Wrapping the large white towel around her, Alexia turned off the lights and flopped onto her soft pink comforter. Unless it was a cold night, she usually slept in the nude; what had once been daring as a young teen was now merely comfort. As she lay in the dark, she knew that despite the meal and the wine, sleep was still far away, trudging slowly toward her; for her mind swirled with the memories of the day and ruminations on her unexpected dinner.
Though she rarely heard any sounds from Robin's studio, tonight muffled sounds rose through the hardwood flooring. Her thoughts flitted briefly to Robin, and her foolish wish on the walkway that he might comfort her; and in a cruel irony, the sounds drifting up from below became rhythmic, and she realized with a stab of pained recognition that Robin and another woman were making love. It was stupid of me to assume he didn't have a girlfriend, she berated herself; he's too young and good-looking not to have a love interest. How typical of me to think he was available just because I’d flung myself at him.
As if her newfound pang of jealousy wasn't enough, Alexia heard Janson and Dorrie enter their bedroom, and soon their old bed began its rhythmic swaying. With the creaks and sighs coming from above and below, it was as if the house had suddenly set sail on the Pacific and was wallowing in choppy seas.
Frustration, humiliation and a profound dissatisfaction all rose to taunt her, and Alexia arose and padded barefoot out to the darkened living room. Opening the cabinet beside her dolls, she pulled out a brandy glass and a bottle of port, and then made her way to the sofa. Pouring the dark liquid in the glass, she took a sip and set both bottle and glass on the low coffee table.
As she gazed out at the pinprick lights on the Bay, she was startled by a man's voice. "I'm rather unobtrusive,” Ross said softly. "Not just here, but in life."
Alexia turned sharply and realized her new housemate had been curled up at the other end of the sofa, nearly invisible in the room's shadows.
Aware of both the suggestiveness of her attire—for she still wore only the white towel—and her duties as hostess, Alexia said, "I'll get you a glass if you like port."
"That would be lovely, thank you."
The pixies' wings began to buzz when they were frustrated, and Hanover the cat might have sensed the faint vibrations, for he padded out to the quiet of the kitchen. The humans, of course, detected nothing but the rather embarrassing creaking of the bed upstairs, and as Alexia filled Ross's glass with port, the pixies renewed their efforts, dosing Alexia again with their golden dust.
"You know, this is a smoking jacket," Ross said conversationally. "More a robe than a jacket, really. And now, because of the fire, I have a smoking jacket that smells of smoke. Rather ironic, isn't it?" Taking a sniff, he asked, "Can you smell it?"
"Faintly," Alexia replied. "I've always loved the smell of wood smoke."
Drawing close to her, Ross said, "Here. Try now."
Alexia sniffed the air near his jacket, and murmured, "Hmm."
"If you close your eyes, you can smell better," he said helpfully.
"Is that true?"
"Try it." Alexia closed her eyes, and reckoned that perhaps it was true; she did smell the faint odor of smoke, and the soft alcoholic blossom of the port.
"When I close my eyes, I smell your hair," Ross said, and his sheepish tone struck Alexia as almost apologetic.
"Does it smell nice?"
The two fell into a mutual embarrassment fed both by the direction of their conversation and the rising crescendos of the lovers above. In their disquiet, each raised the port to their lips and drank rather more deeply than they would have had each been alone.
"Are your eyes still closed?" Ross asked lightly.
"Yes," Alexia replied. "Why?"
"It's rather like we're camping," he replied in a genial tone. "You can smell the wood smoke, it's dark, and we're sharing a glass of port to ward off the chill."
"Hmm," Alexia murmured, for she liked his imagery.
"Now all we need is s'mores," Ross said. "Actually, there's one dessert I want more than anything but I can't even ask for it."
"Of course you can," Alexia said.
"But it's probably not available."
"Why? Is it that rare?"
"There's only one in the whole world."
Alexia's curiosity made her open her eyes, and she found Ross looking at her rather timidly, like a dog hoping for a pat on the head. "You've kept me in suspense long enough," she said, and Ross shrugged bashfully.
"I'd like to taste your lips," he said very softly, and with a wistfulness which reminded Alexia of herself. Without realizing she was practically adrift in pixie dust, Alexia listened to the ardent lovers above in a state of heightened vulnerability, desire and envy and found herself asking in a small wounded voice, "Were you just being polite when you said I was sexy?"
In a tone rich with sincerity Ross replied, "I think you know I was thunderstruck and very impolitely enthusiastic."
Conceding to the truth of his confession, Alexia murmured, "Since you made dinner, I suppose I can supply dessert."
"Close your eyes," Ross whispered. "The smell of smoke is romantic, isn't it?"
Now the pixies were painfully aware that even their magic would fail if a couple's first kiss went awry, and they hovered over the pair anxiously, awaiting the verdict of Nature.
To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.