A Spouse Never Forgets

Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.” –Samuel Richardson

**********

“Em, I’m home. Time to hide all your boyfriends.”

“Oh, but they brought me flowers and everything”, came the response from the dining room.

Tyler Cohn kicked his shoes off and rolled his eyes. He found the mail by the door and thumbed through it carelessly. Not seeing anything in the stack of bills and donation requests to catch his eye, he let the stack fall from his hands, most of it landing back on the table. He shrugged at the mess, tossed his keys in the general direction of the mail, and walked towards the living room.

Tyler had not been the most attractive person in high school. His odd skin tone made him stand out in a crowd, but his unruly hair had singled him out even more. It was not until college that he discovered the real him was only a few buzzes away. Coupled with a roommate who introduced Tyler to the joy of working out, and a new version was born. Tyler found that the quick, aggressive, thrilling move of hefting weights was an adrenaline rush that he loved. His muscular physique, olive skin, and shiny dome now all complimented each other. He had lost his childhood nervousness and now approached life with what his wife could only describe as swagger.

“For the record, I saw you first”, he countered as he doffed his jacket and let it land on the living room couch. In front of him was the large gray mass. He avoided looking at it, as always, and turned into the dining room. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of it”, Emily called back.

An alarmingly loud trumpeting sound blared three times from the living room. Tyler and Emily both hurried to cover their ears, and by the time the noise had stopped, Tyler was almost in the dining room.

“I swear, The Moustache is going to drive me crazy”, Tyler said as he looked to his wallet and pulled out the receipts that he had collected over the day. “He keeps telling me that his business is going to get sued. I swear, that man thinks his workers are just there to collect on disability. I respond to all his e-mails but he won’t believe that we have his risks all covered. If he gets anymore up my butt, that facial monstrosity of his is going to start tickling my stomach. I wish I could get him out of my haiiiiiiiiir.”

Tyler had looked to Emily for the first time and was shocked at what he saw.

“Hey”, Emily said with a smile as she went towards him.   With her typical elegance and grace, she made every small step look like it had been planned out for months. Her composure had been the first thing that attracted Tyler to her. However, much to his delight, he found that when she went to hug him, her perfectly straight spine curved into him. Her hips ever so slightly leaned into his waist, her shoulders softened, and her long neck listed to the left, finding his nape and taking up residence there. With her normal ballerina-like stance, Emily stood a solid two inches taller than her spouse. But when they were having their quiet moments, he ended up being a bit higher up. She didn’t really care. Many of their best talks had been shared in this position, starting with when her father died. Tyler didn’t worry about being the tallest when they went out and Emily wore high heels, and Emily didn’t worry about her poise when she was alone with Tyler.

However on this night, Tyler found the embrace a little awkward. Normally he would feel her long, wavy chestnut hair against and under his chin. This was not the case tonight.   Instead Tyler felt a soft cushion of hair, then short bristliness, then another tuft of long hair. Had her entire head fit, Tyler would have felt another shaved section. And, to his great horror, sections of the hair were dyed orange and blue.

Is this what it feels like for her to kiss me when I haven’t shaved?

The only long hairs that felt familiar were the ones attached to the tail from the gray mass as it swished and brushed against Tyler’s leg from the living room.

“I got a text from Tess and Burt.”

“Are we supposed to be having them over for dinner? I don’t have enough cooked to feed us and my greedy siblings.”

“Greedy, or filled with a hunger for victory?”

“Greedy, Tyler. Definitely greedy. You play tennis with them, but you never had to share LEGOs with those two. Susan was the worst though. Leave it to the middle child to always cause the problems.”

“Em, there are four of you”, Tyler said as he tried to decide whether he should pull away from this painful dome or if it was best to keep her hair as out of sight as possible. “That makes you a middle child too.”

“Yes, but she was the first middle child”, she replied, pulling slowly out of the embrace. “You only children don’t know what we had to go through.” She kissed him, showing more passion than usual, and went back to the spaghetti on the stove.

“Regardless, your siblings want to know if we would play tennis tonight.”

“Tonight? Tyler, it’s seven p.m.”

“Right. Still daylight out there.”

