Rebound

“There’s his Jeep.” Shelly steered her car into the parking space next to it. “Good. He’s working tonight.”

“Who is?”

“A guy who would be perfect for you.”

“What? You bitch! I’m not going in there.”

“Yes, you are, Kay.”

“No! I’m not ready to see men socially.”

“Socially? You and I met for sandwiches after work, went window shopping, and now we’re stopping for a drink. He’s the bartender.”

“Don’t play cute with me.”

“You frustrate me, Kay. Pull up your big girl panties, and check your hair in the visor mirror. You can’t just go to work and hide out in your apartment all the time.”

Kay gave her friend a withering look. “You don’t take relationships seriously like I do.”

“I haven’t found a guy I want to wake up next to every morning.”

“What Sid and I had was special. I thought you understood since you agreed to be maid of honor.”

“I understand YOU thought it was special. Obviously, Sid didn’t, or he wouldn’t have wanted to put his skinny dick in me. And don’t start. You know I told you right away.”

“Shelly, I said a hundred times I don’t have a problem with you. In fact, I’m glad it was you. Who knows if another girl would have said anything?”

“Exactly. I had your back then, and I do now. Let’s have a drink. I’m buying.”

The girls entered the softly lit cocktail lounge. The after-work crowd was gone, and most of the real drinkers hadn’t yet come in. Rock music played from somewhere. Shelly chose stools at the bar.

The man came to them drying his hands. They looked as masculine and strong as the rest of him. “Good evening. Do you ladies have ID?”

They pulled their drivers licenses from their wallets and handed them to him. He studied the images and handed the cards back to the girls. “I remember you, Shelly. Vodka gimlet again?”

“Ooh, you’re good,” she giggled.

“If I was good I’d have remembered your age,” he smiled. “What about you, Kay?”

“Black Russian.”

“Nice choice.” He turned to make their drinks.

“See?” Shelly whispered.

“See what? Yeah, he’s cute.”

“Cute? That’s it? He’s built like a brick shithouse, has a voice that should be doing phone sex, and you say he’s cute? You could use a real man after that creep Sid. My God, girl, this guy drives a vintage Jeep, not a bland grey Prius!”

“How do you know that’s his Jeep?”

He returned with their drinks, grinning. “She almost backed into it last week at the hiking and camping store.”

“Now, wait a minute, mister. I was at the nail salon next door. If you wouldn’t have been parked,….” Shelly began.

“In a properly marked space? We went through this. You missed my Jeep, so it was all good.” He smiled and turned to wait on new customers.

“Told you he was perfect,” Shelly giggled. “You should ask him out.”

“If he’s so perfect, why don’t you ask him out?”

“I’m not the outdoorsy type. You are.”

“Okay, so he’s hot and he goes to an outdoor shop. That’s all very nice, but he’s too old for me. He’s going grey.”

“Oh for pity’s sake! Grey, sun-bleached, whatever. Maybe twenty strands at his temples. Kay, honey, you’re twenty-three. Sid was half bald. How old was he? Fifty?”

“You know damn well he was thirty-one.”

“He looked like an old lecher, and he was boring. Finish your drink.”

“Why are we in a hurry?”

Shelly raised her hand. When the bartender nodded to her while serving another customer, she said, “We’re not in a hurry. I just wanted to get him over here again. Look at that ass.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

The bartender grinned his way over to them. “Ladies?”

“What do you want this time, Kay?” Shelly asked.

“Excuse me, girls,” he interrupted, “but who’s driving?”

“I am,” Shelly said. “Do you have Diet Coke?”

“Of course. You?” He turned to Kay.

“No, thank you.”

“She wants another Black Russian,” Shelly said. “She’s celebrating her freedom.”

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Fine. I’ll have another. She’s paying.”

He smiled and turned away.

“You little bitch,” Kay complained.

“Moi?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Shelly sighed. “You sit at home all the time now. I was cool with not hanging out every day when you were with Sid. He was your guy. You were getting married, looking at condos, and all that. You were like a kid waiting for Christmas, so I was happy for you, but I like being single.”

“Your point?”

“My point is you don’t enjoy being alone. You like having a man in your life.”

“Oh, suddenly you don’t like men?”

Shelly giggled. “I like having a man in my bed but I’m okay if he’s gone when I wake up. You’re different. You were never tempted by the fuck buddy thing, were you?”

“No!”

“Kay, honey. Come on. This isn’t the Victorian era. You’ve been with what? Three guys? Two in college and Sidney, right?

“Yes. So?”

“So, a loser frat boy who dumped you for a girl with fake boobs, a clingy gamer geek who missed his Mommy, and an aging cheater.”

“Dammit, Shelly! How many times are you going to recite my list?”

“Until it gets longer. You need to live. You’re young and sexy. You should be having fun, not sitting home watching ‘Friends’ re-runs.”

“Sex has to mean something to me.”

“Me too,” Shelly said.

“Really? I don’t fuck on the first date like you. I’m not a slut.” As soon as Kay said it, she knew the bartender heard.

He wore a completely neutral face as he served them. “That’s good,” he muttered to Kay.

When he was gone, Kay hissed, “Who do you want to give the eulogy at your funeral?”

Shelly couldn’t help laughing. “He said it was good. Personally, I have fun sometimes acting like a guy, which means going out and picking up someone to sleep with. You should try it.”

Kay shook her head. No point in trying to stop her friend when she was on a roll.

Before they finished their drinks, Shelly’s phone rang. She listened for a moment and said, “Wait. The music’s too loud. I’m gonna move.”

When Kay was alone, the bartender came over to clear their empty glasses from the first round. “Your friend is a piece of work.”

“You could say that.”

“A lady like you can relax in this bar. Lots of couples, young office crowd. I don’t let guys hit on girls too hard unless the girls act interested.”

“So you’re a gentleman.”

He smiled and twirled an imaginary handlebar mustache. “Gentleman Jim at your service, Miss Kay. Fair prices, clean privies, and stiff drinks. We don’t allow no pickpockets, card sharks, or working ladies of ill repute in this here establishment.” He tipped an imaginary hat.

“You do that very well, Jim.”

“Somewhere along the line I thought it would have been cool being an Old West saloonkeeper – as long as someone else emptied the spittoons.”

“You’ve been doing this for a while?”

“When I got out of college I knew grad school wasn’t for me. Bartending has been my temporary stop-gap job for the last seven years and will be at least until I publish my first novel. That will be my thirtieth birthday present to myself.”

“An author?”

“Authors get paid to write. At this point I type and pour drinks.” His face got serious. “What’s your new freedom?”

She stiffened.

“Wow. I just broke an unwritten rule, didn’t I?”

Kay studied her drink straw. “It’s not like I’m on parole or anything. I just ended a bad relationship.”

‘Glad it’s over if it was bad.”

“Seemed fine until the end,” she said to the surface of the bar.

“Been there, done that. Happy to be single.”

She looked up. “Are you, Jim? Happy?”

“Sure. Besides, nothing is permanent but death.”

“So I found out.”

“May I ask what happened?”

She sighed. “Why not? A month before we were supposed to get married Sidney tried to cheat on me.”

“What a jerk.”

“It probably would have been worse if he cheated after the wedding.”

“True. So you told him off?”

“I thought he’d try to lie. I had this whole big haughty speech ready in my head, but when he admitted it, I burst into tears and told him to leave.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why? You didn’t do anything.”

“No, but guys like him should be put in the town pillory. Oops. Duty calls.” He trotted off to tap a pitcher of beer for a quiet group of young men.

Shelly returned to her seat. “Well?

“Well, what?”

“Did he ask you out?”

“No.”

“Did you ask him out?”

“No!”

Shelly groaned. “You’re hopeless. You know that wasn’t my regular ringtone, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“He looked at you a couple times. I pretended to get a call so you two could talk.”

“Seriously, what is wrong with you?”

“You need to get laid, Kay. You’d feel a lot better about yourself.”

“Just for that, you can pay for the drinks AND leave a big tip. I’m going to the ladies room. When I’m done, we’re leaving.” She stalked away.

