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Four Bidding For Love (a novel)

Part 43: Finally Free to Live Large (3/23/13)

     Upstairs, Ross was putting the last hurried touches on the evening meal: spaghetti tossed with olive oil, steamed eggplant and parmesan cheese, served with plump scallops pan-fried in butter.
     His mood, already bolstered by the arrival of the much-anticipated invitation to display his collection at the Vintage Appliance World extravaganza in Las Vegas, was further raised by his happy anticipation of Alexia's pleasure with the meal he'd prepared for her.
     A bottle of crisp chilled sauvignon blanc on the counter sweated in the steamy atmosphere of the kitchen, and as Ross rushed to smooth the red tablecloth and set the table, the front door opened and Alexia offered a warm greeting at the savory scent filling her home.
     Ross dropped Hanover the last of his allotted scallop, and then Alexia swept in to kiss his cheek and peek into the pot on the stovetop. Just as she's hoped, Ross could not avoid gazing at the enticing curves celebrated by her tight green dress.
     "Do you cook like this every night?" she marveled, and Ross took off the borrowed striped green apron with a shrug. "No, but you're inspiring me."
     Taking in his wildly cheerful Jamaican-themed shirt and bashful expression, she murmured, "And you're inspiring me—to forget my diet."
     "It's all healthy," he protested, and she replied, "I know. It's just—"
     Unable to give voice to her happiness, she turned to the counter and poured the white wine into the waiting glasses. "To our health," she said, and after wiping his damp brow Ross turned to meet her toast.
     Still worried that she might find him unattractive in the unforgiving glare of fluorescent bulbs, Ross lit the candles and turned off the overhead light, never sensing that despite the success of the little green dress Alexia welcomed the dim flickering illumination as much as he, for much the same reason. Was the magic of the previous evening still theirs to claim?
     As the wine, seared scallops and savory eggplant worked their soothing magic, Ross's mood lightened and then left the clay of Earth in a rising expansiveness.
     "I know this sounds incredibly foolish, but getting burned out of my home was immeasurably the best thing that ever happened to me," he confided.
     As Alexia's eyes widened in surprise, his sauvignon-blanc-infused enthusiasm broke whatever feeble restraints discretion had offered, and he avowed, "The first and most important reason, of course, is you. Without the fire I would never have found the amazing person that is you."
     His tablemate blushed at this wine-soaked but sincere praise and he continued in a low voice animated by the tingling fibers of his core being. "But the fire also freed me from the. . . I don't know, prison sounds harsh, but constraint is too weak . . . the shackles of the ordinary."
     Stuffing a fat scallop glistening with butter into his mouth, Ross chewed contentedly for a moment and then set his fork down to stare contemplatively at his condensation-beaded chilled glass of sauvignon blanc.
     "You see, I'm finally free to live large. And I mean everything: starting a new business, living in the Alaskan wilds for a summer, kayaking on the open sea, learning how to make dim sum from a Chinese master—nothing is off the boards. Everything I'd let slip away will be taken to new levels—starting with cooking." He raised his wine glass in a salute, took a long draught and then leaned across the table with conspiratorial glee. "I'm heading to a trade show which will catapult me out of the doldrums."
     "Really?" Alexia asked politely. "In what field?"
     With unsuppressed triumphalism Ross replied, "Toasters. Just as you've put together an outstanding collection of dolls and film posters, I've assembled a kitchen appliance collection which will cut through the field like a welding torch through cardboard."
     Alexia's expression of gentle sympathy sharpened and she asked, "That wouldn't be the vintage show in Las Vegas, would it?"
     "Yes, that's the one—the Vintage Appliance World. Don't tell me you're interested in small appliances, too?"
     The odds of happening upon a man who shared her interest in kitchen collectibles seemed low to Alexia, and with an uneasy alarm she recalled that the hatchet-wielding menace Ross Suchard shared the same hobby. It was unfair to assign a worrisome eccentricity to every guy who collected small appliances, she reminded herself, and with a slight, coy grin she replied, "We seem to stumble upon serendipity at every meal. I do have an interest in collectable kitchenware."
     "I'd love to see your collection," Ross responded, and though his intuition sparked once again at the peculiar parallel of her interests with the loathsome GreenDollGal, the candlelit mood and wine softened this alarming similarity.
     "Oh, it's just a few items," she said dismissively, and then added as if by after-thought, "You don't happen to have an interest in knives or axes, do you?"
     "None whatsoever," Ross replied with a shiver of disgust. "I have absolutely zero interest in collecting sharp pointy things."
     Thus reassured, Alexia enthused, "I found the most adorable vintage butter molds recently, hand-carved in wood."
     "You must show me," Ross declared, and after some additional coaxing Alexia arose to retrieve the elongated wooden molds from the cupboard. "Beautiful," Ross murmured as he examined the old implements, but his frown was not one of concentration. For he'd instantly recognized them as Chinese mooncake molds, not butter molds, and he debated whether to illuminate his love with this knowledge or let it lie as a trivial but potentially annoying show of superior knowledge. Sitting back in a contemplative pose, he said, "You must have your own living-large dreams."
     Alexia smiled in shy hesitation, and Ross said encouragingly, "They're safe with me, for I think it's stupendously important to share one's dreams."
     "Well, I do have one small hope," Alexia began uncertainly. "If I can sell my little appliance collection at the show, then I'll have enough money to buy that trove of rare film posters I mentioned. And from that—" she paused to sigh—"I might just be able to make enough to pay off the mortgage on this flat."
     Raising his glass in a toast, Ross gushed admiringly, "An excellent goal and I'm sure you will succeed."
     Alexia allowed herself an embarrassed smile. "It's a small dream."
     "No dream is small," Ross said with heartfelt sincerity, and the two continued their meal in the intimacy of secret hopes revealed.

Next: A Shocking Revelation (Chapter 12)

To read the previous chapters, visit the "Four Bidding For Love" home page.

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