I was bounced awake by Nomad shifting position every ten seconds; he probably had to go outside. I grudgingly rolled off the bed putting my feet down on the drafty wood floor and walked on my tip-toes to reduce the feel of the cold to the carpet of the stairs. Nomad and Dingy barreled down and were in the kitchen in a flash spinning of circles, their toenails sounding like hail on a tin roof. It was dark out so they were probably starving.
“Alright, outside first, then the food.” I unlocked the doggie door and they rushed out leaving the flap to push icy air back in.
I glanced at the clock and it was a little past seven at night. No wonder they’re hungry. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty hungry. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast this morning. I really didn’t feel like cooking, though. Pizza sounds good. Then my door bell rings. I start walking towards the door, again, when whoever is out there starts pounding on the wood. I was there in a second and swung it open to see Tiffi there looking frazzled.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she said breathless and flung her arms around me. I caught a brief glimpse of two sets of broad shoulder behind her. “I was so worried. I’m so sorry. I thought your mom or your sister would come over or something, but when I talked to them and nobody had heard from you I panicked,” then she whispered, “Sorry.”
I strained out of her arms and looked to see who the shoulders belonged to. It was Jack and Tom. I inwardly groaned. Tom was looking yummy in his leather jacket and WFD hat. He hadn’t shaved but he smelled like that spicy soap from yesterday. His eye looked pretty bad underneath. I winced inwardly.
“I’m fine.” I said to Tiff. “What did you think was wrong?”
“Well, someone was supposed to watch you for twenty four hours and when I left I thought you and Park-”
“Do not finish that sentence. I’m fine, he left, and I slept all day.”
“Who shoveled your walk then? You didn’t, did you?”
“No, I paid some college kid. I’m sorry, guys, come on in. I was just thinking of ordering a pizza.”
I backed up and held the door open for everyone. At the same time Dingy rushed in, barking at the newcomers, followed closely by Nomad. Dingy bypassed Jack and Tiffi and went straight to Tom to circle him once and head back to the kitchen.
“What was that?” he asked
“That was Dingy.”
He better not insult my dog.
Instead he looked me over, probably assessing my vitals or something.
“How’s it goin’?” he asked quietly. I felt a prick of electricity run up my spine.
“I’m fine. How’s the eye?”
“It looks worse than it feels.”
If it feels like my head I bet he’s wishing for a pain killer.
I wasn’t sure what else to say so I turned to Jack and Tiff and said, “Well, if you guys are all here to baby sit me we might as well order some food.”
We all walked to the kitchen where I kept the menus and they decorated my chairs with their coats. After much discussion between Jack and Tiff about which side the anchovies and pineapple went, we went to the living room and Jack turned on the tube.
My couch and matching loveseat were an antique set from the seventies with upholstery that looked like weaved yarn in various shades of brown. My house was pretty drafty despite the new insulation I installed last year so I kept plenty of throws folded over the backs of everything. I grabbed a warm chenille and wrapped myself in it before flopping in the lazy-boy, carefully tucking in my feet. Tiffi did the same with a weaved throw of embroidered Labradors and flopped on the loveseat stretching out her feet. That left the men to sit at opposite ends of the couch, Jack closer to Tiff and Tom on my side. They didn’t wrap up in blankets, but Jack did stretch out his feet in front of him. He knew he could make himself at home here and did on occasion when he didn’t feel like staying at his mom’s or got too drunk at the bar. He always stayed on the couch.
“Hey, Kat, you got any beer?”
“Help yourselves, guys,” I replied. I grabbed the remote and flipped between all the channels. There was nothing on so I left it on Comedy Central. “So how does the rest of the town look?”
“Pretty good,” Tiff started. “The fire department did a lot of shoveling so most of the businesses opened up.”
I heard Jack mumble something about girly beer in the kitchen. I only bought the light beer with lime. He came back in with three beers and a water bottle. “Actually, Tom here had half of Main Street shoveled before the rest of us caught on and went out too,” he handed water to me and the beers to Tom and Tiff. “Can’t have the new guy making us look bad.” He nudged Tom’s shoulder before sitting down. “Hey, can I have the remote?”
