"There's absolutely no reason they ever have to find out," Robin reassured her. Stopping by a delightful outdoor cafe in the Parisian style, Robin lifted Kylie's straw hat to gaze at her theatrically. "You look famished.”
"Do I look that hungry?"
"To my practiced eye—yes."
"I did skip lunch to rush over here," Kylie confessed, and then noting the implication gladdened Robin's heart perhaps too much, stammered, "I mean, I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help settle Ross in."
"Of course," Robin replied smoothly. "But it's all taken care of, so let's eat. How about this place?"
Kylie made a show of glancing at the day's posted menu and then turned to Robin in guilt-ridden hesitancy. "I didn't call Ross back yet. I don't want him to think I ignored his invitation."
Anxious not to disrupt the delicate alignment of chance and renewed romance, Robin suggested, "Just tell him you've been delayed. After all, you are starving."
"No need to exaggerate," Kylie said, for even this modest white lie weighed on her.
"Well then, let's go back."
"No, I just want to call him." Accessing her phone's menu, Kylie selected Ross's number and then smiled coyly at Robin while the call went through. Unbeknownst to Kylie, Ross was on foot just a few blocks away; but having left his phone on the dresser in his temporary quarters, he did not receive her call.
Turning away from the street traffic, Kylie cupped her phone and left a message describing her delay, and promised to call again later. Her guilt assuaged, she accompanied Robin into the bistro thinking, This day is turning out much better than it started.
* * *
To an observer, it might have seemed that Kylie's pleasure in the day was on a see-saw with Ross's. When Ross was high in the air, delighting in his airy new refuge and the knowledge that his cherished toaster collection was unharmed, Kylie was trodding the hard bitter ground of disappointment. Still smarting from her loss of Robin's romantic interest, she knew her enthusiasm for the grant-writing position had been transparently ersatz; as a result, the interview had dragged on in a dismal ritual with an easily foreseen dead-end.
Later, after a delightful lunch of goat cheese crepes interspersed with giggles and dewy-eyed glances, Kylie joined hands with Robin and walked to the immensely romantic domed magnificence of the Palace of Fine Arts in a daze of hope restored and happy anticipation. Meanwhile, Ross was falling with gravity's full weight to the rocky soil of frustration. His return call to Kylie had gone unanswered, and he muttered aloud, "What good is good fortune if there's nobody to celebrate it with?"
Speaking sotto voice to the unseen cat, Ross offered, "Hey, Hanover. How about sharing a kitty bowl of nice Cabernet with me?"
"Huh," Ross snorted as the cat gazed curiously at him. "I thought as much. Another loner."
Casting about for a project to relieve his boredom, Ross cursed himself for almost forgetting to file his application to the Vintage Appliance World show in Las Vegas. Although he hesitated to use the owner's desktop computer without her permission, permission was not possible; and with the deadline mere hours away, the only alternative was to file it from someone else's computer. And since he had no friends in San Francisco, it was easier to shelve his ethics for an hour than catch a bus or BART back to the East Bay.
Resisting the urge to pry—since there was no password required, he could easily have opened this A.R.'s email—Ross plugged in his digital camera, loaded the photos and then spent the afternoon perfecting the images and his online application. As he sat in his unknown hostess's artful living room, Ross glanced between the vintage dolls in their sleek Japanese cabinets and the film posters on the walls and reckoned it was some sort of cosmic, parallel-universe type of coincidence that A.R. seemed to value the same things as GreenDollGal.
The photos finally met his exacting standards, and he told himself with steely determination, This is for the money, Honey. Despite that wretched GreenDollGal's interference and being burned out of my house, I'm still getting in as a featured collector, not a lowly spectator. Taking a deep breath, he clicked the mouse button and filed the application.
"Hanover, I refuse to wallow in self-pity any longer," he announced. "I'm taking a shower, shaving, dressing in my finest available clothing, and sitting down to a fabulous steak dinner and silky-smooth Cabernet. And by Jupiter, you'll get your share of morsels, too. We celebrate together, or not at all."
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.
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