Sofia woke up in Ben’s bed. She watched her lover sleeping peacefully next to her. He was so handsome. She smiled inside remembering the events of the day before. It had been so perfect. She had to pinch herself so she would know she wasn’t dreaming. Every time she had been there with him and Cole, she fantasized about this moment. The reality was so much better than her fantasy. He had said he loved her. And then he showed her. Oh, how he had showed her. Ben was an excellent lover. She knew now, what she and Jesse had, that it was never love, only lust. And then later, just sex when he wanted it.
She sighed happily and resisted waking Ben with a kiss. Instead she slipped carefully out of bed and went to the closet to grab one of Ben’s shirts to put on so she could surprise him with breakfast.
When she turned the knob, it was locked. That’s strange, she thought, must be to keep Cole out. She would have to ask him where he kept the key. She smiled as she imagined putting a few things of her own in the closet with his.
Instead, she found the t-shirt he had discarded last night on the floor and pulled it on. This was better anyway, it still smelled like Ben, his cologne still lingering. It made her warm and fuzzy inside.
She padded into the kitchen and started the coffee.
Then she proceeded to make scrambled eggs.
While the eggs were cooking, Sofia began to open drawers in search of silverware and came upon the proverbial junk drawer. Lying on top of the junk was a picture of Ben and Grace on their wedding day. Ben had probably tossed it in there knowing she was coming over. She did remember seeing it sitting on the counter.
She couldn’t help but pick it up and study it. God, they looked so happy. Ben was glowing, if that term could be applied to a man. And Grace was stunning. She could see the love they shared in how their faces. All of the fears she thought Ben had laid to rest with his words came rushing back. She felt homely and frumpy compared to Grace. Inadequate. Like with Jesse. She could feel tears burning behind her eyes. She wished she could take back her declaration of love.
“Sofia!” called out Ben startling her, “the pan!”
She jumped and threw the picture guilty back into the drawer. She had been so wrapped up in her own self doubt that she didn’t even smell the pan beginning to burn. “I’m sorry,” she managed to squeak out, unable to even look at Ben she was so ashamed.
Ben calmly turned off the burner and sat the pan outside on his patio. She was shaken up, but she wasn’t sure if it was because she almost burned down the house or she was worried about Ben’s true feelings for her. Maybe both.
When he walked back in, Ben wrapped his arms around her. It felt so good. She could almost believe she wasn’t second choice. “It’s okay sweetheart,” he said, “You are shaking. What happened?”
“I – was looking for silverware,” said Sofia into his shoulder so he wouldn’t see her face.
“No need to be upset,” he said and kissed the top of her head. “Silverware is over there. So, let me give you the grand tour of my modern gourmet kitchen, since I expect you will be visiting quite often.” Then he laughed at his own joke.
Ben proceeded to open drawers and describe their contents with a cute flourish, made even funnier because he was still in his boxers. But she couldn’t enjoy his show. The junk drawer was next.
When he opened it, he froze. “Oh, damn,” he said under his breath. “I’m sorry, I put away the rest of her pictures. I forgot this one and threw it in here in a rush so you wouldn’t have to see it. I’ll just put it in the box in my closet with the rest of them.”
Sofia felt petty. It wasn’t fair to Ben. Before he could grab it and walk away, she stopped him. “Ben, it’s okay.” she said sheepishly, “I shouldn’t expect you to hide pictures of your past. You two were very happy and so much in love. Listen, I should go. I already ruined breakfast. Can you just take me home so I can get ready for work?”
“Sofia, look at me,” said Ben and grabbed her hand to keep her from moving. “I love you. Grace is my past. I can’t pretend she never existed. But she’s gone.”
“I know,” whispered Sofia, “I’m sorry, it’s just hard to compete with a ghost, a very beautiful ghost.” God she knew she sounded whiny but she couldn’t help it. As long as they were only friends there was no pressure. But she let herself fall in love with him, to want more. Last night was amazing, but she was still afraid she couldn’t live up to his expectations.