“Honey, we have dinner to finish. And eat. Then, if we change into gym clothes, play several matches—“

“Then we can still be home by ten. C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Plus, knowing those two, they’ll bring up the haircut so I don’t have to.

Now out of their embrace, Tyler had the full effect. The left quarter of Emily’s hair was shaved off, except for a tiny, bristly layer of what used to be beautiful hair. That prior hair was hinted at by the next fourth, which was neon-orange and flopped around with four inches of length. The third section was the same shaved style as the first. And to finish off the monstrosity of it all was a section of long hair, looking just as it had before, only now filled with blue streaks in abhorrent strands.  

“Tyler, I know you. When we drive to the gym, under the auspices of playing tennis with my siblings, you’ll want to lift. This, as we both know, will require a change of clothes. And you’ll want me to lift with you. Honey, I just don’t have the strength.”

“You can always go swimming while we lift. The pool should be pretty empty. Maybe you’d have it all to yourself?” Maybe your new hairstyle will act like a fin that will help you steer in the water. Like a graffiti-obsessed dolphin. Or The Rocketeer on his worst day.

“Why don’t you just come out and admit that you want to see me walking around in a bathing suit?”

“Naturally”, Tyler said as he retrieved a mammoth bag of peanuts from under the kitchen counter. He took one, broke it, and nibbled on the nut while he tossed a handful into the next room. “I will always admit to wanting to see my wife in her element. You are a sexy woman and I appreciate that about you.”

“Uh huh”, she said with a look of disbelief behind her eyes. “I should never have taken you to that first swim meet of mine in college. It set a bad trend. Speaking of which, don’t go filling up on peanuts. Dinner is almost ready.”

“You don’t want me stocked up on protein before the gym? Besides”, he said as he threw another heaping handful into the living room, “how many do you think I’ll get the chance to eat?”

“We both know I’m going to be the one to clean those shells up, one way or the other. Go easy.”

“I will if you go to the gym with us. Please?”

“Fine”, she said with a feigned sigh. “But we are getting home no later than eleven. Got that? I’m still trying to get the payroll system up and running. Also, some of us don’t get to set our own hours. Twerp.”

“What can I say”, Tyler said with a shrug as he stirred the sauce, “it is truly challenging being a highly sought-after risk assessor.”

“Emphasis on ass-essor.”

“You’ll stop making that joke one day.”

“Plates please, Monsieur. And I’ll stop making that joke when it ceases to be funny.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’re already cutting it too close.”

“What?” Em pulled the noodles off the strainer and carried them to the table.

Stupid, Tyler. Stupid, stupid choice of words. “Nothing. I’m only trying to defend myself against your rapier wit. You do love to cut me to the quick.” Again?!?! What is wrong with you? Dig yourself out before you get into a close shave. Tyler had to stop from slapping himself in the face. What is wrong with you? Freak.

They sat down at the table as munching noises became audible from the living room. The two often talked about eating by candlelight, but they knew that the constant threat of methane from the gray mass made that unwise. The whole situation lacked the romance that they yearned for. One day they would seek out a solution, but their everyday lives demanded their attention.

“So are we going to talk about it or what?”

“Talk about what?” Tyler filled his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti so that he would not be expected to respond anytime soon. Unfortunately, he had made the sauce hotter than he realized and was forced to take a swig of water and add it to his already full mouth.

“The hair, you twit. You don’t like it, do you?”

Tyler made a show of chewing and swallowing, trying to think of the proper response.

“All those sitcoms from my childhood and I still don’t know how to handle this”, he half-joked.

“So you hate it”, Emily replied as she set down her fork with purpose. “That’s great. You couldn’t come out and say that?”

“Risk assessor, remember? Not risk creator.”

“Don’t do that again. I’m being serious here.”

“Look, I didn’t lie to you. I just didn’t say anything.”

“Because you don’t like it.”

“Honey, it’s three different lengths and three different colors. Maybe when we were in school, but in our 30’s? I’m amazed you think people will take a human resources person seriously like that.”

As if to accentuate the finality of his argument, a large tooting noise came from the living room.

Emily turned her nose up at the new smell but was not done talking. “That, well that is a load of crap.”

“Cute.”

“Don’t cute me, it’s true. Work didn’t factor into your thoughts. You wanted someone else to tell me it was ugly.”