Since I wasn’t finding anything interesting I started to hand it to him when Tiff piped up.
“Nuh-uh, do not give it to him. He will turn it to ESPN or the History channel and we’ll never get it back again.”
Jack made a grab for it. I let him have it staying out of the fight that followed.
Tom leaned toward me, “Do they always act like this?”
“Yep. They’re like a bunch a junior high kids. Did they act like this on the way over?”
He nodded and said, “How do you stand it? Why don’t they just get it over with?” I knew what he was indicating.
“They’ve been acting like this for years. You get kind of used to it.”
He nodded and relaxed back taking a swig of beer. Nomad loped in and sat next to my chair, putting his head on my leg and wagging his tail. This chair was the only piece of furniture he was allowed on so I was in his spot. He knew not to climb up on me though. I was the pack leader.
“Go lie down, baby,” I said and patted him on the head. Tom seemed impressed when Nomad loped over to the corner where he had a bulky pillow all to himself. Dingy was anxious as ever and paced around the furniture. The cats were nowhere to be found, but it was just a matter of time.
Jack somehow won the fight and had the TV turned to March Madness. Tiffi looked angry, but I knew it was a put-on. She had filled out a bracket like the rest of us and was curious as to who was winning.
“So, Tom, where are you from?” I asked. I know it sounds lame, but where else am I going to start?
“I moved here from Columbus, but I’m originally from Akron.”
“Oh, so are you a big Lebron James fan?”
He gave a rye smile and said, “Not a Cavs fan, actually. You?”
“Actually, I don’t usually follow basketball, but I follow the news so I heard about him. I’m more of a football fan.”
“Really?” He sat forward a little with a very serious look on him face and said, “Browns or Bengals?”
Stricken he said, “No. No way.”
“Why? Don’t tell me- Cowboys fan?” I feinted devastation.
He gave the slighted nod.
“Ugh,” I replied. That just figures. I just couldn’t find a guy with the same likes as me. At least none I was attracted to. Parker wasn’t any kind of sports fan.
“Maybe if Farve hadn’t gotten hurt they would have had a chance at winning the play-offs, but it wasn’t meant to be. At least, not by beating the Cowboys.”
“Actually Rodgers did better than Farve did in that game, before Farve was hurt, so at least we have some hope for next year when he retires.”
“No way. Romo is in his prime. It’s not happening this year,” he smiled smugly. He was sitting on the edge of the cushion with his elbows resting on his knees.
Jack piped up, “Don’t get her started, man. She was devastated when Farve thought about retiring. I’ve been trying to bring her home to the Browns for years, but she won’t let it go.”
I stuck my tongue out at him. “You’re just jealous. And he’s not retiring! The Packers said nothing was serious.”
Tiffi faked a snore from across the room and then the doorbell rang. “There’s the pizza.”
I got up before anyone else could offer. I grabbed my purse and nearly sprinted to the front door. I really was feeling better. The delivery kid reminded me of the squeaky-voiced teenager from The Simpson’s who is always at the fast food place or the movie theater. I gave him a nice tip for coming in the bad weather.
I placed the pizzas on the coffee table in the living room and passed out napkins. Jack got his signature anchovies with bacon and peppers (ugh!) on half, Tiffi got the other half ham, pineapple, and almonds, and the other pizza was just plain pepperoni lovers. That was me. I watched Tom to see which kind of pizza he would eat and he grabbed some of Tiffi’s half and some pepperoni. So he wasn’t averse to trying bizarre things, but still stays away from the scary. That’s good. And why am I over analyzing his pizza likes?
I had no doubt that Jack could finish his half on his own. I don’t know what it is with him and disgusting fish combinations. My stomach turned just watching him chew it. I turned my focus back on Tom.
“So, how long have you been a fire fighter?”
Everyone turned toward him still enjoying their food and he made a production of swallowing a large bite and said, “Well, not too long. About a year or so.”
