“You didn’t have to pay for my dinner.”
“I was not about to let that ass heap pay for our dinner.”
“True, but you didn’t have to cover mine.”
He sighs heavily, “I wanted to.”
I smile at him not sure if he can see me in the dark minivan, “Thank you.”
“Would you like to come over? Maybe we could just relax and watch a movie or something.” My body instantly heats. The idea of going to his place to hang out elicits all sorts of ideas … none of which includes relaxing.
“Do you live with your mom?” I joke.
Ethan shakes his head at me, smirking. “I assure you we will be completely alone.” His hand slowly draws circles on my thigh. The sensation ricochets tremors of pleasure under every inch of my skin.
“Okay,” I softly agree.
It doesn’t take long and we pull up to a fair size home in a nice neighborhood near the hospital. Ethan easily pulls me and my chair up the few steps to the porch landing. I still haven’t gotten used to his ease with me in a wheelchair. It doesn’t bother him at all—that I know of.
I’m not sure if I am expecting a bachelor pad, or what. It’s far from a bachelor pad. The lay out is very open. The living room smoothly transitions into the dining room and then into a gourmet kitchen. “Your home is beautiful.”
“Thank you. Here let me help you with your coat.” Awkwardly, Ethan helps me shrug out of my jacket. “Did I tell you how beautiful you are today?”
I blush, not accustomed to compliments. When I first saw Heather lifting up the dress, I was skeptical. It is a color of plum I would never normally wear, and the front cuts very low; much lower than I’m comfortable with, and the material hugs tighter than my usual choice. “Have I mentioned how sexy you look in that suit?” I turn the attention around on him. Damn that smile. My heart melts every time he flashes it at me.
“Who me?” I play innocent.
“Here, let’s get you more comfortable.” Ethan pushes me to an overstuffed chocolate colored sofa and helps me onto the couch. “Do you want something to drink?” I feel a loss for words. I’m at a man’s home. He’s paying me unbelievable compliments. I haven’t been in this situation since I was a teenager. What now? “How about I pick?” I just nod.
After Ethan leaves the room, I’m able to breathe again. How the hell does he turn me into such a bottled up mess. I shake my head trying to gain some clarity. My eyes wander over his living space, and I get the overwhelming feeling that a woman added her touch. It’s too feminine to be just a males home. I have been to many of our friend’s homes. The single men never have their homes decorated with pictures and figurines. A guitar would adorn their corners, not thigh high candlesticks. A sense of uneasiness travels down my spine.
“Here you go.” Ethan hands me a pale pink glass of wine.
“What is it?”
“A White Zinfandel, nothing too exotic.” He winks, and I hurriedly take a drink feeling anxious. Ethan sits down sinking the couch, and I fall into him. He is so at ease—in his own element. He reaches his arm around my shoulder and pulls me closer. I can’t get my erratic breathing under control. He is causing so many emotions to run wild. “Nikki?” I peek over my shoulder, our eyes meeting. My heart thuds heavy against my chest. “I promise I will be a gentleman.” His words calm me until he presses his lips against mine. My heart soars again. The gesture is so intimate. He kisses so tenderly, but I can feel the need in it. He wants me. He pulls away, leaving me gasping for air. “I promise, let’s just relax and watch a movie.” His eyes are burning with desire as I look into them, but I’m grateful he’s giving me time. He leans back and pushes a button on the remote, turning the TV on above the fireplace.
“Ouch! What the …”
I roll over sleepily; a loud thud and a female’s voice awakens me. My arm flies up to guard my eyes from the burning intrusive light that flicks on.
“What … Why the hell are you in my house?” I force my eyes open to see who is yelling at me. It’s the beautiful young brunette I had seen at the hospital kissing Ethan. I sink.
“Wait. Aren’t you that crippled lady I saw at Ethan’s work?”
Whoever said that words don’t hurt, they were wrong. Tiny missiles are piercing into my chest and splintering on contact.
