Authors: Colina Brennan
Tags: #Romance, #romance sex, #Young Adult, #sex addiction, #Contemporary, #sex, #new adult, #contemporary romance
A part of her had to wonder if he was really
an addict or just some poor idiot who’d lost a bet or came here on
a dare. Something about him and his story just seemed off.
But maybe she just wanted to believe that.
Looking at the guy, it was pretty easy to believe he spent a lot of
time in bed.
“Ah,” he said with an indecipherable look.
“Well. I grew up in a tower block in Glasgow. My dad’s a bus
driver. My mum worked at the post office. They weren’t home much.”
He said this with very little inflection.
It surprised her a bit, but she nodded
politely for him to continue, rapt with learning more about him
“I guess you could say I pretty much brought
myself up,” he said, sounding forcefully cheerful. “I could use a
microwave before I was four, and I ran a wee bit wild later on with
some gangs. Nothing too illegal though.” He flashed her a grin, but
something hard passed through his eyes.
A knot formed in her chest. She had the
sudden urge to reach out and take his hand. Instead, she laced her
fingers in her lap and observed the subtle shifts in his
He continued on. Blue Eyes had gotten lucky
in secondary school where a teacher had taken him under her wing
and convinced him that passing exams might be better for his future
than stealing bikes and drinking cider beneath the underpass. Blue
Eyes had then awakened a previously undiscovered intelligence and
done well enough to earn admittance to an American university,
where he was now a junior.
He was a college student. She kept her face
blank as the realization that he probably attended REU, River’s
Edge University, crashed through her. And he was a junior as well.
Could she ask to verify if that was his school? Was that
For the sake of
maintaining anonymity, she held her questions to herself, but the
possibility of accidentally running into him on campus made her
t. Would he greet her? Would he
pretend to have no idea who she was? Would they end up in a storage
“It’s been interesting,” he concluded. He
looked hesitant and surprised, as if he couldn’t believe he was
telling her this. “Getting used to American customs and the way
everyone speaks, I mean. A lot of the professors found my accent
difficult to understand, so I’ve learned to speak more clearly and
what words not to use. It’s been almost three years so I’m used to
it now, but I still forget myself sometimes. And then there are
times I overhear conversations that drive me mad.”
“Such as?” She didn’t want
him to stop talking. She liked watch
that mouth, and his accent was perfectly clear and perfectly
“Oh, you know, stuff like, ‘My parents
decided to buy me a house while I study so I don’t have to deal
with landlords.’” His brows puckered and he gave her a crooked
smile. “Meanwhile, I’m trying to live on a student loan that would
appall a gerbil.”
She smiled before she could stop herself.
Blue Eyes smiled back, looking suddenly embarrassed.
“Strange how easy it is to talk about
yourself when it’s all anonymous, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.
She gave a noncommittal shrug since the
counselor had been trying to get her to talk about herself for
twenty weeks now.
There was a short silence before she
realized that it was her turn. With a quick swallow to hold back
the unease, she tried to belt through her childhood as succinctly
and calmly as possible.
“My parents came from money, but they
screwed it all up on bad investments before I was born. We don’t
“That’s unfortunate,” he said. He looked
like he meant it. “I don’t talk much to mine either, at least not
outside of their monthly emails.”
Her brows rose. “What do they email about?
To catch up?”
His gaze briefly flicked away, and the
corners of his mouth grew tight. “Not exactly. They’re not those
sort of parents. My mum’s kind of … well, she’s pished more often
than not, and my dad—”
“Ach, sorry, I mean drunk,” he said with a
small smile that tugged at that familiar dull ache in her chest.
With a sigh, she said, “Fortunately, my
parents never resorted to alcohol, but there was this constant air
of bitterness and resentment at home because we had to live like
normal people.” She stared at his chin—it was a very attractive
chin—to avoid having to look him in the eye and see his
His sarcasm made one corner of her lips
“So no fancy private schooling then?”
“Nope. I went to the only public school in
our town and pretty much suffered from the single most prevailing
problem of kids who grow up in the country.”
When she paused, Blue Eyes leaned forward a
scant inch and asked, “What?
“Having absolutely nothing to do.”
She found herself sharing another smile with
him, and something warm and entirely unwelcome settled in her
“So then what did you do with yourself?” he
asked. He had yet to lean back. His smile and the way he kept
asking her to elaborate, as if he actually wanted to know more
about her, made her feel annoyingly flustered.
“I used to steal wine from the cellar and
climb this huge oak tree in our backyard to drink it alone.” At his
questioning look, she said, “It was a good hiding place.”
“Why’d you do it alone?”
She rolled her eyes. “I would have invited
friends, but I didn’t have any. Probably because I’m really bad at
pretending to care about what people think of me.”
“Some people consider that a good
“Maybe you could introduce me to some,” she
said. “Half the people you meet are only nice because they want
something from you, even if it’s just your respect. Why should I
respect a stranger I know nothing about? Being a decent person
shouldn’t come with a motive, and yet most people do nice things
expecting to be rewarded. It’s a form of entitlement. But none of
them matter to me, so why should I care about what they feel they
deserve from me?”
Blue Eyes cocked his head.
“So what do you do when you need respect from someone who
She thought about what she and Helena were
going through. Helena was one of the few people who mattered in her
life, which meant there weren’t many things Leah wouldn’t do for
her. But he didn’t need to know that.
She pursed her lips, and then wished she
hadn’t when those gorgeous eyes dropped to her mouth. Maintaining
maximum aloofness, she said, “Then I’m only as polite and
accommodating as absolutely necessary.”
He looked like he wanted to laugh. She
wondered what it would sound like.
“Why do you think it’s such a bad thing to
want to be liked?”