“Emily, that haircut isn’t you. Why would you do that?”

“Because it isn’t me.”

Tyler leaned away from the table. “Okay, well now you’ve lost me.”

“You don’t think I see how people treat you? You’re the cool one. You’re the one that travels around putting out fires. You work in crises. You get to watch cars get smashed and houses collapse. You think I don’t noticed that my siblings, my own family, they text you more than me. And why wouldn’t they? I sit behind a desk and deal with coworkers that can’t play nice with each other or decide they want to play nice in the bedroom, and then they come to me when it’s over and, guess what, they can’t play nice. You’re exciting, I’m dependable. Why wouldn’t I want a change?”

From across the table, Tyler could see Emily’s eyes tearing up. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her eyes with it. Tyler backed his chair away from the table, stood up, and slowly made his way to the other chair. He knelt down in front of his wife and put his arms on her legs.

“Because you are perfect.”

Another tooting sound came from the living room. No no, you’re timing’s perfect. Please, keep it up.

“More crap”, Emily replied sadly.

“What I’m saying is not crap. Do you know that half of the time I’m talking to Tess and Burt, I’m bragging about you? They’re the only ones who get it. They’re the ones who love you as much as I do and can’t stop being blown away.

“You? You spend forty-plus hours a week taking care of people, making sure that they get paid. In addition to all you do for me. On top of that, you make time for your church committees. It’s all I can do to get to church each week. Yet you somehow find the patience and the energy to tend to others. That is amazing to me. Why are you trying to be more like me when I’m trying to be more like you?”

“If you’re just saying this to get yourself out of the doghouse…”

“I’m not. You have this inner peace about you. I try to find little doses, little spurts of that in me. For you, it just happens. You define grace for me. I see all these people that have lost things, all these homes that have been wrecked, and while I’m trying to comfort them my brain is screaming that I should get back home to you right that second. Learning in the field is great; being away from you is not.”

“But people still like you more”, Emily said through small sniffles.

“I don’t think that’s true. They certainly love you more. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn’t pull me aside and sing your accolades. Even strangers, visitors to church; they talk to you for brief moments and then they meet me and tell me how blessed I am to be with you. They like both of us, sure, but they’re in awe of you.”

“Really? ‘cause this is stuff you could be telling me.”

“And I probably should. I’m sorry.”

“While we’re at it”, Emily said as the color in her cheeks, if not her hair, returned to normal. “You could also hang up your jacket when you come home instead of lazily throwing it on the couch.”

“People have been commenting on the straw odor.”

“It would also make your wife happier”, she said with a smile.

“What if I offered to shave your head? Would that help this situation or should I leave you be?”

“You know, that was what I was tempted to do”, Emily replied. “But the hairstylist said this would be less extreme.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“She thought I might want to ease my want into this.”

“That’s ridiculous. Shaving your head is much less traumatic. I mean, you’re already halfway there, for corn sakes.”

“I said that, but she got so worked up about it”, Emily said.

“Okay, let’s try this. Do you like it? Not me, not the hairdresser; you.”

“Maybe if they had used hair dye colors that were found in nature. But as is? Notsomuch.”

“Will you let me shave it then?”

“You think you have enough expertise? I’d need someone who was used to having their hair short.”

“I think I can manage to figure it out”, Tyler said with a grin.

“All right, let’s do it. The sooner it’s over, the sooner my hair will grow back.”

“You know, I’ve never seen you with short hair. That could be cute.”

“Well, you’re going to find out. And we’re skipping the tennis and gym tonight. Now I really am too tired. And you have to help me.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll send them a note after we finish dinner. Then you’ll get your head all shorn.”

“Where do you think we should do it, over the sink?”

“I was actually thinking the shower”, Tyler said as his smile grew. “That way, you know, we wouldn’t make such a mess.”

“I should probably take my blouse off too. It will keep the hair from getting everywhere.”

“That is an excellent point. Less clothes, less mess. And I know how you hate messes.”

“First thing’s first”, Emily said with a look in her eye. “You have some business to take care of.”

“Oh”, Tyler said as he adopted his “come-hither” voice. “Do I?”

