Little Miss Perfect
By M.E. Carter
I turn onto the main road and cross the railroad tracks by looking left, then right, then left
again, all while ignoring the honks behind me. A few more minutes and a couple of turns later and I’m making a U-turn at the end of the cul-de-sac to park on the correct side of the road in front of Aputi’s house.
It’s rude to turn up unannounced. I know that. But in my emotional state the other day, I didn’t think to get his phone number. I probably could have asked Elena for it, but that seems unnecessary. Plus, she has a tendency to distract easily, and I don’t want to be responsible for her vacuuming going on the wayside or something.
Still, I need to properly thank Aputi. He was a wonderful help as my life crumbled around me. It took exactly one hour and twenty-seven minutes to write out the top ten things I need to focus on as my life shifts into new territory.
1. Hire an attorney and file an emergency petition to ensure all money is deposited into
the joint accounts as normal. It never even occurred to me that Rick would cut us off.
He’s much too straight-laced to be that man. But it never occurred to me he would
move to the beach with his new girlfriend either. I know the ocean is fun to visit, but
hurricane prep and cleanup is the kind of stuff my nightmares are made of.
2. Schedule an appointment with my doctor to check for any disease exposure.
3. Vacuum the blinds. I never got to that the other day, and I can’t seem to focus on
anything else until it’s done.
4. Tell my girlfriends, Callie and Elena, about the divorce so they can be supportive. I still
don’t quite understand what that means they’ll do, but Aputi assured me I was going to
need a tribe around me. Again, I don’t quite understand what he means, but I can try it.
5. Figure out a budget. This is going to be a little trickier. Rick has always been the one to
pay our bills, so I honestly don’t remember how much they are. I’m sure I’ll have to cut
back on a few things. Making my own bento boxes instead of purchasing ready-made
ones will help with living on a budget.
6. Explain to Trevor why his daddy isn’t living with us anymore.
This is the one that broke my heart the most. For all his flaws, Rick is a good dad and is deeply loved by his son. Yet, I’m the one who has to tell him his daddy isn’t coming back. The thought brings tears to my eyes. At this point, I’ve told Trevor that Rick is on a business trip, but I know I have to tell him the truth soon.
The other four items were all Aputi’s ideas. They focused on things like having a “girl’s night” and “finding a hobby”. All things he described as self-care. Does he not realize eating healthy and keeping my house nice is also a form of self-care? Apparently not.
Regardless, the entire conversation helped organize the situation in my brain. I walked away feeling stronger. Like I can do this. And for that, I owe him so much more than the gluten-free, low-carb, non-dairy enchiladas I’m bringing to him.
Carefully stepping over the crack in the sidewalk, I gingerly make my way to the front door. It needs a good painting and the landscaping could use some weed eating. But considering he’s only lived here a short time, I’m impressed to see the front stoop has been recently swept and the welcome mat looks free of mud. Not very many people have that much attention to detail.
Knocking twice, I suddenly realize the blood is draining from my face as my anxieties kick in.
What if he’s taking a nap? What if he has company? I should have called first. Darn it. I know
better, but with all the kerfuffle happening around me, I forgot all the reasons why you always call before showing up.
Turning quickly back to my car, I make it only a couple of steps before I hear the door open
I freeze and take in the sound of his voice. His tone doesn’t indicate he’s irritated or upset with me. More curious about my surprise visit. Turning slowly, I straighten my spine and brush the invisible lint off my neatly-pressed pants.
Decision made, I take two quick steps toward him and shove the dish his direction. “I brought you this.”
He takes it in his hands, confusion written all over his face. Great. I’m already messing this up.
“As a thank you for the other day.”
He cocks his head and looks down at my gift, still not speaking. I should have presented it
better. Maybe if I’d put it in a gift bag or attached a thank you note to the top. Shoot. My brain is all swirly. I’m usually so much better at this kind of thing.
“You brought me food?” Aputi finally asks, still inspecting the bowl.
“As a thank you,” I interject quickly so there’s no question.
Aputi’s mouth stretches into an amused smile. “You said that already.”
