Valentina Bound - Book 1

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Nate

As I walk up to Scores, I am glad to see a beautiful man smiling at me. I kind of remember him now but I won't lie, I wouldn't have recognized him had he not greeted me first. With that smile, he is breathless. How did I forget this face? He has the appearance of a mustache, almost a sexy tint above his upper lips. His hair is dark and short, not a strand out of place but unlike the Asian crew back home, where every strand is strategically placed and glued down. Nate’s hair sits easily on his head, no fuss. From here his eyes are dark, almost black, with a bit of a twinkle to them. He stands several inches above me, even with my heals on which will give him an immediate advantage, I am not discriminatory when it comes to height, but a taller man than I is a bonus.

“There she is!” Nate opens his arms for a hug.

Again, not going to lie, what a hug! I can feel all his muscles through his suit. He looks exquisite, in all black; slacks, button down and suit jacket. A much nicer change to the black t-shirt and jeans most bouncers wear, the outfit, I now remember him wearing at FUBAR. So is this man duplicitous or ready for all occasions? Or am I just trying to find something wrong with him?

“Shall we?” He releases me of the hug, my body whimpers after he let go, leading me into what seems to be the lobby.

I can feel sharp eyes shooting ice towards me as we walk in, hand-in-hand. I can tell already that I am not going to be loved by the ladies here. He introduces me to a few of the other guys there. His male co-workers, however, are all very charming, kissing the back of my hand when I put it out for a handshake. Do all these men attend a school for gentlemanly etiquettes before they can work in a gentleman’s club? As we walk in, the place is huge and classy, immediately impressed. I am not sure what I was expecting but this is a lot nicer than I had in my mind, 180 from the nitty gritty of the Castro district clubs. There is even a dance floor. Great music fills the room. And there are a lot of women here.

“Ladies love it here because the music is great and the drinks are strong.”

“That's what we say about all the gay bars back in San Francisco.”

“Oh, so your are used to nude bodies on stage.” Nate laughs.

He is right, lots of yummy male strippers in the Castro district. All of them just as hot as the women on these stages. I am feeling very self-conscious, all of a sudden. How do these women all look so perfect? Even as a dancer myself, I am in awe of their moves. Over the last few years, there is a craze that has revived many housewives; the S Factor, pole dance classes have popped up in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. I have a few friends that have taken the classes and love them, they say it’s a great form of exercise and more fun than spinning. I would take a dance class before spinning every time. If the S Factor will give me these bodies and moves, I am signing up the minute I get back home.

Nate smiles and waves at a woman walking towards us, “I want you to meet my favorite lady.”

My heart falls to the floor. I didn't think that maybe he has a girlfriend. And looking at him, why not. No way Adonis would be single. Definitely explains why he didn't take advantage of me last night. Oh wow, I can't believe I just thought that. How arrogant of me? He can just be respectful, so rude of me. A stunning woman with long dark curly hair; she looks like a goddess, waves back.

“Val, this is Summer Love.” I realize that I don't remember telling him my name, I guess I must have during my drunken state. I also must have really took to him to say “Val” versus “Valentina”.

“Nice to meet you. You must be quite a lady, Nate never brings anyone to work.” Yay! So happy that I misread that one, I hope the delighted grin on my face isn't giving me away.

“So good to meet you. I am new to these parts and haven't made many friends.” Okay that was about as dorky of a response as anyone can give, I sound like I am straight out of a western movie.

“I am sure if Nate likes you, we will become fast friends. Where are you from?”

“Berkeley.”

“California girl. Love it. I was actually born in Northern California, in a hippie commune.” This answers my question of whether Summer Love is a stage name or just hippy parents.

Definitely did not see that one coming. She looks like she is from somewhere much more exotic, like the Polynesian Islands. I can't stop admiring how gorgeous she is. Summer moved to New Paltz, upstate New York, with her mom when her parents split up. Her mother, born to a very wealthy family in Schenectady, fled to Mexico at eighteen, where she met Summer’s dad. No name of either offered in Summer’s story. Being that her mom was trained classically in piano and violin, so is Summer. She also studied ballet in New Paltz. It’s one of the reasons they left the commune, her mom was one foot in the upper crest and one in the hipster society. She didn’t want to restrict Summer’s exposure as her parents did to her. The freeness of life on the commune is still a unidirectional lifestyle. Summer’s youth in New Paltz exposed her to art, dance, music, and a variety of people. A college town with the yuppy-hippies living all around on acres and acres of farm land, you can find all sorts there. It is also so close to the city that you get a lot of visitors from Manhattan.

