I hang up the phone and stare at my closed bedroom door. Benjamin Kakoa just called me. And asked me to come to his house tomorrow and take a selfie with him to send to his parents. How is this my life right now?
I double check my phone, confirming that yes, I did just get an incoming call from an unknown number, and no, I didn’t just hallucinate the whole thing. I also didn’t ask the very obvious “WTF, Ben?” question that immediately sprang to my lips. Because I’m trying to stick to that whole ‘let him decide everything in all of our interactions’ commitment I made to myself.
But seriously, what the fuck? It’s such a random thing to ask of someone you just met, and my curiosity is so piqued that there’s a chance I might not sleep tonight because of it. The fact that he offered no explanation is also weird. Like, this almost feels like a test weird. Or maybe he didn’t offer an explanation because we just met and he doesn’t trust me with any more information than he absolutely has to give me. Which is fair. And makes total sense. Still, what if he’s doing that, but also testing me to see if I pry, or post something cryptic about it on Facebook?
Argh! I’m going to sleep like crap again. I just know it.
A faint snuffling comes from underneath my door, followed by the beginnings of a whine. The dogs. I’ve been up here for too long. I’m being a bad hostess.
I pull up Ben’s number to save it in my phone, but hesitate over the contact name. Stan just came blurting out of my mouth when he called because it was the most bland, unassuming male name I could think of on the spot.
No offense to all the Stans out there. I don’t blame you. I blame your parents.
I decide to stick with that name and save the contact as “Stan”, because I’m paranoid enough that now that I’ve called him that once, it’ll just be safer to always call him that. You know, on the off chance that Megan, who has never once in her life showed even the least interest in spying on me, chooses this visit to try and hack into my phone.
I lock the screen, slide it into my back pocket, and open my door. The dogs are right outside, and proceed to greet me like I’ve been gone from their sight for an entire week. I give them both reassuring pats for a minute before making my way downstairs.
Megan and Stacey are stretched out next to each other on the chaise lounge. Stacey is of Scandinavian descent, and her feet extend a whole foot farther than my sister’s. Megan’s head rests on her shoulder, her long raven locks contrasting with her wife’s blonde pixie cut. They turn when they hear the floorboards creak under me.
I pause just behind the couch, feeling awkward already about having to lie. “That was my friend, Stan,” I say.
Megan gives me a look like, “No shit, Sherlock”.
I guess I did kind of scream that name a few times when I picked up.
Her dubious expression spurs me on. “So, he’s going through a rough patch right now, and if it’s okay with you guys, I’m going to swing by his place tomorrow morning to check in on him. I still want to go cross country skiing with you, though.”
Phew, that was easier than I thought it would be. Ella Jones: artist, entrepreneur, stone cold liar.
Stacey smiles. “That’s fine. We can go after you get back. Maybe the snow will have started by then.” She looks at Megan, her smile widening, a little sparkle in her eye. “Won’t that be nice? Like skiing through a winter wonderland.”
I’m not exactly sure what she was expecting in response, maybe for Megan to confirm that yes, that does sound romantic AF, or something similarly gushy, but my sister, still grumpy from their long drive today, makes a decidedly unromantic harrumphing sound instead.
“As long as we don’t get stuck out in the woods because of it and have to eat the first person to freeze to death just to stay alive. Or get mauled by wolves. Or trampled by a moose with a brain worm.”
“Megan. Jesus,” I say, staring down at her.
Stacey puts her hands over Megan’s ears and stage whispers, “She’s just tired.”
I laugh as Megan bats her hands away.
“How was traffic?” I ask, rounding the couch to join them.
They’d only been here long enough to drop their stuff in the spare room and then collapse on the chaise in exhaustion before Ben – er, I mean Stan, STAN – called.
“Terribad,” Megan says.
“We took Route One out of the city, which was basically a parking lot right up to I-95,” Stacey elaborates. “Which, you know, is pretty typical, but usually it clears up after the merge.”
“Not so much, this time?” I ask.
“Not so much,” she says. “It’s a good thing we left earlier than planned, or we’d still be on the road.”
Sam chooses that moment to jump up near their feet, sniffs their socks, and then, with all the drama of the breed, nudges their legs apart with his snout and whines when they don’t move fast enough for his liking.
“Uh, I think he’d like to lay down with you,” I say, helpfully.
“Oh my God,” Megan says. “You two are so spoiled.” But she quickly wiggles over some, and when he flops down in the space she cleared, she immediately starts to pet him, just behind his ears, exactly where he likes it best.
