Cross Roads

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Chapter Twenty-One: Rain

I cannot believe it. Seriously. I can’t. My itty-bitty, blonde brain just can’t fathom it.

Finally. After nearly three weeks of hard labor, blood, sweat, tears, blisters, splinters and stubbed appendages, the porch is finally finished. I repeat. Finally finished. It is unbelievable.

At least, for me it is.

Maybe it’s the heat which is making me cranky. Maybe it’s because Brandon and I have one more day left of working in Hell before we are finally free of that horrendous place. Maybe it’s that Noah is leaving the day after tomorrow for places unknown – and that I probably won’t ever see beautiful, gorgeous Dog-Tags and his trusty sidekick Benji ever again. Maybe it’s all of those things combined.

Either way, I am having trouble believing my eyes as I stand several feet from the front steps, simply gazing at the perfection that is the first porch I have ever endeavored to destroy and rebuild. It looks awesome. It looks divine. It actually makes Brandon’s crap-shack look less like a shack and more like a hut. A crap-hut.

I had thought that we would never be done.

I’m pretty sure that both Brandon and Noah thought the same thing.

Now, don’t get wrong. Things had been running pretty smoothly since the three of us decided to play wrecking ball with the old porch. Twenty-four hours a week had seemed like a decent enough time for us newbies to get the ball rolling. And it had seemed like we were making swift progress.

But then the unthinkable happened.

Just as we were finishing putting up the base we came across a remarkable discovery.

As it would turn out, Brandon had some new tenants. Well, to be honest, it seemed like Brandon was the tenant to this swarming beehive that had somehow built a fortified Fort Knox in the ground. How we missed it during our entire porch destruction I will never know. How they took so long to attack with their mini harpoons I am still trying to figure out. But attack they did, and we were sorely outmatched. Both Noah and I were covered in itchy, burning, stinging red dots. We looked like we had chicken pox. I was tempted to make and take an oatmeal bath, but that would require oatmeal, which Brandon does not have.

Ah . . . Brandon. The poor guy. It would turn out that he is allergic to bees. Like, if he hadn’t been stocked up on hidden Epi-pens, we probably would’ve had to call an ambulance. Never before in my life have I seen a person swell up that fast. Not even in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The only good thing that happened during that incident was that Brandon managed to protect his throat and face from the bees. If that’d happened . . . well, he would have already been through his last day as a store manager for McDonald’s. As it was, he succeeded in keeping his stings to a minimum of four while Noah and I were swarmed.

It was after this debacle that I learned of the wonders of baking soda and water. Just enough of both to make a paste that took away the ouch-i-ness of the dumb bee stingers – at least, until the stuff dried and flaked off. That wasn’t so fun. What with the amount Noah and I had covering us, Brandon’s kitchen turned into a little Baking Soda Wonderland.

But I digress.

Anyways, that happened five days ago, and now, after all the hardships, the porch is finally done!

It’s about dang time!

“Dude,” I whistle, hands on my hips as I survey the finished product. “We good. Maybe I should go for construction.” I think about that for a moment. “No. Never mind. My dad’s already doing that and he has become Mister Grouchy-Pants. I don’t want that to be my future.” I nod my head satisfied with my decision. “This porch looks awesome.”

“And stable,” Brandon adds.

“Less death-trappy,” Noah suggests.

“It actually looks appealing,” Anabelle tosses in for good measure. “You guys did good.”

“Thank you,” we all say in unison. From next to me Benji barks once, not willing to be forgotten.

My sister, smiling down at the dog, kneels so that he is just several inches over her. “Yes, you did good too. You were a big help, weren’t you?” she croons, rubbing Benji’s ears and then his stomach when he flops over, intent on getting as much pampering as possible while the attention is on him. “You’re such a good boy. Yes you are. Who’s a good boy?”

“So,” I begin, leaning towards Brandon. “How does it feel to know you have just been replaced by a Mastiff?”

He is not amused, casting me a glower. “Ha-ha. Very funny.”

