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As always, thank you to GaiusPetronius for his helpful editing, which always improves the quality of my stories.


The problem with running was that it gave me too much time to think and too little to distract my thoughts, which inevitably turned back to the night before. Everything was all mixed up. I didn’t regret it, but I did. I enjoyed it, but I was sickened by it. I felt relieved and stressed. Then I started chiding myself for obsessing over it. I was embarrassed that I was letting it get to me.

So I had sex with Tristan. So what? We both wanted it, we both enjoyed it, and… I felt like I had compromised something. Shit.

There were clouds on the horizon, but in the breaks between them I could see the sun cresting over an empty parking lot on my street. I jogged back up to my apartment, downed a bottle of water and flopped back onto my bed. Draping a sweaty arm over my eyes, I sighed deeply and tried to plan out my day. It felt so good to lie down…

The sound of my phone ringing woke me up. It was late morning. I could hear rain beating against my window. I rolled over and picked up my phone, pausing when I didn’t recognize the number.


“Hey, this is Russell,” said a deep, gentle voice.


“The bass player… Is this… Mona?”

“Oh, shit, yeah… Sorry, I just woke up. Hey.”

“Yeah, hey. Well, some of us are getting together to jam today, if you’re interested,” he said with restrained excitement. “We’ve got me on bass, plus a girl on keyboard and a guy on drums.”

“Yeah, I’m in. Just give me an hour to collect myself and pack up.”

“Great! No problem. I’ll, uh… I’ll text you the details.”

“Sounds good. See you soon,” I said, already making my way to the shower.

“Yeah. Looking forward to it.”

I tossed my phone back on the bed and pulled my sports bra off. I shivered at the cold air on my nipples, and smiled as I recalled the physical sensations of the night before. Yes, I had my regrets about it, but I could still enjoy the memory of strong hands pulling me close, taking and giving pleasure. I stepped into the shower with a lighter heart than I had felt in a while.


That was the day I met Russell. Russell Delavera, the bass player who was my age, who had his own landscaping business, and who was a very well-put-together Latino man. Though I came to the group only expecting to play some music and relax, I found my gaze turning his way again and again. I watched his thick fingers move lightly along the strings of the bass, and my eyes traveled up his arms and towards his broad chest. I loved the way he closed his eyes and sang along to some of the songs. He seemed lost in the music, happy to be carried away by the moment. I studied his face and committed his expressions to memory.

But it wasn’t just lust. I had taken care of my out-of-control hormones the night before. I was well-composed again. This was just… interesting. My only concern was that he seemed to have some connection to Claire, the piano player who hosted our quartet that day. I wasn’t sure what the deal was, and I didn’t see any rings. But they just seemed… connected.

The jam session itself was a great time, and it was nice to simply meet some new people. Other than music, we didn’t have much in common, but music was enough for us that afternoon. There were a few times I wanted to throw the drummer off the balcony – he was just a weird guy – but as long as he kept his mouth shut, we got along great. Claire was sweet, Russell was friendly and attractive, and we all agreed to get together again sometime. I genuinely looked forward to it.


Weeks went by. Thanks to my tryst with Tristan, I felt better able to focus on work and life in general. Macy was having a hard time being on her feet for full shifts, so Steve and I upped our hours. We were helped by the hiring of a part-time cook, a retired, older Asian man named Alvin, who picked up on our recipes quicker than I expected. It was only because of him that Tristan was able to surprise me with some genuine progress.

“So… how about another try at a date?” I jumped at the sudden voice behind me.

Putting both hands flat on the counter, I closed my eyes and said with a controlled voice, “Tristan, don’t just start talking behind a person with a knife.”

“Sorry,” he said, unconvincingly, as I turned around to face him. “I mean, I know we haven’t really talked since… whatever… but I have an idea, and I’d like to see what you think.”

“A real date?”

“Well, real for us, I mean. For our little arrangement. The usual rules apply, I assume. Even after…”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I said quickly, glancing around. I hadn’t said anything to anyone about sleeping with Tristan, and judging by the fact that no one had mentioned it or had been giving me strange looks, I was guessing he had kept his mouth shut, too. Then in a lower voice, I said, “I’m game. I’m off Friday.”

