Hey, everyone! Audra here. I’m so excited to welcome a guest post from Cole McCade, a fellow romance author whom I met (not surprisingly) on Twitter. Also not surprisingly, I immediately adored him and was so thrilled when he agreed to write a piece for Wonkomance.
And so, today he’s here, talking about real-life romance! Or anti-romance. I’m still not sure, but I do know that I’d love to hear everyone else’s romantic mishaps after reading this post. So with that…Cole, take it away!
How often do you wake up and think, “Sigh. I wish my life was more like a romance novel?”
My guess: probably not often.
You probably wish for those moments, here and there. Those moments that sweep you off your feet. That make your breaths catch in wonder and delight. That wrench at your heart so beautifully, until the pain is just another form of pleasure and you never knew a broken heart could feel so achingly good.
And the sex. Let’s not forget the intense, toe-curling sex that reaches metaphysical levels that would probably blow out your synapses and leave you a drooling vegetable if you ever actually found that dazzling peak.
But deep down, you probably know it’s not practical. It’s not realistic. I bet sometimes it’d get really annoying. It’s a nice thing to think about now and then, but living the drama would get frustrating. And messy. And ridiculous. And would likely result in multiple trips to the ER. If not from the stress-related aneurysms, then from multiple and varied sex-related accidents, with or without the badminton racket—you know what that’s for—that’ll ensure you’ll be the talk of the hospital break room for years to come.
Believe me. I speak from first-hand experience.
Oh yeah. This is one of those stories.
See, I’m a guy who writes romance novels. Which means I’m also a guy who reads romance novels, and have been for most of my life. It’s a thing. I grew up around nothing but women, and while everyone in my family had varied reading tastes—from science fiction to horror to legal texts to fucking encyclopedias (that would be me *hangs head*)—there was always a good smattering of romance throughout. I worked my way through our shelves systematically, before devouring my entire small-town library. There was a lot of The Millionaire’s Something Something and Her Sexy Insert Noun Here and Shite, Thy Maiden’s Chastity Be Straight Up Penetrated in between Oh Fuck, Aliens and Oh Fuck, Ghosts and Oh Fuck, the Biology of Marine Invertebrates is Fascinating and the ever popular fan favorite, Oh Fuck, Dragons and Wizards Be Trippin’, Now Goddammit Where’s the Magic Sword that Isn’t at All a Metaphor for Penis Issues?
I’m sure somewhere in my life I was supposed to pick up a healthy dose of bro-shame for my reading habits. I didn’t. I read what I read. I do what I do. (What I don’t do: bro. I have a deep and fixative loathing of that word.) I’ve never hidden my bodice-rippers inside my Darkness comic books; I’ve never wrapped a textbook around my contemporaries with their flower-strewn covers and quivering man-titties and unisex mullets. I’d read one after the other, then grab a shoujo manga, then read me the fuck out of some Tolkien or Asimov or Le Guin or Feist or L’Engle before going right back to Virginia Henley and Heather Graham. (Keep in mind this was the twentieth century.) Years later, that hasn’t changed. I’ll read Maya Banks on a public bus. I’ll whip out Nora Roberts at the airport. I will ignore my siblings at holiday reunions for Jennifer Probst. I’ll trade books with my girlfriends, and talk about our favorite scenes after.
That’s…what got me in trouble.
Because once an old college girlfriend said to me, “Draw me like one of your French girls.”
…okay, she didn’t actually say that. But she did say she’d love to be romanced just like in her favorite novels, and the idea of a guy who could pull off that kind of stuff just gave her chills. She said it with a pointed look that gave me chills. Chills of dread, and sheer ball-clenching terror over what would happen if I didn’t obey. I knew what I had to do. And I thought—just as she did—that since I’m an avid romance reader, I could pull it off.
I was wrong.
I was so, so spectacularly wrong, and you’re about to find out how.
When I should have been studying for inorganic chem finals, I planned every detail of the evening meticulously. Candlelit dinner—home-cooked, though I’ll spare you the loving descriptions of my recipe foodporn I normally subject Twitter to—and an evening of kinky lovemaking on a bed of silk sheets strewn with flower petals. Yeah. We were doing that. When you’re twenty and stupid, it sounds like the best idea ever, right? …okay, just shut up and listen to the story.
