Authors: Lila Felix
I’d glanced over at her so many times, the lines in the yard where I mowed were more like zig zags.
The girl loved to work, I’d give her that. She never once complained or whined. She just trudged on and when I’d looked over to her, she always had that same look of joy. And I knew it was all in fun—for her. All of the smart ass jokes about me staring at her ass and all that. But it wasn’t for me. I seriously couldn’t stop my eyes from darting her way.
And I felt like half a man when she asked me if I could leave the house to go with her to get something to eat. I really did. She could probably name a hundred guys off the top of her head who could come and go as they pleased. But I wasn’t one of them and it killed me.
But as she told me how she intended to help me through this, I began to actually believe we could do it—together. And I couldn’t help but think that this was my shot. She was my shot at getting away from this house, and regaining something that resembled a life.
I didn’t have anything to do, I just needed to take a breather. She was getting under my skin already but I was afraid. She deserved so much more than a screwed up man who was just falling for her because she was the first one to show him some attention. But I couldn’t deny my need for her.
I went down later. My chat rooms, full of ghosts, easily bored me now with a real person downstairs. I saw her as soon as I approached the stairs, in a dress that had no straps or sleeves. Poor girl, she was really burned—and beautiful, an angry skinned beauty.
I sat down beside her on the couch; after I analyzed and overanalyzed the distance I should sit from her. She didn’t break her stare from the TV set but smiled when I looked over at her.
“Bourne Supremacy, nice.”
I nodded towards the TV.
“Yes, he is very, very nice.” She laughed.
“Oh no, you’re not one of those girls who fawns all over guys in a movie, are you? You go to action movies just to see the hot guys, right? You’d drink his used bath water and all that?”
“Where in the hell did you come up with that? Gross! And no, I like action movies, but the hot guys enhance the visual candy.”
Too bad I didn’t look anything close to Matt Damon.
“Oh look!” She shrieked, “I swear, he can get out of any bad situation. Wouldn’t you love to be able to do that? Usually if I’m in a tough spot I just run my mouth until the other person is annoyed to death and their ears are bleeding from the pitch of my voice.”
I let that sink in a little. She gasped and jolted at whatever precarious situation Matt Damon was squirreling out of. “I like your voice.”
It was my turn to look at the TV, though I knew she’d turned her head towards me. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they watch TV. Her hands would roll up into fists when Bourne was in a tight spot. And her big toe would dig into the coffee table as he got out of it. I could read her like a book. I waited until the movie was over before I showed her one of my secrets.
“Do you read?” I asked her.
“No, I’m illiterate. I had the next door neighbor read and write my notes. Sorry.”
“I should’ve never approved your smart ass comments. They’re never gonna stop now.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I read. Why? Are you hiding a library in your pocket?”
“Come on.” I grabbed her hand, not really meaning to—it just acted of its own accord.
I dragged her upstairs, past my room to the end of the hall. To most, it probably looked like a linen closet but it was an entrance to a secret nook. I opened the door and she was very quiet. It was a small space. The bookcases were floor to ceiling with books stacked vertically, horizontally and sometimes sideways—whatever direction made them fit. Directly across from the entrance was a window seat with cushions and pillows just begging to be sat on. I hadn’t been in there for a long time. It lost its luster after a few months of retreating there. But now, showing it to her and seeing how her eyes lit up as she surveyed the room—it was like new again. She let go of my hand, and it felt cold without hers joined with it.
“How did I miss this? I thought it was a hallway closet or something.”
I leaned against the door jamb and she walked the length of one side of the room, running her fingers over the dust covered novels. She finally settled on one and sat down on the window seat. I was long forgotten. But she had that contented face again, and that was enough for me.
I went to bed early and slept through the night. I credited the exercise and the sun for my sleep.
In the morning, I intended to tell her that I was game for her plan. I wanted to try. But when I got up, closer to noon than I wanted, she was gone and so was her car. My eyes went straight to the refrigerator,and there was a note saying she had to take care of something at school.
I finished the rest of the yard and was surprised when I got to the end how little I glanced at the fence, making sure no one was there. I put the lawnmower up and went to inspect what was left of my greenhouse again. It was once the place I went to be by myself. I continued growing plants there for a couple of months after Holly and I got together but I grew more and more tired of the pansy comments and stopped. It was just the beginning of the criticisms she had of me. I never dressed the way she wanted me to. She hated my music. She complained in bed, constantly. But I was the dumbass who put up with all of her crap while she screwed me over and everyone else at the same time.