Flustered at yet another faux pas, I thank my lucky stars my makeup covers a multitude of sins, including blushing when I’m embarrassed. Taking a deep breath, I try to center myself because it might not seem like much to everyone, but a healthy meal is the sign of true appreciation, and Aputi needs to know how much I appreciate him.
“It’s my award-winning chicken enchiladas, famous for their hand-rolled corn tortillas and
creamy secret sauce. The chicken comes from a free-range farm where the hens are fed only high quality, GMO-free corn, and all the rest of the ingredients are local and truly organic. Not like the federal requirements, which is only thirty-three percent organic to use the label legally.
These are well and truly artificial ingredient and pesticide free.”
Aputi peels open the lid and sniffs the food. If I’m not mistaken, he looks excited to eat them.
That’s exactly what I was going for, which makes me happy.
“They don’t have onions, do they?”
Lifting my chin with pride at a job well done, I give him the answer most people love to hear.
“Chopped to the finest size possible so as to add flavor, but not an overwhelming crunch.”
Throwing my hands over my mouth, my eyes widen. “Oh, I’m so sorry. That was so stupid of
me. I shouldn’t have made them without asking you first.” I snatch the dish away from him and hug it close to my chest. “I’ll make more for you right now and bring them right back over. Well, it’s going to be a couple hours because I need to deep clean the kitchen to rid it of any onion residue, but if I shift around my cleaning schedule and maybe read through Trevor’s teacher reports while he’s doing jujitsu, I can have them over by dinner time.”
“No Deborah. Please don’t go out of your way.”
Aputi steps toward me, his hand out, but I instinctively take a step back, making sure to keep the food far out of his reach or breathing space. I’m just know he’s about to go into anaphylaxis shock. It’s a good thing I have an EpiPen in my purse, for times like these, but I might have to go pick up another one at the pharmacy if I need to use it now.
“No, really. I want to. It’s the least I can do for almost killing you.”
“You didn’t almost kill me.”
“I did. I handed you onions and practically made your throat close up myself.”
Aputi does the last thing I expect him to do. He laughs. Well now I’m not only embarrassed, I’m annoyed as well.
“Why are you laughing? This isn’t funny. This is life and death.”
“I’m laughing because you’re cute.”
“I beg your… what?”
Did he just say I’m cute? I’ve been called a lot of things, but cute has never been one of them.
But looking at him leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed over his very wide chest that I never noticed until just this moment and…WOW is he a large man. And not in a bad way. In a I’ve-had-many-lovers-because-I’m-so-virile kind of way. That’s saying a lot because I don’t ever read books that have the word “virile” in them, so you know he must have that look about him if I notice it.
“I said, I think you’re cute.”
I furrow my brow, still not sure how to take his statement. Is this a compliment or
condescending? “I don’t understand what you mean.”
He shrugs one shoulder. One very massive, very muscular shoulder. How odd to be thinking
about his shoulders at a time like this. I’m almost a divorcée and just tried to kill Aputi with
onions. Yet, I’m ogling his shoulders. Am I turning into a floozy? Is this what they mean by
“emotional upheaval”? I may have to ask Elena about this as well.
“What other interpretation can there be?” Aputi asks me. “Bringing me dinner as a thank you is one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. And then to be so concerned about my food allergy that you practically run away with my meal… it’s really sweet. Nice. Cute.”
“Oh.” I find my eyes blinking quite a few times as I process what he says. Usually people find me overbearing, not endearing. This is a new reaction. I’m still unclear on how to proceed. I think I need to leave and go clean my bathroom. Nothing clears my thoughts more than making my mirrors shine. “Well, um, I’ll see you later.”
Turning on my heel, I make quick work of walking back to my SUV and climbing inside, laying the enchiladas inside my travel warming bag so they stay fresh and ready to eat. Still feeling frazzled by the entire exchange, I don’t notice the vehicle coming up behind me until it honks.
Slamming on my brakes, my body jars forward as I barely avoid the collision. The dirty red Jeep in great need of a paint job speeds around me, the driver probably making a lewd gesture my direction. I barely notice. I’m too busy trying to figure out these weird emotions.
Aputi thinks I’m cute? As in, endearing? How is that possible, and why does it delight me so