I pressed my fingers against the cool glass, and looked at my ghostly reflection, warm tones superimposed over the cool blues of the Chicago night. Glimmering in the distance was Lake Michigan, appearing as if it was the edge of the world.
It was a beautiful view from an incredible downtown condo, and my still alcohol-addled brain reflected it through a paradoxical kaleidoscope of sensation and disconnect. My forehead made a light thud against the window as I closed my eyes and attempted to will the last of my drunkenness away.
It didn’t seem to be working.
Long fingers gently brushed my shoulder, and I turned my body without leaving the comfort of my glass wall.
If I did, the fact that he was half-naked would distract me into drooling silence again.
“You okay?” Zane asked with an amused smile, holding out a glass of water in my general direction. I took it gratefully, and thought about his question.
“Maybe.” I answered seriously.
Maybe yes, maybe no.
Mina, Scott and Brian had headed to a book shop after they left the Riviera, and I wasn’t far behind them after calling Scott’s cell. Zane and I had not long to talk before a couple of very hyper young female fans had come around the corner and flown at Zane with a shrieking fury that blew away all in their path, including me. His grace at handling the situation was impressive as he managed to step back and talk to them calmly while accepting their adoration.
The conversation hadn’t been much, I’d shuffled my feet, he’d asked me again what I thought of the show while looking at me intently – how did he manage to make me feel so much like I was under a microscope? - after I’d haltingly told him it was incredible there’d been an uncomfortable pause.
My mind went in one direction in the brief span of silence, down the road of boozy self-flagellation: idiot, idiot, idiot! This is exactly why you didn’t want to come to the damn concert, exactly why you didn’t want to come into this alley, and this is exactly the sort of very, very strange situation that you didn’t want to be involved in. I could be sitting next to my mother on our couch; drawing and patiently listening to her pissed-off silence punctuated by the occasional rant or expressed desire for a drink.
Okay, maybe this was better than that. And that’s where my mind went frolicking down another path, staring at him, admiring his face, those cheekbones, that eyeliner that somehow made him more masculine… My fingers twitched, and I shoved them in my pockets.
“I’m not stalking you.” I said suddenly, looking at him, desperately hoping he believed me.
“Why not?” Zane wasn’t smiling, and I couldn’t tell if this was a joke or not. Especially not from behind a shimmering wall of whiskey.
“ZANE! Will you get the fuck back here?!” Someone yelled, I’m guessing a band member, with clear exasperation in their voice.
“Shit.” He looked over his shoulder, sighed, and looked back, where I was staring blankly at his neck. He stopped, looked at the ground, and appeared to make a decision before turning back to me. “If you have…. time, you can come meet me. “ He gave me the address. “I’m staying at a friend’s place.”
I wrinkled my brow. “How would the friend feel about that?”
He gave me a wry look and his half-smile. “I’m alone there.” My mind stuttered, halted, and I probably blushed.
I thought of Mina and Scott, and Brian, and more about Brian. His smile, his unmistakable sweetness and affection despite barely knowing me. His puppy-like affection and sloppy kisses.
And then there was the memory of Zane’s kisses, tight and controlled yet insistent, irresistible.
“My friends,” I said helplessly, fighting those memories. “I don’t think I can leave them. They drove down here with me, and I came to see Brian.”
“Ah.” Zane’s face had shuttered and became still, although it was such a subtle shift I couldn’t have said his facial expression actually changed in a way that I could tell outside my gut. “Okay.” But no no no, I thought, I want you, I want you completely. I just can’t do that to them, I can’t do that to Brian.
Then the girls came crashing in. I began to back away to the alley entrance, but he leaned in without looking at me directly and grabbed my arm, a charming and somehow fixed smile on his face directed at the girls bouncing giddily in front of us. “If you change your mind, I’ll be there in an hour.” His fingers had brushed the inside of my wrist, ran gently upwards almost to my elbow before releasing me, and my body was suddenly covered with goosebumps.
I zombie-walked to the bookstore while trying to convince myself I’d made exactly the right decision, and found Scott and Mina talking in the self-help section. There were a lot of people milling about, not unusual for a bookstore open late; it was a magnet for those who didn’t want to be in the bars. Or couldn’t.
