Page 46 of Tripping on a Halo

He bent down and gave him a scratch. “Hey bud.”

“I’ll go get dressed.” I stepped back, doing a quick scan of the living room for anything embarrassing. My search came up clean and I skirted around Mr. Oinks and headed down the hall. “Five minutes!” I called out.

Who knew where I got five minutes from, considering I took that long just to floss. I warred between taking longer to look nice, and the risks that leaving an unattended man in my living room presented. I hesitated in the doorway of my room, then stripped, pulling on a pair of worn jeans, bra and a Wonder Woman tee. Grabbing a pair of yellow Converse and socks, I worked them on and listened for noises from the living room. Was that a cabinet door opening? I yanked at the final knot of my laces and breezed into the bathroom, coming to a sudden stop when I saw my reflection in the mirror.

Bright purple marker ran a jagged line across the tip of my nose and down my chin. It must have happened during the chair fall. The glitter on my forehead was almost unnoticeable compared to the thick doodle that covered half my face. I rushed to the sink, turning on the water and dousing a washcloth. “No….no!” I injected four pumps of hand soap into the terrycloth and leaned close to the mirror, scrubbing furiously at the crooked line. I breathed a sigh of relief as it faded, and sent grateful praise up to the angels at Crayola, for favoring washability over longevity.

At least fifteen minutes had passed before I made it back to the living room, half of my face red and tender from scrubbing. Declan sat on the floor, Mr. Oinks’ head resting on his ankle, and held my fallen chair on his knees. A screwdriver and toolbox sat next to him. He looked up and smiled. “Looks like your chair quit on you.”

I struggled not to swoon at the image and crouched beside him, running a hand over the pig’s belly. “Did it break?”

“It was fixable.” He held a staple gun in one hand and fired off a shot into a joint. “Almost good as new.”

“You didn’t have to…” I stammered, getting to my feet and helping him up. I watched as he slid the chair back into its proper place, then tested it with his hands. “Thank you.”

“You might want to hide it if anyone with some heft to them comes over. I can’t vouch for its stability.” He dipped down to grab the screwdriver and staple box. “Here, I found these under the kitchen sink.”

Thank God he hadn’t opened the coat closet. Talk about risking death. I’d have found him under a pile of clutter, gasping for air. I took the items from him. “Again, thank you.”

It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t be expected to resist feelings for a man who looked past my crazy behavior, fixed my chair, and was now crouching down and scratching Mr. Oinks on the head, the pig’s eyes closed in bliss. I busied myself putting the items back, watching him out of my peripheral vision as he wandered into the living room. He stopped at a photo of Ansley, Mom and me, and tapped it. “This your Mom?”

“Yeah.” I did a quick wash job of my hands and patted them dry with a kitchen towel. “She passed away about seven months ago. Two weeks before the plane crash.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” He set down the frame. “Was it sudden?”

“As sudden as a distracted housewife in a Ford Explorer can be.” I grimaced. “She’d started to have spells of dementia and had taken to wandering around. She was in the middle of the street…” I felt the familiar well in my throat, the one that normally came right before I burst into tears. I struggled to contain it. “and she got hit.” The story never seemed to get easier to tell. Yet, for some reason, I wanted him to know.

His face tightened. “That’s terrible.”

“Yeah.” He didn’t know the worst of it, and I busied myself with kneeling down to retighten my shoelaces. “Especially…” I swallowed. “Especially because I was supposed to be home, watching her. I’d stopped for coffee, then the bookstore…” and then I’d gotten the call. It’d been a frantic one from Ansley, telling me to meet her at the hospital. I stood and turned away from him, grabbing my bag out of the closet. “Ready?”

He pulled me into his arms, a fierce, protective gesture that caught me off guard. Out of reflex, I resisted, then melted against his chest.

There was a long moment where we did nothing but stand, my arms wrapped around his waist, my head turned, ear pressed into the warm beat of his heart. I let out a sigh, feeling the sadness seep through me, and sniffed back a surge of emotion.