Chapter 1: Fizzling Out
It was bizarre, you pondered, how so much of your life was propelled by fingertips. Taciturn dismissals, calming platitudes, beckoning betrayals. One small digit tainted your voice of reason and waged war against your sense of integrity, fuel to burgeoning self doubt peppered with moments of near-transcendental lucidity.
You were such a good person. Everyone always told you so, but now you weren't so sure.
It began as it ended, or at least as the end felt imminent. The growing dissatisfaction of your relationship you bore like a heavy weight upon your chest, evidently lacking direction but too invested after four years for you to resign completely.
Time. There never seemed to be enough time. In the day, for you, in general. He never had time.
Where once you would sit side by side recounting the day, now you spent in separate rooms. Where once you used to share a plush bed and squabble over stolen blankets, now you stared alone at blank walls.
You tried voicing your concerns, but he was never ready for you to broach the matter. He would hold up his finger, shushing you as he entered the queue for yet another game.
Dinner alone again.
Sleeping alone again.
You operated on different schedules now, existed on separate islands within your home. He didn't look at you the way he used to. He didn't look at you at all.
You heave a sigh, settling in at your computer. You slip on your headset while you wait impatiently for Steam and Skype to open. At the moment none of your friends are online, so you pick up at your last save in Stardew Valley. You're in the middle of Year One Fall and still trying to unveil Elliot's favorite gifts without diving into the wiki. You know that you will inevitably cave, but want to play through on your own first without aid.
You are rushing back from the mines, fighting the clock as a call comes in. You answer hastily as you bite your lip.
"Hey Jackaboy - SHIT SHIT SHIT!"
Jack laughs at your flustered exclamation as your character passes out, now missing money and good items. You push your keyboard back in frustration and give Jack your full attention.
"How you been?" You ask, fussing with your bangs, suddenly aware of how disheveled your aqua hair looks.
"Good, great actually," he grins enthusiastically. "I just got off the phone with Danny and he wants me to help with one of the NSP videos, so I'll be heading out your way in a few weeks!" Your mood elevated a great deal suddenly. Jack was one of your closest friends, but you had far too few opportunities to hang out in person.
"That's awesome! How long are you going to be around?"
"At least two weeks, I think. I'm still hammering out the details. I just couldn't wait to tell you!"
You held your hands to your heart and awed dramatically.
"Oh jaysus, don't make me regret that," he wrinkled his nose in mock disgust.
You waved him off. "Do you know where you're staying yet? You know the guest room's always open to you."
"'Preciate the offer, but I'll probably book a hotel. I'd hate to get in the way of your time with Evan."
You made a face. "Not much to get in the way of," you muttered. He raised a brow but didn't pester you to elaborate. He didn't want to pry into other people's relationships.
You made plans to hang out and record together before he signed off, waving as his shock of green hair disappeared from the screen.
You passed through the living room on your way to the kitchen for a glass of water. Evan sat on the couch, engrossed in his game of Halo.
"Hey babe, Jack's coming to visit," you mentioned as you reached for a glass above the sink.
"Cool," he said with no intonation, eyes locked on the screen. And that was it. That was a standard conversation at this point.
Maybe you should try harder, you considered as you returned to your recording room, drink in hand. More often than not, you had to approach him mid-game, a frustration with which you could sympathize. But there were so few instances where he didn't have a controller in hand.
At first it was a shared passion that brought you together, but as your channel grew into a sustainable career, you drifted further apart. Initially he was supportive, but it later turned into a point of resentment. He was stuck working third shift, driving a forklift and loading trailers at a warehouse across town. Every time you voiced your frustration about not spending enough time together, he would throw it in your face.
"Yeah, well some people have to do real work for a living. Not everyone can sit around and play games all day long."
Sometimes he would apologize. He'd recognize the time and effort you put into your videos, keeping up with social media, and travelling to conventions. But more often than not, especially as of late, he was full of relentless criticism. At the end of a hard day's work, he just wanted to be left alone to unwind. Your presence prevented that. He no longer enjoyed gaming with you. It made him self-conscious now - something he couldn't bear with his hobby. You tried to understand. But at the end of the day, that left little common ground, little to look forward to. You were fizzling out.
Jack knew what you were going through. He was familiar with the "real job" criticism, having received the same scrutiny not much longer ago. He had suspected that Evan felt threatened, but couldn't get you to empathize.
"Look, you're getting pretty popular, and you hang out with other streamers constantly. Other male streamers."
"I haven't done a damn thing for him not to trust me!" You folded your arms in a huff.
"I'm not saying you did, just that he might think he has competition."
You rolled your eyes. If there was some sort of competition, Evan had chosen to sit out this race. That much was evident. But still, it was hard to let go.
"I know it's going to happen, I just don't know when..." you confided in Jack that you knew you and Evan wouldn't last. You just couldn't bring yourself to cut him out of your life. You could imagine the argument already. He would accuse you of being too good for him now that your channel was getting big. He slaved away to make a living while you were off gallivanting with Jack or Mark or Danny. He would throw your passion and friendships in your face because he couldn't accept that the demise of your relationship could be caused by anyone other than you.
But maybe it was you...
Chapter 2: Harvesting Organs
Jack's presence came as a welcome relief. You were itching for good company and had not socialized much offline for a while. He came over first thing after his flight landed. It was early afternoon when his text came, saying that he just grabbed his rental and was on his way. You playfully reminded him to drive on the right side of the road before you went about tidying up the house, collecting the few scattered cups and plates and shoving them in the dishwasher, and conducting a quick inspection of the guest bathroom. Soon you heard the doorbell and rushed to answer.
Shit, you thought, I forgot to ask him to knock. Evan's still sleeping... The idea dissipated as soon as you turned the handle, only to be engulfed in a nearly suffocating embrace.
"Belles!" He squeaked into your hair, hugging you tight and refusing to let go until the stairs began to creak and Evan walked into the living room. He rubbed the sleep from his bleary eyes.
Jack released you and approached Evan, shaking his hand and patting him emphatically on the back.
"Hey Jack. Didn't know you were coming," Evan mumbled flatly, not quite awake.
You rolled you eyes, knowing you had mentioned it on multiple occasions, only to be brushed aside.
"Yeah, just got in," he beamed, too full of energy for Evan to tolerate at this hour.
"Cool. I'm gonna get back to bed. Can you try to keep it down?" He asked politely, but you knew him well enough by now to note the impatience in his tone.
"Sure thing! No problem!"
Evan turned without another word to trudge back upstairs.
You turned to Jack. "Hungry?" You figured getting out of the house was the best course of action until Evan left for work.
"Famished," Jack nodded, grasping at his belly for full effect.
You grab your keys and purse and hop in Jack's car at his insistence, in search of a decent restaurant. You were at the precious hour between lunch and dinner rushes where options were both limitless and expedient. You agreed upon a nice wood-fired pizza shop not far from Jack's hotel.
It was so nice to get out of the house, even better given the current company. You had been working yourself into a frenzy lately, prerecording as much as possible to maximize your time with Jack. You had used up most of your backlog after a recent cold, so your options were limited.
Jack drummed his index fingers against the tabletop as you waited for your food. You wondered how he could be so hyper and full of energy after such a long flight.
"So, what's your schedule look like?" You asked as you sipped your water.
Jack's eyes flitted up as he tried to recall correctly. "Let's see...Tomorrow is free for jet lag. Next day I'm recording at the Grump space- Oh! You should join us!"
You nodded, knowing it was a guaranteed good time. You made a mental note to text Danny and Arin later.
"Then, uh, I think I'm hanging with Mark, then another day off, then two days for the NSP shoot, and after that I forget," he chuckled.
"Perfect, you now have no days off. I'm stealing you."
"Oooh, what are ye gonna do with me?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
"Meh, probably just harvest your organs and throw your body in the ocean," you shrugged.
"I've got an organ for you to harvest, alright." He was trying so hard not to grin, but he couldn't keep a straight face.
"You wish!" You grinned back. He muttered something incoherent under his breath that you didn't catch, and refused to repeat. You missed this, your playful banter back and forth. It was always a treat when you weren't separated by an ocean, and then some.
Your pizza arrived quickly and was devoured almost immediately. It was still quite a few hours before Evan would be up for work, so you decided to head back to Jack's hotel and watch a movie. You both knew you couldn't keep the volume down as promised, and it wasn't worth pissing him off.
At this hour there was nothing particularly interesting on cable, so Jack hooked up his laptop to the TV and you chose from his library. You sat on the end of the bed scrolling through his library and queuing Blade Runner when he called your name. You turned to look at him and immediately heard the sound of his phone taking a photo.
"A little warning would be nice," you chided.
"Too bad. It's candid or no-can-do."
A moment later your phone buzzed with an Instagram notification. Jacksepticeye mentioned you in a comment: Just settled into LA and picking a film with @BellezebubGaming. You unlocked your screen to see Jack's full grin, with you in the background, face turned with a confused look. So flattering. It was immediately followed with a second comment. Blade Runner, laddies!
"You're a doof," you mumbled, scooting up the bed and mussing up his hair. He just grinned in response, and you settled in to enjoy the movie.
You were engrossed and didn't notice Jack drifting off until you turned to comment as the end credits were rolling. Exhaustion must have finally hit him after his flight and you knew he would be out for a while. You weighed your options. You could take an Uber home, which left you feeling unsettled. You could call Evan for a ride, which sounded equally unappealing. You knew he would make a fuss over the inconvenience, and probably a snide comment about picking you up from another man's hotel room. Or you could wait for Jack to wake up. That seemed the easiest, even if he slept a while.
You shimmied back to the foot of the bed and began searching for another movie when an odd folder caught your eye. It didn't look like the rest of the movie files. You clicked on the folder out of curiosity and your cheeks turned immediately red with embarrassment.
Burning Angels, Suicide Girls, Upper Floor. You had found his porn folder.
You quickly backed out, back to the list of movie titles. This was invasive, even if accidental. You put on Hot Fuzz and tried to push strange thoughts to the back of your mind.
You gazed down at your forearms, your eyes taking in the details of the tattoos that scrolled across your skin. One sleeve was dedicated to your favorite literature, the other a mixture of music and classic arcade games. They were still in progress, some images fleshed out completely, while others were merely outlines. You wondered if you were Jack's type.
You concentrated on the movie and not long after let yourself drift off as well.
It was nearly midnight by the time you awoke. Jack had risen at some point and now sat at the desk on his laptop, playing a game with his headset on.
You stood and stretched before approaching him. "Dude, you should have woken me up," you frowned. Loads of entertainment you were...
"No way, I know better than to try that. Last time you nearly ripped my head off!"
"Yeah, well...that was different..." Jack saved his game and gave you his full attention. "Now it's midnight and I'm wired."
"I'm not much better off," Jack agreed.
You decided to grab a bite to eat at a late night burrito joint and head back to your place to record.
Chapter 3: Top Drawer
The lights were all out and the house was eerily silent. Evan would still be at work for a few more hours. You hated that this was the norm, but at least for once you had company.
You offered Jack a drink before you headed upstairs to your recording room. The walls were covered in a honeycomb of black soundproofing. There were a few bookshelves around the room, full of games and miscellaneous collectibles. A row of vault boy bobble heads, a large porcelain maneki neko, a few pieces of fan art and gifts, and your framed YouTube 100,000 subscribers award. This was where you felt most at home.
Your desk was sleek and wide, providing ample space for two monitors and some of your nicer recording equipment. Your CPU sat on a raised platform, just off the floor to the right of your desk. You kept a small black sofa and an extra desk chair against the wall for guests or when you needed to retreat during a long editing session. A large, full-spectrum light stood in the corner, offering a natural glow to the otherwise dark room.
You started up the computer and readied your equipment. You plugged in two wireless XBOX controllers and pulled Jack in frame to start recording a few episodes of Battleblock Theater.
