I‘ve finally finished unpacking. Propping a photograph on the window ledge by my bed, I glance round at my new flat. The plant that Nicki bought me as a moving in present sits next to an empty bottle of Cava and two ancient champagne flutes, remnants of our celebrations last night. A bed, two stacks of books and a bulging clothes rail make this half of the flat look overcrowded already. A second hand sofa acts as a divide between the ‘bedroom’ and the ‘kitchen’, consisting of a coffee table, three deep purple floor cushions (borrowed from the café where I work) and a 1970s kitchenette that I can’t wait to repaint.
This is my new studio flat containing everything that I own in the world. To a stranger, it might look pathetic, but to me it’s perfect.
After a relationship that should have ended a lot sooner, I finally broke up with my boyfriend of three years three months ago. I’ve been couch surfing ever since I moved out and it feels incredible to finally have my own space. I’ve craved this opportunity for so long that I don’t mind forking out the extra rent for a studio flat. Now that I’ve finally bagged a serious job, it’s time to have a place of my own as well.
The last year with my ex was unbearable. He’d always been jealous, but the further we grew apart, the more suffocating his possessiveness became. If I went out without him I’d have to ‘forget’ my phone to avoid getting fifty arsey texts and having to reassure him that no, I hadn’t danced with any guys, and yes, it was a crap night without him. It got so bad that I stopped wanting to see my closest friends – even a night with Nicki would result in a fight.
But the worst sacrifice I made was losing contact with Tom. Nicki’s my oldest friend, but Tom was my closest. I met him at my first Saturday job, waitressing at his Dad’s restaurant. He made me laugh on my very first shift and we were inseparable from that moment on, always slinking off on our breaks with bottles of half-finished wine and tasting each course, “just to make sure that it’s OK for the customers”. Little did I know that my weekend job would inspire my future career. But even then I guessed that my partner in crime would be a friend for life.
Tom is one of those drop dead gorgeous guys that every girl wants to go out with. Predictably, he’s had a string of pretty, dull girlfriends for as long as I’ve known him. There’s nothing between us, we’re just friends, but try telling my ex that. We had so many fights over Tom that I stopped seeing him and allowed us to drift apart completely.
Alright, there was one time when I wondered whether anything would happen between us. We’d been on holiday together to stay with his aunty in Spain. We had so much fun spending long, lazy days on the beach, sipping cold beers with countless bocadillos. It was one of the only times in eight years of friendship that neither of us were in a relationship. In fact, I was only there to stand in for a girlfriend he’d broken up with days before.
The night before we went home he dared me to go skinny-dipping. We were sitting on the pier where one of the restaurants had placed a few tables up by the water’s edge. I knew he thought I’d never do it and I was more than a little tipsy so I pulled my strapless dress off there and then and jumped straight in. The water was freezing and I rushed to the surface, squealing.
Tom was bent over with laughter. Reaching down to pull me up out of the water, he gripped me in his tanned arms and a wave of electricity ran between us. I hadn’t been wearing a bra and, as I clambered up to him, I realised my tiny knickers were see-through from the water. Of course I felt self-conscious, but as his eyes flickered along my body, lingering on my hardened nipples, I almost forgot my embarrassment. I wanted him to look at me, I felt like it was the first time that he’d really seen me. A wave of energy rushed through me, tingling between my thighs. If I hadn’t seen the waiter walking over just then, well, I don’t know for certain, but I felt sure he’d have kissed me.
I pulled my dress on before I was seen and we sat back down to finish our drinks, but the atmosphere had changed completely. Every other night we’d been howling with laughter and taking the piss out of each other. Suddenly we were quiet, the air between us heavy with expectancy. I remember how excited I felt, but also how frustrated I was that this was only happening now, the night before we went home.
On our way back to his auntie’s apartment, he put his arm around me, a gesture that he’d repeated a hundred times, but this one it was different, more tentative, his fingers gently circling my sun-kissed shoulder. My heart was pounding, my senses felt heightened. The smell of salt water in my hair was mingling with the subtle scent of his skin. The humid night air felt like it was closing in on me with sound of music and people and chatting in the restaurants that we passed. Everything was intensified and unreal. My mind was already in his auntie’s flat, me sat on the edge of her dining table with him stood kissing my neck, pushing my dress up to my waist and slipping inside me. Tom, my best friend Tom, licking the salt water off my skin and biting down on my breasts.
But none of that was meant to be. His aunty was waiting for us with a room full of friends and neighbours. In front of this crowd of people, we slipped straight back into our familiar roles, Jess and Tom, totally platonic friends.
