#18 Unexpectedly imperfectly perfect
Talk about what’s bothering you.
It sounds like such an easy order, but it’s not. Right now, Khiêm seems to like me as a person. I don’t know why, but he likes my company. If he knew me, really knew me, he would feel differently. Am I ready for him to know the real me?
“Nia,” Khiêm says softly, his dark brown eyes intent on mine. “Talk to me.”
I push away from him, settling into the far corner of the large corner sofa, hugging a pillow to my chest as I keep crying. I want to stop, but I don’t seem to be able to.
“Okay, how about this…” Khiêm grabs his beer and takes a swig. “I will tell you something about myself, and then you tell me something about whatever is going on in your mind right now. You game?”
I nod, pulling my knees up to my chest, trying desperately to get myself back in check. Fuck, I’m a mess.
“When I was 14, I got my first crush on a girl,” he says, shifting so he’s more comfortable on the couch, facing me directly. “She was the most beautiful girl in the entire school, and every single guy wanted her. I asked her out, and she laughed in my face. Told me that I was a fat nerd, and that she’d never go out with someone like me.”
The hurt in his eyes is real, even twelve years after the fact. I hate that someone said that to him, but it’s comforting to know that even Khiêm, who seems to feel so comfortable in his own skin, gets hurt sometimes.
“I’ve slept with about fifty guys,” I admit, shuddering at the though. “And I think I only truly liked about… ten of them.”
His eyes search my face. “Why did you sleep with the other forty?”
That’s a very good question. Why did I? “I just…” I hesitate, not sure if I’m ready to admit the truth out loud. “I wanted…”
“Okay, hold that thought, I’ll go again,” Khiêm says when he senses just how uncomfortable I am. “I’ve only had two serious girlfriends. One in college, and one right after college. Both relationships lasted for about a year. In total, I’ve only been with six women.”
That doesn’t surprise me. Not that he’s not a nice guy who could get a nice girl or anything. He just doesn’t seem like a player. Nor does he seem like the kind of man women go nuts for. Which is fucking unfair, because he’s such a sweetheart. Funny, kind, interesting…
“Sex is the only thing I’m good at,” I blurt out, my cheeks flushing. If my skin wasn’t so dark, he’d be able to tell. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever been praised for.”
Khiêm mouth opens, but he doesn’t say anything, just stares at me.
“I had a boyfriend in high school for a few months.” Might as well put it all out there. “He was my first. He broke up with me because I wouldn’t let him do anal. I was 15, so what the fuck did he expect? I was so fucking innocent back then, and when he broke up with me…” I close my eyes. “I guess word got out about me no longer being a virgin. Open for business. Guys lined up to sleep with me, and I felt so…”
“Wanted,” he supplies when I grow silent. “Needed.”
“Exactly.” Our eyes meet, and I don’t see repulsion like I expected to. He looks… I don’t even know what that look is, to be honest. His dark eyes are locked with mine, and he doesn’t even blink once.
“What happened with Sebastian?” Khiêm asks, not looking away as he finishes his beer.
“He…” I shudder. “I drank too much.”
He gets up to get himself another beer, handing me one as well, even though I’m not done with the one in my hand. We both laugh at me holding two bottles when I just said that I drank too much that night at the concert. I put both on the coffee table and snuggle against the couch cushions, hugging the throw pillow against my chest.
“He took advantage of you, didn’t he?” Khiêm asks knowingly. “Jagger has been beating himself up about letting you slip away that night. He knew you were drunk, and he seems to think he could have saved you or something.”
“Jagger was amazing that night,” I murmur, closing my eyes so I won’t have to look at Khiêm as I talk. “I got drunk and I tried to seduce Jagger, but he didn’t want me, so I drank even more, and then I… I was completely out of it, and I…” I trail off, pulling my knees closer against my body. “What happened was my own fault. I got drunk, and I didn’t stop Sebastian.”
“Nia,” he says sharply, causing me to look at him even though I’d rather keep my eyes closed. “Sebastian didn’t have that much to drink. He knew what he was doing. We could all tell you were sad and not in control of yourself. You got drunk, and I am partially to blame for that. I handed you so many drinks…”
“Oh God,” I grunt, rubbing my face to dry my tears. “Don’t blame yourself, please. It’s hardly the first time I got myself into a position like that, Khiêm. I’ve been getting drunk since I was 14, and I’ve been sleeping with guys since I turned 15. What happened with Sebastian… As much as I’d like to say it was unexpected… it wasn’t. I’ve done stuff like that many times before.”
“Getting drunk and having a one-night stand?” he asks softly. “Or sleeping with someone who has a girlfriend?”
“Both,” I reply honestly.
“What happened to make you so out of control that night at the concert?” Khiêm asks, still not dropping the subject. “You seemed sad and quiet even when we drove over there. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I hardly knew you, but looking back… The Nia I met that day wasn’t the Nia I’ve been living with this past week. She was sad and seductive and… I’m sorry to say this, but you seemed pretty fake.”
“Fuck you,” I mutter, but I know he’s right. I was fake that day. Playing a role I’ve perfected over the years. Fun, flirty, sexy Nia, up for anything, doing shots and letting guys feel her up and use her.
“What happened?” he asks again, searching my expression for clues. “Talk to me. Just spit it out.”
“I was dating this guy, and… stuff… happened.”
“What did he do?” His jaw sets and there is anger in his eyes, even though he has no idea what went down. He doesn’t assume it was my fault, he immediately asks what Randy did. I’m not used to that level of trust.
