"I think I have lost absolutely all respect for him," Jennifer Cole sighs heavily, spinning the white straw in her water around the glass. "I mean, I know people cheat all of the time but he did it so publicly. He's scum. What kind of guy cheats on his fiancée like that?"
Harper doesn't say anything and she is suddenly completely fascinated with her hands in her lap. Her fingernails are painted a very dark blue and one of the nails is chipping.
They sit in the food court of the farmer's market on Third and Fairfax just a few blocks away from her apartment, having met there for dinner but Harper hasn't had much of an appetite. She hadn't earlier, either, when she and her mother had gone out for lunch. It is too much food. Too much eating. She doesn't have the stomach for it today. She knows that she hasn't eaten anything today. First, no breakfast with Marcus and then hardly any lunch with her mother and now, her plate of vegetable stir-fry was in front of her, nothing but a few of the snap peas eaten.
She wishes she could just go back in time, to this time yesterday when she and Jennifer grabbed dinner after leaving work and before going to the bar. She wishes that she had never gone for even one drink. She wishes that she had just gone home, changed into her pajamas and watched episodes of The Twilight Zone on Netflix. If she had done that, everything would be different today. Everything would be better because it would be just as it always is and though some would probably say her life is a little boring, Harper craves that boring now. Work and home and meals with her mom and shopping with Jennifer and the occasional date with a man she has been set up with and each day rarely varies from the one before it but right now, Harper sees absolutely nothing wrong with that because if this is the alternative, she wants boring more than anything.
When she was little, she and her cousin used to play "If you" with one another. If you could eat only one kind of ice cream. If you could watch only one movie. If you could have any superhero power. Harper always used to say invisibility but today, she is twenty-four and she is officially changing her answer. If she could have any superhero power, she would have the ability to go back in time.
"Jennifer," she finally speaks. "Most people are horrible, celebrities especially just because they're rich and famous and feel like they can do anything they want."
Jennifer sighs. "I know. He just seemed like such a nice guy."
"You don't know him," Harper tries to be patient. Jennifer has always loved Marcus Nolan. She always goes to see his movies on opening day, buys any magazine with him on the cover – tabloids included – and she even bought that awful, too expensive vodka that him and a few other male celebrities in Hollywood endorsed.
"But he does all of that charity work with prisons," Jennifer pointed out. "What celebrity gives a shit about stuff like that? He was a good guy, Harper. And now…" she holds up her phone, showing an internet gossip site with pictures of Marcus Nolan and his mysterious woman from this morning.
Harper looks away. She has seen those pictures enough. She doesn't want to see them anymore and she certainly doesn't want to read the comments section. She can just imagine the things people are calling her. It's different for girls. Yes, Marcus is being labeled as an awful person for cheating on his fiancée but she is the girl and that makes her automatically the worse party in this cheating scandal. It takes two to cheat but most people automatically place more blame on the woman. She will be called a slut, a whore, a skank, a home wrecker…
She will be called so many awful things. She already knows it.
For the countless time that day, her mind drifts to thoughts of her father.
She has probably thought of her father more that day than for the past year.
Warren Wright and his constant cheating, most of it blatant and right in front of her mother's face, Harper grew up to eventually hate her father. When Warren left and Kerry finally divorced her husband, he was granted one weekend a month to see his daughter but Harper wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. She refused to leave the house when he came to pick her up and eventually, he got the message and stopped bothering. He didn't come by, didn't try to contact her. Even the obligatory phone call on her birthday stopped by the time she was nineteen.
She hasn't seen or spoken to her father in a few years now but today, she can't stop thinking about him. She hated what he had done – time and time again – and she remembers how much she hated the women, too. She never saw any of them; never had any idea who any of them were but she still hated them because they were sleeping with a married man and were home wreckers and didn't care. She had blamed the women, too.
Why do people cheat? She has never understood that and she never will.
