“Yes,” said Andrew, “you can think about it, if you’ll tell me what you’re thinking. Right now, tomorrow, next week, any time you have a thought.”
He sighed. “There’s no need to look like a trapped animal, dear. Like, right now—are you really surprised?”
“—I thought we were happy. As we were. Are. I thought, this is getting good. But nothing lasts forever.”
Andrew winced, recovered. “Glaron and Theresa. Kathleen and Doug. Jaime and George. Nick and Liza. Rosendo and Caroline.”
Annie nodded. “There’s a divorce in about half those pictures.”
“Right. And we’ve done that. We’re both widowed, divorced, whatever we are. The youth crap is over.
“Annie, Annie . . . ” He laced his fingers in hers. “I love you. Do you love me a little?”
“I love you, Andrew. It’s just . . . I thought we were happy.”
“We are . . .” Andrew took a breath. “Come sit here with me.”
“Will that chair hold us both?”
“Yes. Stop worrying about everything. I bought the damned chair so that we could both sit in it.”
They kept their hands connected as Annie moved to sit on Andrew’s lap, her right arm around his shoulders.
“Give me a kiss,” he said, “to celebrate that we got this far . . .
“Now, let me tell you how it is. People don’t ask people to marry them because they find the person, or the situation, inadequate.
They ask . . . they decide together, to get married, because . . . they have something good, and they want to formalize it."
“Thank you for not saying, ‘they want to take it to the next level.’”
“You’re welcome. What are you afraid of? The first thing that comes to mind."
“That you will leave.”
“I won’t leave. If I do leave, you get everything. If I die, you get everything. And you choose where to bury me. Stuart will set it up.”
“Stuart won’t do that for some nobody from Upstate New York.”
“Yes he will. He’ll want to meet you, and he’ll be so happy that someone beautiful, intelligent, hardworking, sensible, and loveable wants to marry me that he’ll set it up in a minute.”
“I don’t cook.”
“Neither do I.”
“We have to eat something!”
“We’ve been managing to eat for a year.”
“—True,” she said. “This is your second January here, you know. Your first full-time, but you were here last year too. That’s how we test people, Jaime and I. Whether they can survive winter.”
“And I passed?”
“Well. Is there anything else you like about me?”
“. . . I love to hear you play the piano at my house. It cheers up me, and the whole house.
“Tomorrow we’ll go to your house, and I’ll play the piano for you all day.”
“Thank you. We can talk about this more tomorrow? It’s amazing to think that neither of us has to go to work for two days.”
“Of course. I didn’t mean we’d get married tomorrow. Unless you wanted to. I was thinking we’d get engaged, talk to your priest, do the whole thing, however you want.”
“You did that once. It didn’t work.”
“I was drunk then. I’m not now. I’ve been sober for . . . two years. And two months! Almost.”
“It’s a selling point.”
“Really . . . But we have the same name.”
“I’ll change my fucking name.”
“And children. You want children.”
“I don’t. I’ve left that.”
“Six children at Glaron and Theresa’s for Thanksgiving dessert, and you became an uncle to them all, in six minutes.”
“Right. Plenty of children I can be uncle to.” Andrew rubbed his cheek along Annie’s. “Were your parents that bad?”
Annie returned the rub of his cheek. “Bad enough so that I don’t want to repeat the experience.”
“Your brother did."
"Yes. Without children . . . being proposed to is exhausting. Can we lie down?”
* * * *
They lay entwined in Andrew’s bed. She was still awake, he could tell, but not for long.
“Just one more thing," he said, "before we go to sleep?”
“Do you still like me, now that I’ve asked you to marry me?”
She sounded definite, so he decided to try to relax and get some sleep.
But Annie had woken up. “There is a difference, isn’t there.”
“What do you like about me?”
Andrew turned onto his back, stretched the full length of Annie, her arm entwined in both of his.
“Let’s see, I love it that you love sex, I love to hear you play the piano, . . . but like, like—you don’t ask me if you look fat.”
“—Why would I do that?”
“I rest my case. You have to marry me.”
* * * *
Andrew opened his eyes in the dark and tried to identify the sound that had woken him. He was curled on his side around Annie, who lay tucked in against him. If he got up he would wake her, and that would wake Chloe. He lay still until he heard the fire sirens, and then he began to gently disentangle himself.
Annie turned to find him in jacket and sweatpants. “Where are you going?”
“I just want to see what’s burning. Stay here. Turn on your phone. Don’t leave the house.”
“Chloe will want to pee.”
“Put down newspapers in the kitchen. Keep the lights off. I’ll be back.”
In her crate, Chloe shook herself. Annie put on the dog’s lead and unlocked the back door into the yard. She sat on the steps in the dark while Chloe peed. Chloe joined her on the stairs, ready for a biscuit, but Annie took another moment to sniff the air, to notice that the odor almost immediately gave her a headache. She relocked the back door carefully.
Andrew had been gone for five minutes. How long did it take to look at a fire? He didn’t want Chloe in the bed with them, which was fine with Annie—dogs in the bed had been Ed’s idea—but Andrew wasn’t here, so she and Chloe stretched out under the comforter.
“What do you think, Chloe? Should we become a team of three?”
Certainly life with Andrew was interesting. On the other hand, while the risk of arrest might be exciting, actual jail time would be terrifying. She must make sure he understood this, and thinking of which, where would they live? Her house had been hers and Ed’s, but she hadn’t moved up here to live in a dump like Schuyler.
She dozed off making a mental list, and woke to the smell of him, she and Chloe struggling to sit up under the covers, Andrew kneeling by the edge of the bed, saying gently, "Annie, I'm back," smelling like gasoline and metal, sweat and blood; this was no campfire—
Chloe growled. “Hush, Chloe,” Annie said. He had been gone for twenty minutes.
“What was burning?”
Copyright © Debby Mayer