By Zahra Barnes
This is it, I thought. I was lying in bed the morning of Mike and Caitlin's engagement party, mentally preparing to see Grant. I'd spent the past week throwing myself into work even though I technically didn't need to—when Marian had fled the city for Ibiza's sandy beckoning, she'd told us she wouldn't be back until September. New York took on a much slower vibe, and Grey & Boehm had become Grey & Boring. Between work and my first mixology class, I'd kept the Grant obsessing at bay.
I heard a knock.
"Come in," I called.
Marley threw open my door and bounded into bed with me. She gave me an enthusiastic squeeze.
"Celine let me in! Are you ready for this? You already look gorgeous and you haven't even gotten out of bed yet."
That was Marley—always one to ignore smudged mascara and snarled hair.
We had gone out for drinks a few nights before and she'd commented on my "extreme levels of nervous energy." I thought I had managed to keep all my tics at bay, but she was having none of it. My incessantly tapping foot must have given me away.
Now she was making good on our overly optimistic agreement that night to go on a run the morning of the party. I struggled to match her exuberance as she dragged me into leggings and a sports bra.
We did a modest loop in Central Park, me huffing and puffing while resisting the urge to stop and love on each dog I saw.
By the time we got back, I was half-tempted to plant myself on the cool bathtub floor during my shower. It was all I could manage to stay standing as the hot water restored my aching legs.
I was pulling on underwear when Marley glanced up at me from her Instagram-liking rampage.
"So, what are you wearing?"
I unearthed a coral dress from my closet and held it up triumphantly.
"Well, I bought this last week," I said. "But then I thought maybe that's doing too much? Maybe I should just wear something Grant's already seen so it's obvious I don't care what he thinks?"
She rolled her eyes. "First of all, you do care what he thinks. So what? Second of all, go with the coral. It looks perfect with your skin." Marley once told me a maxi dress I was wearing made my ass look like two overripe cantaloupes, so I knew she'd always be honest when it counted.
Celine was less convinced. On my way out, she stopped me.
"Something's missing," she mused, eyeing me up and down.
She dashed to her room to fetch a pair of gem-encrusted earrings.
"Magnifique," Celine said. "Good luck."
By the time I reached the breezy patio of the Wythe Hotel, I realized my coral dress may have been a mistake. Leave it to you to flash the entire city while you're up here, I thought while tugging on the edge of the fluttering fabric.
"Tessa!" Caitlin made her way over to me and gave me a quick, cupcake-scented hug. I remembered the time she pinky-swore me to secrecy about an Amazon seller who stocked discontinued Britney Spears perfumes.
"Cait, I'm so happy to see you!" It was true. I didn't realize how much I'd missed her, and even meathead Mike, until I saw her face. "And congratulations!" I hastily remembered to add.
"Can I just say I think you're amazing for actually coming? I would have totally understood if you'd passed." She gave me a knowing look and rubbed my shoulder supportively. I knew she meant well, but ugh. The Pitying Shoulder Pat was one of the things I hated most about breakups, along with the Furrowed Worried Brow and the Supposedly Reassuring Yet Actually Condescending Statement.
Word of the breakup had spread quickly. Weeks later, I realized I would rather be force-fed kale for the rest of my life than hear one more person tell me, "at least you found out the truth now."
"I would never miss this, you know that! So, where do I put this?" I held up a gift bag laden with candles from Jo Malone.
"I'll show you the gift table, and then I'll walk you around." She saw the unasked question in my eyes and whispered, "Grant's here already." My gut clenched and I pasted on a smile, deciding not to investigate the tangle of feelings that were stirred up just by knowing he was in the vicinity.
It didn't help that Grant had de facto custody of our friendship with Cait and Mike, as he and the groom-to-be were frat brothers from college.
At least there was actually a good amount of people at the engagement party. Between Mike and Caitlin's friends and some family, we had a group of about 25. All the better to avoid Grant with.
But did I really want to avoid him? Distracting myself so much during the week had made me think I'd handle this better. My stomach was tying itself into knots.
I was waylaid by Mike's belligerent cousin and desperately looked for a reason to break away. After spouting off an excuse about finding Caitlin, I turned and almost stumbled into Grant.
He looked taller, somehow. But so much of him seemed the same. He was wearing that black-and-white checkered shirt he knew I loved, and his jeans only accentuated his muscled legs, perfected thanks to years of indoor climbing.
He'd gotten a haircut, though. Instead of locks flopping down into his face, he now sported a closely-cropped buzzcut that emphasized his jaw. He was so hot, it was like staring into an eclipse. Suddenly self-conscious, I ran down the list of every deity I could think of and promised them I'd donate my entire makeup budget to charity if it meant I looked good right now.
"Hey, you." He was tentative but his signature warmth was right below the surface.
"Hey, yourself." Just act normal. "Nice haircut."
"Thanks, I'm still getting used to it." He made to run a hand through it, then realizing he didn't have much left, took a pull of his beer. "Can I get you a drink?"
"Sure, I would love that." Yes, God, please. There was no way I was getting through this without the world's best social lubricant.
"One Bloody Mary, extra spicy, coming right up." He shot a smile my way and headed in the direction of the bar.
Before I knew it, he was back, a glass of crimson deliciousness in hand.
"Thanks! You remembered how much I love olives." There were four. I took a grateful sip.
"How could I forget your habit of stealing mine?"
His teasing accusation evoked memories of years' worth of past brunches. After a pretend squabble, he would always sweetly pop the last olive into my mouth.
This was suddenly getting way too intense.
