Authors: Penny Reid
A Short Story
By Penny Reid
Copyright © 2013 by
Penny Reid; All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, photographed, instagrammed, tweeted, twittered, twatted, tumbled, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without explicit written permission from the author.
Made in the United States of America
First Edition: February 2013
To my computer: I couldn’t have written this without you
To the software developers responsible for spellcheck: You are my everyday heroes
To my readers (all 3 of you): Thank you
“Why don’t you just open it with a screw driver or a… a… crow bar?”
“Shut up.” Anna rolled her eyes, trying the last of the antique keys; huffing in irritation when the long, brass key couldn’t budge the lock. Fanning the keys over her palm she inspected each of them, brushing her brightly painted fingers over their tips and sighing. “It’s not here.”
Jake regarded her for a moment, his face brightened with an amused smile. Every Saturday it was the same- regardless of where they went, how small the town, she would always be drawn to the biggest junk store, the most useless antique shop.
He couldn’t remember a Saturday when she didn’t go home with at least one key; and from the time they would leave with her purchase to the time they would get back to her apartment, everything was golden. Excitement shone in her eyes- she would laugh a bit more; talk a bit less; link their arms; hold his hand…
Throughout the day she would reach inside her pocket and stroke the key with her thumb, her eyes losing focus, her attention fixed elsewhere. Finally, when they pulled up to her apartment, she would bound off the back of his bike and take the steps to her building two at a time. Jogging after her, shaking his head- it was nice while it lasted.
The keys never worked. Sitting legs crossed in front of the trunk she would try each at least twice- her lips forming a tight, disappointed line, her brows flickering downward. He always offered the same advice: just break the damn thing open- but she refused.
Finding seven that day, she was certain it was a sign- as today was the seventh anniversary of her mother’s death… Jake frowned at the memory. “You are so stubborn.”
Relaxing back into her couch, he rested his hands behind his head and watched her profile as she studied the keys. He was indulging himself; allowing his eyes to rake over her face and form- marvel at the graceful way she moved; even the smallest gesture- tucking her hair behind a perfect ear- was beautiful.
But, what really drove him crazy was the way she would nibble on her lower lip; often he would find himself enraptured, watching her perfect pink tongue soothe the abused flesh… he would bet his bike that her tongue was as soft as it looked.
“Well…” Anna hoisted herself up from the ground- dusting off her black hip huggers with fire engine red fingertips. “I guess that is that.”
Jake followed her movements with his gaze- trying unsuccessfully not to stare. The black v-neck knit she wore clung to her curves- plunging downward and teasing him with just a whisper of her rounded cleavage. The lightweight cashmere sweater ended quarter sleeves- red stitching decorating the hems.
She was not going to make this easy on him- but he had made up his mind. He couldn’t allow himself to continue on this way- wanting something with every fiber of his being that would never be his. Seeing her, spending time with her- he’d reached his limit. A man could only take so much. He had tried having other relationships, he tried but- it always came back to her- to them… but there was no them.
However, that didn’t keep him from wanting.
She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known- and she had always been so. Even as a six year old, covered with scrapes and dressed in boy’s overalls and ponytails and a chocolate milk mustache- she was beautiful; as an awkward preteen, threatening to hit him if he said “just one word” about her being forced into a velvet dress for a school recital; as the star center on their high school’s soccer team- hair clinging, wet with sweat to her forehead and neck, eyes brilliant blue, face flushed from exertion; and now- as a stylish gallery curator in the city- all chic and sophisticated with her Prada shoes and Dolce Gabana outfit… sitting on the floor Indian style.
Straightening to her full five feet three inches- plus three with strappy sandal heals- she walked despondently to the couch and flopped down on the divan, letting out an exaggerated huff. “This sucks.”
As her perfume surround and invaded his sensibilities, he observed her pout, cocking his head to the side so that he could see her without lengthening their proximity; bottom lip slightly protruded, brow knitted, arms crossed below her chest, thigh against his. God, she was beautiful and he was so in love with her and she had no idea.
He had tried- Lord knows he had tried to tell her; but she was always out of reach it seemed. Always involved or just out of a relationship or… some other lame excuse he had for being a coward.
Once- he drove to Brown to visit her for a weekend and made his mind up that he would tell her once and for all- tell her that she was the only woman he had ever wanted and that he had been in love with her since before he remembered… but she’d gone and ruined his plan by telling him and all her roommates in the dorm how glad she was, how ecstatic she was that they were, after all these years, still such good friends… The kiss of death.
The next time he drove to Brown she had a boyfriend.
“Break it open.”
She smacked his shoulder with her hand and shook her head, “Be quiet.”
“Ow!” he held his shoulder as though wounded. “Stop hitting me.”
She gave him a sideways glance and smirked at his hurt expression, “Oh brother…” twisting in her seat, she leaned towards him- placing a hand on his bicep- and kissed his shoulder. He had to tighten his jaw to keep from moaning- her breast brushed against the back of his hand; hair feathered over her face, caressing her cheek; his stomach clenched and he looked away.
