Cross Roads

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Chapter Seventeen: Potato'ed

No sooner do the words of greeting roll off my tongue that Benji is flying at me.

Literally.

That dog is airborne, floppy ears flapping in the wind like a tan version of Dumbo. A very uncoordinated Dumbo because he knocks Dog-Tags-slash-Noah’s feet clear out from under him – it’s an impressive feat that I have no idea how the dog accomplished it. And then he’s barreling into me and, somehow, I wind up flipping over onto his back, clinging for dear life onto the chain collar. Benji continues his impressive flight for a moment longer, and then he’s sitting on the side of the road with me slowly sliding down his back to nearly land face-first on the pavement.

Benji barks once, and turns his head.

I lose my precarious grip on his collar and fall the rest of the way, nearly breaking my nose but definitely smashing a split into my bottom lip.

This chance meeting was playing out so much better in my head. I say as much, staring up at the cloudless sky, wondering just when this Mastiff uncovered a way to defy gravity and if it would be possible to teach me.

Benji appears in my line of sight, drooling all over my face, twin globs of saliva smacking me in the eyes. He starts to lick me, getting a little too close and stepping on my chest. I find it rather difficult to breathe and begin to struggle at pushing him off, but that only gets him more excited.

—It’s times like these that I am glad to find Benji has been de-sacked before our meeting. I would hate to see what happens when a fully matured and still-spermed male Mastiff looks like when excited.

“Ger’off!” I gasp, trying to get out from under him.

He puts a second paw on me and I really can’t breathe.

Great.

Now I’m going to die before I get a slice of what is promising to be a deliciously chocolate cake. Which means more for Brandon and Belle. No fair.

I decide that I will haunt them and ensure that if I can’t enjoy cake then neither will they.

“Benji, back!”

Soldier-boy to the rescue. Maybe I still have a chance at sugary goodness.

The Mastiff obeys, getting off of me and plopping down on his rear to the side of the road. He smiles at me – actually smiles with drool and teeth – and barks, but makes no move to pounce on me again.

With the ability to breathe returned I take a deep breath, and then push upright. Dog-Tags is sitting across from me looking . . . well, he is soaking wet, covered head to toe in dirty water and weeds and the occasional piece of litter.

“What happened to you?” I ask, reaching out and snagging the tail-end of a Snickers wrapper that is sitting on his shoulder. “Decide to take a dip in the sewer?” It is a joke, but then I look past him and see the ditch at the side of the road. It is filled with water, muddy and disgusting. “Oh.” I know exactly where he ended up in Benji’s rush of enthusiasm.

“I was getting a little hot,” he says, taking a whiff of his T-shirt and wrinkling his nose at the smell. “Probably should have picked a better water-source.”

I smile sheepishly, knowing that this is my fault. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

“No, it really isn’t. I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

“Oh?” he wonders with a twinkle in his eyes. That dimple is back and coherent thought is fleeting. Does he not understand how damn adorable he is when he smiles? Is that like his army super-power? “How?”

“I’ll get you a change of clothes!” I declare, finger pointed up in the air. Benji takes this to mean that I want to play and he lunges at me, knocking me further into the road. “I am not a chew-toy!” I squeal.

“Benji! Down!” Noah yells.

Once more the Mastiff obeys, slinking off to park it in the grass, whimpering and whining because all he wants to do is play. Well, maybe he should start playing with people he doesn’t out-size and out-weigh! There’s only so much squishing I can deal with before my bones are no longer a solid structure to support the rest of me, but instead the consistency of jell-o.

“Sorry,” Noah apologizes with another half-smile that has me instantly forgiving his dog.

“It’s fine,” I say, sitting up again and waving a hand. “No harm done.”

I speak too soon.

A car comes speeding down the road, going impossibly and ridiculously fast for the speed-limit of forty. It is coming too fast and is too close. Deer-in-headlights has never made much sense to me until this moment because instead of trying to save myself I am too busy watching my life flash before my eyes – and boy, is it a sight to behold. I realize then and there that I really am crazy, and maybe I should have admitted myself to a loony-bin long ago.

So long, chocolate cake. You were a lovely fantasy while you lasted.

“Spencer!”

I find myself scooped up into strong arms, safe and secure but only for a fleeting moment.

And then I am flying.

I think that this must be what Benji was feeling in his Dumbo-esque moment. It’s nice at first, but then the feeling of falling comes and it’s no longer enjoyable. I know that the landing is going to hurt and I am not looking forward to it. Actually, I am waiting for the breaking of bones for the second time in my life – although, to be fair, I kinda don’t remember the first time when I tumbled down the stairs as a barely crawling toddler, breaking my leg and my arm and my collar-bone but somehow saving my skull.

