He wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted by her obvious hesitancy.

The first time he’d seen her with a married man, he’d assumed it was platonic or at least that things hadn’t progressed too far. His image of her as someone who ‘wouldn’t do something like that’ had been disillusioned days later after entering her dressing room without knocking, a mistake he’d never repeated. That man (and it somehow struck him as awful that he could no longer remember his name) hadn’t been the last. He’d once even asked her why she kept going with men who she couldn’t and wouldn’t have a future with. “Exactly,” she’d said like that was a sufficient explanation.

“Baby,” he began, like a generic pet-name would somehow convince her. “It’ll be okay. I promise. She doesn’t have to know.”

She looked at him with recrimination in her eyes. “You were never married before, Lindsey. She’s your wife.”

He dropped his head to her chest, nudging aside the top of her shirt so he could feel her cool skin against his own. Did she think he’d somehow forgotten the weight of a wedding ring on his finger, that he didn’t know what that signified?

“She deserves better, honey, you know that.” She was stroking his hair now and he found himself automatically nuzzling into her touch. Last week she’d jabbed a finger in his direction, had told him that she’d never forgive him if he dyed his hair now that the gray was coming through so handsomely. “I like her.”

“So do I,” he replied, laughing softly like it was some big joke they were sharing. It wasn’t funny, though, not at all. “I even love her, I think.”

Stevie stilled, her hand just resting lightly on his head. He could feel the uneasiness in her, her desire to run. She’d always given in to that urge more than to him, and it stung that things still hadn’t changed.

“You know it’s different,” he said, lifting his head so he could see her eyes. They were shuttered, the light he’d seen earlier having dimmed. “We’re different.”

“How flattering,” she said, chuckling, and the bitterness lacing her words made him wince. Once upon a time, his ex-girlfriend had been all light, hope and idealism. He hadn’t been the one to trample that out of her, and maybe nobody survived past a certain age with all those dreams and faith intact anyway, but he, at least, grieved for their loss. “Come on, then,” she said resolutely. “Let’s do this.” The way she had to brace herself for this experience was far from arousing and so he put his fingers to her lips, shushing her.

“Not like this, Stevie. Not when you’ll hate yourself afterwards.” She protested with her actions, her steady fingers undoing his buttons one by one. Methodic. Calm. He didn’t want her this way. He wanted longing and need and passion and even a little bit of hate. He deserved her hate.

“You called me,” she said, sounding slightly confused. “You were the one - ”

“I didn’t think - ”

“What, that I’d have second thoughts? That I’d baulk at the idea of sex with you, even though you’re married?” She turned away from him, leaning her head against the back of the couch. Her profile was so familiar and so dear and he just desperately wanted to touch her. He’d given up that right, of course, several weeks ago in Hawaii, an impulsive decision that he still wasn’t sure had been the right one. She sighed, letting her fingers find his, twining them together. He squeezed gently, trying to encourage her. “I feel guilty.”

“So do I,” he admitted quietly. “So do I. But Stevie, this, us, I can’t give that up.” He looked down at their hands, wondering if it felt different to her, him having a ring; sometimes he was still surprised when he saw it there. “Not now.”

Not ever.

HNicole BarkerHComment