"I am not going down there." I state to the black abyss without a hint of irony. Scary, unfinished basement you have won. Now, let me just get through the rest of this itsy bitsy blackout without any electricity. Easy…Just say no to warm food, television or internet for the foreseeable future. Ride out the humid summer storm in complete lack of comfort…Shit.
I should have known better than to say yes when Karen asked me to house sit while she and Sam went off to Barbados for their honeymoon, but I felt really bad for the pathetic excuse of a human being I became during their reception. Alcohol and I are no longer friends, or at least not currently on speaking terms. I really should blame them. They shoved me at the singles table with every age appropriate lawyer, doctor and independently wealthy man they could muster up. It was not going to end well.
I should have just apologized with the gift of wine. Living alone in a creepy, dark farmhouse for two weeks is so not worth it. Even if I did mention how I accidently bore witness to their first time doing the horizontal mambo together in my speech. It started out simply enough, with me stating the irony that she now teaches physics to eleventh graders. The irony being that she couldn't remember that if a bed is hitting a shockingly thin wall on one side, if someone has a giant bulletin board hanging on the other side; it tends to also move with a matching frequency. How was I to know her mother thought she wasn't lying with the white dress like every other self-respecting daughter? Especially, with the way those two go at it like bunnies.
I woke up the next morning with the hangover from hell, and a new contact in my phone labelled 'Prince Charming'. No picture, no memory, just one confusing nickname among the rest. He now lives between 'Partly bald, but really very nice guy from the beach' and 'Questionable taste in music guy from bar'. Safe to say, that night wasn't a witness to my some of my finer moments. I look over at my phone sitting innocently on the coffee table in the living room, wielding my flashlight like a knife. The beam is thin enough, it just might qualify as one. Oh, maybe I should call someone to come and flip the fuses for me. They wouldn't at all laugh at my fear of dark, creepy basements. Who am I kidding? What grown twenty-four year-old woman is still scared of a silly, little, scary-as-shit basement? Oh right, me.
I slam the door shut, and squeak at the long and prolonged creak that echoes through the small kitchen. It's a nice kitchen, really. Nice in the daytime, I mean, with sunlight streaming in and reflecting off the pleasant, yellow walls and pine cabinets. At night however, I feel like a ten-year-old again. All the dark shadows of still somewhat unfamiliar moonlit objects give me the chills. With only a flashlight to guide me, even the tiniest movements make strange thumps accompanied by the staccato rhythm of the rain battering the roof.
I fumble my way over to the cabinet holding my quarry, tequila. I know I said alcohol and I have a rocky relationship, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are desperate times. I take a swig straight from the bottle, leaning against the counter. I stare at the basement door, visible in the thin beam from my flashlight, in cold determination. The shutters outside slap around in the heavy winds, shaking my confidence with every rattle.
I should just go read a book by candlelight. Live it up middle ages style. Who cares if all the food in the fridge will go bad because it's a bajillion degrees outside and all cooling appliances are now non-functional? Oh, just the wonderful owners who lovingly saved two pieces of their wedding cake in the freezer for a post-honeymoon celebration. Ugh.
I take another long sip of tequila, feeling the burning liquid collide with my throat. I walk over to my cell-phone and start going through the contact list. My parents? Nope, don't be ridiculous. My ex-boyfriend who lives an hour away? Silly, so silly. Prince Charming? No, just, no. I may be curious about the anonymous contact, but calling some unknown stranger to solve my problem is a terrible idea. A no-good, tequila-fuelled whim I must resist. I have to do this for myself…somehow.
I look around the dark room with apprehension. The rain is getting worse, hitting the windows with force, lightning ominously illuminating the room at random and unappreciated intervals. I shiver despite the summer heat. This is how all horror movies begin. A scantily clad young woman is alone in a house. The phone or doorbell rings. There's scratch at the window. A shadow moves. She's trapped and no longer alone. She's destined for destruction. I look down at my jean shorts and tight black tank top; I'm certainly dressed for the part of murder victim number one…Fuck, I'm doomed.
