Notes: The premise of this is pretty cliché, but it was supposed to be, haha. I like the Curly/Rhonda ship, and I imagine he'd be the only person crazy enough to put up with her high maintenance nonsense and the only person obsessive enough to give her all the attention she needs. I think they'd be dysfunctional in a sort of humorous way, but that they would not get together until much later in life. I enjoyed writing from Rhonda's perspective, and I hope I didn't make her too sympathetic and kept her haughtiness intact. As with my other HA! fics, this has been edited and reposted in December of 2012.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Craig Bartlett, as always.
"Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence."
- David Byrne, of the Talking Heads
In less than one hour she would be at her twenty year high school reunion. And she would be there utterly, completely, undeniably, alone.
So she wanted to look amazing.
And she did, if she were going to be completely honest with herself. She was thin. More so than most women her age, as she tried her best to keep in shape. The black halter dress helped her, too, as it was very slimming and highlighted her legs. She wore a red cardigan over it. And red lipstick. She still liked to draw attention to herself, after all. Her shoes were stylish and expensive, which would be no surprise to anyone. There wasn't a single grey hair on her head (Dye? What dye?). She had a slight face lift done six months before, but it was barely noticeable, and slight - very slight. She didn't even need it, really; it merely seemed like she aged well.
"She looks amazing!" they would all say. "Well of course she does, she's Rhonda."
Yes. She would impress them all with her good looks and expensive taste. They would be so blinded by her beauty and extravagance that they would fail to notice that she lacked a husband.
Dirty bastard just had to go and sleep with that bimbo model. How dare he? No one cheats on Rhonda Wellington Lloyd Barclay. As if anyone could possibly be better than her.
It wasn't as if she loved him, though. Rhonda didn't really do love. She never had. Of course, she had various affairs with men who were poor or even just middle class, simply because of the thrill of doing something that would disgust her parents. But she never loved any of them. And she always knew she would end up marrying some rich, pompous fool who would buy her jewelry and yachts but ignore her emotional needs. That was just what was written in the stars for her, because that's what women in her family did. And so she did it, too. He was nice enough. A bit older. A bit plain. But rich. Not new money, goodness no; the real kind of rich.
She thought that, probably, it was her infertility that drove him to have an affair. He wanted a child. An heir who he could spoil and bring up to be as pompous and foolish as he. They tried for years, although Rhonda never wanted to. And, luckily for her, it never happened for them. God had given her the gift of never having to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. When they found out, it came as no surprise to her. If she had been able to conceive, she probably would have had three or four abortions by the time she was thirty, what with how she acted in college and, frankly, up until she got married. So no, she wasn't surprised. And she wasn't sad. She never wanted children, and she knew she would never change her mind about that.
After all, she didn't have the capacity to care for anyone but herself. Even if she wanted children, she could never allow herself to have any. She had decided long ago that she was incapable of unconditional love.
And perhaps that was part of what drove him away, too. She couldn't give him what he wanted. She could pretend. Oh how she could pretend. But fake orgasms and feigned interest in anniversaries could only get her so far before he started to catch on. Maybe he actually did love her, and her apathy hurt him so much that he needed to seek love somewhere else. She had no way of knowing. And she didn't really care to.
Mostly it was just embarrassing, having to go through divorce proceedings, and worse, having to tell her parents that it was over. But most of all, it was embarrassing having to attend functions alone. That was by far the worst part... which was why she was simply dreading this reunion.
As she rode to the hotel at which the reunion was being held, she tried to convince herself that everyone else was going to be as miserable, alone, and worthless as she. Who would be divorced? If statistics had any truth to them, then she wouldn't be the only one, not by far. She was willing to bet money that Helga Pataki would show up alone. Oh, she was looking forward to the awkward exchanges between her and Arnold. Surely they had divorced ages ago. And there was just no way someone like Sheena ever found love. She was too weird for that.
