41. Pull-Ups And Puns
Nate hung from the bar in the doorway between the hallway and living room looking like he was clinging to life on the edge of a crevasse near the Westen Cwm of Mt. Everest. His face strained, muscles flexed and then... the door to the apartment popped open.
“What are you doing?” Leila asked, cocking her head at him.
“Pull-ups,” he said, voice strained. Then he let go, feet landing on the ground with a loud thud. It was heavy enough to shake the floorboards.
“Why not just get a gym membership? There are loads of good ones within driving distance.”
“I could, but then I’d be paying money and feel obliged to go more often,” Nate said, grabbing a white towel to wipe the sweat from his body. “And I’d rather stick around here. So, I got the bar, put it up in the hallway and voila... personal gym.”
“What about your ab workout? Cardio?” She was teasing, he was almost sure of it.
“Sit-ups for abs, cardio I can do in the bedroom if I pace myself.” He grinned fiendishly at her, punctuating it with a wink.
Leila laughed, sauntered up to him and kissed him on the lips. She placed her hands on his sweaty, bare chest and slid them up to cup his cheeks.
“I’m swimming in sweat, sweetheart,” Nate told her. “Let me take a shower before you decide to get me dirty again.”
Leila chuckled this time, moved to the couch and grabbed the remote control.
“Not joining me?” Nate asked, disappointed.
“Just got out of the shower myself.”
“Can one ever truly be clean?” Nate waxed philosophical.
“Yes, one can, Confucius,” she mimicked in his tone. “There’s such a thing as good bacteria. It’s all over your body, in it. Scrub away too much and you might open yourself up to a world of hurt.”
“Thank you, Dr. Winters,” Nate jibed. “Should I cough and turn my head next?”
“Yeah... and so not happening,” Nate said, shaking his head. He sauntered into the hallway to take a much-needed shower.
After washing up, he found Leila in the living room in the middle of a The First 48 marathon. If Nate didn’t know any better, he would have thought she was taking notes for her next crime, she was so into it.
When he said as much, Leila laughed.
“Think about it,” she said. “Murder’s like a blueprint and I dig blueprints. Hell, I dream about them sometimes. Get ideas for homes, buildings from dreams.”
“If you weren’t so sexy, I’d call you a nerd.”
“If you weren’t so eager to strip me naked, you mean,” she retorted with a laugh.
“True,” Nate said slowly. “I could mark up that perfect skin like a blueprint.”
“And call it what? Nate’s cock’s property?”
“Sounds good to me,” he said, grinning.
“To lease or to own?” Leila sounded amused.
“Oh, honey. I’ve owned it since you put pen to paper.”
They bantered back and forth, Nate distracting her with naughty words until he ran out of architectural terminology and they were both panting in each other’s arms.
“I need to drink some water,” Nate said, breaking their kiss.
“You can’t dehydrate from kissing, Nate. Well, unless you’re an incredible sloppy kisser.”
“No, I mean I could kiss you for hours, days if I could go without oxygen to my brain, but I meant after my workout. I’m parched.”
“You can still breathe while kissing,” Leila told him, watching him get up to walk to the kitchen.
“I was thinking more along the lines of the fact that all my oxygen would be in blood form and filling my cock. It’s bad to have an erection for more than four hours.”
“So the doctors say,” Leila said, smiling.
Nate grabbed two glasses of iced water, added a slice of lemon in Leila’s, and brought them to the living room. Leila was still in her place, with her hands on her lower thighs and leaning into the TV like it was a prize fight and not a docu-series.
“I knew it was that girlfriend,” she said, gesturing to the TV. “She and that so-called best friend of the victims were a little too tight to just be associates.”
Nate chuckled. “You watch this show like most people watch The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. You’re... so into it. Like there’s gonna be some kind of crazy-ass plot twist to keep the viewers interested.”
“This is better than those shows,” Leila said. “This is real life. Real people. Real problems.”
“You mean there aren’t three dragons the size of small cities across the sea ready to take back the Iron Throne? No zombies ambling down 11th Street ready to gnaw on my limbs? It’s shocking.” Nate feigned stupefaction, clutching his gut.
“And no Valyrian steel that’s harder than diamond I can use to chop off the heads of those that betray me or dragon glass to kill a white walker either.”
“I have something as hard as Valyrian steel.” Nate grinned. Leila rolled her eyes muttering something about him having a ‘one-track mind’.
“Only for the things that pique my interest,” he countered.