After about two hours you took a break. You wandered to the kitchen to replenish your drinks. You started a pot of coffee and launched into a conversation. You hopped up onto the counter, tired of standing.
You were discussing tomorrow's plans at the Grump space when you remembered to text Danny. You fumbled to pull your phone out of your back pocket and sent a glass of water flying off the counter, soaking Jack's shirt and scattering shards of glass across the tile floor.
"Shit!" You exclaimed as you cautiously hopped off the counter. "I'm so sorry!"
"It's okay, it's okay." Jack placed both hands on your shoulders to ground you.
Calming a bit, you took control of the situation. "Why don't you go grab a dry shirt from my dresser while I clean this up?"
Jack nodded and darted upstairs. You rifled through the pantry closet for a dust pan and set about sweeping up the glass.
"Uh, hey Belles...which drawer?" Jack's voice boomed, unsteady.
"Second down!" You shouted back, heading to the linen closet to grab some extra towels to mop up the mess. You carried the sopping wet towels to the laundry room when Jack meandered slowly downstairs. He was now wearing your favorite TWRP shirt. It was a bit snug on him, but at least it was dry.
"Uh...yeah. All good." Jack had his eyes cast down. One hand gripped his soaked tee, while the other rubbed anxiously at the back of his neck.
You frowned. "Oh no, what happened?"
"Nothing!" He met your eyes now, holding up his hands defensively. You didn't buy it, but decided to drop the subject.
"Well, good news is we officially have hot caffeine," you boasted, passing a mug to Jack.
"You are a goddess." He grabbed the mug and wafted the aroma. "Christ, you use good coffee. None of that American rubbish."
"You know it." You gave him a cheeky wink before heading back upstairs to continue your game.
Evan got home around six-thirty in the morning. He didn't greet you when he came home. If it wasn't for the sound of the shower running, you almost wouldn't have realized he was there.
You started cooking breakfast when he made his way to the living room. Jack was standing in the kitchen with you, leaning back against the counter. You were shaking salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and smoked paprika into a skillet of hash browns before turning your attention to a pan of sizzling bacon ready to be turned.
Jack laughed as you repeatedly jumped back from the stove, fearful of the hot, sputtering grease. After your second attempt he stepped in and took control of the skillet.
"My hero!" You praised him, just as Evan stepped into the kitchen.
"I thought I was your hero. Jack, are you trying to steal my girl?" Evan laughed it off, but the room suddenly grew tense. "Smells good."
You hadn't seen Evan this talkative in months. It was odd to have him attempt conversation like it was a normal occurrence.
"We made extra for you," you offered. He smiled, a real, genuine smile.
"Thanks, babe." You felt yourself relax.
"How was work?" You ventured, curious how long you could keep this going.
"Ugh, we got another trailer in with a roll up door tonight. I swear, I'm the only fucking person who knows how to load the things properly, and they let it turn into a shit show every time," he vented.
"I don't know why they don't go to you first," you pondered aloud, trying to make conversation.
"They just shift us around as we finish up, and they don't put any actual thought into it..."
He carried on through breakfast, and then Jack suggested a round of Slayer. You could see the apprehension on Evan's face, but he agreed nonetheless.
You started up the XBOX and settled in to the game. You could feel Evan growing increasingly frustrated as the game went on, with each kill and death, and each comment made by you or Jack. After Halo, Jack decided he should head back to the hotel and headed out with a quick hug.
As soon as he was out the door, Evan let loose. "Jesus fuck, I hate playing with you guys! It's like you're constantly trying to be the funniest person in the room. You can't just play anymore. You have to fucking entertain!" He roughly tossed the controllers into the bin beside the TV.
"We're not being any different than normal!" You jumped to defend yourself. "I'm so sick of you acting like I'm a different person."
He roughly prodded his index finger into the center of your chest. "You are a different fucking person, 'Belles,' " he mocked. "It's so fucking stupid how you don't see it. The hair, the tattoos...Fuck, you used to be so pretty, and then you changed."
Your face fell and you could feel the sting in your throat as you held back your emotions.
A knock came at the door, startling you both. Evan reached for it, only to reveal Jack with a stern grimace across his face.
"I, uh, forgot my shirt."
It took you a second to register. "Oh...yeah," you swallowed hard, trying to steady your voice. "It should be dry now," you stated flatly as you fetched it from the dryer. He followed you into the laundry room.
"Thanks," he said, grabbing the warm tee from you. He lifted your shirt over his head and quickly replaced it with his own. You followed him to the door once again. Evan had vanished.
Jack pulled you in for a tight hug and held you there until you felt yourself sink into him. "You deserve better," he whispered into your hair before releasing you and heading back to his car. You watched him drive off before shutting the door. He had heard everything.
You spent the rest of the day in a daze. One moment you were fuming, the next on the verge of tears. Part of you was disheartened at the prospect that maybe you had changed, and maybe you alienated someone you loved. Another part of you fiercely screamed that people are constantly changing, growing, and for him to expect you to stagnate to fit his needs was utterly selfish.
And fuck him for saying you weren't pretty. Your self-worth should not - NO - would not ever be determined by someone's opinion of your appearance. You were happy with your tattoos and blue hair. But still, you couldn't prevent the sting you felt at knowing your partner no longer found you attractive. In fact, you were fairly certain he no longer loved you at all.
You locked yourself in your recording room and set about editing your sessions from this morning. Revisiting your banter with Jack cheered you up a great deal. He had you cracking up constantly during the game. But you noticed a change when you had resumed from your break. You noticed his sideways glances, the change in his body language as he interacted with you. Maybe you were just imagining things. He was probably still jet-lagged and not quite himself.
You needed a break from editing, maybe even a quick nap. You headed to your bedroom to change into something more comfortable when you connected the dots. You opened the top drawer for your pajamas where your eyes met your small, silver vibrator. It hadn't even crossed your mind.
Maybe you should be embarrassed, but you were almost aroused at the idea of him finding it. The clear discomfort when he had returned to the kitchen made you doubt the feeling was mutual.
You wandered downstairs for a glass of water to find Evan asleep on the couch, and a vase of alstroemerias on the kitchen counter with a small tag that simply read "I'm sorry."
You weren't sure if this made you feel better or worse. Part of you wanted to stay mad at him. It made it that much easier to walk away.
You sighed and carried your water back upstairs. You locked yourself back in your recording room and curled up on the sofa. You willed your eyes closed, but sleep was an elusive mistress. You resigned yourself to consciousness, accepting that you would only feel better if you could manage to distract yourself.
You posted an update on Twitter, announcing forthcoming videos with a surprise guest. You uploaded an episode to YouTube from your queue. You finally texted Danny and Arin about tagging along tomorrow.
Next you started prepping selfies for Instagram, interacting with various objects around the room. You settled on a silly picture with comically over-sized sunglasses and a large paper parasol, with your headset hanging off your head. "Lovely day at the beach." Not long after you posted, your phone vibrated with a new message.
<<Hey, how you holding up?>> It was Jack. You were surprised he wasn't asleep already.
<<I'm ok.>> You messaged back. <<Trying not to let him get under my skin.>>
You scrolled through your feed while you waited for his response.
<<Evan's a fucking idiot.>> A moment later another message came through. <<I know you don't need me to validate you or whatever, but I think you're gorgeous and hilarious, and anyone who disagrees can piss off.>>
You chuckled warmly and a faint blush crept across your cheeks.
<<Thanks Jack <3 >>
You hesitated a moment.
<<Did you open the top drawer?>>
<<Is this awkward?>> You waited and waited but he didn't respond. You returned to your computer, browsing through new titles on Steam for potential play-throughs. You poked around a few articles on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. As your eyelids finally grew heavy and you made your way to bed, one last message illuminated your phone screen.
<<It's only awkward because I can't stop thinking about you using it...>>
You knew better than this. This wasn't something that you did. This was wrong. But you played into it anyway.
<<Does that get you off?>>
Another long pause. You didn't realize you were holding your breath as you waited.
<<Yes.>> He admitted. Your heart raced.
<<Then I don't mind.>>
You tried, vacantly, to recall when you had last been touched; when was the last time Evan said he loved you; when was your last kiss... You knew it had been months and you were starved for physical contact.
You wanted to be held again. You wanted to fall asleep in someone's arms. You craved a sense of intimacy that had grown dormant in your life for so long. You wanted so much more than that feeble silver toy could offer.
You fell asleep alone, again.
Chapter 4: Magical Concoctions
Hi wonderfully gorgeous souls! I just wanted to say a quick thanks for all of the positive feedback. I've been stuck in a weird little rut lately, and sharing this with you kickass humans has been helping to keep my spirits up. Sending love your way.
You awoke early the next morning and readied yourself for a day at the Grump space. You prepared a hearty breakfast, ran through the shower, and styled your hair and makeup.
You rifled through your dresser in search of your favorite shirt, but remembered that Jack had discarded it in the laundry room. It was draped over the top of the dryer, free of wrinkles and looking quite clean. You gave it a quick sniff test before tugging it over your head. It smelled like Jack in a way that made your heart race and left you confused.
You went back to your dresser and tugged a pair of skinny jeans over your hips. You grabbed a hoodie, knowing it was always cold at the office. Slipping on a pair of worn chucks, you snagged your purse and headed out the door.
You arrived at the office before Jack and met up with Danny.
"Hey Belles," he greeted you with a quick hug.
"Why, hello, Mr. Sexbang," you purred, maintaining composure flawlessly.
"Careful now. I'm going to be hearing that in my dreams," he chuckled. "Have you seen the place since the renovation?" You shook your head and he excitedly gave you a tour of the office.
"Holy shit, this is amazing," you squealed, genuinely impressed.
"I know, right? Arin's gonna be so bummed I beat him to the punch. He loves showing it off." Once you were finished, Dan led you to the kitchen for a drink, where you found Arin leading Jack on a tour of his own.
"Hey guys!" You beamed.
"Well well, aren't you just spewing rainbows from your mouth hole," Arin commented at your chipper demeanor.
"Damn straight," you grinned.
"We're gonna go pick a game," Danny announced, grabbing two bottles of water before leading you to pick a title. With almost too much enthusiasm you selected Crash Team Racing, decidedly feeling quite nostalgic.
You relaxed on the sofa as Arin proceeded to set up equipment. Danny sat to your left, snuggling into a plush blanket. Jack sat to your right. You made small talk about his evening and what shenanigans he had entertained. Mostly sleep by the sound of it, though you suspected otherwise. You thought back to his text from last night and blushed. You focused on the game as Arin set the timer and began to record.
In between rounds, you established plans for the evening and decided upon a bet. You, Jack, Danny, and Mark were going to meet up for board games and dinner. Arin had plans with Suzy so he was out. During the last round of CTR you determined that winner chose drinks for the night and loser was buying. Since Danny and Mark would not partake, you agree to limit the bet to Jack and yourself.
You switched to Arin's team and Jack joined Danny. You were neck and neck, but finally got ahead during the final lap. You jumped up from the couch as you crossed the finish line. "Suck it, Jack!" You gloated, dancing a small victory jig and shooting off finger guns at Jack's chest.
"Oh no, missy. You do not get to trash talk here. Arin practically carried your team," Jack whined amidst shouts of protest.
"You take that back!" You demanded with dramatized appall, but he stubbornly refused. "Sore loser..." you muttered.
Jack pulled you back down onto the couch, covering your mouth as you wrestled playfully. You licked his hand and he jerked away. You squirmed in his grip, squealing "Oh god, I'm gonna die," before he silenced you again.
"Well, next time on Game Grumps..." Danny started, uncertain.
"...We figure out where to hide two corpses," Arin finished.
Finally Jack let you go and you were gasping for breath between rolling laughter.
Jack arrived at your townhouse early that evening so you could secure provisions for the night. You rushed to the door before he could ring the bell. Evan was still in bed and you didn't have the desire to deal with him today.
