19,538
07.03.2019

DES PICKED ME UP FOR our date looking far too yummy for my own good. As he opened the passenger door, he pointed at my cheek. "You have a little something there."

Great, misplaced lipstick? White residue from the blemish cream I was too old to need? I wiped at the spot. "Did I get it?"

He shook his head and leaned close. "Oh, I see. It's a kiss." He pressed his lips against my face, butterfly soft, and we giggled in unison.

"Too cheesy?" he asked.

"A little, but I'll take it."

He kissed me again before I slid into the car. My kids were with Richard for the weekend and so I was free and easy for the next few days. Heavy on the easy.

As I waited for Des to get in on his side, something sparkled on the floor. I reached over and picked it up. It was an earring. A nagging stir of deja moo passed over me. You know, that feeling of having experienced this bullshit before?

I used to find random stuff in Richard's car all the time, like matchbooks to restaurants I'd never been to, loose strands of long, blonde hair, half-finished fast-food drinks with lipstick on the straw, and once I even found a condom wrapper. Richard told me a prankster-friend had put a Trojan on his stick shift just to be funny. Yeah, ha ha, very funny.

I studied the earring in silence as Des adjusted his seat and flipped down the visor. I stared at it as if it might evaporate if I wished hard enough. It was distinct, with colored glass beads and coiled wire. It wasn't stylish. In fact, it was hideous. And it was most definitely not mine.

He put the keys in the ignition.

I held up the earring. "Whose is this?"

He looked at me in surprise, glancing at the earring, then back at me.

"Um…isn't it yours?"

I held it closer to his face, raising a quizzical brow. "Does this look like one I'd wear?"

He looked bewildered, as if it were a trick question. As if I'd asked, "Does this earring make me look fat?"

"Um…I guess not."

"Then whose is it?"

He fussed with putting the car into gear. "Oh, I picked it up in your driveway the other day and thought it must be Dody's. I kept forgetting to ask her."

I looked back at the earring. Yes, it looked very much like some monstrosity she might wear. His explanation made perfect sense.

"I'll give it to her." I slipped it into my purse.

"Thanks. Hey, how's Penny doing with everything? Is she feeling good?" He backed the car up with a bit of a lurch.

"She feels OK. She's tired." I had told Des about Penny's pregnancy even though she'd sworn me to secrecy. I knew he wouldn't say anything since he'd likely never meet her. I'd also told Fontaine, although completely by accident. He was as tricky as my mother when it came to interrogation techniques.

"Are they going to find out if it's a boy or girl?"

"No, they want to be surprised."

"Uh-huh. That's good. Do they have names yet?"

"Not yet. Why all the questions about Penny's baby?"

Des smiled over at me. "No reason. Just making conversation."

We ate dinner at Arno's, where Jasper worked. Then we strolled along the Bell Harbor boardwalk, holding hands and leaning into one another until we found a divey little patio bar with live music. It overlooked the beach and was the perfect setting for whatever the night had in store. The tables were tiny. Our knees bumped underneath, giving me goose bumps as I anticipated them bumping again later on.

We sipped cocktails and talked about inconsequential things, like who invented daylight savings time and how weird was the musical Cats. I mean, seriously? It's a musical. About cats.

I told him how, when we were little, Penny wanted to conserve energy way before it was trendy, so I would sneak around the house turning on random lights to annoy her.

Des replied, "Bonnie and I were keen on blowing things up. Once we blew up a couch."

"You blew up a couch? Why?"

His smile was lazy. "It was there. We were bored. It was this beat-up old couch that somebody was throwing away, so we dragged it up to the top of a hill. And then we blew it up. Robin ratted us out though. She was always the tattler. My mum hit the roof."

I could not imagine what my mother would have done under those circumstances. "What happened?"

Des tapped his lips thoughtfully. "Oh, let's see. I had to clean the garage, wash the car, scrub the kitchen, walk the dog…pretty much all the stuff she'd been bugging me to do anyway. But I also had to confess to my dad. That was the real punishment."

"Why is that?" Again, hard to imagine, since I grew up with virtually no father.

