INDEPENDENCE SHOULD HAVE been my middle name.
Hell, it should have been my first name.
Instead I was saddled with the name Mary Theresa Winters. My parents were highly religious and they wanted me to be some kind of saint. The burden of trying to be perfect in a more than imperfect world was too much to bear. Against my parents’ wishes, as soon as I turned eighteen, I legally changed my name to Tess Winters.
They had all but disowned me by then anyway.
The statement is a little harsh, but not far from the truth.
To think back to the event that led to our discourse, I have a hard time believing that girl was me. What happened might not have been right, but I still believe my parents’ reaction was extreme.
During the summer that I would turn seventeen, I secretly started dating a boy from church group. Fiona had gone to camp somewhere out west, so I had a lot of free time. Very quickly this boy became my boyfriend. He had a twin, and the three of us started hanging out whenever I could.
One summer night, Taylor and Tyler both came over to my house. My parents were out at a church meeting, and they’d never know I had two boys in the house. I wasn’t allowed to date, so I knew I was breaking the rules.
That night it was really hot, and the three us went down in the basement to watch a movie. It was cooler down there, and without worry of my parents catching us, we could watch whatever we wanted. About an hour into the rated R movie, Tyler and I started making out. After a few minutes, he pulled back and asked me if I would let his brother kiss me too. The idea excited me, so I said yes.
That was how it started.
The next week, after my parents had gone to their weekly church meeting, the three of us went down in the basement again, turned on a rated R movie, and this time after Tyler and I started kissing, he asked me what I thought about letting Taylor feel me up while he fingered me.
Tyler and I had fooled around at that point, but we had never gone all the way. I was a virgin. He was not. I thought about what he was asking. I wasn’t naïve. I knew where the situation was headed. What I wasn’t sure about was if I wanted to give up my virginity to two boys.
It was different.
Then again, I had always felt different.
In the end, I agreed.
When the twins came over again, Tyler asked me what I thought about blowing them both, at the same time. I knew if I said yes, the next step was sex for the three of us. It would be two guys and me. And I didn’t hate the idea, but I didn’t love it either. Still, the idea of doing something my parents would never approve of thrilled me, so I told them I would, next time.
I had to ask Fiona what to do, and over the phone, that was going to take days.
When we saw each other again, I sat on the couch and the twins both stood in front of me. I took Tyler in my mouth first. Fiona had suggested I move back and forth, so I did. And I was glad I followed her advice. I liked the noises they made. The way I knew they each really wanted this. It made me feel like I had control, something I never had. And I wondered if this girl, the one with these two boys, was the real me.
The twins and I kept this up for the remainder of the summer. It was the last week before school started before Tyler had the nerve to ask me if I wanted to fuck them both. I still hadn’t decided, so I told him I’d think about it. Fiona would be back the next day, and she’d be able to help me decide.
That night though, we did take all our clothes off. We’d been talking about different positions, and Taylor had come up with the idea of him going down on me while I gave Tyler a blowjob. Looking back, I never really came, and the boys came super fast. Still, at the time, I felt like someone wanted me, and that I had control. I kind of felt like me.
It was different.
And I liked that feeling.
But my euphoria wasn’t to last.
My parents came home early that night, and when they saw a strange car in my driveway, they both came downstairs to see who I had allowed over without asking them first.
The humiliation still lives somewhere deep within me.
The names they called me, the looks I received, the shame I felt, it was unbearable. Any promiscuous thoughts I had been having were buried. That girl could never be the real me. She was too bad.
As a result of my actions, my parents decided to move me to an all girls’ religious school two hours away. I would be attending on a work program to pay my tuition as my parents couldn’t afford it, and I’d be completing my senior year there.
I didn’t want to go.
I was going to miss Fiona.
They made me.
Like I said, I never had any control.
That wasn’t the first time I told my parents I hated them, but it was the last.
As ironic as it is, it turns out that school might have saved me from going down the wrong path. In retrospect, I had been looking to rebel against my parents’ values for a very long time, and the twins came along at the right time.
My parents never did understand me, but I know now that they did love me in the only way they new how, or they wouldn’t have done what they had done.
Now, as I sit in my café and watch the color going on the walls and the floors turning from dull to shiny, I can’t help but wish they were here to be part of this, just as I had wished they were at Gaspard when Ansel and I opened those doors.
There may have been many times in my life that I hated my parents, but I never stopped loving them.
The floor machine turns off and I refocus on my task at hand.
“This wood is in fantastic shape,” the carpenter compliments. “I just have the back room left. I should be done by Monday afternoon.”
I quickly wipe a stray tear away and stand up. “That’s great news. I didn’t expect you to finish so quickly.”
“Nick asked me if I could hustle, and I owed him a favor.”
I smile at that. “Well thank you. The floors look great.”
“It’s no problem. I’m glad you like the work,” the carpenter says, and starts to pack up.
Nick has been a huge help. I wanted to do this alone, but after I made over a dozen calls on Tuesday morning, I quickly discovered the lead time for contractor work is more than thirty days out.
