Friday, July 29, 2011

*The Boss I Loved and Hated*

The boss I loved and hated looked like Albert Einstein with a tan, thanks to Clinique bronzer. Okay, so I didn’t actually hate him.  I just never forgave him for the time he made me break down in front of the whole staff.  I don't cry easily, but he could be vicious.  He reminded me of that nursery rhythme.  You know.  The one that says, "And when she was good she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid."  Change the she to he and you've got my old boss.

"I won’t let it happen again," I told myself later in the day as I put lipstick on my mad mouth.  That incident taught me a valuable life lesson.  Nasty behavior without negative consequences will never stop. 

The next time he was hateful, I was mean right back.  In a respectful, passive aggressive way, of course.  Within an hour, he presented me with cocoa. In a china cup. With tiny marshmallows and Walker shortbreads. When he went out for lunch that day, he came back with a white flag, 'cept it was black--an exquisite vintage purse. It looked like a beaded shoe box.  I reckon Miss Fran, of Miss Fran's What Not Shop 'round the corner, told him I'd had my eye on it.  Apology accepted. 

Not long after, my boss started inviting me to all his social events.  I'm pretty sure it was because I was clever and had the knack for looking "just right" no matter what.  I read Vogue and Elle on my lunch hours to make sure I'd get an approving nod, not an eyeroll, when he came downstairs every morning at nine.  He didn't bat an eye the Monday I came into the office with red hair instead of brown. I'd been a model in a hairshow over the weekend.  The hairstylist--a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Conan the Barbarian--shaped my hair like a Christmas wreath right after he colored it the shade of a brake light.

"Red hair is all the rage in Paris," I told my boss.  He nodded like he knew it before I did.

My boss wasn't the only meanie in the office.  His dog was a tyrant too.  The beast weighed more than I did.  He had a major in security training with a minor in dark-skinned men wearing hoods.  In the three years I worked there, the dog bit every employee but me.  I had the dog figured out though.  Whenever I heard the designers leave, I'd throw a Milk Bone in the back of his crate.  He'd lumber in and I'd slide the lock shut with a yard stick.

Whenever my boss's picture was in the society pages, his dog was usually beside him.  They were both local celebrities.  The dog came to all my boss's parties.  No one peeped when he sidled up to the buffet, turned his head sideways, and inhaled an entire pate.  Everyone tittered behind their fingers when he peed for five minutes straight, right there beside the baby grand piano.  The stream ran downhill 'cause the floors of the early 1800's townhouse weren’t level.  Everyone just stepped to the side when the canine creek came their way.

After we made our peace, being the office manager in his interior design firm became my favorite job ever.  My boss was the most brilliant and creative man I've ever known.  Everywhere you looked in his townhouse, there was something beautiful, interesting, or unique.

He made striped wallpaper go left, right instead of up, down.  He covered the walls of his parlor with gorgeous patterned tablecloths he'd found at Big Lots.  He paid me to paint the bulbs on nine strands of red Christmas lights with purple nail polish to get the exact hue he was looking for.  He taught me to shine ivy leaves with mayonnaise so they'd look pretty on a cheese tray.  He turned me on to trash picking too.  You can find some pretty neat stuff on the curb if you keep your eyes peeled.

At the end of my second year, he became generous with me.  It was like he was the nice now Grinch and I was Cindy Lou Who.  He gave me boxes of old fabric samples-- some worth a hundred dollars a yard.  He asked me if I wanted his old Ralph Lauren sports coats, the ones from Saks Fifth Avenue, 'cause we were the same size.  I still wear the black and red plaid one with suede elbow patches.  It looks sharp with black skinny jeans.

My boss took me and my husband to our first opera.  He smiled and handed me his handkerchief when I teared up over some aria.  He invited us to our first ball.  His eyes got big when my husband and I walked into the ballroom he'd decorated to look like Egypt.  I had on a sheer, black beaded dress from the '20's.  It had a nude lining but if you glanced at me real quick, you'd think I was . . . Well, you know.

