It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read. Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 4 of 12.
Laci and Del: In Like a Lion
Laci dashed through the rain at five-thirty and flung open the passenger-side door of Del’s car. She dove inside and slammed the door closed behind her. Swiping at the rain on her sleeves and in her hair, she turned to him and huffed. “Remember when the post office stayed open late on tax day?”
He smiled and wiped a raindrop off her nose. “Most people file online now. And if they are using snail mail, they don’t wait for the fifteenth. Especially not until closing.”
She sat back. “Obviously I wasn’t the only one. Besides, I was there at five minutes to five, and the line was to the door. They needed more workers. Look at the time! And there are still people in there.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t lock the doors.”
“I beat closing by five minutes.”
He smiled. “You’re lucky they didn’t send you away.”
“I don’t think they can do that.”
“They’re the post office. They can do whatever they want.”
“No they can’t.”
“The bank used to switch their calendar days over to the next day around three p.m.”
Her eyes widened. “You don’t think they did that, do you? My taxes need to be post-dated today.”
He laughed and pulled into traffic. “No, I don’t think they did that. I’m sure you’re fine.”
She fidgeted as he drove, unable to focus on the ride. It had been a crappy day. Her alarm hadn’t gone off and she’d slept in, making her rush to work. She never slept in and never ran late, so starting the day that way really put her off her game. And the day went downhill from there. Her boss was on her case all day. None of her projects were going as planned. Her accountant was supposed to meet her with her final return at lunch, but he was late. She missed lunch in order to meet him, and she was late getting back to the office because of his tardiness, causing her boss to flip out again. To top it all off, she owed money for the first time in ten years, and she’d been counting on a refund. Stupid crappy economy. The end of her day? A mad dash in the rain to just barely make it to the post office in time. Thank God Del had been able to pick her up. She never would have caught a cab in this weather. She just wanted a glass of wine and a nice hot soak in the tub. Time to put this day behind her.
“You checked out on the drive home. We’re here.”
She looked out the window and tried—and failed—to suppress a sigh. She wasn’t home. She was at his home. “Del, I’m sorry. I’ve had the worst day. I just want to go home. I mean, my home.”
“You need to eat. And you need to relax. Besides, you made me a promise, and I’m collecting tonight.” She thought back over the things she’d promised him. Sometimes he caught her at the most vulnerable times and she made a lot of promises. Wonder what he had in mind for this evening? She really didn’t feel like paying up tonight.
He turned around and reached for something in the back seat. “I have an umbrella.” His voice was strained as he stretched. “Let me just find it.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m already wet.” She opened her door and dashed for the awning in front of his building, not even bothering to feel sorry for him as he drove around the side of the complex to the parking lot. He had let her off at the door, but he’d have a much longer trek in the downpour. Umbrella or not, he’d be getting wet. At least the bottom half of him.
It wasn’t long before he ran up behind her. He hadn’t bothered with the umbrella, and he was soaked, his dark hair dripping onto his face and down his collar. “Let’s go up.” He held the door for her and led her into the lobby.
“You know, I’m really beat. And I’ve had the worst day. I don’t know how long I’m even going to be able to keep my eyes open. Exactly what promise did you want me to make good on tonight?”
She could see the heat in his eyes when he smiled at her. “I can think of plenty. But there’s just one that I had in mind when I brought you here.”
His eyebrow quirked and he gestured for her to get in the elevator before him. He followed her in and pressed the ‘twelve’ button for his floor. Pressing her against the elevator wall, he bent down and claimed her mouth in a searing kiss, his lips hot against hers in contrast to his skin, cool and wet from the rain. Was this the promise she was fulfilling? She couldn’t remember them ever discussing the elevator… But she couldn’t remember much of anything. Her thoughts were a scrambled mess, her nerves a jumbled mass of tingling electricity. He pulled away from her way too soon. She lifted heavy lids and looked up at him. “Why’d you stop?” Her voice sounded far away, even to her own ears.
Chuckling, he released her from the wall and pulled her forward. “You didn’t hear the bell? We’re on my floor.” He tugged her out into the hall.
Laci followed him down the hall to his apartment, heat flooding her face. She never thought straight around him. Going home with him after the day she’d had was not a good idea.
Del opened his door and turned to her. “Here. Let me take that.” He stripped her of her coat and hung it on a peg in the foyer before taking his own off and hanging it beside hers. “We need to get you out of those wet things before you get sick.”
“I don’t have anything here. Del, I really should just go.” He took her hand and tugged on her until she followed him to his room. Thoughts tumbled through her brain like clothes in a dryer, falling all over each other, too fast for her to latch on to one before the next took its place. She stood in his doorway, dripping on his carpet, staring at his bed, wondering exactly what he had in mind, what promise she was supposed to fulfill.
He stepped in front of her, blocking her view. “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
“Hmm? I’m sorry, what?”
“Wow. Your mind really is a hundred miles away tonight.”
She bit her lip and looked up at him. Feeling something soft in her hands, she looked down. And smiled. He’d put a pair of socks, a hoodie, and drawstring sweat shorts in her hands.
“I know everything will be big on you, but these are the only drawstring shorts I’ve got.”
She looked down, then back at him, mortified. “I can’t wear these.”