In the car on the way home, Kay sat with her hands in her lap, looking out the side window.

“You’re angry, aren’t you?” Shelly asked.

“Amazing powers of observation.”

“I’m your best friend, Kay.”

“Thanks for reminding me. Sometimes I forget.”

“You need to get a life again, girl.”

“I’m breathing. I function. I have a life.”

“You need friends.”

“Oh? Thought you said you were my friend.”

Shelly stopped at the curb in front of Kay’s apartment. “I meant male friends. Jim seems like a really nice guy.”

“Maybe he is. Good night.” Kay got out of the car, walked to her door, and when she was safely inside blinked the porch light to let Shelly know it was okay to drive away.

The next morning there was a text message on Kay’s phone:

“shelly gave me ur number can we talk – jim”

“You little bitch, Shelly,” she grumbled. She tossed the phone on the bed and got ready for her shower.

Her phone rang at the laundromat. “Shelly! Well, well, well. How very nice of you to call. You do realize I’m going to smack the shit out of you, don’t you?”

“What did I do now?”

“You gave the bartender my number!”

“Obviously, you weren’t going to do it.”

“No, I wasn’t! Dammit, why do I hang out with you?”

“Because you know I’m the one person in the world who will always love you. I’m here for you no matter what.”

“If you love me so much, why are you trying to mess with my sex life?”

“You don’t have a sex life! That’s part of your problem!”

“Just because I don’t have one right now doesn’t mean I have a problem!”

After an awkward silence Shelly said, “Jim called you?”

“He sent me a text.”

“It’s a start.”

“I’m not like you, Shelly! I don’t screw bartenders!”

“You eat lunch, don’t you? Try that, and see where it goes.”

Kay stuffed her phone in her pocket and finished folding towels.

She was putting the last of her clean clothes away at home when she got another text:

“3 messages are creepy so ill stop now wud u like to chat – jim”

“Humph,” she muttered.

After dinner that night she picked up her phone to make a call to her parents and saw Jim’s last text. “You’re right. Stopping at two texts is just enough to not be a creepy stalker.” She made her call and tried to put him out of her mind.

Sunday morning dawned fresh and clear, a perfect early summer day. Kay took her coffee mug onto her miniature balcony so the breeze could help dry her curly blond hair. Good day for a hike. She ate a light breakfast and dressed in a sports bra, practical panties, tee, and shorts and padded around her tiny place packing a few essentials into a day pack. High socks, favorite walking boots, hair in an unruly ponytail through a baseball cap, and she was off.

She was about a mile along the trail in the river hills when she heard someone approaching from behind. The parking lot below had been deserted. She turned and saw a man running toward her.

“Hey!” he called.

“Jim? What are you doing here?”

“Running,” he puffed as he flew past. He disappeared around a bend in the trail.

She caught up to him a half hour later, sitting on a rock in the shade. “Hello again.”

He raised a half-empty water bottle in salute. “Surprised to see you here.”

“Are you? Shelly didn’t put you up to this?”

“Shelly?”

“My so-called friend who gave you my number.”

“Oh, brunette, vodka gimlet. No, I use this trail a lot if the weather’s nice. It’s two miles from the parking lot to here. I run, die on this rock for a while, and walk back down. I’m not following you. When you didn’t text me back I got the hint.”

She sat on a rock nearby and opened her own bottle of water from her day pack.

He chuckled. “Okay. Forgive the corny line. Do you come here often?”

“A bartender can do better than that.”

He wiped the last of the sweat from his brow. “If I had a dollar for every cheesy pick-up line I’ve heard guys try, I could own these hills.”

She grinned. “To answer your question, no, I normally walk in the park or on the path near the river, but it’s too warm to be in town.”

“That’s why I like this trail. It feels ten degrees cooler in the hills. I’d build a cabin up here if I could. Just sit on the porch and write.”

“Why do you tend bar in a downtown cocktail lounge?”

“Not many customers in the woods,” he chuckled. “I live in town. I walk to work if the weather’s decent. When I have enough time off I go camping or hiking. It’s enough for now. When my book starts paying me real money, I might look for a place in the country.”

“You’re serious about this writing thing.”

“More serious than some of the publishers who’ve read parts of my manuscript, apparently. That’s why I’ll be mixing drinks this week, Tuesday through Saturday, like always.”

“I wouldn’t have the patience to write a book,” she said.

“Patience is easy when you enjoy what pays the bills. I like my job. Don’t want to do it the rest of my life, but it’s fun. I meet nice people.”

“You meet girls.”

“I’ve had girlfriends who hung out while I was working, but I don’t pick up girls at the bar.”

“Why did you send me those texts?”

“Ha! Busted! First time for everything. Shelly told me a little bit about that Sid character. Said you’ve been sitting home moping ever since.”

Her voice was cold. “Do you blame me?”

“Not at all. She told me to ask you out, but that seemed too forward.”

“I don’t want a rebound fuck, if that’s what you’re hoping for.”

“I wasn’t offering one.”

“Oh.”

“What I was offering was coffee. There’s a great shop not far from the bar.”

“Well, now I’m embarrassed,” Kay mumbled.

He climbed off his rock, huge smile on his face, and stood in front of her. “Let’s try this again. Hi. I’m Jim Preston, bartender and would-be novelist. I’m out here sweating, not expecting to see a soul. Who are you?”

“Kay Mueller. Assistant to the Assistant to the Junior Vice President of Useless Meetings. I type stupid emails while the big-wigs talk about golf or whatever.”

“Sounds rewarding.”

“Very. Sid kinda screwed that up for me, too. I was offered a better job in another division, but I couldn’t move away since we were getting married.”

“That stinks,” Jim said.

“It’s okay, really. I didn’t want to move. My family and friends are here.”

“I don’t see you with a friend like Shelly. She’s more of a party girl than you, isn’t she?”

“We were roommates freshman year in college. Random pairing, but we clicked. I was her conscience and study buddy. She taught me how to drink.”

“You’ve been friends ever since?”

“We’re very close. She was supposed to be my maid of honor. Now she thinks she has to find me another guy.”

“You’ll find one when you’re ready. Your license said you’re twenty-three. You’re pretty, and you have a job that I assume pays the bills. Live for today, and prepare for tomorrow. There’s no big rush, is there?”

“The plan was I’d be married at twenty-three and pregnant at twenty-five. We had it all mapped out. We were going to take a cruise for our second anniversary and try to start a family in a romantic stateroom on the high seas.”

“Sounds nice, but apparently Sid wasn’t the right guy.”

“He was the one who pushed the relationship along. Things moved fast with him. He swept me off my feet. We got serious, he proposed, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. He was everything I wanted.”

“Except faithful.”

“Yeah.”

Jim walked out into the sun and studied the sky. “How much farther did you plan to walk?”

“Don’t know. Why?”

“It’s going to rain, probably in less than two hours.”

She joined him and looked at the clouds herself. “I wonder if it’ll wait that long. Guess I should head back.”

“May I come along? No funny stuff,” he said.

“I guess.”

They walked back to the area where he passed her on the way up the hill.

“Um, Jim, I’m going to venture off the trail for a moment.”

“Why?”

She blushed. “I shouldn’t have had a second mug of coffee before I came out here today.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “I’ll stand guard.”

She picked her way down a slope through the underbrush until the top of his head disappeared, then looked for a likely spot on the steep, loamy ground. She found a tree to brace her back against and pulled down her shorts and panties. Bits of dead wood provided some footing and balance in the loose soil. When she felt secure, she forced herself to go in hopes of not dripping. Successful, she started to get up. The downed branch she had propped one foot against was too rotted to hold her.

Jim heard her falling before she screamed. He tore through the woods and found her, old leaves in her hair, panties caught on one boot, bare ass in the air, struggling in the underbrush.

“Turn around,” she squealed.

He did, giving her privacy to put herself back together.

“That didn’t go well,” she huffed as she pushed past him toward the trail.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m not bleeding.”

“Good, but,….”

“Am I okay that you saw my bottom? No, not really.”

