her name without it catching in my throat. “You’d said you were waiting for her.” God, I sounded like a jealous girlfriend when I meant to sound exactly the opposite—like someone surrendering, not clutching on.
“Alyssa? You thought I was with Alyssa?” He chuckled. “I didn’t have plans with her. She wanted the number of one of the guys from last week and I dropped by to give it to her.”
“Oh, I assumed.” My tone was cold. While I was more relieved than I’d wanted to be that he wasn’t with Alyssa, I didn’t much appreciate being laughed at.
Before I had a chance to react, JC grabbed me with one hand at the waist and spun me against the lockers. He leaned close, his mouth inches from my lips, his body caging mine in. “Don’t assume, Gwen. It doesn’t become you.”
“You know you’re kind of an ass.” Damn, I wanted to kiss him. And then smack him. Then possibly kiss him some more.
“Yes. I really am.” His breath tickled against my lips and I held my own breath, waiting for him to move in. Waiting for his mouth to cover mine. Instead, he kept talking. “Mostly, Gwen, I just don’t want you to think you have anything to be jealous of. She is definitely not who I want.”
I didn’t know what to say. Or do. But as the seconds ticked by, it became apparent that he wanted me to make the next move. He wanted me to kiss him.
I wanted to—I so, so wanted to.
But I just couldn’t. When I’d jumped him before, I’d been half-crazy with grief and worry. I had an excuse for acting irrationally. Now, I didn’t. Now, if I kissed him, if I made a move of any kind, well, it would be a conscious choice. And while I’d flirted with the idea of more with him, I didn’t know if I could actually make that firm of a decision.
He sensed it in me. His eyes fell first, and I thought I might have caught a flash of disappointment in his expression, but perhaps I was flattering myself. Then he stepped back, setting me free from his all-male prison. “Well, that’s all I had. I should let you get back to work. If there’s anything, ever, that you need…”