"You did not want to make my father mad, so I was petrified. I dragged my sorry ass into his office like a dead man walking."

"So what did he do?" I stretched out my leg, brushing against his calf oh so accidentally.

His eyes flickered, thrilling me with my ability to distract him.

"He laughed. The engineer in him thought we were very clever, but he still put me under house arrest for about a week, and Mum kept me working like a dog. She always punished us with housework. Maybe that's why I'm kind of a slob now. I subconsciously equate cleaning with getting in trouble."

"I equate cleaning with a sense of world domination, like putting everything in its proper place grants me ultimate control over the universe."

He took a big gulp from his drink. "I think that's scarier than blowing stuff up. Hey, want to dance?" he asked as the band started playing something slow.

Let's think. Would I like to press myself up against him, swaying back and forth while everyone whispered what a beautiful couple we made? That could be fun. "Yes, please."

I was right. It was fun. I don't know if anyone bothered to whisper about us, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. "You're mighty light on your feet, Dr. McKnight."

"Am I?" He sounded pleased. "I have a confession to make. Bonnie and I took some lessons before she got married. Since our dad wasn't there she asked me to fill in. But she thought we should practice so we didn't embarrass ourselves.

"Oh, that is so sweet."

"Not really. Every lesson we fought like cats and dogs. Nearly killed each other. Worst experience ever." His big smile said otherwise.

I pressed against him. "Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad you practiced."

He pulled me even closer, spinning us around and looking smug. "I guess I'm glad now too."

Then he kissed me, right there in front of all the good people of Bell Harbor.

"I have another confession." His voice was low, melting into my ear.

"What's that?" I asked, breathless.

"I thought about you all day."

"You did?" A delicious warmth started in my middle and spread out in every direction.

"Yeah. Let's go to my place and I'll prove it."

Thunder rumbled. Rain pelted. The morning was gray and dismal, but I had sunshine on the inside. A sheer curtain swirled around in a sensual, film-noir way in Des's bedroom. We must have left the sliding door open in our haste to disrobe one another. I slipped from the bed, not wanting to wake him up. I liked to sneak into the bathroom, tidy my hair, and scrape the goop from my eyes, then slip back into bed so he'd think I woke up looking fresh as a daisy. Beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, but a little primping never did any harm.

I spruced up as best as I could, considering my purse and most of my clothes were in the other room. I had no beauty products and no secret techniques. I squirted toothpaste in my mouth and swished it around. My hair was a train wreck, and I was pretty sure that was a hickey on my neck, but there wasn't much to be done about that. I quietly flipped off the bathroom light and eased open the door.

Busted. Des gave me a lazy smile from the bed.

I ducked back behind the door, all except my head.

"Good morning," he said.

"Good morning." I remained still, not about to saunter out there in the broad light of day. Well, in this case it was the murky light of day, but still too bright for me to parade around in my altogether.

"Um, would you…close your eyes?" I asked hesitantly.

"What?" He chuckled.

"I don't have anything on."

"Then why on earth would I close my eyes?"

"Because I'm shy. I'm embarrassed."

Des was beyond amused, folding both arms behind his head. "That's ridiculous."

"No, it isn't. Come on, I feel like an idiot. Close your eyes." He was being annoying.

"You get that I see people all the time without their clothes, right?"

"Then it shouldn't be a hardship to not look at me, you pervert."

"You also get that I've seen you naked quite few times and enjoyed it plenty, right?"

"I was lying down most of those times, and it was dark. This is different."

His laughter was deep. "You're seriously not coming out?"

"No, because I'm naked, and you're all covered up."

"Is that the problem?" He flipped off the covers, proving he was as absent of clothing as I was.

Oh, my.

"There, now we're even. Do you feel better?"

I looked away, blushing furiously. I was a good girl deep down, and good girls avert their eyes when men expose themselves. But I wasn't that good, so about half a second later I looked again. He was stretched out, shamelessly comfortable, his skin dark against the white sheet. He patted the mattress playfully. "Come on," he said, like he was talking to one of Dody's dogs.