Whatever. The point still remains.

This will hurt.

A lot.

The car goes whizzing by, sending loose pebbles and various particles of road into my face. They are like mini stinging projectiles that I know will be leaving dinky red welts on my cheeks.

After that comes the shocking sensation of chilly water covering my entire body. It is thick and dirty, tasting suspiciously like garbage – not that I would ever know what that tastes like! It soaks my sweats and my Ninja Turtles – sad day; this was my favorite! – instantly and gives me the feeling of adding on tend pounds.

Yes, I DO know that I have an issue with exaggerating. Sue me if you’re willing to waste time and energy and money, while only getting back the pennies that are sitting busily in the bottom of my kiddie piggy-bank.

I do not stick around long enough to figure out what else is swimming in my mouth. I wrench myself from the arms that had once been saving me but are now ensuring that I ferment is disgustingness. Gagging as I flounder on slippery ground, I glare and curse the car that hasn’t even bothered to stop, raising a fist to shake at the fleeing vehicle.

“Yeah! Keep on driving you stupid . . . JERK!” I am most pleased with my use one non-bad words . . . but saddened by the fact that they do not make me feel even the slightest bit smug. They just leave me pouting as the dumb car disappears down the road, sun glinting off the body. “How some people are given licenses I will never know.”

What I am standing on shifts suddenly and I go down to my knees in surprise.

Apparently I had mistaken Noah’s shoulder as the ground . . . Whoopsie-daisy.

“Dude, I am just killing you today,” I say, grabbing onto his T-shirt and yanking him more upright. He is gagging next to me, probably from drowning as I Captain Hook’ed the guy that had nearly cut my night drastically short. “I’ll have you know, when I saw you and Benji walking down the street, I never once thought this would happen. If I had I would have just yelled at you from a safe distance. You would have either ignored me or left the street and neither of us would be pickling in the ditch. Oh, hey, you’ve got a leaf stuck to your eye.” I peel away the offending thing, trying to throw it aside but only succeeding in slapping myself in the chin.

A piece of it gets in my mouth.

Highly unsanitary I’d garner. Nasty and foul and probably loaded with deadly germs and bacterias.

Great. Now I’m gonna die again.

Might as well eat the chocolate cake while I can enjoy it.

Spitting the leaf out of my mouth I stagger to my feet, slipping back to my butt and splashing more gross water up and all over me and Dog-Tags.

“Oops-ses.”

For some strange reason, all Noah does after this entire catastrophe is burst out laughing. Great heaving laughs that soon turn into gasping huffs for air as he all but heaves out a lung.

I guess I’m funnier than I thought.

“Well, I’m glad you have found the humor in all of this. Normally people just yell and scream at me and then call me a klutz,” I tell him, cracking a smile. Even with mud and insect babies swimming up my pants and into my butt-crack, one can’t help but admire God’s gift to women: the strategically placed dimple.

I wish I had a dimple. Maybe that would convince people of my innocence and I could have gotten away with so much in life . . . Who am I kidding? I’ve got G-I-L-T-Y tattooed on my forehead in obnoxious, block lettering – and yes, it would be spelled wrong because that is just the luck of one Spencer Goode.

“And I’m glad you called yourself a klutz so I don’t have to,” he teases back, getting up and stepping back to the side of the road.

“I curse all you tall people,” I grumble, hating how easy he has just made it look while I have failed and fallen spectacularly numerous times. “It’s no fair to the shorter ones of the world. Granted, I’m not that short, pretty average in height if my doctor is to be believed, but I can’t really take her word for fact because she hates me and has constantly told me I’m fat judging by her fancy little chart so there is a chance that I could be tall for my age or freakin’ short . . . I’m personally leaning towards short because I still buy clothes in the kid’s section, which is great because that saves me money but it’s weird when I go to use the dressing room and everyone stares at me or a kid points at what I have and says that they’re wearing the same thing—” I take a deep breath, finding my lungs are suddenly empty. I pause, tilting my head to the side as I think back on what I have just said. “Wow. Talk about a run-on sentence. My English teacher would really be rolling in his grave if he’d just die already. I swear that man has had one leg out the door since I met him and he’s gotta be pushing hundred by now if those wrinkles and his lack of farting control is anything to go by.” I take another breath, this time looking over to Noah who is staring at me with the strangest expression on his face. If I didn’t know any better I would say that he is getting freaked out at the same time he is getting remarkably impressed . . . Nah. “What?”

He blinks, shaking his head, and then he’s reaching down and pulling me out. “You have an incredible lung capacity. Did anyone ever tell you that?” he asks while setting me back onto my feet.

