It’s Saturday and I’m at The Alchemy with Emma, Dylan, and Matt. We find a table in the middle of the room and Emma thumps the big bag of goodies down on it. It’s prompt night for the Labyrinth and Emma is in charge of producing the prompts.
“Explain to me one more time why you need this giant-ass bag again?” Matt says, taking off his coat and hanging it on the chair as he takes a seat.
Dylan gives him a disdainful look. “She’s got her prompts in it, dumbass.”
Emma smiles in pleasure, her eyes on the bag as she looks for something. It’s adorable how shy she is in front of him when she’s normally so self-assured. Dylan and Emma have gone on a few dates this week. Turns out, Dylan loved the tangerine. I knew it.
“And why can’t you show them a picture or something on your phone?” He bumps his shoulder with mine. “Back me up here, Layla. This freaking bag is a monstrosity.”
“I don’t have a problem with it, actually,” I say. “It’s kind of fun to look at something while writing about it.”
When Emma told me about the Labyrinth’s prompt night, my first reaction was panic. I didn’t think I could be a part of it. I wasn’t prepared. I haven’t even read all the books I own.
Reading has become a vital part of my life, now. In the past week, I’ve only roamed on the street once. I haven’t been to Thomas’ house at all. I stay up late reading. There’s so much to discover, and I’ve been living inside this fog for so long. I feel like time is running out on me. I’ll probably die before reading all the books out there.
I try to calm myself. I’m here to be a part of something greater than me—art—and I don’t have to be perfect. The only thing I should be worried about is seeing Thomas.
It’s been six days since I cried in front of him, told him my ugly love story, and sort of licked his hand, trying to taste him. Since then I’ve seen him all around campus, at Crème and Beans with Nicky, in the corridors at the Labyrinth when Emma dragged me to a play reading. I’ve even seen him in the park, at the bench, the one time I went out at night. He was smoking and battling with himself, as usual, and I was hiding behind the tree.
It’s like he’s everywhere. My secret keeper. The one person who knows what I did.
And he is disgusted by me. He never looks at me. To him, I’m invisible. Somehow, this hurts even more because deep down I thought he could relate to me, but he doesn’t.
I really am a freak of nature.
The front door of the bar opens and in strides Sarah Turner, followed by Professor Masters and Thomas. The snowflakes swirl behind his back as he enters and the door swings shut.
“Hello children,” Professor Masters greets us in a jovial voice as he saunters forward. There is a chorus of chuckles and Hi Professor around the room.
Without paying attention to anyone, Thomas breaks off from the trio and heads for the bar. Sarah throws him an annoyed look but Professor Masters steers her toward their destination.
Thomas orders a drink and sits on the barstool, his long legs straddling the small seat. He takes off his jacket, revealing a plain grey t-shirt that stretches across his shoulders and biceps. His jean-covered thighs bulge as he bounces his right leg with impatience.
The bartender sets down a chocolate martini in front of him and I look away, embarrassed. His weakness for chocolate awakens something raw and melty inside my stomach. I haven’t thought about what I’ll do come Monday. Will I go back to class? Will I hide and never show my face again?
Emma gets up from beside me, greets the room, and explains the instructions. She digs inside her bag and fishes something out. “So the first prompt is this bottle of hot sauce. You have to write a short poem, no more than twenty lines, with whatever comes to mind when you see a red bottle with H.O.T. written on it. I’m going to pass this around for a bit so you guys can look at it.”
My first thought is that I hate hot sauce. I’m more of a sweet-loving person. In fact, I’m the only sweet-loving person in my family or the families I’ve had over the years. My mom, Caleb, my dad, Caleb’s dad, even Henry—they all shy away from sweet things.
The thought of Caleb makes me aware of the phone in my jacket pocket. Since those missed calls at Crème and Beans, he’s called several times, but I haven’t picked up. I was hoping he’d leave a message or something so I’d know what it’s about, but he hasn’t.
Why does he keep calling me? As impulsive as I am, a strange fear is keeping me from taking his call.
Emma bumps my elbow and tells me to get writing.
Right, hot sauce. I nibble at my pen, trying to think…no, trying to feel. How does hot sauce make me feel? H.O.T. Feel. Feel.