One time he gave us tickets to the ballet.  I've never been back.  Don't think it's my thing.  I fell asleep actually.  Might've had something to do with the fact that it was the ballet version of Anne Frank and all the dancers were wearing grey scrubs.

Years later, when I called to tell him I was quitting to stay home with our first child, he told me I was doing the right thing.  Threw me a baby shower too.  Made the women promise not to talk about our girl parts though.  

On my last day, he hugged me and told me he'd miss me.  He did too.  He kept having me come back to train the new me's.  They never lasted very long.  I think it was because they never learned to be mean back.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Crushed--Part VI

The dream was so real. We were in a forest. Actually, it felt like the ribcage of a forest. I felt its respiration—in, out. Or rather, expand, deflate. It was damp there. Inside the woody bubble. Smelled like the ocean. Or clean sweat. Was that the air or him?
            He, Jake, was around me. Behind me. I sat in the circle of him. Felt his breath stir my hair. He kissed the indentation at the base of my neck.  Right there. I put my fingers up to touch the spot and he kissed them too. There was pressure and softness, all at the same time.
            Wake up. I remember hearing the silent command. Inside my head. My eyes opened. Focused. I was alone. My heartrate slowed. Eventually.
I’ve got this. There’s a sentence I know. All I have to do is chant it. Over and over. Better yet, I’ll write it on my hand. Both of them if necessary. With a Sharpie marker. Look at it on the hour.  And then some.
            “But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”
            Promise me, God, that I’ll see the way out. When it comes.  

Millie and I waited for Silas on the front porch.  While he ran back in for her joint supplement.  
            “Can’t forget that,” Silas said.
            “You’re such a good doggy daddy,” I told him.
            He pulled the front door shut.  I stretched to hand him the house key.  He paused inside the screen door. 
            “What?” I said.
            “The phone’s ringing.  Should I get it?”
            “Look at the caller i.d..” Is this the way out, Lord? Right now? 
            “It’s Grandma,” he said from the foyer.
            “Don’t answer it.  I’ll call her when we get back.”
            We headed down the steps.  I surveyed the flowers by the curb. Orange daylillies waned. Black-eyed Susans were coming on.  You all are gorgeous. Keep up the good work. Millie did her business.  A block down. Right beside Mrs. Hinkle's recycling bin.
            I looked up from scooping. “Daddy forgot to put recycling out.  Should we . . ." 'Cause God could use trash. As a way out.
            Silas shook his head.  “Not now. He’s waiting.”
            Millie led the way.  She sniffed. Peed.  Munched strands of grass. Whenever she spied a cat or rabbit, she’d freeze. Crouch slightly. Her eyes would narrow.  I considered letting the leash fall.  To see if she’d give chase. But what if—What if she ran so hard, so fast, something broke, like it did with— I wrapped the leash around my wrist.
            “Come on, girl. Not today.”  Not ever.
            Silas bumped me with his shoulder. On purpose.
            “Did you remember your notebook? With your stories?”
            I nodded.  Patted the tote bag at my side. 
            “Cool,” he said. “And if he asks about why he's blind, what're you gonna say?”
             “I think I’ll just tell him my theory.”
            Silas's eyes crinkled. “What theory?”
            “That when faced with a crisis or tragedy, I haven’t decided which word to use there, people either turn to God or away. And then I'll expound upon that.”
            Silas's face went funny.
            I stuck my bottom lip out.  “No good?” I tugged the lead. “Millie.  Come on.  We’re not going that way. Or Job.  I could go with Job.  Remember how God didn’t do all that sucky stuff to Job? He just allowed the devil to?”
            “But then maybe Jake’d be mad at God for allowing him to go blind.”
            I puffed at my bangs.  “Guess I’ll have to use my go-to prayer.”
            “What’s that?”
            I put my palms together and looked at the sky. “God, do something. Please.”
            “Or you could just tell him ‘God works all things for the good of those who love him.’”
            My mouth dropped open. “Wow! How did I get such a smart son?” I handed him the leash. “Your turn.”
            We walked another block or so.  Silas broke into a trot. Glanced back to see if Millie’d do the same. She didn’t. He slowed.
            “Hey, look,” I said. I pointed up the street. “There’s Miss Wise. Out in her yard. We used to go to church with her. Back when you were a baby.”
            A thin woman with a blue-grey bob took tiny steps toward the sidewalk. Once there, she awaited our approach. Her hands made a shelf over her brow, shaded her eyes. 
           “Why, is that who I think it is?” she said.
            I smiled. “Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Dana and Silas Martinelli. And our dog, Millie.”
            She reached out to Silas. Her hand trembled. A lot.
“This young man was swaddled last time I saw him,” she said. “Pastor Agnew sprinkled that little round head with baptismal water. But it was bald back then. Just look at it now.”
            I leaned against the telephone pole beside me. Felt a sudden and tender warmth for this woman I hadn’t seen in almost twelve years. 
           She gripped Silas’s hand and looked him in the eye. “I just made cookies. Do you like peanut butter cookies, Silas?" she said. She let go of him so she could talk with her hands. "The ones with the crisscross fork marks? Fresh from the oven? If you pick one up, it’ll probably fold or break in half.  They’re that warm.”
Silas looked over his shoulder at me. His teeth were clenched. His eyes wide. He’s embarrassed.Cause she’s making a fuss over him. My mama’s heart knew.  I nodded. It’s okay.
He faced her again. “That’s warm, all right.”
“And ice cold milk,” she said. “I shake the carton real good so it gets froth on top when you pour it.”
Miss Wise moved her right hand to his forearm. Gripped it. When she headed for the house, he carefully matched his steps with hers. I closed my eyes. Felt a sting of tears.  My boy’s a good boy. I made him that way. Joel and I did.
Miss Wise glanced back. “I have coffee too, Dana. Folgers, not Starbucks, but I make it good and strong.”
I caught up with them. Took Millie’s leash from Si. “All the same to me,” I said. I looked up. Pinched the thumb and pointer finger of my left hand together. Sorry, Lord. It was just a little lie.

