Anything but Love (work in progress)

“How will I know when you love me?”

Leslie had already asked the question once but didn’t get a response. She figured she’d try again.

“When I tell you,” David answered.

“But you already said you loved me when you walked in the door.”

“That isn’t the magic word,” David said. “I do love you. The question to ask is when you know I’m ‘In’ love with you. When my love is unconditional. And when that happens, you’ll know.”

Leslie didn’t expect an answer, so she didn’t ask any more questions. Honestly just asking him was part of playing their game. They took turns playing hard to get and, this weekend, bet on who could do it better. She tried to get him to pay up because he was the first to say the word love, but he said there was still time for her to slip up more.

David and Leslie had first seen each other in person over beers at Ralph’s Place. He had lost a bet to her when they met online and promised to pay up. She couldn’t remember the bet, but she knew he bet her two beers. And lost within half an hour of making the bet. She said they could just forget about it, but he insisted. Ends up it was a bet he enjoyed losing.

She had figured he was just trying to get down her pants, but she decided to take a chance. She had made it clear that sex wasn’t going to be part of the deal, but he just kept saying they’d see. Good thing they hadn’t bet because that would have been the one she lost.

Sex hadn’t come much into their conversations at all, which is why it surprised her when they had sex after their first date. They had talked about it once when they met online, confessing their deepest passions and what turned them on, and joked about it. It was comical because he wouldn’t say words like “tit” without cracking up. There was very much a little kid still in him, even though she learned he definitely had the sexual appetite of an adult.

That had been months ago, before they really started dating. They had been dating for a few months, but neither called it that. They both insisted it was only a friendship, even after their lips spilled truths on each other’s bodies. She figured that was fine because it meant she could keep dating other guys, and he didn’t seem to mind that. His only rules were that she doesn’t give him details of dates, and that he gets to kick the shit out of anyone who lays a hand on her without permission. She almost tested him once, lying to him to see if he’d follow through. When she had to grab him by the shirt as he grabbed a bat and headed out her front door she figured she had her answer as to whether he was serious.

David honestly hadn’t known what to expect on that first date. Before he came Leslie told him she didn’t need someone else to sleep with. He had snuck some toys and condoms in his backpack just in case but didn’t expect to need them. He didn’t get his first hint until he walked into her living room and saw her holding the vibrator that she found in his bag. She had stuck her pants inside the bag and called it a fair trade.

“You told me you had a gift for me,” Leslie said. “Now I see why you asked me if I had batteries.”

“I was in a rush,” David replied. “Didn’t know they died until I tested it out before I left home. And I was in too much of a hurry to see you to stop at the store.”

“Do I get to keep it?” she asked.

“Do you have a license?” he asked in return. “You’ve got to show me that you can handle a gun before I give you a license to keep that. You’ve got to pass the test first.”

“Look who’s talking,” Leslie said as she burst out laughing. “You’re the one pointing a loaded gun at me!”

David got so much into the conversation that he forgot he was only wearing boxers and a T-shirt. Before he knew it she was on her knees cocking it.

Leslie had insisted that David do his homework before he visited but didn’t tell him what the assignment was. Guessing she’d leave clues, he saved every one of her Facebook posts and read them the weekend before he arrived in town. He made sure he had details about her family down and paid special attention to each post about Geminis after she said she’s true to her sign.

Sharp tongued. Extremely sexual. Mischievous streak. He read every word, every phrase. He knew she wouldn’t be easy to read, and realized she’d want to make a game of it. His “Spidey sense,” his knack at being intuitive, wouldn’t do him much good.

Intelligent, great at conversation and creative. They love to make people laugh and cheer people up and it makes them feel good to make others feel good. All good. Then there came the weaknesses. Devious. Superficial. Impulsive. Indecisive. That was something to think about, and there was no good way to ask her if these were her weaknesses. Not that he cared much.

David had his own quirks. They matched his Aquarius sign, though he didn’t care to ponder what the stars had in mind for him. Inventive. Clever. Humanitarian. These were the words that he knew Leslie would see when she did her homework.

There were others, his perceived weaknesses. Stubborn. Aloof. Rebellious. Sarcastic. He’d love to say they didn’t fit him, but honesty was also one of his traits. He hoped she’d pay more attention to the sex part. Anything goes. Spontaneous encounters and quickies. Creative. Granted, the silly wasn’t exactly something he would have put with sex. And he liked it anything but quick. But the rest of it seemed to fit.

