Stroked long, p.21
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       STROKED LONG, p.21

           Meghan Quinn
 

  I dry my hands after all the brushes are on the drying rack and then quickly take the sprayer and rinse the sink. I have no clue what I’m doing for the rest of my day. I was looking forward to hearing about that seamstress job, but I guess I will have to wait a little longer.

  My purse is in a cupboard so when I turn around to grab it, I halt in my position from the sight of Bodi sitting on one of the desks just staring at me.

  With my hand over my heart, I say, “Sweet little Jesus doll, you startled me.”

  A side smile graces his face as he takes me in, his eyes heating me up with his perusal. “Sorry, Rubes.” God, he is so gorgeous.

  “What are you doing just sitting there? It’s kind of creepy you didn’t make yourself known.”

  His face falls and I realize my error. He’s already socially awkward, and probably doesn’t want to be called a creeper.

  I backtrack. “I mean, not a creeper.” So smooth. “Just, you know . . . you scared me.”

  He hops off the table, keeping his distance, and sticks his hands in his pockets. “Sorry.” He’s looking down, like a wounded little boy and instantly my hearts starts to break. Good going, Ruby.

  Needing to comfort him, I eliminate the space between us and wrap my arms around his waist, hugging him tightly. He’s stiff at first but then wraps his burly arms around my shoulders and pulls me in close. “I missed you,” I say into his chest.

  “Yeah?” he asks, his voice becoming less frigid.

  “Yeah. Kind of liked hanging out with you last night.”

  He raises a rakish eyebrow at me. “You only liked the hanging out part?”

  “Yeah, hanging out, you know . . . private parts dangling . . . hanging out.”

  Shaking his head, he says, “You’re such a dork.”

  “And what, you’re Mr. Cool Britches?”

  “Much cooler than you. Who says britches in this era?”

  “Old souls,” I counter. “We need more people like me. People who appreciate the fine things like arts and crafts. Who can sit down and watch an entire musical without looking at their phone. People who prefer a deck of cards over an iPad.”

  Kissing the top of my head, he succumbs. “You’re right about that. Maybe you can start a club for people who like to organize ribbon.”

  “Wouldn’t that be fabulous?”

  “The tits,” he jokingly responds. “What are you doing tonight?”

  Just as I’m about to answer, my phone rings. Putting up my finger, I say, “Hold that thought.”

  The caller ID says it’s my mom and since we are texters a lot of the time, I answer.

  “Hey Mom.” Bodi’s ears perk up from the mention of my mom.

  “Ruby, did you look in the paper today?” She sounds almost erratic, frenzied.

  “No, is everything okay?”

  Instantly alert, Bodi comes over to me and takes my hand, worry etched in his features.

  “Everything is fine. Why would you ask that?”

  “Because you sound like you’re out of breath, and you’re asking me to check the paper.”

  “I just ran up the stairs.”

  “Why would you do that? You don’t run.” And that’s the God’s honest truth. My mom refuses to break a sweat, she believes sweating is for men and pigs. I don’t get the logic. Every human perspires. Hell, my pits are dank just from hearing the frantic tone in my mom’s voice.

  “There are two reasons I run . . .”

  My eyes fly open and my heart pounds in my chest. “Black Friday and Yarn Sale.”

  “And it’s not November.”

  Screaming at the top of my lungs, scaring the ever-living shit out of Bodi, I run in place and throw my hands in the air only to bring the phone back down to my mouth. “Yarn sale!!”

  “Sweetheart, brace yourself. All Red Heart yarn is on sale. Dare I say, even the boutique styles.”

  “Oh. Em. Gee.” I start pacing in the classroom. “Please tell me I can use the twenty-five percent-off coupon I’ve been saving.”

  “Honey,” she pauses, “you can.”

  “Sweet honeyed ham.” I turn to Bodi and say, “I can’t hang out tonight; I have some shopping to do.”

  “Hang out? What are you talking about?” my mom asks.

  “Oh sorry, I was talking to Bodi.”

  And now my mom is screeching in the phone. “You’re with Bodi? Are you two together? Are you an item? Have you kissed him? Oh, put him on the phone. Mommy wants to talk to him.”

