Antonio’s @ 8? I’ll meet u there.

Stephen was asking me to dinner at my favorite restaurant in the entire city. The same restaurant he reserved for special occasions only. I flipped through the archive of dates stored away in my memory, trying to narrow down what we could possibly be celebrating on an eyeball-melting day in July. I mean, five years of pre-marital bliss had accumulated quite a few memorable dates, so it took a while to determine that, nope, there was nothing to celebrate.


My eyeballs were glued to the phone while my heart began to thump a tune rivaling a Metallica song. The little voice in my head tried telling me there was no reason to get excited, that Stephen had insisted he wasn’t the marrying type enough times for me to be convinced that he was serious. It didn’t take too long for my heart to hammer that conservative little voice right out of there, though, and the naysayer was replaced with the type of excitement that caused me to clap a hand over my mouth and utter a guttural “Oh, my God!”

It made sense, though, after a half decade of being the epitome of cute couples. I mean, what else was there? We had the apartment, we had the cat, the matching pajamas… So, wasn’t marriage the obvious next step? I had been trying to tell him that for years, three out of the five to be exact, that there really wasn’t any reason not to get married. I love him, he loves me, my family loves him, his family loves me… It just made sense. Of course, he would always tell me there were millions of reasons not to get married (an obvious exaggeration), like not needing a paper to solidify his devotion to me, but dammit, weren’t my feelings important enough?

Well, apparently now they were.

Holly freakin’ Hughes. Soon-to-be Holly freakin’ Keller.


I was walking through the bustling city and although I wasn’t even close to being a fashionista, I knew I was looking pretty damn good. I had worn my finest little black dress (the lacy, strapless one with the hi-lo hemline that made my butt seem perfectly round while also making my boobs look twice their actual size) and my best red strappy stilettos (the ones that actually make my ankles look dainty while also giving me the illusion of having mile-long legs). I couldn’t exactly walk gracefully in them but eh, we all have to make sacrifices in the name of looking seductive. My hair was curled and pulled to one side, cascading over my shoulder with Disney Princess perfection and leaving my slender neck exposed for the whole world to see. I had spent damn near an hour perfecting my smoky eye, and I knew I could have passed for a freakin’ model. I mean, I wasn’t really one to leak self-confidence through my pores or anything, but that night I could just feel the eyes of every horny man and every jealous woman following me as I click, click, tripped my way towards the restaurant.

I finally made it to Antonio’s without falling flat on my ass in those heels. I stopped myself before going through the door, to try and collect my nerves before facing the man of my dreams and the dazzling rock that was about to sit on my finger. It hit me then how freakin’ nervous I was and I quickly glanced around to locate the nearest garbage can. You know, just in case.

A million thoughts raced through my head all at once, and chasing them left me feeling a little woozy. How was he going to propose? Was he actually going to get down on one knee in a restaurant full of people?

Deep breaths, deeeep breaths…

I gathered my courage, and I walked inside. The bubbly hostess greeted me with a cheery “table for one?” I involuntarily raised an eyebrow. Did anybody dress like this to go out to dinner alone?

“Uh,” I stammered, feeling a little self-conscious that this girl thought I was some saucy lone diner. “Um, no, I’m actually meeting someone.”

I gave her the name of my future husband, and she told me to follow her “right this way” through the restaurant. Just as I had hoped, she led me outside to the terrace. There, under the pagoda, surrounded by planters of shrubs and topiaries with twinkling white lights, sitting at the little iron table with the mosaic top, was Stephen. My Stephen. My heart skipped so many beats, I probably should have died standing there, watching him nervously chew at the cuticles around his fingernails.

After taking a few big gulps of air, I started my way towards him. If you had told me that it was five miles from the doorway to that table, I would have believed you. Time seemed to slow to the crawl of a romantic movie as I pushed one foot in front of the other, and when he turned to look at me… Christ, I swear it was in total Jack-and-Rose ala Titanic fashion, especially as he stood, extending a baby smooth hand towards me. I took a hold, gripping on for dear sweet life, and I was pulled into his arms.