I can at least say dinner went well. If I could cruise through a relationship on my cooking skills alone, I’d be set for life. Unfortunately most people need me to actually be a decent human being outside the kitchen, so that leaves me a little fucked. Figuratively, not literally.
But since we’re talking literally, in this particular case: after dinner came the inevitable making out, teasing, coy pretense that we weren’t going to end up sweaty in the bedroom and making noises the suitemates would complain about later. I nibbled her throat just the way she liked. She ran her fingers through my hair in that way that turns me into a puddle of trembling manflesh. Clothing fell by the wayside in a trail that led toward that oh-so-sexy standard-issue twin bed, and as I teased the strap of her bra over her shoulder and grazed the soft texture of her skin with the very tips of my fingers, I growled, “Baby, I’m gonna fuck you so hard your Daddy’s gonna feel it.”
Then I stopped and realized what I’d just said.
And she started laughing so hard she nearly cried.
And I didn’t blame her, because I had no idea what the fuck I was saying and just blurted out whatever I could in a moment of numb panic where I knew I was supposed to sound sexy and commanding and like a dominant alpha male…and I completely blanked out.
But did I get my little feelings wounded? Nope. Well, yes. Okay. There was some butthurt. Manly butthurt. Deep down inside, I might have curled up and whimpered like a sad puppy. But I was determined to soldier on. This sad puppy was going to give his girl the night of her life.
This sad puppy gave his girl hives, but not until after he gave himself food poisoning.
Somehow we recovered from her gigglefit and my mortified laughter. Somehow we ended up with her naked on the bed in fuzzy handcuffs. Orange, by the way. The most godawful shade of mohair orange you could imagine. They were the only thing I could find on short notice. Just remember, this was the late 90s.
Do you want to hear the rest of this story, or not? Yes? Okay. Moving on then.
So since we were trying out for the Cliché Olympics, guess what I broke out? You got it. Whipped cream. I was going to lick every creamy, frothy bit off her until I went into a diabetic coma. Cue strategic application of whipped cream in the usual spots. Cue licking to varying effect.
Cue me making some really weird faces, because by the time I made it from shoulder-level down to the final destination, something wasn’t tasting quite right. Something, in fact, was tasting quite sour. And when I dipped in for another lick, I immediately withdrew and shook my head with my tongue hanging half-out because I didn’t want to pull it back in my mouth if I was in for another mouthful of that. Actually, I’m pretty sure I made the same face as that dog in that YouTube video with pets licking lemons.
She froze. “What is it?” she asked, a note of panic in her voice that said there was only one right answer to the next question. “Do I taste bad?”
I sensed death on the horizon. “No!” I’m pretty sure I took a trip down puberty lane with how badly my voice cracked. I’m also pretty sure I said dbtho because I was still trying not to pull my tongue back into my mouth. “It’s not you.” Ith nthoth oo. “I think the whipped cream’s gone off.”
“Are you sure?”
“Let me put more on and see.”
Because that’s always the answer. This is how people get their tongues stuck to flagpoles, you guys. I’m just saying. There’s a correlation.
So…setting aside the fact that we were playing with a potential yeast infection, one thing most people don’t consider is that skin can actually be pretty acidic. (Yes, you’re getting a chemistry lesson. Just nod and smile and humor me.) Different people have different skin pH levels, which is why changing climate, changing soap, changing whatever can completely screw up your skin pH and have an interesting effect on your complexion.
It can also wreak hell on melting dairy products.
Acid + whipped cream. You see where this is going, don’t you?
It didn’t get better. I was basically licking half-curdled cream off her skin, with the added benefit of sugar to make a nice little upset stomach cocktail. But I kept licking. And kept doing my thing. And eventually there was a lovely moment with fireworks and that sexy way a woman’s stomach tightens and tenses right before she’s about to finish. And while she’s laying there, beautiful as hell with that faint damp sheen on her skin and her eyes dilated and dark…
…all I’m thinking is I might need some Pepto Bismol.