I close my eyes and the first thing I see is Thomas’ face. His beautiful, intense gaze. How every molecule of my body, every inch of my flesh burns when he is near. How he has the power to change the weather, cold to hot.
Gasping, my eyes whip open. Thomas Abrams is a fire-breather. He breathes flames and lust, makes me forget everything and say yes. Yes to obsession. Yes to stalking. Yes to insanity. Yes to licking.
With shaking hands, I begin to write and capture him in words. The pen moves and the words flow out. They keep flowing without my knowledge. All I can feel is the heat seesawing through my body.
Next thing I know I’m jolted by Emma’s clap and shrill voice. “All right guys, it’s time to stop. Put down your pens.”
Murmurs escalate and the room breaks out in conversation, as Emma asks someone to volunteer their poem first. With flushed cheeks, I pocket my small notebook. While the entire room is busy, I get up and shuffle into the hallway in the back. I need to get to the ladies’ room and calm myself down.
I rub my arms at the unexpected chill in the dank hallway and take a deep breath. My legs can barely support themselves. Is this how poets feel when they put feelings into words? Is this how Thomas feels? It’s like bleeding. It’s like running for miles and running out of breath.
Before I can reach my destination, I’m being hauled into a dark, tiny room. I don’t even have time to squeal before the flimsy wooden door is shut, and I’m surrounded by a very familiar heat.
He has me trapped inside what looks to be a storage room, his hand banded around my elbow, pushing me back against the dank wall.
“T-Thomas.” I’m panting. “What… What’s happening? What’re you doing?”
His chiseled face is a study of thick shadows and thin slices of light under the flickering yellow bulb. The only bright spots on his features are those fire-starting eyes of his. I can smell the delicious smoke rising from my body, can feel the sting.
Now that the initial shock is gone, my body sags, relieved to be the center of his attention after days. He sees us. There are things to worry about, I know that, but I can’t muster the energy to.
“Thomas?” I whisper when it’s clear he won’t say anything. “Wh-What are you doing?”
His breaths are choppy, short jabs of air inhaled and exhaled as he stares at every inch of my face. “Do you still love him?”
“Do you still love that guy?”
My breaths match his, succinct and sharp. I study him, this man in front of me. There’s a hint of vulnerability to him. His usually cool persona is frayed. Is it because I told him my story? Maybe he relates to me after all.
“Thomas, what’s going on?”
“How much do you love him, Layla? Do you love him so much that you hate yourself? That you can’t stand your own sight? Do you constantly think about how to fix it? How to make it better? How to be better?”
He isn’t merely frayed—he’s coming apart. Naked agony dances on his features. It’s too bright and glaring. It’s too similar to mine, but I’m not worried about that right now. I’m worried about him.
“Yes,” I whisper. I lift my hand and press it to his stubbled face. His cheekbone is arched and high, seemingly made of granite as it pulses beneath my palm. “But I’m so tired of it,” I admit, and his eyes flare. Fire-breathing eyes. I wonder why I didn’t notice it before. It’s so obvious now. They never fail to start a fire in my soul.
He crowds me against the wall, as if sinking his hard body into mine, but there isn’t any touch involved. His frame sort of hovers over me, heating me up, jumpstarting my nerves. I’m a mesh of live wires, firing lust and adrenaline. I’m sticky as sugar and drunk as whiskey.
Thomas arranges his body and places both his palms on the wall, caging me in. The vein on his bicep becomes taut, a purple string tugging on my senses.
I watch him watch my parted lips, and suddenly, it’s the only piece of my body I can feel. My mouth, throbbing, puffy, swollen with the need.
“Me too,” he whispers, almost to himself.
I wasn’t meant to hear it, but I did. Again, I’m hit by a storm of desire to kiss him better. It’s a tornado, an avalanche in my body, and in one breathless moment, I decide to go for it. It’s okay. I can take the blame for it later.
I break the rules and reach up and kiss him. A feathery peck on his plump lips, it’s a kiss of solidarity, a kiss that intends to tell him I understand—but one isn’t enough. It only manages to ratchet up my lust. So I give him another, this time on the corner of his mouth, and then another one on his jaw.
It’s not enough, these small, barely-there touches. I want more, but I won’t take it. I’ll be good; I’ll only give.
Abruptly, he fists my curls and stops me. I look at him fearfully, ready to apologize—not for the kiss, but for being the kisser. His gaze reflects passion, stark, raving need, and I shiver, despite wearing layers and sweating with his heat.
