When I ran into my ex in the post office, I didn’t think anything of it. Then he offered me an arrangement for some low-key fun between the sheets. It’s been five years, but I still remember the feel of his body against mine. His touch was electric, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to feel him again.
But now I can’t get enough of him—his lips on my skin, his fingers buried deep in me, his body pulsing in time with mine. He’s an obsession I can’t shake.
When the time comes, will I be able to break it off? Or will I give in to my fixation?
“Would you be free for coffee this week?” Vernon had asked me exactly four days ago as we waited in line at the post office. This was after five minutes of small talk where we avoided any meaningful conversation.
The question doubled my initial shock of seeing him after so long, so my “yes” could only be explained by a complete malfunction of the working part of my brain. After all, I hadn’t seen him in five years, blissfully living in ignorance since our break up. We exchanged numbers, but I didn’t expect to hear from him ever again.
Yet here I am, approaching Poppies, a cute little coffee bar we used to meet up at. I moved away from this neighborhood some time ago, so it wasn’t convenient for me to frequent it anymore. But maybe he still did.
Surprisingly, I’m not as nervous about this meeting as I expected myself to be. He texted me two days ago, so maybe it was because I had plenty of time to laugh at my initial reaction. This was no different than catching up with an old friend, I said to myself and calmly went about my days. ~Vernon can’t affect me anymore~, I thought proudly.
This foolish belief held up until now.
Even though I’m ten minutes early—like always—he’s already waiting for me in the bar’s outdoor patio. This was so rare during our ten-month relationship that it now gives me a slight sense of unease.
The first thing I notice is his long, taut body leisurely draped over the wrought iron chair, the ankle of one leg set over the knee of the other. One of his sinewy arms is outstretched over the tabletop, his fingers tapping to the tune wafting from the speakers. Those pitch-black eyes, the darkest I’ve ever seen, trace lazily over his surroundings like he’s overseeing his kingdom. You can almost spot the quiet confidence simmering in the hot air around him.
Silently, I curse the fact that he is probably the only person not bent over a phone. He’ll surely see me approach, and suddenly, the baggiest summer dress I have camouflaged my body in feels like it reveals too much.
As soon as one of my feet steps into the patio, my gaze purposefully cast down to shield me from his, I feel his eyes on me, an awareness that never really left me, after all.
“Hey,” he says happily as I approach the table. A wide grin breaks out over the face I once found irresistible, and he stands to greet me. I half expect him to pull out my chair, but he steps in front of me, bends his head as one of his hands lightly touches my shoulder, and kisses me on the cheek.
A friend’s greeting.
We are not friends.
“Hey,” I reply, already dazed, and quickly sit across from him. He settles in too, shifting his chair to face me.
“So happy you could make it,” he says warmly. “I just arrived myself. Let’s order and get that out of the way.”
“Yes, ah, lemme see.” I look over the menu as if I don’t already know it by heart. But I need to stare at anything but him, finding his choice of words odd.
Get it out of the way? Way of what?
Once our orders are placed, I steel myself to look at him and regret it immediately. When we were together, being the sole focus of his attention had the effect of a strong aphrodisiac. Now, five years later, it’s unnerving. I don’t know how to properly react to it. Or, even better, not react at all.
As if he can sense my lingering discomfort, he offers me a placating smile before he speaks. “I didn’t say it the other day, but man…you haven’t changed one bit since the last time I saw you. If anything, you look even better now,” he says as his eyes brazenly roam over the part of me not obscured by the table.
Opening with compliments, I see.
Something is awry.
“Thank you. You look well too.”
It’s an understatement. He was twenty-four when we broke up, a year older than me. He was wiry, kind of skinny. Cute.
He looks…solid would be the right word. He grew into his frame. Broad, round shoulders. Lean muscles. Nothing bulky. A few creases around his eyes. Sharper face, like he lost baby fat.
Handsome, but not boringly perfect.
Just my type.
“So… How’re things?” I ask, trying to steer the conversation to neutral waters.
He leans back in his chair and spreads his legs under the table. He rolls his phone in his hand, all the while watching me closely with those deceptively calm eyes. An absurd urge to hide spikes my heart rate for a moment.
“Very good, actually. I’ve started my own transportation business. It’s going very well.”
“Oh, nice. I’m glad.”
“I’m working as a preschool office coordinator at Sunrise Childcare Center. It’s been okay, so far.”
