From his seat, James could see the majority of the club. Most people danced in spurts, stopping often to refuel at the bar and mingle with friends. But there was one person who stood out. She moved to the music as if she couldn’t resist. As if nothing else mattered. He could tell she wasn’t there to socialize. She was there to dance. What would it be like to be that free? Everything he did was carefully measured, perfectly planned, and judged by everyone.
Undergraduate school, graduate school, and a teaching assistant position. Nine years of work had gotten him the job he always wanted and, in a few weeks, he would start teaching at Bowman State University in sunny Southern California.
Preparing for the upcoming semester took most of his time, but he set aside the weekends to unwind, which is how he ended up at Addiction on Saturday night. Far enough away from the university to avoid anyone he might know, he sat at the bar and sipped his gin and tonic while he watched her.
When she left at the end of the night, he left too. He hadn’t planned on staying that long, but she held him there. When he returned the following Saturday, the minutes passed slowly as he waited for her to appear. Seeing her again would be the highlight of his week. He didn’t know her name or where she learned to move like that. All he knew was that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Finally, she arrived.
Before heading to the dance floor, she stood at the other end of the bar and ordered a drink. Her friend said something and she laughed loud enough that he could feel it and it made him smile. At that moment she made eye contact with him. It was only for a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity. Somehow, in that crazy, noisy place, they connected. But just as quickly as it began, the connection ended when she blushed and looked away.
That was all it took. Week after week, he returned, waiting for another shared moment with her. There were plenty of nights where he almost talked to her but couldn’t muster the courage to do it. Watching from his spot at the bar was safer. Was it just his imagination, or was she watching him, too? After another night of observing from a distance, she sauntered up to him and smiled and he knew it was his chance.
She slid onto the stool to his left and turned toward him.
Now or never. “Do you come here often?” Even as the words left his mouth he knew how lame they sounded. “Sorry, that was stupid. I’m a bit rusty.”
The woman laughed and her blue eyes lit up. Before that moment, he couldn’t figure out what color they were because she’d never been close enough for him to tell.
“Why don’t I try?” She held out her hand. “I’m Kate.”
“James.” As he took her hand, a spark of electricity shot up his arm and she seemed to feel it, too. Neither of them made an attempt to pull away. “You look familiar.”
“I get that a lot. I work at a couple of restaurants near Capistrano Beach.” As she spoke she brushed her dark hair off her forehead and tucked it behind her ear. His gaze lingered on the lone strand of hair still out of place. It looked soft and he couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like running through his own fingers.
Snapping out of it in time to respond, he said, “Maybe that’s why.” Although he’d sampled most of the local cuisine, it didn’t seem to be the reason he knew her face.
“Are you here alone?”
After a quick nod, he said, “You?”
“I’m with my friend, Meg, over there.” As Kate pointed, Meg signaled for her to return. Kate held up her finger. “She’s ready to go.”
Kate pulled her hand away and stood next to him. “I’ll be here next Saturday. In case you wanted to know. I get off work at eleven.”
“Eleven,” he repeated, smiling.
* * * *
“What’s the plan?” Meg asked.
“I’m going to talk to him and get a feel for what he’s after,” Kate said.
“What are you after?”
“Sex. Maybe more. He seems like a nice guy, he might make a good boyfriend. But definitely sex. It’s been too long.”
“Sex is always good. Be safe.”
“Always.” The best part about going out together was that they had each other to ensure safety. “Will you give me feedback?” Kate could count on her best friend to be brutally honest and trusted her instincts implicitly.
When they walked into the club, Kate nodded toward the bar. “That’s him.”
Meg rubbed her hands together. “Let the feedback begin.”
As they approached, James stood and smoothed his shirt, drawing Kate’s eyes to the way the material hugged his lean, muscular body.
“You’re here. With your friend.” He couldn’t seem to hide his disappointment.
“Don’t worry, buddy. I’m not going to interfere. Much.” Meg smiled. “How old are you?”