You hopped in your car and headed to the store. You grabbed some light snacks, drinks, and a few oranges and limes. You selected whipped vodka and ginger beer for Jack to purchase while he continued to grumble jokingly about the outcome of the race.
"Listen, at the end of this you'll be thanking me for winning," you asserted confidently. He scoffed. "I'm crafting a concoction that will melt your heart."
"That...sounds terrifying..." He made a face of mock horror.
"Just trust me."
When you returned home, you went straight to the kitchen to deposit your groceries. Danny and Mark arrived shortly after and you pulled out a variety of games for them to choose from. You went back into the kitchen to set up snack bowls and grab drinks for everyone. You set them out on the breakfast bar, then proceeded to mix your cocktails.
You pulled out a reamer and juiced two oranges and one lime. You grabbed two copper mule mugs and filled them to the brim with ice before eyeballing about an ounce and half of vodka into each cup. You split a can of ginger beer between the two, finishing up with as much orange juice as would fit and a small splash of lime juice. You gave each drink a quick stir and taste test. Satisfied, you joined the guys at the dining room table and slid Jack his drink.
"Jaysus, it's like a spicy creamsicle," Jack swooned.
"Still upset that I won?"
"This is just further evidence that I won," he grinned back cheekily.
You were in the middle of Above and Below when Evan emerged, dressed for work and heading to the kitchen to grab his lunch. He fixed a sandwich in silence as you continued your round. You opted to explore and rolled the die.
Mark flipped through the guidebook for your prompt and read in a deep voice. "Your party returns to a well-explored area of the caves and, what luck! You happen upon a skilled fish-man guide who tells you he can show you a secret passage that leads to the richest collection of amethysts he's ever come across..."
As you listened for your options, you watched Jack's eyes drift across the room. They bounced between the vase of withering alstroemerias on the counter and Evan. He shot an icy glare at the back of his head as he bagged up his sandwich and chips and walked out the door without a word.
"...Do you stay in the safety of the familiar caves? Or do you brave the underwater passage, trusting your breath support and the skill of your party?" Mark read your options and you chose to brave the underwater tunnel. You rolled, gaining the Explore 4 and claimed a coin and fish.
Danny's turn followed, and he opted to build. Then Jack recruited, and so on until you finished the game. Danny had the most points at the end and chose the next game.
With Evan out of the house the group grew rowdier, like a burden had been lifted. With a slight buzz you headed to the kitchen to make another round of drinks. Jack followed, demanding to learn the recipe for 'this magical concoction' while Danny and Mark poured over take-out menus.
After explaining your process to Jack and letting him attempt his own mule, you leaned against the counter and released a relaxed sigh. A subtle heat burned across your cheeks and the ceiling lights cast a warm yellow glow that seemed to orb around the bulbs like they were their own independent suns. You closed your eyes.
"You're acting strange," Jack noted and you nodded.
"I'm a lightweight."
You felt his palm rest at the small of your waist and you held your breath. Your heart raced as his body, so delightfully solid, pressed against you. You dared not open your eyes.
You could feel him stretch, and without thought you subtly pressed your body into his. And then you heard him open the cabinet behind you and pull away. You opened your eyes as you watched him fill a glass with water. You blushed as he handed it to you.
"No more for you until this glass is empty."
You nodded, too embarrassed to meet his gaze, and lifted the glass to your lips. You drank half abruptly, dribbling a trail of water down your chin and neck. As you wiped it away, you felt a wave of confusion wash over you. You felt vacant without his body pressed against yours.
It bothered you how much you wanted him at that moment. It upset you even more how uncertain you were whether you really wanted Jack, or whether you were so starved for physical attention that you wanted anyone. You pondered if you would feel the same if it had been Mark or Danny. But as the thought lingered, you knew that wasn't the case.
You finished your water and set the glass down on the counter. The flowers caught your eye as you scanned the room. You grabbed the vase and tossed the flowers and "sorry" card into the garbage, drained the water, and set it next to the sink. Your actions did not go unnoticed, but nobody said a word.
As you returned to the table, Danny rattled off a few Thai dishes to see if you wanted anything else before Mark dialed in the order. Everyone chipped in a few bucks before Mark and Danny left to pick up the food.
Danny had selected Nevermore as the next game, so you pulled out the instructions and debriefed Jack while you waited. You put on some music in the living room and plopped down on the sofa. Jack joined you.
"TWRP again?" He joked.
You sighed. "I wish I could play bass half as well as Commander Meouch."
"I didn't know you play bass."
You nodded and led him upstairs to the guest room. "Yeah, I used to play in a band, years ago. We never made it too far though...could never agree on a name." The ghost of a smile graced your lips at the memory. "I was shooting for 'the Freudian Slits,' personally, but they wouldn't bite." You rifled through the closet a moment before resurfacing with a heavy black plastic case. You both sat on the edge of the bed.
"I don't really play much anymore," you explained. "The noise bugs Evan, so I just sort of stopped." You gave the case a forlorn look before leaning down to open it, exposing your guitar. You picked it up and tested a few scales before setting it back down. It was alarmingly out of tune.
"Why do you stay with him?" Jack asked suddenly. You kept quiet. "When was the last time he made you happy?" He ventured, turning towards you on the bed.
"I can't remember," you admitted, looking down at your hands. You didn't want to think about Evan right now. It made you feel ashamed of how desperately you wanted to grasp the fabric of his shirt and pull him into a sultry kiss...of how much you wanted to turn to him and tell him 'you make me happy.'
The sound of the front door opening jostled you from your thoughts. You stood awkwardly and shoved the bass back into the closet before heading downstairs to eat.
Mark arranged the takeout containers family style in the middle of the table. You went to the kitchen to grab plates and utensils, and then everyone dove in. Siam catfish, pad see ew, pineapple curry fried rice. Your taste buds were assaulted by the delicious flavors. There wasn't a speck of food left after the four of you demolished dinner. You gathered up everyone's plates and loaded the dishwasher to clear space on the table for Nevermore.
You had finished your drink by the time the game ended and Jack offered to make the next round. You nodded appreciatively and grabbed another glass of water.
You ended the game night with Funemployed, cackling like maniacs until your throats were sore. Danny and Mark left soon after, but Jack stayed behind. He wasn't in a good state to drive, so he was going to sleep in the guest room. Part of you was enthralled. Another part of you didn't trust yourself.
Quite tipsy, the two of you excitedly proposed a series of impractical plans. You would fly out and stay with Jack for a bit and bring your bass and have a jam session. You'd start a strange little side band and record of bunch of collab videos for your channels. You knew this would never happen, but it was fun to entertain the idea.
You wondered what Evan would say. You wondered if you would still be with him. You wondered what was holding you back.
You pondered this a lot lately, and it mostly boiled down to a fear of confrontation. A fear of change, of not knowing how to split the hollow remnants of the life you failed to build together. Who would stay, who would go. You weren't afraid of being alone. By now you were more alone in your relationship than if you were single.
You helped Jack settle in to the guest room and went back to your room to change into pajamas. As you opened your top drawer you were reminded yet again of your texts from last night. You thought about going to him but held back.
You wandered down the hall to the bathroom and washed your face. You were about to brush your teeth when Jack appeared in the doorway. You offered him a spare toothbrush and he joined you over the sink. You stood side by side, scrubbing and spitting. You set your brush in the holder and went to skirt past him, but he didn't budge. He stopped you, and carefully traced your lips with his finger before swiping away a stray spatter of toothpaste with the tip of his thumb.
You closed your eyes at the sensation of his skin upon your lips. His feather-light touch was slow and deliberate. Your heart pounded with anticipation. Your eyes slowly reopened as he pulled away. His features were grave, unusually serious.
You swallowed hard.
"Sean?" You ventured.
"Yeah?" He replied softly.
"I'm so tired of being alone."
Chapter 5: Bad Guy
You shared a bed that night, crept into the guest room and laid beside him. He pulled you in close and held you as you rattled off the fears and insecurities that had been plaguing your mind too often as of late. He listened patiently, stroking your hair.
In a soothing voice he reassured you that you knew what was best for yourself. You knew, deep down, that the changes you needed to make in your life were necessary and that while they would be difficult in the short term, they were elemental to your overall well-being.
"You know..." you pondered aloud. "I've spent so much time questioning whether Evan really loves me anymore...that I never thought to consider that maybe I was the one who fell out of love with him... All this time I've been pushing the blame on him, but the truth is I feel guilty. I feel guilty for how little I care, how little I want to try to make things work...how unaffected I am at the prospect of things being over. And I think I've been scared to call it off because I didn't want to admit that to myself." You sighed and buried your face in Jack's shoulder. "I didn't want to be that heartless."
"You are not heartless," he stated firmly. "People change. People fall in and out of love every day. It doesn't mean that anyone's to blame. It doesn't make you the bad guy. It's just life." His thumb gently rubbed circles against the exposed skin at your waist.
"How are you so good at this?" He put you at ease, helped you think clearly for the first time in months. But still you couldn't subdue the desire coursing hot through your veins. The comfort of his arms, while amiable, still left you ashamed.
"Because I'm selfish," he admitted.
You pulled your face from his shoulder to question him, but he pressed a finger to your lips.
"Fuck it, I want to be the bad guy," he breathed hurriedly before crashing down upon you in a passionate kiss. He sucked all thoughts from your mind, made you melt at his touch. You pressed against him with feverish intensity, parting your lips to invite his tongue to explore your mouth with rigorous fervor. He nipped at your bottom lip and a soft moan climbed your throat as he sunk to pepper your neck with kisses.
He trailed to your collarbone, delicately sinking his teeth into sensitive flesh. You ran your fingers through his mess of green hair, gently tugging at the neon locks as he drew a gasp from your lips.
His hands, warm and determined, traced the curves of your body as they held you to him. Soft fingers caressed your exposed hip bones, sliding under your loose tank top to your natural waist and hesitating ever so slightly before cupping your breasts. You groaned into his mouth as he rolled your nipples into tight peaks between his thumb and forefinger. He pulled away momentarily to lift the sheer top over your head.
The sensation of his hot breath settling over your exposed chest caused you to shudder. A flutter of anticipation erupted in your belly as his kisses trailed your torso. You squirmed as his lips feathered over your navel, hips bucking and back arching at the scratch of his stubble across your hips. You released a throaty whimper as his teeth grazed the waistband of your shorts.
It took every fiber of your being to pull away, to insist that you couldn't do this.
You wanted Jack. You wanted him desperately in ways you couldn't articulate. But the thought of being with him like this, writhing in the spare room, too ashamed of intimacy in your own bed, left you feeling dirty, ambivalent at best.
The damage was done. The verdict was in, and you were guilty. You thought you were above this. It didn't matter that you had made up your mind to leave - you hadn't left yet! You tiptoed around your shitty, crumbling relationship as though it was a minor inconvenience, as though months of platitudes and passivity warranted complete dismissal of human decency.
Your arousal conflicted with your shame, made you dizzy, body tense. You couldn't crawl back into your bed tonight. You had made your choice.
Jack held you to his chest cautiously, uncertain whether to offer consolation or distance. You nestled into the crook of his neck. What's done is done.
You couldn't sleep. You couldn't stop the gears from churning rapidly in your head. You barely tried, accepting the deprivation as punishment for your deceit.
You crept out of Jack's arms as the first signs of dawn peeked through the blinds. You recovered your top from the floor and slowly pulled it over your torso. You shivered at the sudden chill, missing the warmth of Jack's arms immediately.
Body and mind felt equally heavy with fatigue as you trudged downstairs. You wandered around the ground floor, tidying up from the previous evening's endeavors. Nursing a glass of water, you paced the living room. Evan would be home any minute.
You sat at the dinner table, head in your hands, elbows propped upright on the lacquered surface. Waiting for him, you wracked your brain, dreading every second as you struggled with finding the right words to say. Everything was wrong.
You didn't look up as his keys jostled against the front door and the knob twisted unceremoniously, like it was any other day. Like you hadn't cheated.
