Steve owns a couple of other houses in addition to the chalet where he and I work together.
(That’s right. I just used the word chalet. Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing.)
One of the properties is a recent purchase of which Steve’s very proud. A modest yet stately dwelling in the historic district, which he intends to rent out as a vacation home.
I know he’s spent months putting his own personal touch on every last detail of its renovation, and now he calls me and asks me to meet him there.
“Why?” I ask.
Despite my being employed by him, Steve and I have spent the past several weeks sequestered from each other, and I think that things are going really well.
“I need your help with something, darling.”
In early spring, Steve insisted I drive up to his house on the pretense that he had work for me to do, deceitfully telling me there was only an inch or so of snow on the treacherous mountain roads that lead me to him.
I should have known better—there was easily four inches in town. But I have a certain soft spot for men, and occasionally I listen to them.
Despite putting my Jeep in four-wheel drive and executing some impressive (or hysterical) turns-of-the-wheel, I still wound up in the babbling brook the side of the road. I am of course exaggerating when I say that an avalanche of snow soon covered my car, but let’s go with it. My phone didn’t work and I was wearing my favorite high-heeled boots and a song from my adolescence came on the radio, and somewhere in the less functional part of my brain, crying presented itself as a viable solution.
In time Steve showed up, maneuvered his way around the car to gallantly open my door and offer me his hand.
And say, “It’s going to be okay, darling.”
And it was. It was more than okay.
Because that’s the kind of guy Steve is.
The kind of guy that rescues me from disasters of his own nefarious design.
And fluffs up the delicate pillow onto which my head falls by calling me darling in the process.
“So you’ll meet me there? At the new house?” he asks now.
I inhale slowly, stand, look out my bedroom window.
In two days, Steve is going to be helicoptered into a remote canyon so that he and his buddies can raft a near-legendary stretch of river. He told me himself that he would feel blessed to die in just such a scenario, to not have to grow old and weak.
“Sure,” I agree, with an exhale.
So I drive innocently (or not) to Steve’s new house, parking on a side street so that I can apply lipstick and spend some time talking to myself in the mirror. But at the last minute, it turns out I’ve got nothing to say.
The house is a yellow two-story with a wrap-around porch that reminds me of how life is supposed to be in the south, and in my nervousness to see Steve, I accidentally create a storyline and go into a southern belle character on the walk across its lawn.
I imagine that, upon my approach, Steve will direct me to a set of wicker rockers in the shade and offer me a mint julep. And I’ll say something like, “My stars…” and hold the frosty glass against my lightly perspiring, bare cleavage.
Steve is sitting on the stairs in that broad-legged way confident men sometimes do.
When I walk up in real life.
“My stars…” I say, apropos of nothing.
He looks up. His skin is much more tanned since the last time I saw him, and he’s wearing new sunglasses. He looks good, and for a minute I want to go back to the car for my sunglasses, too, because I’m really not sure I’m ready for a face-off without them.
Steve rises, and neither of us knows what to do. He’s not sure where things stand between us either, apparently.
And it’s in that moment of awkward pause that I notice Steve’s hair. He’s got it all nicely combed down, which I’ve never seen. It reminds me of Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, when his mom does his hair for picture day. Which is not only hilarious, but also adorable.
So it’s then that I finally laugh and give Steve the briefest of hugs.
And just like that, I’ve set the mood. We are not going to make ourselves uncomfortable by reviewing some interactions that should or should not have happened weeks ago in the woods. No. We are going to choose denial and move forward in a professional, mutually-agreed-upon distortion of the truth.
It’s marvelous, being shallow.
“So why am I here?” I ask Steve.
“I’ve got my first tenants coming in this month,” he says. “I’m not expecting any trouble, but if anything happens, I can’t be reached. I was hoping you could act as point of contact for me.”
As odd as it may seem, I don’t recognize this as the bullshit it is until much later.
Steve nods, places his hand on my shoulder.
“Let me just show you the house,” he says.
Steve has put in a lot of work into this place, and it’s nice to see what good taste he has and how it manifests in real estate. The custom lighting he’s installed and the wall colors he’s chosen and the furnishings with which he’s adorned the rooms and the …
“It’s the master bedroom,” he tells me, having opened the tall double doors.
We both stand there, in the entry. A gorgeous bed stands before us, beckoning.
“I soundproofed the walls.”
I can’t go in, because I know what will happen if I do, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for that.
All Steve has to do is initiate a move in my direction of less than an inch — turn his head ever so slightly towards me, say — and the rest will happen on its own.
But for some reason, he doesn’t.
We’re both frozen, looking at the bed where our bodies could be.
And it’s not going to happen.
He shuts the bedroom doors on our moment.
“So that’s the house,” he says.
“It’s quite a house,” I say.
And we both make haste back to the porch.
* * *