Undone volume 2, p.11

Undone, Volume 2, page 11

 part  #2 of  Undone Series

 

Undone, Volume 2
 


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  And now, here he was in my life, but I wasn’t taking him home to meet my parents. He was dividing the holiday between the city and Connecticut, spending Christmas Eve with his grandmother, then driving up to see his sister, mother and stepfather on Christmas Day. His family sounded scattered, fragmented more than by simple geography. Ash seemed close to his Gram and his sister, Gigi. The rest he spoke of in curt, dismissive tones, clearly not wanting to get dragged into discussing family drama.

  I’d gotten a bit out of him. His father had passed away just this past summer, dying of cancer. I felt terrible when he told me, but then even more chilled when he explained that his father had always found him a deep disappointment. He didn’t seem close with his mother, either. His parents had divorced when he was 12 and afterwards he’d moved to England and lived with his grandmother. He’d also mentioned a stepmother and when I’d asked him if he was going to see her on the holiday, he laughed. He explained that his father had only married her a few years ago and he’d barely exchanged more than a few words with her. Not exactly a tight-knit family.

  I bet most days it didn’t matter too much to him. Ash Black, rock star, had too much going on to dwell on his fractured family. But I bet growing up he’d felt some pain. And I bet Christmas might not be the most fun day of the year for him. Even the most hardcore, rock-n-roll baller had to feel the pull on that holiday, the desire to sit in front of a fire with loved ones, enjoying the peace and harmony of the season.

  Christmas morning, activity in my childhood home started early. My parents would celebrate again in January, observing the traditional Julian calendar as well as the Roman Catholic calendar, covering all their bases. But they’d lived in America for almost three decades now, and each year they did December 25th took more and more precedence. We hit the early church service, emerging a cool two and a half hours later.

  “What’s this? About you and the punk rocker?” Older women I’d known since I was a baby came over to me with coffees in the adjoining hall, pinching my cheeks and warning me against predatory men.

  “Our Anika has a good head on her shoulders,” my mother assured them, though privately last night she’d asked the exact same questions. I’d managed to dodge most of her bullets. I hadn’t played fair—I’d arrived late in the afternoon on the 24th when I knew food preparation and table decorations would take precedence over all else. Even when your daughter was rumored to be dating a no-good, sleeze-bag of a rock and roller. Her words.

  “It’s nothing, really,” I told them all, knowing I was actually speaking the truth. There honestly was nothing real between us. “The press likes to follow him around and make up rumors.”

  “How about what he did to that nice girl, that Moira?” They shook their heads in disapproval.

  “Well, I don’t know how much of that happened exactly like they say it did.”

  They lit up. “You do like him! Our little Anya with the rocker!”

  At home, we bustled around, the number of dishes at least two times the large number of guests. My mother and I laid out two enormously long tables comprised of a number of borrowed folding tables pushed together, all covered by table cloths and ornate fruit bowls and candles. To my father’s right, we set an extra plate at the table to honor those who’d passed. Before we sat down, I had to remind my mother to take off her apron and her babushka. She still had a red headscarf tied neatly under her chin like she was heading off to the open-air market in Moscow. In 1908.

  The toasts, the wine, the teasing, the laughter, it felt so good to see my family.

  “He’s a hot one!” Aunt Irina declared, already on her third glass of cordial. She’d been serving it to me on the holidays since I was five, waving away my mother’s concern with “It’s fruit and nuts!” And cognac, lots of it.

  I turned to my cousin sitting next to me, praying Irina wasn’t launching into a speech about Ash. But the thirteen-year-old by my side had the same topic on her mind. “Can I meet him?” she asked, her eyes wide with hope.

  “Oh, honey, I barely know him. But I can see about getting you his autograph.” I let her down gently.

  “I’ll get it!” My mother rose to another knock at the door. Most of our guests knew to arrive by two o’clock, but you never knew who might stop by on the holiday, and my parents had a wide-open door policy. She disappeared out of the dining/living/kitchen area where we’d taken over, all of us sitting down together to eat. When she came back, looking surprised and a bit flushed, she had Ash Black standing next to her.

