Angelis & Not saying girl
Elizabeth had a silly half-smile on her curvaceous lips as she walked down Kent Street, curvaceous hips swishing unconsciously in a sensual rhythm that made passer-bys turn as she walked past them. Thoughts of what she and Gemma had just shared were coursing through her brain, making her feel hot all over again. Elizabeth couldn't wait to see Gemma again; she wasn't sure whether she really wanted what they had to turn into anything more serious, but she did know that there was something about Gemma that made her hormones run wild. She had heard the term "sexual chemistry" before and thought that this quite accurately described what they had together. However, Elizabeth was a flirt by nature and something of a commitmentphobe. Though she enjoyed the undeniably hot sex that she had with Gemma, Liz loved to experiment with new people, and even a tongue like Gemma's couldn't stop her wanting to stay carefree and unattached for as long as she could, enjoying life and all it's surprises to the fullest.
She was lost in these reflections when she felt a hand lightly touch her shoulder, startling her. Inhaling sharply and feeling goose bumps rise on her arms, she turned around, her dark amber eyes wide. As soon as she realized who it was, she relaxed but did not smile.
"Oh, hello," she said casually.
"Hi Liz. You all right?" asked Jeremy, looking directly into her eyes. It came out sounding like "You awlroit", typically Yorkshire.
"Doing good. I was with our friend Gemma a bit earlier..."
"Oh great. I haven't spoken to her since that last time we did lunch," Jeremy replied, breaking into a smile, his striking grey-green eyes losing some of their intensity as they crinkled up around the corners. "How is she, anyway?"
"Well, she's doing all right. But she caught my cold, poor darling," said Elizabeth, her serious expression dissolving into a tiny private smile at the recollection of Gemma writhing beneath her in the cinema, fighting not to explode. Danger had always turned Elizabeth on.
"Gemma's sick? Oh, I didn't know. I'll have to call her and drop by later!" Jeremy exclaimed, speaking more to himself than to Liz.
"Yeah, you should do that. I'm sure it would cheer her up. Anyway..." Elizabeth's eyes flickered towards the end of the street, body language clearly indicating that she was unsure whether to stay or leave.
Seeing her indecision made Jeremy grin as he looked at her. He could tell that she was slightly uncomfortable in his presence, probably because of what had taken place at the restaurant when she had joined their table. Had this been a different woman, he might have let her leave. However, he honestly liked Elizabeth as a person; her charm and good looks complemented her open and friendly personality, making her incredibly attractive. He didn't want the distance between them to grow. On the contrary! With this in mind, inspiration struck and he asked her, "Are you in a hurry? It's such a beautiful day that I was just thinking of stopping over at Starbucks for cappuccino or something. I just wanted to sit outside at a table and enjoy the sun. Would you care to join me?" Jeremy accompanied this request with his most winning smile, using his boyish charm to the best of his ability.
It had the desired effect. Liz's reserve melted away.
"I'd love to," she replied, smiling warmly.
With a gallant flourish of his long black coat, Jeremy extended his arm. Elizabeth took it, breaking into a low, pleasing laugh. They looked like an old-fashioned couple as they entered the coffee shop together, arm in arm. Several people turned to look at them as they made their way to the till, men casting appreciative glances at Elizabeth's statuesque figure and attractive features, and women hungrily taking in Jeremy's chiselled good looks and stylish demeanour. When the sour-faced student behind the counter handed them Liz's cafe latte and Jeremy's cappuccino, the pair crossed the room and found a table near the windows which would allow them to enjoy the warming rays of England's pale sun as they talked.
Jeremy was just taking off his coat before sitting down when he heard something that made him pause. It was a sneeze, wet and harsh, explosive yet feminine: "Ih... Ih... Ishoo!"
For some reason, this sneeze sent something akin to an electric shock down his spine; it simply sounded absolutely wonderful. It came from somewhere on the other side of the cafe, and he practically felt his ears rotate towards the source of it the way a hunting dog would adjust his hearing to better track the sound of nearby quarry. His narrowed eyes quickly scanned the room, trying to detect the starting place of that sneeze. His efforts were rewarded when a second later, he spied the woman who had sneezed.
Jeremy felt a heady mixture of disappointment and anticipation when he saw her. She was short and somewhat chubby, with ebony skin and a multitude of gold-streaked black braids cascading down to her shoulders. Her eyes were liquid and dark and her prominent nose rather accentuated the thinness of her lips. In truth, she was not very attractive, but oh, that sneeze! And, he could tell immediately, she was trying like crazy not to explode with another great one- watching her generous, delicious-looking breasts slowly heave beneath the thin cotton of the white embroidered Mexican vest she had on, her nipples erect and beautifully prominent against the fragile fabric, he began to get hard as the sneeze got closer and closer.