“Do you have a personalized license plate?”
“No. Those are stupid.”
“Three for three,” she said to Kate. “You may proceed.” When she pulled her friend into a hug she whispered, “If you need me, give me the signal.”
“Thanks.” After they parted, Kate smiled at James. “Sorry, just following protocol.”
“Did she just vet me?”
“And I passed?” Worry creased his forehead.
“With flying colors. Always nice to have a second opinion.”
James relaxed. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“That would be nice. Lemon drop, please.”
While he ordered, she took the opportunity to get a better look at him up close. Last week she’d been focused on his dark brown eyes and hadn’t paid much attention to his short hair which was the color of raw chocolate, the same as his stubbly beard. His lips were gumball pink and looked soft and perfectly kissable. She realized a second too late he was talking to her. “What?”
“Your drink,” he said and offered it to her.
“Thank you.” She took a sip, closing her eyes as the alcohol slid down her throat, burning in the most delicious way. A hint of sweet and sour clung to her lips when she licked them. “Yum.”
“Mm-hmm,” he hummed, but he didn’t seem to be paying attention. His eyes had glazed over and were unfocused.
“Do you live around here?”
James blinked and nodded. “Not far. You?”
“Close enough. Meg and I have been coming here for a year. The music is great.” Time to kick her plan into motion. She took another long swallow to help steady her nerves. “Speaking of, would you like to dance with me?”
“I’m not, um, really—”
“Come on, it’ll be fun.” To give extra encouragement, she stuck out her bottom lip and pouted. “Please?”
With one eyebrow raised, he studied her for a moment. The anticipation was killing her.
“Sure,” he said with a smile.
That was her cue to finish her drink and hold out her hand. “Shall we?”
When they touched, she felt the same tingle of electricity pass between them. She’d been waiting all week to touch him again, and regret filled her when they reached the dance floor and she let go.
The music blurred into a never-ending loop of driving beats and pulsing electronica, moving them closer, but never quite touching until, by accident, Kate bumped into James. When she mouthed, “Sorry,” he smiled and shrugged. While they were still touching, Kate started dancing again. That time, James danced with her. Their hands moved independently, but their legs rubbed together. They didn’t talk. They just danced.
At the end of the night, they made plans to meet the following Saturday. Before leaving, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek, warming her entire body. She wondered if he could feel it, too. “See you next week.” Kate was already looking forward to it.
* * * *
The next night, James stood next to his brother, washing dishes just like they always did after Sunday dinner. “Kate is so beautiful.”
“You mentioned,” David said, taking the clean pot out of his brother’s hands and drying it. “You’re sure she’s coming back?”
“We planned on meeting.” James stared out the window and smiled. Kate wanted to see him. Maybe they would get to dance again. Or better yet, maybe she would kiss him again. Her soft lips were enough to turn him into a pile of goo.
“What’s the plan after that? Are you hooking up, or what?”
James shrugged. “I don’t know. You’re the one who told me to go out. I’m in uncharted territory.” Going to a club to pick up women wasn’t exactly his style.
David checked over his shoulder, probably making sure his wife was out of earshot. “Let me educate you. You meet someone, you buy them a drink, you ask them if they want to have sex, you have sex. End of story.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“Yes, it is. How do you think I met Heather?” David nodded toward the front room.
“I’m not as charming as you are.” Since they were kids, his brother had always known how to talk to girls. Confidence had always been easy for David.
“That’s for damn sure, but you’ll manage.”
James turned the water off, faced his brother, and handed him the last pan. “You’re a dick.”
“Also true. Take it from me. She’s interested in you. I don’t know why, but she is.”
“Hey,” James protested.
“What you need to do is go to the store and buy yourself a box of condoms. Just in case. Then, next Sunday when you come over for dinner, you can tell me I was right and you were wrong. That I’m a genius and you’re a dummy.”
