A Tavern on the Coast


elaine2_icon.gif rhett_icon.gif

Scene Title A Tavern on the Coast
Synopsis A romantic Christmas Eve brings talk of future plans.
Date December 24, 2019

Elaine's Apartment, Cresting Wave Apartments, Yamagato Park

He was under strict orders to come right on time.

While in other circumstances he might have gotten away with coming early, Elaine had needed all the time she could get to prepare, for reasons that would soon become very obvious. The door wasn’t opened immediately. Instead, there was the sound of something rustling before Elaine finally opened the front door to allow him in.

She’s wearing a emerald green dress, high-waisted, with a red ribbon tied around the top under the bust. Her hair’s pulled back a bit with a holly-berry themed clip. She dressed up, but certainly went with the Christmas theme. Behind her, however, is the real spectacle. Somehow, she’s decorated the entire apartment. Mostly, green pine garlands drape over the walls with soft white lights in them. A giant tree, which would have been a feat for her to bring in herself, sits in the corner, although no presents sit under it. The tree is garbed in simple ornaments and white lights.

The whole thing feels very foresty, well-within the Christmas theme. While the dining room table is not visible from here, the scent of the food is abundantly clear. She really tried with this one. Slowly, she steps aside to let him enter, looking at him a little sheepishly. She’s done a lot of work, now she’s just hoping he doesn’t find it too silly.

Rhett tried.

The door opens to Rhett cleanly shaven, and an attempt was made to be nicely dressed - at least, under a heavy less-than-fancy trench-coat. Coincidentally he chose his color well, a dark red button up shirt and clean black slacks. His hair is still long, but swept back, the dark blonde styled even if it isn’t trimmed. His boots are still his work ones, but there’s limits to what he’s able to procure on his budget. He did try, and hopefully that is what matters.

Rhett just about beams at her, and looks around in curious surprise. “Wow!” Rhett laughs. “When did you do all of this?” he asks, stepping forward to embrace her close, looking around the entry to the apartment, and then focusing on her, looking at her dress and bringing up one hand to touch the pretty clip in her hair. “And look at you. All for me?” Rhett’s touched.

“There’s even a tree,” Rhett marvels.

She came in with no real expectations for him except that he show up. Elaine does, however, appreciate his attempt to gussy up. She shows it with a quick kiss to his stubble-less jaw as she slides her arms around him to return the welcoming embrace. “Today, really. I’ve been making plans for what to do since you agreed to come for Christmas Eve, but everything really came together today. That’s why you couldn’t come early… you would’ve caught me red-handed trying to pull off all of this.”

She looks back at him. “I wanted something special. For us. More good memories.”

“Making memories,” Rhett agrees, not releasing her. “That Christmas Eve where your new man just couldn’t keep his hands off you, and you slow-danced with him in front of the tree, under the mistletoe? Something like that?” Rhett asks her, a deep flirt entering his tone, but also a playful advance of body out of the doorway, guiding her into the apartment further.

That’s when Rhett attempts to lift her in the embrace, and twirl her around once or twice. It’s impulsive but has a sense of that he’s being careful with her, no way would he drop her or hurt her. “All of my memories with you have good in them.”

“Something like that,” Elaine agrees, smiling brightly. When she’s lifted off her feet, there’s a soft gasp. Her arms tighten, reflexively rather than out of fear that he’ll drop her. She’s not particularly scared of that, it’s more that she’s startled. The very brief moment of surprise turns into joy and she laughs as she’s twirled around. When he stops, her arms don’t release their tightness about him—she wants to stay close.

“You’re going to make me blush, but I have a feeling that’s part of the point.”

“You got me,” Rhett agrees with a nod. Yes, that was part of it, certainly. “If you want to add to that agenda, just let me know,” he says.

