“Could you tuck the blanket around me now?”
He laughs. “Like you’re a kid?”
“Yes, exactly. It’s been a really long time since someone put me to bed like this.”
He chuckles, and I keep my eyes closed as he leans over and tucks, tucks, tucks around my entire body. I’m in a little cocoon of warmth when he’s finished. I think he’s about to go, but I’m not ready for him to leave.
I keep my eyes closed, but I’m smiling as I ask, “Wait, are we still playing that game? Because I have one more thing I want to know.”
“You’re supposed to be sleeping.”
“I’ll go to sleep as soon as you answer,” I promise.
“That day we were swimming, did you see anything you weren’t supposed to? Like underneath my bra?”
I can hear his smile when he asks, “You mean, was your bra completely see-through? Yes.”
“Right. That’s what I thought. If you could go now, I’m going to turn over and suffocate myself with my pillow.”
He laughs, kisses my forehead, and then I must really be drunk because five seconds later, I’m dead to the world, completely conked out.
When I wake up, Jack and Alfred are sleeping, splayed out on the rug together.
They never left.
Jack slept on the floor in the shack all night. He was supposed to leave once I went to sleep, but he stayed. He’s still there, lying on his side, using one of my blankets as a makeshift pillow. His t-shirt is scrunched so I can see a little bit of his abs and the top of his boxer briefs. If I had a camera, I’d snap two photos. The first I would send to Calvin Klein so he could be their new model. The second I would put in a maximum-security safety deposit box.
I roll over and poke him with my finger.
“Are you awake?”
He groans and keeps his eyes shut.
Alfred—who’s excited to see that I’m up and moving—trots over and licks my hand then turns and starts lapping at Jack’s face.
“Get,” Jack says, feigning a stern voice. “Get back.”
He tries to fend him off, but it’s no use. He’s not getting back to sleep now that Alfred and I are both awake.
He pushes to sit up and holds the dog at arm’s length so he can’t get to his face. Then he rubs sleep from his eyes and tugs a hand through his hair. I sit very, very still, as if I’m dressed in camouflage, observing the habits of a wild animal in its habitat. The sight of Jack there on the ground is a little funny and a whole lot sexy. His hair is askew from his blanket-pillow. His chin has a light dusting of black stubble, and his cheek sports a red imprint from sleeping on it. I want to slink off the bed and tackle him, pin him to the ground, and rub my cheek against that stubble.
“Shit, my back hurts,” he groans.
I smile. “Shack-sweet-shack.”
He twists right and left, trying to wring out his spine.
“You were supposed to leave after I fell asleep,” I point out.
At least that’s what I remember, but there are clearly gaps in my memory because the most recent browser tab on my phone shows a search for burro rides in Mexico.
He nods and pushes to stand. “That was the plan, but then I kept worrying you’d drown in your own puke or something. Freaked me out.”
My cheeks turn a nice rosy shade. “It was stupid of me to drink that much.”
He turns to me with one eye winked as if he’s trying to keep the early morning light from blinding him. “Everyone needs to get out of their head once in a while.”
I nod, appreciating that he doesn’t feel the need to scold me for my poor choices.
I push the blankets aside and kick my legs over the side of the bed. “I really should get going, eat breakfast or something. Edith has me teaching yoga to half the town this afternoon, and I think I’m still a little drunk.”
I stand and stretch my hands overhead. My head decides to take the opportunity to remind me that I basically poisoned myself last night and I’m now going to pay the price. I press a hand to my forehead and wince.
“Ahhhh…also, I should probably drink some water.” He laughs and I drop my hand. “What?”
He turns away, but he’s unsuccessful in wiping the smile from his face. “Your shirt’s tucked into your tighty-whities.”
I glance down and sure enough, he’s not kidding.
Well, that’s a great way to start my morning.
“Oh god,” I groan, yanking on the t-shirt until it’s back to hanging on me like a dress.
“It looked kind of stylish,” he assures me.
I go to grab some sleeping shorts, slightly embarrassed that I didn’t put them on to sleep. How many times did I flash him my ass during the night? Oh right—the limit does not exist.
“I’ll make you pancakes if you promise to erase that image from your memory.”
He slips his shoes on and heads for the door. “I like them topped with banana slices.”
“Obviously. I’m not a pancake amateur.”
We walk together to the farmhouse, Alfred darting in between our legs.
Edith is sitting at the kitchen table sipping some coffee when we walk in. She’s reading the Sunday paper and when she hears us enter, she folds down one corner and eyes us over the top of it.
“Mornin’, you two. Jack, I didn’t know you were doing wake-up calls nowadays.”
Jack clears his throat and heads for the coffee pot. I head for the pantry to grab pancake supplies.
“No,” I say quickly, voice shrill and obvious.
“When did you get back from the wedding, Edith?” Jack asks, changing the subject.
“Oh, not too late. Must have been before you ’cause I saw your room was empty.”
Jack holds a cup of coffee out to me and I greedily accept it, hoping the caffeine will dull my headache. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, I went to bed pretty late,” he admits smoothly.
“What about you, Meredith? Did you go to bed pretty late too?”
“Edith,” Jack warns.
“Just trying to make polite conversation, sheesh.” She shakes out her paper and pretends to get back to reading.
“Do you want any pancakes, Edith?”
“No thank you. I already ate. Unlike you two, I’ve been awake for a few hours.”
Jack sighs and I finally cave. “Edith, we aren’t keeping secrets. There’s nothing to tell. I got drunk like an idiot, and Jack had to make sure I didn’t die in my sleep.”
She seems disappointed. “That’s all?”
“Well dammit, that’s boring.” Her chair screeches away from the table then she grabs her coffee and her paper. “And it means I owe Dotty and Deedee twenty bucks a piece.”
Jack and I exchange an amused glance and something sparks between us—a feeling that could easily overwhelm me if I let it. I shift my attention to the pancakes and fill them up with bananas and blueberries. Jack gets me an aspirin and some water and I’m so grateful, I let him pick his pancakes from the first batch. He takes the big ones, which is fine because everyone knows the little ones are tastier, with a better crust-to-fluff ratio. We sit at the table across from one another with Alfred lazing at our feet, hoping to catch an errant crumb.
My attention is pinned on the window in front of me while Jack’s is on the kitchen wall—we’re suddenly playing a game of chicken. We don’t talk for long minutes as we cut into our pancakes, fork bites into our mouth, and chew. Last night, we saw hidden sides of one another, the deep, secret parts you’re supposed to expose after like three years of dating, when you already share a lease, and a couch, and possibly an animal, when you aren’t afraid to make bodily noises in front of each other. We did it all wrong. We cut through the bullshit layers of polite conversation and small talk. I told him the truth about Andrew. We bonded over the debilitating fear of being alone, just a casual Saturday night between attractive, single employer and attractive, “it’s complicated” employee.
How unsettling. I really thought he was the devil. Now, I know it’s a disguise. Beneath all that arrogance and good hair, he’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He slept on my rug because he didn’t want me to aspirate my vomit—not exactly the MO of a fallen angel and leader of the damned.