* * * *
Finally, Saturday arrived. Too impatient to wait, James arrived at Addiction early and sat at the bar. While he waited, he sipped gin and tonic and shredded one napkin after another. By eleven, he had calmed his nerves enough to relax. And then Kate showed up wearing an impossibly small tank top that hugged her breasts and exposed her lean stomach. Paired with skin-tight jeans, it was enough to turn his brain to mush.
James smiled but words wouldn’t form.
Kate frowned. “Are you okay?”
“I’m happy to see you,” he said eventually.
“Same here. How was your week?”
“Okay.” What was there to tell about writing lessons, reviewing tenure requirements, and going over his class rosters for the hundredth time? “How about yours?”
“Long. I worked seventy hours again. I’m ready for a break.”
“Wow. Do you need a drink?”
She shook her head and smiled. “Will you dance with me?”
“I’d love to.” That time, he didn’t hesitate to join her. When he took her hand, heat burned through his fingers and up his arm. The reacquaintance period passed quickly, giving rise to a familiar rhythm, the one they established last time. But it wasn’t enough. “Is Meg here?” Talking was the perfect excuse to get closer. In order for her to hear over the music, he had to nearly touch his mouth to her ear. He was close enough to kiss her.
Kate nodded and pointed to an area across the room and then waved at her friend. Standing on her tip-toes she leaned up and said, “I’m glad you came.” She wrapped her arms around his neck.
“I’ve been thinking about you.” Only a few inches separated their bodies, and slowly but surely, he placed his hands on her hips and closed the gap.
“Me too.” Her warm breath caressed the side of his face and then she kissed him. Not on his cheek that time. On his lips. Soft and sweet.
When he opened his mouth, she moaned and thrust her tongue inside. He tightened his grasp on her body and shuddered when she rubbed against his straining dick.
“Fuck,” he whispered as he caressed her exposed back.
Kate looked into his face, breathing heavily. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips were swollen.
He wanted her more than anything in the world. “Do you want to go somewhere a little more private?”
She took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes. I’m going to tell Meg I’m leaving with you.” Instead of walking away, she laced her fingers through his and dragged him across the room.
Unable to hear the conversation between Kate and Meg, he stood there, waiting. It was obvious they looked out for each other and for the second time, Meg must’ve given her approval because she was smiling when they left.
Once they were outside, James led the way to his car and unlocked the passenger door. When he turned around, Kate kissed him again. He gripped her ass and pulled her firmly against his body. They both moaned.
“This isn’t much better.” Kate panted as she looked around the crowded parking lot.
“Right. Sorry. Let’s get out of here.” James ushered her into the car and then slid into the seat next to her. “My apartment isn’t too far.”
In the twenty minutes it took him to get home, a dull ache had settled inside him. Want had turned into need. When he pulled into his parking spot, he turned the car off and looked at her. “Would you like to come up?”
“Yes, please,” she said and got out.
They held hands as they walked up the stairs and kissed as they rounded the second flight. When he pulled away to breathe he tugged her up the last flight and pointed to his door. “We should go inside.”
“Yes, we should.”
A ball of excitement and nerves made his hands shake as he unlocked the door. “Here we are,” he said as he stepped inside and flicked the lights on.
Kate closed the door behind her. “Here we are.”
* * * *
“You were right. You’re a genius.” James couldn’t stop smiling. Waiting to tell David until after dinner nearly killed him, but he didn’t want to talk about Kate in front of Heather.
“And?” David said.
“I was wrong and I’m a dummy.”
“I’m glad you can finally admit it. What happened last night? Did she show up?”
James nodded. “We danced, we kissed, we went back to my place.”
“Your apartment is a dump.” David rolled up the towel he had been using and whipped James with it.
“No, it’s not,” James gripped the sprayer and gave his brother a quick squirt of water. “You helped me move in last month.”
“Yes, it is. What kind of self-respecting professor lives across the street from the dorms? Those apartments are practically student housing. Besides, you don’t even have a couch.”
“We didn’t need a couch. I have a bed.” Tingles spread across his body at the thought of just how much they had used his bed.