I shrug, not yet finished. “Well, you only have yourself to blame. You waited too long. Girls like to see commitment, and you just never did. She has moved on to bigger and better things. Fluffier things.” I watch as Benji licks my sister’s face, earning himself an indignant cry. “Drool-i-er things.”

“Don’t listen to her, Brandon,” Anabelle calls. “I have no intention of breaking up with you.” She gets up and walks over, looping her arm through her boyfriend’s, leaning her head on his shoulder. “If that’s okay with you?”

“Definitely,” he answers with a kiss to her forehead.

I roll my eyes. These two are such slow movers. In fact, if it weren’t for me, the two of them would be wandering around the universe, looking for but unable to find each other. They would be two lonely souls if not for me. In fact . . . right now would be a good opportunity for a kick in the pants to get me a law-ful brother – is that a thing?

. . . To act or not to act . . . ? That is the very weighted question.

“So, when’s the date?” I decide on saying.

The two give me two completely different looks. Belle appears rather shocked, eyes just waiting to fall from their sockets as her jaw drops open like it’s been weighted down by bricks. Brandon looks rather confused. Typical guy. Clueless, no matter what his IQ and GPA say.

“What’re you talking about?” Brandon asks me.

At the same time, my sister whirls on her boyfriend. “What is she saying?” she questions, cutting into the middle of his sentence.

I know then that the two of them have some talking to do. “Well, it’s been fun. Enjoy the new porch. We’re gonna give you some privacy to hash this out. C’mon, Noah! Benji!”

The fact that Dog-Tags follows me without a word is a testament to how much time we have spent together over the weeks. He understands that resistance is futile. Or he simply does not care about me being a bossy little thing. Who knows? He could just be used to obeying orders. They give those all the time in the Air Force . . . right?

. . . Or he just knows that the ensuing discussion between my two older siblings is not something that he wants to be around for . . . Nah, it must be the giving orders bit. Yep. Definitely. It has nothing at all to do with self preservation. Nothing at all.

Who am I kidding? Of course it does!

It’s not until we are out of sight of Brandon’s house that I breathe an audible sigh of relief.

Whew,” I say with an exaggerated swipe across my forehead. “That was close. Things could’ve gotten awkward if we hadn’t left when we did. Good thinking, Dog-Tags.” I turn to grin up at him. “Whoever said that you were just a pretty face was wrong.”

“So I don’t have a pretty face?” he pouts, shoulders slumping down in dejection.

I shrug, thinking it over. “I’d say it’s more devilishly handsome. Especially with your freakin’ dimples. You know, if we could turn them into a weapon the only wars this world would be facing are on account of the rest of the male population wanting their womenfolk back. But hey, at least they would be united behind one cause! None of that ‘We’ll kill you ‘cause you’re American’ or the religion genocides or whatever else man has decided to hate. You know, we’re a very hateful species – we’re considered a species, right? We really seem to like blowing each other up – some like blowing themselves up – and shooting each other and hating each other. Why is that? Something must have gone wrong in that Big Bang they like teaching in school. Evolution has not been kind to humanity.”

“. . . Wow,” Noah says after a lengthy pause.

I pull a face, one part grimace, one part just something stupid, and the rest what might be considered as apologetic – I hope. “Still not used to my long-winded responses?”

“You seem to forget, Spencer, that I have three younger sisters. All of whom are in high school. Trust me. Anything that can come out of your mouth I have likely heard worse.” He rubs at the back of his neck, ears darkening in a blush that just makes him even more adorably handsome. “And I kinda didn’t hear anything past the . . . um . . . the dimples.”

I laugh, reaching up to mess with his hair, finding that I have to jump just to reach. But, not one to be deterred from anything, really, I do just that, using Benji as a little footstool which he does not seem to mind – or is used to. I wonder how tall Noah’s sisters are. I wonder if the tall genes are a family trait or if he’s just the freak of nature. Either way he’s a fine random occurrence.

