“Never have I ever…been inside of Lowes for this long,” I sighed.
Or ever, but you know…
But we’d been traipsing down aisle after aisle…
If you took the ‘a’ for Captain Assmunch out of aisles, they were like the Florida Keys of home improvement.
“Never have I ever known one of Pam’s friends who didn’t like to shop,” he shot back with a smug grin.
Ergo Captain Assmunch.
He’d been a smug son of a bitch ever since he’d figured out my Captain Oh My Captain the night before and now I was paying the price.
And I wasn’t even talking about for all of the new locks and outdoor lighting fixtures currently filling the shopping cart I was slogging through Lowes.
It was Saturday.
The day God set aside for Netflix and the occasional bit of work.
Jason, the little traitor that he was, was staring out wide eyed at everything on the high shelves looming over us, from his car seat perch locked onto the child seat of the shopping cart.
It must have been the testosterone in him.
“That’s what Amazon is for,” I primly informed him. “I have the internet and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Hell, if they worked out the finer details of using drones to make deliveries, I would even get the nearly instant gratification that came with shopping in person.
But without the whole facing people thing.
At least, not facing people this early on a Saturday morning or people who were not acting out Irish Mafia scenes set in a post-World War I United Kingdom.
Season three of Peaky Blinders had been released on Netflix weeks ago, but I hadn’t gotten around to watching it yet.
“Speaking of things you may or may not be afraid to use,” he began, while perusing the different outdoor grills on display. “How good are you with Gunner.”
His eye roll let me know just what he thought of my Swedish Man With a Plan, but when I went to pat my bag where he was stored – admittedly to make a remark about him knowing whose ass his belonged to – I couldn’t.
Because I’d left his ass at home in my bag.
I’d only grabbed my phone, keys, and the small wallet that held my license and cards when he’d insisted we had to go shopping. But it made me realize I only ever carried my bag – and Gunner by default – whenever I went to and from work.
A fact I wasn’t about to point out to him because I had a feeling he had a point he was trying to make and I wasn’t about to help make it for him.
It was simple Law 101.
Don’t make their case for them.
So I only said, “I’m no Hawkeye, but I’m good enough.”
“What does MASH have to do with it?” he asked, looking thoroughly confused.
I was confused too until I remembered there was another fictional Hawkeye once upon a time.
One Gran had had the hots for back in the day.
But not wanting to go there, I only shook my head in faked dismay and said, “Your training is still new, Padawan. You must unlearn what you have learned.”
We’d only gotten as far as Iron Man 2 the night before, before calling it a night, so he would have no idea of who the new and rocking biceps improved Hawkeye was.
But going to bed so soon after Iron Man 2, I’d been concerned I would have nightmares over the state of Mickey Rourke’s face.
Apparently his sexiness only lasted for nine and a half weeks back in the 1980’s.
“Hey, I got that reference,” he grinned at my Yoda-ism, making my insides churn out girly squeals of, ‘Steeeeevve!’
So I bitch slapped those little harlots quiet and tried to act like hearing him quote Steve Rogers, when he hadn’t actually known he was quoting Steve Rogers, wasn’t doing things.
Things even a patriotic-hued Vibranium shield wouldn’t be able to protect my panties from disintegrating because of.
Glancing around to look for a ‘Caution Wet Floor’ sign I should maybe stand beside, I gave up and only said, “Well, at least we don’t have hours of Star Wars to add to the list.”
“We can do Star Wars,” he said, opening and closing the various lids of the grills in front of him. “But only if we start with Episode 4. I can’t do Jar Jar Binks again and to be perfectly honest, I kinda wanted to punch Anakin Skywalker in his whiny-ass face in the earlier movies.”
Could he be any more perfect?
“Worst movies ever,” I agreed. “But my OCD wouldn’t allow me to not buy the movies. I have the whole set on Blu-Ray, so don’t judge if you come across them.”
“I wouldn’t judge you based on your movie collection,” he began in a way that told me he was about to become Judgy McJudgePants about something else.
