This is unedited, unrevised, and SUPER subject to change. Be prepared to strap on some rose colored glasses when necessary. :)
© 2015, Laurel Ulen Curtis
Read: Don't steal my stuff.
Hefting the weighty bag until the strap settled correctly on my shoulder, I closed the lift gate on the back of my Jeep Grand Cherokee and walked confidently up the winding concrete path that led to a perfect red door on a quaint country house.
The driveway was long, the house sitting secluded through a crop of trees and in the middle of a rolling expanse of grass. In fact, it was just as I would have pictured the site of Danny’s youthful gallivanting, the space and privacy lending itself perfectly to the explorations and adventures of two young, knowledge seeking boys and one very spunky little girl.
But the woman inside’s experience with this place had to be different. I’m sure she liked it, probably found comfort in the memories of making her young family here, but the maintenance had to take its toll. It wasn’t about her being a woman without a man; it was about her being a person without any help.
The wood of the door sent my knuckles bouncing back smoothly as I knocked, and the sound of my percussion echoed through the door and into the entryway.
I could see the lights on through the window, but something about approaching her secluded house with no personal warning didn’t sit right with me. I knew from my few years with Melly that a stranger (or for some reason, a long lost best friend) approaching the door of a lone female usually resulted in several evasive maneuvers, including hitting the floor and army crawling their way to the closet under their stairs until any sign of said person went away.
On that thought, I rang the doorbell. I had a feeling persistence was going to be key.
Just the weight of my clothes pulled on my opposite shoulder, and I fought the urge to cringe.
Vacation. That’s what they were calling it. But I liked to call it forced disability.
The time off would be good. I knew it would. But I hadn’t been stagnant in close to twenty five years. From the time Melly passed away up until two days ago, I had worked. Every moment, every second, to keep myself from facing some of the emptiness in my life, I put everything I had into my job and making a difference.
I rang the doorbell again.
Finally, after what seemed like twenty years (at least the memories of them flashed through my mind), two cute blue eyes appeared, wide and barely visible over several white looking fingers. The rest of her head was carefully hidden by the curtain.
It was dark, the sun had faded nearly thirty minutes ago and the presence of a burning porch light was lacking. Something she should really rectify.
I doubted she could see anything distinguishing about me.
Seemingly simultaneously, the door cracked opened and the light flicked on, momentarily blinding me and forcing a step backwards and a scrunched up face.
By the time I opened my eyes back to normal and took a step forward, it was too late.
Her small frame landed on the hard tile floor with a thud, and the previously cracked door swung open wide on its hinges.
I felt my heart lurch into my ribs at the sight of all that silky hair and smooth skin laying in a lifeless heap for the second time in my short knowledge of her.
Dropping my bag unceremoniously, I jumped forward, taking care to keep the door from swinging toward her and injuring her further.
My eyes jumped like pinballs, refusing to focus on one area at a time like I needed them to, as I knelt down on one knee close to her head.
Thank God, there was no blood.
Prodding her head gently with my fingertips, I checked to make sure there weren’t any lumps or obvious signs of distress.
You know, other than her being unconscious.
Luckily, I came up empty just as her eyelids started to flutter open.
The black of her pupils consumed her normally brilliant pools of blue, and confusion wafted off of her like grease smoke out of a Waffle House.
When her eyes finally settled, tired of wandering side to side and up and down, I spoke.
But I did it softly.
“This is two times now that you’ve passed out at the sight of me. Do it a third time and I might start to get offended.”
Paying no attention to my lame joke, she shook her head languidly, the haze of dreamland lingering, and asked, “What are you doing here?”
Her expression of shock was matched only by disgust. Or some other unpleasant emotion. I was hoping that it was just a side effect of disorientation from fainting rather than actual vehemence at the unexpected sight of me. Because frankly, that would kind of suck.
“Danny was supposed to call you.”
She said nothing.
“I, um, need a place to stay.” Trying to inflect my voice with excitement, I added, “I’m on vacation.”
Still, she gave me nothing.
“Danny didn’t think it’d be a good idea to stay with them. Something about the house being relatively small and not nearly soundproof.”
She gave me something on that. More disgust. “Gross.”
All I had was bland agreement. “Yeah.”
Realizing my hands were still buried in her hair, the tips of all of my fingers rubbing softy at her scalp, I cleared my throat and removed them, climbing to a full stand slowly.
She followed suit, collecting herself as demurely as possible, being that she was in a heap on the floor not of her voluntary making, and brushed her own fingers through her silky, chestnut tresses.
“So…I take it he didn’t call you,” I stated the obvious, awkwardly shoving my too large fingers into the too tight pockets of my jeans.
“Nope. No phone calls from Danny dearest,” she confirmed, letting the ‘p’ in ‘nope’ pop as it rolled through her soft, peach lips. Her arms settled into a perfect pretzel across her generous chest, and I fought the urge to look down.
Eyes. Pretty eyes.
Cataloguing shades of blue.
I wonder if she waxes her eyebrows or if they’re that perfect all on their own.
Just don’t think about nipples.
Rosy or brown, small or big?
God really had a sense of humor when he programmed the male mind. It was like it was designed to constantly garner averse emotion from females.
When I finally got a lock on my hormones, I realized she still hadn’t said anything.
Okay. At this point, I was really expecting her to be more solicitous. Graciously offer for me to stay in her home, or at least give some indication that she didn’t intend to castrate me in my sleep. The last time I’d seen her she’d flirted.
Pretty obviously, in fact.
I hadn’t exactly been a modern day Romeo, but I had big stuff going on. Surely she had to know that. Right?
But instead, she stood silent and waited for me to make a fool of myself. That’s what the wicked glint shooting out of her eye suggested anyway.
Maybe she knew about the nipples.
Fuck! Stop thinking about nipples!
Shit. Was my voice squeaking? Shouldn’t that have stopped forty years ago? “I’d really appreciate if I could stay here tonight. I’d be happy to find somewhere else to stay tomorrow, of course. I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
There. That sounded like something a woman might like to hear. Maybe.
I had half a mind to punch myself in my own injured shoulder. Stupid thing. Making me realize that I’d grown all the way into middle age without making any real connections or friendships. So much so, that when forced to take time off from work, the only place I could come up with to go was to Danny’s.
And as a result, his future mother in law’s.
She seemed to really be considering it, her eyes thoughtful and averted. Frankly, I was starting to worry. Sure, I could stay in a hotel, but I’d reached my quota for feeling pathetic today. I didn’t need to spend a night in a room by myself, naming my remote Samsung and crying to it like it was my only friend.
“You can stay here,” she finally offered, putting me out of my misery. “And you can do it for more than one night. You’re family.”
That felt better than I expected it to.
Hmm, maybe I really was a lonely bastard.
“Thanks. I really appreciate it,” I said earnestly. And only a little embarrassedly. “I’ll try to stay out of your hair,” I offered as she moved down the hall towards what I presumed was the kitchen. I reached back and swung my forgotten bag on my shoulder, closing the door behind me.
She stopped and turned around, walked the few steps toward me, and pulled the bag off of my shoulder. Then tossed it heartily to the bottom of the steps.
The puppet version of my head looked from her, to the bag, and back, all without realizing it was doing it. My ventriloquy mouth bobbed up and down soundlessly too.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing valuable in there,” I quipped through a chuckle when speech returned. Glancing to the bag one last time, I finished, “At least not anymore.”
Her eyes met mine as she spoke softly, completely ignoring my comment. “Wade. Stop worrying about it. Make yourself at home.”
When she turned to head toward the kitchen again, I almost didn’t hear her.
“Trust me, a couple of days and you’ll be the one looking for a way out.”