Kismet or Happenstance? Ch. 03byAugust_Bouvier©
Saturday, July 22nd . 6:27 pm
Maybe she should have called Michelle.
The thought came as Ana pressed the doorbell. She obviously needed to hear a voice of reason; otherwise she wouldn't be standing here on the doorstep, on the way to ostensibly having her first one-night stand. Tonight wasn't just about a home cooked meal and some friendly flirting. He wants to fuck you. Yet even reducing it to the crudest of terms didn't have the intended sobering effect. That was far more perplexing than agreeing to be here.
She relived every moment with him: the fun of his playful teasing, the unexpectedness of his compassion. And the chemistry. Oh, the chemistry.
Several times, remembering his touch, the things he whispered at her neck, drove her to seek release at her own hands. Maybe this was some hormonal rebellion against more than a year of sporadic, platonic dating. Maybe.
No, she should have called Sasha. Michelle, being the happily married, hopeless romantic that she was, would have spun all kinds of flowery possibilities. No doubt she would dispense advice on how to make this into more than it was. Pragmatic Sasha, on the other hand, wasn't laboring under a blissful love spell when she'd woken up in a strange bed. But then Sasha's hookup was unexpected, shocking even—and there'd been some drinking involved—while this...
Again, she came back to the fact that she didn't want the voice of hope or the voice of reason tugging at her, confusing her. Just this once, Ana wanted to just be. No cautious analysis, no projecting of the outcomes ten steps ahead.
So yes, this was unfamiliar territory, so what? In many ways, tonight wasn't even a gamble. No, actual relationships were far more complex once imperfect people truly became intimate. There'd be none of that with Sean—as fun, sexy and charming as he was—there'd be no flowers and phone calls after they both got what they wanted. It was as simple as that.
Ana winced inwardly—somehow this seemed so cold, so mercenary, so...alien. She swallowed and took a step backwards, looking at her car. No. She was doing this. She wanted this. She'd even rehearsed a graceful exit for when the night was over. Nerves were just a natural reaction to stepping into the unknown.
The door flew open just then, catching her off guard. There was Sean, dressed in dark blue jeans, a crisp, dress shirt—untucked.
"Wow," he echoed her thoughts while taking in her cap-sleeved, black summer dress. "You're right on time. Come in." Sean pulled her in for a loose hug. She recognized the light, citrus scent as the one he'd worn before and inhaled.
"I thought you might like this," she said as she handed him a bottle of Rioja.
"Thanks," he said almost to himself as he read the label, "I think Dionysus would be impressed."
Ana silently thanked Simon for his love of wine and mythology. Okay, now's definitely not the time to think about Simon.
"As long as the gods are happy," she said tightly as he led her down the foyer, passing the den and formal dining room. Ana took a deep breath. The house was filled with the most heavenly scents.
"I was so looking forward to pizza tonight," she pouted. Sean stopped abruptly, turned and grabbed her hand, heading for the front door.
"Don't let me stop you." He pointed to the door with an exaggerated, gallant gesture.
Ana felt the last bit of nerves fall away. She pulled lightly on the hand holding hers and covered the doorknob with the other. She tapped her index on her chin, contemplating. "No, it would be impolite not to accept your dinner invitation. Besides, I'm hoping you'll redeem yourself for devaluing my property."
Ana's eyes were full of mischief, just like the first time he'd seen her. That adorable dimple appeared as Sean recognized the full meaning behind her words.
He traced the shell of her ears. "Jeez! Are these mini satellites?"
She ducked her head and took a step back. "It was a compelling performance, you know."
She was making him feel like a schoolboy and he found he rather liked it, liked that she didn't hide her interest, liked that she still challenged him.
"How's Nicole these days?"
Nicole? Ah. Nicole.
"You really are a nosy little thing," he admonished playfully, hoping to regain some balance here. "I'm starting to wonder if I should have invited her instead."
But she caught his expression, fleeting as it was. Damn, she's good.
"What? Don't tell me you've forgotten her name already. Maybe I should've worn a nametag."
"You wouldn't be easy to forget, sweetheart, not after the impression you've made."
Her eyes widened at his veiled reference to Monday night, but she didn't look away, too coltish to turn red-faced right then. Ana's expression turned impish and she folded her arms.