The black almost-beauty gave a few teasing false starts, "Huh-Huh-ahhhh..." and then her dark eyes widened suddenly, making her look almost glazed as she inhaled deeply, actually allowing the pollen-heavy spring air to plague her poor nose. "Cub od..." she said stuffily, staring directly above her into the pale, sharp sun. The girl next to her sighed heavily and carried on talking about someone called Ruby who liked flamenco dancing.
Almost feeling the agonising pressure of her situation himself, he couldn't tear his eyes away from her as the poor girl closed her eyes and lifted a finger to her nose, attempting to stifle a second one and failing. It exploded out of her rather loudly; another wet "Isshhoo!"
As Jeremy casually watched her, she wiped at her nose with a cream-coloured handkerchief and nodded at the friend she was with, a non-descript blond girl with spiked hair and too thin to his liking, who was animatedly talking, only interrupting her story to bestow a quick, "Bless you, Levonda," on her friend when she sneezed that second time.
Reluctantly taking his eyes away from the girls, Jeremy smiled at Elizabeth, hoping she hadn't noticed anything. He had to laugh sometimes at the way he would become totally absorbed in a sneeze observed by chance, completely losing the thread of the conversation he was involved in or forgetting what he was supposed to be doing.
"Damn, Julie," Levonda groaned, "I think my allergies are acting up again..."
Her companion groaned theatrically. "But you were sneezing all last night!"
"There's not a limit," Levonda complained. "I can't help the way my nose is itching, you know. When I walked through the flower market on the way here, I nearly sneezed my head off..."
Don't listen! Jeremy sternly told himself. If there was one thing that turned him on almost as much as women sneezing, it was hearing women talking about their sneezes. Jeremy's expression was one of studious nonchalance as he sat down, even though his blossoming erection stubbornly refused to correspond with his air of carelessness- as much as he enjoyed seeing people sneeze in public, it could be embarrassing at times.
He remembered one instance where he had been with a long gone girlfriend in a shopping mall years ago. They had wandered into Miss Selfridges because Jeremy had wanted to say a quick hello to Gemma, who had been working there for the summer. While Jeremy had been listening to Gemma's moaning over the atrocities of working in such a place and needing to attend to people she gladly would have seen tied to a wall and repeatedly flogged until they stopped being so silly and up-themselves, Charlene had busied herself by trying on every item in the store. They had been at the till, and while Charlene had been using her Switch card to pay for a pink and purple paisley print dress he had found spectacularly lacking in style, something had triggered Gemma's rare but legendary allergies; she had emitted three of the most magnificent sneezes he had ever witnessed. It was one of those times when things seemingly fell from the sky, and he hadn't been prepared, nor did he quite know how to handle it.
He could still remember the way her terracotta-powdered eyelids had fluttered for a few seconds before squeezing shut, and the delicate raising of her raven eyebrows had been almost as delightful as the indecisive trembling of her famously luscious lips. She had stood like this for a moment that seemed to last for hours, her breath hitching and her chest beginning to heave. As Jeremy stared, Gemma had turned away from Charlene and towards him, choking out a quick "'scuse me!" She hadn't bothered to cover her mouth as her head pitched forward, the black bob she then wore swinging back and forth.
As his eyes scoured every inch of her face, Gemma's delicate features had at last contorted, preparing for release. Jeremy had seen her take in a massive final breath as she faced him and then let loose with a surprisingly loud "Ha-ISHOO!" Her nose had given her little reprieve and before she could regain her composure, it had seized again, forcing her to lean forwards once more in an even more violent "IRRSHOO!" Gemma had then paused and tentatively opened faintly watery dark eyes before shutting them again and letting go a final sneeze, so intense as to sound almost painful: "Ih-HIIRSHOO!"
This last sneeze- the raw power of it combined with its irrepressible, explosive wetness- was all it took to turn Jeremy's indecisive member into an upstanding rod of pink steel.