It does not help that this house is something out of my nightmares. Who keeps a dirt floor in their basement these days? This is the age of HGTV and home improvements galore. Slap up some drywall, pour some concrete and you have a perfectly acceptable space where you don't expect some psychotic killer to pop up and murder you. I mean it's not just the basement, there's a myriad of factors why I'm having difficulties going down there. I was an imaginative child and apparently three year-old me had some strange ideas. The nightmare was always the same: the clown in the crown with an axe would chase me down and murder me behind the neighbours exposed water heater in their large, unfinished basement. Not exactly the typical dream of a three year-old. Needless to say, since that fateful night all circuses, unfinished basements and disturbingly oversized footwear have been off the table.
I see a long shadow crossing its way across the hardwood, surrounded in a purple glow, punctuated with a strike of thunder. With a squeak, using a pillow as a shield to ward off all evil, I race over to the couch. My bare feet sound so loud hitting the wooden floor. I cower into the soft cushions, trying to make myself as small and inconsequential as possible. The sharp sound of a doorknob rattling amongst the whistling wind makes my heart just about stop. A small part of me feels grateful that my urban upbringing made me paranoid about locking doors as the rattling continues. Suddenly, the front door bursts open just as thunder cracks in the dark night. I scream so loudly, I'm pretty sure I burst my own eardrum. A large, blob-shaped object in yellow is making its way towards me, thunderous footsteps in its wake.
Oh, god. I was right; I'm doomed. I scream again as the yellow mass pauses, as if contemplating where to stab me. The throat? Too quick. The head? Impractical. The heart? Oh so cliché. Weapon, I need a weapon. I look down at my full hands and decide the tequila is too precious to throw. I heave the pillow at the thing coming towards me with every ounce of strength I've got. A yelp confirms that all that money my mother spent on tennis lessons were not in vain.
"What the shit!?" I hear a distinctly male voice coming from the yellow mass. The yellow covering is suddenly thrown off, and a clearly human male is standing before me. He's soaked through, clothes drenched, drops of water falling off his close-cropped dark hair. He looks vaguely familiar with his thin nose and piercing blue eyes, but I can't recall a name at this moment.
I grab my flashlight quickly from the coffee table and point it's full beam at him. "Friend or Freddy Krueger?" I ask quickly, trying to control the trembling in my voice.
"Friend, I think." He says with a soft chuckle, and I raise my eyebrow in disbelief. His hands are raised in a surrendering position. "I'm Karen and Sam's neighbour, I live about ten minutes east of here. They asked me to check up on the place while they were gone. My power went out, so I thought I should check if everything was copacetic here. Who are you?"
"The house sitter." I state, becoming less curled into the couch as my muscles relax, the friendly-seeming company having an analgesic effect. Unfamiliar man or no, he's better than a serial killer clown.
His responding smirk is just visible in the dim light, arms lowering in kind. "Does the house sitter have a name?"
"Delilah." I reply with a small flip of my long, blonde hair, trying to make it resemble its usual non-frightened state.
"As in, 'Hey there –" He begins to sing the last part and I have to cut him off quickly.
I plead, "Don't sing it. Please don't sing it."
"Not a Plain White T's fan, I take it?"
"Everyone I've met since 2006 has asked me what it's like in New York City. It was my freshman year of university." I cuddle further into the couch with a squeak at sound of another lightning strike, the flashes of bright light momentarily illuminating my potential rescuer. He laughs at my fear, stupid man. I continue once my heart stops beating like a heavy metal drum solo. "So…not thrilled."
"Very diplomatic of you." He articulates dryly in his deep bass voice. He sheds his raincoat, leaving it to drip on the laminate by the door. I try not to cringe at the mess I'll have to clean up later.
"Thanks." I respond quickly, unfurling from my foetal position. Sitting up has nothing to do with being able to get a better view of his wet, jean-clad ass. Nope. I open the tequila bottle again, taking a sip before continuing, "You?"
"Oh, I like their early work –"
"Not the band." I interrupt quickly. I'm getting the impression that this man is the loquacious type. I wave the beam of the flashlight in aggravation. "Your name?"
"Caleb. Caleb Green."
"Nice to meet you, Caleb." I wave half-heartedly. I indicate the surrounding room with a sweep of the flashlight, "As you can see, everything is fine."
"Fine?" He laughs loudly, calling my bluff. His smile seems so familiar but the light is so dim, I can't seem to jog my memory. He walks towards me, sitting himself down on the nearby armchair and props his large boot-clad feet up on the coffee-table with two resounding thuds. I wince, thinking of the mud dripping onto the varnished oak. He sighs as he lies back in the chair, as if he's had a long day. "You're sitting in the dark. You're wielding that bottle like a shield. Who'd you think I was? The bogeyman?"
