21. Better Already
After dropping Carl and Violet off at the airport, Leila started home across the bridge. She made a promise to Violet that if her mother needed help, she would try to lend a hand. She was already regretting that since Mattie hadn’t spent a significant amount of time with a baby since Violet had been one. And that was with the help of a nanny. But Mathilde was insistent she could handle it all by herself. But one could tell even Harry had his doubts.
About halfway across the bridge, Leila took a call which was routed to the Bluetooth function in her car stereo.
‘Bitch, where did you go yesterday?’
“Good afternoon to you too, Jare,” Leila greeted back sarcastically. “I’m just surprised you knew I left at all after you called Mickey to have phone sex in the men’s room at the reception. I was almost sure you would still be in there today trying to sort out your own blue balls situation.”
‘How in the hell did you know I was getting it on via Ma Bell in the men’s room? You didn’t sneak in for a quickie with some hunk from the groom’s side did you?’
“Ma Bell? What are you, 80 years old?” Leila asked, chuckling. “And I didn’t rent a room at The Claremont just to have dubious sex with a questionable partner in the men’s room. The urinals would creep me out... knowing a man was standing on the other side of the bathroom door handling his meat and pissing into one-”
‘Stop deflecting and answer the question, kitten.’
Kitty cat. The words sent a shiver down her spine and Leila forgot how to respond for a moment.
‘Pookie? You still there?’
“Yeah, I’m here.” At least physically, my friend. My mind, though, has left the continent, just like my pussy.
‘Then if you didn’t get some last night, how did you know I was talking sexy to my man?’
“Nate said he heard someone in the bathroom having phone sex,” Leila told him, smiling. “It was a safe assumption on my part, to think immediately of you.”
‘You were with Nate? In... like, the Biblical sense?’
“You know he is my tenant now, thanks to you,” Leila admonished him gently. “And I can have a full conversation with a man without having my mouth filled with his dick, ya know.”
‘A pointless endeavor, if you ask me. Weddings are the best time to hook up with someone. Everyone’s gushing about the bride and groom and getting romantic. And of course, they are thinking about all the steamy honeymoon sex the two will be having. It’s a green light for the libido, hon. Please tell me you got some or I’ll think your father’s abhorrent public behavior finally broke you.’
Leila rolled her eyes and tried to think. If she said something about who she was with, she’d be on the phone until the second coming of Christ. The questions would be endless, each one more probing than the last. How long, how hard, girth. Jared- self-proclaimed cock connoisseur- would want full disclosure.
And forget about when she mentioned who it was. Jared might flat-out expire from excitement. Or shock. Maybe a bit of both.
“I... may have gotten lucky last night,” Leila said slowly, mind working a mile a minute to catch up. “But that’s all I’m telling you, Pervy McPerverson. I will say this: he was great, it was awesome and I came like a fucking freight train.”
‘Not good enough, Ms. Winters!’
Oh boy. Jared only started calling her that when he was dead-set on getting his way. He thought it somehow buttered her up, though all it did was make her roll her eyes at him and his damned nosey self.
“Oooops... going... unnel,” Leila said, pretending she was losing connection and disconnecting the call. It would keep her friend from calling her back immediately and she could find the time to think of something to tell him later.
“Damned man... think he is living vicariously through me now that he’s got Mickey’s dick locked down,” Leila murmured to herself, half-smiling and half-grimacing at the amount of information she knew secondhand about Mickey’s genitalia.
It took her another twenty minutes to get home, traffic on I-880 being the clusterfuck it always was, and she pulled into her driveway just as her phone went off again. Jared. Again.
She immediately sent it to voicemail and tossed the phone into her bag, hoping that out of sight was truly out of mind.
“Hey,” a voice called out.
Leila looked toward the sound and saw that Nate was coming out of the front door as if he had been waiting for her.
“They off to have 24-hour sex in another time zone already?” Nate asked her, smirking a little.
“Yeah,” Leila replied. “I’m sure that within 24 hours all of Brazil will know those two are getting down and dirty in Rio. Probably come home pregnant with Carl’s super sperm.”
“Thanks for that image,” Nate said, closing his eyes. “It’s bad enough I know my little sister’s had sex with a reformed manwhore, but to hear about Carl’s superior spunk... priceless.”
“You mentioned sex first,” she accused lightly. “I’m merely pointing out the probable outcome of Carl, Violet and all the romantic locales they’ll probably be seeing.”
“If they leave the hotel room at all.”