"Hey," he acknowledged as he crossed the threshold. "What are you doing up?"
You couldn't look him in the eye. "Couldn't sleep. Headache." The lie tumbled from your lips so convincingly.
"Too much fun last night?" He jested. Why was he acting so normal? Why today of all days did he have to interact with you, acknowledge your existence?
"Yep," your voice cracked and you hoped it went unnoticed.
"Want some aspirin?" He offered.
"No, I'll get it." You couldn't do it. Head hung low, you climbed the stairs and locked yourself in the recording room. Now was not the time for confessions. Not while Jack slept soundly across the hall. Not without a plan.
You shuffled to your computer, sinking down in your desk chair as you waited for it to load. You opened your browser and searched for apartments in the area. You didn't want to make this decision. You wondered what Evan would want to keep. You considered your bare necessities - he could have everything else. You'd let him have anything if it alleviated even a shred of the guilt that gnawed, unrelenting, upon your conscience. You wondered how long you could get by with your upload queue if you left today, tomorrow...
Your phone screen illuminated the dark room as it flashed with a new message from Jack.
<<Are you recording?>>
You sighed and unlocked the door to let him in, cautiously re-bolting it as if hiding suspicious activity.
"Hey..." he whispered, uncharacteristically somber.
"Hey," you repeated back timidly.
"I'm sorry about last night. I mean...I'm not sorry? I've wanted to do that for a while, actually... But I shouldn't have pushed you." You'd never seen him so nervous.
"No...I'm glad, I think. I mean, I feel like a garbage human, but it was the kick I needed," you reflected sullenly. "I'm going to break up with him today."
Concern written across his face, he asked, "Are you going to be okay?"
"I don't know," you shrugged. "Probably, but I'm scared. I don't really have a plan. I feel like I should have a plan," you admitted, a hint of panic trembling in your voice.
"You can do this," he encouraged reassuringly. "I have to be at Mark's soon. Call me if you need anything, okay?" You nodded and he pulled you into a tight embrace before letting himself out.
Cautiously, you tiptoed downstairs. Evan was sitting on the couch playing Destiny. You sat on the other end of the sofa silently, waiting for him to reach a save point or take a break. You wrung your hands anxiously, your heart pounding like a steady drum reverberating through every extremity.
He set the controller on the coffee table after what felt like hours. Turning to you, he observed your face, the way you wouldn't meet his gaze. "This is the end, isn't it?" He remarked, pensively.
You swallowed the lump that had formed in your throat. "Yeah." A deep breath. "Yeah, it is..."
"We haven't been right for each other for a while now," he reflected. Why was he making this so easy? Why did it make you feel worse?
"I cheated on you," you sputtered out, ashamed, waiting for him to erupt. But he didn't.
"I know." You dared to look up him. His face was solemn, lips tight in a straight line, but composed. He gestured at his neck and you understood.
"I know." He stared down at you with a strange mixture of bitterness and empathy.
"Why aren't you mad at me?"
He laughed, a slight edge to his voice. "Oh no, I'm mad at you. To be honest, I kind of assumed you've been sleeping with Jack for a while. But I can't change anything."
"I didn't sleep with him," you clarified. "Not that it really matters..."
"Whatever." There was the grumble closer to what you had expected.
Calmly, and with greater maturity than you had anticipated, you discussed arrangements.
Evan wanted to move out. He said he couldn't afford the rent on his own, but you could manage at least until your lease was up for renewal. He phoned around for a friend to stay with in the interim. You would divvy up belongings once he found a new place.
It all seemed too easy. You wondered when it would hit, what was the catch.
You sat on the couch waiting for a storm of anger that would never come, while Evan sifted through the bedroom closet, packing his necessities. You helped him carry his belongings to his car: an odd assortment of backpacks, crates, and grocery bags. He held his keys awkwardly as you finished loading the car, debating if he should return the house key now.
"Keep it," you said, "in case you forgot something. Just let me know if you're coming by."
"Yeah, okay," he nodded. He opened the door and hovered over the driver's seat, hesitating, mulling over words that went unspoken before sitting down and pulling away.
You watched as he drove off, as though observing a surreal dream from the outside in, before returning indoors.
The space felt weird. Stagnant. A tremendous change had occurred, but when you peered around, everything was the same as it ever was. It was unnerving.
As you passed through the halls of your home, you felt like you were walking through a set. It was strangely quiet, and as it drifted into early afternoon you realized that you didn't need to tiptoe anymore. There was no man sleeping upstairs for you to disturb. It was mid-day and you could blare your favorite music in the living room without repercussion. You could have free reign of your home without consequence. It was at first weird and unsettling, then overwhelmingly liberating.
You cleaned. You washed all of the bedding and towels, dusted, scrubbed every counter top, bathtub, toilet, sink. You vacuumed every crevice and corner, mopped each cold tile.
Wash away the old feeling.
It was dinnertime when you had finished, but your appetite was nonexistent. You showered and dried your hair. It was starting to fade into an odd sea foam green and exposed a glimpse of your natural color at the roots. It would need recolored soon. Maybe you would change it up.
You wandered into the guest room, sat on the bed. You considered calling Jack. Was it too soon? You should at least let him know how everything went. But as you mulled it over, exhaustion from your sleepless night hit you like a tidal wave. You curled up on the freshly made bed and fell asleep.
Chapter 6: Sabotage
Sorry in advance for the short chapter. I felt like this was a necessary segue to set the pacing, but it's not particularly enthralling.
You awoke to a litany of texts the next morning.
<<How did everything go?>>
<<Are you ok?>>
<<Are we ok?>>
Those were just the messages from Jack. Next came the bombardment from the mutual friends you shared with Evan, offering condolences and not so subtly digging for an explanation. You weren't ready to deal with them today.
<<Everything is fine. Let's hang today.>>
You stretched and readied yourself for the day. Your appetite had finally returned, so you prepared a hearty breakfast. You spared a few minutes for calisthenics and bounded upstairs to start recording. You passed a few hours with Transistor before taking a break for lunch.
Checking your phone finally, you saw a few new texts. Most were still just friends prodding into your relationship status, but then there was Jack's message. You ignored all else and invited him over before returning upstairs to edit.
Jack was over quickly. You sped downstairs at the sound of the bell, a wave of excitement washing over you. There was no disturbance to the peace - no grumbling grump to moan at the noise. Giving Jack a warm hug, you invited him inside. He offered a bottle of wine and a card. Looking at him quixotically, you tore open the envelope.
"Congratulations on your Bar Mitzvah?" You raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah, it's tough to find a 'happy breakup' card. Not sure why..."
Giggling, you scrunched your nose and jauntily exclaimed, "I'm a free woman!"
"And you're a grown man now, too!" He jested.
"Suck a dick," you shoved him playfully.
"No you," he rebutted.
"Maybe I will!" You declared, almost threateningly. "Free woman!" You punched the air victoriously.
"So I take it things went well?"
"Yeah, as well as they could. He said he saw it coming too. Still a bit pissed, but nothing at all like I expected."
"Good, so no moping?" He stared down the bridge of his nose with a knowing look.
"Eh..." You wiggled your hand with uncertainty. "Not really moping, just... I don't know - guilt? I feel bad, but then good. Like really good," you explained. "Happier," you admitted decisively.
A grin spread wide across his cheeks. "Good, you deserve to be happy. But stop beating yourself up with guilt," he stated firmly. "It won't change anything, and as far as I can tell that's for the best."
You shrugged noncommittally.
"So, what do you want to do?"
You bounced on the heels of your feet with boundless energy. "I want to be loud! Dance off? Rock Band? I don't really care, I just want to make some noise!"
"Oh, I can help you make some noises alright," Jack wiggled his brows suggestively. "But uh, dancing sounds fun..."
You pushed the coffee table away and prepared Dance Central. A few minutes were spent buying new songs. With music cranked ridiculously loud, bass pumping through the house, you hopped and shimmied and thrust rapidly to the choreography until you were both out of breath.
"Oh, you have been spanked!" Jack hooted, gesturing emphatically as your scores soared across the screen.
"Yeah, well... I dance a mean circular hustle," you defended.
"Oh, d'ya hear that, ladies and gentlemen?" He mocked. "A 'mean circular hustle.' Shame there's none o' that in..." He squinted at the screen. "...Dance Central."
You shoved his arm playfully. "Shut up. Let's order pizza and drink some wine," you declared.
Popping Thirteen Ghosts into the XBOX, you curled up on the couch with a glass in hand - some rosé you'd never had, which was nicely balanced and quite palatable. It clashed with the pizza, but you didn't mind.
"Oh shit, ghost titties," Jack exclaimed, gesturing at the screen.
"Fuck yeah, ghost titties," you mirrored, nodding your head in agreement.
He turned to you with a cheeky grin. "I think I like yours better."
A faint blush crept across your cheeks as memories of Jack's hot tongue curling around the peaks of your nipples stole your attention. Goosebumps prickled on the surface of your skin at the thought, flustered. "They're a lot less bloody, at least," you commented, uncertain of how to respond.
As the movie progressed you slowly migrated closer together on the sofa. An inch here, a stretch there. Subtle, almost imperceptible leans until he had his arm wrapped around your shoulders, drawing you to his side.
His fingertips traced the outlines of your tattoos, circling a 45-adapter on the underside of your wrist. His light touch sent shivers down your spine, prickled your skin to heightened sensitivity. His hand slid from your forearm to your lap, resting still on your thigh. Your body was on high alert. His subtle actions set your imagination in a frenzy, considering each deliberate motion, where they moved, where you wanted them to move. You thought of his hands roaming your body. You thought of roaming his.
But something held you back. You didn't want to ruin this.
You let his fingers tease you, send your heartbeat racing, the hairs on your arms standing on end. But you were not ready to play this game.
Jack made no further moves, waiting for your rebuttal. He could see your arousal plain as day - the flush of your cheeks, the rapid thrum of your pulse that gave the slightest bounce to your chest. The way you swallowed, neck illuminated by the glow of the television. The soft curl of your lips into the faint glimmer of a smile. But you didn't play along, and he wasn't going to push you.
He knew the way your mind worked, or at least he thought he did. He noticed the way that guilt consumed you, that it was the immediate response to any thought or action you made that you could deem selfish - which was more than most reasonable people would consider.
You were grappling with the thought of giving in, submitting to your desires. You were too eager to shove all thoughts of Evan to the back of your mind, but they wouldn't stay there. He thought you had been sleeping with Jack for a while. He probably assumed it would happen as soon as he left. He expected you to replace him, to see him as interchangeable.
Could you replace him so easily? The end was still so fresh that the memory of him ghosted your thoughts. It felt like you were still tied to Evan even though it was over. You needed to give it time.
You stared at the screen, not paying much attention. When the credits rolled, Jack stood and stretched, pulling you away from your thoughts. He told you he had an early day tomorrow shooting the video with Danny and Brian, so he should probably head back to the hotel. You nodded and followed him to the door. You held each other a little longer than necessary as you said goodbye. You craved this contact, the way his short stubble grazed the side of your neck. Still holding tight, you thanked him for the wine and for coming over.
"Mhm," he hummed into your collar before pulling away.
You leaned in and quickly pecked his cheek. A timid smile tugged at the corners of your mouth, while Jack's grew into a wide grin. He beamed as he strode to his car, stealing glances back over his shoulder. He went to the wrong side of the car first, laughing at himself before shifting over to the driver's side.
Standing in the doorway, you watched as he drove away. His reaction made you giddy, reassured you that maybe taking your time was the best choice.
Closing the door, you cleaned up the glasses and plates. You grabbed a stopper for the wine bottle and stuck the remnants in the fridge. You went through your nightly routine and fell asleep in the guest room.
The next day came and went with little deviation from the norm. You recorded a few new videos and set to editing them. You ran errands, updated social media, and scheduled a hair appointment.