A half hour later, Silas and I inched toward her front door.
            "Oh, don't go," Miss Wise said. "You just got  here. Sit a spell."
            "We'll come back," I said. "We promise. Right, Silas?" Or, are we supposed to stay here with her all day? Is this the way out, Lord?              
            "Yeah," he said. "It's just, we have some place to be right now."
            I gave her a hug. "Take care, Miss Wise." I said. "We'll try to stop by next week."
             “You called her Miss Wise. Was she ever married?” Silas said when we got to the street.
            His brow furrowed. “Wonder why? She’s so nice.”
            “You sure you don’t want to take some cookies with you?” she called from her porch.
            Silas turned. Shook his head and patted his tummy. 
           “No, thanks," he yelled. "I’m stuffed. But thanks."
            “I have no idea,” I said.  “I think she’s beautiful.”
            Once we turned the corner, we couldn’t see her wave anymore. Silas picked up the pace.
            “I hope Jake’s not freaking out.”
            I took bigger strides to keep up. Squinted up the hill at Jake’s yard. He wasn’t out. There were no camp chairs either.
            Silas stopped. Faced me. “Do you think he forgot?”
            I shrugged. “Not sure,” I said. Or did something happen at the doctor? I felt my heart skip over the place where it usually beat. We stepped up on the curb and into the yard. The high grass tickled my ankles.
            Silas cupped his hands around his mouth. “Jake!”
            I pushed his hands down. Held his wrists. “He might be resting,” I said.
            Silas pulled loose. Handed me Millie’s leash.
“Hold her,” he said. “Something’s on the door.” He ran to see. That’s when I knew. This, that thing on the door, whatever it is, is the way out.
            I watched Silas cross the yard. Go up the steps. Stand in front of the door. Blood pulsed in my ears--ba-bum, ba-bum.  What is it? A note? A sign? What does it say? He yanked the paper off the door and ran back. Handed it to me.
            “What’s wrong?” I said as I took it. To make you look like that?
            “Read it.” 
            I smoothed the crumples on my thigh. Held it at arm's length. Waited for my eyes to focus.