“Stevie, this is beautiful,” I gushed, gazing upwards at the wooden, sparkling slats of the pagoda.

Stephen didn’t speak a single word, but his lips brushed against my cheek before he released me from his hold and walked around to pull my chair out., Like a true gentleman.

If he was trying to make the night perfect, he was succeeding marvelously.
We sat in unison, and I made an attempt at fixating on his eyes, those comfortable brown eyes, but no matter how hard I tried, he never seemed to meet my gaze. He just stared at the flickering candle in the center of the table with an expression that might’ve suggested someone had just kicked the bucket.

He must be nervous. My poor baby.

My arm stretched across the table to take one of his hands, freeing him from his cuticle picking. I admired his attempt to look his absolute best, taking note of his freshly cut hair and clean-shaven face. I have to admit, I preferred him with a little scruff; the smooth-faced look made him look a little too babyish for my liking. I like my man to look manly. Not lumberjack manly, but still, I liked some scruff.

When we’re married, he’s not allowed to shave.

Stephen’s eyes continued their staring contest with the dancing flame. He didn’t look up at me until I spoke his name, and when he did, I smiled the most genuine smile I think I’ve ever smiled in my life. But he didn’t smile back. He just went back to looking at that damn candle.

Taken aback, I let my smile fade away and I dropped the hand I was holding, giving him silent permission to continue tearing his cuticles apart, except his thumb flew to his mouth to resume the even more disgusting chewing.

Stephen had two telltale signs that he was uncomfortable, worried, or nervous, and those were cuticle picking and chewing. Given the right situation, he could make himself bleed without even realizing it, and never mind that I found both habits disgusting, it was horrible for his physical health. Alas, no matter how many Band-Aids I wasted trying to deter him from snacking on himself, he would always backpedal into addiction.

Eventually I gave up, but it didn’t stop me from thinking he needed some kind of intervention.

The waiter approached, asking if we were ready to order, and before I could shoo him away for a moment so that I could weasel my way into Stephen’s brain, that’s when Stephen finally spoke. He requested wine, my favorite red, and as soon as the waiter turned to retrieve the bottle, his fingers were back in his mouth.

I sighed heavily, growing a little less excited and a lot more agitated. “Stephen, you’re drawing blood.”

“Oh.” His hands clenched into fists as he brought them down to the table, willing himself to not gnaw the skin right off his bones.

I couldn’t stand it anymore, and finally asked, “Stevie, what’s going on?”

There was a long, dangerously painful silence. At the sight of his knuckles turning white, trembling slightly with the tightness of his grip, I can honestly say I have never been that worried in my entire life. In all of our five years of being a couple, I had never seen him act that way and it scared the absolute hell out of me.

The waiter brought over the bottle, hastily filling our glasses before leaving the bottle in the center of the table, and promptly walking away. A skilled master at reading the room. Just as I was about to bring the glass to my lips, that’s when I noticed Stephen’s trembling bottom lip and the big fat tear rolling down his baby smooth cheek. His hands, bleeding cuticles and all, shot across the table, gripping my free hand and squeezing tight. I had to put my glass down, making the assumption that I didn’t need it after all, and with both hands, I squeezed back.

“Oh, Stevie.” I stroked the palms of his hands with my thumbs, allowing myself to smile just a bit. “I love you so much, you know that?” Of course he knew that, and as he nodded, he shed a few more tears. “This is one of my favorite places in the city. It’s crazy how many memories we have here, right? Remember our first date? You brought me here and, oh my God, remember you ordered the most expensive wine on the menu because you wanted to impress me but you had no idea it was $500, so you had to put the whole damn dinner on credit? You were so broke back then, it took you months to pay off one freakin’ date.” I smiled warmly at the memory, reminiscing momentarily on how far we had come in such a relatively short period of time.