“Are you trying to kiss me, Layla?” he rasps, flexing his fingers on my makeshift ponytail.
He couldn’t tell? Blush rises to the surface and I know I’m glowing like a neon sign. Swallowing, I nod. “Yes.”
He inches closer to me, still not touching—as impossible as that is—but infinitely closer. “You want to kiss me, Miss Robinson, you do it right.”
Oh God, does he have to call me that? Now, here? My spine arches on its own and my heavy tits graze the contours of his shuddering chest.
“H-How?” I ask innocently, belying the daring action of my body. His stern, professor-y voice is doing things to me, making me wild, uncontrolled.
For a second, he’s silent, just watching. I’m afraid he’ll back out from whatever this is, whatever insanity we’re about to commit—but then I sense the shift in the liquor-laced air as he opens his mouth and growls, “Like this.”
Twisting my hair in his grasp, he swallows my lips in his mouth. He sucks on the shape of my sensitive flesh and all I can do is let him. I put my palms on his shoulders, feeling the heated muscles under the soft material of his t-shirt. His chest shifts and slides over my breasts, like a wave of water. I want to be drenched with it. I want every drop of his sweat, his lust on every inch of my skin. I pull him toward me so he can crush me with his massive weight.
He doesn’t budge though. He stands there, unfazed, still devouring my lips, immobile. His tongue thrusts in and licks me from the inside—the roof of my mouth, my tongue, my teeth. He is after my essence, the special taste that lives deep. He growls when he gets it, my flavor, and the pressure of his grip on my hair increases tenfold.
It’s painful, but not enough to tamp down my arousal. I give up my attempts to bring him to me. Rather, I go to him. I lift my leg and wrap it around his waist. My hands creep up and lock around his neck. I climb him like an ivy, toxic and poisonous and shameless.
I press my body to his and kiss him back with everything I am. I pour my soul into it. For these few moments, I become a balm to his pain.
But it doesn’t last long. My selfishness and my need for him take over. My core starts leaking and it becomes hard to remember I’m only meant to give, not to take.
I rotate my hips, searching for that magical friction against the ridged planes of his body. Then I feel it—his erection against my upper tummy. It’s huge. Hard. A heated rod. It’s alive, and when I move against it, I feel it throb. A tortured moan rips out of his chest.
Thomas tears his mouth away from me and even my soul mourns the loss. We stare at each other, gasping for breath. I’m still clung around him and his cock is still nestled between our aroused bodies. I adjust my thigh around his hip, and it throbs with the small movement.
“Don’t fucking move,” he tells me, emphasizing it with a tug on my hair.
“Okay.” I swallow. “I’m sorry.”
A pained chuckle. “For what?”
“I made you kiss me.”
The legendary tic makes its appearance at the heel of my words. It drums on his jaw like a secondary heart, or maybe a time bomb. “You did, didn’t you?”
Unable to talk, I simply nod.
In answer, he lodges his thigh between my legs and presses on my core. It’s an electric shock multiplied by a strike of lightning, and I almost burst into flames.
“Wh-What…” I try to speak but he increases the pressure, eliciting a moan from me.
“Why?” he whispers, noting my lusty reactions. “Why did you make me do it, Layla?”
Again, he repeats his movements, reducing me to wordless, needy moans. What is he doing?
“Because you what?”
“Because I do this kind of thing. I-I’m selfish and bad…” I moan, doused in shame and arousal. “I take what I want because I can’t control myself. I don’t want to.”
“And you want me, don’t you?” When I don’t answer, he tugs on my hair sharply. “You want me, Layla.”
It’s not a question, but still I nod my head. Yes, I want him. I’ve wanted him since the first time I saw him. I want him more and more with each passing day. I want him because he’s like me. He’s in unrequited love and I want to save him, somehow.
His eyes shine with satisfaction, a sense of victory at my answer. He loves my desperation and it makes me hornier.
We’re so fucked, my omniscient heart says. I agree.
“I can do whatever I want with you and you’ll let me. Isn’t that right, Layla?” He licks his lips as if savoring his own words. “I can tell you to jump and you’ll ask how high. I can tell you to strip and you’ll strip as if your clothes are on fire.”
“Yes,” I moan.