“Right,” I say, narrowing my eyes. “So, you didn’t do the thing you did last year where you get them both more presents than anyone else in the family?”
I’m met with silence. Stacey – from what I can see of her profile – is wearing a decidedly guilty look. She stares at the TV like the weatherman is suddenly the most interesting man in the world. I can’t even see Megan’s face anymore. She’s conveniently turned to lean her head on her wife’s shoulder. Like she’s hiding her expression on purpose.
“And you definitely didn’t let them unwrap one of those presents early. Like, when I was on the phone a minute ago?” I press.
Right on cue, Fred pads around the couch with a brand-new toy in his mouth. He stops in front of me and starts chewing on it. It squeaks with every bite, each sound an exclamation point pronouncing the obvious.
“We can’t have dogs in our apartment,” Megan mutters, snuggling closer to Stacey.
“And so you spoil mine. I get it. Just, maybe don’t complain about something you’re actively contributing to, grouchy pants.”
“I’m not the grouchy pants. You’re the grouchy pants,” she says into Stacey’s shoulder, so that the words come out garbled.
Stacey turns a little and meets my eyes over her head. “She’s really tired.”
“Do you mind watching the dogs while I’m out?” I ask Megan the next morning. We’re all a little sleepy after an epic night of card playing and catching up, though I did manage to get more shuteye than I thought I would.
“Yes,” Megan answers, surprising me.
“Wait, what? Seriously?”
I look at Stacey, across the kitchen island, who merely shrugs and goes back to sipping her second cup of coffee. She stays out of our sisterly drama whenever it crops up. Wise woman.
“Yes, seriously,” Megan says. “I love them, but they’re a pain in the ass when you’re gone. Every time they hear a noise outside, they freak out in excitement thinking it’s you, race to the nearest window, and then if it’s not actually you, they whine like someone threw all their toys away and then mope around the house until the next noise comes along. It’s depressing as fuck.”
Fred must have heard the word “toy”, because he prances into the kitchen with his new squeaky, munching on it and looking up at me like it’s play time. Sam joins him, their tug-of-war rope in his mouth, which he swings from side to side in excitement.
“Also, I just need like five fucking seconds of quiet,” Megan adds.
I reach down and gently pull the squeaking ball out of Fred’s mouth. That settles that, then. Megan gets a little testy when she’s had too much excitement, and if she’s already f-bombing about it, I need to hightail it out of here with the boys. Especially since we’ll all be together romping through the woods this afternoon. The last thing I want is for her to be overwhelmed on her first day here. It might ruin the rest of their trip. Once Megan gets into serious anti-social mode, it’s really hard to get her out of it.
“Okay. I’ll take them with me,” I tell her.
She exhales heavily. “Thanks.”
Yes, thanks, Stacey mouths from over Megan’s shoulder.
I nod at her in understanding.
“We’ll be back in a few hours then,” I say, heading toward the front door. I don’t expect it to take nearly that long at Ben’s. I can just head to Jack’s afterward if I have to and let the boys burn off some energy playing in the snow.
I bundle up against the cold – it’s only 20 degrees outside – and then open the door to let the dogs out ahead of me so they can pee before we get in the truck. It takes a while for the engine to heat up, even after I have the boys buckled in the back, so I decide to text Ben.
Hey, it’s Ella. I have the dogs with me. I can drop them at Jack’s before I head over, if you like, I say.
It’s a few minutes before he responds.
No, that’s fine. I figured you’d bring them. I’ve already dog-proofed the house.
LOL, that’s adorable. They’ll find something to get into no matter what you do. Sorry in advance.
I hit send too quickly, then want to punch myself in the kidney. Adorable? Really? Hopefully he doesn’t think that I used it in that way because I think he’s adorable. Hopefully he knows it’s just an expression. That I use with people I know. When I’m being sarcastic and want to tease them a little about their naivete. Because, you know, he and I go way back, so of course he knows that’s what I meant and not that I called him adorable in seriousness or something. I mean, obviously I think he’s adorable. But that’s not what I was just trying to convey.
Well, maybe adorable is the wrong word for what I think of him.
I flash back to him catching me with the climb-you-like-a-tree-now-yes-please look on my face and my cheeks begin to burn with embarrassment.
Oh, God. Why has he not texted back yet?
After what feels like a small eternity, my phone dings.
Ha! I’ll make sure to close off the rooms with fresh paint on the walls. And put away the fancy china.
He gave me a “Ha!”. That means he knew it was a joke, right?