Leila narrowed her eyes at him.
“The combined libido between you, Aiden and Carl must really melt the panties off the females in your office,” she said.
“I wouldn’t know,” he told her honestly. “I don’t converse with too many people outside of Lil and the other executives.”
“Why are you trying to bulk up anyway?” Leila asked. “If it’s not to impress the female population at work, I can only assume it has to do with going back to England within a month or so.”
He pierced her with a look.
“Why can’t it just be for you?” he questioned.
She rolled her eyes for dramatic effect.
“Then you’re going about it backwards,” she said. “You bulk up to get the girl, not after. Well, you already got me. I’m here. Besides, too many muscles are creepy looking. You’ll look like one of those steroid-abusing bodybuilders that saunted down catwalks to the tune of Enter Sandman and Pump Up The Jam.”
“I’d never use steroids,” Nate said firmly. “Makes your balls and dick shrink. I like my size just fine.”
“Okay then, why this sudden urge to define your body?”
Nate sighed. There wasn’t one response to that question. There were many, actually.
“I’ve always wanted to ‘bulk up’ as you say,” he told her. “Never had the time or energy when I was in England. Running several businesses all at once for years on end is maddening. I slept, ate and drank work. I’m not aiming to look like a young Governator; I just want to keep in better shape.”
“Your shape is fine,” she told him. “I like your shape. Defined without looking weirdly veiny or so muscular you look like you’re about to rip apart your skin from the inside out.”
“I can show you veiny,” Nate said with a sneer. “And if you want to feel like being ripped apart from the inside out, all you have to do is say the word.”
Leila cut him with a glare.
“You’re deflecting,” she accused.
He was. He didn’t want to tell her the other reasons. They were... stupid. Childish.
“I... it’s going to sound stupid.”
“Try me,” Leila said, facing him completely on the sofa.
“Well, have you ever had a guy break up with you and you saw him at a party or a bar with another chick afterward?”
“I’ve... seen movies about this type of thing,” she said. “Hard to say I have experienced it when I only participated in flings for the majority of my adulthood.”
“Right,” Nate said. “Well, it’s sort of like going to your high school reunion.“′
“Another movie cliche, but go on.” She nodded at him sagely.
“You graduate from high school at your peak physical condition. Before the Freshman 15 or marriage and kids. Then people expect you to go soft because you’re too busy living life. It’s... it’s like that.”
“So... you want to make sure you look better than ever when you finally have to face Lorelei again?” she asked, cutting through the fat to get to the meat of the issue.
“Yeah,” he said, blushing. “Silly, I know. Cliche- most definitely. But... with everything Lorelei has put me through, I want to make sure I’ve come out on top in every aspect of my life. Look better, feel better. The whole fucking kit and kaboodle.”
“And to show her what she’s missing out on?” Leila quirked a brow at him.
“That helps, but it’s not the heart of the issue.”
“You need to prove yourself and to her that she can’t get you down. That you’re living your best life. And all without her.”
She did get it, and Nate was thankful for that. Leila wasn’t jealous, disdainful or petty about it. If anything, she was being more than understanding.
“While I don’t mind the extra muscle,” she continued. “Just make sure that no one handles the goods that isn’t me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
The two sat and watched a couple of episodes of The First 48 before deciding to cook dinner. It was still early and they debated on whether or not to order take out from the Indian place they liked ten minutes away, but Nate had some frozen foods he needed to get rid of before he left for England in a month.
“What the hell? Do you buy all your meat in bulk at Costco?” Leila was rifling through the freezer looking for the pork chops he said were somewhere among the fray of frozen veggies, ice trays, and packages of vacuum-sealed meats.
“I hate shopping for meat,” he told her from the stove. “I always feel dirty after handling pre-packaged raw meat.”
“How do you think I feel?” Her voice was wry.
“Hysterical,” he said, rolling his eyes at her. “I buy whatever I want and make sure it’ll fit into the freezer and then only head back to the store when I’m running low. I maybe shop for meat once a month. And I only buy meat at that time.”
“Why?” She sounded dubious.
“Because I don’t want my meat touching the vegetables or boxes of crackers and shit. Raw meat can make a man sick. It’s tainting my snacks and veggies if I buy them all at once and having them in the same vicinity of each other.”
“Nate, that’s what they invented plastic bags for. Just grab a few from the veggie section and wrap it up.”
“Haven’t heard that phrase in a while.”
“It’s pretty simple.” She ignored his sexual innuendo.