Charlene had blessed her, and Gemma had excused herself, muttering something about "bloody allergies" and giving an embarrassed laugh. Neither of them had noticed Jeremy's quiet discomfort and flushed cheeks as they completed the transaction, the ritual signing of the receipt in exchange for the delivery of a filled plastic bag. It had been fairly hard for Jeremy to walk normally as they left the store and Charlene had, of course, immediately noticed. Though she had alternately teased him and badgered him for explanations about his obvious arousal, Jeremy had been too shy to explain the reason for it. His erection had eventually subsided, but the awkwardness of the situation was branded into his memory even now, probably because he still couldn't help wondering if Levonda's incredible sneezes were only going to amount to two on this glorious, pollen-charged day. He doubted it, but then again he always had been an optimist.
Even though, because of their special relationship, Gemma was the only person he had ever told about his feelings for sneezing, he had never reminded her about that particular incident. He fleetingly wondered if she remembered it- if, after his admission of his fetish in college, she had realised how much she had turned him on that day. Even at times when they hadn't been particularly close, which were few and far between, she always called him up whenever she had a cold, and although she teasingly chastised him- between sneezes- about playing with himself, "You'll go blind," she said lazily, and "You'll stunt your growth, you know. No girl will want you with all that fur that's going to grow on your palms, a three-foot tall werewolf, that'll be you, imagine," thrilled at how much pleasure she was giving him, while he staunchly denied that he was doing anything. And he wasn't! Well, not most of the time, anyway.
Once, while in a particularly mischievous mood, Gemma had come into a coffee shop when he and Charlene were having a dull lunch, and, resenting how Charlene monopolised Jeremy's attention, had subtly dipped her finger in the black pepper that the waitress had scattered on the table by the remnants of Jeremy's sandwich and gently wafted it under her nose after drawing Charlene's attention to the other side of the room, "Isn't that George Clooney?" then- during the resultant fit of wet, explosive sneezes, Gemma played with her pepper-sprinkled finger, pretending to wipe her nose and really setting off one torturous false start after another before she exploded, batted her long, feminine eyelids and cried, "Oh gosh, I don't know what's getting up my nose!" Just as he had been tempted to leave Charlene there and then and see if he could actually make love to Gemma- one of his life's few unfulfilled goals- Gemma had spotted a Calvin Klein model at the counter, and he didn't hear from her for a month. God, that girl was a tease and possibly a nymphomaniac, but he loved her.
Glancing subtly at the table where the sniffling black girl, Levonda, sat, her crumpled handkerchief on the table besides her, Jeremy hoped he wouldn't look foolish in front of the desirable Elizabeth. He picked up his cup and tentatively brought it to his lips. She might be a little aloof, but after spending so much of his life involved with Gemma, he was just grateful that most women were comparatively sane.
"This cappuccino is wonderful," he said noncommittally.
"Isn't it? It tastes fabulous, but it always gives me such a caffeine rush," Liz casually replied.
"And you don't like getting a rush?" Jeremy asked, arching a well-defined eyebrow suggestively.
"All in good time, and it depends what kind," Elizabeth smiled enigmatically, impossibly naughty and inappropriate images of Gemma once again running through her mind. Elizabeth was not the type to be locked in her room at this point in time, thinking: "Oh my God I'm a lesbian, that's so awful." Well, as far as she knew, Gemma had never done it. Besides, how could she possibly be solely into women all of a sudden, especially when Jeremy's lips looked precious enough to worship and close enough to kiss...well, almost close enough...
Jeremy couldn't resist, and though he knew he shouldn't pursue it, he inquired:
"And what kind of rush would that be?"
"A rush... A rush of..." It was on the tip of Liz's tongue to blurt out "pure, unadulterated, passionate lust," but she held back, instead looking away almost shyly and laughing softly, the faintest blush rising to her pale cheeks.
"Let me guess. A rush of Gemma?" Jeremy guessed. Gemma hadn't called him with a series of naughty stories, as she usually did, but as she knew how much he fancied Liz, he supposed that just might be his odd little friend's attempt at politeness. You never could tell with her.
"Something like that, you could say," replied Liz, taking a sip of her steaming cafe latte. "She's really something, your friend Gemma. How long have you two known each other?"
"I think it must be..." Jeremy paused, his mind turning to trivial tabulations. As he did so, his eyes happened to wander over to the nearby table, where the black girl had once again picked up her handkerchief. He felt his member- which, what with his recollections of Gemma's allergies, pepper-playing and sneezy phone calls, hadn't totally relaxed- beginning to stir anew, as he anticipated what was about to happen.
Levonda was holding the pale cream piece of cloth up to her mouth expectantly. Her blond friend was looking away into the distance, waiting impatiently for the inevitable to be over.
