Drin knew there’d be some moment of surprise, some utterly strange thing that would make him look at his new lover in total disbelief.
Instead, he is looking across the kitchen table at Emma that way, the first time the strange feeling hits him.
“Batter experiments?” Drin says.
The room is no longer pretending to be a dining room. It’s just part of the kitchen. Behind her, Dance is bouncing around chopping and washing vegetables and swinging his hips around in a totally distracting manner, completely unconscious of what the wiggle does to them. To both of them. Emma sits facing Drin, because she can’t watch Dance without losing it and grabbing him and tickling him like mad when he does that. She freely admits this. Of course Dance could elude the whole thing if he wasn’t in the mood, but the wiggle seems to be a positive invitation for Emma to grab him and wrassle around with him.
“Batter experiments?” Drin repeats, settling tiredly into a chair and blinking at Emma.
“Tempura batter recipe experiments,” she repeats firmly. “The first batch is gone. He’s working on the second one.”
“Oh,” he says, blinking up at Dance. Drin has to work to keep from staring.
Most people would look absurd wiggling like that. Dance is wearing a raggedy pair of sweat shorts and nothing else. He’s cooking, and as with his gardening, he doesn’t like to mess up his good clothes. He doesn’t seem to be afraid of spattering oil, which is a bit scary. He’s also, well, dancing. Dance usually has music on when he’s cooking, often party music of some kind. This time it’s some kind of norteno station with accordions and cheerful happy voices singing about very sad things happening, while the announcers are all shouting in machine-gun slangy Spanish, in the style of used car salesmen.
Dance sings along to the songs in a terrible accent. Not even a true Korean accent, either. It’s Korean-American. Drin can finally hear the differences, after listening to language tapes at work, mostly for very non-work-related purposes. It sounds very odd. Drin hasn’t tried to teach Dance idiomatic Spanish, whether one of the local dialects or the more formal one he himself spoke with his great-grandparents from Navarre, with manners carefully in place. He may have to teach Dance the most common local slang, just in self-defense. Some of the song lyrics don’t belong in polite company. But the American in that Korean accent, that raises questions Drin hasn’t tackled yet.
“Oh yeah, he gets these obsessive foodie crazes going. It’s all about the seasonal foods,” Emma says, and pops a crispy tempura-battered bit in her mouth. “Mmm, now that yellow pepper is perfect with more wasabi on it, Dance, keep ’em coming! So, he had about two weeks, first thing, where it was cabbage dishes. Hey, saved my budget that month! Then we had a run on pickled dishes. Every summer it turns into the festival of tomatoes and then of squash. Another time, it was oatmeal every which way. Oatmeal apple cobbler, oatmeal cookies, oatmeal everything. One week, it was mackerel, because the fresh fish was really cheap for awhile. Boy, you want to get Dance’s attention, wave sushi at him. Another time we got this yellow cheese donation thingie–you couldn’t even call it cheddar, it was just a block of weird-colored stuff–and it turned my lips orange for a month.”
He blinks at her doubtfully. “Well, it’s a striking idea, but what do you do about the fingernail polish? Black stripes for Halloween?” he says, and makes her laugh.
She waves a normal-colored nail at him. “Then Dance got into confections. Powdered sugar and marzipan. My lips were purple for days. I think my butt got wider by six inches. He fixed that by going off into salads and pestering me until I ran it off with him every morning. Ran my little legs off, I swear.”
“How do you obsess on a single ingredient with salads?” Drin asks.
“He worked very hard to do a variety on that, so it wasn’t all a streak on celery or radishes or something. The search for the perfect arugula and bacon dressing, my God, that was expensive!”
Drin glances up. “And I’d guess there was a hot pepper streak?”
“Oh hell yeah! There were four of those spazzes, twice each summer, when the weather warmed up and again when it cooled off in the garden here,” Emma agrees, laughing.
