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I can see the screen on my phone light up out of the corner of my eye even before “Ring of Fire” starts blaring through the speakers. The Iphone starts vibrating violently and threatens to crash off the metal saw horse it’s resting on. Which would be crappy for me, considering the ground is four feet away. After wiping my forehead with the bandana in my back pocket, I climb down the ladder to answer it. I glance at the screen before I notice the number’s unlisted.

“Hello?”

“Hello. This is Julia, calling you about student loan forgiven--”

Pressing the end button with a sigh, I set the phone back down. Answering the phone at all hours of the day burns through minutes I could be working on getting this pet project finished. Damn telemarketers.

Originally, I wanted to be done with all renovations to the “cabin” a month ago. Cabin is being generous. When I first decided to buy it and fix it up a year and a half prior, it was a dilapidated, burnt shell of a shack. The porch boards caved towards the middle, sheets of plywood were nailed over the windows, and the grass was so tall in the front yard I had to replace the blades in my push mower three separate times. The back half of the cabin was burnt black beyond recognition. Chunks of rotted wood littered the ground around the entire perimeter. To say I was in over my head was an understatement.

After considering it for a couple days, I decided to completely start fresh. Which meant tearing everything down and clearing it out. My first month in Wisconsin was spent making trips back and forth to the dump and living out of my Silverado, just so I could start working again as soon as I woke up in the mornings.

Next came the planning stage, which was the longest part and took a good six months. I already had an idea of what I wanted, which wasn’t much. The design I went with was just about as simple as it gets: one humongous square, the kitchen off to the right of the front door, and the living room to the left. Straight across from the living room would be my loft, a bathroom with a shower and washer and dryer combo underneath. There’d be a guest bedroom to the right of the bathroom. Once I had that figured out and all the right permits, I could move on to the next step.

That next step was buying all the white cedar from the local saw mill and having the logs sawn to size. It took about three months, but during that time I was leveling the ground out so I could start laying down a raft foundation. After the foundation was set, the to do list of big stuff dwindled down to things I could accomplish by myself. This included notching the logs, raising them, fitting the roof, and laying down wood shingles I made on the site.

Putting down the floor of the cabin only took about a day. It turns out tongue and groove boards are an exceptional choice if you take on a one man project. Chinking it came next. After that came cutting out holes where the windows and doors were supposed to go.

I’m on the very last part of building the cabin now, which is staining it. There’s only half a side left and the interior, but that can wait a few days. I moved all the bins of my clothes, a mattress, and a mini fridge in a couple hours after the roof was finished three weeks ago, and it’s going to be a pain to move them again. I wanna take a day or two off after staining the exterior. It’s supposed to thunderstorm the next couple of days, and I don’t feel like finishing the interior when I could be watching the storms and drinking beer.

When I finish staining the cabin an hour later, it’s already almost five o’clock in the afternoon. Just about time for my weekly trip into town. While I’m there, I usually pick up groceries and walk around town for a while, stopping by the bookstore and doing laundry at the laundromat before heading back home.

I head into the cabin and quickly strip down, throwing my dirty jeans and cutoff into a laundry basket and stepping to the sink. Lathering up a washcloth, I give myself a quick sponge bath before stepping into a clean pair of jeans and a red flannel. I grab my ball cap and dirty laundry, heading out the door. Throwing the basket in the front seat of the truck, I crank the key and start on my way.

Super One is super busy when I get there. It takes me almost five minutes to find a spot in the back corner of the parking lot. By the time I reach the front doors, it’s already starting to sprinkle. I’ve gotta make this quick. The clouds are black to the west.

Stepping inside, frigid air blasts me in the face. Not waiting too long, I grab a cart and immediately start wheeling it towards the canned food aisle. It’s difficult to cook when I don’t have a stove or running water yet, which means most of my food is eaten cold out of a can. Lots of baked beans and Chef Boyardee. I’m honestly amazed I haven’t gotten botulism yet.

