Now, I realize as Nick takes hold of my hands and pulls me into a sitting position, I’m beginning to remember what happy feels like—so much so that when he lets go of my hands, I let myself fall backward onto the grass again just to make him laugh.
At least until he crouches down beside me and strokes a wayward, sweat-soaked curl out of my face. As the pads of his fingers graze my skin, we both stop laughing.
My eyes meet his warm brown ones, and suddenly I feel a little light-headed.
Heatstroke must be setting in, so I sit up abruptly. This time when Nick grabs on to my hands and starts to pull me to my feet, I let him.
“So what made you decide to go with SOS as your message?” he asks as we stand surveying my lawn and the three giant letters I mowed into it.
“The universe wasn’t answering my texts, so I went for something a little more in its face.”
He laughs again. “The universe really must not be paying attention, Mallory. Because everything about you is pretty much in your face.”
“Yeah, well, I’m taking that as a compliment.” I grin up at him.
“It was meant as one.”
Before I can think of something to say to that, he moves back out over the grass to the mower. “Why don’t you go inside and take a shower to cool down?”
“I think I’ll do that,” I say, grabbing on to the handle of the mower. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to park this around back for now. I’ll give it another go after dinner, when it doesn’t feel like Dante’s seventh circle of hell out here.”
“There you go, exaggerating again.” He shakes his head. “It’s really more like the fourth or fifth circle.”
“Says the man who hasn’t been trying to mow a jungle for the last hour and a half.” I roll my eyes and use all the strength I have left to push his behemoth of a lawn mower over to my side gate.
“Can I help you with that?” he asks, walking behind me.
“Nah.” I set my shoulders and do my best not to sound like I’m out of breath. It turns out it’s even harder to push the beast over grass when the motor is off and the self-propelling feature isn’t engaged. If someone tried to tell me that an hour ago, right before I gave up and mowed my first S, I wouldn’t have believed them. “I’ve got it.”
He eyes me skeptically. “You sure?”
“Absolutely.” I pause to catch my breath but pretend it’s to flex my muscles. “Wonder Woman’s got nothing on me. I mean, except big boobs, long legs, and a really great ass.”
I expect Nick to laugh along with me as we walk around to the side of the house, but he doesn’t. “You were more right the first time.”
“What first time?”
He lifts a brow. “When you said Wonder Woman had nothing on you.”
And then he turns and walks back down the driveway toward his house, leaving me staring after him with my mouth wide open.
Eventually, I rally and manage to push the lawn mower through the gate. I leave it right there in front of it, though, unwilling to move it one inch farther than I have to. Besides, it isn’t like I’m not going to have to push it right back out in a few hours.
I’m soaked in sweat by the time I make it into the house. My mother takes one look and her eyes go wide. I wait for the inevitable comments about how unfeminine I am or how no man wants a woman who can sweat like I’ve been wrestling with oiled pigs, but she doesn’t say anything.
However, she does press her lips together really hard, like she’s having to fight to keep the words in. I almost want to hug her, sweat and all, for making the effort.
Instead, I start shedding clothes as soon as I get upstairs, leaving a trail of stinky, soaking-wet garments from the door of my bedroom all the way to the shower. The fact that I’m going to have to pick them up in a little while doesn’t excite me—the only thing worse than sweaty clothes are cold sweaty clothes—but I seriously can’t stand having them on my body for one more second.
I get right into the glass cubicle and turn the water on full blast, only yelping a little when the cold spray hits me. Then I just stand there until my body temperature settles back into some kind of normal range.
Eventually I’m revived enough to actually clean myself—shampoo, conditioner, body scrub—but it takes a while. I haven’t felt this hot since I caught the flu about seven years ago and ran a temperature close to 105.
Normally, I’m not a water waster—I try to keep my showers in the seven-minute range because water is a precious commodity—but today, I blow that all to hell. I stay under the spray long after my hands turn pruny and every goose bump on my body becomes activated. Then—and only then—do I turn the shower off with a sigh of regret and finally step out.
I know I’m just going to have to get hot, sweaty, and nasty again later, but I decide to hell with it and take my time doing the whole girlie routine. I start by slathering my entire body with my favorite Jo Malone lotion, which I promised myself I’d only use on special occasions, since I definitely can’t afford to buy more. It’s a nice follow-up to the full-body sugar scrub I did in the shower. Then I do my whole skin-care routine—something I’ve been pretty lax with since I moved into the house—and I don’t even skimp on the products. Some days, a girl deserves to treat herself.
After a blowout that leaves my hair in shining waves—again, something I haven’t bothered with in quite a while—I slip into my most upscale pair of yoga pants (which isn’t saying a lot, but still) and my most flattering rose tank top. A slick of lip gloss across my lips and a touch of mascara on my lashes, and I figure my mom won’t have much to complain about over lunch, even if she wants to.
Satisfied and feeling pretty damn good, I head downstairs. My stomach is growling like an enraged bear.
I’m barely halfway down the stairs when I hear Mom and Sarah chattering amid the clanging of pots and pans. Even more surprising is the fact that Nick’s deep voice sounds like it’s coming from right in the middle of the action—which, it turns out, it is.
The three of them are in the lemon-yellow kitchen like they all belong there together. Sarah and my mom are setting the table, and Nick is sautéing chicken in a pan.
“I thought you were going home,” I say. He was walking to his house when I went inside.
Nick doesn’t bother glancing up from the frying pan. “I did go home. And now I’m here. Some people can do more than take a shower in an hour and a half.”
“Yeah, well…” I walk farther into the kitchen, getting the glasses out of the cabinet while I scramble for a witty comeback. “Sometimes efficiency is highly overrated.”