She tries to remind herself that last night, she hadn't known Marcus was engaged; attached; unavailable to every other woman. She hadn't even known he was Marcus Nolan. But somehow, that just makes her feel even worse. He is one of the most recognizable stars on the planet and she is the idiot who had no idea who he was, even this morning when she was no longer drunk and seeing him in the light of day.
She can't help but sigh and Jennifer looks up from the basket of French fries she is eating in her misery and mourning.
"I wonder how much trouble we'll be tomorrow for both taking off today," Jennifer says.
"I needed today," Harper shrugs.
"I left before you last night so I didn't even see the guy you left with," Jennifer leans back in her chair, taking her basket with her and never stopping in her eating.
Jennifer is usually a bit of a health nut. She is beautiful with dark brown hair, pale skin, freckles on her nose and a thin, healthy body. Like Harper, she has no desire for fame. Most people just assume people live in L.A. to be discovered but Jennifer has no interest in that even though Harper thinks her best friend is beautiful enough for that. She takes care of herself – running and working out at a gym and eating fresh fruit and vegetables and staying away from red milk and sugar. But sometimes, like today, she just needs to gorge on junk food.
Harper looks back down to her nails. She has driven her best friend to eat salt and grease.
"What makes you think I left with a guy?" Harper asks.
For the first time that evening, Jennifer smiles. "A girl then?"
Harper almost smiles, too. "What about you? I vaguely remember your guy."
Jennifer's smile grows a little bit brighter and that surprises Harper. Jennifer does one-night stands often. She picks up guys, sleeps with them and moves onto the next, never giving them a second thought. Tonight though, she looks almost happy at the mention.
"He was nice," she replies, almost shyly.
Harper wants to laugh, feeling shocked. "Nice?" She repeats.
Jennifer's face flushes. "We didn't… we didn't even have sex," she tells her almost in a whisper. "We made out when we got back to his place and started to strip down but then…" her cheeks are so red now, splotches of color heating her skin. "Then we just talked and he has an amazing music collection and we wound up dancing around his living room in our underwear."
She shoves more fries into her mouth.
Harper can feel her eyes wide and her mouth hang open but she can't help herself. "So I'm the only one out of the two of us who had the one-night stand last night?"
Jennifer gasps. "I knew you did!" She leans forward in her chair, dropping her now empty basket onto the table and grabs onto Harper's arm with excitement. "I demand you tell me everything. Right now. No more holding it in."
Harper instantly shakes her head. She can't possibly tell Jennifer everything. What can she say? Even if she tells her, she probably won't be believed. Who would believe her? It's just far too preposterous.
But then her eyes catch a glimpse of Jennifer's phone on the table, still open to that gossip site and that now rather infamous picture of Marcus standing next to a taxi on a street corner early that morning and her back facing the camera, her face unseen.
"Will you at least tell me if it was good or not?" Jennifer asks.
Harper feels her own cheeks blush and she scolds herself for that. She has absolutely no reason to blush. Despite that though, she finds herself nodding her head. "It was… incredible," she admits, somewhat reluctantly. "He was white," she then adds though she has no idea why. Jennifer knows that Harper has only had two boyfriends – both black.
Jennifer gasps. "Damn it! I should have stayed longer! I would have loved to see him!"
Thank god you didn't, Harper thought to herself.
"Was he handsome?"
Harper definitely can't deny that one. "Very." Too handsome for his own good.
"So you had incredible sex with your first white guy who is very handsome," Jennifer smiles. She licks her index finger and wipes it around the wax paper in the basket, licking up every speck of salt she can find. She shakes her head and smiles. "We both had unforgettable nights then."
Desperate to get the conversation off of her, Harper nudges her gently in the arm, smiling. "You have to tell me more about your no-sex night. Are you going to see him again or was that just an one-time dance in your underwear thing?"
Jennifer blushed and looked almost shy. "He gave me his number but I…"
She shrugs. "Who knows? He gave it to me just to be polite."
"You don't know that," Harper tells her gently.
Jennifer shakes her head. "Let's go get ice cream," she suggests, standing up abruptly. She then sees Harper's hardly touched dinner. "We'll get a carry-out container, too."
