"A Napa Valley cab," Ross stated. "You can't go wrong with that, especially from this year." Of course his knowledge had been borrowed from the store owner, but nonetheless Alexia nodded agreeably, and then glanced at the stove and the pots issuing forth steam.
"Don't worry," Ross assured her quickly. "I'll clean up afterward. You'll never even know I was in here."
Hanover meowed a loud demand for more rib-eye, and Ross rushed to the stove to serve the asparagus, red potatoes and steak. "Come. come, sit down and tell me about your day," he said to Alexia, and in a dreamlike state of suspended judgment—a state born of tattered emotions and near-starvation—she accepted the invitation and sat down at her own table to a meal she had not prepared.
Congratulating himself on the foresight to have prepared dinner for a female companion, Ross effused about his methods of pan-frying steak in olive oil and incrusting the halved red potatoes with Provence herbs. Having absorbed a soothing gulp of wine, Alexia sat down and reckoned that though she studiously avoided eating animals with large, soft, sad eyes, in this one instance hunger demanded an exception; and silently thanking the poor unknown cow for its sacrifice, she tucked into the savory grilled meat with a gusto which equaled or surpassed that of her meowing cat.
Between bites and sips of wine, she asked, "Where is Robin?"
"I have no idea," Ross replied amiably, "but the reason I am here and he is not is that I was horribly, irreconcilably allergic to his poor dear little cat. Meanwhile, Hanover and I hit off it splendidly at once." The man's ability to befriend her cat, something which had felt threatening at first, now struck Alexia as entirely positive, and she smiled warmly for the first time that evening, or indeed, that day.
"How could you possibly know I would be coming home absolutely bedraggled and famished?"
The ice suddenly thinned beneath his feet, and Ross gazed at her a moment with admiring eyes while he pondered his response.
Shrugging, he said quietly, "No one could have known that. But for some reason I hoped a beautiful young woman full of life and charm would appear to join me. And miracles of miracles, you have."
That too was absolutely true, and Alexia was taken aback by the seeming inevitability of this nourishing surprise, and by the unexpected but clearly sincere affection and kindness being lavished on her by this unexpected guest. He was neither handsome nor ugly, average in every way except for his mannerisms and speech, which spoke of some inner sensitivity that had quickly overcome her initial desire to send him packing.
Had Kylie appeared as Ross had hoped, he'd planned to startle her with this meal; for he'd once taken great pride in his cooking, back in the days of his marriage. But when the marriage crumbled, so too had his pride, and he'd fallen into the easy sloth of frozen food, take-out burritos and an occasional apple. In deciding to remake his life after the fire, he'd determined to start cooking real food again; and with Alexia's gleaming kitchen beckoning to his latent but not forgotten skills, it had been less trouble than he's expected to prepare a worthy meal.
"Now before you tell me why you came home, let me say that while your early arrival has made this a wonderfully happy day for me, I can see it was not a good day for you."
"It was a horrible day," Alexia confessed, and with a sympathetic listener, the warm food and the full-bodied wine, her natural restraint gave way and she recounted the entire sad story of Ruby's unexpected death and her own travails.
As Alexia bared her vulnerabilities, Ross's infatuation with her overflowed into love; for as a vulnerable creature himself, nothing sparked his sympathy and indeed his deepest emotions—compassion, yearning and the desire to form the most intimate bonds—more than a vulnerable, ravishingly attractive woman.
As the pair finished the last of the wine, Ross offered a tale of pets and loss which he confessed had remained a secret, even from his ex-wife. For fearing ridicule, he'd kept the story of the parrot he'd grudgingly inherited safely locked within his memory. As Alexia listened, transfixed by his hesitancy and sensitivity, he described how he'd been won over by the bird's extraordinary cleverness. And thus, when Andromeda had finally passed away, his grief had been as outsized as his affection for the clever bird with such an engaging personality. Knowing his loss would be ridiculed by cat and dog lovers, he'd kept his sadness to himself until this very moment.
This sharing of secret mourning touched Alexia more than she could have predicted, for it aligned precisely with own sense that no one could understand her loss, as Ruby had not been her pet, and therefore she would have to mourn alone—a situation bound to make the mourning ever heavier.
At this critical juncture of entwined sympathies and the intimacy of repressed emotions entrusted to another, three things happened in the house on Green Street, only one of which Ross and Alexia detected.
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.
New video with CHS and Gordon Long (25 min.): 2013 Themes:
New instrumental song (5:36) by CHS and Coconut Charlie: Alex and Daz Theme (the characters in I-State Lines -- one of My Novels).