“Dude, I think you’re getting taller,” I grumble afterwards, glaring at my unimpressive attempt at giving him bed-head. There is only one teeny-tiny section that looks a little out of order. Nothing even close to noticeable. My life sucks!

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe you’re getting shorter,” he teases.

I drop my mouth open in horror. “Don’t even joke about that!” I gasp.

He laughs, throwing up his hands. “Alright! I’m sorry!”

“You should be,” I grumble, folding my arms tightly across my chest as I glare at the road before me.

“So . . . what was that back there with Brandon and your sister?” he asks me, finally getting to the question that I know has been eating at him since we left. “Do you know something she doesn’t?”

I shake my head. “Nope. I’m just giving a helpful nudge in the right direction. They both have needed a kick to get them moving. If it weren’t for me the two of them wouldn’t even be dating again. Such slow-pokes.”

“I take it you’re pushing for a wedding, then?”

“Yep. Then it won’t seem so weird when I introduce Brandon as my brother who is dating my sister. Some people don’t really understand. They give me weird looks. But, then again, I always get weird looks. Sometimes it’s because I wear obnoxious T-shirts.” I glance over and see that, once again, Noah is wearing something witty: I REFUSE TO ENGAGE IN A BATTLE OF WITS WITH AN UNARMED PERSON. “Where do you get yours, by the way? Mine are all from K-Mart and significantly less witty than yours.”

“My sister. She’s been getting them for me for years. I have no idea where. I think she orders them online.”

“Ahh. That makes sense. I should start doing that . . . oh, wait. Brandon is too cheap for internet.” I frown, thinking about how necessary internet is, but only realizing it when it is no longer readily available. It always takes the loss of something to realize what’s important in life.

My frown becomes deeper when I feel a drop of something land on my nose. Blinking upwards, I take in the suddenly darkened clouds and catch a follow-up raindrop in my eye. “Crap,” I hiss, dropping my head and rubbing at the suddenly burning socket. “I think I’m melting.”

Noah laughs at my plight. “What? Are you the Wicked Witch of the West?”

“No. That title has long since been held by my grandma. I’m a minion.”

He does not follow. “Like the monkey, flying things?”

“No, like the little yellow people with their own special language,” I reply, waiting for recognition but being sorely let down. “You’ve never seen Despicable Me?”

Dog-Tags shakes his head. “No. I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it. Kinda been a little busy these past few years.”

“Oh.” That makes sense. “Well, when we get back to Brandon’s I am going to culture you on the finer points of recent animation. Despicable Me is one of my favorite movies. You have got to watch it . . . Unless you have to leave?” I really hope he doesn’t, but I will understand if he does. He’s leaving in a day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to spend the last few hours of normality with his family. Noah does seem like a family-oriented person.

“I think I’ve got a few hours left to kill,” he answers. “Although,” he squints as the occasional raindrop turns into a heavy sprinkle, “I can’t say as I’m interested in getting caught in a downpour. Wet clothes tend to chafe.”

“I know, right? We should turn back.” We go and do just that, making it a ways before the sprinkle becomes a blinding overcast of falling water. We are soaked in seconds and still very far from Brandon’s house.

Plus side, there is a bus stop just a dozen yards in front of us.

“Safety!” I cry, pointing.

We run beneath the tin roof, sitting down on the dirty bench. Benji wastes not a moment to shake water from himself, soaking Noah and me even more than we already were – if that’s even possible.

“Blah,” I spit. “Wet dog. Not as appealing as it might sound.”

Noah laughs, wiping water from his face. When he turns to look at me he laughs again, reaching out and grabbing something on my cheek. “I agree. But seriously, Rebel, it’s not something for you to drool over,” he jokes, pulling a globule of saliva from where it had splattered on my cheek. “Gross.”

“EWW!” I squeal, lifting the hem of my shirt to wipe at my face. It does nothing to dry me off, but at least it will wash away any lingering drool. “That’s disgusting!”

“Benji, say you’re sorry for spraying Spencer,” Noah advises his dog, who whines and drops his head into my lap, obviously upset that he has upset me. “See? It was an accident. And it won’t happen again, will it, Benji?”

