Happy Sunday, friends! It’s been a dreary, rainy weekend here in Portland, perfect for moods and writing. Wanted to thank all of you who read and wrote to me about the last chapter. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Real v. Reel? I can’t answer that, but I’m loving your comments and theories. Here is another chapter. Hope you like it. Lots of love, Ani
Chronologically, a sunrise lasts only two minutes. Emotionally is another matter. Because right now, waiting for Aiden, the seconds between the first glow above the horizon and the first rays scattering across the sky ooze like congealed blood from an open wound. Each willow murmur sounds like footsteps, each lark song like a familiar melodic voice—but there is nothing. He’s not here, he’s not here.
I jump to my feet, unable to sit on the garden bench without him a second longer. Max’s alert eyes follow me from the hedge as I dash to the hybrid rose behind the shed. Chills prick my skin like thorns at the reel’s proximity. Does the evil inside know it hasn’t been unleashed today? Will it avenge itself on Aiden later? I shiver and force my mind to scour my work bench for any disturbance. But nothing is missing here either. My brain stutters to produce any differences—is that pot of dirt closer to the edge? Has the Elisa graft moved an inch? I stare without blinking, yet I can’t decide if I’m seeing differences or missing them.
Then things strike fast like the sun bursting over the hilltops. Max rumbles, “Good morning,” Benson’s voice booms through the air, “News?”, and I break into a sprint.
“Aiden!” I shriek, rounding the shed, jumping over a Clare, losing a slipper, and launching myself at him the moment he streaks through the garden hedge. His gasp whooshes in my ears as he swoops me in his arms and tucks me in his chest while I run my hands frantically over him to make sure he’s okay. He is—not a single scratch on his beautiful head.
“Hey, hey, I’m fine,” he assures me, but he’s doing the same with me, scanning me from my hair to my bare toes. His shoulders sink in relief when he sees everything is the exact mess he left it. “Elisa, what the hell are you doing up?” he chides, tracing the circle under my eye with his fingertip. “I thought I told you to go to bed.”
I lock my arms in a stranglehold around his neck, blubbering in his throat. “But you—not here—worried—I couldn’t—”
“I also told you not to worry.” His exasperated voice has never sounded more like music to me. “You don’t really think someone can hurt Benson and me, do you?”
“No, but—you’re tired—and stressed—and—”
“Shh, it takes a lot more than that to take me down.” He cradles me in his arms and kisses my hair, all anger seemingly forgotten—or vanished I should say, for him.
“I’m glad you’re home,” I sniffle, crushing myself closer to him and inhaling his scent.
“I’ve told you this, too.” He sighs again, but his lips stay in my hair. “I’ll always come back to you.”
The cottage door flies open then. “Aiden?” Stella cries and hurtles down the path, Robert on her heels.
“Oh, fuck, does no one listen to me?” Aiden mutters under his breath, setting me on my feet without releasing his hold around my waist as he turns to reassure his poor parents. I peek at Benson in his usual spot behind Aiden. He winks at me, but there is a shadow of worry in his brown eyes.
“Are you okay?” I mouth at him behind Aiden’s arm as Aiden keeps saying I’m fine to Stella.
Benson nods with a smile.
“And him?” I tilt my head slightly toward Aiden.
“Worried,” Benson mouths back and the smile disappears.
I tighten my grip on Aiden’s arm, resting my head against his stony bicep. It softens at the point of contact, but I still don’t let go of him or he of me as we troop back to the cottage. His eyes devour the garden corner to corner, and he crouches at the Clare to pick up my fuzzy slipper.
“Here you go, Cinderella.” He slides it back on my foot, his exhausted smile more dazzling to me than the new sun. Then he squints across the rose bush at the garden shed and the hybrid behind it.
“I checked,” I say immediately so he doesn’t have to wonder or spend any more time on his feet.
The V appears between his eyebrows. “And?”
I shake my head, aware of all the eyes and ears on us. “Everything is there, but I can’t tell if they moved an inch or two. I’m so sorry.” My last three words stun us both. Until they slipped out of my mouth under his gaze, I didn’t know I preferred a real intruder to giving Aiden this news.
As if he heard that thought, a trace of the same hurt flickers in the turquoise depths, and he stands, taking my hand. “Don’t be sorry. I’d rather be wrong than have you in more danger.”
