#16 Exchanging saliva
I am so eager to tell Dshawn about everything that I discovered that I order him to come straight to Giovanni’s after my shift, instead of meeting up somewhere else. I’m sure that I smell like sweat and all sorts of food by now, since I’ve been working all damn day, pulling a double shift, but I don’t really care. I just want to continue talking to him about his business plan. It’s the only thing that manages to get me out of my current funk.
Even going out to dance doesn’t sound like fun anymore after I started thinking about Melchior again. I feel like I’m seeing him everywhere, like every guy with black hair and pale skin looks like him, so a crowded club is not the place to be for me right now. Last night, I even googled him to make sure he is still working oversees. Turns out he’s in Dubai now. Well, at least that is far enough away from me. Good riddance.
“Hey!” Dshawn looks surprised to see me waiting for him at the booth in the corner, my laptop already open and a large order of fries in the middle of the table. “You’re awesome. I’m starving!”
I grin. “I told Kieran to keep the fries and meatballs coming.”
Right on cue, the waitress puts the bowl of meatballs with tomato sauce in front of us with two forks sticking out. I attack it immediately, scarfing down three of them before grabbing two fries to dip them into the sauce.
“What?” I ask with my mouth full when I see Dshawn staring at me with his mouth open. “I haven’t eaten in hours!”
“Fries and tomato sauce?” he asks. “Are you mental?”
“Don’t knock it till you try it.” I dip another fry in and hold it up for him to taste. Instead of taking it from me, he eats it right out of my hands, flicking his tongue over my fingers. I pull back immediately, shivering slightly. There’s still some sauce on my fingers, so I put them in my mouth, sucking them clean.
“We basically just kissed,” Dshawn tells me after he swallowed. “And you’re right, that is weirdly delicious.”
“We didn’t kiss!” I argue, feeling my cheeks heating up. “And you broke the no touching rule!”
“Kissing is pretty much two people exchanging saliva,” he says, teasing me. “And you just licked off the finger I ran my tongue over, so basically, you kissed me. And you’re the one offering me food!”
“You’re supposed to take it from me, not eat out of my hand like an animal!”
We’re both grinning from ear to ear, shaking our heads at each other. He just has that effect on me. I don’t get why he and Caroline didn’t work out. Why did she choose Danny over him back then? And now Nathan? Dshawn is not the kind of guy that grows on trees.
“Why did I need to come over here in such a rush?” he asks, stuffing more food in his mouth.
“Oh, no rush,” I say, feeling a little stupid. “I just figured that as long as we’re going to eat and talk, we may as well do it here, where I can get us a nice discount. No need to drive around when I’m already here, right?”
He nods. “So, what have you got for me?”
I turn the laptop in his direction and start telling him all about my research. Not only did I discover who owns the buildings, but I also found three other potentials buildings that might work. I’ve already got all the contact info. There are places to buy, but also rentals, and they are actually pretty affordable.
“I think that before we talk to any of the owners, we really need to start doing market research,” I go on. “I’ve got this questionnaire from back in college that I changed to fit your needs and I think that if we can really pinpoint who your target demographic is, we can start finetune the plan even more.” This time, I do most of the talking, and I can tell Dshawn is slowly starting to get overwhelmed. I reach out across the table to put my hand over his, smiling at him. “I know it seems daunting, but I know how to do this. I’ve been doing this for four years in college for several businesses during my internships. I’ll need your help, but I can take care of the brunt of this.”
“Wow,” he breathes, pulling the laptop to him and scrolling through all the different documents I’ve already filled completely. “This is… I didn’t realize what a huge thing I was asking you. You put so much work into this. I am never going to be able to repay you for any of this.”
“Oh please,” I scoff. “It was fun. Actually, I haven’t had this much fun doing something in relation to my degree… ever. And I needed to get my mind off my own crappy life anyway.”
He shuts my laptop and turns his full attention to me. “Did something happen?”
“Just… life.” I realize my hand is still covering his, so I try to take it back, but he flips his hand over to grasp mine in his, squeezing it.
“You just spent an hour helping me with my stuff. It’s my turn to help. Talk to me. Tell me about your crappy life.” His smile is so sweet that I just let him keep my hand, using the other to stuff the last of the food in my mouth. He motions for the waitress to bring us some more, along with some drinks.
“I just… I used to date this guy at the end of high school,” I confess. Maybe it’s time to let it all out. “He wasn’t very good to me. A few days ago, I thought that I saw him again and it freaked me out. And on top of that, I was sort of seeing this new guy. We were…” I hesitate, feeling a little awkward talking about this while Dshawn is holding my hand, so I pull mine back before going on. “We were fuckbuddies, I guess, but we were spending so much time together that it was more like dating and his ex-girlfriend showed up, and then we sort of… broke up, I guess? He was getting too attached to me anyway, so I knew it couldn’t go on much longer.”
Dshawn nods. “You weren’t that into him?”