Wonder of all wonders, the Mastiff actually shakes his head in the negative.

“How did you train him to do that?” I ask, surprised and more than just a tad impressed.

“Lots and lots of hard work.”

I ring out my hair, hating the extended poofing that humidity and rain water have caused. Then I start petting Benji, scratching by his ears and laughing when he becomes like putty in my lap. The dog is such a sweetheart, even if he likes to assault me with unexpected kisses and great heaps of drool. “How long have you had him?”

“Almost four years. I actually found him on the side of the road. My parents had him taken to the animal shelter where I volunteered, so I saw him a lot. And when no one wanted to adopt him after a month, I took him home. My parents were a little less than pleased, especially since I wasn’t old enough to adopt him and they had to come down to fill out paper work, but . . . everything turned out good in the end, I guess.”

“Do they like him now?” I ask, leaning over when Benji rolls to his stomach, continuing with my enthusiastic rubbing which sets his tail wagging like a propeller.

“Honestly? I think they tolerate him, just like he tolerates them. He kind of doesn’t listen to anyone other than me. He’s stubborn like that. But that makes it so much harder when I leave. Unfortunately I can’t take him with me, so he has to stay.”

“Aww. He must miss you so much.”

“Yeah,” Noah nods. “When I enlisted and left for the first time, my mom told me that he would sit at the end of the driveway for hours just waiting for me to come home. Another time he was caught lying in the street. It was actually two days before I came home back in March. He wouldn’t move for anything. Not even the plows. My mom actually called me on the phone just to see if he would listen. Apparently that worked. We had a nice, long phone conversation afterwards, didn’t we, buddy?” he croons, clapping his hands which makes Benji sit up and bowl into him. “Oi! You’re a little too big for this!”

“He’s like your little baby,” I say.

“Yeah. I’m actually surprised with how much he likes you. Aside from me, you’re the only other person he listens to at least semi well.” It’s said as an off-handed comment, but it is one that immediately gets my attention. And my brain revving with ideas. “But you’re gonna be a good boy when I leave, aren’t you?”

“Here’s a thought,” I start, drawing out the three words as I formulate my plan. “But it’s just an idea, mind you. You don’t have to agree, but I’m just gonna throw this out there so you have options. It’s the least I could do after all the help you’ve given me since your dog scared me up the lamppost. I mean, I’ll have to ask Brandon for his permission but he probably wouldn’t mind. He’s cool like that.”

“Okay . . .” Noah pushes, a little nervous but not enough that he doesn’t want to hear my insane thought process.

“Why don’t you leave Benji with me?” I finally suggest, watching his reaction of bug-eyes and disappearing eyebrows. “It’s not like I’m trying to usurp your dog from you. You said your family doesn’t really like him. And from what I’ve seen of your house, you don’t really have much space for him, either. And while Brandon’s house isn’t all that enormous, he does have a yard, which is better than nothing. I could look after him until your training or whatever’s done. And when you come back you can have him. But if he’s just going to be depressed the entire time that you’re gone . . . I don’t want that for him. You know? It was just an idea. Tell me no if you want. I was just trying to help the two of you out. And your parents.”

He is silent for a long moment. I consider that maybe I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.

“Seriously?” he finally asks.

I nod hesitantly.

“You really want to have him? I’ll be gone for a while. Months. Probably at least a year.”

I didn’t know that, but I nod anyway. “Yeah. I like him. He seems to really like me. And Brandon. I just don’t want him to be all alone when you leave.” That, and this will give Dog-Tags a reason to come back so I can gaze at his dimples once more, but I will keep that reason to myself. “Brandon will probably say yes when I ask him.”

“You’re sure, though?” he persists.

“When do I ever say things I don’t mean?”

He thinks about it for a moment. “True.” And then he turns to his dog. “What do you think, Benji? You wanna move in with Spencer for a while?”

Benji seems to be thinking over his options, and then he barks once, wagging his tail as he slobbers me with his tongue.

