Sam had scheduled a follow-up for his knee for Thursday morning and, unsure of when Daniel would arrive, arranged for the rest of the day off. The men only saw each other for a few days each year, and while neither was known for being longwinded with others, they did share more with each other than anyone else in those few days. Daniel knew, before Sam, that his 1st wife was going to quit him, and helped him through a sloppy-drunk weekend after his 2nd divorce.
Sam hadn’t mentioned Leslie, though, when he wrote back that yes, the bedroom was available, come on down. He wanted to proudly show Daniel all he had emotionally accomplished, without Daniel’s jumping to conclusions before the fact. And he wasn’t sure how to explain the colors or shapes Leslie might or might not reference.
While they waited for him, Sam suggested that they go rest. Leslie had always laughed at this euphemism. Resting was one of the most fun things they did. Laying on the bed, slowing unbuttoning and rearranging each other’s clothes, not one or the other wanted to get fully undressed, but the tease was as enjoyable as the act itself would eventually be.
Leslie’s hair was undone, in a disarray on the pillow. Sam brushed it back from her cheek and started kissing her neck while she tugged her skirt back around her legs — if Daniel used his housekey, she didn’t either of them to be embarrassed if the door suddenly fell open. By the time she managed to get Sam’s shirt all the way off, and he got her skirt all the way up, they heard the front door open followed by two footsteps and the thud of a duffle bag dropping heavily on the floor.
“Copper! Where the heck are you? This is some kind of welcome you get here!”
Sam jumped up. “That’s him!” He pulled his shirt out from under her and slipped it over his head.
“Really?” She sat up, shrugged her own shirt down. “You get me all going like that and just in time for him to get here? Someone’s going to have an awful case of blue balls.”.
“Just think of, oh, I don’t know, sick puppies. Hey, where’s my belt?” He spied it under the bed and stopped. “Do girls get blue balls?” Ducking as she threw a pillow, he stepped out. She shook her hair, feeling for the hair tie, and started replacing and readjusting her own clothes without a mirror.
Daniel dropped his helmet on his duffle and grabbed Sam in a big hug. “Didn’t know you was nappin’, I coulda been louder.”
“I wasn’t sleeping, just resting.”
“Well, it’s good to see you, too! Been too long.”
Daniel and Sam had met during basic and formed an immediate strong bond. Daniel saw that the Specialist was rapidly losing ground, out of his element in the large crowd of bald, uniformed men, and took him under his wing. But where Sam had been disciplined and no nonsense, Daniel’s attitude was looser, with a sharp sense of humor that got him into as much trouble as it got him out of it.
Some movement down the hall caught Daniel’s eye and he raised both eyebrows at Sam, who looked back, a little haughty. “Told you I wasn’t sleeping.”
Leslie approached, hand out to greet him. “Daniel, is it? I’m Leslie. Sam has said so many nice things about you.” After a quick look at his face, she didn’t raise her eyes again.
Sam took an effort to keep from raising her chin, reasoning that she knew herself and how best to handle it. His own curiosity of what color she heard would be satisfied later.
“And I wish he’d told me more about this vision of loveliness that you are.”
Daniel raised her hand to be kissed, but she pulled it back and patted her hair, feeling for her ponytail. “I was just on my way to the kitchen to start dinner. Why don’t you two go put his stuff away and go on out back.”
Daniel’s gaze followed her down the hall. As Sam leaned over to pick up the motorcycle helmet and duffle, her hair tie fell out of his sleeve. Daniel grabbed it before Sam could and pretended to pocket it with a roguish grin.
“Give it. She’s mine.”
He opened his palm, held out the short ribbon. “I’m not gonna yard dog you in your own house.”
They put Daniel’s things in the spare bedroom, Sam tossing Daniel’s helmet onto the bed a little too roughly.
“Ok Copper, I get it. She’s kin. You know better than to think I’ll go botherin’ her.”
“Yeah. It’s just, it should go without saying. I like her.”
Daniel raised his palms to the ceiling. “Hand to God, she is all yours. You like her, she likes starin’ at your floor. You two settle on the date yet?”
“I tried. She won’t say yes.”
“Well, look at you. Got one with beauty and brains.”
“It’s good to see you, Daniel.”
“Good to see you, too,” He pointed toward the kitchen. “I need to know more about this pretty little thing my twin has gotten hisself.”
They found that Leslie had placed a bowl of pecans and a small cooler with a few beers on ice on the patio table for them. “Thank you!” Sam shouted in through the window. “Start the BBQ, please!” She replied.
“Well, you two act like a couple of old marrieds, so maybe she already has an understandin’ of the notion,” Daniel pointed at the beer as they sat down. “Now, that’s some serious plannin’. You showin’ off for her or me?”
“She did that. For us.”
“You go make sure she knows that we are rightly impressed.”