Stephen’s gentle crying had built up to a steady blubber, and okay, yeah, he was starting to embarrass me a little bit. I mean, it was sweet that he could be that sensitive, but the guests inside were starting to look at the sobbing man in the nice suit…

“Stevie, please stop crying, baby. I know you’re nervous, and that’s okay, but—”

“Wait, you knew?” Stephen’s watery eyes widened and he finally released my hands to wipe the tears from his face. A sob wracked through his body, and I hoped it was the last one.

Finally, able to gaze lovingly into his eyes, I said, “Of course, sweetie. I’d have to be a complete idiot to not realize what’s going on here.”

His tears were drying, thank God, but I couldn’t detect even the slightest hint of a smile. “Holly, I’ve been wanting to do this for so long. I just didn’t know how to even bring it up. I’ve been such an asshole…” His voice trailed off as his eyes dropped again to that damn candle again. I was ready to blow it out.

“Well, that’s a little harsh,” I muttered. I mean, he certainly dragged his feet, but I’m not sure I’d call him an asshole for it. He shook his head in response, staring off beyond me. I released his hands and took a gulp from my wine glass. After downing half of the glass, assuming I was going to need it, I reached over the ever-appealing candle and stroked Stephen’s smooth cheek. “Honey, don’t beat yourself up for taking so long, okay? Sometimes these things take time.”

He swallowed hard and cleared his throat before grabbing the bottle to top-off his own glass. “I really appreciate how understanding you’re being about this, Holly. I just…” His eyes ran over my face for a few brief seconds. What was he looking for? I casually picked at my teeth with a fingernail, just in case. “I just don’t know how you could possibly know. I thought I had hidden it pretty well.”

I laughed, because let’s be honest, he had. I hadn’t the slightest clue there was any possibility he was going to propose to me until earlier that day when my delusional mind forced those pieces together.

“I just don’t understand one thing.” Stephen downed his glass in one swift gulp. The wince reminded me that he was never much of a wine drinker. “Why haven’t you said anything? Hell, why aren’t you mad?”

“Stevie, why would I be mad? I mean, I’ve wanted this to happen for years, and yeah, I mean, maybe it’s taken longer than I wanted it to, but…”

With his eyes widening to the size of golf balls, Stephen held up a hand to stop me from continuing any further. Once my voice had trailed off, he covered his face and began a mantra. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.” Over and over again.

“Holly, I’m not proposing to you, if that’s what you think.” His voice was so flat, so matter-of-fact, and if I had known better, I could have sworn my heart had dropped right out of my body and onto the floor. His face remained expressionless and you know, he was facing me, but he wasn’t really looking at me. I’m not sure he even saw me there. I guess he didn’t want to truly face me when delivering the news he was about to drop down on top of my damn head.

And that’s when I understood his grim demeanor.

This wasn’t a beginning. It was a funeral.

I sunk into my chair again, finally removing the blanket that had been covering my eyes. Stephen took the bottle of wine from my hands and filled my glass like a good boy before continuing with his eulogy. Yet, there is no amount of wine though that could have numbed me against the bomb that was about to hit.

Stephen scooted his chair around the table, sitting directly next to me, and I felt his hand gently touch my knee. “Holly freakin’ Hughes, I love you so goddamn much, and I never want you to forget that. I will always love you and no matter what happens, you will always be the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Best friend.

“But?” I whispered through the tears that had begun to fall.


And you know, the mind is a really funny thing. It has this way of protecting itself from horrifically traumatizing and upsetting experiences. It tries so hard to make us forget the moments that hurt us, and you know what? That moment in which Stephen broke my heart is one big blur.

Of course, that may or may not be due to the two very expensive bottles of wine I drank mostly by myself.

I can tell you there were tears; many, many tears. I think there was some yelling. I mean, it’s pretty safe to say there was, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what was said. There might have been a few bread sticks thrown. There could have been a few sympathetic diners that came rushing to my aid when I threatened to impale myself on a sugar spoon (or so I’ve been told).

But really, I can’t be too sure about the course of events that night. There was only one thing I was absolutely certain of.

Stephen was gay, and he was in love with someone else.