I wanted to be nearer to who I was before. I didn’t want to be him again, just nearer to the core of him. He was a guy who let people run over him. It didn’t begin with Holly either, it was all the time. And this was as good of a place to start as any. I pushed the door open with my shoulder and started in the furthest corner. I cut down vines with a pair of hedge clippers left on the potting bench. I pulled thorny dead branches from where they’d strangled from a lack of water and care. Before I knew it, most of the right side of the greenhouse was cleared and it was late afternoon. I pulled the debris out to the yard and made a pile. Somehow I would have to figure out how to get the mess to the street so it could be picked up. But I would do that later. I went back inside and immediately smelled the meal brewing in the kitchen. I sat on a stool and watched, just blatantly being a creeper. She already knew—might as well embrace it.
I saw her pull the oven door down and check the loaf of meat and then retrieve a pan of fresh bread out of the second rack. She moved to stir what looked like mashed potatoes and then went to the sink to wash the dishes she’d dirtied.
“You have time to take a shower before dinner. You smell like grass and potting soil.” She told me.
I didn’t answer her, just climbed the stairs to my room and showered the yard smell away. I put on jeans and a white t shirt and by the time I got to the kitchen, I was starving.
Ash had our plates made and set at the real dining room table, instead of eating at the counter or the island. This place was beginning to feel less and less like a prison every day.
“If I’d known we were going all formal, I would’ve put on a tux” That was pathetic. I needed to brush up on my sarcasm skills.
“Oh come on Breaker, formal for you is anything that doesn’t come in a bowl with a tiger on the front of a box. And I’m sorry about today. I forgot that today was the day to check my grades and clean out my dorm room.”
“No sweat. So how’d you become such a good cook?” I made a mental point to get to know more about her in the future. So far all we’d talked about was my cockamamie hang-ups and her love of Matt Damon. I wanted to know what made her tick. I stupidly never knew much about Holly. We fooled around after our third date and after two months she’d talked me into letting her move in. I had yet to figure that whole scenario out.
“My mom was really sick when I was a kid. And my Dad was working day and night. So, she would sit in a chair in the kitchen and tell me what to do. But then she got worse as I got older and I had to take my basic skills, plus Food Network and Google, and make something halfway decent.”
“So is she better now, your mom?” She stopped eating and put her fork down. I could tell that I’d hit some kind of nerve.
“She died a couple of days before I turned twelve. It’s been me and my dad ever since. But now he owns a store and doesn’t have to work as much. He blames himself but we did the best we could.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
My brain rationalized the situation. Her mom had died and she found away to be this hard-working, smart, girl. Me? One ticket to the Holly roller coaster and I was toast—brilliant.
“So,” she tip-toed through it, but I knew what she was about to ask me. “What happened to you? Have you always been His Locked in a Dungeon Highness?”
At least she added a degree of smart-ass frosting to the cake.
“Would you believe I’m a vampire?”
She jostled it through her mind, looking in the air, letting the eye rolling help her conjure a comeback.
“But you were in the sun mowing the grass. Way too low class for a vampire.”
She was game. I saw it in that gorgeous smirk.
“Are you a hermit crab in a cute guy’s body sworn to only eat Frosted Flakes?”
“So funny. Except the cute part. But we won’t embarrass you by making a big deal about that one. Nah, I just get panic attacks and one time I was really in over my head and had a major one. I’m mostly terrified of wigging out in front of other people.”
It didn’t sound like such a big deal when I said it out loud like that. But it sure as hell felt like a big deal when it was happening.
“So, you gonna let me take you for a spin or what?”
I almost choked on my mashed potatoes.
“You know, a ride in the car? Vroom, vroom, no people?”
“Hey, I’m a little nutty, not stupid. No need to make noises.”
That cracked her up and she put her fist up to bump mine. Not really the gesture I was hoping for, but I’d take it.
“So? You in or you out?”
I stabbed my meatloaf and made the decision, right there.
“I’m in. When can we go?”
“Right now. It’s nighttime, not very many people out on a weekday, it’s perfect.”
I knew my eyes had grown twice as big. I certainly didn’t expect it to be tonight. I thought I’d get to work myself up a bit.
“Ok,” I got up, it was just a drive in a car.
She did a little clapping thing and then said something about going to get her keys and her wallet. I stood there frozen, waiting for her to come back and release the ice.
We walked towards the door and I stopped at the threshold. I looked out at the street, the lights on, signaling nightfall, all was quiet.
She reached out her hand to me and I rolled my eyes thinking she was chastising me. But when I met her eyes, she was serious. I took it, reveling in the feel of her but I couldn’t deny the twinge of embarrassment, having to hold a girl’s hand just to walk outside. But it wasn’t just outside to me; it was the face of the world, and it was sticking its tongue out at me.
“Come on, it’s just like the house—safe—quiet—no people but you and me. You can do this.”
And with her hand in mine, I stepped off of the threshold and moved forward. The world didn’t crash down on me, the people didn’t jeer, the only sound I heard were her footsteps and the bass drum of my heart.