Chapter Twenty-One – Brussels sprouts

"You don't have to say anything, Olivia," Anne told her once she saw the woman sitting across from her open her mouth for at least the sixth time with still no words coming out.

Olivia snapped her mouth shut but then she shook her head slightly. "Yes, I do," she then finally spoke. "I hate that you and Harry are fighting. Toby's freaking out about it. You and Harry never fight and we just… it's not natural and we want to help."

Anne lowered her eyes to her menu, reading over the options. "We aren't fighting. That would require us speaking to one another and at the moment, I am not speaking to him."

"He's an idiot. I know. You don't have to tell me that. I've known him since we were eighteen. You met him in the hospital for alcohol poisoning," Olivia said as if reminding her of all of this. "I know he's an idiot but I know that he's an idiot who loves you so much and he feels so terrible for everything."

Anne was quiet and continued reading the menu. She knew when Olivia called, asking her to lunch, what the topic of conversation would be and she had decided to subject herself to it. And with the hospital being so hectic that morning, being able to slip away for even a few minutes sounded so appealing. She knew Olivia meant well. Ever since she and Harry had met and married, Olivia had become one of her closest friends and Anne loved her like a sister. But sometimes – like now – she very much felt like Olivia was Harry's best friend and would always side with him no matter what.

Though she and Harry were sleeping in the same bed and going about their everyday routine with Danny and Chris, they barely spoke to one another. Well, rather, she barely spoke to him. Harry talked to her often even when she offered him absolutely no response. He would ask her what he had to do to fix this and honestly, she didn't answer him because she had absolutely no idea how to answer. She was still angry, yes, but more than that. She was hurt. So, so hurt and she sometimes looked at him and she felt like crying. She had been so excited when the doctor had told her she was pregnant again and she had just naturally assumed that her husband would be happy, too. Any other sort of reaction Harry might possibly have never crossed her mind.

Olivia sat across from her and nervously twisted her fingers in her lap. She really had no idea what to say. This was so far out of her realm. She wasn't married and she had never had children and she actually tried to imagine what she would do if she and Ben were in this situation. She loved Harry and saw his point of view but she loved Anne, too, and saw her point of view as well. This whole thing was such a mess and she and Toby had talked about it with one another and it was decided that Toby would talk with Harry while Olivia would talk with Anne.

She hoped Toby was having better luck with Harry than she was at the moment.

"How are you feeling?" Olivia asked.

"I'm alright. The morning sickness isn't too awful," Anne finally lifted her eyes to her.

"I remember you had the worst morning sickness with Danny," Olivia said. "Harry was so freaked out about the whole thing, thinking you were going to throw the baby up."

Despite herself, Anne felt herself almost smiling but she caught herself in time. Their waitress appeared and they ordered sodas and sandwiches with cups of soup.

Olivia tried again. "Have you told Danny and Chris? Are they excited? Well, not that Chris would really understand but does Danny?"

Anne nodded. "Danny is very excited to be a big brother again," she said and looked at Olivia closely. "How's Ben?" She swiftly changed topics.


And just hearing his name, Olivia felt so ridiculous but she couldn't help but smile. Ben was good. Very good. They were great. She spent the night at his apartment a couple of times a week and he spent the night at hers a couple a nights, too, and they did nothing but share a bed and heavily make-out. Ben never pushed her for anything else and she was so grateful to that because while she knew that it would happen – without doubt, sometimes, she felt completely ready while other times, she still wanted to wait. And she didn't say any of this but Ben seemed to know and understand perfectly.

It seriously only made her fall deeper in love with him.

She was going to be going to his apartment that night. It was Friday and they had no plans for the weekend except doing nothing. She was very much looking forward to it. Work had been slightly hectic that week and she just wanted to change into her pajamas for the next two days and not even have to put on a bra if she didn't want to.

Anne smiled because she looked at Olivia and saw the faint blush on the woman's cheeks and despite everything in her own life, she felt such happiness for Olivia. That day in the aquarium, a person would have had to be blind to not see the something building between Olivia and Ben and even as they both tried to deny it, it was a plain as day for everyone to see. She had spent too many years watching Olivia not-so-secretly be in love with Toby and being crushed time and time again but now, finally, Olivia had moved on and found happiness with someone who was worthy of her. Anne wished things were going just as well in her own life so she could spend this lunch squealing about it like other women would. But Anne just wasn't in a squealing mood and Olivia was never the sort to squeal.

Just then, Olivia's cell began to ring, startling both from their thoughts.