I weighed my options quickly. I couldn't very well spend the rest of the day in the bathroom. Eventually I'd have to come out, and unless I fashioned a toga out of bath towels, I was going to have to do it naked. He'd won this round.

"You, sir, are no gentleman." I straightened my shoulders and stepped from behind the door, watching his expression change from lighthearted teasing to something else entirely.

Hmm, maybe I had won this round.

We spent the next hour in bed, exploring the merits of nudity.

In fact, we spent nearly that entire day in bed, lying around, pillow talking, laughing, having fun not talking. We ate toaster waffles and microwave popcorn. We watched movies, took a bath in the Jacuzzi, fooled around some more, then took a nap. The food was not good, the movies were plotless and pointless, and I had the best day of my life. Doing nothing with Des was more fun than doing almost anything with anybody else.

"I should probably head home," I said reluctantly from the couch as our date neared the twenty-four-hour mark. I was wearing a pair of Des's scrub pants, which were a foot too long, and one of his T-shirts. My hair was an unholy mess, and I craved my toothbrush with the intensity of Scooby longing for his Scooby snacks. Des was opening cupboards in the kitchen.

His head popped into view. "Got plans tonight?"

"No, but I thought you might be getting sick of me."

"I am. I can't stand the way you keep letting me pull off all your clothes."

I blushed. "These are your clothes. Anyway, I thought I'd played hard-to-get long enough."

He shut a cupboard. "Um, when were you playing hard-to-get?"

I stood up. "Oh, now I am leaving."

He came out from the kitchen and pulled me close. "You know I'm just kidding."

"Humph."

"Sadie, don't go home," he murmured against my ear. "Stay and have macaroni and cheese with me."

"You think you can seduce me with carbs?"

"I'd offer you something better, but it's about the only food I have. That and a jar of olives. But if you stay, you can pick out the next movie."

He was a persuasive devil, offering carbs and B-list entertainment.

"I am dying to brush my teeth. I need my toothbrush," I admitted fervently.

He laughed. "Can't you just use mine?"

"Yuck. That is disgusting. I really need to freshen up."

"I go back to work tomorrow for the next five nights. Are you going to send me off to the trenches with no kisses?" He might have been begging me to stay for purely sexual reasons, but honestly, that was OK.

"I've given you a thousand kisses. But tell you what…I'll go home and change my clothes and such and then come back."

He kissed my nose. "Perfect. I'll run to the store and grab a couple things to eat, and we can meet back here. I'll leave the front door unlocked in case you get back before me."

Des dropped me off at Dody's on his way to buy groceries. I strolled in wearing his clothes and carrying my own in a plastic sack. I was pure class. Fontaine was sketching at the kitchen island while Jasper chopped peppers.

"Hey, guys. Where's Dody?" I dropped my baggie of clothes in a chair and plucked an apple from the fruit bowl.

"She's at the Christopher Walken Film Festival with Harry," Jasper answered. "Nice threads, by the way."

"Thanks," I mumbled, my mouth full of apple.

"Where'd you go to dinner last night, hoho?" Fontaine asked.

"Arno's. And tonight we're cooking at Des's."

"Haven't you been there for, like, a day and a half? Way to get back on that pony, cowgirl."

"Thanks. Hey, Jas, I'm glad you're here. There's something I wanted to show you." I ran up to my room, grabbed the little black velvet box I'd brought back from Glenville, and trotted down to the kitchen. I was lightning fast.

I set the box in front of him.

Jasper studied it as if it were a bomb to be diffused.

"What is it?" He picked up a towel and dried his hands.

Fontaine stared at the box just as hard.

"I've been thinking. I know you want that one ring for Beth and you don't have the cash for it. But if you take this one, you can trade it and probably get some cash back too."

Jasper's face looked like I'd told him I was a cyborg.

"Go on. Open it," I urged.

He picked up the box and slowly eased it open. "Sadie, you can't give me this! This ring is huge."

I shrugged. "I know. But I don't need it. I don't want it. And I'll never make a necklace out of it because it will always remind me of Richard."