Yes, she thought to herself, plenty of others will be more pathetic than I could ever be. It won't be so bad.
After pulling up to the hotel, she stepped out of the car and informed her driver that she would call him when she was ready to leave. As she watched him go, she felt a sick feeling in her stomach. There was no turning back now.
Later, she found herself sitting alone at a dinner table, watching the rest of them mingle with a glass of chardonnay in her hand (a cheap brand, of course, as was standard at these sort of things). She had gone around making small talk with old friends and ex-boyfriends for as long as she could. Really, she did. But then she reached the point where it was all just so typical and boring. The balding jocks (who she used to sleep with). The overweight, formerly hot bitches (who she used to call her best friends). It was… well, typical and boring. She couldn't think of a better way of putting it.
She'd been telling everyone that she was going to set up an art gallery and that she divorced her husband because he just wasn't good enough for her. It was mostly the truth. Well, it was the truth. The cheating thing, well, she didn't see anything wrong with omitting that part. She was glad to see that she was doing much better than some people, and was not surprised, though disappointed, that she was worse off than others. She supposed she could live with that.
As she watched her old classmates make awkward small talk with people they hadn't seen in years, she found herself paying the most attention to the ones who had been in all of her classes from preschool all the way up until high school. She supposed they were the most interesting because she'd known them the longest. Maybe they even meant something more to her, for reasons she couldn't explain.
Eugene had, shockingly (aka, not shockingly), come out of the closet. She assumed it happened during college. He had gone to some school in New York for musical theatre – no doubt he found a more open minded crowd there. He brought his partner to the reunion. She didn't catch what his profession was, or if Eugene actually had any success on the stage. It was hard to pay attention to that kind of thing. He seemed happy, though. Not a single broken bone, either.
Phoebe and Gerald attended separately. She had tentatively asked Phoebe about it while they were chatting. Apparently they had been living apart for three years. This surprised Rhonda, since they had seemed like such a normal, stable couple in high school. But perhaps that was part of the problem. Not that she understood love or relationships at all, but she could see how stability could become boring after a while. Still, she felt bad for the poor woman, despite her earlier wishes for other divorcees. The details weren't shared, naturally, but Rhonda couldn't help but wonder what had happened to make them separate but never actually follow through with the divorce. They clearly weren't on speaking terms, after all.
Lila was as irritating as ever. She had married some loser (though by the look of him, he was probably a football player at one point) and, according to her, had five kids and ran a day care center out of her home. To Rhonda, it sounded like the most abysmal life imaginable, but Lila apparently loved it ever so much.
And then there was Harold. Harold Berman. The boy she had a strange, masochistic sort of affection for throughout the entirety of her formative years. To this day, she couldn't place her finger on why she had always felt drawn to him. She suspected that it had something to do with how he was virtually her polar opposite in every way, and something to do with how, if her mother found out about how he ravaged her in the boys locker room after wrestling matches, she would promptly vomit in her mouth. Yes, Rhonda decided, it was his robust, disgusting, aggressive nature that attracted her. She liked being his delicate little toy, and she liked having him as her secret plaything. She liked drawing his attention away from Patty Smith with a mere suggestive look, and she liked how he would find reasons to provoke and torture her various boyfriends.
But now… now he was different. They talked briefly. It was awkward and forced, as she knew it would be. He was married. The woman was plain looking and plump, but seemed nice enough. She was Jewish. Rhonda wondered if it had just happened that way, or if Harold's mother pressured him into marrying a fellow Jew. The latter notion infuriated her only slightly, because it meant that, if they had gone public during high school, she, Rhonda Wellington Lloyd, would have been deemed not good enough for Harold Berman.