“Saturday,” Ümraniye Escort he said. “It has to be Saturday. See if Alvin can work with Macy that night – Steve’s off.”

“It has to be Saturday?”

Tristan shrugged and nodded.

“I’ll let you know,” I told him.

That evening, I talked to Macy, and she said Alvin seemed ready to cover a Saturday night with just her around. That left me no excuse. Not that I was looking for one. I was genuinely curious what Tristan had planned.

As Tristan walked past me near the end of his shift that night, I said casually, “Saturday’s good.”

He paused, half-smiled, and said, “I’ll give you details on Friday, then,” and headed out the door.


Saturday found me waiting for my “date” outside a little shop with an identity crisis. Part coffee shop, part cocktail lounge, part bakery, it defied easy categorization, as evidenced by the contrast between the early eveing crowd on its way out and the later evening crowd heading in. I saw a sign outside advertising an open mic night and cringed inwardly at the thought of hacks and wannabes assaulting my ears while I tried to have a simple conversation. I didn’t realize how uncomfortable and tense I was getting until the squeal of brakes from a passing bus made me crouch down and pull the hood of my light jacket up over my head. I had my hands on my ears and could feel my heart thumping in my throat.

It only took a few seconds, I think, for me to calm down and slowly stand up again. Just as I did, Tristan walked up and gave me a curious look.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“Just startled,” I said awkwardly, angry at myself for feeling exposed and weak.

Tristan half-smiled and opened his mouth to speak. I braced for a snide comment, but then his expression changed, softening. He closed his mouth, shrugged, then opened the door for me. I followed him in, trying to relax, and maneuvered past chaotically arranged chairs and tables until we got to a booth along the wall. The room was half-full, and the waitress (server? barista?) snatched up a handwritten “Reserved” sign from our table before slipping away.

“What’s the game here?” I asked Tristan as we settled in our seats, the leather cushions making awkward noises as we adjusted.

Sitting across from me and glancing at a half-page drink menu, Tristan said softly without making eye contact, “You’ll seeee…” Then he looked up at me and smiled. “I’m not going to tell you what to get, but I hear this one is something special,” he said, pointing to a description of a mixed drink with a cutesy name.

“I’m not getting drunk tonight,” I warned him, trying to hide suspicion from my voice.

“Me neither,” he agreed, rolling his eyes in genuine regret over the circumstances of our last encounter. “Not that… I mean… I just…”

“Never mind,” I interrupted him. “I’ll just… try to take that in the best possible light.”

“Thanks,” he said, embarrassed but smiling appreciatively. Just then, the server came back and took our orders. I took Tristan’s suggestion, and as the server swayed out of sight, I felt the slightest twinge of jealousy at the way Tristan’s eyes followed her ass. Then he shook his head, as if waking himself up, and turned his attention towards the stage, where a very slight young girl was plugging in a guitar.

“You brought me here for the open mic night?” I asked skeptically.

Tristan bobbed his head from shoulder to shoulder. “Eh, kinda. You’ll see.” Then he turned to face me. Asking about my week and a few other safe topics, he actually drew me into conversation. Still, it was Tristan, and he couldn’t resist turning some topics into chances to boast about himself, but he seemed more aware of it now, or else my expressions cued him in to how lame he sounded.

During one lull in the conversation, I got brave – or stupid (I was on my second hard drink, after all). “Tell me about your freshman year of college,” I said, casually.

“Freshman year?” he replied nervously. Staring me down for a few seconds, he knew it wasn’t a simple question. “Oh… you kn-n-n-now about that,” he concluded, letting slip the stutter that I had heard once or twice before.

“I’ve heard rumors,” I lied, not wanting him to know how much I might already have heard.

Tristan looked away thoughtfully for a moment, then cringed as a cowboy with a guitar butchered a perfectly good love song. Why did he bring me to an open mic night in this dingy place? It was a perfectly nice spring evening: we could have been outside enjoying the fresh air…

“So… like I told you before, by the time I got to college, I suddenly had the body of a stud but the personality of a… uh… I was pretty inexperienced.” He looked at me for a response. I put some popcorn in my mouth and watched him silently.