"You're entrance was a tad armed murdery." I mumble, taking a large sip of tequila. He holds out a hand, and I reluctantly hand the bottle over to him.
"So, you threw a pillow at me."
"Well, the tequila seemed like a poor choice. That shit's precious."
"True fact." He says with an easy smile and small nod. He hands back the bottle after taking a large dreg. "Hey, Delilah?"
"Yeah?" I ask apprehensively. He's going to ask about the power situation, isn't he? He's going to make fun of the fact that a grown-ass woman is cowering in the dark. That jerk. That handsome, I think, jerkface.
"Could you perhaps relocate the flashlight beam to somewhere that's not my eyes?" He says with a chuckle.
"Shit. Sorry." I move the beam to the neutral zone between us. The beam pointing straight up at the ceiling, giving both of us an unearthly glow.
"So, the power?" He asks.
"I'm having technical difficulties with the fuse box."
"Do you need to change a fuse or something? I have some extra tools in my truck. I could check if there's something that could help." He offers quickly with the ease men tend to have when home repairs are involved. Which, despite everything feminism has tried to teach me, I still find so damn attractive. I think it's an evolutionary thing, really. Big, strong male protector automatically equals safe, happy female. So every time a man really acts like, well, a man and does any sort of task involving manual labour my ovaries tend to go into overload.
"I wouldn't know. My problem is with the location of the fuse box." I smile meekly at him, trying to control the growing longing in my mind. As long as Caleb fixes the fuse box and goes on his merry way as soon as possible, I might avoid doing something I might regret. "Namely, the creepy, haunted basement in which I would not be surprised to find the bogeyman." I point towards the door in the kitchen, briefly visible in the flashes of lightning. He follows my direction, obviously trying to suppress laughter.
"Creepy, haunted basement?"
"Storm, dark basement. The obvious conclusion is ghosts."
"Who you gonna call?" He sings in the familiar tune that any child could recognize. At least, any twenty-something whose parents loved to watch eighties movies when they were a child.
"My therapist, she apparently has been doing a terrible job at working through my phobias."
"That's not how the song goes, Dell." I ignore the way he shortens my name and the way it sounds in his baritone voice. Stupid hormones, getting in a snit about every little thing.
"I know how the song goes. Do you know the number for Ghostbusters? No? Then lay off the eighties for a moment. Besides, I think they only worked in the New York area and this is Southern Ontario." I ramble on, unable to stop myself from going to that crazy place in my brain. I take another swig of tequila, trying to calm not only my nerves but my hormones as well. "It's probably all fine, anyway. I just refuse to eliminate the possibility that a clown has died and its ghost has decided to lay claim to that dark abyss that the crazy people I call friends deem 'excellent storage space'." I retort back, using air quotations like it's 2003.
"A clown…" He's laughing openly now, and damn it all if it isn't one of the most attractive laughs I've ever heard. It's genuine and guttural. He manages to catch his breath just enough to add, "In Stone Brook?"
"Clowns are everywhere. They're like rats, cockroaches and bed bugs; disturbingly prolific and hard to kill completely. Which is surprising, considering how many you could take out with a single car accident." I reply matter-of-factly, in my best impression of every professor I ever had. Great, he's laughing harder now. I lean back, arms crossed, and wait for him to quiet down with a raised eyebrow expressing my seriousness. Not that he can see it anyway, stupid power outage.
He finally quiets down enough to ask, "You've contemplated the finer points of clown-icide?"
"I think the key is to get the mimes involved. Form a silent army and burn any and all red noses left over."
"You're okay with mimes and not clowns?"
"Mimes wear appropriately sized footwear, which does not squeak and slap the ground. Never trust anyone who wears impractical shoes." Mimes don't laugh maniacally as they kill you, I think silently to myself. It's the enjoyment of the kill that has always gotten to me, not that I'm going to admit that to a near stranger.
"You do realize this includes most girls, right?" He asks, pulling the bottle out of my nearby hand, taking a dreg and handing it back again.
