“Dog, stop it–” Emma says, flinging things down on the chairs and sofa, controlling the dog one-handed until Drin calls the furry tornado away.
While he occupies the beast’s attention, she eases her arm out of the straps of a heavy cloth shopping bag–it is full of books–and pauses for a moment, grimacing while she tests her fingers for remaining function. “Do you ever have days where everything is just too much– days when even your tits hurt?”
Dance finishes drying his hands on a dish towel and considers her solemnly. His eyes are amused. “No, but sometimes mine are made sore, yes, by somebody having way too much fun making me act silly–”
Emma gives him a Look, and he giggles.
Drin arches up both brows innocently, patting the dog. “Are we going into TMI? Is Too Much Information going to happen now?” He pushes away his newspaper and sits up, looking attentive. The dog, seated at his feet, ears perking up, has the same expression.
“You are too silly!” Dance says.
Emma smacks Dance on the shoulder. “God, you want TMI, I’ll give you TMI. I’m too wiped out to play in your league on the snark tonight. Give me a pinky-push and I’ll fall over.” Emma bends down to the limits of her aching back, and completely fails to reach the ankle straps on her shoes. Those embarrassing noises that come out of her are, officially, groans.
Dance pats a straight chair that is not empty, speaking sternly to the cat occupying it, who tries to ignore him. He bumps the cat gently, ruffles her fur until she is annoyed enough to jump down and depart in a huff. “Em, sit down, let me take off the shoes, have your tea. I will finish this dish and put it in the oven and we eat it all up and then you should have a back rub.”
She flops into the chair like a rag doll, groaning. “God, whatever I did to deserve you, let me figure out what it was and do it some more.”
Dance smiles, slowly and marvelously. “Oh, I think I will not mind eating this lovely food Drin bought us, and rubbing the tight muscley shoulders on this beautiful Emma woman.”
“I’m glad you didn’t put it the other way round,” Drin says dryly.
“So am I!” Emma says, laughing. “You make it sound like it’s all the same to you!”
“It is all the same thing, eating up all the yummy things, mmm mmm mm.” Dance waggles his hips provocatively. He ignores their outraged laughter and pivots back into the kitchen, where he makes clanging noises, humming.
“Sometimes I kind of worry. I mean, when you have any bite-able bits, you kind of wonder about Dance–” Drin looks perfect straight-faced saying this.
Emma stares at him, shocked, and starts to laugh again.
“Eat all the things!” Dance says in the kitchen, with growling, ravening noises. “Start with this. Here’s your tea.” He puts a steaming mug on the table by her hand.
She looks down at it, surprised.
“Now, say thank you to Drin for buying us our new electric kettle that is always on and keeps water hot for you all night.”
“He did? When?”
“With groceries today.”
Emma looks up at Drin.
“Don’t cry,” Drin says comfortably.
“Why the bloody hell not? Because it’ll make my makeup run?”
“No, it’ll stuff up your nose so you can’t smell Dance’s spicing in the food. Missing that would be a shame,” Drin says, and crosses one leg elegantly over the other, adjusting the drape of his jeans. That means he’s embarrassed to be called out on the gift. He has been threatening to get one of those big electric hot pots to support her tea habit. Her everlastingly eternally necessary damn tea.
She looks down at the mug of tea. “Dammit,” she says, and chugs the lot. “God, I needed that.”
“Good,” Drin says, and smiles at her. It’s a tiny, slow, pleased smile and yet somehow it looks just like one of Dance’s big delighted window-pane grins. She’s not sure how. Not sure she even cares to analyze how he pulled that off.
“Better?” he says.
“Well then, have some more,” Drin says, chuckling, and then he bends to the dog and talks nonsense, hands buried in her ruff, while his face is getting licked. “Yes, she can have lots and lots of tea and bounce all over the ceiling all night, yes she can. Oooh, yes, very silly.”
“Do you want some more? You can have more,” Dance asks.
“Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks love,” Emma agrees, surrendering the empty mug.
