Ryan directed his eye to a drainpipe. “Yeah, I see it. We’ll take a look, and I’ll call you back.” He hung up, and we ran to the front door. Ryan got the key from the drainpipe and let us in.
While so much of Los Angeles is crowded roads and cramped buildings, Hancock Park is almost entirely residential, full of long, wide streets and houses set far back from the curb. Most of the neighborhood was built in the 1920s, and this place was no exception. The house was old, but it was gorgeous. Rough stucco exterior, dramatic interior archways, hardwood floors, checkered tile kitchen. The rooms were small and tight but perfect for us. I saw my life in there. I saw where our couch would go. I saw myself brushing my teeth over the prewar porcelain sink.
“We can’t afford this, can we?” I asked him.
“I will make this work, if you want it,” Ryan said to me, standing in the middle of the house. It was so empty that his voice traveled quickly, finding its way into the farthest corners of the room. “I will get this woman down to something we can afford.”
“How?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what the starting number was, and Ryan wasn’t telling, which said to me that it was much higher than the figure we had in mind.
“Just . . . Do you want it?” he asked me.
“Yes, I want it. Bad.”
“Then I’m gonna get it for you.” Ryan left the house through the front door and walked back to the sidewalk. I walked through the kitchen and opened the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard. It was small and useless, a patch of grass and a few bushes. But there was an old lemon tree in the corner. Lemons were scattered around the trunk, most of them rotting where the peel touched the earth. It looked as if no one had taken care of the lemon tree. No one had watered it or pruned it. No one cared about it. I walked out and reached high above my head to a lemon still on the branch. I twisted it off the tree and smelled it. It smelled fresh and clean.
I took it out to the front yard to show Ryan. He was still on the phone, pacing up and down the sidewalk. I stared at him, trying to decipher how the conversation might be going. Finally, he looked up at the sky and smiled, pumping his fist into the air and looking at me as if we’d won the lottery. “September first? Yeah, that works.”
When he hung up the phone, I ran into his arms, jumping up and wrapping my legs around his waist. He laughed.
“You did it!” I said. “You got me the house!” I handed him the lemon. “We have a lemon tree! We can make fresh lemonade and lemon bars and . . . other lemon stuff! How did you do it?” I asked him. “How did you talk her down?”
Ryan just shook his head. “A magician never tells.”
“No, but seriously, how did you?”
He smiled, evading me. For some reason, I liked it better not knowing. He had made the impossible possible. And I liked that I didn’t know his secret. It made me think that maybe other impossible things were possible. That maybe all I needed was to want it badly enough, and I really could have it.
That night, I was already looking at paint colors and thinking about packing up our stuff. I was so committed to our new house that I could no longer stand the sight of our current apartment.
I was on my computer, mentally decorating and online shopping, when Ryan walked over to me and closed my laptop.
“Hey!” I said. “I was looking at that!”
He smiled. “Well, looks like you can’t use the computer anymore,” he said. “So what should we do to pass the time?”
“Huh?” I asked. I knew what he was getting at.
“I’m just saying . . . it’s late, and we should probably get into bed. What should we do when we get in there?” He wanted to have sex. He wanted me to say it.
“I was looking at that, though!” I told him. My voice had bounce to it, but the truth was, I really wasn’t in the mood.
“You sure you don’t have anything on your mind? Anything you want to do?”
Maybe if he’d said what he wanted, I might have given it to him. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do. And I wasn’t going to pretend it was.
“Yeah, I know exactly what I want to do,” I said. “I want to continue looking at curtains!”
Ryan sighed and opened my computer back up. “You are no fun,” he said, laughing and kissing me on the cheek before leaving the room.
“But you still love me, right?” I joked, calling out to him in the other room.
He popped his head back in. “Always will,” he said. “Until the day I die.” Then he threw himself onto the floor, lying on the ground with his tongue out and his eyes shut, pretending to be dead.
“Are you dead?” I teased him.
He was silent. He was freakishly good at remaining perfectly still. His chest didn’t even rise and fall with his breath.
I got on the floor next to him and playfully poked at him.
“Looks like he’s really dead,” I said out loud. “Ah, well.” I sighed. “That just means more time for me to look at curtains.”
That’s when he grabbed me and pulled me toward him, burying his fingers into my armpits, making me laugh and scream.
“So how about now, huh?” he said, when he was done tickling me. “What do you want to do now?”
“I told you,” I said, standing up and smiling at him. “I want to look at curtains.”
• • •
The day after we moved in, I was still unpacking boxes and considering painting the bedroom when Ryan came in and said, “What would you say if I told you I think we should get a dog?”
I threw the clothes that were in my hand back into their box and started walking into the hallway to get my shoes. “I’d say it’s Sunday morning, there might be dog adoptions right now. Get your keys.”
I was half joking, but he didn’t stop me. We got into the car. We drove around looking for signs. We came home with Butter, a three-year-old yellow Lab. He peed and pooped all over the house, and he kept us up all night scratching his neck with his hind leg, but we loved him. The next morning, we renamed him Thumper.
Ryan and I installed a doggie door a few weeks later, and the minute we were done, Thumper jetted into the backyard. We watched as he ran around and around, jumped on the fence, and then settled on a spot to lie out in the sun.
I was sitting on the floor, stretching, when he finally came back into the house. He walked right in and sat in my lap. He was done playing outside. He wanted to be near me.
I cried for a half hour because I couldn’t believe I could love a dog so much. When I finally gathered myself, I noticed there was sticky dirt in my lap and all over his paws. He smelled clean and sweet.
It turned out Thumper liked playing with lemons.
TWO YEARS AGO
I was washing the sheets one evening and decided that it was probably time to wash the mattress pad. So I pulled everything off the bed and threw it all in the laundry.
When I went to put the mattress pad back on the bed, I noticed a huge, well-worn, darker spot in the middle. It was oblong and graying where everything else was bright white.
I laid it on the bed and showed it to Ryan.
“Weird, right?” I said. “What is that from?”
Ryan gave it a good look, and as he did, Thumper came into the room. He hopped onto the bed and fit his furry tan body right into the faded gray stain, his big, dirty paws crossed over his black nose, his big, dark eyes looking at the two of us. Mystery solved. We had found the culprit.
We looked at each other and started laughing. I loved watching Ryan laugh that hard.
“That’s how dirty he is,” Ryan said. “He can permanently stain layers of fabric.”
Thumper barely looked at us. He wasn’t concerned with being laughed at. He was blissfully happy in the middle of the bed.
We kicked him off briefly so we could put the sheets on. We gathered the pillows and blankets. We got into bed, and then we told Thumper he could get back in.
He jumped right back into his spot.
Ryan turned out the light.
“I feel like this,” I said, as I gestured to Ryan and me with Thumper in the middle, “is enough. Is that bad? I mean, I feel like the three of us, you and me and this dog, are all we need. I don’t feel like I’m aching to add a kid to this. That’s bad, right?”