Well, it’s that time again, where I share the first chapter of an upcoming release. Today, I’ll share with you the first chapter of The First 100 Kisses which releases THIS FRIDAY, March 29th! AHHHHHH!
“Chloe, I have a huge favor to ask,” my bestie, Liam, said just as the theme song for Outlander started. The side-eye glare he got in response should have been all the answer required, but Liam didn’t pick up the meaning.
“The answer is ‘yes’ to whatever you need but shut it now. The show’s about to start.” If my glare were actual daggers, Liam would be as bloody as the men were about to become in the Battle of Culloden. Seriously, what the hell was he doing speaking right now? He knew this was a no-talk-hour. Gasp or squeal, sure, but no conversations, boy! This was sacred time. If our years of friendships taught him anything, it was to never cross me when my shows were on.
I took this stuff seriously. Just like take out Tuesdays and longest fry Fridays. I always won and thereby got to use the ketchup first. We had our rituals that we’d developed over the years –well, I had developed and drug him along, and tonight was movies and munchies. You don’t just abandon dedicated viewing time to ask favors. You do that nonsense after the post-show discussion with wine and whiskey. It’s like he was new here.
He opened his mouth to speak but I hucked a piece of popcorn at him.
“Not another word, mister. Or the M & M’s are next.” I lifted a red one for good measure. Liam hated the red ones. He thought they had deadly dyes in them or some shit.
“Fine,” he huffed as he settled into the couch.
Satisfied I had won that argument, I swung my legs over, flopping my feet unceremoniously in his lap. Liam looked at my feet, then at me, and shook his head. Still, he took my feet in his hands to massage them. It was heaven. I smiled at him, then diverted my eyes back onto the screen.
As he worked my feet, I couldn’t help realizing that nights like this never happened when I dated a guy. I was never as chill as I am with Liam. On the rare times I went on a repeat date with someone, I could never fully relax into myself. I was too busy pretending to be a version of the woman that the guy wanted me to be. I was a chameleon. I’m sure a therapist would say I had issues with abandonment or was just trying to be loved or some shit, but we all had our neurosis and mine was knowing I’d never really be good enough for someone. I didn’t need to pay a shrink to tell me that. I already knew it.
When I was with Liam, though, I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone other than me because we’re just friends. Perfectly platonic. Seriously. We’d been friends forever. Well, not forever, forever, but a long freaking time. He was the only guy friend that I had that I hadn’t screwed. Not that Liam wasn’t screwable. The man was delish, and he knew it. Normally, that was a turn off for me, but Liam seemed truly annoyed that he had good looks. I often felt like he wished he were more common, like us peasants.
Liam was like me when I went on dates. Uncomfortable in his own skin, but he was like this anytime he was out in public. Liam liked routines, and schedules, hence why he liked my weekly themed events. He liked knowing when and how things were going to happen and when they didn’t go as planned, he got anxious.
Unfortunately, this was one of the many reasons he was probably still single. He was a handful, that one. But he was my crazy friend, and I had no problem keeping him in check when he crossed a line (not that he did all that often).
Sometimes he’d blurt something inappropriate, not out of spite but out of not stopping to think first. And there was zero danger of him crossing a physical line with me. He had drawn that line in the sand years ago. A really deep line.
And I got the message. Loud and clear. After a few years, that is. What? He’s pretty! Can you really blame a girl for lusting even if it was a dead end?
Liam warmed my cold feet with his long fingers and I moaned in content. He knew I loved having my feet rubbed. Couple that massage with the drool-worthy kilt action on the screen, and I couldn’t be happier. This was why I busted my ass each week as a lowly waitress in a city of a thousand restaurants: This end of week bliss. Scottish men, foot rubs, and wine. Nothing could be finer.
As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but see Liam out of the corner of my eye each time I grabbed more popcorn, which, I noticed, he hadn’t eaten any of it yet. It was clear that he was frustrated. Probably a costume was wrong or one of the weapons wasn’t quite period. Liam was a bit anal retentive about that sort of thing. He was a bit anal about everything, truth be told. Most people couldn’t stand Liam once they got to know him. I got it, he was a gigantic know-it-all, and no one likes a braggart. It wasn’t his fault. It’s just how his brain was programmed.
Liam made a low grumble and I shushed him.
“It’s almost over. Cool your jets.”
When the end credits rolled, I really wanted to discuss what happened in the show, because Holy Hell what an episode, but it was clear we were going to be talking about other things first. Liam shoved my feet off his lap and began to pace around my small living room floor.