“She knows I am, you’re on your own. See, she spoils me. And before you start, she gets as good as she gives.”
“She better. Your track record in the giving ain’t so good.”
“That’s the past,” He motioned at the beer. “She’s improving on me, making me better. Like her choice in beer.”
“It is ice cold. Which is an improvement on that canned pee water you usually pass off on me. Gimme that.”
Sam passed him the nutcracker. “Oh, and her cooking’s amazing, too. Wait until you taste whatever it is she has planned for dinner.”
“Lord, thank you for keeping this one out of the kitchen.”
“I cook. I can cook. Hers is…better.”
“Anyone’s is better. My stomach and I do not recollect favorably on last year’s lasagna,” He put the nuts on the table, blowing off bits of shell.
“That wasn’t mine.”
“I’m not tryin’ to hurt your precious little feelings. I saw the boxes in the trash.”
“Daniel, I’ve changed, ok? I’ve learned,” He leaned over. “See? I would never tell her this, but I do the cleaning because she can’t.”
“You did sign up for KP more than anyone I ever knew.”
“Didn’t sign up.”
“Yeah, shitheads always get the shit detail.”
He threw a pecan at Daniel. “You offering to take over my chores this weekend?”
“Is this one heating up your usual can of dog food and trashing you? Then, no.”
“If Leslie heated up a can of dog food, it’d taste good, and I’d ask for seconds.”
“Nosireebob. She feeds you dog food, it’s ’cause you done you’re usual somethin’ that’ll send you to hell on a full scholarship.”
“You going to spend your entire visit lecturing me on how to treat a woman? At least I got one. You’ve never had a relationship last longer than 20 minutes after you laid ‘em.”
“20 minutes. That’s funny,” Daniel took a long draw on his beer. “That’s a good one. Let me tell you about this one I met a few months ago. She comes in with her mister, tells him if he buys the damn bike, she. is. out. Guy pays me cash, so, of course she pitches a hissy and walks out. Three hours later, I clock out and there she is, waitin’ for me in the back lot. By the by, I took her around the block three times in one week ‘for she went back.”
“Three times in one week? Slacker.”
“Uh uh. Juggler. My plate was already full.”
Sam popped the cap on another beer and handed it to him. “Yeah, but only you would think a week’s a long haul. You should be proud of me. Les and I, we’re starting our 5th month together.”
“That sounds more like inertia on her part.”
“My ass. Which she likes, by the way.”
Daniel stroked his moustache. “Cuz it’s a damn sight better than your face.”
“Should have shaved that thing off in case that mister came back to finger you.”
“I left it on so’s he’d know who to thank.”
Sam was silent a moment, looking up at the thinning clouds. “Don’t know how you do it, love ’em, leave ’em like that. I don’t want her to leave.”
“But that’s the difference between you and me. See, that one went back happier than when she left him. I will leave a trail of happy women when I die.”
“Happy that you died.”
“Nope, that’ll be your funeral.”
Sam aimed a handful of shells, but threw them at the fence instead. “New bike?”
“They know they loaned it to you?”
“I told them I was takin’ it for a test drive at closin’ time,” He handed Sam a couple of pecans. “Relax! I’m their top salesman. They can me, they’ll have to hire two more just to be sellin’ last year’s models for the next three years.”
At this, Leslie walked out with a plate of skewered meat and pearl onions. “Daniel, Sam failed to tell me whether you like beef.”
“Beef? That’s beef?”
Leslie looked down at Sam, who found he had something on the bottom of his shoe that needed his attention.
“Um…yes? Please tell me that you are not a vegetarian.”
“No, ma’am. Vegan. I’ve been thinking about trying that raw diet.” His face was earnest as he rubbed his hands together.
Leslie’s eyes went round. His eyes mirrored hers. They looked from each other to the meat and back.
“Well, then,” She swallowed hard. “Tonight is just not going to be someone’s night.”
She started to turn around, but Sam grabbed her skirt. “Les, he’s playing with you. He’ll eat a still-mooing cow.” He kicked Daniel under the table. Daniel punched him back.
She wavered before turning around then handed Sam the plate and heading back inside. “Three minutes per side. Please.”
“Flame hasn’t died yet.”
“They only need to be charred on the outside,” She looked back at the men. “And you can leave one uncooked for him.” Then the door closed behind her.
“Ooh, she does have some spit in her! Don’t sleep too soundly around this one, Copper.”
“Actually, she doesn’t play those games. I think she was serious.”
Daniel looked back at the door. “Mmm, moo!” He deftly caught the pecan before it hit his cheek. “Is there a reason she doesn’t want to make it permanent, other than there were two others who untied that knot?”
Sam got up to put the skewers on the flame. He debated on whether to tell Daniel about proposing when he did, but decided he didn’t want another lecture. Instead, he pointed to the clothesline.