Enough about the past, though. The point was, Harold seemed happy. So happy. Content with a simple, pleasant, perfect life. He had gone on to get an Associate's degree in business at Hillwood Community College and eventually obtained ownership of Green's Meats, his dream since elementary school. He, his wife Sarah, and their daughter, inhabited the two floors above the butcher shop. It bothered her, how happy he seemed. It didn't seem fair, that she would be a washed up trophy wife with nothing to show for it except a face lift and an unused degree in art history, while Harold fucking Berman was happy as could be with a fat wife by his side.
She looked away. She couldn't have one of them suddenly glance her way, only to notice her staring at them with…. Longing? Envy? Whatever it was, it would be embarrassing. So she focused on her wine.
"May I sit?" came a voice beside her. She looked up to see a tall, cleanly shaven man with black hair smiling down at her. She nodded vaguely and he sat. Perhaps he was another resentful loner, like her. Or maybe just some old classmate's bored husband, seeking a cheap thrill. Well, she certainly wasn't about to give him any ideas. She was a Lloyd, after all, and didn't do that sort of thing anymore.
"Strange, isn't it?" he said thoughtfully. "Seeing how much some people have changed… and how others are… fortunately, so much the same."
She glanced at him, prepared to tell him to shut up and leave her to brood in silence, but she was met with such a strange look. He was staring at her and… it was familiar. What a peculiar man. She forced herself to give him a small smile, before turning back to look at the crowd (to hide her blush, though she would never admit it).
"Yeah," she said, finally. It was strange. Some people, like Harold, were not at all the brutish cavemen they used to be. And others…
Well, for one, Helga and Arnold were still together. She spotted them across the room, happily chatting up a small group of old peers. They were disgusting. Rhonda had bitterly hoped things would be over between them. Hoped she wouldn't be subjected to things she couldn't comprehend, like love and devotion. But no. There they were, sharing secret smiles at each other. And there she goes, briefly touching his arm with a little smirk on her face, their eyes locked. How dare they flirt like that? And more importantly, how could they? Hadn't they been married for like, fifteen years?
"Amazing, aren't they?" the man beside her said. She looked at him, confused. Then, upon following his line of vision, she saw he was staring at precisely the same couple she had been. Only, his reaction was much different.
"Amazing?" she scoffed. "I'd call it nauseating."
"Oh? How so?"
"Just look at them. Flirting like they're sixteen. Touching each other and smiling, like they know some great secret that nobody else can possibly touch."
"Well, they do."
"Know a great secret. They know what it is to have true, unconditional love. I don't find it nauseating at all," he said, smiling out at them. "But then, I always knew it would work for her."
"Helga Pataki?" Rhonda inquired. So this guy knew Helga. He must have gone to their high school, then. Why didn't she recognize him?
"Yes. I became friends with her in high school, after he moved. She was so… empty and lost. I wanted nothing more than to bring her back to life, but it was clear that only one person could do such a thing. I liked her, in a way, but I wasn't jealous, and I knew he would come back. Something… whatever it is they have… it defies all logic," he said, smiling. "I know it sounds ridiculous."
She nodded, sternly. "It does. That kind of thing… it only exists in fairy tales. Them… God, there has to be some underlying, dark reality. This laughing, enamored façade must be hiding something else. No one stays that happy for that long," she said, not bothering to disguise the bitter tone to her voice. "No one."
"Just because you failed to choose the one, doesn't mean everyone is doomed to make the same mistake," he argued. "However, I do believe they were astoundingly lucky… and that Helga has the patience of a true romantic. She would have waited until her dying breath for him, I'm sure of it. Because she knew, deep down, that it was meant to be."
Rhonda sighed. Who was this man to tell her what mistakes she did or did not make? What right did he have to call her out on having an attitude? He didn't know her. No one really ever did.
They sat in silence. She didn't know for how long. A minute, maybe. Or ten.
"I thought I felt it once."
"What?" she asked, as if his question shook her out of a trance.
"That sort of love. I thought I felt it once, a long time ago. I think I thought it was meant to be. But I didn't have the patience to wait forever. I gave up. Too quickly, maybe."