And I was right – sort of – when he went on to say, “But I’ll reserve the right to judge your ability to handle Gunner, until we can go to a gun range.”
“What are you saying?” I asked, automatically on the defensive. “That because I didn’t come with my own pistol in my pants when I was born that I can’t handle one?”
Of course, I didn’t realize how my words sounded, until he cleared his throat. And if it weren’t for the echo provided by the interior of Char-Broil’s top of the line gas grill, I likely wouldn’t have heard him mumble into it, “I’ll reserve my right to judge that when it happens.”
Mother fucking WHEN?
Mother fucking big ass mouth, making words without consulting my brain, and bypassing any and all filters on their way out.
Maybe Lowes sold them?
Did 3M make brain to mouth filters?
God knows mine were dirty and clogged, ever since he showed up in my life.
It was becoming an issue.
One only a Hitachi Magic Wand could resolve.
I would’ve checked my Amazon app for either the 3M filters or the Hitachi Magic Wand, but my cell reception in the Home Improvement Room of Requirement was shit.
“No,” I heard him say, having no idea what he was telling me ‘no’ about.
The nonexistent 3M products even Amazon didn’t carry or my need for a handheld Hitachi for my hoohah.
Somehow – some fucking how – I managed to not ask, thereby giving him the time to say, “I’m not saying you don’t know how to handle…Gunner, but I’m just saying I would feel better if I knew for sure that you’re proficient with it. Him. Whatever.”
Captain Flustered was blushing up a storm.
Looked like we were both in for some rough weather.
Something was certainly brewing down in my lower region.
“And when, exactly, do you propose we go to the gun range?” I asked, looking pointedly at the baby.
I may not have been mother of the year by a long stretch, but even I knew I couldn’t cart him to Guns ‘R Us with us.
Then glancing back up at him, I added, “Or do you know of one with onsite daycare?”
But it only took a moment for Captain Assmunch to make a reappearance, just as he said, “I am The Man With A Plan – or so you think – so I’ll come up with one. Then we’ll go.”
If he kept it up, he’d better have his own Vibranium shield to protect him, when I pulled a Peggy and shot at his ass.
“Never have I ever wanted to kick someone’s ass so much,” I grumbled.
“Never have I ever wanted to let someone kick my ass so much,” he offered in return.
But his sincerity threw me off.
Way off, until he said, “Do you know any defensive moves? I can teach you how to get away from an attacker.”
Then whipping out his Assmunch, he added sardonically, “Even if I can’t seem to teach you to put your shoes away.”
“Time. Saver,” I argued back, unwilling to give him an inch.
If I was gonna give him one, god knows I wanted all the inches he had to give.
But for Jason’s sake, I was keeping a leash on my libido.
And if that leash happened to be sopping wet?
Well, only me and my Carefree panty shield would know.
Because if him doing my laundry wasn’t a one-time thing, then I didn’t want to leave behind any evidence even Inspector Clouseau could find.
Which was why, as of that morning, secondary containment measures had been successfully deployed.
“Lazy. Ass,” he shot back playfully, taking any potential sting out of his bite.
It made me want to bite him.
Did Lowes sell mouth guards?
“Never have I ever been on a real picnic,” I offered with a grin, watching the baby trying to push himself up onto his hands and knees on the blanket we’d spread out on the grass in the park.
We’d been playing the ‘Never have I ever’ game all day long – without the drinking because wouldn’t that be a bad idea?
I could barely keep my mouth in check while sober.
God knows what other parts of me would be left unchecked with alcohol in my system.
But she’d started it that morning when I’d given her my scary drill sergeant face and said we needed to go on a supply run to secure the fortress.
And if that fortress now happened to have a kickass combination gas/charcoal grill, with two side burners, so be it.
The troops needed to eat.
But it was her, “Never have I ever wanted a Taser in hand to fell a giant ass more,” that started it.
I did not point out her eyes immediately went to check out my ass.
Because, regardless of her claims, I was not a giant ass.
