© Kim Strattford, 2018
RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME
By Kim Strattford
The supermarket was packed, as it always was before a major holiday. She looked at her cart full of items so random they announced she was both single and not doing a damn thing for Thanksgiving. Why the hell hadn't she done her shopping earlier in the week? She'd been so busy settling into the new job that it hadn't even occurred to her it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
"Chris?" A voice from the past, warm and rich.
She turned and started to laugh. "Jim?" She took in his basket. It looked as sad as hers. "Recent transfer, too?"'
"Guilty as charged." He peeked ahead of her at the checker, who seemed to be moving in geologic time. "This is the fast lane? Wow." His grin still lit up the room and she found herself relaxing for the first time since she'd moved to the D.C. suburbs. "How long has it been?"
"Ten years?" He'd been in accounting when she'd first started at the company as a junior project manager. "How's Lori settling in?"
"Lori didn't come." He held his hand out and she had the feeling he'd gotten tired of explaining, would rather let the lack of a ring tell everything that needed to be said.
"I'm sorry." But she wasn't. She could feel herself standing straighter, wondering how her make-up was, if her hair was doing anything crazy.
She'd had a crush on this man since she'd met him, but he'd been taken.
"Don't be. We married in haste and unfortunately did not break up the same way. She's a good person, just not with me."
She liked that he wasn't ripping her apart. "So, you're here now?"
"New head of accounting. You?"
"Head of new business."
"Sexy." The way his eyes twinkled when he said it was even more so.
"Not really." She nudged his basket with her knee. "So you've got big plans for Turkey Day, huh?"
"I turned down a couple invites actually. I wasn't sure of the motivation."
"Yeah, me too. And I hear you on the motivation. Things are way political here."
"Way." He laughed the way he used to at her west-coast-speak.
They'd both worked late a lot in the Seattle office. She would wander around the floor when she needed a break from spreadsheets and plans and timelines, and often he was the only one left, his office spilling welcome light. Had his marriage been bad even then? Had he been avoiding home?
They'd taken to kicking back over a bag of microwave popcorn and some soft drinks from the honor bar and talking about whatever interested them. And lots of things had, usually nerdy things like science fiction and comic books.
"I missed you when you left the Seattle office," he said softly, moving closer. "No one ever came by with popcorn and geeky fun."
"Yeah, I missed that too. Tampa was kind of dull—gorgeous surroundings notwithstanding."
"And great food."
"Really good food." She moved even closer. "Speaking of great food. Do you want to come to my place tomorrow? There won't be any great Thanksgiving food unless you bring it, but we can dream."
"You don't cook?"
"Me and the kitchen? That way lies madness."
He laughed. "Well," he said, as he eased her out of line. "I do cook."
She mock scowled. "These"—she gestured to the things in his basket—"do not support your claim."
"I hate to cook for one. But for two of us? Let's go see what we can come up with. Turkey's great and all but I'm really in the mood for a steak." At her vigorous nod of agreement, he laughed. "You do have a decent oven, don't you?"
"Oh, it's a chef's kitchen according to the rental agent at the complex."
"Perfect." He seemed to realize he was still holding onto her and let her go with a sheepish grin. "Sorry."
"I wasn't complaining." She laughed, a silly almost-giggle. "Unless you were?"
"Me? No complaints here." For a moment they stared at each other in a totally sappy way that she loved oh so much. Then he got them moving again. "So, let's get shopping. Some critical questions first, though. To determine compatibility. Beer or wine?"
"Oh, zigs when I think she'll zag. Nice. Me, Scotch. But answer the original question."
"Wine. But I can do beer, too. Or pop or water. I'm pretty flexible beverage wise."
"Excellent." He steered them deftly through the other shoppers, who appeared to have all lost their minds at the same time, stopping occasionally to grab something and throw it in his basket.
"You don't have to buy everything. Some of it can go in my cart."
"You can buy the next meal." He said it so easily. As if of course there'd be a next one.
She found herself grinning like an idiot. "Okay. Was that it, beer or wine?"
"Oh. No." He met her eyes. "You distract me." Then he made a mad turn in front of a woman with three screaming kids and said, "Whew, that was close. Okay, ketchup on the side or on the fries?"
"Oh my God, are you a barbarian? On the side. Who wants soggy fries?"
She decided not to let him do all the fact-finding. "Fries: regular or sweet potato?"
"Sweet. Those things are to die for." He grinned when she nodded in enthusiastic agreement. "Okay, last one. Cake or pie?"
"Depends on the type." She held up a hand when he looked ready to argue. "Nope, that's all I'm going to say. Some things should remain a mystery."
He pretended to be holding a glass. "To unlocking the mystery."
"I'd drink to that if I could." She glanced over at the ever-increasing lines at the checkout, now spilling into the aisles. "You realize we're going to be here all night, right?"
His grin was infectious. "I can live with that."