"Ever seen a girl in stilettos trying to walk on cobblestones?" I enquire redundantly. Everyone has seen a foolish girl struggling to walk in the name of vanity. It's only during the light of day you realize just how sad it looks, like they have fish connected to their feet instead of shoes. I continue in my explanation to Caleb with a pointed finger, "That's karma."
"You're insane." He says through a wide grin, a small chuckle still caught in his throat. I snort, not the first time someone has scoffed at my theories.
"I already told you I have a therapist. What did you expect?"
"Not a weird clown fixation." He retorts, staring pointedly at my legs again and I blush. Thank goodness for blackouts, endeavouring to hide embarrassment since the first cavewoman 'accidently' put out the fire when the cute neighbour Neanderthal stared at her boobs for the first time…and she liked it.
"I had a nightmare as a kid. The clown in the crown chased me around a creepy basement with an axe. It sort of stuck." I say with a shrug, for some reason trying to justify my crazy in front of Caleb.
"Too many Stephen King movies?"
"None at all."
"Weird." He intones to my responding nods of agreement. Caleb then plunks his feet on the ground, and leans forward towards me, elbows on his knees. He continues, "So, I guess this means you would like me to restore the power?"
I nod again, leaning towards him until our faces are a mere foot apart. In the pale light, I can almost see him look down at my cleavage and I smile. Well, at least these things are good for something. I lower my voice, almost purring near his ear. "Well, you are a big strong man. I'm sure your armour is just out being shined right now." With a wave of my hand, I slump back into the overstuffed couch, "Me and Mr. Tequila are staying right here."
"Fine." He acquiesces with a feigned aggravation. He lifts up his index finger, hitting the flashlight beam straight on illuminating every hair, emphasizing his manliness. "But with one addendum."
He grins and I know that I won't like what's coming. He offers me his hand and, as if the weather could sense the foreboding, thunder cracks through the air. "You're coming with me."
I sink as far as possible into the couch, my knees pulled up to my chest. I shake my head emphatically. "No. No way. Feminism is dead, chauvinism wins. Not happening."
"Then no power, cupcake." He says with a sigh, settling back into his sprawled position with his muddy boots on the coffee table.
"But don't you feel some sort of neighbourly obligation or male-pride…thing that says you should help a girl out?" Pride be damned. I am not going down into that barely disguised portal to hell. I lay back anew, flipping my hair just like my gold-digging mother taught me. I stretch my bare legs out across the coffee table, nudging his boot with my bare foot.
"Oh, I'm feeling something alright." Caleb mutters under his breath and I smirk back at him. "So, what shall we do to pass the time?" He asks with his arms crossed behind his head, displaying his long and muscled frame to its maximum ability in the flickering light. I gulp at the sight of his plaid shirt riding up just that little bit to show a small trail of hair going downwards…Fuck.
"Well, Caleb, you are ignoring my suggestion and, quite frankly, I don't know you."
He smiles at me, his white teeth shining in the dark, punctuated by a flash of lightning. "Then, Delilah, let's fix that."
"What are you suggesting?" I ask, leaning as far back as possible. I mirror his position, putting my arms behind my head. I hear him slightly hiss at the view and smile coquettishly while waiting for him to respond.
"A game." He says, "We ask each other questions and no matter how embarrassing or personal, you have to answer. First person to refuse to answer a question loses. You lose; you go down into the creepy, haunted basement alone to fix the fuse. I lose, I go."
I grin widely. Silly boy. You don't play a game involving honesty and personal humiliation against a girl. Boys may learn how to beat someone up to solve their problems. Girls, however, learn very early on the complex world of destroying someone psychologically. Sleepover games always doubled as something far more devious and evil. It's probably a good thing women aren't in charge. In case of war, we'd only stop when the opposing leader cries for her mother because we told her she was fat and would never find a man who'd learn to love her thunder thighs. You don't just win in girl games, you eviscerate.
"Deal." I extend a hand towards him and he shakes it in a firm grasp. I gulp at the connection between us. I feel tethered to this big, warm hand dwarfing my own. Little shoots of electricity run down my arm straight into my spine at the contact. I release it as soon as I manage to regain my sense of self. My fingers just brush his calluses as our grip dissolves. "Who goes first?"
"Well, I am a gentleman. So, you're up to bat, milady."