“Also, I have something for under the tree,” he says, needing to let go with one arm to orient to his jacket pocket. He removes a small wrapped gift; it is approximately a three inch square box, wrapped in white paper with a snippet of green ribbon around it. “Or for you now, whatever you want to do,” Rhett says, voice lowering, a mild nervousness about handing over the gift to her possession.

He starts to shrug off his coat, moving to hang it up out of the way.

Elaine releases him so it’s easier for him to remove his coat, and she carefully looks at the box. “It’s your present, you get to choose when you want me to open it.” She offers him a smile. “But I have a confession to make.” She looks the tiniest bit sheepish. “I didn’t get you anything. I didn’t think I could top the scarf in sentiment and the best I could really do as a present is offer you one really great night. So all of this,” she gestures around. “All of this gets to be your present. Not as fun as unwrapping something, I know, but I still think you’ll enjoy it.”

She smiles. “And I really wanted an actual gift to have meaning and not just be some cologne that wouldn’t work anyway.”

“It’s all wonderful. I can tell you did a lot here. Still …. There’s still something here I’d be happy to unwrap later, if you’re willing,” Rhett says, moving one hand playfully to the bow tied in red just under her bust. He doesn’t pull at it, but he does draw his fingers over it briefly.

With a quick assured smile and bravery, he hands over the small wrapped gift into her hands. “Then you should open yours.”

There’s a minor wince and discomfort as she refers to his ability in a negative way. “I’m sorry I can’t wear cologne on my skin,” Rhett says uncomfortably. “If it’s on my exterior clothes it doesn’t fade immediately…”

“I’m certain you’ll get the chance for that,” Elaine says with a wink. She reaches for his free hand and moves towards the couch. “I know, my love, and that is exactly why I didn’t get you any.” There’s a wry smile there, and she settles upon the couch. “No need to apologize for being who you are. It just means I have to get creative. I’m only annoyed I can’t be lazy about gift-giving.”

Settled on the couch, she looks at the box in her free hand. “Should I open it, then?”

“I guess,” Rhett chuckles. His ability still, clearly, has a shameful connection for him occasionally. “At least you never have to suffer body odor from me.”

Rhett climbs onto the couch next to her, trying to immediately pull her to his lap or side closely. “I think you should,” Rhett says, kissing her neck.

The ribbon on the box takes some doing, but the paper is easy to remove. Inside is a neatly folded piece of purple felt, covering a small hard object.

Rhett watches her with a muted hope.

The felt unwrapped reveals a piece of jewelry, a necklace. There is a beautiful central blue tanzanite, cut in a rounded faceted shape, glittering in the center of two white-gold dolphins, arranged in a swirl around the central gem setting. The chain is light, in a white gold as well.

“It’s a rock, as requested,” Rhett says quietly into her neck.

Elaine nestles in against his side, carefully opening the box. As soon as she uncovers the necklace, a smile creeps up on her face. “It’s a lovely rock. Did you keep it in your pocket and think of me the entire time?” She teases, turning to sneak a kiss onto his cheek. She runs a fingertip over the length of the necklace.

“Thank you. It’s absolutely beautiful. Do you want to help me put it on?”

“Of course,” Rhett answers. “Up until I had to get the stone set, anyway,” he clarifies. It wasn’t something pre-made, it sounds like.

Rhett nods at her request, careful to undo the clasp and draw the ends back behind her neck, nudging her hair out of the way with his wrist, to fix it there. There’s a mild tremor to his broad hands, but he’s practiced at delicate fishhook work, and gets it. He adjusts her hair back over her shoulders, and smiles at her with the same quiet hope that she like it.

There’s something even more touching that it wasn’t just something he found in a store. Elaine smiles as she holds perfectly still to allow ease of necklace adornment. When he’s done, she captures one of his hands in hers, planting a kiss on it and hugging it to her chest. “Thank you,” she says again. “It’s genuinely beautiful and I love it. You chose well.” But there’s something to what he said, something that has her curious.

“… where’d you get the stone?”

