Anders meets Brody for the first time.
I stare at my coffee on the cheap table in the seedy diner-slash-café and try to make sense of what I was just told. The lawyer brought me here to fill me in on how and why my brother was arrested tonight.
“Can you please repeat that?” I ask, because I can’t be hearing it right.
Law—the most put together person I know—assaulted his student’s father.
Blue eyes meet mine, and I try to ignore how good-looking this Brody guy is. He has the type of hair that looks messy while being meticulous. His suit does nothing to hide the muscular body underneath. I know without a doubt if we weren’t in public, I’d be freaking out more than I already am.
Public is good. It’s safe.
A foot accidentally brushes against mine under the table, and I flinch. My nerves are on edge, and there’s a reason I avoid these types of situations. In a crowded bar, at a busy restaurant, I can lose myself in the safe feeling of knowing no one would try shit with that many spectators.
Here, though, there’s a girl at the counter, a chef out back, and a douche on a laptop in the corner booth. That’s not enough for my liking.
If Brody notices my anxiety, he doesn’t acknowledge it.
“He physically assaulted a parent, but he’s a hero if you ask me. The parent beat his gay kid.” His eyes widen. “Don’t tell your brother I approve of what he did. I’m still pissed at him for lying to Reed.”
Reed. The guy my supposedly straight brother fell head over heels for while pretending to be me. Law’s had a lot of secrets lately, and that’s never happened between us before.
“Who are you to Reed?” I ask.
“We grew up together.” Something tells me there’s more to it than that, judging by the lightness in his voice and something like longing in his eyes, but I’m too busy focusing on the important part.
Law has kept shit from me because he knows I wouldn’t handle it. A domestic abuse situation this close to home? My hand trembles as I try to sip my coffee.
“Is it true Law breaks up with guys for you?” Brody’s tone is more curious than judging, but that doesn’t stop my hand from losing the fight. The cup clatters on the table, and hot coffee goes everywhere.
“Shit,” I hiss.
I scramble to find something to mop up the mess and settle for my shirt.
Mr. Cool Calm and Collected reaches for napkins instead.
Right. That would be smarter.
“How much do you know?” I ask and avoid eye contact. I have to make sure I get all the spilled coffee. Yup, totally legit excuse not to look the man in the eye, even if I’m just wiping over dry spots.
“Only that you sent your brother to break off a date with Reed, but Law fell for him instead. What we could never work out was why you sent Law to begin with.”
Reed knows about Kyle and what happened to me—and the truth about why Law showed up the night they met instead of me—so he earns some points for not telling his friend something he has no right repeating.
“I had another date,” I lie.
Again, where I expect some type of judgement, I swear the guy’s lips turn up into a tiny, but very real, smile. I go to defend myself when he cuts me off.
“We should go out sometime.”
My hand freezes on the table, and my mouth dries. I feel myself blink rapidly at him, but the iciness of fear turns my blood cold.
Old me would already be on our way to his apartment. Or mine. Whichever’s closer.
This me? The broken version of the guy I used to be? I can’t be the guy to hook up with randoms unless they meet a certain criteria. And Mr. Lawyer does not meet any of that criteria. He’s everything I run away from.
But fuck, if I don’t wish I could just put all that shit in my head aside for a night and enjoy myself for once. I’m not delusional enough to think it’s a possibility, but sitting across from my ultimate wet dream definitely has me thinking about it. The problem is, thinking and doing are completely different things.
In my fantasy, I’d walk out of here right now, get in his car, maybe tease the hell out of that insane body the whole way to his apartment, and then have him fuck me senseless. In reality? As soon as we left the restaurant, I’d probably be in the foetal position covering my head and asking him to leave me the fuck alone.
His laugh is warm and friendly, and the casual way he leans back in the booth has my desire growing and heart rate spiking. “Didn’t think going out with me was that hard a decision.” Fuck, his raspy voice sends a shock right to my groin.
And as if right on cue, the nausea starts. The fear sets in. I’m on the cusp of a possible panic attack, and I’ve already had one this past month. Two in one month wasn’t unheard of a few years ago—hell, two in one day wasn’t unheard of back then—but I can’t put myself through this again.
I’ve been doing well. Better. I won’t let this guy set me back.
“I have to go.” I stand and practically tumble out of the booth.
My feet aren’t quick enough to take me to the door, and he catches up way too easily for my liking.
His overwhelming presence looms over me, and that’s impressive considering I’m six-foot-tall and ten percent body fat.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, his brow scrunched in concern.
Standing in the doorway to the café, I ignore his question and run my eyes over his chest and down to his narrow hips. There’s no doubt in my mind his suit was tailor-made to fit his body. It shows off every angle.
A couple enter the diner, forcing me closer to the Adonis in front of me.
My breath catches as we stand chest to chest. This is the closest I’ve been to someone who makes me want to vomit in a long time, but I can’t bring myself to step away, even if the couple has passed us now.
I want to close the small gap between us.
I don’t think I’ve wanted anything more.
Oh, wait, yeah I have. I’ve wanted to be normal enough to be able to push myself through this.
I want to be the type of person who has the courage to say yes to going out with this guy.
But I’m not that guy.
And I can’t imagine ever being that guy again.
No matter how much I want to be.
“S-sorry, I have to go.” I rush out of there as fast as I can, but the damage has been done.
I manage to hold it together for my drive home, but by the time I hit the third flight of stairs leading to my apartment, I’m practically crawling to my front door.
This can’t be happening again.
I can’t break down because I met a hot guy. It’s the reason I ran away and made Law take my place on my date with Reed to begin with.
I’ve been telling myself that I’m doing better, but the truth is the only reason I’ve been able to hold it together is because I’ve been avoiding everything that makes me uneasy.
As much as I wish I wasn’t having this revelation because it means I need to do something about it, the fact of the matter is if I ever want to be in a position to say yes to someone like Brody, I have to go back to intense therapy.
Cue entire meltdown.