Basking in the sunny glow of unexpected respite from homelessness—an entire beautiful flat to himself, with a view of the Bay, no less—it dawned on Ross that expecting Kylie to bring celebratory wine was a bit churlish, given that his lux accommodations resulted solely from Robin being smitten with his lovely friend.
After busying himself with unpacking his few belongings and taking a few more photos of his prized toasters in the auspicious setting of A.R.'s gleaming kitchen, Ross set off to purchase some groceries and a celebratory bottle of wine to share with Kylie.
As a result, he could not have seen Robin return home early—one client cancelled due to illness, the other was out of town—or witness Kylie hesitantly enter the Green Street Victorian walkway and pause uncertainly by the first door, sniffing the yellow Lady Banks roses diffidently, as if making up her mind.
Dressed in a splendidly frilly scalloped lace white dress which played most prettily against her brown calves and contrasted equally prettily with her bronzed bare shoulders, Kylie was the picture of youth innocent of her own beauty. With her dark hair swept into a thick braid behind her and a winsome straw hat set jauntily on her head, she'd turned heads on Union Street when she'd left a shop clutching a bottle of wine. Slightly winded by the climb up to Green Street and her haste to reach Ross's temporary abode, she took a deep breath at the lower doorway, inhaling the climbing rose's sweet scent, and thought, how deliciously morose to enter Robin's studio as an uninvited visitor.
Her brow furrowed with dark thoughts, she knocked sharply and hoped Ross was in a civil mood. Thus her astonishment was rather gapingly obvious when Robin opened the door. His dour expression lit up as if a thousand watts of electricity had suddenly been applied by unseen wires and he stammered, "Come in, come in."
Flustered by Robin's presence—Ross had specifically said the first door by the steps—Kylie obeyed with a confused smile and Robin looked nervously about his small studio to confirm it was presentable for a lady. It was too late for any cleanup anyway, he thought, but other than some dust it wasn't too terrible for a bachelor's quarters: a desk of orderly stacks of catalogs, two kendo sticks in the corner behind the folded sofa bed, a twisted length of bristlecone pine branch on the sideboard that served as his one piece of art, a small galley kitchen littered with small samples of flavored coffees, and a battered "Turf Club members only" metal sign partially obscured by the batik curtains adorning the room's one window.
Enthralled by her unexpected appearance, Robin was acutely alive to her every nuance: her hesitancy on his threshold, the faint rustle of her lacey white dress as she entered the room, the scent of her hair, the flash of uncertainty in her alert dark eyes, her open-toed heels, the flushed glow of her brown skin and the transition of her expression from confusion to doubt and then most wonderfully to a guarded interest in her host.
"Here, let me take that," he said, clasping the wine in her hand, and then setting it on the tiny patch of open kitchen counter. "It's awfully thoughtful of you to bring a gift."
Realizing it was too late to explain the wine had been intended for Ross, Kylie flashed a flickering smile and removed her floppy straw hat.
Sizing her up, Robin flashed a white-toothed grin of delight. "I'm so glad you came. You look wonderful." With her hat no longer blocking the light, Robin noticed an imperfection in the warm-rose gloss on her full lips; perhaps she'd been in a hurry that morning, or inadvertently brushed her lower lip with her hand, but for whatever reason the gloss had been smeared slightly. Acutely aware that such a minor imperfection made her even more adorable, Robin was suddenly filled with a powerful urge to muss her lips further, much further, with an enduring kiss.
Shifting uncomfortably in his love-struck gaze, Kylie maintained a thin smile, more of perplexity than delight, and Robin spontaneously hugged her rather more tightly than either expected. "I was afraid you were angry with me," he murmured. "I am so happy you're not."
"Of course I'm not angry," she replied in a new astonishment, and her hopes surged with an uncommon strength at the realization that he'd been pining for her.
Anxious not to overstep any bounds, Robin released her but kept an arm around her slim waist as he lowered his FM-radio voice to coyness. "Do you remember what I said about you coming to my door?"
It was a freighted question, and Kylie said, "Yes—I mean, no," for she remembered quite clearly: when you come to my door, he'd said, then you've decided to make love with me.
Relishing her evasion, Robin said, "It doesn't matter. So how did the interview go? Wait—don't tell me yet. It's a lovely afternoon—let's take a walk." Glancing down at her rather sexy open-toed sandals, Robin inquired, "Are those comfortable for walking?"
Her mind still mulling the possible causes of confusion, Kylie nodded and as Robin closed the door behind them he asked, "How did you know I'd be home? Normally I work until six or so."
"I didn't," Kylie confessed, and then sought an explanation which maintained their mutual pleasure with the outcome of her confusion. "I thought Ross would be here, too, to let me in."
Ushering Kylie through the Victorian's white gate to the sidewalk, Robin said, "Didn't he tell you? We discovered he's terribly allergic to my poor cat Dorothy, so we had to move him upstairs to Alexia's spare bedroom."
"Alexia's? No, he didn't tell me. Isn't that a bit risky?"
"It would be, if either of them knew," Robin replied mordantly. "But since Alexia's house-sitting in Sonoma for the next two weeks, as long as he finds a new place before then, neither will ever know."
"That's rich," Kylie exclaimed as the two turned onto a length of Union Street chockablock with restaurants and boutiques. "But does Ross know whose flat he's in?"
"I thought it better all the way round if neither knew," Robin explained. "So I told him he's staying in my neighbor A.R.'s flat, and I told Alexia that my friend R.T. will be staying in my place, so I'll be using her spare bedroom."
"It's awfully complicated," Kylie said dubiously, and Robin raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "If you have a better plan, I'm all for it. This was the best I could do in a pinch."
"No, you've done wonderfully," Kylie said, touching his shoulder in an endearing affirmation. "Juggling all this to find Ross a refuge—it's more than I could ever do." Shaking her head, Kylie murmured, "But still—if those two only knew."
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.