“I built that.”
“Yeah? Looks right.”
“We saw this woman hanging clothes on a line. Made her smile, like I hadn’t seen before. So I built that for her.”
“You thought she was smilin’ at a clothesline?”
“I don’t know what she was smiling at. Shirts, sheets, some woman and a kid. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“You were thinkin’ with your willy.”
Sam looked up and shook that thought around. “Yeah, I know. But she’s…not like that.”
“She was sheltered, I think. Raised by a single dad who still orders her around.”
“My daddy took to one of ’em like that. Mellie, it was. Not his, but she came with his 2nd wife. Everyone else could run like dogs, but Mellie, if she so much as looked at a boy, he’d threaten to knock her clear into Sunday from a Monday.”
“Yeah? She listen?”
“Les still says, “yes sir” and “no sir” to him, then goes and gets all up in her head. Not sure how to break that one,” He stepped back as the flame flared. “See, I can’t imagine her waiting in a back lot for someone to get off work, you know? I can see her doing it if someone like her dad told her to, but on her own? No.”
Daniel looked skeptical. “You takin’ lessons from her daddy, too? Tell her what to do?”
“Are you kidding, I ask. I told you, I’m learning from her. That first time,” He looked at the tree line, savoring the memory. “I thought, this is it, the one. She’s been married before, but she didn’t really know what she was doing. Besides her husband, there’s been no one else, but me, can you believe it?” He turned a skewer, closed the lid. “Yeah, I could. And I thought, this one, she’s gonna stay. And I want to keep her safe from someone else who might tell her hey, you’re lousy at this.”
“You think she fell in love with you because you were just so good in bed?”
“No, that was the second time.”
Daniel kicked at his butt. “You dog! You know we’re gonna have to bring in extra teeth to chew those, you cooked them too long.”
Sam took the meat off the grill and they headed inside.
Walking up the deck, Daniel slapped at Sam’s shoulder. “I don’t know what it is about you and makin’ things legal, boy, but it seems you have a real good thing goin’, and now you’re just lookin’ to cause trouble.”
“I told you, I don’t want her to leave.”
“A ring’s not what’s gonna stop her.”
They found the table was set, along with a bowl of roasted carrots, another filled with cubes of home fries, salad, and a glass of wine for Leslie. She finished pouring the tea and stepped back, fingers wrapped around a thumb. As he swung a leg over his chair, Sam put the platter down and popped a potato cube in his mouth, “Love these potatoes.”
Her shoulders relaxed and she let go the thumb. “Daniel, please.” She pointed to a plate, the one with the carrots, potatoes and salad surrounding it.
Daniel praised the meat. He praised the carrots, potatoes and salad, too, but after his 3rd lip-smacking mmm-mmm as he took another skewer, Sam dropped his fork, jabbing it into Daniel’s shin on its way back up to the plate.
He also gave Leslie some gentle elbowing, eyebrowing to Daniel’s plate so she’d see it was ok. She joined the conversation instead.
“Daniel, Sam says that the two of you were in the army?”
“Yes’m, but those days are over, praise Jesus. I got out and then found my true calling.” He leaned over his plate and patted her arm.
Sam held his fork over the edge of the table, threatening to drop it again. “And what is this true calling you’re going to tell us about?”
Daniel straightened up and motioned across his name embroidered on his shirt pocket. “Why, I sell motorcycles, you know that.” The fork moved back to Sam’s plate. “Ma’am, have you straddled a hog?”
“I, I know what they are. Sam, do you need a clean fork.”
“Nope, this one’s. Doing. Its. Job!”
She couldn’t see the tantrum his words implied, only Daniel as he jerkily pushed away from the table, seemingly stretching his arms. She took a sip of wine. “I had a friend in college. Molly! Sam, you know Molly! She lives near me now. And she had a friend, Helene whose boyfriend rode a motorcycle. He liked to show off by giving us all a ride around the block.”
“Well, ma’am, I’ll be happy to give you a ride around the block tomorrow while our friend here’s at work.”
Sam held his knife over the floor. “She means through the neighborhood.”
“I know what she means. Tell you what, darlin’,” He gave a wary eye to the cutlery. “We’ll skip the ride.”
“Sam, I’ve been on a bike, it’s safe. I’ll hold on.”
“‘Course she will. See Copper, she’s a smart one, this gal you got.”
Leslie nodded at Sam. “Tell me, Daniel, why do you call him ‘Copper’?”
“Because he was a cop,” Daniel grinned at Sam. “And it pisses
“Smitty,” Sam smirked at Daniel.
“Like that’s an insult?”
He waved the knife at Daniel. “Wasn’t gonna call you ‘Shitty’ with a lady present.”
“Like you never heard anyone call you Motherfu…?” Daniel’s voice trailed off as he signaled at Leslie. Her head was down, fingers over her ears.
