[Happy Almost Friday.]
Four days, three practices, and one game later, it was finally Sunday and I was double-checking that, according to my planner, multiple syllabi and whatnot, that I was indeed ahead for once, instead of perpetually catching up.
Which proves miracles can - and sometimes do - happen.
There wasn't anything that needed to come with me, other than Murph, and we needed to get moving. It was roughly a fifty minute drive if I didn't cut over the hills and through the hollow. Going through town was a bit nicer, scenery wise, as it followed the lake from one end to the other, but it added about ten minutes.
Then again, driving no less than sixty got me home - through town - in forty-five minutes. And if my mom needed to get up here quick? She could tackle the distance in half an hour.
Keys in hand, I trotted down the back stairs and pushed open the door to the third floor. There was a cacophony of voices from the lounge, occasionally drowned out by a TV sports announcer. Sounded like Syracuse playin' someone. Murph was leaning against the lounge window, turning his head every now and then to see the screen.
Syracuse scored a touchdown and there were a few "damn it" and "oh, shit" grumbles amidst the cheering.
I twined my fingers with Murph's and watched the replay. A one-handed grab under double cornerback coverage. That was bound to makes SportsCenter later. "Nice."
Murph shrugged. "Everyone has a SportsCenter moment, D-one or D-three."
We were NCAA Division III in all of our sports except for lacrosse (which was Division I) but if you watched any game, meet, or competition, we went at it like every move was covered by ESPN. It doesn't matter what it's not, we still go hard.
He looked at me, oblivious of our audience - half the lounge was watching the TV, and other the half us. "We goin'?"
"Yup." We waved to the boys - Dev among them - and started for the other stairs. Once in the parking lot, standing by the driver side and looking at my boyfriend over the roof of my beat-up Oldsmobile, it hit me what we were about to do.
Murphy was going to meet my parents. The last boy to do this, three years ago, was Bobby.
Bless that boy. "Yeah, Murph?"
And was that a loaded question or what? "Yup. Just...thinking." Unlocked the car, ignoring the slight shake in my hands, and hoped Fred started first try.
Hallelujah. Two miracles in one day.
Five minutes later we were going fifty-five down the state route with the lake on our left. Murph turned the radio on, navigating the seek button to find something between country and screamo. He found an easy listening station and I relaxed marginally, trying not to think about specifics or what was going to happen in roughly half an hour.
"There's a lot of vineyards out here," he said, looking out the window.
"Yup. There's twenty-eight wineries from one end of the lake to the other on this side." I'd been incredibly bored and tired on the drive one time and had counted. It'd kept me awake.
He looked at me, incredulous. "No."
"Boredom and falling asleep at the wheel."
Murph chuckled. "You know, I don't think I've been this far south before." He held up his hands. "Before you flay me for that, I've been to New York City and further south, south, but not down into this part of New York."
"So you haven't been to the southern tip of the Finger Lakes?"
"No - And how do these people use metal wheels to farm?"
Central and Western New York - known also as the Finger Lakes Region - was wine country. The hillsides of the glacier-made lakes were lined with vineyards and dotted with farmland. Grapes and corn. In Yates and Ontario counties there were a number - quite a lot, actually - of Amish and Mennonite farms. There were more on the east side of the lake and the way to figure it out? Look at the wheels on the tractor.
"If the machinery has metal wheels, it's an Amish farm. Rubber wheels are Mennonites. If we're lucky, we'll pass a horse and buggy." Counted those one time, too. Eight of 'em.
Murphy was positively bug-eyed; this was normal for me.
"What's that out there?" He pointed to the lake.
"Naval station." Apparently Murph hadn't gotten out much. "Research station. The lake, at its deepest part, is about six hundred and eighty-five feet deep, which makes it a good place to do submarine research." I tapped the brakes, eyes on the car to the right at the blinking yellow light. "You can't get within five hundred feet of it without them wanting to know who you are and what you're doing. Or they threaten to shoot you." I grinned. "Looks like a pirate ship comin' from the other way after dark."
He snorted. Darius Rucker's Alright filled the lack of conversation. I 'bout jumped through the roof when he slid his big palm under the hand currently resting on the armrest between us. Yeah, I'm a bad person and don't drive at ten and two unless it's snowing or my niece is riding with me, so it's usually only the left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel.
Nobody really gives a shit about how your hands are after your test, anyway.
His thumb stroked up the side of mine, coaxing my blood pressure out of the stratosphere.
