Well, she hadn’t thought that one through. Adult beverage definitely should have gone hand in hand with meat and potatoes, but it had been so long that she was out of practice. “Cerveza, por favor” she replied. She admitted to herself that it had been ages since she had simply relaxed enough to say yes to that offer. Something about being around him made her feel safe, like she could let her guard down just a bit and still be OK. She should be more careful about that.
They made their way to the front porch swing and sat as they waited for the food to cook. Every now and then he would go back down and flip this or move that, and she was thankful for his expertise. The cold beer went down easily on the hot afternoon, and he replaced it with another. The conversation flowed easily, and he served up the food.
Oh God, it was good. Everything he touched must just turn to gold she thought with a smile. She made it about ¼ of the way through the heaping plate before she was too stuffed to take another bite. When he tried to clear the plate, she impulsively held onto it, claiming she wasn’t through yet. She knew she didn’t want this delicious food to go to waste. Even if she had to hide it in her blouse to bring it home, she was going to enjoy this rare full meal to its fullest extent.
It was fun watching the sparkle in his eye when he talked about his job. He was so passionate about his business. It was interesting to hear the stories of high school drop outs turned professional boxers making good money. It was fun to hear about the backgrounds of his close friends, everything from athletes to military ops to farming.
She learned that Tucker spent his days at the gym, but loved to ride the countryside on his bike. He had toured many countries on the professional boxing circuit before he opened his one of a kind gym, and he was proud to lay down roots for the first time since childhood. He clearly was a good cook; his mama taught him to blend the spices and his Dad taught him to grill everything to perfection. “He always said it just takes time, patience, and attention to detail.” Three things she definitely lacked in her previous lifestyle. She rushed everything, put pressure on herself and those working with her to finish ahead of schedule because you know time is money, and she sometimes overlooked some of the smaller details she is now noticing with her slower lifestyle. Waiting in the offices of temp agencies reminded her how it can be a thought provoking opportunity to see art or information in a new light, or it can be a crammed, hot, uncomfortable wait with unfriendly, uncaring staff pushing clients out the door as quickly as they came in. Tucker had it figured out already, time and patience and attention; she was still learning.
She kept him company as he finished up his bike and pushed it back into the garage. She attempted to leave, but each time he convinced her to stay just a little while longer. Eventually she asked to warm up her plate to finish her lunch. He cocked his head a bit as if to understand, but headed to the kitchen regardless. He took out a few raw burgers that appeared to have been already seasoned, and a few cobs of corn and set them on a tray. He took her food and put it in a plastic container and set it in the fridge. “You can bring it home with you. I’d like fresh burgers for supper if that’s all right?”
She should say no, but the thought of going back to her empty apartment was so incredibly unappealing. She nodded in agreement, and they repeated their earlier routine. Grill, relax on the porch swing, tease, banter, keep each other on their toes, flip the food, converse some more. The time went so quickly, and soon enough they were sitting down at the little table out on the porch and enjoying dinner together as the sun set in the west with wild streaks of vivid reds and pinks dramatically streaking across the sky.
Again, she could barely make her way through the meal, but she loved trying. Her stomach had shrunk a bit over the years. There were a few times when the Monster showed up so unexpectedly that she left in such a hurry she didn’t stop to eat for a few days at a time. She learned she could make it without eating for longer than she used to think possible, and it turned out to be an easy way to stretch her savings. Temping in each town had helped keep at least a little cash coming in to pay rent, but her life savings was slowly being eaten away. Each time she bought something unnecessary, even if it was something as luxurious as fresh milk or meat, it caused an emotional pain knowing her safety net was being drained. She lived as cheaply as possible, but even run down apartments costed money, the car always needed a full tank of gas just in case, and leaving in a hurry generally meant leaving things behind that had to be bought again in the new town. Pots, pans, clothing, soap.
This time, when she had her fill, he promised to just put her food in the fridge for when she got hungry. She appreciated how easily he dealt with her quirks, and she was delighted to know she had a decent meal waiting for her later. Such a small thing, but so very comforting. She followed him into the kitchen and washed the dishes as he put things away.
She headed back out of the kitchen, but he met her on the porch and asked if she wanted to watch the stars for a bit. She slipped off her heels and curled up on the swing in answer. He joined her. He pulled the folded up blanket he kept on the swing up over her shoulders, and the weight of the food in her belly made her eyes heavy. She wanted to close them but knew she should first go home. Without a word, as if he read her mind, he gently tucked her under his arm and pulled her close to him. She happily obliged, and within minutes her eyes had finally closed.