Harper is just relieved that Jennifer doesn't question her why she has barely eaten and maybe this bout of self-imposed starvation won't last. She will probably be able to eat tomorrow and she does love this vegetable stir-fry that she gets at one of the food stands. She doesn't want to waste an entire plate of it.
After they get her a container, they head in the direction of one of the ice cream stands but they pass by one of the French bakery stands first and instead, indulge in three macaroons each.
"I might take a sick day tomorrow, too," Jennifer says as they head back in the direction of their apartments. Harper lives by herself and so does Jennifer, mere blocks apart.
Harper has been considering that option as well. After all, tomorrow is Friday and it might be nice to have a four-day weekend. But deep down, she knows that she won't allow herself to take two sick days in a row, especially when she's not actually sick.
They reach Harper's street first and on the corner, they embrace one another tightly.
"Call me if you're not going to work," Jennifer says and Harper nods. "Are you okay?" She then asks. "There's something-"
"I'm okay," Harper manages to smile faintly. "Just tired."
That made Jennifer smile. "After your sex-a-thon?"
"Sex-a-thon?" Harper can't help but laugh.
"Black men might be more endowed, an urban legend by the way, but white men know how to use what they have," Jennifer laughs.
"Oh, god," Harper groans and laughs at the same time. "Good night, Jen."
"Good night," Jennifer is still laughing and they hug one another once more.
Once reaching her front door, Harper steps inside and immediately locks the door behind her again. She is in for the night. Nothing will get her out of this apartment until tomorrow morning when she leaves for work. In fact, unless it's to go to work, shop, or meet her mother, she is never leaving again. It's safer that way.
She kicks off her black ballet flats, not caring where they land, and she goes to the kitchen to put her dinner away in the refrigerator. She hopes her appetite returns tomorrow. She hopes no one ever finds out who she is. She hopes that this "scandal" quickly passes over and another celebrity does something to steal the headlines.
She hopes for so many things.
Her landline begins to ring just as she sinks back into her red overstuffed couch. She almost wants to ignore it but with a sigh, she leans over to the end table and picks it up. She doesn't recognize the number but hits the 'talk' button anyway. She isn't sure why.
"Hello?" She answers politely.
There is a pause, just a second of hesitation, and then, "Harper?"
"No way," she responds the instant she hears that voice; that accent. "How did you get my number?" She sits up, completely stiff. Her heart has stopped mid-beat and she almost feels as if she is holding her breath, her lungs already beginning to burn.
Did she fall asleep? Is she dreaming?
"I tracked you down," Marcus answers as if it is the most obvious answer. "Is there a back way to your house?" He then asks.
"What the hell are you talking about?" She nearly leaps to her feet.
"I have to see you," he is sounding so calm and she hates that he is. It is infuriating. Why is he calm and her heart feels as if it's lodged in her throat? "There was a car following me but I was able to lose them. I'm parked a couple of blocks away but just in case I'm still being watched, I was thinking the back door might be better than the front. I can sneak down the alley."
"Stop, Marcus," she shakes her head. "I'm not going to see you."
"I need you to. Please Harper," his voice is quieter now.
"No. I just want to forget everything. I never want to see you again," she goes to her front door, peeking out the peephole as if she expects him to be standing right there. Her heart drops from her throat to land back in her chest but now it's beating so quickly, it feels as if it's threatening to break through her ribcage.
"Please let me explain and then if you never want to see me again, I will respect that," Marcus says and she shakes her head.
No way. If she lets him into her house, who knows what will happen? She can't see him again. What if he really is being followed and they snap him coming here? They'll have her address. They'll have her name. They will have everything and everyone will know exactly who she is and there will be no hiding from all of this after that.
"I'm the third unit in, 217 ½," she hears herself answer.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING? She screams at herself.
"Thank you, Harper. Thank you," he sighs with relief and then the call ends.
"What the hell are you doing?" She demands of herself out loud.
She doesn't know what the hell she is thinking. She's clearly not thinking.
