Brea

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Brea was checking her mailbox, at 6:35 exactly, just like every other day, even Saturdays. She was creature of habit if nothing else. That and the 5:10 bus from work. When she closed her mailbox and turned away, a handsome young man was rolling up in a wheelchair. Brea smiled politely at him and started for the elevators. She’d even taken a few steps in that direction when she realized he had been scanning the top row of mailboxes. Spinning around, she blurted out, “Do you need some help?”

“Actually, that would be great,” he replied dourly. “Last week, the doorman was holding my mail for me. Now this week, it’s someone else and he won’t give me the time of day. Says it’s against the law to handle my mail.”

“He’s a temp,” Brea assured him, taking his key and finding the proper mailbox. “The regular guy will be back next week. Just promise you won’t call the FBI on me, okay?” She handed him a stack of envelopes.

“God bless the ADA.” He continued with a hint of bitterness. “Make the developers add accessible apartments, but not mailboxes.”

“I’m sorry,” Brea said, not sure what else she could offer.

He suddenly smacked his forehead, and she took a step back in surprise. “What’s the matter with me? Here I am in the presence of a beautiful, kind, sympathetic woman and all I can do is bitch. Like it’s your fault, somehow. Let me start over. Thank you, and I mean that sincerely. My name is Ray. You probably figured that out from my mail, huh?”

“I’m Brea,” she said closing his mailbox. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

“Moved in last week. What can I do to thank you?”

“What, that? That’s nothing. And I’m here at 6:35 every day, you know, until the regular doorman is back. I’d be happy to help.”

“Not 6:36?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

She laughed as they both headed toward the elevator. “Not unless the bus is late. When you don’t have much of a life, it’s easier to be timely.”

“A beautiful woman like you, no life?” he said with emphatic incredulity.

She blushed. “You’re just being kind.”

“At least let me offer you a beer.” He rolled onto the elevator.

“I don’t really like beer,” she declined, shyly.

“What then? You’re making it hard to be a gentleman, here. Margaritas, mojitos, brandy, champagne?”

“I pretty much just stick to wine.”

He pounced. “Red or white, sweet or dry, domestic or foreign?”

“Ray, really, you don’t have to…”

As the doors began to open onto her floor, he rolled in front of them. “Not letting you off until you answer.”

She rolled her eyes. “All right, all ready. White, dry, cheap.”

“My kind of girl,” he said with a wink, rolling back so that she could get off the elevator. She shook her head in exasperation, but she smiled all the way to her apartment door.

The next day, he was waiting for her when she walked into the lobby, wrestling with her umbrella. She smiled in pleasant surprise, and took his key to fetch his mail for him, then checked her own box. He waited patiently until she turned and started for the elevator, rolling up beside her. “I’m kidnapping you and making you accept a glass of wine. I have three different flavors for you to pick from.”

“Flavors?” she said with a slight frown. “We’re not talking Annie Green Springs, here, are we?”

“I’m kidding,” he teased.

“Well, okay. I guess in that case you can kidnap me. But just one.” A smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he rolled onto the elevator.

When he led her into his apartment a few minutes later, she was duly impressed with the subdued but classy decorating. He refused her offer of help, commanding her to “make herself comfortable” on the large couch while he rolled into the kitchenette and began fussing about. Brea snuck a look at him as he moved about the low-set counter. She hadn’t noticed much yesterday beyond a general handsome nature, with smiling eyes, fairly short wavy blond hair and a squarish, strong jaw. Now, without a bulky jacket on, she realized he was very broad shouldered and chested, with heavily muscled arms. When he glanced up at her, she looked quickly away, blushing.

“Wow,” she said. “You have a way better view than mine. Amazing what being a few stories higher can do.”

“At night, the lights are really beautiful. Maybe if I get a few glasses of wine in you, I can convince you to stay till then.”

Brea glanced over at him, but he was smiling in a teasing way. “I said just one,” she reminded him.

He shrugged. “When a guy kidnaps a beautiful woman, you can’t blame him for wanting to prolong the pleasure. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris?”

“Chardonnay,” she replied, then studied her hands in her lap. “You shouldn’t keep saying that.”

He frowned. “Saying what?”

“I’m not beautiful.”

He stopped what he was doing and rolled around the kitchen bar toward her. “Whoever convinced you of that deserves to be soundly trounced and I’m just the guy to do it. Gimme a name!”

When she realized he wasn’t going to move without a response, she murmured, “Bad relationship. It’s over. He’s casino şirketleri gone.”

