“So tell me more about that bear skin rug,” Chuck said, grinning at Ned.
Ned sighed. He had had a suspicion this was coming, but he wasn’t too happy about it. They were lying in bed, separated by the plastic Ned had installed there for practical reasons. It was less than romantic, but in an effort to create some intimacy between them, Ned had fashioned a plastic arm, allowing him to hold Chuck through the plastic when they were spooning, or vice versa. Tonight, Ned was the big spoon.
“Oh come on, I tell you every embarrassing little detail of my life, give me some stories from yours,” Chuck pleaded.
“Okay, fine.” As he prepared to tell the story, Ned considered how happy he was Chuck couldn’t see his face in this position.
“So I was working in this little coffee shop and one girl, Charlie, visited the shop very often – are you sure you want to hear me talk about other girls?” Ned asked as he felt Chuck tense against him.
“Yes. I’m curious about your life. I want to get to know you and every part of you. So please, tell me.”
It seemed like a reasonable request. After all, he and Chuck didn’t really know each other that well.
“Okay. So she visited the shop very often and we talked a lot and well, she reminded me of you.” Ned hadn’t meant to include that little detail, but it slipped out before he could stop himself. Charlie, with her big green eyes and outgoing personality, was exactly what Ned imagined Chuck was like at the time. When he actually did see Chuck again, years later, he realized he’d been mistaken. Somehow his memory hadn’t done Chuck justice; Charlie paled in comparison to Chuck. Or maybe it was his embarrassingly big crush on Chuck that had warped his view. Either way, the only reason he had taken an interest in Charlie in the first place was because the real Chuck was out of reach, which made Ned look like a desperate lovesick fool.
“You liked her because she reminded you of me?” Chuck asked.
“Yes,” Ned said quietly.
Chuck laughed. “That is adorable, in a mildly disturbing way.”
Once again, Ned was grateful Chuck couldn’t see his face and she didn’t attempt to either. He could feel the blush in his cheeks deepening, but continued anyway. “Anyway, one thing sort of led to another and we started going out. She booked us a cabin somewhere in the woods.” This time he stopped himself from including too much detail. What had happened was that Charlie had come on to Ned quite strongly; something he was not used to. He was used to keeping to himself and generally not touching people, but she did not give up easily. She asked him out one day and he accepted, partially because of her imagined resemblance to Chuck, partly because he was starved for contact. After having gone out several times, Charlie suggested they go on vacation – although the word she used was “screwcation,” which Ned thought should never be accepted into the English language.
Chuck giggled. “Poor girl, she must have thought she was going to have a romantic weekend with you. Too bad you have the wrong kind of magic finger.” She laughed loudly at her own joke and turned around to look at Ned, who couldn’t help but smile.
“You don’t know if my finger isn’t magic in more ways than one,” he retorted.
“Ah, the tragedy of my life. Anyway, do continue. You arrive at the cabin…”
“And uh, we didn’t waste any time getting to the romantic part,” Ned began, unsure of how to continue. Chuck wanted to hear the story, but surely she didn’t want to hear every single detail? He knew he wouldn’t want to hear everything if Chuck was talking about some ex-boyfriend. So he decided against telling Chuck that Charlie had pushed Ned up against a wall the second the cabin door closed. He didn’t tell her how in their hurry of removing unnecessary layers of clothing, Ned didn’t look where they were going or what was in the room. That wasn’t his first time – he’d had a few extremely awkward experiences in high school – but it was certainly the first time he was excited enough to forget about his magic finger and his reluctance to touch anyone.
Ned took a deep breath. “We sort of ended up on the floor. There was a perfectly acceptable couch in the room, but I guess we chose to ignore it.”
Chuck laughed. “Wow, you’re such a romantic.”
Ned pulled her a little closer, as much as the plastic would allow. “You know me, plastic wrap, hardwood floors, I’m the embodiment of romance.” He wanted so much to kiss Chuck right now, but the best he could do was press his lips against the plastic wrap and hope Chuck felt it. “Anyway, hardwood floors aren’t as romantic as you might think, and she spotted the bear skin rug in front of the fireplace and suggested we move.”
“And you didn’t realize that would be dangerous?”
“Well, she didn’t say what kind of rug it was, just that there was a rug and anyway, my mind was preoccupied with…other things.”
“I’ll bet it was,” Chuck replied.
“So we move to the rug.” In reality it was more like they slowly pushed each other towards the general vicinity of the rug, but he wasn’t about to give Chuck that level of detail. “When my back hit the rug, I didn’t realize anything was wrong at first, but then it growled – the head was still attached to the rug, you know – and she started screaming. It couldn’t really do anything because it was just a head and some skin, but it scared her half to death. By the time I got off the rug and touched it again, she’d already run outside.”
Chuck had reached that level of laughter where no noise comes out anymore and she was gasping for breath. She calmed down enough to say, “Poor Ned, I’m so sorry, oh god. What happened to the girl?”
“Well, it was winter and she didn’t bother to put clothes on before running out the door, so I put on my clothes as quickly as I could and went after her. She attracted some attention from other people in the park, because she was still screaming and running around and there was an unfortunate misunderstanding where other vacationers thought I was chasing her and wanted to hurt her.”
Chuck had stopped laughing. “Oh god, that’s horrible.”
“Yeah, finally she calmed down a little and told everyone I wasn’t a predator and I took her back to the cabin so she could see there was no live bear in the room. She stopped coming to the coffee shop after that.”
Chuck turned around to look at Ned. “I think you need a hug,” she said. Ned didn’t move; the arm only went one way, she couldn’t hug him like this. “Come on, get up, we’re switching positions. I’m hugging you.”
If Ned ever forgot why their relationship was worth all the trouble, moments like this reminded him. He got up and walked over to the other side of the bed, allowing Chuck room to get up and move to the other side as well. As soon as she had left her side of the bed, Ned settled in and waited for Chuck to lie down behind him. She slipped her arm in the too-big plastic arm and pulled Ned as tightly to her as possible.
“I can’t believe you used to avoid this emotional Heimlich,” Chuck said, still holding Ned tightly.
“I can’t believe it either.”
They stayed like that for a while. Just as Ned started to drift off, Chuck snorted.
“What is it?” Ned asked.
“I was just wondering, did that girl experience more than one kind of magic finger?”