Fighting the urge to tuck the silky strands behind her ear, the urge to grab her by the elbows and arrest her mouth. Completely oblivious to his struggle, she smoothed her hand up and down his arm, stroking him restfully and sitting up, “Is that better?” She teased.
Finding it difficult to breathe with her body so close he could only nod his head, clearing his throat.
Her playful expression dissipated- and brow furrowed again- at his turned face. She bit her lip and ceased her teasing caress, “What’s wrong?”
He sat up suddenly, stood, and moved around her artsy coffee table- now or never, “I, uh…” he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to quell the more than familiar desires. Suddenly frustrated when he could still smell her perfume even as he gained distance, he blurted out, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
Her eyebrows raised, confusion clouding her features, her mouth shaped in an O. She stared at him, glanced to her right at nothing in particular, blinked once then raised her eyes back to his, “What do you-”
He licked his lips, cutting her off, “I have business next Saturday, I can’t go with you.”
The apprehensive expression vanished and she grinned, standing up, “Oh, is that all? That’s ok.”
He followed her with his eyes, his face a vacant visor, as she picked up the keys and deposited them in the top drawer of her side table. Shutting the drawer with a flick of her wrist she walked into the kitchen- her heels clicking on the old wooden floor- leaving him in the center of her living room.
When she was out of sight he dragged a hand through his messy blonde spikes and breathed out heavily, licking his lips again. He needed to strengthen his resolve. He needed to do this. He needed to cut her off… but he also needed her.
She reappeared moments later with chocolate milk for her and a Samuel Smith India Pale Ale for him. Holding it out nonchalantly she gulped from her own glass, lowering it to reveal a brown milk mustache and a contented sigh.
In spite of himself, he smiled and shook his head. “Anna…”
She swiped her pink tongue over her top lip and smiled up at him, “You had me going for a minute there, Jake.”
With his free hand he cupped her cheek and wiped the rest of the milk away with his thumb, “In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you sip anything…” he trailed off as his thumb finished its labor, ceasing at the corner of her mouth.
She leaned into his hand and closed her eyes, laughing softly. Tipping his head to the side- drinking in her face- his heart constricted in his chest painfully. Why did he torture himself this way? He knew she would never look at him as anything but a friend- eighteen years of platonic closeness proved that.
Why did he put himself through this agony? How long had he loved her? He couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t dream about her, when she wasn’t his first thought in the morning and his last thought before he drifted off to a listless sleep. She had always been everything he had ever wanted and everything he could never have.
His eyes drifted from the smooth, white skin of her face to the rough, calloused hand that held it and cruel reality sunk into his bones. Reluctantly, he withdrew his hand from her face and set the beer on the table. Rubbing his eyes with the heel of his palms, he walked to her front closet and grabbed his jacket from the hanger.
Her lids drifted open and her eyebrows shot up as she realized his intent, “Where are you going?”
Standing, all sleek and feminine, with a glass of chocolate milk in her hand she stared at him; he masked his turmoil with a blank face of indifference as he tried not to notice the accusation in her tone; he shrugged, “I’m going home.”
She set her glass next to his untouched beer on the table, “But- but you’re going to miss Saturday Night Live.” There was an edge of disappointment to her voice.
“Anna…” he shook his head.
“Anna what?” Her eyes narrowed as he turned toward the exit. Guessing his movements she dashed to block the door, holding the knob. She nearly collided with his hand. “Jake… you’ve been acting strangely all day.” She searched his face as he took a step away from her, “What is going on?”
Shaking his head- not meeting her eyes- “Nothing. I just have to get going.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Well…” she paused, seemingly looking for something to say. Finally, she squinted at him suspiciously, “Are you trying to get out of the gallery opening? Cause you’re going whether you like it or not.”
He shook his head, “No… I said I would go…”
She scrunched her face and moved away from the door slowly, bewilderment clearly etched on her features, “If there is something wrong, I wish you would tell me.” Standing directly in front of him she tried to catch his eye.
Finally he looked up, his gaze impassive, “I have to go.”
She gritted her teeth and placed her hands on her hips shaking her head, “Fine.” She expelled on a terse huff, moving to the side so he could pass.
He tore his eyes from her delicious form to the door. Hesitating for a moment, he licked his bottom lip. Shaking his head almost imperceptibly, he walked past her to the door- yanking it open and charging through it. Rushing down the stairs he felt heat rise to his neck and- flexing his jaw- his stomach felt like it had sunk to his feet.
As he climbed on his bike his heart was screaming at him to go back, but his mind- logic- was urging him to leave. He struggled- bringing his hand to his brow. All at once he could smell her perfume; a familiar ache formed in the pit of his stomach and it steeled his resolution. Straddling the big bike, he flexed his jaw with resolve as he sped away.