“They’re Ravens shorts. And the fact that you even own them is an insult to me, our football team, and this great city.”
“Do you forgive me if I say they were a gag gift and I never wore them?”
“You kept them.”
“And aren’t you glad I did? Otherwise you won’t have any bottoms to wear.” She considered the alternatives. She had to take her other stuff off and throw them in the dryer—that included her underclothes. But to wear Ravens clothes? Sighing, she stomped off toward the bathroom with the garments, listening to him laugh. “There are towels in the linen closet,” he called through the closed door. She stripped and dried off, lamenting the misfortunes of her day. As she scrubbed her skin dry, she wondered exactly what Del was doing on the other side of the door. Deciding she didn’t want to wait long to find out, she hurried to dress, delaying only for a moment to adjust the oversized garments. When she came out, Del wasn’t in the bedroom. She followed noise to the kitchen, where he was busy getting things out of the refrigerator.
“There you are,” he said. “I ordered pizza. It’s supposed to be here in about forty minutes, but given the rain, I’m guessing more like an hour.” He opened a bottle of wine. “Give me your clothes. I’ll go throw them in the dryer with mine.”
“You look busy. I’ll do it.” She took her things to his laundry room, which was really just a closet converted to house the appliances, tossed them in the dryer, and returned to the kitchen, where Del was still bustling around. “So, what are you doing? And can I help?”
He turned and looked at her, and then burst out laughing.
“Your shorts are on backward.”
“I couldn’t wear them and look at the logo. Plus, this way I get to sit on a Raven.”
He shook his head. “On anyone else, that would look ridiculous.”
“But not me? Please. I’m wearing socks, sweat shorts, and a hoodie, all of which are several sizes too big for me. I think it’s a safe bet that I look ridiculous regardless of whether the shorts are on backward or not.”
Growing serious, he studied her carefully. “No. You could never look ridiculous. Not to me.” He brushed a damp tendril of hair off her forehead and held her face, meeting her gaze. “You’ve never looked more beautiful.”
The air—was there air?—was thick, electrified… so hard to breathe. She leaned into his hand, lost in his gaze, drowning in his words and his touch. Then she pulled away and turned from him. “Are you kidding me? My makeup’s completely washed off. My hair is soaked. I look like a river otter. Or a raccoon. I don’t know. Some kind of wet rodent with circles under her eyes. I’m swimming in these clothes. I’m embarrassed to be seen like this!” She pulled at the sweat shorts and almost lost them, hiking them up through the oversized hoodie.
He spun her around and again cupped her face in his hands. “You’re always beautiful to me, Laci. I don’t care about your hair, your makeup, your clothes. I care about you.” And he kissed her, a feather-light kiss, soft and sweet, a kiss that promised his words were true. A kiss that scared her even as it exhilarated her. She looked up at him and blinked, trying to clear her mind. “I’m sorry, Del. You know I don’t usually care about this stuff. And I know you don’t either. It’s just been a really crappy day. Why don’t you just tell me what promise I’m supposed to be keeping, and then I can call it a night?”
“Wow. You really know how to make a guy feel like you’re interested in spending time with him.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just—”
“Did you ever think that maybe you could turn the day around?” He poured a glass of wine and handed it to her. “What?” She sipped the Merlot and looked at him over the rim of her glass.
“You had a bad morning, right? And a bad afternoon? Who says you have to have a bad evening and night, too? I plan on making things better.” He led her to a bar stool at his island and pulled it out so she would sit. Once she was settled, he started bringing items over to the counter, placing them within her reach. Cups. Vinegar. Food coloring. Eggs. White crayons.
She stared at him, then started to giggle. “What were you thinking?”
“You promised me you’d color eggs with me this year. We’re almost out of time. Easter’s on Sunday.”
“I thought you were kidding.”
“You said you hadn’t done it since you were little. And neither have I. It’s a tradition. We should start doing it again.”
“It’s a tradition for families with little kids.”
“Says who? Besides, this will give us a reason to make baked macaroni.”
“You don’t need…” she stopped and counted, “…four dozen eggs for baked macaroni.”
“I like baked macaroni. We’ll make a lot. We can freeze what we don’t eat. And we can make deviled eggs. And egg salad.”
She shook her head and poured some vinegar into all the cups of hot water.
“Oh! And pickled eggs. I love pickled eggs.”
“You don’t like beets.”
“But I like pickled eggs.” He put food coloring in all the cups.
She picked up a crayon and scanned the cups. “Did you make any black?”
“For Easter eggs?” He scoffed. “Um, no.” He finished writing something on an egg and put it in the pink cup.
“How am I supposed to make a black and gold egg without black?”
“Just draw the Steelers logo on it and put it in yellow.”
“You don’t do eggs right.”
“You’ll have to teach me next year.” She looked up at him, but didn’t say anything. They’d been together for a while, but no one had talked long-term. Nervous, she decided to change the subject. “Are you almost done with the pink?”
“I don’t know. Check and see if you think it’s dark enough.”
She lifted his egg out of the pink cup. He’d written, ‘I love you, Laci’ on it. She wished she’d stuck with the ‘teach me next year’ conversation. It was an easier one to deal with at the moment. And he said he wanted to make her night better. The L-bomb was not better. Not at all. What was she supposed to say to that?