“You sure about this?” Kai crossed his arms over his chest as he leaned against the lily-white window frame.
Squatting by the perennials in front of him, Miya fiddled with the dusty lockbox. It’d been hidden in the false bottom of a large planter bed some paranoid fuck nuggets had installed in the front garden of a mustard brick house. And by paranoid fuck nuggets,Kai meant Miya’s parents.
“Of course, I’m sure,” she said as she yanked at the lock, beaming like a kid when it finally clicked open. She looked up at him and goaded, “What? Is the Big Bad Wolf scared of my dad?
“Listen, Lambchop,” he emphasized her pet-name, “I’ve been leading a life of petty crime a lot longer than you, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you don’t go breaking into bougie homes owned by bootstrap Boomers.”
Miya rolled her eyes and rummaged through the box until she found what she was looking for: the spare key. “Aha!” She smacked down the lid, returned the container, and shot up from her squat. “Trust me. My parents took me on this damn trip to Napa Valley literally every single year since I could crawl. They packed me up alongside the luggage until I was old enough to be trusted not to burn the house down.”
“But you trust me not to burn this house down?” Kai cracked, gesturing at the two-story structure as though it were a fortress.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Miya reassured him with sugary condescension and a pat on his arm. “I won’t leave you unsupervised.” She ignored his narrowed stare as she unlocked the front door. “Besides, it’ll be fine as long as we keep the place clean—make sure everything is in its proper place and all that.
“Right.” Kai was unconvinced. What was to say the Delathornes’ Calgary home wasn’t rigged to the teeth with a top-notch security system complete with cameras and motion sensors? He paused at the threshold, bracing for an alarm to go off as soon as she set foot inside. When nothing happened, he released a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Perhaps the place recognized her—welcomed her back.
“What are you doing?” she called to him from the darkness inside. “Come on!”
Kai obliged, the doorframe creaking under the weight of his muddy boot. He was about to take another step when Miya pointed at his feet.
“Take those off at the door,” she ordered, herding him back onto the welcome mat. It was mid-spring, the snow sloshing with the mud and grass to make a potent mix of sludgy super-glue for every crevice on a shoe sole. Kai snorted but did as she asked, kicking off his boots with as little grace as he could muster—just to ensure a few flecks of dirt flew into the pristine house.
Everything was dark hardwood and white walls. The foyer narrowed into a corridor with a full bathroom nestled in a nook on the left. Sunlight streamed into the living room at the end of that hall, joined by a kitchen outfitted in more white. The living room was framed by a staircase to the second floor, two alabaster upholstered couches on either wall, and a minimalist coffee table on a bland, grey carpet was wedged between them. The TV was wider than Kai’s ramshackle, the walls decked with paintings but no family photographs. Elegant but cold.
Kai sniffed at the air, then bee-lined for the liquor cabinet by the fireplace. There wasn’t a hint of soot—no indication that it had ever been used. Swinging open the cabinet doors, he whistled appreciatively at the contents.
“Don’t even think about it.” Miya materialized behind him, eyeing his roaming hands with a mixture of suspicion and worry.
He shrugged, nonchalant. “If something goes missing, they can just blame each other.”
Miya squeezed in front of him and slammed the cabinet shut. “If you want booze, get your own. Neither of my parents are heavy drinkers, and the stuff in here is for special occasions only.”
“What a waste,” Kai lamented, draping his arm around Miya’s shoulders and lazily nuzzling her hair.
“That, we can agree on,” she said as she leaned into him.
Kai ushered her into the kitchen, then halted abruptly before the granite countertop. He stared down at it, transfixed.
“What is it?” Miya asked with a hint of concern.
“…I can see myself.” He squinted at his own reflection.
“Yeah,” Miya scoffed. “It’s called clean.”
Kai choked on a laugh and dropped his arm. “Something tells me we’ve got different standards of cleanliness.” He helped himself to the fridge with hungry eyes, but his face fell when he was met with clear, spotless shelves. It was empty. “We’re going to starve.”
“Oh my God, no we are not.”
“They don’t even have margarine!” He thew an accusatory finger at the fridge.
“Well, the house is empty for two weeks. Of course they’d clean out the food.”
Kai let the door clank shut as he turned to her. “Margarine never goes bad! It’s basically plastic!”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go to the store and buy you some margarine,” said Miya. “Since we’re saving by staying here, I can splurge a little elsewhere.”
Kai watched her inspect the pantry, stocked with non-perishables, though he doubted Miya would let him touch anything that could be counted as missing when her parents returned. “Do I at least get a bagel with that margarine, or am I going to have to spoon it out of the tub with my fingers?”
“I’m getting groceries,” she emphasized. “You know, proper food?”
“You sure you want to cook? What if you stain the stovetop with a drop of margarine? Your mom might realize it’s not butter.” He was joking, but to his amazement, her body tensed in silent consideration.
“Shit, you’re right.”