Before I could open my mouth, Mina’d jerked her head towards the front of the store. “Talk to him first. Then we’ll talk.”
“GO.” She ordered.
And go I did, to where Brian was listlessly flipping through a comic book, his face pinched.
He was very, very cute, I had reminded myself, and had quelled the little voice that once again went over the puppyish kisses, and the sound of Zane’s smooth, charming voice.
It was a short encounter, we danced uncomfortably.
“You were never that into me anyways,” He said with a touch of petulance, “and who am I to compete with a rock star?”
“I said no.” This was almost pitiful.
“Why the fuck did you do that?”
This was completely pitiful.
I barely knew him. Why did I feel like I had so much to apologize for? And I had no idea how you apologized for breaking a promise you never uttered but know you had started weaving with unspoken threads.
“Fuck you, Ethan.” Suddenly, Brian was in my face, blurry eyes and blond hair. “You’re not that into me, whatever, but you want to go, go.” And then he kissed me, sloppy and sweet, pulled away angrily and stomped off. Several people were now staring at me.
“I’m sorry!” I called out, meaning it. It didn’t seem like near enough to say, but the concoctions running through my system made me honest.
He looked back at me, rolled his eyes, and gave me a twisted smile. “Lucky asshole. I’ll e-mail you.” And he disappeared out the door.
I watched him with an unidentifiable churning sensation of possible regret in my stomach when an arm draped around my shoulders. “That sounded like it went… well.” Scott said bemusedly.
I sighed. “’Well’ like a botched lobotomy goes well. Waiiiit a sec,” I slipped out from under his arm and eyed him suspiciously. “Were you listening?”
“Of course I was. So you going to screw the rock star?” This caused a librarian-ish girl behind us on a bench to suddenly start coughing wildly and the geeky middle-aged man reading a pretty girly-looking manga to give us a dramatically unimpressed look. I was starting to feel like a traveling show, and not a very good one.
“No.” I said weakly. My greatest reason why not had just left, so I couldn’t say it with much heart.
“Yes.” Scott said with great confidence.
“Yes.” He leaned in and gave me his best Scott grin, green eyes glittering with drunken glee. “Because Mina is going to do dirty things to me if we get the room to ourselves, she told me so. So you would be happier not to be around much, I promise.” The suggestion he wouldn’t stop from fooling around even if I was in the room made me shudder. “And,” At this point, his face got very serious. “A better best friend.”
“Better best friend.”
“Yes, a much better best friend. And most importantly, why WOULDN’T you go?”
“Go where?” Mina chirped cheerfully. “Sorry I’m late, going to the bathroom is harder when the room is a little spinny.” She’d nestled up against Scott’s side, and was nuzzling him in a disgustingly suggestive way. He leaned over to whisper in her ear, and she made a cartoonish face, and exclaimed, “REALLY?”
I looked at them in exasperation. I had chosen them over Zane, and fuck, yes, I’d rather be with him and it was especially clear with liquor coursing through my veins the way it usually wasn’t, and, okay, alright, I wasn’t that much into Brian as more than a friend and attractive young man who distracted me, and none of them wanted me around anyways.
“Well, fuck you all, then.” I said resignedly. “I’m going, alright?”
“Ethan!” Mina said, faux scandalized. “You never ever swear! We need to get him drunk more often,” She said to Scott, and he nodded in agreement with an evil smirk. And then he tickled her, and she shrieked, and I just knew we were going to get booted from the bookstore and probably banned for life by the hulking white-haired guy who was practicing long-distance eye-murder from behind the help desk.
“I’m out of here, as there’s obviously no use for me in any case,” I sounded like my mother. I did my own eye roll at the two of them, and turned around.
“Be safe, Ethan.” Mina said, red-faced and breathless from being tickled, “Call us whenever for whatever reason, ‘ke?” Scott shook his head and mouthed ‘don’t call, no calling’ with great exaggeration.
“You two too.” I gave them a wry grin, slunk out, and grabbed a taxi.
