I danced around the kitchen, singing along to the radio. By the smell, I was pretty sure my taco casserole – about the only decent thing I could cook – was done. I pulled it out of the oven and looked at it. Not fancy at all, but not burnt and smelled pretty good. I pursed my lips as I looked at it. It didn’t look as nice as my mom’s always did. It’s a good thing Loralee couldn’t make it tonight – she’d laugh me out of the kitchen. And then try to teach me to cook yet again. She’d tried once or twice but to little avail. I just didn’t seem to have a talent for cooking.
I knew it was bad for me and my wallet, but I usually went out or bought something premade at the store rather than cook a real meal. For some reason which had sounded good a couple nights ago, I’d decided to celebrate my promotion by cooking for my friends. I’d invited Loralee, Tommy, Nora, and Luc over, but Luc was the only one who was coming. It had been quite a while since more than two of us had managed to hang out at once and tonight was no exception. For a moment, I thought of Josh and all the nights we had hung out together – before we dated and during the times when we were happy together. He’d been a great cook, actually. For just the briefest instant, I almost picked up my phone and invited him over tonight; I ached to extend an olive branch to him and have my friend back. My hand actually twitched towards my phone before I purposefully pushed the thought aside. One day, if I was very lucky, we could mend our relationship, but it was much too soon now. And the way to do it wasn’t by hanging out with my ex and the guy he accused me of cheating on him with.
I sat the casserole down on the counter next to two of the three bottles of wine I’d bought. It was a very inexpensive wine, but I rarely splurged on alcohol at all. Evidently, I should’ve only bought the one, but I supposed the unused stuff would keep.
With a knock on the door, I was in motion towards the living room and pulled the door of my ground-floor apartment open. I smiled as Luc stepped inside, all depressing thoughts forgotten. “Hey, I’m glad you came.”
“Are you kidding? Like I’d miss the chance to celebrate.” He grinned and leaned in to hug me, the warm scent of pine enveloping me as surely as his arms. “I knew you’d get that promotion, Alison. You’ve been working hard.”
I flushed a little, stepping more into the living room. “Oh, stop it. It’s not like I’ve been working there for years. It was just a few months ago I moved here.”
“Almost eight months. Don’t be humble. It’s about time they recognized you.”
“Well, thank you,” I huffed softly. Even though I’d decided to throw this little “party,” I wasn’t so comfortable with the praise. I led him into the kitchen and got down a couple plates. “Would you pour us some wine?”
He smiled. “You supplied booze? Hot dang.”
“Don’t get too excited. It’s one step up from a box.”
“They make box wine?” He looked at me incredulously.
I snorted softly as I scooped us servings of casserole. “Yes, rich boy, they do.”
He stuck his tongue out at me. “I take that as a compliment, thank you very much.” He poured the wine and sat down. “So, you copped out and bought the cheap stuff. And you cooked – didn’t even spring for a restaurant! You damn miser.”
I sat the plates down and took a seat. “Have you seen this place? You’re lucky we’re not having fried bologna.”
“Ooh, fried? Aren’t you fancy.”
I almost aspirated wine. Coughing, I kicked him under the table. “Dork. So how are classes?”
“They’re good. Exhausting, but good.”
“I don’t envy you,” I said with a smile. “Science is not my forte.” The business world I understood, but I was completely lost in anything but an elementary science class, much less the advanced levels of physics Luc was entrenched in. “You sure you don’t want to do something easier?”
He snorted softly. “No. I like science. Figuring out what makes things tick and all. Mom keeps urging me towards the medical tract, though. I know she’d like for me to be her protégée and take over the hospital after her, but I’d really rather not actually cut people up. I’ll stick to the lab.”
I lifted my wine glass to him. “To curing cancer, yeah?”
He laughed softly. “I don’t know about that. How about to making a difference?”
“I like the sound of that.” We touched our glasses together and drank. My eyes met his over the rim of my glass and a slight flush rode up my neck.
We finished our meal in semi-silence, a lull having fallen over us after the toast. There was something in the air that became stronger after each glass of wine. I caught myself sneaking looks over at him as I ate. His hair looked soft; I waned to test that theory and run my fingers through it. I noticed the fullness of his lips as he took another drink. Were they as soft as they looked?
What was going on with me? I’d noticed years ago that Luc was attractive, but I’d never really thought about how attractive he was. It had to be the wine. I should stop drinking.
Luc rose to his feet to take his plate to the kitchen. “Hey, we finished that bottle. Want me to open another?”
I looked back at him. I knew I should say no. “Yeah, why not?” I got up, just a little unsteady, and went into the living room. Luc joined me a moment later with a fresh bottle of wine.
I looked over at him after he’d refilled both of our glasses and taken a seat. “Are you seeing anyone?”
He blinked at me in surprise. “Ah, no. No, I’m not.”
“Why not? There have to be women who would love to go out with you.”
He cleared his throat and took a long drink from his glass. “Just busy, I guess. I had more time in high school, but you know how college is.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I took a drink and sat my empty glass down on the coffee table. “I stopped seeing that guy from work.”
His eyes sharpened on me. “You did?”
“It just didn’t feel right. He’s nice and all, but I’m just not interested in him like that.”
Luc drained his glass and stayed quiet for a minute, but his eyes never left mine. What is he thinking? I wondered. Finally, he said in a low voice, “Is there someone you are interested in?”
My breath hitched softly. You should stop now, cautioned a quiet voice at the back of my mind. Do you want to ruin another friendship? I was almost ready to listen to the voice when Luc closed the distance between us and took my mouth with his. What could I do but melt into him?