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Her halloween treat, p.11
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       Her Halloween Treat, p.11

         Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
 
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  Well, yes.

  Easy question. Easy answer.

  Did she think she should see him again naked?

  Harder question. Harder answer.

  Ohh...harder.

  Stop it, Joey.

  Make decisions with the top half of the body, not the bottom half, she told herself.

  But the bottom half was so much more fun...

  Joey tried to talk some good sense into herself as she walked through the day lodge. Skiing season wouldn’t gear up again for another month or so and the place was eerily quiet. And yet it still bore the distinct and lingering scent of hundreds of teenage snowboarders. The ghosts of winters’ past, both bitchin’ and gnarly. Chris and Dillon were two of those ghosts. Both of them had embraced snowboarding hard their last two years of high school. She’d stuck to regular old-fashioned skis, which actually made sense to her. Plus the snowboarder guys were way too competitive, too intense for her. She’d rather have fun with her friends, ski a little, drink hot chocolate in the lodge instead of risking her neck by trying to prove herself to a bunch of guys she didn’t even like, the ones who called the female skiers “Snow Bunnies.” Well, they were Ski Dicks to her and her friends. Chris and Dillon weren’t Ski Dicks. They were the good guys, although they were pretty ridiculous back then. After a good run, they’d rushed into the lodge, red-faced, sweating, laughing, exhausted, and Dillon would launch into high oratory about his day while Chris stood at his side shaking his head and making the occasional interjection into Dillon’s passionate recital—

  That was a one-eighty, not a three-sixty. Leave the math to me, Dillon.

  No, that was a Saint Bernard, not a bear. Get your fucking eyes checked.

  At no point did you remotely resemble Shaun White in flight, you dipshit.

  This was apparently how male best friends talked to each other. Joey found it quite adorable, except for the unbearable body odor the both of them emitted. She could smell them before she could see them. Thankfully since high school they’d figured out how to work both showers and deodorant. Probably didn’t hurt that she’d given them both an Old Spice gift bag for Christmas that year with a note that said, “Use it, please! For my sake and the sake of all humanity! PS—Merry Christmas. PPS—Not kidding, you stink.”

  Joey laughed to herself as she walked from the ski lodge and toward the hotel. So many good memories. All of her best ones seemed to involve Dillon and Chris. And her parents, too. They’d semiadopted Chris during Dillon’s senior year. Dillon was a prime target for bullying and worse, and Chris was a prime target for suspension or expulsion what with his tendency to throw punches when confronted by Dillon’s tormentors. Her parents wanted to keep an eye on “the boys” as they were always called. Chris slept at their house, ate their food and came with them on all family trips. He’d fit in so well she hadn’t realized how much a part of her everyday life Chris was until he’d graduated high school. Dillon went to college in New York. And Chris just...disappeared.

  Now she knew where he’d gone. Without Dillon and her family around, he’d drifted. He’d failed a little and then succeeded a little and then succeeded a lot. And all on his own.

  And here he was, at age twenty-eight, working at Timber Ridge, which was a National Historic Landmark. How cool was that? She’d had to hire a handyman just to hang the pictures in her Honolulu apartment because she’d been so afraid of damaging the plaster or missing the stud.

  Speaking of studs.

  At the front desk, Joey asked where she could find Chris. Luckily he’d left word that someone might come looking for him. She skipped the slow and ancient elevator that she guessed still worked at the same speed it had when the place opened eighty years ago and instead took the three flights of steps up to the hotel room. Someone had left the door cracked open but yellow caution tape strung across the frame stopped her in her tracks. A sign on the door apologized for the noise. Noise? What noise?

  Joey pushed the door open a few inches, stuck her head inside over the caution tape and saw Chris standing in front of a stone fireplace with a sledgehammer in his hands. He wore safety goggles, knee and elbow pads and a dust mask. He lifted the sledgehammer, turned and swung it hard. The impact was ear-shattering as well as rock-shattering. She jumped, gasped. The fireplace crumbled in a gray waterfall of fractured rock and powder.

  “Wow,” Joey said, and Chris looked over his shoulder. He pushed the dust mask on top of his head and smiled.

  “There’s a word for when you do something violent to make yourself feel better,” Chris said. “Starts with a C? Something Greek or Latin?”

