The Hating Game Page 49

“Every man should get a welcome home like that.”

“Don’t mind me. Go about your business.”

I hug harder. His collarbone fits nicely under my cheekbone. He’s wearing a hoodie and his body feels humid and damp.

I hear him drop his gym gear into the basket. He toes off his sneakers, which seems a little bit more difficult, and he takes my bag. He presses a button on the heating control.

“Seriously, just pretend I’m not here.”

He walks us into the kitchen and bends to look in the refrigerator, making me grip tighter. He fills a glass and I press my ear to his neck to listen to him swallow.

I tighten my legs around him, and he slides a hand to my butt and squeezes it once in a friendly way. Then he gives it a slap. “Ow, what’s in your pocket?”

“Oh.” I remember now and feel like a nerd. I slither down to my feet. “It’s nothing.”

“It hurt my hand.” He pulls the lumpy shape out of my pocket and cranes to see what he’s found “It’s a Smurf. Of course. What else would you fill your pockets with? Why does it have a bow on it?”

“I have, like, ten of him. It’s Grouchy Smurf.”

“If I didn’t know how much you adore Smurfs, I’d be insulted.” His mouth quirks and I know I’ve pleased him. “So what’s with the Smurfs, anyway?”

“My dad had a regular delivery over the state line. He’d leave before dawn and be back after I went to bed. He always bought me a Smurf at the gas station on the way home.”

“So they remind you of your dad. That’s nice.”

“It meant that he was thinking of me.” I shuffle on the spot.

“Well, thank you for thinking of me.”

“Well, you gave me something of yours, so. We’re even.”

“Is that so important? Being even?”

“Of course.” I notice he has a little whiteboard with a weekly meal plan. He’s such a freak.

“Okay, well you’re clean, and I’m not. I need a shower.”

“How do you smell so good after the gym?” I go into the living room and throw myself down onto the couch with a groan. I sink into it like it’s made of memory foam. Hello, Lucy, the couch tells me. I knew you’d be back.

“I didn’t think I did,” he replies from the kitchen. I’m hearing water boiling and the fridge opening and teaspoon clinking.

“You do.” I pat around for the ribbon cushion. “Like a muscly pinecone.”

“I think it’s my soap. Mom gives it to me in bulk. She likes making care packages.”

He appears, upside down, and I see a slice of heavy bare shoulder revealed by his hoodie sliding off. He’s wearing a tank under there. My mouth puddles with drool. He puts a mug near me and hands me the cushion.

“Take the hoodie off. Please. I’ll only look with my eyes.”

He puts his finger on the zip, and I bite my lip. Then he zips it up to his neck as high as it will go, and I howl.

“Drink your tea, you little pervert.” He tosses something on my stomach. He shuts his bedroom door and after a minute I hear the shower. I hold up a box. It’s a packaged Matchbox car. I can’t help feeling like it’s a reproach. Isn’t being wanted for his body a man’s dream?

I put the ribbon pillow under my neck. It’s a little black car this time, quite similar to his. Is this what he did on his day off? Go and buy me a toy? I open the pack and drive the tiny car on my stomach for a while. I imagine him in the shower with his bar of soap like the little perv I am.

As predictably as night follows day, I begin to fret as the minutes pass. I don’t know why I’m here again. All I know is this couch is my new favorite place on earth. I should put my shoes on and leave. I touch the side of my mug. Not cool enough to drink.

I need to start behaving normally. I got a little overexcited. I think about what kind of girls he probably dates. Tall, cool blondes. I feel it in my tiny undersized brunette bones. I remember once going to a club with Val, back in the day when I actually did things, before the merger, before the loneliness.

We saw these bored, beautiful icy girls. They were standing beside the bar, ignoring all the men who approached them. Val and I spent the rest of the night imitating them on the dance floor, striking aloof poses and making each other laugh with fierce, steely glances. I might try it now.

When his bedroom door opens and he appears again, I am a mature young woman, legs elegantly crossed, flipping through a medical textbook, sipping my tea. He’s got on some soft black sweats, a black T-shirt, and nice bare feet. Can’t he have a flaw?

He sits on the edge of the couch, his hair damp and ruffled in every direction. I turn the page and unfortunately a lurid diagram of an erect penis glares up at me.

“I am trying to be a bit more normal.”

He looks at the page. “How’s it working out so far?”

“I’m glad this isn’t a pop-up book.”

He huffs in amusement. I follow him to the kitchen and watch him cut vegetables into ridiculously neat little sticks.

“Omelet okay?”

I nod and glance at his whiteboard. Tuesday: OMELET. I look at what’s for dinner for the rest of the week. I wonder how I can score an invitation back.

“Can I do anything?”

He shakes his head and I watch him crack six eggs into a metal bowl.

“So, how was work? You clearly missed me.”

I put my hands on my face in embarrassment and he just laughs a bit to himself.

“It was boring.” It’s the truth.

“No one to antagonize, huh?”

“I tried abusing some of the gentle folk in payroll but they got all teary.”

“The trick is to find that one person who can give it back as good as they can take it.” He takes out a pan and begins to fry the vegetables in a single, stingy drop of oil.

“Sonja Rutherford, probably. That scary lady in the mailroom that looks like an albino Morticia Addams.”

“Don’t line my replacement up too quick. You’ll hurt my feelings.”

The reminder of the likely outcome of this entire scenario makes me decide to lean against him. The middle of his back is the most perfectly ergonomic place to hide my face.

When it all comes to an end, I’m going to remember this.

“You gotta tell me why you’re here.”

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