Atticus was right on time, and Karmen needed just one minute.
“Please come in. I just want to grab my sunglasses.”
He nodded, taking a step inside and glancing around. Everything was orderly, books lined every shelf, as well as pictures, and Karmen had a BB8 cookie jar sitting on her kitchen island.
“Nice place,” he complimented her.
“Thank you,” she replied.
“Should I wear sandals or tennis shoes?” She asked.
“We won’t be doing a lot of walking,” he informed her, “so sandals should be fine.”
Her smile lit up her face, and Atticus grew a little concerned that his heart wouldn’t stop falling.
She picked up a box sitting next to the BB8 cookie jar and handed it to him. “It’s a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing.”
“That’s my favorite,” he said in amazement.
“You’re kidding?” She asked, her voice rising an octave.
“No,” he smiled at her.
Karmen giggled, “I made them for my publisher. They’re her favorite too.”
“Well, thank you for saving me one,” he was genuinely touched and couldn’t wait to tase something she baked.
Atticus took her to his favorite restaurant for brunch.
“This was the first place I tried when I moved here. My ex-wife hated it. I think that’s why I’m so fond of it. Well, that and the food’s good.”
Karmen lightly chuckled, “I take it she’s not a good person?”
“She cheated on me with her boss, told me I was worthless and would never amount to anything, and set my kitchen on fire,” he informed her.
She almost choked on her coffee, “What!?”
“Yeah, she’s psychotic.”
“Sounds like it,” Karmen agreed.
“So, what about you?” Atticus asked, “Any ex-husbands I should know about?”
“A late husband.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” she replied, “It’s been a couple of years.”
Atticus nodded in understanding.
“It was wrong of your ex-wife to tell you you’d never amount to anything, and even if you hadn’t have become a New York Times bestselling author, that statement wouldn’t be true, but it makes me all the happier that you are.” She smiled at him before finishing her eggs benedict.
He smiled at her. Atticus found her incredibly sweet.
For their next stop, Atticus took her to a small horror museum filled with props from Stephen King’s movies as well as some of his original notes and screenplays.
Atticus enjoyed watching her nerd out over her favorite horror writer, and he enjoyed their conversations discussing King’s movies and books.
Karmen was impressed with Atticus’ nontraditional date so far and found herself frequently laughing at his jokes.
He took her to a market half an hour away, and he was grateful for the opportunity to spend some time alone in the car getting to know her. Neither of them was sure how they landed on the topic, but the conversation turned from cooking to holiday traditions.
“While we’re on the topic of holidays, how do you like to spend New Year’s Eve?” Atticus asked.
“Well, for the past couple of years, I have been spending New Year’s Eve in my living room. I throw a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor, open the shades on the window so I can watch it snow, make a charcuterie board, and watch The Twilight Zone marathon.”
“Lowkey. I like it.”
“I like making the holiday romantic, just, ya know, not by myself.”
Atticus chuckled. “Romantic how?”
“We could spend the day watching our favorite movies, slow dancing in the kitchen, and seeing how many times we can make love before the year ends.”
He raised an eyebrow and flashed her a seductive smile before quickly returning his gaze back to the road, “I like the way you think.”
She smiled at him.
“So, what do you put on your charcuterie board?” Atticus asked.
Karmen chuckled, “That’s your takeaway?”
“Clearly not, but I’m driving, and I do not want to think about your naked body and drive us into a ditch.”
“Touché,” Karmen giggled her face, as well as places he couldn’t see turning a deep shade of red.
“She’s so damn adorable,” he thought.
“Sharp cheddar, pepperoni, pistachios, kalamata olives, dried mango, and rosemary crackers,” she replied.
“I really like you,” he glanced at her quickly before turning his attention back to the road again.
Karmen crossed her right leg over her left knee and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, “I really like you too, Atticus.”
Atticus had to forcefully tear his eyes away from her bare legs, “Okay, think baseball statistics, September 29th, 1987, Don Mattingly hit a grand slam and set a major-league record with six grand slams in a season. I remember watching that game with my dad. It was a big deal!”
Karmen couldn’t help but steal glances at him. He was so focused. She wanted to ask him what he was thinking but was afraid that question might annoy him, so she decided against it.
“Did we decide on the kind of pizza?” Atticus asked.
“No,” Karmen replied, “If I had known we’d be cooking together, I would have learned a New York-style recipe to impress you.”
Atticus smiled, “Well, I can teach you how to make one.”
Her eyes lit up, “Really?”
“Yes, I worked at a pizzeria while I was in college. I can show you.”
“I’d love that.”
“Good,” he spoke softly, “And you can teach me how to make this famous apple pie I have heard so much about.”
“Deal,” Karmen held her hand out to shake.
Atticus flashed her a devilish smile before wrapping his arms around her waist. He pulled her closer to him, “Oh, I’m going to need more than a handshake to seal the deal.”
He had caught her so off guard that not only did Karmen yelp as he grabbed her, but she flung her arm, forgetting that her Charlie Brown dome handbag was hanging from it. She hit a pyramid of apples, and suddenly apples were rolling onto the ground, causing people to fall into one another.
Karmen cupped her hands over her face in embarrassment.
Atticus could not contain his laughter.
Karmen peeked at him from behind her fingers and joined him in laughter, “Yeah, that happens more frequently than I care to admit.”
Atticus smiled at her, “Well,” he paused, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, “We’ll have fun laughing at each other. I’m incredibly clumsy.”
She chuckled, “We’ll never be bored.”
Atticus smiled, “True that.”