I glare and pout, wringing out the end of my T-shirt. “All the time, but most people just call me a windbag or a motor-mouth. Thanks for coming up with a slightly friendlier term.”

“No, nononono!” he gasps, understanding finally dawning as he comes to terms with what he has just said. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that you can talk a lot . . . No, wait! That didn’t come out right either. I just . . . crap. I take it I just shoved my foot into my mouth.” He smiles sheepishly at me and I consider letting him stew in his inability to properly communicate a second longer just so I can ogle at the dimple a little bit more.

I decide to ‘rise above’ as my mother would say.

“Nah, it’s cool. I get it. Besides, I like you. The other people are just people I have pissed off in my long and lustrous career. You know, now that I think about it, it’s not really lustrous. Lustrous means shiny and stuff, which that ain’t me. Slightly dingy is more like it, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Long and rusty career? No, that makes me seem old. Long and dim career? Well, now I sound stupid.” Oh . . . “You’re right. I do talk a lot. My sister always said that I go off into tangents . . . that and I have a way of over-dramatizing things, which I have already acknowledged and accepted.” I tilt my head as I give him a once over. “You’re probably really uncomfortable right now, aren’t you?”

“Soaking wet?” he asks.

I nod.

“Yeah. More than a little.”

“Well c’mon.” I start down Brandon’s driveway, getting a couple yards before I notice that Noah hasn’t followed me. Turning back around I ask, “What? Too scared to follow?”

He smiles again and birds start singing—

Okay, that just sounded really, really weird. Get a hold of yourself Spencer. You’re not like those creepy, obsessed, fan-girl-y girls. You’re calm and cool and collected. You got swagger and sarcasm. Swaggerasm? Nope. That just sounds totallywrong. There is definitely something wrong with you, especially since you’re having a nice little conversation in the open confines of your own empty head.

ECHO . . . echo . . . echo . . .

Get a grip.

“You move or something?” he wonders.

Ah!

“Yeah. Pretty much. I moved in with my brother who’s dating my sister.”

He gets a very concerned and very queasy look on his face. I can’t help it but laugh because he looks so very close to puking. And if he pukes then I’ll puke and if I puke I can guarantee that he’ll puke again which will lead to me puking again and it will be a nasty, vicious cycle.

. . . I need cake.

“He’ s not really my brother but she’s really my sister.” I make a strange noise that I wasn’t even sure I could make, sounding very close to ‘ACK’. “It’s all really weird and confusing, but to make a long story short, there is no incest, just a really screwed up family situation. Anyways, c’mon. I’ll get you a change of clothes so we can clean those ones.”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll just walk home,” he tells me, still smiling.

“Nonsense! I owe you. Like a lot. You got knocked into the ditch twice. Twice! And then you saved me from getting mashed-potato-ed by a stupid moron in a speedy little car, and to thank you I stood on you. Now that I mention it, I didn’t break you, did I?”

Noah laughs again, whistles for Benji, and catches up with me. “No, you didn’t. You’re surprisingly light.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Absolutely nothing,” he answers. “I’m not calling you fat. I’m just saying that you’re a lot lighter than I thought you’d be.”

“You must have sisters.” It is the only logical conclusion. The last time some guy said something about my weight, even though it hadn’t really affected me, he’d sweat straight through his shirt and nearly had a coronary because he was so nervous over the right thing to say. Dog-Tags, on the other hand, didn’t seem at all thrown off.

“Three, actually.”

“Hmm. Poor man. Girls can be very difficult,” I joke, nudging him with my elbow. “Now, c’mon! We have chocolate cake and I have been dying to shove my face in it since I smelled it in the fridge. I’ll even be willing to part with a piece of it just for you.”

“Wow. I feel honored.”

“You should. Chocolate is sacred to me. Normally I’m not one to share.” I march up the porch steps, but he doesn’t follow. Instead he is glancing around warily. “I had the same expression when I first saw this place. Don’t worry. It’s fairly sound.” To demonstrate my point I slapped my hand against a support beam on the roof, knocking it slightly out a place and sending a shower of dust and dirt on my head. I cough. “Okay. On second thought, maybe it’s not really that safe.”

Noah continues to look at Brandon’s house, only this time with a critical eye. “You know, it’s not that bad. Needs a lot of repairs, but the foundation is still in good shape. The porch needs work; new base supports and a complete replacement of the porch. But other than that it’s all cosmetic damage.”

“You sound like you know what you’re talking about?”

He shoots me a half-grin. “Nah, not really. I worked in construction during summer-breaks. I know a couple things but I’m not a professional or anything.”