  So not going to happen.

  “Yeah, I’m afraid that’s not on the docket for today, but thanks for asking.”

  “I don’t mind talking to her,” Bodi says, clearly able to hear our conversation.

  “Yes, you do,” I inform him.

  “No, I don’t.”

  “You do.” This time when I talk to him I use my stern face.

  Sadly, it doesn’t work.

  “Seriously, I can handle it.”

  “Just give him the phone,” my mom shouts.

  Hating everything about this, I roll my eyes and hand Bodi the phone.

  “Hello, Mrs. Hearts.” From a distance I can hear my mom cooing into the phone only to follow it up with a lecture on how to be nice to her daughter.

  Looking me dead in the eyes, Bodi says, “I have no intention of hurting her, Mrs. Hearts. Okay, yeah. Have a good night as well.” Holding his hand over the phone before handing it over, he says to me, “Grab your purse, we have some yarn shopping to do.”

  ***

  “You hate me, don’t you?”

  “Why would you say that?” Bodi asks, peeking his head over the pile of yarn I’ve forced him to carry.

  “Because I’m using you as a mule. You have yarn coming out of your pockets.” Yes, I stuffed yarn into his pockets. Didn’t mind grazing his tush while doing it. “And for the last five minutes you’ve been patiently waiting, not complaining, while I try to decide between getting white or soft white.”

  “Go with the soft white.” He winks at me.

  Really? This man, how can I not want to jump him right here in the yarn aisle while little old ladies bump elbows to cash in on the mega deal going down in the craft store. The moment my mom mentioned yarn sale, I was gearing up to fight it out on my own but Bodi wouldn’t allow it. I told him multiple times that he didn’t have to go but he refused to see me be thrown defenseless into the seas of canes and dentures.

  All in all, it’s worked out better for me because during a yarn sale I only purchase what I can carry. That way, I don’t get out of hand in my spending, but this go around, with my coupon and a burly man carrying around my yarn, I get to indulge a little.

  “He’s right,” a little old lady with fire-red hair says. Gripping on to Bodi’s bicep, she ogles him. “I’d go with soft white just so I can get home to this fine piece of man.” Snapping her dentures at Bodi, she does a growling sound and then takes off. Did I really just hear a wrinkle sac growl? At Bodi?

  Bodi, the ever so polite man in public, mouths, “What the fuck?” I cover my mouth and giggle from the wide eyes he’s showing under the brim of his A’s hat.

  “Soft white it is.” I tuck two packets into his already full arms. “All right, I think I have all I need.”

  Scanning what we’ve gathered, Bodi asks, “Not that I’m judging you and your craft supplies, but why do you need all this yarn?”

  I place my hands on my hips and tilt my head, scanning Bodi. “Besides the fact that it’s an amazing sale and any idiot would be dumb to pass up on the opportunity to stock up on yarn, my mom and I spend the second half of the year knitting scarves and hats for the Special Olympic athletes around the country.”

  His brow furrows. “What?”

  “Special Olympics, you’ve heard of it, right?”

  “Of course,” Bodi says. “There is a club that comes in on Fridays for pool time. I’ve hung around them a few times, some of the best athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure of swimming with.”


  Be still my heart.

  Do not stick your tongue down this man’s throat in the middle of the yarn aisle. Self-respect, Ruby.

  Clearing my throat, I say, “So you’re familiar. Well, they have winter games every year and just like you, they have an opening ceremony where they conclude with a parade of athletes. Different clubs and regions wear different colors. There is a large group of women who make scarves and hats in the specified colors for the athletes to wear during opening ceremonies. You know . . . since they’re not sponsored by Ralph Lauren.”

  “You really do that?” Bodi asks, almost as if he can’t believe it.

  I shrug. “Yeah. I mean, why not? I think it is a great thing to do.”

  All I receive in response is a curt nod. I can tell he’s thinking something over; what it is, I have no idea, but he’s getting lost in his head, which means he’s retreating. Time to call an end to my yarn shopping. I have plenty of spools to last me quite a long time.

  “I think I’m good. Let’s head to check out.”

