“Fiberglass, huh?” I didn’t need to look away from the road to know Zeb was smirking when he said it.

“Well, did you want me to tell him the truth?”

“No! But…did you have to make something up? You could’ve just said we both needed a shower.”

I shrugged, suddenly uncomfortable. “I guess…I just felt like I had to, I don’t know.”

Zeb didn’t say anything for a while, and neither did I. We hadn’t talked much on the ride back from Patlex, but this felt different somehow, and it was kind of a relief to turn off onto my street and park—kind of a relief, and kind of not, too.

“Shower’s upstairs,” I said a moment later, pointing needlessly at the stairs directly in front of us. Zeb glanced at them, then looked at me. “Door on the right. Uh, you want to go first? I, um…”

I don’t know what I’d have said next, if Zeb hadn’t gone upstairs. Probably something stupid, I thought, as I sat down to take my boots off. No surprise, though. Never the right word, that was me. And right now, too—well, it had been good, hadn’t it? Scary, a little, but good. But what happens now? I wondered, rubbing my thumb along the smooth titanium surface of my engagement ring, wiggling it back and forth in the dimple it had worn into the base of my ring finger. Especially with—

“Hey, where’s the clean towels?”

I looked up the stairs, kicking myself for forgetting. “Oh, sorry—in the closet next to the sink, top shelf!”

“Oh! Uh…can you give me a hand?”

I kicked myself again. Easy for me to reach, sure, but then I overtopped Zeb by a head and half a shoulder—I should’ve thought! “Sorry!” I ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time in stocking feet—

—and stopped dead in my tracks on the top riser. Sure, on the ladder, we’d—but that had been all about soft sounds and gentle touches in the dimness of the plenum, neither of us daring even to move much, and the intermingled scents of dust and sweat and—I hadn’t seen him before. Not, I mean—like—”Sorry!” I yelped again, turning away in a hurry.

Wait, but— I froze at the top of the stairs, suddenly uncertain, still seeing what I’d just seen, marveling at Zeb’s beauty. And—his smile? Had I seen that right? Why would he—? I don’t know what I was expecting to happen next, but whatever it was, it wasn’t a hug. I could feel Zeb pressed up warm and soft and firm against my back. I could feel myself trembling. I knew what I wanted to do. Turn around, and—but I couldn’t, could I? I mean I already had, and that was bad enough, but to—

“I do need a towel, but…we both need a shower,” Zeb murmured, and I could feel his breath on my skin through my shirt and undershirt. “Do you really want to wait?”

I didn’t. I felt like I was on fire. The first kiss felt that way, too, and the second, and then Zeb was undoing my shirt buttons from the bottom while I undid them from the top, and—

(555 words)

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