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“You’d think they were brothers,” Annalise remarked as she watched Jaylin and Dre in Lanie’s backyard. They were huddled beside the tent, deep in some sort of furtive conversation. Jaylin’s brothers, Tristan and Glennane, tried to join in, but Jaylin kept sending them to the other side of the yard to play with the toy dump trucks they had brought. Tristan, who was eight, was highly insulted by this, and wanted to play with the older boys. Glen would have been fine if Tristan didn’t make a fuss. Ben and John were at the barbecue, and every now and then one of them would go over to break up the squabbling. At one point, Ben carried four-year-old Glennane by the ankle to the kiddie pool and dumped him in, laughing nearly as hard as the child. Then, he took a loonie out of his pocket and started doing magic tricks, attracting young and old alike.
Lanie stood at the stove next to Annalise, who was making a salad. She’d brought a bag of chocolates from her store, and snacked on them as she worked. They were shaped like fruits: raspberries and strawberries and apple slices. She slapped away anyone else who tried to claim them, though. Lanie could see the wheels turning in Ben’s head as he glanced toward the kitchen window at regular intervals. John, of course was used to this behaviour, and had long ago decided that he couldn’t win against his wife.
“I’m glad Dre has a friend. It hasn’t been an easy year.”
“I’m glad John has a friend. He’s getting a little tired of the church crowd. He and Ben really bonded over the engineering project. Ben makes friends wherever he goes. He and Dre bonded pretty much instantly. He seems to be doing well. Do you think Ben has anything to do with it?”
Lanie grunted. “He’s a child himself, so I’m not surprised.”
“Jaylin asks to come over multiple times per day. You might have to adopt him, too.”
“One child is enough, thank you very much.”
“So you and Ben…?”
“Absolutely not. I’m almost thirty, you know.”
Annalise laughed. “I’m almost thirty. You’re twenty-eight. You’ve got nothing to worry about when it comes to childbearing years.”
“Whatever. So what else do you need to put in that salad?”
Annalise continued to chat as they worked, and Lanie did her best to keep up with the other woman’s quick and efficient movements. She was at least as good in the kitchen as Ben, even though she was a candy maker.
Lanie’s wondered when her life would stop feeling so surreal. This wrinkle in time that she’d fallen into felt like a dream. Summer birthday barbecues with friends while the kids played in the yard. Speakers playing a radio station from Calgary. Another woman in the kitchen, helping to cook. She was jealous of how easily Ben seemed to fit into this life that she’d watched others grow up in, but knew she could never be a part of. She felt acutely uncomfortable and inept, and honestly couldn’t wait for them to leave. Her head was too full, spinning with futures and pasts that never were and could never be. It felt like wearing shoes that were just too big. It was bad enough getting used to Ben being in her life.
In her life?
She watched him, as they sat around their “new” table in the grass. The umbrella provided some protection against the sun, but it was setting, and spilling into his eyes like liquid fire, and sparkled in his rich, dark hair. His smile was like a rainbow, and he was so animated and alive as he chatted with John about “owning” a chocolate shop. John shot glances of exasperated fondness at Annalise every time she chimed in.
“I wonder what those two are plotting.” With his fork, Ben indicated Jaylin and Dre, who were still whispering together at the other end of the table. “It seems pretty intense.”
Lanie frowned at them. “They’re probably just excited to go back to school.”
But she wasn’t sure. Now that Ben mentioned it, there was something suspicious about the way that those two kept looking up, then quickly away, when they realized Ben and Lanie were watching them. What could her son be up to this time? Whatever it was, she hoped it wouldn’t end with another trip to the hospital.
“So…Annalise. I’ve got a gift for you.”
She clapped her hands. “Oh, really! Should I close my eyes?”
“No, baby, keep your eyes wide open. Ben?”
Grinning, Ben plugged his phone into the sound system, then pressed a button. Lanie’s jaw dropped as “Party Rock Anthem,” an upbeat pop song that she hadn’t heard in forever. Right on cue, John and Ben delivered a rather impressive rendition of the Shuffle, not missing a beat. Even though there was nothing particularly salacious about the dance, Ben’s roguish glint, not to mention the way the sharp, quick movements made his body ripple, left her mouth dry. For the most part, he kept her eyes on her, grinning. Then, the children joined in the dance, all four boys matching the steps with ease. Jaylin achieved some breathtaking breakdancing moves that had Lanie mentally counting steps to her medic kit.
“Come on, Lanie!” Laughing, Annalise grabbed Lanie’s hand and dragged her across the grass, twirling her around. Ben caught her from behind, his hands sliding from her waist and up her stomach as he briefly kissed the back of her neck.
“Don’t be gross, guys!” Giggling, Dre pulled Lanie away, then helped her get into the final steps of the dance.
With a flourish, they finished, falling in a heap.
“I know how much you like Ben,” John panted as he helped his wife to her feet. “And when I realized we both knew the dance, we taught the boys, and there you go!”
She simpered at him. “And here I thought you never listened to me.”
“How are you feeling?” Braced on her elbow, Lanie gazed down at Ben, who was smiling and coughing and trying to catch his breath. She put her hand just below his ribcage, but he waved her off and rolled to a seating position.
“How are you feeling?” He trailed his finger down her temple.
She sighed, frustrated that he still didn’t seem to look after himself.
“Hey. I’m fine. I need to do exercise sometimes, you know. On my honour, I just need a couple of minutes.” Hand to heart, he took a slow, deep breath to demonstrate.
John insisted on “helping” Annalise with the dishes inside before they left. Were they aware that they were completely visible through the window? They groped each other like they were reconnecting after years of separation.
“You okay?” Ben trailed a finger down her arm. Even though it was out of concern, the action nearly made her shiver. She held her breath, trying to ignore the sensation.
“Yeah, fine.” She played with her salad, looking away before Ben got curious and turned around. But it was too late.
“Whoa!” he whispered rolling the coin between his fingers. “Don’t let the kids see. “Do you think they’re like that all the time?”
“I don’t know.” Why was her face so hot? Public displays of affection annoyed her, but she’d never been embarrassed before. Maybe it was because she couldn’t get the Ben situation out of her head. Seeing him with the kids put strange, unwelcome thoughts in her head. And that dance. Plus, she couldn’t look at him at that moment because she wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t drag him off somewhere, sex pact or not. His nearness was the source of her fire, but getting even closer to him was the only way to smother it.
Rules were meant to be broken, she decided.
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