He watched her for a moment, then relented and wheeled back into the kitchenette. “So that’s why you have no life? Because of some jerk who had no idea how good he had it?”

She raised her chin and smiled, but he noticed she was still wringing her hands. “I guess it just made me choosier,” she said.

A moment later, he was returning with a beer in his lap and a large wine glass in his hand. Somehow he managed to get his chair to roll straight with one hand. He even managed to bow slightly as he held the wine out to her. “Your drink, my lady.”

“Thank you, kind sir,” she answered and laughed softly.

He lifted his beer and popped the cap, tossing it neatly into a distant waste basket, then held the bottle up towards her. “To wonderful neighbors.”

She clinked her glass against his bottle. “Here, here,” she agreed.

For a while they chatted idly about work and family, fellow tenants, the annoyances of mass transit and other comfort zone topics. When Brea excused herself to use his bathroom, he surreptitiously topped off her wine glass from the bottle he had stashed in a side pocket of his chair. When she returned and eyed the glass suspiciously, he went with his most effective distraction technique.

“You haven’t asked me how I ended up in this chair,” he said.

“Oh,” she responded, taking a substantial sip of the wine. “It’s really none of my business.” Ray gave himself an imaginary pat on the back. Works every time.

“And it’s none of my business about your ex. Tell you what, I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours.”

“I really don’t…”

“I was stupid. Drank too much. Got on a motorcycle. Hit a patch of gravel, then hit a ditch, then hit a tree. At least that’s what they tell me. I don’t remember any of it. But now, not much of anything works from the waist down.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, putting her hand on his.

“Don’t be. I’m still here. I’m still having fun. And the best part is,” he leaned toward her. “Beautiful women don’t see me as a huge, tough guy threat when I try to lure them to my apartment.” He leaned back in his chair. “I got it made in the shade, baby.”

Brea looked at him and cocked an eyebrow. “Defensive lineman,” she hazarded a guess.

He laughed brightly. “Offensive. Center, occasionally.” He shrugged. “Not good enough for the pros, but you’d think it would at least make it easy to get a date on campus. If I’d walked up to a pretty lady standing at her mailbox back then and invited her to my room for a drink. Well, they couldn’t run fast enough. Course, the quarterbacks and the receivers got all the good press. We were just ‘the line’ that was supposed to keep the pretty quarterback from getting his face smashed in.

“But then, last year of school, I come back and instead of six foot six and two hundred sixty pounds of iron muscle, I’m four foot of chair-bound unmannedhood. So now the chicks talk to me, but only about how much they pity me.”

“Oh, I…” Brea stared at her lap.

“Except you,” he interrupted you. “Apart from the fact that you apologize way too often, I don’t get one iota of a pity vibe from you. It’s refreshing. And if you’re just hiding it really well, please don’t tell me. Let me live out my fantasy.”

This time, he topped off her wine without pretense. She didn’t seem to notice or remember her preset limit. “There, I’ve bared my soul. Now it’s your turn.” He pulled a beer from the pocket of his chair, and once again made a neat basket with the lid.

“Um, I…” Brea was wringing her hands again. He picked up her wine glass and closed her fingers around the stem to give them something else to do.

“Did he tell you that you weren’t beautiful?” Ray asked softly.

“No, he never said that,” she said with a shake of her head.

“Did he tell you that you were beautiful?”

“Um, no.” She took a big gulp of wine.

“Let me guess, then. He would constantly point out flaws. Am I right?”

She nodded morosely. “He would tell me I needed to lose weight, and when I knocked myself out to lose some, he would say that now my breasts were too small. He would tell me to get a haircut, and when I did, he would ridicule the style. My clothes were never right, even ones he bought me. He made me get colored contacts because my eyes were boring, but then he complained that the color was too artificial. He made me wear ridiculously high heels, but then get mad at me if I said my feet hurt.”

Ray waited patiently until she began to wind down, then he took her hand and held it. “He also told you that you were crappy in bed, didn’t he?” She nodded but didn’t look up. After a moment, he reached over with his free hand and cupped her chin, lifting it. “I swear to you that none of that is true. Well, okay, I can’t vouch for the sex part, but I’ve been with enough ladies to have a pretty good idea of what the bedroom’s gonna be like, just from the way they handle themselves outside the bedroom. And Brea, you got it going on. You need to start cutting casino firmaları yourself some slack.”

She smiled ruefully. “So this therapy thing you have going. Is it just a sideline, or do you make good money at it?”