“I do a lot of underwater salvage,” Rhett explains. “There’s an extreme amount of incredible things under the surface around the city. I knew of a deep set of ships….” Rhett trails off, and hugs her closer. “It’s not the safest area but I’m swift in the water.”

“Anyway, it was worth it, I found some things to sell, and the best item to use to make something for you.” Rhett pauses. “I chose the dolphins. Maybe you’d think of me.”

“That sounds exciting and dangerous, but I trust you know what you’re doing with your own ability,” Elaine squeezes him gently. “I’d be more worried about pirates than about your actual salvaging skills. But you seem alive and well, so that’s all I could ask for.” She reaches up to touch the necklace, familiarizing her fingertips with it. “I like the dolphins. But I always think of you. You could have gotten me nothing and I’d still stop and think of you often. I love it, though. I’ll wear it all the time.”

She leans over to kiss him lightly. “And I can brag about it to all my coworkers. They’re already convinced you’ve come right off the cover of some romance novel with that move you did sending flowers to my work.”

“Haven’t I though?” Rhett teases. He flips his hair a little, Prince Charming style. It’s very effective in fact, considering his blonde hair and strong nose and jaw. Rhett is rolling his eyes though, but his laugh is true and warm.

“Sounds like I should keep it up,” Rhett ‘threatens’ deeply. “I’m so happy you like it. Or are kind enough to pretend you do.” He’s teasing. He moves his head in to kiss her upper cheekbone firmly. “Merry Christmas, love.”

“You keep that up and they’re going to think you’re not real and that I’m staging this whole thing,” Elaine sticks her tongue out at him, but ends up smiling broadly all the same. “Merry Christmas. The first of many.” She nestles in against him for a moment. “I’ve got food ready in the other room, but that means we’d have to move.”

There’s a disappointed sound in her voice. “And I like it here.”

“Then for now we stay here, and you’re all mine,” Rhett replies in an evil voice that isn’t remotely evil. Rhett might not actually be capable of darkness really. His warmth is too great.

“I missed you this week,” Rhett says, drawing her comfortably to him as she nestles in a way that is becoming so familiar. “You belong here,” he says with a soft squeeze, an indication of his arms.

“I suppose there is such a thing as a microwave,” Elaine says, although she seems less disappointed about having to microwave food than she does about having to get up. She squeezes him tightly, lips pressing lightly to his jaw for a moment as she takes advantage of having him on the couch by leaning against him.

“It’s starting to feel really weird when you’re not here. I keep waking up expecting to see you and when you’re not here it feels very surreal. I’m just getting very used to having you here and I like it.”

“Are you still okay with me leaving those clothes here?” Rhett asks. He’d left a change of things, including a toothbrush, in an overnight bag. It was starting to be clear it would be easier. The logistics of the continuation of their relationship is an unsure area for Rhett.

“You could bring some out to the boat for fairness, though I know your home is far superior,” Rhett chuckles. He sends a series of kisses up her cheek to her forehead, his neck exposed in a somewhat rare expression of trust. He’s getting more relaxed with her.

“Of course I don’t mind, it makes sense for you to, especially if you’re here all the time.” Elaine leans in close, rubbing her nose against the side of the neck for just a brief moment before she looks back at him. “I’ll store some stuff, just in case. I just don’t wanna take up too much space on that boat of yours.”

She smiles at him. “You know I’ll tell you if I’m not okay with something, right? You’ve got good instincts, just go with them and if something doesn’t mesh with me, I’ll say so.”

“If I’m here all the time,” Rhett echoes thoughtfully, enjoying the idea. He breathes in quickly as she leans into his neck. The shiver isn’t upset, it’s something else. He doesn’t twist from her at all. He’s opening up.

“Yes, all right,” Rhett agrees, bemused. “I’ll go with my instincts. Are you going with yours?”