I’ve got about twenty five cans and six bags of beef jerky in my cart when I turn the corner to the cereal section, where I find Cj Keats standing on her good leg, trying to reach the Lucky Charms. The wheelchair’s locked behind her. Unfortunately, she’s about two inches too short.

My heart jumps into my throat. I met her three weeks ago and thought she was cute then. Now, she looks absolutely stunning.

Her hair is beyond wild from all the humidity, auburn curls snake down her back. She’s got on a low black tank top and a pair of jean shorts. When we first met, she was wearing a baggy hoodie and what looked like cargo capris. Now that she’s in clothes that actually fit, I can see that she’s covered in tattoos. It wouldn’t be gentlemanly to mention her bust or her butt, but I think I can get by with saying she has a fantastic figure. Good thing I’m standing behind a cart.

Walking towards her, she doesn’t notice me until I pluck a box of the cereal off the shelf and hand it to her.

“Here.”

She looks up at me, startled, until she can put a name to my face. When she does, I can almost see the imaginary light bulb go off in her head. She sits back down in her chair, the box still in her hands.

“Jesus Christ. You’ve gotta quit doing that.”

“Doing what?”

“Scaring the shit out of me every time I see you. You’re like frickin’ Slenderman or something.”

She picks up the basket beside her wheelchair on the floor and puts it on her lap, trying to steer the wheelchair while balancing it. It tips over and everything spills to the floor. A can of green beans rolls under my cart.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” she groans before trying to bend over, reaching for a jug of whole milk.

“Let me help you.”

I begin collecting the groceries off the floor, placing them back in the basket. While I’m occupied, she glances over at my cart and raises an eyebrow at all of the cans and jerky.

“Are you prepping for Doomsday, or do you enjoy eating shitty food?”

Sighing, I put her battered green basket in the cart before responding. She opens her mouth to object to this before I cut her off.

“It’s fine. Your track record with keeping everything contained isn’t great, so I’ll help you finish shopping. You can just concentrate on getting from point A to point B. To answer your question, no. I don’t have a stove or microwave right now, so canned crap is pretty much all I’ve eaten for a long time.”

“I bet that gets old.”

“You have no idea.”

She’s silent for a few seconds before she starts rolling down the aisle, turning right to head to down the cookie and chips aisle. Snagging a bag of dill pickle chips, she lobs them in my direction before continuing on. They land on top of all the cans with a crunching sound.

Next comes a package of Oreos, after that a couple of frozen pizzas.

“I’d hate to see what your eggs look like,” I mutter while rearranging everything she’s thrown on top of the pile.

“That’s an area no man’s ever been fortunate enough to get close to before,” Cj replies with a gigantic smirk on her face.

At that moment, she bends over to pick out a package frozen chicken tenders. She doesn’t have a bra on, so I get fair shot of her cleavage. I can just make out the two tiny bumps on either side of each nipple. Holy hell.

I can feel the blood slowly flowing towards my belt line. Dirty, inked, and curvy. This woman is going to be the death of me. Lord help me.

Once again, I’m grateful for the strategically placed shopping cart.

“Okay. I’m ready to check out. Are you coming?” She starts heading for the cash registers, glancing back at me..

Not yet, but I think I’m getting there.

My step falters as I stumble to catch up, breaking me out of my vastly, ungodly inappropriate grocery store fantasy involving the electric toothbrushes on aisle seven.

By the time I get there, she’s waiting impatiently at one of the registers, tapping her nails on the armrest of her wheelchair. I heave her basket out of the cart and onto the conveyor belt, beginning to put my groceries on behind hers. The cashier promptly puts a separator in between the piles.

Ouch. I didn’t think she was that far out of my league.

I accompany Cj to her truck and help her put her groceries in, noting the heavy clouds creeping closer. She’s saying something to me and I don’t quite catch what she’s said because of the distraction of the approaching storm.

“I apologize. I wasn’t paying attention. What did you say?”

She sighs and rolls down her window. “I said you should come over to my place for dinner.”

The thought of being alone with her is enough to bring back my rock hard erection. Subtly, I shift my grocery bags and lean on the side of her truck.

