‘And we both know this isn’t a relationship.’ I force myself to meet his eyes. ‘We’re two people who have agreed to...to sleep together. To fuck. That’s our thing.’ I sigh. ‘I had fun today. At the MoMA with you. But we shouldn’t do that again.’
‘We can do the Staten Island Ferry next time,’ he teases.
‘I’m serious, Ethan.’ I need him to understand. ‘We’ve both said what we want from this. The MoMA, your concert... Those things aren’t on my list.’
He stares at me long and hard for a few seconds. ‘I thought we said we’d have fun?’
‘Yeah. Sexy fun.’
He laughs. ‘I found you very sexy at the MoMA. Think of it as foreplay, baby. It was just one afternoon.’
‘No.’ I shake my head quickly. ‘It’s more complicated than that.’
His eyes crinkle at the corners, as if he’s trying really hard not to laugh. ‘Has anyone ever told you that you have a tendency to overthink shit?’
‘Not so eloquently,’ I mumble.
His laugh is short. ‘Well, you do.’
‘There’s danger in this,’ I say seriously, softly, pulling him back to the heart of my worries. ‘Danger for me.’
His eyes throb with mine. He is reading me. Studying me. Analysing me. I keep my expression blank of emotion with an enormous effort.
‘Who hurt you?’
The question knocks me sideways. I drop his hand and take a step backwards.
I move towards the window. I’m awkward. My body is hot and cold.
‘Who hurt you?’
‘No one.’ I say it more emphatically now. ‘You think that the only reason a person can not want to be in a relationship with you is that she’s running from a past trauma, or something? Talk about egomaniacal.’
The charge is completely unreasonable—particularly given that he’s right.
‘I think there’s more to this than you’re telling me,’ he insists quietly.
My eyes lift to his in the reflection of the window. There is strength in his stance and I feel it push against me. I suck in a breath; it barely reaches my lungs.
‘So?’ I’m on the defensive. I make a point to lower my voice. ‘Have you told me everything about you and Sienna?’
I see his frown in the reflection. ‘No.’
‘But you think I should be an open book to you?’
He walks behind me slowly, but his hands on my shoulders are firm. Demanding. He turns me around, then presses his thumb beneath my chin, holding my face towards his.
‘You’re the one who’s acting like I’ve just fucking proposed. Why?’
‘I’m not.’ I bite down on my lip and jerk away from him. ‘I just don’t want you to go shifting the goalposts.’
I sink my teeth into my lip harder. His eyes drop to the gesture.
My heart twists painfully. Far worse than his desire to negotiate our...whatever this is...is his quick acceptance of my position. I know it’s for the best, but it hurts that he doesn’t fight harder.
What am I wanting? Him to prove that he wants more from me than I’m willing to give? What kind of emotional sadist am I becoming?
‘So, a concert, huh?’ I say, the words so over-bright they are brittle, like wood that’s been left in the sun for days on end. Paint peels away my confidence. ‘You nervous?’
His own smile is dismissive, distracted. ‘No. It’s not my first time.’
‘No, of course.’
We’re on safer ground, and I’m grateful, but the awkwardness of our conversation is still between us, lumpy and insistent. I hate it. I hate it that we’ve argued. I hate it that he probably thinks I’m either completely crazy or completely weird.
‘You’ve been doing this a long time, I guess?’
He sighs. Wearily.
Weary of me?
Warning bells flash.
I’m messing everything up.
Isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why I’m fighting to keep my emotions out of this?
I sidestep his touch. Our intimacy is gone. We’re just two strangers in a cold room full of misunderstanding. My dress is by the door. I move towards it on legs that are shaking, lift it up with the tips of my fingers and pull it on. When I turn around he’s watching me, with that same look of confusion on his handsome face.