“Khalid?” Hilda called out, pursing her lips as she set the last few bottles in the bathroom cabinet.
“I think I’m done for today!” She leaned back against the wall, looking around. To have just one bathroom was strange to her. Her parent’s home had at least four of them, and she could fit two of this room in her old walk-in closet. “Plus I’m exhausted from lugging all your books up the stairs! Why didn’t you bring them over yesterday when my brother was here?”
Outside, a dog started barking in the neighborhood. Khalid’s voice echoed from somewhere in their new apartment. “Because they didn’t arrive until this morning! It takes a while to fly halfway across the world, you know.”
“I know…” She said under her breath. She looked at her watch. 11:30 AM. A good time to start thinking about lunch? She definitely didn’t want to unpack anymore. Just yesterday they had all sorts of people over to help, but it turned into more of a house party. The bed was set, along with half the kitchen, and their TV was plugged in. And there was still her vanity to set up in their new bedroom…
Khalid’s voice broke through her thoughts. “You realize it’s barely noon, right?”
Hilda pouted. “I know!” She walked out into the hall, following his voice. “But we’ve been busy all morning, so it’s time for a break! Haven’t you heard of those before?”
A laugh. It came from the room that would be his study. “Of course! There’s still plenty to do, though.”
Sighing, Hilda swung herself into the room. “But-!” She froze, staring at him. “Oh…”
Khalid was surrounded by books on the floor, laying on his side with a book in one hand and the other propped under his head. The pinewood bookcase behind him had only one row filled. The rest were in stacks around him or still in the boxes.
Hilda crossed her arms, shaking her head.
“You were saying?” He didn’t look up, but he knew she was there. “You didn’t finish.”
“I didn’t finish? You’re one to talk.” She walked over to him, nudging a stack of books with her foot. “This room is a bigger mess than when you started. Didn’t you say you were organizing these?”
“I am, but I’m just making sure I remember what each one is about. It’s been a while since I’ve read through them.”
“So, then… You’re organizing by topic?”
“No, I’m doing it alphabetically. Which means, alphabetically,” he paused to smile, “I’m reading them all again.”
There he goes, using his own logic… But Hilda wasn’t bothered. She was satisfied just teasing him, and it was rare she had the upper hand. “Well, if you’re taking a break, then I deserve one too.” She lay down beside him, wiggling herself in under his arms so he was holding her instead of the book. But Khalid didn’t make room. Instead he propped the book on top of her head when she blocked his view.
“Wow, okay,” she mumbled. “Rude.”
“It’s the consequence of blocking my reading.”
“But it’s uncomfortable…!” She frowned at him. He didn’t react. So, Hilda started nudging and pushing him until he rolled onto his back. He fell back with grunt, and she propped herself on top of him, kissed his nose, then nestled on his chest. “Aaah, much better!”
Khalid sighed and clicked his tongue but didn’t fight it. “Alright… Just this once, I’ll be a pushover.” He held his book up in his right hand while his left squeezed her shoulder. The floor wasn’t too comfortable, but they had a thick, wool rug beneath them. Hilda exhaled long and deep, focusing on the different noises in their quiet apartment. The ticking clock on the wall, that dog barking somewhere outside, Khalid’s steady heartbeat under his warm chest. When she snuggled in tighter, drawing her foot up and down his leg, his heartbeat quickened. The most beautiful sound in the world, in her opinion.
Khalid only let her go to turn the page, but otherwise held her tightly against him. His neck was craned at a weird angle, but he looked content. Hilda tried to think of ways to get him a pillow without getting up, but she came up empty. Instead, she asked, “Why are you rereading a book you already finished? Don’t you remember what’s in it?”
“Sort of. Most of it is familiar to me, but a book is more than the information in it: It’s the voice of the author I like to listen to.”
Hilda never thought of that before. Like how she liked just talking with Khalid, listening to his every errant thought. “Have you ever thought of writing a book?”
“Oh, not a bad idea!” He set the book aside and pulled Hilda higher, wrapping both arms around her. “I’d have a lot of topics to work with. But what should I focus on first…?”
She pursed her lips, thinking. “Not sure… Whatever you choose, you’ll do a great job.” Then she glanced away sheepishly. “What would you do if I wrote a book?”
Khalid scoffed. He held her gaze with a serious look. “I’d convince my every aunt, uncle, and cousin to buy a hundred copies to hand them out to strangers on the street. Then I’d buy a thousand more copies, and sleep with a different one under my pillow each night for the rest of my human life.”
“Aww, I already have a fan!” Hilda leaned up and kissed him.
He smiled warmly, kissing her back. “But before either of us can write a book, we should probably finish unpacking the apartment.”
Hilda wilted. “Nooo…”
“Hilda, we can’t live in boxes forever!” Khalid proclaimed, a dramatic arm outstretched to their surroundings. “Somewhere around here is our toilet paper, and I don’t know if we can survive long without it.”
“Ooh, I already finished the bathroom,” said Hilda. “It’s all set up!”
“Really? Oh…” Khalid brought back his hand and patted her back. “Then maybe we can survive for a while yet.”
Hilda propped her chin on his chest, frowning. “But it’s not like I don’t want our apartment to be unpacked! It’s just…”
“You don’t want to be the one to do it?”
She sighed. “Yeah…”
Khalid snickered. “Alright, it’s a start. You have a need, but no motivation, even though our lives would be easier if we just did it.” He winked at her. “So, how do we make it happen? Do we need a more pressing reason?”
Hilda racked her brain for ideas. There was too much on the to-do list to put lunch on the line, and everything else she could think of sounded torturous. She could call around and see if anyone from yesterday wanted to come by again, but that felt like too much to ask so soon. Then her thoughts were interrupted by that dog barking outside again. Sounded like he was playing around, having more fun than she was. If only she could…
Then her head shot up. “Khalid!”
