Free Fall Ch. 02

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“Are you coming to the flea market with us this morning, Zoe?”

My grandfather put his newspaper down and looked at me. He was still in his robe, his short grey hair a little mussed from bed. He gave me an affectionate smile.

“No, not this week.” I tried to sound casual, but my heart jumped a little. “I’m going to the zoo with Nico and Lena.”

“Oh, that sounds fun,” my grandfather said. “We haven’t been to the zoo in years. Not since you were little.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s been a long time. I know they built that new polar bear exhibit a few years ago, I’m looking forward to seeing that.” I ran my eyes over the crossword clues, not really reading any of them.

My grandmother put down her section of the paper and said, “Just the three of you? The boys aren’t coming?”

My grandmother was too smart. I didn’t even have to look, I could hear it in her voice; she knew.

“They’re at a birthday party, so, yeah, just us.” I was still going for casual. I was pretty sure I was failing. I looked up to find her watching me, one of her eyebrows arched just a little. She knew me too well.

All she said was, “That sounds nice,” but her eyebrow and the length of time she watched me said she knew there was more to the story.

I felt like I was lying, although I hadn’t made anything up. Nico and I really were taking Lena to the zoo, and Rose really was taking Jack and Will to a birthday party. The facts were correct, I just hadn’t mentioned how excited I was about spending the whole day with just Nico and Lena. I hadn’t mentioned my nervous excitement or my hope that he’d kiss me once or twice before the day was through.

I hated feeling sneaky, but this thing with Nico had just happened, I didn’t even really know what the thing was. Less than 48 hours ago he’d kissed me for the first time. Things had escalated pretty quickly after that kiss, and I came home at midnight, disheveled and blissful, having just had the most incredible sex of my life. Granted, my life had only spanned 22 years so far, and only 4 of those years had contained sex of any kind, but what had happened with Nico was in a completely different emotional league from anything that had happened in college.

“We’re going to get an early start,” my grandfather said, picking up the thread of our conversation. He obviously hadn’t noticed anything noteworthy in my reply to his question like my grandmother had. “Try to beat the crowds. In fact, I should go get a shower.”

I tried not to show my relief, but I realized they wouldn’t be at the house when Nico came to pick me up. I’d been kind of dreading that, and especially after seeing my grandmother’s shrewd expression, I was relieved I wouldn’t have to deal with the guilt in the moment.

My grandparents knew Nico, and they had great respect for him as an artist, a craftsman, and as a person. He’d done a beautiful job with the design and installation of their patio, and he’d impressed them with his polite manner and modesty. They really liked him, but he was probably not their first pick for a boyfriend for me. The gap of 14 years between our ages would no doubt be a concern to them both.

If Nico and I started dating for real, I would have to tell them, of course, and face whatever disapproval they might have. But for now, I was glad for the reprieve; I was really looking forward to enjoying the day.

//

It took me a whole hour to get dressed. It was going to be a hot August day, and the majority of the zoo visit would be spent in the sun walking around, so I needed something cool that wouldn’t look awful once I got sweaty and tired. I knew Nico had already seen me sweaty and tired—it was pretty much how I always looked when I saw him thanks to an unusually hot summer and the lack of air conditioning in Rose’s house—so he probably wouldn’t care, but I cared. I wanted to look good for our first date.

I settled on a simple floral sundress in white, blue and green. It had thin straps, a fitted bodice, and a flared skirt that stopped a few inches above my knees. It was cute, but still practical for a whole day of walking, looked fine with my white keds, and still showed off quite a bit of skin. I put my red hair up in a loose ponytail, pleased with the strands that hung loose at the nape of my neck—just a little sexy, but not overdone.

I heard the rumble of Nico’s truck when he pulled up and my heart raced a little. From the kitchen window, I saw Lena dart across the yard, and then Nico followed behind. I greeted the enthusiastic five year old first, letting her into the house and leaning down to give her a hug. Her excitement was unrestrained and she babbled excitedly for a few minutes about the animals she wanted to see.

“We checked the website before we came,” Nico explained once she’d stopped. “For the zoo’s hours, but then we looked at the exhibits, too. So, we’re a little excited.”

“Good,” I said. “Me, too. I can’t wait.”

