Authors: Eliza Lentzski
Copyright © 2015 Eliza Lentzski
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to events, locales, or real persons, living or dead, other than those in the public domain, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, re-sold, or transmitted electronically or otherwise, without written permission from the author.
Other works by Eliza Lentzski
Don’t Call Me Hero
Apophis: Love Story for the End of the World
Love, Lust, & Other Mistakes
Diary of a Human
+ + +
The Winter Jacket Series
Winter Jacket 2: New Beginnings
Winter Jacket 3: Finding Home
+ + +
Works as E.L. Blaisdell
Drained: The Lucid
(with Nica Curt)
My breath caught in my throat at the sight of her standing in the doorway of my apartment. She wore a simple light grey dress, fitted everywhere except for the cowl neckline. Light blush applied to the apples of her cheeks highlighted her already dramatic cheekbones. Long, dark eyelashes framed impeccable eye shadow while I hardly knew how to apply mascara. A thin belt drew my eyes to her waist, down to her narrow hips, and to the bare olive skin where the bottom hem of her dress ended just above the knee.
We hadn’t seen each other in the days between now and when she’d surprised me at the bar where we’d first met. I still had to give my friend Rich a hard time about ganging up on me like that, but in reality I owed him big. When I’d left Embarrass, hurt and betrayed and confused, I never thought I’d see this woman ever again.
“Are you ready?” she asked, sounding impatient. I wondered if she was as nervous as I was. Her voice was audibly tense, but her features didn’t give anything away.
I was running late. Every other day of my twenty-eight years on this planet I had been on time—awkwardly early, even—but on the day it mattered the most, I was rushing around my apartment, frazzled and verging on sweating. I blamed it on the clothes. Living in Afghanistan had been the biggest trial of my life, but on a military base in the middle of a godforsaken desert wasteland, at least I’d never stood in front of my wardrobe, panicked about if my outfit matched.
Julia cleared her throat. “You’re not off to a very good start, dear.”
“I can do better.”
She arched an expectant eyebrow, and her lips, stained with ruby-red lipstick, pulled into a smirk. “Oh, really?”
My hands circled her waist, and I dipped my head to kiss her perpetually red-painted mouth. Her body stiffened and initially resisted my advance, but when I swept my tongue across her lower lip, I felt her body react, sagging and melting into mine. It was tempting to linger and see how far she’d let me carry on, standing in the open threshold of my apartment building, but I pulled back before either of us could get too carried away.
wanted this date.
Her eyes were closed, mouth slightly parted.
“Hi.” My voice sounded rougher and lower than my usual tone.
“Hi yourself,” she replied, caramel-colored eyes finally fluttering open.
“You look gorgeous,” I complimented. “As usual.” I allowed myself a second, indulgent look, taking my time as my eyes swept over her figure.
She looked down at her dress. “I spent all morning debating what to wear since you’ve
to tell me what we’re doing or where we’re going.”
She tried to sound annoyed with me, but the small smile affixed to her lips told me she was pleased with my compliment.
Technically, it had been Julia who’d asked me on a date, but I’d pestered her for far longer, so we’d compromised that I would plan the day provided she got to drive. I only had my motorcycle, and even though the Minnesota summer weather was still beautiful, there was no way I was going to get Julia Desjardin to straddle the back of my Harley-Davidson Sportster.
A girl could always dream though.
“Come on in,” I said, opening the door wider. “I’ll just be a minute.”
I heard Julia’s heels on the wooden floor as she entered and the soft click of the door closing behind her. I inspected her shoes—black stilettos whose heels she probably considered to be of reasonable height. “Are you gonna be okay to walk in those?” I asked.
“That depends,” she posed. “Are we climbing a mountain today?”
“Then I’m sure I’ll be perfectly fine.” Her eyes scanned my small apartment. “Do I get the grand tour?”
“Living room, kitchen, dining area,” I said, pointing in the general direction of each space. “There’s a bathroom and bedroom in the back.”
