It snows Monday and I’m surprised to find Joe shoveling my front walk after I put Ben down for a nap. I slip on a pair of Dominic’s shoes and open the door.
“Hi,” I say, feeling shy. I haven’t seen Joe since before the party on Saturday. Before Mahak.
“Hello,” Joe replies, not stopping his shoveling. I watch him for a moment, pushing the shovel across the snow covered sidewalk until it’s just about to hit the bank on the side. Then with a seemingly effortless flick, he adds the snow to the pile.
“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? I thought you were the smart one.” A hint of a smile curves up the corner of his mouth and I smile in return.
“It looks like you’re being neighbourly again, shoveling my walk.”
“Looks that way.” Joe continues to push the snow.
“Thank you. I wasn’t looking forward to doing it.”
“I thought it might be hard for you, with Ben and all.”
“Yeah, he’s not old enough to shovel yet. But when he is, just watch me use my child labour.” I get a real smile at that. “Why weren’t you at the party on Saturday?” I blurt out.
“Really?” The sarcasm is a little too evident in my tone and Joe stops.
“Yes. Contrary to popular belief, I do have a life.”
“I never said you didn’t.”
“Your husband called me.”
“Does he not think you have a life?” I ask with bewilderment. Joe chuckles in response.
“He asked if I could come fix the shelf in your bedroom.”
“I was going to fix that,” I pout.
“Well, he asked me. Do you not want me to?”
My sulk vanishes before it really begins as I glance at Joe’s face. It’s inscrutable as usual, but something in his eyes makes my stomach do a slow roll. “I think that would be fine,” I say slowly.
“Do you want me take a look at it now?”
“Sure. Ben’s asleep…”
“I won’t wake him up.” Without another word, he heads for the door, leaning the shovel against the wall. I back inside, out of his way, leaving snowy footprints on the floor.
“Room still looks nice,” Joe comments as he pulls off his boots before stepping on the floor.
“It’s a nice colour,” I tell him grudgingly. “You did a good job.”
“Which is why your husband called me. Show me this shelf.”
I led him up the stairs, conscious of how my bum looks in my yoga pants. Was Joe looking at it? As I brought him into my bedroom, I was happy I made the bed this morning, but conscious of the bras I had left draped over the chair to dry. Bright pink, baby blue and black cheetah print – they were very noticeable, but Joe didn’t say a word.
“Here,” I stood in front of the shelf on the wall. Dominic had noticed the other night it wasn’t level and one side seemed to be sinking lower on the wall. I had yet to place anything on the shelf, so of course I hadn’t noticed.
Joe steps around me and begins tapping on the wall. “It’s not fastened into the stud. The screw for this side is just floating around in there.”
“Can you fix it?”
He raises his eyebrows at me. “You’ll have a hole. I have to take it out, find a better spot and stick it back in. I can patch it if you like.”
“Sure. If it needs to be patched.”
“Look here.” Joes moves behind me, and taps on the wall above one end, then the other. Even I can hear the difference. “This one is fixed into the wall stud. This one isn’t and so it’s sliding down the wall.”
“I can see that.” I grab the edge of the wood shelf and pull down on it, thinking it securely fastened. It wasn’t. Joe is right; the screw holding the one end was just floating around and when I put pressure on it, it jerks downward, leaving a ragged hole in the wall.
“What! I didn’t mean for you to rip it out!” He grabs the shelf at the same time I do, leaving us holding it together. One of his hands cover mine.
“Oops,” I manage weakly. Joe’s hand is warm and I’m conscious now of how close his body is behind me. He makes an exasperated noise and I can feel his breath on my neck. But he doesn’t move.
“I don’t think it’s going to fall,” I say, after we’ve stood like that for a long moment. It’s beginning to feel awkward. Or…something…
Joe moves the hand covering mind, but doesn’t step back. Instead, I feel one of his hands, then both, resting on my hips. With the gentlest of pressure, he pulls me back against him.
I don’t move a muscle. I’m not even breathing. Slowly, ever so slowly, Joe pushes my hair off my shoulder. I feel the barest touch of his lips against my bare skin.
And then he’s gone.