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Really, We Are Only Animals

eXtasy Books

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 26,443
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Young, beautiful, on the verge of earning her PhD in English literature—and also desperately in love with two unreachable men, who take her desire and offer only empty promises in return—Anne Marceau's heart and mind are always at war. Stranded in the crossfire, her loneliness, confusion, and fear threaten to overwhelm her, despite a gorgeous surface that might convince all that the world is her oyster. In a small, Midtown Manhattan apartment in mid-June, mere footsteps from the university that defines her life, could a week-long reunion with a beloved, childhood friend, nearly a decade younger, help remind her that there is nothing wrong with having needs, and the need to satisfy them?

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Excerpt

Your past is part of you; you can't outrun her because she can always run just as fast, and she'll wait for you to catch up whether or not you're really out of breath. So instead of fighting her or forgetting her why not just try to understand where she's coming from, and let her in? You don't have to be friends, and you don't need to like her, but you need to accept that she's not going away, either, so maybe give her a little credit, good or bad for helping to paint the new picture of you—every day that someone else loves, even if you don't.”

—Anne Marceau; notes to self

Who, though?

The glass panes mirrored a reflection distorted by light and a fatigue that made even hoping that the advice was true—a futile practice in wishful thinking.

“He doesn't love you,” she said into the receiver as if Debussy's Clair de Lune had asked if he did. Instead, it simply reminded her with its wordless piano notes that she was on hold and had been for the last five minutes. “Nobody does, idiot girl.”

A break in the music, whether honest static or an anemic attempt at reply on the other end, eventually outvoted by stall and another press of the hold button, seemed to concur.

Nobody does.

No one outside could hear the thought, repeated over and over, and yet to her, the walls echoed as if sung by an angry choir, all with her same voice.

Nobody…

“I'm sorry, but Dr. Mueller is out today,” another voice broke in finally, cutting off both the classical music and Nobody loves you after, what seemed to her, several monotonous loops.

"Yes," she sighed, wondering why it had taken the entire third movement of Suite Bergamasque to share this information. "Well, when Dr. Mueller comes back, could you tell him that I called?"

He was there, pretending not to be. Very well, though. She would play along.

Soft static came once more to the phone as if hold contemplated a return after an all too brief retirement.

"Certainly, Miss…?" Dr. Mueller's secretary began.

Dr. Mueller's status at the university was such that he did, indeed, rate a secretary, while most of his colleagues counted themselves fortunate to share an office barely a door and nameplate removed from a cubicle.

"Anne—that is to say, Anne Marceau,” she told her again, knowing the other woman remembered but had followed Dr. Mueller's instructions to forget. “Please, it's about…a paper I have to write," Anne replied extemporaneously, clumsily, at the same time avoiding eye contact with Dr. Lowndes, her old linguistics teacher, who just happened to be peddling by The Kaffeeklatsch on her Schwinn.

The young woman stood rigidly within the claustrophobic, old-fashioned phone booth, absently twirling the receiver's cord around a slender, gloved finger. Despite the narrow walls and windowpanes that enclosed her in their red, wooden womb, she touched nothing, as though conscious to avoid leaving evidence of ever having been there.

She hung up the receiver with a soft click that masked her annoyance, both with David and with the fact that her cell phone's battery had died—victim to her forgetting to recharge it after a night-long barrage of voicemails and texts sent to her professor-turned-lover.

Unfinished business, that David seems keen to keep unfinished…

She had never, ever imagined herself being one of those girls, who obsessed over impossible, unreachable men until the obsession tore their hearts in two—

But here she was.

"Fuck me…" she murmured to herself at this failure to connect, feeling guilty at the same time for snubbing Dr. Lowndes, who had, indeed, waved at her.

Evidently, the phone booth hadn't aided anonymity as well as Anne had hoped if the moving object of a near-sighted spinster could identify her—first through horned-rimmed bifocals, and next Anne's tweed coat in June.

She made a mental note to stop by Dr. Lowndes' office tomorrow after her first class and apologize for being a bitch. She made a further mental note to stop by Dr. David Mueller's office, too, to tell him to stop fucking with her heart.

Anne then mouthed a silent I'm sorry to a middle-aged woman probably—one of the students' mothers—who squeezed her way into the phone booth after Anne had left it, and a cynical muscle within Anne's heart wondered if this woman was carrying on an illicit affair with one of her professors, too. Perhaps one of her professors with a taste for older women—the sort who hadn't discovered cell phones even though the rest of the planet had fallen in love with them decades ago.

Yeah, or maybe her cell phone's battery is dead too, Anne, her inner monologue dropping what seemed to be yet another octave of cynicism.

Dr. Mueller—David—had specifically told her not to call him in his office—my secretary is imaginative and enjoys talking, was his rough explanation—and he had told her not to call him at home, either. The latter request needed no elaboration, as Mrs. Mueller would no doubt find little amusement at the thought of her husband—next in line to be dean of the English and Foreign Languages department—having phone sex with a twenty-six-year-old doctoral student, who happened to enroll or at least sit in every one of his classes—even ones she didn't need, really—and who also had, on more than one occasion, been mistaken for a well-known lingerie model.

Real sex, too, in several cheap-as-far-as-Manhattan-goes hotels around Midtown, where no one knew them, or if they did, a simple New York fuck off would teach them to move along—because there's nothing to see here.