My fingers hover over the screen. I have no idea what to say back. Up until this point in my life, I would never have described myself as a neurotic person, but after only a few interactions with this man, I’m turning into a hot mess. And not in a good way.
I take a deep breath and type back, Ok, we’re leaving now. See you in a few.
Straight to the point. No way it could be misinterpreted. Good. I’ll stick to texts like this in the future. Because otherwise, neurosis.
I spend the entire drive to his house trying to figure out how the hell to behave in front of him. Just “act like yourself” obviously doesn’t apply here, since the whole pathological need to be liked thing would be detrimental to the leave-him-the-hell-alone approach I’ve decided to take.
The trouble is, I don’t really know how to not act like myself and still seem natural. I don’t want him to think I’m a weirdo if I come across as suddenly stiff and quiet when I was anything but during our first meeting. Not because I think it will make him dislike me, but because – okay, yeah, fine, so maybe a little bit of that – but also I don’t want my sudden personality transplant to make him think I’m acting suspicious, like, in a “My name is Ella Jones, and I’m going to post every word you now say to me on the interwebs afterward” kind of way.
Maybe I can just be myself, but…less.
“Ugh, what does that even mean?” I ask the dogs.
Sam, who had been looking out the window, cranes his head around and gives me a look like, “I’m sorry, hooman, I cannot help you.” Or at least that’s how I interpret it.
I’m on my own then.
In the end, I decide to simply be more cautious than normal. To stick with self-deprecation and avoid teasing. I don’t want him to think I’m flirting or something. Or trying to ingratiate myself with him. I suddenly feel for anyone with social anxiety. Inspecting every interaction like this must be so frustrating, which must just compound the anxious feelings.
I take the back way around the hill again, out of an abundance of caution. The dogs perk up when we get near Jack’s driveway, recognizing their surroundings. I roll past his property, and their excited yips turn into whines.
The look Fred gives me in the rearview mirror is accusatory. How dare you rob us of treats, hooman.
Their complaining immediately cuts off when I pull into Ben’s driveway, because, ooh, new place! I drive slowly, distracted by the building’s façade. It’s a huge, square colonial farmhouse, with a wraparound porch on the first floor. The last time I drove by, a few months ago now, it was yellow, but now it’s a crisp, bright white, with black shutters to add some contrast. The window frames themselves have also been painted black, and the elaborate corbels that connected to the columns of the porch and the peaks of the roofline have been replaced with clean, straight pieces of darkly stained wood that match the decking, giving the place a more modern finish. I really like it.
It’s funny how just a few coats of paint and some small upgrades can change the whole feel of a place. Before, it looked dilapidated, run down. Now it looks lived in. Not merely a house; a home. A very large home, that rambles back from the original square frame, telling the story of its past through the various additions over the years that were added to accommodate for a growing family. And farm, judging by the massive red barn attached at the very rear. It too looks like a brand-new building, with a fresh coat of paint and a new roof and windows.
Ben has put in some serious work.
The front door opens as I ease the truck to a stop. I look away from it, preparing myself for the reality of seeing him again. It’s one thing to tell yourself to treat someone like a normal human when they look like the offspring of a Polynesian god. It’s another thing entirely to stick to that when faced with them.
I glance back to see him loping down from the steps to come greet me, wearing boots, faded jeans, and a thick, long-sleeved green flannel shirt rolled up a few times at the cuffs to show off his impressive forearms. His hair is loose, falling just past his shoulders in a glorious, wavy mass that’s lighter at the tips than the roots.
A gray, overcast spreads out above us, the clouds hanging low, the smell of snow on the air. And yet, somehow, it looks like the summer sun has broken through and is shining a spotlight on Ben. That golden dark skin, that salt-bleached hair, that mega-watt smile he’s now giving me.
“Oof,” I wheeze. It feels like someone just punched me in the stomach.
Stop it, I tell myself. Think of all that he’s been through, think of why he’s probably here. Not to be ogled by you, Ella.
I take a deep breath, turn off the truck, and open my door.
“Hi, Ben,” I call, brightly.
“Hi. Thanks again for this,” he says, coming over to the driver’s side.
He towers over me, one of the few men I’ve ever met to make me feel small and dainty in comparison. I look up to see that the green of his shirt only serves to highlight the green in his eyes.
“You’re welcome,” I say, having to look away. “And you might want to stand back for a second while I let the dogs out. This is a new place, so they might be a little…enthusiastic.”
