Aiden and Ariana are blowing final kisses and sighing dreamily at each other, and I can’t help feeling the claws of the green-eyed monster jabbing me at their melodramatic production.
As soon as they’ve left, the door closed behind them, Aiden drops back down on the couch. “Whooo,” he says, blowing out a long breath. “What a night!” I expect he’s going to regale me with details of Ariana Blackwood, but instead, he jumps back up and grabs me by the shoulders to shake me playfully. “So? So?” he demands. “What happened?”
“Nothing happened, Aiden,” I say in exasperation. Even though I wish it had. But, unlike the charming, sexy, and irresistible Aiden, who can just manage to find willing girls effortlessly, I clearly don’t have the same kind of magnetism.
“Bro,” he shakes his head, “When I last see you at the club last night, you and Chloe look hot to trot. Then the mega-billionaire shows up, and whisks your drunken ass away in her top-of-the-line Lamborghini, I don’t hear from you until almost noon the next day, and you’re going to tell me nothing happened?”
I shake my head. It’s humiliating, actually. She had every opportunity to touch me, and didn’t. I’m that repulsive to her? “Well, um… she, uh… kissed me. Once,” I admit.
Aiden cocks his head. “Just one kiss?”
That’s putting it mildly, I think.
“So… what were you doing all this time?”
I shrug, remembering waking up in her bed. Eating breakfast with her in my undergarments. All those comments about consent and knowledge. Her nonchalantly sauntering around the bedroom in a towel after a shower. These new clothes I’m wearing. Her driving me home and knowing exactly where I lived.
Trying to explain it, to put it into words and describe it, makes it sound extra weird. “We just talked, mostly,” I explain, giving him an abbreviated version of the truth.
“And you’re seeing her again tonight?”
“Bash. You really like this woman, don’t you.”
I nod, admitting it.
“And even though nothing happened, as you say, last night, you’re seeing her again tonight… so that means something might happen tonight?”
“Maybe. I- I hope so,” I finally give voice to my deepest desire.
“Damn. Innocent, sweet lil’ Bash Stone, finally falling for a girl, and it has to be the sexy, hot, breathtaking, celebrity CEO and billionaire L.E. Blackwood.”
That’s for sure, my Superego silently agrees with him. I sigh. Why couldn’t I fall for a nice, boring, safe girl? Like Chloe.
Oh, shit, Chloe. I forgot all about last night’s debacle what with every ounce and atom of my being concentrated on Lark Blackwood and our date tonight. I don’t think I can deal with Chloe right now.
“Just… be careful tonight, Bash, okay?” Aiden says. “Lark is rich and gorgeous, sure, but I don’t exactly trust her.”
“Why?” I demand. “She hasn’t done anything I haven’t wanted her to!”
“I can’t put my finger on it. Just a feeling I have. She’s kind of hot but cold. Maybe… maybe the two of you should come to dinner with me and Ariana first. Something casual and low-key, lighten the mood a bit.”
“No,” I tell him, standing firm and strong. I don’t want to share my time with Lark with anyone else. And I don’t think I could stomach a meal with Aiden and another one of his lady-loves. “I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing.”
The day drags. I work a few hours at the bookstore. I ignore eight calls and five texts from Chloe. I don’t hear from anyone at PPRE.
And, especially, I don’t hear from Lark at all.
I’m not sure exactly what to expect from our date tonight.
Even though the thought of not seeing Lark again makes me want to hurl myself from the Vista Bridge, I’m almost tempted to just ghost the whole thing and not do it, to run away and hide at my dad’s house. Hop a ship to Papua New Guinea.
No! My Id protests, with a look of shocked horror. Don’t let go of this magic! You’ll never experience the likes of it again! Things like this don’t happen twice in a lifetime!
See it through, my Superego agrees rationally. See her tonight, and hear what she wants to tell you. It’s the polite thing to do, and she’s always been unfailingly polite to you, hasn’t she?
By seven, I’m ready.
Before he left for his date with Ariana, Aiden gave me a pep talk about what women expect sexually from men, handed me several condoms, lent me his leather jacket, his most expensive aftershave cologne, and extolled me to “go get some for once.” He even offered to lend me a suit. But instead, I settle on a plain blue button-down shirt with my new jeans and the leather jacket. I look okay, I think. Hardly worthy of someone like L.E. Blackwood’s caliber, though, my Superego is quick to remind me, but I’m not the expensive designer duds or fancy cologne or suit-and-tie type, anyway.
I also take from my room the protective, lined box holding Dylan’s Martin guitar, and place it by the door. Tonight, I have to give it back.
I’m a bundle of nerves by the time the buzzer sounds, and I blurt “I’ll be right down!” into the speaker, and hurry towards our apartment building’s creaky elevator, carrying the precious box with Dylan’s guitar in it.
To my shock, Lark isn’t downstairs waiting for me. Instead, it’s a tall, large, beefy woman dressed in sharp black, with equally sharp eyes.
“Mr. Stone?” she asks, appraising me with a professional air.
“Good evening. I’m Carter,” she says. “I’m Miss Blackwood’s driver and bodyguard.”
Holy smokes. I remember something Lark told me this morning, and am mortified when I realize this is the person who helped her get my drunken, unconscious body into her apartment last night.
“I, uh, guess I met you last night,” I stammer. “But I don’t really remember. I’m sorry.”