“How about I get us drinks, champagne still your poison?” He knows me a little too well already. I pray my memory of last night starts to come back.

“So, how did you meet Nate?”

“Funny, I am trying to remember myself.”

“Ha! That means you met him at FUBAR.”

“You’ve been there?”

“No. Not a drinker really. Plus I have a six years old son at home so I save babysitting for nights I work.”

She does not look like that body has had a child. I am suddenly realizing that I haven't stopped staring at her. She is probably used to it but it’s rude of me. I look around the room to pull my eyes away from her, hoping to not be obvious. There are several smaller stages with poles on them, one woman is hanging upside down her pole with her legs wrapped tightly, holding her in place. The core strength these women must have, suddenly I am sitting up straighter and accessing my core. The voice of my dance teacher, Lola, “lower belly, lower belly”, in my head. The center stage is huge and has a cat walk coming out to the middle of the main room. There is a man sitting in a chair in the middle of that stage. His tie binds him to the chair and a several women are giving him a lap dance. All his friends surround the stage, screaming and waving bills. I am suddenly feeling uncomfortable and divert my eyes to the dance floor. It's packed, a part of me wants to get up and dance.

“You going to show off your moves tonight?” Nate reappears with a bottle of champagne and three glasses.

“Excuse me?” That came off more defensive then I meant.

“On the dance floor? What did you think I mean?”

“Sorry, that didn't come out right,” Nate laughs at me.

“Relax Val, I am just teasing you. You are bouncing in your seat a bit and drooling at the dance floor, so I am guessing you want to dance.”

Now I feel like an even bigger ass.

“Cheers!” Summer to the rescue.

We all clink our glasses, looking into each other's eyes to avoid bad luck, the affectation is 10 years of bad sex if you don’t. I am grateful for the coolness of the champagne and tingling of the bubbles. Hair of the dog works every time. After my first glass I am feeling more myself.

We polish off the bottle and head for the dance floor. They both are working so they trade off dancing with me. Nate, being Cuban, challenges my Latin moves. Happily, I keep up. There is nothing more beautiful than a man dancing salsa. Summer is making every man and woman in this room jealous of me. She dances close to me, her hips controlling mine without effort. I can feel her breath on my neck and shoulders, she is just slightly shorter than I am, and I suddenly want her. I can see why she is the most popular dancer here, she is a sultry vixen. I am trying to picture her as a mom, at home with her son; making eggs, rice and spam, apparently her son’s favorite breakfast. I need to talk down this urge to kiss her. Somewhat happy that Nate shows up to switch off, except now all that fire between my thighs and the ache to kiss both of them is being directed towards him. Dear Gods, what is a woman to do? I excuse myself to the bathroom. I either need to splash water on my face, or I need to take care of myself in a stall.

At the end of the night, Nate takes me for kabobs then home. Walking me to my apartment and giving me a hug goodbye. I am tipsy and happy but unsure of how I feel about the way the night ends. We discuss brunch tomorrow and I am off to bed. I find myself reliving the night, finishing myself off a few times. I do get up and shower, feeling guilty about masterbating to such a gentleman and Summer Love.

Any free time I have, Nate aspends time educating me of how the natives of the five boroughs really live. I remember watching Gangs of New York and wondering if the divid between the five boroughs is true.

“Oh yeah, the most populous of the five boroughs, Brooklyn, the borough was first settled by the Dutch who named it Breuckelen after a town in the Netherlands. Many parts of Brooklyn were settled by the Dutch and many neighborhood names come from the original Dutch settlements, like Flatbush and Bushwick.”

We are walking across Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan into Brooklyn as Nate is telling me the history of the Five Boroughs. Just like the Golden Gate Bridge, the center of the Brooklyn Bridge, high above the cars below is the pathway for both pedestrians and cyclist. I am used to seeing green hills and landscape on either side of the bridge versus the rows of buildings here. I can sense that Nate is struggling to “mosey” versus walk the New York City pace along side of me. I don’t want to miss any of this moment, so I am in no hurry, I like keeping my Cali pace here.