  “Catharsis?”

  “That’s the word.”

  “You needed catharsis?”

  “Kind of, yeah.”

  Yeah, she kind of knew why he needed catharsis. Oops.

  “So...do you feel better now?” she asked. He walked over to her and removed the caution tape to let her inside the room. He shut the door behind them.

  “Much.”

  “Can I try it?”

  “Are you bonded, licensed and insured?”

  “I have health insurance.”

  Chris shook his head. “That doesn’t count.”

  “Fine. I’ll leave the hammering to you.”

  “Good.”

  “That wasn’t a sex joke.”

  “It should have been.”

  Joey nodded as she looked around the room. “Probably was, now that I think about it. Pretty room. Why are you sledgehammering the fireplace?”

  “Mortar cracked a few years ago. Somebody patched it, but they didn’t use refractory mortar like you’re supposed to. So it’s cracking again. Only thing to do is tear it all out and start over.”

  “Looks messy.”

  “Gotta make a mess to clean up a mess sometimes.”

  “There’s a metaphor for life in there,” she said. “My life, probably.”

  She went to the king-size bed, pulled back the dropcloth, and ran her hand over the soft woven covers. Big room. And yet because of all the fir paneling and cedar ceiling beams, it managed to feel cozy and intimate. Almost romantic. Apart from the huge gaping hole in the fireplace mantel.

  “Rough day?” Chris put the head of the sledgehammer on the floor by his foot and he leaned on the handle like a cane.

  “Better day actually. I think. Maybe I was too hasty last night when I said, you know...the plan didn’t work.”

  “You just broke up with the guy. You’re allowed more than a couple days to get over it. A whole week at least.”

  She smiled at him, grateful for his understanding.

  “Six months. Kira ordered me to not do anything drastic for six months after the breakup.”

  “What does she consider drastic?”

  “Cut my hair off. Get a tattoo. Buy a new car I don’t need. Kill someone. Join CrossFit.”

  “Was that list in order of how drastic they are from least to most?”

  “Yeah, pretty much.”

  “Sounds about right. Six months is fair. After my last breakup I nearly bought a motorcycle to feel better. I don’t even know how to ride one.”

  “Why did you want one, then?”

  “Binge-watched Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. I wasn’t in a good headspace so... I know the feeling. It’s okay to take a little time out.”

  “Speaking of time. About last night... As soon as the shock wore off, and maybe the afterglow, it hit me that I’d spent two years of my life with someone who lied to my face every time we were together. I wasn’t crying because I miss him or I want him back. The Ben I thought I loved doesn’t exist. I was crying because, well, I didn’t have a sledgehammer at the time or anything to hit.”

  He looked her. Then he looked out the window. Then he looked at the door.

  “Chris?”

  He walked to the door and locked it before facing her.

  “One,” he said.

  “One what?”

  “You get one. And don’t tell anyone on earth I
let you do this.”

  He hefted the sledgehammer and held it out to her.

  “You’re serious?”

  “Just one. And be careful. Dillon’s already threatened to kill me once today. If you get hurt...”

  “I won’t get hurt.”

  She took the sledgehammer from him with both hands. When she felt its incredible weight she had even more respect for Chris. This thing was seriously heavy. She had to set it back down on the ground again.

  “Here.” Chris put his safety goggles on over her eyes and she adjusted them while he found her a dust mask of her own.

  “Okay, any tips?”

  “You’re right-handed?”

  “Yup.”

  “Grip it so your left hand is at the bottom. Right hand near the head.”

  Joey placed her hands on the handle just so.

  “Hold it tight,” Chris said. “Firm grip.”

  “Got it.”

  “Now run your right hand down and up the handle again.”

  “Chris.”

  “Squeeze it a little. Stroke it. Take your time and make friends with it. Maybe put a little lube on it. Or lick it. That helps.”

  “Chris.”

  “What?”

  “I’m going to swing the thing now.”

  “Swing away.”

  He took a few steps back, then a few more steps back.

  Joey lifted the sledgehammer and held it a moment as she shifted back and forth, trying to find the best angle, the best footing, the best grip. Chris said only one so she had to make this one count. While Joey wasn’t a violent person or a particularly angry person, she did wish sometimes she could take a sledgehammer to all the dishonesty, cruelty and wanton stupidity in the world—especially her own. When she lifted the sledgehammer, she didn’t pretend the stone fireplace was Ben’s face. She just pretended it was her life. And like Chris said, she had to make a mess to clean up a mess.