            Dear Intruders:
            My dad doesn’t need your company or your sympathy. He has me!
            And we do just fine without you! Lady, I can see the way you look
            at him, but you’re not my mom. You never will be!! So both of you
            just stay away from him!
            Don’t come back,
            His real son

            I gulped. Noticed the instant slickness of my palms. And my underarms. I folded the paper in half. Did it again. And once more. Used my fingers to sharpen the creases. Tucked the note in the knee pocket of my cargo capris. Millie tugged toward the house. Whined.
            “Sorry, girl,” I said. “Not today." Not ever again.
            Silas didn’t move.  He kept looking back at the house.
            “Come one, Si. Let’s go.”
            He huffed. “But why? We don’t even know who wrote it.”
            “Oh, Silas,” I said. “Kevin did. Obviously he doesn’t want us here.”
            “But he’s at soccer.”
            I reached for his elbow. “No, he’s not, hon. I’m guessing he didn’t make the team.”
            I made sure not to look at the house. At the windows. I knew he was in there. Probably watching us. Maybe holding up his middle finger. I felt his anger throb. And burn. It was like a lighthouse beam. Come closer and you’re in big trouble, people.
            Silas’s eyes shone. Almost spilled over. “I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he want us to hang out with Jake? It’s not like he does. And what did he mean about the way you--”
           I rested my palm in the small of his back. Steered him and Millie toward home.
“I’m not sure.” I winced. Peeked up at the clouds. Another one. Not so little. Sorry.
Halfway home I put Millie's lead in my right hand and opened my left. Saw my sentence smeared. Maybe I should get a tatoo. Just in case.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Crushed--Part V

Prayer helps.  More than once I’ve said, “Lord, please do something.  To make me not like _____ (insert man’s name).”  Bad breath.  That’s a good one.  Sloth. That worked once.  With the cute guy I served with at church years ago.  He had longish black hair going gray and an awesome radio voice.  I think that might’ve been the first time I ever said, “Lord, do something.” 
            We both showed up for a work day at church.  Him with his family.  Me and mine.  I overheard him talking to the pastor out in the parking lot.
“I don’t want to break a sweat.  Know what I mean?  Why don’t you buy and I’ll fly?  To Lowe’s.” 
Voila!  Spell broken.  Sloth makes my top lip twitch.  Thanks, God.

