I try to inhale the peacefulness and bury my anxiety, but I end up choking on springtime pollen, coughing into my arm. Why does the prettiest season also have to be the most foul?
I shouldn’t hesitate in the front yard. I should rush right inside and finally touch the man that plagues my fantasies. But I wonder how different he will seem up close in person. I worry about the awkwardness from being apart for so long. Will we fit the same way we used to? Will I feel the same in his arms? Or will everything be irreparably different?
I muster a bit of courage to walk forward. And by the time I climb the porch, the door swings open. I freeze on the highest stair and watch the screen door clatter into the side of the house. Then he emerges, wearing a pair of dark jeans, a black tee, and an arrowhead necklace I gave him for his twenty-first birthday.
I open my mouth to say something, but I can’t stop my eyes from grazing every inch of him. The way his light brown hair is styled, full on top, shorter on the sides. The way his cheekbones sharpen to make him look deadly and gorgeous. The way he reaches up and rubs his lips, as though hoping they’ll touch mine. He rakes my body with the same impatience, and then his head tilts to the side, our eyes finally meeting.
“Hi,” he says, breaking into a breathtaking smile. His chest falls heavily, nearly in sync with my uneven rhythm.
“Hi,” I whisper. A large distance separates us, reminding me of when he first left for rehab. Picking up a foot and closing the gap feels like crawling up a ninety-degree angle. I need him to help me reach the top.
He takes a step near me, snapping the tension. All these sensations burst in my belly. I love him so much. I missed him so much. For three months, I felt the pain of being separated from my best friend while trying to fight my sexual compulsions. I needed him to tell me everything was going to be okay.
I needed him by my side, but I would never take him from rehab for my benefit, not when it would be detrimental to his recovery. And I want Lo to be healthy more than anything. And I want him to be happy.
“I’m back,” he murmurs.
I try to restrain my tears, but they flow unwillingly, sliding from the creases of my eyes. I should be emerging from the doorway to greet him, and he should be the one lingering on the porch stairs. Why are we so backwards all the time?
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, wiping my eyes slowly. “I should have been here an hour ago…”
He shakes his head and his brows pinch together like don’t worry about that.
I stare at the length of him again with a more confident nod. “You look good.” I can’t tell that he’s sober exactly. He hasn’t lost that look in his eye—the one that seems to kiss my soul and trap me altogether. But he’s not beaten or withered or gaunt. In fact, he has more muscle to his name, his biceps supremely cut. And after a Skype session some time ago, I know his whole body matches those arms.
I wait for him to say so do you, but his eyes trail me once more, and I watch the way his chest collapses and his face twists in pain.
I blink. “What is it?” I glance down at my body. I wear jeans and a loose-fitting V-neck, nothing out of the ordinary. I wonder if I spilled coffee on my jeans or something, but I don’t see what he does.
Instead of telling me what worries him, he inches forward, the deep hurt in his eyes frightening me. What did I do wrong? I shuffle back—a reaction I hardly would have predicted for today. I nearly stumble down the stairs, but his arm swoops around my waist, drawing me to his chest, saving me from a plummet into the grass below.
His warmness snares me, and I clutch his arms, afraid to let go. He stares intensely before his gaze drifts to my arms…my hands. He peels one off his bicep, his fingers skimming over mine, stealing the breath right from my lungs. He raises my hand in between us and then lifts my elbow, giving me a good view of my arm.
My chest sinks, realizing the source of his confusion and hurt.
“What the hell, Lil?” he says.
I scratched my arm raw during the last therapy session yesterday, and an ugly red welt will most likely scab tomorrow. Even with gross, bitten fingernails, I managed to irritate my skin.
Lo inspects my nails, his nose flaring to hold back even more emotion.
“I’m fine. I was just…anxious yesterday. Therapy was harder. You were coming home…” I don’t want to talk about this now. I want him to hold me. I want our reunion to be epic—The Notebook worthy. And my stupid anxiety and bad habit has ruined the perfect outcome I imagined. I reclaim my hand and touch his jaw, forcing him to stop focusing on my problems. “I’m okay.”
The words feel a little false. I am not one-hundred percent okay. These past three months were a test I could have easily failed. At times, I thought giving up was better than fighting. But I made it. I’m here.
That’s all that matters.
His arms suddenly slide around my back, and he melds my body to his. His lips brush the top of my ear, sending shivers spiraling across my neck. He whispers, “Please don’t lie to me.”
My mouth falls. “I didn’t…” But I can’t finish because tears begin to pool, burning on their way down. I grip his shoulders, holding him tighter, afraid he plans to pull away and leave me broken on the porch. “I’m sorry,” I choke. “Don’t go…”
He edges back, and I cling harder, desperate and afraid. He’s a lifeline I cannot quantify or articulate. I depend on him more than any girl should depend on a boy, but he’s been the backbone of my life. Without him, I will fall.
