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This is (as the title indicates) part two of “Could You Be Mine,” but from RJ’s perspective. The story picks up right before the end of part one. It took me a while to get here — I wanted to share RJ’s voice but she wasn’t the easiest character to translate into words and I felt quite determined to get it as right as possible. Thank you all for your patience as I muddled through. I hope you enjoy it.
A big shout out to Ripley for taking the time to help whip this into shape.
Many thanks again for all your comments and feedback. It’s always good to hear from you!
Chapter 1: If Not For You
“Last batch,” Sonya Martin pointed to another stack of papers with ‘Sign Here’ post-its sticking out all over the place.
I sighed and started dutifully signing all the signature boxes closing the sale of my house in San Francisco. I’d flown in to SFO from Hong Kong the night before, my latest stop in a multi-leg business trip that took me all over East Asia. Sonya was my friend and my lawyer; this was the first time we’d met up in person since I relocated to New York earlier on in the year. We were mixing business with pleasure — finish the paperwork for the sale and get caught up.
“I still can’t believe you moved,” she mused, “You said your dad ended up being okay, right?”
My only reason for moving home to New York was to be closer to my father again. I’d called him on New Year’s Day and he sounded odd, like he was confused or something; it didn’t take long for a lot of worst case scenarios to pop up in my head.
Dad had insisted he was fine, but my mind was made up. I left San Francisco not long afterwards and entrusted Sonya with the sale of my house, which she — of course — executed with excellence.
I nodded, “He was so irate about my decision that he went and got a comprehensive physical to prove me wrong. Which he did: the doctor told him he was fitter than most people half his age. I managed to save some face when Mona asked me to step in as the Finance Director at her firm.”
Sonya laughed, “I am so bummed I missed witnessing this. It must have been legendary. Two non-verbal Kans, fuming at each other. LEH-GEN-DARY.”
“He still waves his test results in front of me every chance he gets,” I grumbled. I finished signing the stack of papers and dropped the pen onto the desk.
“Your dad could probably still kick your ass in a 5k-run,” Sonya restacked the documents and slid them into a folder, “You got a good deal on the house, Rowan.”
I handed her the pen back, “All thanks to you. You did all the work!”
“You should pay me more,” she glared at me mockingly, “I don’t usually do real estate.”
“You’re right,” I admitted, “too bad you keep billing me at ridiculously low rates and not cashing checks I write that would put you back at market prices…”
I met Sonya when my father and I were working on our bio-tech start up years ago. She’d been working at a large law firm and was starting a solo practice when we hired her as our external counsel. She and I hit it off — she’s the closest I’ve ever had to a best friend.
Sonya looked at me seriously, “You guys gave me my start. I quit West and Mason to do my own thing and you guys took the risk of going with me instead of with the big guys. I won’t ever forget that.”
“Your billable rate was better for our bank account, and you were smarter than any of the so-called ‘big guys’ we spoke with. No brainer,” I smiled as I watched her blush. Her aversion to compliments was well-known.
“I really miss you guys,” Sonya said, “First your dad moved back to New York, then you…”
“Dad likes being in a city where he doesn’t need to drive. And he did his post-doc at Hudson U, so he has a definite affinity for the Big Apple.”
“It’s where he met your mom, right?”
I nodded, “I think the campus reminds him of her. It’s a little sad. But beautiful in a way. I kind of get it now.” My mother died shortly after I was born. My dad’s told me about her on and off, but we’ve never talked specifically about her death. I’ve never asked; I figured he would tell me if (and when) he wanted to. It didn’t really bother me because I had no real memories of my mother; she was more a concept to me than a person whose death I experienced as a loss.
“Wait, what?” Sonya sat up, “What do you mean ‘beautiful’? You ‘get it’? Are you high?”
This was awkward. Sonya was one of the few people in my life who’d heard me talk about my parents. I’d always played the sarcastic narrator, adding in more than a healthy dollop of cynicism as part of my attempt to fill in the blanks without sliding into maudlin melodrama over my mother’s death.
“No. I just see it differently now,” I hadn’t told Sonya about Ellie yet, but I sensed that her finely honed sense of deductive curiosity was kicking into high gear.
“Say more,” the hard-core lawyer face was setting in.
I shrugged, “My perspective’s shifted.”
“Did something… or bahis firmaları someone shift it?” The last word of the sentence came out in an unnaturally high soprano note.
My head started nodding before I even decided to spill the beans.
