“All right, then.” I slowly released her hands and backed away.
She pulled her arms around to the front of her and inspected them. In a flash, she swiped her hand across my face and bolted out of the kitchen.
I covered my eyes with my hands. “Ow! Ow! The spices went in my eyes!” I called out, peeking through my hands to see if she had come back yet.
After a couple more whimpers from me, she peeked her head around the corner cautiously. “Are you serious? Oh shit.” She hurried over and pulled a dish towel out of the drawer, running it under cold water for a second.
I continued to writhe in pain, waiting for her to get closer.
She stood in front of me on her tippy toes, carefully lifting the damn cold cloth to my face, when I reached out and grabbed her around the waist. “Gotcha!”
“Crap!” she shouted, kicking and squirming to try and get out of my grasp. As I stood with a tight grip on her, laughing smugly, her heel connected with my balls. Not a full-on kick but a graze, and any guy will tell you, a graze is a hundred times worse than a straight kick to the junk.
The jolt of her heel made me lose my hold on her waist. Just as she wiggled loose and was about to run, I reached out and spun her, grabbing both of her wrists and pinning them against the wall above her head.
“You done yet?” I panted, inches from her face.
Her lips were parted slightly, her chest rising up and down as she stared right into my eyes. I could feel her warm breath on my skin as I searched her face, noticing a tiny scar she had above her lip. I wanted to kiss it. “Not even close,” she said barely above a whisper, arching her eyebrow in challenge. “Someone once told me not to start something I couldn’t finish, so—”
The doorbell rang, startling both of us. In unison, our heads snapped toward the front of the house. Michelle’s neighbor Jodi was standing on the porch, frantically waving at us.
“Damn it,” Michelle mumbled under her breath as she pulled her hands out of my grasp. “Can you let her in while I wash up?”
“Got it.” I sighed, annoyed that I had to let her go.
I opened the door and waved her in. “Come on in. Jodi, right?”
“Thanks.” She sniffed as she walked through the doorway. Her eyes were red and puffy, and a wadded-up tissue was clenched in her hand. Anxiety spread through me. I avoided crying women like the fucking plague. Except for one. When she cried, I ran toward her, not away. “Uh… Michelle’s in here. Follow me.” I turned and started walking, hoping she would just follow so I didn’t have to face her again.
As we got to the kitchen, Michelle was wiping her hands on another towel. She took one look at Jodi and rushed toward her. “What’s wrong?”
Jodi’s lip quivered and she crumpled into Michelle’s open arms. “I’m not getting married,” she wailed.
“What are you talking about?” Michelle asked. “Come here, sit down. Tell me what happened.”
I tried to move out of the way but somehow got caught sitting at the kitchen table with the two of them. Panicking like a trapped animal, my mind raced with possible escape routes. If I went to the living room to watch TV, I would look like a dick, but I didn’t really want to sit there and witness whatever was about to take place.
I stood up and leaned in just a bit toward them. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but Michelle, I’m gonna work on dinner while you guys chat.”
She looked up at me with guilt in her eyes. “Are you sure? I’m so sorry.”
“No, please. Don’t worry about it. I got this.” I scooted out from behind the table and moved quickly over to the counter. I could still hear them talking, but at least I wasn’t expected to be a willing participant anymore.
“So what’s going on? Your wedding is next week,” Michelle said.
Jodi sniffed and blew her nose like a bullhorn into her tissue. “I don’t even know. We’re sitting around having coffee before work and all of a sudden, I’m in the middle of a meltdown, freaking out about whether or not this marriage is gonna work when the others haven’t. I can’t be divorced three times, Michelle. I just can’t.”
I watched in the reflection of the microwave as Michelle put her hand on Jodi’s shoulder. “Okay, okay. Slow down. One thing at a time. What even brought this on?”
“I have no idea. He said something about wanting to plant lilies in the backyard next summer. I hate lilies.”
“Honey, then all you have to do is tell him you hate lilies.”
“But it’s not that. Shouldn’t he know I hate lilies? Why do I have to tell him? And it’s just lilies this time, but what if next time it’s the kind of car he wants me to buy?” Jodi’s voice was rising in a panic, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I slid the pork into the oven.
“Okay, let me ask you something. Do you love him?”
“Yes,” Jodi answered quickly.
“No,” Michelle continued. “Like really, truly, from the bottom of your soul love him? Can’t picture spending another day without him kind of love?”
Jodi took a small pause this time. “Yes,” she said quietly.
“Then you have nothing to worry about. I was only married once, but here’s what it taught me. We grow up, become adults, and get married. From the moment the ring is on our finger, we have these grand ideas in our heads of how our life is supposed to go forever—how things should end up—but it’s not really up to us, is it? I don’t know who it’s up to, but we just have to go with it. We have to keep riding the waves of life, trying not to get sucked too far out and get lost at sea, ya know?”
At that point, I’d stopped cutting the potatoes and was listening closely.
Michelle had waves.
I had doors.
Maybe we could sit on my door and float on top of those waves together.
“You’re so right.” Jodi sniffed again.
Michelle continued, “If you love him, fight for him, fight for both of you. And plant some damn lilies.”
WEDDING DAY! NOT my own, but Michelle’s neighbor Jodi and her soon-to-be husband, Vince, who I had yet to meet. It probably made me a total douche, but when we’d been at Michelle’s the week before and Jodi was having her pre-wedding freak-out, I wasn’t all that disappointed at the thought of it being canceled. I had to get dressed up enough when the team traveled. Having to do it on my downtime was pure torture. The one positive thing about the wedding was I got to have Michelle to myself for a handful of hours, and that was worth wearing a monkey suit any day.
I pulled into Michelle’s driveway and straightened my jacket as I got out of the car. The front door opened as I walked up the steps, and Matthew stood there, shielding his eyes from the sun as he waited for me. The ground was already covered in snow, but the bright sunshine that day made it seem not so bad.
“What’s up, buddy?” I held my arms out.
He stared down at the ground, not as excited to see me as he normally was. “My mom said I can’t jump on you today or I’ll wrinkle your clothes,” he pouted.
“Oh.” I stepped in and closed the door behind me. “Well, she didn’t tell me I couldn’t hug you.” I knelt down to his level, holding my arms out again. His face lit up as he eagerly crashed into me so hard I almost fell over backward.