Clocked out and nearly sprinting for the stairs, she said her goodbyes with much less enthusiasm than was typical. It had been a rough day and all she wanted was to crawl under a rock and hide for a time.
Still running, she made it down the stairs, out the front door and across the parking lot to her car. Turning the key in the slot and yanking up hard on the handle, she crumpled into the driver’s seat, pulling the door closed behind her. Okay, she thought, just make it home. You can crawl in bed an— SHIT. You have homework to do. You need internet. She let out an audible groan and let her forehead fall to the steering wheel upon the realization that rest and solitude was not within her immediate grasp.
Upset with the sudden, unfavorable change in plans, she put the key in the ignition and turned. Putting the car in gear, she pulled out and away from the parking spot, down the driveway, out into the cul-de-sac, and down to the intersection, all while queueing up some music to calm her anxious mind. Once the speakers began to rattle along with the folky, whispered tune she reached for her phone, waiting for an opening among the passing vehicles. Do I dare venture out in public, she types, where I may end up committing murder, or do abandon my work and go home to hide? Send.
Setting her phone back in the passenger seat, she pulls out, falling in with the semi-trucks ahead and behind her. Moving at the slower-than-ideal pace of the large trucks around her, she begins to lose herself in the slow, rhythmic croon of the singer within the tape deck. She sings along from time to time, when the words find her, pulling her back to the present; the rest of the time, she stays silent, just staring through the windshield at the rear of the car before her.
With eyes still ahead, noticing the light signalling a stop ahead, she reaches for her phone. Come work at my place tonight, it read. The first honest smile of the day escaped her lips. Placing the phone back in the passenger seat, she locks eyes with those in the rearview and says, “Buck up, be brave, and try not to kill anyone at the coffee shop. It’ll only be a couple of hours, and then you’ll get to see him. Now, chill the fuck out.” Updating her trajectory, she merges left toward the Northbound lanes, toward coffee, and eventually, toward his house.
She survived the coffee shop and the drive to his house that followed. She survived the walk to the front door and the barrage of barking, kissing puppies that came racing around the corner upon hearing her enter the house. She survived the walk down the hallway toward his room. She most definitley survived the smile, the hand placed against her ragged body, and the not-too-long, not-too-short, Goldilocks kiss he placed upon her mouth. “Hi,” he says in a half-whisper, “how are you doing?”
She nods, smiling awkwardly while she lowers her bag to the floor, “Better now. It’s just been a difficult day.”
“Feel free to settle in, I’m just tidying up,” he raises a handfull of white t-shirts as if to illustrate. She sets herself in his desk chair, watching him fold, sort, and hang his clothes. “I’m going to need over there behind you,” he says, pointing at the dresser. Arms full of shirts, pants and socks, he steps around her as she escapes to the foot of the bed. Watching him put away his clothes, folded no less, made her smile, recalling her typically poor effort with laundry.
With the bed clear of all but a few towels, he shuts the drawers, filling his arms now with the final pieces and moves toward the linen closet. She scurries up to the head of the bed, tucking her legs beneath the covers, grabbing her laptop from the bag just beside the bed, she begins sorting files and prepares to work.
He floats in and out of the room a few more times before settling into his chair, bowl of soup in hand, ready to work.
They work like this for a while: him at the desk, head bobbing to the upbeat music of Phantogram, fingers tapping away at the keyboard and mouse; her tucked beneath the covers on his bed, slowly sinking toward the pillow, with the dog curled up at her side.
She wakes later to the click of his bed-side lamp switch and the lifting of the covers. Opening her eyes, she noticed that her computer had been put away and he dog had been shooed from the bed. Rolling over, she watches him slip beneath the covers. “What time is it?”
“Nine fourty five.” He answers softly, reaching for the remote.
She nods and sits up, pulling off her jeans and and jacket before slipping back under the covers. Rolling toward him she places a hand on his chest and a kiss on his shoulder. Goodnight, my lo— my dear, she thinks, catching herself, despite not having said the words out loud. The sound of his show began to sink to the back of her mind as she fell to sleep. Remembering just before she lost consciousness, that he placed his hand over hers while she turned over and over in her mind his scent. He smelled clean and earthy, like the moments before rainfall and little like the kettle of spices and fruit that her mother would let simmer on the stove around the holidays. He smelled of home.