“Intriguing.” She gazed at me. This was how Sonya and I got close as friends — she never pushed, but somehow, with a mere look, she would make it easy for me to willingly share things with her.
“I know,” I crossed my legs and leaned back into the chair. Might as well get comfortable. I’m trying to get my head around it myself. But yes. I’ve met someone.”
“And not in the way you usually meet people and un-meet them after a couple of months?”
“Definitely not… Ellie… I mean, Lauren, is not like other women I’ve dated…”
Sonya tilted her head, “Because you can’t keep her name straight?”
I laughed, “No — I know her name. It’s Lauren. But I call her Ellie.”
She waved her hands, “Start from the beginning… “
“I met her on my first day at Mona’s firm,” I began.
“Winchester and Brown, the investment bank, I know,” Sonya interjected, “Skip forward to the good bit.”
There was no singular ‘good bit’ that I could pick out. Just like sliding out a favorite book from a crowded bookshelf, the memory of the first time I saw Ellie edged its way forward with a friendly weight and feel. I’d done a clumsy triple-take when I walked past her cubicle that morning. I was captivated immediately. She’d been completely focused on her work and unaware that I’d passed by. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I found a vantage spot a little outside of her peripheral vision and stared. She was, in a word, luminous. I was surprised there hadn’t been others like me, lurking in corners to gawk at her. My attraction basically snowballed from there: She happened to be leading the first meeting on my calendar that morning, and it was all I could do to remain professional.
For the three months Ellie consulted at Win-B, my head and my heart ran circles around each other as my feelings for her grew. It was a strange phenomenon: The more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to be with her; the more uninterested she seemed, the more keenly I felt my need for her. Some capricious sprite had attached an invisible string between my heart and Ellie’s and I was pining for her; I could have been Viola yearning for Orsino, or KD Lang crooning “Constant Craving.” I finally — painfully — understood what Lang meant when she said the song was about ‘divine dissatisfaction.’ For three months, I’d been deliciously oppressed by my unrequited feelings.
“The good bit?” I realized my mind was wandering, “It was pretty much all good. She was consulting for Mona on a Finance project. And I basically lost track of time the first time I saw her… and every time after that.” I felt a little embarrassed confessing this — I’d hinted at some of this to Mona, but this kind of detail was more unfiltered than usual. On the one hand, it felt good to say all this out loud to someone. On the other hand, it felt like I was letting go of a precious secret that I’d been hoarding all for myself.
“Do I sense some hesitance? Is there a ‘but’ in there somewhere?”
“She’s never been with a woman before,” I grimaced a little.
“Oh!” Sonya scratched her head, “But you guys are totally into each other and talking enough for her to help you see your parents’ relationship differently…”
“Pretty much,” I admitted.
“Aaannnnd how much are you guys talking?”
We talked as much as different time zones allowed while I’ve been away but I guess I hadn’t thought about it until Sonya asked, “We’ve been talking every day… I think. Yeah, pretty much every day.”
My friend’s eyes bulged, “You hate talking on the phone! What kind of sorcery brought about this change?”
“I don’t know, but it feels good,” I grinned. Sorcery was a good word for it. Every time Ellie spoke, every time she moved, time slowed for me and I felt myself drawn into the tractor beam of her bewitching countenance. She had me wrapped around her finger and I loved it. I missed her so much.
“So why the two names?”
“Oh. Uh, I introduced myself as RJ so she responded by introducing herself as ‘LE’ – for Lauren Elizabeth. I was too slow to catch the joke and misheard it as ‘Ellie.’ She corrected me, with this… this smile that she has. I don’t know, I guess you had to be there…”
“I kind of wish I’d been there. Do you have a photo?”
I had many. Some were tame, and some were not, but I didn’t want to share. Straight or not, Ellie had been a willing collaborator in ensuring that our hormones were relentlessly revving in anticipation of our inevitable reunion. “No — but you can look her up, she has her own website for work: Lauren Calder Consulting.”
Sonya wiggled her fingers in anticipation and turned to her computer. Her keyboard clacked as she searched for the website.
“Holy shit, Rowan, she’s a fricking bombshell!” Sonya’s kaçak iddaa eyes were locked on her monitor, “And look at all the amazing shit she’s done. She did projects for Lowell and Jacobs… and for the Melville Foundation… and the Mackenzie Trust! Wow!”
I swelled with pride, “I know, she’s awesome.”