You exchanged a few quick messages with Jack who was having a blast shooting the NSP video. As it rolled into evening, you pulled out your bass. It took a while to tune, but was worth the effort. You had missed this. Music had been such an integral part of your life for so long, and you resented yourself for casting it aside.
No one made you stop. Evan never told you to quit playing. It annoyed him, sure, as many things did, but he never forced you to stop. You made that decision yourself. You pondered how many other things you chose to give up because you didn't want to irritate him, to listen to him rant about why he thought they were stupid until you would sooner avoid them than have them destroyed.
Nail polish. Fish. Houseplants. Mismatched novelty mugs. The questionable music you listened to in high school, that evoked long-forgotten emotions, which you would occasionally drift back towards in moments of nostalgia. The mediocre chick flicks and predictable dramas that you hated to admit you secretly enjoyed. The list went on.
Over the course of the years you lived together, you relinquished these small pleasures. But you never had to do that. It was a choice you made yourself, a supposed sacrifice that should have made your relationship easier. But it didn't. Instead, you built a manifest of restrictions, resentments, and gave up a part of yourself. Evan was right. You did change. You allowed yourself to become a diluted version of the person he once knew.
You needed to reclaim yourself, focus on being a whole and independent person. Accept and embrace what you enjoyed, no matter how embarrassing it may be. You needed to learn to be happy on your own before you could try to be happy with someone else. Anything else would be sabotage.
Another day of the good routine. Breakfast. Yoga. Recording and editing. You fit in some time on your bass after lunch and painted your nails a flat french gray, then left for your hair appointment.
As you sat in the chair at the salon, you snapped a quick before photo, and an in-process photo as the roots were lightened and last touches of aqua stripped away. As the dye set in and processed, you received a few texts from Danny and Jack saying they wrapped up early and were grabbing dinner to celebrate. They invited you to join, and you agreed enthusiastically once you left the salon. You took one last final "after" photo for Instagram, flaunting rich magenta and deep purple locks, then left to join the group.
You met at a sushi restaurant on the other side of town. The large group was already seated at a long amalgamation of pushed-together tables, and they produced a cacophony of hollers as you approached.
"Woo, new look Belles!" - Mark.
"Ayo!" - Danny.
"So cute! I love it!" - Suzy.
"Who is this woman? I've never seen her before in my life." - Brian.
Around the table sat Brian and Rachel, who was bouncing Audrey on her lap, Danny, Arin, Suzy, Matt, Ryan, Barry, Mark, and Jack. You took a low bow and sat in the open seat at the end between Suzy and Jack.
"How was the shoot?" You drilled enthusiastically.
"Oh my god, so much fun," Danny breathed, pushing stray curls out of his eyes. The group looked like an assortment of bobble heads, nodding concurrently in unison. They took turns recounting details, goofy tidbits from the last two days.
A variety of sushi and sashimi was ordered, and you felt bad for the poor server as she tried to keep up with the rambunctious party.
"So, I hear you are single and ready-to-mingle," Arin segued, drawing out the phrase with a deliberate punch.
You chuckled in response and rubbed the back of your neck. "Yeah, something like that. I dunno, gonna take some me-time," you asserted confidently.
Suzy gave you a high five. You received a few "good on ya's" and exaggerated grumbles of disappointment before the topic drifted elsewhere, and small clusters of side conversations formed.
Turning to Suzy, you launched into a discussion of the latest Kat Von D pallet versus the new Urban Decay, which ultimately resulted in planning a makeup tutorial for her channel. Across the table, Danny and Brian were discussing live shows.
"With TWRP?" You chimed in, walking over and crouching between their chairs.
"So, you've seen them out of their armor, right?" You turned to Danny. "Like, you wore the Havve Hogan mask. What are they like?"
"Oh my god, you are such a fan girl." Danny shook his head in disbelief and refused to elaborate beyond 'cool guys.'
You pouted, pressing for more details.
"Most women just want me for my body, but you...You don't even care. All you want are my connections," he muttered, resting his forehand in hand, fingers massaging his temple.
"Aw Danny, don't worry. I want your body too. I just want space Canadians more," you reassured jokingly.
"Do you hear that, Brian? She does want my body."
"Gay," he stated with a straight face.
"But she's a lady," he defended.
You giggled and returned to your seat. Jack turned to you with a devilish smirk.
"You really are such a fan girl," he agreed, and you shrugged. "I bet you spend your free time reading Commander Meouch fanfics and drawing little hearts on your notebooks," he teased.
"No way. I'm all about those Septibub fics though," you grinned.
Jack blushed and chuckled. "Septibub?"
"Oh yeah," you nodded with a sly grin. "Have you not googled yourself before? I think I've been shipped with damn near half the table. Septibub, Belleziplier, Sexbub, EgoBubBang - I swear I don't read those ones Suzy." She snorted.
"But you read the others," Mark confirmed, holding back laughter.
"I may have dabbled," you shrugged, blushing, slightly regretting the admission.
The rest of dinner was full of relentless teasing before the group disbanded. Jack walked with you to your car, lingering as the others pulled away.
"So..." He started. You could tell he had been holding this in all evening. "A little me-time?"
You twisted the toe of your shoe nervously against the macadam. "Yep."
"And what might that entail? More fanfics?"
"You're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"Well, I mean, you did basically admit to thinking about having sex with everyone at the table."
"Does that bother you?" You raised a brow, curious.
"I'm a part of that table. Of course it doesn't bother me," he grinned.
"Good," you grinned right back, making direct eye contact.
"So, me-time," he repeated.
"I just need a little time to sort myself out, be comfortable in my own skin again," you explained, and he nodded.
"Do you want me to give you space?" He asked, wincing a bit as he anticipated your response.
"No!" You blurted quickly before collecting your thoughts. "No, that's the exact opposite of what I want." He visibly relaxed. "Just be patient with me, okay? I like you, Sean. You know that. I just don't want to rush into anything right now and fuck things up."
He bobbed his head, understanding. "I can live with that. So does that mean I should stop teasing you too?" He had that devious grin again as he took a step forward, closing the distance.
"Just do what feels right," you shrugged. "I'll stop you if I'm not ready."
"Good." He pulled you into a tight embrace, hands resting on your hips as you wrapped your arms around his neck. You breathed in his scent, which was growing more familiar as the days passed but had yet to lose its allure. Your lips lingered where his jaw met his earlobe, and you left a small, delicate kiss. He hummed appreciatively and pressed his lips to your forehead before parting ways.
It wasn't especially late when you arrived home, so you picked out a movie and relaxed until it was time for bed. Half-dazed, you wrapped a dark towel around your pillow to protect it from your hair dye, and dozed in the guest bed.
Chapter 7: Take the Risk
I must have been hungry every time I sat down to write.
Apologies in advance, because this is kind of boring filler, where I mostly talk about cooking and make irrelevant references to 80s music and Murakami.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
You awoke to a message from Evan the next morning. He wanted to stop by on his way to work to pick up a few odds and ends. You said that was fine and set about your routine.
The routine was important to you. It was easy to laze about without having a normal job, so focusing on maintaining a set schedule was of the utmost importance if you wanted to continue doing what you love.
The goal was to release two videos each day. One would be a longer, more elaborate play through, while the other was an abbreviated ten-minutes or less clip of something less serious. The longer videos tended to be more skills focused, whereas the short videos were silly, less complicated, and generally more approachable. The shorter videos drew the majority of your audience, but you refused to part ways with the other half of your rotation.
You were beginning to struggle with the quality of your content, though. There was undoubtedly room to improve the editing, you thought, but a one-woman team could only accomplish so much without burning out.
You wrapped up around five and set about making dinner. You filled a large pot with salt water to brine two salmon fillets. Meanwhile, you diced a few cloves of garlic and sauteed them in a splash of olive oil with a cup of uncooked rice. After a few minutes you added water and covered the rice to boil. You then halved a zucchini and drizzled with olive oil and black sea salt, then set it to broil. It had been nearly half an hour since you began the brine, so you removed the fish and patted it dry. The fillets were then lightly seasoned and added, skin down, into a hot skillet. You pulled the rice off the burner, now fully cooked, and set it aside. As you turned the fish, the doorbell rang. You reduced the heat before opening the door.
Evan stood there awkwardly and waved a small "hey" while you stepped aside to let him inside.
"Smells good," he commented as he entered the living room.
"I thought you didn't like fish," you remarked, brow raised inquisitively.
"Nah, I like fish. Just got burnt out when you went through that whole 'pescatarian' phase."
"Ah-ha," you nodded, understanding. "You hungry? I've got enough for two."
His eyes lit up. "That would be awesome, actually. I've been staying with Caleb, and the dude basically lives off pizza rolls and cereal," he cringed. "I miss real food."
"Yeah, I bet," you laughed, heading into the kitchen. You pulled the zucchini out of the oven and turned off the stove. Evan pulled silverware and grabbed a drink while you plated the meal.
"It's so weird being here as a guest," Evan commented and he scarfed down his dinner. "Fuck, this is good."
"Have you had any luck apartment hunting?" You asked as you slowly ate, gingerly pushing apart the juicy fillet with your fork.
"I'm checking out a place tomorrow," Evan nodded. "A one-bedroom a few blocks from work. The price seems reasonable, so I'm hoping it's not a total shit hole." You nodded along, making pleasant conversation throughout the meal.
Evan went upstairs to collect a few items he had forgotten while you cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. When he arrived back in the living room, you offered him a shopping bag for the towels and toiletries he had grabbed, and handed him his mail.
He thanked you and headed to the entrance. "You look nice," he reflected as he stood in the doorway. "Pink suits you."
You made no comment. Evan reached out for an awkward hug, which lingered longer than felt comfortable. When he released you, he had a strange look in his eyes. You pulled away, concerned he might attempt to kiss you.
He cleared his throat. "Well, thanks for dinner," he smiled halfheartedly, then turned to leave. You didn't wait for him to reach his car before shutting the door.
You curled up on the couch with a copy of the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle until your eyes were fatigued. Tonight, you slept in your own bed and it did not feel like the violation you had anticipated.
Later in the week you visited Suzy and Arin's house to record a video. Still fairly early, you arrived fresh-faced with your hair loosely curled. You set your cosmetics bag on the entry table as you waited for Suzy to finish getting ready. You wandered the living room, observing the taxidermied insects while Arin grabbed drinks.
"Thanks," you smiled appreciatively, taking a glass of water from his hands.
"No problem." He sat on the sofa. "So, what's new?"
You shrugged, joining him in the couch. "Can I get your opinion on something?"
"The red pill, every time," he stated, not missing a beat. "What's up?"
"I'm trying to improve my channel. The editing is pretty basic, and I want to kick it up a notch. I don't have the time to do it all myself, and hiring someone on isn't an option right now."
"Okay," he nodded along, listening intently.
"So my options are basically to leave it as is and stagnate, which I don't want, work myself into a hole, or change my format. I'm leaning towards the latter, but I'm worried it's too risky."
"Well, how would you change it?" He asked, stroking his chin.
You ran a hand through your hair, pushing your bangs away from your face. "I can get through editing my quick clips in about a quarter of the time I spend on my longer play throughs. I was thinking I could double up on the quick clips and cut the longer play throughs to weekly instead of daily," you explained.
"Do your stats support it?"
"Yeah, as far as I can tell. The quick clips always do best. I maybe get an eighth of the hits on the long vids."
"So then what's the hold up?" Arin questioned. "It sounds like you know what to do."
You rubbed your neck nervously. "This is going to sound stupid, but will I alienate the portion of my audience that takes me seriously as a gamer?"
He set his mug of coffee down on the table and turned to you, lacing his fingers. "Do you enjoy what you do?"
"Yes," you replied without hesitation.
"Then don't worry if people take you seriously. That's something you can't control, so focus on what makes you happy. I say take the risk."
"Alright then, I'll give it a shot," you bobbed your head decisively. "Thanks, dude."