Jake straightened and dusted the Millie hairs off his hands. Searched for and found his coffee.  He stayed there, with his elbows on his thighs, sipping from time to time. I clanked my cup in its saucer.  In case he wasn’t a hundred per cent sure where I was.
He turned his shoulders a bit. “I know what I want you to read today,” he said.
            I pressed my palm to my forehead.  “Dang it!  I forgot my notebook.”
            Silas came back out.  Tapped Jake’s arm with a balled up, grey t-shirt. 
            “Thanks,” Jake said.  He pulled it on. Much better.
            “You really forgot your notebook?” Silas said.  “Bummer.  Hey, wait a minute. I know what we can do instead.” He turned to Jake. “Do you ever feel people’s faces like the blind people do on t.v. ?”
            Jake’s forehead furrowed. “You know, I’ve never done that, but we can if you want.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and massaged my temples.  This isn’t happening. 
Silas stood and pushed chairs around.  “This’ll be cool.  Okay, so the person who’s getting their face felt sits here.  The other two people sit across from him.  Or her.”
Jake stood. “You guys go first,” he said.  “Where’s my chair?”
Silas positioned him in the solo seat.
“You touch one side of his face. I’ll take the other,” I told Silas.  ‘Cause I’m afraid to do both, all by myself. 
Jake sat up taller.  Pushed his chin out a bit.  “Close your eyes,” he said.  "Pretend you’re blind, like me.”
I cheated.  I didn’t touch Jake.  Didn’t shut my eyes either. Instead, I watched Silas.  He ran his fingernails from Jake’s jaw to just under his eye.  I listened to the dry, papery sound.  Scruffy.
“Did you shave today?” Silas said. “It doesn’t feel like it.” 
“Naw.  I usually let it go until the weekend.  Jenny’s around more then.”
Silas rubbed his pointer finger back and forth under Jake’s nose.  “I can’t wait to have whiskers.  It’s gonna be so cool.”
Jake chuckled. “Don’t say that.  It's a pain in the butt, having to shave every day.”
“I don’t care,” Silas said.  “I want a moustache.”
Jake turned away from Silas.  “What do you think, Dana?” he said.  “About my face? Aren’t you supposed to be touching it too?”
            I swallowed.  Reached out. Cupped his jaw in my palm.  Felt a muscle tense. Held it a second more.  Let go.
            “It’s a nice face, Jake. Your coloring’s great. Very golden.”
            “What about my eyes?” he said. “In high school, I was voted—“
            I smiled.  “Prettiest eyes,” I said.  “I remember you telling me.  What did I get?  Do you remember?”
            He nodded.  “Class clown.”
            I smiled.  “Good memory.”
            Jake rubbed his hands on his shorts. “What about my eyes now?”
            “What do you mean?” But I knew.
            “Do they look like poached egg whites?  I remember the blind people I used to see.  That’s what their eyes seemed like.” He made his eyes big.
            What is that color? What does it remind me of? “Ever been to Asheville?  Or Gatlinburg?”
            He nodded.
            “So you know what the Smoky Mountains look like?”
            He squinted.  Seemed to be remembering.  “Kind of.  Dark blue, with a little green?  Is that what you mean?”
            I focused on his wide open gaze.  “Yeah, like that.  Now picture them in the morning with the mist rising.  Or fog. That’s what they're like—misted mountains.  Not poached eggs.”
            He covered his eyes for a minute then slid his hands down until they met—fingers lined up, palm to palm.  For a minute, he looked like he was praying. 
            No one said anything for a bit.  Silas pecked me on the leg.  Mouthed now-what?  I pointed to Jake’s head.  To the silver-gold stubble.  Silas rubbed it with his hand—back, forth, back.
            “You’ve got great hair, Jake,” he said. “Like a recruiter for the military.” He made his voice deep. “‘The few. The proud. The Marines.’”
            Jake and I laughed.  “Good one, Si,” I said.
            “Is my mouth still pretty?” Jake said.  “Jenny used to say it was her favorite part of me.”  Did she?
            I traced it with my purple-black pinky nail.  “She’s right, Jake.  You could totally model Chapstick.”