“I didn’t see a thing.”

“Bullshit.”

“Kay, since you didn’t mean to show it to me, I didn’t see it. Can we leave it at that?”

“I’m mortified.”

“Please don’t be. I already forgot the whole incident.”

“Would you … would you go on ahead? I’m really uncomfortable.”

“Physically?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll go. Don’t get caught in the storm.” He walked away briskly down the trail.

She waited a few minutes before following him. His Jeep was gone when she got to the parking lot, but there was a note folded under the windshield wiper of her car. She sat behind the wheel to read.

“Kay,

We couldn’t have done a better job of getting off on the wrong foot.

I should be the one who’s embarrassed. It never occurred to me to warn you about the slope, even though I fell in that area myself. It would be my fault if you got hurt.

The offer of coffee is still good.

Jim”

She read it again and then looked at her phone. For some reason she had saved his texts. Sudden pelting rain startled her, but she considered calling him as she drove through the downpour.

While she was making dinner she thought about him again. Her phone rang.

“Where were you all day?” Shelly asked.

“Here,” Kay fibbed.

“Your car wasn’t. I drove by on my way to the store.”

“Unless you don’t shop where you claim you save so much money anymore, my place isn’t on your way to the store.”

“All right,” Shelly confessed. “I wanted to see if you were home. I called, but it went to voicemail, so I decided to drop by. Are you still mad at me?”

“A little.”

“Can I buy back your friendship with a drink?”

“Maybe,” Kay laughed.

“We won’t go to the same bar.”

“We could. Jim’s not working tonight.”

“Oh? Jim? You call him by name now? How do you know he’s not working?”

Kay realized her blunder. “When he was chatting me up at the bar he said he doesn’t work Sunday or Monday, since they’re slow days.”

“Uh huh,” Shelly giggled.

“What?”

“You like him.”

“He’s okay.”

“Where did you go today?” Shelly asked.

“Took a hike. That’s probably why you couldn’t reach me – bad cell service. I almost got caught in the rain.”

“Where did you go? It didn’t rain here. Looked like it would, but the storm passed us by.”

“I drove out to the river hills to a trail there. I barely made it to my car,” Kay said, “but I had a nice walk in the woods, at least until I fell.”

“Oh, no! Are you okay?”

“I may have a bruise or two, but nothing’s actually injured except my pride. I had to pee, so I went off the trail and down a hill. Sorta propped my back on a tree to squat, but I lost my footing and went head over heels.”

“Still peeing?” Shelly laughed.

“No, I was done, but having my panties around my knees didn’t help me stop my fall.”

“Did anyone see you?”

“No,” Kay fibbed again.

“Oh my God, Kay, you’re such a klutz!” Shelly cackled. “Don’t go on a hiking date with bartender Jim.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“So, since it’s a Sunday, we should make it an early night. I’ll pick you up at seven.”

When Kay got in the car she said, “Turn on the light.”

“Why?”

Kay pulled up the hem of her skirt. “Look at this.” A small red blotch contrasted with the pale skin of her thigh. “There’s more.”

“That’s poison ivy,” Shelly said.

“Shit,” Kay hissed. “I never had it before. It’s starting to itch.”

“Where are the other spots?”

“My bottom. Not inside, but it itches and kinda burns.”

“Great.” Kelly put the car in gear. “I’m not buying you a drink. I’m buying you calamine lotion.”

“This doesn’t sound good,” Kay said.

“It’s not, but you’ll live.”

“I thought it was shaving burn at first. I tried a new brand of razor.”

“You bathed after your hike,” Shelly stated.

“Of course.”

“How long after you had your ass out in the woods?”

Kay squirmed in her seat. “I stopped for gas when the rain let up. Then I went home, but I took care of my flowerboxes before I got in the shower. So, probably an hour and a half.”

“That’s long enough. You shaved, like, everything?”

“Absolutely everything. Sid liked it that way, and it feels cleaner. Now it’s a habit.”

“So you may have spread the poison ivy sap around. Wonderful. We’re best friends, so if you need me to, I can put the stuff on you. You need gloves anyway so you don’t spread it elsewhere. And keep your hands out of there! Don’t scratch! That’s the worst thing you can do!”

“Somehow, hearing the words ‘poison ivy’ makes it itch worse,” Kay said.

She managed to go to work on Monday and gritted her teeth through the day, reapplying lotion in the ladies room. She was washing her hands when a co-worker came in.

The woman saw the bottle. “Is that calamine lotion?”

“I went hiking yesterday,” Kay said.

“Oh, honey, poison ivy? Where is it?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“You naughty girl!” the woman laughed. “Was he cute?”

“I had to pee, and I got into it that way. There was no ‘he’.”

“So there’s no guy scratching his balls today?”

“No!”

“Too bad,” the woman laughed. “I thought maybe you were finally letting yourself have fun again.”

That night, Jim called. “Hey, Kay. I’m taking a risk and calling you.”

“Hi! How are you?”

“Good. Did you beat the rain?”

“I was nice and dry in my car reading your note when it started.”

“Are you okay from your fall?”

“More or less.”

“You did get hurt, didn’t you?”

“Not hurt, no. All right, if you must know, I got poison ivy.”

“I hear that can be really bad. Apparently I’m immune,” Jim said.

“I assumed I was too, since I never got it before. I saw some in the woods, but I thought I avoided it.”

“You got it on your hands?”

“Amazingly enough, no, considering I must have gotten into it tumbling down that hill.”

“Your legs, then.”

“Um, no. Worse.” She sighed. “You know what you saw that you shouldn’t have?”

“Oh, no.”

“It’s not real bad. It’s not spreading. Shelly got me calamine lotion, so I’m just waiting it out.”

“Is sitting down for coffee a problem?”

“Jim, at the risk of being crude, right now I feel like I have fire ants in my panties, and I don’t dare scratch.”

“Ouch.”

“Can I call you for a rain check?” she asked.

“Please do.”

The following Sunday was wet. Kay puttered around her apartment and debated calling Jim after lunch, wondering why she wanted to. The phone rang, so she didn’t have to decide.

“Hi, Kay. It’s Jim.”

“Hey.”

“How are you feeling by now?”

“Reasonably well healed. I don’t have to fight the urge to claw my skin off anymore.”

“It’s not my idea of hiking weather, so I wondered if you’d like to use your rain check for that coffee.”

She spent a ridiculous amount of time choosing her outfit, finally throwing on the jeans and tee she first selected as his Jeep pulled up outside. She grabbed her purse and opened her door as he rang the bell.

“Oh!” he chuckled.

“I saw you from the window,” she blushed.

They dashed together through the rain. He held her door while she climbed in and then got in the other side. He waited for her to fasten her seatbelt before starting the engine.

“Where are we going?” Kay asked.

“There’s a place in my neighborhood. If you can think of a bean or a blend, they have three varieties of it. How’s your, um, butt?”

She giggled. “Much better, thank you. Can’t believe I told you about it.”

He laughed in return. “We can’t really unsee or unsay what we saw or said, I guess.”

“Okay, that’s awkward,” she said.

“I have some stories about my fraternity hazing that are far worse.”

“Oh?”

“The pledge master was a depraved, sadistic prick. I’d have to know you a whole lot better to share some of his finer moments.”

They parked near a shop in the old part of town. At one point it appeared to have been a neighborhood bakery. Now, the front of the building was crammed full of cafe tables for two.

“I work near here, but I never noticed this place,” Kay said.

“It’s a third-generation family business. The little sign on the door may be the only advertising they do. We can sit here.” He held a chair for her at a tiny table.

“Welcome to Wholelotta Jo!” An eager girl in jeans and a logo shirt appeared at their side. “All our selections are on the chalkboard on the wall. The bean of the day is Ugandan Bugishu, a mix of Arabica and Robusta bean characteristics. Not at all bitter, moderate caffeine level, very full-bodied, with some subtle woody tones.”

“Sounds good,” Kay said.

“I’ll have the same,” Jim agreed.

“We have fresh organic cream and organic cane sugar,” the girl offered.

