chapter 4

I hadn’t had a massage in four weeks. My last one was of course the super-fail given by Edward the Grocery God.

I felt like a jack-in-the-box, ready to jump out and scare anyone who turned my crank too long or at the right (read: wrong) time.

My new Friday afternoon constitutional was working overtime.

I already worked overtime Monday through Thursday, so it wasn’t new as much as unwelcome, but I try to stay positive, and “new” always has a positive spin.

Unless it’s “my new syphilis.” I suppose there’s nothing positive about that.

I spent my fourth Saturday, sans massage, in bed all day. By Sunday morning I realized that, unless I wanted to live on covert fast food, I’d have to get thee to a grocery store.

I had been avoiding going on Sundays, because that’s when I’d seen Edward, but I couldn’t wait. I had no food whatsoever. I had to risk it.

Still, I hung around my apartment, wearing the same bed pants and t-shirt I’d worn all week (I did change my socks and underwear daily, thank you). I read and watched Stargate reruns on Syfy, putting off the inevitable, scavenging on stale saltine crackers, bouillon and for dessert, slathering the last of the crumbly crackers in butter and dipping them in sugar. Finally, after I crunched on the last cracker in the packet, and heard my stomach rumble in response to the nothing I’d fed it all day, I dragged myself into my closet for something to wear.

Starving as I wandered the aisles, I vaguely wondered how I was going to carry a cart full of groceries home by myself, let alone fit them in a single cloth bag, large though it was.

I decided to focus more on lightness and minimal packaging, which made me feel earth-conscious. I smiled. Of course, I still avoided the outer aisles like the plague. Why get veggies that are only going to rot before you figure out what to do with them?

I was judging the weight of a large bag of generic cereal in my hands, when I heard that voice behind me: “Ms. Swan!”

I must have squeezed the thing a little too hard in my panic, because it busted, sending crunchy chocolatey bits all over the place. I pulled a stray piece from my hair and smiled wryly at Edward, my former masseuse and current jack-off fantasy.

“Shit! I’m so sorry!” he said.

“S’OK!” I said, my voice climbing to heights of hysterical intensity.

“Let me help,” he said, and was immediately on his knees, at my feet, picking up handfuls of sugary cereal.

I wondered how much he could carry in his, mmnf, strong arms, but I was interrupted from my musing by a rolling bucket and a mop attached to a short, rotund hippy-kid. This one (fortunately) did not smell.

“I got this,” he said, and Edward smiled up at him with thanks, dumping what little cereal he scooped up into the bucket.

“Wouldn’t a broom be more efficient?” I asked.

“Well, I’ll have to mop anyway, so I just thought…”

“Uh-huh. OK. You have fun with that, then,” I said. “Oh, and so sorry for the mess.”

I walked away and was grabbed—yes grabbed—by the arm.

I spun on my attacker, planning to assault him with verbal venom.

But it was Edward.

So I just stared at him, trying not to undress him with my eyes.

Mouth!

I closed it subtly.

“Hey, you left your cart by the cereal.”

He was dragging it behind him. I noticed he’d already put his own basket in the child seat.

Um…

“So, I have an idea: how about I push, and we shop together?” he said.

Oh, fuck. You aren’t ready for this, Swan! You didn’t put any makeup on or even brush your hair!

I put my hand up to the top of my head to smooth the bumps I just knew were there from the too fast ponytail I’dthrown together at the last minute.

I came away with another piece of cereal.

“You’ve got more,” he said…grinning.

Then he picked through my hair like a monkey.

In the fucking store.

Right there, between the dog food and the baby formula.

I finally took my eyes away from his, which seemed to be very interested in finding more food hidden in my locks (the cereal was a similar color, after all), and looked down at his hand.

He had a good mouthful already.

“Saving up for winter?” I joked.

“What?” he said.

“Oh…uh…nothing,”

Lame! You are fucking LAME! I hate you!

“Oh! That’s funny!” He said. His laugh was clearly not one of mirth, but of pity.

I rolled my eyes.

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Pity laugh me!”

He laughed for real that time.

“Sorry. It would have been funny if I’d gotten it when you said it. Have you ever noticed that things aren’t as funny when the timing is off?”

Then, he was looking for a trash can.

“You could throw them in that bucket.”

“Good call,” he said and ran over to the kid who was still struggling with the wrong equipment.

“There, so…um, where were we?” he asked, as though we’d just been making out or something equally sexy.

Or maybe it was just me.

“Shopping?”

“Right!”

Then he smiled at me and started proprietarily pushing my cart.

“You know, I’m letting you push. Don’t go thinking it’s some male “tree pissing” thing.”