Levonda had a superb nose, Jeremy thought- an impressive, eloquent nose. Nothing beautiful by Vogue's standards, but just watching her wide, wonderful nostrils flare uncontrollably, the sharp wrinkles in the long bridge of it, the twitches which grew and receded with each teasing little tickle, Jeremy could have married this girl, just for her nose. Levonda's dark eyes were shut and Jeremy could see her shoulders hitching slightly. He felt his body tense as he took in the scene: her shuddery breaths, her flaring nostrils, her hands tightly clutching the handkerchief as she waited for the sneeze to come. Levonda's upper lip was drawn up in an objectively very unappealing manner that Jeremy found fabulously exciting.
"I'm gonna-" she managed, speaking in a distorted, staccato manner, "sneeehhhhh-huuuuhhhhh...."
"I know," her friend said waspishly. "God, can't you bloody take something for those bloody allergies?"
The girl's whole body was leaning forward, waiting for the sneeze, ready to embrace it, until at last it came. Levonda's head snapped forward and she sneezed loudly, "Hih-ih-ihshoo! Cshoo! Ih... oh... Ih-shoo! Ishoo!" Levonda blew her nose softly until yet another sneeze interrupted her. It came out sounding both muffled and startled, "cmshoo!", followed by another wet blowing sound.
"Those sneezes are driving me crazy," the blonde girl said testily, only just loud enough to be heard over the espresso machine.
"They're driving m-mmm-misshoo! They're driving me crazy too," Levonda muttered stuffily, nose buried in her handkerchief.
Jeremy fought a sudden rebellious urge to add his own opinion on the subject.
The production the girl was making of her sneezes was incredibly erotic to Jeremy who was beginning to feel uncomfortably warm. His underwear was feeling rather restrictive and he shifted his hips in an attempt to reduce the pressure. As Levonda wiped her nose and gave a torturously wet sniff, trying hard to stop her nose from running over without resorting to giving a great, gurgling blow- which, he could tell, was required- Jeremy's eyes flicked back to Liz's expectant face.
What had they been talking about? Oh yes, Gemma. Elizabeth had been asking him what it was like being friends with Gemma.... he thought, anyway...
"Delightful!" Jeremy said, flashing Liz a boyish smile as he thought how aptly the word described both the friendship at hand and the splendid sneezes he had just witnessed.
"You two have known each other for delightful?" Elizabeth asked, giving him a puzzled look.
"What?" Jeremy asked, perplexed in turn, his eyes looking directly into Elizabeth's.
"I asked you how long you two had been friends for and you said delightful."
"Oh. I'm sorry, my mind wandered as I was trying to remember. I guess I was trying to count the years and then, thinking back, what came out was...well...how delightful it was, being friends with Gemma," Jeremy replied, trying to inject some sense into his reply.
He paused to take another sip of his coffee, thinking about how to get out of this awkward situation. This uncomfortable moment at least had the advantage of helping his erection subside somewhat. He had to keep himself from spewing out a mouthful of coffee and smiling wide when he remembered the way Gemma used to tease him in similar situations, saying he could start to think normally probably because some of the blood had actually found its way back to his brain.
"Oh. That's really sweet. Actually- you're really sweet..." Liz said, smiling. Flirting really was a second nature with her.
Jeremy was simply relieved that this answer seemed to satisfy her.
"I'm not sure if I'd say Gemma was sweet, though," Liz continued, her smile evolving into a sly grin. "I'd say spicy was more her style, don't you agree?"
"Oh yes. That, she certainly is," Jeremy gave a small laugh, thinking that out of the dozens of adjectives he could use to describe Gemma, spicy was certainly a very appropriate one.
At the next table, Levonda chose that moment to sneeze again. Jeremy heard a small but harsh "Ichshoo!" and had to look over. The handkerchief was pressed to the girl's nose and mouth again, and her features registered a look of definite discomfort. Her shoulders were hunched and she was pressing the damp cloth firmly to her nose in a failed attempt to stop the sneezes from coming as her friend cast her eyes up to heaven, as if begging God to let this stop right now, looking seriously annoyed. From the look of things, it was a lost cause. Her large nose was looking even more irritated than her friend was, and Levonda's upper lip was tightly curled into a fixed pre-sneeze mask as her head dipped forward. Jeremy felt his Adam's rod hardening once more as she sneezed again: "Hi-Itchoo!"
Her eyes did not open. A good sign. He sat tensely and waited.