After picking up the apples, they walked along, gathering the ingredients they would need to make pizza and apple pie. Karmen stopped abruptly as soon as she heard it.
“What’s wrong,” Atticus asked her, a look of concern etched on his face.
“Shh,” she put her finger to her mouth. “I hear it.”
“The nothing fight.”
Atticus gave her a confused look, and she grabbed his hand. He quickly grabbed the cart and followed her.
She started to chuckle as soon as she found the couple. “Dane Cook does this skit,” she began to explain, “He talks about coming across a couple at a grocery store in the middle of what he calls nothing fights over no, which are fights over nothing important and can be quite funny. Listen,” she pointed to the couple.
Atticus played along and pretended to be overly interested in a high-quality bottle of Italian olive oil.
“I prefer the tube over the can because it lasts longer,” the short woman said through her teeth, waving a tube of tomato paste in the tall man’s face.
Her sweetheart stood at least a foot taller than her, and he looked down at her, releasing short outbursts of grunted laughter. “Well,” he said as he crossed his arms. “You never squeeze it from the bottom.”
“I don’t know how you do that without dropping it.”
Karmen and Atticus had to suppress their giggles as mister tall looked at miss short like she had two heads.
“You have to squeeze from the top. It comes out easier,” the short woman replied.
“It comes out the same way, but you push the paste up the tube from the bottom as you go. You disrupt the natural order of things when you squeeze from the top.”
Karmen was never good at suppressing her laughter, so she turned and buried her face into Atticus’ chest.
Atticus stiffened in surprise but quickly recovered, inhaling the scent of her coconut shampoo. He wrapped an arm around her, gently rubbing her back.
She looked up at him, her heart beating so rapidly in her chest she wondered if he could hear it.
Atticus couldn’t tear his eyes away from her. His gaze flickered between her eyes behind her cat-eye glasses and her full pink lips.
Suddenly, the crowd seemed to disappear, and the only thing Karmen could focus on was Atticus’ scent, and the way his blue tee-shirt hugged his chest, and the way he was gazing at her, and his lips.
She placed her hands on his shoulders and stood on her tiptoes.
Atticus bent to meet her.
Karmen and Atticus both jumped at the sound.
“Excuse me,” an elderly woman with an unmistakable look of disapproval plastered on her face said as she reached between them to grab the very same bottle of olive oil Atticus had been holding.
Karmen and Atticus exchanged awkward looks before walking towards the checkout counter. She pulled her wallet out of her handbag and grabbed her credit card.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“Paying for groceries,” she stated the obvious.
“I see that wise-ass,” he retorted.
“I’ve got it.” He told her.
“No, no.” she protested, “You bought ice cream. This is on me.”
“Karmen, groceries are a tad more expensive than a small cup of ice cream at Cold Stone.”
She sighed, “Are you always this hard-headed?”
He chuckled that deep chuckle that caused heat to course through her veins every time she heard it.
“Yes,” he nodded emphatically.
“Fine,” she sighed for the second time, “you pay for the ingredients for pizza, and I’ll get the stuff for apple pie,” she offered.
“Deal,” he held his hand out for her to shake.
She pulled his hand and pulled him until his ear was level with her mouth.
“I’m going to need more than a handshake,” she whispered seductively.
He pulled back, raising an eyebrow, and flashing her a sly smile.
Karmen chuckled at his response.
On the way back to Atticus’, they played the Foo Fighters Wasting Light album and sang along to all the songs at the top of their lungs.
“That’s the most fun I have ever had grocery shopping,” he confessed as he carried the bags of groceries inside.
“I enjoyed it too,” she replied, spinning on her heel and looking around his house. It was old and very charming. Vintage, floral wallpaper lined the walls, the floors were hardwood, and all the trim was dark oak.
“Your home is very charming,” she said as she moved from the kitchen into the dining room. She wandered into the living room and found his vinyl record player. “May I pick something?” She asked as she pointed to the turntable.
“Be my guest,” he replied as he continued unloading the bags of groceries.
Atticus kept stealing glances at her as she browsed through his record collection. He could get used to having her around.
He shook himself out of his reverie and continued the task at hand.
She put on U2’s Rattle and Hum album.
“A New York pizza is all about the crust.”
“I’m aware,” she smiled.
She measured out the ingredients for him, and he dumped them in the Kitchen-Aid mixer.
As the song Desire flowed through the speakers, Karmen shed her lightweight cardigan, leaving her in a white tank top and blue cotton shorts printed with white daisies. She started swaying to the beat.
Atticus smiled, “Is this what life would be like? “He wondered. “Us in the kitchen, her scantily clad, swaying around the kitchen?”
They kneaded the dough and cut it into squares, shaping them into round balls before wrapping them in baking cloth and placing them in the fridge to chill for three hours.
They started the pizza sauce next, both of them knowing the sauce tastes better cooked over low heat for an extended time, giving the herbs and spices a chance to mingle.
Karmen and Atticus worked well together. They moved around the kitchen in choreographed fashion, purposefully stealing touches every chance they got.
He held a spoon of sauce out for her to taste.
She lightly blew on the spoon to cool it before allowing him to place the spoon in her mouth.
“Mmmm,” she moaned, earning a smile from Atticus. “That is perfect.”
He nodded in agreement.
While the sauce was left to simmer, they moved onto the apple pie. Atticus stood so close to her, focused on his apple peeling, and Karmen took the opportunity to drink in the sight of him. He was wearing khaki shorts and a blue tee-shirt that fit him perfectly.
So far, it was a fantastic third date.
To be continued…