“So, what do I need to do so people like you don’t think I am an
“Well, for starters, you need to get over yourself. I know you’ve had so
much tragedy. But you’ve caused all of it. Do you claim any responsibility
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“Really? How? As far as I can see, you’ve decided to get over it by
scoring with a bunch of hookers and passing out drunk on my couch.
And then you pissed on my mother-in-law’s car. What are you? A dog? I
mean, you’re a guest in my home, Keith. You are a grown man. You have
been the worst houseguest ever.” I am really on a roll now. I didn’t realize
how affected I’d been by having him and the band stay here. Maybe it’s
starting to get on my nerves more than I’d realized, because I am really letting it
fly now. Honestly, it’s a relief to get this all out. I need to stop and catch my breath
for a moment.
“Okay, first of all, your mother-in-law was screeching at me and
smacking me with that purse. What the hell does she keep in there? A
“I can’t defend Portia’s outburst,” I say. I shouldn’t have to. Who the hell
gives her the right to storm into my house and assault my guest? “I am sorry that
happened, and I am sorry I was a bit harsh with you right now. But Keith,
since you’ve been here, you’ve only been in three states: drunk, passed out,
or brooding. Do you really want to live like that?”
He’s staring at me. Is this seriously a question for him? He wants to live a
“So, what do I need to do?” he asks. “How do I fix this asshole persona
I project?” I can tell that I went way deeper than he’d expected. I’m not sure
if that’s a good thing or not. Did I just hurt his feelings? Maybe I should dial
it back a bit, focus on being more clinical than emotional.
I kick into public-relations-specialist mode. “Well, for starters, your
public is demanding an explanation. They think you are a spoiled brat for
the way you behaved after the accident, and that is bad for your image.
You have done nothing to convince them otherwise.” I pause, and he rolls
his eyes a bit. “Hey, you asked me for my opinion, and I am giving it to
you. I have nothing to gain by being dishonest with you. If you don’t like
it, then go back inside and back to brooding over your life.” I am still being
harsh; he looks stricken. But he asked me to be honest, right? I take a breath; I
need to slow down a bit. “What is it that you want, Keith?”
He answers me with a brief silence as he thinks about it. I wonder if
anyone’s asked him this question since things ended with Tamsen. “I
want to enjoy my life again, he says, finally. “I know that things are over
with Tamsen, and I accept that. But I want to have someone in my life. I
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want to feel that connection again.” He paces a bit; when he stops, I
realize he is standing closer. I try to back off a bit, but the railing on the
deck is digging into the small of my back. “I feel like I can talk to you about
anything, and you won’t let me get away with being dishonest about
anything. Nobody in my life does that for me, not even my mother. I’ve
been missing that in my life.”
I’m sure this honest conversation is very intimate for Keith; but now
I’m not sure how I feel about standing this close to him. On one hand, it is
pretty exciting, I admit. His eyes are trained on mine; he’s staring intently
at me. Maybe Tim was right. Maybe Keith has been looking at me like I am
a piece of meat. I reach down and pull up my tank top. But honestly, I don’t
really want to cover myself up in this moment. And I know it’s so wrong
to feel this way. My heart is pounding. I never thought I’d ever again
experience a first kiss. I feel an almost electric current in the air as I face
Keith, who has now moved even closer to me. On the other hand, what I
should do is say something like how he’s taking advantage of the situation
and showing his asshole tendencies again. But I don’t. I just stand there,
probably with my mouth hanging open.
He’s so close to me—close enough that his lips are just a few inches
away from mine. I should just step away and break the moment. But I
don’t. I don’t know why, but I feel like I am glued to this spot on my deck.
I feel like I know him now, and that I’ve known him for a long time. It’s like
I’ve seen inside of him. I feel him brush the hair off my forehead, and I don’t
make a move to stop him. He sweeps his thumb across my brow, and I
close my eyes for a moment. It feels familiar, even though this is the first
time he’s ever touched me so intimately. I never imagined anything like
this would ever happen when Hydra moved in. I can’t believe it’s happening
“Brenda, I want to thank you for being truthful with me. Nobody’s
done that in a long time. And you are absolutely right.”
I try to compose myself, but the warmth of his hand on my cheek is
making it hard to stay focused. I need to say something. I clear my
throat, my mouth is so dry. “They don’t know who you are,” I say, “like
I do right now.” I can’t break the eye contact. They don’t know him like I
do? Where the hell did that come from?
I can tell by his facial expression that he isn’t paying attention to what
I am saying anymore. Instead, his hand slips through my hair, and he
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cups the back of my neck. Before I realize what’s happening, he leans in
toward me, and our lips touch. I know I have to say something, but what?
I have to do it quick, before something happens that I am going to regret.
“Keith, I…” His hand is back to cupping my cheek. It’s warm; he’s
stroking my cheekbone with his fingertips. I close my eyes and tilt my
head into his hand; I can feel the pulse from his wrist lightly throb
against my jaw.
I sense him leaning in closer, and before I know it, we are deep in a
kiss. I feel his tongue slide against mine; I keep my arms frozen at my
sides. It is all wrong, but I let his hand slide from my cheek and behind
my neck to hold my head in place. His other hand slides behind my back
and pulls me closer to him. I can feel his belt buckle press against my
stomach and his breath exhaling near my ear. I give in to it all and slide
my hands around his waist and up his back. I can feel the lumps from his
vertebrae and his shoulder blades under my palms. I trace my hands back
down again and grip his T-shirt near the small of his back. I am fighting
the urge to pull it up and slip my hands beneath it so I can feel the warmth
of his skin.
I don’t know why I am kissing him. But I am. And it’s exhilarating to be
doing something and not know why I am doing it. With Keith, I feel that
light-headed buzz of a first kiss wash over me while his stubble rubs
against my chin and his tongue expertly plays with mine. It’s foreign, yet
completely familiar at the same time.
I am so drawn in that I don’t hear the back door slide open. It’s Tim’s
voice that brings me back to reality.
“Brenda? What the hell is going on?”
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