A second later, yet another sneeze exploded out of her despite her best efforts to keep it down: "Ihi... Hih... Ih-CHOO!" Levonda gave a blow that had a distinct honking sound to it before setting down her handkerchief again, beginning to look fairly miserable.
Jeremy couldn't believe the blond girl was still chattering away, oblivious to her friend's obvious discomfort. "So anyway," she was saying, "You missed a really good night at the Moon on Friday..." Levonda looked at her with watery eyes, her handkerchief pressed to her nose, obviously trying hard to concentrate...was it just him, Jeremy wondered, or did her nose give the tiniest of twitches there?...
"Jeremy," Liz said in an impatient tone.
"What?" he replied, startled.
"I've said your names three times, Jeremy. Am I boring you." It did not sound like a question. Her voice was terse, slightly sharp-edged. Elizabeth was definitely not used to being ignored.
"What? Never!" His denial, however sincere, failed to convince Elizabeth.
She glanced at her cup, then back up at Jeremy, sighing.
"Maybe I'd better go," she said, looking at once frustrated and disappointed.
"No, please, stay!" Jeremy pleaded, placing his strong hand on her slender one like a lover desperate to keep the object of his affection from leaving. "I'm really sorry, really. Don't go." In the state he was in, he would be quite embarrassed if he had to actually get up and run after her. Unless he decided to let Elizabeth see his obvious arousal, he would have no choice but to let her go.
"Well, it's not like you're talking to me," Elizabeth replied, sounding somewhat hurt. "Why do you keep looking over at that table? Do you know that girl or something?"
"What? Her? No, no I don't."
"Well, what then? So she's having an allergy attack; didn't your mum tell you it's not polite to stare?" Liz's frown disappeared, replaced by a light, teasing smile.
"There are some things it's hard not to stare at," Jeremy replied archly, meeting her smile with one of his own. Her moods seem to come and go so quickly that Jeremy had a hard time keeping up with her.
"Like people having allergy attacks?"
"Well, yes!" he replied, swallowing dryly. He wished he could think of some way to steer the conversation in another direction, but Elizabeth wasn't having any of it.
"You know, it's kind of funny. This reminds me of that lunch we had a few days ago with Gemma in that Italian restaurant. You remember that, don't you?" Elizabeth's eyes narrowed in what Jeremy thought was an accusing manner as she asked the question.
"It does?" Jeremy asked, striving to keep his tone light and nonchalant.
"It does, come to think of it," Elizabeth continued, obviously voicing her thoughts out loud. "And I remember something very strange going on. I never did quite get it; it was sort of freaky really. In fact, I remember I thought it was strange how you and Gemma were so interested in the way I... Oh my God..."
Elizabeth trailed off as events in her mind connected with an almost audible click. She gasped and looked at Jeremy with round, bright eyes. Her lips curled in a triumphant grin and for a moment, Jeremy thought he saw in her the proud, bright schoolgirl she had most probably been. He pictured her raising her hand high, her whole body leaning forward as she pressed her lips together, desperately wanting to deliver the answer the teacher was expecting.
He gave an almost imperceptible nod, almost a wince, as Elizabeth opened her mouth and exultantly concluded:
"You two have some strange thing about sneezing, don't you?" Her eyes brightened still more as she saw Jeremy begin to blush.
Before she could stop herself, Liz burst out laughing.
Jeremy wished he could crawl under the table and into a hole in the ground large enough to swallow him up forever. He would gladly jump in without uttering a sound, except perhaps for a very faint murmur of gratitude. All previous traces of excitement over Levonda's allergies had promptly disappeared; he felt as if someone had just doused him in ice water. Liz's voice sounded unnaturally loud as she continued; in his alarmed state Jeremy was certain that the whole restaurant could hear her and that they were listening in to their conversation. Would they start laughing and pointing at him in a minute before running him out of the store?
"You and Gemma get turned on by sneezing! So that's why she brought me to that movie theatre, the little vixen. And that's why you keep looking over at that girl. And at the restaurant, when I had that cold, and you were talking to me about those books and that whole strange thing about 'nosegasms' and- Oh my God!" Elizabeth exclaimed again, burning with anger and disgust this time, as the full magnitude of what she was saying crashed in all her all at once.
Levonda chose that precise moment to launch into another sneezing fit at the table next to theirs. Paralysed by embarrassment, Jeremy kept his eyes on his lap as Elizabeth's keen amber eyes kept flicking back and forth between Levonda's misery and Jeremy's as if trying to decide whom she thought was the most pathetic and unsavoury.
