Bill pulled his sweaty shirt over his head and filled the sink with warm soapy water, his mind filled with the image of her on her knees on the floor, the flush on her cheeks, her fingers against her mouth. A smile tickled his lips as he wondered if he had caught her out, she had looked so embarrassed and, yeah, guilty…
Rinsing the soap from his arms and chest, splashing cool water over his neck and face he reached for a towel only to find there was none on the rail.
“Dammit!” under his breath and he stood straight and used his shirt to dry his hands, leaving the small bathroom and walking, shirtless, back into the kitchen.
“Um, Elsa, there was no towel in your bathroom…” he stood awkwardly in the entrance to the kitchen, torso dripping, wetting his jeans waistband.
“Oh my! Oh!” Elsa didn’t know where to put her eyes, wanting to stay and drink in the sight of him but also still feeling like a kid that had been caught doing something bad, “Here, let me get you one, I’m so sorry Bill!”
She rummaged in the hall cupboard and handed him a worn, faded towel, which he used to dry off the last few wet spots on his chest and stomach.
“Your shirt is damp… let me hang it on the porch for a few minutes. This sun’ll get it dry in no time,” she reached out her hand and he gave her the shirt, “Sit! Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be right back.”
He took a seat at the table, then restlessly stood again and went to the counter, carrying the salad and cold cuts she had prepared over to the table, then the large jug of iced tea and was about to look for glasses when she slammed the screen door again as she reentered the room, a startled expression on her face.
“I… uh I wanted to help out, hope that’s ok ma’am, sorry, Elsa,” feeling like he had overstepped his mark, standing in her kitchen, naked from the waist up.
A wide, open smile lit up her face, “Well, I would never complain about a man lending a hand in the kitchen! It’s a novelty for me!” she fetched the glasses from the draining board and set them next to the plates arranged on the table, “Come on, before it gets cold.”
Throwing her head back and laughing at his puzzled expression as he looked at the spread of the food on the table, she said, “It’s salad Bill… I was kiddin’. My humour can be a bit of an acquired taste I guess…”
Red-faced and feeling like a complete heel, he sat and tried to think of something to say. She had such a powerful effect on him. He felt about 14 years old whenever she was near him, not like a full-grown man with a job, a truck, a house. He always felt at ease in people’s company, had never had any trouble with women before. She was something new altogether.
They took their seats, “Help yourself Bill, I made lots. Reckon it’s the least I can do what with you working so hard in that sun,” she said, pouring iced tea into the tumblers.
Taking a forkful of potato salad that tasted so damn good, “This is amazing Elsa! I didn’t realise how hungry I was!” he began to devour the food.
They relaxed, chatting about the scorching heat, the plans she had for the small holding, how she came to be running the farm singlehandedly. Talk came easy between them, as if they had known each other before. A sense of familiarity.
After they had eaten, he insisted on helping her with the dishes, “I’ll wash, you dry. No arguments.”
They were at the sink, laughing over a story Bill was telling her from his last job when the screen door opened and slammed shut with a loud bang, startling them.
“Dammit!” Elsa cried as the glass she was holding slipped from her hand and shattered on the stone floor.
“What in the name o’ hell is goin’ on here?”
She looked up from her crouched position, picking up the shards of glass, to see Jody’s hulking frame standing in the middle of the room, arms crossed, face like thunder.
“Who the hell are you and why are you half nikked in my house?”
“This isn’t your goddamned house Jody and you know that! Quit being an ass and tell me what you want this time,” she shouted, forgetting for a second that Bill was behind her still.
Walking over to Jody, Bill extended his hand, wiping it dry on his jeans first, “Name’s Bill, been helping Elsa out some”.
Eyeing the outstretched hand suspiciously, Jody said, “Best put your shirt on and get back to it then,” glaring at Elsa over Bill’s shoulder.
Turning back towards her, Bill raised his eyebrow and said quietly, “You alright?”
“Course she’s alright! I’m her goddamned brother!”
Elsa rolled her eyes, cast a warning look at her brother and replied, “I’ll be fine Bill, thanks. And thanks for keeping me company over lunch,” only realising she had her hand on his forearm when she saw his eyes flicker down and a slight smile play on his lips.
His lips… Damn her idiot little brother for ruining her… what? her chance with Bill? Was she kidding herself?
“Jesus Jody! What the hell do you… Who the hell do you think you are to come crashing in here without so much as a knock on the goddamned door?!”
Bill heard her yelling as he walked down the porch steps, grinning, thinking to himself, “Yeah, she will be fine, she’s a tough cookie that one.”
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