And I’d rather be in danger than have him be wrong. But worse than that is that four-letter word—m-o-r-e. No doubt he used it because he believes the first and foremost danger is him. “I’m never in danger if you’re with me,” I answer, knowing he won’t argue with everyone around us.
And he doesn’t—the only sign of protest is his clenched jaw.
Inside the cottage, Stella has been busy while I was staring at empty fields and cluttered working benches. The smell of fried eggs is wafting from the kitchen, but she herds us into the living room, where she has set out coffee, rose water, scones, jam, cream, strawberries, and mum’s soup tureen full of scrambled eggs on the coffee table that’s creaking under the weight.
“Eat something, Aiden. Benson, Max—you too. Elisa, darling, I’ve got your tea right here, in this pretty cup. There you are!”
It’s not until I see the food that my body registers hunger. Or maybe it’s because Aiden is home, and I can feel something else other than my throbbing chest. We all load our plates and scatter on our old seats from the night, Aiden folding on the sofa next to me, except now our arms and legs are touching.
“So what happened, son?” Robert asks when Aiden finishes his scone. “Did you find anything either way?”
Aiden blows out a gust of breath, not touching his coffee, while a shiver whips over my skin. “Many and nothing,” he answers, his voice controlled. If I didn’t know it so well, I would have missed the faint hard edge underneath. “There are tire tracks on the roadside gravel by Elysium but, as Elisa is no doubt thinking this very second, that’s not surprising because it’s the main road to town.”
He nods at me, as if to say I’m considering your theory. I vow to do the same for him. “What else did you see?”
“This was by the garage,” he answers, taking something from the back pocket of his jeans and handing it to me. It’s an After Eight mint wrapper. “It wasn’t there this afternoon when we pulled out of the garage to go to the Inn,” he explains as I pass it around. “But it could have ended up there in any number of ways. Someone could have tossed it out of a car window for all we know.”
“Does it mean anything to you, Elisa?” Stella asks, sipping her tea.
“No, After Eights are popular around here. I’d wager every cottage in town has them. My dad used to love them, but I haven’t bought them since . . .”
Aiden takes my hand, hearing the unspoken day in my drift. There are shadows under his brilliant turquoise eyes, his skin shimmers less, and the ray of sun beaming through the window fractures over his drawn cheeks. Yet he is still here, caring for me.
“Aiden, love, why don’t you get some sleep?” I plead, clasping his fingers. “We can finish this later. You’ve been up all night.”
He shakes his head. “We’re almost done. Benson, show them what you found.”
Benson sets his clean plate on the floor and digs in the liner pocket of his jacket. His massive hand covers whatever it is, but he tosses it at me. I see as it somersaults through the air that it’s a tiny ball of crumpled paper. It lands in my open hand with uncanny accuracy. I smooth it out, looking at the random doodles like concentric circles. Five necks crane to peek at it with me.
“Any thoughts about this one?” Aiden prompts.
“Umm, not really. It looks like scrap paper. Anyone can doodle like this.”
He nods with a deep sigh. “I had the same thought. I’ve seen you draw circles like this, and seventy-eight other people in my life. It’s in blue ink—also your usual choice—but blue pens are hardly unique. I can’t prove this came from the cottage or was meant for it. There’s nothing unusual about the paper either—just a generic lined notebook.”
I look at it again. I have notebooks like this. As does Reagan. As does the town’s stationer, Mrs. Sterling, and probably everyone who buys notepads there. The doodles are symmetric, it’s true, but I see nothing in them to link them only to me. “Where did you find this?”
“Down the road toward town.” Aiden gestures the direction with his thumb. “Why? What are you thinking?”
I shrug. “Just trying to consider your theory as fairly as mine. This does look like something I would draw but, as you said, so could anyone.”
Aiden runs his hand through his hair in frustration. His eyes zoom on the empty fireplace like last night, the tectonic plates shifting back and forth, back and forth as if he is looking at a chessboard.
“Did you see anything else?” Max wonders, gulping coffee.
“Random details, equally ambiguous,” Aiden answers, his eyes not breaking the inner analysis. “There’s a broken rose in the climber by the garage door, but that could have happened when the door closed behind the car. There’s a cigarette butt further down the road but it could be anyone’s. There are no footprints because, of course, it’s been dry.” Then his eyes flit to Max. “Did you check for footprints under the windows?
Max nods with vigor. “As soon as it got light out. There’s none in the dirt or the rose beds.”