Levonda was pressing her handkerchief to her nose in another futile attempt to stop the sneezes from coming. Her large nose was flaring magnificently and her huge liquid eyes were watering more than ever as she struggled to keep her lips together. Even so, the first sneeze burst out of her, a ragged "Ihhhisshew!" More quickly followed as Levonda's head bobbed up and down again and again. Her blond friend looked around tiredly, as if looking to see if there was anyone in the restaurant who wasn't watching the way Levonda's impressive hay fever was acting up. Had Jeremy been in a position to look over at that moment, he would have no doubt come to the conclusion that this was the most savoury sneezing fit he had ever had the chance to witness.
Levonda, oblivious, only sneezed again and again; "Iirrshoo! Hih... Hisshoo!... Hiii-iishoo!... Hiiirshoo!... Ishoo!... Ih-hisshh!... Hih... hihihi... Hi-hiisshhoo!... Isshoo!" She stopped to try to empty her nose, but was only greeted mid-blow with another tired, wet "Ishoo!" Blowing forcefully into her dripping handkerchief, she looked thoroughly miserable.
Finally realizing that her friend was enjoying their coffee chat less than she was, the blond girl asked Levonda if she wanted to leave. The latter quickly agreed and it took all of ten seconds for them to gather their belongings and make their way out. Levonda uttered a last muffled "cshoo!" as the doors swung shut behind her, as if she were bidding Jeremy a secret farewell.
Jeremy, however, was hardly paying her any attention. He was too busy fervently wishing that God would strike him down into a pile of ashes so that he wouldn't have to face Elizabeth's wrath. Levonda's last outburst only exacerbated the shame he was feeling and he was blushing furiously, his usual studied composure gone. He was for once completely unnerved. His throat was painfully dry, and he honestly couldn't think of a single thing to say. Elizabeth wasn't quite done though. As Levonda disappeared, the weight of her wildcat eyes once again came to rest on Jeremy, grinding him even further down into the seat where he was slumped.
"Bet you're sorry she left," Liz commented snidely. "Maybe I should follow. I might see something to tell you and Gemma about, so you can enjoy it some more without telling her how you're using her for your pleasure."
"Using?" he snapped. "That's-"
"That's how I feel Jeremy. I feel used. I can't believe what you two did in that restaurant the other day. I really can't. And to think I... To think I was so innocent, thinking you two were interested in me and sympathising for that bloody cold I had and all along I was just some kind of... some kind of bloody sneezing puppet you two manipulated for your own pleasure. How could you, Jeremy? And I don't think Gemma's any better than you are for doing this, trust me. I'll certainly be having a word with her, you can count on that."
Unable to help it, he snorted laughter.
"What?" she demanded, an angry virago, the colour in her cheeks high and hot as her temper.
"Elizabeth," he said, his voice measured tensely. "You will not be the first beautiful young woman to have a word with Gemma. She's never had a relationship that's outlasted a sheet change. On the rare occasions that we've lived together I have had to tell at least a hundred lesbians that she's dead, or has left the country, or even entered a convent. Gemma has anyone she damn well pleases, whenever and how well she damn well pleases. She's not about to listen to you- I mean, have you two ever had a conversation? Talked about something other than sex or what might lead to sex? I might possibly give a care about whether you're a lesbian or not, but she certainly doesn't. And if you are going to her place, knock before you enter. She's usually busy."
Elizabeth sat stock-still. She said softly, "I thought you loved Gemma."
"I do! I-"
Elizabeth cut him off sharply, a different kind of anger taking hold of her. "Then why are you bad-mouthing her?"
He swallowed hard, knuckling his closed eyes with his hands. "I'm just telling you the truth. She's not interested in a relationship."
"Neither am I!" Liz snapped. "And nor am I interested in either of you two any more! You humiliated me!"
"It wasn't like that," Jeremy said, clearing his throat and trying to regain some of his former assurance.
"It wasn't like what?" she retorted acidly. "It wasn't like you two were getting off on my sneezing and letting me make a complete fool of myself just so you could have a laugh and enjoy it even more? It wasn't like that, was it? What then? What exactly was it like?" Liz's cheeks were now tinged with erratic red blotches.
Even in her fury, Jeremy couldn't help thinking how amazingly, agonizingly beautiful she was. He reached out and tried to put his hand on hers, a reconciliatory gesture of peace. Liz recoiled as if being approached by a venomous snake.
