(A Sequel to Steeping)
David pulled off his gloves and hat, stuffing them into the pocket of his coat as he entered the café. A quick scan of the area, and he saw Sarah at the table in the window – their table. Coming up behind her, he leaned around and ducked his head to give her a brief sideways kiss. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic signal’s out on Fifth. Why is it that a five-minute snowstorm makes everyone forget how to drive?”
Her answer came with an amused, but affectionate, smile. “Because it’s California, where a five-minute snowstorm might as well be a blizzard.” She paused for a moment before adding “I ordered the special – black bean soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“Sounds great.” He draped his coat on the back of the chair opposite hers before settling into it.
“It sounded warm. The heat’s out in my apartment.”
“Did you talk to your landlord?”
“Left a second message this morning.” As if on cue her cell-phone rang. She picked it up, glanced at the screen. “Speak of the devil…” Into the phone she said, “Hello? Yes, this is Sarah.” The conversation was terse, and by the time she ended the call, her expression had gone from easy to perturbed. “You know what the worst thing is about cell phones?” she asked rhetorically, “There’s no way to hang up on people.”
“I hear you,” he agreed. “There was something so satisfying about making someone eat dial tone.”
“Exactly!” And just like that, her amiable self was back. “Anyway,” she continued, shaking her head as if to clear it, “the heat is out for my whole building and Mitch says it won’t be fixed until Monday.”
It was only Friday afternoon.
“So, stay with me.”
“David, that’s sweet, but…” She was interrupted by the arrival of their lunch.
“But what?” he asked, after the server had gone away again. “We’d planned to spend most of the weekend together anyway.”
She thought it over as she spooned soup into her mouth. “Alright,” she agreed when she was mostly finished with the first triangle of her sandwich. “I’ll swing by my place after work and pick up some things.”
“So, I’ll see you around seven, then?” He was dipping his sandwich into the soup, as he spoke.
“It’s a plan.”
The weather stayed cold all afternoon, and by the time Sarah arrived at David’s downtown bungalow a little after seven that night, the streets were patchy with ice and she was shivering despite the coat she wore over her sweater.
He had the door open before she could knock. “I heard your car. I had a late delivery so dinner will be a while, but I’ve got orange spice tea steeping, and if you want, I can pour a dollop of rum in to warm you up faster.” He ushered her inside, then demanded her car keys. “Sit by the fire. Get warm. I’ll bring your things in.”
Gratefully, she handed over the jingling ring. “There’s a rolling case in the trunk, but my laptop and tote bag are on the passenger seat.” She met his gaze and held it with her own for a few seconds. “And thank you.”
He responded with his trademark grin, the one that was both charming and slightly cocky. “Happy to do it, milady.”
Laughing, she stood on tip-toe, and kissed the tip of his nose; then she moved past him, heeding the call of the crackling fire.
The evening proceeded in a manner not unlike many of their quieter dates.
Sarah had accepted the dollop (how much was a dollop, anyway?) of rum in the sweet and spicy tea, and when David finally called her to the table and presented her with a plate of homemade coq au vin she was warm and comfortable and pleasantly buzzed.
“This is delicious,” she told him, using a hunk of rustic-style bread to sop up the last of the liquid on her plate. “I always thought it was difficult to make, though?”
He shook his head. “Not really. I used chicken breasts instead of an actual rooster, of course, and skipped the blood – ”
“The original recipe calls for a cup of blood.” He saw the face she made and smiled sympathetically. “Yeah… not my thing either. But anyway, the secret’s in the simmering.” He said the last word softly, with a hint of innuendo.
“Simmering, huh?” She matched his tone, reaching for the glass that had long since supplanted her mug of tea, and swirled the red wine that remained in it for a moment. Red wine with chicken had been a new concept for her, but the Beaujolais David had served complimented the dish nicely. “Simmering,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Interesting word. Sometimes I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“We’ve been dating for – what? – eight months? And it takes an apartment-related emergency for me to spend more than a night here.”
“Well, actually,” he pointed out, more for the humor of it than because it was meant, “you haven’t spent more than the night… yet.”
Sarah laughed again, but it was a throatier sound than her usual expressions of amusement. “Fair point.” They were both quiet for a while, and then she reached across the table covering his hand with hers. “This was nice.”
“Was?” His blue eyes glinted with affectionate good humor.
“Okay, it is nice.”
They laughed together, the soft, harmonizing laughter of lovers whose relationship was deepening without conscious effort.
The cold snap continued through the weekend, but neither Sarah nor David was much bothered by it. On Saturday, they wrapped themselves in sweaters and coats and took in a foreign movie at the local art cinema. They were the only two people in the theater and they took turns reading the subtitles out loud in silly accents.
Later they returned to his house, where they danced in the living room to ancient Motown tunes on CD and played a game of strip Scrabble that led to a playful romp in his bed.
Sunday morning found them in their bathrobes at the breakfast table. She was working the crossword puzzle, he was drafting a poem, and both were sipping coffee.
When a noise outside caused her to glance away for a moment, he set a small box on the table.
Sarah stared at the small square, and her face turned pale.
“Don’t worry; it’s not a ring,” David said, reading the panic in her expression.
With obvious trepidation, she lifted the lid to find a key, one with a tea cup for the key-head. “You can do that with keys?” she asked. “I had no idea.”
“Orchard Supply Hardware just started selling them this way.” He took a beat then asked, “You know what else you can do with keys?”
Sarah stayed quiet, letting him answer his own question.
She stared at the key, eventually lifting it out of the box, and rolling it in her hand. “You’re asking me to move in?”
David’s voice was slightly husky when he confirmed. “I am. Would you like to move in here?”
“This isn’t just because my apartment has no heat is it?”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“You know I like to do yoga in the living room some mornings.”
He nodded. Of course he knew; he’d seen her doing it in her apartment more than once.
“And sometimes I leave panty hose hanging on the shower bar.”
“I can live with that,” he said. “I sometimes leave the toilet seat up.”
She gave him a wry grin. “I’m aware.”
“Well my lease is up in six weeks.”
“Sarah… is that a yes?”
She looked into his eyes, then down at the key in her hand, and then back up into his face. “We’ve been simmering, David,” she answered. “Guess it’s time to turn the heat up a little.” Her grin was radiant. “It’s a yes.”
“Fantastic!” He pushed his notebook and coffee mug aside so he could lean close to kiss her.
She held him off for a moment. “But you should know… I’m not giving up my blue reading chaise.”
He was still chuckling when their lips finally met.
Image copyright: alexraths / 123RF Stock Photo
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.