"I thought I told you chauvinism was dead, but sure I'll get the ball rolling. Hmm." I sit in exaggerated thought for a couple minutes, letting the tension build. I wrack my brains for a good starter question, nothing threatening, something simple but personal. Something that can still cut to the core of embarrassment without making him skittish. Got it. "First crush?"
"Susan Ferreira, the eighth grade." He answers quickly to my dismay. I should've picked something harder, like list all instances of erectile dysfunction you've ever experienced. He continues, "She was a bit of a nerd but witty, you know? She used to draw these hearts all over her desk in pencil during class, which seemed like the perfect girl thing to do back then. I sat behind her, so I had a great view of her long black hair, swishing all day long. Plus, she developed early, if you know what I mean."
"So, what happened?"
"I asked her to dance at the Christmas social, and she said yes, which was amazing. I was shorter than her. I didn't get tall until the tenth grade, but it was still up to that point the closest I've ever gotten to a girl. That KC and Jojo song was playing, pure middle school romance bait. But then my palms got all sweaty on her waist and…" His voice dies off, and if this story is going where I think it is, my birthday definitely came six months early.
"And?" I urge him.
"I got a boner, okay!?" Whoomp, there it is. I laugh out loud at his self-conscious tone. There is something about embarrassment coming from an adult male with a deep voice such as Caleb. It reduces him from a strange terrifying creature to a little puppy. He continues, slightly grumpy at his own admission, "She saw it, freaked out and ran away to giggle about it with all her friends. It was mortifying. They called me boner boy for years." He pauses, stuck in the strange land between the past and the present. I try to contain my giggles out of respect, because even I, a mature adult, think getting a boner in the middle of a middle school dance is hilarious. He finally adds, "I think she's an accountant now."
"I'm so sorry."
"My turn?" He asks and I nod in return. "Weirdest pick-up line you've ever had used on you?"
"Oh god." I sit quietly for a moment, sorting through memories. "Okay, got it. I was twenty-two and at this costume party, totally against my will, and this guy in a suit from the nineteen-twenties comes up to me. He pulls an old-timey pocket watch out of his vest and says, 'My magical watch says you're not wearing any underwear. Oh, you are? Must be an hour fast.'." Caleb laughs. It's the kind of laugh that makes your knees buckle and your ovaries sing the hallelujah chorus. My grip on the tequila bottle tightens just a little bit.
"What'd you do?" He asks after regaining his breath.
"Date him for two years." I deadpan, taking a short swig of tequila.
"No?" He responds in shock and I can't help but feel a tad discomfited of my younger self. My foray into being the girlfriend of an awkward, slightly immature boy wasn't the worst decision of my life. It hadn't been a bad relationship, actually. At the very least, my mother had hated him which was a bonus in my books. It had been a mutual break-up, an adult decision to give up on something that just wasn't going anywhere.
"Yup. He was actually supposed to be my date to Karen and Sam's wedding, but we broke up two days before." The timing had stunk, but what else can you do.
"I don't remember a Delilah at the wedding." Caleb mutters, obviously perplexed. "You'd think I'd remember a girl like you." He wouldn't. Drunk me seems to think that my name is Yowanna Hitthat. Recently dumped me had also taken the opportunity to radically change my hair, which had been tied into some complicated knot for the wedding, from a dark brown to a honey blonde post-wedding. Take away to puke green bridesmaid dress and the trowelled on make-up, I wouldn't recognize me either, especially not in the dark like tonight.
"Hey mister, it's my turn to ask the questions here." I try to head off his adventure down memory lane. I shudder at the thought of this handsome, almost stranger having witnessed my drunken folly. I believe the words, 'May you two want to bang each other 'til the end of time,' were used in that fateful speech that led me to this situation in the first place. He raises his hands in a surrendering position and I sit up trying to think of the perfect query. "Greatest day of your life?"
He's silent for a long time in careful contemplation. The humidity around us for some reason feels more stifling in the silence. I admit, I have no idea how I would've answered the question.
"The day my mom beat cancer." He states quietly, sobering the slightly charged atmosphere in one fell swoop.