The faithful V forms between Aiden’s eyebrows, and something quick passes between him and Benson.
“If there are no footprints where there should be, that means either they swept them or we’re left with the key theory,” Benson rumbles.
“Or mine,” I offer, looking only at Aiden, feeling like we’re stuck in a circle. I’m about to ask him to stop this now and go to sleep, but he takes my hand.
“Elisa, I know you have serious doubts about this, and if I only listen to logic, I have them too. But I can’t shake off this instinct that I’m right. So, I’ll ask you one more thing about this that you will hate, and then I promise I’ll be done for today. Will you please call the Plemmonses and ask them if they ever gave the cottage key to anyone else? They’re usually up by now, setting up the shop.”
I’m about to say “no bloody way” but the lines of worry on his beautiful face stop my tongue. How can I not give this to him if it helps him sleep and fight the reel later today? How can I not give him everything after the story his parents told me? Exactly as he would do for me.
“If I do this, will you go to sleep?” I ask, brushing his knuckles.
“And you will stop worrying?”
“I can’t promise that, but I promise I will drop the subject for today.”
“What about security? If the Plemmonses say no, as I’m sure they will, can we let Max enjoy the rest of his vacation? He’ll get so bored guarding me from doodles, he’ll have to steal roses himself for entertainment.”
He shakes his head before I’m done. “I can’t do that—not until I figure out what we’re dealing with.”
I watch his set jaw, knowing this is the best he can give right now. As he must know from my eyes that this isn’t over. I nod, reserving all my arguments for when he’s rested, and pick up my phone from the sofa corner, where apparently it’s been sitting forgotten all night.
“Thank you,” Aiden says simply as I dial.
Mr. Plemmons answers on the seventh ring, and it takes several different shouting volumes to establish the right level of bellowing for him to hear.
“Is summat the matter with the roses, Rose?”
“No, Mr. Plemmons, but I have a quest—”
“Wha’ ‘bout the Festival?”
“I’m all set, Mr. Plemmons, but—”
“Did yeh like the garland, Rose?”
“It was beautiful, Mr. Plemmons, thank—”
“Is Adam being a gentleman? I told him, I said, ‘only because yer parents ‘ull be here, Adam, but yeh keep yer hands off our Rose! An’ we ‘spect to meet them, we do. Didn’ I tell him, Josephine?”
“Yes, you did, Harold. You scared him right off. The man promised he’s sleeping in the shed.”
The first chuckles of the day susurrate around me, Stella’s in a pillow, Benson’s on his knuckles, Max’s in his elbow, and Robert’s in his palm. Aiden is too stressed and tense to laugh or do anything but pinch the bridge of his nose and breathe deeply with his eyes closed for strength.
“Mr. Plemmons, I have a question,” I yell at the top of my lungs into the receiver to delay the stroke that is surely coming for Aiden.
“Wha’ is it, Rose?”
“Did anyone ever borrow the cottage key when I was in Portland?”
“The cottage key, Mr. Plemmons!”
“The key? I don’ think so, Rose. Josephine, do yeh remember anyone ask fer the rose key?”
Some silence on the other side presumably as Mrs. Plemmons scratches her head with her knitting needles. “No, I don’t remember anything like that,” she wheezes after a while then her voice rasps closer to the receiver. “Has something happened, Rosebud?”
“Nothing at all, Mrs. Plemmons. Not a thing. I’ll bring by some roses and Aiden’s parents later. They’re coming to the Festival.”
“Oh, how wonderful! On with you, Harold, on with you! I have biscuits to bake for Aiden’s parents.”
“Stop calling him Edmund, Josephine. His name is Adam.”
They are still arguing about Aiden’s name when Mr. Plemmons hangs up without saying goodbye.
“Feeling better?” I ask Aiden as his parents, Benson, and Max are catching their breath from laughing.
He runs his hand over his thick stubble with a deep sigh. “How much can we rely on their memories, Elisa, really? The man believes I’m sleeping in the shed.”
I caress his tense jaw. “And you might well end up sleeping in the shed if you don’t drop this right now like you promised. Now on with you, Adam, on with you. Go to bed and sleep this off.”
The first real smile since the Suite of Firsts lifts his lips. “Oh no, not the shed.” But he stands without further argument, and everyone stands with him.
