By: Deana Farrady

Aura doesn't know the meaning of being there for somebody. The closer we've gotten, the more she's taken.

As far as she's concerned, she's the center of a Ptolemaic universe that revolves around her.

It was now completely clear to me that this shit wouldn't end until I was as broken as my girlfriend was.

So you can see that by now I'd worked myself up to painting Aura Renaldi as a succubus, a Gorgon, a siren…go on and pick any classic female monster lethal to men and I'll knock fists with that.

Point is, I blew up…and burned the last bridge.


Three Years Ago—The Reconnect

Charis: No. Way.

Asher: Hey! Hey, it's you.

Charis: You have to be kidding me. Asher Norrell, is that really you?

Asher: Hey, girl.

Charis: I can't believe it! Whoa, that's some hug. Look at you. Muscles! All grown up and looking good, Ash. What have you been doing? What are you doing here?

Asher: What do you think, Sloane? I'm enrolled.

Charis: Me too, I am too. I can't believe it. Although I guess I should have expected you'd pick MCU. Why go all the way to Cali or Boston when we have our very own tech school right here in-state? What are you, a chem major?

Asher: Not sure yet. Engineering, probably. And you're in…grad school, right?

Charis: Yep, sure am. Just started this year. You knew I was here?

Asher: Mm, I heard. Still gonna be a professor one day?

Charis: Uh-huh, that's the plan. I've got a long way to go, though. Wow. Just…wow. Uh, so. How is everyone? How's Mel?

Asher: They're great. We missed you at the Labor Day picnic. And the Fourth. And my graduation. And Memorial Day. And—

Charis: Yes, well, I do grown-up stuff now. You know how it is. Oh, wait a minute, no you don't. You're just a baby.

Asher: Oh, yeah? Do I look like a baby to you?

Charis: Weeeelll, I'll take the fifth on that. No, seriously, I've been hearing about some of the amazing things you've done. I'm impressed.

Asher: Yeah, I've done all right. Nice hat.

Charis. Thanks. Want some pistachios?

Asher: No. Look, I'm late, but give me your phone. Let's not lose touch again.

Charis: Definitely.

Asher: Good to see you. Really good to see you.

Charis: Yeah. Good. To see. You.


AFTERWARDS, I KEPT MY SAVOIR FAIRE. I was in a strangely calm mood, given that I'd just flushed my longest ever relationship down the toilet.

I took a long nap. I shaved. I got down to studying. It was surprisingly easy.

It was only when night fell that reality sank in. That I discovered the huge fucking void in my life.

There was no more warm, soft little body to turn to when I craved some loving. No more stray red hairs in my shower.

Damn. Despite everything, it hadn't been out of the realm of possibility that I'd marry Aura one day. You never knew. It could happen.

And down to the crunch here: I needed a woman to warm my bed. Needed. I literally could not do without one, not with my cock out of control. Sometimes it was so bad I had the urge to jump on whichever female was handy.

Take Charis. My purely platonic friend. Sometimes I was afraid I might…

I stopped the thought. I've stopped a lot of thoughts about Charis over the years.

Ah, fuckit.

All right, it has to be said. I haven't lied to you. Not so much as an innuendo has passed between me and Charis even once. But I'm gonna come clean here. I did have a thing for Sloane, once upon a time, way back when in the days of yore.

Let's call it what it was, a mega-crush.

Picture me at thirteen, before the corrective eye surgery, with the big, thick glasses, my nose always buried in something electronic, my hair unruly, my shirts plaid, and not the trendy kind, we're talking hand-me-downs from a color-blind cousin, complete with clashing colors, buttoned to the throat. Seeing it?

Charis used to come over to our house to spend time with my sister. I didn't care that she was this boyish, gangly creature, with her short brown crop of hair and her plain sweaters and unfashionable jeans that screamed geek girl.

To me she was funny, lively, and smoking hot, not to mention an Older Woman. So one summer day under our fir tree, I knocked her ice cream cone from her hand and tried to kiss her.

Charis set me straight immediately. There was no way a seventeen-year-old girl was hooking up with a thirteen-year-old boy. I might have looked and sounded older than my age, but Charis treated me like the spitball kid I was and let me down gently but firmly.

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