That couldn’t be good. Liam paced when he was having a hard time figuring something out. He hated when there was a problem he couldn’t solve, or if there was something he didn’t know at least the basic information on. He became obsessed. Frantic. When he got like this, it made him hard to be around, which meant I needed to help him solve whatever was on his mind or I’d be the one ultimately suffering.
“Okay. You may speak now. What’s crawling up your ass?” I asked, putting my feet on the coffee table instead. It wasn’t nearly as nice as his warm lap.
He stopped pacing, “How long have we been friends, Chloe?” he asked.
I cocked my head and thought. “Well, you moved into the building about seven years ago. I helped you move your boxes. You lectured me on the right way to lift a box, I thought you were flirting. I tried, unsuccessfully, to hit on you. We didn’t speak for months after because I was mortified of how epically bad I’d read you. Then, you got locked out of your apartment one day. The super was out of town. I crawled out on the fire escape because you are a chicken who can’t deal with heights, and I shimmed my ass into your apartment and saved the day, and we sort have been friends ever since.”
He nodded along, validating my word-vomited list of events leading to our friendship. “And in that time, how many women have you seen me bring home?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. A few.”
He narrowed his eyes at me because he knew I was lying. I totally checked his dates out through my peep hole. He knew ‘cause I told him. I’m a moron.
“Okay, fine, I know you brought home a few, like, five or six maybe? I can tell you this: they were all blonde and big boobed. You, sir, are a cliché,” I said, looking down at my very opposite body type. Rail thin, smallish boobs, no real hips. Tack on basic brown hair and eyes and you had an amalgamation of all the qualities guys didn’t want.
“They haven’t all been blonde,” he said, affronted. “One had dark hair.”
I stood up and dusted the bits of popcorn off my oversized Sassenach sweatshirt. “Please, she was dirty blonde and easily had double D’s.”
He didn’t argue with me because he knew I was right.
I’ll admit, I was jealous the first time he brought one of the bimbos back to his place. Mostly because I realized that he had a ‘type’ and I would never be it. A bootylicious Barbie I wasn’t. I finally got over crushing on Liam by pretending he was gay and that he had the male anatomy of a Ken doll. Seeing Liam as untouchable in that intimate viewpoint helped me. Seeing Liam as asexual helped our friendship flourish.
He let out a breath and began pacing again. I headed over to turn off the TV by hand, because who knew where the remote was anymore.
“Liam, help a girl out. What is bugging you? Let’s figure it out so we can have ice cream and talk about the show.”
He turned and ran his hands through his own dirty blonde hair. I frowned. He had that perfect beach hair that no one from New England should be blessed with. And his eyes. Good gravy. Gorgeous eyes. That’s what I’d first noticed about him, and quite honestly, why I offered to help a perfect stranger move boxes. They were the lightest shade of blue I’d ever seen on anyone before or since.
His eyes made him stand out, which I think he knew. He tended to keep his gaze down in public, though it could also be that people, in general, made him uncomfortable. And eye contact, when you thought about it, was really something intimate. Maybe that’s why you had to know Liam for a long time before he would maintain eye contact with you for longer than two seconds. We’d advanced to the normal level of eye contact, but it took years to get him there.
Even though we are not involved in a sexual way, nor would we ever be, my heart still did a little flip when he looked into my eyes sometimes. There was just something so captivating about them. I called them his voodoo eyes. Women were powerless against them. Men, too, for that matter. It was his curse. Poor baby. Must be hard to be beautiful.
“Okay,” Liam asked, “In the time that we’ve been friends, how many gentlemen callers have you had over?”
“Um…I don’t know.” I said, trying to dodge this bullet by pretending I had no idea. 27. I might be a Plain Jane but that didn’t mean I didn’t like me some booty. The number wasn’t skank high, but it wasn’t prudish either.
Liam’s lips pressed together. He was agitated by my uninformative answer. “Can you ballpark it? It’s important. I’m trying to collect the data before I ask the favor.”
Good old socially awkward Liam. The things that came out of his mouth, sometimes. He came off as a normal guy, until he opens his mouth and says crap like that. “Collecting data,” I mumbled. “You mean in the last seven years?”
“Yes, please,” he said.
“I don’t know, Liam…A few dozen or so. It’s not like I keep a journal of the guys I have over,” I huffed. At least, not since I got out of high school. After that, it was just a mental list.
He nodded again. “And of those scores of men, how many of them stayed over?”
Did he just call me a whore?
“Scores of men?” I hissed.
“That’s not what I meant,” he sighed, “I’m sorry. I realize this is none of my business. I am merely trying to assess if you are the appropriate person to ask this favor of.”
I looked at him, my mouth agape. “By asking me how many guys I’ve slept with?”