“Awwwww, look at you!” Sonya grinned, “You’re beaming. That’s so cute!”
I flipped her off.
“So…” Sonya leaned forward on her desk, “Have you done the deed?”
“NO!” I felt blood rush to my face, “No. Not yet. UGH! None of your business… Oh fine, we’ve uh, kissed and stuff.”
“And was it good…?”
I nodded. The memory of the way her hands cradled my face as she kissed me zipped through me like a shot of adrenaline.
“Was she freaked out over kissing a girl? Is that why you haven’t gone further?”
I shook my head from side to side. If anything, Ellie had been more brazen than me, “Mona made me promise to take it slow,” I explained.
Sonya nodded thoughtfully, “Slow is good — mostly because you need more time than most to figure this commitment stuff out.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Come on, RJ, you could’ve gotten hitched to any one of the women who threw themselves at you, but you didn’t because you never let it get that far!”
“Untrue!” I’d experienced no throwing of any kind.
“Uh, I hate to break it to you, but you were one of the most eligible butches this side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I mean, I’m straight and even I picked up the vibes that came your way when we went out.”
“That did not happen…”
Sonya raised an eyebrow, “RJ, it did happen. I can’t believe you need a heterosexual to point this out to you. You have the brains and the looks — RJ! Stop rolling your eyes — you have a swagger. It turns heads. In a good way. Certainly seems to have worked for Lauren… and she’s straight!”
“I don’t swagger… and Ellie’s obviously not a hundred percent straight…”
“Whatever. My point was — you haven’t been in a relationship that’s lasted longer than a couple months. And it’s not because you haven’t had the opportunity. It’s because you’ve had an aversion to the idea. So if you’re serious about Lauren, you need to get up to speed on the five steps…”
“Step one: Round the bases. You know, fooling around and doing the nasty. Step two: Exchange keys–“
“She already gave me her keys.”
“Wow, she’s skipping ahead, that’s good I suppose,” Sonya rubbed her nose distractedly, “She gave you the keys to her place?”
“Yup,” I nodded. It’d felt like a spur of the moment thing, she kind of shoved them in my hand before I left, but maybe she wanted me to take something of hers on my trip. I’ve carried those keys around almost obsessively on my trip. “What are steps three, four, and five?”
“Meet the parents, moving in, proposal,” Sonya counted off.
PROPOSAL?!! My mind immediately jumped to Ellie and me exchanging rings. It was thrilling. I paused for a second, because I realized what I just wished for.
“Ohhhhh — RJ, did I freak you out?” Sonya’s voice drifted up again.
“Nope,” I shook my head emphatically, “I was thinking about what that would be like… uh, moving in with her and getting married… and how amazing it’d be if it happened.”
Sonya face contorted as if I had taken a crap on her desk. She shook her head and held up her hands, “Hold the phone. Shut the front door. Back up the truck…”
I started chuckling, “Five steps, Sonya, like you said…” I knew I was being cavalier, but I couldn’t help but have a little fun.
“Rowan,” Sonya said this slowly, “The five steps were a generalization. You know this stuff doesn’t follow some linear path, right?”
“Nope! I know nothing!” I flung my arms up happily, “I have NO idea what I am doing. I do know that I like her. A LOT. And I know she likes me too. A LOT.”
The look of incredulity returned, “Don’t take this wrong way, RJ, but… I mean, clearly you’re into this woman. And you say she’s into you. But you don’t need to jump immediately to marriage, you know? Maybe try to get some practice for basic long-term dating stuff first?”
I took a deep breath, “Look, I know this seems crazy. As I said, I am trying to make sense of it myself, but it’s real. Ellie and me — whatever it is between us — it’s more real than anything I thought would be possible. Ellie’s amazing. She’s… amazing. I didn’t know I could feel like this.”
Sonya made a retching noise and stood up, “Okay. Ew. Dial back the queso-factor, Rowan. I’m not sure what to do with this cheese-o-rama version of you. Promise me one thing?”
“Sure,” I stood up and stretched. Simply talking about Ellie was shooting endorphins up and down my body.
“When you actually realize you’re in a relationship and you freak out — CALL ME before doing anything stupid.”
“I’m not going to freak out.” I knew this with absolute certainty. My submission to Ellie’s hold on me was so complete kaçak bahis I almost didn’t care I was adrift in unfamiliar waters: I’d never fallen for someone quite so irrevocably before, and no one has ever managed to maintain such a consistent grip on my attention.
