McKinley Park: Chapter 3
by: Jacqueline Thomas
Ben pulled his car into his driveway at 10:45. He had missed his 9 pm deadline. Shit, he was blowing his shot with Rachel and he hadn’t even got a chance to make an ass of himself yet, he thought as he stepped out into the rain. He had gotten so caught up at Ashley’s house that he lost track of time. He stopped on the way home at the supermarket and brought a giant bouquet of roses. He turned the flowers upside down as he walked across the street to protect the delicate petals from the driving rain. Rachel’s lights were on, which was still a good sign he thought to himself.
He climbed the stairs to the porch and knocked on the door. He saw the outline of Rachel’s body through the gauze curtain hanging on the old but refinished door. She walked up to the door and peeked outside, then opened the door.
“I am so sorry I overslept, I fell asleep on the couch.”
“No, I should be apologizing I am so late. I am so sorry we had a break in a big case tonight.”
“What time is it?” Rachel put her hand over her mouth to cover an escaping yawn.
“It’s 10:30, I am so sorry. Here these are for you.”
“Oh, they’re lovely. Well, come in out of the rain. I don’t mind that it is late.”
“Are you hungry or have you eaten?”
“Nope, I slept, I am ashamed to admit it. I fell asleep on the couch like an old lady.”
“Do you want to still go out? I know our choice of restaurants will be limited, but I am game if you are?”
“Well I’ll tell you what, why don’t I cook us something? I agree with you, our options would be pretty sad at this point for eating out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, come through to the kitchen and tell me all about your big break,” She turned towards him feeling she had overstepped, “I mean if you are allowed to.”
“I can’t give you all of the details, but I can share some of it. Not exactly dinner conversation though.”
“I am raising 3 boys, I wouldn’t know what dinner conversation is these days.” Rachel laughed.
They made their way through the entry hallway, to the left were the stairs that led to the second floor and to the right a coat closet. The house was old, turn of the century with hardwood floors. The hallway led into the living room and then on into the dining room stopping at the back of the house with the kitchen. The small kitchen was painted a cheery yellow, that seemed to fit Rachel.
“Have a seat,” Rachel gestured to one of the stools around the island as she walked around the other side. She opened the fridge and looked around. “Are you a picky eater?” She called out without turning around.
“No, I eat pretty much everything.”
“How does a steak and baked potato sound?”
“That sounds delicious. Are you sure it’s not too much trouble?”
“Not at all. Is it still coming down out there?”
“Well, then we will cook them in my cast iron skillet. I like them best that way anyway.”
“Sounds good to me. How can I help?”
“Um, you can wash the potatoes and poke holes in them with a fork?”
Rachel placed the two steaks wrapped in paper on the counter as she reached under the counter and pulled out two large Russet potatoes and a kitchen towel and placed them in front of Ben. Ben got up and started to prepare the potatoes as she had instructed. Rachel had her back to him as she heated a little bit of oil in the large skillet. He wanted to walk over and put his arms around her waist and just hold her. He wondered what she would feel like in his arms. He walked over and set the cleaned potatoes on the towel next to her. She reached over an put the towel and the potatoes in the microwave and punched in the time to cook on the microwave dials.
“Thank you. How do you like your steak?”
“The rarer the better but cook it however you would like.”
“I like mine that way too. Do you like shallots?”
“I don’t think I have ever had one. That’s like an onion right?”
“Yes, a milder onion. I do a good shallot pan sauce to go with the steaks if you’d like.”
“Okay, that sounds delicious.”
While Rachel waited for the pan to heat up, she pulled out two shallots and began to chop them finely.
“So tell me about your big break, or at least what you are able to share.”
She continued to chop, stopping every once and a while to put her hand over the cast iron skillet to test the heat.
“Well I have been working on a case for the past two months, and I haven’t gotten much of anywhere until today. I can’t really go into it but, I am hopeful that this is the break we have been waiting for. Eventually, everyone slips up, even this guy. Sorry, it’s so vague.”
“That’s okay. Wow, that’s exciting. I hope it’s your big break too.”
Rachel put the steaks down into the hot pan and the noise of the meat sizzling in the pan roared as the smell wafted up into the kitchen. Rachel made quick work of the steaks and the potatoes finished in the microwave just in time to go with.
