119,223
07.03.2019

Her confidence evaporates and her expression turns wounded. But it only lasts a second. Then her eyes ice over. Angry, but controlled. Like a rat hell-bent on survival, even if it means chewing off her own leg. “Very well.”

I give her a final glare as I walk out the door. “Don’t be here when I get back.”

By the time I catch the next elevator and make it down to the lobby, Dee is nowhere in sight. I jog out to the sidewalk and search through the sea of busy New Yorkers until I spot her blond head retreating down the block.

And that’s when it starts to rain. It’s pelting and icy, like a giant sky-wide showerhead turned on cold full blast.

Thanks a lot, God. Way to cut me a f**king break.

I weave between pedestrians—trying my best not to get an eye gouged out by the flurry of umbrellas along the way. When I catch up to Dee, I grab her arm, spin her around, and yell, “Would you stop running! I told you not to freak out!”

She motions back toward my building and shouts, “How am I supposed to not freak out when you’ve got a naked girl in your apartment?”

“Because I’m not up there with her! I’m down here—probably contracting pneumonia—chasing the f**k after you!”

“Why?”

And it’s then that I realize I’ve asked Dee to trust me—to believe that I’m different from the ass**les of her past—without really giving her a reason to. Any guy can show a girl a good time—thoughtful presents, fun dates—but that doesn’t mean he’s honest. He could just be putting up a convincing front. Shielding an ulterior motive or a player persona.

To prove you’re not hiding anything, sometimes you have to empty your pockets, open your bag, submit to a pat down. Even if it’s uncomfortable or embarrassing. Trust has to be earned . . . sometimes by stripping yourself bare.

“We dated for two years in college. I wanted to marry her—and I thought she wanted the same thing. But she didn’t. She was cheating on me the whole time with an older, richer guy, and I was too f**king blind to see it. She dumped me when he got her pregnant. She broke my f**king heart . . . and . . . and now, I’m so glad she did. Because if not . . . I never would have met you.”

Delores looks surprised. Then sympathetic—but lingering doubt is there too.

“She’s so beautiful.”

I gaze at Dee’s wet, matted hair, her mascara-smeared face, her blue tinged-from-the-cold lips. Then I shake my head.

“Not to me.”

She takes in my words, and after a moment gives me a small smile. I hold out my hand. “Can we please go back inside now?”

She takes it. “Okay.”

We walk quickly back to my building. As we get close, I see Rosaline step out of the lobby door—wearing dark sunglasses despite the weather, an impeccably belted trench coat, with her hair pulled back into a low, neat knot. Her driver holds an umbrella over her head as she walks to the open door of the limo. I don’t bother to watch her drive away—I’m just relieved that she does.

Back in my apartment, Dee wraps her arms around herself, but that doesn’t stop her teeth from chattering. We strip out of our wet, cold clothes, and I fill the double-wide Jacuzzi with water, just short of scalding. Although few things are better than a splashing, slippery screw in a bathtub, that’s not what this is about. I’m not going to get all corny and say I just want to “hold” her—I want much more than that.

Just . . . not right now.

I relax against the back of the tub, my arms on the edges, with Dee’s head resting on my chest, her body laid out beside me, turned toward mine. I close my eyes, enjoying the feel of the hot water as it loosens my muscles and warms our skin. The mirror-fogged room is quiet, peaceful—both of us content just to be.

Until Dee whispers, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

I open my eyes, tilt my head so I can see her face. “You ask the weirdest questions.”

I see her smile. She explains, “Good deeds are easy to talk about. But bad things tell you more.”

I inhale a gulp of steam and do a mental rundown of all my transgressions. Then I confess. “I . . . cheated . . . on every girlfriend I ever had, in high school and college . . . before Rosaline. And the few times I got caught, I made them feel like it was their fault.”

There’s no judgment in Delores’s expression. No horror or revulsion. Just curiosity. “Why did you do that?”

Why do guys cheat? It’s an age-old question with varied answers. The simplest is—because they’re guys. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Some guys get bored. Tapping the same ass—even if it looks like Kate Upton’s—can get old. For others, it’s a game. The thrill of getting away with something they shouldn’t, the excitement of possibly getting caught. A final few are just cowards. They don’t have the balls to admit to a girl who loves them that they don’t feel the same way. They think they’re shielding her from hurt by letting her believe their commitment means more than it actually does.

“Because I was young and stupid. Selfish. Because I wanted them enough to bang them, but not enough to stop banging other women. Because I didn’t know how f**king awful and humiliating it felt to be lied to like that.

“Karma’s a righteous bitch, though. After Rosaline . . . then I knew. And I swore I’d never make someone else feel like that again.”

In a messed-up way, Rosaline did me a favor—taught me a much-needed lesson. Made me a better man. For the women who came after her.

For Delores.

I touch my finger to Dee’s chin and bring her eyes to mine. “I would never do that to you. You know that, right?”

Please, God . . . please let her believe.

She searches my eyes, trying to read me—then she gives me a crooked smile. “Yes, I know that.” She lays her head back down against me. “But, I’ll still need a reminder once in awhile.”

“What about you?” I wonder. “What skeletons are in your closet?”

She doesn’t answer right away. When she does speak, her voice is hushed. “I had an abortion when I was sixteen years old. He was my first—good-looking, cocky, came from the better end of town. He said he loved me and . . . I believed him.”

She watches her hand move under the water, creating a ripple effect. “And, I know I’m supposed to have this . . . regret . . . about it. Guilt. But I don’t. It was the right decision at the time.”

❮❯