She looked down at her lap and considered
lying. It would be easy. But with complete anonymity already
between them, lying just didn’t feel right, especially with this
particular guy. And after today, she would likely never see him
again anyway, even if they did attend the same university.
“There was this girl,” she said without
looking up. “During gym class in third grade, she tried to kiss me.
I pushed her away, but some kids saw and they … Well, let’s just
say they were complete shits. So I defended her, which of course
resulted in everyone assuming I was a lesbian, too. Nobody would
talk to me after that, not even my friends. Even some of the
teachers began ignoring me, and one of them in particular, the one
who told me I could be anything I wanted, she sent a note home to
my parents so they’d be aware of my ‘issue.’ I guess ‘anything’ was
conditional.” She sighed and rubbed her thumb over the ridge of her
knuckles. “People always eventually let you down.”
Blue Eyes didn’t say anything, but something
in his face made her feel like he understood. She didn’t know what
to make of it, and she didn’t want to feel whatever connection
might be happening between them.
“Anyway,” she continued, “it at least left
me plenty of time to study. Eventually, my parents sold the estate,
and we moved into the old vacation home here.” She hadn’t wanted to
leave Elijah so she’d stayed in town and gone to college here as
well. “I got a couple scholarships, but it didn’t cover everything,
and I knew my parents weren’t going to help me, so I was on my own.
Luckily, my best friend realized I needed help and offered to share
an apartment with me to take the edge off rent.”
“That was good of her. Him?”
“Her. And yeah, she kept me from getting too
off track. My first year of college, I went a little crazy and
almost failed half my classes.” Being physically close with someone
had always made her wary. Sex was such an intimate thing, and she
hadn’t known if she could share her body with someone without also
sharing more of herself. But she had set out to try.
After her first time, she’d been a little
skeptical about sex in general, but it did eventually start to feel
good. Turned out she was able have sex with someone without having
to deal with the emotional side of it.
In fact, she had learned to completely close
off the emotional side of it.
But that didn’t necessarily mean she had a
problem. If this had happened her freshman year, then maybe, yes,
she might have admitted to an addiction. But she was past that
stage in her life. Now, meaningless sex every once in a while was a
perfectly acceptable choice.
“So you’re a student too. What do you
study?” Blue Eyes asked, sounding for all the world like he was
She was pretty sure questions like that were
forbidden as part of the anonymity rule, but she was unable to
“I’m majoring in writing, but I’m doing a
minor in web design.”
“Hm. Both professions with limited human
interaction,” he said, smiling knowingly.
Again, she couldn’t stop the smile breaking
out. It was true. “And the ability to work from home when I need
“Now, if you would all like to move back
into a circle.” The counselor’s extremely unwelcome voice intruded
on her time with Blue Eyes, making her appreciate how much she had
She liked the way he expressed himself. She
liked his total lack of self-pity. They fidgeted their way back
into the group, and she resumed her glaring at the counselor.
Smiling at Blue Eyes had been unusual and disturbing. Glaring was a
“I’m passing around pieces of paper, and I
want you to write down the first word that comes to you regarding
the childhood that was just described to you. Then swap papers with
your partner. Sometimes the best perspective on our past, which
inevitably influences our present, will come from other
What a pile of
. Leah sighed.
She stared at the piece of paper and thought
about the things Blue Eyes had told her. The image of a young child
microwaving instant noodles or soup or whatever else he could find
for his dinner kept coming back to her.
‘Lonely,’ she wrote, before folding up the
paper and glancing at Blue Eyes. He was just folding up his piece
as well, and they awkwardly swapped. She watched him open the paper
she’d just handed him, saw the intake of breath. Then she read her
Her own breath caught in her throat. The
sounds of shuffling feet and crinkling paper faded around her. She
thought about a large, empty house with only the characters inside
her books to keep her company. About parents who never talked about
love or family and what those things were supposed to mean. She
swallowed thickly as she read and reread the single neatly-written
It said ‘Lonely.’
Will lingered just outside the circle as
everyone else began putting on their coats and shuffling out into
the cool night. The creeper with the dirty cap cast him a curious
look, but Will ignored it. He knew he was doing an unconvincing job
of looking nonchalant. Namely because he was taking longer to put
on his coat than any guy in the history of the world.
Despite what he’d said to his boss, he’d
been looking forward to coming back tonight. All week, he couldn’t
stop thinking about her. He wanted to know why she was in these
meetings, and today’s session had given him a glimpse at the
answer. Hypersexuality was as much about sex as alcoholism was
about the alcohol. People who didn’t have fulfilling family
relationships often looked for other ways to fill in the emotional
Physical attraction was one thing, but he
wanted to understand her as well, especially after they’d written
the same word about each other’s childhoods. The more he learned
about her, the more intrigued he became. Today’s conversation had
only deepened the imprint she’d left in him.
Of course, talking to her again was probably
a bad idea. Liking her would be even worse. Anything more than a
passing interest in her meant he would have to confess his non-sex
addiction status (although it wasn’t difficult to imagine getting
addicted to sex with the grumpy beauty) and hope not to get
The counselor came over as he was waiting
for her to help the old lady, who was either extremely nearsighted
or extremely clumsy, navigate her way to the door before returning
to put her coat on.
“Would you mind stacking the chairs for me?”
the counselor asked apologetically. “I am running rather late.”
“Of course.” Will grinned, snatching at his
So it was that the slowest chair-stacking
possible began, and within a few minutes, he was alone with
“Well,” said the grumpy beauty (he really
needed a name for her). She tucked a wisp of blonde hair that had
come loose from her ponytail behind her ear and gave a small, stiff
wave. “See you.”