But the sad puppy doesn’t quit, dammit. So there’s kissing. There’s foreplay, easing up to the dirty deed. Eventually we’re making the beast with two backs, and all is well despite the fact that she’d shaved two days before and the friction from the fresh stubble was making me wish I was a eunuch just so the scraping would stop. I still remember how she looked, with the lamplight making her body into planes of melting gold and liquid shadow, and the way her back arched when she strained against the cuffs. The way she panted as she wrapped her legs around my hips, her thighs taut and quivering.
And the way her skin broke out in red blotches as she closed her eyes and threw her head back and started to say something and ended up just coughing because oh, shite, her throat was closing.
So here’s the thing. My girlfriend loved lilies. So I’d thought, hey, instead of the clichéd bed covered in rose petals, I’d shred some lilies all over those sheets—which, by the way, were slippery and stuck to sweaty skin very uncomfortably—and be original like a fucking boss, because it’s really considerate to remember your girl’s favorite flower until it almost kills her.
Oh, what, you thought the chemistry lesson was over? No, no, now we’re moving on to plant biology. Did you know many species of lily can cause contact dermatitis? I’d thought they were only dangerous when cats eat them, but it turns out they can trigger contact allergies in people, too. For the most part it’s mild. Maybe a little irritation, sometimes so minor you don’t even notice it.
But throw in higher absorption from prolonged contact, sweat, and friction causing the leaves and petals to break and ooze and rub into the skin, and a little irritation turns into a full-on case of hives.
I had a feeling “Oh, darling, you’ve never been more beautiful than when your face is puffed up and covered in blotches” wasn’t the right thing to say at the time.
I stopped what I was doing, because it’s a dick move to keep having sex with your girlfriend when she’s possibly dying. I asked if she was okay. She said “Gg-gak.” I took that to mean “no,” freaked out, yanked on my pants and my watch and exactly one sock, nearly screamed when I tried to uncuff her and almost snapped off the key, bundled her into the car, and drove her to the ER.
We spent the rest of the night there. The doctor who saw us actually got her settled pretty quickly. It took more time to explain what happened than it took for him to get her breathing and to calm the swelling. The man’s face was turning red from trying not to laugh when we were clearly upset and scared, dumb college kids that we were. She checked in for the night so she could have a few more tests done and so the doctor could keep an eye on her in case her reaction got worse. I stayed there and held her hand and apologized so many times she finally begged me to please stop so she could get some sleep. I did. I was quiet as a mouse, and sat in that chair with her hand curled in mine, watching her sleep and thinking I was the biggest arsehole on the fucking planet and trying not to notice the nurses and orderlies who’d now and then stop outside the room, gesture inside, whisper to each other, and giggle. I thought I’d never do something this stupid again. I thought next time, instead of trying to please her by being someone I’m not, I’d try to give her the romance she wanted while still being myself.
She dumped me the next day.
But I learned some interesting things about science, about how to really fuck up a date, and how real romance never quite matches up to the stories – and sixteen years later, she and I are still friends.
She’s also a lesbian.
Totally unrelated to this story. Promise.
Since then I’ve had several relationships. Some long-term, some short-term. A lot of moments stand out, over the years. The way sunlight catches the fine hairs of her arms while she’s clinging to a few more moments of sleep before the alarm goes off. The way my heart clenches up when I, insomniac that I am, start to ease out of bed around 3am to work on a project, and her fingers clench against my chest and she snuggles just a little closer without ever waking up—letting me know with just one sweet touch that she doesn’t want me to leave. The startled burst of laughter when I say something she doesn’t expect, and that hot feeling suffusing my neck and the tips of my ears that only comes when her eyes light up just so.
And the way she reaches up and touches soft fingertips to my lips in the deepest heart of the moment, so I won’t say a word to ruin it and can just be there with her, silent save for the rush of our breaths.
Those moments have stayed with me more than any contrived attempt to be romantic. Those moments have been real. Have been beautiful. Maybe they’re not all passion and intense drama and heartfelt proclamations of love, but they’re mine. And as much as I love my romance novels, I’d never want to try to live them.
Those novels might be magic on the page, but I’d never trade them for the real magic I’ve found in those little moments, time and time again.
That, and I don’t even want to imagine the hospital bills.