Fifteen minutes later, after his parents leave with Benson while Max insists on staying guard outside until we wake up, Aiden and I finally climb the stairs to our happy bedroom. With each creak of the old boards, the terror of the night starts to dissipate. First as a wink of a smile at the corner of Aiden’s mouth when he steps on the fifth stair, then as a sigh in my throat when his hands curve around my hips, until the moment we cross the threshold of our room, we both transform. The glow returns to Aiden’s face, warming his ashen skin back to gold. His jaw relaxes, the V releases his eyebrows, and every wisp of tension floats away from him until his long, graceful body moves with his patent fluidity, half-water, half-man. And every debris of fear and anguish disappears from his eyes until they gleam the clearest shade of turquoise.
As for me, I’m back to the drooling state I started this night with.
“Are you having déjà vu?” Aiden smiles as he closes the bedroom door.
“How did you know?”
He flows to me and wraps his arms around my waist. “Because I’m having it, too.”
“Déjà vu to what?”
“To entering our Room of Firsts. You?”
“Mmm.” He lowers his face to mine as he did last night, pausing an inch from my lips. “Can you make us a protein to turn back time?”
“I wish.” My voice turns to vapor under his heated breath.
“Let’s try to repeat it then.” His eyes become molten and descend over me like fire. I have exactly one second left for thought. Already my body is arching toward his.
“Oh, no!” I lean away, pushing against his chest. “Don’t get any ideas, Mr. Plemmons. There will be no female nudity of any kind. You’re here to sleep.”
He laughs with that waterfall sound as I quote his words to me from Oxford’s University Park but doesn’t release my waist. “But I sleep so much better with female nudity around, Elisa.”
“Well, maybe Mrs. Willoughby can oblige.” I push weakly against his chest again, but he brings his lips to my ear.
“I don’t want Mrs. Willoughby.” His hand trails up my spine. “I want your hair . . .” He sweeps aside my tangles. “And your skin . . .” His fingers trace my throat. “And your smell . . .” His nose skims along my jaw. “I want everything of yours on me.” He molds me to his shape as his lips brush mine. “If I have all that, Elisa, no one on this earth sleeps better than me.”
His words stop but it’s not silent. My heart is thundering, my blood is hammering, my breath is hitching. He blows gently over my lips to open my eyes I didn’t know I had closed. “Can you still give all that to me?” he asks as soon as I blink at him. “After everything I put you through last night?”
It only takes that change in his voice—from amused to tender to uncertain—to clear my mind. “They’re always yours.”
The dimpled smile sparkles on his cheek. “Then may I have this dance?”
We have danced together to Für Elise fourteen times now, once before each sleep. I know his steps by heart, yet each time feels new. He takes off my clothes and I take off his, and we sway together, skin on skin, each piano note as vital as a heartbeat now that I know how it became the soundtrack to our dreams.
“I’m sorry, love,” he murmurs, his voice more melodic than our lullaby. I look up at his incandescent eyes—there isn’t a single trace of fear, hurt, or anguish there now. Only peace.
“Why are you sorry?” I whisper back, letting the melody reign over us.
“For getting angry when you were only trying to reason with me. For worrying you. For making you lose sleep. For being unable to drop this like you wish I would.”
“Shh.” I press my finger on his lips—he kisses it. “You have nothing to be sorry about. I know everything you’re doing is to protect me. I’m the one who should apologize.”
His raven brows arch in shock, and he stops mid-turn. “What do you have to apologize for?”
“For hurting you when you were only trying to save me. For yelling at you. For not believing you like you wish I would.”
‘Shh.” He smiles, pressing his finger on my lips—I kiss it. “You have nothing to be sorry about. You did the right thing. I need you to challenge me. Always, but especially now.”
He picks up the dance, nose in my hair, as Für Elise plays on. I debate whether to tell him I know how he found it, but I don’t want any painful memories to enter this bubble. ‘I can’t be anywhere else,’ he told his parents the night I left him. I lean into his body before chills whip my skin. What happens this time if we lose? Or if the reel takes him from me before time does? Will there be any place left in this earth for him or me now that we are so deeply entwined together I no longer know where I end and where he starts? I press myself closer to him, inhaling his pure, vivid scent that keeps the goose bumps away.
Für Elise ends with its last poignant note and starts again. We curl into our cotton bed that smells like us, and he takes his anti-nightmare pill while I pray for the protein. Make him brave, keep him whole.
“How long should we set it for?” he asks, programming my song.