I wasn’t able to sleep that night though; it was infuriating knowing that he was lying there in the next room, tantalisingly close. I imagined him naked in bed, fighting with the blanket in the heat, as sleepless as me. I couldn’t stand it, the desire that he’d awakened in me had to be released. I slipped my fingers between my legs and imagined Tom’s strong hands running up my thighs, his hot, hard lips and soft, wet tongue inside me. I bit down on my lip and clenched the sheets. With the thought of him, hard and thick, pulsing inside of me, I reached a shuddering orgasm, before falling into a frustrated sleep.
I kiss goodbye to Andreas and Peter and bolt the door of the cafe behind them as they walk out into the dark night. It’s been a long, busy day and they’ve earned their tips, showing every customer the enthusiasm that we take pride in at Te Quiero. When the owner told me that he wanted to take a step back to start a new venture, I wouldn’t stop at the pay rise he offered me, I reeled off my ideas for a renovation and insisted on being made a shareholder. It’s a tiny amount, but it makes a massive difference. I no longer feel as though I’m throwing my energy into someone else’s project. I’m doing this for me and it’s given me the confidence to turn my life around.
I walk through to the little back office, checking off the changes I’ve made with pride. The wall that I’ve dedicated for local artists to exhibit their work on is constantly changing. A portrait of a proud, moustachioed man with friendly eyes reminds me of Tom’s dad. I log in to Facebook at the office computer, welcoming the mindless distraction that will help me to switch off after a busy day. I click onto Tom’s profile page and have a flick through his pictures. This has become a habit lately, before I know it, I find I’ve wasted half an hour looking at pictures of Tom on a beach in Thailand surrounded by bikinied girls, Tom on the back of a motorbike straddling one of his mates, Tom’s familiar, magnetic grin, Tom at a food market bartering. Then, “Hi stranger” – a live message from the man himself – pops up in the corner of my screen.
I blush guiltily; does he know that I’ve been stalking him?
Me: Hi you, how’s Thailand / Laos / wherever the hell you are?
Him: Back at Cassa Davidson. But they were all great thanks.
Me: Oh my god! You’re home? I’ve forgotten my embarrassment; I’m so excited to be talking to my old friend again.
Him: Certainly am. Want to meet up soon?
Me: Yes, I’d love to. It’s been too long. As soon as you’ve recovered from your jet lag you have to come round. I’m living in Holloway now and working in a gorgeous little cafe, Te Quiero, you’ll love it!
Him: I’ve heard. I miss you Jess, it’s been over a year.
Me: I know, I miss you too. I’m so sorry that I never came to your leaving – things were messy back then. When can you visit? Wednesday?
Him: Might have to help out at the restaurant, I’m skint, but I’ll let you know.
Me: Amazing, can’t wait! XX
Him: Me neither. X
I walk to the bus stop with a spring in my step. I’ve missed Tom so much, the way he makes me laugh, his surprising shyness if I ever succeed in making him blush, the midnight feasts that we’d make after a night out. I’ve been kicking myself for sacrificing our friendship, all for my ex’s ego. I can finally see how futile it was. Nothing I did or didn’t do would have made him have faith in me. And Tom is the only guy that I’ve ever had a real, uncomplicated friendship with. Well, mostly uncomplicated.
I’ve got the next day off and spend the morning pottering around in Camden Market. In my mind, I plan what meal I’ll pick out for Tom when he comes to the café, deciding that halloumi with chorizo, apricot and a green bean salad will be the perfect combination. I try to see Te Quiero through his eyes. How will he see me now I’m finally realising my ambition to run my own restaurant?
After finding a 1930s mirror, a cashmere throw and a box of wine glasses for the flat, I cart my new purchases back on the bus. When I get to the door of my building there’s a tall, tanned man holding a massive bunch of sunflowers at my door. It’s Tom, grinning at me widely.
“House warming present,” he says as I carelessly drop my bags at my feet and wrap my arms around him.
“Oh my god, thank you. How did you know where I lived? You look so well? These are so beautiful,” I cry, ecstatic and flustered and utterly surprised.
“I went to your café and you weren’t there, so I called Nicki and she gave me your address.”
By this point we’re climbing the stairs to my flat. I’m juggling the flowers and all of my bags. Tom looks awkward, as though he doesn’t know what to do with his hands.
I show him into my studio and feel suddenly self-conscious.
“I’ve only just moved in, there’s a lot of work to do on it yet,” I say, apologetically.
“It’s great, Jess,” he says. He’s not looking at the room at all but staring at me, really staring.
“You’re gorgeous.” I say. Not “You look well.” Or “How are you?” All I can come up with is the truth. He’s tanned, toned and bigger than I remember him being, he seems to fill the whole flat, towering above me.
He doesn’t say anything but cups my chin in his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. I freeze. I don’t know how to react, I don’t want to breeze over this gesture and spoil the moment. I want to press myself up against his hard, warm body. This is not the Tom that I remember. It’s disorientating that he can seem at once so familiar and so utterly new and exciting.