My new apartment was small, but clean and functional. It had come partially furnished, which included a bed, kitchen supplies, a cocktail table with four chairs, and a couch and coffee table. I hadn’t been stateside long enough to really accumulate much more than a flat screen TV and a laptop; the former was perched on one of my packing boxes in the living room and the latter was on the dining room table. I also hadn’t completely unpacked the boxes my parents had shipped me that contained my limited belongings. For now they remained stacked in my bedroom closet or in a corner of the living room, one item unpacked at a time as I had need for it.
I had no art on my walls, no movie posters or photographs to display. In fact the only thing I’d hung up since moving from Rich’s couch to the one-bedroom apartment had been the dream catcher Julia had bought me after witnessing the worst of my nightmares one night. I had no headboard, just a bed frame and a queen-sized mattress, so the dream catcher hung on the wall from a nail that the previous tenant had left behind.
A playful smile found its way to Julia’s mouth. “What? No tour of your bedroom?”
I shook my head hard. “Not if we actually want to leave sometime today.”
Julia’s smile turned into a pout, but I refused to be distracted. “I’ll be right back,” I announced, leaving her behind.
The only bathroom in my apartment was connected to the bedroom. It was no larger than the toilet, sink, and tub, but I was only one person and I didn’t require anything more. Privacy still felt like a bit of a luxury. I’d gotten used to sleeping in barracks and using communal bathrooms. It was admittedly awkward to have to traipse through my bedroom just to go to the bathroom, but when I’d originally leased the place a little under a month ago I hadn’t been thinking about guests or convenience. I’d been a tenant in the building before my move to Embarrass, so I was familiar with the structure and its neighborhood. But more importantly, I’d needed to get off of Rich’s couch for the good of our friendship and to salvage my sanity.
I inspected my reflection in the mirror above the sink. I smoothed my hands over my long, blonde hair to tame the unwanted flyaways, which were more stubborn than usual because of the day’s humidity. I straightened the neckline of my green sleeveless shell so it fell evenly across my collarbone. I’d chosen the top because its color complimented my eyes. I stood a moment longer in front of the mirror. In a shirt and skinny jeans, I was underdressed compared to Julia, but that was nothing new. I’d have to be wearing a prom dress to trump her wardrobe. When we’d first met her clothes had made me feel inadequate; they were a visual reminder that we came from different worlds. But stripped bare of the costumes, we weren’t all that different—stubborn, proud, and mildly damaged.
When I returned from the bathroom, I discovered Julia sifting through an overly large stack of mail that had been dominating my dining room table since I’d moved in. I hadn’t bothered leaving a forwarding address when I’d moved to Embarrass, and the property manager had been too lazy to send the mail back to the post office.
She didn’t stop flipping through the letters and magazines or even have the good grace to look embarrassed that I’d caught her digging through my things. Instead, she plucked an envelope from the top of the pile and waved it in front of me like a fan. “Do you know you have envelopes here dated from back in June?”
“Yeah.” I rubbed at the back of my neck. “I gotta go through those one of these days.”
I didn’t tell her that I hadn’t been paying attention to my new incoming mail, either. The mix of my mail with that of the previous tenant’s overwhelmed the table. It didn’t matter to me, though. I ate most of my meals at my coffee table. But intuition told me that if we continued to date, Julia wasn’t going to let that fly.
Her eyes narrowed at me. “I’m half tempted to make you sort through this mail right now,” she warned. “Who knows what kind of bills could be racking up late charges and ruining your credit score.”
“You wrongly assume I have any credit to ruin,” I countered.
Something flickered across Julia’s features, something akin to horror.
Her reaction made me laugh. “I’m kidding, Julia. But you really don’t have to worry about this,” I said, gesturing to the mountain of unopened mail. “Other than my motorcycle payment, I don’t have any debt. Uncle Sam took care of that for me.”
“Well that was awfully generous of my tax dollars to pay for your steady diet of pizza and beer,” Julia quipped.
