“Well, I was just thinking…,” she’s still not sure if she wants to say it, whatever it is.
“What did I tell you, babe? Say what’s on your mind.”
She tilts her chin and looks at me gently. “Well, since you did something for me, I thought maybe I could do something for you.” She changes her tune fast afterwards, as if still worried what I might think. “I mean, no strings attached, of course. It’ll be like it never happened.”
Ah, shit! Why didn’t I see that coming?
“No,” I say instantly.
I soften my face and my voice. “I can’t let you do anything like that for me, alright?”
“Why the hell not?”
“I just can’t—God, I want to, you have no idea, but I just can’t.”
She’s getting seriously aggravated.
“Wait…,” she looks at me inquiringly and turns her face at an angle, “you got some kind of ‘issue’ down there?”
My mouth falls open. “Ummm, no?” I say with wide eyes. “Shit, I’ll pull over and show you.”
She throws her head back and laughs and then gets serious again:
“Well you won’t have sex with me, you won’t let me get you off and I had to force you to kiss me.”
“You didn’t force me.”
“You’re right,” she snaps, “I seduced it out of you.”
“I kissed you because I wanted to,” I say. “I want to do everything with you, Camryn. Trust me! In just a few days I’ve imagined more positions with you than there are in the Kama Sutra. I’ve wanted to—.” I notice I’m white-knuckling the steering wheel.
She looks wounded, but this time I don’t break.
“I told you,” I say carefully, “I can’t do anything like that with you or—”
“Or I’ll have to let you own me,” she finishes my sentence angrily, “yeah, I remember what you said, but what does that mean exactly: let you own me?”
I think Camryn knows exactly what it means, but she wants to be sure of it herself.
Wait a second…she’s playing games with me; either that or she still doesn’t know what she wants, sexually or otherwise and she’s just as confused and reluctant as I am.
HE PASSED MY TEST. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want to have sex with him, or pleasure him in other ways like he did for me—I totally want to do all of those things with him. But really I wanted to see if he would take the bait. He didn’t.
And now I’m terrified of him.
I’m terrified because of how I feel about him. I shouldn’t feel this way and I hate myself for it.
I said I would never do it. I promised myself I wouldn’t….
Trying to gain some sense of lighthearted normalcy back in our conversation, I smile gently at him. All I want to do is take back the offer and go back to how we were before I brought it up, except with the knowledge I have now: Andrew Parrish respects me and wants me in ways that I don’t think I can give him.
I bring my knees toward me, propping my feet on the leather seat. I don’t want him to answer my last question: what does it mean to let him own me? I hope he forgets that I asked at all. I already know what it means, or at least I think I do: to own me is to be with him, the way I was with Ian. Except with Andrew I believe in my heart that I could fall in love with him, true love. So easily I could. Already I can’t stand the thought of being away from him. Already all of the faces in my daydreams have been replaced with Andrew’s face. And already, I dread the day our road trip ends, when he has to go back to Galveston or to Wyoming and to leave me behind.
Why does it scare me? And where did this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach come from all of a sudden?
“I’m sorry, babe, I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Not in any way.”
I look up and over at him and then I shake my head hard. “You haven’t hurt me. Please don’t think you hurt me.”
I go on:
“Andrew, the truth is…,” I take a very deep breath. He’s having a hard time keeping his eyes on the road now. “…the truth is that I—well, first off, I won’t lie and say that pleasuring you isn’t something that I wouldn’t do—I would do it. But I want you to know that I’m glad you refused me.”
I think he understands. I can see it in his face.
He smiles gently and reaches out his hand to me. I take it and scoot over next to him and he wraps his arm around my shoulder. I tilt my chin upward to see him and drape my fingers over his thigh.
He is so beautiful to me….
“You scare me,” I finally say.
My admission sparks a faint reaction in his eyes.
“I said I would never do this; you have to understand. I promised myself that I would never get close to anyone again.”
I feel his arm harden around my arm and the beating of his heart has picked up speed; it thumps rapidly against the side of my throat.
Then a grin slides across his mouth and he says, “Are you in love with me, Camryn Bennett?”
I blush super-hard and twist my lips into a hard line, pressing my face deeper against his hard pec.
“Not yet,” I say with a smile in my voice, “but I’m gettin’ there.”
“You’re so full of shit,” he says, squeezing my arm a little tighter.
He kisses the top of my hair.
“Yeah, I know,” I say with the same amount of jest in my voice as was in his and then my voice trails, “I know….”