“My instincts said that you’d humor me and come over in spite of all of this cheesiness,” Elaine gives him a smile. “I figured even if it was a bit silly you wouldn’t mind it, especially if I wore a cute dress.” She doesn’t go for his neck again—the brush of her nose had been there as a small test, just to see how okay he was. It’s not brought up, and she carries on with things. “I’d like you here all the time.”

She smiles wryly. “I leave how much time that is up to you and your busy schedule.”

“As if you were just sitting here pining away and not at work even more than I am?” Rhett parries in amusement.

“I like you being silly, I like seeing you passionate and enjoying yourself,” Rhett replies, honestly. “Especially while wearing this cute dress,” he adds, draping one hand down on her leg. “And the new necklace,” he adds, with a nod towards it.

“You want me here more evenings?”

“Work and class. I’m just on winter break but soon enough I’ll be so busy with work and school you’ll never see me again,” Elaine may be exaggerating a bit, but balancing her job and grad school is not an easy feat. “I do pine away at work, though. I think about your smile a lot. It’s gentle.” She presses a kiss to his cheek.

“I’ll take as much of you as I can get while I can get it.”

“So I’ll need to be here evenings,” Rhett translates, considering. “Or steal you at lunch?”

Rhett looks dismayed, at the prospect of seeing her a lot less going forward. He turns his head towards her to kiss her on the lips, direct and lingering. Perhaps he can convince her to balance him into that mix with a kiss alone.

“You’re not getting rid of me easy.”

“Evenings are good, yes,” Elaine agrees. “Lunch is a little less so, especially if I’m squeezing in some homework.” It hadn’t been as hard to manage when it was just her and the shadow of a social life. Now, with someone actively seeking her attention, it might get just a bit trickier. Especially if he keeps kissing her like that.

She leans into the kiss, giving just as much as she gets, and when she pulls back, she smiles a little dreamily. “Good, I would hope you wouldn’t give up on me.”

“Good. Nights, then,” Rhett says with a finality and certainty. He’s far more than a shadow, for sure. “We can make it work. I’ll just rub your back while you study,” Rhett offers, moving one hand from her leg to her neck where it meets her shoulder, fingers brushing her nape a little there.

“And make the most of nights like tonight.” Rhett brings his lips close to hers, hovering there again, anticipating another dreamy kiss.

“Certain you won’t get bored watching me study?” Elaine murmurs, though she loses any chance at further words as she finds the distance between them closing. Her hands rest at his sides, not quite gripping at the fabric there but certainly letting their presence be known. When he doesn’t quite kiss her, she lingers close, letting her warm breath touch his lips. It’s an extremely intimate moment, but she’s not shying away from it. There’s no shyness there at all, simply a level of comfort and self-assuredness.

She’s the one that bridges the gap and kisses him.

“I guess we’ll see,” Rhett answers quietly at the same softened volume she chose. “I can’t promise I’ll stay awake, but I can promise to stay with you while do it.”

As she bridges the gap to kiss him, Rhett simply relaxes there, somewhat passive at first, but then returns with heating response.

You are what I wanted,” Rhett reminds her.

Elaine stays close afterwards, resting her forehead to his, eyes drifting shut as she just takes in the moment. “You’re too good. It feels like someone’s tricking me, that I somehow ended up in this position and happy. I’m not going to argue about it, sure, I’m just saying that this is just… all I ever could have asked for and somehow, somehow I got it.” She kisses his cheek before nuzzling in against his shoulder.

“If this is all some kind of trick or a dream, I don’t care. Let me be tricked, let me keep dreaming. I’ll happily stay like this the rest of my life.” Her arms squeeze gently. “I’ll always do my best to make you happy.”

“I’m trying to be. A dream I mean, not a trick,” Rhett chuckles. “If we both always try— and do our best—- that’s all I could ask for. Although yes, I bet we are still being our very best selves; we probably have some more flaws logically, and We each must have some annoying habits.”

Rhett laughs a little. “Just need to distract you from those, I figure,” he teases.