“Thank you, but I shouldn't. It looks like this storm is gonna be pretty bad,” I mumble, fiddling with my truck keys. Anything to get my mind off of her.

“I’m not taking no for an answer. You haven’t eaten a home cooked meal in how long?”

“It’s been a while.”

“How long?” She stares me down, her eyes narrowing.

“Six months. At least.”

“My point exactly. Get in the truck. Now.”

With that, she rolls up her window as I reluctantly walk to the other side and open the passenger door.

Crap.

Climbing in, I notice she’s cleaned recently since the last time I rode with her. A Black Ice air freshener tree hangs from the rearview. Slamming my door shut, I pull out my keys and hit the lock button on the fob. I see my truck flash its headlights across the parking lot. Satisfied, she puts it in drive, and away we go.

***

About forty five minutes later, we pull into her driveway. I wouldn’t have noticed the cabin from the road unless I was specifically looking for it, and even then, it’s difficult to find behind all the pine trees.

Cj parks and scrambles out of the truck as fast as she can, attempting to open the doors to backseat. I wave her out of the way and start grabbing bags, dropping a couple onto her lap. By the time we get all the groceries inside, we’re both soaked to the bone from the driving rain. A puddle pools on the floor beneath my feet and her wheelchair.

“I’ll be right back. I’m just gonna grab a few towels so we can mop this up.” Before I can reply, she’s already taken off down a hallway.

I take that time to study her home.

There’s a really old looking couch in one corner of the room, a desk, and lots of bookshelves straining under the weight of all her books. A record player sits on top of a bookshelf, a three foot stack of vinyls sitting on the floor next to it. I’m pretty sure Billy Bass is hanging from the wall, but it’s hard to tell from this distance. The kitchen is a bit outdated, the wallpaper slowly crumbling down from years of neglect. A couple photographs are taped to the cupboards.

Cj reappears in sweatpants and a threadbare Niagara Falls hoodie, throwing me a towel, a t-shirt, and a pair of faded jeans. “You can try these on and put your clothes in the dryer. My friend Joe sometimes leaves his clothes over here.”

“Thank you,” I rumble, stepping out of my boots while she turns her back towards me, pulling pots and pans down from a cupboard.

“You can change in my room. The bathroom’s pretty small. Last door on the right.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Stepping inside of her room, the first thing I notice is that it’s a neat freak’s wet dream. Everything is in precise order, from the bookshelves to the perfectly made bed in the center of the room. Fairy lights line the walls, emitting a soft glow that illuminates the Realtree camo bedspread. Dirty clothes are in a hamper at the foot of the bed, a stack of clean clothes next to it.

Honestly, this wasn’t what I was expecting from someone as daring and opinionated as her.

I peel off my wet clothes and dry myself off quickly, struggling into the clothes she’s given me. The shirt is a bit tight in the sleeves and the chest. At least the jeans fit well. I run the towel through my hair a couple times so that water doesn’t drip down my neck. Picking my dripping clothes off the floor, I head back into the kitchen.

Balancing on her leg, Cj takes a spatula and flips a couple of chicken breasts sizzling on the stove. She glances back at me, pointing the spatula down the hallway.

“First door on the left. Dryer’s on the bottom. Forty five minutes should cover it. Mine are already in there, but I was waiting for you.”

Throwing the clothes in, I set the timer before plodding back into the kitchen. I take up a position leaning against the countertop, crossing my arms. I watch out the kitchen window as the rain comes down, rattling the window softly. Thunder rumbles outside.

“I hope you don’t mind chicken parmesan and garlic bread. I have yet to find someone that hates it.” She glances up at me from across the kitchen.

“That’s fine. I’m not picky. It smells great.” My stomach grumbles as I catch a whiff of the garlic bread. Maybe this wasn’t a completely horrible idea. At least there’s free food.

“Thank God. Joe is, and he’s a real pain in the ass.”

“Who’s Joe again?” I’m really hoping she can’t hear the hint of jealousy in my voice.