“It’s still gross and bacteria can spread,” he told her. “I don’t need to get salmonella from my broccoli.”
“So I’m told.”
They made stuffed pork chops with a side of cauliflower and au gratin potatoes. Easy peasy.
After washing dishes, they decided to put on a movie, and Leila went to click the OnDemand button on the remote.
“Action, horror, RomCom?” she asked, yelling into the kitchen where Nate was getting them drinks.
“Okay then, sappy romance with plenty of opportunities for weeping uncontrollably,” she said, calling his bluff.
“Really?” he whined.
“Kidding,” she called blithely. “Though I should put on Harry Potter for that whine. Teach you that you have it better than a kid who was forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs for 12 years of his life.”
“You wouldn’t,” he said.
“Oh, wouldn’t I?”
“Anything but magical, mystical England,” he said. “Please.”
“Still can’t figure out how to Avada Kedrava Lorelei and her evil ’rents?” she asked, teasing.
“Or turn them into toads.”
“You’d be doing them a favor. I’d much rather hang with a toad than a snake.”
“No... the snake’s their lawyer,” Nate called. “They’re simply cockroaches.”
“Can’t argue there.”
“You in a Fifty Shades mood or a Hunger Games mood?” she asked when he finally came into the room with a beer and a glass of white wine for Leila.
“Those are the options?” He asked, surprised. “BDSM or a dystopian American future?”
“One may lead to the other, the jury’s still out,” she said, smiling up at him.
“You just want to see Jamie Dornan without a shirt,” Nate accused, handing the glass of wine over to her and sitting down with his beer.
“He’s okay, I guess,” she said. “He’s no Henry Cavill or Chris Hemsworth, but he’s alright. He’s no Christian Grey.”
“It doesn’t surprise me you’ve read the books,” he groaned.
“It was strictly for research,” she said, feigning innocence.
“Research on what?”
“Whether I’d be interested in spicing up my sex life.”
“And the verdict?”
“Whips look painful, spanking’s okay- but you already knew that.” She looked at him. “But it all looks too scripted. Like you have to plan ahead. I like to go with the flow. Try what feels good at the time. I don’t need the add-ons and kinked-up playroom.”
“So...” he faded out. “Hunger Games it is?”
They watched all of the first movie and part of the second before taking a break to walk around the neighborhood. It was finally starting to cool down and the late summer sun was barely visible. Kids still played outside as the streetlights started to flicker on. Mothers called children in for a bath or for bedtime and Nate and Leila walking around the block and back home again, hand in hand.
It was familiar. Safe. Home.
“What are you going to do if you get married, have kids? I mean with the duplex?” Nate asked, nodding up at it.
“Rent it out like I do with you probably,” she said. “Find a single family home. Live the breeder lifestyle. White picket fence, 1.5 children, complain about taxes.”
“No dog?” Nate asked, laughing.
“I’m not a dog person. Maybe a cat.”
“Indoor or outdoor?”
She shrugged her shoulders. Who cares?
“An orange tabby. I think pets should reflect their owners.” Leila said.
“And what would I be?”
“Oh- that’s easy,” she said, grinning. “A poodle.”
He stopped in his tracks, frowned.
“Because of the hair?” he asked.
“That and they are loyal and faithful companions.” She tried not to crack a smile.
“I’m finding a fucking salon first thing tomorrow and straightening my hair.”
“Don’t you dare!” Leila exclaimed, weaving her hands through his wavy locks. “I love your curly hair! It’s soft and sweet.”
“Perfect,” Nate said, still muttering. “I am a poodle.”
“I’ll pet your tummy when we get home.”
“I hope that means what I think it means.”
“But only if you’re a good boy.”
Nate let out a doggy growl and followed her to their home.
Upon entering the front door, he could hear his cell phone ringing. It was... odd. Most people usually texted him and Leila was the only one that called him regularly.
Then he checked his caller ID.
Well... this couldn’t be good, her calling him on a Saturday.
“Hello?” he said, answering the phone.
‘Nate? Is that you? It’s Lettice Presnell.’
“Yeah, hey Lettice, what’s up?”
Why are you calling me on a Saturday?
‘I have some news.’
She sounded hesitant. And worried. And... a whole bunch of other shit he didn’t want to think too hard about.
“What’s going on? We get another injunction or did they finally come to their senses and realize I’m not the sperm donor?”
‘It’s not that, Nathan. It’s something else. Are you sitting down?’