James opens the door of his car for me, holding out his hand to help me out. I need it, since I’m in eight-inch heals and a formfitting purple dress. I look good, but walking is a little hard in this outfit.
“Have I told you how beautiful you look?” he says while he closes the door, his eyes taking me in again. “Because you do. You look amazing.”
He already told me that about twenty times, but I don’t mind hearing it again. “Thanks, James. You look good too.” And he does. He really does. He’s wearing a black suit with a red dress shirt underneath it, and his hair is carefully slicked back. He looks way older than 29 in this outfit. And hot. Very hot.
“I just can’t believe I get to take you out again, for the third time in a week and a half,” he says, more to himself than to me. “I’m so happy I met you.”
I squeeze his hand, smiling up at him. “Same here.”
The restaurant he’s taking me to is extremely fancy, making me feel underdressed even though I’m wearing the fanciest gown I own. I only wore it once before to my cousin’s wedding, and I was amazed to see it still fit after three years. James orders some fancy wine for us that apparently perfectly compliments the salmon I just ordered. He ordered steak himself. I guess we know what our favorite dishes are now.
“You seem a little quiet tonight,” James says after half an hour of talking about his day, with me asking a few questions here and there, trying to keep him talking. I don’t want to talk about my day. “What’s wrong, honey?”
Honey. He’s calling me honey. I don’t know how I feel about that, honestly. It’s nice, and my heart does a little flip, but it also freaks me out. It’s just so soon.
“Nothing,” I assure him, faking a smile.
He cocks his head to the side and narrows his eyes. “This may only be our third date, but I think I already know when you’re lying. Right now, for instance.”
“I’m sorry,” I say softly, looking down at my plate. “I just… I’m a little off today. I didn’t want you to notice.”
He takes my hand in his and squeezes it. “Francesca, I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m in. I want to get to know you. I think you’re amazing. I want to see if this could be something real. We can take all the time you need, and I get that I’m intense and that I move fast and all that stuff, but I don’t want you to feel like you can’t show me every single side of you. If something is upsetting you, I want to know.”
He’s so sweet. So goddamn sweet. I take a deep breath and meet his gaze head-on, trying not to flinch at the intensity.
“If I’m going to tell you this, I need more wine,” I decide.
He immediately grabs the bottle he ordered for us and fills up my glass. He’s only having one single glass tonight since he’s the one driving. I need to be careful or I’ll end up drinking the rest of the bottle and I will be totally drunk by the end of the night. We can’t have that.
“Okay,” I say after a gulping down half of my glass and motioning for him to fill it back up. “I already told you that my father died when I was 15, right?”
He nods, not saying anything to give me the time and space to decide how to continue.
“My father was an investment banker, but his true love was music. I grew up with him singing me to sleep, teaching me how to play guitar and piano…” I smile at the memory of Dad trying to get me excited about Bob Dylan songs. I used to hate him for making me play those old songs, but now I listen to them whenever I miss Dad so much that I can’t breathe, and they get me through it. “I like to sing. I’m not great at it, but Dad always said that he wanted me to pursue music as a career, because he regretted not doing just that. He hated his job, no matter how much money he made. Because of him, I signed up to participate in a talent show at my high school.”
James waits patiently while I try to fight the tears. I take another sip of my wine and a bite of my salmon, trying to calm the fuck down. This wasn’t how I thought this night would go.
“He died before that, and my friends convinced me to do the show anyway, to honor my father. His favorite song was Blowin’ in the wind by-”
“Bob Dylan,” James finished for me, nodding. “That’s a beautiful song. My dad plays it on his old record player. All the time.”
I smile and just look into his eyes for a moment before speaking up again. “I played it, and I got through the first few lines, but then I just started bawling my eyes out, unable to go on. I’ve never sung in public since then. I’ve tried a few times, but I always get emotional playing songs that are important to me, so I just… stopped trying, I guess.”
“Do you miss it?” James asks, reaching out to touch my cheek in a tender caress. “Singing?”
“Yes,” I say truthfully. “I do still sing at home, but I never let anyone hear it. I miss someone looking at me, singing along… Mostly I just miss my dad, I guess. He loved playing with me. He taught me so many Bob Dylan songs. I hardly ever play those, though. It hurts too much. I play other songs, just for me, but I sometimes feel like… like…”
“Like if you don’t show this side of you to someone else, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist,” James says, voicing my thoughts perfectly. “I know. I get it.”
“Your sister?” I ask, sensing that it’s his time to unload.
“I was all set to go to med school,” he says, smiling sadly. “I was going to be a surgeon like my younger sisters are now. My parents were so proud. But I never loved medicine, and my oldest sister… she knew that. She was the one to talk me into trying to get on the force, to see if I could pass the tests, and she support me through it all. My parents didn’t think it was a good choice for her to become a cop, and they had no idea that I wanted to pursue that career as well.”