She begins turning off all of the lights though she has no idea why and she makes sure that the front door is still securely locked. The first floor is now dark and she goes into the kitchen to her back door that leads out to the alley and the trashcans. Her heart is hammering, beating so fast, it almost hurts. She wonders what a heart attack feels like. She is suddenly very happy she didn't eat any dinner. If she had, she is certain she would have thrown it up by now.
She holds her breath, standing in the dark kitchen, and she realizes she is still holding the portable phone, grasping it tightly to her chest. She sees a shadow and she almost leaps with fright. And then there is a soft tapping on the glass of the door.
"Harper!" Marcus hisses from the other side.
She reaches out with shaking fingers and turns the deadbolt. The knob turns and the door opens just wide enough for him to slip in. He closes and locks the door again and peeks out from behind the window blinds.
"No one saw me," he answers the question that is stuck on her tongue.
"You think," she whispers.
He turns to look at her and her throat closes up. He's wearing that stupid black ski cap on his head and dark blue jeans and a plain black tee-shirt. His cologne is overpowering and it storms into her nostrils. It's the same cologne she woke up to this morning, embedded into the white sheets of his bed.
He stares at her and he isn't saying anything and her heart is hurting her chest, still beating too fast and too erratic. She doesn't know how to stop it. She licks her lips nervously. The kitchen is small and narrow but she takes a step back, trying to put space between them. She is still clutching the phone.
"How did you find me?" She finally asks.
"I know a guy," Marcus answers. "He's discreet," he then adds. "I needed to see you."
"Why?" She whispers and the lights are all off but there is a light from the alley that pours throw the slit blinds that allows her just enough to see his face. Her stomach flips.
"I wanted to tell you that I'm taking care of those pictures. My manager and me, we're going to take care of everything. Don't worry," he stands there and is fiddling with his car keys in his hand and Harper notes that he appears to be almost as nervous as she is.
"Don't worry?" She shakes her head. "How can I not?"
"I just…" he stares at her and trails off and then shakes his head. "I'm sorry this happened. I'm not sorry about last night. Last night was amazing. You are amazing."
"Marcus," Harper tries to interrupt.
He won't let her and he takes a step towards her. The kitchen is too small and she steps back to maintain the same amount of distance between them. Her back collides with the counter-top behind her. He's staring at her and there is a relentless pull in her stomach.
"I can't get you out of my head," he says in a low voice, almost making her shiver.
But then she remembers and she glares at him, straightening her back and jutting her chin out in defiance. "You're engaged," she reminds him since he constantly seems to forget.
He stares at her, his eyes impenetrable into hers. "Amy is pregnant with a baby that isn't mine. We were engaged but when we broke up, we kept it very private. No one knew. When she found out she was pregnant… she's America's sweetheart and she's a good friend of mine. We've known each other since we could hardly pay our rent and ate nothing but Ramen noodles. I agreed to keep the engagement going."
Harper stares at him. He isn't lying. She isn't sure how she knows since she knows absolutely nothing about him but she's looking at him right now and she can just tell.
Amy Mullins, Hollywood's lead romantic-comedy actress, is pregnant. Amy and Marcus aren't really engaged. The baby isn't Marcus'. This is too much. Too many questions.
"I'm trusting you with that secret, Harper," Marcus then says.
"What are you going to do? Marry her and say the baby is yours?" She swallows. "It doesn't matter if you don't think you're technically engaged, Marcus. You are. The whole world thinks you are and in a few months, there is going to be a baby. This just makes what you and me did so much worse."
"Why?" He asks and there is almost a bite of frustration to his tone. "I am not engaged. Amy is not engaged. You are not engaged. None of us are attached to anyone and you and me are two adults who wanted one another. That is not a bad thing."
"Yes, it is!" She exclaims. "Don't you see? It doesn't matter, Marcus! It doesn't matter what happened last night or that I wanted you. Someone took pictures of you and me this morning and put them on the internet and now everyone thinks that you cheated and that I helped and I-"
"You wanted me. Do you still want me?" Marcus cuts in.