Which I seriously considered taking to some all-night coffee shop or something at the last minute, but the address of the condo popped out. No longer moving really brought out how much I was still buzzing, and I stared blankly at my hand where Zane had touched me, how relieved and terrified I was that I was heading to where he was. Alone.
And I knew I was a fool, because Brian was sweet and wonderful, and I was chasing something intangible.
I slunk into the lobby, nodded at the front deskman who eyed me but didn’t say anything, and took the elevator up to the 15th floor, where I had a brief panic attack. Unfortunately, it started after I knocked on the door.
And that’s when Zane opened it. Without a shirt.
His jeans hung low around his hips, and he wasn’t wearing socks or shoes, looking oddly vulnerable with bare feet. His hair was a little rumpled, and he looked startled that I was there, his face puzzled, and my heart sank. Then he smiled, and moved aside quickly, opening the door.
There was nothing else for it but to enter.
“That was less than an hour.” He said, as I looked around the lovely open-plan condo. It brought to mind an expensive version of Ikea, definitely of money. And oddly of a woman owner. Music – French? – drifted through, something quiet and cabaret-like.
“Uh. Yes.” I tried to concentrate on his face, not his lean stomach. Why did I have this sudden animal urge to lick it? “Sorry… I was told to find some other place to stay, um, there were other needs for the bed.” I was trying not to sound desperate, and probably just was being silly.
His right eyebrow lifted, and it hit me that was a pretty rude and less than suggestive thing to say. There was a moment of horribly uncomfortable silence, and I wished my brain cells had been moving fast enough to submit an instant correction.
Because this was where I wanted to be. But I wanted it to not seem so damn formal. My hands snaked into the back of my jeans.
“Would you like something to drink?” Zane broke the silence.
“Mmmm,” How dehydrated I was hit me. “Water, actually, might be good.”
“I can do that.” he turned towards the kitchen, his feet gently padding on the beautiful hardwood floors. I stopped a moment to watch his back and admire his sharp shoulder blades.
And because I’m a dork I took off my shoes, just to be safe, and wandered to the windows to commune with the Chicago skyline and the last vestiges of my drunkenness.
“Maybe?” He responded to my answer with the quiet amusement that was so bloody attractive, and also strangely frustrating. The clarity of drunkenness brought the distance he seemed to exist at into sharp relief. “Is this because you left your boyfriend to come here?”
The question was loaded, but in such a back-end way it wasn’t until later that it hit me it wasn’t actually that idle a question, no matter how casual the tone of his voice. Reading him was somehow like squinting to discern something just beyond ones eyesight.
“He’s not a boyfriend,” I almost met his eyes, landing somewhere around his chin, “Brian was someone I knew online… I met him for the first time today.”
“Good,” He took a step backwards, towards the couch, and gave me one of his deadly mystery smiles. “I wouldn’t want to have you fleeing me in guilt at some point – would you like to sit down?” I followed him silently to the couch, and as I settled in he pulled his feet up into an indian style position, and tilted his head at me thoughtfully. “You seem to have a tendency to flee.”
Pulling down my sleeves over my hands nervously, faintly uncomfortable, I felt like I was slowly coming out from a fog, and unable to keep up with his strange conversational probing. My brain floundered as I made myself look at him, and then snagged somewhere around where his hips flowed into his midsection.
But I had come here, and I really needed to stop pretending I wasn’t here because I wanted to be, or that anyone had lied to me or promised me something different. I needed to stop feeling so fucking sorry for myself, I swore, and stop wanting something more. I had THIS, and he was beautiful.
Didn’t mean I wasn’t still nervous as hell, though.
“I flee when I’m overwhelmed,” I admitted, drifting upwards to his face. His hair was loose in his eyes, adding to his hooded sexiness. “You overwhelm me.”
Zane’s expression was thoughtful. “Why? Because I front a rock band?”
“Maybe,” I admitted. This might not have been what he wanted to hear, but I was in no fit state to dissemble. “Maybe – you have the most beautiful nose, you know that?” The mid-sentence subject change hadn’t been intentional, but it had thrown him off enough that he blinked at me. And then his face moved into a smile.
“I have a beautiful… Nose?”