  Nodding again, he follows behind me, quiet the whole time as he lugs my yarn around. His silence is eerie, and I’m wondering if I did or said something wrong. Recounting the last five minutes of our conversation, I can’t pinpoint anything. If I wasn’t afraid to scare him away, I would be frustrated. I’ve always been about communication and not closing yourself off, so interacting with Bodi has been difficult. There have been times where I’ve wanted to shake him and ask him what’s wrong, but I know that’s not the way to handle this man. He’s broken—for some reason—and he needs a gentle touch.

  “Wow, you sure are taking advantage of the yarn sale,” the salesperson says as I start to unload Bodi. “What do you plan on making? Baby blankets?”

  I used to work at a craft store, so I know it is always a requirement to ask the customer what they are making. Frankly, I hated it because I either got answers that were sweet like a baby blanket for my new grandson, or I got an answer from one of the closet craft creeps who said they needed to replace the bedazzle on their double-sided dick sling. Don’t even ask. I couldn’t get that image out of my head for a while.

  “Just knitting some scarves and hats.”

  “Do you do craft fairs?”

  “No, she donates them,” Bodi pipes up, pinning the salesperson with a death glare.

  Okay, someone is looking a little psychotic and it’s neither me nor Clark, the poor teenager ringing up the yarn.

  Rubbing Bodi’s arm, I try to ease the tension in his body as Clark finishes up.

  “That will be sixty-one dollars and thirteen cents, ma’am,” Clark says. Forty spools of yarn even on sale puts a slight dent in my grocery shopping money but that’s okay. It’s worth it.

  “I have a coupon.” I hand it over and Clark gives me the updated price.

  I go to swipe my card when a large hand stops me. Looking up at Bodi, who is hovering over me, he says in a rough voice, “I got this,” and then proceeds to hand Clark cash.

  Not bothering with his change, Bodi grabs the bags and heads out of the store.

  Credit card in hand, purse open, and a stunned face, Clark and I both look at each other. Awkwardly, his voice cracks when he says, “Uh, does that man want his change?”

  Looking at Bodi’s retreating back, I shake my head. “Doesn’t look like it.” Patting his hand, I say, “Buy yourself something pretty, Clark.”

  Chasing after Bodi, I meet him at his truck. The bags are loaded, and he’s holding the door open for me. He holds out his hand to help me in but I cross my arms over my chest instead and stare him down.

  “What was that?”

  He actually looks shocked. His eyes widen, he shifts his stance, and his hand rubs the back of his neck. “What was what?”

  “Bodi, you can’t tell me that you don’t realize what you did back there? You completely shut off, snapped at poor Clark, and then stormed out of the store without even getting your change. At least Clark will have some money to get his Crunch Wrap Supreme from Taco Bell tonight.”

  He doesn’t say anything, just continues to rub the back of his neck and avert his eyes.

  “Hey.” I poke him in the stomach. “Bodi, I’m not mad at you. I just want you to talk to me.”

  Sighing, he says, “Can we talk about this in the truck?”

  Knowing he’s a private person, I don’t put up a fight. I allow him to help me into his truck and wait for him to climb in on his side.

  Turning toward me, he grabs my hand and links our fingers together. “You’re too good.”

  “What?” I ask, slightly confused.

  “You’re too good for me, Rubes.” With the hand that’s not holding mine, he pulls on the bill of his hat, clearly struggling with his words. “You have everything in place in your life, you know. You’re a do-gooder, people love talking to you, hell, you stay late at work just to help kids color between the lines. You’re sweet, caring, kind, easy to talk to, and a fucking ball of sunshine.”

  “Should I take that as a compliment?”

  “Yes.” Pulling on his hat some more, he mutters, “Fuck.” Sighing once more, he looks up at me with what looks like desperation in his expression. “Hearing you talk about buying yarn so you can spend your nights knitting for Special Olympic athletes . . . fuck, Ruby, you make me feel inferior.” He’s not mad; his voice isn’t angry whatsoever. He’s more pensive.

  “I make you feel inferior. Uh hello, Mr. Gold Medals.”

