The Crossword

I originally wrote this story as part of a writing challenge on Medium.com. Click here to see the original.

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“One across. The hurdle to pass before starting a project. Four letters. Abbreviation,” Kelly said.

“No good morning?” Ian asked. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs to watch her. Kelly was sitting at the kitchen table. Steam rose from the large mug of coffee that stood within reach of her left hand. In her right hand, she twirled a red pencil. She wore green, flannel pajama pants and grey a t-shirt. She was staring down at the morning’s New York Times, which was folded and flattened to display the crossword puzzle. Her short, red, wavy hair framed her brown reading glasses. Ian’s favorite part of the weekend was this moment. No racing to get dressed. No hustling out the door. Every Saturday was the same — Kelly at the table with her coffee and the crossword.

“Good morning,” she said, not looking up from her puzzle.

“Bacon?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, he turned the dial on the stove, put a pan on the burner, and began digging through the fridge for the plastic package.

“No,” she said, biting her bottom lip. “Bacon has five letters.”

“Marr,” he said, putting the meat into the pan. “M-A-R-R. The minimum, acceptable, return rate.”

She scribbled the letters into their boxes. “How’d you know that?”

“I know things. I’ve got secrets,” he said. The bacon began to sizzle.

“You have no secrets. If you did, I would have found them last night during my full body search,” she said coyly.

“Thank you for that, by the way,” he said with a grin. “You were very thorough.”

“My pleasure,” she said, smiling at him for the first time that morning.

He held up the coffee pot to her, asking with the motion if she needed a refill. She shook her head “no,” and went back to her puzzle.

“Are we still having the bar-b-que at your mom’s tonight?” he said, pulling the finished bacon out of the pan.

“Five down,” she said. “A five letter word for boat is yacht.”

“You do know that you don’t have to read the answers out loud, right?” he said, joining her at the table.

“How else will you know how smart I am?”

He rubbed her knee gently under the table and sipped his coffee.

“Nine across. A four letter word for helicopter is helo.”

“So your mom’s?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I haven’t heard any different. Like eleven-ish, I think.”

“And you said your dad’s coming too?”

“I know, right? Let’s hope something huge falls out of the sky to distract them, or we’ll have to listen to them fight all night long. Six down. Four letters. An uncomfortable sensation.”

Ian crunched a piece of bacon between his teeth. “Itch,” he said, as he chewed.

She grabbed a piece of bacon from the plate and said, “Seven down. Five letter word. 2001 TV show?”

“Friends.”

“That has seven letters.”

“Frazier.”

“You’re the worst at this. And, no. The correct answer is Alias. Staring the super-hot Michael Vartan.” She carefully wrote the letters in their boxes.

“Jennifer Garner was pretty smokin’ in that too.”

Kelly looked up at him with false offense. “You can’t say that,” she said.

“What? Why not?”

“Because the rules of our relationship clearly state that no woman is as hot as me,” she said, going back to her puzzle.

“How come you can say the guy is hot but I can’t say the girl is hot?”

“Those are the rules. I didn’t write them. I just live by them,” Kelly said as she wrote an answer lower in the puzzle.

“Well, I’m sorry,” he said, faking contrition. “I must have missed that page of rules. My mistake. I’ll rephrase. Jennifer Garner looked almost as hot as you in that show.”

“It’s good to respect the rules. Otherwise there would be chaos.” She chewed on the end of her pencil, and filled in another answer.

“Well. Thank God for the rules then, because nobody wants chaos,” Ian said, sipping his coffee.

“You got that right, bub. Eight down. Drug enforcement agents. Five letters. Narcs. I must say, I am crushing this one today.”

“Like Michael Vartan would get crushed on at a junior high dance,” Ian said with a cocky head jerk.

“Oh. That’s sweet. Don’t try to be funny,” she said, patting his knee under the table. “That’s not really your thing.”

“I’m funny,” he said.

“Thirteen down. Five letters. Vim and… Vigor. This is too easy today.”

“So, your dad is coming. Your mom is coming. Who else?”

“Elliot, Jenny, and my super cute nephew.”

“Your nephew thinks I’m funny.”

“Now they aren’t even trying. Get this. Fourteen down. Five letters. A period of time. It’s epoch.”

“Normal guy must be on vacation. They probably filled his spot with some one-eyed monkey.”

“I mean, my super cute nephew, who thinks rocks are funny, could’ve gotten that one.”

“I knew it before you even read the prompt.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You said fourteen down, and I was like ‘epoch.’”

“Oh. Because I didn’t hear you say that,” she said with a grin.

“It was in my mind,” Ian said, tapping his forehead with a piece of bacon. “I said it in my mind.”

“Now that’s sexy right there,” Kelly said with false disdain. “Nothing is as hot as a man hitting himself in the face with fried meat.”

Ian rubbed the piece of bacon sensually across his cheek. “Do I make you horny, baby?” he said in a terrible British accent.

“So it will be my dad and mom — nightmare. Jenny, Elliot, and baby Tony. And me, and you, with no accents please. Should be a blast.” Kelly reached up and took another piece of bacon. “Mom said something about a big announcement? Probably dad retiring again.” I thought you only got to do that once.”

“I hope he makes steaks. I like it when your dad makes steaks.” Ian took a long sip of his coffee.

“This one is super easy. Even you might get it,” Kelly said.

“Thank you, but I don’t need to play games in the morning to feel good about myself,” Ian said. He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head in triumph.

“Oh. I feel good about me without the game,” Kelly said, twirling her hair in her fingers. “I know I’m awesome from the moment I open my eyes. Finishing the puzzle is just my way of letting the world in on it too.”

“Fair,” Ian said, standing up.

“So come on. Play with me,” Kelly said. “Sixteen across. Three letter word. The clue is, ‘Not me but…’”

Ian moved behind her. “You,” he said softly, looking over her shoulder.

“See. I told your mom she is totally wrong about you being slow,” Kelly teased. She wrote the three letters into their boxes.

“Hey,” Ian said. “Look at that top line. That’s kind of crazy.”

“What? I don’t see anything,” Kelly said, squinting at the top row of the puzzle.

“Look closer,” Ian said.

“M-A-R-R-Y-I-A-N-H-E-L-O-V-E-S… Wait. What?”

“Turn around,” Ian said.

Kelly spun in her chair to find Ian on one knee. He opened a small box with both hands and extend it toward her.

“Will you?” he said.

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