Nelson watched Chloe twirl about the kitchen. She moved between the stove and the fridge as though part of a foreign, exotic dance. She was kind enough to pretend she didn’t notice him staring awkwardly. Or maybe she just tolerated him because he was her husband’s friend.
Then again, he mused, she may not even know I’m looking at her.
It didn’t matter, he decided, because here she was before him and he was spellbound. Tonight, she wore a simple black dress. A long, brightly patterned bohemian scarf was knotted behind her neck to keep it out of the way as she cooked. Her feet were bare. They weren’t small or even dainty, but they moved gracefully, tapping out a pleasant rhythm as she crossed the floor.
The light in the kitchen was low and soft. Jazz guitar drifted from the stereo, gilding the edges of the moment. Nelson felt warm, comforted and safe. There was nowhere else he would rather have been on this night, or any night.
If I talked to her, he thought, it might force my mind to focus on other things. It might free me from this trance.
He cleared his throat and began to tell her about the music he had been listening to. He’d discovered a new artist at the shop around the corner from his apartment. Immediately, his mind was transported into the stories he was recounting, the stories of artists and songs and notes. He relaxed into the sweet release that came with thinking about music. He allowed himself to inhabit the details of his descriptions, to walk around between the words and images that came to him. This was the way his brain worked. He had never really considered it to be any different from the way other people thought.
He didn’t notice that he was rambling; he never did. Somewhere in the back of his mind he imagined that she was as interested in the stories as he was.
* * *
Chloe frowned and tried to concentrate. She was sure she was forgetting something.
She was aware that Nelson was looking at her, or at least, looking towards her, and this distracted her. She wondered what he thought of when he stared into space like that. She wished he would go to find her husband, talk to him about the music he so loved. At least David knew more about music and could take part in the conversation. Not that it was easy to interrupt the monologue.
No, that was mean. She felt sorry for Nelson; he lived alone, and she was happy enough to have him over every now and then. But she couldn’t handle the awkwardness or the talking. She didn’t really know how to respond and anyway, she couldn’t concentrate on cooking a meal with all those words coming at her.
* * *
David could hear Nelson chatting to Chloe in the kitchen. He smiled, happy that his old friend and his wife got along so well. His wife liked stories and his friend liked to tell them. It was a perfect, easy way to spend an evening.
David continued to pour over the plans for his client’s house. He wanted to make sure they were just right before he sent them off. Only then would he be able to relax and enjoy dinner. As he double-checked everything, he breathed in deeply, delighting in the aromas wafting up from the kitchen.
* * *
“That was nice,” said David, more to himself than to Chloe, as he closed the front door. She had already cleaned up in the dining room while he and Nelson had finished off the evening listening to music in the living room. She was just turning off the lights in the kitchen.
“Did you have a nice evening?” he asked.
“Mmm,” she replied. He didn’t notice that she kept her gaze and her tone subdued.
“Thank you for dinner. It’s always so great to see Nelson. I’m glad you two get along.”
This time, she looked up to meet his eyes. She was ready to say something about how awkward things were with Nelson, but when David smiled at her, all she could do was smile back.
“I’m glad you had a nice evening,” she said.