Her eyes widen and she loses all train of thought at his question. "What?" She sputters.
He stares at her, almost smiles, takes a step closer to her. There is nowhere for her to go. The counter behind her digs into her back.
"Do you still want me?" He asks again.
"No," she knows she answers too quickly.
"Harper," he says her voice in a low voice that makes her shiver.
"No," she says more firmly and one of her hands reaches out, pressing against his chest as if to push him away. He's warm and his chest is firm and she makes the mistake of staring back into his eyes. "Marcus…" she shakes her head. "You need to leave."
If he doesn't leave right now, she doesn't need to wonder what will happen. She already knows and that can't happen again.
She clenches her thighs together. She refuses to allow herself to think of last night and this morning in the shower. Was that truly just this morning?. Of his beard, his fingers, his lips, the way he stretched her…
"Harper," he whispers. "Do you want me to go? I'll go if that's what you want me to do."
She no longer has absolutely any control over her body. Her brain has revolted and is ignoring her and is running the show on its own without her permission.
"I can answer the question. I wanted you last night, I wanted you this morning, I can't stop thinking about you. I want you right now," Marcus' words make her body tighten.
Oh, no, she stares into his eyes. She is getting so turned on. She can't stop it. His warmth, his presence so close in front of her, his stupid hat and his words and his cologne, it's all too much. Far too much and yet, there's room for more. She wants so much more.
She's weak. She is almost disgusted with herself.
But then she drops the phone and she doesn't even hear it clatter to the phone and she can't think of anything else after that.
They move at the same time to meet the other and their bodies crash together with such force, it knocks her backwards into the counter again. His mouth finds her and they fuse together and Harper presses her body against his, matching the pressure of his lips with her own, her arms lifting to circle around his neck. Her fingers itch to touch him and she shoves that hat from his head and her nails tunnel through his short, buzzed hair, digging into his scalp. He doesn't care. He just groans and buries his hands in her hair and kisses her harder.
Marcus doesn't hesitate. His fingers find the button of her blue jeans, popping it open and then lowers the zipper. He is a desperate and his hands practically claw at the tight jeans. She gasps with surprise when he tugs them down to her knees and then grabbing the back of her thighs, he easily hoists her up, sitting her down onto the counter. He tugs the jeans off the rest of the way and throws them away, into the small dining room, as if their very existence offends him.
He comes back to stand between her knees now, his hands warm on the insides of her thighs, keeping her legs spread wide, and his mouth finds home on hers again. She kisses him with matching enthusiasm and he is so grateful for that. He thinks that maybe she hates him but at least she seems to want him. If she wants him now, maybe that will lead to something other than hate. Marcus hopes anyway. He hasn't been able to get her out of his head all day. He doesn't even know her and he feels as if she is driving him crazy.
He feels her nails scratch his scalp and she moans as his beard scratches her chin and upper lip and as her lips part, he takes it upon himself to thrust his tongue into her mouth. She moans again and her arms wrap around his shoulders, tightening, tugging on him. She wants him closer and he almost smiles against her mouth. She wants him as he wants her. She won't have to beg him for that. He will gladly give her just what she wants.
"Marcus," she pants heavily as he pries his lips away from hers just enough for them to breathe.
His lungs are burning and his heart is pounding and the room around him is spinning. He can't remember this ever happening to him just from kissing a woman. Her hands slide down his chest, rubbing down and then up, her fingers curling into the cotton of his tee-shirt. Without a word, he grabs the back of his shirt and tugs it off over his head, leaving his chest bare for her.
He stares at her, his chest heaving as he tries to breathe, watching as her hands almost hesitantly come to a rest on his bare chest, feeling his heated skin. Her black hair is tousled from his hands being buried in it and her lips are pink and swollen. She is so gorgeous. He is used to good looking women. He is always surrounded by them.
But Harper is breathtaking. He wants to tell her that. He wishes he could but he knows that if he did, she wouldn't believe him and it might possibly break whatever spell has befallen upon them right now.