“I don’t know, I’m pretty much always like this. If you can stand me talking too much and getting sappy over things like Christmas, you’re gold. I do also tend to cuddle for warmth when I sleep, so I’m pretty sure that’s not actually a problem.” Elaine taps her chin. “I also worry a lot because I have a terrible fear of being left behind that I think is a psychological leftover from losing my parents.” She looks back at him. “There, now you’ve got my annoying habits.”

She grins. “No need to distract, just embrace your imperfections and learn to love them.”

“I have noticed the cuddling when we sleep,” Rhett answers lightly, promptly cuddling her close, in a very apparent appreciation of said cuddle. He strokes her hair as she worries about him leaving.

“Maybe. I feel like something is just wrong— like pieces of my puzzle are missing but I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like. I was so sure what I was doing while the girls — my sisters—- were still here. Now?”

Rhett pauses. “I’m not really sure who I am, or what I’m doing.” He settles his cheek near hers. “Being your dream seems pretty good.”

“You don’t have to have everything figured out,” Elaine murmurs, nuzzling her cheek against his. “There’s a lot of puzzle pieces that make up life. I might be one of them, but there might be places you want to go or things you want to do that you haven’t done yet, all kinds of things still to be explored.”

She steals a quick kiss. “You thought about doing something medical. Is that something you’re still interested in?”

“I’d have to return to school,” Rhett answers. “I don’t even know how I’d get back, anymore,” he chuckles softly. “I was on the path, but the war…” and the loss of family, and everything.

Rhett doesn’t hide, but he does turn saddened. “The war destroyed a lot of dreams, not just mine, I know.”

“We’re a team, remember?” Elaine reaches a hand up to touch his cheek and turn his head towards her. “You say the word. If medicine of some sort is what you want to do, I will go to hell and back to put an opportunity at your feet. I’m already in school, I could find out about the programs, and I could see if I could use some of my Yamagato connections and find something for you.”

She kisses him. “If you want something, we’ll work together. Don’t be afraid to want something.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to inquire,” Rhett says, with some quiet humility. He’s not ready to hope about it: Yamagato is a giant, and he doubts they’d have time for him.

“I was a first responder, during some of the war,” Rhett says in a low voice. Shadows of Rhett’s past. “That was a tide of horror none of us could keep up with or event dent. It was so hopeless.” He shakes his head. “Our hospital lost power, and a group of us fixed it. And I just kept fixing things.”

“So you’ve got medical skills, you can repair electrical and plumbing,” Elaine shakes her head. “Kind of sounds like you’d be a godsend during the war.” She’s mentally trying to come up with a good fit for him based on those skills, but it’s clear she’s not coming up with much at the moment. “I’ll ask around. If for nothing else I can see if I can get you into some kind of program at Brooklyn University and you can study medicine if that’s what you want.”

Honestly, she just wants him to just be happy. “As for what you said before… you don’t know who you are?”

“I don’t know about godsend— whatever it was, it was never really enough,” Rhett smiles ruefully. “I still do a lot of electrical and plumbing; it’s more consistent than the treasure hunting undersea, which can be very hit or miss.”

Rhett then takes in her last question, and shrugs a little. “Other than ‘aquaman’, that is,” he laughs, trying to evade through humor.

“I may not know the details, but I bet you helped a lot of people during the war. You still do help a lot of people.” Elaine watches him, though his little bit of humor has been taken in stride. She sits up a bit. “Do you know who you are, to me?”

It’s a rhetorical question, as she’s not going to let him answer it. She takes a moment to look him over, as if appraising all of him and calculating it out to a sum total. “I see someone strong. Someone who has been through a lot of personal pain and suffering and seen the pain and suffering of others and hurt for them. Someone who is strong enough to survive through all of that and still sometimes have a smile for those around him.” She rests her hand on his cheek.