“Hmm... you’re right,” Leila said. Knowing Carl, he’d probably have Vi’s pussy sore after the first night and she’d come home bowlegged and with a pronounced limp. The force was strong in that one.
“Did you, uh... mention anything to Violet?” Nate asked.
Leila looked at him, his earlier consternation gone and a more curious look on his face.
“No,” she responded. “I wanted to talk to you first. Let’s go inside.”
They got as far as inside the vestibule before they both stopped, not knowing which apartment to go to. Awkward.
“Mine’s right here. Closer,” Nate said limply. His heartbeat raced and stumbled in his chest, anticipating the heaviness of their discussion. Or not. Maybe it wouldn’t be as clumsy as he was feeling right now.
Surprisingly, Leila’s presence was not what made this difficult. It was easy, being in her presence, but the newness of whatever they had made him feel like a teenager bent on finding a date for the prom. That fluttery feeling in his gut that he hadn’t felt for years struck him dumb at times like this.
“Drink?” Nate asked, watching as Leila strode slowly into his living room.
“Water, thank you,” she told him, eyes looking at the new living room furniture. This was the first time she had stepped across his threshold since he had completely furnished the place.
Leila was surprised at the style he chose. She would have thought him a brown suede or leather type of man, but the softer microfiber that reminded her of her own home was in place instead, warm and comforting. Homey.
Nate brought her a glass tinkling with ice and a fresh bottle of water, straight from his fridge.
“So... you didn’t... mention anything about what happened to anyone?” Nate asked, brows crinkling over his eyes. They were warm caramel, especially in the dim light of the room.
“I didn’t know how you would feel about that, if you wanted anyone to know or not,” she told him honestly. “Plus, it would be a bit inappropriate sending her off with that bit of news. Have a great honeymoon! By the way, your brother and I fucked last night. Bring me something back from Rio!’”
Nate laughed, the soft crinkle over his eyes softening, a warm glow lighting up his features.
“When you put it that way, I see what you mean,” he told her and took a sip from his own bottle of water while Leila poured hers over the ice, listening to it crack.
“What do you want to do? Tell people? Make some grand announcement?” she asked, unsure of what she wanted to hear in response to her question.
“It may be awkward,” Nate warned her. “Perhaps we see where this goes for a bit and then make a decision.”
“How long?” Leila asked, letting the cool liquid soothe her parched throat.
“A month? Two? Or perhaps we don’t put a timetable on it,” Nate said. “Perhaps we just wait until we know.”
“How does one know?” Leila looked concerned. It had been such a long time since she had dated that she wasn’t sure when, or if, that time would come, or what it would feel like.
“I guess... you just do,” Nate replied. “I’m... I’ve been horrible about choosing who I’ve wanted to be with, always wanting someone who either didn’t want me or someone who wasn’t ready for a commitment. I need to know, Leila- what do you want?”
She blinked at him, preparing her answer quickly in her head.
“If you had asked me before Violet got married, I would have told you I didn’t want anything. A quick lay with a hot guy, sure. But when I saw those two exchange vows, become Mr. and Mrs. Carlton Smith, I realized I wanted more. I wanted someone to look at me the way those two looked at each other. Like their worlds began and ended with each other.”
Nate nodding. He had seen it too. It was the reason he knew he could trust Carl with his sister, that the man would never purposefully hurt her or their family. And, like Leila, he wanted that too. Always had, but now he ached for that completion.
“I’m with you on that,” Nate told her. “I... I thought I had that once. In England.”
Nate stopped, looking from his drink to Leila who was perched on the edge of his couch looking cute with her hair mussed and bright green eyes eager for whatever he had to say.
“Do you remember Liam?” Nate blurted out suddenly, startling Leila a bit.
“The Irish douche that your Dad wanted Vi to marry a few years ago?”
“The same,” Nate said, with a smirk. Douchiness must have run in the McCormick family like whiskey at a pub. “He has a sister named Lorelei.”
“When the McCormicks pick a letter, they stick with it, huh?”
Nate smiled, shaking his head.
“She and I... we became close and started to date about a year ago,” Nate told her. “It got pretty serious pretty fast and we ended up practically living together about 3 months in. We’d switch off which apartment we would stay at weekly, that sort of thing. Sometimes she would have to stay at her place for work or whatever, and I would stay at home.” He paused, lip twitching before he took a deep breath. “Right before I left London, I went to surprise her with dinner and some flowers. She had been working a lot lately and we were seeing less and less of each other. I felt that she was pulling away. I didn’t realize until it was too late as to why.”