“Yeah”, she said plainly. “Dumbo over there. He needs to be tidied up.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said with a chuckle.

“Trust me”, Emily said as she brushed her long strand away from her right eye and winced at the blue dye. “Things will all be better after we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room.”

The Dating Game (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(Weekly Writing Challenge is your friend.  Take advantage of it.  I do!)

But when the time comes that a man has had his dinner, then the true man comes to the surface.” -Mark Twain

**********

Greg picked up the fork in front of him and cursed.  It wasn’t anything that the fork had done in particular, but the sheer pronged nature of the utensil vexed the man.  Greg tried to gauge his reflection in the metallic surface, but the gaps in between the metal made this effort difficult.  It felt as though there was a little tweak of hair on the back part of his head that was sticking up.  He reached up, attempting to comb it down with his right hand while the fork was nearly strangled in Greg’s left.

Exhaling angrily, Greg’s frustration was evident.  Hearing a giggle, he quickly put the fork back on the table.  He didn’t care that the silverware was no longer uniform in what had been its carefully placed arrangement.  Greg was too concerned about any embarrassment that he might have earned.  He glanced from table to table, hoping that everyone else in the fancy restaurant was too focused on their tiny portions and shiny gold-accented plates to have taken in his grooming performance.

The waitress walked up to his table and refilled the water glass without asking.  She smiled briefly and then moved on to the next patron without a word.  Greg sighed and crumpled up the cloth napkin that resided on his lap in a jumbled mess.  How am I supposed to be engaging and interesting when the waitress, someone who is paid to be nice, barely even gives me the time of day?  This was not a good idea.

The notion of a dating service was not one that appealed to Greg.  He didn’t relish meeting new people.  He was a baseball referee.  He spent all his days surrounded by people, most of them drunk and loud.  The last thing he wanted to do when he got home was talk sports, or even worse; partake in small talk.  However there was only so much going back to an empty apartment that Greg could stand.  He was a solid provider; not prone to wild outbursts or violence like so many overpaid celebrities that tore up the stadiums.  Greg had it on good authority that he was highly dateable.  No less than three of his friends had said so.  It had taken a few beers for them to admit as much, but the friends had stated it after only a few prodding attempts from Greg.

REFEREEA striped uniform and a chrome-plated whistle were hardly the most alluring of attire, so Greg knew that meeting someone at work was unlikely.  He realized that he would have to enlist some outside help.  That was where the dating service came into play.

Greg had sat through the pre-game ceremonies that they had called, “initiation”.  He had detailed what he looked for in a woman, doing his best not to limit any potential candidates.  “Smart, fun, cute”, he had said with a shrug.  Skin color?  Religion?  Any beliefs that might clash with his?  Greg had shrugged and replied, “Well, I’d prefer if they weren’t too crazy.  I mean, I guess I’m looking for somebody who would appreciate me and want to spend time with me.  Someone… um, who’s fun, and smart.  Oh, and cute.”  Greg had felt his face turn red when he realized how repetitive he sounded.  The depersonalization of finding true love grated on him.

I hope she hasn’t ditched me, Greg considered.  It’s one thing to accept the awkwardness of a date that someone else sets up for you.  But to be stood up and left sitting alone?  She wouldn’t do that.  Would she?

The notion dawned on Greg that he really didn’t know anything about Sophia.  The phone message had been short and unhelpful.  A chipper voice had his voicemail, brushing the “perfect woman” for him in broad strokes.  “She’s got a great personality, really wonderful, and we just love her here at the office.  She’s got some fun opinions and she’s just great.  Sophia’s beautiful, of course, and has a spirit that really stands out.  I think you two will have a great time.”  Greg had hung up on his voice mail that morning, unconvinced.  Well isn’t that just great.  He marveled at how the staff could use dozens of phrases to say absolutely nothing; all in a cheery and lively voice, of course.

“Excuse me, are you Greg?”

Greg was startled awake at the tall figure that had placed her hand tentatively on the vacant chair.  He blinked himself back into full consciousness.  He blinked again.  Still trying to make sense of the sight across from him, Greg gulped down what moisture was left in his quickly drying throat.  Then he blinked a third time.

“Greg”, the woman prompted with a warm smile on her face.