“Joe Moretti’s my best friend and tattoo artist. I should introduce you two. I think he’d like you. I’m a little too animated and crass sometimes for his liking. However, you’re a man of few words. He enjoys that in a person.”

“Sorry. I’ll have to pass. I don’t bat for the other team, though I don’t have a problem with them.”

She rolls her eyes and reaches to smack me with the spatula, instead losing her balance and tipping towards the floor.

I lunge from across the room and scoop her up at the last second, picking her up and afterwards depositing her gently in the wheelchair. She stares up at me, her eyes huge green emeralds blinking slowly in the kitchen light. A blush begins to creep across her cheeks.

“Wow. Thank you. I’m not quite sure what to say. That doesn’t happen very often.”

“What? You losing your balance, or smacking guests with a spatula?”

“Either.”

We’re both silent for a moment. I dump the can of Ragu sitting on the counter into a pot and set the burner on low. I clear my throat and blurt out the first retort that comes to mind.

“Well, I guess you can say that I swept you off your feet. Or foot.”

To my surprise, she flushes an even deeper crimson and wheels out of the kitchen, heading towards the living room.

Crap.

Now I’ve done it. Cue the awkwardness for the rest of the evening.

I watch as she sifts through the records on the floor before fishing out a 78 and setting it gently on the record player. She puts the needle down.

Maybe not.

It takes me a couple seconds before I recognize “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King booming through the speakers. Looking back at her, I see her smile before she heads back to the kitchen.

Groaning, I turn to the stove to take the chicken and sauce off the burners, but not before I feel a grin spreading across my face.

“I figured we needed some music to lighten the mood.”

God, I love her sense of humor.

She pulls a couple of red square plates and a small bowl out of a cupboard before turning to another drawer to grab some forks. I pull the garlic bread out of the oven while she hums along to the song.

“What’s the bowl for?”

“It’s for Stewie.” She starts cutting up chicken and putting it in the bowl, adding a little sauce.

“Who is….?”

“The guy I’m sleeping with.”

“Oh.” I feel my heart sink down to my stomach. So much for her maybe being interested.

A few minutes go by in silence before she finishes cutting up all the meat. Satisfied with herself, she puts the bowl down on the floor and turns to wash her hands at the sink.

“Stewie! Get your fatass down here!” she yells, drying her hands with a brown hand towel.

“Jesus. Do you treat all men like this, or just the ones you’re with at the time? And do you always make them eat off the ground?”

“I like my men a little bit hairy. You better watch yourself with that beard.” God, she’s a shameless flirt.

At that moment, I notice a fat orange tabby jump down from the couch and saunter towards the bowl on the ground, tail curling in the air. He sniffs it appreciatively and starts to chow down. I didn’t even notice him when we first arrived.

“Tucker, meet Stewie. Stewie, meet Tucker.” She glances towards me and grins.

Stewie gives me an annoyed meow before turning back to the chicken.

“I guess the cat’s out of the bag.”

She rolls her eyes and reaches for a plate.

“Come on, let’s eat. It’s getting cold, and I’m starving.”

I pluck the plate out of her grasp and bring it to the table, setting it down at the empty space in the middle, along with a pitcher of sweet tea I nabbed from the fridge. Normally, I’d pull the chair out for her, but seeing as she’s already sitting in one, it seems a bit redundant. Instead, I settle into the chair at the end.

Cj locks the wheelchair and grabs her fork, ready to dig in. I close my eyes and fold my hands in prayer. When I finish and look up, she’s staring at me.

“What are you doing?”

“Saying grace. I do it at most meals. Even the crappy canned ones.”

“Us heathens usually just dig in. Keeps the food warmer.” With that, she goes to stab a piece of chicken off my plate.

Just as she’s about to steal it off my plate, the thunder overhead crashes and a wicked bolt of lightning lights up the sky. The lights flicker a couple times and then completely shut off.

“I don’t think God likes your attitude.”

I hear her sigh in the darkness.

“Well, fuck.”


Submitted: June 28, 2018

© Copyright 2023 A. R. Currson. All rights reserved.

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