  “That’s not—”

  I stop him before he can finish his sentence. “Bodi, you do more for the community than anyone I know.” The man does not understand his worth. “Has it become so routine that you’ve forgotten everything you do? Have you forgotten the countless hours you spend at the club, teaching kids how to swim? Have you forgotten all the hours you’ve spent working on the foundation, the money you’ve donated to different scholarships? Have you become so accustomed to those weekly random acts of kindness that you can’t see the good in them anymore?”

  He bites his bottom lip, not seductively, no, in a little boyish charm kind of way that melts me right on the spot. “I guess it has,” he answers honestly.

  Squeezing his hand, I try to reinforce his character so he gets it through his head. “You’re a good man, Bodi. Don’t downplay your character because you’ve forgotten who you are.”

  He nods and those blue eyes peer up at me from under the shadow of his brim. A tiny smirk crosses his face. “Maybe you can teach me how to knit so I can help you with some of those scarves.”

  I try not to laugh, but it happens anyway. The image of big, muscular Bodi holding some knitting needles is too much of an image to handle.

  “What’s so funny?” He pokes me, and the light in his voice makes my heart sigh. The man is simply too adorable.

  “You want to learn how to knit?”

  He shrugs. “Yeah, why not? It’s better than sitting around watching senseless television. At least I would be doing something for someone other than myself.”

  “And here you felt inferior. It’s thoughts like those that make you the amazing man you are.”

  Rolling his eyes, clearly unable to take a compliment, he asks, “Want to go out to dinner or take something back to your place?”

  “Are you coming over?” I tease. “I was unaware. Not sure if my place is ready for visitors.”

  Glancing over at me, I see a different expression again. The man’s mercurial mood strikes again. Sexy Bodi is irresistible. “Yes, I’m coming over, and I plan on making you come on my tongue at least twice tonight.”

  Sweet Jesus, my thighs are quaking. My Bodi Bear is back.

  ***

  “There is no way you can sing.”

  He arrogantly shrugs, chopsticks in hand, a pile of steamed veggies in the other hand. When he offered to pick up Chinese food, I was bowled over with excitement to watch him dab in some General Tsos, maybe a little Sesame Chicken, but nope. He ordered steamed veggies—gag—and b
oiled chicken—puke. I, on the other hand, showed no mercy to my hips and went with sweet and sour chicken with fried rice, naturally.

  Getting him to dip his pinky nail in my sweet and sour sauce was a task on its own, and there was no way he was eating one of my chickens. This is where you would expect me to say I batted my eyelashes and begged him to try just one teeny tiny bite and he did.

  Nope.

  The man knows how to hold his ground. I even pulled my shirt down lower, you know, show off the old melons—or how I like to pronounce them, mell-oons—but he was not tricked. Maybe if I pulled out the nipple he would have been more eager to take part in the Chinese taste test I was offering. Noted for next time.

  “You’re telling me that you can sit behind a microphone and sing a little ditty and sound good while doing it?”

  “No.” He shakes his head with a mouthful of steamed veggies. “I would never sing into a mic in front of people. Now in the shower, that’s a different story.”

  Makes sense, Bodi doesn’t seem like the type of person to sing the national anthem before a sporting event.

  “But in the shower, do you sound good?”

  He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, a total boyish move but for some reason it turns me on. What the hell is wrong with me? Maybe because I’ve seen him wipe his mouth after going down on me . . .

  Don’t go there, Ruby. I will only end up salivating and dry humping his leg that is extended in my direction.

  “Depends.” He shrugs.

  “How does it depend? You either sound good or you don’t. You can either sing or you can squawk. Which one is it?”

  “Depends on the acoustics of the shower.” He plucks a giant piece of broccoli from his carton and pops it in his mouth, smiling and chewing at the same time.

  “Sooo . . . you can’t sing.”

  “Everyone can sing.” He points his chopsticks at me. “You don’t have to sound good to sing or even be able to talk in order to sing. There are some very beautiful videos I’ve seen of deaf people using sign language to sing a song.”

  Yeah, I’ve seen some of the videos. Along with military coming home to their loved ones, signed-out songs will make me weep like a baby until I’m drowning in my own tears. Real gut-wrenchers.

 
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