“Yeah.  I mean, yes.  Please, have a seat”, he replied.  Greg was shocked at the person that he was to share a date with.  The analytical, realistic, pessimistic side of himself had calculated the odds in his head.  His picture of a “Sophia” was a short person, cute in a tank top, and probably easily distracted by pretty things.  She would be many things, all of which could be gathered under the umbrella of “sorority girl”; with an emphasis on the “girl”.  The woman that stood confidently in his line of sight was already proving Greg quite wrong.

Sophia stood at a solid six feet at least, but she confidently wore high heels and her hair was swept up on top of her head.  If she was abnormally blessed in height, she seemed determined to embrace it.  Her smile seemed born of an inner voice that said, “Hey, how are ya?” in that natural way that Greg most clearly lacked.  She was no beanpole; even Greg could see that she had some curves to her.  Yet, like the rest of her demeanor, she appeared to own them.  Greg wondered to himself how someone this enticing upon first meeting was still single.

“Do you mind if I take a seat?”  Sophia began to pull the chair backwards.  Greg cursed to himself.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he said half standing up.  “Please, please.”  Brilliant Greg.  Forget to stand up to greet her, and then forget to get the chair for her.  That’ll make a great first impression.

“Have you ever been to this place before?”  Sophia smiled.  She unfolded the napkin with a quick gesture and placed it lightly on her lap.

“No, I don’t really eat out much”, Greg admitted.  “They said you recommend this joint and I figured that was alright by me.”

Sophia laughed and made a move for the menu.  “Yes, I can honestly tell you that this ‘joint’ is one of my favorite haunts.  Don’t you just love sushi?”

“It’s a pretty decent food”, Greg said as he cursed himself again.  “What do you think I should try”, he asked, hoping to get back into her good graces.

sushi“Oh, I’ve always been a fan of their California rolls.”

A kind force must have been looking over Greg, for the waiter returned before Greg could blurt out a clumsy joke about Rolls Royce cars.

“What do you say, Greg?  Shall I order us up two plates?”

Greg nodded, watching as Sophia went to work.  He stared at her and soon noticed that he was unable to keep up with her orders.  A blur of high-society words came into their conversation as the woman about town and the experienced waiter bandied back and forth about various side dishes, fish freshness, and wine pairings.  Greg found himself blinking again and pulled out a piece of paper.  Holding the cheat-sheet just under the table cloth on his lap, he skimmed the list for any question that might spark a conversation.

“I really think you’ll enjoy the food here”, Sophia offered as the waiter returned to the kitchen.

“What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”  Even Greg noticed how awkwardly he had blurted out the question.

A look of confusion came over Sohpia’s face.  There was a definite pause as she took in the question that had been asked of her.

Stupid, Greg.  Put her on the spot before you even know anything about her.  Stupid.

“You’re not going to waste any time are you?  Just jump right in, huh?”  Sophia laughed and pulled her chair in closer.  Greg had thrown down the gauntlet and now Sophia was contemplating picking it up.  “Fair enough; I’ll play along.”

“No, it was an insensitive question.  We can talk about something else.”

“Oh, come on.  This’ll be fun!”  A playful and daring light was obvious in Sophia’s eyes and Greg once again questioned how this had all worked out.  Maybe blind dates aren’t so bad after all?

White_House_Front_Dusk_Alternate“Okay”, Sophia began.  “I’ve got one.  It was a year or two ago and my grandfather was invited to The White House.  You see, he was one of the last living survivors of World War II.  The whole family got to go and we were all so excited.  I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, but I still wanted to look regal, you know?  I wanted to bring the glamor if I was going to meet The President”, she said with a laugh.

“Well, sure”, Greg said in a way that showed he didn’t know what else to say.

“There were a few other families before us.  The Fourth of July is quite a big day around The Oval Office, as you might guess.  All these men in suits with sunglasses, my mom worrying that we were keeping ‘Him’ from running the country.  It was overwhelming, but delightful”, Sophia explained with an unbridled excitement in her voice.

“Anyways, in my attempt to look elegant but still keep Grandma from thinking I was a hussy, I chose this long white dress.  It was sleeveless, flowing, and I paired it with what I thought were a classy pair of sandals.  You have to plan these things just right, don’t you?”