"You wouldn't be trying to distract me from being disappointed in your much hyped culinary skills with all that sweet talk, now would you?"
"Nah," he said as they retraced their steps and he led her to the kitchen. "If told you I love your sense of humor, even when you're busting my chops, or that dimple when you smile—is it the left side? You might consider that distracting sweet talk, even if it's all true, because you don't accept compliments easily. But since I didn't say—"
"You're off the hook. How do you know I don't like compliments? Every woman does."
"I didn't say you didn't like them. You just blush or get suspicious." He guessed the former when Ana thought a compliment to be sincere, the latter when she wondered at its agenda. She was charmed, yet regarded him with an equal degree of wariness.
"You figured that out in the short time we've known each other?" she asked, not confirming or denying.
"Paying attention to the little things people overlook is part of my job. I have a confession to make though."
That piqued her interest. "Oh?"
"I find it incredibly cute when a woman blushes." She turned her head away just a tad, but he adjusted his gaze, catching her. Ah, those eyes of hers.
"Hmm. You have a thing for shy girls?"
He laughed lightly. "I have a thing for all girls. How could you blame me? Even on their worst day, women are complex, unpredictable and much more fun than men."
"Good answer, as always," Ana quipped.
Her comeback, while complimentary, landed an unexpected jab. Whatever presuppositions Ana had about him, proving her wrong was zooming up the charts.
"It's going to be a few more minutes. How about we open this up and give it a try?"
"Your home's lovely," she said as she took in the dark floors. Sean had a definite preference for all things natural and earthy. The colors reminded her of a day at the beach. His home looked lived in, welcoming, instead of a bachelor pit stop.
"That's a huge compliment given your line of work, you sound surprised though. What were you expecting?"
Ana accepted the wineglass.
"I wasn't expecting a house, to be honest. That might be my bias as an apartment dweller talking. I love it when a space has personality—not just a collection of things—it's kind of autobiographical."
Sean gestured to the living room. "So what's my story?"
There were books spilling off the bookshelves, neatly stacked in small piles on the coffee table, in one of the leather club chairs. She couldn't resist touching the cookbooks arranged next to the phone on the bar top.
"You're an avid reader." She loved that in a man, it almost seemed genetic.
"Yeah, it's kind of hard to miss, isn't it?" He gestured behind her. "I worked in legal for a publishing house back in New York—some of what you see is a result of that. I met a few of the authors too. They're an interesting bunch—most creative people are anyways."
"In what way?"
Sean sampled the Rioja.
"This is really good," he said, looking into the glass. "Often when you read a book, doesn't matter if it's fiction or not—and then you meet the person behind it, it surprises you that they've got this vivid imagination or viewpoint or particular way of observing. A few of the ones I met were—" he paused as if reaching, "surprisingly reticent when discussions were less about writing and more personal."
Ana nodded, reminded of Simon's demeanor when they first met. "Maybe it also has to do with expectations. We sometimes idealize people because of our interpretations of what they've created so it's rather anti-climactic when they turn out to be...human."
"Isn't that the most compelling part of getting to know someone, though? When you get past all the BS adjectives and the 'I do this' and 'you do that' and you're really interacting and finding out the ways you're alike, the ways you differ."
"Yes!" Ana enthused, liking his point-of-view...a lot. "It just takes a while to get there."
"Most people are worth the effort though, at least that's how I prefer to treat them, and if they're not, it'll show up. Either way, there's less damage control in treating someone as if they're worth the courtesy of getting to know them from the outset than not."
"That's a great philosophy to live by, more people should adopt it." She wasn't expecting that from him, yet it fit him with what she knew of him so far.
"That's what my Grams says, she's the one who hammered it into us...now back to you telling me about me," Sean grinned and walked into the living room, a hand in one pocket, the glass of wine in the other. He had an unhurried way of moving, as if the world were waiting on him and there was no rush.
Ana strolled along the living room's perimeter. The furnishings were a mix of vintage classics and a few modern leaps.
"You're not trendy," she commented as her fingers skimmed the back of a worn leather club chair, noting its 1930s French slung-back style. "You prefer things that are timeless, and have proven quality."
Ana inspected silver-sage walls. The photos and folk paintings from around the world and infused the space with personality.
She looked back at him. "You're definitely drawn to the exotic."