Dance is waving an arm, snapping his fingers, and counting in time to the music. “Yahh!” he yips, and flips a perfectly-cooked lump of tempura out of the hot oil. And another. Of course he picks up hot dishes as if his fingers are immune to the heat; he has string-player’s callouses. Drin found it odd to learn what Dance always did after washing up the dishes. When the callouses had soaked in hot water for awhile, that was when he picked up a sharp paring knife to shave back strips of dead skin. Then he sanded it down with a pumice stone. Such stones last him about two weeks apiece. He can puncture condensed milk cans with those fingernails, too. “Speed and leverage, not just the violin claws,” he assured Drin, grinning.
Drin looks at Emma. “You indulge him,” he says solemnly.
She sighs. “I know, I know I do, it’s bad for the budget. You should have seen the weeks of the avocado.”
Dance makes a face over something he’s eating.
Emma snaps her fingers and holds out her hand for the bowl, not even looking at him. “Give it here, I heard that sigh.”
“No, no, the zuchini is soggy. Very bad, I sliced it too thin and left it too long.”
“Nonsense, give it here, we’ll try out the whole batch, no cheating,” Emma says.
“You’d eat dog food if I fried it,” Dance says crossly.
“Because you cooked it,” Emma says.
“Oh stop,” Dance says. “My head get all big to explode.”
“Your ego is already way up there, your head can’t get any bigger,” Emma says, and takes the bowl he holds out. More wiggle as he marches back to the stove in time to the music.
Drin glances up from staring at that amazing butt, with a sigh, and looks right up into Emma’s eyes.
She gives a long, slow grin.
Of course he wants to pull down those pants and have his way with the cook, who has quite a few nice manly attributes making themselves known. That’s a sight rapidly making Drin feel a whole lot less tired.
She looks down the length of Drin’s body and up again, and then she chuckles at him, pleased. She’s enjoying watching Drin squirm in his chair.
Drin blinks. This is not your typical grumpy roommate, he tells himself. Be careful.
She picks up a piece of battered fried zuchini, pops it in her mouth, and chews on it with an orgasmic expression. “Mmm hmmm,” she says, and waves her hand in front of her mouth. “Oh, starch, I am in fried hog heaven, ohhh that’s good. Be careful, it’s hot,” she warns Drin, and hands the bowl over to him.
She watches gravely as he picks up a hot bit, juggles it in his fingers, and gets it in his mouth with nearly as much production as she did. Possibly it ends up looking like he’s playing back at her with the whole mouth thing.
Well, possibly he is.
Entirely without meaning to, he assures himself.
Yeah, right, his hind-brain tells him, while he hands the bowl back to her, and watches her pop another one in her mouth. God, those are lips worth watching.
He likes watching her eat. Apparently it’s mutual.
Dance likes watching them do it, too. When he glances up, he sees Dance is watching them both with a little quirky smile. The longing in Dance’s face is quite plain. If they were alone, give him one gesture of encouragement, and he’d turn off the burner on the stove and he’d be dragging Drin off to bed. If he made it that far. There’s been days when they have to hurry to retrieve shorts off the floor in here before Emma unlocks the front door on them.
She knows it, too. She just grins and teases the hell out of them for it. She picks up lost socks and says, “Forget something?”
Drin picks up another hot light lump and pops it into his mouth, and chews on it longer than strictly required. He looks at Emma, and then at Dance, taking a nice long thoughtful look in each case, while he chews. Memorizing the expressions on their faces.
Dance waits, poised, watching. “Yes? Blaaaah? Or okay?”
“It’s good,” Drin agrees, and watches the smile get bigger. Dance nods and whistles along with the song, his knife whirring through another batch of what he calls ‘overage squash from the garden.’
Emma smacks Drin’s arm and sits back, laughing. “You tease!”
Drin is visited with that bewildering sense of happiness. It’s just there in the room as another presence, beaming at him like some big cartoon bubble. He knows what to do about it, too. He smiles back at Emma, and opens the little drawer in the table. He pulls out the party-favor bottle he put in there after he picked up Dance from a wedding.
He opens the soap solution, lifts the wire loop up to his mouth, and he starts blowing Emma the biggest soap bubbles he can manage, while Dance sings, laughing.