"Oh?" she said, angling her body toward him. Perhaps the conversation would become interesting, now that they were off the topic of The Golden Couple. "Who was the lucky girl?"
"You know. The slender, dark type, who acted so proper and above everything that I just knew had a crazy streak underneath it all. I wanted to bring that side of her out. But she spurned me, over and over. I didn't even have the patience to bide my time. I was actually… very obnoxious about it," he laughed. "I got the picture eventually, and backed off. Though I never lost sight of her."
"What do you mean?"
"I watched her become a cliché, in later years. Molly Ringwald style, like in 'The Breakfast Club'. She would go for the bad guy, simply because she knew she shouldn't. You know the type."
He was giving her that meaningful look again. But how would he know she was exactly that cliché, just like the girl about whom he spoke?
"I had my share of problems, of course," he said quietly. "But I got most of my, ah, issues under control in middle school. And I never was big or tough enough to fully qualify as a bad guy. Though…. In my younger years I was pretty dangerous. Crazy, more like."
And then he grinned at her. A grin she knew. And suddenly, it clicked.
"Let me guess. Your girl, the one you never lost sight of... she went on to do exactly what she was supposed to, only to get divorced and turn up to nostalgic social functions alone and bitter?" she asked, a smirk playing on her lips.
"Please tell me you kicked him to the curb after years of boredom," he almost pleaded, as if he needed to know that she was still strong.
She drained her wine glass. "He cheated on me."
It was the first time she'd said it out loud to anyone who didn't have to uphold attorney-client privilege.
He gazed across the room, at no one in particular, and took a sip of his wine. Red. It was fitting. From this angle, it was so obvious. She could almost see his old, thick, red-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.
"It was my fault," she said after a moment, unsure of why she felt the need to continue. It wasn't as if she could justify the humiliating fact. "I… I'm cold."
"Do you want my jacket?" he asked immediately, and for a moment she was confused. And then she smiled.
"Not that kind of cold," she said, a hint of laughter in her tone. "Anyway, I have a sweater on."
He blushed sheepishly.
"I meant… I was cold to him. I couldn't give him what he wanted," she admitted. "I… I don't think I'm capable of love."
The last sentence came out in a meager whisper. That, her deepest fear about herself, was definitely something she'd never spoken out loud to anyone, regardless of attorney-client privilege.
"Perhaps that's why I hate them so much," she said, gesturing absently to Helga and Arnold, still happily laughing across the room. "I never have, and never will, know that great secret."
"You don't know that."
She looked at him then. Really looked at him. His eyes were dark and penetrating. Alert. Those thick glasses did him no favors in elementary school. And losing the bowl cut worked for him as well. His black hair was now neatly slicked back, revealing high cheek bones and perfect ears. His jaw was a little weak and he still had that "jaunty upper lip" but… Curly had become quite handsome in his own way. And Rhonda wasn't one to admit others were in any way attractive. But, she decided, most people didn't have eyes like that. She wanted to ask him why he never lost faith in her, why he decided to come sit with her tonight, and why he seemed hurt by the fact that her ex-husband cheated on her.
The way she treated him when they were kids…. He should be basking in the fact that she was so downtrodden now. He should love this, the girl who rejected him over and over, now sitting next to him, confessing her unhappiness. And the fact that she couldn't even remember him being there in middle school. In high school… well, maybe he was there. She'd have to look at a year book. But he really did fall into the background. Whatever form of psychotic aggressiveness that possessed him when they were kids must have left him at some point. He stopped making scenes, anyway. Was he quietly observing her the whole time?
It was creepy in a way. But also… maybe Curly was someone who actually knew her. Saw her. And that gave her some comfort. Maybe this boy… no, man, could tell her if she was still inherently Rhonda, or if she was completely lost at this point.
"Whatever happened to you, Curly?" she asked, wanting to break the silence, but not in the form of talking about herself. At least some things from finishing school stayed with her. "What have you been doing since… all of this?"
