Want to start at the beginning?
She put down her menu. For the moment she needed to focus on the bird in hand.
“Did you decide?” Mike asked, closing his own menu.
“I think I’m going to try number seven, but what the heck are basic side dishes?” Colleen folded her hands on the table to keep her fingers from fidgeting.
“They bring out a dozen or so little bowls. I never have figured out what they are, but they’re good. Some of them are spicy, some are kinda sweet. I think one of them is seaweed.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll see when they get here. Warn me about the spicy ones, okay? No fair letting me eat something that’ll make me cry.”
“I’ll do my best to keep from making you cry,” he said seriously.
Colleen licked her lips and looked down at the table. ‘I’ll do my best to keep from making you cry?’ What was that supposed to mean? Anything? Nothing? Was she reading into things too much? Too little? She had a cloth napkin, a spoon and a pair of chopsticks. “Do they let you have forks?”
“I think you can get one. Why?”
“I’ve never eaten with chopsticks.”
The waitress arrived with their drinks and Mike ordered for them. He seemed pretty knowledgeable so Colleen sipped her coconut milk. It was very sweet despite its suspicious dirty dishwater color. She pulled out her chopsticks and looked at them. They were attached at one end.
“Here, you hold them like this.” Mike pulled out his and broke them apart. Colleen studied the way he held them and tried to copy it. “Let me show you.” He reached across the table and formed her hands around the sticks. “See, this bottom one stays still. You use the top one to pinch the bite of food you want.” He closed his hands around hers to demonstrate.
“Oh, I see.” She wiggled the sticks. “I hope I can manage to make them work with food.”
“It takes practice.” He leaned on the table. “So what kinds of things do you like to read?”
“I like to read anything I can get my hands on.”
“Have you read every book in your store?”
“No, I don’t have that much free time. I have read a couple out of each section though. I read a lot of canon literature for my degree. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries. I really like murder mysteries. I think it’s Scott’s fault. He’s studying to be a detective.”
“Scott is your cousin’s husband.”
“Yeah. While I was staying with them when I first moved out here he started telling me about some of his cases. Laura thinks it’s creepy, but I think it’s just fascinating. So I’m reading my way through the mystery section.”
The waitress appeared and set a dozen small white bowls on the table between them. Then she disappeared and returned with a plate of rice for each of them. Mike pointed out the two he knew were hot and tasted a third and announced that it was safe. Colleen struggled with her chopsticks, watching his hands and trying to copy what he did. She had managed to try six of the side dishes without dropping too much on the table before the waitress returned with their meals sizzling on cast iron dishes.
“This is great,” Colleen said after tasting the first bite. “I always wondered how people who ate rice managed with chopsticks, but it’s sticky so you can pick up little clumps.” She tried another bite. “You know, these things would be a great diet aid. You can eat anything you want but you have to eat it with chopsticks.”
Mike gestured with the chopsticks. “You know, it’s not hard to spear a donut with these things.”
“I never said it was a perfect plan.” Colleen rested her chopsticks in her bowl and started rubbing her hand. Her fingers felt like they wanted to cramp around the sticks.
“Hand getting tired?”
“Yeah. I guess I’m not used to using it like this.”
“Here, I’ll rub it for you.” Mike took her hand in both his and started rubbing it.
Colleen sighed. Mike’s touch didn’t have the electric jolt of Dan’s, but he was warm and gentle. His long, thin fingers worked the ache out of the palm of her hand. When he finished, he just held it for a minute looking at her. Then he smiled and let her go. She drew her hand back across the table feeling slightly out of breath, rearranged her chopsticks and worked at her meal.
Mike walked her up to her apartment door.
Colleen looked at the floor. “I’d invite you in, but my roommate should be home from work and I don’t want to surprise her in her bathrobe.”
“No problem.” He slid his hand down her arm until he found her fingers. “I had a really good time tonight.”
“So did I.” She looked into his eyes. He was so comfortable. So sweet.
“Would you mind if I called you?”
“No, I wouldn’t mind at all.” She considered saying she would look forward to it, but she didn’t want to pressure him. And with thoughts of Dan lingering in the back of her mind she wasn’t sure if she really would.
He smiled. “Would you mind if I kissed you?”
Colleen licked her lips. How long had it been since she’d been posed that question? “No, I wouldn’t mind that either.”
Mike leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips. He lingered for a moment before stepping back. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Okay.” She smiled, still too dazed by the kiss to straighten out her thoughts. “Tomorrow then. I should be home at least part of the day.”
“Then I’ll try to call the part you’re home.” He squeezed her hand. “Good night.”
“G’night.” Colleen watched him walk down the hall before she opened the door behind her.
Sonya was sitting on the floor in her bathrobe eating a bowl of ice cream and watching the late show. “So?”
Colleen fell over the arm of the couch onto her back. “Sonya, I am in so much trouble.”
Colleen looked at her. “I like them both.”
“Get out. Both? Both who?” Sonya leaned forward, ice cream forgotten in front of her.
“My cousin introduced me to her husband’s partner today at lunch.”
“Oh baby. Blond, blue eyes. Nice build. A voice like I don’t know what. Really … really nice. He’s calling me tomorrow.”
“And he’s a cop?”
“He’s a cop.”
“And this guy?”
Colleen rolled her head so she could stare at the ceiling again. “Black hair, brown eyes. Very nice build. He took me for Korean food and we went for a walk on the beach. He brought the flowers.”
“That is so romantic.” Sonya moaned.
“He’s calling me tomorrow.”
Sonya squealed, kicking her feet against the floor. “They’re both calling tomorrow? I open. Damn. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, hey, it’s not like you’re marryin’ ‘em.” Sonya stood up and collected her bowl. “Take the free meals when you can get ‘em. See you tomorrow night. Maybe.”