“His name is Randy and we’d been dating for a few weeks, but then he ghosted me for two days because he decided I was too boring and uneducated, but he hit me up again when he discovered I slept with his friend Xavier.” It’s hard to look at Khiêm when I talk, but closing my eyes is not an option because I will see those assholes behind my closed eyelids, looking at me in disdain. “I didn’t know Randy ghosted me, I believed him when he said he’d been busy and wanted to make it up to me. We slept together, and looking back I should have realized Randy knew Xavier, because he said the exact same things to me, used the same words… And then, when I woke up in the morning and we were… you know, making out in bed, he told me he had a surprise for me. Turned out the surprise was Xavier.”
Khiêm doesn’t respond right away, mulling over the information. “What you do mean, the surprise was Xavier?”
I grab my beer and take a few swigs. “Xavier came over and Randy invited him into the bedroom for a threesome, because they figured a slut like me would be up for whatever they wanted to do to me. Randy was never truly interested in me. He seemed like such a gentleman, but the only reason he kept me around once he realized we weren’t compatible was to sleep with me and have a threesome with me and his friend.”
“He invited a guy into bed with you without asking you?” Khiêm asks, grunting out the words like they hurt to say. “And you… you were naked? In bed? Unsuspecting?”
I nod. “Just so you know, I didn’t do it. I got out of there as fast as I could, which is when they told me what a boring, educated, stupid slut I am.”
“You’re not,” he says, his expression softening. “You know that, right? You’re not any of those things. You’re interesting, smart and funny. Who the fuck cares that you’ve slept with a lot of guys? Trust me when I say that Randy and Xavier don’t see themselves as stupid sluts, even though they’re the ones who tried to trick you into something you had no interest in, treating you like you’re not even human, but some kind of blow-up sex doll for them to use and abuse. They’re the ones who should be ashamed of themselves, not you.”
I wish he was right. “I’m not a nice person, Khiêm,” I say softly, peeling the label of my beer bottle just to have something to do that will allow me to look away from his intense stare. “Yeah, I make pancakes and bring you coffee and stuff, but at the end of the day, I’m nothing but an easy lay. A slut. A girl who gets drunk and opens her legs for whoever gets hard for her.”
“Okay,” he says, not telling me I’m wrong like I thought he might. “Let’s agree to kiss that Nia goodbye then. The girl I’ve been living with doesn’t seem like an easy drunk slut. Not at all. She’s smart, creative and nurturing. I like her. I want to live with her.”
Tears spring to my eyes again, and no matter how much I try to stop myself from crying, I can’t. Smart, creative, nurturing. No one has ever called me those things. I want to be those things. I want to be the girl I’ve been starting to get to know this week.
“I’m lonely,” Khiêm says, closing his eyes. “I like who I am, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but aside from Marcus and Jagger, I don’t have anyone who knows me. Like… truly knows me. My family is great, but I’m nothing like my sisters or my parents. You living with me… it means something to me, Nia. Having someone to talk to…”
He doesn’t need to say anything. I can feel his emotions wash over me. It’s only been a week. Seven days. Yet it’s enough to know that him and I get each other in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I’m so fucking happy to hear him say that he likes having me here. It’s not just me who is benefiting from me moving in here.
“You should be proud,” I say, scooting over to take his hand in mine. “I’m in awe of you.”
His eyes open and he smiles, his entire being lighting up. “Same here, Nia.”
We stay like that for a long time, holding hands and starting at each other. Fuck, it’s weird, but it’s right in so many ways as well. I want to reach for him and wrap my body all around his, but I don’t, because I don’t know why the fuck I want to do that.
“So, you sleep with guys for validation?” Khiêm asks, still squeezing my hand.
“Yeah,” I breathe. I’ve never voiced it quite like that, but I guess he’s right. “I just… I want to feel… wanted. Needed. Beautiful. More than just a fuck-up.”
“Do you believe that I think you’re more than a fuck-up?” he asks, his thumb rubbing the back of my hand. His eyes are locked with mine and I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to.
“Yes,” I say quietly. “I do.”
“Then let me give you validation from now on,” he whispers. “I have no problem telling you how amazing you are. Every single day. Beautiful, too. I want you here, living with me.”
Don’t cry again, Nia. Stay strong.
“I want to know you,” I reply, replying to his earlier statement about being lonely. “I love listening to you. Living here… it’s…”
“Unexpectedly imperfectly perfect,” Khiêm finishes, smiling at me.
Again, we remain silent, weighing our words, trying to gauge if the other is serious about all of this. I am. He is. I’ve never felt so… Hell, I don’t know.
“Nia,” he says softly. “You are a strong, smart, competent woman and you don’t need some stupid asshole to make you feel good about yourself.”
Fuck, I needed to hear that.
“Dinh Quang Khiêm,” I start.
His smile at hearing me say his full name is so radiant that it almost blinds me. I have no idea how to go on, and I don’t want to say everything I’m thinking, because I will end up sounding crazy. We’ve known each other for a week. Telling him that he makes me feel like myself in a way no one else ever has sounds too fucking intense. Confessing that I’m scared by how easily he sees through me is too much information as well. So… what to say?
“I like your chest hair.”
What the fuck, Nia? Is that what you’re going with?
Khiêm’s eyes go so wide I fear that his eyes might pop out of their sockets any moment now. “You… what?”
“You heard me.” I reply, feeling better now that I’m back in control of this whole conversation. “I’m going to bed. Thanks for the talk.”
“Yeah,” he breaths, his eyes following me as I grab our empty bottles and put them into the box in the corner of the kitchen. “Thanks.”
I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get to witness that.