I didn’t realize the Jehovah's Witnesses have such a strong presence in Brooklyn Heights, the Watchtower building is very preeminent, visible from the start of our walk across the bridge. In San Francisco, we have the Castro District, Chinatown and San Fran Tokyo which is our version of Tokyo town, so I am used to different sections holding different cultural groups and foods. Here they have different sections where specific religious groups are more prominent than others. In Brooklyn, over a third of the Jews consider themselves Orthodox, and Borough Park is often referred to as the section for New York's Orthodox Jewish population. Early history, most who settled in New York City were European. Into the 1800’s, slaves arrived. The end of the nineteenth century is when the Greater New York municipal was created by combining the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Before then Staten Island became home the British that remained after the American Revolution. The Bronx in the 19th and 20th centuries, received many immigrant groups as it was transformed into an urban community, first from various European ancestry; the Irish, Germans and Italians. Later came the Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Jamaicans and Haitians that added to the mix. The African Americans that settled in the Bronx were from the southern states versus the slaves that eventually settled in Brooklyn.

As Nate continues his education of the formation of the Greater New York, I find myself half listening and half wishing he would hold my hands again like he did the other night at work. We are clearly in the friends zone, unfamiliar territory for me but I am learning to like it. Without the awkwardness of sex I am more open and honest. It could also be because he is so easy to talk to. Yet I find it hard to ignore my body’s longing for his.

Nate grew up in Brighton Beach so we spend a lot of time there, meeting his family, they are teaching me how to cook Cuban fare. This area is known as Little Russia, he takes me to a swanky Russian restaurant tonight. Growing up I enjoyed books and movies about mobsters and gangsters. Walking into Tatiana’s Restaurant is like moving through time travel. The interiors is completely white with the exception of gold accents; the banisters and trim along the banquet seats and bordering the tables. The floors are lit up from underneath, as if you were walking on lights. The chandeliers are straight out of the 20’s. This place was not decorated to look like the 20’s, it’s been here since the 20’s. If you look closely, you can see the patchwork repairs. The shades of whites of the seats don’t match perfectly and the gold of one table doesn’t match that of the other tables or banisters. The only really obvious remodel are the bathrooms, fitted with handicap stalls and the ramps leading to the main ding hall, probably to accommodate the aged clientele. Some fit in so well, you almost feel they are part of the decor. Even in this heat the women wear fur shells and are draped in diamonds. The elders with their oxygen tanks look as threatening and formidable as when they ever first set foot in this place. There is nothing that points out the obvious roles of these men, just the traditional ways in which they are approached and treated by everyone in the room. There is a big stage set up for a big band, some of the instruments as old as the men playing in the band or the woman at the microphone stand, singing standards familiar to us all. Again, the only really change is the DJ and the genre of music played after midnight. When the new generation, grand children of these mobsters, are able to let loose and be themselves once their elders retire for the night.

“Val, I would like you to meet Anastasiya, Tatiana’s eldest daughter and the owner of the family business.”

Even though Anastasiya is almost 80 years old, you could not tell. Her beauty and strength both well preserved. The difference between European woman and American women, the Europeans know how to utilize modern medicine to help with their aging skin and body. You know she has had work done but it all looks natural versus the women you see on the streets whose face screams of plastic surgery or worse, who begin to look like poodles.

“Nate, my solnyshko,” which means small sun, Nate informs me later. “It's nice to finally see you with a girlfriend, and such a beautiful one too. Kotyonok, welcome to the family”

I have been nicknamed her kitten. I did clock that Nate did not dispute her assumption of me. We are moved to her table and I am introduced to a lot of people, all of whom I will not remember their names as they are all Russian names.

“Nate is like one of my own, so now, you are as well. Anything you need you come to Mama.”