Her breath came hot and heavy against the thin flesh of my ear lobe as her fingers crept their way over the shoulders of my leather jacket, and down along the lapels against my chest. I felt her breasts, heaving against my back, and with a giggle that seemed to tickle the tiny hairs leading down to my ear canal, she asked if I’d like to show her my sword back at her place. Why we would travel somewhere else and not up to my hotel room, I didn’t understand. With an impatient sigh, I told her that, no, I wasn’t interested in checking out her apartment and no, I wasn’t interested in playing Show & Tell.

“I don’t really think you have a sword,” she laughed through the however-many-drinks she had consumed. “I meant I want to see…” Her muddled voice trailed off as she made her way around my bar stool, her hands diving for the fly on my jeans.

And that was my cue.

Before her hands could fumble their way through the difficult task of unzipping my pants, I stood up from my seat, placing my hands firmly on her bare shoulders to keep her from tipping over.

“So, that’s a yes?” She asked me, her eyelids only half-open as she gazed up at me. “I’ve always wanted to have sex with the B. Davis.”

“Always, huh,” I muttered absentmindedly, fishing my wallet from my back pocket. I pulled out a few bills and threw them on the bar to pay for the glass of whisky.

“Oh, my God, yeah,” she breathed, her breath laced with alcohol as her eyelids folded over in a slow blink. They opened partially, gazing up at me with enough hope to make me want to cry.

For just a sliver of time, I gave myself permission to appreciate her beauty; a youthful face, untouched by the harsh reality of age, while her body possessed the curvature brought on by just enough maturity to make her supple and seductive. I wouldn’t allow my eyes to make a spectacle of traveling down her hourglass figure, but I knew it was there, remembering her from earlier at the bookstore. How I remembered anybody at all, with all of the women that attended those things, was entirely beyond me but I always seemed to remember the ones who found me later on. The desperate ones. The ones that needed to find themselves between the sheets of their bed or mine; it didn’t matter which, as long as that was the end result to their efforts. All of those hours spent doing their hair and makeup and picking out the right outfit, it all had to amount to something, but it never did.

“Where do you live?” I asked, speaking slowly, and through her excitement and slurred tone, I got her address and wrote it down on the pad of paper I kept in the pocket of my jacket. I helped ease her onto the stool I had just been sitting on and made sure she was sitting steadily before removing my hands from her shoulders and asking the bartender for a couple cups of coffee.

With a flip of her perfectly tousled blonde hair, she slipped a finger through one of the belt loops on my jeans and tugged in a failed attempt to pull me between her spread thighs. Her dress had gathered, putting the skintight garment just somewhere below groin level and I kept my eyes forward as I watched the bartender pour the sloshing pot of coffee into a couple of mugs I hoped were clean.

“But I don’t need coffee, baby.” She walked her fingers up the front of my t-shirt before tracing the neckline with her sharpened nails. “I just need to pull that hair and ride your…”

A welcome interruption cut in as the bartender slid the mugs over to my waiting hands. “Here you go, Mr. Davis. Can I get you anything else?” He eyed the blonde with shifty eyes. “Security, maybe?”

“Actually, if you could call a cab for this young lady here, I would really appreciate it. Make sure she gets in safely.” I handed him the piece of paper with her address along with a hundred-dollar bill.

“Of course, sir,” he said with a curt nod and promptly picked up the phone.

I turned back to the pouting young woman, who looked more and more like a child with the ticking of the clock, and handed her a cup of coffee.

“But they said that you did this,” she whined, scowling up at me.

“Drink the coffee,” I instructed, and as though I possessed the tongue of Houdini, she did as I demanded. “Who’s ‘they?’” I inquired, but I knew all too well who they were.

They, as she began to sloppily iterate, were the ones my team referred to lovingly as, The Crazies. The fans that took to the internet whilst hidden behind their computer screens, to blast the message boards and various social media outlets with the things they wished were true. Rumors that I was dating someone of note, or more commonly, that I had bedded a legion of fans after a signing, or some other event. These convoluted, and untrue, stories were the reason for the occasional hotel visit from a hopeful fan looking for their own bragging rights.

