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The moon drifts across the sky as they work on the playset for the emergency room. Ben, his mood mostly restored since their spat, starts up a light cascade of chatter. If she doesn’t focus on the words, his voice is like the sound of a babbling stream, proceeding without the need for her response. His voice is deep and melodic, and every now and then he makes himself laugh, the night bursting with the lusty, bounteous sound. It sooths her so much tat she forgets the absurdity of what they’re doing. He is just so full of life, and apparently doesn’t hold grudges, despite his tirade against her earlier. Is this what he wanted all along? Just to work alongside her?
Lanie hasn’t built a play structure before, so Ben gives her the needed instructions. Mostly, though, it’s the same as building anything else. Now that the job is going faster, he can no longer stand the heat. He takes off his sweatshirt, revealing the light-coloured tee-shirt underneath. Is it green? Blue?
“We’re almost done,” he puffs, and then, with a self-conscious glance toward her, he peels off his tee-shirt, too, draping it over the finished ladder to air out. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to die.”
She’s completely tongue-tied, and doesn’t say anything. At first, he hunches in on himself and tries to turn away from her. But his feeble attempt at modesty makes it more difficult for him to work. Anyway, this deep in the darkness, the patients can’t see them from the windows that have been tinted to reduce the harshness of the sun. His burly arms give an intriguing display as he lifts, pounds, and saws the materials in place at his same steady pace. She orders herself to focus on her work, and not the way the moonlight sparkles on his skin with the softness of a million fantasies. The glow highlights the contours of his upper body, the discreet pops and quivers in his chest and shoulders and back and forearms. The band of his cargo shorts dips just below the back of his hips, where two more dimples press into his iliac crests. Like ivy, subtle ropes of veins coil around his limbs, drawn out by exertion. His shirtless form, embellished with a hardhat and goggles, makes her wonder how it would feel if he ran those rough, thick gloves over her naked skin. For him to grab her around the waist with them, and put her on the sawhorse, and…
“Are you done with that yet?” He motions one of those oversized gloved hands at the planks she’s hammering. Still hammering. He’s waiting to hand her another one.
“Uh, yep. Look at that, almost ready to put the roof on.”
Quelling the distracting, pleasurable tingles, she tries desperately to refocus.
“You’re holding your arm too high when you saw,” Ben calls to her from where he’s screwing the slide in place.
“Hmm?” She tries to adjust her position without looking directly at him.
“You’re going to injure your wrist like that. Plus, it’s taking you twice as long. No, not like that, now your support hand is at the wrong angle.”
He drops heavily from the platform and stands in front of her across from the sawhorse, trying to demonstrate. She stares at his bare chest, remembering sticking electrodes on him when he’d been hospitalized. He was so soft. He must moisturize. Everywhere?
“Umm, can I show you?” His hands hover over her hands, and his brows furrow in consternation. Biting her lip to keep a straight face, she assents, and lets him guide her where he wants her. As soon as he lets her go, she immediately falls out of alignment again. “No, Lanie!” he scolds, while she continues to fight her smile. Even through her own gloves, his touch does things to her. Delicious things. Addictive things.
Coming around to her side, he reaches around to put his right hand on her right hand, and his left hand on her left, gripping her tightly. It reminds her of school gym classes when they learned to foxtrot. When her elbows still mysteriously won’t stay where they are supposed to, he growls in the back of his throat and stands directly behind her, corralling those disobedient limbs with his own.
He’s like a furnace. Since he can’t see her face, she closes her eyes and moves one millimetre closer to his heat, where the swell of his belly pillows her spine just right. He smells so good. Even though he purportedly hasn’t been using any of his fancy products, the hours of hard labour activated his citrus deodorant. There was an undertone of smoke and marshmallows, indicating he’d been to campfire that evening. He smells clean, woodsy, and manly. Remembering how breathtaking he looked in the firelight, she almost wishes she made herself go, too. Just to see him.
“Got it?” he asks, his voice above her head and in her back and all around her.
What had he even been saying? She has no idea, and can’t even make herself feel bad. She’s too far gone. The contact of his naked skin through her thin shirt has her reeling. Aching. Surrendering, she leans into him just a bit more, and his unmistakeable intake of breath made her hair stand on end.
Turning in his arms, she looks up at him. His face is in shadows, but she can make out his parted lips, and his eyes locked on hers. When she trails her gloves down his torso, he gasps, catching her waist with one hand. Pulling away, she peels off her gloves, leaving them on the saw horse behind her, then continues her tour while he stands frozen. She outlines the curvature of his ears, and the subtle point at the tips. He doesn’t blink when she uses his eyelashes to tickle her fingers; it’s like he’s turned into a statue, gray in the moonlight. Only his chest moves, rapidly up and down. Heart pounding and head light, she plays with the hairs at the crook of his jaw, fingering the place where his dimples would be if he were smiling. If only she could make him smile. Instead, she brings her hands to the small of his back and swirls her fingers in the depressions there, making his hips press into her. With a soft, appreciative hum, she slides her hands back up again. His lashes lowers when she trails the length of his throat, where some stubble is starting to come in, then over his firm, bow-shaped lips. She needs to kiss him, right now. But when she moves to the back of his neck, he shakes himself slightly and steps away.
Clearing his throat, he opens his mouth to say something, then closes it again. He gazes just to the left of her, rubbing the back of his head and looking dazed.
She steps away too. What’s wrong with him? Is he going to give some sort of excuse about her being his boss? He has infuriating authority issues, but she’d gladly let him be the boss, if only for a night. An hour, even. Five minutes, and he could have it all. As much as she needs to help the children, she’s faced with flagging tolerance for what has become a long, exhausting, and unexciting game of cat and mouse with the boards. In that moment, she would gladly throw it all away –
What is she thinking? She takes another step back, trying to breathe reason back into her brain. “Maybe this isn’t the job for me. Why don’t you take over?”
Unsteadily, he shifts to let her pass so that he could finish the cut himself, and she goes back to hammering. Left arm straight, feet at a slight angle, he curves his back over his work, rhythmically drawing the saw. Those heavy biceps sway like anacondas on a tree…
She swears under her breath as her hammer clips the tip of her thumb. Thankfully, it doesn’t hurt much, but she resolves yet again to pay attention to what she’s doing.
When the darkness has thinned considerably, the small, sturdy play structure was done. The rope swings hang evenly. The ladder reaches up to the deck, which is sanded smooth, and the slide of tin sheets is in place. The whole thing is a stout, simple work of art.
“We can paint it white so it doesn’t get too hot.” Ben puts his shirt back on after fanning himself with it for a full minute. “But this looks pretty great. Good job, Chief!” The ironic title makes her smile. His irreverence is refreshing, she admits grudgingly, letting go of their awkwardness from an hour ago. There’s something about the night that makes her want to draw it out, despite the creeping light. They look at each other for a moment, and Ben’s proud smile fades until his expression is soft and contemplative. Is he thinking about their almost-kiss? Lanie doesn’t dare try to touch him again, keeping her distance with her hands behind her back. He tilts his head toward the playset, and without questioning, she hauls herself up, while he climbs the ladder.
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