Just a Number(10)

By: A. D. Ryan

“Oh, no. I’ll pay for the wine,” she responds. “It’s fine.”

“Amy, don’t be ridiculous,” I order with a smile. “Just put the damn wine on the counter and let me take care of it. It’s the least I can do considering your dad’s letting me stay for the weekend and...well, after last night.”

The clerk looks between us, almost knowingly, and I notice her cheeks warm with color as she sets the four bottles on the counter so he can ring them through. Sensing her unease, I am quick to pay, and we gather our things and head back to the house.

It’s almost two in the afternoon when we arrive back at the house, and Amy places the turkey in the sink to thaw entirely before getting started on the pies. Grabbing a couple of wine glasses from the cupboard, she looks to me and smiles. “Owen, would you like a glass of wine?”

“I’d love one, thanks,” I accept, leaning on the island where she’s laid the ingredients for the piecrusts haphazardly. “You need a hand?”

She seems surprised by my offer, and honestly, I am a little too; I don’t know how to bake a pie. “Really?” I nod. “Okay. Yeah.” She pours us each a glass of red, and we each take a sip before starting on the piecrusts.

Conversation comes a little easier as we drink, measure, and mix together. We’re on our second glass of wine, and the alcohol has already started to warm my blood, making my limbs begin to tingle as it travels through me. Amy seems to be relaxing a little more after this morning, too. Trying to keep the conversation going, I ask her about school, truly interested, especially when she tells me she wants to pursue a career in journalism.

“Well, you always did have a knack for sticking your nose in other people’s business,” I tease. “This time, you’ll actually get paid for it.”

Mouth agape, she stares at me wide-eyed as she scoops up some of the flour from the counter and tosses it at me playfully. “Was that really called for?” she demands with a laugh as I bring my arms up to shield myself from her second attack.

Our laughter fills the kitchen as I retaliate, picking up a pinch of flour and tossing it at her. The dough and wine are forgotten as we begin flinging bits of flour at each other. Her hair and shirt are covered in flour dust, so I can only imagine the state I’m in.

Seeing her with flour scattered in her hair and specks of it on her cheeks causes the air to shift. We chase each other around the kitchen, and I want nothing more than to kiss her…but know I can’t. It would be wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, is what I keep telling myself as I advance on her like a lion on an unsuspecting gazelle.

The minute I side-step the island to approach her, she backs away, holding her hands in front of her in surrender. “Wait,” she pleads through a fit of giggles as I gather more flour in my hand. “You don’t want to do this.”

“Don’t I?” I demand, my voice low, eyes locked on hers. As I close the distance between us, I not only see that she’s having as much fun as I am, but there’s something else in her expressive eyes that reminds me of earlier. It’s a combination of a few things, but the most dominant emotion I can see is desire.

When the doorbell rings, she moves to duck around me. “I’ll get it!” she exclaims, sliding around my body. Because I purposefully didn’t leave much room between the end of the island and the wall, her body winds up brushing up against mine, and her hands instinctively reach out to graze my waist as she slips by, leaving two floury handprints that I don’t think twice about as she dashes to the front door, laughing.

“When I get back in there, I expect that kitchen to be clean and my wine glass to be full!” I don’t think she’s at all serious, but I fill her wine glass anyway, and start to sweep the flour from the floor with a laugh.

However, when I hear the front door open and Amy’s laughter cease, I stop sweeping and focus on who is at the door. There’s a sharp inhale that I assume comes from Amy before she says, “Gr-Gretchen.”

5. 1, 2, 3 Red Light

I stand there, eyes wide and mouth agape while Gretchen simply smiles. But it’s not warm and friendly. Her light, expertly highlighted hair is pulled back, and her makeup is immaculate, as usual.