Fontaine grabbed the ring from Jasper and held it up to the light, making it shimmer and glow.

"Then you trade it in and get something else, but I can't take it." Jasper shook his head.

"But I don't need more jewelry, Jas. And you do. I would love for you to take this thing off my hands. You know I can't stand having stuff lying around that no one is using. It's clutter to me. But if it makes you and Beth happy, then I'll feel good too."

Fontaine handed the ring back to his brother. "That's a pretty good deal."

Jasper looked back and forth between us and the ring. "Do they even do that? Take trade-ins, I mean?"

Fontaine nodded. "I'm sure they would at Mason's jewelry. I've bought vintage stuff from there before."

Dody's Tweety Bird clock chimed in the hallway as I waited for his answer.

"Are you absolutely certain, Sadie?" Jasper asked solemnly.

I was. It was the right thing to do. "Absolutely."

Jasper closed the box and hugged me as if we were about to jump from a plane and I had the only parachute. His voice cracked. "Thanks." Then he strode from the room, muffling a sniffle.

Fontaine smiled at me, shaking his head. "Sugarplum, I had no idea you could be so magnanimous."

I smiled back. "And I had no idea you knew what magnanimous meant."

I arrived back at Des's before him. I puttered around, tidying things up, washing the few dishes in the sink, arranging the sofa pillows, making the bed, and lining up all his shoes, which had been strewn in one big pile by the front door. Stacks of unopened mail were scattered around the kitchen and eating area. I couldn't resist. I sorted it all, putting the magazines in one pile, the junk mail in another, and whatever looked important into a third. I put the tidy stacks on the kitchen counter.

He walked in as I finished. "Hi there." He glanced around, taking in my handiwork.

In that instant, I realized I had been presumptuous again. Maybe he liked his shoes in a pile and his mail littered through every room.

He set the grocery bags on the counter next to the crisply folded dishtowels. "You've been busy."

I bit my lip. "I'm sorry. It's a habit."

"Don't be sorry." He picked up the top magazine. "Hmm, when did I get this?"

"They're in chronological order, oldest to most recent." My compulsion knew no boundaries. Let's put it all out there.

He pressed his fingertips against the counter and smiled. "Let me guess. You have all the clothes in your closet arranged by color, don't you?"

"Doesn't everybody?"

He smiled wider still. "My sister Robin is the same way. She's going to love you."

The moment hung suspended. He had broken the cardinal rule. Everyone knew it was bad luck to mention meeting a family member this early in a relationship. Almost as bad as saying "I love you" too soon. You know, premature love declaration.

His smile faded as fast as it came. He turned to fuss with the bags while I restacked the perfectly stacked mail.

"So, what's for – "

"Spaghetti," he answered before I finished the question.

Spooning that night like a little old couple drifting off to sleep, I pondered the state of this union and fought back sadness. The summer was passing by. Des and I had very deliberately not discussed me going back to Glenville or where his next assignment might be. I knew the offer of an extended stay in Bell Harbor was on the table for him, but since he hadn't brought it up, neither had I.

The reality was this lovely affair was a detour, not a destination. Sooner than I wanted, I'd be back to my real life and he'd ride off into the sunset for his next grand adventure. We knew that from the start, so it would be childish to wish it was any other way. Right? There wasn't any way around it. We'd been living in a bubble, pretending there was a future. But there wasn't.

"Des?" I whispered.

"Hmm?"

"It's fun being with you."

He squeezed my middle, mumbling in near sleep, "You too."

In the morning, I woke up before him, wisely grabbing his shirt from the floor and putting it on. Getting caught naked yesterday had turned out well enough, but I was still modest. I flipped on the bathroom light, and my heart gave a hop, a skip, and a flutter. Resting on the counter next to Des's was a brand new toothbrush. It had a little dental floss bow tied around it so I'd know it was for me. That was about the cutest thing ever. He bought me a toothbrush. I picked it up reverently, as if it were Cinderella's glass slipper. This meant a lot to me, and not because of my meticulous attention to dental hygiene. This toothbrush was special because it meant he wanted me to come back.

❮❯