And because drill sergeants weren’t known for their winning personalities, I didn’t take offense at her threat of violence.
But I wouldn’t be opposed if she wanted to follow through.
I could think of worse ways of spending the day than wrestling Cookie Brick Shithouse.
Which was why I’d convinced her to have a late lunch at the park.
Where there were witnesses.
Because the more time I spent with her, the more I needed a reason to keep myself in check. I wasn’t too stupid to not notice her checking me out here and there. But I also wasn’t too blinded by lust to see she wasn’t prepared to act on it, for whatever reason.
Considering we’d only met three days earlier, I couldn’t even come up with a reasonable argument to counter against whatever unknown that was holding her back.
But if all we would ever be was friends, I could be okay with that too.
At least I thought I would be until I heard her laugh out, “Never have I ever been on a good picnic. I went on one once back in college. It was a first date with this guy in my English Lit class. I guess he thought it would be romantic, but any plans he had for romance ended when the underground nest of bees he’d laid the blanket over all came crawling out, pissed off and looking for retribution.”
Laughing even harder, she panted out, “I’ve never run so fast in my life. Thank god I was faster than him.”
I was pretty sure friends would be okay with their friends dating.
That realization made me pretty sure Cookie and I would never be just friends.
Trying to imagine her getting all dressed up to go out on a date with another guy – or worse – bringing one home with her…
I knew I had no right whatsoever to have any feelings on the matter, but that didn’t stop me from feeling.
“Worst. Date. Ever,” she laughingly declared, pulling me from the things I’d been feeling.
So in an effort to stop feeling things and – if I was being honest with myself – wanting to gauge her reaction to see if maybe she would be feeling things too, I offered, “I have you beat on the worst date ever.”
Seriously, a bee attack was nothing in comparison.
Hell, Godzilla making landfall and storming through the city streets would have been a better night than that night.
Flopping down onto her stomach facing me, she rested her chin in her hands propped up on her elbows, and said with her eyes lit up in amusement, “Details. All the details. I need them.”
She laughed again seeing the automatic shiver working its way down my spine, but my responding glare was met with a waggle of her brows and had me smiling when I said, “It wasn’t even really a date…or it was more of a blind date, I guess. But one of the guys in my unit was seeing some girl and that girl had a friend and he talked me into going out to a bar with them one night. He promised to pick up my tab, so I figured, what could it hurt, you know?”
“Ooohh,” she chortled, when I paused for a little too long. “Looks like it hurt like a son of a bitch.”
Throwing a dandelion in her general direction, she picked it up and stuck it behind her ear, making ‘go on’ motions that had me glaring – more so at the memory than at her – when I explained, “So I show up with my friend Jake and he introduces me to his date and her friend. She wasn’t really my type, but I wasn’t really looking to make a connection or whatever. I was just there for the free beer. I figured I would just keep her company while Jake and her friend – Freak in the Sheets, or whatever her name was – got up to no good in the dark corners of the bar and that would be it.”
“But that wasn’t it, was it?” she asked, sounding way too happy about whatever she saw on my face.
“No,” I shook my head in remembered horror. “No, that wasn’t it.”
Poking me in the leg to get my attention, she whined, “Spill! I’m not getting any younger over here and Jason will need to start kindergarten eventually. So unless you plan on picnic-park schooling him, get on with it.”
“She turned into some crazed stalker,” I spit out. “We ended the night with a half-assed hug and a ‘Nice to meet you’ and the next thing I know she’s turning up at my barracks. She convinced the NCOIC she was my fiancé, so he let her into my room. I mean, she was wearing a diamond ring and everything. And that was all that she was wearing when I found her splayed out on top of my bed when I got back to my room after my shift.”
“Oh my god,” she cackled, having fallen to the side to use both hands to cover her mouth.
Which was why I wasn’t completely certain of what she’d said next, but sounded like, “That’s what you get for being so hot.”
“What did you say?” I asked, slowly drawing out each word as I leaned forward onto my hands and knees, so that my face was hovering over hers upside down.