“What made you get into it?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment and I wondered if he heard me, but then he said with a rye smile, “Oh, you know the old story. Something happened in my home town and I felt obligated to join, so to speak.”
I got the hint that he didn’t want to elaborate on what happened so I said, “Do you like it at the WFD? Jack’s not giving you a hard time is he? I could fix that for you, you know. I know his mama real well.” Jack threw a pillow at me. I threw it back at him.
He looked relieved, chuckled and said, “No, that’s alright. Nothing out of the ordinary.” Sophie walked over to him and rubbed back and forth on his legs then proceeded to rub on Jack’s, then meowed because nobody gave her any attention.
“Well, you let me know. I’ll take care of it.”
Jack said, “What, you part of the mafia now? The Wallace mafia?”
“Ha-ha. Very funny.”
I started to clean up the mess and headed back to the kitchen.
I walked over to the dogs’ bowls and gave them the uneaten crusts and pick up my sexy kitty. I scratched her ears and thought about what Tom had said. Or hadn’t said. Surely that wasn’t such and unusual question. People ask me from time to time why I got into realty. It’s always the same answer: I like it and I wanted to make money. But he looked so… vacant when he mentioned his hometown. He moved here from Columbus, but he’s from Akron. Something happened in Akron to make him want to become a fire fighter, but why didn’t he want to serve in his own town?
Tiffi came in with some wadded up napkins and empty bottles.
“Hey, you shouldn’t be cleaning up. Go lie down or something.”
“I’ve been lying down all day. I needed to do something. Besides it’s done enough for tonight.” Actually I was tired again and when I thought about it I had to hide a yawn.
“We’re gonna get going. It’s late and you need to go back to sleep.”
I followed her into the living room where the guys were already donning their coats and we all walked to the front door.
Jack leaned over and kissed my forehead and said, “Feel better, sweetie.”
“Later.” And he left followed closely by Tiff.
She called back “Bye!”
“Be careful on the walk!”
Tom stood beside the doorway looking at me silently.
“So, um, thanks for hanging out with me. It was…”
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” he almost whispered.
“Don’t be. I’m fine. I’ll be back to work tomorrow.” I shrugged my shoulder. I knew he hadn’t meant the fall. He meant the kiss.
“Well, I just wanted you to know that I don’t have a habit of kissing every person I fall on. I don’t know why I did it, I should have been assessing your injury or…”
“Stop right there. Don’t ever apologize for kissing someone unless they slap you, alright? Besides, I’m fine.” He was looking down at his feet and his hands were in his jacket pockets. I wanted him to look back at me. I think he’s actually kind of shy. Cute.
Then he said, “I met some of your relatives today.”
“Well, there’s plenty around. Please don’t judge me because of them. Who did you meet?”
“Uh, your aunt and your grandpa at the Hardware store. She was really nice.”
“You met Grandpa Mickey? And you’re still alive? Impressive. You know he keeps a loaded sawed off shotgun under the counter? You’re one of the lucky ones.”
He laughed at that. His eyes crinkled a little and he finally looked back up. I wanted him to kiss me again right there. I think he wanted to kiss me, too but just then I heard an impatient honk from Jack’s pickup. The wind was picking up and I noticed the freshly shoveled snow start to drift.
He stepped outside and waved back at Jack. He turned back to me and placed his hands on either side or the doorway and said, “Well, anyway, um, I hope we can be friends.” But he had such and unfriendly look in his eye, if you know what I mean. He wanted to kiss me again. I wanted to kiss him again, badly.
I took a step toward him and leaned on the door jam. and said, “Hmm. I’ll think about it if your football loyalties come back from the dark side.”
I had him smiling again. Oh, baby. I could stare at that smile all night. I felt a shiver, but I wasn’t sure if it was from him or the open door.
“Okay, Kat. See ya around,” he said and left.
“Later,” I called and closed the door. I felt giddy from head to toe and tired, unfortunately. Stupid concussion.