He looks down, turning, and chirps agreeable noises at the cat, who talks back at him in short scolding noises. The determined little beast starts stropping its sides against Emma’s legs. Then it jumps up. When she feels the cat’s weight land on her knees, instead of yelping in pain she endures it, steadying the beast in place, urging it into a better position, and starts scrubbing her fingertips through the soft, soft fur. Its purring tickles against her hands. Emma sighs. She can feel the fibers in her neck and spine easing with twanging sensations, like loosened strings.
Dance returns with the steaming mug, and in his other hand, tissues for her. He leans down and kisses her forehead. “You can cry all you want. I did not tell Drin yet, but this stew will blast out your sinuses and make you taste everything whether you like it or not, I promise. If you want hot hot food, I give it to you.”
“God, Dance,” she says shakily, and wraps an arm around his hips, and leans into him a moment. He ruffles her hair lightly.
“You’re okay,” he says. “You’re home, everything else can go to hell.”
She laughs, grips him tighter a moment, and releases him. It’s a quote from their mutual best buddy Amalia, old reminder of all the other impossible situations they’ve survived before, and will go on enduring. Muddling through. “I’ve been craving– how did you know?”
“Oh, I hear this woman Emma talking, all week. All that rain. I know, with so much rain, Em will be craving hot TexMex chili and hot Chinese ginger chicken and hot Indian curries,” Dance says, gives a silly hand flip, and sashays back into the kitchen.
Her stomach rumbles very loudly, and both of the men laugh at her. They always seem to find her blunt comments charming instead of gross and disgusting, which still surprises her.
“Drin wants hot food too, you know. He can joke all about it, but he does. So do I.” Dance starts whistling over the noise of opening cans.
“It smells terrific, just coming into the house,” Emma says.
“It does,” Drin agrees.
“And I could smell it at all!” Emma adds.
“Good,” Dance says. A spatula spangs and clatters against the sides of his wok, and gusts of chili and ginger and onion fill the room. Instead of annoying her nose, it does the opposite. She can feel her lungs relaxing more open by the moment. The tea is starting to work its magic on her sore throat, too.
“I needed this,” Emma says, inhaling steam from her mug. Then she puts her face into a tissue instead, and starts honking into it. Not exactly gracious living.
“You should stay in bed tomorrow,” Dance says.
“Yeah, of course I should. But guess what–”
“You can’t go to a gala with enough tissues up your sleeve,” Dance says.
He’s right, of course. Dammit. Her shoulders sag.
“More tea?” Drin says.
She looks at him narrowly.
“Herb tea now,” Dance says firmly, and takes her mug again. “Finding you things that are good for the sad nose.”
“Now I’m suspicious, all this nice attention tonight. Most days, if you were playing computer games I could be sick to the gills and you guys would never notice me hacking up a lung. I could be lying on my deathbed practically! So you’re up to something, the both of you. I’m wondering what you guys want from me, when my brain is mush and my judgement is impaired,” Emma says.
“Says that massive brain who’s using big words like, ‘Oh, my judgement is impaired,’” Dance mimics her voice, echoing in the kitchen.
“That doesn’t mean anything. I use those words all the time,” Emma says, annoyed.
“This is true, she says them in her sleep even,” Dance tells the other man, yelling it out as if he’s proud of it.
“If I had a brain worth the word tonight, I’d be using much bigger words to explain that now you’re trying to dodge the question and distract me,” Emma says. She frowns. “Words like evasive and–”
“Yes, those words,” Dance says, and a gush of water noises drowns the conversation for a moment.
Drin is looking up at the ceiling, smiling a little, and he shakes his head. “Told you it wouldn’t work,” he says.
“Worth a try,” Dance says.
“Whaaaat?” Emma demands, scrubbing at her forehead. She inhales more steam, and honks noisily into a fresh tissue, and stares at Drin with her mouth open so she can breathe at all.
He gets up, stretches hugely, yawns, and wanders over. “You look terrible, poor baby,” he says, and pats her shoulder. “Like you should be tucked up in bed.”
She gives a snort that is even more piglike than usual, with the junk clogging her sinuses, and makes him laugh.