"Oh, this and that," he answered casually. "I was never one to be tied down with anything. I got a degree in philosophy – mostly ancient, some modern political… but I knew even then that it was a worthless degree. I just liked the subject. I never wanted to teach it. So now I do odd jobs. I go where I'm needed. I network. I get by. Really, I like the spontaneity of it all…. Not knowing where I'm going to be next, what I'll be doing, and all that goes with it."
It was decided: he was the most interesting person she'd spoken to all night, by far.
"I travel a lot, too, in my spare time. Not just typical stuff like London and Paris. I'm talking St. Petersburg and Kyoto. Hong Kong and Kabul. Zimbabwe. Madagascar. Ecuador. I've seen it all. Well, not yet. But I will."
"Oh, you must have so many amazing pictures!"
He smirked at her. "I don't believe in photographing the world. What I see and experience… well… it's for my eyes only. The moments of beauty are captured only in my memory. I prefer it that way. Like… the world and I… share something special that transcends life and time and space. It can't be explained."
She looked at him in wonder. Was he in love with the world?
"Basically, you just have to see it for yourself."
"I do… have to see it for myself," she agreed, smiling thoughtfully. "You should take me on an adventure somewhere."
And she was surprised to realize that she was only half joking about it.
"Don't say that if you don't mean it, because I will," he said, looking at her with those eyes, and at that moment she knew he was sincere. He would take her somewhere exotic and teach her how to live again, free of the restraints of high society and free from the divorce drama. Free of her fears and inhibitions, for the first time in so many years. She had sudden, vibrant visions of Curly Gammelthorpe – though it seemed suddenly inappropriate to refer to him by that nickname – taking her away from all of that.
"Curly…" she started, but stopped when he chuckled at the name. "Oh, sorry."
"No, it's alright. It takes me back. I go by Tad now, though," he said.
It sounded nice, she had to admit. Maybe it was the wine talking, but she couldn't help but find this new and improved Curly… Tad… more and more attractive as each minute passed.
"What made you stop pursuing me? Really?"
He looked down, focusing on the remaining liquid in his glass. And then he smiled and laughed just a tiny bit. "When you love something, and it wants to go, you're supposed to let it. So I did. You had no interest in me. Rather than trying to get you to change your mind, I gave up. It was easier that way. For both of us, I think. But… I never forgot you. I still liked you, quietly, from afar. Not in an obsessive way, but... you know. I don't know why. I think there was some sick voodoo going on at PS 118 that made people cling to their first love."
She laughed nervously. Maybe it was because all of her affairs were meaningless. Maybe it was because her heart had never skipped a beat when her husband touched her. Maybe it was just because she had alcohol coursing through her veins. But she had never before felt so important.
"Why did you disappear? I don't remember ever seeing you after elementary school. Was I just that self-absorbed, never to notice you after you gave up on me?"
"One, I never gave up on you. I backed off from the idea of us. There's a difference. I always thought you would rise above everything and do something great. You had a fire in you that I couldn't give up on. You still do, I think, though you might not believe me," he said, smiling at her. And then his face fell. "Two, I was… to be honest… in an institution. You know. Of the mental variety."
She couldn't help but distance herself from him a bit. Was he insane? Still?
"You remember how I was. I was dramatic, prone to violent outbursts. I… hurt myself in the seventh grade. I don't think I wanted to die, then. But it was bad. And I couldn't hide it. So my dad did the only thing he could think of… They diagnosed me with ADHD and severe bi-polar disorder, and I was there for a couple of years while they tried to get me on the right medication and all of that. But I kept up with school and was allowed to come back for high school. But, you know, minus the psychosis and aggression, I was just your run of the mill wallflower. You wouldn't have noticed me, then, either. I wasn't the Curly who harassed you in fourth grade."
She could only gape at him. So she was sitting next to a certified crazy man, having the most engaging conversation of her evening. What on Earth did that say about her?