Carter nods. “I was glad to help. Let me take that,” she adds, and reaches for the box. Part of me is loathe to hand the treasure over. “Oh, I’ve got it. It’s very fragile,” I tell her. “Of course,” she says, and I feel stupid. She probably already picked up or delivered this same box already.
She holds the front door open for me, and I follow her massive form out the door. She walks me to an immaculate Bentley Continental Flying Spur W12 Mulliner. Holy smokes, another luxury car, something fit for royalty, even. But where is Lark?
Carter pops the trunk of the stunning automobile, and reaches for Dylan’s Martin. “It will be safe and sound here,” she assures me, and I reluctantly hand it over.
“It’s something that belongs to Miss Blackwood,” I emphasize. “I need to make sure she gets it back.”
“Certainly. I’m to take you to Miss Blackwood now. She’s arranged to meet us,” Carter tells me just as I’ve registered that the backseat of the car is empty, and Lark is not here with her.
She’s not here. My heart sinks with disappointment that I don’t get to see her, look at her, be in her presence yet.
“Oh. All right,” I agree, and scrabble into the stunning automobile. I feel small and grubby in the plush, luxurious leather backseat.
To my surprise, we cross the river and leave the downtown area. It’s twilight, and lights are beginning to come on all over the city as the sun sinks toward the west, but we are heading in the opposite direction.
“Where are we going?” I finally query.
“Miss Blackwood only said to tell you it was a surprise,” Carter informs me, steering the car deftly onto route 84 and heading east.
A surprise? Our whole week-long relationship, if one could call it that, has been one surprise after another.
My phone vibrates with an alert, and I pull it out of my pocket. It’s an unknown number, texting me.
Are you on your way?
Lark? It has to be, but, just to make certain, I type back: Is this Lark?
Another text flashes immediately. Obviously.
It said Unknown Number so I wasn’t sure it was you, I explain.
I see. And who else might it be?
Oh, no. Even in text form, I can hear that freezing note in her voice.
No one. I just wanted to be sure. Because I feel so unsure about everything right now.
You haven’t answered my question, Sebastian.
Oh. Yes, I’m on my way. Carter just picked me up. She said you have a surprise?
There’s a longer pause, and then a single word flashes in response. Indeed.
My whole body tenses with heat.
Are you meeting me someplace? I type back.
You’ll see, my curious boy.
I’m looking forward to it, I write, boldly. I even send a winking emoticon.
But she doesn’t respond. My heart sinks. Have I annoyed her? Said too much? Been too eager?
I can’t help it. I am eager. My Id has been pacing, jumping up and down, fidgeting, and even literally bouncing off walls in anticipation. Even my stoic Superego has taken off his usual tweed elbow-patch blazer, and is reclining with a pipe in a leather armchair, paging through a hardcover edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Carter makes a turn, and the car begins to wend its way up an incline. I peer out my window. I think it’s Rocky Butte, a scenic spot east of the city. What are we doing out here?
With purpose, Carter steers the car over the switchbacks, and I’m dizzy and disoriented when she pulls the car over to a lookout break between the trees.
“Here we are,” Carter says, and gets out of the car. She holds the door open for me, and, not knowing what else to do, I get out.
No one is here. It’s empty. Just an ordinary lookout point, with the lights of Portland and the sunset in the distance.
“You’re to wait here,” Carter says, nodding.
“I am?” I repeat, baffled. Wait here, alone, up a mountain, for… what? Is this a prank? A trick? Is anyone going to show up? Am I going to be left out here all night?! Am I being set up for something awful, a murder, being white-slaved to a foreign country?!
Part of me wants to insist Carter drive me back home immediately, so I can forget this whole thing.
“Um, all right,” I assent, not sure what else to say.
Carter gives me another nod and a smile, and gets back into the gorgeous car, and smoothly drives away.
Belatedly, I remember the Martin in the trunk of the car, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. Anyway, I wanted Lark to have it back, and now she will.
At least, I think she will. If I’m even going to actually see her again?
I’m not sure of anything, really, especially not what I’m doing here. I hear a car approaching, and turn, but it passes me by. So does another one, going in the other direction.
The wind blows, and I hug my arms around me, glad that I’m wearing Aiden’s leather jacket. My nerves are twanging. What is going on? Excitement, panic, fear, doubt, curiosity are all exploding inside of me, getting worse the longer I wait. Maybe my last text annoyed her so much that she’s going to leave me out here to teach me a lesson? Maybe she’s set me up to be robbed, or kidnapped, or spend the night in the woods surviving on my own as some sort of test-
After several minutes, I become aware of a low, steady hum in the distance, growing louder.
A motorcycle, I recognize from my work with my dad. And a good one, too. The engine sounds like the throb and purr of only the finest machinery. I watch, increasingly interested, as a gorgeous red Ducati Desmosedici, one of the most exclusive racing motorcycles available, zooms around the corner.
I’ve never ridden one myself, but my dad has one in his shop, by far the most expensive bike he’s ever had for sale. If he ever does finally manage to get a buyer for it, he’ll be set for a year. Maybe two. He could’ve put me through college if he’d acquired and sold it a few years back.
This one is being driven by a lithe figure in black leather and an opaque black helmet, a driver who heads right for me.
Ohmigod, it is. It’s her!