Immediately, Sam rubbed her back. “Les, love, it’s all a show.”
“Yeah, Leslie, we was just playactin’ for you. He wasn’t even stabbin’ me with his fork under the table.”
“That’s right. Les, this is how men act around each other. I promise.”
She looked up at them. “Ok. Men. I’m sorry.”
Daniel started to pick up the plates. “Men. More like boys.”
Sam shot a dirty look at Daniel’s back. “Les, don’t apologize. Look, we’re going to clean up here. You go get the cooler, maybe refill it and we’ll come join you in a minute.”
She forced her shoulders down as she got up and went to the deck. Sam grabbed the bowls and hurried into the kitchen after Daniel. “I told you, she’s not like that.”
“Yeah, I see, I see. I’ll dial it back,” He turned on the water to fill the basin. “She don’t know when somethin’s said two ways? Someone somewhere’s gonna take that wrong.”
“Yeah, they already have. It’s why I want to protect her. She’s not that good at a lot of this stuff.”
“She’s good at food stuff. I could be a vegetarian if she made me carrots and potatoes like that. You gonna be ok if she and I go get a bite to eat tomorrow?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be? She’ll drive, of course.”
She didn’t stay on the deck very long. The glider was her spot, Sam took the chair and Daniel stretched out in the hammock, rocking his beer as he swayed.
The conversation was smoother. In the dusk of early evening, Sam saw that Leslie felt more comfortable looking at Daniel, focusing on his face as he spoke, and not just when she did. Or perhaps, he thought, she was finally feeling comfortable around him.
Whenever there was a lull, he would tell a feeble joke, the ones he knew she would smile at, and Daniel told them a story about a man he called Uncle Cricket, who wore gloves on his feet, and a few about his five siblings from three mothers and his dad.
“I don’t rightly know if everyone was kin. I think we might have had a neighborhood stray or two wander in between weddings.”
“Did you get to babysit, being the oldest?” Leslie asked.
“Not after I gave Roy Lee some blackberry brandy in his nighttime feedin’.”
“He was teethin’. It was just a drop in his milk,” He leaned over, conspiratorially. “Mary Grace’s mama said she used to do it, too. But she had the sense to put a little grape juice in the brandy bottle ‘for she put it back in the liquor cabinet so’s no one would know it had been used,” He laid back with a sigh. “Shoulda been all grape juice by then, what with the way Auntie Parker nipped at it.”
Sam saw Leslie’s eyes were closed and her smile was fading. “Hey, Les. Knock, knock,” He waited. “Knock, knock.”
Daniel looked over. “I think you bored her to death with those lame-ass jokes.”
“No, she’s worn out. Nervous about meeting you.”
“Did you tell I have two heads or something?”
“For some reason, she wanted to impress you.” Sam got up and went to take her wineglass out of her hand.
“Well then, when your sleeping beauty there wakes up, let her know she did.”
He took the glass and she startled awake. “I’m here.”
He kissed the top of her head. “You go on to bed. We’re going to be up for a while.”
“‘Night, Leslie. Thanks for supper.”
She stood up and nodded at them and started to walk away. Then she turned, and before he could sit down, she hugged Sam from behind, told his back goodnight, and went inside.
Daniel got up and moved into her spot. “Gonna go make sure she’s all nice and comfy?”
“I’m not kiddin’. Don’t wanna have to do that cuddle thing after sex. But when they’re all sleepy and soft like that…mmm.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Some nights, she falls asleep on me when we watch TV,” He drank the last of her wine. “Makes watching a post-game talk show even better.”
They sat, watching the stars glitter into life.
“You did good, Copper. But I gotta ask, what’s with her eyes?”
“Her eyes? They’re fine.”
“No, either she stares at you or she don’t. There’s no in between.”
“Oh. Yeah,” The almost full moon peeked through the tree line. “It’s part of her being an artist, I think. She looks you in the eye, she says she gets lost in the colors of your words.”
“Well, fuck that shit, I coulda given her some colorful words.”
“That’s not what I meant. She says when I talk, she hears the words, but there’s these blue triangles all around me.”
Daniel raised an eyebrow. “She been checked out?”
“She doesn’t need a doctor. It’s not medical. It’s just something she does. I looked it up once, it’s ok.”
“Oookaay. So what do I do if she stares at me.”
“You? Shut up.”
She rolled over and reached for him, but his side of the bed was cold. She got up and tiptoed past Daniel’s open door, then made her way to the kitchen. Through the window, she could see the beers were all drunk, bottles neatly replaced in the cardboard carrier between the two men. Sam was balancing the lids on pecans, laughing at something Daniel said, their words were muffled behind the closed window. She hoped it was football. Sam needed someone to talk sports to, and she didn’t like football.