My hand drifted upwards and touched the bridge, and his eyes crossed for a brief second comically trying to follow it. His skin, the perfect bones fascinated me. Zane let me slowly run my finger downwards to the tip, and his eyelids drifted shut and he tilted his head into my palm.
He kissed it as my fingers gently snagged a long bit of soft, thick hair, and his fingers moved up my forearm to my hand, intertwining with mine as he leaned forward. And he stared at me again with eyes that suddenly seemed very dark.
“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to be the one to jump you this time,” He said, coming an inch closer. My free hand drifted to his knee, and he gently snagged me around the waist. “I was formulating the best way to approach you.”
Fleetingly I thought about how sad it was that even the man I wanted desperately seemed to think I was a tease. It was a theme on this trip.
“Half-naked? Definitely the best way to approach me,” I suggested. His lips moved closer, and I reflectively found myself apologizing for my slight inebriation, pull back a bit. “And I probably taste like whiskey and smell like smoke and sweat.”
“I can handle whiskey and smoke, and I like sweat” he let his lips playfully brush mine. “Especially mixed with very sexy, stalling boys…”
How many sexy, stalling boys DOES he hook up with? But I know being called sexy by him gave me a rush. “I don’t mean to stall,” I admitted, and the sides of our faces brushed as he put that beautiful nose against my check.
“Stop talking, Ethan,” He ordered firmly, and I did.
It was at first an almost tentative kiss. But then something seemed to snap in both of us together, or at the very least in me to the point where I couldn’t tell where my hunger began and Zane’s ended.
My hands clutched and trailed down his chest, snagging on his nipples, as his rode upwards and grabbed my back. My whole body was suddenly on fire, and my two shirts suddenly on the floor.
“Am I overwhelming you?” He breathed, his voice deep, as his hands roughly ran up my thighs. I buried my face in his neck, and looked him in the eyes.
“No. YES,” It wasn’t a straightforward or very fair answer. Zane’s face regained that bemused confusion again, and his hand slowed riding up my erection, hesitating. It made me almost want to cry with frustration.
“Ethan,” He took a deep breath and let it out. His eyes were closed, his hands a little further down my legs now. “What can I do to not overwhelm you?” The eyes opened and were almost tired, and also a little angry. God, it was hot. His chest rose and fell. “I keep thinking you want me, and then you shut down. What do you WANT?”
What combo of hormones and alcohol gave me the confidence, I don’t know, but after a day of strange confrontations maybe I had gained the brief ability to roll with them. I suddenly reached up and buried my hands in his incredible, thick hair. My grip was not careful, and he winced, but he didn’t pull away, and his breath came faster.
“I want to be overwhelmed,” I said hoarsely and with an intensity I didn’t know I possessed. Maybe I sounded pitiful, but I couldn’t stop talking. “I’m here because I want to screw around with you. I’m here because you’re beautiful. I don’t know if I’m here because you’re incredible on stage, but I’m here because I felt really bad about falling asleep on you in your room last time. Not bad for you, bad for ME.”
He was starring at me through narrowed eyes now, and I faltered and loosened my grip. My fingers trailed down his body, nails brushing his skin as if they were someone else’s, and I watched them, fascinated. “I – ignore me. I want you. I’m an asshole, you’re fucking incredible, and my stalling has nothing to do with you.”
“Ignore you and the stalling in fucking me has nothing to do with me?” Zane was smiling.
“You know what I mean,” I groaned, frustrated at myself, breath catching at the words ‘fucking me,’ clutching at my own hair with one hand.
His hand was between my legs again, and whatever hardness I had lost during my rambling returned in spades. “No. I don’t know if I do,” his weight was on me, and I let out what might have almost been a grunt as he pinned me with his legs bearing down on mine and his palms pushing down on my arms. “But I get the gist…”
“You’re so,” He bit my nipple, and I thrashed in surprise at the rush of sensation and pain. His chin almost rested on my chest, and his dark hair over his eyes made them unknowable. “Maddening. But you want to be overwhelmed? No thinking?” The voice had dropped to almost a whisper, a throaty tease.
He had understood. “No thinking,” I almost begged.
So he finally shut me up.