Monkey Wrench
…”
    “I’m here now. And I’m begging. Please let me.”
    She pouted but swung her feet and landed nimbly on the floor. “If Ross were here, he could get down the mixer when I felt like making cookies. And he could fill the bird feeder and …”
    I filled my arms with the mixer and set it up for Pearl. She unwrapped two sticks of butter and plopped them in the bowl.
    I kissed her cheek. “All right, all right. I can see you like him. I’ll call him and have him come back tomorrow.”
    The store was closed tomorrow, Sunday. I had to paint the bathroom, but I would have time to help Pearl and Ross settle in.
    I let myself out. When I looked back, Pearl was standing in the front window, a measuring cup in her hand. I waved but she didn’t wave back.
    _____
    As soon as I got home that night, I could smell the combination of steam and aftershave that meant Buster was fresh from the shower. Yippee, he was awake.
    He was standing near the stove, dressed in basketball shorts and a T-shirt with a kitchen towel slung over his shoulder. I loved the domesticated touch on my big and burly guy’s guy.
    I kissed him hello. I let my cheek linger on his, feeling the sweet vulnerability of his naked chin.
    “Hi yourself,” he said, returning the kiss. “Have a seat.”
    He took my laptop case and my purse from me, laying them on the counter. He pulled out a chair at the two-seat kitchen table. We’d found the bar-height table in a dumpster and spent hours sanding and painting the wood.
    Buster and I hadn’t spent every minute refinishing furniture. One memorable night was forever associated with this piece for me. Running my hands over the smooth top reminded me of Buster’s not so smooth hands running over me. I smiled at him.
    “Did you put away all the bad guys?” I asked, settling myself. He’d put out placemats, dishes, and silverware already. In the middle of the table sat the souvenir trivet we’d gotten in Monterey. It was a cast-iron sea otter on his back, his paws and feet held up to receive the dish. It reminded me of the Crawl. I put work out of my mind for now.
    The trivet meant only one thing. His favorite dish to make and my favorite comfort food—mac and cheese.
    “Only playing Grand Theft Auto with your brother,” he said. He put on a blue rubbery hot mitt and pulled a bubbling casserole from the oven. I inhaled the sweet smell of toasted bread crumbs that he liked to sprinkle on the top.
    “Kevin was here?” I asked. My brother and Buster had been best friends growing up and even though I didn’t get along well with my sister-in-law, Kym, I was glad to hear he’d been by.
    “He left before you got here.”
    “That’s because he’s avoiding me,” I said. I didn’t even wait for him to sit down before dug my fork into the gluey goodness.
    “You’re the best,” I said, after the first bite. “Boyfriend. Ever.” I sighed with contentment.
    He dumped the double boiler water and set out steamed broccoli. He put some on my plate and some on his, and sat down, tucking a cloth napkin under his chin.
    “Why is your brother avoiding you?” he asked.
    I pointed my fork at him. “That bathroom at QP. Still not finished.”
    Buster spooned a huge forkful of casserole into his mouth. “Still?” he said, around the food.
    “And the Crawl starts on Wednesday,” I said. “I’m going in to paint it tomorrow. And the tile guys get there on Monday. After that, Kevin tells me it’s only a matter of a few hours worth of work.”
    “I’ll help you paint,” Buster said. He put more broccoli on my plate. I made a face.
    “Thanks,” I said. “For the painting, not the broccoli.”
    He frowned. “You’ve got to eat your veggies. They’re good for you.”
    “Thanks, Dr. Oz. Not to change the subject, but did you score any playoff tickets?”
    He shook his head morosely. The Giants had become too popular since winning the World Series a couple of years back. Now everyone wanted to go to their

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