Andy was in the bathroom, gratefully loosening his tie, when he heard the windstorm's beginnings. First there was a low whistle in the distance—it reminded him of the trains that ran along the river in his boyhood days—then suddenly a large sheet-metal sign slammed against the window behind him. He whirled and saw the sign blow away just as Debra staggered into the front door, the wind snatching her towel as she struggled to close the door.
At five-two a foot shorter than her lover, wet black hair and upturned nose, she finally banged the bolt home, turned and leaned against the door, panting. "My God!" she nearly shouted, her hair and swim suit dripping on the carpet. "Feels like a fucking hurricane out there!"
"In Southern California?" he asked with a grin. "Girl, you ought to see Carolina." They both heard the alarm clock beeping in the bedroom. "Damn—power's out?"
"Yup. The spa quit running. Must be lines down." The apartment complex, Casa Mediteranée, featured a pool and spa for its eight-hundred-some tenants.
His grin widened. "Well, ain't that a shame? I know how you love the feel of them water jets." He made the word 'feel' last about four seconds. Debra struggled for a moment, then grinned. She colored prettily beneath her freckles, took a step to the sofa, picked up a pillow and hurled it at him. He dodged, laughing, then reached through the bathroom door, found a towel, and tossed it to her.
As she dried off, Andy headed for the kitchen. In one drawer or another, he knew he'd find utility candles. And somewhere there were wooden matches. Which he wouldn't need, he reflected, if Debra hadn't convinced him to quit smoking. She hadn't nagged. She merely assured him she would move out if he didn't quit.
By the time Debra slipped out of her swimsuit and into jeans and a crisp linen blouse, Andy had a log in the fireplace, flames snapping this way and that. "Damn windows leak," he muttered. Despite the wind's ferocity, it wasn't terribly cold, for these were Santa Ana winds, blowing in over the Cajon Pass from the high desert. The chill would arrive soon enough, though, for the desert's daytime heat plummeted the moment the sun sank.
"If we lived in a house, you could seal the windows," she said, bumping him with a rounded hip for access to the fire's warmth. "Couldn't ya, Stud?"
He grinned. Andy worked at a Home Depot, and was proficient at home repairs. "Just a little weather-stripping and glue, that's all she'd take."
"My hero," she breathed, batting her Italian lashes. "And we might not have an electric range with little electric pirates."
"That's 'pilots,' honey."
"Pilots, pirates, whatever—how are you going to cook me dinner? I'm famished! Darling, I'm dying!" She sank dramatically to the floor, saving herself at the last moment by grasping his penis through his pants. "My," she exclaimed. "What's this? Emergency rations? How clever of you!"
His grin widened. He resembled a barracuda. "Good thinking, Deb. Where there's a dick, there's a dinner."
She pouted. "But I want dinner first."
"You're hungry? I just got home from work!"
"Oh, and you'd rather spend seven hours a day nursing a dozen mutual funds?"
He grimaced and turned toward the kitchen. "Let's see what I can rustle up."
She beat him to the doorway, giggling. "Thanks," she said, "but no thanks. I have to eat this too."
Andy managed to set the table while Debra hurried around, searching, humming, hankering. She loved to cook and welcomed the challenge of an ad lib meal. They really did need a house, she was thinking, and what better time to convince him of the many sins of an electric range?
They ate ravenously. Debra had sliced some of the fat, fresh tomatoes Andy grew in the complex's little-used communal garden, added the fresh mozzarella she'd brought home that afternoon, and a little fresh basil from her herb box. She drizzled them with olive oil—inviting bawdy jokes about the meaning of "extra virgin"—and lightly salted and peppered them. She managed a salad, fairly fresh lettuce leaves that she improved when she found a leftover breast from one of Andy's forays to Kentucky Fried Chicken, sliced a red onion paper-thin and added it along with a dressing of balsalmic vinegar and olive oil. They ate these with day-old bread, sliced and dipped in olive oil. Pinot noir is plentiful in California; Andy had found a perfectly good bottle for a few dollars.
During dessert—fresh berries and wine—they finally managed conversation. Debra's forehead shone with a light perspiration. She looked pleased with herself, but her eyelids drooped.
So did Andy's. "Damn, girl," he said. "You sure can cook."
She smiled. "I sure can, can't I, sweetheart? Imagine what I could do with a gas oven in a real kitchen in a real house."
He frowned and pushed a berry across his plate. "I don't think I can manage the up-front money yet, Deb. Give me six more months and I'll make store manager. Then we'll take another look at it."
She undid two buttons and leaned toward him, flecked blue eyes capturing his. "Maybe I could talk you into it," she said as huskily as she could.
Andy leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Reckon you could, Deb. But the bank ain't as easy as me."
She laughed back. "Are you kidding? The banks all lust after me, even if you don't. I'm an account executive, darling, inflating my little funds, raise coming any day, rosy future—the banks will love me!"
His grin disappeared. Pause. "Haven't we had this little talk before?"
Her eyes fell. "Oh, Andy. You pay your part and I'll pay mine—what could be fairer than that? We could a mortgage on a nice enough home right now. And later, when we're both making more, we'll trade up. That's what people do these days."
"It ain't what my daddy done."
"So what? That was so long ago, a different age! This is a time of two-income households—don't most of the people you work with get by that way?"
"Yep. How 'bout your shop?"
They stared at each other. Two-thirds of Debra's colleagues were millionaires several times over. As she would certainly be some day.
"Well, have you got something against rich women?" she asked, hurt.
He chewed on a matchstick. "Oh, hell no. You can buy me a pickup one day. Real nice one."
Debra hurled herself into a sulk. Andy stared at the wall. The stereo came on.
"Well, that's over with," Debra exclaimed. "Thank goodness!"
Andy said nothing. Then, as the sound of the wind faded outside, he stood up and began clearing plates from the table.
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