  “Hey.” He gave a small wave, looking shy as he walked in on everyone seated at the table.

  “Oh!” I leapt up, nearly clattering my plate to the floor. “Hi! I didn’t realize!”

  “The punker!” Aunt Irina toasted his arrival.

  “Who’s this now?” My father at the head of the table rose in his argyle sweater vest with at least equal parts welcome and confusion.

  “Hi, um.” I could barely remember my own name, standing in my kitchen with Ash and my parents and my entire extended family all watching us. For such a noisy crew, now you could hear a pin drop.

  “I’m Asher. I’m a friend of Ana’s.” He stuck out his hand to my father and they shook. “I’m sorry to disturb your dinner. I tried to call ahead but I couldn’t reach you.” He looked at me.

  “My phone’s upstairs.”

  “I just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas. And give you a couple of gifts.” Bringing his hand up, he rumpled his hair and gave me a bashful smile. My heart melted into a hot puddle on the floor. “But I can head out.”

  “Don’t be crazy!” My mother swatted him with a dishtowel. “There’s more than enough. You sit! Sit and eat!”

  Before I knew what was happening, Ash got squished in between my Aunt Irina and Uncle Yuri, seated in front of a large bowl of borscht, an overflowing plate of blinis and beans and peas and cod fish, and a large goblet of cordial.

  “It’s just fruit and nuts!” Anut Irina lied to him. “Drink! Drink!”

  In the ensuing madness, I was glad no one could tell I was rendered speechless. With all of the excitement over Ash’s arrival, I couldn’t have gotten a word in if I’d tried. And I couldn’t find words. I was floored to see Ash, absolutely floored. Was this another PR stunt? Were cameramen waiting outside our home?

  In a moment of relative calm, I caught his eye across the table. “Cameras?” I asked, nodding nervously toward the front door.

  He shook his head, no. “Took my brother’s truck,” he reassured me. “No one knows I’m here.”

  After dinner, a couple of cousins trapped Ash on the couch, asking him about Taylor Swift. Did he know her? What was she like? Was she super nice?

  I went into the kitchen to help with dishes, and soon as he could escape he joined me, washing as I dried, making conversation with my mother about how Christmases here compared to Christmases growing up.

  “More here,” my mother summed it up, more food, more presents, more of everything. The dishes kept coming and he kept at it, joking around with me, singing bits of Christmas carols with my aunt. She decided to teach him a traditional Russian Christmas song, “The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree.” The look on Ash’s face as he earnestly listened, then repeated the lines about an evergreen nurtured by the forest. He just about killed me, in a whole bunch of ways.

  “Listen, I didn’t mean to barge in here and stay so long,” he apologized to me, as if he’d done something wrong.

  “Ash, I’m so glad to see you. I’m just surprised.”

  “I haven’t even given you your gift yet.” I had one for him, too, upstairs. I led him up the stairwell, feeling absurdly guilty for sneaking a boy up into my room. I gave him mine, first, nervous and shy. It wasn’t much and it was kind of nerdy, but after all, that’s who I was. And what did you get for the rock star who had everything?

  You knit him a hat, that’s what. I’d done it in the same chocolate brown as his eyes, plus some charcoal gray, and lined it all
in soft, fuzzy fleece. “So you don’t get cold when you go on tour,” I explained, looking down at my bed.

  “I love it!” he exclaimed, holding it up and looking at it. “Is it Gucci?”

  “No, I made it.”

  “You what?”

  “I made it.”

  “How?” He looked at me, confused.

  “You know, I knit it.” I felt embarrassed. “With needles and wool.”

  “You knit me a hat?”

  I nodded. So dorky.

  “No one’s ever knit me a hat before.” He sounded astonished. I shrugged, self-conscious. But he seemed to like it. “Thank you, Ana. I can’t believe you did this for me.”

  “Try it on.” He slipped it on and I had to admit, it looked good. The brown matched the exact color of his eyes. What was it about a handsome man with a strong jaw in a knit hat? He should probably take it off. We were still in my parent’s house. Jumping him wouldn’t do at all.

