“Alone at last.” Sami gave a crooked smile to Santiago. The dog’s head tilted in acknowledgment while wide brown eyes stared steadily. “Well, come on, then.” She walked over to the love seat positioned next to her Christmas tree and sat down, tucking her legs beneath her as she reached for a half-finished glass of wine.
It was late, too late to be up when she knew the kids would rise with the sun. She sipped the wine as Santiago lay his head on her lap. Absently, she rubbed the top of his head, her fingers playing in the rough fur while she stared at the ornaments decorating the tree. Green painted popsicle sticks formed frames around curling photos of a chubby-faced Ben. Glitter mixed with plaster caught the light as Penny’s hand print twisted on its ribbon. Chunky beads filled a star shaped pipe cleaner, spelling out Archie’s name. Franklin hadn’t wanted any of the handmade ornaments, preferring to keep the crystal collectibles they’d decorated with before kids. She hadn’t complained. Those bits of glue and paper and glitter were far more valuable to her.
Her phone chimed. She frowned and set down her glass. It was after midnight. Who could be texting this late?
You still up?
Sami’s fingers hovered over the keypad while she read the three words. A month ago, she wouldn’t have hesitated to reply to a text from Carlos, no matter how late he’d sent it. A month ago, a text after midnight wouldn’t have been filled with a minefield of meaning. Santiago sighed loudly and set his head on the ground between his paws.
“You’re right,” she told the dog. “I’m being ridiculous.” She thought for a moment, staring absently across the room. Something sparked a bit of mischief. She grinned and sent off a reply.
I am. Hanging out with a good looking guy and having a glass of wine.
Flirting had never come naturally to her. She’d met Franklin in college. Their relationship had been a whirlwind romance, flirting unnecessary.
Things had been different since their date and tonight, during the only time she’d found to talk to him, things hadn’t gone as well as she’d hoped.
Anyone I know?
You know him. He comes into the restaurant sometimes. 😉
She snuggled into the pillows of the love seat and took another sip of wine.
Should I be jealous?
The butterflies in her stomach reminded her that there was an undercurrent that hadn’t been there before their date, a sense that she was dangerously close to moving beyond playful flirting and into something more serious.
Nah. He’s only here for a few days. He just needed a place to crash.
Sami waited for a reply, the clock ticking away the seconds while the gray bubble appeared and disappeared.
Okay. Have fun.
Sami sat straight up, her mouth dropping open. “What?” Santiago lifted his head. “Have fun?” She looked at the dog in disbelief. “What does he mean by ‘have fun’?” The dog seemed to roll his eyes. “Exactly!” Sami said. She held up her phone and snapped a picture of Santiago, sending it with a terse, “Will do.”
She threw the phone down on the cushion next to her and picked up the wine again. Have fun? She fumed. Santiago sighed. “Don’t take his side,” she said sharply. Her words snapped her out of her anger. What was wrong with her? She was being ridiculous.
She picked up the phone and read over the short exchange, scrolling back over the weeks and then months. Years of messages rolled down the tiny screen. Sami stopped reading and let the words fly until she got to his first message.
This is Carlos. Got your number from Mark. Heard you need help moving. Let me know what time I need to be there.
Thanks! That is amazing. I can’t pay much, but I appreciate it.
If you grab a pizza and beer, we’ll call it good.
Sami read further.
I dropped off soup at your front door. Brie said you called in sick. Didn’t want to wake you up if you were napping.
The man is an ass. I think you’re beautiful.
How did your test go? I’ve got a bottle of wine with your name on it.
I have Saturday off. What time is Penny’s soccer game?
She scrolled through movie dates, dinner plans, and pictures. Her hand shook as she put the phone down, gently this time. It was all spelled out in bubbles of blue and green. Years of building a friendship and under it all, more than simple kindness and companionship.
There was love.
She jumped at the sound of a soft knock on her door.