That wasn’t what drew Leslie in, however. He’d found out later she did do her homework. She knew that communication was key. That she had to stimulate his mind, not just his body. That she had to be flexible and expect him to change plans at the last minute. The “very independent” part was what she liked the most. She didn’t want to be tied down either. She had no problem giving him his independence and figured she could get used to his detached, unemotional exterior. He had let her see his soft spot, and they were just friends anyway. She liked his sense of humor and appreciated the friendship more than anything. And why did she have to date him? She knew whenever he visited that they’d do it over and over and over again.

What Leslie didn’t know much about was David’s past. She knew he had been married but divorced and then got engaged to a woman named Sehana. Leslie asked about Sehana and all David would say at first was that she with someone else. He admitted later that she had gotten married but never told him until he asked to visit her.

“Damn bitch,” Leslie said.

“It’s OK,” David said, showing little emotion. “She had no choice. She did what she had to do, and he could give her what I couldn’t.”

What the other guy could give her was a marriage. David and his wife at that time were separated but not yet divorced. Sehana got tired of waiting but didn’t want to hurt David’s feelings. She had hoped he’d never find out. Ends up he already could tell just by how she acted on the phone. He just never admitted to her that he knew.

Could David love another? Was he capable? Leslie pondered that. David could be so sweet. But he was still withdrawn. David’s Achilles heel was his guilt. He carried so much guilt about how past relationships turned out. He blamed himself for his marriage breaking up. He blamed himself for Sehana leaving him. He promised her forever and could not deliver. That was why his wall was so thick, and Leslie knew this. She knew he didn’t expect her to stick around either. If he expected her to run, how could he love her?

David thought about the same question. Could he love another? What was he doing? All he knew was that Leslie inspired and intrigued him. And yes, he felt love though he couldn’t define how deep. She was beautiful, but it wasn’t her beauty that made him intoxicated. He didn’t start loving her until she showed him her scars. Until he saw the most horrid photo of her. Until she told him why she built her wall so damn thick. When she trusted showing him how she was at her weakest moments, he knew he felt something. But what?

“Hell, I don’t understand that love shit,” David said suddenly, voicing his thoughts as he felt her staring at him. He talked as if she wasn’t there, almost like he was talking to himself on some stage somewhere, performing in front of an audience.

“I know what it’s like to have scars run deep. But I don’t know shit about how to heal them. I know how to make them feel better, but how can they be healed?

“My star sign’s Aquarius, remember? Detached. Unemotional. An unemotional wretch seemed to be the perfect friend.”

David suddenly stood up stared at Leslie, looking deep into her eyes as he spoke.

“Don’t get me wrong, hon. You’re beautiful and sexy as hell. But no, that’s not what inspires me. It’s when you showed me your scars. When you revealed your story. I can’t say I fell ‘in love’ with you that day. But I definitely felt something and I couldn’t get you off of my mind. Which is pretty impressive considering how busy and stressed I was that day. But you made it better somehow. And I appreciated it. And yeah, that’s when I first moved beyond like. But fuck if I’m going to admit it to you.”

Leslie looked right back in his eyes, smiling slightly before she spoke.

“Why?” she asked. “Are you too pussy to admit how you feel?”

“Yeah, I am,” he answered. “Because the minute I do I bet you’d shove me out the door!”

Leslie didn’t reply. How could she? It was true. She tried to trust a man before, and he ran out on her when she needed him the most. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. She wouldn’t let anyone that close. Someday maybe, but not yet. The scars hadn’t healed, and she didn’t know when they would. All she knew was they hadn’t. Because of that she was definitely military acting when it came to relationships. The biggest thing any guy had to get clear really quick was that she was the one in charge.

David understood. He didn’t need an answer. He knew what they had and knew it wasn’t love. It wasn’t supposed to be. They had bodies that understood a season of doubt. They fed each other a feast, kept each other from famine. They closed the curtains whenever the light shone through so they could extend the illusion a little more. She closed her lips tight so as not to speak words like love. He closed his eyes when making love so that her curves and crevices could merely float away in a flurry of touch and not be etched in his mind.

They were merely wolves satisfying a hunger. Letting each other be prey. Toying with each other like food. They couldn’t let feelings interfere. Couldn’t let the light shine through. Not yet. It wasn’t time. It would likely never be time. They both agreed upon that from the start.

“Enough talking,” David said.

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