I get my very first glimpse of New Orleans from afar: Lake Pontchartrain and eventually the sprawling landscape of cottages and townhouses and bungalows. I’m in awe of it: from the Superdome, which I’ll always be able to recognize after seeing it all over the news during Katrina, to the giant, expansive oak trees that are creepy and beautiful and old, and to the people shuffling along the streets of the French Quarter, though I think most of them are tourists.
And as we drive along, I’m mesmerized by the familiar balconies, which wrap around the entire length of many of the buildings. They look just like they do on TV, except that Mardi Gras isn’t going on and no one’s flashing their boobs or throwing beads from the balconies.
Andrew smiles over at me, seeing how excited I am to be here.
“I love it already,” I say, curling back up next to him after practically pressing my face against the window looking out at everything for the past several minutes.
“It’s a great city.” He beams, proudly; I wonder just how intimate he is with this place.
“I try to come every year,” he says, “usually Mardi Gras, but anytime of the year is good, I think.”
“Oh, so you usually come when there are boobs.” I wink at him.
“Guilty!” he says, moving both hands from the steering wheel and holding them up in surrender.
We get two rooms at the Holiday Inn in walking distance to the famous Bourbon Street. I almost told him to just get a single room with two beds this time, but I stopped myself. No, Camryn, you’re just feeding the desire. Don’t move into a room with him. Stop this while you can.
And for a moment as we stood side by side at the counter when the clerk asked how he could ‘help us’, Andrew had paused and I got the strangest feeling from it. But we ended up with side-by-side king rooms, like always.
I head toward mine and he strolls over to his. We look at each other in the hallway with our keycards in our hands.
“I’m gonna hop in the shower,” he says, holding the guitar in one hand, “but whenever you’re ready, just come on over and let me know.”
I nod and we smile at each other before we disappear inside our rooms.
Not five minutes in and I hear my phone buzzing around inside my purse. Pretty sure it’s my mom, I pull it out and am prepared to answer and tell her that I’m still alive and I’m having a good time, but I see that it’s not her.
My hand just freezes around the phone as I stare down at the glowing screen. Should I answer it, or not? Well, I better figure it out quick.
“Cam?” Natalie says in a careful voice on the other end.
I can’t get any words out yet. I’m not sure if enough time has passed that I should be pretend-unforgiving, or if I should be nice.
“Are you there?” she asks when I don’t say anything else.
“Yeah, Nat, I’m here.”
She sighs and makes that weird whiney, moaning sound she always does when she’s nervous about saying or doing something.
“I’m a total f**king bitch,” she says. “I know that and I’m a horrible best friend and I should be groveling at your feet right now for forgiveness, but I…well, that was the plan, but your mom said you were in…Virginia? What the hell are you doing in Virginia?”
I plop down on the bed and kick my flip-flops off.
“I’m not in Virginia,” I say, “but don’t tell my mom or anyone else.”
“Well then where are you? And where could you be for over a week?”
Wow, has it only been a week? It feels like I’ve been on the road with Andrew for a month at least.
“I’m in New Orleans, but it’s a long story.”
“Ummm, well, hell-o?” she says sarcastically, “I’ve got plenty of time.”
Getting irritated with her quickly, I sigh and say, “Natalie, you’re the one who called me. And if I remember correctly, you’re the one who called me a lying bitch and didn’t believe me when I told you what Damon did. I’m sorry, but I don’t think jumping right back into being best friends and acting like nothing happened, is the best thing right now.”
“I know, you’re right and I’m sorry.” She pauses to gather her thoughts and I can hear the tab on a can of soda crack open in the background. She takes a small sip. “It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you, Cam, I was just really hurt. Damon is a bastard. I dumped him.”
“Why, because you caught him cheating in the act as opposed to believing your best friend since second grade when she tells you he’s a pig?”
“I deserved that,” she says, “but no, I didn’t catch him cheating. I just realized I missed my best friend and that I committed the worst crime against the Code of Best Friends. I finally confronted him about it and of course he lied, but I just kept nagging at him about it because I wanted him to admit it to me. Not because I needed the validation from him, but I just…Cam, I just wanted him to tell me the truth. I wanted it to come from him.”
I hear the pain in her voice. I know she means what she’s saying and I intend to fully forgive her, but I’m not ready to let her know I forgive her enough to tell her about Andrew. I don’t know what it is, but it’s like the only person that exists in my world right now is Andrew. I love Natalie with all my heart, but I’m not ready for her to know yet. I’m not ready to share him with her. She has a way of…cheapening an experience, if that’s fair to say.