With it being a Saturday, Eric left for the garage early that morning to speak with Tray, once I gave him a heads up that he was only open from eight until noon. Apparently, he’d been willing to walk there, even though I’d already given him permission to use Gran’s car, until I threatened to get out one of her old wooden spoons myself.
I understood that he didn’t want anything he would consider a handout and I’d thought long and hard about it when deciding if this was a battle I would be willing to wage with him. But the truth was it wasn’t a handout. The car had just been gathering dust in the old barn turned garage out back, next to Pop’s old ’51 Chevy pickup that had died long before he did.
He’d bought it used not long after he and Gran had gotten married, but after it had taken its last breath, he’d pushed it into the garage with the intention of fixing it one day.
That day never came.
And when he died, Gran didn’t have the heart to get rid of it. The fact I too had held onto both of their vehicles meant it was likely a trait that ran in the family.
But while I’d only held onto them for mostly sentimental reasons, the real basis behind it all was because I was too busy – and admittedly lazy – to do anything with either one of them. I only ever drove Gran’s car to church – a whopping three miles round trip – and only because I could still hear her voice whenever it started up.
She had always joked that it took a visit to His house in order for the good lord to see fit to make it start.
In reality it ran just fine, but I knew that wouldn’t always be the case if it was left sitting there with no one to drive it. So really, Eric was doing me the favor by using it and as far as I was concerned, he could have it.
But I knew better than to tell him that.
That was a battle for another day.
But figuring Eric would have to do an audition of sorts, I didn’t expect him back any time before noon and once my hand was sufficiently cramped from making my ‘honey-do’ list, I sat back and went over it with a fine tooth comb.
Rereading it, I wondered if Eric would catch on that I wasn’t anxious for him to finish it anytime soon.
Five full pages on my legal pad might be a bit much though.
While my crush on him was back and in full-bloom, I liked just having company again. Even on those first few nights when he mostly kept to himself, I felt better just feeling his presence in the house. It had been a while since I’d lived with someone else and while we weren’t living together as man and wife, it was still felt nice to have a man around.
A man who could cook.
And wear a tool belt, like God had intended he wear one from the start.
And God had to be a female because seeing Eric wear one was definitely a religious experience.
The fact Jesus was a carpenter let me pretend – in my own mind at least – that the comparison wasn’t as dirty as I wanted it to be.
But Eric didn’t really seem all that interested, so I really needed to stop talking about his runaway freight train or imagining him barreling into my tunnel. Right now he just needed a friend.
So I would be that for him.
He would also need supplies if he was going to get anything done on the list I’d made up, so I took off for the nearest home improvement store. The list was long – ridiculously so, when I thought about it – but the first thing I really wanted done was the master bathroom.
The house had been in my family for over a hundred and fifty years, so the bathroom had been updated in that time. But the last time had been in the 1980’s.
And it showed.
When I’d first decided to keep the house, that room had been the one I wanted changed first. But back then, the house was only meant to be a weekend getaway home and I wouldn’t have really lived there. So the thought of having a contractor going in and out on their own didn’t bother me as much.
That went out the window with the divorce and me moving in for good.
But recalling Gran lamenting more than once that they’d had to get rid of the old claw foot tub that had once been in there and replace it with something more economical, I decided to get a new one.
I could afford nearly anything I might want, but having grown up without much, I’d never felt like I needed much to get by. I spent more on clothes and shoes than I normally would have, but that was out of necessity.
I considered my work wardrobe my uniform.
But I had no debt, having inherited the house free and clear since I’d paid it off for Gran a few years before she passed, so my salary pretty much sat in the bank collecting dust.
So I didn’t blink an eye at the cost of the new bathroom fixtures I wanted and just pointed and paid.
Following along behind the guy who worked in that department with a shopping cart, I had him fill it with whatever would be needed to complete the job. I had no clue what tools would be required, so I got those too and by the time I left the store, I was excited.
But even though my trunk was filled to capacity – the new vanity, tub, and fixtures would be delivered later on that week – I stopped by the supermarket to get more groceries hoping Eric might get inspired to cook something else.
That chili was damn good.
I smiled seeing his car in the driveway when I got home, with the size of my smile growing when I spotted him coming outside.
“I went shopping,” I grinned and held up a bag that had the fixings for a steak dinner for two.
Shaking his head with a small smile, he climbed down the porch steps and met me at the trunk, chuckling a little when he saw everything inside and asked, “Did you buy one of everything?”
“Pretty much,” I smirked and bumped his outer thigh with my hip.
He really was tall.
I’d get the ghost of Gran’s spoon in a heartbeat thanks to how long his legs were because I would never beat him in a foot race.