She put the steaks on a plate and covered them with foil as she finished the shallot sauce to go on top. She plated both meals and handed Ben’s to him.
“Do you want to eat outside?” The back porch is completely covered, we won’t get wet.”
“Sure. You lead the way.”
“Would you mind grabbing my plate? I will get silverware and napkins. Oh, what would you like to drink with dinner? I have wine, soda, milk, juice….”
“Wine would be nice.”
“Okay, I will grab a bottle of wine too.”
Rachel turned back towards the dining room as Ben made his way out onto the back deck. The rain was more of a heavy drizzle at this point but the porch was completely dry as she had said. He set both plates down, turning back for a light switch when he saw the lights come on. Rachel had hung bistro style lights under the roof of the deck and white Christmas lights with it. It gave the deck an intimate feel. She walked out of the back door with her hands full, and Ben came over to help.
“This is really cool, I like the lights.”
“Oh thanks, I did it for the boys. We spend a lot of time out here in the summer. When we moved in the back yard was a mess. Rhett and I did a lot of work back here but I finished it, well the boys and I. It’s really pretty in the daytime. They both sat down.
“This looks delicious and smells great. Thank you for cooking for us tonight. I am sorry this was not our original plan.”
“Well you are welcome, honestly I don’t mind if you don’t.”
“Not at all.”
Ben took a bite of his steak as the flavor of the seared flesh exploded in his mouth. The steak was juicy and full of flavor before he even tasted the sauce that went with. It was the best steak of his life and he said so with his mouth full. Rachel laughed and thanked him.
“I guess I am going to have to buy myself a skillet. This is amazing.”
“I am glad you like it.”
“So how long have you lived here?”
“About ten years. I really like this neighborhood. We are in the city but it doesn’t feel like it. I like that all of the houses are old on the street. Rhett and I got some help from my parents to buy the house. It was a wreck when we bought it but I have loved redoing it. I know it sounds silly but after my divorce, I swear this house kept me sane. Just going room by room, redoing floors, and plaster. I even plumbed the upstairs tub myself. I love that bathtub, I found it in a second-hand shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan and I knew it belonged in this house.”
“It really is beautiful. Can I ask how long you have been divorced?”
Rachel took another sip of her wine.
“I’m sorry you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want.”
“No, it’s a fair question. About three years. We just grew into different people and fell out of love with each other. I thought we would grow old in this house together but that wasn’t what life had in store and I am okay with that.”
“Is it rough raising the boys on your own?”
“It can be. Rhett is still in the picture for the boys. He takes them every other weekend and some holidays. I have my family too. My sister has three boys who are exactly the same age, we didn’t plan it that way. She lives out in Oswego, so I drive the boys out when I can. I have a lot of help and an understanding boss. But I love that it is just my boys and me, we make it work.”
“I am one of three myself, my mother was a single mother too.”
“Really? Let me guess.” She paused, “You are the middle one?”
“Nope, guess again.”
“Okay, give me your most innocent look.”
Rachel turned her head as she looked at him and a laugh from the gut came out.
“Oh you are are the baby for sure. Only the baby of the family can pull off that face.”
“Guilty as charged madame.”
They both laughed.
“Where is your mother now? Does she live locally?”
“She passed away two years ago. I moved to Chicago to take care of her.”
“Oh, Ben I am so sorry.”
There was an awkward feel to the conversation.
“Would you like some more wine?” Rachel reached for the bottle to pour him more.
“Sure. So I know you work at school but I don’t know what you do.”
“I teach music. I wanted to be a concert cellist. I have a degree in music. I love teaching music. I still give private cello lessons on the side. I had hoped my boys would pick it up. So far, Tommy, my oldest, and Luke don’t have a ton of interest but Evan seems to. I am going to hold out hope that one of them picks it up.”
“That’s amazing. I wish I could play any instrument.”
“I could teach you sometime.”
Rachel stood to clear the plates as she poured the last of the wine between both glasses.
“Would you like some dessert?”
“Boy are you in for a treat.” She said as she walked back into the house.
Ben sat back in the chair and took the last sip of wine from the glass. They had made quick work of the bottle. She returned with a large chocolate cake in one hand and new plates with silverware on top in the other hand.
“Wow, you weren’t kidding.”
She came and set the cake down on the table between them.
“We aren’t eating one of the boy’s birthday cakes are we?”
