The hallway light clicked off and Dave glanced up from his computer.
Megan appeared in the doorway of the den. "I think they're all asleep," she said. "Eli took some extra time. He was worried about a Harvester?"
The movie Cars. He had to remember to hide that damn DVD. "Thanks, Megan," he said. "I really appreciate your staying extra hours today. This pump station..." he let his voice trail. A girl Megan's age didn't want to hear about his boring work. Hell, he couldn't even get his own wife interested in most of it. "Sorry," he said, shaking his head.
"It's okay," she said. "I like your kids. They're sweet."
"No, I mean, I'm sorry about starting in on my job. Like you care, right?" he chuckled.
The sun was low in the sky now, but still bright enough that he hadn't had to turn on lights. An orange glow burned through the den's two west-facing windows (an architectural flaw, in his opinion--why not put one window on the north wall to catch some of the midday rays?).
Megan said, quietly, "I care."
With those two words, Dave's entire blood supply sunk to his groin and he felt dizzy. He gripped the edge of his desk. I care. Hadn't that been all he'd ever wanted to hear from Tamara? That she cared? And here he was, getting it from this girl. This girl with amazing breasts and a super flat stomach and a perfect ass. A girl so springy and young he could've bounced flower petals off her.
He pressed his palms to his cheeks, rough from not having shaved in two days, and managed to say, "Your money's on the kitchen counter."
"Thanks, Mr. Marks," she said and turned.
Mr. Marks. Jesus.
Her formal salutation allowed him to focus his eyes again, to let go of the desk, his brain to stabilize.
He still thought he should go out there, draw out the conversation, let the house darken around them as they talked, offer her a beer. Illegal. Illegal. All of what he was thinking was illegal. And wrong. But, fuck, he wanted to do it. He wanted her company a little longer.
He heard a zipper, the chime of her cell phone.
Standing, he went into the hallway, then pivoted and strode back to his desk. Close the door, he told himself. Close the mother-fucking door and sit down at your screen. Your boring, asshole of a screen, and get back to the pump station. Answer some emails. Initiate a game of Mafia Wars if you have to. Just, stay where you are.
Something dropped in the kitchen, clattering to the floor and scuttling across aging ash boards.
That was all Dave needed. He burst from the den and found Megan still in the kitchen, of course, on her hands and knees, peering under the refrigerator.
"I just knocked my iPod under there," she said.
He got down and looked too. He could smell her shampoo again. He cleared his throat hard, willing himself to stay focused.
"Jeez," he said, noting how disgusting and dusty it was under there, feeling faintly embarrassed and annoyed at Tamara. "I don't see it anywhere." He grabbed the broom and reached it along the sides of the hulking fridge. "We're gonna have to move it out," he said.
"Oh," Megan said. "It's okay. I can get it next time I come over." She leaned against the counter, looking a little stricken.
Dave flung out the word, "No!" Then, immediately, followed with, "No worries. It's on these felt pads that make it easy to pull away from the wall."
After a few minutes of tugging and cursing, the felt pads not working as well as the package claimed they would, he had the refrigerator yanked back and a pink iPod in his hand. He blew lint from its screen and said, "I hope it still works."
"It will," Megan said, jamming it into her bag. "It's been through worse."
"Don't you want to...test it or something?" Dave asked.
"Nah, it's fine."
Straightening, he said, "What kinds of songs are you kids listening to these days?" He sounded like he was seventy-two. You kids? Christ.
She shrugged, lowered her eyes, then looked at a Matisse print on the wall. It was Tamara's. Something left over from a house she'd lived in in college. "My favorite playlist right now is, like, Moby and Chemical Brothers and Cibo Matto. But they're totally old school."
Dave laughed and said, "No, old school is Van Halen and ZZ Top. Stuff I used to listen to."
"You don't anymore?"
He grabbed a Sprite out of the cockeyed refrigerator and offered her one which, to his surprise, she accepted. "No, thankfully. On my way to work, it's Talk, mostly. Talk radio. Which is sad. God, you know, I used to be so into music." It was true. Maybe he hadn't had the best taste in the world, but he loved what he loved and he didn't know how that passion had drifted away.
She sat down on a stool, her bag still slung over her shoulder, her body hunched slightly inward. She slurped from her can and quietly belched. She probably thought she was doing a good deed, keeping the lonely, old dude company.
"You don't have to stay," he said. "You can take your Sprite on the road. I mean, you're welcome to stay as long as you want. But don't feel like it's a requirement for employment."
"You want to hear a song?" she asked, retrieving her iPod again and plugging massive black headphones into its jack.
He took them and listened, liking the thumping beat, knowing it was nothing he'd choose on his own, but appreciating her taste nonetheless. "Wow," he said.
"Good, huh? It makes me feel like I can get about a million things done."
It made Dave want to smoke a joint and have sex, but he wouldn't, of course, say this. As he handed her iPod back, his hand grazed her denim-clad thigh. It was warm and taut and he didn't think he'd meant to do it, but her leg felt outrageously good under the pads of his fingers.
He concentrated on his pop. What spewed from his mouth next both startled him and filled him with a bizarre, misplaced pride. "Do you have a boyfriend, Megan?"
"Uh uh," she said. "For a while I did, but..."
"Didn't work out?"
"No, he...I'm pretty sure he was gay."
Dave guffawed and, in the midst of his laughter, caught the nape of Megan's neck and turned her head so she was forced to look him in the face. "Don't ever settle," he said. "For gay, or anything else. Anything that doesn't feel 100% right and nurturing and sexy and wonderful."
Her brown eyes warmed (liked, he thought, just baked chocolate brownies). She caught her bottom lip between her teeth, and in an instant, Dave was nudging those lips with his own, trying to tease her into relaxing. She made a small mewling sound in the back of her throat and this spurred him. He was on his knees, kissing her gently at first and then, as she relented, going in farther, scratching her face all to shit with his whiskers, he was sure. And he was sorry. But not very.
He tried to think of the rainbows and unicorns and prom pictures that probably decorated her room, the stuffed bunny she maybe slept with, the way she hugged her mom goodnight before bed, but he couldn't conjure the teenage fantasy again. She kissed like someone twice her age and Dave was sucked in. Sucked like a flailing cricket down a drainpipe.