He laughed. “I collect my payment in smiles,” he said reaching wide with his arms. “I would like you to come here and sit in my lap so I can give you a hug.”

“Are you sure? I mean…”

“They’re not broken,” he said, slapping his thighs. “They just don’t do a god-damn thing I tell them to.”

She was still tentative as she stood up in front of his chair, but then he leaned forward and scooped her into his lap, letting her legs dangle over one arm of the chair. After only the smallest pause, she nestled against his broad hard chest, entwined her arms around his neck and sighed. He wrapped his muscular arms around her and pulled her even closer. “I like you, Ray,” she said, though it was muffled against his chest.

“And I like you,” he replied. “I just wish I still had the working equipment to prove to you that asshole was wrong about the bedroom along with everything else.” Brea giggled slightly, and immediately wondered how much wine she’d had to drink on an empty stomach. He gave her one last squeeze then when she sat up in his lap, he added, “If you’re ever interested, though, the tongue still works just fine.” He stuck it out and wiggled it just for proof. Brea was giggling full on now. She wiggled off his lap.

“I think I better go, before I have any more to drink. You’re making me feel like a giddy school girl!”

“So, my devious plan is falling in to place,” he cackled, even as he backed his chair so she could get past the couch.

She was gathering her coat and belongings when he stopped her. “Brea, can I talk you into coming for dinner on Friday? My brother will be here. I’d like you to meet him.”

She searched her wine-fogged memory. “Did you say he was a twin?”

“Yup. Identical. Except he wasn’t stupid enough to get on a motorcycle when he was drunk.”

“Um,” she hesitated.

“No excuses. You’ve already confessed you have no life.”

“Damn. Okay. What time?”

“You can help me with my mail at 6:35, then slip into some more comfortable clothes, and come on up at, say, 7:35,” he said with a wink.

She laughed. “7:35 it is.”

****

On Friday evening, Brea had slipped into some yoga pants and an over-sized tee shirt. Flip-flops completed the outfit. Outside Ray’s door, she purposely paused until her cell phone said 7:35. When she knocked, the door immediately opened. Ray had obviously been waiting right inside. She laughed and he chuckled, handing her a glass of wine. “Come and meet my brother,” he said, leading her toward the couch. A carbon copy of him – right down to the black jeans and white, open-at-the-collar shirt – had already stood and was rounding the couch with his hand out.

“Brea, this is Rob.”

“It’s a privilege to meet anyone willing to put up with him,” Rob said, taking her hand but then pulling her close to plant a kiss on her cheek.

“He’s been very sweet,” Brea countered.

“No, I’m the very sweet brother. He’s the insufferable boor. Come sit down,” he added pulling her toward the couch.

“Can I help with dinner at all?” she asked.

“He won’t let you help,” Rob assured her, “because you might see all of the boxes his ‘home cooked’ meal came out of.”

“Very funny,” Ray drawled, heading back to the kitchenette.

“So, I understand you had some problems with an ex?” Rob asked.

“Oh, uh…” Brea blushed furiously.

“Ray told me. No details, just that, let’s see, how did he put it? ‘The asshole beat the shit out of her self esteem.’ I offered to help him pound the punk to within an inch of his life. But now that I’ve met you, a beat down seems inadequate. At the very least, we need to pull all his toenails and fingernails out.”

Ray rolled up and handed Rob a beer. “That’s your idea of opening conversation?” He scowled at his brother.

Rob only shrugged. “I’m not much of one for discussing the weather. ‘Sides, all it does here is rain. Kind of limits the variety of one-liners.”

“Really, guys, I’m just trying to move on with my life. Nobody needs to be beat up,” Brea interjected.

“That’s a matter of opinion,” Ray said, glaring at his brother.

“Love you too, bro,” Rob shouted as Ray returned to the kitchen. He looked over at Brea. “He loves me,” he said with a wink.

“Did you play football, too?” Brea asked, trying to steer the conversation to neutral territory.

“Couple of years, but it’s pretty time intensive and I figured I’d better concentrate on a more… realistic career.”

“All right, you guys,” Ray called. “Dinner time.”

Rob stood and took her hand, pulling her up and toward the dining table in the corner of the room by the windows. It was the first time that she noticed the beautifully set table. Ray was lighting candles in the center of the table. Outside, the city lights were beginning to twinkle as the sky darkened. Ray picked up a remote. “Jazz, güvenilir casino Blues or Grunge Rock?” he asked her.

“I am seriously underdressed,” she said, planting her feet against the tug of Rob’s hand.