“No.” She laughed. “It’s actually my birthday cake.”
“Is today your birthday?”
“Thank you. Oh, you have finished your wine. Would you like some more?”
“Only if you are having some.”
“I could have a little bit, but that’s it. My sister took the boys tonight, I have mine and hers tomorrow in return. A hangover would be brutal with six kids under the age of eight in the house.”
“That sounds pretty rough.”
She turned back towards the house and he put his hand on top of hers. He was amazed at how soft her hands were.
“I’ll get it, you sit and dish out the cake. Just tell me where it is.”
“Okay, it’s in the wine rack in the dining room. Pick any bottle you’d like.”
“Okay, I will be right back.”
Ben walked back into the house which still smelled of cooking steaks and his mouth watered all over again, even though he wasn’t hungry. He walked into the dining room and found the wine rack built into the original mahogany sideboard. As he looked at the wine bottles sticking out of the rack, he remembered he had a bottle of champagne in the fridge at his house. The bottle was a gift from his Realtor when he had bought the house. It would be a nice touch. He quickly walked back through the house and across the street to get it.
He came back and walked back through the house and saw Rachel in the dining room.
“What happened? Where did you go?”
“I ran across the street to get this, no birthday is complete without champagne.”
“I thought I had said something to offend you and you left.”
“Not at all. I have pretty thick skin. What do you say we pop this open and dig into that cake?”
“Sounds like a plan to me!”
They made their way out to the back porch and Ben began to open the bottle as Rachel came out with two champagne flutes and set them on the table. Carefully he opened the bottle so skillfully that not a single bubble spilt out of the bottle.
“I worked my way through college waiting tables at a country club, I’ve opened a lot of champagne bottles.”
Rachel reached for the knife to cut the cake as Ben poured the champagne.
Ben dug around in his pocket and found the solitary birthday candle from his house. Laura had brought him a cupcake with a candle in it for his birthday. He didn’t know how it ended up in the silverware drawer but it had and he was grateful he’d remember it as he grabbed the bottle of Champagne.
Rachel laughed. “That is so incredibly sweet. Thank you, Ben.”
He stuck it in the cake and lit it as he gently pushed the cake towards her.
“Thank you again, Ben, really.”
She blew out the candle.
“Did you make a wish?”
“Well, come on spill, what was it?”
“I can’t tell, it won’t come true. Everyone knows you can’t tell a wish.”
“Okay you know I am a detective, I could always figure it out.”
“I am sure you could, but right now I just want to sit back and enjoy my cake while listening to the sound of the rain and enjoy your company.”
They sat and listened to the sound of the rain as they ate their cake. As Ben finished his piece he pushed his plate away and poured them each a little more of the champagne, the bottle was almost gone.
“So do you still play the cello, for fun?”
“I do. Would you like to hear?”
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”
“You didn’t hold on I will be right back.”
Rachel shot up out of her seat and sprinted into the house. She returned a moment later with the cello, nearly as big as her in her hand. She pulled another chair out and away from the table. She sat down and spread her legs, her white dress laying gracefully as she placed the cello between her legs. She began to play as Ben sat, completely mesmerized by her talent. It was the sexiest and most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Her body moved with the music as her fingers looked delicate but agile. She finished her song and he was still transfixed.
“That was gorgeous Rachel. You are so beautiful, I could watch you play for days.”
“Thank you. Your turn.”
“No. I don’t think that is a good idea.”
“Nope, you are going to try. Besides I am a teacher, I will take it easy on you, I promise. Come sit in my chair.”
Ben weighted his options, there was no graceful way to back out. He had had just enough alcohol to have some courage. He stood up and sat at the edge of the chair as Rachel instructed. She placed the cello between his legs and handed him the bow. The instrument was surprisingly heavy leaned up against him. It smelled like her. She came around and bent down between his legs to adjust the kickstand to raise the height for him. As she bent down Ben could see straight down her dress. His body had an instant reaction to the sight. He was grateful that the cello hid his raging erection.
Rachel instructed him to sit deep back into the seat of the chair. Normally he would have sat on the edge, but she wanted him to feel the arm movements first. She sat on the seat between his legs as she leaned in and put her fingers on the fingerboard. She grabbed the bow with her other hand.
“Here put your hands on top of mine.”
