“Don’t they look awesome?” I took one in each hand. “As you know, Chloe and Sara helped me pick out new bras. Boobs have always been sort of a problem for me.”
Will’s eyes widened. “Boobs are never a problem for anyone. Ever.”
“Says the man without a pair. Boobs are functional. That’s it.”
He looked at me with genuine fire in his eyes. “Fucking right they are. They get the job done.”
“See, the problem with boobs is if you have big ones, you can never look thin. You get these burns on your shoulders from bra straps, and your back hurts. And unless you’re using them for their intended purpose, they’re always in the way.”
“In the way of what? My hands? My face? Don’t you blaspheme in here.” He looked up to the sky. “She didn’t mean it, Lord. Promise.”
Ignoring him, I said, “That’s why I had a reduction when I was twenty-one,” which is when his expression morphed into one of horror.
You’d have thought I told him I made an amazing stew from tiny babies and puppy tongues.
“Why on earth would you do that? That’s like God giving you a beautiful gift and you kicking him in the nuts.”
“I am. But if I could motorboat perfect tits like yours I might be able to find Jesus.”
I felt my blush warm my cheeks. “Because Jesus totally lives in my cleavage?”
“Not anymore he doesn’t. Your boobs are now too small for him to be comfortable in there.” He shook his head, and I couldn’t stop laughing. “So selfish, Ziggs,” he said, grinning so widely that I actually stumbled a little.
We both snapped around at the sound of a voice. “Will!”
I glanced from the perky redhead jogging toward us, to Will, and back again.
“Hey!” he said awkwardly, waving as she passed.
She turned to run backward, calling out to him, “Don’t forget to call me. You owe me a Tuesday.” She gave him a flirty little smile before continuing down the path.
I waited for an explanation but none came. Will’s jaw was tight, his eyes no longer smiling as he focused on the trail ahead of us.
Hang out. Right. I spent enough time on college campuses to know that ninety-five percent of the time the phrase hanging out was boy-code for doing it.
“So, not someone you would introduce as a girlfriend.”
His eyes shot to mine. “No,” he said, looking almost as if I’d offended him. “Definitely not a girlfriend.”
We walked in silence for a few moments and I looked back over my shoulder, understanding dawning. She was a nongirlfriend. “Her boobs were . . . wow. She clearly knows Jesus.”
Will completely cracked up and wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Let’s just say finding religion cost her a lot of money.”Later, when we were done, and Will was stretching on the ground next to me, reaching for his toes, I peeked over at him and said, “So I have this thing tonight.” And then I winced.
Beneath his track pants I could see the pop of muscles in his thigh and so almost missed it when he repeated, “A thing?”
“Yeah. It’s sort of a work . . . thing? Well, not really. Like, a social mixer, an interdepartmental thing. I never go to these, but in the spirit of not dying alone surrounded by feral cats, I figured I’d give it a go. It’s Thursday night so I’m sure it’s not going to be that wild.”
He laughed, shaking his head as he switched his position.
“It’s at Ding Dong Lounge.” I paused, chewing my lip. “Seriously, is that a made-up name?”
“No, it’s a place over on Columbus.” Reaching up, he scratched his stubbly jaw, thinking. “Not far from my office actually. Max and I go there sometimes.”
“Well, a bunch of my coworkers are going, and this time when they asked if I was going I said I was, and now I realize that I totally have to at least pop in and see what it’s about, and who knows, maybe it could be fun.”
He peeked up at me through his thick lashes. “Did you even breathe during that entire sentence?”
“Will.” I stared him down. “Will you come tonight?”
He snickered, shaking his head as he looked down, stretching.
It took me a beat to understand why he was laughing. “Ugh, pervert.” I groaned, shoving his shoulder. “You know what I mean. Will you come with me?”
He looked up at the sound of me smacking my forehead.
“Oh my God, that’s worse. Just text me if you’re interested in coming.” I winced, turning to walk down the trail toward my apartment building and basically wanting the trail to crack open and transport me to Narnia. “Forget it!”
“I like it when you ask me to come!” he called after me. “I can’t wait to come tonight, Ziggy! Should I come around eight? Or do you want me to come around ten? Maybe I’ll come both times?”
I flipped him the bird, and kept moving away down the trail. Thank God he couldn’t see my smile.
My legs burned from sitting at my computer all day, and beyond that I had a wild itch to get to the Ding Dong Lounge—never thought I’d say that—pull up beside Ziggs at the bar and just . . . relax. It had been a long time since I’d had so much fun with a woman without getting na**d.
Unfortunately for me, the more time I spent with Ziggy, the more I wanted it to morph into something that involved being na**d. Which felt like a cop-out, like my brain and body wanted to fall back on the familiar comfort of sex over emotional depth. Ziggy pushed me, even if she didn’t know it; she made me think about everything from why I did my job to why I kept sleeping with women I didn’t love. It had been forever since I’d felt like I wanted to take over someone’s sexual history, completely overwrite it with my hands and dick and mouth. But with Ziggy, I couldn’t tell if that was because sex would somehow be easier than the way she had my brain all twisted, or if it was because I wanted her to twist me in other ways entirely.
So I stayed away until around ten, wanting to push her to socialize and spend time with friends from her lab. When I arrived, I spotted her at the bar without too much trouble, and slid up next to her, bumping her shoulder with mine. “Hey, lady. Come here often?”
She beamed at me, eyes lit with happiness. “Hey, Player Will.” After a pause pregnant with some strange, mutual inspection, she said, “Thanks for com . . . showing up.”