  “Well, now I feel like my gift isn’t anything,” he said. “I didn’t make it.”

  “Ash, you didn’t have to get me anything.”

  He handed me a small box, wrapped somewhat clumsily. I liked that he’d wrapped it himself. I had to smile, picturing him with scissors and tape, struggling and failing to get the paper just right. “Open it.”

  I ripped off the paper, opened the lid and found a ring with two keys. No tag on it or label. I picked it up, curious.

  “I wanted to get you a piano,” he started explaining, “but I couldn’t see where one would fit in your apartment.”

  I laughed in agreement, picturing the grand piano I’d seen in his San Francisco home in our tiny living space. There’d be nowhere to walk around it.

  “So, I talked to a friend of mine who runs a recording studio. He’s cool with you coming and using one of the practice rooms any time you want. Great acoustics, everything’s top of the line. And it’s not far from where you work, in SoHo.”

  “You mean it?” I lit up. The only time I got consistent access to a piano was when I headed up to my parents’ house on the weekends. I’d been starved for one.

  “Anytime you want. This key’s to the front entrance. This key’s to the practice rooms.”

  “Ash!” I threw my arms around him, amazed at not only his generosity, but his insightfulness. I couldn’t think of anything I’d want more, the gift of playing music anytime I wanted. He wrapped his arms around the small of my back.

  “Merry Christmas, Ana.” He kissed me, sweet and full. My lips met his, kissing him back like I never wanted to stop. Until he broke it off.

  “Is that a picture of me?” he asked, looking directly at the poster of him on my wall.

  “Oh my God!” I shrieked, rushing over to try to shield the incriminating poster from view.

  “Ana! Are you upstairs?” My father’s voice called up the stairwell. A minute longer and we’d be in trouble.

  “We’ve got to head down.” I rushed over, grabbing his hand and pulling him out of my childhood bedroom.

  “So, I’m your teenage dream, huh?” he whispered as we started down the stairs.

  “Shut up!” I blushed, trying to pretend that he hadn’t seen the evidence of my history of infatuation.

  “Me and Robert Pattinson. I didn’t know you had a thing for vampires.”

  “Every teenage girl liked Twilight,” I hissed.

  “There you two are.” My mother stood in the kitchen, surveying us as if looking for evidence of out-of-wedlock sex.

  “OK, I’ll get out of your hair,” Ash declared. “Thank you so much Mr. and Mrs. Ivanov for letting me crash your Christmas.”

  “Crash?” My mother asked, but seemed pleased as he took her hand and gave it a quick kiss, formal and polite.

  “We’re pleased you could join us,” my father said, actually looking it.

  “Oh, and I almost forgot.” Ash collected two gifts from beside the door and handed them to my parents. “Something for you both.” He thanked them again, wishing them a great holiday, and I walked him outside to his car. A rusty old pickup truck.

  “This is what you drove here in?” I asked, surprised.

  “It’s my brother Heath’s. He’s kind of a mountain man. He let me borrow it so no one would know it was me driving up here.”

  I kissed him goodbye, quick so my parents wouldn’t worry. Plus I bet my aunt and uncle and cousins all had their noses pressed up against the window watching us.

  Back in the kitchen, my amazement didn’t fade. It grew. Ash had given my mother two tickets to the New York Philharmonic, a night featuring the Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. And for my father, a signed score of Shostakovich’s fifth symphony.

  Wow. And tomorrow he was taking me to Paris. I felt like I was walking on air.

  §

  The limo came to pick me up at 7:30 the following night. Our flight didn’t leave until 11:30, but Ash said he wanted to take me somewhere first.

  “Dress for a party,” he suggested, like I had any say in it. A stylist dropped off a tiny silver dress and high heels, and insisted on doing a few touches to my hair and make up. After all, this was a job and I had to look just right for the cameras.

  I’d packed myself for Paris, though. We still hadn’t let the PR team know about our plans.

  “How do we have time for a party?” I’d asked Ash. I’d been on a few flights before, always with my parents. To them, preparing for a plane flight involved weeks of discussions and planning, culminating in arriving hours early to navigate the frightening and ominous passage through ticketing and security.

