Ben turns toward me, blue eyes twinkling, amusement oozing out of every damn perfect inch of him. He’s lounging backwards, one well-defined bicep tantalisingly close, hanging over the back of the stiff-backed chair as he turns toward me.
The man is imperturbable.
“I can’t believe that being seated together at a wedding is the thing that springs to mind as ‘awkward’ for you,” he murmurs. “I could think of a few more blush-worthy examples.”
He watches me beneath his ridiculously long black eyelashes, the corners of his mouth curling slightly in the hint of a smile.
“We agreed not to see each other anymore. So, yes, this is awkward, if you ask me.” I observe him with a blank expression, tilting my head slightly to the side, as though mildly disinterested in his failure to understand. An expression that I know for a fact he finds equally as intoxicating as I find the amused grin he is throwing my way.
It pitches his competitive streak into overdrive.
He always wants to plant some emotion on my blank expression. Overlay it with something more spontaneous. Something that offers a crack into my soul.
His lips curl slightly more, and he leans in toward me, the smell of his aftershave enough to make me inhale sharply. I want to close my eyes—partly to lose myself in it, but also to gather some resolve to fight the swell of longing it induces. But I hold my expression, the angle of my head, and watch him innocently.
It’s hard to stop the games with Ben, whatever we’ve agreed to.
Whatever I know is for the best.
“As I recall,” he drawls, deliberately letting his hand brush mine as he reaches for his champagne glass. I jump inadvertently. His skin feels more alive to me than any other texture on the planet. I feel his touch in my very core, every time.
He clocks my reaction and allows himself a tiny victory smile, his eyes telling me exactly what he’s thinking: I can win this. You know I can. Then he continues: “We didn’t agree to anything. You told me what was happening. Via SMS. Classy. Surprising, even for you.”
I keep my face deadpan. I haven’t actually spoken to the man since my curt text message three weeks ago, pointedly ignoring his calls. He’s right—I didn’t give him any right of reply. But it’s not like we haven’t discussed this before.
“It was time,” I reply, my voice calm and cool, betraying nothing of the feelings underneath it. The uncertainty, the desire. The regret. “You knew it was coming. It’s been fun. But let’s leave it at that.”
“Funnnnn,” Ben repeats, his parted lips lingering on the n, watching me with an unreadable expression. “That’s not the word that I’d have used to describe it.”
“Really? What would you choose?”
I can’t help myself; I want to know what word he’d choose. What word he’d wrap around us, exult us with.
I know ending it is the right decision. I know it’s all wrong, Ben and I. But my heart still soars at the possibilities this unknown word choice offers. Like one right word could melt my heart.
He sips his champagne, watching me closely. He knows I’m hanging on his damn word.
That’s the problem, when you know each other as well as we do. When you’ve known each other for most of your lives. There’s no hiding. He can see me like I can’t even see myself.
“One word?” he asks, stalling, his eyes fast on mine, his long fingers curling sensually around the stem of his delicate glass, his full lips aggressively tantalising just by their mere existence. But he presses them together slightly, nonetheless, watching me watching them.
He smooths his napkin, dragging this out, his face a mask—but I know exactly what he’s feeling.
Satisfaction, at me hanging on his every word.
Hurt, that I put an end to us.
Longing. Hoping to seduce me with his eyes, his mouth, his fingers. Hoping that I’ll change my mind.
Hope: that’s always the killer for me. Ben, with his huge, hopeful eyes, full of all the feelings.
He looks back up at me, a deliberate blink, his eyes dark and brooding, saying all the things I love to see. How much he wants me. How well he knows me. How the whole world stops and slows when we’re together. It’s like being on some kind of slow-motion fair ride. Or maybe a movie trailer with special effects: bright lights, seductive music—the whole nine yards. Just us, in the middle. Everything else fading to a blur around us, a dull roar of inconsequential sound and colour. Where the only thing that matters is us.
In this space with him, I feel my most alive.
He speaks slowly, intentionally. Unflustered as ever. And as he speaks, he lets one hand drop under the tablecloth, sliding it up the inside of my leg, slowly, provocatively. Dangerously.
His fingers are light, brushing against me, his touch so familiar: warm and masculine and possessive and promising. His eyes don’t leave mine, and he leans in even closer, his next words a caress against my cheek, the corner of my lips.
“If I only had one word?” he says, “I’d choose…perfect.”
I inhale sharply, at his fingers as much as his word, though both are exhilarating. One hand automatically flies to his arm, my fingers curling around his bicep, the gesture at once both intimate and grounding.
My one true love.
His eyes continue to hold mine, languid, satisfied.
Ben 1, Ada 0, they say.
Then he withdraws his hand, downs his champagne, raises his eyebrows at me, and stands up and walks away.
Fen Wilde writes gritty romantic suspense novels exploring the darker elements in our lives.
She is a qualified social worker and works part-time as a mental health clinician for young people, and also as a private clinical consultant.
She is particularly interested in the complex things that drive us toward or keep us out of connection with each other: how fragile, how beautiful, how flawed we all are.
Fen lives in Melbourne, Australia with her partner, two children, and Burmese cat. She is happiest with a project on her desk, some caramel slice in the fridge, and a great long list of things to do.