They say when you meet the love of your life, you know right away. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, because I just wasn’t sure about Missy.
My mother was sure. “Gregory,” she said, “You have to marry that girl. She’s perfect for you. And I’m the only one in my bridge club without grandbabies. Do you realize how horrible that is for me?”
“I’ll propose right away then, and your shame should be over by this time next year. Is that what you want?”
She punched me in the arm, hard. “No, Gregory, it is not, and I didn’t raise you to sass me like that. I’m just saying—Missy is a lovely girl. You could do worse.”
Missy is indeed lovely. And funny, and sweet, and smart. And she makes a mean lasagna. But there was something holding me back. Nevertheless, I gave her a call.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey, yourself.” Her voice was husky; hearing it, you’d imagine a sultry and zaftig brunette. But she’s freckled, red-haired, petite. Pretty darn cute.
“Hang out tonight?”
“I dunno, Greg.” I pictured her chewing on her lip, the way she does. “I’m tired and grouchy. I had a flat tire on the way home.”
She drives the expressway; I was alarmed, thinking of her at the shoulder of the highway, small and vulnerable. “Why didn’t you call me?”
Missy laughed. “I took care of it, Greg. No problem. Daddy taught me how to change a tire when I was fifteen. But I just want to chill out, probably go to bed early. Maybe tomorrow?”
The next evening we sat in Missy’s living room with Chinese take-out and a game of Yahtzee. There was a little wrinkle between Missy’s eyes and she was quieter than usual. While she tried for her large straight, I exercised my empathy muscle. “What’s up?” I asked.
She shrugged. “This guy at the mission…he came in high, got confrontational. It wasn’t pretty. I’m worried about him.”
She was worried about him; I was worried about her. “What happened? Are you okay?” I took her hands—she pulled them away.
“I’m fine. He was pretty out of it. I took him down with a judo move, and by then Pastor Rick was there to help. He just…makes me sad.”
The thing in my brain that was bothering me about Missy started to hop around, calling for my attention. I couldn’t quite make out what the little fellow was saying, though. When I went home, I didn’t sleep. I loved this girl. What was stopping me from going ring shopping?
I was awakened by my cell ringing. It was Saturday, and I’d planned to sleep in. But Missy’s name on the screen banished that idea. “Hey, you,” I said.
Missy’s voice was an urgent whisper. “Come here,” she said. “Hurry…”
I threw on yesterday’s jeans and flew out the door, imagining that the guy from the mission had found his way to Missy’s place. It was only a five-minute drive; I made it in three. Her door was unlocked.
I didn’t see Missy, but I called her name. No answer. She wasn’t anywhere in the house, but there were no alarming signs—no overturned furniture, no…blood. The only unusual thing was in the middle of the kitchen floor.
It was a Styrofoam cup, upside down, duct taped to the linoleum. A dinner plate was balanced on top of the cup. I studied the configuration for a while, thinking. Then I took the plate off, peeled back the duct tape and tipped back the cup.
There was a large black spider there. Seriously large—like half-dollar large. Dude, he seemed to say. This is not cool. I squashed him with the cup, scooped him up, and took the corpse to the large trash can in Missy’s garage. Texted Missy.
IS IT GONE?
IN THE GARAGE TRASH
I heard a whoop from the back yard. Missy opened the door and ran to me, laughing and crying. “I was so scared!” She wrapped her arms around my waist and pushed her head into my shoulder. I felt her trembling.
This was it—the reason that imp in my brain was telling me to keep my distance. I thought Missy didn’t need me; she was a girl who could change her own tire, take down a drugged assailant. I had no doubt she could do her own plumbing and singlehandedly bag a ten-point buck.
But there will always be spiders.
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