Olivia glanced at the screen to see that it was Ben calling and she hesitated. She hated speaking on her phone like this. She found it to be so rude. She was out to lunch with Anne. She would call Ben back in a little bit.

"Answer it, Liv," Anne read her mind and the waitress returned, setting their cups of soup down in front of them. Anne took a roll and tore off a hunk and began eating and Olivia hesitated for just another second before answering.


"Do you like Brussels sprouts?" Ben asked as his form of greeting.

"Um…" Olivia's brow furrowed. "Yes?" She then said but rose her tone at the end as if she wasn't entirely sure and asking her own question. "Yes, I do," she then nodded. "Why?"

"Because I'm watching Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network right now and she's roasting Brussels sprouts in the oven and I don't think my life has been complete because I have never tried these before and they look to be perfection," he explained. "Why haven't I ever eaten roasted Brussels sprouts? I've eaten all over the world. I own a steak house!"

Olivia smiled faintly and shook her head. She was, at times, so envious of his life of leisure.

"So, I'm guessing we're having Brussels sprouts for dinner tonight?" She asked.

"I'm off to the store right now. Do you need me to get anything? You're out of cranberry juice. I'll get you more cranberry juice," he then said. "How's your day so far?"

"It's alright," Olivia quickly glanced to Anne and then away again. "I can't wait to see you," she then admitted, feeling her cheeks warm.

From over the phone, she could hear Ben smile.

"A whole two days with just you. I admit, I'm actually counting down the hours," he said and she laughed softly. "See you soon."

"Can't wait for dinner," she smiled.

"It is going to blow your panties off," he teased.

"You wish," she laughed. "Love you," she then said and it still amazed her sometimes how easily those words were able to leave her mouth. She and Ben said them so often to one another now, it was as if they had been together for years rather than just a handful of a few short months.

"Love you, too," Ben replied in return. "Tell Anne I said hi," he then said, knowing that the two women were meeting for lunch that day.

"I will," she nodded and then ended the call. "Sorry about that."

Anne shook her head and blew on a spoonful of soup. "I wish I had Ben's life. Doesn't he ever get bored?" She then asked.

"He says he doesn't," Olivia said, beginning to eat her own soup. "I think I would though. I think I'm just so used to working five, sometimes six, days a week, to just suddenly switch and do absolutely nothing every day, I would probably go crazy."

"Does he ever talk about going to work for the hotel in some capacity?"

Olivia was quiet for a moment. "I honestly don't talk with him about it." She looked at Anne, who seemed surprised. "I just don't feel it's my place. He has more money than he will ever be able to spend in his lifetime so it's not like he has to work. And he seems happy letting his father's board handle all of the business. And it's really none of my business."

"You are his girlfriend though. If it was anyone's business, it would be yours," Anne said.

"I suppose," Olivia slowly nodded. "I just… it is kind of surreal to me when he comes over and I'm so tired from work and he just doesn't understand. I can't really bitch to him about the office or coworkers because Ben being Ben would tell me to just quit. As if that's an option. As if I don't have rent or bills to pay. I'm sure if we ever get married-"

She gasped then and clamped her mouth shut.

She shouldn't have said that. She shouldn't have even thought that. She and Ben were not going to get married. That word had never even been mentioned in passing between them and why should it? Yes, they were dating and they were in love but that's all it was. They were boyfriend and girlfriend. They went out or stayed in and spent time together and she always wanted to be with him but that's all it was. They were in a relationship like millions of other people and just because they were in a relationship, that didn't automatically lead to marriage. They were still getting to know one another. Just a year ago, they cursed one another's very existence. Ben would never want to get married. Why was she even thinking about marriage?

She looked at Anne with wide eyes and Anne was looking at her, looking quite amused, but she didn't say anything and Olivia felt her entire face flush.

"Please. Can we talk about you and Harry?" She pleaded with her.

Anne shook her head. "There's nothing to talk about. We'll fix it… or we won't." She paused then and swallowed as if her throat suddenly felt too thick. "We'll fix it," she then said softly and she tried to sound confident because of course, she wanted to fix it. Harry was her husband and she loved him. She just wanted to stop hurting first.

Olivia looked at her and after a moment, nodded her head. "You'll fix it," she said firmly.

And for the first time that afternoon, Anne felt herself smile. Small but true.

"Now," she said, taking another roll and smiling a bit wider. "What colors do you think you'll want for the wedding?"