“Don’t—sleep as long as you need. We can do the r-e-e-l whenever you wake up this time.”
He doesn’t argue or flinch like I do. Still invincible, still braver than me. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me to his front, every curve of me to every angle of him. I can feel his desire, but he keeps his promise. He just buries his lips and nose in my hair, breathing me in. “Don’t worry, love.” His fingers trail down my arm. “I’m built for this.”
“But it’s different now, with all the trauma you’re revisiting.”
A deep sigh flows through him and washes over me. “I know . . . same answer.”
From the beech tree outside the window, a lark starts to warble, harmonizing its song to Für Elise. “Is there any part of you that thinks the r-e-e-l might be causing this?” I whisper, not wanting this question to interfere with either melody.
He caresses my arm, back and forth like piano keys. “Maybe I’m afraid to think it,” he whispers, too. “The idea of not being in control of my own mind . . .”
I turn in his arms, placing my hand over his heart. “You are in control. You’re just learning new ways of thinking. Don’t doubt your mind. Only your reactions to stress. I’m sure Doctor Helen will agree. You should talk to her about this.”
He nods, weaving his fingers with mine, looking at our joined hands. His lashes cast long shadows over his cheeks. “Will you answer something for me? The full truth, no diplomacy or sparing of feelings.”
“Of course,” I answer, surprised by the uncharacteristic request. His eyes usually see my truth before I even know it. But right now, they’re locked on our folded hands as he speaks in a slow, deliberate voice.
“If the reel fixes the startle but breaks my mind, would you still want to be with me?”
His question makes me gasp, but not only because of the heart-wrenching words. I stop breathing because I finally realize why he is afraid. It’s not fear of losing his mind, it’s fear of losing my heart.
“Aiden Hale.” I lift his chin as he does with me so I can see his eyes. They’re steady and bold, except that flicker of pure hurt that now I fully understand. “I will want you no matter what the reel does—whether it changes your mind or not and even if it doesn’t fix the startle. I know you don’t like hearing that, but you asked for the full truth. I’ll always love you, and no distance, or time, or reel can ever change that.”
He has inhaled every word, breathing them in like air. And I know he believes me. I know because the painful question clears from his eyes. “So, it’s not just my brain that you’re attracted to?” he smiles, gesturing to the photo of his brain and heart waves on my nightstand.
I grin back. “No, sorry. It doesn’t even make the top five.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” he chuckles. “But I’m curious now, what are the top five?”
“Oh, that’s easy. Your heart, your character, your strength, your laugh, your mouth—”
I’m about to continue, but he kisses me with a low throaty sound. “Mmm, this mouth business seems to be important.”
His fingers braid into my hair and he strains me to his shape until I can feel his heartbeat on my skin. The moment I taste him on my tongue, I realize that until now my own mouth tasted bitter, but it wasn’t the night. It was the hours apart. His lips brush away the acrid residue until I only taste his honeyed flavor.
“Ah, Elisa,” he sighs, freeing me for air, but his breathing is almost as uneven as mine. He turns me around—all iron and silk—and presses his lips in my hair. “Our top fives are the same, you know . . . except mine also include your faith in me and your patience and your humor and . . .”
I’m about to point out that this is more than five, but a deep breath of cinnamon air swirls in my hair and his weight becomes heavy around me. I peek around, and he is asleep, his lips parted in a soft smile.
“Like cookies, my love,” I whisper. I lie here as always, counting his breaths, and happiness shifts again despite the night. It becomes his puffs of sleep to my song in our humble bedroom with the dried poppies of our weapons in this fight: our love, his strength and fighting spirit, pleasure, self-love, our families, the team of scientists, my calming effect, Für Elise, hope, laughter, and, if I can finish, the protein. I still don’t know if they’re enough to win against Aiden’s past. And after today, I no longer know if they will be enough to see us through the reel.
Abruptly, sleep vanishes, and I feel wide awake. More than awake—drumming with nervous energy and fear, making my feet and mind twitch. Instead of poppies, I can only see Bia and the protein’s formula in my head. It’s no longer just urgent—after last night, it’s imperative. I can’t afford to lie here when I can calculate Oxytocin Twelve doses instead. I finish counting the one hundred and fifty breaths that it takes for Aiden to drift into deep sleep, and inch out of bed, jittery and tense.