Sean sat on the arm of one of the club chairs; the corners of his lips tilted upwards. "That's 'cause I'm just a boring Irishman," he said in a pitch perfect Irish brogue.
Yeah riiight. Ana's eyebrows rose in response. "Oh, now the truth comes out!"
"What about you?"
"I'm not a boring Irishman," she said with a hand on her hip.
The way his eyes swept over her shifted Ana's mood from humor to something less laid-back.
"She tells jokes!"
"So how am I doing so far with your story?"
"Pretty accurate so far...do you think you've got me pegged?"
"Not quite...I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet." She pointed to the picture frames.
He left his perch to stand next to her. "By all means, carry on then."
"Hmm." She looked up at him, smirking. "You're sentimental."
Sean's expression went blank.
Ana half-chuckled, half-snorted. "You're such a guy!"
His arm nudged hers. "You say it like it's a bad thing!"
"But you can be impulsive," she added quickly, pointing to a picture of him cliff-diving before moving on, "I wonder what crazy shenanigans you and your friends were up to in these."
"I plead the fifth. Anything else?"
She pointed to the guitars guarding the corner next to the built-in bookcase. Anyone with this many CDs, albums and a gramophone didn't just love listening to music, they had to make it. "Are you in a band?"
"I used to be, yes. It's pretty inevitable when your dad's a music teacher and requires that you play at least one instrument."
"And you chose the guitar."
"It was more by default. I'd get antsy sitting at the piano for more than ten minutes and the guitar was the one thing I was better at than my brother, Duncan. Plus, it's much easier to go around entertaining the neighborhood kids with a guitar than a piano."
"By 'entertain' don't you mean show off?"
"Ha-ha," he said in a wry tone. "You'd think you'd be just a little nicer seeing that I'm making you dinner."
"Didn't you just say you love it when I bust your chops?"
"Technically, no I didn't."
"Alright, counselor." Ana raised her hands in surrender and giggled as she voiced her next thought. "Tell me. Did you have groupies?"
"Well, I didn't find out until my senior year of high school just how much girls like guitar players and boys in a band—that was an added bonus. The 'groupies', as you put it, didn't come around until my college days."
Ana shook her head. "Such artistic commitment," she commented with feigned amazement. "Do you miss it? Playing and performing?"
"Yeah—we were pretty good," he sounded wistful. "I still play and sneak in some writing whenever I can though."
"What happened in Boston...with the band, I mean."
The look on his face more than suggested there was a story there. "I'll tell you some other time," he said before he returned to the kitchen.
"A man of mystery, are we?"
"I'll take that over sentimental any day."
Ana rolled her eyes and followed him.
"Aw. C'mon! What's so bad about being a sentimental guy?"
He looked over his shoulder, his blue eyes incredulous. In fact, he looked as though he was trying not to laugh at her query.
"When's the last time you went out with one more than once?"
Ana wasn't about to confess just how uneventful the dating department had been for some time now.
"Right," he replied to her silence.
"Well there's always a first time for everything." Ana wished she could gobble up the words the instant they tumbled out of her mouth. She cringed inwardly at how presumptuous they must sound. Even worse, Sean actually froze after setting his glass on the island.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
He reclaimed the glass, turned and tipped it in her direction. "Touché, Ana. To the first time."
She felt her face move in something akin to a smile as it overheated. The look that passed between them got her mind spinning again, got her wondering just what the first time would be like. Was he thinking the same thing too? Excitement turned to anxious questions.
Sean's glass landed on the black granite with a clink. "Hey," his voice was soothing as he came to stand in front of her, resting his hands on her shoulders. "Nothing's going to happen that you don't want. Okay?"
Ana nodded, not trusting her voice, not when he was this close and looking like he was going to kiss her. His hands moved over her shoulders, squeezing lightly.
"I know what you're thinking."
Oh, no. Yes!
Ana was dangling between desire and suspense. Sean's hands fell and his eyes sparkled in a way that was becoming familiar.
"You're wondering: 'when's he going to shut up and feed me'," he complained in a squeaky rendition of a feminine voice.
Ana laughed despite her romantic disappointment. "I can only imagine what an annoying little brother you were growing up."
He was quick to back away. "Hey! Be nice!"
"Aw," she said in a baby voice. "Does somebody need a hug?"