He rewards me by grinding his muscular thigh and my cunt pulses. My lust-addled brain commands me to move, to chase the friction, and I do it. I slide up and down his maddening leg, digging my nails into his scalp as the pleasure mounts.
I feel the angry and rhythmic jerk of his cock on my stomach and I love it. I love the fact that I’ve shed all my inhibitions and am reduced to this, a lust-drunk puppet. I love that it gives Thomas pleasure. He isn’t sad anymore, or vulnerable.
Yes, I love all that.
His pain has become my pain, and it’s going to make me come on his leg. I watch Thomas with hazy eyes. I watch the arrogant slope of his flushed cheeks. I watch his dilated pupils, his wet, parted lips. All the while, I’m moving, humping his leg. Up and down. Up and down.
“Of course you will,” he rasps. “Will you come for me, Layla?”
I jerk out a nod. In the back of my mind, I know how wrong this is, how shameful, but I can’t stop myself. As Thomas said, I’ll do anything for him in this moment.
My movements are haphazard now, jerky, epileptic. I want it so bad. I want my cum to gush so hard it seeps through my panties and leaves a wet patch on his jeans.
The graphic, vulgar thought pushes me over the edge. Hard and moaning, I come, just the way I wanted—no, just the way he wanted. I was simply following his orders. My mind is filled with cotton and shooting stars and static. I want to bask in it forever.
Oh God, it’s so good. So good.
The pressure on my body eases. I don’t feel his muscles between my legs, and the harsh grip on my hair has vanished. In the wake of my orgasm, Thomas has let me go, and in turn, forced me to unwind my body from his.
I’m still recovering from my climax, leaning against the wall for balance, but I try to focus. Thomas is watching me, intensely, his flaming eyes working double-time to take me in, his hands on either side of my head.
“Do you understand what I’m telling you, Layla? Can you hear your heart beating? Is it trying to pound through your chest? Do you think you can control it? Tell it to calm down? Your hips are still shaking. I bet you’re still leaking cum, aren’t you? Do you think you can control any of that?”
I shake my head.
“Yeah, that’s right. You’d be surprised to know how many things aren’t your fault at all.” His eyes bore into mine, as if telling me the importance of his declaration.
For a second, I can’t make the connection between what he’s telling me and what happened here, but then I get it. He’s absolving me. He’s rendering me blameless for kissing him, for making him kiss me. I wonder if this absolution includes what happened with Caleb. Am I free of those sins too?
My heart scoffs. Are you kidding? We tricked him into having sex.
“I saw you,” I blurt out without thinking.
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I know in my bones that this will destroy whatever kindness he’s harboring toward me.
“Through the window,” I add, because I can’t handle not being blamed.
Everything is always my fault. The broken vases at home. Muddy footprints on the tile floors. The missing bottles of liquor from the cabinet. Caleb’s missing underwear. The fact that he ran off to college a month early and won’t even visit home. The fact that I shoplifted, drank and drove numerous times, crashed parties, broke my mom’s ice sculpture.
It’s all my fault. It’s just like me to do those things. I want Thomas’ accusation too.
“I saw how lonely you were. I saw the anger on your face, the way you…the way you paced around the room, like you were trapped.” The scene plays in my head: his frantic steps, his hands tugging at his hair.
Then the scene changes and I’m outside his bedroom window. “And-And then you were with her—Hadley. I… You were talking and you looked so sad and angry, and then she left. I kept watching your back and your shoulders. They were so tight and I could see the effort it took you to keep yourself together. Then you picked up a vase and I thought you’d throw it against the wall, break it, because I know your heart was breaking, but you held on to it. You set it down gently. You were better than me. I-I could never have done that.”
Nothing moves on his body. I don’t know if he’s breathing, if he’s even seeing me.
“Thomas, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to see it. I…”
Then he shifts on his feet and the overhead light slashes his face into two halves of shadow and light. He appears beastly, like an animal with bright eyes and hard face. For the first time since I began my confession, I feel a tinge of true fear.
I can see he wants to do something, maybe harm me physically. His body is taut with violence. He looks bigger, enlarged with the barely leashed control. For a second, I think he does lose control. His hands jerk and ball into fists, but then he takes a shallow, choppy breath.
“Stay the fuck away from me,” he says softly, deadly.
With that, he marches out of the storage room.