Later Nate tells me that growing up in this neighborhood it was very important to get the right families to take you in. This family is powerful but the most legit. He didn't have to do anything too crazy growing up. For money he ran errands for the family then worked his way up in the restaurant. Because Anastasiya has a soft spot in her heart for him, she always made sure his errands were safe and honest. He kept his nose down and mouth shut. One day when he saw that one of Tatiana's grandsons was being out numbered in a fight he jumped in. Got his ass beat badly but became a part of the family ever since. They helped him get the job set Scores and he is hoping his closeness to the owners will open up some business opportunities.

“Like you, I have had to make my own way. School was never my thing but I am a fast learner and the street along with all these big businessmen and women,” he nods his head towards Anastasiya, “I am wise about a lot that school could never teach me.”

It's nice to know Nate, to actually know another person almost as well as yourself. I know that he loves to dip his cigars in Grand Mariner, he favorite cuisine is Sushi, a Yankee tried and true, how he likes his steak and that whenever he is stressed, the boxing gym is his outlet. When we watch a movie, he is guaranteed to fall asleep, he has this purring sound when he sleeps. His parents are his entire life and family is everything, even his non-DNA clan. His best friend Julio is the little brother he never had. He is kind to Julio, protects him and makes him a bit cooler with the ladies. The two of them are like an old married couple. I hope to know Nate the way Julio does. I know that honor matters more than anything to Nate, which is why I am behaving as respectable and honorable as I can with him. I don’t lie to him about my feelings, he kindly talks me through the difference between love and lust. That someday, when I finally allow love into my life I will know the difference. Love, something that is reserved for just my family and friends. Benji and I love each other, but it doesn’t really count because I didn’t realize that until much too late. Outside of these people I have insulated myself from the rest of the world, from the trap of love. I know that I am falling in love with Nate as my friend and learning to separate that love from my strong desire to have him in every way. I can’t say that I am falling in love with him the way my parents love each other. Seeing the devotion Nate has to the people in his life and visa versa, I am starting to realize how superficial and lonely my life is back in Berkeley. In this way, Nate makes me a better person. I know this is one quality I want in my future lover. Not to waste how Nate has changed me, I make a promise to myself to be a better friend to those I have now and even open up to new ones.

“There is a lot I have done that I am not exactly proud of, it's true for everyone in life, this is why I work hard to pay off all the karmic debts of my youth and live building credit instead.”

“Like street cred?” Nate laughs at my attempt at slang.

“Yeah, something like that."

Nate is taking the weekend off so we can head down to Atlantic City. Gambling is not my thing and growing up in California, we are a drive away from Las Vegas. But there is a history in AC that we all should experience. There we walk along the boardwalk, eating hot dogs, I have never eaten as many hot dogs as I have here in New York. The sound of the waves hitting against the shoreline reminds me a little of Big Sur. I feel like a scene from Boardwalk Empire, I can now watch the show with more familiarity. We pop in and out of the casinos along the way, playing a little black jack or roulette or just being silly at the slots. Before dinner we sit in the lounge, people watching. We both love guessing what might be happening in the lives of others. Here in this place, one can only imagine, there is good pickings for this game tonight for us. I share my first cigar with Nate.

“It’s Cuban, Romeo y Julieta, you have to try it. You said you wanted to try the many flavor of Cuba.” I did, I wasn’t referring to cigars. “Here, you dip this end in the Grand Mariner, and remember, puff, don't inhale.”

Of course his cigar of choice is Romeo y Julieta, how romantic, Nate and I are staring to feel like star crossed lovers, impossible lovers. The Grand Mariner does help the taste and keeps me puffing rather than inhaling. Who knew that smoking a cigar could be so entertaining. For some reason I am enjoying the feel of the cigar between my lips and sweetness of the Grand Mariner. There is also a sense of power as I watch myself in the mirror holding and puffing.

“You look good, like you are a natural.” Nate compliments.

We enjoy our cigar after having had the perfect day in AC. Then we head up to the hotel room. We have been comped a suit, not surprised.

“You take the bedroom Val, I’ll take the couch.”

“Absolutely not! I think we can share a bed and still remain friends. I promise to only try to take advantage of you the entire night.” We both laugh.

“I can’t sleep any other way than naked.”

“Wow, that’s going to really suck for me because you have just the ugliest body in the world. So grotesque, and now I have to look at it, all night?”

“You think you are funny!”