            I glanced down at his arm. Noticed the rash of goosebumps.  My chair made a squawnky noise as I scooted back
“All done.”
            I watched a shadow of disappointment flit across his face.  You don’t remember how to mask your emotions, do you?
            “Feel Silas’s face,” I said, injecting brightness into my tone. “Tell him how handsome he is.”
            Jake swept his hand from side to side, searching. His wrist caught Silas’s ear.  He floated his hand higher.  Found the top of Silas’s head.  Patted.
            “Man, Silas.  That’s a ton of hair. You should give me some.”
            Looks like dandelion fluff, but curly.
            Silas shook his head.  “No way.  Yours is better.”
            “Aren’t his cheeks soft?” I said.
            “And he wants whiskers,” Jake said.  “Don’t be in a hurry to grow up, Silas.  Don’t ever do that.”
            Jake ran a finger down Silas’s nose.
            “He’s got my nose and Joel’s mouth,” I said.  “All three of you could be Chapstick models.”
            Silas fidgeted.  “Your turn, Mom.  Trade me seats.”
            Oh, no.  I wondered if they noticed my sharp intake of breath.  Silas stood.  Then me.  I lowered onto the chair.  I felt Jake's hand above my head somewhere.  When it dropped,  my hairclip bit into my scalp.
            “What’s that?” he said.
            “My hair’s up.”
            Jake’s nose wrinkled.  “You have long hair now? But it was always short.”
            “I know,” I said. “A few years back Joel told me, ‘You’ve had every short hair style there is.  Why don’t you grow it long?’ So I did.”
            “How long is it now?” Jake said.  “Let it down.”
            You’ve got to be kidding.  I pinched the clip and my hair tumbled free.
            “It’s halfway down her back,” Silas said.  “And it’s the color of coffee.”
            I chuckled.  “Nice description, Si.”
            Jake’s hand came at me.  My lungs felt empty but I didn’t do anything about it.  He found a hank of hair and followed it until his wrist collided with my shoulder.
            “Wow,” he said softly. “That is long.”
            I almost ducked when both his hands approached, on either side of my face.  I locked eyes with Silas.  Did you feel that?  The air just thickened.  Jake’s fingers combed through my hair.  Went out the back.
            “Nice,” he said.  My cheeks felt suddenly sunburned.
            “Face time,” Silas said. I glared at him. 
            What will my face feel like? I tried to remember what I looked like that morning.  No little red bumps today.  Good.  And crow’s feet? I don’t think you can feel those.
            Jake ran his fingers from my forehead to my chin.  Kept going.  Under my jaw. Stopped at my necklace.
            “What’s this?” he said, rolling the chain back and forth.
            “My cross necklace.”
            “There’s other stuff on there too,” Silas said.
            Jake’s finger explored each item.
            “There’s a rock that says ‘faith,’” I said. “And a cross, of course. That’s a little pearl, like in the pearl of great price parable, if you know it.  And the silver rectangle says, ‘GRACE.’”
            Jake dropped his hands to the sides of his chair. Sat back.  “So you believe?”
            I saw Silas’s head tilt, but I knew what Jake was asking.
            “Yes,” I said. 
            Jake scratched his arm a couple times before he spoke. 
“And you think your God’s a good god?”
“Uh huh.”  I know what you’re going to say, but please don’t.
“So exactly how do you explain what happened to me?”
I winced and put up my pointer finger. “Can you give me some time, Jake?” I said. “To gather my thoughts on that?"
Jake shifted. “I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.  Then my mom’s coming for a few days.  How ‘bout Friday?”
I counted on my fingers.  One, two, three, four days. Whoo!
 “Friday’s good,” I said.
I stood.  Took Silas’s hand.  Pulled him to standing.  Scooped up Millie’s leash. Tugged. Gives me plenty of time to ponder the mysteries of pain and suffering and all that.
“And don’t forget your notebook,” Jake said. “'Cause I know what I want to hear next.”
His tone made me turn. “And what would that be?”
“Love stories.  You do have love stories, don’t you?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Crushed--Part IV