"How old were you?" I ask softly, laying my small hand upon his large one, resting on the overstuffed arm of his chair. It's strange how willing I am to listen to his emotion ridden story. I am not, by the design of my distant mother and estranged father, prone to sympathetic behaviour. Sure, I've tried hard over the years to be better; I don't just leave the room when people are crying anymore. Generally, I've figured out that it's easiest to just encourage people to eat their feelings instead of talking it out. Oh, you just got dumped, here's some chocolate cake. Your cat died, here's some homemade cheesecake. But, for some inexplicable – well, it's explicable but slightly explicit and something I don't quite want to overanalyse at the moment – reason I'm urging Caleb onto this emotional pathway.
"Sixteen." He responds, and I nod understandingly. He's turned his hand so he could intertwine our fingers. Electricity, like the kind flying through the sky right now, is flowing between our palms. "It was a day just like today. The winds were howling, the sky was filled with lightning and thunder, and it was just my mom and I in the doctor's office. It seemed like the world was going to keep falling apart, but then this guy in a white lab coat set down her test results and told us she beat cancer. She won. Since then, every time it starts to thunderstorm I remember being in that beige room hearing the best news I've ever heard in my life. When it rains, I feel alive."
Caleb's voice has almost undertaken a reverent tone, and even in the dim, flickering light I can see this glow of contentment on his face. The details may be obscured, but it's still magnificent to behold, a quiet fierceness that makes him even more attractive. The hand I'm holding is wrecking havoc on my ability to think rationally. Stupid lady parts, always acting up at inconvenient times. I have to stifle the urge to utter more than the single syllable, "Wow."
"Pretty much." He finishes with a shrug, settling into the silence. Well, as silent as it can be with the shutters rattling like ghosts out of hell. Hell. Basement. Fuse box. Game. We need to finish the game. I shake myself out of complacency and back into game mode.
"Your turn." I say, relieving him of my hand, ignoring the strange feeling of emptiness that hits me upon the release.
"You sure? We just might end up revealing all our deepest and darkest secrets if we keep going like this." He says teasingly and instead of scaring me, the fear isn't there.
"I thought that was the idea." I say solemnly.
So we continue.
I find out he has two cats because he found them as kittens in his neighbour's barn and couldn't face the possibility of letting them freeze during a harsh winter. He has a degree in business from U of T, but decided to come home and run the family farm after graduation and hasn't worn a suit since with the exception of Karen and Sam's wedding. He fears snakes, but is considering adding clowns to the list. He loves harvesting pumpkins in the fall, and eating raspberries in the summertime. Watching hockey is one of his favourite past-times but he cannot for the life of him understand the appeal of football, all that extra padding just to play rugby. He can rebuild a car engine, but can barely use a computer beyond e-mail and power-point.
There are other things I'm learning as the game continues on, things unspoken or just between the lines. He scratches this one spot on his temple when he's deep in thought. His knee is in constant motion, bobbing up and down a million times a minute, like there's all this energy he needs to work off. He's smart and funny as hell. He doesn't back down from a fight, physical or mental. A small debate over the merit of poutine turned into a ten minute argument about my dislike of gravy. Despite his obvious frustration with my strange aversion, he states his point of view in well-crafted statements. There's a brilliant sense of honesty about him that suggests, even if that wasn't the game, he wouldn't lie to you. He also tends to burst out into song…a lot.
In return, I told him about being roommates with Karen in university and our drunken adventures in the small university town west of here. I talked about living in Toronto in the tiny condo my father bought me to apologize for avoiding my childhood. My first kiss was with Rob Mahoney in the seventh grade, under the jungle gym after marching band practice, where the weasel tried to lick my tonsils with his disturbingly long tongue. I absolutely cannot for the life of me cook anything more complex than pasta with store-bought sauce, but I can bake. I told him that my greatest fear, besides demon clowns, was becoming my mother. She chose money and prestige over happiness. She chose to have a daughter but never actually be there for any of the big or little moments. I have received exactly one piece of advice from my mother. It goes as follows: find a man with money and dig your well-manicured claws in as far as possible and bleed him dry. If possible, find a man with the brain of a street car; it makes it easier in the long run. I chose to ignore that advice, becoming a teacher instead.
Somehow, along the way we lost track of turns and such. It might have had something to do with the tequila we've collectively consumed, the abandoned but severely depleted bottle now sitting on the coffee table. But, it was also a matter of interest. He has this way of listening to what I'm saying and not look bored or dismissive. When he speaks, I genuinely want to hear what he says. It's addictive, hearing Caleb talk about his life so honestly and being able to do so in return. It makes me wonder whether I can give him up after tonight. So, when the flashlight dies midway through a tale involving a homemade pumpkin trebuchet malfunction, we both look at it in shock. Well, I'm assuming on his behalf considering the pitch-black surrounding us, but I feel like it's valid in this case.