“Honestly, I promise not to try anything, although I am not going to lie, I have wanted you from the first day I met you. But I really respect and enjoy our friendship.”

There is no way I am sleeping a wink tonight. With Nate’s naked body spooning mine, I can of course feel his growth against me. I don’t trust myself to fall asleep and not somehow take advantage of his, “OMG, Wow”. Then there is the fact that this is the first time I have ever slept over with a man. I do manage to sleep a bit on the couch when I went for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. Thank God Nate is exhausted and passed out. The sunlight through the curtains awake me, so I brush my teeth, fix myself up a bit and crawl back into bed. Like a magnet, Nate pulls me to him without even waking up. His purr of a snore vibrates my eardrums. So, does this count as me staying the night with a man? Maybe this will cure my need to go home to shower after sex and sleep in my own bed.

Even on nights that Nate has to work and is unable to escort me out for the night, my friends and I walk past every line, straight into any club. He knows all the bouncers and the pseudo models holding the all important clipboard that tells them who is somebody important. I ignore the obvious cat eyes of these women when I walk up and announce myself. They know as well as I do, I’m Nate’s special friend. I am sure in their minds, they are imagining so many scenarios. Only I know the secret, we are slowly becoming best of friends and nothing more. To my friends, I have just become the “in” girl, something very new to me. My friends from the office were blown away when we walk into clubs like Webster Hall with ease. Thanks to Nate, for the first time in my life, I am the popular girl of the group. Instead of hearing plans being made around me, I am asked to do the planning. I of course cheat and text Nate, he then sets it all up and I look fabulous.

My favorite moments with Nate are the ones we spend with his family. It reminds me of the Sunday dinners at my house. His uncles are all in the living room watching whatever sporting event that may be on. The aunts are cooking, teaching me all these amazing recipes. I can see that they approve of me because I can cook and I come for a traditional family. My Italian is close enough to Spanish that I hold my own in the kitchen with them. Grateful for all the hours I spent watching my own aunts and uncles in the kitchen as well as the cooking channels that taught me everything I know. Suddenly I find that I can’t wait to cook for Stella again, it’s been so long since I’ve cooked for she and I. Just like in our kitchen back home, the aunts gossip as they cook, at times singing but mostly laughing. My heart is so joyful during these days, it just might explode. There is a strong connection that I have to this family, a familiarity that is hard to shake. Maybe it’s because they remind me of my own or maybe I am learning to care about them. Nate’s mom sits and watches with a smile. She is happy that her son has a friend, she told me that she secretly wishes she could see him get married before she dies, no pressure there. I don’t have the heart to tell her we are just friends, and secretly I wish we could be more than friends at times. My heart and head are very confused about Nate, but I don’t want to ruin anything by trying to force or control our situation. Instead, I stand here and enjoy the feel of cornmeal between my fingers as they teach me how to make tamales. My nose takes in the the aromas of all that is boiling and baking around me. My ears dance to the sounds of laughter and melody of their native tongue rapidly conversing. In this moment, I am so happy, I don’t need to over think it, just enjoy it.

The weeks fly by, between work and this city, I can’t believe that my time here is almost done. Realizing as well that I haven’t spoken or texted Benji in weeks. Although he hasn’t reached out either. Life does get away from us so easily.

“Hey stranger!” Benji texts. “Where have you been? I thought we agreed to stay in touch.”

“Sorry B, I’ve just been so busy with work and trying to have fun, remember that was your bright idea.”

“I am really glad to hear you are finally taking my advice. I just miss you, that’s all.”

“I miss you too. There is just so much of this city to experience.”

“And are you experiencing it alone or with others?”

“A bit of both but mainly with others. I have made a great new friend, Nate, who is showing me the ins and outs of this great city. You would really like him. And you would be proud to know that I am now the cool chic to hang out with these days.”

“Is he a new friend or friend?” I like how he completely ignores my comment about my new social status.

“Just a friend. He hasn’t even made a move on me. I don’t think he looks at me that way.”

“Is he gay?”

“Benji!”

“I’m just saying. We may not all be dogs, but we are all men. And there is no way any straight man isn’t looking at you that way.”

“Well, then there must be a first for everything. Anyway, thanks to Nate, I have been clubbing many nights. Taking everyone out, and skipping lines. It’s such a great feeling!”

