I knew Harris was supposed to have gotten back from his business trip to Virginia that morning so I decided to call him after I got back from work to see how it went. He’s a mechanical engineer (though I’m still not entirely certain what that entails) and at the ripe old age of 26 is often flying out to his company’s plants in the southeast to do what he calls “quality assurance.” He’s the youngest of a team of four and flies out with them every few months, usually for a week or two. I often bring in his mail and water his plants while he’s gone.
We’ve been friends since college, the closest in a group that still gets together once a month or so for pizza or drinks. We were never a couple nor ever shared any romantic moments (or super-awkward-the-next-morning alcohol induced trysts, like I have with a few other guys during college). He was still together with his high school girlfriend when we met and was with her for two more years after that. I never knew what he saw in that whiny airhead (and that’s me being polite), but even after they broke up we remained just friends. Understandable of course. I’m kind of the sporty type, not at all the type of girl he goes for. I’m solid and muscular and not particularly girly. He’s kind of tall and skinny, with hazel eyes and a boyish face. We’d often toss around a football in the quad or pass a frisbee back and forth. We’ve remained platonic friends over the years and that suits both of us just fine.
After the fifth ring, he picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Chris. How was the trip?”
“The trip was fine. It’s everything that came after the trip that’s crap.” He sounded pretty upset.
“You’ve only been home for 5 hours. How bad can it possibly be?” I asked doubtfully.
“You know how when you get home from a long trip, you like to just crash on the couch for a few hours with a cold beer? Well that’s difficult when your couch is floating through your living room.”
“What? May I ask why your couch was sailing off into the sunset?” I asked with no small amount of confusion.
“A pipe burst in my kitchen and flooded the entire first floor. I called a plumber and he said it could take a week to get my place back into livable condition. This is a nightmare.”
“Well, look on the bright side. You always said you wanted a house with a pool.” I have a hard time taking anything seriously.
“I said I wanted a house with a pool, not a pool in my house. Now I have to stay at the motel downtown for who knows how long, an expense I can’t really afford. Thank God I have insurance for the house, otherwise I’d be in up to my ears in more than one sense.”
“Are you kidding me? The Sunny Days Motel? With the smell of deli meat emanating from the sheets and the noise from the highway 24/7?”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can stay with me for however long you need. It’s not the Hilton but at least my couch doesn’t smell like something that fell off of a bun, and I do vacuum every once in a while,” I offered.
“Are you sure? It wouldn’t be a burden? I’ve been told I snore,” he warned.
“Not a problem. Although you may wake up with socks in your mouth. Just bring everything you need over tonight and I’ll set you up in the living room.”
“That would be great. We can have the fish I catch in my kitchen for dinner.”
Later that evening, he showed up with a duffel bag, and honest to god fish sticks. He’s always been one for a practical joke. I reheated some lasagna for him and he told me about his trip (I didn’t understand half of it but nodded and smiled anyway). The next day was a Saturday and we made plans to go to the park and throw around a football.
The next day was a typical hot August day. We’d gotten to the park at around 10 while it was still warm but not stifling, but by 10:30 we were both hot and sweaty. Harris tossed me the football and pulled his shirt off over his head, dropping it by our water bottles under a tree. I pretended not to pay any mind to his sweaty chest, but I couldn’t help noticing that he’d filled out quite a bit since college. No longer a lanky boy, but broad and toned with a slim waist. I snapped myself out of it and we returned to the game. By noon, we were both worn out and hungry. As he went over to the tree to gather our stuff, I called to him “last one to the car has to sleep on the couch!” and took off towards the parking lot. I figured that by the time he’d gotten our stuff and put on his shirt I’d have gotten a pretty good head start and would mock him mercilessly when he finally got back to the car. But after about 10 steps I was suddenly tackled from behind. He straddled my back as I lay on the ground and raised the football in victory.
“Regardless of what Peter Walters said in the second grade, dirt does not taste like chocolate.” I remarked. “Now would you please get off of me?” I felt a weight lift from my back and he offered me a hand up when I finally pushed myself to my knees. He pulled me up and suddenly I was uncomfortably close to his still bare chest. From close up I could see the freckles on his shoulders and a sparse line of light brown hair leading into the waistband of his shorts. He was definitely nicely toned, muscular but not a bodybuilder. I swallowed and pulled my gaze up to his face. I studied his face for a moment trying not to be obvious about my new found interest in his body. I realized that his face had lost its boyish quality and was in fact quite defined. It was an expressive face full of experience, not the same youthful one I always pictured when I thought of him. I wondered how I’d missed these changes and if he still thought of me the same way he had in college. He raised his eyebrows at me, and the moment was broken.
“So I get your bed tonight, huh?” He asked.
“Well, technically neither one of us has made it to the car yet,” I replied. We looked at each other for a beat and then simultaneously turned and started sprinting towards the car. He got there a few seconds before me (sure I’m an athlete, but I was still a bit winded from being tackled and sat on). I dramatically hung my head in defeat and agreed he could have the bed that night, but he gallantly refused his right and said he’d feel guilty all night knowing that I was on the couch when he was the one who was imposing. What a gentleman.
I lay in bed that night, tossing and turning. I couldn’t stop thinking about Harris. What was wrong with me?! We were just friends and nothing was ever going to happen between us. Even if I wanted it to, he probably still thought of me as the just one of the guys. I had to stop thinking about it so I got up to get a glass of water. I quietly crept downstairs so I wouldn’t wake up my sleeping guest, but noticed the lamp next to the couch still on. I tiptoed over and saw Harris lying on his stomach in only a pair of boxers. There was a book on the floor along with the blanket he’d kicked off at some point during the night. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I stood there watching him sleep. He looked so vulnerable with the light casting shadows across his jaw and yet so strong at the same time. I could see the muscles in the arm his head rested on and his long, toned thighs. I longed for him to turn onto his back so I could take the time to study his chest some more. Instead, I turned off the light and crept back