Darius made way for Rascal Flatts and Fred rolled on through the miles, the lake sometimes disappearing from view and other times a dark, shimmering blue between two hills awash with reds, golds, and oranges. I waited five miles for a passing zone to get around a Chevy driven by a senior citizen on a leaf-gazing, forty mile-per-hour Sunday drive coming up on the last major hill and the final, if curvy, stretch of road before we'd drop down into the village.
Yes, village. Not a town. A village. Population of three thousand. Except for my family because we live six miles in the country.
We hit the four lane on the way into Watkins and he took everything from the motels and bed and breakfasts to the Elks Club building and the old iron works building on the last curve and then onto main street. There were still a ton of tourists around - especially at the State Park - and once past that traffic thinned and we went through the skewed intersection and up the hill across from Pizza Hut.
"Hilly," Murph remarked.
"You've no idea," I grinned.
"I'm a suburbs kid, I guess," he said, slightly wide-eyed at the open farmland and the view across the hills. Sasha had called them "mountains" when she'd come with me for Easter last year. "Wow."
The closer and closer we got to my own driveway, the more and more butterflies began beating at my ribcage.
It occurred to me then I should've asked Murph if he was allergic to animals.
"Are you allergic to cats or dogs?"
"Oh, and just to warn you, Dex is a little...hyper."
He looked at me briefly before returning to presumably try to figure out which of the houses coming up was mine. "Dog?"
"Yeah." Pureblood, registered, long-legged border collie. He loved to wash ears, too.
There was a curious feeling in my belly as I flipped on the turn signal and backed into the driveway. It - well, when compared to other things, it wasn't much. An almost square house with white siding and a two-seat wooden glider by the door on the concrete pad. Murph squeezed my fingers and I had to really think about it to get my hand to release its death grip.
"This is it." Slid out of the driver's seat to stand on wooden legs.
"It's nice," he said. "Is that a store door?"
"Yeah. We're in the process of remodeling the downstairs from an old store into livable space. So it looks a little rough."
If I didn't get a handle soon it wasn't going to be pretty. Namely, most likely one of my mother's hanging flower pots would get a little extra fertilizer. Then I'd catch hell.
I led the way through the door and into what was starting to look like the mud room it was going to be. It wasn't in use yet, and we had to weeble through the downstairs to the kitchen door. There were voices behind the door and still feeling like I should be praying to the porcelain god, I opened the door and decided to just go with it.
Decent philosophy in theory, hell on the system in practice.
Mom was clipping coupons from the paper at the table, and she looked up when the door opened.
"Hi." She put down her scissors and hugged me halfway between the door and the tile-top table. Mama's a couple inches shorter than me, so when Murph stepped off the rug in his blue argyle socks, he dwarfed her.
"Mom, this is Murphy. Murphy, my mom, Anne." They shook hands; Dex pounded down the stairs and nearly ran into the side of the stove. He took the long way around the table and leaned his front paws into my midsection, trying to lick my ears.
Until he saw Murph, decided that was someone he didn't know, identified as friend, and attacked my boyfriend. In a friendly way, of course.
"Dexter!" Mom snapped, reaching for the neon green collar.
"Oh, he's fine," Murph said, laughing as the dog ravished his left ear. Dex eventually wandered away, back end wagging furiously.
I reached around Murph to hang my keys and Vera on my hook under the phone and then...didn't know what to do with myself. And the fact my boyfriend was in my kitchen.
Which apparently blew my mind.
"Store," she said, sitting down to clip coupons again.
Murph wandered further into the kitchen, taking in the light green walls and carpeted stairs. He followed me up to the pale yellow living room - complete with no curtains because, well, we just didn't. Not yet. He didn't say anything and it was turning the still-present butterflies to lead. From the plum-colored chairs to the right, the small, blue-plaid couch, and the pictures of Izzy and I on the wall behind the bigger couch Dex had claimed as his, he took in everything. Especially my senior photo on the wall.
"Your hair's shorter," he said.
"Yeah. I'm sort of growing it out again." And was almost there. "The bathroom's this way." It was on the right, before the closed door of my parents room and the left turn to the short hallway to my room, back guest room, and open computer room.
"Your room down there?"
Our eyes met, my heart thumping uncomfortably loud, and from the tightness in my chest those damned butterflies might have broken a rib. Maybe punctured a lung.
And so I showed him something of me Bobby had never seen - everything from my cluttered dresser-with-mirror to my five CD changer stereo to the stars painted on the ceiling.
"Did you paint those?"
"No. They were here when I moved in." The black cat curled on the bed lifted her head and stared at us with yellow eyes. "That's Pepper. She's a bit temperamental." Meaning, poke her belly and lose a finger. Possibly the whole hand.