“Uh-huh,” he said.

I felt self-conscious about everything I put in the cart, now. I grabbed soy milk instead of cow. I wondered aloud which was better: half soy, half cow yogurt or one hundred percent soy.

“Try the Greek,” he said.

“Really?” I asked. I don’t even eat yogurt.

“It’s my favorite, especially with honey.”

“Honey,” I said, my mind going to a fantasy with him naked and me with a pot of honey, and then him covered…no, wait, I should be covered in honey so he could lick it off of me, and then I’d put a generous amount right—

“Hey,” he said.

“Yeah!” I replied, making my eyes big, as if I’d just been caught sleeping in class.

“Where were you?”

“Uh…” I looked around, “Dairy?”

“Right…you’re a dreamer, Ms. Swan,” he said.

“Hey, um, can you just, I don’t know, drop the Ms. altogether?”

“Sure! What’s your first name?”

Fuck. No one calls me by my first name. Except my parents. I happen to have a name that’s almost as fuck-stupid as his.

“Just call me Swan,” I said, walking away to get a loaf of bread…and some honey.

He was right next to me before I could get far.

“Gee, you’re fast,” I said.

“Meh, I don’t have to be,” he said.

Was that a…?

Nah.

“So what’s your first name?” He asked again, studying the labels on the artisan bread.

“Persistent, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Yep. What’s your first name?”

I sighed like a teenager with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and mumbled, “Zuhbelluh”

“Say what?”

I sighed again. “It’s stupid. It doesn’t even fit me! I’m clearly Anglo-Saxon, I should have a strong…English name like…I don’t know, something English-y.”

“So what is your non-English-y name, Ms. Swan?”

“Fuck you, Edward.”

“OK, but I still want to know your name, first.”

Oh. Do we have flirting, now?

Was that flirting that just transpired?

I smiled and fucking blushed and rolled my eyes and he grinned at me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Damn it! You’re shoulders are tight! When was the last time you got worked on?”

“Uh…Isabella, my name’s Isabella,” I said, moving away from his sexy hands, desperately trying to get us back on track.

“Well, nice to meet you. I’m Edward, but my friends call me Ed. What do your friends call you?” he asked slowly and deliberately, as if I were foreign exchange student.

Oh, and I don’t have any friends.

But I decided not to mention that.

Instead, I told him what all my co-workers call me, “Swan.”

“Cute. So you weren’t, like, trying to keep me at a distance by asking me to call you by your last name?”

Of course I was.

“No.”

“Good. Now, Swan, let’s get checked out so I can work on your tight-muscles situation.”

“What?”

“Um, we in the business call it a massage.”

“No, I know,” I said, rolling my eyes, “but I didn’t ask for…your…um…masseusing services,” I hissed the last part, as though we were discussing something illicit.

“Are you kidding?” he asked.

“What?”

“I’m a massage therapist,” he said. “A masseuse is an antiquated term for a female massage therapist…a male is a masseur—but don’t call me that.”

“Don’t call you a…masseur?” I asked, grinning.

He blushed then growled. “You…why do you do this?”

“I don’t know…why did you call me Miss Swan?”

“I don’t know. I guess I never thought about it,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Fine,” he said. Then, he smirked and touched my shoulder again, this time where it met my neck. I shivered when he gave it a subtle squeeze. “Don’t think of it as a client-slash-professional thing, just a friend-slash-friend thing. I like you. Will you be my friend? Let me straighten you out?”

I stared at his Frown and Puppy Dog Eyes Double Whammy of Guilt.

People passed by with carts and children, chatting away, enjoying their Sunday evening shopping.

But I didn’t see any of them.

All I saw were cat eyes, morphing into a look burning with intensity, set in the face of a man who just asked me to be his…friend.

Fuck, this will go nowhere good.

Once a friend, never a lover…or some other such nonsense.

“I don’t know, Ed,” I said, trying to communicate that I wanted him to like me—see above, re use of Ed—but also wanting to, somehow, communicate that I did not want to just be friends.

Hm, on second thought, perhaps I could settle for fuck buddy.

And his word vomit seemed to be in better regulation this evening than mine was…

Perhaps he was just nervous at his job.

Yeah, that made sense.

Wait, he’s talking again.

“—and that’s when I decided, I’m never eating that shit, ever, ever again.”

“Oh,” I said, hoping he was talking about food and not female sex organs.

That came out wrong.

“What about you? Do you eat anything with bromated flour?”

What the fuck was that? Flour…flour…bread?

I stared down at the loaf in my hand.

“What am I thinking? You shop here! Of course you don’t! C’mon! Let’s get you some honey and get out of here.”

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