David smiled. “It’s about damn time. Are you going to see her again?”
“Yes. I got her number.”
“Give it a few days before you call.” David laughed. “Be cool, man.”
“Be cool about what?” Heather asked from the doorway, their son Miles on her hip.
David wiggled his eyebrows up and down. “James and Kate hooked up. He likes her. A lot.”
Heather ran across the kitchen and hugged James, making Miles giggle as she jostled him. “That’s great. When do we get to meet her?”
“What the hell’s wrong with you? He just met her.” David shook his head.
“You told her about Kate?” The whole reason he’d been so careful about when he talked to his brother was to avoid conversations with Heather. She was forever trying to set him up on blind dates.
“Of course, he told me.” Heather shrugged. “There’s no harm in pursuing a person if you like them. Call her, James. Don’t wait. Call her and tell her you want to see her again.”
“Thanks, Heather. I will.” He liked her advice more than his brother’s, so he stuck his tongue out at him.
“How old is she anyway?” David asked.
James shrugged. “I don’t know, early twenties.”
David snorted. “Can’t find anyone your own age? Gotta prey on the young?”
“She’s not that much younger than me. Unless you forgot, I just turned twenty-eight. You make me sound like a perv.” James scowled at his brother.
“If the shoe fits.”
“Boys, play nice,” Heather called over her shoulder as she left to put Miles to bed.
“Seriously though, I’m glad you met someone. It’s about time you got over Tina.”
James exhaled. “Tina was something.” It was only in the last year James could say her name out loud without seething.
“Yeah, something bad. You didn’t deserve what she did to you. You know that, right?” David frowned. “They’re not all like her. I think taking Kate home was just what you needed.”
“I want to see her again.”
“I know, but you have to be cool. If she knows how pathetic you are, you’ll never get the chance to bang her again.”
James scoffed. “You’re the worst. Remind me to stop talking to you about relationships.”
The truth was James was envious of his brother’s life. Not the part where David took over the family business running a construction company. James had that opportunity too, and the day he passed it up for graduate school was the day his father stopped being civil to him. James worked for Baker Construction plenty of summers as a teenager and had no desire to deal with lumberyards or contractors for the rest of his life. For as long as he could remember he wanted to be a professor, and he sacrificed a lot to make it happen. While James spent the last six years working on his Ph.D., his little brother got married, learned how to run a business, and had a kid. It seemed like no matter how hard James worked, he never got to the point where he got the whole package, and every time he saw his brother with his family, he knew wanted it too.
* * * *
Early Monday morning James rode his bike to Hatch Hall, which housed the offices of the College of Science faculty at Bowman State University. After tucking his bike against the wall in his office, he changed into a fresh shirt and visited the bathroom to fix his helmet hair. His first day was about to begin.
The department chair, Lloyd Moore, had been kind when he created James’s schedule, allowing him time to adjust to the demands of his new teaching position. Introductory chemistry and biochemistry were his two main classes, and Lloyd padded the rest of his teaching credits with independent student research and thesis advising, both of which only had one student each.
Despite his relatively light load, his stomach churned as he faced a hundred students in his intro class. Student teaching hadn’t prepared him for this, these were hisstudents. The lecture hall sloped up and away from the projection board behind him, and even though he practiced last week, he couldn’t get his laptop to sync with the equipment, so he ended up reading off of his computer screen. By the end of the hour, he had lost the attention of the students in the back rows, who were talking almost as loudly as he was.
As he ate his lunch alone in his office, he flipped through the Tenure Requirements package again. A knock on his office door pulled him away from the papers.
Lloyd walked in. “Doing a bit of light reading?”
James smiled around a mouthful of sandwich.
“Once you get settled, we’ll get you on the right track for tenure.” Lloyd frowned as he glanced around James’s disheveled office.
James swallowed hard, forcing the piece of sandwich down. His desk was covered with books and lab manuals. Even though the semester had started, he was still putting his classes together. “How am I supposed to think about next semester?”