“Not for good coffee, thank you,” Kay said, and Jim shook his head too. The girl bustled away.

“I’m not a connoisseur,” Jim confessed. “I often go with the bean of the day if it’s something I haven’t tried. This place is the cheapest around and everything is all-natural. They even have some low caffeine blends.”

“They wouldn’t work for me at my job,” Kay smirked. “A career in the business world sounded good when I was in college, but I need lots of coffee some days.”

“Tell me about yourself,” he said.

“Hmm. Well, I was a surprise baby. Only child to parents who had given up hope, so they’re fairly old. Played soccer as a kid and volleyball in high school. Went to college, got a B.A. in business administration, found a crap job, and met Sid. We dated for a while, and he got serious. I was caught up in it. I convinced myself everything was perfect.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“Hardly. He pretty much wanted to control everything. I dealt with that, but the cheating was a different matter. Can you believe that bastard hit on Shelly? He told her he wanted to spend a night with every girl in the wedding party as his farewell to bachelorhood. The son of a bitch said he thought she was hot, wanted to get in her pants. He exposed himself to her! He even asked her about a threesome with me! Since we’re best friends he assumed we played when he wasn’t around.”

“Wow,” Jim said.

“Yeah. Shelly called me the minute he left. I rehearsed an exit scene. I was going to be all high and mighty and righteously indignant. When he opened the door, all I said was Shelly called and told me. He didn’t deny it – just packed his stuff and left. I cried for two days straight.”

“I never asked a girl to marry me, so I never was in a position to hurt someone that way, but I can’t imagine being such an asshole.”

“What made you decide to be a writer?”

“Believe it or not, the girl who made me decide to be single for a while. We met in college. I wrote little things to amuse myself all my life, but then I started writing stuff about her – mushy poetry, little love fiction scenarios, that sort of thing. She told me to take an entire day and do nothing but think about an idea for a book.”

“Did you come up with one?”

“Three, actually. Each one sucked worse than the other, but I tried to make something from them for about a year. Then I started with a blank screen. Been typing ever since. It’s an autobiography of a fictional medieval knight.”

“Sounds deep.”

“Hardly. It’s an adventure novel with a recurring theme of unrequited love.”

“Unrequited?”

“The fair princess has known he’s loved her for years, but their stations in life make it impossible. He dedicates his life to defending the realm. His reputation as a fearless and gallant knight may win her favor yet. I’m still writing.”

“Sounds like something I’d read,” Kay said.

“You’ll get a signed hardcover first edition,” he laughed, “if the damn thing ever makes it into print.”

The bubbly waitress arrived with large steaming mugs of black brew. “This is super hot. I brought some little ice cubes of the same spring water we use for everything. Add one or two if you can’t wait. Enjoy!”

Kay inhaled the aroma. “Wow! This smells a lot better than the crap I brew at home. They should make candles with this scent.”

“I really want to taste it,” Jim said, “but the girl was right. I learned the hard way. We need to wait. I like coffee strong. The ice dilutes it.”

“I’ll wait too. So, have you ever published anything?”

“Some short stories in anthologies that failed in the marketplace. Nothing big.” He risked a sip. “Whew! That’s damn hot. Be careful.” He tried again. “Mmm!”

Kay lifted her own mug to her lips. The liquid was almost too hot, but she persevered. She savored the heady bouquet of the brew and took another tiny sip. “Is all their coffee this good?”

“I guess it depends on your tastes, but I haven’t found one I don’t like yet, and I’ve been coming here for years.”

“My parents let me try coffee when I was pretty young, but they drank that decaf freeze-dried crystal crap, so that’s what I thought coffee was until I got to college. Some of those kids were coffee snobs.”

“Is that how you see me?” Jim asked.

“No! No, not at all. You seem refreshingly real.”

“Posing is for kids.”

“Ha. I deleted Sid’s number from my phone, but I remember it. I should have you call him and explain that concept.”

“Do you wish you were still with him?”

“Should we be talking about my ex on a date?”

Jim chuckled. “Is that what this is? I thought we were having coffee.”

She looked at him over her mug. “You’re a smooth one, aren’t you?”

“What?”

“I’m not looking for a relationship, Jim.”

“Didn’t think you were. If that time comes, it might be with a man you haven’t met yet.”

“So this isn’t a date.”

“It’s coffee, Kay. I’m not looking for a relationship either, maybe not until I establish myself as an author. My bachelor writer bartender thing works for me for now. That being said, I wouldn’t mind walking or having coffee with you again.”

He took her home after that, saying he needed to run some of the week’s junk food calories off on his treadmill and write.

Energized by the coffee, Kay started cleaning her little apartment. She was finishing the bathroom when her phone rang.

“If you didn’t start cooking, would you like to go out for dinner and a movie, like on a date?” Jim blurted.

“Hello to you, too. I thought we weren’t dating.”

“We didn’t have a date today. We could tonight.”

She considered it for a moment. “I’ll go if I pay half.”

“No, that’s fine for couples, but not for a first date. Leave your money at home.”

“Well, aren’t you the take charge type?”

“If that’s what it takes to get you to have dinner with me, yes. I tried to write this afternoon and couldn’t. Do you like seafood, Italian, Thai, Greek, or German?”

“I’d be just as happy with pizza and a glass of beer,” Kay said. “I’m not high maintenance.”

“Six o’clock? I know just the place. Wear jeans.”

When they hung up Kay didn’t know what to do. She planned to say no if he tried to push things, but that didn’t stop her from trying on nine tops and three pairs of jeans before she settled on an outfit. She realized she was as excited as she had been getting ready for her high school prom. She brushed her unruly blond hair and clipped it behind her head, allowing her high forehead to show. A hint of shadow to liven up her pale blue eyes, casual shoes with just enough heel to make her butt look good, and she was ready – fifteen minutes before he was supposed to pick her up.

She called Shelly. “You’ll be happy to know I’m going out for pizza tonight with Jim.”

“Really? Shelly squealed. “Is your rash healed up enough so you can have fun?”

“Shelly!”

“Hey, he’s hot.”

“We’re having pizza, okay? Maybe going to a movie. That’s it. You should be thrilled I’m doing that much.”

“I am, honey,” Shelly said. “I want a full report tomorrow.”

They had their pizza and beer, checking movie listings on their phones when the plates were gone. “What do you see that you like?” he asked.

“You’re the one who asked me out on a date.”

“Oh, so I’m supposed to pick. Hmm. Kung fu movie in 3-D? Horror in 4-D, whatever that is? Ooh! There’s a new Swedish slasher film with sub-titles!”

“Are you serious?”

He laughed. “No, but your reaction was priceless.”

She scrolled through her phone. “Honestly, those look like some of the better choices. It stopped raining. We could go for a walk.”

“A cheap date? I like you better already!”

They chose the well-lit walking path by the river. A few couples and late evening joggers were the only people there. They didn’t say much other than to point out boats and lights on the water. For some distance, they covered ground at a casual pace in silence.

“This is one of the paths I use, but I would never come here at night alone,” Kay said.

“You shouldn’t. Too many weirdos.”

“Am I safe with you?”

“With me? Or from me?” he chuckled.

“I feel like I’m safe from you. Am I wrong?”

“No, Kay, you’re not wrong. That’s not how I play.”

They strolled quietly for a while. “How do you play, Jim?”

He stopped under a lamppost where they could see each other well. “I’m not a player.”

“Why not? You’re a hunky single guy who tends bar at a club where single women go. Don’t tell me you couldn’t score there.”

“Score? That sounds kinda cheap.”

“That’s what Sid called it. Picking up someone in a bar for sex is scoring.”

“I see guys try all the time. I’m not like that,” he said. “The whole player mentality is foreign to me. I’m not made that way.”

“Shhh,” she whispered. “Look.” She pointed toward the shadows where a couple was making noise behind a tree. “Are they …?”

He followed her finger and watched for just a second. Then he turned her by her shoulders and motioned for her to walk silently with him back the way they came. When they were a safe distance away, he started to laugh. “I didn’t expect that!”

