All Mia could say was that Rafferty owed her big time after today. She had just spent the entirety of her Tuesday off moving his stuff from one place to another. It was only six blocks, but it seemed like it was across the country. On top of moving, he hadn’t packed many of his things beforehand, so she had to do that, too.
Fortunately, she had Ruth’s help for some of it since Anderson had volunteered her. She wasn’t happy about it and made everyone know it. Most of the comments made Mia laugh at her friend. The woman wasn’t Rafferty’s biggest fan, but Mia was sure she was just doing it out of habit.
The guys were getting the last load of stuff as Mia and Ruth unpacked boxes in the kitchen. Ruth was taking stuff out of boxes and putting them on the counter, and Mia was finding homes for the items in the recently cleaned cabinets. It was up to Mia because she owned a café. Ruth promised she would set up his office. Which she wouldn’t—he didn’t have one in the old house or in the new one.
“Do you wish you had bought the house?” Mia asked Ruth.
Ruth looked around and said, “No, I like my place. It’s more airy. Less confined.”
Mia looked around. Ruth was right, her apartment was open concept, but this place had a room for every individual space, making it seem smaller. But Mia loved it, you could close off the mess when people came over. Unlike her own place that had no good hiding place for boots and coats when guest come and you don’t want them to know you already have a guest.
She wondered how Rafferty had found his things after she had left on Thanksgiving night. Not that she had asked him. She didn’t care that much.
“I like it. And I love the woodwork.” She looked at the dark wainscoting on the walls. It was in almost every room. She wondered if Rafferty was going to paint since he hadn’t had time before he moved in.
“It’s really dark in here,” her friend said, looking around herself.
“I guess,” Mia said, but she loved it. It was everything she had always imagined the inside would look like. She had always loved the outside, and now she loved the inside even more. She just wished there was less Rafferty in it.
“How is the Christmas thing coming?” Ruth asked.
“It’s called the Winter Carnival, and you know it. We’re raising money for a new gym floor, and it’s going better than expected for the first year.” Mia had started planning this event in September, and it was coming together wonderfully. And she had added the tree lighting since Rafferty had suggested it. In fact, the high school choir had taken over, and they sang carols every night as the lights came on. It was simply amazing.
Not that she was giving Rafferty all the credit, but it was a good idea. If she had stayed awake to watch the end of the movie, it would’ve been her idea anyway. And now she was paying for it by finding a home for all his two spatulas. How does a person live with only two spatulas? She had close to a dozen, which is maybe more than a single person needs, but she had yet to not have one when she needed it.
“The gym does need a new floor. Do you think you’ll get enough money?” Ruth asked.
“I think we’ll come close,” Mia said, adding the one broken wooden spoon to the spatula’s lonely drawer.
“We’ll have to visit when you have the numbers. See what can be done.” Ruth said innocently.
Mia smiled at her friend. She was always willing to donate as much as she could for anything happening around town. But she never made a fuss about it and never wanted people to know it was her. Mia knew for a fact that if she had just gone into the rental office and asked for the full amount, Ruth would’ve written the check. But she didn’t want to take advantage of her friend like that.
“I’ll do that,” Mia said, putting the plates in a cabinet that seemed right for them. Rafferty could move them later if he wanted to.
“So, Mia, why are you helping Rafferty today?” Ruth asked.
“Because he’s going to help me move when I go.” It was, after all, the reason. Not that she had wanted to see Rafferty again, and not at her workplace. “I’m moving a few hours away and need his pickup. My car will only hold so much.”
Ruth chuckled quietly. “You mean in three weeks or so? How’s that going?”
“I might have it figured out,” Mia hedged, hating that Ruth was seeing her plans to leave as a joke. An unobtainable joke.
She knew she would never be out of this town on her timetable and would have to move her exit date. She just hadn’t figured out when her new date was going to be. Not another year, that was for sure. Just another few months.