“What’s your name?” I finally asked her, after she finished telling me about the women she had befriended on Twitter.

“Tracey,” she said in a quiet voice. The brazen vixen that previously sat there had wilted, leaving behind someone’s little girl.

“Tracey,” I parroted. She looked up at me from her empty mug. “Don’t believe everything you read online, okay? I think you’re smarter than that. I also think you’re better than this.”

“How do you know?” The shame dripped from her voice like molasses, coating and suffocating.

“Because,” I said, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, “if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have needed all that booze to come down here.”

She cracked a little smile. “So, if I wasn’t drunk, you would have?”

“Oh, hell no,” I stated incredulously and watched the fleeting optimism wash from her face. I put my own empty mug down on the bar as the bartender came over to tell us the cab had arrived. “But hey, I also wouldn’t have sat here drinking coffee with you, and I definitely wouldn’t have made sure you got home safe, so I guess there’s that.”


I felt a twinge of shame for my bluntness towards the girl. Tracey, I reminded myself as I walked toward the hotel’s lobby in search of the elevator. She had been young — too young – and I normally would have treated her with something resembling kid gloves, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I would have wanted someone to treat my own daughter with the same harsh crack of reality. Had I been so lucky to have a daughter. Or a son, for that matter.

“Thank God I got her home before someone else could get to her,” I muttered to myself as I passed through the lobby’s entryway.

“Would you like me to accompany you to your room, Mr. Davis?” An older gentleman with salt and pepper hair and a security uniform suddenly appeared by my side.

The lines on his face had initially been deceptive as I took a brief look at his build, assuring me that, yes, he could undoubtedly kick someone’s ass if need be, and I shook my head with a polite smile.

“No, I’ll be fine. Hotels at night aren’t usually a threat. Well, unless this was the Overlook. In which case, I might be pretty screwed, right?” I waited for a laugh, or a smile at best, but he rewarded my lame excuse for a joke without so much as a twinkle in his eye. “You know, Stephen King? The Shining?”

The security guard barely twitched an eyebrow. “No, sir, I’m not familiar with it.”

I cocked my head slightly, blinking back my disbelief. “Wow, really?”

“Yes, sir.”

The man would have made an excellent guard for Buckingham Palace, I decided, as I noticed that his face seldom changed expression and his voice remained in the same deep monotone. I was sure that he could not only kick someone’s ass, but if I had needed him to, he could have murdered a man successfully with a paperclip.

“Well, huh, I wouldn’t recommend you read it, or watch it for that matter.” I dramatically grimaced before pressing the up arrow for the elevator. “But anyway, thank you again for the offer, but I’ll be fine.”

“If you do require assistance, don’t hesitate to give the front desk a call.” His shoes tapped away to continue his rounds, his hands clasped behind his back and chest puffed out.

My eyes fluttered towards the doors of the elevator. “I would not fuck with that guy,” I mumbled under my breath.

The elevator dinged its arrival, and I was about to step on when a group of guys no more than twenty-two or twenty-three shouted for me to hold the door. They ran across the white-and-black checkered marble floor of the lobby right towards me, sneakers smacking and squeaking against the stone. My arm grew weary holding the elevator doors open waiting for them to slide their way into the enclosed space, but before I knew it, we were packed in like sardines with me manning the button panel. I caught a glimpse of the old security guard, eyeing the group of guys, almost assuredly considering the possibility that the hotel’s one celebrity and current claim to fame could very well wind up dead at the hands of a gaggle of sorority brothers.

“What floor, guys?” I asked them, breaking the rousing conversation about plans for an upcoming road trip to Comic Con.

“Oh, uh, fourteen, I think,” one kid stammered and reached into a pocket and then another, searching for his card key. “Here, uh… It’s twelve. Thanks, man.”

“No problem,” I said with every ounce of pleasantry I could pull together while I silently cursed slow elevators and not being on a lower floor.