“I did OK academically, but I was struggling in physics. The professor had made a big deal out of being there to help us and how Ümraniye Escort Bayan we should take advantage of her office hours…” I tried not to smirk when he said “take advantage.” It felt childish, but I was loosening up.

“So I went by her office one afternoon. She was really helpful, so I came back a week later. My scores started improving. A few days before midterms, I stopped by to ask her a quick question about an assignment, but she was packing up her briefcase to leave for the weekend. She said I should walk with her to her car and we could talk on the way. By the time we got to her car, she had answered my question and we were just chatting about college life. She offered me a ride back to my dorm. When we got there, she asked about my plans for that weekend. It was Friday night, and I told her my roommate had gone home for the weekend, so I was going to try to get all studied up for midterms. She was real quiet for a minute, then just leaned over and started kissing me. I was freaked out at first. I mean, girls were still kinda new to me, though not totally. But here was this older woman – my professor – and she was married…”

Tristan’s face was confused, almost a little frightened as he relived the encounter. It occurred to me that if the genders had been reversed, we would have been calling this a sexual assault. Tristan’s expression slowly changed, though, and a hint of a smile accompanied the next part of his story.

“But when a woman comes on to you like that, especially a hot woman, a guy’s body starts to overrule whatever objections his mind has. She stopped kissing and asked me, ‘Can you sneak a woman into your room?’ I don’t remember if I even answered her, but she sat back, put the car in gear, and sped around to the parking lot behind my dorm. I ran to the main entrance, then snuck her in through the computer lab in the basement. We were half undressed by the time we got to my room. She stayed all night and then some. I did pretty bad on all my midterms – except hers…”

He stared over my shoulder into the past for a moment, and I heard an older man with long, hippie hair reciting poetry from the stage.

“It lasted a month or so,” he said, looking down at his drink and stirring it. “I wasn’t a virgin when we started, but I might as well have been. Boy, did I learn some things.” He chuckled nervously and shifted in his seat. “It didn’t matter to me that she was older. She was still very… sexy. And eager. And… and… I mean, it was like she really enjoyed being with me. That was… that was so new and welcome.” He smiled to himself, seeming to forget that I was there. “I still… I mean, she’s still probably the memory that sticks with me the most… as far as… you know, fantasies and stuff like that.” Then his face darkened in a moment of self-awareness. Maybe he was broken out of his trance by the sudden laughter that filled the room when an amateur comedian got the crowd worked up. He looked up at me and paled a little, either just realizing I was there or perhaps just now consciously noticing the resemblance between me and his professor.

“Anyway, I screwed it up,” he continued. “I had secretly taken some pictures of us in bed that first weekend, and a few weeks later, when an old high school friend was teasing me about how I was probably still a virgin in college, I sent a picture just to shut him up. But he sent the picture to another friend, and eventually it got back to someone at my college. And then it really spread. She got fired, and I felt horrible. Her name got dragged through the mud and she didn’t talk to me again. I can’t blame her: I was stupid, really, really stupid. It’s not like it was love or anything, I mean… I was confused and was probably feeling something, but I knew it was just a fling for her… something to get back at her husband or something… She never really told me.” He grimaced briefly, then shrugged and flashed a fake smile. “So anyway, that was my brush with being in the national news.”

Tristan was becoming more complicated than I wanted him to be. The story didn’t make him look great, but he came off less as an asshole and more like a stupid kid who probably never meant to hurt anyone. I felt bad bringing it up and tried to think of some way to recover or redirect the conversation. I was saved by, of all people, Steve.

Steve? Yes, it was Steve’s voice I heard up on stage. Steve’s awkward cuteness introducing a song as he pulled a banjo onto his lap.

“Is that Steve?” I asked Tristan in amazement. “Did you know?…”

Tristan smiled broadly, winked at me, then turned in his seat to face the stage. Well done, Tristan, well done. I had heard Steve talk about being a musician, but to my sudden shame, I had never heard him play. He was good. In the kitchen, he was an OK cook; he could get by. But he belonged on stage. The crowd seemed to know him – many of them sang along to some of his originals or requested covers that he seemed to Escort Ümraniye know well. He played much longer than anyone else, but no one minded. Once he was done, it seemed like the open mic night was over. I noticed Tristan was paying our bill.

“We should go say hi to…” I began, but then realized that I still did not want to be seen out with Tristan.