"Anytime." He gave you a friendly pat on the shoulder and stood. He set his mug by the sink and left for the office.
As if on cue, Suzy peeked her head around the corner. "All set!" She chirped. You beamed up at her, grabbed your cosmetics bag, and followed down the hall.
Mimi sat on the bed behind Suzy's setup and you gave her a quick head scritch before sitting down. You splayed your makeup and brushes across the vanity and started to record.
When you had finished, you stared at your reflection in the mirror, gushing. "You are too good at this!" You squeaked excitedly. You had done a style swap. Suzy was sporting a more colorful eye with simplified liner, while you wore a more dramatic smokey eye with wings. She was a liner genius and she knew it.
"So, how's your me-time going?" She asked once the camera was off.
You divulged details of Evan's uncomfortable visit the other night and cringed.
"So, you have no interest in trying to rekindle that flame?" She gave you a knowing look.
"Zero," you confirmed.
"So what's your hold up with Sean then?" She pressed.
You shrugged. "It just seems too soon." You paused as realization hit. "Wait a second, how did you know about Sean?"
"Suzy giggled. "I didn't, just wanted to see if I was right. Now spill!"
And so you told her everything. And somehow you didn't feel as awful as you expected.
Suzy listened, non-judging, as you recounted your night together in less graphic detail, but admitted to cheating nonetheless.
"Hold up - this is why you've been beating yourself up?" She gave you a look that clearly asked 'are you fucking serious?' "Look, it's definitely not the ideal order of operations there, but you did the right thing. You didn't lead anyone on, and you didn't try to hide it."
"Yeah, but I still instigated. I put myself in that situation knowing full well what would happen," you reasoned.
"And everything turned out fine. So stop making yourself feel bad for doing something you clearly wanted."
This seemed like the theme of the week.
Sitting in your car in front of Suzy's house, you sent Jack a message.
<<Hey Jack, what's happening?>>
You never missed an opportunity to throw in a Dead Milkmen reference, even if he never caught it.
<<Recording with blue boy. HBU?>>
His reply came a few minutes into your drive home, and you responded as you pulled up to the curb.
<<NM. Just finished a video with Suzy.>>
Damn it, you just got out of the car.
<<Fiiiiiiine. Where you at?>>
You went inside to put away your makeup so nothing would melt in the car, then headed to the address that Jack had sent.
This was your first time meeting Ethan in person and you weren't certain of what to expect. Nervous when you parked, you messaged Jack to meet your outside.
"Everything okay?" He asked as he approached your car.
"Yeah, just jittery that I was in the wrong place," you admitted.
"Nah, you're good." He pulled you into a friendly hug and took a closer look as he let you go. "Damn, you look sexy as hell."
"That's all Suzy," you credited as he led you upstairs to Ethan's apartment. It was small and unremarkable, but not surprising given his age. You weren't doing any better when you were twenty.
Ethan wandered into the room as you arrived.
"Hi," you waved shyly.
"Hi! It's nice to finally meet you! I'm a huge fan!" He greeted. It felt genuine and immediately put you at ease. Ethan was unintimidating. He was at that adorable stage of growing into a man as the last awkward clutches of puberty held on grudgingly.
"Aw, you're too sweet!" You beamed.
"Aw no, now, you see, yah, no, you're too suh-weet." He smacked his lips and made a comical voice that was some bizarre combination of New England grandpa and valley girl. You couldn't resist chuckling at his awkward charm.
He led you both back to his room, which was divided in half for his recording space. He pulled in an extra chair and you discussed plans. The three of you were going to record a few easy videos for his channel - some this-or-that games and truth or dare shenanigans. It was nice for an introduction, since it offered an easy opportunity to know Ethan better.
You left feeling as though you had made a new friend, and a future collaborator, which was always nice.
You and Jack left together, deciding to have dinner and relax. You stopped by the market on your way home for ingredients and cooked a simple dinner for the two of you. It had been a while since Jack had a home-cooked meal, and he was thrilled for a break from take out.
Jack kept you company as you prepped chicken fajitas. He mixed screwdrivers with the leftover vodka from the previous week and orange juice from the fridge.
You stirred chicken, onions, and peppers around a hot skillet, mixing in cumin and ancho chili powder with a dash of ground coriander and a splash of lime. As you waited for it to cook through, you took a swig of your drink and leaned against the counter beside Jack.
"So, what have you got going on the rest of the week?" You questioned, poking his side.
"Uh, recording some sort of comedy sketch with Mark and Ethan, and flying home in three days."
"Noooo! You're not allowed to leave," you insisted. "It's going to be so dull without you," you whined.
"I know, I wish I could stay longer, but I have to get back to work. I haven't filmed a thing for my channel in nearly two weeks and it's stressing me out. I'm going to be so swamped," he groaned, running his fingers through his shock of green hair.
"You could record something for your channel here if you want," you offered. "My setup isn't nearly as nice as yours, but it's functional," you shrugged.
"Are you sure?" His eyes lit up like Christmas morning.
"Yeah, of course," you insisted.
He looked visibly relieved. "Oh that would be awesome! Can I do some tonight? Is that super lame?"
You chuckled. "Nah, go for it," you encouraged, pleased to have an opportunity to keep him around longer.
Once you had finished dinner, you led Jack upstairs and walked him through your recording set up.
"I really appreciate this, Belles," he mentioned as you lit the full-spectrum light in the corner.
"No problem," you smiled back shyly. "I know the feeling, so I'm happy to help." He adjusted the computer chair and camera angle. "Let me know when you're done, 'kay?"
He nodded, sitting up and kissing you swiftly.
Dazed, you took a moment to respond before leaning back in and returning the gentle kiss.
A wide grin engulfed your face as you turned and wandered up the hall to change into pajamas. Even with the soundproofing, his voice boomed with unbridled energy as he launched into his signature intro.
You cleaned up downstairs and curled up in bed with your book. As your eyelids dropped, the imagery of staring up at the crescent sliver of the moon from a deep, dark well ushered you away to a peaceful sleep.
You were roused some time later by gentle rolls of your shoulders. The light rocking motion made your semi-lucid imagination conjure an old ship swaying along calm waves before you finally broke into consciousness.
"Mmm, wassup?" you mumbled sleepily, keeping your eyes tightly closed to block the light.
"I just finished recording. You said to see you after? I can head back to the hotel if you want..." He started rambling and you interrupted him before he could finish.
"S'late. Just come t'bed," you drawled, patting the vacant space to your side.
You heard the distinct flick of the light switch before the mattress sank. Warm arms pulled you into Jack's chest and whisked you back to sleep.
Can I just make 'em bone already? I mean, come on.
Chapter 8: Ticklish
I'm not dead yet!
Sorry this took so long - per previous update I have been a bit preoccupied (in the best kind of way!) Here is some smut, to hopefully make up for the wait.
You awoke to an empty bed, and the gleeful exclamations of Jack recording down the hall. He was the loudest person you had ever met, but his unrivaled enthusiasm made it instantly forgivable. It was that spark of intense passion and positivity that made him so lovable.
While he was preoccupied, you showered and readied yourself for the day. You sent him a text that breakfast was nearly ready, and he was drawn from the computer by the wafting aroma of bacon that permeated the house.
"G'mornin' sunshine," you greeted with a southern drawl.
"Well, g'mornin' lassie," he played along, exaggerating his own accent. As he approached, he tucked a stray tuft of hair behind your ear and planted a swift, casual kiss upon your lips.
The apples of your cheeks found a new shade of rose and elevated into a goofy grin.
"I'm not moving too fast, am I?" He questioned and you shook your head with a rigorous 'no'. "Good," he smiled and leaned in again. You set the spatula you had been holding on the counter and draped your arms around his neck. His hands rested at your waist and drew you closer. Your lips danced together with tender motions and he hummed happily as you deepened the kiss.
His tongue swiped your lower lip and you granted him access. He explored your mouth as he hoisted you up on the counter. You shoved a mixing bowl and measuring cups aside and locked your ankles around his waist.
The hiss-pop of sizzling bacon faded into the background. A pancake lay abandoned on the stove, turning from pale cream, to gold, to a deep tan, to an unsightly brown.
Jack's hands roamed your thighs, squeezing gently, while your fingers tousled his already messy hair. Your breathing hitched as your arousal deepened.
The shrill, piercing beeps of the smoke alarm startled you and you jerked apart. You banged your head against the cabinet and groaned, disgruntled, as Jack leaped away to silence the alarm. You hopped off the counter and discarded the incinerated pancake.
"I, uh...I always burn the first pancake," you laughed nervously and he chuckled.
"Sorry, I'll stop distracting you." He grinned deviously and you returned to cooking breakfast with a flutter in your stomach and an extra skip to your step.
You parted ways with a sweet kiss, the kind that left a lingering glow on your skin and tingled upon your lips. The promise of seeing him again tomorrow propelled you forward, created urgent need to pass the time as quickly as possible.
And so you launched into your routine and began your format changes. As you depleted your backlog, you knew the changes wouldn't show for at least another week, so you took the time to focus and hone your craft, make the changes to your editing process, design new headers: revitalize the passion you felt for your career. With it, the hours flew.
Evan texted later that evening to say he found a new apartment. Arrangements were made for him to pick up furniture tomorrow afternoon. With a clear head you surveyed the townhouse. Before, you told yourself that Evan could have anything he wanted if it helped to alleviate the guilt you felt. But now you took inventory, made a mental list of all the items with which you would not part, at least not without a fight: objects you had brought in from before your life together, pieces which held sentimental value. And when Evan came by, you promised yourself not to cave, not to budge.
He arrived with a U-Haul trailer and a few boxes. Room by room you examined the house together. You helped him carry out his dresser, a few end tables, boxes of DVDs and games, the XBOX and bedroom TV. He took some dishes, linens, tools. You squabbled over the sofa, but ultimately he caved and you kept it. Next came the bed.
"Which do you want?" You questioned as you strode upstairs together. He was still miffed over the sofa.
"Whichever one you didn't fuck Jack in," he grumbled. You shot him a dirty look.
"I didn't -" You jumped to defend yourself but he cut you off.
"Oh don't even try telling me you didn't fuck him. How gullible do you think I am?"
"Jesus fucking Christ," you huffed angrily. "Just choose a fucking bed and leave." Your patience was wearing thin and you couldn't stand the sight of him.
He bounded into the master bedroom and began to strip the sheets. In aggravated silence you aided him in dismantling the bed frame and carrying the box spring and mattress to the trailer. Anything to shove him away sooner.
At long last the trailer was sealed up tight. He gruffly removed the house key from his ring and tossed it underhand in your general direction. You lunged to catch it as he stepped into his truck and pulled away abruptly, without another word, leaving you standing in a cloud of dust as he disappeared on the horizon.
"Wow, you really cleaned house," Jack commented as he entered the living room.
"Yeah, Evan is officially out of the picture," you sighed.
"Is that a good thing?" He raised an eyebrow at your exasperated tone.
"It's a great thing," you confirmed decisively. "Couldn't be happier," you grinned up at him. "Well, actually..."
"I would be happier if you didn't have to leave." You stood on tip toes and gave him a quick peck.
A goofy smile spread over his cheeks. "I know. Good thing you're gonna visit soon," he winked.
"Oh am I?" You smirked back, playfully.
"Well, I certainly hope so..."
"I'll see what I can do." You pecked his cheek and gave him a tour through your home, half-empty rooms and cabinets telling today's story better than you could. "So, tomorrow is an IKEA day," you stated matter-of-factly.
"Oh, fun!" You nodded. It was worth the hassle of needing to replace dishes and furniture. "Wish I could join you."
"Well, if you're finished early with Mark and Ethan, you can always come help me with some adult legos," you wiggled your brows suggestively.
"Ooh, yes please!"
"And then maybe we could break them in together..." You whispered under your breath and looked away timidly.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" He turned to you with a grin.