He nods, but I can tell his mind is somewhere else; his eyes are boring into me like I’ve said something completely indecent.
What is going on? I scream internally as I shift in my chair. The waiter comes and goes, leaving our drinks on the table.
Vernon’s gaze trails after him, allowing me a glimpse of his hard, almost arrogant profile, punctuated with a straight, imperial nose. Only his long, curved neck gives him an uncanny appearance of unearthly elegance, a distinct softness among the mass of sharp ridges and firm lines.
Unchecked warmth uncoils in my belly as the long-buried memories of the paths I took with my lips over those parts of him resurface. When he looks back at me, I blink and reach for my water in an attempt to anchor myself in the present, where my lips no longer know the taste of his skin.
“I’m guessing you’re quite surprised I’ve asked you to meet?” he asks in a slightly amused tone, obviously aware of my fidgeting.
“To be completely honest, yes,” I say after gulping the water down.
“I have a…,” he starts, then looks to the side like he’s searching for the right words.
“Yes?” I prompt him, roasting on low fire.
He cuts his gaze back to me, a single-minded purpose narrowing his eyes. “Actually, let me start with this. Are you seeing someone?”
The bluntness of the question slams into me like a fist.
“W-why?” I splutter, my insides tightening.
He grins. I almost want to answer with a lie because I sense danger.
“It’s kind of important for me to know if I’m going to continue.”
“Okay… No, I’m not seeing anyone. Why—”
“Good, that’s good,” he rushes out, cutting me off.
I laugh nervously. “I’m not sure I’d agree.”
He laughs too. Too happily for my taste.
“I’m not seeing anyone either,” he offers, like I asked. Like it’s significant.
“Hmm…okay?” I frown. Why should I care?
He leans in smoothly, like a cat, and clears his throat before speaking. “I have a proposition for you.”
Gears start turning in my head. He laces his fingers together, and I discreetly check out his ring finger, both relieved and concerned when I find it ringless.
“You see, I’d like us to meet. Occasionally. For, um, shall we say, a specific purpose.”
I stare at him blindly as those words sink into me like hooks.
“You with me?” he teases, but worry wrinkles his forehead.
I nod before answering. “Oh, yeah. I’m just… Well, I’m not quite sure what you mean?” I pretend, but I know. Oh boy, do I know. And I want him to spell it out for me.
He cocks his head, his mouth pulling to the side. Faking ignorance was always one of my shortcomings, but he gracefully allows it. He needs me, and being in my good graces only helps him. The realization steels my spine.
“Here’s the deal,” he starts, opening his palms. “I work a lot. I travel a lot, for work and for pleasure. That means I’m often out of the country. I also take regular scuba diving trips, and those trips can last weeks. I don’t have the time for a relationship.”
He pauses, trying to gauge my reaction. Fishing for something else as well. For…what? Does he think I’ll stop him? Acknowledge it? I just raise my eyebrows, savoring the moment.
He exhales loudly before continuing.
“And to be honest, I don’t want a relationship if I can’t fully commit to it, which, for the time being, I can’t. However…” His gaze slides over me as if he’s confirming his decision, and I have to take a steadying breath. “I still have needs, of course. I’d like to have them met by one person instead of a string of one-night stands. I tried that and, well… I found them too time-consuming and, more often than not, unsatisfying.”
I mumble…something, unable to form proper words.
He carries on, probably finding that encouraging.
“When I saw you the other day, I thought”—he looks at me carefully—“I thought, why not? Why not ask you?”
How flattering, I think. My ex wants to fuck me. Because it’s convenient for him. He can’t find the time for the real thing, so I’ll do. The triumphant feeling from a minute ago dissolves like sawdust in my mouth.
When I don’t say anything, he frowns.
“Shit, I didn’t mean… I didn’t mean to offend you, Mae. I just thought”—his voice dips, his eyes mellowing—“we were so good together. In bed. We clicked so well. Wouldn’t you agree?”
God, yes. I would. Out loud, if I was insane.
Unwilling to give away my intrusive thoughts, I straighten in my chair before saying, “I’m not offended, Vernon. I am, however, surprised.”
Astonished would be a more appropriate word.
“Of course, I understand that. Maybe I should have been more tactful.”
I look away, taking a moment to carefully pick my words and hide the fact that I dreamed about this, about him wanting me in any way, shape, or form, night after night, for a fucking year after our breakup.