“I said,” she breathed out, with her face flush from laughter or something else, “That’s what you get for being a snot.”
I might have kissed her then, consequences be damned.
She might have kissed me back.
But we would never know because in the next moment the baby joined our war of words by scooching forward enough to tip his head into ours and covering her temple in drool.
The fact he’d been able to knock into both of our heads made me realize just how close mine had been to hers.
Snatching the dandelion from behind her ear, I snatched it from the baby’s hand before he could shove it into his mouth and picked him up, so she could get up without knocking into him.
Using the blanket we were sitting on to wipe the drool from the side of her head, she rolled over to look at me innocently and ask, “So what happened with your fiancé?”
“She was not my fiancé,” I argued back, with another shudder.
“She had a ring and not much else,” she argued back with a huge grin on her face, clearly enjoying my discomfort.
“She had a restraining order and her picture on a BOLO at every gate to get onto the base,” I argued in return, breathing in the baby’s smell to temper the memory of The Crazy.
“Aww,” she shook her head sadly. “Sometimes these things just aren’t meant to be. I mean, she clearly dodged a bullet.”
“She dodged a bullet,” I laughed, full of righteous indignation.
It was warranted.
“Sure,” she smiled. “I mean, she could’ve been the one stuck this morning spending quality Netflix time in the place where hope and internet connections die.”
“Shaddup,” I mock glared at her.
She’d been right there alongside of me, just as into it as I was, picking out new locks and outdoor lighting fixtures.
I know she was into it thanks to the countless ‘Are you kidding me?’ looks she’d given me before going on and on about the color of the hardware and what would best match the house.
The baby had fallen asleep for his mid-morning nap on the way back to the house, so I’d used the time to get everything installed.
She’d used the time to get some work done and then declare her yard Rockefeller Center at Christmas when I called her outside to see everything lit up when I was done.
All she’d done was given me ideas for when Christmas actually rolled around.
A fact I would remind her of come Christmas.
Clark Griswold would have nothing on me.
But, with the exception of the Christmas Incident of 1998, our parents had always decorated the house for the holidays. And since Cookie’s name – at least the only one I had to work with for now – was nearly synonymous with Christmas, then I could only hope she would be excited to decorate too.
If not, I could claim it was for the baby.
She wouldn’t deny the baby a proper Christmas, would she?
“Are you Jewish?” I asked out of the blue.
To her, at least.
Already mentally exchanging trees and reindeer for menorahs and dreidels, I halted my design schemes hearing her chuckle, “No. Where did that come from?”
And without waiting for a response, she went on to say, “Is that why it didn’t work out with your fiancé? Was what’s in your boxer briefs not cut to her religious beliefs?”
“No,” I denied, feeling my face heat up.
And I was tempted – oh so tempted – to tell her she was free to check for herself.
A debriefing, if you will.
Reaching out and taking the baby from me, she smushed her cheek against his, so they were both facing me and said, “Look at him blush. I think we’re onto something.”
If she kept it up, she would be onto something too.
On her back underneath me.
Which was why we were at the park.
Where there were witnesses.
But it didn’t help when a slight breeze blew the treetops above us, shifting our shady spot of grass into one filled with sunlight.
It only amplified just how beautiful she was.
Her expression shifted too, making me think I’d been wearing my thoughts on my face, but she only asked, “So what was her name?”
I’d honestly forgotten what we’d been talking about – just like I seemed to forget a lot of things when she was around, like what was acceptable behavior – but she reminded me by saying, “Your fiancé.”
“She wasn’t…” I automatically began to deny.
Only for her to interrupt with a grin, “A ring and not much else.”
“Debbie,” I huffed in frustration.
For more than one reason.
“That doesn’t sound Jewish,” she remarked with a shrug and a knowing smile. “But what do I know?”
Her eyes briefly glanced down to where the debriefing could take place before meeting mine again. But I could agree with the sentiment.
Because in that moment, I didn’t know anything either.
Least of which was how to move beyond what we currently were.
The last thing I wanted was to be permanently affixed into The Friend Zone.