“I see someone compassionate, who wants to help others, and who gives freely from his time to those he wants to help. You’re someone who controls his emotions to keep from reacting rashly or otherwise lashing out, but you’re also someone who isn’t afraid of showing his emotions when it’s really needed. You are very patient, as you have had to be to deal with me, and your concern for making sure that I’m alright in basically all matters is incredibly touching.”

She keeps her gaze on him. “I think that’s a start but if you want me to go on…”

Rhett has a difficult time with compliments, and he is consistent with that issue now. Rhett’s brows knit together partway into her explanation and he laughs softly, uncomfortably. He doesn’t deny things: he doesn’t want to tell her he may not be sure her opinion is accurate, but he isn’t sure how to react either.

Mostly he ends up flushed very red and downplaying himself. “You’re— very sweet to say these nice things,” Rhett ends up with, drawing her hand to kiss her palm and fingers. He highly appreciates her effort. She had sat up to appraise, and he attempts to guide her back to cuddle posture.

Elaine is eased back to her original location, tucking herself fully back in again at his side. She doesn’t stop, though, even though he’s flushed from the compliments. “You do little things, just because I like them. You don’t have to do them, you just do them.” She lets her fingertips trace along his jaw. “Like shaving. It’s nice, but you don’t have to. You’re still ruggedly handsome with scruff. And you bring me extra things, even when you don’t have to. You surprise me. You surprise me because you probably like seeing me react, seeing me happy. You’re the kind of person who likes to make me happy. Maybe not everyone in the world gets it, but you at least do it for me.”

She glances back at him again. “You and I held back for so long because we were both being considerate about the other person’s desires and wants. You didn’t want to make anything awkward, or do anything I didn’t like, you knew what you wanted but at the same time you held that back because you’re the kind of person who cares about someone else’s needs above his own.” She kisses his stubbleless jaw. “You’re the kind of person who doesn’t know how amazing he is.”

“No holding back,” Rhett reminds. “Just love,” he says, playful, kissing her eyebrow as she kisses his smooth jaw.

“I still don’t want anything awkward, but I’m trying not to entirely avoid the topics that might make me look bad,” Rhett says, still embarrassed, but charmed by her. “I want to see you happy, and I’m so pleased I can cause it.”

Rhett’s smart, too, he knows how to distract her: “did you want to show off your kitchen adventures?”

“No holding back,” Elaine agrees in echo, though she’s still laughing at his words. “You’d have to do a hell of a lot to look bad in my eyes at this point, my darling.” She very slowly starts to retreat from his arms to get to her feet. “We do have food to eat, so I suppose we should investigate that, at least.”

She pauses. “But don’t think I haven’t forgotten what I was doing. I’m going to keep telling you how wonderful you are until you believe it or I’ve died trying.”

“I don’t really have anything terrible,” Rhett admits slowly. “That I could tell you. I have regrets like anyone, but I don’t know that I have a lot I feel like I should or could have done differently. I guess I’m fortunate in that sense. While I wish, say, I had somehow kept up with my medical schooling — I don’t regret that I did what I did either, not really. And with the girls— it was out of my hands.” Rhett’s tone suggests that isn’t a lie, he knows that. There’s loss, but he isn’t suffering from guilt about it. Just the loss itself, that mourning. He waits for her to stand to her feet fully before he moves to join her, one hand coming to snare hers and hold it.

There really wasn’t any reason for that other than that he wanted to hold her hand. That’s been prevalent lately: he’s wanted that connection in public, too, there’s no resistance in PDA from Rhett’s side of the table.

“It’s my turn to compliment the feast, though,” Rhett says, diverting her.

“I think you did exactly as you needed to in order to survive to the best of your abilities.” Elaine laces her fingers with his, tugging him towards the kitchen. “You made do with the shitty hand of cards that life seems to be so fond of dealing out.” She notes his words, for a moment not sure if he’s referring to her or the food.

Because, of course, it is a feast. Spread out on the table is enough food to feed probably a family of six. She seems to have tried to come up with as many dishes as possible as well. Ham, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, fluffy looking rolls with butter, not to mention a small section of the table that seems to have a few various types of desserts. She did say she was going to make a feast, and that carried through.