"Huh, what? Nothing." You pursed your lips to hide your smirk, avoiding his gaze.
He laced his fingers through yours and your mind went blank. "Hey, you can tell me what you're thinking." He brushed his shoulder against yours comfortingly.
"I know," you nodded and kissed his cheek. You stood in the doorway of your bedroom, the wide expanse of tan carpet broken by the imprints of a missing bed frame. The room was empty save for your dresser and vanity. You slouched down onto the floor against the wall, bringing Jack with you. You leaned your head onto his shoulder and sighed.
"What's on your mind?" He questioned quietly.
"Just you." You gazed up at him with a shy smile, which he returned immediately. He tilted your chin up and took your lips in a tender kiss. You wrapped your arms around his neck and pulled him closer. His fingers dropped from your chin, down your arms, to your thighs. His touch began light and teasing but grew to a lusty, firm grip.
He lowered your body onto the carpet and hovered over you. You lifted his shirt over his head and traced his skin, memorizing the map of his torso with your fingertips. He slid his hand under your shirt, searching your eyes for permission before tugging it off and setting it aside.
The carpet felt warm and foreign against your back, but you ignored it in favor of the sensation of Jack's soft skin gliding against your own. His lips trailed your jawline to your collarbone. His hands traveled across your abdomen in a way that made you squirm beneath him.
"Ticklish much?" He smirked.
You nodded profusely.
"I have an idea..." His lips roamed your torso. As he reached your abdomen he alternated between gentle kisses and gruff nibbles where his fingers had just been. You arched your back, heat rushing to your cheeks as your mind spiraled to a blank abyss, TV static. He elicited a soft moan from your lips, encouraging him to continue. Below your ribs, across your belly, either side of your waist. His actions caused you to tense and relax rapidly, fluttering anticipation through your body, heady and intoxicating.
In a trance-like state, you barely registered your jeans being unbuttoned and shimmied down your legs. His bites continued to your hip bones, down your thighs.
"Belles?" He peered up at you from the waistband of your panties.
"Yeah?" You breathed, mind cloudy from arousal.
"Is this okay?"
"Yeah," you confirmed, and his hot breath puffed against your groin, making you hyper aware of the heat pooling at your sex. He pulled away momentarily to slide off the panties which you knew were inevitably soaked. You shoved to the back of your mind how long it had been since anyone had seen you like this: vulnerable and exposed and so ready to cross this threshold.
"You're so fucking beautiful," he whispered before you felt his cool tongue run along your folds. Your breath caught in your throat. His long fingers slipped into your core while his mouth made quick work of your clit. Whimpers escaped your lips as he drew your body to new heights. Your fingers tangled in his green locks and you clenched against his fingers. He gazed up at your flushed cheeks, slowing his movements and laying your hips down gently.
You had forgotten your ragged breathing, your breasts heaving as you sharply begged for air. You reached for his elbows to pull him to your level. He laid beside you, searching your eyes. You wrapped your arms around his torso and buried your face in the crook of his neck affectionately. Your heart pounded against his chest while your senses returned.
You leaned up and took his lips passionately, tasting your arousal on his tongue. His erection pressed tight against his jeans, against your hip. You smoothed your hand across the strained fabric before freeing him from the restraint. You took him in your grip, foreign and familiar at once. You rotated your grasp as you stroked, drawing your body towards his longingly.
Between frenzied kisses you admitted, "I've wanted this for so long..."
He reached behind your back to unclasp your bra and massage your breasts. "Me too. You have no idea."
You guided the head of his stiff cock to your slick entrance, gliding against him and teasing slowly - though you weren't certain whether you were teasing Jack or yourself. He rolled you over onto your back and suddenly, decisively, pushed through your barrier.
"Shit - I shouldn't - condom?" He stuttered out in a moment of realization.
"It's okay, I'm on the pill," you reassured him and felt him relax. He began to move again, slowly, filling you to the brim. You raised your knees to his sides and rocked with his motions.
"Fuck, you feel so good," he grunted between passionate kisses. You moaned into his mouth as he pushed your thighs higher, knees over his shoulders. His member struck deep. You whimpered as pressure built in your abdomen and kissed him roughly, desperately, as your climax hit you. Nails dug into his back and you clenched your sex around his cock as you came.
He slowed his movements as you regained composure, setting your legs back down and rolling over so you were straddling his waist. You spread your knees across the warm carpet, widening your stance for better leverage before you began to ride. You sat upright, rising and falling slowly, feeling every inch and curve as he filled your body. He propped himself up on his elbows to take a nipple into his mouth, stiffening it to a tight peak as you rocked against his groin.
Without warning, he gripped your hips tightly to hold you in place as he pummeled into you rapidly. Your sex quivered and a string of half moans and expletives rolled from your tongue as he carried you both to release. You could feel him erupt inside you, his cum intermingling with your own in an indistinguishable pool of arousal.
You rolled off of Jack and lay beside him, panting. He reached for your hand, entwining your fingers while you came down from your mutual high.
In pieces you became aware of your surrounding. The sun that had shown through the curtains had settled to dusk. A thin veil of perspiration coated your bodies, sticking to the carpet. As you turned towards Jack, you began to notice the subtle abrasions breaking the smooth texture of your knees and elbows. Your eyes locked and you both burst into laughter at the position in which you had found yourselves.
Jack leaned in to press his lips to your forehead. He stood and offered his hand for a lift. You graciously accepted and led him down the hall to the shower to clean each other off.
Chapter 9: Not. Subtle.
Hey, remember that time that I disappeared for 2 months without an update and was all like "noooo that'll never happen again!" Yeah, me too. Sorry about that. Life has been crazy. I hit some writers block after the last chapter, uncertain of what route I wanted to take with the story because (let's be real here) I enjoy smut and sexual tension, but I wanted to accomplish something more than that here. I've also been super busy beyond that. My husband and I, in an unforeseen turn of events, were able to purchase our first home, something that I genuinely believed to be a decade away. Renovation has ruled my life for the last six months. I spent three of those sleeping on the floor while we haphazardly tore apart baseboards and closets and bit off far more than we could chew. Amidst all of this, we've both been struggling with depression and anxiety, which has largely left me carrying the bulk of this major adjustment to responsibility alone. My town has been ravaged by multiple floods (of which we have been fortunate enough to escape unscathed), but cut off from society both by distance and physical liquid impediments. When I haven't been covered in paint, cursing the rain, and hunting for therapists, I've been indulging in the most wondrous depths of my perversion. So it's been a mixed bag of experience.
And now I'm back. I make no grandiose promises of frequent updates, but for now, I'm feeling reinvigorated and I hope to share that with you all.
TLDR - I've been busy and slutty. Sorry for the long delay. Love you!
That evening you ate pizza off paper plates, staring at a blank wall. The entertainment center remained intact, but held nothing more than a few old DVDs with no means of viewing. There was a TV in the main bedroom, with nowhere to sit. In time you would move it downstairs to the living room, but for now you wanted to enjoy your time with Jack.
It didn't take much to occupy your time together. Conversation flowed like water between you, both relieved of sexual tension and inevitably rebuilding more. You recorded a while, trying hard to hide your flirtations. As much as you wanted to be open and honest and shout with glee from the rooftops that the two of you had become intimate, whatever that really meant, you needed to maintain some level of privacy or you would never escape alive.
You couldn't help but meet his eyes as you signed off. A moment passed before you leaned over and placed a soft peck on his cheek. His face lit up and made you feel warm inside.
"Don't worry, I'll edit it out," you stated reassuringly as you ended the recording.
"Good call," he admitted, his smile faltering as reality hit.
You stood and stretched. "Me-thinks it's bedtime." You stifled a yawn. "Want to stay?" As it rolled off your tongue you crossed your fingers, willing the answer to the plea you silently made. Please, Sean? Please stay with me?
He nodded rapidly and you both broke into grins.
You awoke to a bright stream of light flooding through the curtains of the guest room. The bed was a mess of tangled limbs and scattered blankets. You curled into Jack's body, breathing in his scent and gently trailing your lips along his collar. His consciousness made its arrival known with a slur of pleasant hums and a sleepy smile.
"Good morning" you greeted him sweetly. He stroked your disheveled hair and guided you to him for a chaste kiss, which failed to stay chaste for long.
Jack was late before he had even left, mumbling apologies into the phone and racing out the door with a comical shrug. You stifled a giggle, careful not to blow his cover and out yourselves to Mark and Ethan.
As Jack drove away, you pondered if your friends would piece it together, or if they would even care. Then again, you supposed that would depend on what 'it' even is... Sure, you acknowledged wanting to proceed slowly, but towards what? Towards sex? Towards a relationship? And even then, what could you really hope for when you lived on separate continents? There were so many variables to consider, and you promised you would take time to focus on yourself. Learn, grow, then move on.
These questions lingered in the back of your mind for days. They prodded at you in the silence of your daily routine, as you fought traffic and meandered the winding paths of IKEA. They poked at your subconscious late that night when Jack returned, in the quiet moments of heavy breathing when he laid his head upon your chest. Those questions buzzed in your ears as you edited your recordings, as you bathed, as you cooked. They were nagging, inescapable, but you didn't dare voice them.
With distant eyes you gazed forlornly at the clock on the wall of your kitchen. You could count the hours left before Jack had to return home. A sinking feeling settled in your chest and stayed with you throughout the evening.
Tonight would be one last farewell dinner before Jack departed. Mark had offered to drive you and Jack so that you could have a few drinks, and Dan, Arin, and Suzy planned to meet you at the restaurant. You tried your best to shut off your brain and make the most of your last night together for the foreseeable future. Still, you couldn't hide the flutter in your stomach every time you caught his gaze, or the gleeful blush that crept into your cheeks when he would rest his hand upon your arm or shoulder in emphasis mid-conversation.
As your social energy built, you agreed to match Jack shot for shot through two rounds of snakebites. Beyond that, you chose to keep your drinking in check, not wanting to embarrass yourself. With a pleasant buzz you relaxed and let your guard down. Your banter blossomed to a more flirtatious nature. Lost in your own little world, you and Jack drifted away from the conversation the rest of the group was enjoying, locking eyes and grinning mischievously in silent plotting.
You pulled your attention away after that, taking interest in the rest of your friends. Suzy gave you a knowing look, reminding you exactly how much subtlety you lacked. You feigned ignorance and continued to chat away with Mark and Danny.
"Thanks again for driving us," you beamed appreciatively at Mark as the three of you strode towards his car, you and Jack piling into the back seat.
"No problem," he waved it off. "So, where to first?"
Your eyes met Jack's with a conspiratorial smirk. "You can just drop me off at Belles'" Jack shrugged nonchalantly.
Mark raised a brow, gazing back at you in the rear view mirror. "You sure? It's already pretty late. Don't you have to check out and return your rental car?"
"Well yeah..." Jack trailed off.
"I can drop you off back at the hotel in the morning," you offered, trying to stay casual.
"Seems silly to spend all of that money on a hotel and not even use it," Mark commented.
"Yeah, I guess...but Belles' guest bed is waaay more comfortable," Jack replied.
Mark gazed back with a playful grin in the mirror. "I thought Evan took one of the beds when he moved?"
Jack's mouth opened and closed like a fish as he tried to fabricate a reasonable response, but nothing came to mind.
"Called it!" Mark laughed as Jack floundered. "Ooh, you guys are so bad at being subtle." His deep chuckle brought rose to your cheeks as you realized he knew.
You sighed, embarrassed. "Okay, fine, yes. But could you please keep this between us?"
"Dude, everyone knows," he stated bluntly.
"How the hell?" Jack muttered.
"Not. Subtle." Mark repeated as he pulled up to your townhouse. Jack gave you an apologetic shrug. "Okay man, have a safe flight. We'll catch up soon." Mark reached back to give Jack a twisted half-hug around the car seat.
"See ya Belles."