"Don't worry, though. I've had it under control for years. It was so long ago, I forget what it was like to feel that way. The medication I'm on balances out my moods but allows me to retain my general personality. So I still have passions and interests, and normal mood swings. I'm just not… well… for lack of a better term, a nut case."
She nodded meekly.
"You must think I'm crazy."
"No… I believe you," she said. "You do seem very different now. It's just… uncomfortable. Talking about it. But I suppose everyone needs therapy to some degree. And at least you aren't self medicating or living on the streets, right?"
"No. I didn't end up like Sid."
"You know, Sid, the kid with the baseball cap and the white cowboy boots –"
"I know who Sid is. I meant, what happened to him? Is he here?"
"No, he's not. You didn't hear? His anxiety issues got the better of him and he started experimenting with drugs in high school, remember?" he asked. She did remember that, but only because when she found out Harold bought weed from him she was furious (but at the same time, intrigued). "It started out with pot, the regular stuff, then he moved on to coke and ended up dropping out. Now... well, last I saw, he was homeless and on something. He didn't recognize me – not sure if it was the drugs or just that I'm forgettable. But that was four years ago. I'm not sure where he is now, or if… he's still around, if you know what I mean."
"That's terrible. Poor Sid," she said, though she wasn't at all surprised that he fell into that life. He was always miserably poor and prone to extreme nervousness and anxiety. Of course he would turn to self medication and end up homeless. Yet another cliché. She was beginning to think the only person here who wasn't a cliché was the crazy, enthralling man sitting next to her. And he probably was, too.
"But you're right. Everyone should be in therapy at least once in their life. Though the meds did a lot of the work, having someone to talk to helped a lot," he said. Both of them were staring across the room again, unwilling to look one another in the eye, now that the conversation had taken a rather awkward turn. After a moment, he gestured toward the blonde couple, now sitting with Phoebe. "I actually became friends with Helga because of therapy. I ran into her at the medical center one day, and it was awkward as Hell, but we got to talking."
"If anyone needed it, she did," Rhonda said without thinking. It was out of her mouth before she could stop herself, and she blanched, waiting for his retort. But he just chuckled.
"Other than me, you mean," he said. "But you're right, she did need it. That girl has been through Hell and back a thousand times, and I'm just glad she had someone who could continually save her from herself and everyone around her. She's a strong person, but I don't like to wonder what would have happened to her if it weren't for Arnold."
"They seem so happy."
"You were disgusted by it earlier," he reminded her.
She knew that. But… now it didn't seem so horrible. Maybe she was also happy for Helga. Or maybe she was just sad that she was never so lucky. But now it didn't seem like some repulsive display – it seemed like a dream Rhonda once had but could never remember, something intangible lurking deep beneath her surface. Maybe she was capable of love, but was never lucky like they were. Or maybe the right person was there the whole time and she just refused to see. Or was afraid to.
"If things went differently, could we have had that?" she asked, almost absentmindedly. Maybe if she had been more open, more perceptive, they could have been The Golden Couple. And beyond that, maybe she would have been happy and content. Maybe Curly fucking Gammelthorpe could have been her one, the only one, and maybe she would have been beyond satisfied with that.
"No," he said, sadly. "We couldn't have. Things happen for a reason, Rhonda. I wasn't in the right place, in any way, to have any kind of relationship. I think my blackmailing you into being my girlfriend says enough. And we were only nine. And you never would have looked at me twice back then, or... probably not until now, honestly, and don't deny it. It would be crazy to think anything could have been different."
Feeling like an idiot, she tried to ignore the flush creeping into her face. She couldn't believe she was practically being rejected by him after fantasizing about their fabulous life of adventure and passion. She felt like a complete fool; she'd never been one to entertain such wild thoughts.