“Of course”, Greg answered.  Be agreeable.  Forget the fact that this woman has met The President while you were probably home drinking a beer and watching pay-per-view.  Just smile and nod.

“In all the waiting around, wouldn’t you know it?  I had to go to the bathroom.  The assistants were all perfectly nice and they showed me the way.  I was about to go in the door when along comes The First Lady!  I mean, of all people!  Secret Service wanted me to wait but The First Lady wouldn’t hear of it.  She looped her arm around mine and pulled me in.  After I had taken care of things, I tried to leave as quickly as possible.  I mean, I couldn’t maintain my composure at being in the same room with her!  Could you?”

“Not likely”, Greg answered.  Thankfully, the food had appeared with surprising quickness.  Greg started to put food in his mouth so the temptation to say something stupid would be lessened.

“She stops me, and she tells me how great it is that I’m there.  She appreciates how I’m setting an example for the younger generation and goes on about how much she likes my attire.  I of course have no idea what she’s talking about.  I was there for Grandpa, not myself.  I asked her what she meant.  And are you ready for this?  She thought I was Wonder Woman!  Apparently she mistook my dress for a toga.”

“Mmm”, Greg murmured as he chewed eagerly on his food.  He could understand The First Lady’s mix-up.

“I didn’t know what to do.  I tried to explain that I wasn’t a model or an actress or anything.  I was just a granddaughter!  But how do you explain to the most important woman in the country that she’s mistaken?  Then she took me out to the reception room and told all these dignitaries’ kids that I was Wonder Woman.  That I was there just for them on the special holiday!  I turned beat red when my Grandpa arrived and we had to sort the whole thing out.  The First Lady had a great sense of humor about it though.  She wouldn’t stop apologizing and we laughed about it for quite a time after.  But being introduced by Wonder Woman; it was all so embarrassing.  I still have a picture of The President, The First Lady and myself at home.”

“That’s quite a story”, Greg said as he finished off the last of his rolls.

“How’s the fish?”

“Quite good”, Greg replied.

“And you?”  Sophia reached for her plate as she prompted Greg.  “What’s your tale societal woe?”

“I have to think about that for a moment”, Greg said as he scooped up the green pile from his plate and thrust it into his mouth without a thought.

“Greg!”

There was a moment of calmness.  To be truthful it was more of a millisecond.  In that infinitesimally minute amount time, Greg was confused.  He saw a shocked expression come across Sophia’s face.  He felt the green paste land on his tongue and do something to his taste buds.  Then, scant seconds later, all the sound and sights in the room vanished as all his senses turned toward his mouth.  All he could feel was the excruciating pain that overcame his mouth.  His tongue was on fire.  His eyes watered, trying to douse the inferno that had when his lips had closed and the fork had wisely retreated.  It was in that formerly calm moment that Greg learned what a heaping mound of wasabi would do to a man.

“Aaaaah!!!”  Greg screamed as the agony became too much for him.  He clamped his hands on to the table, pulling the tablecloth towards him as he reached for anything that might bring him relief.  He spat the green offender out and chugged down the water that had been four gallons short of what he needed to put out the blaze on his tongue.  He chugged down the wine and felt a sense of relief coming.  The worst of it was over, but a painful tingling remained in his mouth.

There, on the formerly pristine tablecloth, lay the aftereffects of what had just happened.  In a big white circle, surrounded by crystal glasses and fine cutlery was a green blob, now looking rather disturbing and on display for the world to see.  Many of the surrounding patrons took up the invitation and craned their necks; gasping and chuckling were audible from nearby.

Sophia’s eyes grew wide while Greg’s still welled up from the sensory overload.  Neither of the two could take their gaze off of that wasabi bull’s eye on the giant target before them.

“Huh”, Sophia finally replied.  “Guess we now your most embarrassing moment, don’t we?”

Dexter and The Desk of Doom

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them

Dexter and The Desk of Doom

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” -Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10

Dexter always considered himself a nice enough fellow.  He was pleasant to folks at work, tried to control his temper with customers, and generally didn’t destroy anything within his reach.  All in all, his was a quiet and well-mannered existence.  Little did he know, it would be a simple desk would task him and his patience.

