“Texas,” Haerim said, her voice far away, drowsily running her finger around the edges of the birthmark on Baekhyun’s thigh. “I honestly see Texas.”
“It’s roundish,” he murmured, lifting his heavy head a half an inch off the padded edge of his big deep tub before letting it drop. His fingers never stopped trailing lazily up and down her feet, which were propped on his shoulder.
Haerim slipped an inch lower, revelling in the hot water, the decadent bubbles, the dreamy sound of music playing through Baekhyun’s fancy system, too deep in the afterglow to do much more than blink fuzzily at the fake—as it turned out—rhinoceros head suspended on the stark grey wall over Baekhyun’s shoulder.
“Unless you’re a contortionist,” she said, “or handy with a mirror, you’d never know.”
“I’ve been told. By women of good authority.”
“How’s that? Did your sisters pin you down and measure it out?”
“Never happened,” he rumbled in warning. “I might be outnumbered, but I’m smart. And crafty. And strong.”
Before she even felt him move he tugged, nearly dunking her under the wash of spice-scented bubbles. She came up spluttering as he pulled her feet apart and drew her towards him till there was nothing left to do but straddle his thighs and grab his shoulders.
“Evidently,” she said, settling. The hairs of his legs rasped against all too sensitive skin. She wiped the bubbles from her hair, and twisted the length over her shoulders.
Baekhyun’s eyes followed the movement, changing to a darker shade as he watched the trail of water wavering down her collarbone, over the rise of her s where the bubbles slid south. His knees lifted, pressing her forward, nudging her centre against the thickness of his.
“What was it like?” she asked. “Growing up with sisters.”
As soon as the words came out of she stilled, waiting for him to shut down.
“Loud,” he said, surprising her.
Haerim breathed out.
“I’m not sure if it’s a female thing, or a Byun family thing, but no matter how I laid down the law they could never keep their hands off my stuff.”
Haerim didn’t have any sisters to compare them to, but she thought of Jimin, of the pieces of Jimin’s clothing hanging in her closet, the books and DVDs of hers lost in the depths of Jimin’s apartment. “Female thing, I think. Bonding, perhaps? Nesting, maybe?”
“What was it like growing up with no sisters?”
He cocked a half smile.
“Especially when my father would have preferred to spend a beautiful spring day in the university library rather than playing in the park.”
“And what was she like? Your mother?”
“Dad didn’t talk about her much. Only when he saw her in me. When I was acting ‘too colourful,’ as he put it.”
“He never married again?”
“He never married at all. From the bits and pieces I managed to gather I came to think of my mum as a free spirit—his one brief shining moment and his cautionary tale.”
She’d seen them try though—students, fellow scholars, even a Dean or two, but her clever, handsome, distant father had remained impassive. Married to his work, they’d all sigh, only Haerim had seen the rare flashes of pain that would pass over his eyes when he looked at her, as if he was seeing her mother…and the one who ruined him for all others. And knowing it, she’d tried harder to make it all better.
“I at least had my dad till I was into my teens. Long enough to identify what it meant to be a man,” he said, surprising her again.
Haerim swallowed at his words. At the thought of a boy of thirteen having to take on that mantle. When his eyes found hers, she said, “It was what it was. Maybe easier because I never knew any different.”
“Maybe. Now, promise me…”
“Not a single thing we’ve done together had better end up in that damnable pink thing of yours.”
“Hmm…” His eyes connected with hers, a smile curling at the corner of his sensuous mouth.
Then his hands left her hips to dig into the flesh at her waist. Haerim’s eyes fluttered shut, tipping open as he rocked her forward, creating a pleasant pressure inside her.
But her head was filled with so many more questions. About his childhood, his family, his relationships, his choices. How they’d all get intertwined to make him who he was. To keep him from getting close to someone special. Because whether it was the water, the lethargy, the bubbles, the fact that they hadn’t stopped touching one another for even half a second, something had relaxed him, given him ease.
When his hand lifted to run down her torso, from collarbone to belly, the questions fled. When he took her hips, his thumbs sweeping her inner thighs, she struggled to remember her own name. He lifted to kiss her neck and nip at her shoulder. Feeling the pound of his heart against her own, Haerim took a breath, stilled her mind, forgot herself and heard her own heart.
This, it said.
And she knew exactly what it meant.
Byun Baekhyun might not talk about himself as much as she wished, but when she was with him he was more present than any man she’d ever known. He was the first man who’d ever been with her not because he needed to be but because he wanted to be, and that made more of a difference than she’d ever imagined.
But not Baekhyun, she told her heart. Not him.
It said nothing back. It seemed her heart had exhausted its wisdom for the moment.