Jeremy sighed and swiftly withdrew, beginning to feel a vein try to pound its way out of his forehead.
"We weren't having a laugh," he said, after a while. "We were all pleasuring each other, Liz, not...laughing at you. We weren't taking advantage of you that day, really, we weren't. Things just happened, and I won't lie and say we didn't both enjoy it, but we weren't...manipulating you for our own pleasure..." Jeremy tried painfully to explain. "What we did was wrong. I apologize, Liz. I really do. Honestly. Okay, so you hit the nail on the head; Gemma and I both find sneezing interesting. We weren't lying about that. And we like you. I know I said that already. And that day, you had that cold, and the way you sneezed..." Jeremy paused to take a deep breath, realizing he was babbling. "Well, both of us thought it was kind of exciting. And if you look at it from our point of view, here's this beautiful woman that we both fancy who's doing something we find extremely interesting... And she's doing things to both of us without even knowing it. We never thought you would know and we never thought you would be angry. We certainly didn't plan anything and we didn't think you'd feel violated."
Jeremy's own eyebrows rose as he continued, suddenly recalling another slant to their previous lunchtime amusement. "Don't forget Liz, from what I remember, you were having quite a lot of fun with Gemma and I during that lunch, too. It's not like we had all the fun and left you out in the cold, or just 'used you' and then left you out. All that really happened, if you remember, was that we all enjoyed ourselves. The only real difference is that we didn't tell you that we had the added excitement of your cold thrown in." Jeremy paused, uncertain, before finally adding "I guess no matter what I say, you'll still be angry, but we really didn't mean anything bad by it. We both really like you Liz. Please don't think we would ever intentionally do anything to hurt you," Jeremy finished in a rather broken voice. He looked down at the coffee table for a moment before allowing his eyes to timidly stutter back to Elizabeth's face, trying desperately to read the emotional weather there.
He drew nothing but a blank; her features were set in a neutral mask. "You might be right," she said dispassionately, mulling over what he had just told her.
Instinct told Jeremy to stay put, and so he dismissed his urge to reach for his coat and run away from the coffee shop at top speed to throw himself in front of the first double-decker he could find. He folded his hands in his lap and forced himself to relax, casting about the coffee shop as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening at their table. He made himself keep quiet, thinking that at this point he couldn't really do much more to help the resolution of his conflict. He still had trouble believing this was really happening. Discreetly, he pinched the tender skin on the inside of his wrist hard enough to leave a red mark as he withdrew his fingers. No luck: this wasn't a nightmare. He was still studying the fading blotch on his skin when Elizabeth finally spoke again:
"Ok. You're right. I'm probably overreacting. I still think it was wrong of you not to let me on this little secret of yours though," she said in a warning tone. She still wasn't smiling. "It's not like I didn't enjoy what Gemma did to me," a smile began to play across her lips as she thought back to their little under-the-table session at the restaurant. "But I still think you guys weren't honest with me. And I still feel silly- no, stupid!- for being taken in like that."
Jeremy couldn't quite think of an appropriate answer. He gave her a tentative smile, looking at her inquisitively.
"Oh hell," Liz laughed. "I'm still furious. But that's okay. It'll pass, I swear. And for the record, there's a couple of things you guys do that turn me on too, but I'm not going to tell you."
"Like what?" Jeremy piped up, unable to restrain his curiosity and sensing the worst of the storm had passed. He could almost see the sun beginning to shine again behind those lovely amber eyes.
"You don't deserve to be told," Liz's lips parted in a fetching grin.
This time, it was her hand that made its way across the table. Jeremy reached out at once and caught it with his stronger one.
"I don't?" he asked in an innocent voice, beginning to feel the knots in his stomach loosen.
"You don't. But I want to thank you for coming clean today. I scared you to death, didn't I?" she asked, marvelling as she let her eyes wander across his features where relief was more than obvious. Jeremy could feel blood rushing away from cheeks that had previously been scarlet.
"Yeah," he said sheepishly, "you did. I... I don't want to lose you, Liz." Then seeing a twinkle in her eyes, he hastily added "as a friend."
"And as object of your affection," she added teasingly. "You said you fancied me."
"And as object of my affection," he repeated, smiling in turn. "I do."
Neither said a word for a moment, their eyes locked as they continued to hold hands tightly. It was Jeremy who broke the spell, asking Liz if she was ready to go. Their cups still sat on the table, half-empty, the creamy concoctions having cooled to unappetizing sludge during their confrontation.