He looks over my shoulder and gives the boys a wave through the window. “Hi, mongrels,” he says, cheerily.
They go full hyper mode in response, straining at their harnesses while I fumble to undo them and also keep their tongues away from my face.
“Well, I see now that you’re going to be a terrible influence,” I mutter.
To my embarrassment, he hears me.
“Sorry, I really like dogs,” he says.
He doesn’t even sound remotely sorry, though, and when I look over my shoulder at him he’s making a “come here, boys” gesture with his hands that’s rendering it nearly impossible to work around the resulting squirming.
I shake my head at him, grinning, and go back to work. Dog people. We’re all the same when you get right down to it.
Once they’re free, they launch themselves out of the back and straight at him. He drops down into a crouch and rough houses with them for a few minutes before they turn and take off toward the nearest snowbank, racing each other to be the first one to inspect the rock that’s sticking out from it. That done, they sniff a circle around Ben’s Jeep, taking extra time on each tire, and then they try to attack-lick him again, only briefly, before they get distracted and tear around the truck to where I can’t see them. I can still hear them, plowing through the snow in wild abandon. They race back around into sight and beeline for the wood pile. Then they’re at the rock once more. Fred pees on the rock. Sam sniffs Fred’s pee, then adds his own to the rock for good measure. Finally, they pad back toward us.
I lean down a little, coaxing them over. “Okay, are you guys all done be-”
Nope. They take off again.
“Better they get it out now than in the house,” I tell Ben.
He laughs, nodding in agreement.
“It might be a while if you want to wait inside,” I add, waving a hand at his flannel. He’s not exactly dressed for this weather.
He gives me a sheepish grin, cups his hands together and blows into them. “I think I will, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I’m going to play fetch with them for a few minutes to get some more of their energy out.”
“You need a hat or gloves or anything?” he asks, glancing at my exposed skin.
Gah. Of course he’s super considerate.
“I’m good. I have all the necessary clothing items in the truck, thanks,” I tell him.
Necessary clothing items? I sound like some robot pretending to be me.
Ben, thankfully, doesn’t seem to notice. “Okay, I’ll be inside,” he says, then starts to head toward the front door.
I watch him go. I can’t help myself.
He turns back around halfway there. “Coffee?” he calls.
“Yes, please,” I say.
I probably don’t need any more energy right now, but holding the mug will give me something to do with my hands once I’m inside. Whenever I feel awkward or uncomfortable, I never seem to know what to do with them. I’m like a bad Will Ferrell character. Do I put them in my pockets? Fold them in front of me? Hold them up to my sides at 90-degree angles? Gently touch my own face?
Why is it I never even know they’re there until I get nervous?
I whistle the dogs back to me before they can chase after him. As well as necessary clothing items, I always keep spare toys in a bucket in the back. In the winter, it’s strictly filled with frisbees. They do a better job skipping over the hard crust of snow than tennis balls or squeaky toys. I’ve lost more of those to snow banks than I can count. Every spring melt, I find about twenty littering the yard.
I spend a good ten minutes flinging a bright green disc across Ben’s snow-covered front lawn and driveway before the dogs start to mellow out enough that I trust them to go inside. Ben must have been watching, because he meets us at the door when we reach it, opening it wide. I take one look at the freshly stained floors and grab both of the dogs by their collars before they can sneak by me.
“Do you have some old rags I can use to clean them off with?” I ask.
“Yup. I’ll be right back.”
He leaves the door cracked, likely not wanting to be rude, then reappears a minute later with some threadbare towels. I use them to dry the dogs off, taking my time to inspect their paws for mud. Only once I’m sure they won’t track anything in or drip all over his floors do I allow them inside, and even then, I still command them to heel so they don’t do to the interior of this place what they just did to the outside.
“Oh, wow,” I say, my gaze roaming over the entryway while I pull off my coat.
Even though he said it wasn’t a gut job, I still expected to walk in and find a gut job. But the entryway and hallway look like they must have only needed cosmetic updates. The staircase is gorgeous, with what looks like a carved mahogany banister rising up and away, framing the wide stairs. The walls are a neutral, light gray, which contrasts beautifully with the flooring. They’re accented by baseboards and crown molding, painted a bright white.
I bend down a little to look at the hardwood. The planks are well over a foot wide, and they gleam a gorgeous, rich gold that darkens in the knots and whorls.
“This looks awesome, Ben,” I say, straightening.
“You like it?” he asks, taking my coat from me to hang it on the free-standing wooden coat rack just inside the door. “The stain isn’t too light? After it dried, I started thinking about maybe adding another coat.”