Looking back on the event, Dexter could have said it was Nikki’s fault.  Nikki worked with Dexter and she had a certain effect on him.  Nikki was a very remarkable woman.  She was older, naturally kind, and quite lovely.  There were plenty of women around that had a nice smile, average height, and dressed in a professional, but not off-putting manner.  Though somehow, Nikki pulled it off better than others.  Dexter had befriended Nikki around work and the two made a habit of going for coffee whenever their schedules allowed it.  Most days Dexter just enjoyed her company.  However, there were days when she would laugh just so at one of his jokes when I wanted very much to impress her.  He didn’t want to rush things; theirs seemed to be a workplace friendship.

The desk changed all that.  Nikki had just moved into a new place.  Dexter had secretly hoped that she would ask him to help move so they could at least have some time together without a time clock ticking away.  She hadn’t, but now she had a task just for him.  She had gone shopping at a store and purchased a few things.  Nikki asked if he wouldn’t mind coming over and helping her with some assembling.  Dexter brightened at the opportunity to assist this lovely woman.  They made plans to build and have some dinner at Nikki’s place on Friday night.  “This’ll be fun”, Dexter offered. 

A few days later, work had been finished for the week and Dexter had driven Nikki home.  It had been a rather agreeable commute.  The cars themselves had been rude and plentiful, but that just gave the two more time to talk.  Nikki regaled Dexter with memories of summers in Louisiana as a small kid while Dexter discussed the bike trip across country that had gone horribly wrong.  Soon enough, they were in Nikki’s fifth floor apartment.  She excused herself to change out of her work clothes while Dexter was shown her office.

The box looked entirely harmless.  There was no indication from its rather bland white-cardboard exterior that any trouble would be had.  The only markings on the box were a glued-on piece of paper that showed a simple desk standing peacefully in a model room; flowers and a few perfectly organized notebooks lay about.  The box promised nothing but tranquility. 

Dexter took off his jacket, tossed it in the corner, and laid the box on the floor.  He took out his car key and sawed through the plastic band that held the box closed.  He lifted the lid, tossed it across the room, and was introduced to the pieces of wood that aspired to be a household decoration.  It all looked simple enough.  There were three large planks of wood, a few shorter pieces for the shelves, and a rather unimpressive bag of screws and a few quickly-fabricated, single-use tools.

Nikki reappeared, wearing jeans and a college sweatshirt.  She asked if he needed her help and Dexter confidently replied that he should be okay.  Nikki apparently expected this response for she told him she had started some water boiling and she was going to get dinner started.  He nodded, assured her he would ask for help if the situation demanded it, and then watched her leave the room.  With a sigh, he returned to the task at hand.

At the onset, the task proceeded as planned.  The right desk leg inserted neatly into the top right side main plank exactly as the instructions had stated.  Dexter took a handful of screws and tightened them.  Then he went to work putting the left desk leg in.  Again, everything proceeded fine.  As Dexter started to put the tracks for the sliding keyboard shelf in, the complications set in.

 Dexter stood the desk up and found that the two legs alone didn’t provide much in the way of stability.  However he was sore from sitting in the same position and thought the desk would hold shape long enough for him to screw in the metal tracks.  The cracking sounds that started to come from the right desk leg proved him wrong.  He heard the screws trying to pull free and quickly set the desk flat on the floor.  He looked at the damage, decided it wasn’t considerable, and then went back to work.

The sliding tray was a snug fit, to put it mildly.  When he looked back at the instructions, Dexter found he was supposed to assemble the tracks before he put the second leg on.  He rolled his eyes, annoyed at the inconvenience, and took the left leg off.  After a few minutes of putting the tracks on and adding the supports for future shelves, Dexter reattached the left leg.  Nikki returned and asked how it was going.  She saw the pile of wood taking on a three-dimensional shape and congratulated him on his progress.  Dexter admitted that there had been a surprise or two, but it was coming along.  Nikki went back to the kitchen to stir the pasta.

