Lake + Manning

By: Jessica Hawkins

Something in the Way, 4



1





With oven mitts tucked under one arm and my cell balanced between my ear and shoulder, I stepped over Blue. Every winter since we’d adopted her two years ago, the dog had taken to lying in the middle of the kitchen whenever I baked.

“One sec,” I said into the phone and bent at the waist. I flipped on the oven light and a blueberry pie appeared, crust browning right on schedule. “Perfect.”

“What’s perfect?” Val asked on the other end of the line.

“The pie I’m baking Manning.”

“Good. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

Not exactly. After over a week away from Manning, food would be the second thing on his mind. “They need to think a few inches lower.”

“You’re such a wife, and you’re not even married. I bet you’re wearing an apron and everything.”

“I am. It has birds on it.”

“Okay, that’s weird. Birds have nothing to do with cooking,” Val said. “But here’s what you need to do. Once Manning is full of pie and bear meat, or whatever a human his size eats, and he’s half-asleep, ask him why.”

“Why what?”

“The marriage thing.”

I turned off the oven. I should’ve known she’d bring it back up, even though I’d tried to steer her off course. Diversion tactics didn’t work on my best friend when she was onto something. “There’s no marriage thing,” I said, checking over my shoulder to make sure Manning hadn’t snuck up on me. “Can we drop this?”

“You were telling me you weren’t sure why, after four years of cohabitation—”

“One of which I commuted to Los Angeles for work,” I said, “and three of which I’ve lived part-time in Pomona.”

She ignored me. “You were saying you don’t know why Manning hasn’t proposed yet.”

“That’s not what I said.” With a sigh, I removed the pie from the oven and set it on a burner. “I already know why he hasn’t—I told him not to until I was done with school.”

“You said you didn’t want to get married until you were done with school—and you’re graduating next summer. He can still propose.”

I hated to admit Val had a point. What I’d actually started to explain before I’d remembered Val would take anything juicy and run with it, was how Manning used to bug me constantly about getting married . . . but lately, he’d been uncharacteristically quiet on the topic. Between his furniture business and me being gone four days a week for school, marriage had hardly come up at all the last six or so months. I wasn’t wondering why he hadn’t proposed—I wanted to know why he’d given up trying to propose.

Because Manning had ways of getting what he wanted. We’d once spent three weeks arguing over whether I needed snow tread tires for my car. Snow in Big Bear was pretty mild, and when it wasn’t, we took Manning’s truck. Winter tires were expensive.

I’d given in out of exhaustion.

Manning wanted to get married, of that I was certain. He would’ve sealed the deal the warm September day I’d moved in except that I’d made him promise to wait. That, and he wanted the wedding to be special, and right now, neither of us had time for anything more than a quick trip to City Hall. Manning’s business kept him busy around the clock. I went to school two hours away, so I’d rented an apartment where I stayed during the week. Our life had not yet begun.

But it would soon. I had one semester left of classes before graduating in May, and surely that had crossed Manning’s mind. “I’m not going to dope him up on blueberry pie and ask him to ask me to marry him. Especially since I don’t even know if I want that yet.”

“You won’t let yourself want it because you’ve been burned in the past.”

“Not true. I want it eventually, but with our schedules—”

“Blah, blah, blah. Listen, if the pie doesn’t get him to drop to one knee, withhold sex until he caves. I assume you’re naked under your apron.”

I laughed. “I am not. And I don’t need Manning to cave. He and I have no secrets. If I’m ready for a proposal, I can just tell him.”

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