“I guess that’s a yes,” Noah says. “That is, if Brandon’s okay with it. You have no idea how awesome this is of you, Rebel. I always hate leaving him behind. He’s a social dog and . . . my family’s a little too busy for him. Thank you.” And then he does something very unexpected.

Noah ‘Dimples’ Dog-Tags kisses me.

On the cheek, mind you, but still.

I just got kissed by Gorgeous Dimples himself. Queue giddiness and possible manic giggle – no, bite that down. You don’t need to appear insane-er.

“Sorry,” he apologizes after a moment of cute awkwardness.

I shake my head quickly, maybe a bit too enthusiastically. “No. It’s fine. And you’re welcome. I’ve always wanted a dog, anyways. I’ll ask Brandon when we get back to his house.” I peer out from beneath the bus stop, unsurprised to find that it does not look as though the rain will be letting up anytime soon. “I doubt either him or Belle are going to come looking for us. Do we want to brave the elements or wait?” I grin, knowing which option I am going to choose.

“Lead the way, Rebel,” he says, waving his hand as invitation.

I get up and race out into the rain, Benji and Dog-Tags following quickly behind. I bounce from puddle to puddle, giggling as I go. Noah keeps pace with me, acting just as childish, which makes this even more fun.

I’m singin’ in the rain,” I begin, spinning and nearly falling over before Noah catches me. “Just singin’ in the rain.” He places a hand on my back while I grab tightly to his other, and then we take turns waltzing down the street, Benji hopping alongside as he chases raindrops. “What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again. I’m laughin’ at the clouds, so dark up above!

I belt out the words to a song I have only heard several times, once during a forced audition for a play in high school – I did not get the part because apparently girls are not to be given male roles – and then more recently when Brandon had made me watch the movie. While black and white, it was still good, which is how I am remembering the lyrics so easily.

Dancin’ in the rain, dee-ah dee-ah dee-ah!” Noah twirls me around and I have to stop in order to laugh, nearly slipping from his grip and landing on my butt. “I’m happy again! I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain!” We continue our mediocre dancing, more hopping through puddles and splashing passing cars at the same time they splash us. I keep singing, over and over again the same words, skipping and spinning with Noah, enjoying the rain for quite possibly the first time in my life. “Let the stormy clouds chase, everyone from the place! Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face! I walk down the lane, with a happy refrain, just singin’, singin’ in the rain!

By the time we reach Brandon’s I have gone through the song at least five times, Benji singing with me as Noah makes sure we don’t trip into unsuspecting cars’ way.

I’m singin’, and dancin’ in the rain!” I sing, leaping up the porch steps. My sister and Brandon are there, reclined on logs from the dead tree since we don’t have any chairs. I grab onto Belle’s hand, forcefully pulling her into the rain, sliding in the mud and starting the song over again. “I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain!

At first she is indignant, trying to break free, but then my sister is laughing and singing along with me like we used to do when we were younger.

What are glorious feelin’, I’m happy again! I’m laughin’ at clouds, so dark up above! The sun’s in my heart, and I’m ready for love!

We break apart, me back over to Noah, forcing him back out from the shelter of the roof. Anabelle goes to Brandon, and then we’re both singing and dancing in the rain, looking like a group of maniacs, but having too much fun to care. Neither of the boys join in with our singing, only willing to spin with us through puddles and mud as we are drenched in the rain. It’s still a fun way to spend the evening

I only hope that we don’t get sick from this, which would totally suck for our last day of work and the bonfire that we are holding afterwards courtesy of some crew people wanting a proper send off.

A few hours later we’re all in the living room, changed into dry clothes – Belle borrowed from me and Noah squeezed into a pair of shorts from Brandon. Hello abs of stone. We’re eating pizza and watching Despicable Me, me and Dog-Tags on the floor while my sister and brother take up the couch.

“So that’s who you are,” Noah says when the minions come on screen, scurrying about and yelling strange sounds that translate into words. “It fits.”
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