“I think he got the better part of this bargain. You had to pack and unpack for him,” Ruth said, adding a few more glasswares to the counter. What he lacked in utensils he made up for in glasses.
“I think so too.” She put the new glasses with the others. “How are you doing?”
Ruth stopped working completely and sat down on the loan barstool. “Good, I had my appointment with Mandy this morning. I wasn’t just avoiding this project, but I was a little.”
“And?” Mia grabbed another box from the floor.
Shrugging, Ruth said, “Things are going as expected. But I think something is up with Mandy.”
“Me too. She hadn’t been herself for a few months. I’m going to dig into it after the holidays. She’s always had a hard time with the holidays.” Mia didn’t want to go into her cousin’s past since, in reality, Mia didn’t know all of it. Some things the sisters kept to themselves about their kids. Mandy’s issues were one of them.
“I don’t know her all that well, but I just feel she’s not the same as she was a few months ago when book club started.” Ruth tossed the newly emptied box and tossed it toward the corner.
“I know. I’ve known her forever.” She picked up a pile of straws, looked at them, and added them to the spoon drawer, then moved them to the cabinet with the cups. In reality, she had no idea where straws went. “What are you and Anderson going to do for Christmas? It’s your first one.”
Ruth nodded. “Yes, it is. We are going to go to his parents and stay overnight with them. Then come back and spend the day with my mom.”
“Are you going to get together with Rafferty?” Mia added another pile of plates to the other set. How many plates does a single man need? But then again, if he wanted a plate for every glass at a party, he was covered. On the other hand, if all his guests wanted to eat, they would have to share forks.
“No,” was all Ruth said.
“Why? He’s family,” Mia pointed out since they were alone.
“Because we’re not really a family. We’re just related.” It seemed Ruth didn’t want to talk about it.
Mia grabbed a stack of pans from the counter and found a lower drawer to put them in. From her position on the ground, she looked up at her friend, who was actually her secret sister-in-law. Sometimes, Ruth was a little mean to her secret brother. If she would just let the past be the past, she could be friends with the man. Her husband was already friends with him, so it seemed like it would be easy to Mia.
“Fine.” Putting her hands up in surrender, she wasn’t going to push it. She didn’t need Ruth to get suspicious of her feelings for Rafferty.
“So, how are things going with you and Rafferty?” Ruth handed Mia more pans.
“What does that mean?” Mia asked. Did she know? Had she known the entire time? Why didn’t she ever say anything?
“Here you are, helping him for no reason,”
“He’s helping me later,” Mia focusing on putting the pans away.
“We all know he’ll back out of that,” Ruth stated with authority, as if she knew Rafferty better then Mia did.
“No, he won’t.” She shook her head There was no way he was getting out of helping her. No way.
“He’s Rafferty. He doesn’t change.”
It was the truth. It was Mia’s biggest issue with him and the reason she had been avoiding him for months. Because he was a playboy, just playing with her. And when he was done playing, she would be heartbroken. Even if k!ssing him made her insides turn to jelly.
“I know. Rafferty is … Rafferty,” Mia stated as the man in question came in the front door, yelling about having gotten it all.
Mia’s eyes met Ruth’s, and they laughed as they went out to see what the excitement was about. The guys were lugging in Rafferty’s couch. It looked heavy, but not heavy enough to where Mia thought she should help. Instead, she directed them to put it facing the fireplace.
“No, I want it looking at the TV stand,” Rafferty said, pulling it the other way.
“No, looking at the fireplace. Anderson, turn it this way,” Mia said sternly.
“Mia,” Rafferty grunted, still holding up the couch.
“Rafferty.” She stared him down, not caring.
“I’m just going to move it when you leave,” he told her, reminding her whose house they were at.
“Then maybe I’ll never leave, so you can’t ever move it!” she yelled as Anderson set his end down and Rafferty pulled his end a foot, and then dropped it in anger.
Turning his anger on his friend, he said, “Anderson, why did you drop it?”