He gawked, slack-jawed. “Wait, are you fucking serious—”
“Okay, I’ll get snacks and some take out,” she dictated as she began pacing. “Nothing that we’d have to use the kitchen for.”
At this point, Kai was wondering if they should’ve forgone saving money and gotten a hotel. “Fine by me,” he said as he headed into the living room and threw himself down on the couch, much to Miya’s chagrin. “What? Don’t tell me your dad will smell the poverty on the cushions in two weeks.”
“No,” she mumbled. “Should be fine.” She reached into he jacket to check for the money, then headed down the hall and out of sight. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Make sure you clean up any messes you make by the end of the day.”
“You got it,” he droned, staring at the ornate chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling. What a boring life this must’ve been for her.
“What the hell did you do!” Miya stomped into the TV room and dropped the bags of groceries she’d balled up in her hands.
Strewn across floor were at least half a dozen chip bags and two empty pizza boxes. The TV was playing loud enough for the neighbours to hear, some gnarly horror film flickering in Miya’s periphery. “And what are you watching?”
“Saw,” he said mildly, then winced as someone screamed.
“Kai,” she said tersely, “there’s shit everywhere. Mud tracks in the hallway! Grass all over the goddamn kitchen! This place looks like a stampede of rhinos came through. And why is there pizza when I said I was going out to get food!”
Kai blinked away from the television and looked around. “…No, it doesn’t. And there is no pizza. I ate it all after it was delivered.”
“Excuse me?” she hissed.
“If a stampede of rhinos came through, I’d probably be mangled on the ground with eight broken bones. The glass would all be shattered, and the only thing your furniture would be good for is roasting marshmallows.” Then, for the first time since she’d arrived, his mouth tugged into a frown as he realized his mistake. “Shit, I guess I should have saved you a few slices. My bad.”
For a long moment, she stared at him, the lull punctuated by the occasional keen from some poor bastard on the TV.
“You’ve got to be shitting me!” she snapped, whipping her jacket at him. He half sat up, his attention on the film finally broken. “How exactly did all the mud and grass get in here?”
“I…got bored, so I went into the yard?” he said carefully, gauging her reaction.
“Oh, great, so you figured you’d bring the yard in with you?”
“Not on purpose,” he grumbled. “I’m not used to taking my shoes off indoors.” He added with a light sneer, “Given my lifestyle.”
That seemed only to rile her up as she ground her teeth. “Your lifestyle aside, I asked you to clean today if you made a mess!”
“Well, there’s still,” he craned his neck and checked the clock, “six hours left in the day.”
“I was gone for hours!” she shot back. “You could have just tidied up before I came home, and then we could’ve spent time together instead of deep cleaning the house!”
At that he straightened, the fuse lit. “So, not only do I have to play janitor to your prissy standards, but I have to do it on your schedule too?”
“No!” Miya exclaimed, flustered as she tripped over her words. “That’s not what I meant.” She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I said this would work on the condition that we kept the place clean, but I’m gone for two minutes and you turn it into a frat house. It’s not like I’m asking you to scrub the toilet with a toothbrush; I just want you to be a bit more considerate. I don’t see why you couldn’t have taken an hour or two to clean up after yourself instead of just sitting here like a blob!”
Kai’s jaw clenched as he bit back a snarky reply. Apologize, good sense told him even as he stubbornly clamped his mouth shut. Don’t be a prick, the obnoxious, little voice nagged. Just fucking apologize.
“You know what, forget it,” she interrupted when he started to form the words. Before he could stop her, she proceeded to pick up after him. “I’ll just do it myself.”
Swirling in a cocktail of irritation and embarrassment, Kai catapulted off the couch, and with a low, disgruntled growl, began snatching the empty potato chip bags off the floor.
Miya whirled on him. “Seriously? Now you’re going to help?”
He too spun and waved the pizza box around. “Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?”
“Not as a knee-jerk reaction to me getting pissed at you!”
Fire snaked around the pit of his stomach as anger turned into indignation. He couldn’t win. She was like an agitated lion, ready to take his head off no matter what direction he stepped in. “Fine,” he seethed, then smirked viciously as he spread his arms and dropped everything he’d been holding. Crumbs and pizza crust scattered across the hardwood as the boxes thumped open, followed by floating, empty chip bags.
Miya watched, horrified, as his garbage tumbled to the floor. Her gaze tore away from the mess and landed on Kai, moisture threatening to spill over the rims of her eyes “You don’t have to be such an asshole about it,” she said quietly—too quietly, and Kai knew then that he’d fucked up. “Have it your way.” She gestured around the room. “Since it’s all about your ego, go ahead and fix this by yourself.” She reached into one of the grocery bags and yanked out a box of takeout. “Don’t forget to scrub the mud off the floor.”
Without another word, she stormed back down the hall, pulled on her sneakers, and jerked open the front door. She paused, eyeing his boots, then kicked them across the foyer. Shooting him a venomous glare, she slammed the door and left him standing there, dick in his trashy hands.
