Standing in the middle of my white apartment with nothing out of place, Felix looked intensely alive. He wore jeans somewhere between purple and black. They were tight and showed off his slim legs and the curve of his ass. His short-sleeved button-down was worn soft and clung to his body. It was a faded pink with black geometric designs on it, and it was buttoned up to his throat.
His hair was in a ponytail and I thought he might be wearing eye makeup again. His big, dark eyes looked almost bruised, in a way that made them glow. He plucked at a yellow string bracelet and chewed on his lower lip.
Everything about him looked soft and touchable, and I pushed down the urge to slide my fingers into his hair and press a hand to his back to see if he felt as good as he looked.
The beep of the oven timer made Felix startle.
“You hungry?” I asked.
“Yeah. Um, can I do anything?”
I shook my head and set two white plates on the table, poured water, and dressed the salad.
Felix still stood in the center of the room, arms crossed like he was hugging himself.
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
He tugged the elastic out of his ponytail and his hair spilled down around his face.
Dread crept through me. I pictured a night of stilted conversation, awkward silence. Felix’s hurried leave-taking and his relief at being away from me.
“Sorry,” Felix said sheepishly, “I’m really nervous.”
I blinked at him.
“Why?” he asked, eyes wide. “Because. I don’t know you really, so I’m not sure what we should talk about first, and you’re all . . .” He gestured vaguely at me. “And I feel like a mess, and I don’t want you to think I’m an idiot. And because, um.” He cleared his throat. “You’re hot and you kind of make it hard to maintain eye contact and I get all shaky, and, uh . . . then I ramble.”
He looked down at the white tile floor, and I shoved my fists into my pockets and stood perfectly still.
When he looked up at me, his gaze was steadier.
“So, why are you?” he asked me.
He nodded and stepped closer.
He raised dark eyebrows skeptically but then shrugged.
“You look a little nervous,” he said lightly. “You’re standing like a robot.”
“You look soft,” I said, then ground my molars. I hadn’t meant to say that.
“Your hair,” I said. “Your clothes.” I clenched my back teeth.
“You look hard.” Then his eyes flew open and he tugged at a lock of hair. “I meant, you know, you’re all . . . jacked. God, make me shut up.”
With his hand in his hair and his wide eyes on me, I didn’t feel hard. I felt raw and abraded, as if with a few sentences some crucial distance between us had been blasted away.
“Do you like soft?” he asked. It wasn’t flirtatious, but curious.
“I like it.”
Felix took a step closer and I saw him gather his courage. “’Kay, good. That’s good. Maybe we could, um. Sometimes touching makes things a little less awkward. We could . . . hug hello? If you want? Or not,” he added quickly. “Not’s fine too.”
He bit his lip and I blinked at him, every muscle locked tight. I imagined holding him, bruising him, damaging his soft sweetness with all my hard edges.
“We really don’t have to,” he said softly into the silence.
I rounded the counter and stood before Felix, holding very still and letting him come to me. He closed the distance between us and slowly slid his arms around me. Our height difference meant his cheek came to my chest and my chin rested on the top of his head.
It was awkward and stiff at first. Then he flattened his palms against my back and pressed us closer. I remained motionless. When he gave a little squeeze and let out a deep breath, I let my arms come slowly around him.
He was soft. The fabric of his shirt felt like it had been washed a hundred times. I ran a hand over his hair and that was soft too. Gradually, I forced myself to relax. Made my arms gentle around him, even as he held on tight. I held him to me and breathed in his smell—light and clean and grassy, like fresh laundry dried outside.
My heart rate slowed and I could feel Felix taking deep breaths, feel his stomach and chest expand against me. I slid my fingers into his hair and he nuzzled his cheek against my chest, just over my heart. I was sure he could feel it pounding. It was a dream moment, lasting forever and over too quickly.
Felix gave me one more tight squeeze, then he loosened his hold on me and looked up.
“Thanks,” he said. “I feel better.”
I nodded. “Good.”
When he didn’t move away, I brushed his hair back and let my thumb skim his cheekbone for just a second.
“You wearing makeup?”
He bit his lip, then jutted his chin out. “Yeah.”
It was a challenge, like he thought I might disapprove.
“Makes your eyes look like storms,” I said. They were beautiful.
The air between us thrummed, electric with possibility.
For the last ten years, Huey has built his life around his sobriety. If that means he doesn’t give a damn about finding love or companionship for himself, well, it’s probably better that way. After all, the last thing he wants is to hurt anyone else. Until Felix Rainey walks into his bar, fresh-faced, unbearably sweet—and, for some reason Huey can’t fathom, interested in him.
As the eldest of five kids, Felix Rainey spent his childhood cooking dinner, checking homework, and working after-school jobs. Now in his twenties, he’s still scrambling to make ends meet and wondering what the hell he’s doing with his life. When he meets Huey, he’s intimidated . . . and enamored. Huey’s strong and confident, he owns his own business—hell, he’s friends with rock stars. What could he ever see in Felix?
As Huey and Felix get closer, the spark catches and soon they can’t get enough of each other. But Huey’s worked hard to avoid intimacy, and Felix threatens his carefully constructed defenses. Huey realizes he needs to change if he wants to truly put his past behind him—and build a future with Felix.
Roan Parrish lives in Philadelphia, where she is gradually attempting to write love stories in every genre. When not writing, she can usually be found cutting her friends’ hair, meandering through whatever city she’s in while listening to torch songs and melodic death metal, or cooking overly elaborate meals. She loves bonfires, winter beaches, minor chord harmonies, and self-tattooing. One time she may or may not have baked a six-layer chocolate cake and then thrown it out the window in a fit of pique.