Ben looked at the table with a frown. He was forgetting something but he had no idea what. He had laid out two plates, two forks and knives, two glasses… napkins. Shit. Did he have napkins? He had toilet paper. He could use toilet paper for napkins. Tissues! Olivia had bought a box of tissues for the bathroom. He definitely had tissues. Why didn't he have napkins like most normal adults?

Just as he turned to go back into the kitchen, Olivia came out from the bedroom, having changed from her work clothes into her pajamas – though they weren't much of pajamas. They had both discovered that she loved wearing his tee-shirts and a pair of panties and nothing else and Ben looked at her now and the way the soft gray tee-shirt skimmed her thighs and all of the blood in his body quickly dropped southward.

Dear god, did she have any idea what she did to him even when she was trying to do nothing? Especially when she was trying to do nothing. She just had to wear his tee-shirt and he was reading to throw her right here on this table and bury himself inside of her.

He knew she sometimes worried that she was making him wait too long and that he would get impatient with her and no longer be willing to wait. She didn't say these things but he could read Olivia Grange, at times, like a book and he could see these thoughts in her head. And he hoped, really hoped, that she knew that he would wait for her forever. She was his girlfriend and he wasn't just in love with her. He was absolutely mad about her and he not only loved her, he loved being with her.

Yes, he wanted to have sex with her. What the hell sort of bloke wouldn't want to have sex with their insanely gorgeous girlfriend who they loved? But it wasn't the be-all, end-all of their relationship. He had opened his mouth several times to tell Olivia that but he always stopped himself, telling himself that she wasn't stupid. She had to know that already.

"It smells so good," she smiled, shaking him from his thoughts.

Ben broke into a grin. "It's almost done. Do you want some wine?"

"I'd love some," she nodded. "Do you need my help with anything?"

"Yeah," he said as he went into the kitchen, "No one's sat on the couch in a couple of hours. Go keep it company."

Olivia laughed a little and turned without protest, happily flopping herself down onto his over-stuffed couch. Ben had an L-shaped couch – the sort a person could sink into and happily drown in without ever feeling the need to rise from – and it was so silly but one of her dreams, ever since she was a little girl, was to have an L-shaped couch. Her apartment was too small and they were more expensive than what she wanted to spend on a couch but now, she had a boyfriend who had one and it was as wonderful as she knew it would be.

Ben returned and she sat up a little, taking the glass of red wine he offered to her. "Would you rather we eat here?" He asked. "Let's eat here instead," he then made the decision for her. He looked down at her and his tee-shirt had ridden up to her hips. He saw her underwear that night was green and he pursed his lips together, trying to build moisture.

God, he wanted to touch her between her thighs. Pure and simple.

Olivia looked up at him. He wore sweatpants and a white tee-shirt and his hair had grown out a little from the buzz cut and it looked so soft tonight. Her fingers itched to run through it. His eyes seemed dark that night; clouded. She noticed immediately.

"Are you okay?" She asked, sitting up more.

He nodded – too quickly. "Yeah," he said and then turned away again without saying anything else, missing her frown.

In the kitchen, the oven beeped and he pulled the tray of roasted Brussels sprouts out, setting it down to cool for a minute. He had also made whipped cauliflower – another thing he saw on the Food Network that day – and he checked on it as it simmered on the stove.

He tried taking a series of deep breaths, desperate to calm down. He didn't know what was going on with him. Maybe it was because the oven was making the apartment too hot and it was as if his blood was boiling. Olivia was driving him insane with her bare legs and warm smile and why was she driving him so crazy tonight?


He jumped a little when suddenly, Olivia's hand unexpectedly appeared on his shoulder.

He spun around to look at her and she opened her mouth to speak but he didn't let her. He surged forward and his mouth smashed against hers. He heard her squeak a little with surprise but he lifted a hand to the back of her head, fingers fisting in her hair, and his other arm bound tightly around her waist. Olivia sank into the kiss, her own arms sliding around him and returning his furious kisses with hungry kisses of her own.

She tasted like mint and Ben dove his tongue in to taste her even more deeply, listening to her moan softly, her body pressed against his. He told himself to stop – or at least slow down – but he couldn't get his brain and the rest of his body to actually agree with one another. And Olivia was kissing him just as hard, just as deep, her arms holding him just as tightly and maybe he was driving her just as crazy as she was driving him.

Olivia's head was spinning and her knees were growing weak and she pressed herself against him because he was hard and firm and something solid to hold onto. He had never kissed her like this before. This was a frenzied kiss; a man starving and kissing her as if she was the only thing that could possibly nourish him and keep him alive. She heard herself moan and whimper and was it the oven or him that was making her so warm?

