** Warning: NSFW. Sorry, Eleanor ; ) **
I still can’t quite believe she went through with it. But there she is, sitting on my couch next to my best friend, poring over a book of Frank Lloyd Wright projects. She’s got it balanced across her knees and they’re rhapsodizing about what a genius the man was. Well, sure, but he was crazy as all get out, too.
It had made my chest ache when they’d been arguing about whether a certain type of brick had been used on some obscure building or not. India had thrust an insistent finger in Holo’s face. “I can prove it. Wait here.”
She’d shifted Holo and Lani’s dog Loki off her lap and then off she’d gone down the hall to what used to be her room. She sleeps in my bed now. When she’d come back, it was this book in her hands. She had looked at it. I can’t give India presents. Well, maybe now she’d let me. I haven’t tried. But before… Yes, I could cook for her, get a new hank of rope I thought would be striking against her skin, but beyond that, I knew she wouldn’t accept anything. Would probably withdraw if I’d tried. So I hadn’t. Not even when she’d arrived the day after Christmas, especially not when she’d been here on Valentine’s Day. I still don’t know when her birthday is.
Instead, I’ve left things in her room hoping she might pick them up because they’d be of interest. Like this book. Like another on Cold War armaments I got after we’d had a heated discussion about the Cuban missile crisis. A third on Beat Generation literature because she’d quoted Naked Lunch offhand over dinner one night.
I can’t stop staring at her as she jabs triumphantly at an image in the book. “I told you so!”
Holo groans and buries his face in his hands, muttering a stream of curse words while India laughs. She’s enjoying herself. God knows she loves to be right, little miss competitive. Maybe if I didn’t know her so well, I’d think that was all. A good time with some old friends of mine. But I do know her better than that, know what to watch for: tightness around her eyes, the way it sometimes takes her a split-second too long to respond or react. She’s feeling brittle because it’s fun but it’s still hard. She’s doing it though, for me.
Then someone’s snapping fingers in front of my face and I blink. “What the hell, Lani?”
“Don’t ‘What the hell, Lani?’ me. I’ve been trying to get your attention for like five minutes but you can’t keep your eyes off her.”
My mouth tightens into a grimace. “Sorry, I—”
“You worry about her, I know.” Lani has kind eyes. When she’s not giving me shit at any rate. And right now, paired with a gentle smile, her expression is pure benevolence. “You don’t have to worry about Holo. He probably won’t say anything too stupid.”
I raise my eyebrows and she snorts. “Okay, you’re right. You could shut him up with dessert.”
Food’s a good distraction for Holo. He never learned how to cook, not even when Lani was in college on the mainland and he was here, living in a shithole of an apartment with half a dozen other guys. A kitchen is a mystical place to him, somewhere magic happens. Which makes him an awesome dinner guest. He treats even the simplest meals like a work of alchemy. No wonder my dad had issued an open invitation for Holo to eat with us anytime.
I clear my throat and raise my voice to be heard over India’s schoolyard taunting.
“Hey, mili. Would you stop giving Holo such a hard time and help me with dessert?”
I’d baked a tart this morning while India was still asleep and had her lay out the fruit on the top, knowing she’d get lost in arranging the pieces just so.
“Sure.” She shifts the book onto Holo’s lap. “Better study up builder boy.”
In the kitchen, India takes down plates, stretching to reach the shelf they’re on. When she turns to open the drawer to get the forks, I can’t help but trap her against the counter, lay my hands over hers and rock my hips against her.
“Keep your hands there,” I murmur into her ear. Her audible inhale speaks to her surprise, her excitement. Holo and Lani are sitting on the same couch now, Lani leaning over to whisper something. They’re not paying any attention to us on the far side of the kitchen island. So I slip a hand under India’s skirt—god love her for rarely wearing anything else—and zero in on the marks I made this morning with a cane, pinching, tweaking. They’ll be there for days, reminding her that she’s mine. For now they’re relatively fresh and it doesn’t take much to bring them alive again, make her squirm against my touch.
“Be quiet. You don’t want them to know what we’re up to.”
There’s a small, choked noise in her throat and I smile inwardly. I fondle her and glide a hand up the outside of her skirt before wrapping my fingers hard around her waist to keep her pinned where I want her. She hasn’t moved her hands.
“Spread your legs, pet.”
She stiffens and I wonder if I’ve gone too far. Holo and Lani are still engrossed with each other. I’m used to being the third wheel when we hang out and it ceased to be awkward a long time ago. Honestly, it had been more awkward when I’d brought someone along. This, though…this is better.
“Did you not hear me? I could say it louder.” I’m fully prepared for India to safe out. This is pushing my luck. But instead of a soft “red,” she takes a deep breath and then inches her feet apart. Victory. I move the hand on her waist to the small of her back and apply pressure until she bends over the counter slightly. It’s just enough to give me better access, if not great. But then, though I don’t ask her to, she goes up on her toes, offering herself. Her permission, her encouragement—Take more, take everything I have. I’ll give it to you and delight in the giving.—it nearly kills me. I slip two fingers into her panties and then inside her to find her soaking wet. Jesus.
“You like this, don’t you, you filthy girl?”
She makes a tiny whimper; I’ve gone far enough. I want this evening to go well. I want her to do it again, and she won’t if she’s embarrassed. So I ease my fingers in and out of her a few times, kissing behind her ear, before I withdraw.