Dad’s library is filled with sunlight when I tiptoe there. The gauzy curtain billows with the rose breeze, and Max’s reflection plays on the windowpane, sipping his coffee by the hedge. Was it only five hours ago that I stumbled in this room shuddering in terror? Now the idea of an intruder sitting on Dad’s armchair or touching our unfinished chess game under the glass case feels fuzzy, like a distant nightmare that has left only its startle behind.
I switch on old Bod, wishing I could run to Bia instead, but there is no point in testing until I understand exactly how much O-12 I should add and why else the formula didn’t hold yesterday. I’m blurry eyed with calculations when Skype’s jingle dings loud enough for Max’s head to snap up toward my window. Reagan! I answer it immediately, not wanting to wake Aiden.
“Top o’ the morning, Rose.” Reagan’s curls explode on the screen and her feigned British accent chimes through the library. As soon as I see her sparkling smile in her pajamas, an urge to hug Bod overpowers me. I blow her a kiss on the screen.
“Hey, Reg—how was the flight? Did you find everything okay?”
“Oh yea, okay and empty and boring. I’ve decided rhododendrons are highly overrated compared to my rose.” She glares at her window where our old pink rhodie is blooming. “I miss England already.”
“And England misses you. How was Javi on the flight? Any progress?” Between meeting Aiden’s parents and dealing with real or reel intruders, I’ve been itching to ask her since Aiden found the sketch of her eyes at the Inn.
She blows a ringlet off her face, and her smile disappears. “Well, we fought for half of it so no—unless you define ‘progress’ as conversation in which case, yes, it was an improvement over the dour silence that filled the other half.”
“What did you fight about?” I ask even though it doesn’t matter. The real reason is Javier being invisible for all his formative life and now he is unable to see when he is seen.
“Everything—no matter what I say or do, I seem to aggravate him. I don’t know, Isa, but I’ve thought a lot about it. I have to let him be . . .” She wipes her eyes with her sleeve.
“No, Reg, don’t give up yet. Javi loves you—he just doesn’t know how.” I trap my tongue between my teeth, so I don’t mention the sketch. I can hear Aiden’s voice, even asleep, thundering through his synapses to tell me to keep my mouth shut. And as much as I hate to admit it, he is right.
Reagan just shakes her head, mopping up more tears.
“I’m serious,” I tell her, clutching the screen as if it were her shoulders. “Let Javi open the gallery and get some confidence, like Aiden said, and I think he’ll come around.”
She wipes her nose this time and nods. “He’s very excited about Solis Art—he’s named it already. But enough about me or I’ll cry all night. How did it go with Aiden’s parents?”
I want to keep talking about her and Javier, but I can tell she needs the space. And I can’t even berate her for not warning me about the fact that Aiden’s parents make the Beckhams look like garden compost. “They’re so sweet, Reg. I wasn’t prepared for how kind and supportive they are.”
“I know, right? They’re exactly who I would have picked for you. Stella already posted a picture of your roses on Facebook, quoting Shakespeare, ‘Of all the flowers, methinks a rose is best.’ Here, look.”
Reagan holds up her iPhone to show me Stella’s profile, but I stare at it without seeing as shivers scrape my skin at the mention of the charlatan. Does he creep up on other people’s lives like this or is he only haunting mine?
“I have to hit the pillow, Isa,” Reg says after I manage a nod. “I’m still jetlagged, but I have to go to work tomorrow. Who invented jobs? Horrible person.”
Probably Shakespeare. “Love you, Reg. Sleep well.”
“Love you, too. Say hi to our dragon. Tell him to prepare in advance because in September, I might even hug him.”
She hangs up with a laugh before she hears the whisper that hushes out of my lips of its own volition. If we have until September . . .
I listen for any sign of Aiden upstairs, but there is nothing. Hopefully he is dreaming of cookies while I stare at my lined notepad waiting for a stroke of brilliance. That odd sensation I felt in the Room of Firsts, like a tugged thought, flutters again now for some reason. What was I thinking about when I first felt it? Oh, yes, I had mumbled “orgasms are oxytocin but taste better” in my sex coma. And there it is—the same curious feeling, like a tip-of-the-tongue hesitancy . . . I try to analyze it but can’t find any clues in it. It must have been because I tasted the protein earlier at Bia and it didn’t taste as good as Aiden. But why did it fizz away?
Outside the library window, Max’s pacing shadow rolls over the roses. And on my notepad, my pen draws concentric circles over my calculations without a single answer.