“She was cheating?” Leila asked, eyes turning dark with concern.
“Yeah,” Nate said, lips turning down in a frown. “I had a key to her apartment, like she had for mine, and I went in and... found her with her lover. Big dude, burly and built like a brick wall.”
“Is... was she why you left?”
“Partially,” Nate said slowly. “Lorelei was more of a reason to stay where I was. I didn’t want to leave her, so I continued to work and see her on my off hours. I had wanted to come back here for a while when I found her with that gorilla, but when I did, it was over. I knew I couldn’t stay. I had nothing to stay for and every reason to move back home.”
Leila looks down at her hands, her fingers twisting themselves together like a bevy of coiling snakes.
“Were you in love with her?” Leila asked after meeting Nate’s gaze again.
“I... no, I didn’t love her,” Nate said, firm. “I was falling- and fast- but I wasn’t in love with her. Given another few months, my answer might’ve been different. I guess it’s sort of a blessing I got out when I did.”
“Did London ever feel like home? You had family, friends surely?” Leila asked. She didn’t know if she could have felt at ease in another country, particularly one so far from California, even if her roots were there.
“I can’t say I was ever at home in England,” he told her. “I now understand the saying Home Is Where The Heart Is. I had a life, but never a home. Everyone I loved was far away.”
“That sounds... lonely,” Leila said, voice soft. “I can’t imagine moving thousands of miles away from my mom and friends. Vi and your mom are like family to me. Carl is like a bratty little brother and you...” She smiled. “I had a crush on you when I was 16. Did you know that? Not even Vi did. She would have razzed me to no end, I’m sure.”
Nate’s face brightened at hearing that.
“I had no fucking clue, actually,” Nate told her. “You hide your emotions well.”
“I was never one to lay my heart on my sleeve,” she admitted. “I guess that’s one thing I got from my father.”
Nate’s eyes darkened, knowing where her mind was going.
“You’re nothing like him, you know,” he told her. “You may share some DNA with the old bastard, but it ends there.”
“I hope so,” she said, taking another sip and dredging up a sad smile for his benfit.
“I know so,” Nate told her. His face was serious for a moment before the dark seemed to wash away. “I had a crush on you when I was younger as well.”
Leila cut him with a look.
“You acted as you hated me so I can’t really say I believe that.”
“It’s true,” he told her, spreading his hands wide as if to emphasize that fact. “You were 17 I think, so it’s not like I could do anything about it. Jailbait. Younger sister’s best friend. It was all too cliche for words so I pushed it aside and started dating more.”
“You seemed to have a different girl on your arm each time you came home,” she said accusingly, but smiling all the same. The past was the past after all.
“Well, like I said... I was always the more invested one in the relationship,” Nate told her. “The women I seemed to gravitate to weren’t keen on having monogamous relationships. They wanted to party for the most part. Live the college life. It was fucking pathetic.”
Leila’s hand reached out and her hand met his knee.
“Not pathetic,” she told him, seriously. “You just knew what you wanted. In some ways, you’ve always acted older than your age.”
“Except when I’m tp’ing some prick’s house.” His eyes twinkled.
“Well, we all have our shortcomings,” Leila said, eyes also twinkling with mischief.
At that, she stood up, realizing she hadn’t had breakfast or lunch and it was already nearing 2 PM.
“Going so soon?” Nate asked, following her movements. “I thought you might want something to eat. I have some leftovers from yesterday when I got back to the house. Italian.”
“You ordered out?” she asked, voice brightening.
“No. Cooked,” Nate said. “Nothing special. Some chicken parm and lasagne.”
“You cooked both? Yourself?” Her eyes were alight with surprise. She was a fair cook herself, but wouldn’t say no to a nice, home-cooked Italian meal.
“Don’t look so surprised,” he said, smiling. “I did a lot of it in England. Wasn’t very fond of some of their foods so I had to.”
“Hmm... I’ve never been to England, so I wouldn’t know,” Leila said. From what Vi, and now Nate, had said about English food, she wasn’t too sure she would have liked it either.
“You should go,” Nate told her. “Some of the food’s nice and the people are so-so, but the countryside is beautiful. And the coast. Love the coast.”
“Someday,” she said evasively, thinking.
He walked up to her, tipping her chin so she could meet his eyes.
“You’re doing better already,” he told her before kissing her lightly on the lips.