“Nonsense,” Rob exclaimed. “We usually eat naked.”

“So you’re seriously overdressed,” Ray pointed out. He punched a button on the remote and soft jazz filled the room. He pulled a chair out for her that faced the windows and Rob’s gentle but insistent hand at her back got her seated against her better judgment. When they both were satisfied that she wasn’t going to flee, they went to the kitchen and quickly moved food to the table. Then the brothers settled at each end of the small table and proceeded to make her the center of attention throughout the meal. They had an incredible knack of turning the conversation back to her, every time she thought she had them redirected. They also double-teamed her, with one refilling her glass as she answered a question from the other. She soon discovered that their supposed arguments were only a thin disguise for their deep affectionate bond.

When they all finally sat back from the table, stuffed to the gills, Brea offered to do the dishes. “No!” Ray said, so emphatically she jumped.

“See,” Rob told her, “He’s got the boxes from dinner hidden in the dishwasher. I knew they were hidden somewhere.”

“I just want us all to move to the couch and continue this great conversation,” Ray argued.

“But…”

“My house, my rules. Dirty plates sit out until completely ripe. Come on.”

He rolled over to the couch even as Rob moved to the other end of the couch, leaving the middle for Brea. She sighed and picked up her wine glass, crossing the room. No sooner had she sat down then Ray was refilling her glass from the bottle he had stashed in the pocket of his chair. Once that was done, Ray amazed her, using his upper body strength to lever himself from the chair and onto the couch. Once there, he turned and settled his back against the arm, lifted his right leg onto the cushions and made a come-hither gesture at Brea, patting the couch in front of his lap.

“Sit here. Neck rub time.”

“And then you can tell me all about that trip you took to Italy,” Rob said. He turned partially on the couch to face her, leaning against the other arm almost like a mirror image of Ray. Brea took a big gulp of wine, then looked around for a place to put the glass. Rob took it from her and put it on the end table behind him. Feeling totally awkward, she scooted into position, then felt Ray’s hands on her waist pulling her closer. She kicked off her flip-flops and started to cross her legs, but then Rob was pulling her feet into his lap. His strong hands began rubbing her arches even as Ray went to work on neck and shoulders. Brea reached behind to brace herself and Ray obligingly placed her hands on his thighs. She marveled that it didn’t feel awkward in the least.

Brea sighed. “If you guys keep that up, I’m not going to remember a thing about Italy.”

“Then don’t,” Ray said softly from behind her. “Just close your eyes and enjoy.”

Ray’s hands worked their way down her back, his thumbs working the muscles along her spine as his fingers found every other muscle and teased them into relaxation. Meanwhile, something that Rob was doing to her feet seemed to shoot right to her belly, spreading a delicious warmth. By the time Ray reached her lower back, she was moaning with delight. When he reached her tailbone, she arched her back in delight and threw her head back with a long, drawn out, “Ahhhh.” Ray and Rob exchanged a silent communication. Ray’s hands started back up her sides, underneath her top and Rob reached forward to rub her calves.

Brea didn’t react when Ray’s hands reached the bare skin above her yoga pants. She simply continued to hum with pleasure. When Ray reached the bottom of her bra, he slipped fingers under the back strap and leaned forward. “Brea, do you want this?” Almost reluctantly, she lowered her head, but it was Rob’s eyes she met.

“Say yes,” he coaxed. Their hands had stopped moving, waiting for her answer. Brea’s belly was churning, awakening from a long slumber. And Rob’s eyes on hers were so warm and earnest and kind. She closed her eyes, testing. She was pleasantly buzzed, not drunk. Slowly, she opened her eyes again, and Rob was there, waiting patiently. She nodded.

“You need to say it, Brea” Ray prodded gently.

“Say what you want from us,” Rob added, “From both of us.”

She swallowed hard. “I want you to make love to me.”

“Both of us.” Rob’s response was a statement, not a question, but she responded, anyway.

“Yes.” She nodded eagerly, and instantly, her bra loosened and Ray’s hands were at the hem of her tee shirt, lifting slowly, savoring.

“Lift your arms, Brea,” he instructed, and she did, leaning back so that he could easily reach to pull her top free. Before she even had her arms all the way back down, Rob had moved between her legs. His fingers were holding her bra straps, pulling down and forward. The moment it slipped free of her arms, she hunched, folding her arms across her chest, trying to remember if she was in her small breasts phase or everything else too big phase. Rob took a firm grip of her wrists and sternly but gently pulled her arms away, pushing her hands down to the couch.

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