Before getting out the car, she checked the envelope she prepared while attempting to fill out an application at an apartment building today. Every time she looked at the empty blanks on the form, or tried to compose a letter to them, her hand trembled, allowing her only to write out a check for the next six months’ rent and toss the application in the trash.
She got out of the car and ran to the door, nearly twisting her ankle when she tripped on nothing. With her vision blurry and her heart on fire, it took her three shots to get her key in the lock, and two tries to turn the knob.
Her envelope lagged behind in joining her keys on the floor when she saw the house.
The darkness that greeted her outside didn’t match the inside, and she didn’t need to pack.
They packed for her. The lack of light outside came from the mix of boxes and her belongings piled so high they blocked the windows. She didn’t even realize she owned this much. The boxes seemed to bow and retreat making her dizzy, causing her to kneel down behind a row of cardboard to catch her breath. At least the memory of having them both for one night would forever be marred by them silently agreeing she needed to leave.
She wrapped her arms around herself and made a plan. Tonight she would just grab some clothes and essentials and figure out how to get the rest out later. They didn’t even label the boxes.
“There are two paths.” Russell’s voice intruded on her solitude.
“What?” She turned, trying to find him but only seeing the never-ending wall of boxes.
“It’s your choice.” Jason spoke this time. “One path will lead you out the back door where we have a moving van set to take you anywhere you want to go.”
Moving van? Choice? “Jason?”
“The other path leads to a different destination.” Russell took over again.
“Russell?” She forced herself up and took in the space. The boxes weren’t haphazardly piled up as she first thought. There were indeed two makeshift tunnels made from the boxes, one led toward the kitchen and the back door, and the other toward the bedrooms. “Where does the other path lead?”
“To us.” Jason answered.
Not understanding, she pressed her lips together.
“You take that path, you don’t move out and we see what happens with the three of us.” He answered her question.
The three of them? She shook her head. Could they want her for more than one night of bad timing? As her focus darted from one tunnel to the other, she put her fingernail in her mouth contemplating her options.
She could leave, show up at Dr. Dalton’s or any other Dr. Someone on Monday morning and try to restart her life the way her mother wanted her to, or she could go to her men and see what they meant by the three of them.
Her first instinct was to ask Russell. He knew every answer, even to the strangest, most bizarre random questions. “No.” This decision she had to make on her own. She got on her knees.
“You need to choose.” Russell’s tone told her there would be no more information until she picked her path.
She glanced toward the boxes that lead to the kitchen. A secure, planned life waited at the end. Then she turned toward the path leading to the bedroom. Down that road were the two men she loved since she met them. How could they offer her this and she not take it? Twenty years from now when she was someone’s wife with her two kids and a dog would she still be kicking herself for not exploring the three of them. A little secret for only her.
She swallowed, biting her lip as she peeked at both options. No doubt, in twenty years they would have all gone separate ways with their separate families. Would she hate herself for going after what she wanted, and delaying her future? Would the memory haunt her forever, a ghost following her everywhere, leaving a hole in her heart? Was it better to leave this forgotten and finished, or did she take one decadent detour?
She chose her path and began to crawl. It was then she realized that one of Jason’s works of art surrounded her. One designed especially for her and her choice, but it had Russell written all over it as well. Not only had he allowed the house to be turned into a full-fledged disaster area, but it had to be his engineering that allowed the tunnels to stay put.
There weren’t many tunnels in Los Angeles, at least not ones she went in. Tunnels were confining, narrow with speeding cars. She always felt as if she were going to hit the sides, and as she inched through this makeshift passage she swore this tunnel was longer than the one from the 105 freeway to LAX.
At least at the end of this tunnel she didn’t have to get on a plane…or load her items into a moving van.
“Lauren.” Russell caught her shoulders.
“Laurie.” Jason grabbed her arm and helped her up.
Her legs struggled to hold her, her knees weak, sore from pulling herself over the tile in their entryway and the carpet through their living room.
Unlike the night before, Russell kissed her first, and unlike the night before it was a soft kiss. Not the blur that got the three of them into bed, but a welcoming kiss, the kiss one would give their partner when they returned home after being lost.
Russell pulled back and Jason took her chin and repeated his best friend’s action. While she expected his kiss to be more playful than Russell’s, he surprised her by brushing his lips against hers causing the welcome Russell gave her to wrap around her and hold her tight.