Against all odds, Jeremy felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders and as if his relationship with Elizabeth had actually solidified as a result of their row.
They stood, and Jeremy helped Elizabeth with her coat before putting on his own. Still hand in hand, they stepped out of the coffee shop and into the bright spring sun.
Gemma, swabbing her runny nose with a knot of damp tissue and looking less together then usual in the mis-buttoned green shirt she'd been napping in and a pair of black cotton boxer shorts, stood in the foyer of her apartment building, checking her mail.
No messages. She had hoped against hope. Shite.
Nothing from Liz...
Gemma's shoulders seized up as she heard a truly awe-inspiring sneeze explode like a high school cherry-bomb behind her. She grinned, as she turned around and saw a familiar, powerfully built young black woman standing in the doorway, holding a soaked and exceptionally useless-looking handkerchief to her nose.
"Levonda! Where the hell have you been?" she exclaimed, embracing her and darting a kiss on the girl's cheek. "I didn't see you at the Moon on Friday. I dragged all the way to that dive just to see you DJ and you didn't show up. What's with that? Some new honey hanging her undies off your bedpost this week, hmmm?"
Levonda shook her head. "These damn allergies have been keeping me in-" her face contorted, she turned away from Gemma, urgently miming a desperate need to sneeze, and let loose with a mighty "HIHHH-HISSSSCHOOOO!" She didn't turn away quite enough, as Gemma's iron grip on her shoulders didn't let her, and a fraction of the prodigious amounts of spray her sneeze produced landed gently on Gemma's face, drawing an involuntary shiver of delight from the latter.
"Bless you," Gemma purred hoarsely, gently caressing Levonda's cheek. She absolutely loved women who made productions of their sneezes, and Levonda's got her unbelievably hot- always had. They'd known each other for about two years, and their prodigious sexual progress was marked by the huge map that Levonda had drawn one night for a laugh and was used to monitor who had shagged who on the women's scene. Gemma's name came up about twice as often as her friend's did, but Levonda still got around, and she and Gemma had enjoyed a few pleasant afternoon encounters before, the most memorable of which had resulted from an outdoor pub lunch in the middle of July. Lots of allergy triggering flower beds. Sublime.
"Damn!" Levonda exclaimed, amazed by the force of her own sneeze. "I am so, so sick of this! You know, Julie told me she'd had enough of my hay fever this afternoon."
"God! What does she expect you to do about it?"
"I don't care, hon, I told her to pack her bags. I was getting sick of her glaring at me every time I sneezed. And having to hold them in... forget about it. Frankly, it's not like I could even if I tried. So I thought maybe I'd come over, I mean, you're about the only person I know who's cool with my allergies and I kind of felt like I needed a friend right now..."
Suddenly, as if on cue, Gemma ducked her head and let out a great, bellowing, "Ahhh-AHH-HAHSHOO!"
Levonda's grin grew even wider. "God bless you, Gemma! I've got to say, you don't look your normal gorgeous self. That cute little nose of yours is all red and runny. Have you got allergies too?"
"A cold, just a bloody annoying cold," Gemma explained, feeling slightly fragile. "Nothing major, but I'm just about as sneezy as you. Or maybe more," she added, thinking back to her incredible outburst earlier on in the cinema. The outburst Liz had witnessed...
"So I don't suppose either of us are going to the club tonight? I'm not. Julie's going to be there, bitching about me no doubt, and all I want to do is lie around and wallow in my own misery."
"And you were going to do that with me. How nice."
"You had something important planned for tonight, then? Cocktails? Movies? An orgy?"
Gemma sniffed wetly and attempted to mop her nose with her disintegrated tissue. "Personally, I was planning to curl up on the couch and watch old movies with a plentiful supply of tissues. You?"
"Same thing. That is, if Julie clears out in time for me to chill a little." There was a slight pause, during which the two of them made serious eye contact.
"She probably won't go for a while..." Gemma said, trying to keep her tone neutral. "If I know Julie, that is. She won't."
"No," Levonda agreed softly, and then bent almost double with an almighty, "ISSSHOO!" Her eyes watered at the force of the sneeze, and she buried her runny nose in her handkerchief, which was so wet it was almost transparent. "She probably won't. And even if I do go back now, she'll just want to know who gets the CDs we bought together last week."
"What CDs?" Gemma asked.
Levonda muttered ashamedly, "kd lang."
Gemma grinned. "It's not worth it, you know."
"I know." Levonda grinned back at her and followed her up the stairs.