“I hope they don’t get poison ivy,” she giggled.

“I felt so bad for you in the woods,” he said. “I heard you fall, and I wasn’t sure how far down that slope you tumbled. I was afraid you were hurt. Then you told me you got poison ivy.”

“You can tell your buddies you saw a girl’s ass before you even asked her out.”

“Do you think I’d do that?”

“Sid would have made it his status post, complete with whatever photos he could get away with.”

“I’m not Sid.”

She stopped. “That was horrible of me.”

“What’s horrible? Comparing guys to the man you thought you were going to marry? Seems pretty natural.”

“It’s unfair.”

“Not at all. Did you compare the coffee today to other coffee?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Okay then.”

When they got back to the Jeep, he held the door for her while she climbed in.

“You’re such a gentleman,” she remarked.

“What?”

“The thing with the car door.”

“Mom taught me well.”

“Do your parents live around here?”

“Dad could, for all I know. Mom never told me his name. I’m not sure she knew. She passed away a few years ago – stroke.”

“I’m sorry,” Kay said.

“She was ready. It wasn’t her first stroke. I couldn’t take care of her, and she didn’t want me to, so she was in a nursing home for a couple years. I visited at least twice a week. She died soon after I got out of college.”

“You said you had a girlfriend then?”

“Melanie. We had fun. I guess I was like you – more serious about being in love than she was. When she felt I had it together enough after Mom’s funeral, she broke up with me. No big scene. She simply said settling down at that point in our lives would be a mistake. I never saw it coming. Tore me up pretty bad.”

“She got you started on your writing career?”

“She did. Her name will be on the acknowledgments page of my book.”

“That’s kinda cool.”

“She always said we should follow our dreams. Last I heard she was living at a wildlife preserve.”

“I like being outdoors, but not that much,” Kay said.

“I have my limits too. My cabin will have a nice bathroom.”

“What do you do for fun?”

“Work, write, and run. I’m not the party type, and I don’t have any other hobbies. You?”

She gave a rueful little laugh. “Now? Going out for drinks was the first thing I did that wasn’t a necessity for a while, other than my walking. If I’m going to sit all day at work, I need to walk. Losing Sid didn’t ruin that for me, at least.”

They were startled by a tap on Jim’s door. He unzipped the plastic window.

“Everything okay?” the policeman asked.

“Yeah, fine,” Jim said.

“You two are old enough to make out somewhere other than a Jeep parked on the street. Get out of here before I think of a reason to write you up.”

“Yes, officer. We’ll go as soon as the windows are clear.”

“Have a good night, you two.” The cop walked away.

Jim started the engine. “Wanna ride with the top down?”

She helped with the fasteners and zippers removing the old Jeep’s awkward canvas top. By the time they were done, the noisy fan had cleared the windshield.

“Whither shall we go, milady?”

“You’re a gallant knight now?”

“James of the House of Preston, knighted by His Majesty the King, and now thy humble servant, milady. If I were not bound by this strap to my rusty steed, I would bow before thee and beg to kiss thy hand.”

“You’re weird,” she laughed.

“Oh, hell yeah.”

“I never rode in a Jeep before, especially one with the top off at night.”

“Watch the sky as we drive,” he said. “Too much light pollution here, but I’ll find a place where we can look at the stars.”

They drove out into the country until they came to an overlook area on the side of the road. He parked so passing headlights were at their backs and the city was below them.

“It’s amazing to think we never see this in town,” she said.

“I bring my laptop out here and write sometimes. The sun goes down between those two hills on our right this time of year.”

“Oh! Did you see that?” She pointed into the black above them.

“See what?”

“I guess it was a meteor.”

“You know what you’re supposed to do, right, Kay?”

“Wish on it, like in the song?”

“Research for my book says it’s an ancient pagan belief. My knight character knew about it. When he sees one he wishes his true love could love him back.”

“You’re quite the romantic,” she said.

He snorted. “At times. I should tell you my one vice.”

“Serial killing?” she teased.

“Nah. Besides, I left my machete and shovel at home. No, my one vice is playing chess.”

“That’s a vice?”

He slouched in his seat so he could look at the sky. “I’m a closet geek. I play chess online with fat old men.”

“You make it sound dirty.”

“No, Miss Sweetness and Light. You heard it that way.”

They watched the heavens for a few minutes.

“Got one,” she said.

“What?”

“Saw my falling star.”

“Don’t say your wish out loud. That ruins it.”

“Like when you blow out birthday candles?”

“Same deal. You don’t tell me yours, and I won’t tell you mine.”

He drove her home after he saw his own falling star and walked her to the door.

“This really meant a lot. Thank you,” she said.

“For beer and pizza?”

“That, yes, but for treating me like a person, not a woman.”

“You are a person, aren’t you?” he teased.

“I mean for not putting the moves on me.”

He grew serious. “Way too soon for you.”

“Yes.”

He drew her in for a chaste hug, his lips barely brushing her cheek in a kiss as he released her and stepped back.

She unlocked her door but hesitated for a second before going inside and closing it behind her.

Shelly started blowing up her phone at seven a.m. Kay answered the fourth call.

“Well?” Shelly’s excitement was obvious.

“Well what?”

“Your big date, silly! How was it?

“Fine, I guess. I’m not in high school, you know. I don’t have to tell my girlfriends details.”

“You didn’t have any fun in high school anyway. Oh, wait. Are you afraid to talk because he’s there?” Shelly giggled.

“He’s not here!”

“But he was, right?”

“No!”

“What am I going to do with you, Kay? The guy is super hot!”

“Shelly, stop, all right? We had a nice time, a quiet, simple evening. End of story.”

“He doesn’t like you?”

“We got along fine.”

“When are you going out with him next?”

“That depends on whether he calls. I’m not pursuing a relationship with this guy, Shelly. It’s way too soon for me. Get that through your pretty little head.”

“Wow. Okay, Miss Grumpy. What are you doing today after work?”

“I didn’t do much yesterday, so I should at least go grocery shopping.”

“Such a downer, but I should do that too. Wanna get together if we get our chores done?”

“Call me after dinner.”

“If I buy you a drink, will you tell me more about the date?” Shelly laughed and hung up before Kay could answer.

Kay was rummaging in the refrigerator for dinner when her phone rang.

“This is consumer advocate Jim Preston calling with a money saving tip.”

She burst out laughing. “You’re crazy, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely, but I’m safe it it’s not full moon.”

“What’s this money-saving tip?”

“I have two, actually, one for you and one for me. For you, it’s Kahlua week at the bar, so Black Russians are a dollar off.”

“I see. Interesting. How can you save money?

“Do you ride bicycle?”

“Yes. It’s been a few years.”

“Well, it’s cheaper for me to rent a bicycle built for two. Wanna go for a ride on Sunday?”

“I should be healed enough for a bicycle seat by then, so yes. Sounds like fun.”

“Do you get off work at five on Fridays?”

“Always.”

“I’ll call you around six from the bar to firm up plans if I don’t see you before.”

Kay picked Shelly up that evening. They went to Jim’s bar, since it was his night off. They chose a table in a quiet corner.

“Tell me everything,” Shelly said.

“There really isn’t much to tell. We went out for coffee yesterday. Talked a bit, got to know each other a little. It was pleasant. He took me home, but then he called and asked me to dinner and a movie.”

“Oh, that’s good! Where did you go?”

“I wasn’t interested in experimenting with exotic menus, so I suggested we go for pizza and beer. We couldn’t find a decent movie, so we went for a walk by the river.”

“How romantic!”

“It was nice. Then we drove out into the country and watched for falling stars.”

“Also very romantic. Did you guys do anything out there?”

“Why would I tell you?”

“Oh, c’mon, Kay!”

“No one touched anyone. It was pleasant. Quiet, fun, a little romantic. There’s not much pretense with this guy.”

“Big contrast with Sid.”

“There was no pretense about Sid, Shelly. He was a horny bastard, and that was pretty much it.”

“What about Jim?”

“He didn’t try anything, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Nothing? Didn’t accidentally on purpose touch your ass or anything?”