“Hey.” He gathers my face in his hands. His glassy eyes bring me back to reality. To the fact that he feels my pain just as I feel his. That’s the problem. We hurt so much for each other that it’s hard to say no. It’s hard to take away the vice that will numb the agony of the day. “I’m here,” he says, a silent tear dripping down his cheek. “We’re going to beat this together.”
Yes. “Can you kiss me?” I ask, wondering if that’s allowed. My therapist handed me a white envelope filled with my sexual limitations—what I should and should not do. She advised me not to read it and to give it to Lo instead. Since I’m supposed to strive for intimacy, not celibacy, I need to relinquish my control in bed to him. He’ll set the guidelines and tell me when to stop.
I handed the envelope to Rose yesterday and told her to deliver it to Lo just in case I chickened out. As concerned as Rose has been for my recovery process, I’m sure that was the first thing she did when Lo walked through the door.
I have no idea how many times I can kiss him. How much I can cli**x or if I’m allowed to have sex anywhere other than a bedroom. I’m so compulsive about intercourse and foreplay that limits have to be set, but following them will be the hardest part of my journey.
His thumb wipes away my tears, and I brush his. I wait for his answer, my eyes glued to his lips that I want to kiss until they sting and swell. His forehead lowers, dipped down towards mine, and I become so aware of how his fingers press into my hips, of the hardness of his body. I need him to close that gap between us. I need him to fill me whole.
Hastily, I meet my lips to his, expecting him to lift me up around his waist, to plunge his tongue in my mouth and slam by back into the siding.
But he doesn’t give in to my desires.
He leans back and breaks the kiss in a matter of seconds. My stomach drops. Lo rarely tells me no when it comes to sex. He’ll play into my cravings until I’m wet and wanting. Things, I realize, are about to really change. “My terms,” he whispers, his voice husky and deep.
My whole body already pulses from his nearness. “Please,” I beg. “I haven’t touched you in so long.” I want to run my hands over him. I want him to thrust into me until I cry. I imagine it over and over, torturing myself with these carnal thoughts. But I also want to be strong and not throw myself at him like he’s only a body I missed. He means so much more to me. Maybe he’s hurt by my persistence to kiss him? Maybe he sees it as a bad sign? “I’m sorry,” I apologize again. “It’s not that I want you for sex…I mean, I do want sex, but I want you because I miss you…and I love you, and I need…” I shake my head. My words sound stupid and desperate.
“Lil,” he says slowly. “Relax, okay?” He tucks a piece of hair behind my ear. “You don’t think I know this is hard for you? I knew we were going to run into this moment.” His eyes fall to my lips. “I knew you were going to want to kiss me and for me to take you quick and hard. But that’s not going to happen today.”
I nod rapidly, hating those words but trying to soak them in and accept them. Uncontrollable tears begin to flow because I’m afraid I may not be able to restrain my compulsions. I thought being away from Lo would be the difficult part, but learning how to have a healthy, intimate relationship with him suddenly seems impossible. He’s a man that I want to take advantage of every minute of the day. If I’m not doing it, then I fantasize about it. How can I stop?
His breathing shallows, as though my tears are driving knots into his stomach. Mine has already collapsed. I feel utterly destroyed by guilt and shame and desperation.
His fingers dig harder in my sides, as though reminding me that he’s here, touching me. “What’s going to happen,” he breathes, “is that I’m going to carry you through this door. I’m going to draw out every single moment until you’re exhausted. And I’m going to move so slow that three months ago will feel like yesterday. And tomorrow will feel like today, and no one in this f**king universe will be able to say your name without saying mine.”
And then he kisses me, so urgently, so passionately that my lungs suffocate. His tongue gently slips into my mouth, and I savor each and every movement. He kneads the back of my head, gripping my hair, yanking and sending my nerves on overdrive.
His hands fall to my ass, and he effortlessly lifts me up. I wrap my legs around his waist, squeezing tightly into a front-piggyback. He guides me inside, just as he promised. I hook my arms underneath his and press my cheek to his hard chest, listening to the unsteady beat of his heart. We’re so close, but I still ache to be closer. My breath shallows for it.
He kisses the top of my head and carries me into my bedroom on the second floor. Well—our bedroom. My white canopy is pulled back, the comforter black and white with red sheets. Lo rests my back against the mattress, and I reach up to grab a fist-full of his shirt and yank him on top of me. But he steps back and shakes his head.
Slow, I remember. Right.
My legs dangle off the edge, and I prop myself on my elbows as he stands in front of me.
“I’m yours,” he tells me. “I will always be yours, Lily. But now it’s time for you to say it.”
I sit up and my eyes flit over all of him. In all our life, he has never once said to me, you are mine. He has never taken me the way I’ve taken him. He has given himself to me. And I realize, it’s my time to make this right and give myself to him.
“I’m yours,” I whisper.