Hours passed, and the sun had long set by the time Miya returned. She snuck in like a wraith, and as the front door clapped shut, she sheepishly glanced around the house, now quiet as a grave. The lights were all off save for a single lamp in the hallway, barely illuminating the figure standing by the stairs. Kai was leaned against the wall waiting for her—mop in one hand, sponge in the other. He’d stripped down to sweatpants and bare feet, his naked torso slick with sweat as he let out a ragged breath, then slammed the mop into the bucket.
“About fucking time,” he huffed, delicately leaning the haft against the stairwell as he stepped out of the shadows. “Thought you’d abandon me here.”
“That might be a bit excessive,” she replied, her eyes trailing the lines of his body. How much had he done to get this worked up?
“You know, I never realized how tiring housework is,” he observed. “Boring too.”
“That’s why it’s so tiring,” Miya offered, pursing her lips to keep from smiling. So, he had felt bad.
Kai lazily raised his arm and let the sponge plummet from his open hand. “There,” he said between breaths. “Are you satisfied?”
Miya stepped gingerly off the welcome mat, one shoe now on the freshly cleaned floors as she wobbled to pry the other off her foot.
“Hey now,” he warned, stalking up to her. “Do you know how many fucking grooves there are in those rotten floorboards? I practically had to pick the calcified mud out with a goddamn toothpick.” Now looming, he placed his hands on either side of her, pushing her against the door.
Miya cleared her throat, moisture pooling at the nape of her neck as she cheekily shot back, “I’m so, very sorry to have undermined your hard work.”
Kai kissed his teeth, narrowing his gaze as he leaned in. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said blithely, pressing closer, the heat of his body soaking into her.
Miya’s face finally broke, her earlier anger dissipating as knowing amusement now twinkled in her eyes. “I’m not sure.” She took stock of the room with a coy smile. “I’ll have to do a proper inspection.”
Kai hung his head and snorted as he mouthed the words proper inspection. “Making me work for everything,” he murmured, his lips grazing hers in invitation. When she finally accepted and melted into him, he ran his teeth along her jaw, then whispered in her ear, “Time for a cold shower.” Then, he pulled away, leaving her blinking in confusion.
“Wha—now?” she sputtered, her cheeks flooding with colour. “But—”
Kai flashed her a rakish grin as he back-pedaled out of reach. “Hey, you said you didn’t like dirty things in your house.” He shrugged as his hand fell on the doorknob to the downstairs bathroom. He paused, his lips quirking in a triumphant smirk. “But you’re always welcome to join me…you know, to inspect whether I’m clean enough.
Miya’s hands dangled at her sides as she processed his glib taunt. The bastard had made her so angry, she’d left with her noodles and hadn’t dared come back until after dark. He was sorry, but that wasn’t enough for him, apparently. Even if he’d repented, he wasn’t about to let it go without sprinkling a final dash of salt in his playful lure. And in her flustered anger, that bait he wielded so effortlessly had turned very tempting.
Radiating like a furnace, Miya grabbed her shoe and flung it at him in full force. His eyes lit up with mischief, and he ducked through the door, the incoming projectile hurtling past him and crashing into the wall as his raucous laughter echoed from the bathroom.
“Asshole!” she barked as a chuckle worked its way up her throat against her say-so. She had to admit that it was funny—infuriating, but funny.
Miya flopped back onto the couch, her hair still damp from the shower. Arguing with Kai was always exhausting—like a marathon in summer. Stubborn and temperamental, he had an inborn impulse for pushing all her buttons before finally learning his damn lesson. In the end, though, he always came around. And once a lesson had been learned, it was scarcely forgotten.
He appeared in the doorway then, whisky on ice in hand. “You know, we can’t keep everything in this house pristine.” Clearing his throat, he smoothly swept the glass downwards and gestured below his hips, the ice crackling in the tawny liquid.
Miya snickered, kicking one of the square pillows at him. He grabbed it mid-air and tucked it under his arm. “Hopefully nothing will seem out of place enough to warrant attention,” she said.
Dropping the pillow, Kai hooked an arm under her knees, lifted her legs, and plunked down before easing her calves back into his lap. “Still think you should let your folks eat each other alive wondering who drank a finger of the Bowmore.”
“The five-hundred-dollar scotch?” Miya pushed herself to her elbows. “You didn’t…”
He threw his head back and laughed wickedly, then raised the glass “Nah. Regular old Jack. The one you bought while you were out today.”
“Oh, good,” Miya sighed a breath of relief and collapsed into the cushions.
“Hey,” he leaned over, his torso pressing over the length of her lower body. Catching her with a brief smolder, he pressed his lips to the sliver of exposed skin just below her belly button. “Sorry,” he acquiesced, his mouth just barely curved into a smile.
Perhaps the wolf could be house trained, after all.