That afternoon, Holly spent a little more time feeling the tomatoes in the grocery store, took a little while longer in talking with the resident fishmonger, and was little more selective in choosing the wine that would accompany the evening’s salmon.
When she returned home, she mopped her hardwood floors two times over, cleaned her countertops with the same thoroughness before she thoughtfully arranged throw pillows and picture frames. The evening had been circled since their last conversation and a teenage excitement accompanied her as she readied herself.
When Penn arrived, she was on her second glass of wine and comfortably manning the grill. Penn let himself in and emerged in the doorway to the back porch.
“Smells fantastic,” he said.
His words startled Holly, whose back was turned to the house. She put her large tongs down and covered the grill before turning to face Penn. “Thanks.”
The shared a smile before falling into a lasting kiss.
“Before the apartment, when I had my house, I had a charcoal grill,” said Penn when they broke apart. “I miss that grill, miss that charcoal.”
“To Hell with gas,” said Holly. “You lose half the flavor and half the fun. If I wanted to cook with gas, I’d use my oven.”
Penn laughed and politely offered the bottle of wine he had brought.
Holly took the bottle and looked down at the label. Unfamiliar with the vineyard or wine in general, she nodded approvingly. “Looks good. Thank you. I have a bottle of white open, but if you want me to open this, by all means.”
“No, I’m good. Whatever you have open is fine.”
Holly poured Penn a glass and guided him to take a seat beside an eloquently set teak table.
“This is quite the setup,” commented Penn. He pulled a grape from the fruit and cheese plate nestled among the tea candles on the table.
The sound of a flare returned Holly’s attention to the grill. The edge of the cedar plank beneath her fish caught fire and she rotated the wood from the coals piled off to the side. “So, what have you been up to lately? Any leads?”
The question drew Penn’s eyes directly to Holly’s. His look was intense, searching and stern. His expression and non-answer, was cause for pause.
“What? Did I ask you that already?” Asked Holly.
“Did you ask me what?” Penn’s tone was curt.
Something felt off, as though this rendition of Penn was somehow different than the one she carried in her infatuated mind. Unlike the man she met, this Penn seemed angular and edgy.
“Let me start over,” said Holly. “Any developments in your job hunt. Any traction?”
Penn’s expression softened. “Why, you getting nervous? Like maybe this meal is more soup-kitchen than dinner for two?”
Holly laughed. Perhaps she was caught up in her head, and it was her interpretation of Penn that was off. “Yeah, but I don’t know too many freeloaders that bring bottles of wine.”
“And some dessert is in the fridge,” said Penn before a deep yawn eclipsed his face.
“I’m not trying to sound mean – and I hate it when people say it to me,” said Holly with compassion, “but you look tired. And I mean really tired.”