I locked the door behind me and followed Nico bahis firmaları across the patio he’d installed. He turned once he’d reached the path to wait for me, and the sun lit up every silver hair on his curly brown head. He smiled and it almost took my breath away, that smile.

The first time I’d seen him in anything but work clothes was two days ago, on the Friday night we’d spent together. He’d looked so sexy in just a clean t-shirt and jeans, but this Nico was even sexier. He wore a short-sleeved cream colored button shirt, untucked over jeans, and pair of black, flat-soled sneakers. The white shirt looked great on his bare olive-brown arms, and was loose enough in the collar I could just see some chest hair peeking out. My body responded with a pleasant flush of arousal. Already.

The drive was more than an hour, but the time went fast. We got the zoo just as it opened and joined the crowd of families at the gate. I got such a thrill knowing anyone who looked at us would just see a couple and their daughter out for the day; that was definitely the fantasy I was entertaining.

It was sunny, hot, and humid, and I should have been exhausted, but while I was hot, the heat I felt wasn’t from the weather, it was from the low buzz of arousal I felt throughout my whole body. All it took was being with Nico, catching his eye from time to time, and seeing him with his daughter, to turn me on. I didn’t feel the heat at all; I was too busy falling in love.

I wasn’t sure how open he wanted to be in front of Lena, so I let him take the lead. He was the one who took my hand, and then he was the one who kissed me. Once, after we’d ducked into a shady spot to get a better view of the kangaroos—just a quick brush of his lips across my cheek—and then again later in the day while we were watching Lena playing in one of the little playgrounds in the park, he moved behind me and slid both hands to my waist, bent and pressed a soft kiss just behind my ear. It lasted all of a second, but I felt pleasure zing from all the points of contact down through my body and right between my legs.

We ate a late lunch at the overpriced snack bar, and then got ice cream and sat on a bench in some shade to eat it. Lena sat on my lap, and I could tell by the way she leaned back against me she was tired.

“We’ve only got a few more exhibits left,” Nico said. He was studying the park map. I was studying his profile, especially the curves of his mouth. He smiled when he turned to look at me and found me staring. “Are you too tired to keep going?”

“No, I think I can make it.” I was tired now that we’d sat down, but I was in no hurry to end our day together. I glanced down at Lena who had a glazed expression on her face. “I think someone might need to be carried, though.”

After we’d cleaned up, Nico put Lena on his shoulders and took my hand. We walked the rest of the zoo at a leisurely pace, my head swimming a little from the familial picture we presented. I was tired and hot, but happy, so happy. From the way Nico looked at me as we walked the gravel paths, and the smile on his face, I guessed he was feeling something similar.

We lasted another hour. By the end of that hour my feet were starting to hurt and I longed to sit down for real. Lena was so sleepy she didn’t even ask for anything from the the gift shop as we walked through, she just sat on her dad’s shoulders as we made our way to the park’s exit. Nico, who was used to working hard and functioning on not enough sleep seemed unaffected by the heat or miles we’d walked. He also looked a lot less disheveled than he did when he got home from work. No less attractive, I noted, and wondered to myself if I could ever find him even a little unattractive.

Nico got Lena in her car seat and buckled her in. She was old enough to do it herself, and usually insisted on autonomy, but she was far too sleepy to do anything but relax into the seat. I climbed in and turned around in time to see Nico plant a kiss on her cheek.

“You look worn out” I said. “Did you have fun?”

She nodded sleepily, but smiled.

Nico started the truck and I fiddled with the air conditioning, pointing a vent back toward Lena and one toward my face. I sighed when the cold air hit my skin and relaxed into my seat. I glanced and Nico, who met my gaze and reached over to take my hand. We drove for a while in silence like that, and though my face cooled down, I still felt flushed from excitement.

We were about fifteen minutes away from my grandparents when Nico asked, “Will your grandparents be there when I drop you off?”

“I think so. They went to the flea market this morning, they’re usually back by noon. Why?”

“I would feel funny dropping you off and not coming in. And, I think…I want them to know about this, about us. You know?”

“I think I know what you mean,” I said. I knew Nico cared for my grandparents, and he was a man of integrity, so it stood to reason he would be unhappy if he felt he kaçak iddaa was being anything less than respectful.

“Maybe they won’t care, but I don’t want to feel like I’m sneaking around.”