Anderson took a step away from the couch and held up his hands, “I’m not carrying around a couch while you two fight about it.”
“Anderson’s on my side,” Mia stated smugly.
“I’m not on anyone’s side, and I’m not carrying that thing any further.” Anderson said.
Mia walked over to it and pushed it so that it was facing the fireplace, then sat down. When she had envisioned the room the first time she walked into the house, the couch was facing the fireplace. So, while she was there, this is how it was going to be.
“I can move it with you on it.” Rafferty flicked her ear from behind her.
“No, you can’t. I’m too fat.” She covered her ears, so he couldn’t do it again.
“Okay, love. Time for us to go,” Anderson said to his wife.
“No, we’re not done yet,” Mia said from the couch, not getting up.
“We decided this morning that when you two started fighting, we’d leave,” Ruth stated as she walked toward the door.
“Anderson thought we would be done by noon. It’s almost five, so you two lasted way longer than we thought you would.”
“Ruth owes me money. I said you would last longer than noon, but seriously. I’m surprised you too lasted this long.” Anderson took his wife’s hand and headed to the door.
“You can’t abandon me! You still have stuff in your pickup,” Rafferty argued as he follow them out the door.
Once they were gone, she laid down on the couch. It had been a long day of lifting and carrying. Tomorrow, her body was going to be sore. And since Rafferty was trying to keep his help here, she was going to rest. Maybe when he came in, he would get her something to drink.
A few minutes later, he came stomping in, carrying a box. Mia didn’t open her eyes when he dropped it on the floor in a huff. Nor did she for the next five loads. She heard them, but that was all.
“Are you going to help anymore?” he asked on the sixth load.
“Sorry, holding down the couch,” she answered, not opening her eyes but hearing him leave again.
“What if I promise not to move the couch today?” he asked on the seventh load.
“Still a no-go, but you need to shut the door between loads. It’s getting chilly in here.”
He was again gone.
“Are you awake?” he asked, but this time, he wasn’t by the door. He was very near her.
Opening her eyes, she saw he was standing behind the couch, looking down at her. His blue eyes ran up and down her body. “No, I’m not sleeping.”
“Yes, you were.”
“No, just relaxing. I’ve been worked to the bone today.” She muffled a yawn.
“Thank you for helping me.”
“Just remember, you owe me now. Any day, any time,” Mia stated with a smile.
“Who can forget?”
“You can. Can you get me something to drink?” She waved her hand at the kitchen, not telling him where she had put the glasses. He needed to figure that out himself.
“What do you want?”
“A beer. The expensive stuff; not what you served at lunch. You should be ashamed, Rafferty. We all know that you have good beer,” Mia complained.
Smirking, he said, “I always keep the good stuff for myself.”
“Are you going to paint in here?” she asked, letting that statement go.
“Yes, wife. What color do you want?” he asked, heading for the kitchen.
“Stop that. “She said, but then gave her opinion anyway, after all he probably had no idea what colors to go with, and the walls were right now a bizarre greenish-yellow color, “I would go light. Mostly some shade of off-white.”
“Are you going to help me pick out paint?” he asked as he set her beer down on a box he’d moved close to the couch.
“I don’t have time. Through Friday night, I’m busy with the carnival,” she explained as she sat up and took a drink of the beer, then held it so she could lean back into the couch again.
“How about Saturday?” He sat down next to her.
“Can’t, I have a date in Grand Forks,” she said. Shit, she wasn’t going to tell him that.
“A date or a date?” he asked with a frown.
“Kind of blind date,” she admitted as he took her beer from her hand.
“Who is my wife blind dating?” he asked, taking a drink of her beer—a big one.
“A friend of Ruston’s. They’ve been trying for weeks to make this happen, and I’ve been putting it off.” She took her beer back and held it away from him. Wondering why he was so upset with her dating. It wasn’t like their marriage was real.
“Because you’re married?” he asked, still angry.