"You wouldn't happen to have a flashlight hidden under that shirt, would you?" I ask, eyeing where the buttoned-up plaid shirt, which he fills out quite satisfactorily, would be. The storm has long since died down, leaving us without even the brief flashes of lightning to illuminate the room.
"Candles in your cleavage?" Caleb retorts and I snort in return. "How about a cell? I left mine in the truck."
"Good point." I dig around the couch cushion, finding my long forgotten cell-phone hidden away. I pull it out and the soft glow of the screen helps relieve a bit of the darkness. "That's better. Not, you know, great. If someone had just fixed the fuse box when they got here…"
"I offered. You wouldn't accept my terms of employment. Hand me that." I pass him my phone, the small light passing through the darkness to another fumbling hand. I hear the thump of his feet hitting the floor before I'm shocked to feel his calloused hands hefting me onto my feet. "Come on, Dell. We tied, we both go down."
"F-f-fine." I manage to stutter out, letting him guide me towards to door to hell, my hand in his. He's not giving me a chance to argue, barrelling us to the abyss. "But if I get murdered by some vengeful spirit, I will haunt the shit out of you for the rest of eternity."
"I could learn to accept that." He says, opening the basement door which emits a loud creak. "Let's go." His hand tugs on mine again, slowly pulling me down the stairs into the abyss. The echoes accompanying each of his boot-clad steps on the wooden staircase are loud and dwarf my barefoot ones in comparison. The only noise louder is the frantic beating of my heart. I can't tell whether my heart is pulsing so fast due to fear or something to do with the man leading me downwards. When we reach the bottom, I indicate to continue straight ahead to the fuse box. I cringe at the feeling of the dirt sticking to the bottom of my feet, but trudge on.
Finally, we reach the little grey box which he deftly opens after releasing my hand and flips the main switch back into the on position. The light at the top of the stairs floods down and the distant sounds of television can be heard. Mission accomplished. I look up at Caleb, a pensive expression upon his face. It's still fairly dark down here, but little details like the mole located on his cheek just above his scruffy beard and the lines between his furrowed brows have come into focus. He's looking down at my cell-phone, its bright yellow case now visible.
"I remember this." He says softly and I look up at him with a startled expression. "One of the bridesmaids at the wedding had this."
"I was a bridesmaid, admittedly a very drunk one. Did I not mention that between painful childhood anecdotes?" I say sheepishly, my night of shame on display once more. I shuffle through my discomfort brought forth by his curious gaze. "I don't exactly remember anything from the wedding after the DJ started cranking that Justin Timberlake medley."
"So, you don't…"
"Remember how you met my phone?" I ask to a responding nod from Caleb. "No. I-I wish, but no. Care to share?" He nods again, still not saying a word and hands me my phone. He jerks his head towards the stairs before ascending, obviously implying I should follow his heavy footsteps. Not wanting to tempt fate by remaining alone in the subterranean space, after all I still have my head, I hasten to follow him.
He shuts the basement door behind me before leaning back against the butcher-block kitchen counter. He's already turned off the TV, leaving just the buzzing of the surrounding appliances. I take my place opposite him. It's strange to see him in the full light. His crossed arms are showing just how much muscle is contained within him. He's observing me with equal intensity and I can't help but flush under his analytical gaze. Things that are so well hidden in the darkness, like the scar on my leg and the little bit of extra weight around my middle are on full display. That little bit of doubt starts to creep through my mind.
He takes a deep breath before beginning to tell the tale I'm both apprehensive and eager to hear. "I was outside the banquet hall with Ian, my buddy from university who fronted the band that played the wedding, chatting while the boys were between sets. Suddenly, out the front doors came this bridesmaid her brown hair flying everywhere. She was yelling at her phone, obviously more than a little wasted, trying to get it to call a taxi company."
"Oh boy." I accidentally mutter out loud before instantly dropping my attention to a very interesting crumb on the linoleum.
"Oh boy is right." He says with a chuckle. "I had never heard someone refer to their phone as an, 'uncooperative little shit with monkey nuts for brains,' before."
