After acclimating myself to the kitchen for the first time dinner prep goes fairly quickly. Charlie went on a long bike ride this afternoon leaving the house my domain. After cleaning like a wild woman I have it looking more homey and it certainly smells better.
I am just taking the garlic bread out of the oven when I hear the back door open.
“Holy shit Ray it smells AMAZING in here.” I hear Charlie before I see him. He is completely covered in sweat and shirtless with his helmet and ipod in his hands. He sets his load down on the dining room table and opens the oven to take a peek at my pasta masterpiece. I wouldn’t say I am a fantastic cook but there are a couple things I make really well. My grandmother’s lasagna is one of them.
“Seriously will you live with us forever?” Charlie gave me his best puppy dog eyes and pouted a little.
“Umm yes? I won’t be cooking like this all the time though, at least not when school starts. Stace and I took turns cooking one homemade meal a week for the apartment before. Just one night where we could all sit down and have good meal together. If you want I can arrange that to happen again. You and Josh would just have to show up.”
“That sounds amazing, I mean obviously we can cook for ourselves but being guys and not living with our parents for awhile now we haven’t had the luxury of home cooked meals for years. Except Holidays and that’s only for me really.”
“Doesn’t your family have holidays together? You’re cousins right?”
“No and Yes. We are cousins but Josh’s mom died awhile back and they don’t come over for Holidays anymore really.”
Well that makes me really sad. I couldn’t imagine not only having lost a parent, but not being included in extended family’s holidays too. No wonder Josh is so closed off.
“Well it’s settled then I will make one dinner a week for us during the summer and then Stace can take over some of it during the school year. It’s really no problem.”
“Wow, no joke? That’s awesome. I can help with groceries and stuff if you want me to. If you are cooking for us it’s the least I can do.” His sincere surprise and appreciation makes me feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside. I like being able to bring the three of us together like this, like we could really be friends and not just housemates.
The house smells amazing as I walk through the front door. I set down my guitar case and take off my boots. I want to start making a habit of being more clean for Ray’s sanity. I can tell the house has been significantly cleaned since I left early this afternoon. The scents of lemon Pledge and garlic making a home out of the house I have lived in for the last five years. I don’t want Ray or Charlie to know I’m home yet so I make my way through the living room keeping away from the floor boards I know are loose and squeak. I notice some female touches in the space. Blue throw pillows are on our beaten brown leather couch. The fireplace which we never use is now filled with multi leveled pillar candles. Above that on the mantel there are framed black and white photos of a farm. The subjects, a pale colored horse strapped to a fence post and a decrepit tractor. Obviously stock photos; but a nice touch none the less. Turning the corner into the dining room a sight that has not graced this house since my grandmother lived here waits for me. The table is set with plates and silverware. Water glasses and plastic wine goblets set out like they are fine china at the three places. Charlie is at the stereo putting on a jazz record we recorded back in high school.
“What happened in here?” I ask my cousin when I finally can get words past the lump in my throat.
“Ray happened man. She asked me after you left if I minded if she decorated a little and cleaned.” He snorts “I told her have at it. As long as you don’t mind if the stuff down here gets ruined during a party or whatever. I came home to this.” Charlie’s facial expression matches what I am feeling. That warmth in my heart that I haven’t truly felt since my mother and grandmother died. I am home, and Ray made it this way. In a few hours she had turned our bachelor pad into a full on home. It takes my breath away. I take one more look around the first floor until I hear Ray coming down the stairs. I manage to damp down my awe as she turns the corner. When our eyes meet I turn away again and look at the pictures on the mantel to distract myself.
“If you don’t like them I can take them down.” Ray meekly says from behind the archway of the kitchen. “My dad brought them up with some of my other projects, to bring a little of home here.”
“You took those?” I ask. Of course she did, she is apparently the most perfect woman I have ever met. Fate is a cruel bitch for putting her in my path just so I can’t have her.
“Yea it was part of a photography project back in high school. The assignment was to take pictures of your roots.” She blushes a little and walks past me to gesture to the picture of the horse.
“That’s my horse Maven. My...my parents sold her last year to help pay for my tuition. Plus with me gone she wasn’t getting ridden every day and that was sad for her and me.” She touches the frame lightly like she is remembering stroking the horse’s mane, But she quickly snaps herself out of her memory and turns sharply back to me.