“My thoughts exactly,” I said, grabbing my wallet and sunglasses from the table, “which is why tonight, you’re going to let me pay for everything without protest.”
Her jaw unhinged as she readied her complaint, but I hustled out the front door before she could assemble her closing statements.
We traveled in comfortable silence from my apartment door down to the front of the building where her black Mercedes was parked.
“What’s in the bag?” she asked, gesturing to the military-issued backpack slung over my right shoulder. I didn’t own much that didn’t use the Marine’s digital camouflage pattern.
“It’s a secret.”
Her upper lip curled. “I hope you didn’t pack an overnight bag, Miss Miller. Need I remind you, this is only our first date, and I’m not that kind of girl.”
“Oh, I know you’re not,” I said, laughing.
In my experience though, she
that kind of girl. After our initial meeting at a bar in Minneapolis, she’d shown up unannounced at my Embarrass apartment and had practically forced her way into my bed—not that I’d minded at all. But I’d never challenge her on that, especially not on the cusp of our first official date.
I climbed into the passenger side of the luxury car. I didn’t know how long she’d had the vehicle, but the interior still smelled new. The leather seats creaked as I buckled my seatbelt.
“Take a right out of the parking lot and go left at the second light,” I directed her to our destination.
I drummed my index fingers on the dashboard as she followed my instructions.
Julia’s eyes were focused on the street in front of her. “Nervous about something, dear?”
I made a noncommittal noise and stared straight ahead. Being in her presence still knotted me up. She was classy, refined, and beyond beautiful. I wondered if I would always feel this nervous around her.
I pointed towards the entrance of a parking lot. “This is the place,” I announced.
“Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden,” Julia read aloud as we pulled into a paved lot. “Is this the date?”
“Maybe,” I smiled.
Julia parked the car and turned off the engine. “So now what?” she turned to me. “A picnic in the park?”
“Do you think me that predictable?”
“Predictable? No. Sentimental? Yes.”
“Sentimental?” I echoed, aghast. “Now you’re calling me soft?”
“Perhaps ‘romantic,’ would have been a better choice of words. You strike me as the kind of woman who brings flowers to a date and holds doors and pulls out chairs.”
“I didn’t bring you flowers,” I pointed out, practically pouting.
“Only because I picked you up, dear, remember?”
My stubbornness had me rallying to come up with a defense until she leaned across the center console and cupped the side of my face with her hand.
“And I adore that about you, Cassidy,” she said softly. The pad of her thumb stroked along my cheek. “I’ve never felt so cherished and protected as when I’m with you.”
I cleared my throat, equal parts taken aback and startled by the affectionate words. “Well, uh, good,” was all I managed to come up with.
She quietly laughed at my reaction and her hand left the side of my face. “Come on, Miss Miller,” she said, opening the driver side door. “We have a first date to attend to.”
Julia stood beside me, hands clutching her purse, as she stared in disbelief. “Mini golf?”
“Still think I’m predictable?” I gloated.
Until I was reinstated with the city police, I was on a limited budget. But I still wanted our first date to be memorable. I also wanted to avoid locations where previous suitors might have tried to woo Julia, and I didn’t want to do something out of my comfort zone—I wanted to have a good time, too. The firing range seemed a little too aggressive for a first date, and bowling would have been too pedestrian for Julia. Mini golf on a course that resembled contemporary pop art, however, seemed like the perfect blending of our two personalities.
I was actually a pretty good golfer, lesbian stereotypes aside. When I was in the military, we had a lot of idle time on base in between directives. If I wasn’t playing cards with my friend, Terrance Pensacola, I was using the surrounding desert as my personal driving range. I hadn’t played miniature golf since I was a teenager, but I trusted that muscle memory would eventually kick in.
I reached for the wallet in my back pocket. To my surprise, Julia didn’t shove her way to the front of the line or make a fuss about me wanting to pay for both of us—she must have still been recovering from the reveal of the unexpected date activity.