That’s when I decided to drive Max over to Nick’s office and take him up on his no-strings offer to assist me in coordinating the renovations. While there, I met his two field scouts, Ash and Hayden. Between the two of them and Nick, all the contractor work was arranged by the day’s end. That was Tuesday, today is Friday, and the place is shaping up quickly.
Sitting back down at my makeshift desk, I move my mouse and continue with the design template the sign maker sent to me. I have decided to call the café, ‘The Press Room’. A play on coffee and the fact that this place used to be an old printer’s shop. I would like a typewriter-like font so I click on my choices and watch the sign come to life, virtually anyway.
As I click font after font, my mind wanders to the past five nights. Each night spent with Nick. Each night, as soon as we got Max to bed, we raced for the spare room desperate to have each other. And each night I fell asleep with him by my side and woke up the same way.
I’m not lovesick, don’t worry.
In fact, I try not to put much stock in it.
I’m the flavor of the month, after all.
Knowing me, you’d think I’d be livid about that fact, but looking at things objectively, he’s the guy after my long-term relationship went bad, and by all accounts that makes him my rebound guy.
And rebound relationships never work out anyway, or so they say, but I’ll take what we have until we don’t anymore.
That’s all I can do.
I sigh and rest my head on my chin, memories of this morning rushing back. When I woke, I rolled on top of him, and stared down waiting for him to open his eyes. When he didn’t, I traced one fingertip over his eyebrows, one at a time. He smiled, and I knew he was awake. Still, he didn’t open his eyes, so I drew a finger over his lips, they parted just enough for me to slip the point of my index finger inside. He bit it gently, then sucked, and the sensation sent a delicious shudder through out my entire body.
It was sweet and wicked at the same time, and right at that moment, I felt myself becoming attached to him in a way I knew I shouldn’t.
“See you Monday, Miss Winters,” the carpenter calls, and I shut down the thought process that will only make me overthink my situation.
Collecting myself, I twist in my seat. “Bye, have a great weekend.”
“I’m leaving too Ma’am,” the painter says.
I give him a wave. “I’m twenty-eight, not eighty-eight, it’s Tess.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I mean Tess.”
I laugh. “Thanks for everything. See you Monday.”
Alone in my new café, I cast aside my thoughts of Nick and I in bed and ponder what to do tonight. Nick and Max are going to Jace’s for their Friday night ritual. I could go out to eat, or to a movie, but I’m a little dirty and don’t really feel like getting all cleaned up to go out alone. In the end I decide I’ll just go back to Fiona’s. It’s not even five yet though, so I think I’ll finish up what I’m doing first.
Resuming plugging away at the sign-making app, I’m surprised when the door swings open. “Did you forget some—” I wheel around to say, but I am struck speechless when I see Nick standing there in the dapper suit he wore to work this morning.
One hand is shoved in his pocket. His pose is both casual and arrogant, and my breath catches. As soon as he catches my eye, he strides toward me in a manner that exudes confidence, charm, and power.
God, does it turn me on.
If someone would have asked me if I thought I’d be attracted to the alpha male persona, I would have said, “Hell no.”
I’d have been wrong.
“Hey,” he says averting his eyes from me to wander the space I’ve rented from him.
“Why hello,” I say in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
Nick stops right beside me, stares down at me, and then answers with, “I came to see how things are coming along.”
“Pretty good, if you ask me.”
He grins knowing things are pretty good because of him. “Got any plans for tonight that you can’t cancel?” he asks.
I purse my lips. “Depends.”
“Why you’re asking.”
Nick laughs softly. “Always so sassy. I’m asking because I want to do something with you.”
Surprised, I ask, “Aren’t you picking up Max and going directly over to Jace’s?”
He shakes his head no. “Scarlett is sick, so Jace had to cancel.”
“Oh, I get it. I’m the backup plan.”
“No, I had this idea in mind for tomorrow night, but since plans changed, I thought I’d move it up.”
“Move what up?” I ask ruefully.
“A change in routine.”
“Change in routine? What do you have in mind?” I ask huskily. The tone of my voice much more seductive than I had intended.
Nick raises a brow. “To be blunt—a big king-size bed.”
I tilt my head in confusion.
“I was thinking the three of us could head to my place, order pizza, and watch a movie,” he says.
I raise a brow. “Where does the big king-size bed come into play in that equation?” I tease.
“That would be you under me in my bed after Max passes out five minutes into a Disney movie.”
“Oh,” I smile.
He lifts my chin toward him. “What do you say?”
I shiver as our gazes meet and hold, but try to keep it light. “Sounds like fun. I’ll run back to Fiona’s and grab a bag for Max and I, and meet you there.”
“I’ll arrange for an Uber to pick you up.”
“That’s not necessary, I can drive.”
I glare at him. “What?”
“It will be there in an hour,” he insists, and I know arguing will get me nowhere.”
“And grab enough stuff for two nights.”
“You’re awful presumptuous. After all, tomorrow night is my night off.”
Nick traces his fingers around my lips. “I’m fairly certain after tonight, you’ll want to stay for another night.”
I close my laptop. “We’ll see.”
We’ll see might be the words I tell him, but I want to scream . . . yes.
Hell . . . yes.