  “Baby, I’m a rock star,” Ash had answered. “There’s always time for a party.”

  The car took me to a club in Nolita, north of Little Italy, and dropped me off in front where I faced cameras by myself for the first time.

  “It’s Ash’s girl!” one of them yelled and then all of them were on me, snapping pictures and shouting comments and questions.

  “How you liking your walk on the wild side?”

  “Are you worried he’s going to break your heart, too?”

  “Ash is a good person,” I found myself defending him. “You should back off.” A bouncer reached out, took my arm and helped me wade through to the door. Inside, Ash stood waiting for me.

  “You should have texted me you were here!” He reached out to welcome me with a hug. “Were they awful?”

  I shrugged. They had been, but now I was inside and it looked cool as hell. I could already spot a couple of celebrities I recognized, musicians and actresses. Ash introduced me around, keeping his arm around me the whole time, steering conversation to topics I could join in on.

  He offered me a glass of champagne. “Here’s to Paris!” He clinked my glass. “You haven’t posted to Facebook about it, have you?”

  I laughed. “No.”

  “I know they’ll find us, but we might grab a day without anyone knowing we’re there.” He gave me a mischievous smile that sent a thrill through my entire body. A humming dance floor called out, throngs of well-dressed partiers moving to the beat.

  “The day after Christmas? Who knew?”

  “There’s always a party somewhere,” Ash explained. “You just have to know the right people.”

  “And you do?”

  “I’m Ash Black.” He winked at me.

  “Then show me how you dance.” It might have been the champagne, it might have been just feeling drunk off his nearness, but I shook my booty off on that dance floor. Not a care in the world, having the time of my life, I waved my hands in the air like I just didn’t care. The man could move, working those legendary hips and thrusting to the beat. He’d be amazing in bed. Every woman and probably some of the men at that party were thinking it, too. I knew that. Maybe some of them knew it for sure? I didn’t like thinking of that, all the people he’d been with before. Maybe even during our two weeks together?

  But then Ash brought his hands to my waist, pressing up against me, moving with me to t
he rhythm and beat. How could I worry with the feel of him in the darkness, the smell of him right there next to me, so close but not close enough? The party was fun, but I wanted to get him alone.

  “Let’s get out of here.” He read my mind. The driver who’d taken me over waited for us outside, now with Ash’s bags in the trunk as well. I loved how things just came together for Ash. I wondered if he realized it, or if he’d become so used to puzzle pieces simply falling together for him he didn’t notice anymore. I’d enjoy it while I could.

  In the dark of the limo, the privacy screen drawn all the way up, Ash and I sank into each other. Lips, hands, tongues, we kissed and touched and took our flirting from the dance floor to a new, heated level. His hand on my bare inner thigh, he eased up my skirt.

  Breathing heavy, he whispered into my ear, “I want you so much, Ana.”

  “I do, too.” I couldn’t help grinding against him, my leg up over his, my sex pressed into the muscle of his thigh.

  “We could,” he murmured, kissing my neck, his hand grabbing my ass, firm, pressing me up against him. “No one has to know.”

  I exhaled into him, nearly passing out at the thought of him sinking into me. The feel of him long and hard, entering into my slick heat. He’d be rough with me and I’d love it.

  But I was already hanging by a thread, a thin, flimsy thread. The gifts and the orgasms and the fun we had together, I was falling fast for this man. But I couldn’t do that. I was hired to fake date him and break up with him, not fall deeply in love in that crushing, complete way you dreamed of one day happening with Mr. Right. He wasn’t Mr. Right, he was Mr. Right Now, and it would be a lot easier to remember that if we didn’t have sex. Somehow I knew that if we did, I’d never be able to turn back.

  “You know how I fall asleep each night?” Ash whispered to me in the dark, his hand now wrapped around my thigh. “I think of you. How you smell.” He drew his tongue along my neck, taking in my scent. “How you taste.” He drew his finger up against my panties, pressing against the damp lace, stroking my sex. My lips parted in a soft moan. “I think of what you sound like when you come.”

 
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