"That's not to say we couldn't now," he added, as if sensing her disappointment. "What led us to this moment? A long series of events that happened the way they did for a reason. Maybe it was fate that we should meet this way, tonight, in our current predicaments. Maybe this is the night we were supposed to finally…"
She stared at him, unable to comprehend what he was suggesting. That fate brought them together like this? Her, a tired old divorcee and him, a lone tumbleweed on medication? Somehow, it fit. And for reasons unknown to her, she believed what he was saying. Maybe he was supposed to breathe new life into her. And maybe she was supposed to give him an anchor, a reason to be tied down for once in his life.
She grinned at him then, and he stood up almost immediately. He then looked down at her, a mischievous glint in his eyes, and extended a hand. "Shall we?"
And she took it, deciding that, at this moment, all caution was best thrown to the wind. She wanted to go with him. Despite all the old classmates surrounding them, there was no one else in the world who mattered but the man leading her out of the hotel ballroom. Once outside, he turned to her, pulling her toward him with the hand he was still holding. He let go, and her hands slowly found their way to his shoulders. He was barely taller her than her, so their breath was mingling in the cold November air. Her heart rate was quick, like she had just run a marathon, and her skin burned through her dress at the spots where his hands touched her waist.
Her eyes fluttered closed and her breath hitched. It was slow, almost painfully so, but it felt like it was meant to happen this way. She knew that for him, this was the culmination of years and years of wondering what could have been. And for some reason, she couldn't begin to explain it, she wanted to savor the moment as much as he did.
When his lips finally met hers, after what felt like an eternity of agonizing teasing, it was so soft and tentative she wondered if he actually did close the gap. She couldn't move, for fear of breaking the moment, but she wanted him to kiss her harder, the kind of kiss she knew he wanted to give her.
But instead, he pulled away slightly, resting his forehead on hers. "Do you feel like a teenager? Because I sure do," he whispered, letting out a small laugh.
And with that, she grabbed his face and pressed her lips against his. He opened his mouth to her, perhaps out of surprise, and she found herself engaged in the most passionate kiss she'd ever had. She felt his grip on her waist tighten and her body arched toward his, entirely of its own accord. She felt lightheaded and dizzy – so this is how kisses are supposed to feel – and even found herself disregarding the pedestrians walking by them. She wondered vaguely if she'd ever be concerned about her public appearance again.
Because really, nothing else existed but the way he looked at her when they finally parted. And nothing else existed but her hand in his and the way he grinned at her when he waved down a cab. She couldn't see anything but him, and she couldn't think about anything but the fact that she, finally, felt like she was beginning to know, maybe, what love could be.
Maybe Arnold and Helga weren't the rule, but the exception to it – maybe love wasn't always meant to happen young, and maybe, in most circumstances, the later it happened, the sweeter it was. Maybe she hadn't missed out after all. Her time just came later, and that, she concluded, was fine with her. Better late than never, as they say.
Regardless of rules and exceptions, all Rhonda knew was that she'd never felt her heart swell and knees buckle from a first kiss. Or a second. Or a third. She'd never gone home with someone and fallen in love with the scent of his sheets. She'd never before locked eyes with the man positioned above her and actually felt beautiful. She'd never had an orgasm that wasn't fake. She'd never before felt at ease afterward, like she could be herself. She'd never had any interest in wearing one of his shirts to bed, whoever he was. She'd certainly never been able to take her makeup off for a man to see her true face. She'd never felt like her body fit with another, like a puzzle piece, and she'd never spent the next day – morning, noon, and night – in bed with a man, talking and laughing and, yes, having more sex.
But most importantly, it was the first time she didn't feel ashamed or dirty afterward. It was the first time she felt like it was the start of something new, something amazing, something she was eager to be a part of. And she was glad that things happened the way they did. She no longer had any regrets, because she had decided he was right – every moment, every mistake she ever made, led up to the night she reconnected with the one person who never lost sight of her. And now she didn't want to lose sight of him.