Four Weddings And A Fireman(7)

By: Jennifer Bernard

Vader had that effect on her. Every single time. It was the most impossible situation.

In the photo, he looked like a cartoon image of male hotness, like an old weight-lifting advertisement a scrawny kid might gaze at longingly, wishing he could someday look even a little like that. Cradled in his strong arms, she looked positively tiny. No mean feat.

She tucked the photo into her purse. It had cost her twenty dollars, a fight with Optimal Doom, and two weeks of trying to forget Vader. If she was smart, she’d use it as a reminder to avoid him. But she’d probably just drool over it like a lovesick idiot.

One whole section of the park had been set aside for the Muster Games. Firefighters in San Gabriel Fire Department T-shirts were yelling and clapping for the daring civilians who were trying to pull an old-fashioned wooden cart with a hose coiled inside. Everyone was laughing and hooting and hollering.

“This is weird, man,” said Nick, aiming his iPhone at the scene. “I didn’t know they did this shit anymore.”

“They don’t, that’s the whole point,” said Cherie, more sharply than she’d intended. “That’s old-school equipment. That’s how they did it back in the old days.”

“Check you out. Been boning up on firefighters? Or just boning ’em?” Soren snickered.

Cherie set her jaw. Soren and Nick were at their most irritating when it came to Vader. “Leave it alone, why don’t you? Can’t you just enjoy the sunshine and the pretty park and all the families having fun?”

They both looked at her as if she was nuts. “We’re creatures of the night, Cherie,” said Soren. “If we could be vampires, we would be.”

Nick added, “Too bad that kit we ordered on the Internet didn’t work. Or did it?” He bared his teeth, Dracula-style.

She shuddered. “You guys are weird enough without going supernatural.”

“That’s why you love us, right?” Soren winked.

Right now, she wasn’t so sure. Soren and Nick were friends with her brother Jacob. When Jacob had enrolled in Santa Cruz College, he’d insisted she find suitable housemates to take his place. For six years, ever since they’d left Arkansas, they’d stuck together and protected each other. He refused to let her live alone. But then he found a problem with every candidate she interviewed. Female housemates might bring unvetted guys around; male housemates might come on to her. Finally Jacob had solved the whole dilemma by picking Soren and Nick, who inhabited a sexually ambiguous, body-pierced, spoken-word gender nether land.

For sure, it wasn’t safe for her to live alone, though she wasn’t sure how much help Soren and Nick would be if the man she still had nightmares about—Frank Mackintosh—showed up.

“I think I’ve had enough for one day. You guys ready to roll?”

“No, wait. I can’t leave until I see how many people that dude manages to spray with the hose.”

The hose had now been dumped off the cart, and an older man was aiming it at an orange cone. Water sprayed everywhere, but the cone remained stubbornly standing. To the side, a couple of firemen—she recognized Vader’s friend Ryan Blake—laughed so hard they had to bend over and rest their hands on their knees. The sight gave her a pang; Vader laughed like that too, with wholehearted joy and fun, the life shining from his eyes.

Forget about Vader.

She checked her watch.

“I have to get going, guys. Tango class. And Nick, you promised to help me.”

Every Saturday, she taught a Singles Tango class at the Move Me Dance Studio. So far, the class had produced three engaged couples and countless successful dates. Word had spread, and her classes had gotten bigger by the week.

“Oh fine,” Nick grumbled. “Pick on the one-sixteenth Colombian guy. We don’t even do the tango.”

“I’m from backwoods redneck-ville. If I can tango, anyone can.” She often said that exact same thing in her classes. It always made the students relax.

Nick spent the entire drive to the studio harping on her relationship with Vader. He didn’t stop even once they pulled up outside Move Me.

“Jacob left us in charge. He said to watch out for you. Especially when it comes to men. He said you’re naïve and not cynical enough. Lucky for you, I have extra cynicism to spare.” Nick was the quieter, more angst-ridden of the duo. He wrote the lyrics of their painfully morose songs. Generally, she preferred Nick’s company to Soren’s more abrasive personality, but not if he was going to talk about Vader.

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