Him. Definitely him.

He needed to stop. He needed to rip his lips away and take a step back because this was too much. She was too much of everything. Her body was warm and soft and she smelled so sweet, surrounding him and permeating his nose, making his head spin in circles. What was she doing to him? Why did he suddenly lose all control? He yelled at himself to get a grip.

Instead, he lifted her up suddenly and she broke her mouth away with a gasp. Her lungs were burning and her chest heaved, panting, desperate for air. Ben's lips latched onto the side of her throat, sucking and nipping at the skin and her arms tightened around his shoulders as she suddenly found herself sitting down on the kitchen counter. She couldn't breathe. Was it possible that a person could die from their boyfriend kissing them? Would she be the first and only person in the history of the world to die from complete pleasure like this? His hands were on her thighs and his lips were still sucking her skin and she heard herself moan his name.

She didn't know what had come over him but she felt nothing but excitement at his actions. She closed her eyes and felt his tongue and lips and his gentle teeth and his hands were so warm and heavy on her skin. Oh, yes, she was definitely going to die.

She felt a throbbing ache between her thighs and the lower pit of her stomach and her nipples beneath the tee-shirt tightened. As if he sensed this, one of his hands suddenly swept beneath the bottom hem of the shirt and he touched her bare breast for the first time. She moaned softly and he pressed himself harder into the counter when he heard it.

Olivia's breasts were small yet full and he hadn't even seen them yet – he could just feel them – but he already knew that they were the best breasts he had ever encountered. His thumb flicked over the nipple and he felt her back arch slightly at the action. He made sure to do it again and again and her moans grew louder in volume. He was so hard, now, and he didn't know how he wasn't inside of her yet; some of his self-control must miraculously still be hanging on.

His other hand slipped up the front of the shirt to cup her other breast and he pulled his lips away from her neck but only to press them back against hers.

Olivia was on fire. Her entire body felt too hot and it ached and his hands were massaging her breasts and flicking her nipples and they were such hard points now, it almost hurt. His tongue was in her mouth again and she pressed back against him.

All of this was too much and yet, at the same time, she didn't understand it but it wasn't enough at all.

"Ben," she whimpered.

Ben's eyes snapped open and he tore his lips away. He stared at her for a moment as if he had had no recollection of what they had just been doing or what he had been doing to her even though both of his hands were still up the front of her shirt. She stared at him with dazed eyes and he saw her swollen lips, the flushed skin, the mussed hair.

"I'm sorry," he blurted out. "Shit. I'm sorry." He ripped his hands away.

Olivia did her best to swallow and she shook her head. "Don't be sorry," she said softly, looking at him closely. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"I didn't?" He genuinely looked surprised at that.

She smiled faintly and shook her head. "Not at all. I was enjoying it," she admitted.

Now, Ben was even more surprised and he blinked at her, wondering if she was serious in that moment, but of course she was. This was the one topic that they never joked about.

"Still, I shouldn't have just… attacked you like that. I don't know what happened," he said.

She reached a hand out to the side of his neck, her thumb swiping along his jaw. "Thank you for stopping," she said. "I really didn't want to lose my virginity on a kitchen counter like this. Though you do have very nice kitchen countertops."

Ben stared at her and she smiled faintly, still, and he was pretty sure his heart just plummeted down in his chest to his feet. He stared at her and couldn't speak, let alone breathe, and Olivia didn't say anything except give him that small smile and her eyes seemed to be sparkling at him.

"Olivia," he was finally able to say her name. He shook his head. "Don't say that."

"Why not?" She asked, curious, her head tilted slightly to the side.

"We're waiting…" he started to say and trailed off.

He didn't know what was going on. Was she seriously saying what he thought she was saying; making a suggestion or innuendo that he was able to catch onto immediately? She knew better than to tease him about this. Especially right now. The blood was still pumping throughout his body, roaring in his ears.

And if she was saying what she was saying, why the hell was he protesting?

Olivia never took her eyes off of him as she slowly slid from the counter, returning to her feet. She felt the dampness in her panties and her stomach clenched – nervously yet excitedly – as she reached out and took his hand. She still didn't say anything and she saw him visibly swallow as if he was terrified. Of her or the situation, she didn't know right now.

"We can eat the Brussels sprouts later," she told him in a soft voice.

And then, she began walking from the kitchen, holding his hand, and Ben, still not saying a word, followed as she led them into the bedroom.