“I understand,” I said.

I told him about my conversation with them at breakfast, how my grandmother had known something was up.

He laughed. “Of course she knew something was up, that crafty lady. She’s so smart. Any idea how she felt about it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know if she knows anything, or just suspects. I haven’t exactly been a social butterfly since moving in with them, so any social engagement is a little conspicuous, I guess. Whether that means she knows how I feel or not…” I thought again about that look she’d given me in the morning and sighed. “Who am I kidding? She knows. I’m sure she knows. I’m terrible at hiding my emotions.”

“She’s good at figuring people out. Must be where you get it. I just hope this is OK with them.”

“I think it will be,” I said, but I was trying to convince myself as much as him. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if they disapproved of the two of us seeing each other romantically.

“Oh, but on the other hand, I don’t mind sneaking around Rose,” he said. “I can’t hide it for long, she’s going to notice things are different, but if we could just put off telling her a little longer…”

“You don’t think she’ll approve?” I’d been worried about that since I realized I had a crush on her big brother—her favorite brother whom she was close with and loved so much.

“No. No, Zoe, she’ll be…so happy. Are you kidding? This is what she’s wanted for years. She’s never known how to deal with my grief, she just wants me to get married again. She’ll be so thrilled.”

“I know, but when she’s talked about how she wishes you’d meet someone it’s always women your age, divorcees—women with kids.”

“She’s talked about it with you?” His laugh was pure exasperation. “See, that’s why I want to keep it quiet just a little longer. She’s a compulsive match-maker. And once she knows there’s something going on, she’s going to be all over us. She’ll try to take me ring shopping. She’ll leave bridal magazines scattered around the house for you to find. She’ll start suggesting honeymoon locations and names for our future children.”

I laughed, but it was a nervous laugh full of the thrill the phrase future children had caused.

“I don’t want you to put you in an awkward position. You don’t have to lie to her or anything, but if she asks how Friday night went, maybe you could just skip the part where I stripped you half naked in the kitchen, and…well, everything after that.”

“I’ll be vague,” I said. “Promise.”

“Thank you. I will tell her soon. As soon as I feel brave enough.”

“I’ve heard you’re getting braver by the day.”

He smiled, pulled my hand to his mouth, and pressed a kiss on the back of it. “Can I kiss you? I’ve wanted to all day. I mean, really kiss you.”

I glanced behind me. Lena was fast asleep and probably had been for a while. I realized this was our chance. I doubted he would feel comfortable kissing me goodnight at my grandparents’ house.

I nodded and he pulled the truck to the side of the road, letting go of my hand. I turned in my seat to face him as he put the truck in park. “You look so beautiful,” he said, reaching for my hand again. He leaned toward me and I met him half way. I angled my head and he kissed me softly on the mouth. The pleasure was immediate—a flush of it, like heat moving through my body.

I remembered our first kiss, and how unsure of the situation he’d been. I felt some of that uncertainty in this kiss, too and realized that we knew each other well in some ways, but in we were still new to each other, too. I reached out and touched his face then let my fingers slip down and into the curls at the base of his neck. He made a small noise and kissed me more deeply, his mouth opening over mine.

The turn signal clicked in a steady rhythm, the only other noise in the car besides the soft, wet sounds of our mouths and tongues meeting. I longed for more contact as our kissing grew more passionate. Memories of his hands on my bare skin, of our naked bodies pressed together, made my head swim. I tugged at his neck, digging my fingers into the base of his skull, and he leaned toward me, his long arm pulling at my waist. I longed to climb into his lap, to feel his body against mine, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop at just kissing. I wanted him so bad.

He was obviously experiencing the same thing. His hand moved from my waist down my hip to my thigh. He slipped it under the hem of my skirt and dragged his fingers up my bare skin. When his fingers reached the edge of my panties, he moaned softly and leaned even closer. His kissed me hard and his hand slid roughly over my hip, his fingers spread wide. I could feel his desire in the way his fingers curled into my flesh. He wanted me, too.

He released me reluctantly kaçak bahis and sat back in his seat. He groaned softly, a long, slow exhalation. I could see his frustration. Or perhaps it was just a projection of my own sexual need; my pulse was racing and my pussy was throbbing.