When she woke, her head was instead resting on his leg, as well as her hand. She had no sense of the time. His arm was draped over her shoulder and his hand rested on her side. There were a million stars out, and the moon was shining brightly. The steady rhythm of his breath indicated that he had also fallen asleep. She knew she had to go home. She definitely could not fall asleep here again, not with the dreams she tended to have, but she noted that she had just slept, no dreams, for the past who knows how long out here under the stars.
How was she going to sneak off his lap without waking him up? What would she say if he did wake up? What would he think if she just snuck off?
She decided to delay the decision and just enjoy the moment. She found her fingers tracing his form, leisurely stroking up his thigh where her face was resting, down to and around the knee cap, back up, then further down his calf, back up. She noticed the bristle of his hair below the shorts he had slipped into, the manly smell of his skin, the dark tan of his calves.
She suddenly noticed that his hand was doing the same on her back, and her spine stiffened, awareness filling her body. She must have woken him up. Up and down her spine, slowly, purposefully, gently. Over to her ribs, back to her spine, down to her hips, and back up. With each stroke, she relaxed a bit more into it. She had been caught copping a feel of his body, but she really didn’t care. He didn’t seem to mind, so why should she?
She slowed her pace to a near standstill and just absorbed the light pressure of his touch on her. Eventually his hand braved a path up her shoulders, down her arm, back down her side to the crest of her hips, then back up, and his fingers wound up in her hair. He delicately pulled the hair off her face and tucked it behind her ear.
Somehow the simple act of removing the hair from her face made her feel seen, noticed, breathless, and vulnerable. She felt the familiar blush creep up to her cheeks and the need to say something. Anything to distract her from her thoughts, or he from his. Only nothing would come to mind.
“You’re so beautiful” he whispered.
Oh that didn’t help. She definitely felt exposed. And like a fraud. If he knew what laid beneath the silk of the blouse and cotton of the jeans, he would no longer believe she was beautiful. She knew better. She saw the marks every single time she stepped out of the shower into those blazing mirrors in her bathroom. Yes, they were fading, but if he saw them now he would be appalled, mislead.
She sat up. “You’re not so bad yourself” she retorted, not about to reveal her insecurity. She took a deep, dramatic yawn, stretched, and then stood up. He caught her hand, rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand as if he had something to stay, but seemed to decide against it. She took advantage of the pause and relayed her need to get home.
“I’ll grab your leftovers and walk you home.” He said.
“That’s not necessary, really,” she responded. “I can make it on my own.” Hearing herself say the words out loud seemed to broadcast how she was feeling on the inside, on her own, alone. She was ready to bury her face in the sand and not see the pity that would inevitably cross his face if he knew her any better.
“I am fully confident you can make it on your own,” he said as he also stood, “but my Dad would have my ass if I didn’t walk my dinner guest home. You wouldn’t want that now, would you?”
That brought a smile back to her face. She had a feeling she was going to dream about that ass tonight. At home, while on her comfy mattress on the floor. “Fine, but don’t get the wrong idea. I’m leaving you at the door” she warned, a playful smile betraying her, crossing her lips.
“Fair enough” he responded as he offered out his arm. She gladly took it. She scooped up her heels and just carried them as he carried her food. Arm in arm they made their way to her block. She was right, the heels were a bad idea earlier, and she was starting to regret it. As they made the last corner, she winced, just a tiny bit and she didn’t even mean to, and he just looked over at her, bent down and swooped her up into his arms. She let out a squeal of surprise! The gentle rumble of chest as he laughed instantly turned her insides to jelly and she quit resisting. “I really can make it on my own. Believe it or not I’ve walked a few miles in my day” she chided.
“Oh, it’s not for you. This is just for me” he said as he buried his face in her neck, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. This kiss seemed to start the spark, and an electrical wave tore through her body, filling her with need, desire, heat.
She wanted so badly to give him a kiss of her own, but they were nearly to the front door of her building, and she couldn’t invite him up. She couldn’t encourage this, not anymore tonight.
She instead chose to drape one hand against his chest, satisfied that her dreams were going to be incredibly pleasant tonight. She resigned to this position the last few feet and when they reached her doorstep, he just kept her there for a moment longer than necessary. She wanted to kiss him so badly, to taste his mouth, trace his lips, let her hands roam free, but she couldn’t mislead him any worse than she already had. Yeah, in a normal situation she would have taken full advantage of the opportunity, but things had changed. Reality had hit hard. And she didn’t need to get her heart wrapped up in a man who could only be temporary.