Taylor reached down to the crotch of his shorts and adjusted, tugging at the navy fabric. Once he was satisfied with the location of his junk, he pulled down his T-shirt.
One arm was propping his head as he sat with his eyes glued on the screen.
Just as the rescue ship crashed and Ripley was apologizing to Newt, Taylor put our jeans in the dryer and started a new load in the washer. He returned to the couch, repeating Newt’s line with a perfect young girl’s British accent, “‘They mewstly come at night … mewstly.’”
I chuckled, but he ignored me, not saying another word until the end credits.
My eyes were heavy. I was feeling the effects of a long Saturday on my feet.
“You’re right,” he said, standing up. “It’s a classic.”
“It might take a while to get all those jeans dry,” I said.
Taylor opened the dryer door and checked. “Yep, still damp.” He turned the knob to reset the time, and then he stretched out on the sofa again, his eyes blinking twice before they closed.
He shook his head, his eyes still closed. “I’m even doing your damn laundry. You could at least let me take a nap between loads.”
“I’m going to bed soon. You can’t be here while I’m sleeping.”
“I’m still not convinced that you aren’t a serial killer.”
“You think I just wanted to wait to murder you until after we enjoyed a movie together? I hate to break it to you, Ivy League, but I don’t need to wait for you to fall asleep to overpower you. You might be scrappy, but I’ve got at least fifty pounds of muscle on you.”
“I’ll give you that. You still can’t stay here. Just because you don’t want to sexually assault me doesn’t mean you don’t want to rob me.”
He shot me a dubious look. “Sorry, but I don’t need your retro Zenith. I have a badass seventy-two-inch flat screen on my wall at home.”
“Yep. I’ve thought about moving here a few times, but all my buddies and my brother are living either there or in Fort Collins. But it seems like the Alpine group always ends up here.”
“One of your brothers lives in Estes?”
“Yeah.” His voice strained as he stretched. “We’ve always been kind of inseparable. I have two brothers back in Illinois and one in San Diego.”
I paused. “Do you ever go home?”
“As much as I can. Between fire seasons.”
“Yeah. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays. My baby brother got married this past spring, kind of on the fly. They’re planning a real ceremony on their anniversary, after the bachelor party and stuff. I’ll be going back for that for sure.”
“The second ceremony? I guess her best friend was kind of pissed that she wasn’t invited to the first one.”
“So … you went to the same college in the same town where you graduated high school?”
“Yes, Falyn. What insult would you like to issue for that?”
“None. It’s cute. I imagine that it’s a little like high school but with less rules.”
“Isn’t that what college is anyway?”
“Not really. But I went to Dartmouth.”
I nuzzled my cheek against the arm of the chair, utterly content with how mean we were being to each other. Taylor began tapping at his cell phone, and I relaxed, feeling like an invisible one-hundred-pound blanket was draped over me.
I woke up to the morning sun pouring through my windows. My mouth tasted like a cat had pissed in it while I slept.
“Hey,” Taylor said, sitting in the center of the sofa, surrounded by piles of folded clothes. “Do you have to work today?”
“Not this week. It’s my day off,” I said, groggy. When my brain began to work again, I blinked and then glared at the man folding my unmentionables. “Why are you still here?”
“I did the rest of our laundry, and then I fell asleep. You woke me up a couple of times though. Do you have bad dreams like that a lot?”
Taylor hesitated. “You had some pretty gnarly dreams. You were crying in your sleep.”
I hadn’t had a nightmare in years, not like I had while I was at Dartmouth. My former roommate, Rochelle, would still talk about how I’d terrified her in the middle of the night.
I looked at the delicate cotton in his hands. “Put down my panties. Right now.”
Taylor tossed them into the basket with the rest of my panties. Most of them were the discount-store printed variety. On certain pairs, the elastic hung loose in fuzzy strings from the waistline or leg holes.
“This is the last load,” he said, gesturing to the basket between his ankles. “Socks and panties.”
“Oh my God,” I said, rubbing my face. “You’re going to make me do the walk of shame in front of all my coworkers and customers.”
“Chuck and the boys will still see you.”
“What time do they open on Sundays?”
“Chuck and Phaedra are pretty much always at the café—from sunrise to sunset.”
“How do you have any privacy?”
I blew my bangs from my face. “I didn’t need any until now.”
“I’ll fix it. I know what to do.”
Taylor gathered his laundry, fitting it all perfectly inside of the lone basket he’d brought, and waved at me to follow him downstairs. We stood at the bottom in full view of the retirees who always stopped at the Bucksaw on Sundays for coffee, all my coworkers, a few local families, and a table full of tourists.
Kirby stopped in her tracks, and so did Hannah. Phaedra noticed them staring, so she whipped around, her mouth falling open. The loud rumble of converging conversations abruptly silenced.
Taylor cleared his throat. “I didn’t touch her. She’s too fucking mean.”
He passed me, heading for the front door, and I watched him, trying to kill him with my expression alone.
Kirby burst into laughter. She was still cackling as Taylor waved at her before walking out onto the front sidewalk. Phaedra tried not to smile, but her deep wrinkles betrayed her. Hannah seemed just as stunned as I was.
“Thank you,” I said through my teeth. Then I stomped back up the stairs.
I stopped before turning down the hall and looked down at her.
“I know,” I grumbled, taking my coffee to the loft.
I exploded through my door and kicked it shut before leaning against the side of the refrigerator. When I felt angry tears burning my eyes, I set the coffee on the kitchen counter and then rushed to my bedroom, reached for the shoebox, and pulled it onto the bed with me.
The most recent letter was on top of the others, and beneath it was the stack of cash I’d saved so far for a plane ticket. I held the notebook paper to my chest and took a deep breath. The carefully scripted loops and lines informing me of everything I had missed was nearly four months old, and it would only grow older.