PublicBookshelf Book Club
Weekly tips on great novels to read.
As five o'clock neared, Melanie suddenly remembered the wine. She took the Sauvignon Blanc out of the fridge to warm slightly and placed the Shiraz in the fridge to cool slightly, then began pacing the floor, anxious for Russ to arrive. When the doorbell rang, she made herself slow down and answer it calmly, even though her heart was racing.
"Hi Russ. Come on in."
Handing her a bottle of Chardonnay, Russ moved into the hall. The apartment was tiny - just two small bedrooms, one of which she used as an office, a small bathroom, small kitchen and decent-sized living room. She had taken it because her unit had a balcony facing a wooded area. It was just big enough for two chairs and a little side table. She had placed several window boxes on the railing with multi-colored impatiens in full bloom, and a pot of geraniums in the corner. It was her favorite spot in the summer when the weather co-operated.
Russ was looking around the living room, taking in the pale blue walls, cream carpet and medium-blue sofa and chair. The landlord had asked her preferences in colors before updating the apartment and she was really pleased with the result. The soft colors lent a peaceful air to the rooms and she had kept knick-knacks and pictures to a minimum so it seemed larger than it actually was.
There was a bookshelf on the end wall of the living room where she had a couple of her favorite family photos, an African violet and a crystal bowl she had found at a yard sale. Her books were a mixture of fiction, all genres, and non-fiction.
As Russ approached the bookshelf, he spied a book on Huna. Pulling it from the shelf, he opened it a random page and started reading.
"Hey, Russ, I thought you came here to visit me!" Melanie grinned, as he looked over at her. "By the way, you can borrow that one, if you like - or any of the others I have on the subject. I think you'll find them quite interesting."
"Thanks. I'll do that. You've really piqued my curiosity."
"Time for the grand tour. Come on - I'll show you the other few feet of space that I have." She led him through the eat-in kitchen, down the hall to her office, bedroom and bathroom. "That's it. What do you think?"
"Very tiny, very cute, very feminine. But I really like your color schemes. Wanna give me a hand with mine when the time comes?"
"Sure, if you trust my judgment."
"I like everything I see - especially the Teddy Bear sitting on your bed. Raising an eyebrow, he grinned at her.
"Well, I can't have a pet in here, so he's the closest I could come to a companion. We've had many long one-sided conversations. I will say he's an excellent listener. Come on. Let's take a glass of wine out to my balcony. Would you like Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc or your Chardonnay?" Melanie led the way to the kitchen, and took down two wine glasses.
"I'll try the Shiraz. That's a new one to me."
Taking the bottle and glasses out to the balcony, she set them on the side table, then went back in for a dish of spicy cheese straws.
"I can see why you like it here, even if it is small. This view almost makes me feel like I'm out in the countryside."
"Oh, look. There's a kitten!" Melanie pointed to the edge of the woods where a little cat was stepping daintily through the long grass.
"Have you ever had a pet, Mel?"
"No, but a friend in school had a little white kitten named Snowball. I just loved it and played with it every time I visited her. Another friend had a dog, a Border Collie, which was always busy. It required a lot of exercise so she kept in good shape just taking it for walks and runs. Those two pets gave me a good insight into what I would or wouldn't want for a pet. Dogs adore their owners, but cats demand that we adore them. They also insist that we allow them their independence. Someday when I can live in a place where I can have a pet, I'm going to have a cat. They are so cool!"
Note to self - get her a kitten. Russ was watching her as she spoke and he could sense how much she really wanted to have a cat.
"What about you? Have you had pets?"
"I was always too busy to care for one. If it wasn't made of Lego blocks or Erector sets, it wouldn't hold my attention."
Sipping wine and chatting about anything and everything, Melanie suddenly looked at her watch and declared, "It's after six. I should start dinner. You can come and watch or you can sit out here and read your book - your choice."
"I'm coming in. Nothing like watching the little woman at work."
"What did you just say?"
"Just kidding! Just kidding! I'd rather keep chatting. Maybe I could help?"
"Big mistake, Russ. Wash your hands. You are going to work, after that little woman crack."
Although the kitchen was small, they managed to work together well. Before long they were seated at the table, wine glasses refilled and dinner under way. Russ had been intrigued by the fact that she had grown the Mung bean sprouts in her kitchen. When she explained how easy it was, and that there were a variety of seeds to choose from - like cress, radish, alfalfa, arugula and various mixtures - he decided it was something he could do as well.
"Just be sure the seeds are organic. After the first soaking, make sure they stay damp. Rinse them at least once every twelve hours, or more often when you think of it. There's nothing like fresh sprouts on a sandwich."