“I’ve missed you,” he says.
I can feel how much he means it and I rush towards him for a hug, but as I go to press my face into his chest he lifts it upwards gently and kisses me full on the mouth.
In that moment I’m undone. My desire floods to the surface and my hands run up to his face, kissing him fast and hard. He meets each of my kisses, pulling me closer, his hands up under my T-shirt, bringing every inch of skin to life with his touch. We pull each other’s tops off, hungrily, as he pushes me down to the floor, undressing and kissing me all at once. When I’m right down to my pants, opening my legs to him, he stops, kneeling above me, his chest rippling above the waistband of his jeans.
“I’ve waited so long for this moment, let’s not rush it,” he says, lifting my foot up to his mouth and kissing each of my toes. He moves up along the inside of my legs, licking and kissing and stroking my skin with his cheek. He is everything that I’ve ever fantasised about and more. As he kisses my stomach, he slides his hand inside of me and he must feel how aroused I am, because he groans.
“You’re beautiful, Jess,” he whispers in my ear, “so beautiful.”
And I feel it. More beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life. My hips are raised off the floor, tense and expectant, willing him to go deeper and deeper inside of me. He answers each of my groans but then teases me, withdrawing his fingers with a stroke and entering again until I’m ready to explode.
I reach into his jeans and tug at him, but he keeps whispering, “Not yet Jess, not yet.” He waits until I come, waves of pleasure surging through me, and with his hand still inside of me he turns me over onto all fours, pulling me up onto his lap so that I’m kneeling with my back to him. I expect him to take his hand away but he leaves it in there, slowly stroking me, reaching further and further with his fingertips whilst his other hand kneads my breast, kissing my back the whole time. Another orgasm shudders through me.
I’m still clenching and releasing in pleasure when he takes his hand away. I glance back over my shoulder and see that he’s pulled a condom out of his pocket. My mind reels, how did he know to bring a condom? Did he plan for this to happen? I expect myself to feel outraged but instead I’m even more turned on.
He slips inside of me, controlling my movements with his hands gripping my waist. It’s totally overwhelming, but at the same time, I never want it to stop. I swivel round and wrap my legs around his back, gripping onto the back of his neck and looking straight into his beautiful blue eyes. “Oh God,” he groans and speeds up, pushing me back onto my elbows so that he can lean forwards, and kiss my breasts.
When I see that he’s about to orgasm I feel so aroused, so full of desire, that I climax again, clutching him closer as we shiver against each other.
We lie back on the carpet and Tom rests his head on my stomach, slowly stroking my legs. There’s so much to say but we’re both too exhausted to speak and I wouldn’t know where to begin.
After fifteen minutes of just lying there, he props his head up on one elbow and stares at me, his eyes twinkling with a smile.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I laugh.
“I know, it’s crazy. I thought about you so much when I was away, and when I heard that you’d broken up with Sam…”
But while we’ve been lying there in silence, my mind has been running away with me. I’m not ready to dive into another relationship yet; I don’t know what Tom’s plan is or even where he’s going to live. I’ve just got my best friend back and I don’t want to loose him again. But the idea of slipping straight back into being just mates, of him getting another girlfriend, is enough to make me feel sick.
“Tom, what’s going to happen? I’ve missed you so much, I don’t want to spoil our friendship, but I can’t lose you again. And I need this time, this place, to myself for a bit. But you can’t just waltz in here and do this and expect nothing to change. I don’t know what this means to you but everything is going to change.”
“Jess, calm down,” he says softly, placing a finger on my lips. “I understand. I don’t know what I’m doing either. I’ve only just got back from travelling. All that I know is that I’ve wanted for this to happen for a long time.”
“Since Spain?” I ask, tentatively.
“Maybe even before that. And there’s a whole list of things that I want to do with you before we start questioning this,” he says, running his fingertips over my lips.
The knot of anxiety that’s built up in my stomach ebbs away immediately. I reach across and stroke his muscular arm.
“What else is on this list then?” I ask shyly.
He stands up and pulls me to my feet. Cupping my bottom in his hands he leans in for a long, slow kiss. I feel him harden against me and in one swift motion he’s pulled me up off the floor. Instinctively, I hook my legs around him. In between kisses and bites on my neck he starts to stream off his fantasies about us.
“I want to have you in the shower, on that coffee table, on every surface in your café, I want to kiss each inch of your body, I want to taste you, outside, in my car, on that beach in Spain, I want to watch you touch yourself.”
I groan as he drops me onto the bed.
Propping myself up on one elbow, I slip my hand in between my legs, not taking my eyes off him for a second.
“Let’s start there then,” I say, feeling more confident and sexual than I’ve ever felt in my life before, “and when we’ve crossed everything off your list…”
“Don’t worry about that,” he says, “it’s a very long list.”
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