“No, because I really didn’t feel like it. I met the guy a few weeks ago, and Hazel said he’s interested in dating, but I’m just not feeling it.” Maybe the connection wasn’t there because she had been married for over a month now, and it was feeling more real than she’d liked to admit. Or at least real enough that dating seemed like something she shouldn’t be doing.
“So, you’re going on a date as a married woman?” He wouldn’t let it drop.
“Yup. It’ll get Hazel off my back for a while at least.” She admitted the real reason for saying yes as she finished the beer and put it back on the box at her feet. Who knew Hazel could be such a nag? And what was she supposed to say? I can’t go out with this guy because I’m married and it feels weird?
“So, you don’t want to date him? Because you’re madly in love with your husband?” He held out his arms wide for a big hug.
“God, no, I just spent eight hours as his slave and only got a cardboard pizza and cheap beer for my efforts,” she said with a laugh.
“You just drank the best beer in the house.” He pointed to it, but it was empty.
“But only one. The least you could do was have two in the house. If this were my house I would have two.”
Taking the hint, he got up to get her another one. By the time he got back, she was once again lying out on the couch with her eyes closed. She heard him leave the room again, then come back, half expecting him to throw a blanket on her. But instead, she felt his hands slide under her body and pull her into his arms. Then he lifted her into the air.
Her eyes popped open, and she grabbed him around the neck in case he was going to drop her. “What are you doing?”
“If you’re going to sleep, you might as well do it in a bed,” he told her, shifting her slightly.
“You’re not carrying me to bed! Your bed?” she exclaimed.
“Yes I am. You seem tired.” He started up the stairs.
Mia grabbed on to him tighter, knowing he was going to drop her on the stairway. “You’re going to drop me.”
“I’m not.” He tightened his grip on her.
“Yes, you are. I’m fat.” She silently prayed he didn’t drop her on the steps.
“You’re not fat, Mia. You’re perfect.” He made it to the landing with ease.
“I need you to call my mom and tell her that,” Mia whispered, letting go of her worries as they made it to the top of the stairs.
“Any time.” He k!ssed her head. “I’ll tell anyone and everyone how perfect you are.”
Ignoring how his words made her heart sing, she also ignored how him carrying her made other parts of her come to life.
All the way to the master bedroom, he carried her. It was stacked with boxes, and the bed was set up, but there were no sheets or blankets on it, not even a pillow.
“You think I can just sleep on a mattress? No blankets or anything?” she asked, looking around the room, hating that this moment was ruined by a bare mattress.
“Nope, I’ve changed my mind.” He slowly lowered her to the ground, but he held her close to him. “No nap,” he whispered as his head lowered, and his l!ps slid from her cheek to her neck.
“What then?” she asked as if she didn’t already know.
“I’m going to make love to my wife so that she’ll remember me when she’s on her date.” His l!ps moved to hers.
Sighing, she let it happen and slid her arms around his neck. She had wanted Rafferty back in her bed since he’d crawled out of it when she was sixteen. Suddenly, her defenses were lowering, and he had just made it through the walls.
But she needed to think this through before she slept with him again, because sleeping with him back then had been a mistake, and sleeping with him now would be even worse.
Yes, she wanted to sleep with him, but she knew that when she did, she would lose the rest of her heart to him—that little sliver she had been able to hold on to until now would be gone. And then what?
Pushing him away from her, she got herself together. “Rafferty, I’m disgusting. I’m sweaty and dirty and just gross.”
“I happen to like you sweaty and dirty.” He nuzzled her neck.
“I don’t.” She pushed him away.
“Okay, how about you go take a shower, and I’ll make the bed a bit more inviting?”
“Or I could just run home?” she asked, hoping he would just tell her to leave, taking the decision out of her hands completely. Because she didn’t want to leave, not anymore.
“Shower, Mia,” he stated gruffly, and she rushed toward the bathroom, no arguing. But happy for the stall for time. She needed it.