”Like I said if they’re not your style I can hang them in my room somewhere.” Her eyes fall to the ground again. I had no idea she grew up on a farm. Why would they send her to all the fancy private schools? Her dad seemed like a down to earth guy I can see him as a farmer. I wonder if she has any siblings. My head is spinning and I am still focused on the pictures on the mantle. I don't know very much about Ray. Not anything really, yet the more I learn the more captivated I am by her. Charlie interrupts my inner diatribe.
"I don’t know if you noticed Ray but we don’t really have a ‘Style’,” He makes the quotation marks with is fingers. “We have goodwill shit throw together the most comfortable way we could at the time. They look nice up there.”
I clear my throat and mutter, ” Yea, no it’s fine by me.”
Her grin reappears and she claps her hands together like the matter is settled. “Okay then. Who’s hungry?”
“So Ray, you looking to get married anytime soon? Because I would volunteer if you are going to cook like this on the regular.” Charlie states while pushing himself away from the table and rubbing his now full and slightly distended belly. Ray lets out a nervous laugh and her face gets a delicious shade of red. I shoot him a glare from across the table. We usually eat at the counter or in the living room when we have meals together. This is nice though, Charlie sits across from me and Ray is between us.
“I am not in the market for a ring but I will keep that in mind.” she says giving him a playful smack on the arm. She is so comfortable with my cousin. I get a churning in my gut as they flirt through the meal. Each smile he earns from her another stab. Ray stands to gather the dishes. I stay her hand before she gets to my plate.
“Don’t worry about those. Cleaning the dishes is the least we can do considering you made us dinner.” My voice is rough. I haven't talked much through the meal. I was too busy picturing ways I could take Ray in the kitchen and on the table we are eating on.
“Oh, okay, thanks.” A sweet blush starts to bloom on her face and I realize I am still holding on to her hand, my thumb caressing the pulse point in her wrist. I can feel her heart rate spike with my gentle touch. From across the room Charlie clears his throat and rises to grab the rest of the soiled dishes. She blinks twice before taking back her hand and twists her fingers together nervously in front of her.
“I am just going to get ready for work then.” She shoots her eyes over to Charlie. "The bus comes by at six right?"
“Yea, the stop is at the corner right outside the house.” He tells her while walking into the kitchen. He looks at me and raises his eyebrows expectantly at me from behind her. Before I can think about it too much I offer her a ride to work.
“Oh no that’s okay I have been getting round the city by bus for two years now. I can get there.”
“I know you can Ray, just let me drive you.” She meets my eyes again and gets this little crinkle between her eyebrows. It’s so fucking cute.
“Thanks Josh that’s really nice. Max will drive me home then after close tonight.” She turns quickly and heads upstairs. I pick up our plates and hand them to Charlie who is filling the sink.
“That was interesting.” Charlie states without looking at me.
“I don’t know the touching. The sappy ass look you gave her when she told you about her pictures. The daydreaming through the whole dinner while staring at her. Pick a subject.” He still hasn’t looked at me, feigning interest in his task. I can tell he is holding back laughter.
“Lay off ya jerk, I am just being a good friend. That’s what you wanted me to do right be nicer to her?”
“Yea, No for sure be nicer. If that’s all it is. Oh by the way is Jess coming over tonight, or tomorrow?” Jess? why the hell would he be bringing up my fuck buddy now?
“Maybe tomorrow after the show if the other girls come. Why?” More like what is he fishing for.
“Just wondering, ya know since the walls are thin and if I can hear Jess moaning from down the hall you know Ray will get the surround sound effect from next door.” I have already thought of that, and maybe it’s time to stop my little arrangement with Jess. I hadn’t really planned on it going on as long as it has.
“That won’t be a problem anymore.” I state firmly. I have no intention of letting Ray hear me having sex with anyone. It seems sleazy to be fucking someone I can barely tolerate feet away from the woman I really want. Charlie nods his head and loses the internal battle with his laughter.
“It’s going to be a long year then huh?”
“A really fucking long year.” I say. Ray is bounding down the stairs putting an end to our conversation.