“What the hell is going on out here?” Ethan rushes into the living room disheveled. All my thoughts of the little twit momentarily disappear. The only thing he is wearing is a pair of silk pajama bottoms, hanging very low. His abdomen flexes as he groggily runs his hands through his hair. Damn—mother of gods he is one sexy man.
Her voice pulls me from my trance, “Are we bringing work home with us now?” She points her finger accusingly at me.
“Simone?” His eyebrows pull together in confusion, “Why the fuck are you here?”
“This is my house! What is she doing here?” Both of them turn to look at me like I’m a circus act … the main attraction.
Feeling like I’m under the spotlight—somewhere I don’t care to be, “I’ll leave,” I say, resolved to get the hell out of this situation.
“No!” Ethan barks, startling me. “She’s leaving.” He turns and glowers at Simone. “Get the hell out of my house.”
She stills, just staring him down. I cringe inwardly and feel very uncomfortable, but she doesn’t even blink. “Ethan baby,” she laughs. “You can’t kick me out. This is our house … both of our names are on it—remember?”
I can’t breathe. I knew this was all too good to be true. I should have listened to the warning signs. I’m not going to be the other woman. Why did he have to be deceptive? I gave him the chance to be open, hadn’t I? After all I told him about Sean and seeing how bad the situation had torn me apart. I push the blanket off my legs—realizing now that it had been draped over me. I’m surprised I’m no longer in my dress, but rather a pair of boxers and an unfamiliar T-shirt. By the look on Simone’s face, she knows exactly who they belong to. “Where’s my dress?” I scan the room and see my plum dress draped over the back of a chair.
If I have ever wanted to be strong—it’s right now. The word ‘crippled’, still ripping through my mind. I push off the couch. Once I’m standing straight, I take a deep breath. You can do this Nicole. Steadily, I step forward with my right leg. I stop—concentrate—I’m terrified. What if my leg doesn’t hold my weight? Willpower, I push my left leg forward. I stay standing. I repeat the motion—continuing to give myself that “you can do it pep talk”—inching closer to my wheelchair that Simone tripped over when she came in.
“Nikki, you don’t have to do this. How will you get home?”
I sit hard in my chair, exhausted from the huge feat I just made with those few steps. “Yes, I do.” I shrug, “and I’ll figure the rest out.”
“At least let me take you home.”
“You obviously have other things you need to deal with.” I look at Simone … I want to wipe the smug look right off her face. I wheel myself to my dress and pull it and my purse from the chair. Without looking back I turn for the door. The roll of shame.
“Nikki, please.” His scent envelopes me when he gets behind me. I want to give in and let him help me, but after all of the events, I need to be strong—I need to be strong for me. No more getting walked all over. I shiver, feeling his hands on my shoulders.
“I’ll find my own way, but thanks,” I say, my voice shaky and tears in the midst of breaking through.
“At least let me help you down the stairs.” I nod in agreement, letting him help me down the stairs to the sidewalk. “Nikki,” he pleads again. “It’s the middle of the night, don’t go. Simone—she’s nothing to me … I swear.” I want to believe him, but I can’t get over his secrecy and my internal fight for survival tells me—walk away.
“I’m not going to be the other woman.” I place my hands on my wheels and push off— getting myself away from him.
“You wouldn’t be the other woman … you would be the woman.” I hear him say. I keep going forward. When I know that I have disappeared into the darkness, I let the tears escape. I drag my phone out of my purse. The screen lights up, 3:27. I don’t want to call Heather; another fail in the Nicole Cooper novel. I search for a taxi on my phone and dial.
“Where are we going?”
I search the man’s eyes in the rearview mirror.
“The Comfort Inn.”
Pulling from the curb, I briefly turn my head to look at the street fading from my view. I’m a hopeless cause; my husband left me, I lost a best friend, my children are moving on, I’m a deadweight to my sister, and the hope of ever finding someone to love me is nothing, but a fantasy.
There is no point. Nothing will bring my tomorrow.