“Wow, you are the cool kid on the block! That’s amazing. Maybe when we both graduate, you can show me your New York City.”

“That would be so fun. Imagine, me showing you the ropes of a night in a city.”

“Hard to believe but exciting to see the proof in that pudding.”

“Oh, and I’m cooking again, I can not wait to throw dinner parties and cook for everyone.”

“Wow, looks like Nate is really bringing out a side of you that I have never seen.” I can hear the jealousy in his voice.

“Yes, but it’s because we are just friends so instead of distracting me, he is growing me.”

“Sorry if I am stifling you with my distractions.”

“Benji, stop! This isn’t a contest, you both are two very important men in my life. I thought you would be excited that I wasn’t sleeping with anyone at the moment.”

“It’s your heart and mind that I want more than anything. It feels weird to think someone else might me enjoying the human sides of you that I have had the opportunity to cherish all by myself.”

“I am sorry, is this too weird? You know I am not good at this stuff. I just don’t like keeping secrets from you.”

“It’s all good, just a stab at my ego. So, tell me more.”

“There isn’t much to tell other than that.” I lie.

Although Benji is inquiring about the one mystery I keep wanting the answer to myself, I try to distract him from the subject, realizing I am not as ready to share as I thought. No doubt, I am not used to spending this much time with a man that I haven’t slept with, but this is mine to ponder. Actually, other than Benji, I have never spent this much time with any other man than my dad. I do sense a bit of jealousy in Benji’s voice, which does feed my ego as well as my nagging question of what will it be like for Benji and I our senior year without Izzy. I do see, with Nate, that a man and a woman can be great friends, and the benefits of it all. No doubt, he takes my breath away and I want to jump his bones every time I see him. Yet after hours together, I am enjoying our friendship too much to look at him as a piece of meat. And the lack of sex I am having is really making me appreciate and miss the sex Benji and I used to have. Maybe thanks to this summer in New York City, I can actually try to be his girl again.

“How about you, Casanova? Any ladies distracting you this summer?”

“A few fun ladies I have met out when we manage to get out of the office early enough to enjoy a good bar scene.” Still painful to hear.

“Nothing too permanent?”

“Not really, Izzy is a hard act to follow.” Big ouch, every girl want’s the be the girl that is unforgettable and irreplaceable.

“I know the feeling.” Knowing he is my hard act to follow.

“How would you know? You haven’t loved anyone to have a bar to measure by.”

I want to say that I have and the bar is set by him. But it seems that Benji has written our story in his head a different way than I have. In a way that makes him feel good about it all. It’s not my place to edit his story.

“How is Izzy? Do you guys have plans to meet up soon?”

“She is great, but no, not really. She isn’t in any city long enough to be worth a trip and I really haven’t had a day off.” Shameful that I feel good about this. “Maybe we can FaceTime this weekend? I miss your face. Even thought texting you allows me to still get work done, I wouldn’t mind making sure you still look the same. That you haven’t become some chic Manhattan babe.”

We both laugh, I am not good with change as is when it comes to my environment. There is no way I am changing my physical look. Forever, my hair dresser knows that I only want two inches taken off every time I see her, remove the split ends. And I am too sensible with money to do any fancy shopping spree. I only splurge on the few items I need to look hip enough to walk into the INK building.

“Okay, FaceTime me when you wake up Sunday.” I am hoping enough time has passed that Benji will be okay if our FaceTime is affable.

“Will do, love you.”

“Baci baci.”

Nate seems to know the owner of every amazing restaurant in the city. I have never had dinner with someone who gets as many comped meals as he does. He knows a lot of the promoters, event coordinators and big public relations person in town. So we have attended many restaurant or bar openings. He says it’s from all the hard work he has done to build connections. He is good at helping others get what they can’t seem to get for themselves, like skipping the lines in the hippest clubs. Because of the connections he has, many people owe him big favors, he cashes in those favors wisely. As of late, he has been cashing a lot of them in for us. I feel honored and guilty all in one.

“You take care of people, and some show up when you need them the most. I have never had a reason to pull these kinds of favors until I met you.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to impose. Last thing I want to do is use all your Karmic credit or put you into Karmic debt.”

