“A little to the left.” Ainsley gestured over with her hand.
Sweat dripping down his light skin, Daniel shuffled forward slightly as his dark-haired brother mirrored his movements, only backward.
“Hmm. Is that too far?” The petite blonde tapped her fair chin, standing in the middle of her apartment’s living room. “Can you move it back to the right?”
“Take your time, Slick, it’s not like this is heavy or anything,” Daniel quipped, grinning, adjusting his hold on the modern, gray Ikea couch.
“You’re being compensated, aren’t you?” Ainsley said, crossing her arms.
Daniel shook his head at her. “Buchanan, these hands are made to treat patients, not move furniture.” He paused when her gaze dropped to the floor. “Of course, your baked goods more than make up for it.”
She sighed and threw up her hands. “Okay, good enough. Come get your pay.”
He made eye contact with his brother Kyle, and they both gently set down their sides in unison. Despite being brothers, they didn’t look much alike: both were about the same height (6’1’’), but the resemblance ended there. Kyle’s dark hair and brown eyes took after their mother, while Daniel’s dirty blond hair and blue eyes looked more like their dad’s. Kyle’s hair was short, messy, but he did nothing to fix it. Daniel’s longer style was sliding out of the high top knot he’d put it in last night, and he took a moment to fix it before he followed them into the kitchen. Kyle, still wearing the suit he’d worn to the hospital, had already polished off his first brownie, and Daniel shook his head in mock astonishment when he caught Kyle watching Ainsley bend over to get the milk from the fridge. Kyle’s narrowed eyes told him he was not happy to be caught staring and Daniel chuckled. They both fixed their faces into a placid neutral as she turned back to them.
“I really appreciate this, you guys,” she said, as she tipped the milk carton. “Did I mention that? I appreciate you.”
“What are best friends for?” Daniel asked, bumping her shoulder with his. “I’m here for you. And Kyle’s here for brownies.”
His brother lifted one dark eyebrow as he reached for another treat. “I’m here for her, too. I just know a good thing when I see it.” Ainsley and Daniel both grinned at him.
“So you’re getting a new roommate, huh?”
She nodded, gesturing to the living room with her glass. “Just wanted to move things around in case she has furniture.”
“Is she new in town?”
“I think so? I don’t know.” Ainsley pulled out a package of chicken thighs and piled red peppers and sweet onions on the counter.
“Didn’t you interview her?” Kyle asked, and Daniel heard the discontented edge in his voice.
“Now, now, Grumpy,” Daniel said, grabbing another brownie, “Ainsley’s an adult. She wouldn’t cohabitate with anyone who’d harm her, I’m sure. And if she does, we likely won’t know until it’s too late, anyway.”
“It’s Timber Falls,” she said, rolling her eyes, “what’s going to happen? Is she going to drown me in the Santiam River? Bury me in the national forest, never to be heard from again?”
“A lot could happen,” Kyle insisted.
“Kyle, the only town more boring than this is actually named Boring.”
“What does she do, your roommate?” Daniel asked through a giant bite. “Does she work in town?”
“She’s a doula, I think. Or a midwife, maybe? Can’t remember. Some kind of care-taking profession.” She turned to Kyle. “See? Very safe.”
“Or she has access to the medications to kill you in your sleep,” Kyle muttered, but only Daniel heard him; Ainsley was too busy searching her cupboards for a package of corn tortillas.
“We should probably get going,” Daniel said, wiping the crumbs off his hands and his shirt, glancing with masked amusement at his brother. He didn’t say the rest of what he was thinking: We should probably get going before Kyle starts audibly growling at the idea of someone living with Ainsley who isn’t him.
“Oh,” she said, her face falling, “I thought you were staying for fajitas? We have to celebrate your new residency thing!”
“Kyle’s got important brooding to do, I think.”
“Can’t you just stay for dinner?” she pleaded. “I’m trying out a new recipe and I need guinea pigs. Please?”
Kyle met Ainsley’s gaze briefly, then looked away. “You got any beer?”
Five fajitas, a Sprite, two more brownies, and a rom com later, Daniel headed down the stairs of Ainsley’s apartment, rubbing his overfull belly with regret. Somehow, he’d ended up on the couch in the middle between his rather agitated older brother and his very oblivious best friend.
Daniel grinned at him. “You wanna talk about Ainsley?”
Kyle’s face gave away nothing. “Nope.”
“Okay. But I hear that too much pining can give you hives.”
“You’re the worst doctor in the world.”
“Just because you’re not a resident anymore doesn’t mean you know everything, Dr. Durand. Severe emotional stress can be a trigger.”
“I’m not distressed. There’s nothing to feel distressed about.”
“That’s funny,” Daniel said, as he unlocked his Volvo and slid inside, “because you seemed pretty distressed about her living with an unapproved roommate.”
“It’s just a stupid thing to do,” he griped. “You’ve got to vet people.”
Daniel nodded, starting the car. “But you know Ainsley. She’s better at getting in over her head than all the city kids falling into Detroit Lake every summer.”
Kyle grunted in what Daniel assumed was agreement.
“If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll stop by and meet the roommate next week.” Daniel kept all hints of teasing out of his voice.
“It’s not about how I feel; it’s about her not letting a serial killer move into her second bedroom.” Kyle paused. “And get some references from the woman, for God’s sake.”
“I feel like Ainsley might take issue with you calling her roommate’s references…”
“I’m not going to call them, I’m just going to internet stalk them to see what kind of people they are.”
“Kyle.” His brother turned to look at him. “Just ask her out already.”
He turned back to the window. “She doesn’t see me that way.”
Daniel wasn’t so convinced; she never made an effort to hang out with Kyle one-on-one, but she often suggested that Daniel bring him along. As far as he knew, she didn’t date because she was “too busy.” The busyness was largely of her own making, since she was on almost every committee in town that it was possible to join. If something was cooking around Timber Falls, Ainsley had her spoon in it.
Kyle had been “secretly” pining for her for about eight years now. It was the worst kept secret in the Durand family, and no one could figure out why he never did anything about it. Their oldest brother Philip had asked him once and been met with grunting and several days of stony silence, so they’d mostly left him alone about it.
Since Kyle had descended into thoughtful silence, Daniel did a little thinking of his own. He loved Ainsley; of course he did...but the idea of dating her was laughable. They were far too alike. And he enjoyed spending time with her, obviously, but he wondered if he wasn’t leaning on her friendship a little too heavily for female companionship. He’d gone on lots of casual dates, had some casual hook-ups, but hadn’t had an actual girlfriend in years. There were lots of reasons, of course; there was always a reason when you were in medical school. Even his undergrad had been tough academically...though the amount of time he spent biking and reading comic books probably hadn’t helped his studies. But he would do something about that, the dating thing. Just as soon as he figured out who to ask.
He glanced over at Kyle, who was still ignoring him completely. It was too easy to mess with him; if he had feathers, they’d be constantly ruffled where Ainsley was concerned.
“Well, if you’re not going to ask her out,” Daniel drawled, “maybe I should.”
Kyle snorted. “Ha.”
“Ha? What ‘ha?’”
“She’d never go out with you.”
Daniel pulled into the driveway of the two-story white farmhouse they shared. “How can you be so sure?”
“Go ahead. Ask her.” They both sat there as he texted. His phone swooshed.
Daniel cleared his throat. “She replied with a gif of a baby falling over laughing. Then she asked if I’d been kidnapped and this was some kind of signal that I needed help.”
Kyle grinned, then got out of the car and sauntered inside, whistling.