Ben did as he was instructed. He felt the bow move and then thick rich noise of the cello rise into the air. The movement was graceful. He could not believe how close he was to her, he wanted to make love to her right then and there. She played a few more notes then pulled the bow away from the cello. He moved his hands up her arms as he leaned back into her body, inhaling the scent of her. It was floral and citrus. She paused and leaned further into him as he reached around and gently pulled her jaw towards him. He had dreamt of this moment and it was finally here. He reminded himself to have self-control and not devour her. He brushed his tongue across her lips as she opened her mouth and he felt her tongue caress his. He slid his other hand across her cheek as he cradled her head in his hands. She turned her body towards him as they continued to kiss. She pulled away long enough to put down the cello and turned back towards Ben.
He deepened his kiss as it became stronger, she turned entirely and climbed onto his lap, her legs slung over his. He could not believe this was happening, he was finally going to get to sleep with Rachel. He only prayed he had a condom in his wallet.
He felt her body grind into his as he pulled her closer. She moaned with pleasure. His cock felt like it was going to burst through his pants. He slid one hand up her thigh as the other still held her in place across her back. She broke from his kiss as and scrambled off of his lap.
“Wait, what’s wrong? Did I hurt you?”
“No, we shouldn’t do this. I am sorry.”
“Rachel, what’s wrong? Did I scare you? If I did something wrong I’m sorry.”
“I can’t, I’m sorry. I really want to but I can’t.” She was barely able to hold back the flood of tears.
“Rachel it’s okay. Please talk to me.”
“Can you please just go? I’m sorry.”
Ben stood and took a step towards her to comfort her. She backed up quickly away from him. It was a strange reaction, one that he knew well from women who had been hurt. He stopped mid-stride.
“Rachel are you okay?”
“Can you please just go? I am so sorry. I know I led you on and I really like you but I just can’t do this.”
“It’s okay. I can go, just as long as I know you are okay.”
“I will be fine. I am sorry Ben.”
“Don’t apologize, you have nothing to apologize for. I am going to go. I am across the street if you need anything. I had a really nice time with you tonight and would love to see you again if you would like?”
Rachel nodded with her hand over her mouth. She looked away ashamed of her actions as Ben slowly walked towards the door. He got to the dining room as he heard a sob escape from her mouth. The noise broke his heart and enraged him at the same time. Who could hurt such a beautiful woman? He wasn’t a vengeful man but whoever had hurt Rachel deserved to hurt in the same way he thought to himself. He stopped, as he crossed the threshold into the living room. He wanted to turn around and gather her in his arms and tell her that he would protect her and keep her safe. His brain overruled his heart if she had been hurt, he needed to give her the space she needed tonight.
Ben walked back across the street puzzled by the whole string of events. He analyzed his actions, making sure he had not hurt her. He walked in the front door and locked it behind him as he climbed the stairs to his own bedroom. He walked to his bedroom window and stared across the street at Rachel’s house. He sat there and just watched. Felix, his cat, circled around his ankles and meowed.
Ben pulled a chair over and sat as Felix jumped up into his lap. He petted the cat as he watched the lights go out in Rachel’s house. He wanted to go back over but knew that was the wrong choice, he would go see her tomorrow and make sure she was okay. He watched over her house until he drifted off to sleep.
He woke the next morning to Felix rolling off his lap. The cat’s claws desperately digging into his thighs to hang on. He stood and pushed the cat off.
“Shit Felix, don’t do that man.”
Ben slammed his eyes shut again, the morning sunlight stabbing through his hungover brain. He grabbed his head in pain. He instantly remembered Rachel as he fought through the pain and looked across the street. The house looked as it had the night before. Ben looked at his watch. It was 7:15. It was too early to go over but maybe he could find an excuse. He wanted to see her before he went to work. He wanted to know she was okay. He hopped in the shower and redressed quickly, the whole time thinking about what to say to her.
He poured some dry cat food in Felix’s dish and refilled the water then turned to walk out the door. He opened the front door and saw a white piece of paper sticking in the screen door. He pulled it out and unfolded it. It was from Rachel, the penmanship elegant, like her. It read;
I wanted to thank you for a lovely evening last night. I am so sorry I ruined it. I know I should’ve have come over and apologized in person but I don’t think I could handle the embarrassment this morning. I really like you and I thought I was ready for someone new in my life, but my reaction last night showed that I’m not. I am so sorry.