“CALL. ME.” She headed to the door of her office, “Promise!”
“Okay! Okay!” I held up hand up in resignation, “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Aki Sushi. I need to process everything you just told me with copious amounts of sake and raw fish.”
“Liquid lunch, counselor?”
“Yes indeed. I’m happy for you, RJ, really, but you basically nuked my brain.”
I laughed, “Fair enough. I’ll buy.”
“That makes it even better! Come on… lunch… sake… then we talk some more.”
Sonya stopped by her assistant’s desk on our way out, “My best friend’s in town for twenty-four hours. I’m taking the rest of the day off.”
It was a good thing that Sonya was a favored regular at Aki Sushi, because we grazed our way through the menu and Eiko, our server, kept us fully lubricated with some top-notch rice wine. Four hours later, she helpfully informed us that sake does not induce hangovers, so we should be, in her words, “A-okay.”
“You got me all drunk,” I complained as we wobbled out of the restaurant.
“Sleep it off on the plane tonight,” Sonya’s heels clicked on the pavement as she walked next to me. I didn’t understand how she was able to walk in those things with that much sake in her bloodstream.
“You got me all drunk!” I said again.
Sonya waved a hand dismissively, “It’s not like you had plans to operate heavy machinery. Come on! Let’s grab a car to my place… What???”
I had stopped mid-step, “I was going to run some errands.” My ‘errands’ involved a store a couple blocks from where we were standing.
“Errands? Like laundry?”
I tried not to look too sheepish as I replied, “No, I was uh, going to stop by… um… I was going to buy some things.”
Sonya was whirring through her Sherlock-like cogitation process. The sake wasn’t slowing her down any. “Buying… as in… buying sexy things for you and Lauren???!!!”
She clapped her hands and squealed, “OH. MY. GOD. Come on. Let’s go! I wanna go shopping with you!”
My friend’s drunken enthusiasm for the task more than wiped out any awkwardness I felt. I thought I was going to pop in and out of the aptly named Lube and Lust, but Sonya insisted I consider all the options in all the possible contexts and permutations. Unsurprisingly, I spent much more money than I thought I would. Sonya did too because her new boyfriend Ryan was apparently very creative in bed. The store clerk couldn’t have been less impressed with our purchases, but we were still fairly red-faced about it as we were rung up. Needless to say, we moved with alacrity between the store and Sonya’s apartment once the payments had been made.
We spent a good amount of time sterilizing everything we bought as Sonya was adamant that we got the toys ‘vroom-vroom ready’ (her words, not mine). With the x-rated goods in my suitcase, Sonya and I headed to the airport and held our breaths as I checked in my luggage. I wondered if some unsuspecting security agents would suddenly find themselves elbow deep in Lube and Lust inventory. Luckily, my suitcase headed to the plane’s cargo hold without scrutiny.
“Have a good flight. I wish you luck in satisfying your carnal biological urges,” Sonya’s mouth twitched as she gave me a hug good-bye.
“I wish you luck in introducing Ryan to all the shit you got, you sex maniac!”
“Takes one to know one,” Sonya’s eyes flashed with mischief as she gave me one last hug.
The thing about the red-eye that I usually disliked was that it was always a little too short for a good night’s sleep. The good thing about the red-eye I was on was that it was an even shorter flight than usual and we were going to land early. I slept on and off, but I was too hyped up about being home again.
I squinted when the overhead lights came on and rubbed my eyes. My neighbor scowled, threw his blanket over his head and muttered, “I hate the red-eye.”
I took a quick bathroom break and grabbed a coffee on my way back to my seat. I tried to remember how Ellie took her coffee. Just milk and no sugar, I was pretty sure.
I side-stepped back into my seat and took a sip of liquid caffeine.
“Ugh!” The unpleasant clash of coffee and toothpaste on my taste buds jerked me into full wakefulness.
I lifted the window shade a tad, and early morning daylight streamed through. Getting closer now, I thought as I allowed my mind to drift back to the beautiful woman who’d been monopolizing my thoughts. Case in point, I was thinking about her so much that I barely registered the plane landing. I must have trudged out with my fellow passengers, because I managed to get my luggage and find my way to the taxi line, but I honestly couldn’t remember any of it; I was thinking about how it would feel when I finally got to kiss her again.
I dialed her number the moment I climbed into the back of a cab.
“Hi!” Holy shit, she could say ‘hi’ to me like that for the rest of my life and I’d die happy.
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