“It would serve you well to start thinking about how to stay on track. Excellence in teaching is only part of the requirements. I know from your teaching assistant position at UC Santa Barbara, you are no stranger to lab work, and I would like to make sure you have every opportunity to work on something meaningful here. Undergraduate research is a wonderful way to get your name on publications.”
James nodded. “I was going to ask about lab space.”
“You’ll have to write grants for supplies and instruments if we don’t have them already, but space is not an issue. We have a research lab in the basement where Alice and Sam are currently working on projects with students.” Lloyd smiled and the wrinkles around his eyes deepened. “Sam is attending an undergraduate symposium in the spring, where he and two students are going to present their research.”
James sighed. The information wasn’t new to him. It was just another thing that made his head pound. Managing teaching and grading was enough to keep him busy every waking moment. Adding research and student symposiums to the mix would probably kill him.
“And of course,” Lloyd went on, “we’ll be sure to get you on the right committees. Being a tenured professor for Bowman State requires a certain amount of commitment. We need to know you’ll be around for the long haul before we invest in your future.” He nodded and his silver hair didn’t move an inch. “It’s all about give and take and making sure we’re a good fit for you.”
So far, the folder designed to hold his tenure package held his curriculum vitae and the Tenure Requirements document. Before he turned forty, this folder should be filled with syllabi, teaching evaluation data, awards he’d won, research publications, conference presentations, grants he’d been awarded, student research projects he’d supervised, committees he’d served on, letters from students and colleagues pointing out how great he was, and above all else, the statement, which would make his case for tenure. That was going to be the hardest part of all. When he wrote it, he planned to use excerpts from others to make his case. Now he just needed to start building relationships within the college so someone would say good things about him.
He skimmed through the pages in the packet without seeing them. How was he going to do any of those things, especially after the disaster with the projector this morning? If he couldn’t manage to connect an HDMI cable properly, how was he supposed to attend conferences and give presentations on research?
“I won’t disappoint you, Lloyd.” James shook Lloyd’s hand and hoped he was right.
* * * *
With her head still in the clouds, Kate doodled in the margin of her notebook. The majors’ room was filled with students, but she’d still managed to grab a table in the corner. When her friend Tim came in, they hugged briefly.
“Are those hearts?” He asked as he sat across from her.
“What? No.” Kate scribbled across the picture. She’d been thinking of James. Again. Maybe she hadbeen drawing hearts. If Meg saw, she’d never let her live it down.
“How was your summer?”
“The best. I met someone.”
Kate lowered her voice and leaned across the table. “We had the most amazing sex. Normally, it’s so awkward the first time. Not with him. He was so—”
“Hot?” Tim said.
“For sure.” The thought of his hands and mouth on her body was enough to turn up her internal thermostat. “Meg told me to wait to call him. She took my phone and wouldn’t let me call him yesterday.”
“Definitely wait. Make him come to you. You don’t want to seem desperate, do you?”
“I am desperate. I can’t stop thinking about him. I’m going to call him after school today.”
Tim rolled his eyes. “Fine. Do what you want, but don’t come crying to me when he doesn’t answer.”
* * * *
Despite his less than smooth start that morning, James was looking forward to his biochemistry class. It only had fourteen students, most of which were majors. Better yet, he didn’t need to use his computer so he wouldn’t have to deal with connectivity issues. Perhaps he would find someone to start a research project with so he would be “on the right track” for tenure. Lloyd would be thrilled.
The classroom itself was much smaller, which did wonders for his nerves. “Welcome to Biochemistry 3630, my name is Dr. Baker.” Calling himself doctor gave him a thrill he didn’t think would wear off any time soon. He wrote his name and the class number on the whiteboard and turned toward the small group.
His face froze as his gaze fell on the dark-haired woman in the front row. Everything that happened Saturday came back in a rush. Longing got mixed with shame and ruined everything. No wonder Kate’s face had looked vaguely familiar: she was his student. Fuck my life.