“He kept his hands to himself.”

“Oh my God, Kay, could he be gay?”

“I seriously doubt it. He’s had girlfriends.”

“He didn’t try anything at all?”

“Oh, for pity’s sake, Shelly! He walked me to my door, hugged me, and kinda kissed me on the cheek, all right?”

“Kinda?”

“Kinda, as in light. More of a caress of the lips than a pucker.”

“Ooh! Nice! But that’s it?”

“He called earlier. He’s renting a bicycle built for two on Sunday.”

“Kinda old-school, but that’s cool!”

“Charming, really,” Kay said.

On Friday, Kay debated about stopping at the bar after work, but instead went home to eat and curl up with a book. She was in her pajamas. pouring cereal in a bowl for dinner, when the phone rang.

“Hey, it’s Jim. When are you coming for your discount drink?”

“I’m beat from trying to stay awake at work today. Maybe tomorrow?”

“Great! The bar down the street is doing their monthly beer special tomorrow, so we won’t be that busy. We should be able to get some time to chat.”

She kept herself busy on Saturday, cleaning, doing laundry, and shopping for the week. She didn’t want to show up too early, so she purposely dawdled. It took her forty-five minutes to dress. She settled on a long spaghetti-strap top with a fitted bodice that highlighted her modest bosom without being too slutty, pants that fit her slender legs well, and high-heeled sandals. She thought about straightening her hair but left it in its natural slightly wild state, the way Sid hated it. He always liked her to wear a lot of make-up, so she wore only a hint of shadow and her favorite cologne.

Jim had his back to the door when she walked into the lounge and sat on a stool near the beer taps. When he saw her, he motioned her toward the darker, quieter end of the bar. “Wow!”

“What?” she blushed.

“You look amazing. Wondered what you’d wear tonight. Hope you don’t mind me asking you to move down here. When it gets busy there’s a crowd at the taps anyway. If you sat there looking like that it would be mayhem.”

“Oh, you’re on your game tonight!” she smiled.

“Kay, I admit I’m not above telling a girl what she wants to hear to get a good tip. That’s not why I said what I did. Black Russian?”

“Yes, please.”

He played with his imaginary mustache again. “Don’t you fret none, Miss. I have to deal with them cowpokes what just come in, but I’ll be back with your refreshment in two shakes of a prairie dog’s tail.” Away he went.

They chatted as much as they could between customers. Eventually, her glass was empty.

“Do you want another?” he asked.

“Not sure I should. I have to drive.”

“Not if I ask the waitress to take you home. She passes your place on the way to hers. I’ll be back.”

Before Kay could say anything, he was gone, but he returned in a moment. “It’s all set, and before you say no, I bought the drink, so now you have to stay.” He set the fresh glass in front of her and hurried away to serve another customer.

“Kay?” a voice behind her called. Shelly strutted across the barroom in dangerous heels and a mini-skirt that threatened to burst. “I don’t have to ask what you’re doing here, do I?” She plopped on the stool next to her friend.

“Are you following me?”

“Hello to you too. You went for the quiet sexy look tonight. I like. Hey, Jim!” she greeted the bartender when he arrived.

He made a showy bow. “A pleasant eve to you, milady. Your usual libation?”

She giggled. “My date’s getting it, thanks.”

Jim turned away to wait on others.

“Your date?” Kate asked.

“Now that I have you fixed up, I need some dick myself, you know. See him over there? The tall one with the tattoos. He calls himself Blade.”

Kay did a double-take. “He’s wearing a shirt that says ‘porn star’ with an arrow pointing down! You’re on a date with … him?”

“Don’t judge. Bad boys can be fun.” She adjusted her boobs in her top and wiggled away.

Jim came by a few seconds later. “Your friend Shelly,…”

“She’s a big girl.”

“That guy’s trouble. My bouncer gave me the sign the minute he walked in. We’ve both been doing this job long enough to spot a bad one. Some of those are prison tats. Shelly seems like a nice girl. She could do better.”

“You said it yourself,” Kay reminded him. “She’s a party girl.”

“It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt,” he replied.

The two talked when they could. If Jim was busy, Kay amused herself watching Shelly and her thug. She saw the bouncer and Jim looking at them too.

“I’m about ready to tell those two to get a room,” Jim said at one point. “This isn’t that kind of bar.”

Kay was nursing her second drink when Shelly and Blade came over to her.

“Kay, meet Blade.”

Kay attempted a smile until he leered at her.

“Ain’t you a sexy thing?” he said. “Tits ain’t as big as Shelly’s, but you’ll do. Me and Shelly was gonna have a party for two, but I got enough for you, too, babe.” He draped his arm over Kay’s shoulder and rested his hand on her boob.

She sloughed his arm away. “Get off me!”

“Ooh, feisty! I like that. A little rape play would probably make you nice and wet.”

“Blade, honey, she’s not that kind,” Shelly said.

“No?” He stroked Kay’s long hair. “We’ll see.”

“Take your fuckin’ paws of my girl before I break them,” Jim commanded. He wasn’t loud. No one but the four of them could hear.

Blade snickered. “Big talk. Shelly told me about ‘your girl’. She needs a real man’s cock.”

Jim put his hands flat on the bar and glared at Blade. “Leave her alone. Get out. Don’t come back.”

“Ain’t very friendly, are ya?”

“Not to creeps who don’t know how to behave around ladies. The girl you’re with is my girl’s best friend,” Jim stated, pointing at Shelly. “Treat her right.”

Blade laughed. “Don’t worry. The bitch will scream my name all night.”

“Do not hurt her.”

“Look at you, tough guy. Do yourself a favor, and shut the fuck up. What are you gonna do to me?

“You sure you want to find out? We’ll check on her in the morning. She’d better be just fine.”

“People call me Blade for a reason, asshole.”

Jim’s voice went cold. “Is it because you’re a wimp without your knife? Get out now, before I bust open all your pretty tattoos. Don’t even think about coming back.” He waved away the approaching bouncer. “Don’t get your hands dirty, Bull. The gentleman is leaving.”

“We ain’t done, pretty boy,” Snake snarled.

“You’re right. I’ll find you for a one-on-one talk if you hurt her. Remember that.” Jim stared the thug down until he grabbed Shelly’s arm and propelled her to the door.

“Are you crazy?” Kay hissed at Jim.

“No. Punks like him need a bitch-slap every once in a while. Without an audience to perform for, he would have been apologizing. Guys like him come in sometimes. I get rid of them.”

“Don’t you get afraid?”

“I’m sober. They’re not. That gives me an advantage. My bouncer’s sober too. If all else fails, I have a baseball bat under the bar.”

“A baseball bat!”

“Don’t worry. I’ve only gotten it out twice in seven years. Both times, the guys ran out the door before I decided to use it. Some people are instant assholes – just add alcohol and stir. This is a nice place. When people get out of line, they’re sent away, usually before anything happens.”

“You’re really concerned about Shelly,” Kay said.

“You’re not? He’s a loser.”

“You should have seen some of the weirdos she dated in college. She’s a thrill-seeker. We have much different tastes in men.”

“You’re not a thrill-seeker?”

“Certainly not like that! My idea of a thrill is a good suspense novel, Jim.”

“So, you don’t want to go hang-gliding tomorrow with homemade, never-tested equipment?”

“Um, no.”

“I guess fire juggling is out too.”

“We saw how clumsy I am.”

“Snake handling?”

“Eww, no!” she giggled.

“Guess we’ll try the bike ride. I’ll even make sure to get one with brakes.”

“That could take some of the fun out of it, but okay.”

He pointed at her near-empty glass. “Do you want another? It will be last call soon. You’re not driving.”

She thought for a moment. “I’m nursing them, and it’s Saturday. Okay.”

He served her and then took the last drink orders for the night. She sipped, watching him work. He was fast and never stopped smiling. He called the regulars by name, and exchanged handshakes and hugs with a few when they left. Finally, she was the last customer.

“Sorry. It’s always busy at the end of the night.”

“What’s the plan for tomorrow?”