When it was time for dessert, Melanie brought her ice cream pie from the fridge. His eyes lit up and a wide smile brought his dimple out when he looked at the pie.
"Wow! Where did you buy that? I've never seen anything like it!"
"Want the recipe? I can give it to you."
"You made this? You missed your calling, girl!"
"Wait until you taste it. Chocolate mint is my favorite, but you can make it with any flavor of ice cream or frozen yogurt." Handing him a knife, pie lifter, plate and fork, she said, "Help yourself."
Russ had seconds and declared it the best dessert he'd ever had.
"So the way to a man's heart truly is through his stomach." Melanie grinned at him.
When the table was cleared, they took coffee back out on the balcony, knowing their stay would be short because of the mosquitoes, but determined to enjoy the last rays of the setting sun, and each others' company. After another enjoyable chat, they slapped mosquitoes simultaneously, and laughed as they rose to go inside.
"Melanie, I have enjoyed this evening more than I can say. You are a great cook, an interesting conversationalist, and you have a terrific sense of humor."
"Careful, Russ. I might get a swelled head. By the way, don't forget to take your book with you."
"Sounds like that's my cue to leave."
"Not at all. I just didn't want you to forget the book. We don't have to work tomorrow, so there's no rush." Melanie was loath to have the evening end.
"Nevertheless, I think I'll take myself off. I have some work I need to catch up on after being away." What he didn't say was how difficult it was to keep his distance if they were inside in her cozy living room. It was too soon and he didn't want to take a chance and spoil everything. Picking up the book on Huna, he walked over, opened the door, and said, "Thanks again, Melanie. Goodnight." And he was gone.
Again Melanie was left wondering about him. Why wasn't he making a move on her? Not that she desperately wanted him to. She knew she wasn't ready for another close relationship yet, but his behavior was most unusual.
On Wednesday morning, he called. "Hi Melanie. Can you meet me at Kelly's at twelve? I'm really snowed under here, so I thought I could buy you lunch and tell you what insurance coverage I've decided to put in place." What he left unsaid was the fact that he just wanted to see her again.
"I never turn down a free lunch! See you there."
Melanie was excited for the rest of the morning, watching the clock, and wondering if she looked okay. At eleven-thirty she went into the washroom, checked her hair and makeup, and decided she was presentable. She didn't stop to wonder why she was so nervous, when she was just meeting a friend to discuss business.
Arriving at Kelly's, she found Russ already seated in a back booth with a coffee in front of him.
"Am I late?" Melanie sat down across from him.
"I'm early. Wanted to get us a good spot for conducting a business meeting." He grinned at her.
"So - business first, or lunch?"
"Let's get the business out of the way first, then we can have a relaxed meal."
Pausing as the waiter poured her a coffee, Melanie had a good idea which quote he would accept.
"This was a really easy choice to make. You've sold me. I'll take the second option with the homeowners policy and attached builders risk. We're breaking ground on Monday."
"Okay. I'll arrange to have the coverage bound as of Monday morning and you'll have your policy within thirty days. By the way, you know that we could have accomplished this by one simple phone call, right?"
"Yeah, but then I would have missed lunch with my favorite pal." His grin was wide, and almost triumphant.
The waiter had been keeping an eye on their table and when she had closed her briefcase, he approached and asked if they were ready to order.
Melanie chose a turkey sandwich on toasted brown, while Russ had the smoked meat on rye with fries, and a dill pickle, which he informed her, was his vegetable. "I don't eat a lot of fries, but Kelly's makes the best. What can I say?"
Taking a couple from his plate, Melanie ate them and said, "You are right. They are the best!"
"Like you didn't already know that! Don't try and tell me you've never eaten them before."
"Guilty as charged, but I also try and stay away from them. They really aren't a healthy food choice. By the way, how's the Huna book coming along? Keeping your attention?"
"It's fascinating! I'm having a hard time putting it aside so I can get my work done. I'm almost finished it, but I think I'll have to re-read it - maybe more than once. It's a whole new way of thinking and looking at things."
Pausing a moment to finish his coffee, he looked over at her with his adorable little-boy face, the dimple showing and a definite twinkle in his eye. "I have an idea. Let's get together Saturday night and you can explain some of the stuff I'm having trouble with. I'll pick up some Chinese food when I pick you up. Then I'll pick your brain. How does that sound?" He again raised an eyebrow and waited for her response.
"Like a whole lot of picking to me. Like I said on the phone, I never turn down a free meal. You've got yourself a deal."
Glancing at her watch, Melanie exclaimed, "I've gotta run. I have a client coming in to see me shortly. Thanks for lunch. I'll put coverage in place for you. See you Saturday." And this time she was the one who was gone first.