“Hey, bro!” Malcolm heard someone holler from across the room.
Malcolm wasn’t sure if the guy in the gym was talking to him at first, but then he recognized him – it was Jarrett, Edelweiss’ brother-in-law.
“What’s shakin’, man?” Jarrett asked.
Malcom did his best to return the bro greeting.. thing.
“Not much, man, what about you?”
“Just getting some reps in before work, bro. How’s Ede?”
“Oh, she seems good,” he said, “Saw her yesterday.”
“Niiice. I got the sweet one, man – my Easter’s an angel. Ede’s more like a fireball. But they’re both smokin’ hot, am I right?”
Talking with Bros was always awkward for Malcolm. Should he opt for the ‘yes, your wife is hot’ response, suggesting he may be harboring untoward feelings for the man’s wife, or say nothing, implying his wife is unattractive?
Malcolm chose the path of gentlemanly avoidance.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve got anyone..” he said.
“Naw, man, you got this,” Jarrett insisted. “She digs you, man! Plus, she listens to you. You can totally tame her first, am I right?”
Ick. No. That’s not what he was doing.
“Hey listen, you two should come by the house later and see the baby, hang out.”
“Yeah, I’ll talk to Edelweiss.”
“Aw, don’t give me that, man,” Jarrett said. “You’re coming over! It’s a done deal.”
“Ok, man,” Malcolm conceded. “See you tonight.”
After another awkward pre-hug moment, Jarrett left for work and Malcolm finally got to working out.
What Jarrett had said about Edelweiss was bugging him. He certainly didn’t start out with the intention to manipulate her into being more malleable to him. But if he continued to steer her in personal matters, aware that they were becoming more and more drawn to each other, and eventually capitalized on it — isn’t that what was happening? It’s not like he could call off his feelings at this point; he was way too far gone for that.
Malcolm needed to talk to Edelweiss.
He found her at home, baking bread in her PJs.
“Got a busy day planned, huh?” he joked, seeing her attire.
“Hey, you,” she said warmly. “I felt inspired to bake when I woke up this morning. Check out this loaf! It’s plumming perfect!”
He liked how comfortable she was around him lately. She’d stopped automatically trying to disguise herself — both her feelings and her body. She wasn’t bothered at all that she was only partially clothed.
“You’re awfully quiet. Want something to eat?” she offered.
“No thanks,” he smiled.
“You feel serious today,” Ede noticed. “Let’s have it.”
How to phrase this without sounding overly dramatic? Malcolm thought. He sat down at the table, and Ede joined him.
He sighed. “I need to terminate our arrangement.”
“The life coach thing..” he said. “I can’t do it any more.”
“I’ll still help you with whatever you want me to. Just, on equal footing, you know?”
She didn’t know, no.
“Edelweiss? Are you listening?”
“Sorry. Yeah, ok. You’re free to go. What will you do next? For work I mean.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I thought maybe business. But right now what I want is –”
“You’d be good at that,” she interrupted. Ede was trying her best to be supportive and upbeat, but she just wanted to get the hell out of there.
“Look, I have some things I have to take care of,” she lied. “I’ll see you around, or something.”
Malcolm tried to speak, but she interrupted him again.
“Thanks for everything, Malcolm. Really.”
Ede tried to outrun her stupid-ass feelings by walking with unnatural determination out of the room and down the hall and up the stairs to her quiet bedroom, but the best she could do was to keep them hovering at her back, threatening to creep over her shoulder and gnaw on her face like some kind of deranged flying monkey.
She really did feel calmer in there, though. She gazed out the window for a bit, but wound up coming back and staring at that plumming fish. He really was a cute critter – a delicate little thing. She still felt happy when she looked at him – she just couldn’t help it.
“Hey there, little guy,” Ede cooed to the fish.
Ede almost coughed up her heart when she heard Malcolm’s voice in her room.
“I was talking to the fish,” she said without facing him.
“Oh,” he said. “Don’t let me stop you.”
She couldn’t see Malcolm, but she knew exactly what expression he had on his face. It was that playful amused one that made her nuts.
“It was a private conversation,” she stated stubbornly.
“Did you want me to wait outside?”
“Why are you in here, Malcolm?” she asked the fishbowl.
“I’ve been trying to tell you something,” he said.
Ede turned around.
“I can’t keep advising you because I would like to have a relationship with you. But I want it to be based on free will, and not me coaching you to act a certain way. I don’t trust myself to keep my personal feelings separate any more.”
“If you don’t want something serious,” he continued, “we can just –”
“You don’t think I’m gross and weird?” she interrupted.
“What? No!” Malcolm laughed, “why would you think that?”
Ede shrugged helplessly. This was so confusing.
“Me and you, though?” she asked cautiously. “That’s something you would want?”
“And that would mean I could like, touch you, touch you, sometimes?”
“If I should be so lucky, yeah.”
Ede tested out her new permissions, just to see if they worked.
They seemed to be functional.
“Ok,” she said quickly.
Malcolm seemed surprised at such a rapid, short answer. “Ok? Really?”
“Ok,” she nodded.
Not much else was accomplished that day. Somehow the two of them remembered to breathe and feed themselves and go to the bathroom, but the rest is pretty much a blur.