“I kept you out late, so should we go for an afternoon together?”

She glanced at the clock behind the bar. “Good lord! Is that the correct time?”

He laughed. “It’s bar time. It’s set that way to help shoo people out at closing. I’ll have to shoo you out soon, too, since you’re not on staff. Let me help the waitress finish up.” He scurried away, gathering empty bottles and glasses as he went.

Soon he was back. “I love my co-workers.”

“Why?”

“The bouncer, Bull, told me he’d beat me up if I didn’t escort you myself. He’s going to help the waitress finish and walk her to her car. I’ll take you home. We can come back for your vehicle tomorrow. Are you ready to go?”

“Oh, okay!”

He helped her into the Jeep and got behind the wheel. “Thank you, Kay.”

“For what?”

“Keeping me company at work. I don’t know about you, but I had a great time.”

She was still thinking of the right thing to say when he parked in front of her building.

He sprang out and opened her car door for her.

“A girl could get used to this,” she giggled. “Are you really this nice all the time?”

He bowed deeply. “Thy humble servant requests permission to take milady’s hand to escort thee to thy abode.”

She gave it to him, surprising herself with how warmly she grasped his strong hand. It felt nice to her. At her door, she said, “Is this when I’m supposed to invite you in?”

He cupped her face gently in his hands and lowered his lips to hers briefly. “That’s up to you.”

“I’ve been drinking.”

“Then I should go.”

“No. I have just enough liquid courage in me.”

He kissed her more firmly then, enveloping her in his arms.

The kiss made her melt in ways she wasn’t sure she wanted. She took his hand again and led him inside, shutting and locking the door behind them. For a moment, she thought about sitting in the living room but decided against it. She spoke when they stood next to her bed. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?”

“That you’re going to take what you want and leave.”

“You have a lot to learn about me. I’ll go now if you think that’s why I’m here.”

“Why are you here?”

“You led me.”

She put her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. “I did, didn’t I? I don’t do this on a first date.”

His hands slid to her firm ass and cupped it to pull her closer. “I heard you say that to Shelly, but this isn’t a first date.”

“Ever since the night I learned the truth about Sid, I’ve questioned if I’m good enough to please a man.”

Jim held her at arms’ length to look in her eyes. “Why would you think such a thing?”

“The man I was going to change my name for wanted other girls.”

“I told you before, I’m not him.” He kissed her harder then and helped her with her top. When her breasts were free, he cupped them in his hands. “Perfect,” he muttered, kissing her left nipple.

A hot shiver ran through her. “Am I wrong to want this?”

He helped her lie down on her bed and took her in his arms. “If it feels wrong, I’ll stop.”

“I said I didn’t want a rebound fuck.”

He sat up. “I said I wasn’t offering one.”

She blushed yet again and covered her breasts with her hands. “I’m still on the pill. I want to feel desired. Will you make love to me?”

He lay down and pulled her to him. “I was hoping you’d ask that.”

They helped each other undress until she was in her panties and he in his boxers. He moved down in the bed and kissed her tenderly on the belly and then the thighs. With each touch of his lips her excitement grew. She lifted her butt when he tugged on her lacy garment, allowing herself to be completely exposed.

“I haven’t shaved since I fell the other week. Too sensitive.”

He grinned and touched the blond stubble on her mound with his fingertips. “If you don’t care, I certainly don’t care.”

“At least you know I’m a natural blond.”

“Thy humble servant never doubted for a moment, milady.” He touched her slit and brought his moistened finger to his nose. “Thou hast the bouquet of a gentle sorceress.” He sucked her flavor from his fingertip. “I bow before thee bewitched.” He planted butterfly kisses on the undersides of her breasts and then moved lower.

“You don’t have to do that.”

“With a girl like you I do.”

“Oh dear God,” she whispered.

He tasted her opening and then moved to her clit, licking the tender flesh around it to coax it out.

She spread her legs further in response. Soon, she gave up on being silent. “That feels so good,” she gasped. “Sid wouldn’t do that.”

“Idiot.” Jim lay down to continue his efforts, caressing her sides, belly and breasts tenderly with his fingertips as he stimulated her sex with his mouth. Sometimes he kissed, other times licked. He raked her plump lips gently with his teeth and sucked on her clit. When her body stiffened to prepare for orgasm he buried his tongue inside her. Before her climax subsided, he resumed.

She came to her senses enough to speak when he paused to wipe his chin. “You don’t know how bad I need this.”

“Happy to provide,” he grinned. “You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

She wailed her pleasure several times before his jaw tired too much to continue. He moved up in the bed and stroked her wild blond hair, holding her close while her breathing calmed. In a few minutes she was asleep.

The smell of coffee woke her.

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Jim said from her reading chair.

Startled, she sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “You made coffee?”

“Hope you don’t mind.” He handed her a mug.

“Mind? That’s the sweetest thing!” She sipped the brew, strong the way she liked it.

“I liked watching you sleep.”

Awake enough to be aware of her nakedness, she grabbed at the sheet to cover herself.

“Don’t, Kay. I’m not being a creep, but you’re too beautiful to hide.”

She grinned shyly and let the sheet fall, exposing her breasts and hardening nipples to him. “You say all the right things.”

He chuckled and played with his imaginary handlebar mustache. “Ma’am, Gentleman Jim sure does appreciate a fine pair of boobs on a lady.”

She appraised him, sitting casually in her chair in nothing but slightly distorted boxer shorts.

“Why did you stop last night?”

“As much as I enjoyed it, my mouth got tired. I needed a break. You got all cuddly and comfortable.”

“That’s not what I meant. Why didn’t you have sex with me?”

“You said you didn’t want a rebound fuck.”

She kicked the sheet off to display her nudity and patted the bed next to her. “I don’t.”

He lay down with her and began kissing and touching her everywhere, skillfully, purposefully, but with no real urgency. His stimulation of her body was gentle but ever more intense, especially the way he kissed and suckled her breasts.

She luxuriated in his desire until she felt him hard against her leg. The knowledge made her hotter. She reached down and rubbed him through his shorts. “Show it to me.”

He peeled his boxers off and kicked them to the floor.

“Oh my,” she giggled. She closed her hand around him tentatively, appraising his girth and length. “Yeah, I want this.”

His fingers found her moisture and began to play as she stroked him. They kissed with ever more fury. His hand made her needy, and she urged him on top of her. “Make love to me, Jim.” She helped him aim and sparred with his tongue as he began to penetrate her.

They didn’t say anything, allowing their bodies to communicate with moans and wet sounds. He found a pace she liked, and they mated tenderly for a while. She wrapped her legs around him tighter. “You’re going to make me cum.”

He smiled into her hair but said nothing, working her with his cock, gauging her response. When she began to thrust back, he sped up. “Let it happen,” he whispered.

She gave herself up to it then, embracing the waves of pleasure that hit her every time his cock head pressed her cervix and his pelvic bone mashed her clit. He wasn’t forceful, but his purposeful thrusts made her cry out her joy. Her pussy contracted rhythmically around him, willing him to plant his seed.

He slowed and then stopped his thrusting, holding himself balls deep inside her while they kissed, making sure every drop of his essence stayed where he had put it.

“You’re still hard,” she whispered.

“Uh huh.” He rolled them over so she lay on top of him, impaled.

She clung to him for a moment and then moved her hips a little, testing him. He pressed into her in response. She sat up enough to look at him and ground herself against him. “Wanna go again?”

He grabbed her ass to help push into her. “What do you think?”

They fucked vigorously this time, her wild hair dancing in the morning sun that made it around her window shades. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and he pulled her to him to kiss it off. His hands were everywhere, teasing her nipples, fondling her buttocks, playing with her clit when she sat up enough, and teasing her asshole when she didn’t. A few times, one of them had to re-insert him when they bucked too hard.

She lost count of the number of times he made her cum, but inevitably, he approached his own end. She could see it in his face and smiled broadly when he pulled on her pelvis to hold himself deep as he filled her.

When he softened, she dismounted and rested her head on his chest. “Thank you.”