“But you know more than me. Would you be able to give a couple pointers?” I ask before I even think about what I am saying. “You know what, never mind. You’re probably busy and everything. Army stuff and all that. Just forget it. I didn’t mean to come off as pushy or anything. Sorry.”

Dog-Tags shakes his head while reaching out to scratch Benji on his head. “No, it’s okay. Actually, if you wanted a hand I have a couple more weeks before I leave.”

“Really?”

The sudden pit in my stomach, I don’t know what it means or what is the cause of it. Maybe I’m just really hungry for that cake. Yeah, that’s it.

“Yeah, but only if you want,” he adds quickly, a blush creeping up his neck.

“No, that’d be great!” I know I come off as over-enthusiastic, but who cares? “When’re you free? I’m off tomorrow—”

“Tomorrow’s good.”

“Awesome!” Before I can even think about it I am bounding off the porch and smashing into Noah with the biggest bear-hug a person who is five-three can give. Let me tell you, it ain’t much.

He freezes against me, and for the first time in, well, in forever I feel a little self conscious. Pulling back, I laugh nervously. “Sorry. I have a thing about personal space.”

“Yeah, she doesn’t understand the simple concept of it.”

Ah, I was wondering when curiosity would get the better of them.

Noah and I turn to see Brandon and my sister standing on the porch. Brandon looks confused while my sister looks very much intrigued. It is not a good look on her. In fact, if my craziness can instill fear into the hearts of men, then my sister being fascinated by them can do the same.

Our Goode villain-powers.

Notice the pun? Huh, huh, huh? Yes? No.

You suck.

“Who’s your friend, Spencer?” Anabelle asks sweetly.

“Guys, this is Dog-Tags . . . –er, Noah. And Benji, he’s the ginormous dog that likes to sit on me. Noah, this is my sister Anabelle, and my brother Brandon; no relation. And Brandon, guess what! Noah has agreed to lend his expertise to fix up our crap-shack!”

Brandon is not impressed. “It’s my crap-shack.”

I wag my finger at him while saying, “Nuh-uh. It’s ours now that I’m living here and paying rent.”

“Whatever. Now why do you guys look like you rolled in mud?” my sister wonders, leaning forward to sniff the top of my head. She gags over me. “You stink, Spencer.”

“I’ve been holding that one in all day,” I retort instantly. When everyone stares at me I think it over – okay, cute dude probably doesn’t want to know that girls actually do fart out smelly gas – and tap my chin. “I didn’t do anything! We just fell in the ditch when a car tried to turn me into a human fruit roll-up!”

My explaining skills need a lot of work, I am beginning to see.

“You were almost hit by a car?” Brandon exclaims.

“Key word is almost, but Noah here saved my butt. He picked me up and jumped us into the ditch, so now we’re covered in mud and grossness, but it’s okay because I know what will make it all better!”

They wait and I know the answer isn’t as plain to them as it is to me.

“Chocolate cake!” I crow. “I’ll go get it.”

I go to do just that but Anabelle cuts me off with a firm hand to my chest and a glare. “No, you can stay right out here. I’ll go get it. I don’t think Brandon wants you trailing mud and whatever else you have drying on you into his house.”

“It’s not like it’ll hurt anything,” I grumble, but give in, sinking down to sit on the porch steps as I wait for my long deprived slice of cake. Noah sits down next to me and then things are silent for a moment.

“So,” he starts, hitting my shoulder with his.

I look up at him to see he’s giving me a lopsided grin. “So,” I reply, hitting him back.

“You’re really crazy.”

“Yeah, I know.” I’m not at all offended because he’s still smiling so I know he means it in the best and most honest way possible.

“It’s actually really hilarious.”

“I’d say I try,” I boast, puffing out my chest, “but it comes naturally.”

He laughs again and I find myself enjoying the sound. It’s a lot better than grunts and groans and ‘Shut-up, Spencer!’ which is what I usually get.

“Just thought you should know, though,” he begins.

“What?”

“I’m actually in the Air Force, not the Army.”

“Oh,” I say, nodding my head. “There’s a difference?”

Noah huffs out a breath that sounds eerily close to a chuckle.

“Just teasing. That’s really cool.” I wait a moment and then lean in to whisper, “Just thought you should know, after cake and whenever you’re ready, I’ll drive you home.”

“Oh really?”

I nod. “The least I can do after standing on you.”

“That is true.”

The screen door creaks open and my sister and Brandon return with four plates.

“So, who wants cake?” Brandon asks.

Noah and I share a glance, smile, and then both throw our hands up. “We do!”

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