Jason moved his lips to her cheek and then her ear. “I think I can speak for both of us when I tell you that we are happy you didn’t choose the moving van.”
She braced herself on both of them, something she had been doing for years. “So, what are we doing?” She glanced between them, but settled on Russell.
For the first time in seven years Russell didn’t answer.
“We are doing what we should have done since about junior year in college.” Jason nodded.
She touched the top of her head needing to make sure she still had her mind, grimacing when she remembered she still hadn’t washed her hair. She didn’t know what to do, how to act. How could both of them want her? “What now?” She tried again.
Both Russell and Jason stared at her. How could they have an answer when she didn’t have one herself?
* * * *
“Look we found everything we needed.” Jason held up a pair of Lauren’s panties and a sock. “Well, we don’t need this.” He tossed the sock over his shoulder and tilted his head at the red and white striped panties with lace trim. “Maybe we don’t need this either.”
“Maybe we should have not really packed, or maybe we should have labeled the boxes like I suggested.” Russell shook his head. “Maybe mixing all her stuff up so she would have a hard time unpacking if she chose to move away was a bad idea since we wanted her to stay. Now we have to deal with the aftermath.”
“See, there’s the black rain cloud.” He held up the panties again. “It’s Saturday night and all we found for her to wear is this.”
“You do have a point.” Russell shrugged his shoulders. “But what happens now?” He mirrored Lauren’s question from before.
His best friend’s insecurities poured out of him, but at least he wasn’t backing out. “Now we join her in the bathroom.” Russell shocked the hell out of him when his neat-freak friend sent Lauren into his prize bathroom to clean up. Russell’s bath boasted a deluxe whirlpool tub. He guided Russell to their destination.
“Do we just go in?” Russell held his hands out, shielding the door.
Jason patted his skittish friend. “We slept with her last night, we’re going to sleep with her again tonight. You sent her in here. You even found bubble bath and put it in the water for her. I personally checked the temperature and found a towel. I think we’ve earned the right to see the efforts of our hard work.” He reached around Russell, gave one warning knock and turned the door handle.
He opened the door a crack and tried to spy Lauren in the reflection of the mirror, but everything was steamed over. “Can we come in?” He raised his voice trying to sound inviting.
“Okay,” Lauren called.
“Jackpot.” He turned back to Russell, grinned and entered. At first his plan was to charge in there, disrobe and jump in the tub and convince Russell to do the same, but he stopped at the vision before him. If he needed any inspiration, it was right here with Lauren in the bathtub.
The copious amount of bubbles hid yet revealed her form, and her slicked back wet hair allowed him to focus on her face. Even with no makeup she was a beauty, and the heat in the room made the color rise in her cheeks. The blue of her eyes stood out, sparkling against the white tile around her. Her lips seemed especially lush, and perfectly pink.
He cleared his throat. If he tore his gaze away from her face, he could take in the curves of her leg. Only one dewdropped leg snuck out from the mounds of bubbles. He wondered if she just shaved. His creativity flowed like the water from the faucet.
“Are you okay?” The water splashed around her.
“It’s kind of hot in here.” He swallowed. No, he wasn’t overwhelmed with the need to jump in the water. He was just overcome with the need to be near her.
“I think it’s perfect.” She smiled and lifted her leg a bit higher, resting it on the tile wall.
He licked his lips and glanced over at Russell.
Russell swallowed, his Adam’s apple traveling up and down his neck twice before he took off his glasses, wiped them on a towel and returned them to his face.
The three of them didn’t say a word, only stared at each other.
“Do you want to scrub my back?” She lifted a washcloth out of the bubbles.
“Yes!” they said in unison and rushed to the edge of the tub. Their race ended in a tie, and they both reached for the cloth as if they were begging for a scrap.
“It’s my bathroom.” Russell set his jaw.
“If we share a bed, we share a bath.” Jason wouldn’t be bested by his best friend because he had the best bathroom in the house.
Lauren bit her lip.
“I am the one who had to open fourteen boxes to find the scant clothing she has now.” Russell put two fingers on the wet washcloth.
“Is she here in this bathtub now offering us the opportunity to bathe her?” He mimicked Russell’s actions. “The box sculpture worked.” He winked at her.
Her gaze ping-ponged between the two of them, following the banter.
Neither of them budged.
“We are going to have to figure this out.” This could easily turn into a competition and that wouldn’t work, but he couldn’t surrender.
“How about you both do it.” Lauren reached around and found a sponge.