The whispers began shortly after the elevator began its climb, as though my elbow wasn’t wedged between the ribs of the shortest member of the group.

“Is he, you know?”

“I don’t know, dude. Looks like him.”

“Ask him.”

“No, you ask him.”

“Come on, don’t be a pussy. You do it.”

The hushed exchange between two of the four friends passed until I finally took the liberty myself of turning my head and said, “Guys, I’m practically standing inside you. Whispering is doing nothing to keep you covered, so yes, I’m B. Davis, but people who are usually this intimate with me call me Brandon, so please. Call me Brandon.”

The four friends all turned towards each other, their faces taking on a shocked expression at the acknowledgement of sharing their journey in the elevator with a celebrity. As I waited for one of them to gather the courage to say something, I raised my tired eyes to the blinking numbers lining the top of the elevator doors and sighed. Floor three, eight to go.

“This is fucking awesome, Mr. B. Dav – I mean, Brandon. The two of us,” he gestured towards another friend, “we love your books. I keep telling these other guys to give your shit a chance but they’re kinda illiterate.”

One of the other two gawked at him as he punched his buddy in the arm. “I am not, you asshole. I just have better shit to do than read.” And suddenly embarrassed, he glanced in my direction, avoiding any eye contact. “No offense, man. I’m sure your books are great.”

“None taken,” I said with a genuine smile. Honesty was better than false flattery any day. I tried turning my body more towards the two young men who were actual fans. “Were you guys at the signing today?”

“Nah, man. We wanted to, but our flight was delayed. We didn’t get to the bookstore in time to get our wristbands”, the taller one said, disappointment prominent in his voice, momentarily forgetting the unique position he had found himself in. And then the reality hit again. “But dude, this is so much better. This is… It’s an honor, actually.”

“Well, hey, I can sign something now.” I took a Sharpie from my pocket as they scrambled to open their backpacks, both of them revealing one of my books.

I asked their names and learned that Chris was the outspoken one while Rob was still silent and possibly star-struck (the two non-fans were Drew and Matt), and I set to work signing their books. Very rarely was I given the opportunity to personalize autographs; my signings were more often than not hectic cluster-fucks that required heightened security measures and a strict time table. It was often done as an assembly line – shake a hand, take book, scribble name in book, hand book back, next. I rarely got to even ask their name, let alone take the extra two seconds to scribble a nice personalized message along with my signature. Nick always told me it was better that way. He said that personalized messages caused the book to depreciate in value. “And besides,” he would say, “What if it’s a gift?”

I had always understood his point, but fuck it, I thought, as I scribbled, “To Rob – I like the strong, silent type. – B. Davis.” These guys would have a fun story to tell their buddies and have a message in their book to go along with the memory, and if they could only get a couple hundred bucks off of it on eBay, so be it. I handed the book back to Rob, and set to writing “Chris – The honor is all mine. – B. Davis.”

As I passed Chris his copy, I noticed the elevator was just about to arrive at my floor, I announced that it had been fun, and meant it. They asked if they could get a picture, and while normally I would have been anxious to get the hell out of there and back into my room, I reminded myself that this was a whole lot better than worrying about a drunk girl named Tracey. I took one of their phones, extended my arm and angled the camera lens down at the five of us, and snapped the shot just in time for the elevator doors to open. I wished them all a pleasant night and listened as they all tried to get their “thank you’s” in before the doors could close and muffle their voices.

In the silence of the long repetitive hallway, I held my breath and shut my eyes, taking in the nothingness that surrounded me for the first time that day. Somewhere further down the hall came the therapeutic hum of an ice machine, and I listened intently through my meditative state, just enjoying the lack of voices. It had been a long and tiring day, and although I had another couple of weeks before the conclusion of the even more long and tiring tour, I was ready to cross the New York state line and head back to my small-town life and the house I managed to call a home. I was ready to return to my life.