He flinched. “H-Hilda…!”
“What if! We got…” She bit her lip and paused for the drama. “A dog?”
Khalid stared at her, searched her face, his eyes widening. “A dog? Oh no, don’t tempt me…!” Then he scooped her face into his hands and kissed her. “Hilda, you’re a genius! A dog would be just what this place needs! Wait.” He pulled back and immediately turned to the side, concern wiping the smile from his face.
Hilda frowned, watching the cogs spin in his head. “What’s wrong?”
He looked back at her. “To convince yourself to do work, you want to get a dog, which will inevitably be more work?”
“Um. About that…”
Khalid grinned and cleared his throat. “Now, dear,” he began with a deep voice, smoothing his hands down her hair, “a dog is a big responsibility. You’ll need to wash him, walk him, pick up his-”
“Invariably, there’s going to be fur everywhere, and if we adopt a puppy, we’d have to potty train him. Oh, and there’s also-”
“Okay, I get it!” Hilda puffed out her cheeks, pulling away. “We won’t get a dog…”
Khalid watched her reaction, then gave a good-natured laugh. “My point wasn’t to lecture to you. Even the best ideas come with some bad sides. I want to make sure you know what you’re suggesting.”
“Well, to be honest, I did say it on a whim…” Hilda went quiet again. Excuses bubbled effortlessly to the front of her mind. She could hear her family warning her about forgetting to lock the door or running out of food. And it was work, right? Khalid wouldn’t mention it if he didn’t think so, too…
But remembering how excited he looked when she brought it up, how he scooped her up in a kiss. He had that same excited look when she agreed to move in together. Back then he had framed it like just an idea, but he already figured out where they go, how they could make it work. Now here she was, away from her big home, in a considerably smaller apartment. But it meant more space to be herself, and more time with the man she loved. It wouldn’t be the truth to say she just wanted to get away from home. She wanted to be with him. And if it was for Khalid…
“You know,” she said, “I think we should do it. Our new home would be livelier with a cute little fur baby.”
He raised a brow. “It would be more work.”
“Work isn’t work when it’s with you.” She nestled closer against him, locking her arms around his shoulders. Khalid hugged her tight, his laugh mixing in with the steady beat of his heart. She buried her face in his neck and sighed happily.
“…Or when it means we’re about to get a dog,” he muttered.
“Well, that too.”
They both laughed and kissed again. Hilda brushed back some of his hair as she smiled at those beautiful green eyes. “So, because I already know you planned it all out, what’s the next step?”
“It’s simple,” Khalid said. “We get off the floor, on our feet, and show these boxes who’s owns the place. We’ll have to untangle ourselves from each other somehow-”
“Then before we know it,” he continued with a smile, “we’ll be finished before we’re even thinking about dinner.”
Hilda smiled back. “That’s easy enough. Ooh! How about we make it more fun?” She leaned in close, walking her fingers up his chest. “Whoever unpacks the last box gets to pick the name, and the other can’t complain.”
Khalid watched her with a scrutinizing look. “Why, Hilda… I’ve never seen you so serious… I accept your challenge.”
“Good.” She leaned in closer, dangerously close. “Because I will win.”
Hilda threw out her hand to a stack of books and knocked it down on top of him. Khalid winced and tried to dodge, but he was pinned to the floor. Climbing up, she accidentally elbowed him in the gut, knocking the wind out of him as she stood. She felt him grab at her legs, but she jumped out of his reach. She dashed to the door and yanked it shut behind her, praying she could keep the lead.
“Whoa, calm down!” Khalid coughed as he shouted. “You are serious!”
Giddy but unsure where to start, Hilda raced into the living room. “I’m coming, Jellybean! Wait for me!”
“Jellybean?! We haven’t even met the dog yet!”
“It doesn’t matter if I get a head start!” she called back, heading toward a stack of boxes.
“Oh, yeah?” His voice was at her ear. Before she could turn, Khalid locked her arms to her side and pulled her off the ground. Hilda squealed in a laugh, wriggling and kicking her feet, but she couldn’t break free. He carried her down the hall, lumbering all the way to their bed in the backroom, and flung her onto the bed. He was gone before she could even shout.
Hilda blew her hair out of her face, glaring into the hall. “Seriously? What’s wrong with you!”
Khalid’s victorious rang laughter down the hall.
Hilda grumbled, but then she realized something. She draped herself over the bed with her hand cast against her forehead, the picture of a fainting maiden. “Oh no! Whatever shall I do? I’m stuck on the bed, so I must give up and lay here until Khalid unpacks the whole apartment by himself!”
Seconds passed in silence.
Then footsteps started in the hall, and eventually, Khalid poked his head through the door frame. He thoughtfully wagged his finger, eyeing her. “Looking back now, I can see this was a poor choice on my part.”
Hilda smiled. She rolled onto her stomach, kicking her legs in the air. “Sure was,” she cooed.
Khalid tapped his chin, until his eyes lit up. “Here’s something! I think I know how to sweeten the deal. Sure, the winner gets to name the dog, but the loser-” he flashed a grin, pointing at her “-will be the main caretaker. Every dirty job goes to them, no complaints.”
Hilda’s jaw dropped.
Khalid scrambled out of the room.
Indignant, Hilda bolted off the bed and out the door. “Excuse me? That’s a dirty trick!”
“It’s called strategy,” he called back, “and you’re falling for it!”
He didn’t have a witty comeback for when she jumped onto his back, but he managed to keep them both from falling onto the couch. They ended up with more laughing done then unpacking, but piece by piece, their new home began to take shape.
They unpacked the last box together. It came in later from the mail, an engraved food and water bowl for their new roommate named Jellybean.