“You should,” he corrected me. “I’ll uh, I’ll just head out. Thanks for a fun evening, Mona.”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling conflicted as I leaned over and gave him a friendly hug. He smelled nice. “Thank you, Tristan. I… I enjoyed this.”

He smiled broadly at that, then slipped through the crowd towards the door. I wormed my way towards the stage, finding Steve talking awkwardly with a few “fans.” It was funny to think of Steve having fans, and I chuckled as I moved forward to stand among them.

“Mona!” he cried out, moving towards me. As he leaned in for a hug, he mumbled in my ear, “Help me get outta here?”

It wasn’t the kind of extraction operation I was used to doing, but I managed to get him to safer ground pretty easily. Since my table had already been cleared (and I didn’t want to have to explain why I had a table for two, anyway), I led us back out to the street. Steve and I chatted for a few minutes before I headed home, but not before telling him about a certain jam session that he would have to attend with me next time it happened.


When Russell called to tell me about the next get-together, I felt something that I couldn’t remember having felt in ages. It was a frightened and excited giddiness that made my stomach tingle. I told myself it was excitement over new friendships, excitement over being able to play music again, happiness that I was available that day, eagerness to bring Steve along. All of that was true, but I think most of the giddiness was my own desire to see Russell again.

The “Rainy Day Band” (as our eccentric drummer Rusty called us) welcomed Steve, who was in turn completely infatuated with Claire, the keyboardist. I had to help him not to make a fool of himself.

“She’s not interested in me, though,” Steve complained to me while we prepped dishes later that night. “And I can’t say for sure, but I think she’s a good bit older than me, too.”

“Well, in any case, you’ve made it clear you can’t keep your eyes off her,” I chided him in a big-sisterly way. “Good thing you tend to close your eyes when you play music, or it might have gotten awkward.”

“You’re one to talk,” he replied.

“Excuse me?”

“What, you think no one sees you staring down the bass player?”

“What?” I gasped, caught by surprise, which is an unfamiliar position I hate to be in. “I didn’t… I’m not…”

“Yeah, go ahead. Let me know when you’re ready to admit it.”

“He’s handsome,” I said, as if that was explanation enough.

“And that’s all it takes to interest you?” he said, tricking me into a reply.

“No,” I snapped defensively, taking the bait. “He’s handsome and friendly and talented and runs his own business and…”

“I get it, I get it,” he cut me off with a triumphant smile. “You’re totally into him. You could’ve just said so in the first place.”

I growled at Steve, frustrated that he had so easily turned the tables on me. “Anyway, despite what he said in the parking lot about them not dating, he seems to have something with Claire, don’t you think?”

“Nope,” Steve said confidently.

“You know something I don’t?”

“I overheard Rusty talking to Claire in the kitchen. He referred to Russell as ‘the dude who is your friend but who is not and never will be your boyfriend,'” Steve said, using his best stoner voice to imitate Rusty.

“Sounds like something Rusty would say,” I said softly, trying to ignore the way my heart had begun racing. Then trying to turn the focus back to Steve, I joked, “Your act would sound great with a piano…”

He stood looking thoughtful for a few seconds, then said, “Maybe, but too much trouble to transport. And Claire’s a soprano. Give me an alto with a guitar and some real hips, and I’d put a ring on her finger.”


And so began the most interesting, unusual, confusing, and significant summer of my life. The Rainy Day Band continued to meet every few weeks, giving me time to learn more about Russell. Macy gave birth to an adorable baby girl and took a few months off (leaving me to train her temporary replacement). Rollo got married, and I stood somewhat awkwardly among his line of groomsmen. I had forgotten that I needed to be there a few days early and ended up backing out of a jam session at the last minute. In my haste, I told Steve to have Russell call me. I took a lot of teasing for that. But Russell did call…

And Tristan continued his “training” to become a likable person. To be honest, he had already gotten pretty likable, though maybe that’s because I had invested the time to dig below the assholeish exterior. I think he even knew that his public face was disgusting, but he had worn it for so long that it had ceased to be a conscious act. He just defaulted to schmooze and womanizing. I invokd Rule at least once a week, and though I still kept my list of his more serious infractions, it was mostly just a threat.

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