I shouldn’t have been alone with Jake. These days I try not to be alone with a guy--ever.  See, I’ve figured out something about people.  One woman plus one man plus time alone (in person, on the phone, on the computer) equal, pretty much always, intimacy—emotional, if not physical.  Not necessarily a bad thing, unless of course, the two are married.  To other people.

I didn’t plan on going to Jake’s on Monday.  I’ll make him wait. ‘Til tomorrow.
I was sitting at the kitchen table making out the grocery list when Silas walked in. With Millie on the leash.
            “You ready?” he said.
            I put my pen down.  “For what?”
            “For Jake’s. It’s Monday.”
            “I didn’t tell him we were coming for sure.”
            “No, but we should.”
            “We should, should we?” I said. “Why?”  Like I didn’t know.
            “’Cause it’s the right thing to do,” Silas said.  He had a don’t-you-know-anything smirk on his face.  “Don’t you think?  I mean, he’s probably bored to death over there, all by himself.”
            I sighed and pushed back from the table. “I reckon you’re right. Give me a minute.”

Millie barked when she spied Jake.  Strained at the end of her leash.  When Jake heard her, his chin lifted and he turned toward us.  A smile opened his face.  He’s been waiting for me. For us. He stood and started snapping and whistling.   I squatted and unhooked her leash.  Gave her rump a swat. She trotted toward him.  Tail like a windshield wiper—left, right, repeat.  When she crashed into him, he dropped onto the grass.  Laughed.  She crawled into his lap. Covered it with her white and tan-spotted self. He flipped his face side to side in an attempt to dodge her tongue.  Finally, he gave up. Pursed his lips and let her lick.  I shook my head and chuckled. That man needs a dog.
            “Howdy, Jake,” I said.
            “Morning, Dana.  Silas? You there too?”
            Silas started to wave then stopped. “Yeah.  Right here, Jake.”
            Jake buried his face in Millie's neck for a moment.  Not before I saw his grin.  He stood and headed toward the house. Millie followed. The leash trailed behind her.
            I stayed put.  “It’s nice out here,” I said. “Don’t you want to be outside?” Where everybody and their brother can keep an eye on us?
            “It is nice,” Jake said, “But Jenny made coffee.  I just have to flip the toggle and we’ll have Italian Roast.  You do drink coffee, don’t you?”
            “I do.  The boy child, however, does not.  Not yet.”
            “Lemonade cool with you, Si?”
            Silas smiled.  “Sure.”
            Okay, so maybe one cup.
            Jake led the way.  Knew exactly when to step up. I stood in the middle of the kitchen and rotated.  Wow, that green is almost black. Love it. Oh, and the snakey silver light fixture is really cool.  They’ve got the minimalist thing going on.  Or is it a-don’t-leave-anything-out-that-Jake-could-trip-over-or-break thing?
            “I love your house,” I said.
            Jake fiddled with the coffeemaker on the other side of the island. “Tell Jenny.  Design is her thing. Silas, glasses are in the cabinet over the dish drainer.”
            When I heard the coffee maker gurgle, I went over and stood next to Jake. 
            He swatted his hand around. Never found me.  “I’ve got this.”
            “Great,” I said. I bit my lip when I saw Jenny had put out china cups and saucers.  What was she thinking?  That I’d be in charge of coffee detail?  “Do you want to sit in here or go out on the sleeping porch?”
            “You can go on out.  Silas, why don’t you stay here and give me a hand?”        
            Silas made his way toward Jake.  “Sure thing.”
            I went outside to wait.  Perched on the edge of a wicker rocker.  Glanced at my watch. I’ll time them.  How many guys does it take to serve coffee?  In china cups.
            “Ca-rap!”  I jumped up.  It was Jake.  “Why can’t anything ever be easy?”
            I hurried inside.  “What’s wrong?  Are you hurt?”
            Jake turned.  The front of his polo shirt was drenched in coffee.  He ducked his head and peeled it off.
            “Holy Schmoly,” Silas said.
            My eyebrows headed for my bangs.  You can say that again.
            Silas started laughing.  At me.  “Mom!  Stop staring!”
            Jake flicked his head in Silas’s direction then mine. “What?  What’s she staring at?”
            “You,” Silas said.
            “Me?  Why me?”
            “’Cause you’re ripped.  That’s why?”
            A grin grew on Jake’s face. “Dana, are you staring at my muscles?”
            I fanned my face with my hand.  “Maybe. It’s just--  They’re--”
            “They’re what?” Jake said.
            “It’s just . . . they’re so . . . Goldilocks.”
            The guys tilted their heads.  “Goldilocks?”
            I swallowed.  “Yeah.  Not too big.  Not too small.  They’re—“
            “Just right,” they said.  Jake’s smile seemed to make his face glow.  I wiped the sweat mist from under my nose and looked at the ceiling.  I can't believe I said that.
            Silas squeezed Jake’s bicep.  “How did you get ‘em that big?”
            “Let’s go outside,” Jake said.  “Silas, can you get the tray?”
            Silas and Jake settled onto the wicker sofa.  Millie flopped at Jake's feet. I returned to the rocker. Tried to focus on my coffee cup.
            “Kevin asked me to work out with him before he went out for soccer this year.  So we did.  Started in January.”  He leaned toward the coffee table. “Dana, will you please pour me a cup?  Black’s fine.”
            “Here,” I said. I tapped his knuckles and handed it to him when he was ready.
            “Turned out, the coach wanted cardio strength, not muscular.  This guy wants those boys to be able to run ten miles a day, no problem.  Can you believe that? So now Kevin runs every day.  I still do our strength workout though.  Push ups, sit ups, wall squats.  Gives me something to do.”
            Don’t stop.  For Jenny’s sake.
            Silas turned to me.  “Hey, maybe Dad would do that with me.”
            I smiled.  “That would be great,” I said.  On multiple levels.  “Now why don’t you see if you can find Jake a clean shirt?” 
            Jake bent to pet Millie but not before I saw he was grinning to beat all.


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