“You can compliment my perfect Christmas ham, but that’s it.”

“I’ll need to taste it first, I don’t just deal out compliments off the cuff, I always mean them, make certain that they are earned,” Rhett decides. He looks at the feast with clear surprise and awe.

“This is enough to last us days,” He smiles to her, squeezing her hand. “So we’re not going to leave for a week, is that the plan? Because I could be convinced,” he says, leaning against her side, bumping her hip with their clasped hands.

“I don’t know where to start, but we’d better start somewhere,” Rhett says, looking lost: but not upset with that fact. “…. maybe with dessert.”

And Rhett goes for her suddenly with an intent to dip and kiss her.

Elaine makes a move to speak but it’s intercepted entirely by the fact that she’s being dipped. She reflexively wraps her arms around him as a backup, just in case he somehow was not holding onto her, and she kisses him back. She does her best not to flail in surprised as the whole move did entirely catch her off-guard. When the kiss ends, she blinks at him a few times in a daze.

“Well, that was…” She just doesn’t have words for it. He’s entirely thrown her for a loop.

The smile Rhett fancies with with actually goes just slightly into grin territory, holding her dipped, before he stands back up and draws her to his chest, so that she doesn’t stumble from the vertigo of the move. The grin has faded back to a more usual smile from the man, and he kisses her cheek again.

“That was the first of the compliments,” Rhett says, finishing her sentence for her.

“It appears that you and I have very different ways of giving compliments,” Elaine says, her cheeks flushing red. She’s been doing pretty well with the whole not being flustered but this was more than enough to catch her off guard. She hugs him tightly, resisting the urge to bury her face in against his chest to hide her red cheeks. She doesn’t move back, though, just looking over her shoulder towards the food.

“Well, there’s all that then. I hope you like it, it was extremely challenging to get all of this food together and decorate so I hope it feels festive.”

“Look at all this! Lead me through it, honey,” Rhett asks, tugging her hand towards the table. This is her show, and he knows that: and he does want her to shine, and show off all of her hard work to him. He wants to see that glow of pride from her. Much like she didn’t let him much off the hook, he’s trying to get her to see all of the great things she did.

“Are you sure you aren’t actually a chef? Language of the stomach?” Rhett approaches the table to look at her decorations.

“You can get good at anything if you practice enough. When I lost my parents, I didn’t really have a stable home for a while but when I finally found one… I started cooking. I’ve been practicing since then. I even worked in a bakery for a while. If I had to fall back on a skill, I think this is what I’d fall back to.” Elaine moves with him towards the table, pointing out some of the dishes.

“I made the glaze on the ham, it’s a honey thing, you’ll be able to taste it easilyit’s strong and sweet. The potatoes are extra creamy, potatoes have a whole science to them. I put butter in but there’s extra butter there because who doesn’t want more butter…” As she explains some of the dishes, it’s pretty easy to note there’s a minor theme going onall the flavors are on the strong side. “Oh, I made a punch too, but I have to get it out of the fridge. It’s like a cranberry juice concentrate thing…”

“Funny, my fallback — well, fallback to my fallback — is food related too… my fishing,” Rhett answers, drawing his arm around her waist as they go to the table and she explains everything. He curls his hand against her side, fingers touching the edge of the bow around her dress there. He’s attentive, listening to the descriptions of the different items at hand.

Also, his stomach growls a little. He can smell all of the food, now that they’re close to it, in particular. “I think we better get started. Ham and potatoes to begin, with the vegetables?” Rhett asks. “Is that what the chef recommends?” Regardless, her forehead gets a press of his lips before he looks more seriously at the food. He’s hungry now, after all…

“If we’ve got to start over somewhere in life, let’s go somewhere on a coast and run a little pub or something. We can serve proper seafood all done up in pub favorites. Fish ‘n’ chips, stuff like that,” Elaine seems quite enamoured of the idea. She steals a kiss and releases him so it’s easier to get to the food. “Help yourself, I’ll go get the punch from the fridge. Save room for dessert after, though.”