A muffled shout of "Use protection!" flowed out of his rolled down window as Mark drove away. The two of you exchanged cautious glances before retreating inside.
"I'm sorry," Jack sighed as he sank into the sofa. "Ooh he was baiting me so hard and I can't believe I fell for it!" He was shaking his head, nestled between his fingertips, elbows resting on his knees to support it all.
"It's fine," you waved it off. "I mean, I'd rather have a little more privacy over who I sleep with, but they're our friends. They're bound to piece it together eventually..."
"True," Jack nodded. "Wow, we really are just awful at being subtle," he reflected with a chuckle.
Say something, the voice in your head pushed. Now's the perfect time to be like 'oooh Sean, I can't STAND to be subtle any longer!' Oh geeze, you didn't realize your inner monologue had the ability to squeal in that octave...
"You alright over there?" Jack raised a brow at you inquisitively.
"Just peachy!" You plastered a fake smile over your face to cover the thoughts wrestling in your brain. Oh, fuck it. "I like...words..." Oh you could just slap yourself.
"What?" His laughter was melodic.
"Words are hard. Fuck." You took a deep breath and breached the subject of your fixation at long last. "Sean, I like you. I like you more than a friend, and more than just someone I'd like to sleep with. Which I do. Very much." You paused for effect and wiggled your brows suggestively. "I don't know what that means in the greater scheme of things, and I honestly don't need to know right now. Just...I'm sad that you're leaving tomorrow, and I really wish you weren't so far away." You took a deep breath and exhaled dramatically, feeling the color rising to your cheeks as you shyly avoided Jack's eyes.
He pulled you into an awkward embrace on the couch, fighting to hold you close at a better angle.
"Me too. To all of it." You smiled softly at his words, daring to meet his gaze once more. "I don't know what's the right thing to do, but we'll figure it out," he promised. The optimism in his tone put you at ease, made the prospect of dealing with your emotions slightly less daunting. Under present circumstances, that was really the best you could hope for, anyway.
Parting ways the next morning was disappointingly anticlimactic, and you cursed every stupid romance you had ever seen or read for setting the bar for these experiences unrealistically high. You defiled your bed one last time, achieved a meager share of restless sleep, and awoke entirely too early to function. You trudged through the most basic functions: running a comb through your fuchsia tangles, splashing cold water on your face, brushing your teeth.
For the first time in two weeks you sat together in silence. The stereo pumped out a mellow playlist on your drive to Jack's hotel and filled the sleepy void where words fell short. At this early, predawn hour, traffic was minimal at least by LA standards, and you reached the carport sooner than you had anticipated.
Giving Jack's hand a quick squeeze, you turned to him with a tired frown. He offered a bittersweet smile and squeezed back. You leaned in for a simple kiss: a slow, soft meeting of the lips, lingering for more but too exhausted to excite a lively passion.
Neither of you knew what to say that you hadn't already said; no emotional confession or lusty promises. It was simply 'goodbye'.
"Have a safe flight. Let me know when you make it home..." Innocuous, friendly but generic. He nodded his head 'of course' and wandered into the lobby, his first of many steps to another continent, across the ocean, and far, far away from you.
Chapter 10: Time and Perspective
Today in "Shit the Author Shares That's Completely Unrelated to this Fic I'm Reading!":
Yesterday at work, we discovered that a kitten had been stuck in a coworker's engine compartment on her drive to work. She survived a good 20-mile trek through the mountains and on the highway, and came out completely unscathed. Guess who got kitty cuddles at work? Guess who just couldn't say no and now has a kitten? Yep.
Anyways, she's a cutie. Just thought I'd share. ON WITH THE STORY!
Once Jack left, your days became monotonous. Sure, you kept busy at first. Moving room by room, you reorganized and consolidated furniture and knick knacks, books and games. The townhouse felt sparse, but also fresh and quite "you". The last remnants of Evan's occupancy were all but washed away, offering a clean slate for a new beginning.
The frustrating thing about personal growth is that it cannot be forced. One can take time to reflect and meditate, but there is no guarantee, no window to expect sudden clarity. Perhaps your initial realizations were the depth of your self-discovery and not the surface. Maybe there was no grand life lesson to be gained from your relationship's demise. It might just be as simple as it sounds.
Live for yourself. Love yourself. Be happy alone before you try to be happy with another person. Do not seek someone to complete you. Embrace those who complement you instead.
Where Jack fell in this picture was uncertain. His face continued to beam at you over Skype on a regular basis. Not much had changed. He was still your long-distance friend, charming and goofy. You never much discussed your relationship, failed to give it definition or acknowledgement. But then there were days where your banter made you feel so warm that you wished you could leap the ocean to wrap your arms around him.
Together you scrolled through the comments on the Battleblock Theater collabs you had recently posted.
"Aw, these fuckers think we look cute together." You fanned yourself in jest, clutching your heart.
Jack scoffed. "Well, duh. We're fookin' adorable, Belles." You blew him a kiss and he stared away with a comical, wide open smile, hands on his cheeks, pretending to be starstruck. You missed him entirely too much.
When Evan moved out, you were concerned about rent. Living in California was expensive enough with two incomes, let alone one. You felt confident that you could afford your townhouse until your lease was up, and then you could downsize. In the interim you worried about the extras. Could you still travel to conventions? Could you visit Jack?
Rather than struggling, though, an unexpected turn of events greeted you with unfathomably good fortune. It came in the form of ad revenue, and in a sudden wave of new subscribers. The changes you had introduced to your channel format were hugely successful and fostered unforeseen growth in your popularity. The support from your fellow creators had been strong for a while, but now you found yourself amid a flutter of new collaboration requests. The love you felt was overwhelming.
It was a Thursday night, just past seven o'clock, when you hit your milestone: one million subscribers. Jack called within minutes. You laugh-cried into your headset while he congratulated you, half-muffled by his yawn. It occurred to you, suddenly, that he never called at this hour.
"Isn't it super late there?"
"It's about..." He paused, as if to squint at a distant clock. "Four in the morning," he confirmed.
"You're crazy! What are you still doing up?" You chastised him, hoping he wasn't pushing himself too hard, as you had known him to do from time to time.
"I wanted to be the first to congratulate you!" He defended.
"Too bad, Danny already beat you to it," you lied. You were a terrible liar.
"Oh no he did not!" Jack scoffed. "Take it back!"
"Nevarrr!" You declared triumphantly.
He tutted at you as you dissolved into laughter, touched by the sentiment.
"So I was thinking...You should do something big to celebrate."
Lately you had been so busy that you hadn't even considered it. A celebratory get-together had been suggested by Suzy, but you insisted that you didn't want to discuss plans until you had hit the mark, for fear of jinxing yourself.
"You should travel. Maybe a European holiday? I hear Brighton's pretty nice..."
Playing coy, you shrugged. "I don't know...it would be such a shame to travel alone."
"Believe it or not, I know this guy. Weird, green-haired bastard. I bet I could talk him into showing you around. He might even put you up while you're in town."
"Wow, what a nice guy. I wonder if he'd want anything in return," you pondered aloud.
Jack rubbed his chin pensively. "I hear he accepts payment in the form of kisses...or high-fives, depending on the circumstance."
You mulled it over. "What if I want to do more than kiss him?"
"Hussy!" He gasped.
"No?" You frowned, feigning disappointment.
"Yes," he asserted, taking on a grave face. "He would fookin' love that."
Grinning mischievously, you ventured further. "Maybe I should send him a list of suggestions, just in case. I'd hate to assume..."
Jack groaned. "Why are you so far away?"
Shut up inside the house. You had been shut up inside the house for days. Recording and editing, recording and editing. There was so much you needed to do to put your mind at ease. You tried to follow your routine, but you were wearing yourself thin. Ignoring texts, forgetting meals, losing track of time. Recording and editing.
An odd thump in the distance drew your attention away from the monitor. It repeated again, along with the muffled cry of your doorbell. Setting your headset aside, you rose and straightened your clothes, then headed towards to front door. You weren't expecting company.
Peeking through the peep hole, you relaxed. Stepping aside, you let in Suzy and Arin. The bright California sun was blinding.
"She's alive!" Arin cheered.
"What's up?" You squeaked out as Suzy squeezed you in a tight hug. She shot you a look.
"What's up with you? You've been MIA for like, two weeks."
"Oh geeze." You rubbed the back of your neck anxiously. The ground suddenly became so interesting. "I didn't realize..."
"Yeah," Arin broke in. "Is everything okay?"
Sighing, you invited your friends inside and walked into the living room. "Yeah, I've just been stressed and trying to work ahead."
"This isn't like you," Suzy commented, glancing around the disorderly area. Stacks of dishes were strewn about the kitchen, cups laid forgotten on every surface. Empty packages of premade dinners and takeout containers were discarded around the counters. The trashcan was overflowing, surrounded by other bags waiting to be set out in the bin.
"When was the last time you left the house?" She ventured. You tried to remember, but couldn't recall. "Okay, I'm breaking you out. We're having a girls' day. Babe, can you -"
"Already on it," Arin confirmed, grabbing two garbage bags and heading to the bin.
"Seriously, you guys don't have to do this..." You insisted. "I can clean up after myself. I've just been preoccupied."
"Too bad," Arin shouted from the sidewalk.
"You. Shower," Suzy demanded. You hung your head in shame and headed to the bathroom.
Damn it felt good. Caught up in work, you had failed to recognize the full extent of your self-neglect. Your eyes stung from the strain of endlessly staring at your monitor. Sliding into a comfy outfit, you joined Suzy and ventured out into the real world. Together, you grabbed a light lunch and went for mani-pedis.
"I don't want to pry," she started as you sunk into the cushioned massaging chairs and dipped your feet into hot, bubbling water. "But just know you can talk to me about whatever's on your mind."
Shaking your head lightly, you chuckled. "Seriously, I'm fine. I'm just...I want to go away for a while, and convention season is coming up. I'm so paranoid that I won't have enough backlog to cover me...There's been so much extra attention on my channel lately, and I am so fucking happy, but now I really can't slip up."
"I get that," she nodded in understanding. "Still, if you get too caught up in all that, you're going to hurt yourself more than help."
You sighed, knowing she was right. This was a warning wisdom you reminded everyone else of frequently, but failed to follow on your own.
"So where are you going?" She questioned and you blushed.
"Nowhere..." You shrugged nonchalantly. "It's not final yet. Jack wants me to visit." A shy smile crept into your features.
"Oooh!" She squealed gleefully and startled the young woman fussing around her feet. "Do it! Do it!"
You chuckled at her reaction.
"Wait...I mean, you want to go, right?"
Rejuvenated and giddy, you finally set a date with Jack over Skype the next morning.
"Ooh yes yes yes!" He hopped up from his chair and danced with excitement. "You will not regret this, I promise!"
"Oh no, sir. You'll be the regretful one, stuck with my ass for a whole week," you joked.
"Oh I don't mind your ass one bit," he grinned cheekily. "We'll have a good time. I'll play tour guide, and we can do as much or as little as you want."
"Well, we obviously need to do one thing..." You alluded, wiggling your brows suggestively.
Jack grinned. When didn't he? "Oh? And what might that be?"
"Jam session, duh," you reminded him.
He shook his head and reminisced. "What a ridiculous night."
"From what I recall, it ended rather well..." You reminded him with a sly smile.
"I still can't believe you didn't slap me for kissing you like that," he chuckled.
"No way! God, you had me so worked up that whole week. I would have done nothing and just continued to whine about Evan." You rolled your eyes. "But there is one thing I wish we had done differently, when I think about it."
Time and perspective are bizarre, flawed constructs. Recording history, even the day-to-day, was inherently inaccurate, tainted by one's own thoughts, perceptions, and biases. Adding time leads to revisions and new interpretations of the same experience. Of this you were guilty.
Jacked raised a brow and encouraged you to elaborate.
You cleared your throat and bit your bottom lip. "I wouldn't have stopped."