I spun. Taking in the lights, the idol cameras, and thousands of plush seats. The gigantic space appeared endless. And it made me dizzy when I imagined it full of people.
This was his point of view. In the center of the coliseum, standing in a squared platform, enclosed by springy ropes. I tried to imagine what it felt like to feel the excitement rumble beneath my heel and hear the roaring cheers and jeers, but thinking about an all-eyes-on-me circumstance transported me back … way back … to my adolescence.
I didn’t choose to take the debate course. Who would want to stand in front of the entire class babbling and stuttering with a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a stomach ready to spew bland cafeteria lunch? While everyone snickered as if I stood in only my bra and panties.
How did he do it night after night?
My eyes shifted to him, Ethan Hart, a famous bad boy, casually leaned against a turnbuckle in faded jeans and a plain white tank that exposed his thick biceps. His untamed dirty blonde locks half hid one eye. Just the sight of him turned me to dumbfounded stone. He flashed cute dimples, curled his lips into that famous half-smirk and I was Flabbergasted. Standing there wide-eyed. Jaw unhinged. Just like the first time I’d seen him.
He was much taller than he seemed on my thirty-two-inch screen. His shoulders much broader and his arms, just the right amount of definition, which meant he wasn’t freakishly muscular with veins pushed up against his skin. I’d always hated that.
Ethan enjoyed an atypical career. He was a professional wrestler and he displayed his talent live on camera every Friday night. His character, a hardcore, take what he wanted, even if it didn’t belong to him, type of man, earned notoriety almost as much as his electric coal-black eyes, which, at that moment, he intently focused on me, causing my pulse to quicken as he crossed the distance between us causing my frame bob slightly with each step he took on the soft mat.
He brought his broad hand to cup my cheek. The slightly calloused, gentle touch told me that his job was more than glitzy glamour. His woodsy cologne cast a mesmerizing spell, turning me to putty in his hands, and from the twinkle in his eye, I think he knew it.
Lightly, lips touched mine, rolling seductively over my bottom lip as he pulled them away. Then, his gaze met mine and stared as if I were the only woman he’d ever been so eager to kiss.
Silently, I begged. Needing something vocal– Anything! One word from him could break the hypnotic effect and save me from slipping off the edge of rationality, but he said nothing! Gave me nothing but an impish smirk that made me wonder if he could see every hidden desire concealed behind my timid gawp.
He softly grazed my bare shoulder with his fingertips, then trailed them down my arm. All the while, his eyes locked, his gaze filled with … adoration? Desire? Lust? I wanted to think it mattered. It should have mattered, but I wasn’t so sure.
He lowered his lips to my neck, it tilted slightly in obedience. I tried to resist and stiffened my body in obvious reject, but a rogue moan escaped my lips without my consent. He emitted a pleased, breathy chuckle then, he repeated the offense, opening his mouth and lightly sucking the skin causing my legs to wobble like spaghetti noodles and my body gave in, following his every command, completely ignoring my inner chiding as if my brain could no longer control its actions. We slipped lower, all the way to the mat until I lied beneath his hovering frame, which was exactly where he wanted me.
He gazed with longing. “Can I?” He asked sheepishly.
His lips passionately took control and I parted mine, allowing our tongues to fully enjoy their dance while the warmth of his hand on my stomach sent a slight shiver of nervousness as it traced its way upward.
‘You’re not like this. You’re not this kind of girl.’ The little voices in my head annoyed me. I knew why I should stop his advances. There were so many reasons to bolt from his embrace, but I enjoyed our kiss too much to stop and when a sudden, unexpected graze touched a sensitive bud, the very last ounce of composure I’d managed to hold on to vaporized.
He coaxed my arms to raise, slipped a tight tank top away and began a slow, torturous descent of kisses from my neck to my belly button. My back arched in anticipation as he released the button and unzipped khakis with expert ease, which should have brought me out of the trance. Instead, it drove my temporary insanity to the point of no return.
‘What are you doing?’
I didn’t know this man. Had no clue if Ethan Hart was his birth name or stage name, yet uncharacteristically I tugged on the waistband of his jeans, pulling him closer until I felt his hard length press against me.
‘Are you crazy?’ Repeatedly I scolded myself silently. I was not the promiscuous type. I didn’t chase after men. I didn’t kiss strangers and – I couldn’t remember a time when I wanted – no, desperately needed the no-holds-barred lust that seeped from every graze of Ethan’s fingertips. I didn’t care if it happened right there in the middle of the ring he would soon compete in. It just had to happen.
“Hillary,” Ethan whispered. An instant heat, like that of standing too close to an open fire, engulfed my frame from head to toe. My fingertips dug into his strong, flexing shoulders. My lips curled around any part of him I could get to – His shoulder, his bicep … I was starving.