Nate laughs at me all the time when I am being, “so California”, as he would put it. Benji calls it my good-girl Val-ism. I just don’t like imposing or inconveniencing people.

“Don’t worry about me. I never do anything I don’t want to. As for my Karma, trust me, I am good. Years ago, I cleaned up my Karmic debt. Through this decade, I have been filling my piggy bank.”

“That’s so amazing. I have to say, I have never met anyone quite like you.”

“You are one to talk. Who knew a computer nerd could be as multidimensional as you?” I punch his arms as he laughs at me again.

“I have been meaning to ask, what was it about me that you found so interesting that first night?”

“What wasn’t? You really don’t remember that night at all do you?”

I stare at him as I debate how to answer this. I am still embarrassed about not being able to re-call anything from that night of our interaction.

“Well, let me help jog your memory, we actually talked a lot, after you danced for us all. You told me stories about your childhood, becoming a parent to your little sister while you were just a child yourself. You have a lot of funny stories of you and your sister. You really love her.”

I can see Stella and I, flashes of our years; all the fighting, singing, dancing, plays we would put on for everyone and mostly a lot of laughter. I sometimes wish I can be with others the way I am with Stella. With her, I am just easy and fun, when I am not trying to discipline her. Even now I have to refrain myself from the knee jerk need to tell her what to do and just enjoy what little time we do have together these days. She does bring out the playful side of me. You can’t help but have fun with Stella, she refuses to live her life any other way. Thinking of her now, I can feel my heart warm and my smile broaden.

“There! That look, that’s the look you had all night when you talked and talked and talked. I am actually shocked at how quiet and shy you have turned out to be.” Nate laughs at me, I am used to the way he teases me now.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but why haven't you tried to make a move on me yet?" Nate and I have enjoyed a few meet-ups which have been such fun but it's starting to make me self conscious that he hasn't tried anything.

"I am a lover, not a player. I like to take my time. Plus you are only hear for a few months and I don't do long distance relationships.”

How come when I tell Benji or myself this, I sound wimpy and scared? When Nate tells me this, he makes me fall for him harder. What a true gentleman.

“As you have probably figured out, mom is battling cancer.”

“I figured as much, but you really don’t talk about it.”

“That’s because you are my escape from my every day life here, so I prefer to keep you in my happy space because being with you makes me happy.”

“You are definitely my private getaway and I am so grateful I needed you to rescue me that fateful night.”

I am waiting for him to kiss me, this is like the perfect first kiss moment. In any book or movie, I would be getting a kiss right now that sends chills down my spine and lights the night sky with fireworks. Instead, Nate looks out onto the Hudson River. We came to the Boat Basin to watch the sunset.

“As I was about to explain to you, my mother is battling cancer. My dad is as lost as can be. The woman that has always take care of him is now in need of being cared for. Growing up I have witnessed their push and pull relationship. They married young and probably shouldn’t have married at all. Of course they are Catholic so they have to persevere, my poor father probably married mom so they could have sex. Which then lead to me. Somehow my arrival made things a little better. Still a lot of fighting. By the time I left home, they both were too used to each other and too tired to change. Now that my dad is about to loose my mom, he is doing everything he can to make up for not being the husband he should have been all these years. As I am learning to be a better son that they deserve. All this has taught me not to throw away moments and not to jump in life before looking. I don’t want to waste time with the wrong person. So I would rather take my time to find the right now.”

I can’t argue this because it’s how I feel myself. It’s why I battle within myself about Benji. So much says he is the perfect man but yet there is something holding me from jumping into a fully committed relationship with him. I have always thought it was my own commitment issues, but now that Nate has said these words, I wonder if Benji is meant to only be my first love, not my true love. I am sure if he is my soul mate, I wouldn’t be sitting here wishing I could stay longer and get to know Nate better. Find out how far he is meant to be in my life. In this moment, it feels like I could love him completely, but maybe that’s an easy thought because I leave soon. There is no doubt I am attracted to him physically, but I also know the beautiful man inside of him and that’s the man I can fall in love with. Yet the universe has a great sense of humor because I will have to wait at least a year now to see if there is anything beyond this great friendship of ours.

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