He slipped on the jeans that were folded over the chair, and pulled a T-shirt from the closet. “Everything bagel and cream cheese?”
He slipped his sneakers on and grabbed his keys. “Yes, ma’am. Be right back,” he called out before closing the front door behind him.
Obviously, I didn’t feel undeserving of him because T.J. was an ass**le. It was the reverse. When someone this amazing walks into your bar and asks for your number before he’s had a single drink, you work your tail off to keep him. Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten that I’d managed to snag him in the first place. And then I’d forgotten about him altogether.
But the moment T.J. wrapped his arms around me in baggage claim, I immediately compared the way he held me with the way Trenton had. When T.J. put his lips on mine, his mouth was just as amazing as I remembered, but it didn’t feel like he needed me the way Trenton did. I was glaringly aware that I was making unfair and unnecessary comparisons, and tried not to the moment it happened, but I failed—every time, on every level. Whether it was fair or not, Trenton was what I knew, and T.J. had become unfamiliar.
Ten minutes later, T.J. jogged back in, placed the bagel on my lap, and the orange juice on the nightstand. He kissed me quickly.
“Yeah, early meeting. I’m not sure what’s going on, so I’m not sure when I’m coming home.”
I shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ll see you when I see you.”
He kissed me again, quickly undressed, put on a pressed white shirt and a dark gray suit, and slipped on his shoes before jogging out the door with a tie in his hand.
I lay back down, looking up at the ceiling and picking my nails. His town house was quiet. No roommate, no pet. Not even a goldfish. I thought about the fact that Trenton would probably be sitting next to me on the love seat at home, watching anything with me while I prattled on about work, or school, or both. How nice it was just to have someone that wanted to be around me, in any capacity. Instead, I was staring up at a white ceiling, noticing how nicely it stood out against the clay beige walls.
Beige was so T.J. He was safe. He was stable. But anything could look good from a few thousand miles away. We never fought, but you don’t have anything to fight about if you’re never around one another. T.J. knew what kind of bagel I liked, but did he know that I hate commercials, or what radio station I listen to, or that the first thing I do when I get home from work is take off my bra? Did he know that my dad is a grade-A ass**le, or my brothers were both endearing and intolerable? Did he know that I never make my bed? Because Trenton did. He knew all of that, and he wanted me anyway.
I reached over and checked my phone. An email from Single in Your Area Now, but that was it. Trenton hated me, and that was about right, because he asked me to choose, and I didn’t choose him. Now I was lying naked in another man’s bed, thinking about Trenton.
I covered my face, and cussed the hot tears as they ran down my temples and into my ears. I wanted to be here. But I wanted to be there. Raegan had asked me if I’d ever been in love with two men. I didn’t know at the time that I already was. Two men who couldn’t be more different, and yet were so alike. Both lovable, and insufferable, but for completely different reasons.
Dragging the sheet along with me, I climbed from the bed and walked around T.J.’s tidy town house. It looked staged, as if no one really lived there. I suppose for the most part, no one did. A few silver square frames sat atop a narrow table that stood against the living room wall. They contained black-and-white photos of T.J. as a child, with his siblings, his parents, and one of him and me on the pier during my first visit.
The television was black, the remote control sat perfectly straight on an end table. I wondered if he even had cable. He’d rarely have enough downtime to watch it. Men’s Health magazine and Rolling Stone sat on top of the glass coffee table, spread apart like a hand of cards. I picked one up and flipped through it, suddenly feeling restless and bored. Why had I come? To prove to myself that I loved T.J.? Or that I didn’t?
The couch barely gave when I sat down. It was light gray, tweed, with brown leather piping. The fabric felt itchy against my back. The space had a completely different feel to it compared to the last time I was there. The musky yet clean smell wasn’t as appealing. The view from the large windows, with a glimpse of the bay, wasn’t as magical; T.J.’s brand of perfection wasn’t as mesmerizing anymore. Just a few weeks with Trenton had changed all of that. Suddenly it was okay to want messy, and flaws, and uncertainty, so much of what Trenton embodied . . . everything I saw in myself that I thought I didn’t like. Because even if we were struggling, we had goals. It didn’t matter that we weren’t there yet. What mattered is that we both experienced setbacks, and full-blown failures, but we got up, brushed ourselves off, and kept going—and were making the best of it. Trenton didn’t just make all of those things acceptable; he made getting there fun. Instead of feeling ashamed of where we weren’t, we could be proud of where we were going, and what we would overcome to get there.
I stood and walked over to the long windows, looking down at the street below. Trenton had found out what I was up to, raced to the airport, and begged me to stay. If I was the one on the other side of the security ropes, would I forgive him? Thinking about him feeling rejected and alone on his drive home made tears sting my eyes. As I stood in the perfect place owned by the perfect man, I wrapped his sheets tighter around me and let the tears fall, wishing for the struggling tattoo artist I’d left behind.
I had spent my childhood craving my first day of freedom. Almost every day for the better part of eighteen years, wishes were spent on tomorrow. But for the first time in my life, I wished that I could go back in time.
I SAID I WAS SORRY,” T. J. SAID, STARING AT ME FROM UNDER his brow.
“No. I’m really not,” I said, rolling a piece of my Marinated Steak Salad around on my plate.
“No, I do,” I said, acutely aware of my facial expressions and every movement I made. It was exhausting trying to prove I wasn’t pouting. T.J. didn’t get home until after eight thirty, and he didn’t text or call the entire time. Not even when he was on his way home.
“Want to try some of my fish?” He was within two bites of finishing his Alaskan Sea Bass, but pushed his plate forward. I shook my head. Everything smelled wonderful, but I just didn’t feel like eating, and it had nothing to do with T.J.
We were at a corner table, against the far wall of T.J.’s favorite neighborhood restaurant, Brooklyn Girl. The gray walls and simple but modern décor looked a lot like his apartment. Clean, everything in its place, and yet inviting.
T.J. sighed and sat back against his chair. “This isn’t going how I wanted at all.” He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table. “I work fifty hours a week, Camille. I just don’t have time for . . .”
“Me,” I said finishing the cringeworthy sentence for him.
“Anything. I barely see my family. I talk to you more than I do them.”