She nodded. “We went to a seafood place down the street. I had mussels for the first time in years.” When I made a face, she shoved me playfully. “You don’t like mussels?”
She leaned closer, whispering, “Well, they were delicious.”
“I’m sure they were. All floppy and chewy and tasting like dirty ocean water.”
“I’m happy to see you,” she said, abruptly changing the subject. But she didn’t shrink away from the proclamation when I looked over at her. “Outside of running, you know.”
She looked at my eyes, my cheeks, my lips for a long moment before meeting my eyes again. “Your smoldering might eventually kill me, Will. And the best thing is I think you have no clue that you look at women this way.”
“What can I get for you?” the bartender asked, startling us both when he slapped two cardboard coasters down in front of us and leaned closer. It seemed like Ziggy’s lab friends had left, and the Ding Dong was uncharacteristically quiet; usually the bartenders here took my drink order from halfway down the bar, while pouring someone else’s beer.
“Guinness,” I said, then added, “And a shot of Johnny Gold.”
The bartender looked to Ziggs. “Something else for you?”
His eyebrow rose and he smiled at her. “That all you want, sweetheart?”
Ziggy laughed, shrugging. “Anything stronger and I’ll be asleep in fifteen minutes.”
“I’m pretty sure there are plenty of strong things back here that could keep you up for hours.”
What he said made me draw back, look over at Ziggy to assess her reaction. If she looked horrified, I might have to kick this guy’s ass.
She laughed, oblivious and embarrassed for having been called out on being square in a bar, and spun her coaster in front of her. “You mean a coffee with Bailey’s or something?”
“No,” he said, resting on his elbows right in front of her. “I had something else in mind.”
“Just the iced tea,” I cut in, feeling like my blood pressure had gone up about seven thousand millimeters. With a smirk, he stood and left to get our drinks.
I could feel Ziggy watching me, and I grabbed a cocktail napkin in order to have something to studiously shred.
I blew out a breath. “Did he not see me sitting here with you? He was all over you. What a dick.”
“Taking my drink order?” she asked, giving me a baffled stare. “What a jerk.”
“?‘Something strong behind the bar that could keep you up for hours’?”
Her mouth formed a tiny O as she seemed to figure it out, and then she grinned. “Isn’t that the point of our little project? To get some more innuendo in my life?”
The bartender returned and set our drinks in front of us, winking at Ziggy before walking away.
Beside me, I saw her sit up a little straighter and turn on her stool to face me. “Not to change the subject, but I watched some p**n last night.”
I coughed, putting my beer down on the rounded edge of the bar, then barely catching it before it spilled all over me. Even so, some of it slopped over the lip of the glass, and onto my lap. “Christ, Ziggs, you have zero filter.” I grabbed a small pile of cocktail napkins and wiped my pants.
I stared at my shot of whiskey and downed it, before admitting, “Sure.”
“So why is it weird that I did?”
“It’s not weird that you watched it. It’s weird that it’s the start of a conversation. I just . . . I’m still getting used to this. Before Project Hot Chick, I just knew you as the dorky little sister. Now you’re this . . . porn-watching woman who had a breast reduction and develops theories about hymen restoration. It’s an adjustment.”
That, and I find you almost irresistible, I thought.
She waved me off. “Anyway, I have a question.”
I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. “Okay?”
“Do women really make those noises in bed?”
I stilled, grinning over at her. “What noises, Ziggy?”
She didn’t seem to realize I was completely f**king with her, and she closed her eyes, and whispered, “Like, ‘Oh, oh, Willll, I need your cock’ and ‘Harder, harder, oh God, f**k me, big daddy’ . . . and so on.” Her voice had gone soft, and breathy, and I was horrified to feel my dick lengthen. Again.
I fought a smile, loving her natural confidence even on a topic I suspected she had little experience with. “Maybe they do need my cock. Wouldn’t you like to want someone so much you need their cock?”
She took a long pull on her iced tea, considering this. “Actually, yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted someone so much I would beg for it. A cookie? Yes. A cock? No.”
“That would have to be one hell of a cookie.”
“Um.” She looked up at the ceiling. Not blushing, not even a little embarrassed. “Frisky Freshmen? Something like that. A lot of college girls ha**g s*x with a lot of college guys. It was kind of fascinating, actually.”
I fell quiet, losing my thoughts down a weird trail from college coeds, to Ziggy at work in the lab, to Jensen’s hope that she would make new friends, to the bartender hitting on her right in front of me, to my still-lengthened cock.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
She put her tea down, and turned on her stool to stare at me. “How is that possible? How can men say they’re not thinking about anything?”
“I’m not thinking about anything of substance, how’s that?” I clarified.
“We’re talking about p**n and you’re not even thinking about sex?”
“Strangely, no,” I said. “I’m thinking about how na?ve and sweet you are. I’m wondering what I’ve agreed to do here, when I said I would help you figure out the whole dating world. I’m worried I’m going to make you into the most vulnerable bombshell in the history of the planet.”
“You were thinking of all of that just now?”
“Wow. That’s something of substance.” Her voice had gone quiet, and soft. Kind of like her pretend p**n voice, but with real words, and real emotion. But when I looked over at her, she was staring out the window. “I’m not na?ve and sweet, though, Will. I know what you mean, but I’ve always been kind of obsessed with sex. Mostly the mechanics of it. Why different things work for different people. Why some people like sex one way, and others like it another. Is it anatomy? Is it psychology? Are our bodies really organized that differently? Things like that.”