Without comment, Nico changed the turn signal’s direction and pulled back onto the road.

Neither of us spoke the rest of the drive, but he reached over and took my hand again. My thoughts were busy with the events of the day, remembering the way seeing him with Lena on his shoulders had made me feel. It tugged at that ache inside me, the longing that was sex and babies and wanting him so bad I thought I’d die. I’d never felt anything even remotely like it in my life.

“If this goes well, and your grandparents don’t run me out of town with a pitchfork,” Nico said when we pulled into their driveway, “do you think I could take you out for dinner on Friday? Just the two of us?”

“I don’t think my grandparents own a pitchfork,” I said. “Or torches. Anyway, they’re going to New York City this weekend to see my uncle and my parents. So I’m definitely free.”

He looked at me, considering something. “They’re staying overnight?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Ohh Foxy,” he said in a long sigh. I was pretty sure we were thinking the same thing.

He undid his seat belt and took a deep breath. He let it out slowly, clearly trying to prepare himself.

“They already like you, Nico,” I reminded him.

“It’s just that this matters so much to me,” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant by this—how my grandparents reacted or the two of us together—but either way, I loved him a little more for caring so deeply.

Nico woke Lena up as he got her out of the car seat. She was groggy and confused, but didn’t protest. She snuggled against her dad’s chest, her head just under his chin, and I had to look away to quiet the pain inside me.

I let us in the back door.

“I’m home,” I called. I could hear the TV coming from the living room so I headed that way. Their heads turned as I came around the corner. Their eyes skipped right over me, and landed on Nico. My grandmother reached for the TV remote and switched off the power.

“Come in,” she said. “Nico, it’s good to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you, too, Mrs. O’Reilly.” He nodded at my grandfather, who smiled and nodded back. “Mr. O’Reilly.”

“Come in and sit down.”

My grandmother gave me the briefest of looks—a knowing look—but I couldn’t interpret its meaning. Then she turned her smile on Nico and indicated he should sit. He did, but cautiously, like he was afraid he’d break the chair. He set Lena down in front of him, and she clung to his arm protectively. I’d never seen her act shy before.

“And who’s this?” My grandmother said, looking at Lena, who stared back at her with huge brown eyes. She was a little disheveled from the long, hot day. Her braids were frizzy and her knees were dirty, but she was still absolutely adorable.

Nico nudged Lena gently and whispered, “This is Zoe’s grandma. Can you say hi?” She stared, silent. “Can you tell her your name?” Lena just stared. I knew my grandparents wouldn’t be offended by her silence, my dad and uncle had both been very shy growing up, so they understood how kids could be. “No? Can I tell them?” A nod. “This is Lena. She’s a little sleepy.”

“Of course she is, she had a long day at the zoo. I bet it was a lot of fun.” My grandmother beamed at her, but Lena didn’t even blink. “It’s nice to meet you, Lena. I’m glad you came to visit.”

We made small talk about the weather, the drive, whether the zoo had been busy, whether I’d put enough sunblock on, and whether we were hungry or not. It was awkward, but I hoped I was the only one who felt it. Lena was silent, and Nico was uncharacteristically tense, and I was trying so hard to act like it wasn’t awkward, which just made it all seem worse to me. There was no doubt in my mind my grandmother knew how I felt about him, and by the questions she asked him—none too direct or obvious—I could tell she was trying to figure out how he felt about me and whether this trip to the zoo had been just a trip to the zoo, or the beginning of something else.

My grandfather was oblivious to the subplot of the evening, and was just happy to see Nico. The two of them got on the topic of cars—a subject I knew they’d discussed many times while Nico was working on the patio, and one I knew my grandfather could stay on for a long time—and when Lena asked me for a drink of water, I took her into the kitchen and my grandmother followed, leaving the men to their conversation.

“I just realized we never ate dinner,” I said as I put some ice in a glass. “We had lunch on the late side, but that was a few hours ago. “You must be hungry, Lena.”

“We have some turkey breast in the fridge,” my grandmother said. “I could make you some sandwiches. Would Lena rather have peanut butter? I know there’s some in the pantry.”

I started to protest, to say she didn’t need to feed us, but I knew that was pointless; I knew better than to stand in the way of my grandmother when she was on a mission to feed someone.

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