He set the bar down as carefully as someone who had just deadlifted 300 pounds six times could. A tiny thunk, barely enough to wake an infant, on the bare floor of his cluttered garage, in a space just large enough to accommodate his movement. Three weak fluorescent bulbs, down from the usual four, shivered in their sockets. He turned around and leaned on the wooden workbench, equally littered with mosaic of tools, computer parts, and art supplies. One chalk-dusted hand snatched a dull pencil from the mess and made a tick mark in his workout log. The pencil rolled and clattered to the floor as he walked to the backyard, clicking the timer in his pocket.
The sun had dropped but it was light enough still to see the bats flapping through the sky getting hammered on mosquitoes. He took the long way around the pool and planned to sit in one of the Adirondack chairs in the yard when he saw the spark from a lighter. "When did you get back?"
"About ten, fifteen minutes ago," she said. "I heard you changing plates or something in there when I drove up and didn't want to bother you. Thought I'd sneak around the back to wait for you here."
"And what a delightful surprise." He put his hands on the armrests and bent to her. Their kiss lingered a second longer than the standard nice-to-see-you version. He tasted the smoke on her tongue. She tasted coffee.
"Deadlift day. Yum." She sat legs crossed, her long, flowery pants legs giving her a mermaid tail in the vanishing light. Her blue low-cut shirt slipped off a shoulder. "I do so relish the benefits of that powerful hip drive." She brought the pipe to her lips and cracked the lighter. "Want some?"
"After for sure. I have just one set left." He walked a tiny circle on the pool deck. "You know that's my chair."
"Of course." She exhaled. The cloud hung for a moment and then scurried along with the suggestion of a breeze. "I thought you'd be in an endorphin fog and I could grab your ass when you tried to sit."
"I should've played dumb."
"Hip-drive, huh? And here I thought you said you liked the pushup thing better. It was your very first request."
Her mouth hung between the start of a word and a smile. "That was when we were just getting to know each other. And I figured those triceps were just perfect handholds." A flame appeared and vanished into the bowl. Another cloud followed the former. "Since then, I've learned you have other delicious attributes."
"You are too kind." Her hand with the lighter rested on the arm of the chair. He bent to it as much to kiss it as to stretch his back and hamstrings. "Mmmmm ... with a spoon."
"Thank you, babydoll. You are equally yummy."
"Debatable." He looked up. Too dark now to see any bats. "It was nice for all the boys to come. Probably the best birthday I ever had."
"You say that every year."
"Yeah, but this time they all managed to show up. I know they always try to. Or maybe they don't. I don't know."
"You're the favorite, you know. They get it."
"I guess. Maybe. It's weird."
"How is it weird? Both you and the boys always said she was hard to live with. Even her folks told you to save yourself."
"I guess." The timer in his pocket beeped louder than he expected, and he reached in to shut it off. "Back in a few, gorgeous."
"I'll be here."
She watched him leave and smiled that her plan had worked out the way it did. A couple of weeks of emails and texts and phone calls and ultimately plane tickets funded from her savings account. He'll never know. All three boys (men now, really) sat in the TV room watching the opening scenes of The Fellowship of the Rings when he came back from his run. After taking a bunch of pictures of the surprise, she ran out to pick up the Publix subs she had ordered.
The next morning featured pancakes and bacon and expertly brewed coffee. To burn that off they broke out the beach cruisers and rolled to the farmers market. One of them lit a joint and passed it around; she couldn't remember who was responsible. It may have been she. That night, the boys tag-teamed dinner: steaks, shrimp, grilled veggies, beer, scotch, cake from scratch, The Two Towers. Bedtime was late, and everyone slept in. Remaining quiet the next morning proved difficult for both of them yet added some excitement, the tension of pleasure muffled, and when the boys wandered groggily into the kitchen for coffee a bit later, there appeared no glimmer of knowing.
Yardwork waits for no man, and each of them took to their childhood tasks when mowing, edging, and sweeping had to be knocked out. Afterwards for a couple of hours, the three of them skidaddled to hang with friends, allowing her and him some quiet entwined time. They were back promptly for a carbonara feast and The Return of the King. Urgent curbside hugs on the departure side in the predawn dark arrived too soon. She was sure he cried on the drive back but all signs had vanished by the time he got home. Not that he would have said anything.
A final thunk then quiet. He walked slowly around the pool to her, breathing hard. "All done."
She touched his hand, felt the calluses. "Sweaty."
"I just repped out the last set until I was cooked."
"You know you can't talk to me like that."
"That's exactly why I said it. I used you as divine inspiration for those last few."
"And just precisely how did I inspire you?"
Gently he took the pipe and lighter from her hand and crushed the remainder of the bowl. Tilting his head back, he spotted the faint V of Taurus. Orion would follow shortly, but the humidity would shroud the Pleiades for their nightcap. He exhaled toward the stars, handed back the pipe and lighter and started for the house. "You'll have to find that out for yourself, toots."
"Of course. I stink to high heaven."
"You know, I could use one too."
"You took one this morning. Besides, your natural scent is one of flowers and ocean."
"Are you saying you don't want company?"
"Oh hell no. I'll get it started."
"I think it already has."
"You know you can't talk to me like that."
Laughter. His one that sounds surprised at itself. Hers like an audible wine that begins bold and hearty and finishes with fruit and sunshine. Only the struggling light from the garage lit the yard. He turned to smile at her but they both were in the dark, only their voices touching. "See you inside."
The door to the house closed, and she rose to follow. Tonight would be intimate like they made nearly every night, but more so for her. Playful shower. Scrumptious dinner. An evening nightcap before bed. They would savor each other's flavors and perhaps try a new one or two. She always woke before him so her absence from bed would not worry him until he got up for coffee. By then she would be lost to him. It is for the best, she thought. He would see the handwritten letter by full pot. Read it a few times. Think it was a joke. The house would echo with her name. Read the letter again and again. Frantically try her phone. Check the driveway for her car. He would race, eyes blind with tears, to her job, to stores, to her friends' house, searching. Return. Read the letter again and again. Try, try, try, try, try her phone. The house would echo with her name.