Something in the Way(8)

By: Jessica Hawkins



Manning sighed. He looked down at me and then over at Tiffany. “I’ll come in, but I only have twenty minutes.”

Tiffany grinned. “Cool.”

Manning jumped down from the wall. I started to slide off, too, but he caught my waist at the last minute. His hands were so large, they nearly wrapped all the way around me. I got hot and cold all at once, doing everything in my power not to shiver so I wouldn’t give myself away. He set me on the ground gently, like a porcelain statue on a shelf. “It’s not good for your ankles if you don’t know how to jump,” he told me.

“But you did it.”

He smiled a little. “You always argue with someone who’s looking out for you?”

Tiffany pulled on Manning’s elbow. “Come on.”

I followed them across the lot toward the house, the feel of his hands on my waist lingering. They were enormous. And hot. They made me hot—my cheeks, my chest, all the way down, between my legs. This time I did shiver, just replaying it in my head. Thankfully I was behind them, out of sight. Tiffany would think I was ridiculous for getting so excited over being helped off a wall.

Just now, in less than five minutes, she’d gotten more information out of him than I had all afternoon. It was as if they were speaking a language I only sort of understood, like when the Brazilian exchange student in my Spanish class spoke Portuguese to confuse the teacher.

In the entryway, Manning looked around. He seemed even bigger inside. We had vaulted ceilings, but I was sure if he stretched hard enough and jumped high enough, he could touch them. He looked as uncomfortable as I felt. I needed something to do with my hands. I needed to stop staring.

Tiffany called us into the living room where she was hunched over the mini-refrigerator behind Dad’s bar. “We have Corona or Budweiser.”

“Should you be drinking when you’re working?” I asked.

Manning had tipped his head back to take in my dad’s impressive selection of liquor, but he dropped just his eyes to mine. “No. I’ll take a Coke if you’ve got it.”

“Go make the sandwich, Lake,” Tiffany said.

“What kind do you want?” I asked him.

He spread his long fingers over his stomach and for the first time, he grinned. “I’ll eat anything you make.”

I couldn’t help responding with my own smile. “All right. I’ll make the Lake Special.”

Coined by my dad, the Lake Special consisted of sliced turkey and ham layered between cheddar and provolone cheese, smothered in mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, topped with lettuce, tomato, and avocado. For Manning, I’d add extra meat, since he had a hard job and looked big enough for two sandwiches.

I pulled ingredients from the fridge, trying unsuccessfully to catch words from the conversation in the next room. I didn’t want Tiffany to know more about him than I did. What if they talked about something personal? Got closer, while I was in here fussing with deli meat? Once everything was laid out in front of me and I could no longer stand the idea of them alone together, I called out, “It’s almost ready.”

Manning entered the kitchen and walked around the island where I stood slicing an avocado. For one brief moment, his heat warmed my back, and then it was gone. He washed his hands, took a stool on the opposite side of the island, and nodded approvingly. “That is a monster sandwich.”

“Well, you’re a big person,” I said without thinking. “Not that you’re fat. Obviously, you’re not.” I focused on placing the avocado in neat slices across the meat to disguise my awkwardness. Nobody in my life was double my size, but pointing it out felt rude. “You don’t have to eat it all.”

“I won’t leave a crumb.”

I looked up at him. Manning sat still, just watching as I built his sandwich. We exchanged a smile right before Tiffany came in, set the sodas down, and reached across the island to pluck some avocado from the sandwich. “Are you from here, Manning?” she asked, taking the seat next to him.

With a frown, I took a fresh avocado from the fruit basket. Tiffany never made her own food, so she didn’t respect the art of presentation.

I cut into the gnarly skin as Manning eyed the knife in my hand. “Want me to do that?” he asked.

“I do it all the time.”

“Los Angeles area,” he answered Tiffany.

“Really?” she pressed.

“Sort of. Pasadena.”

“Do you have family here?”

“No.”

I pretended to mind my own business. It hadn’t crossed my mind to ask where he was from. I placed a slice of sourdough bread on top of the sandwich, cut it down the middle, and admired my work. In two halves, the sandwich nearly toppled over.

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