The quiet was broken by the opening of a heavy hotel room door. I snapped my eyes open, hoping whoever it was hadn’t seen me standing motionless in the hallway, only to find my best friend slumped against the door frame. His hair was mussed in a way only sleep could accomplish and his eyes, without his glasses, squinted in my direction.

“Welcome home,” he said in a drowsy mumble.

“How the hell did you know I was coming up?” I asked, startled by his apparent telepathy.

“Mm,” he mumbled, scratching at the fine hairs on his bare washboard stomach. “I had gotten up to take a leak and heard some kids yelling in the hallway.”

“And if it hadn’t been me, you would have scarred someone for life with this whole Slenderman thing you have going on here,” I said as my hands gestured toward his pale, lanky figure.

“What’s a slender man?” Nick squinted at me before his face was taken over by a yawn that was indeed contagious.

Yawning myself, I pushed him back into the suite, afraid that someone else would enter the hallway and be blinded by the pastiness of his shirtless torso. The door had barely clicked into place before I slumped onto a couch. Nick sat down at the other end of the sofa and ran his hand back and forth over his short hair, the remnants of mousse helping it to stick out in any direction he pushed the strands towards.

“So, you hooked up with someone?” He spoke with clarity, the sleep leaving his voice. I shook my head at the question, glaring at him through the strands of hair that had fallen out of place. “Oh, yeah? Then explain that.”

I followed his accusing gaze to the lipstick on my neck, a temporary souvenir from Tracey. I hoped she had gotten home without decorating the backseat of the cab with the night’s fruitless adventure. “One of the girls from the bookstore decided to get bold and drank herself into coming down here.”

“She got past security?” Nick raised a concerned eyebrow, immediately launching into professional mode, and for good reason. It was a wonder there hadn’t been others getting into the hotel to track me down.

I shrugged, too tired to care. “I guess so.”

“Humph.” Nick shrugged, tracing the outline of the couch’s arm with his twiggy fingers. “Well, anyway, last night here, man. You could have gone with her, or I could have made myself invisible here.”

“She was a kid, Nick,” I sighed with a pang of irritation but it lasted only a moment as I rubbed the lipstick from the crook of my neck, its tackiness clinging to my skin. “And how many times do I have to tell you that I’m not going to just whisk them away to my bedroom simply because they’re willing? What kind of asshole would that make me?”

“The kind who hasn’t gotten laid in half a decade,” Nick said in jest, but quickly realized he wasn’t getting a laugh from me. Then it was his turn to sigh. “Hey, you’re right, okay? But it might not kill you to open yourself up to the idea of actually being with someone. And you never know when one of these girls could be someone, you know?”

Running a hand through my hair again, the long strands sliding between my fingers, I stared at the intricate design of the ceiling in the living area, decorated with white crown molding against a backdrop of light grey. Just a few feet away was the open door to my room; a lavish spread of exquisite furniture, a flat-screen TV, and a bar that was anything but mini.

I turned to Nick, my eyelids suddenly feeling heavy. Gesturing out towards the room around us, I said, “This is what they want.” He looked around curiously. “Come on, Nick, you’re not stupid.”

“You’re more than just this,” he tried to reason, as he returned to ruffling his hair absentmindedly. His eyes suggested he was ready to go back to his room and sleep before our three-hour road trip the next day.

I nodded slowly. “Right, but these women that you encourage me to go out with don’t see that. They don’t want more than this.” They didn’t want the man who couldn’t cook to save his life, or the guy who would rather eat at a diner than a four-star restaurant. They didn’t see me as a fan of rock music, a drinker of black coffee, a lover of cats, or the devourer of sitcoms. None of them have any desire to acknowledge that person could even exist under all of the glamour they see on TV, because that person was ordinary, no different than any man in any store they might bump into on any day. “They want B. Davis, Nick, because he has fancy hotels and party invitations. Why the hell would they trade that to be with Brandon, some sarcastic bastard with a cat and a Keurig?”

I wished they only wanted the bastard with the cat and the Keurig.

© 2017 Kelsey Kingsley