“Sofia, how can I convince you that you are not being compared to Grace? I love you. That awful day, I knew my love for you ran soul deep. I don’t want Grace, I want you.”
“But if she were still here…”
“She’s not!” Ben ran his hands through his hair, his blue eyes even bluer because he was clearly frustrated with her.
Sofia jumped at his tone. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, mostly out of habit. She was always apologizing to Jesse for her inadequacies. She couldn’t help that the same feelings were rushing over her now. She felt less than. Since he couldn’t have Grace he was settling for her. She really wished she hadn’t told him how she felt. Seeing that picture drove it home that she wasn’t his first love and if Grace had lived, she wouldn’t even be here, in his kitchen, wearing his shirt. She would always feel like he was settling for her.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I’m sorry? She’s apologizing? thought Ben. He was beside himself. He didn’t know how to convince Sofia that he adored her. Loved her. Needed her. They had made love for hours until they fell asleep exhausted in each other’s arms. And now she was doubting him. He tried to calm himself before speaking again because he obviously frightened her with his tone. He fleetingly wondered if Leroy went through the same thing with his mother.
Ben took both of her hands in his. She was still shaking and his heart broke. “Sofia, Sweetheart. Please don’t apologize. I think, if things had been different and I never left Twinbrook, we may not have found our way to each other. And not because I didn’t care about you, but because I cared too much about you to hurt you.
“Tell me you didn’t feel the attraction at my graduation party and then again at Christmas. Or even when you came to Cole’s birthday party. And then tell me you would have been happy with me the way I was then. I don’t think you can.”
“I told you, I’ve always been attracted to you Ben,” said Sofia softly, “When we were together, you let your guard down. You were you, even in Twinbrook, and that is who I was falling in love with.”
He knew she was right, but he was also right. He had to make her understand. “I would have hurt you then Sofia. I think we both knew it. I didn’t know what love was or how to love until Cole. Had it not been for him, Grace and I would never have happened. I was trying hard to get over her when I found out she was pregnant. You see, she was like you. She tried to see the real me. So, Sofia, you have it all wrong. I compared Grace to you, not the other way around.”
Ben put his hands on her face to make her look at him. “Tell me you don’t love me, and you don’t believe I love you, then you can walk out of here and I will leave you alone. But know, there will never be anyone else for me.”
Sofia reached for him and he quickly wrapped her in his arms, breathing her in. She was crying softly. “I can’t say that because it would be a lie. I do love you,” she said and buried her head in his shoulder.
“And I love you,” said Ben relieved. She was more fragile than he thought. She had put on a brave front. “Don’t cry sweetheart,” he said as he stroked her hair. “You act like loving me is a bad thing. I won’t hurt you. Not ever. I promise.”
She looked up at him with those beautiful brown eyes that he could get lost in. “I’m sorry. It’s all so overwhelming,” she said softly, “It’s a fantasy that I only dreamed about. I don’t feel like I am pretty enough or sophisticated enough. I never thought you would ever want someone as nerdy and plain as me.”
Ben couldn’t stop the laughed that rippled through him. Nerdy? Maybe. But plain? No fucking way. “Baby, when was the last time you looked in the mirror? You were so damn sexy at dinner that I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. And right now, standing here in my t-shirt. Fuck Sofia. It’s what I dreamed of. And last night, when you were in my bed, I have no words. I can’t get enough of you. You are my beautiful, hot, sexy – nerd.” Ben moved closer with each statement until she was trapped between him and the counter. His face was barely and inch from hers. He wanted to kiss her so bad, but didn’t want to scare her.
Sofia looked at up him when she bumped the counter. She asked breathlessly, “Hot?”
Ben smirked. “Hot Baby. Feel,” he said and guided her hand to his growing erection.
She gasped and took a deep breath, her pupils fully dilated. “Sexy?” she asked huskily.
“Mmm huh, sexy as hell,” growled Ben pulling her tight up against him. “Beautiful. Hot. Sexy.”
Ben captured her lips with his then stopped just long enough to finish his sentence. “Nerd,” he whispered.
Sofia let out a satisfied groan and melted into him.