So, if there was a zombie apocalypse, I’d need to make sure Bill was around.
I would definitely be faster than him.
“What is all of this stuff?” he asked, now loaded down with the bags he began carrying into the house.
He was wearing a plain black t-shirt and jeans, so the muscles in his arms were on full display.
And believe you me, I was looking.
I was certain zombie-me would be chomping at those in a I-no-longer-had-one heartbeat.
“You okay?” he asked, bringing me back into the present from where my thoughts had strayed. “What’s on your mind that has you looking like that?”
“Zombies,” I answered on reflex.
It wasn’t a lie.
Chuckling he asked, “So is all of this a part of your zombie survival plan or did you happen across a few of the walking dead while you were out? Because I have to say, we’d be better off with weapons and canned goods.”
He’d said ‘we’.
Hearing him speak as though he wouldn’t leave me to fend for myself, if there happened to be an extinction level event, made me grin like an idiot.
And an argument could be made that I was an idiot since my thoughts continually strayed to zombie apocalypses.
Even so, I followed him back out to the car and played along by saying, “We would run out of bullets eventually, so we’d need to do it old school. Bows and arrows.”
“And swords,” he nodded in amused agreement.
But I nearly choked on my own tongue picturing Eric swinging one.
Jesus, help me.
That was a hot image.
Like hot, I was going to Hell, hot.
I so needed to park my ass on a church pew in the morning.
Once we got everything inside and put away, more than just my heart was doing a pitter patter seeing him take the steaks out and begin preparing a marinade made from scratch.
“I wasn’t kidding,” I said in a cautioning tone. “You keep that up and I’m going to keep you here forever.”
He couldn’t say I didn’t warn him…
…when he found himself tied down.
To. My. Bed.
“Lucky for you, I’ve got no place to be,” he laughed and then turned to me adding, “But this shouldn’t be anything special to you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, not sure what he meant. I could only assume he thought maybe my ex used to cook for me, so I added the sad but true fact of the matter by saying, “The only thing Bill ever made was reservations.”
Fancy restaurants were nice, but nothing beat a home cooked meal in my book.
Shaking his head, he turned back to the counter and gestured at everything in front of him, while he said, “No, I meant this. Everything I know about cooking I learned from sitting at that kitchen table and watching your Gran.”
My eyes immediately filled up at the thought, so I had no way of hiding them when he turned back around as he finished with, “So you can do this too. Hey…what’s wrong?”
“Estrogen,” I sniffled with a chuckle and wiped at my eyes. “But Eric, Gran would have loved that you learned how to cook just from watching her. She tried to teach me a million times, but she eventually gave up and teased that I was lucky I was smart enough to earn a good living, so I wouldn’t starve once she was gone.”
I wasn’t that bad of a cook. The woman just had impossibly high standards.
But she would have been as proud as a peacock if she’d known Eric had surpassed the benchmark.
His eyes narrowed at me as though he was trying to see the truth of my words and whatever he saw had him straightening up with a small smile, as he shrugged and turned back around, casually adding, “So I’ll do the cooking, but you’ll have to let me out on work release. I start working for Dawson on Monday morning.”
“Eric!” I happily grinned. “That’s great!”
But somewhere in between saying his name and his praise, I’d teleported across the kitchen without knowing it because I ended up pressed against his back with my arms hugging him around his waist.
He stiffened at the contact, but my limbs were suddenly frozen in place.
And with my hands pressed firmly against his abs, a quick Lighthouse for the Blond reading told me he was built like Greek statue.
Even a blind blond would be able to tell.
My sight had glazed over pretty quickly when I’d found him shirtless and sheen covered on my porch that first day, so I hadn’t really gotten a detailed look.
The overall picture was too much to take in all at once.
I blamed the low slung jeans and the tool belt.
But now that I quite literally had him in my grasp, I wasn’t sure I would be able to let go.
I hoped Tray wouldn’t mind when I ended up being dragged into the shop behind Eric come Monday morning.
Even the word ‘yes’ was too much for my mouth to form.
Now that it was filled to capacity with drool.
“I uh…should probably get these steaks in the fridge?”
Hearing how uncomfortable he sounded reminded me how not interested Eric was in me. That was enough to make me swallow both the drool and my pride, while I let go of him and apologized, “I’m sorry. I guess I just got a little too excited.”
That right there was the definition of the word ‘understatement’.
But realizing how that would sound – no matter how truthful it was in more ways than one – I took two steps back and backtracked even more by quickly adding, “About you getting that job.”
“Me too,” he seemingly breathed out in relief, making me feel even worse for feeling the man up when he obviously wasn’t interested.
He’d probably end up sleeping with his bedroom door locked.