Her hips chase my touch and I press firmly into her back. “That’s all for now, you greedy little thing. You’re going to beg me for more later.”
If my head weren’t right next to hers, my ear so close to her mouth, I’d never hear the barely whispered, “Yes, sir.”
I give her one last hard pinch, picturing the bruised flesh between the pads of my fingers, and let her up. She’s a tad flushed but doesn’t say anything as she smooths her skirt down. Just clears her throat and proceeds to open the drawer and take out forks and a knife.
I step over to the sink, washing my hands thoroughly while trying to ignore exactly how hard my dick is. What the fuck was I thinking? But that was too much fun. Meanwhile, India’s retrieved the tart from the fridge and put it out. We wait a minute for Holo and Lani to straggle over from where they’ve been canoodling on the couch. Fifteen years and they’re still that much in love.
When we sit down at the table, Holo whistles. “Damn.”
“It’s beautiful,” says Lani. “Too pretty to eat.”
“Hell, no. Nothing’s that pretty. Cut me a big ol’ slice, please.”
India laughs as she takes up the knife and makes a neat cut. She moves the blade to create a wedge and looks to Holo for his approval.
She widens the space between the cut and the knife, raising her eyebrows. “Bigger.”
“Holo,” Lani scolds. “India, that’s fine. I don’t want him eating the whole damn thing.”
India makes the cut and plates the piece gracefully before proceeding to serve the rest of us. When Holo takes a bite, he makes an exaggerated noise of appreciation. “Where’d you get this, man?”
“Same place I got everything else you just horked down, you bottomless pit.”
“I didn’t know you could bake, Cris,” Lani observes between bites.
“It’s not all that different from cooking. Less forgiving but otherwise same idea.”
“I didn’t doubt your competence, just your interest.”
I look to my right where India is methodically separating bits of tart with her fork before tucking them into her mouth in silence. Laying a hand on her knee, I trail it up to mid-thigh before I get her attention.
“Yeah, well, India likes cake.”
She chokes a little and I squeeze. Hard. I’ll check for the evenly spaced bruises later.
Lani continues to prattle on about her favorite sweets. I’m glad for the easy conversation that lets India off the hook for a while. When we’re through—after Holo’s helped himself to a third piece and the tart is two-thirds gone—she helps me clear the table and make some tea we take back to the sitting area. I ask her to get the sugar to feed Lani’s sweet tooth and when she comes back, I can see the indecision on her face. Where to sit?
Her gaze flickers with longing to the space between my knees and I want to tell her it’s okay. Holo and Lani know, but knowing isn’t the same as seeing. Even though they’d do their best, I can’t guarantee the complete neutrality India would need to feel good about putting that side of herself on display. Before she can resign herself to sitting by my side, I get an idea. I toss a pillow on the floor and beckon to her.
“Come here, mili.”
Her eyes widen with alarm, begging me not to do this. Nonetheless, she walks toward me slowly and sets the sugar on the table before sitting between my thighs. I put my hands on her and she’s wound tight, so tight. I dig my thumbs into her muscles, starting to break up the tension.
“Does that feel better?” I ask and she nods. We both know I mean being at my feet, but Holo doesn’t.
“What the hell did you do to her?”
I shrug as I tell a little white lie. “While we were cleaning up, she helped me move a desk. Tweaked something in her shoulder.”
“I don’t know why she puts up with you, brah. She spends half a day getting here and then you use her for menial labor? I would’ve ditched your ass a long time ago.”
As Holo continues to mock me, Loki pads over and curls up next to India, resting his head in her lap. She absent-mindedly strokes his speckled head and rubs his silky ears between her fingertips. Loki doesn’t like everyone, but he took to India right away. Maybe because they’re twins in a way; the mongrel has one brown eye and one of the palest blue.
“You guys should get a dog,” Holo declares. I shoot him a look, because even though India’s doing her level best, I know this whole relationship thing isn’t easy for her. The last thing I want to do is push too hard. Talking about sharing a living creature seems like a shove.
The back of her neck turns pink. I’ve never noticed she blushes here too.
“I like dogs,” she mumbles and Loki turns in her lap to offer his belly, which she obligingly scratches. I dig my thumbs under her shoulderblades. Maybe rougher than will feel good, but the pain is its own kind of reward.
Huh. India likes dogs. I would’ve thought she’d be more of a cat person. But when I think about it, dogs make more sense. They offer unconditional love, look at you like you’re the only thing that matters in the world, and they’re always thrilled out of their furry little bodies to see you. She travels way too much to have one in San Diego, but maybe I could make that happen here.
India doesn’t say much for the rest of the evening, and that’s fine. She could’ve been silent and sullen and I wouldn’t have really cared. What mattered is that she’d agreed. No, more than agreed: she’d offered. And beyond that, followed through. I get it now.
After we bid Holo and Lani and Loki good night, India getting down on her knees to give the mutt a proper last scratch behind the ears, I realize I’ve been on edge too. Hoping things would go well and hair-triggered to anything that could’ve gone wrong. I get an inkling of what this must’ve been like for her. Exhausting.
When the door closes behind them, I bend down until I’m close enough that I could lick her ear. “You’ll be on your feet only long enough to get to the studio. I want you naked, ready and waiting for me. Do it now.”
Her fingers curl on the tops of her thighs and I hear the gratitude and delight in her quiet voice. “Yes, sir.”