I shrug, "It's a complicated relationship."
"Sure. So after a few more choice names, the bridesmaid gave up on the whole phone thing. At this point, Ian and I are in stitches, really enjoying the show. So then, she gets this idea that because her shoes are both shiny and silver, they should be able to do magic because, and I quote, 'It worked for that bitch, Dorothy.'."
"Perfectly logical." I interject again to his obvious ire.
"Do you want me to tell the story or not?" He asks with a withering stare. I nod mutely before pretending to lock my lips and throw away the key. "Okay. So after the fifth, 'There's no place like home,' I couldn't take it anymore. So I walked over and plucked the phone out of the girl's hand, which she barely noticed between heel taps by the way, and called her a cab. Ian comes over, and helps me get her to sit down on the curb while we wait for her ride. He takes the phone from me to try and figure out what address to send her to, while I'm busy trying to convince her that Karen wasn't going to excommunicate her due to her speech, which I'm a little upset I missed because, according to her, it was nothing short of an epic disaster."
A vague sense of recognition within me confirms his story to be true. I'm also slightly relieved that he hadn't witnessed the 'May you bang' speech. It's one thing to have a legitimate fear of homicidal clowns; it's another thing entirely to be a public disaster.
"So, the cab finally pulls up and we deposit her into the back with Ian giving him an address to take her. Of course, she starts babbling incoherently to the cab driver as we're trying to buckle her in. But then, no clue why, she just looks at me right in the face, those big blue eyes finally almost in focus. She says…"
"You look like Prince Charming." I whisper, finally remembering that one little moment. He smiles widely at me, showing off all his perfectly straight teeth. I clutch onto the counter to keep myself from falling to the floor when my knees start to buckle at the sight. I turn on my phone with a newfound sense of urgency, clinging to the memory of Caleb in the window of the cab.
"So then, Ian hands her the phone, we shut the cab door, and the car pulls away. I was actually going to ask Karen and Sam about her when they got back from their honeymoon…" I'm busy going through my phone contact list while he rambles on, finally settling on that name that had had me so perplexed. I lift it up for him, watching his eyebrows rise at the strange twist of fate we had been dealt. "That bastard." He says with twinkling eyes.
"I found it when I woke up the morning after. I guess your friend was feeling a tad devious. I've been racking my brain to try and figure out where it came from." I murmur, putting my phone to the side. I tuck a small strand of hair that had settled on my nose back behind my ear. "The truth is so much better than some of the theories I came up with to explain it. Apparently, you keep on showing up just when I need you. You really are a Prince Charming. Thank you." I say softly, genuinely grateful.
"You're welcome." He replies, equally quiet. We stand there in silence, the only noise coming from the now functional window air conditioner, blowing freezing air at our heated bodies. I can feel the only truth yet unspoken coursing through my veins. It urges me forward. I want more. I need more. I need him, now and maybe always.
"So, what happens now?" I ask, taking a bold step towards the man before me.
"I don't know." He says, his body doing exactly the opposite, moving a step towards me. There's a mischievous gleam in his eyes that suggests plenty of ideas. Ideas, I feel like I would be very amendable towards.
Bolstered, I take another step forward, leaving a scant foot between us. I have to crane my head slightly to look him in the eyes. "Would you believe that I'm ninety-eight percent certain that there's a flesh-eating mummy under my bed?"
"I might be persuaded to take a look." He says, closing the distance. My toes are touching the tips of his boots but there's still a small cushion of air between our bodies. Every fibre of my being is alive with anticipation.
"How about a game?" I ask with a smirk. He chuckles at my joke, still not making the move I so desire. I can almost hear the frenzied beating of my heart, trying to become one with his. Slow close yet so far away. He looks down at me, taking in every little detail in a slow bone-tingling stare.
"Screw that." Caleb grits out, grabbing me by the waist and pulling us flush together before capturing my lips with his own. It's a slow and careful kiss, designed to make time hold still. But, time can only be suspended for so long and soon a war of lips and tongues breaks out. Our bodies meld together as our limbs explore each other with a thoroughness that leaves me more than breathless. It's a frantic exploration born of total want. Total all encompassing need which sends an inferno through my veins. Though my body may be on fire, I've never felt safer than at this very moment. Nothing else can touch me when I am wrapped up in his arms.
Not even serial killer clowns.