Adding the sliding tray to the desk filled Dexter with confidence and he felt sure that the desk would stand on its own much better this time.  He lifted the desk so that its legs stood on the floor.  Suddenly, the left leg started to excuse itself.  Dexter rushed to lay the desk back on the carpet, but the leg was too fast for him.  It gave the same cracking noise as before, but this time from another screw.  Once again flat on the floor, Dexter discovered what had gone wrong.  When he had put the leg back on, he had accidently used one of the shorter screws instead of the long ones and the leg had pulled it loose.  He replaced the screw with the right size one, reassessed the damage, and continued on. 

Had the desk been a one layer piece of furniture, things would have ended well enough.  The desk would not have been perfect, but it would have functioned.  However, much to Dexter’s chagrin, there was a second level.  There was to be a shelf that allowed for compartments along one side and over the top of a computer monitor.  Nikki came in and asked how much longer he needed since dinner was ready.  Dexter, beginning to feel frustrated, was conflicted.  He could probably use a break, and he certainly didn’t want to keep Nikki waiting, but he knew if he stopped he would never want to return.  He knew it was especially true with Nikki as his conversation partner.  “Would you mind if I took just a little more time with this?”

After Nikki had excused herself to go pay some bills, Dexter shifted up a gear.  He looked at the instructions with fierce intent.  He laid out all the pieces that he would need for the second phase of his mission.  He stayed kneeling over his work on the floor, determined not to assemble the two pieces until he was sure that the top shelves were all combined and stable.  Twenty minutes later, everything had gone according to plan.  To be safe, and since it was her furniture that he was building, Dexter called in Nikki for a little help.  She hurried in, happy to be of some assistance.  The two of them pushed the pieces together and got ready to affix the top shelves to the lower half.  It was then that Dexter realized that he couldn’t get to the screw holes with the top shelf fully assembled.  He would either have to undo the top part entirely, or take off the legs and the sliding shelf for a third time. 

Dexter felt his vein pop out of his forehead.  Whenever he had a customer that overly irked him, underwent long periods of exercise, or had to talk to his brother on the phone, the vein appeared over his right eye and shot up to his scalp.  The vein was in full bloom.  He decided that the main plank and its legs had suffered enough, so with a quick swear word he started to take apart the top section. 

“Do you want to take a break?”  Nikki’s voice was calm and understanding, but Dexter didn’t respond.  She reached over and put her hand on his shoulder.  Surprised at the soft touch, Dexter stopped and looked at her.  “Dexter, it’s fine.” she commented.  “It’ll be fine.”  Dexter sighed, felt his jaw unclench, and relaxed.  The hand on his shoulder made him want to work harder, but less frantically this time.  He nodded to Nikki, gave a small smile, and turned back to the desk.

In no time at all, the two had finished the desk.  Dexter had some scrap pieces of wood in his car and he offered to go down and use them to reinforce the lower pieces.  Nikki said that she appreciated the thought, but insisted that they eat dinner first.  The two laughed and talked, sometimes forgetting the pasta entirely.  They joked about the desk, did their best to forget about work, and found themselves still talking at nine o’clock.  Nikki went to the window and pulled the curtains back.  Dexter took in a marvelous view of the last moments of sunset.  The city and the lake below them were lit up in a wonderful orange-pink glow that offset the surrounding areas of darkness.

Dexter got up and went to the window to join Nikki, but found that she walked back to the kitchen.  Dexter thought that he had misread a social cue and wondered if he should apologize for crowding her.  But Nikki returned with two wine glasses in her hand.  She gave one to Dexter, took a sip from her glass, and let her head rest on his shoulder.  “Thanks for coming over tonight”, she said quietly.  “I like having you here.”

“Thanks for being patient with me.  Sorry my construction skills are little… um…”

“Creative?” she offered.

“Something like that”, he replied.Image

“We’ll call it practice”, Nikki said kindly.  “We still have one more to go.”

“Wait, what?”  Dexter was confused.

“Yeah, no one’s going to look under that desk.  It’s the dining room table that will be out here for people to see.”  Nikki pointed to an imposing box taking up half of the opposite wall.  “Remember, I said I had some tables I’d like help with; plural.  I could have built that little desk myself.”

Dexter felt like he was going to cry.  Then an idea struck him.  “What if I come over tomorrow?  Then we could spend the day, take our time with it; maybe talk a walk after?”

Nikki lifted her head off Dexter’s shoulder and smiled.  “I think that’s a pretty solid idea.”

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