“He was eighteen and leaving for college. as many of you know he went to college close by, only an hour or two away, but it was much farther than he had ever been from me and I was terrified. My only son was moving away! all summer long I was crying on and off, trying to hide it from him, trying not to make him feel guilty. the day came to take him to school. Well, actually, wait.” she stops, no longer reading from the paper. “the other part of this you need to know is that we have a guest bathroom in the house that we never use. no one ever uses it. It was this big family joke that no one had set foot in the guest bathroom for years. We have a bathroom downstairs that guests always use and an extra bathroom upstairs that I had deemed the guest bathroom and insisted it had to be redone and gorgeous because guests would use it, but no guest ever used it. I’ve never even had to clean it. anyway . . .” she continues.
“As steven and I are moving Ben in, we bring in the last of his stuff and I just start bawling my eyes out, right in front of his new roommate and his parents. It had to be mortifying for him, but he didn’t show it. He walked me out to the car and he hugged steven and I, and he said, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I’ll come back next month and stay a weekend, all right?’ and I nodded. I knew that if I didn’t leave that minute, I’d never be able to. so I got in the car and steven and I had started to drive away when Ben gave me one last kiss and said, ‘When you get sad, check the guest bathroom.’ I asked him to explain what he meant, but he smiled and repeated himself, so I let it go, and when I got home, I ran in there.” she laughs. “I couldn’t wait another minute, and as I turned on the light, I saw that he had written ‘I love you’ across the mirror in soap. at the very bottom it said, ‘and you can keep this forever because no one will ever see it.’ and I did, it’s still there now. I don’t think a single other person has ever seen it.”
I look down at the ground just in time to see the tears fall off my face and onto my shoes.
It was the day before our five-week deal was up. For the past four weeks and six days, Ben and I had been spending all of our time together, but neither one of us was allowed to mention words like boyfriend, girlfriend, or more specifically, I love you. I was very much looking forward to tomorrow. We had spent the day in bed, reading magazines (me) and newspapers (him), and he had been trying to convince me that it was a good idea to get a dog. this all started because of the pictures of dogs for adoption in the classifieds.
“Just look at this one. It’s blind in one eye!” Ben said as he shoved the newspaper in my face. His fingertips were covered in gray ink. all I could think was that he was getting the ink all over my white sheets.
“I see him!” I said back, putting down my magazine and turning toward Ben. “He’s very, very cute. How old is he?”
“He’s two! Just two years old and he needs a home, elsie! We can be that home!”
I grabbed the newspaper from him. “We can’t be anything. We aren’t talking about anything that would progress our relationship in any way, shape, or form. Which a dog most certainly does.”
Ben grabbed the paper back. “yes, but that ends tomorrow and this dog might get adopted today!”
“Well, if he gets adopted today then he’s okay, right? We don’t need to step in and help him,” I said, smiling at him, teasing him.
“Elsie.” Ben shook his head. His voice turned purposefully childish. “Before, when I said that I was worried that the dog wouldn’t find a good home, I wasn’t being entirely honest about how I felt about this dog.”
“You weren’t?” I said, falsely shocked.
“No, elsie. I wasn’t. and I think you knew that.”
I shook my head. “I knew no such thing.”
“I want this dog, dammit! I don’t want anyone else to have it! We have to get it today!”
We had been joking up until then, but I was starting to feel that if I said I’d go get it that day, he’d put his clothes on and be in the car within minutes.
“We can’t get a dog!” I said, laughing. “Whose house would it even live at?”
“Here. It would live here and I would take care of it.”
“Here? at my house?”
“Well, I can’t keep him at my house! It’s a shithole!”
“So, really, you want me to get a dog and you want to play with it.”
“No, I will take care of the dog with you and it will be our dog.”
“You are cheating. this is . . . this is progressing the relationship. this is a huge . . . just a huge . . . I mean . . .”
Ben started laughing. He could see that he was making me nervous. the conversation had started to teeter on moving-in territory, and I was way too eager to discuss the idea. so eager that it embarrassed me and I did everything I could to hide it.
“Fine,” he said, putting one arm around me and the other behind him on the pillow. “I won’t talk about this at all today. But if Buster is still around tomorrow, can we discuss it?” “Buster? you want to name the dog Buster?”
“I didn’t name the dog! It says in the ad that his name is Buster. If it were up to me, we’d name the dog sonic. Because that is an awesome name.”
“I’m not getting a dog and naming it sonic.”
“Fine, how about Bandit?”
“You would end up calling it evel for short. that’s terrible.”
Ben was laughing at himself. “please don’t tell me you’d want to name a dog Fluffy or Cookie.”
“If I was going to have a dog, I’d name it something based on what it looked like. you know? really take into account the personality of the dog.”
“Has anyone else told you you’re the most boring woman on the planet?” Ben asked me, smiling.
“They have now,” I said. “What time is it? We have to meet ana soon, I think.”
“It’s five forty-seven p.m.,” he said.
“Ah!” I jumped up off the bed and into a pair of jeans. “We’re already going to be late!”
“We’re meeting her at six?” Ben asked, not moving. “she’s always late.”
“Yes! yes! But we still have to be on time!” I was reaching around the side of the bed searching for my bra. I didn’t like the way my br**sts looked in certain positions, and I found myself running around the room with one arm covering them.
Ben got up. “okay. Can we just check to see if she’ll be there on time?”
I stopped looking a moment to stare at him. “What? no. We have to leave now!”
Ben laughed. “okay, I will get us there at six oh five,” he said as he put his pants on and threw a shirt on over them. He was suddenly ready to go, and I was nowhere near it.
“Okay! okay!” I ran into the bathroom to see if I’d left my bra there. Ben followed me in, helping me. He found it before I did and threw it at me. “don’t cover your boobs on my account. I know you think they look bad when you are bent over, but you’re wrong. so next time just let ‘’em hang free, baby.”
I looked him in stunned silence. “you are so f**king weird,” I said.
He picked me up like I weighed three pounds. My body was straight against his, my legs tight together, my arms on his shoulders. He looked at me and kissed my collarbone. “I’m weird for loving you?”
I think he was just as shocked he’d said it as I was. “to love parts of you, I meant.” He put me down. “I meant, to love parts of you.” He blushed slightly as I found a shirt and put it on. I smiled at him like he was a child who had very adorably hidden my car keys.
“You weren’t supposed to say that,” I teased him as I put on mascara and got my shoes.
“Ignore it please!” He was now waiting by the door for me.
“I don’t think I can ignore it!” I said as we exited my front door.
We got in the car and he started the engine. “I really am sorry about that. It just came out.”
“You broke the rules!” I said again.