“No, it’s perfect,” I tell him.
A soft chime comes from deeper in the house.
“Coffee’s done,” he says. “Come on in.”
He waves me after him as he paces down the hallway. He’s in socks, his boots left on the rubber mat by the front door. I tug mine off and set them next to his before following, the dogs right on my heels.
“Be good. No licking the walls or trying to eat plastic,” I tell them.
Up ahead, Ben chuckles. “They eat plastic often?”
“No, but I just wanted to get ahead of it in case they were thinking of picking today to start.”
He continues to chuckle, a deep, low rumble that I could really get used to hearing.
The hallway is lined with doors, all closed, most likely sealing off the rooms with fresh paint or exposed wiring. At the end, the hall opens right up to the kitchen, which dominates the rear of the house. The flooring changes from hardwood to dark slate tile as I pass over the threshold. It spreads out in a large rectangle, framing the kitchen space. In the middle is the base of a large island, unfinished, with a plywood top. There’s a fridge, a gas range, and all the framework for lower cabinets, though there aren’t any doors on them yet and they haven’t been painted. Above the oversized farm-style sink there’s a double wide window, free from interior framing, so it’s just one large expanse of crystal clear glass looking out toward the back yard. Through it, to the left, I can see the red of the barn, and to the right, much farther away, the edge of the forest. It’s a nice view now. It’ll be beautiful in the warmer months. I can already picture the garden I’d plant outside it if this were my house.
I stop at the kitchen island and look down to inspect the different samples spread out on top of it. Paint swatches, wood stains, tiles, and kitchen hardware are clustered together in what must be his choices for finishing. White with dark blue with silver, black with copper with lightly stained wood, subway tile with butcher block, and so on.
“How do you take your coffee,” Ben asks.
I look up to see Fred and Sam on either side of his legs, “helping”. He doesn’t seem to mind, one hand idly scratching Fred between the ears, so I let them be.
“Just cream, if you have it,” I answer. “Are these your potential pallets for the kitchen finishes?”
“They are,” he says, back to me as he pours. “I’m thinking butcher block for the island countertop, and cement countertops for the rest. Dark blue paint for the lowers, and then open shelving for the uppers, with cast iron railings with the same butcher block as the island for the shelving to tie it all together.”
I imagine it for a minute, moving the corresponding samples together to get the full picture. I can already see it when I look up again. Kind of an understated, industrial masculine approach with a farmhouse twist.
“What about the backsplash?” I ask.
He turns to me, coffee mugs in hand, and sets mine down near my right hand. “Uh…this one,” he says, picking up a sample from another pile and moving it over to join those I’ve gathered together.
It’s a swatch of unfinished cuts of rectangular rock of some kind, tiled in a herringbone pattern, light gray in color, with a rough surface and darker veins running through it that will tie in nicely with the blue lowers and slate flooring.
“I want to tile that whole wall around the window above the sink with it,” he explains.
I raise my head to look at it. “That’s going to be awesome.”
“You think so?” he asks, grinning.
I smile back at him. “Yeah. I don’t know why Jack thought I was needed. You’ve clearly got this.”
“Thanks,” he says, raising his mug to his mouth.
I wrap my hands around my own, thankful for the distraction. The first sip is magical. Exactly the right temperature, not acidic at all, just a nice, mellow bean with the perfect amount of cream.
“Thanks for coming over,” Ben says. “I know it was a weird phone call. My parents are worried about me all alone out here, and if I don’t give my mother proof that I have human interaction of some kind, she’ll hop on a plane and fly out.”
“And that would be a bad thing, because…?” I want to ask. But I don’t. None of my damn business.
“No problem,” I say instead. “My sister needed some space anyway.”
“Ah, family in town for Christmas?” he asks.
“Yeah, the entire family. Megan and her wife Stacey are bunking down at my place. Megan is pretty much the sole introvert in our family, so she needs to have quiet time, which is why they stay with me whenever they’re in town; I know when to leave her alone. They drove up from Boston yesterday, and after the stress of that, and the energy level of the dogs, my excitement to see them, and a night of epic cribbage playing, she’s pretty wiped out. We’re going cross country skiing later, so she needs to recharge her battery before that.”
“Makes sense,” he says. And then, “What’s cribbage?”
I nearly choke on my coffee. “What? How do you not know what cribbage is?”
He smiles and shrugs.
“They don’t have it in Hawaii?”