Sure, we were best friends, but we don’t talk about this kind of thing. We have discussed, in detail, what we had for dinner, or what the homeless guy in front of our building peed on today, or, my personal favorite, who ticked us off at work, but never about the people we were dating. If he was bringing up a clearly uncomfortable topic, it must be something huge he was struggling with.
“Yes. The number of men is essential for the data I am trying to compute.”
Jesus, sometimes he sounded more like a robot than he did a man. “Not that it’s any of your business, but like 99% of them. Now, can you tell me what the hell is going on in that head of yours?”
Liam sat down on the couch and started to bounce his leg up and down. A nervous twitch he got in socially uncomfortable situations. I knew from being one of his only friends that this meant he was feeling overwhelmed by something.
I sat down beside him and put firm pressure on his knee with my hand to quiet his nerves, knowing that heavy touch was soothing to him in times of anxiety.
Liam looked down at my hand and quickly stood up. “See. That, right there,” he said. “What do I do if…” He broke off his thought and went to the window, looking out at the night sky.
“What? Liam? What is going on? You’re kind of freaking me out.”
“Angel is moving back to town.”
Angel was his ex. They were serious high school sweet hearts. I didn’t like her. Why, I had no idea, as I’d never met or even seen a photo of her. I just knew that she’d done a number on my friend. Well, that and he’s been hung up on her ever since. He’d mentioned her name maybe five times since we met, but every time he said her name, there was a lingering hurt in his eyes. I’m taking a shot in the dark that she’s blonde with big boobs.
“How is she doing?” I asked.
“She’s well. I think. She’s staying with her mother until she finds a place.” He turned around. A pained expression was on his face. “She wants to get together in a few weeks.”
“Ah.” That explained it.
It was one thing to catch up with an old flame on the phone. A whole different scenario when they wanted a face to face. He must be freaking out.
“Okay…” I said gently, as though approaching a wounded animal. “Dinner is good.”
“Chloe, I haven’t seen her since she broke off our relationship. We were kids then. So much time has passed. I don’t know what to say to her. How to act. I don’t know anything, especially what she wants from me.”
“She probably just wants to see how you’re doing. You know, catch up. I wouldn’t stress about it.”
He looked at me. “She said, and I quote verbatim, ‘She missed me.’”
“Ha! Well, in that case, she wants to bang ya, buddy.” I said, hoping that would clear up his confusion and we could start our ice cream. Liam wasn’t great at reading people’s body language and worse at understanding subtext. Now that he understood her intentions, I thought we’d be able to move on to dessert, but my translation seemed to upset him even more.
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” His eyes were drawn tight with worry.
“Dude, it’s okay. I got you. No stressing out allowed. I’ll help make sure the evening is perfect. I can hook you up with a good restaurant. Maybe get you in to a fancy-pants place.” Being a waitress had very few perks but knowing other waiters and hostesses from other restaurants helped bump you up the reservation lists. It also came in handy knowing which places were worth the money and which ones were dodging the health inspector. “Whatever you need,” I continued. “I can help with your outfit, picking out the right flowers, where to go after. Whatever you need, just ask.”
Liam turned around and put his hands in his pockets. His shoulders slumped. His eyes hid on the floor.
“Sex,” he whispered so low I barely heard him.
“Come again,” I replied. He didn’t get the innuendo. I was used to that. He never got them—part of that sub-text block.
“You heard me,” he said, still looking at the floor.
“Actually, I don’t think I did.”
“Chloe…I…sex, okay? I need help with a sex thing,” he repeated. He looked up at me, with his intense eyes.
“Whoa, buddy, I know you wanna make a good impression with the ex, but is a threesome really the right play here?” I laughed, trying to ease his tension. Why did guys get so uncomfortable talking about sex? They loved doing it but God forbid you talk about what the other person wants.
Liam’s eyes grew wide for a moment then he vehemently shook his head.
“No. Not that. God. No. Not that.” He was blushing, something he did quite a lot. Especially on Outlander nights. Not that I could blame him— Those sex scenes were hot.
“Okay then, what do you need help with, lube, condoms, toy recommendations?” I wiggled my eyebrows. I could recommend some great things for him to try. I might be single, but I wasn’t dead.
“No. Nothing like that.” His face was beet-red now. This was getting fun. It was amusing seeing Liam so out of sorts. It didn’t happen often. He liked to be in control of his environment and this was a new situation to navigate. Whatever that might be.
“Then what is it, Liam?” I laughed, feeling totally clueless. “Help me help you. What exactly do you need help with around sex?”
Liam let out a slow measured breath, then locked his crystal blue eyes with me to make sure I was listening. “I need to know how to do it.”
Want to read more?
The First 100 Kisses
a novella by Danielle Bannister