“I’m not that into anyone,” I say with a massive eyeroll. “To be fair, Joshua was pretty great. Really sweet. The perfect boyfriend, should I ever want one. But it just… it wasn’t right. I’m not... ready for that, I guess.”
“Why not?” Dshawn asks. “Does it have-” He pauses to thank the waitress for the new food and drinks and takes a sip of his water. “You said something about the guy you dated at the end of high school not being good to you. What does that mean?”
I take a deep breath, trying to figure out how much I want to tell him. “Did Caroline ever tell you about him back when you guys dated?” I ask, hoping that maybe he already knows. “About Melchior?”
Dshawn shakes his head. “Honestly, we didn’t talk that much about you. Of course Caroline mentioned you a hundred times a day, but she never gave me details about your personal life.”
Of course she didn’t. Caroline wouldn’t do that to me. Unfortunately, that means that I either need to stop this conversation altogether or start talking about Melchior for real in a way that I didn’t want to with Joshua or Francesca. To be honest, it feels good to talk to Dshawn. The fact that we’ve already been talking for over an hour makes me feel more at ease. He’s letting me be part of his biggest dream, the one he doesn’t share with any of his other friends. If there is ever a time to get personal, this is it.
“We met a few weeks before graduation,” I say, starting at the beginning. “He was 21 already and his dad had this huge phone company that had divisions all over the world. We met in the grocery store of all places and he just started talking to me when we both reached for the apples. It was a real meet cute, and we went on ten dates within the span of two weeks. He seemed so sweet, so perfect.”
“Seemed?” Dshawn repeats, catching on quickly.
I nod. “Yeah, seemed. We got in too deep too fast, I guess. After three weeks we were already dropping the L-bomb like it wasn’t a big deal. After graduation I moved in with him for the summer, because we wanted to spend as much time together as we possible could. My parents weren’t too happy about that.” I wince when I remember my father yelling at me that I was too young to move in with my boyfriend who I’d only been seeing for a little while and who was too old for me anyway. “I was in utter bliss for a few weeks and then…”
“Then he showed his true colors,” Dshawn finishes for me. He reaches for my hand again, rubbing his thumb over the back. “What did he do?”
“He was crazy jealous,” I say, closing my eyes for a moment, seeing the scene unfold before me like it was yesterday. “And you know me… I’m a bit of a flirt. Every time I talked to a guy and so much as smiled or flipped my hair over my shoulder or something, Melchior got angry. At first, I thought it was cute, that it meant he loved me. But then, one time, he got so angry that he hit me.”
Dshawn’s hold on my hand tightens and I open my eyes to see him glaring at me, the anger obviously meant for Melchior and not me.
“And I didn’t leave,” I whisper, feeling just as awful as I did when Melchior eventually left me. “He apologized and we made love, and I was so young and stupid that I thought that it was just one time. It wasn’t.” My breaths are becoming shallower and I know that I need to be careful or I’ll have another panic attack. I inhale deeply and exhale in a huff. “Every time, it would get a little worse. First it was just hitting, then came kicking, pushing me into the furniture, cutting off my breath, locking me in the bathroom for hours on end, forbidding me to see my friends, biting my neck so hard that I bled…”
“Shaughna…” Dshawn gets up and slides into my side of the booth so he can put his arms around me.
I lean into him, tears streaming down my face now. “And I didn’t leave,” I whimper into his shirt. “I stayed and I loved him and I still had sex with him every day.”
“Did he rape you?” Dshawn asks, his hold on me tightening.
“No,” I breathe, “no, he didn’t have to. I gave myself to him willingly. And not even because I was scared of him, but because I loved him. When he wasn’t abusing me, he was so sweet… You have no idea how good it felt to just sit on the couch with him, watching stupid shows. He loved to cook for me and he spoiled me rotten, always buying me gifts…”
“What did it take for you to leave him?” Dshawn asks.
“I didn’t.” And this is exactly why I don’t want to talk about Melchior. It’s not just that he abused me and that I stuck around for it, but I never actually had the balls to walk away. “My parents and Caroline knew something was up, and at the end of the summer I was supposed to move into the college dorms with Car as my roommate. I honestly didn’t want to leave Melchior. I had been so completely dependent on him from the second I graduated that I just didn’t know how to be without him anymore. Luckily, Caroline persuaded me to move into the dorms. I still kept seeing Melchior, and I slept over there sometimes. The abuse was still there, but way less intense and I still loved him so much.”
“He left you, didn’t he?” Dshawn strokes my back. To my surprise, he doesn’t sound judgmental.
“Yes,” I say so quietly I’m not sure if he can still hear me. “He fucked me one last time and then he told me that while I was a good fuck, he couldn’t go on dating someone so immature, someone who flirted with some many other guys, someone who he couldn’t love, not really. He said… he said that I wasn’t worthy of his love and that no one would ever truly love me, because when someone truly gets to know me, they will see just how rotten I am.”