“It hasn’t been exported yet,” he says. “Or if it has, I somehow missed it.”
“But I thought it was big in the Midwest,” I say.
“Might be. But all anyone wanted to play in Wisconsin was euchre when I was out there.”
“Huh, never heard of it,” I say.
“What? How do you not know what euchre is?” he says, mimicking me, his smile making it obvious he’s just teasing.
I clam up for a second. He’s treating me how I swore I wouldn’t treat him. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do? Maybe acting a little more like myself will be okay after all? Maybe?
“Well,” I say, sniffing miffishly. “Clearly it pales in comparison to cribbage, or I certainly would have heard of it before.”
He just shakes his head. “Okay, describe this king of all games to me.”
“No way. I won’t be able to do its glory justice. It’s way easier to explain while playing. I’ll just have to bring a board over next time I – crap, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to invite myself over again.”
“You didn’t invite yourself over the first time,” he says.
Of course he’s super polite. Of course. It makes me feel like an even bigger asshole for almost immediately breaking my own promise to myself, and to him, not that he knows it.
“You know what I mean,” I say, and, feeling the need to explain myself, I just. Keep. Going. “I can be pushy like that. I don’t mean to be. And I know you said you hate it when people pry, which is pretty close, so please tell me to back off. Seriously, sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I won’t be insulted. I probably need more of that in my life, actually. Most of my family just lets me bowl them right over because they know how I am and that I don’t really mean to, like, insert myself into their lives like they don’t have plans or something. My brother’s wife says it’s because…uh, never mind.”
Wow. I almost just told him I share a character trait with sociopaths. That would have been a fun conversation to have the second time meeting someone.
“Ella, it’s fine,” he says, placing a heavy hand on my shoulder, likely in comfort or reassurance. “It’s nice having someone else in the house.”
He gives me a squeeze and then lets go, and I stare down into my coffee afterward, trying to think of something to say to break this awkward silence.
Too much silence, I realize.
Shit, the dogs. I whip my head up to see that they’re not in the room.
“Fak,” I say, the word strangled as I push away from the island. “Sam! Fred!”
“They went that way,” Ben says, pointing to an open doorway behind my left shoulder.
I dash toward it.
“There’s nothing in there for them to get into,” he calls after me.
“They’ll find something. It’s their super power!” I yell back.
I skid to a stop just inside the room. There’s a roaring fire going in the fireplace, and sprawled out in front of it, on blankets that look like they were set there just for them, are the dogs, both chewing on their own piece of rawhide.
“I grabbed a couple of treats from Jack when I told him they were coming over, and he suggested the makeshift dog beds,” Ben says from just behind me.
I nearly jump out of my skin. For a big guy, he sure does move quietly. Or maybe my panicked heartbeat masked the sound of his footfalls.
“That was…really thoughtful,” I say.
He steps up next to me, shrugging one massive shoulder. “Well, you were doing me a favor, coming over here. I wanted you and them to feel welcome.”
Why does he have to be so nice? My hormones. Help.
I just nod along for a second like an idiot. “Thank you,” I say, in a near whisper.
“So, selfie time?” he asks. “This is kind of a nice scene, with them snuggled down and the fire going. Cozy.”
Some might say romantic, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to point that out right now.
“Sure. This is perfect if you want to include them in it. In most of the pictures I try to take of them, they just show up as black and white blurs. The only time they’re still is when they’re eating or sleeping.” Or shitting, but again, not saying that.
Behind the dogs is a comfortable looking leather sofa, with end tables on either side. We set our coffee down on the nearest one and then somewhat awkwardly position ourselves so that we’re visible in the frame, with the dogs and the fire behind us. Even with Ben’s long arms we still end up smooshed together to fit them in, and I’m excruciatingly aware of the heat of him along my right side, of the swell of his bicep where its pressed against my arm.
“Smile,” he says, and takes the picture.
I look kind of manic in it. My eyes are too wide, and I look like I’m clenching my jaw. If he was hoping to keep his parents from worrying about him, I’m afraid seeing the face I’m making next to their son will do the opposite. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll be so distracted by the beauty of my two dogs that they won’t notice the creeper in the frame.
He pulls the phone down, and his fingers fly over the screen for a second before I hear the “whoosh” sound that indicates he sent the image off.
Not five seconds later comes the unmistakable ring of a FaceTime call.
“Oh, Jesus, Mom,” he mutters. He raises his head. “I’m sorry about this in advance.”
I have just enough time to think, “Well, shit,” before he picks up.
Copyright © 2018 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.