“Do you want me?”
My nod unleashed the beast inside him. Hungrily, his mouth returned to mine, closing down aggressively. His touch lightly gliding up the side of my torso, teasing and tantalizing before returning to bare nipples. The man drove me insane!
I pressed every part of me imaginable against him, letting him know I wanted so much more and I wanted it quickly.
“You’re very beautiful, Hillary.” The sound of my name caused a tidal wave of erotic pleasure. It was a first, hearing my name in the throes of passion. I liked it. I loved it and it fueled an uncontrollable want, which caused a tidal wave to moisten intimate parts before it had physically touched. It was almost more than I could withstand and he had yet to remove his clothes.
Wait? Why hadn’t he removed his clothes? Impatiently, I grasped the bottom of his soft cotton tank, swiping it upward, eager to expose the defined pecks and dragon tattoo he displayed to the world every Friday night.
I liked that tattoo and I wasn’t the type who found ink attractive. I traced the design of that of that well-known design with a soft forefinger, causing a tremble beneath my touch and exposing an appetite just as great as my own.
“Hillary Daniels!” A soft shake of the shoulders snapped my head upright.
“Huh? Wh …What?”
“Don’t you sleep at home anymore?” Tori Malone laughed and plopped down in the seat across from me. “What were you dreaming about? I know you were dreaming, woman. Don’t try to deny it. You moan in your sleep.”
I could feel the temperature of my cheeks rising dangerously high as if Tori had been a front-row witness to the shameless dream I had enjoyed so much. I touched palms to surely crimson cheeks – It was Tori’s fault. She was the one who had to watch that stupid wrestling show religiously.
“So who was it about?”
My heart began to thump fast and hard. I pressed a palm against my chest and took a deep breath to regain control.
For a moment, nothing made sense. I wasn’t fully awake or aware, the dream lingered, perhaps only in my thoughts, but it still seemed so vivid. I gave my head a slight quake and watched the empty arena burst like tiny bubbles, leaving behind nothing but the tables and chairs of a tiny break room.
“None of your business.” I playfully slapped the hand that stole a French fry from my plate, shaking away the last of the fantasy. “Get your own junk food!” I picked up my glasses from the table and slipped them over the bridge of my nose, feeling naked without them.
“I know who it was about.” Tori, with her wild jet black hair and thick black eye makeup, impishly flicked her eyes toward the hall. The new hire, a beefy slab of a man, pushed a large food cart past the canteen door.
“Uh … no!” I spat with no real emotion. Again, Tori pointed out the forbidden. Like I hadn’t fantasized about that already.
“I wouldn’t mind being locked in the kitchen with him.” Tori referenced the mistake the head cook made the prior week. She’d locked the poor guy in the kitchen on his first day, forgetting all about him and I had to admit, I wished that I had been in there with him when I’d first heard about it.
I glanced and caught his oh so dashing smile that made me feel dirty as if he knew our conversation was about him. With Tori’s volume, he probably did. But, he was a dish, there was no argument there. Tall, with his shoulder-length hair tied neatly at his nape and a beaming, broad smile. He was a normal guy. Heavy, but not obese, his middle slightly soft. A real teddy bear, but I was spoken for. Sort of.
He gave me a wink and I sighed. I was getting sick of the good girl I had always tried to be, even in my mind. Yes, that was me, these days. Following all the rules. Completely faithful. Always.
Once upon a time, I would have walked right up to a good looking man with no fear of rejection. I’d acted confident and slightly silly. I didn’t care what people thought. Didn’t care if I made a complete fool of myself. I mean, how can you be embarrassed if you don’t give a damn about the gasps and whispers of those nearby? I wasn’t crazy wild and my actions never hurt anybody. When all that changed, I don’t know.
Somehow, I became critical of myself, seeing flaws I hadn’t seen before. Letting phrases I’d always ignored settle deep into my mind and I believed them. Perhaps there’s a limit on how much you can brush off before the mind breaks. That’s how I felt broken. Shattered. Unfixable.
My life was, well … my life. I wasn’t old, but I was no longer a teenager. The days of hoping and dreaming were long gone. And without those two things, there’s nothing left but the harsh reality of living as an adult. Struggles and stress hadn’t made me stronger. They’d tamed, scared, and drained the color, leaving nothing but the bleak and dull what is.
But, lately, I’d had a hard time controlling my subconscious. I dreamed about that guy from the kitchen, the cowboy on the billboard in town, and mostly, I fantasized about Ethan Hart. Even though none of it was real, I still felt extremely guilty.
“You should ask him out.”