She retreats towards the fridge.

Rhett actually pauses at her suggestion, angles his head towards her in a puzzled, curious little way. He’s quiet, but something clearly was going on in his head. Still, he keeps it to himself for the moment, watching her back lingeringly, then moves to the food to do as she suggested: to begin to fill his plate.

Rhett isn’t a small guy, and is highly engaged in a lot of physical activity a lot of the time, so he’ll pack away a decent amount. Particularly with strong, tasty flavors! She’ll find him looking into how fluffy the potatoes are when she turns back around with the punch.

“I tried a few versions of the punch until I found one that was strong but not so strong that I found it undrinkable,” Elaine explains, bringing the pitcher and two glasses over. She pours them both some before she grabs her own plate to start piling it with food. Noting his gaze, she leans over and stage whispers. “The secret is heavy whipping cream. Binds it together and makes it fluffy.”

She casually goes to take a scoop, watching him out of the corner of her eye.

“The punch, I…” Rhett just shakes his head. “That’s incredibly considerate of you. That’s because I mentioned strong flavors, isn’t it,” he says, bashfully. “You didn’t need to …” but Rhett suspects he shouldn’t fight it, just appreciate her remembering and thinking of him for all of the food types. “If you water yours down, I won’t be insulted.” Rhett smiles at her sideways, a warmth there. He isn’t used to people thinking of him, he’s used to just getting along.

“Heavy whipping cream. Your secrets are safe with me,” Rhett stage-whispers back with a firm nod, moving to add vegetables, the last of the items he’s missing, sitting down.

“I’d rather taste something a little stronger than for you to be forced to drink watered down punch, so that’s not so bad,” Elaine says. “But I can deal with the non-watered down version, it’s not actually too bad.” She organizes her plate neatly before she settles down in her seat, scooting over to sit just a little bit closer. “My fingers are crossed that everything’s good. I didn’t get to taste test too much while I was cooking, I was so busy.”

Really, now that she’s sitting down again she’s remembering just how nice it is to be off her feet.

“So some of it could be poisoned, not all tested?” Rhett asks, playful, continuing their joke of previous nights. Rhett watches her scoot nearer, and moves one of his legs, to settle his foot next to hers, a soft touch there, while hands are busy moving food around. “Guess I’ll risk it.”

Rhett tries the punch first, sampling, and actually tasting it some in his mouth before swallowing. “Yes, tart at the start. I like it,” he says, smiling to her. Her efforts paid off, and he wants to be sure she knows he appreciates it.

“Some families say a few words before Christmas dinner. I know it’s Christmas Eve, and we’re not a family per se, but…” Rhett reaches out to drape his hand over her fingers, and gives a more gentle smile. “I’m happy we found each other. And we’re making this, and starting the new year together. I love you, Elaine.” He lifts her hand to kiss her knuckles.

“If you perish from poison, I’ll revive you with a kiss,” Elaine promises. Her cheeks flush at both his words and the kiss to her hand, and she looks back at him. “Maybe not a family, but a pair at least. And I’m very happy we found each other too. I’m looking forward to enjoying an entire year with you at my side every step of the way.” She smiles brightly. “I love you, Rhett.”

She seems more than happy to bask in the sappy sentiment, temporarily having forgotten about the food.

They can be sappy, genuine and happy together. There’s nobody there to judge them; they are free to do anything on their own terms, on their own pace. Including saying loving things to each other, and forgetting to eat. Rhett smiles at her, nodding once. His eyes move to the necklace she’s wearing, and his smile grows a little. He squeezes her hand once, clears his throat, and begins to find out if he is poisoned or not, in the quiet warmth of their mutual company.

For the first time in many years he’s really feeling positive about what may come in the future.

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