“For?” He played with her sleep- and sex-ruined hair.

She laughed softly. “Making me forget what’s-his-name, for one thing. You took me places he never did.”

She had dozed off, and he was close when her phone rang.

“Shelly? You’re calling early. How are you this morning?” Kay yawned.

“Why do I date assholes?” Shelly asked. “I’m telling you, girlfriend, if you don’t make a play for that bartender soon, I might.”

Kay stifled a giggle and ran her hand over Jim’s tired cock. “He’s not your type.”

“My type is the kind who doesn’t have to smack me around to get hard.”

“He hit you? Sweetie, tell me what happened!”

“Not much, really,” Shelly said. “He took me to my place, pawed at me, and when he couldn’t get it up, threw a temper tantrum and left.”

“Did that bastard hurt her?” Jim asked.

“Who is with you?” Shelley giggled. “Is that Jim? Oh my God!”

“We have a date to go bicycle riding.”

“Uh huh. How long have we known each other? I know what your voice sounds like when you answer the phone half asleep. He spent the night! You naughty girl!”

“We’re not going to discuss this,” Kay stated.

“Oh yes we are!” Shelley laughed. “Call me later.”

Jim flashed a sheepish grin when Kay turned to him. “Oops.”

She smiled at the naked man in her bed. “I think she’s jealous.”

“She’s okay?”

“She’s fine. Apparently nothing happened.”

He pulled him to her for a kiss. “Still want to go for that ride?”

“I could use a shower and some coffee from that shop near your place first.”

“Wouldst milady allow they humble servant to assist thee with thy ablutions?”

“You make a better saloon keeper,” she deadpanned.

She washed her hair first. When she rinsed her conditioner off and turned to him, she saw he was hard again. “Well, now. What’s this?”

“I don’t shower with a beautiful girl very often.”

“I haven’t showered with a man since college. Sid thought it was lame.”

“Sid missed out on a lot.” He squeezed a dollop of body wash into his hands and lathered her front.

She copied his actions. Soon, they were masturbating each other.

“You bring out the worst in me,” she said.

“How so?”

She moved to the side so the water rinsed the soap from him and then knelt. She inspected his erection for a moment and then kissed it tenderly. “The worst part of me wants to do things to you in the shower.” She licked his entire length and then took what she could in her mouth. She sucked him until he started to moan, and then pulled back to look at his face. “You like that, cowboy?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he grinned. He scooped her wet wild hair off her face so he could watch.

She teased him with her tongue again, smiling up at him and cupping his balls gently in one hand. She took him to her throat and jacked the rest of him purposefully. Then she eased up for a time, kissing, licking, and using her lips to nibble at his cock and balls. When his hips started fucking the air, she jerked him off onto her outstretched tongue, swallowed, and then sucked the last drop from him.

She got to her feet and re-washed her face while he got his breathing under control.

“You realize, Kay, you’re going to get eaten unmercifully for that.”

“I damn near passed out last night.”

“I’ll try harder next time.”

He ran home for clean clothes while she fussed over her outfit for the day. She greeted him at the door in her robe.

He closed the door behind him and reached for her. “Are you not dressed to save time?” He untied the belt holding her garment closed.

She smacked at his hand. “I’m not dressed because I can’t figure out what to wear. I have this overwhelming need to look right for you.”

“You always look nice, Kay. Call me shallow, but your appearance got to me right away. I see a lot of girls at work. Most are done up to look as pretty or as sexy as they can. You pull it off naturally. You look good when you wake up. That’s rare. I bet you have no idea how good you look all sweaty in hiking clothes.”

“With my bare ass and pussy on display?”

“There was that, yes.” He kissed her and reached through her robe to fondle her buttocks. “But the best part is what I see in your eyes. You’re a good person, Kay.”

She couldn’t stop blushing. “They won’t think so at the coffee shop if I show up like this.”

“May I watch you dress?”

She surprised herself in the bedroom. It felt okay being nude in front of him, watching him watching her. She found the perfect bra and panty set and picked a top and pair of comfortable shorts. She gathered everything and brought it with her to stand in front of him and dress slowly.

He spoke when she was tying the second shoe. “I memorized all that. I know exactly how I’ll undress you later.”

“Down, boy,” she smirked before giving him a very warm kiss. “Let’s get coffee.”

They got to Wholelotta Jo in time for the breakfast special – bagels, cream cheese, and a fruit plate to share with their steaming mugs. At the bicycle rental, he chose a yellow bike to match her top. They rode on the path along the river for a few miles and then stopped to watch a group of kids skipping stones across the slow-moving water.

He breathed the clean fresh air. “If my third book does well, maybe I’ll buy a pond and build a little house next to it,” Jim mused.

“You have dreams,” she said.

He chuckled. “Is that bad?”

“No.”

“If we don’t dream, things can get boring. Dreams inspire us.”

“You’re not like other guys.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re more of a thinker. You’re a gentleman and a romantic. Inside you there’s a wishful little boy, isn’t there?”

He laughed. “Speaking of wishes, I got mine.”

“From the falling star?”

“Yes. I can share it now, since it came true.”

“Is that how it works? Then I can share too.”

“Ladies first.”

She felt the color fill her cheeks as she spoke. “I wished I could feel good about myself around a man again. I feel pretty good right now.”

He pulled her close. “This is all I wished for. To kiss you.”

They returned the bicycle and picked up sandwiches from a corner deli near Kay’s apartment. They ate at her little kitchen table.

“Can we do this again?” Jim asked when they moved to the couch.

“Do what?”

“Hang out, chat, make love, hang out, and chat?”

“Next weekend?”

“Great.”

They kissed warmly for a few minutes. Then she said, “Let’s not do a rebound relationship.”

“Not sure what the rules are for those,” he smiled.

“I’m not ready to fall in love again.”

“Understood. I’m not sure about love either. Way too early.”

“I wouldn’t mind MAKING love again.”

“My kind of woman.”

In the bedroom, he removed her garments in the order in which she had put them on, kissing, fondling, and loving each new naked part. Her first small orgasm blessed her before he touched her below the waist, simply from the care he showed her breasts.

“Dear God I’m wet,” she marveled as he pulled her panties off. Before he could go down on her she started on his clothes. When he was naked as her, she said, “I can’t wait. Put your cock in me.”

He did, teasing her opening with it for a moment until she grabbed his shaft and held him centered. He advanced slowly then, letting her slickness help him push inside. He took his time, advancing till he hit bottom. “You’re beautiful.” She returned his quiet kiss. They luxuriated in their coupling. Sensation finally demanded they speed up, and she wrapped her limbs around his body to help him thrust deep. Neither orgasm was violent, but both seemed to last a long time.

She rolled on top of him again to rest, careful to stay connected. They kissed tenderly and talked about nothing until he softened enough to fall from her.

“I guess I should go,” he said.

“Sunday nights suck,” she agreed. “You have tomorrow off.”

“Yup. I can do single guy stuff like scrub my shower.”

“Right. You get to have fun while I slave away at a hot keyboard.”

“Wanna have dinner?”

She studied the man beneath her. “Would you be offended if I said no? Not sure our relationship is ready for that.”

He cupped her naked ass in his hands and kissed her. “We’re ready for this.”

Kay rolled off him and propped herself up with a pillow. “That’s what’s weird.”

He toyed with her nipple. “You set the rules.”

She made no effort to cover herself as he dressed. He leaned down to kiss her, and she clung to him. “Coffee for lunch?”

“Monday is biscotti day,” he said. “What time?”

“Twelve fifteen.”

He kissed her again and left, locking her front door on his way out.

She almost dozed off in her warm, rumpled bed, but the phone stopped her.

“Well?” Shelly said. “Is he still there?”

“No.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

“Did you get a rebound fuck?”

“Crude, Shelly.”

“Are you going to tell me what happened or not?”

Kay looked around her, clothes on the floor, wet spot on the bed, she herself a well-fucked mess. “Don’t know where to start.”

“Is that good?”

Kay smiled as she remembered her weekend. “Let’s just say he’s a lot of fun.”

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