Her hands are light and cold on his skin and he closes his eyes, swallowing, taking a moment to try and collect himself. His jeans are growing tighter and more uncomfortable and he wants to rip them off as he had done to hers. He wants to kiss her and bury himself inside of her again and listen to her moan in his ear as he takes her right here on her kitchen counter.
"Marcus," she whispers again. "Underwear…" her words are broken, breathless, and he watches as her hands brace on the counter and she lifts herself up just enough for Marcus to follow her instructions and he grabs hold of her panties – red cotton hipsters – and he slides them from her hips and down her legs. She almost shivers when she sits herself down on the counter, bare from the waist down. She smiles at him – an actual smile – and he is stunned for a moment. He remembers her laughing and smiling the night before. The upturned form of her mouth makes the corners of her eyes crinkle. "The counter is cold," she then explains and Marcus breaks into a grin.
"Do you want to move?" He asks. He wonders where her bedroom is. He wonders if she'll let him see it tonight – or any other night.
She shakes her head, reaching for him again. "Are you hard?" She asks instead.
He blows out a stream of air. That was a bit of an understatement.
"First…" he answers and then he stares at her face as he slowly lowers himself onto his knees on the floor in front of her.
She gasps, reaching for his shoulders. "Marcus…"
He pretends that he doesn't hear her and his hands hook behind her knees, spreading her legs apart. She bites her lip and her fingers glide over his head. He smiles to himself, moving in closer, closing his eyes. He is able to smell her and he remembers it from the night before. His mouth is watering for her and the knowledge that he is the only guy to ever do this to her, it gets him even harder. He wants to tell her that if she lets him, he will more than willingly do this whenever she wants it. He will only be too happy to do it.
If only she lets him.
The kitchen counter and then the hardwood floor of her living room and now, they are upstairs in her bedroom, rocking and rubbing and thrusting on top of the yellow bed sheets. Her legs are around his waist and his hips are moving steadily between her thighs, using just enough hard force between each thrust to have her cry out. Her hands slap down onto the bed on either side of her and her fingers grips sheets, holding on as he rides her.
Her entire body is boneless, her mind complete mush right, not capable of anything except feeling his body connected to hers in the most intimate way possible.
She has never felt like this before – with either of her two previous boyfriends. Before this, she honestly never understood what the big deal with sex was. It all just seemed so mechanic, in and out, in and out, a couple swirls and turns and bang, bam, done.
But this, with Marcus, are there even words for it? Is sex like this how it is for everyone?
She cries out, sharper, louder this time as he speeds up and then he touches her, her entire body exploding in response.
He isn't far behind and she is still trembling, tiny fires breaking out across her skin, hardly even noticing as he practically collapses on top of her. Their skin is sweaty, sticking together, and they are both heaving, desperately trying to breathe.
Harper feels his nose against her jaw, his mouth panting and exhaling against her neck, and she closes her eyes, the aftermath of her orgasm slowly fading away and she suddenly feels cold. He is heavy on top of her and she can't move. She can probably push him away or tell him to move but she stays pinned to the bed and she blinks upwards, staring at the ceiling.
She can't believe that she just did this. Again. Three times.
A wave of nausea and regret threatens to bubble up her throat.
She closes her eyes and tries to swallow. She doesn't know what's wrong with her. Why did she do this? She hated herself so much this morning for doing this and now, at the end of the day, she's doing the exact same thing and she hates herself all over again.
It doesn't matter what he told her in the kitchen. In his mind, he might not be engaged but she still didn't know. Is he going to marry Amy anyway? There is going to be a baby and it might not be his but the world will assume it is. This is too complicated and messy and why is she doing this? Why did she let him inside in the first place?
Marcus lifts his head, his nose nuzzling against her cheek. "Are you okay?" He asks her softly, gently, and she keeps her eyes closed. She can't bear to look at him right now.
She shakes her head. "No," she whispers.
A/N: Please review if you took the time to read! Thank you!