  With her back taut, her stomach sucked in and her shoulders squared, Joey hoisted the sledgehammer, took aim and swung it with all her might. She made contact with the edge of the stone mantel and felt a vibration from her hands all the way to her shoulders. The noise was brief and horrible and yet oddly satisfying, especially as more rock crumbled to the tarp on the floor.

  She turned around at the sound of Chris slow-clapping.

  “Good job,” he said. “I hope you weren’t pretending that rock was me.”

  “Never.” She handed him the glasses and the mask. The sledgehammer she laid down onto the floor. “Just...my current disaster zone of a life.”

  “Feel better?”

  “A little bit actually. Thanks.”

  “No problem. I think we did enough damage to it with the big guns.”

  “What now?”

  “Crowbar.”

  He dug through his toolbox and pulled out a large iron bar.

  “That looks even more fun,” she said.

  “No.”

  “Spoilsport.”

  “This part is easier to mess up.”

  “I don’t want to mess up the fireplace,” she said.

  “Me, neither. I love this place.” Chris glanced around the room. “People come from everywhere to stay at this hotel. They should get a nice fireplace for their money. It’s cool to think about, you know.”

  “What is?”

  “Making the fireplace as nice as possible for the people who’ll stay here. I won’t even be here, but they’ll be enjoying my work.”

  “A big stone fireplace is pretty romantic,” she said. “How many people do you think have had great sex in this room?”

  “Not enough,” he said, and turned his back to her to work. But she could see he was smiling a little. She liked that smile, liked that she could make him smile. Given the chance, she would make him smile again. Maybe this was her chance.

  While he worked she watched. With the claw end of the crowbar he pried the gray bricks off the wall. They tumbled onto the tarp leaving bare wood and plaster behind. Chris worked quickly and efficiently. He seemed to be completely untroubled by having her as an audience. If she were him, she wouldn’t mind, either. If she could do stuff like this, like rebuilding a fireplace from the floor up, she would want everyone she knew to watch. He didn’t seem arrogant about his work, only happy to have the work and determined to do it well. She liked people who could fix things, build things, create things.

  Her job entailed coming up with advertising campaigns, reaching out to customers any way she could and building the brand name of Oahu Air. An important job, it helped the company stay in the black and attract new clients. But she never forgot that the entire company wouldn’t exist but for the men and women who built the airplanes and the airport workers who kept them clean, safe and airworthy. As much as she liked her job, she wished she was doing something that spoke to her heart a little more than coming up with new headers for the company newsletter or spending a solid week picking a font for a new advertising poster. She wished she could do something that made her feel like Chris did when he worked, like he was making the world a little nicer, a little more comfortable and romantic for people. Preferably a job that didn’t involve so much sweating, however. Sweat looked much better on Chris than it did on her.

  He finished dismantling the entire fireplace in about half an hour. She offered to help him load the old firebricks into the wheelbarrow but he waved her aside.

  “Man’s work?” she teased.

  “It is,” he said. “If that man is licensed, bonded and insured.”

  “Fine, fine. I’ll just go get us a table for lunch. We’re still having lunch, right?” she asked.

  He glanced over her shoulder at the bedside clock.

  “It’s still a little early. You hungry?”

  “I didn’t come early for lunch. I came... I don’t know,” she admitted. “I sort of wanted to see you. I also sort of wanted to not ever see you again because I felt like such an asshole last night. But then I sort of wanted to see you because I was such an asshole last night. I’m very conflicted.”

  “I can tell.”

  “Do you mind?”

  “That you’re conflicted?”

  “Yeah.”

  “No. But why are you so conflicted? It’s just me,” Chris said.

  “It’s not just you.”

  “We’ve known each other forever.”

  “We haven’t seen each other since high school.”

  “Yeah, but still. We’re old friends.”

  “Old friends. Old buddies. Old pals. Who fucked last night. Hard.”

  “Would it have made it less weird if we’d fucked soft?”

  “Less weird, maybe, but also less fun.”

  “You liked it.” Chris narrowed his eyes at her.

 
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