Now it’s my time to stay quiet and listen, squeezing his hand.
“She was the only one to be proud of me when I got in and aced all my tests, did well in training…” He sighs. “I was 19 when she got shot, only one year into my training. I thought about dropping out, but she… she would have hated me dropping out. Desirée was so proud of me. She was the only one in my family who understood me. And then she was gone and it was like I was only a shadow of myself. The butterfly tattoo is the first one I got. The others have meaning too, but not anything like the butterfly. It was what I needed to get going. I could look down at my shoulder and I just knew she was with me, in some weird way.”
We sit in silence for a long time, just staring at each other. It’s weird how someone I only just met gets me. I think that it’s because we both lost someone close to us at a relatively young age. I’ve never met anyone who gets how that fucks you up. We both moved on, through the pain, but it’s still a part of us. It always will be.
“Why are you thinking about your father today?” James asks, taking a bite and chewing slowly.
“I erm… I went to see a friend and he had me play a song for him, and I broke down.”
James frowns at that. “A friend?”
“Yeah, Joshua.” I explain to him how I know Joshua, leaving out the part about me having a threesome with his ex-girlfriend and my neighbor, of course. I tell him about Joshua bringing me flowers and me heading over to his place with my blow-dryer. “He’s the reason my hair is a little frizzy tonight,” I joke. “I left mine at his place, so I had to dry my hair the natural way, by sticking my head out the window.”
“Hmm,” James says, still frowning. “So you spent the day with Joshua?”
How the hell is that what he’s focusing on right now? “Yeah,” I say with a shrug. “Only an hour or so, though, maybe two.”
James shakes his head to clear it and then his sweet smile is back. “I’m glad you told me about your day, honey. I feel like I’m getting to know you better tonight. I like that.”
“Me too,” I agree, happy that he seems back to normal. “This was a good idea, by the way. The whole fancy dinner thing. I’ve never had anyone take me out like this before.”
“You deserve it,” he tells me genuinely.
We finish our food and move on to lighter topics. He tells me about the weird stuff drunk people say when they get arrested and I tell him about the strange things that show up on x-rays because people swallow objects. Or stuck something up their ass.
“A candy cane?” James asks incredulously. “Up someone’s ass?”
I laugh at his expression. “You gotta love being a nurse, right?”
He shakes his head and laughs along. “People are weird.”
We share desert and he feeds me ice cream, watching me lick the spoon clean every single time. A spark ignites between us, and by the time we get to the car, I’m buzzed and horny, having a hard time not jumping him the moment we’re alone in his car.
“Are you coming up?” I ask when he pulls up to my apartment.
“Do you want me to?” he asks, tucking a purple strand of hair behind my air.
“Yes,” I breathe, goosebumps appearing on my skin just from that light touch.
“Then I’m coming up,” he decides, kissing me softly.
Once again, he helps me out of his car and we take the elevator up so I won’t have to take the stairs in my high heels. The moment the front door closes behind us, we basically attack each other. Our lips meet and I tug his shirt out of his pants, running my hands up his muscular chest.
“Are you sure?” he asks between kisses, even though his hands are already grabbing my boobs.
“Hell yeah,” I moan, undoing his belt buckle.
“Woah!” he exclaims, jumping away from me. “What was that?”
“Erm… that was me trying to take your pants off?” I reply, unsure what he’s talking about. Then I feel General Fluffington brushing up against my leg, and I laugh. “That’s my cat.” I flip on the light in the hallway and pick up the General, holding him up for James to see.
“Hi there,” James says to my cat, laughing. “You scared me, little guy.”
The General huffs and hisses at James, jumping out of my arms and running back to the living room to hide under the couch. I laugh at his antics and turn my attention back on James.
“Bedroom?” I suggest, hoping to get back to what we were doing before.
“Yes,” he agrees immediately. “Definitely.”
We move through my messy living room to the bedroom, making sure to close the door behind us so the cat won’t disturb us again. I turn on the light and dim it so we can see each other without feeling like we’re in the spotlight. James takes off his suit jacket and starts unbuttoning his red dress shirt, his eyes on me the whole time.
Damn, those tats. I run my hands over his naked chest, looking at the black and red lines that cover him. His chest, his back, his arms, they’re all covered. He’s like a piece of art. Unlike Thomas’ tattoos, these aren’t separate ones that fit together. James’ tats look like they are all one piece, even though they were put on his body separately. It’s like they’re telling a story that I can’t read quite yet.
“Okay,” he whispers nervously. “I have to tell you something.”
Oh God. Here we go. He has a girlfriend, or a wife, or he can’t get it up or something. I knew something had to be wrong with him.
“I have a piercing.”
“What?” I ask, blinking a few times. “Where?”
He gestures down and my eyes widen. Oh wow. That’s a first for me.
“Show me,” I say, tugging at his pants to get them off.
Every time he I think he can’t get more perfect, he does.