We wandered back into the living room; my ass buzzed and the little black flip phone made an appearance. Text from my sister.
u guys here?
'Yeah.' "My sister." Motioned behind me. "She lives across the road."
Murph shoved his hands in his pockets, shuffling his feet a little. "And I'm gonna get to meet her later?"
Phone buzzed. made monster cookies. bring the boy.
I grinned. "Right now, if you want to. And she made cookies."
He shrugged. "Okay."
Back down the stairs, shoes, then out through the door and across the front yard to the mailbox. Nothin' comin', across the road and up the driveway to the back porch.
"We built this."
He looked at his feet. "The porch?"
"Ripped the old one to shreds and built this one as a family." It was warn enough out - and she'd been baking, too - that the back door was open behind the screen one. I caught the black and gray kitten as it dove for the door, cradling him against my chest until I heard the latch.
Murph pointed to the kitten. "Who is that little guy?"
Grinning, I put the kitten in his palm and he gently rubbed its tiny head. It purred. Loudly, for such a small thing.
"Wow," he murmured. "Talk about a V8."
Izzy was leaning against the doorway, inspecting the guy taller than her fridge.
"Murphy, meet Murphy."
His face was priceless.
"He's so ugly he's cute, isn't it?" Izzy grinned.
Murphy the human looked between two sets of green eyes and a nose that was probably eerily similar. "Are we talkin' about me or the cat?"
Resolutely not looking at my boyfriend found me wandering to the counter with a, "Ooh, cookies." Picked two off the plate and handed one to Murph. "You're cuter than the furball."
"Was a little worried for a sec," he mumbled, taking the treat, the kitten balanced against his chest.
"Are you allergic to oatmeal or peanut butter?" Izzy asked.
Murph shook his head, took a bite, and more or less blissed out. Monster cookies. Always good.
"Murphy, this is my sister, Izzy. Izzy, Murphy."
An orange tiger kitten padded in. Izzy pointed. "Morris."
"Like on the cat food commercial?" Murph still had his furry namesake.
Izzy grinned. "He's good."
He shrugged. "Used to have a cat."
Izzy took the kitten Murph handed to her. "She knows you're home. I told her you'd come get her after she got up from her nap and take her over to play." She rubbed Murphy the Kitten's fur the wrong way.
"Send me a text."
Murph tentatively raised a hand. "Can I have another cookie?"
"Of course you can have another arsenic cookie," she said sweetly, and again, Murph's face - cookie hanging out of his mouth - was priceless.
"She's kidding," I said, practically shoving him out the door. "Just kidding."
Dad's little black truck was in my driveway as we crossed the road and weebled back through the downstairs. Murph tensed at the kitchen door. "What if he doesn't like me?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
He shrugged. "He hasn't met me and I'm his daughter's boyfriend."
"He hasn't met you." I reached for the door handle. "And besides, it's not hunting season yet."
"Yeah," he snorted, "because that makes me feel so much better."
Kissing his cheek required standing on tip-toes. "You'll be fine. He doesn't bit." Which was true, but holy shit the man could bark.
Once on the other side of the door, Dex wandered over and Dad set a newly made pitcher of iced tea on the table.
And this is when I officially stopped breathing like a normal human being.
"Murph, my dad, Peter. Dad, this is Murphy."
That was, quite simply, all there was to it. Watching them shake hands, Dad offered him a glass of tea, Mom asked if he was hungry, and the next thing that happens is Mom and I are watching Dad and Murph talk football over roast beef sandwiches.
It was, simply put, frighteningly easy and incredibly normal. Which brought back those damned butterflies.
Dex sat staring at Murph until Mom physically pushed him away.
"What are you studying, Murphy?" she asked.
"History." He reached for the tea jug. "I want to teach."
"That's what Ollie's doing, too."
"Back up, plan," I protested. "Don't have a plan but I have a back up plan." Which was par on course for me, truthfully.
Conversation was the typical "boy-meets-parents" stuff and quite relaxing, to be honest. Even when the cat came waddling down the stairs resembling a pot-bellied pig more than a feline (she pulls her belly fur out, we have yet to figure out why) and began bellowing at Murph in an attempt to get him to share his chips.
Yes, cat eats potato chips and yes, sharing is required.
Time became one of those things that slipped easily away and before I could really fathom it, my phone was buzzing.
she's waiting for you.
"What?" Mom asked.
"Elizabeth. I told Izzy I'd get her and bring her over to swing."
Murph looked briefly terrified at the prospect of being left alone - temporarily - with my parents. He was a big boy, he could handle it. And if Murph could handle this, then he stood a chance of handling what was coming next.