I felt like my picture should be on some predator website.
So while I silently admonished myself, Eric went about making room for the steaks in the refrigerator before he turned back around to face me and simply questioned, “Bathroom?”
Mortified, I looked down, wondering just how excited I’d been for him to wonder out loud if I’d pissed myself.
While simultaneously wondering if wearing my judge’s robe around the house would look out of place.
But seeing my excitement hadn’t breached the levy of my underwear, I looked back up at him with a questioning gaze that made him say, “From everything you bought, I assumed you wanted me to get started in the bathroom?”
“Right,” I nodded, with an embarrassed smile. “The bathroom.”
Practically running from the room, I idly hoped I hadn’t left a slick trail on the floor for him to slip on while he followed along behind me, but I couldn’t seem to get away from him fast enough.
Stupid long ass legs.
Stupid ripped abs.
Stupid Sookie for getting caught up in his rip current.
Making my way into the bedroom, I pretended there wasn’t a bed sitting there he could possibly find himself tied down to, and walked over to the master bathroom where I stupidly gestured at the door and said, “It’s in there.”
“I figured,” he grinned on his way by.
But since he hadn’t acted like he was in fear for his abs – or any other body parts – I relaxed enough to pull the folded up order form from my back pocket and said, “This is the stuff that’ll get delivered sometime next week.”
Taking the paper from my hand, he stared at it in a way that made me wonder if the work was more than he could handle. Fixing leaky faucets or replacing a few floorboards was one thing, but renovating an entire bathroom was something else entirely.
I suddenly felt even worse for making an ass out of myself by just assuming he could do it, but before I could apologize and tell him that he didn’t have to do any of it – I could just pay someone to come out on the weekends when I was home – he pulled a measuring tape out of his pocket and dropped down onto his hands and knees, facing away from me.
The sight made me wish I’d been standing over a drain.
His ass would win awards.
But then reminding myself that he wasn’t interested, I forced my ogling eyes to look at anything else but him. So I ended up jumping back startled when he was suddenly standing right in front of me and knocked the back of my head against the doorframe.
Stars were swimming in front of my eyes when they opened again and I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming, finding myself lying on my bed with Eric’s face hovering over mine.
He looked concerned, instead of attracted, so I tried not to read into anything when his hand gently cupped the side of my face, while he said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I smiled.
We couldn’t help who we were attracted to, so if I wasn’t his type then I wasn’t his type.
His eyes hardened a little just as he clued me into the fact we weren’t thinking along the same lines when he said, “I scared you into knocking yourself out.”
“That’s not your fault either,” I offered and tried to sit up.
But giant paw-like hands held me down to the mattress – and not in the way that I imagined they would – so I huffed, “Gran always said I had book smarts, but I’d have to learn common sense the hard way. I suppose that was one of those hard lessons.”
I could tell he wanted to argue with me some more – about what, I had no clue – so I headed him off at the pass by throwing his earlier single question back at him by saying, “Bathroom?”
Narrowing his eyes into a glare, I smiled sweetly at him in return.
It always worked when we were kids and despite things being different now, that didn’t appear to be one of them because he grudgingly repeated, “Bathroom. The size of the tub and vanity you ordered won’t fit into the space you have, so you’ll either have to pick out something else or the room needs to be enlarged.”
Rolling my eyes at myself, I somehow managed to sink further into the mattress and whined, “See? I go and do and don’t think things through. This is a prime example.”
Screwing his lips up to one side, he looked back towards the bathroom and then got up and walked towards it. Only instead of going into the bathroom, he opened the closet door that was adjacent to it and peeked in, before turning to me and saying, “I could knock out the wall, but you’d have to give up some of your closet space.”
I was sure my responding look said it all.
Something akin to as if he’d said I would have to face a zombie horde without him.
Eric apparently had no problem reading my thoughts – which was disconcerting, when I really thought about it – because he only shook his head in amusement and said, “Or I could take out the outer wall. The second floor doesn’t expand over that end, so we wouldn’t need to add support beams, but I’m warning you. It’ll take more time doing it that way, so if you don’t want to be without your bathroom for a while, you should probably just get a smaller tub and vanity.”
He was giving me an out, so even though I was fine with it taking forever – not that I would tell him that – I felt it was only fair to give him one too and said, “I’m okay with however long it takes, but it’s not fair to ask so much of you. I can just order new…”
“No,” he interrupted and added with a tone of finality to his voice, “If that’s what you want and you’re okay with it taking a while to get done, then I want to do it.”
Out of a sense of debt or because he wasn’t anxious to go anytime soon, I wasn’t sure and I didn’t know how to ask.
But it didn’t matter.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to either question anyway.