Sean stepped into her outstretched arms. With one hand around his waist and the other holding her glass far enough so it wouldn't spill on him, it was Ana on the receiving end of the suggested embrace. "This is no good." His head left the crook of her neck and his hands cupped her frowning face. "I need a kiss."
The last one started with a slow burn. Not this time. This kiss was uninhibited, unapologetic hunger. Sean explored her mouth as though he knew he was welcomed, as though he knew just how to please her. Or was it the other way around? They frantically took turns leading and following.
"Whoah." His voice was like brushed steel.
"Yes," Ana breathed. Words just weren't eloquent enough.
"If we keep that up—"
An extended beep coming from the oven marked their timeout. Ana shook her head, remembering another interruption.
"It's like a cosmic joke...these alarms."
Sean let out a shaky laugh. "Gives new meaning to 'saved by the bell', huh?"
Her feminine pride got a major boost at seeing him a bit unnerved. When he emptied the oven of its contents, the scent of melted cheeses and garlic wafted about.
"That smells incredible!"
"Yeah? I was...I was worried about doing this...if I should do this." This was the first time he seemed uncertain.
"You don't need to be, if it tastes as half as good as it smells, I'm sure it'll be incredible."
He shook his head.
"No—it's not that. I wondered how you would react." His expression softened yet remained tentative. "I know it was difficult for you to speak about your mom the other night...understandably so...but you stayed so... composed, which I think was partly for my sake—while I understand why, you didn't have to worry about that. Not with me."
Ana believed him.
"Death's not a topic people are comfortable with, especially on a first date. Even the people closest to me found it awkward at times, wondering what was the right thing to say or do. And often I didn't even know what to tell them or how to ask for their help. You were great in just listening...and yeah, I didn't want you to feel bad for inadvertently bringing it up."
The solemn look lifted.
"We can always go out if you prefer. Okay?"
Ana raised a hand in protest, moved by his thoughtfulness. "I'm fine. I think if this was a surprise dinner, it might have caught me off guard." She pointed to the casserole dish. "That looks way too good to pass up."
He smiled, his eyes lit up in the way they did when he was in a teasing mood. "As long as you're sure because I can always invite Nicole over tomorrow night—lasagna's even better the second day."
Ana slapped his arm. "Just for that you can do the dishes!"
Sean brought a cloth-covered basket to her nose. He suddenly became penitent. "Even though I made these just for you?"
Ana peeked under the white covering and closed her eyes as she savored the tempting aroma. "Counselor, you present a powerful argument but I still see dishes in your foreseeable future. And I do recall it was you who volunteered to cook me dinner."
"How about I wash and you stack?"
"Um." Ana paused with her arms in an L-position and an index finger tapping her chin. "Nope."
"I'll just have to be creative in getting you to change your mind then. Help me set up outside."
"Better make it good, Sean. I'm not easily impressed."
Ana scooped up the dinnerware.
"I hope that's a promise," he insisted.
Ana was on her way to the French doors in the living when she looked back at him. "Why?"
His expression sent ribbons of awareness to her stomach.
"I love a challenge."
* * * * *
"It's absolutely gorgeous out here," Ana lauded again.
It was like dining in a jewel box—one of his niece's making, in response to the 'strip of Sahara' the backyard had become. A tall curtain of red and violet bougainvillea lined the fence. The scattered garden lights and the string-light lanterns hanging from the pergola above them made for an enchanted setting.
Ana looked up at the slivers of moonlight peeking through the thick cloud of bougainvillea above them. Even the night sounds were soothing. "This is so much better than a restaurant." She leaned back into her chair, her senses utterly content. "Well done, chef." She lifted her glass in salute.
"And you don't have to worry about getting mauled in the parking lot for other folks to see. Not that that stuff isn't fun," Sean deadpanned.
Ana tried to stop the wine from spraying from her mouth and wound up almost choking on it instead. "You okay?" he asked with concerned humor.
Ana nodded as she dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin. "You're too much, you know that?" she reprimanded, trying to keep the laughter from creeping into her voice despite her embarrassment.
Sean grinned and something in his expression changed, making her insides tighten. "Maybe at first, but you'll get used to it." He shook his head in mock admonishment at the expression on her face. "Get your mind out of the gutter and help me clean up."