“You know I can’t. He’s all yours.”
“Oh come on. Brad’s an ass. Dump him already.” Tori still attempted to persuade as she banished cherry tomatoes from her salad. Her disciplined food intake irritated me that day and watching her pour only half a ranch packet on the leaves of romaine and baby spinach evoked self-conscious feelings about the greasy junk food I munched.
‘Like one freakin’ cheeseburger is going to turn you into a walking blob. Come on, Hillary,’ I chastised. Arguing with myself was another thing I did often.
“He’s not worth the drama,” Tori said that often about Brad. About many things in our lives. It seemed to be her go-to answer for everything.
“Brad and I just had a bad weekend. That’s all.” An understatement. Downright un-bearable was more like it, but I refused to go into detail. Not this time.
“Yeah, I got a glimpse of that over the phone last night. It’s time to trade him in for something less horrifying … big boy’s still outside. I think he’s waiting … you know hoping you will come out. Pass him by.” She giggled. “He’s so shy. It’s adorable.”
“Maybe he’s waiting for you.”
“But I don’t want a boyfriend.”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“You have a warden.” She stuck a forkful of vegetables and cheese into her mouth and chewed quickly for a moment. “I would …”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
“I don’t have the time.”
“Yes. You do,” I argued with no real emotion on the subject, knowing Tori’s kidding was a slightly clever ploy to make me believe she had a normal interest in the opposite sex but, she’d had her own tragedy. One that I feared had forever darkened her world. I also knew this conversation was her trying to save me from being hurt the way she had. Brad had his faults, but he wasn’t like her ex. I guess it didn’t take much to trigger fear when you’d gone through the things she had.
“You’re wrestling again,” I deflected the conversation away from my love life, going for the only topic that would make Tori forget anything we were discussing.
“You always could read me like a book, Hill.”
“Took you long enough.” Six years to be exact.
“I know,” Tori spoke between hasty bites, her eyes ever mindful of the ticking clock. “But I’m not giving up smoking. It’s the only way to get a break around this slave factory. You coming out with me?”
“Sure.” I jumped up, wrapped part of my bun in a napkin and popped the last bite of meat into my mouth. I would chew it on my way down the hall. Just like every day.
A sudden rustling caught my attention the moment I sat on the bench. Chubby, a squirrel so big we first mistook him as a stray cat, came out of his tree to munch on the charity he knew I would have for him. The critter wandered so near, I could reach out and pet him if I dared. Some days I was sure he would let me.
“There you go, sweetheart.” I tossed my leftovers and talked softly to the little animal, watching him sit on his hind legs and nibble the gift in his paws.
“That’s why that damn squirrel’s so fat,” Tori joked.
“Oh, leave my little buddy alone.”
“It’s pretty out here today,” Tori mused.
“It is.” I sat sideways on the bench, arm draped over the back so I could take in the only beautiful sight available after swiping the time clock. It was quiet. Late breaks tended to be with all others crowding the popular noon lunch hour.
I didn’t smoke, but found the courtyard so beautiful, with its flower beds and perfectly pruned trees, that I was always happy to tag along with Tori.
Some days I sat back, closed my eyes, and pretended it was my personal secret garden. The brick wings of the building were a fence protecting me from the world. I watched the birds that frequently visited the half dozen birdhouses, enjoyed a soft breeze that swayed dozens of Dogwoods, and gazed at the sidewalks lined with an array of colorful flowers, but my favorite thing was the small rock waterfall that cascaded into a koi pond. It sat just to the side of the smoking area. If I tried hard enough I could easily imagine myself in some hidden away paradise.
For a moment, I could forget about the suffering and desolation going on inside. The sick, the weak, the lonely. It was a depressing environment and that depression was contagious.
Not to mention more work than I had ever done in my life. My job was physically and mentally draining. I’m a certified nursing assistant, employed by the only nursing home in the region of Beau Reve. And believe me when I say I worked – No. I slaved. From the first minute until the last and trust me, the pay didn’t justify the fatigue.
“You’re lost in your own little world again.” Tori interrupted the silence.
“I’m just ready for the day to end. I think I’m going to forget to clock in today.” My heart just wasn’t in it.
Beau Reve was gorgeous. The sky was almost always the perfect shade of blue, the scent of many wildflowers sweetly perfumed the air, and that cold, brick building was a cage, snuffing out happiness and light. I just wanted to take my music player to the beach, rest on a blanket and watch the waves crash into the rocks.
“Hey, that’s my trick.” Tori laughed and flicked her cigarette into a can. “You’ll never do it.”
“Probably not. Miss Celia still needs her bath,” I sighed and rose to my feet. The break was over and I would do exactly what I should. As always.