"So! How's the new position treating you?" I said, hoping small-talk could bring us back into safer territory.
"It's going really well. I'm basically heading up my department now, non-officially."
So is he dealing with Sophie at all anymore? I wondered. It was like we were speaking in code, trying to figure out what the other was saying.
"How are things with you?" he offered.
"Really good." I was glad I didn't have to lie about that. My off days weren't the best, but everything else was shaping up. "My new roommate is this fun French girl, and there's a bit of a lull at Grey & Boehm since Marian's off in Ibiza."
"Isn't Justin Bieber there? Think she'll run into him?"
"I told her the same thing!" This was what I'd always loved about Grant. It was like we shared a brain.
After a laugh, his smile faded and he shook his head. "I don't know if I should say this, but you look really beautiful."
Shyness washed over me. "Thank you. You're totally allowed to say that."
"All of this," he gestured wistfully to the people surrounding us with his lager, "makes me think about what it would have been like if things had gone differently. You know?"
I did know. I flashed back to the moment in Marley's apartment when he'd blurted that he wanted to marry me. I opened my mouth to respond, but a waiter interrupted us.
"If you would please take your seats, we're ready to start the brunch."
I grinned apologetically, half-annoyed and half-relieved the conversation had been cut off. We walked toward the table and studied the place cards. I was three seats away from Caitlin and Grant was marooned all the way over by Mike.
Normally the bacon-wrapped dates and other small plates would have commanded my full attention, but throughout the meal my eyes kept straying to Grant.
I was shocked back into reality when a waiter came by to refill my water glass near the end of the meal. He tripped over someone's purse and spilled the pitcher all over me, drenching my upper half in an impromptu, bastardized version of the ice bucket challenge.
"Jesus, I'm so sorry!"
He dabbed me with a napkin, but the damage had already been done. I brushed off his apologies with a reassuring "it's fine" before heading to the bathroom and locking myself in.
My dress had been thin enough to begin with, but now it was laughably clingy. I wrung it out as best I could and did an awkward limbo under the hand dryer. When I opened the door, Grant was waiting there.
I stepped into the hallway, crossing my arms over my chest.
"I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"It's just water. If it had been coffee, on the other hand…"
Again, he reached for his non-existent hair. "Okay, I lied. I wanted to be alone with you."
My breath hitched in my throat. He closed in and I backed up until I was against the wall. Grant reached out, searched my eyes, and silently asked for permission. I nodded, and he stroked my cheek, each movement sending a corresponding tingle through me.
He closed the distance between us until our faces were an inch apart. We paused, breathing the same air in rhythm, me inhaling as he exhaled. He leaned in and pressed his lips against mine. My heart stopped, then exploded in a flurry of beats so strong, I felt like my chest might crack open. I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him into me.
He broke the kiss and I followed him instinctively, not wanting to separate. Glancing furtively around the empty hallway, he led me by hand to the bathroom I had just left.
My body silenced my brain and its germaphobic instincts. As soon as he locked the door behind us, he was on me, searching me with soft lips that tasted of beer, and most deliciously, of him.
He raised my arms above my head and intertwined our fingers. I was doing my best to stifle my moans but it wasn't quite working. He traced his fingers down my arms, cupping my breasts and then tweaking my nipples through the wet fabric. His tongue followed closely behind and my skin erupted in goosebumps.
Grant lifted my dress over my head and hung it on the door hook behind me, leaving me in just a bra and thong. I unbuttoned his shirt and fumbled with his belt until he gently moved my hands aside and undid it, and his jeans, himself.
"Look at what you do to me." He gently repositioned my hand below his waist. I gripped harder and moved how I knew he liked.
He kissed his way down my stomach and pulled my thong aside, then lapped between my legs until they trembled so much I could barely support myself. I yanked him up and sealed my lips onto his. He pushed my hair behind my ear in the way that had always reminded me that no matter what, I was his.
"You feel so fucking right," he sighed onto my lips. He pushed down his briefs and leaned down, grabbing a condom from his wallet.
"Wait, why do you have that?"
He looked bashful. "I was just sort of…hopeful that we'd end up in this situation."
I stifled my lingering doubts and nodded, unwrapping it and rolling it down the length of him.
Grant pushed my underwear away, sliding inside me and groaning into the crook of my neck.
"Tell me you missed me," he whispered.
"I did, I missed you so much," I breathed as he pushed in and out of me.
Grant slipped a hand in between us and traced quick circles until I came. I bit his neck to stifle my sounds.
Right after, he shoved his fingers through my hair and drove into me harder until he half-collapsed on top of me.
"Oh my God, Tessa." He dotted kisses along my cheeks. "That was amazing."
It was. I hadn't had any good orgasms lately—and not for lack of trying. My last session with my trusty, years-old Hitachi Magic Wand had ended a week before when the thing started sparking mid-Joe Manganiello fantasy.
"I know," I exhaled.
I was instantly hit with a wall of confusion and just wanted some time alone to process.
"You should probably go out first," I said, pulling on my dress.
He nodded and started buttoning his shirt. "Can we talk about this, though?"
"Of course, I just don't think we should do it now. We've been gone a suspicious amount of time."
He conceded the point.
The door swung closed behind him and I stared at myself in the mirror, trying to fend off waves of guilt. I never thought I’d have sex in a public bathroom. This totally wasn't in the plan, but I couldn't deny I'd wanted it fiercely.
I fixed my wayward curls and straightened the straps of my dress. I looked like nothing had happened, but still, I wondered if I'd made a mistake.