So, I forgot to finish scheduling this. Oops! But it’s still up today, so it counts, right? Right. Good, I’m glad you’re going with me on this.
The Arms of the Ocean
Across Elliott Bay, and further up past the canal, 3 am found Rilla waking up. Again. It was hard to say if she were waking up, or if she had never properly fallen asleep. She had laid in bed for an hour wondering if she had done the right thing, if she should have asked Marius to stay, if she should have been insistent. The kiss had been beyond words. Whether because she had been single for so long or he was just an exceptionally good kisser or because they had chemistry – whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. What mattered was how long it had taken her heart to calm down after. Staring at her little anachronistic clock, she groaned, and rolled over again.
Sleep eventually came, and like most people who stay up too late, Rilla overcompensated. She didn’t remember shutting off the alarm, she just knew that by the time she rolled back over and looked at the clock again it was an hour past when she should have gotten up. Letting out what could only be described as a short, mournful wail, Rilla rolled out of bed and rushed through her room. No shower, but thankfully her hair was still manageable after the thorough dousing in hairspray it had gotten the night before. In a way it was better, as sleeping had broken it up a little and made it softer but still kept the general shape and kept it from getting oily. A few bobby pins, and it would certainly do. A little doctoring made last night’s eyeliner look like an intentional smoky eye. Leggings, a delightfully soft, pettable dress with what was almost too low of a neckline for work, and last night’s boots came together in a surprisingly fetching ensemble considering how last minute it was.
Running down the stairs, Rilla almost collided with Karin.
“Overslept,” Karin asked with a bit of a smirk.
“Yes, but not for those reasons,” Rilla countered, sticking out her tongue before heading into the kitchen as Karin followed, laughing quietly.
“Sorry? Or is it okay? Do you have time to tell me how it went?”
Looking down at her phone, Rilla muttered to herself. Too late for the bus, she’d have to use a ride-sharing company. She pulled up the app on her phone. “Yes, I have time, but only until my ride gets here,” Rilla said, punching in the request and then setting the phone down to cobble together breakfast.
Sitting down at the table, Karin waited patiently as Rilla rummaged around for the last crumpet and popped it in the toaster. Well, mostly patiently, there may have been some tapping of fingernails on the tabletop. Topping the crumpet with a suitable amount of jam, Rilla sat down and looked over at Karin.
“All right,” Rilla began, and took a breath. “The Cliff’s Notes version. It was absolutely lovely, he was a complete gentleman. We had Thai for dinner, than walked down to get cheesecake at my favorite place. Played the getting to know you game, and despite some questionable tastes in music we have enough in common to work with. I did get a little panicky when I realized how much money he had – did you know he owns his own place on the water in West Seattle?”
Arching an eyebrow, Karin grinned a little. “I did not know that, having no way to know that, but I’m definitely impressed.”
“I’m glad you’re impressed, I was terrified,” Rilla answered with a touch of exacerbation. “And of course I mention that I’m feeling intimidated, at which point he takes my hand and says something heartfelt and romantic about how talented I am. Karin, seriously, Danielle Steele could not have written this night and had it come out better. Then he takes me home, and…and kisses me goodnight, asks to call today, and off we go.”
Karin started to smirk again, and propper up her chin with her hand. “And how was the kiss?”
“Oh, God, it was everything I’ve ever wanted,” Rilla admitted, covering her face with her hands and taking a deep breath, pink staining her cheeks. “He…I was hesitating, and he just lifted up my chin and…and it was perfect and his arms came around me and dammit, Karin, I couldn’t sleep I wanted him so badly after that.”
Two arched eyebrows this time. “Now I am definitely impressed,” Karin said, the playfulness gone from her tone. “And then he went home. But he asked if you were free today?”
“Yes,” Rilla said with a sigh, pulling herself back together. “Or rather, he asked if he could call. Because of course he did. And I know you’re probably going to tell me that if he wants to see me today I should say no, but I can more or less guarantee that I won’t do that.”
Karin snorted, and shook her head. “No, that ‘make them wait’ stuff is bullshit. He should be excited that you’re interested enough to see him again so soon. And if he’s not, then you don’t want someone who plays those kind of dumb ass mind games anyway.”
Blinking in surprise, Rilla just looked at Karin for a minute. “Um, you’re not wrong, but that was very…vehement.”
“Experience,” Karin answered with a shrug and a sigh. “If they don’t like you the way you are, they can walk. Remember that.”
Nodding, Rilla was tempted to make an offhand, playful comment to break the tension, but it didn’t feel right. Karin was speaking her truth, and it sounded like that truth had been found painfully. The quiet stretched for another minute, then Rilla’s phone chimed, indicating her ride was there. “And I’m off! We’ll catch up soon and have a real conversation. And I want to hear about how things are going with Chris!”
The mention of Chris actually made Karin smile, for which Rilla was thankful as she waved and ran out the door. The cute little red hatchback waiting for her got her down to her shop in record time, and so despite being super late she still opened the shop up at 10 a.m. on the dot. Which was good, because people started coming in almost immediately. Saturdays were good days for retail, and they were on a road with good foot traffic in a part of town that still got plenty of tourists, even in the off season. When the owner’s son ran in with another batch of cocoa supplies, he was informed in no uncertain terms that he could stick around and put everything away while she continued to see to customers. Thankfully he was a good sport about it.
At about an hour before closing, during a much needed lull after an entire tour group marched through and bought every copy of a book on the seedy history of Pioneer Square, Rilla’s phone rang. The day had been long enough that she actually pulled it out of her pocked with some irritation and was preparing to send the caller to voice mail when she remembered who it might be. With a small squeak, she didn’t quite punch the accept button. “Hello, this is Rilla.”
“You know, I probably should have just texted you,” Marius voice came through, tinged with amusement. “Because I’m getting you at work, aren’t I?”
Rilla grinned. “You are, but you actually just caught me after the store cleared out. So I might have a whole minute.”
“I’ll make it quick, then. You close at 6, right? Can I come sweep you away for dinner? Nothing fancy, we can just walk around and find a place.”
Panicking for a moment, Rilla took a breath and told the voice in her head screaming about how she hadn’t showered or done her hair to go jump in the Sound. “Absolutely.”
“Brilliant. See you then.”
“Looking forward to it.” Setting the phone down, Rilla took another breath. This was good, right? Dinner tonight was good? Because that meant that he liked her enough that he wanted to see her again right away. Right? She wasn’t given time to have anxiety over the issue, because her prediction about how much time she’d have to herself turned out to be correct. The bell on the door rang out that more people were coming in, and Rilla put on her game face and got back to it.
The last hour was filled with another tour group, in addition to some unattached shoppers, and one gentleman who actually had Rilla grinning as she helped him cobble together an anniversary gift for his wife. Ringing the excited husband up and sending him off, she looked up to see Marius standing just inside the door, smiling, looking immaculate if less formal in jeans, a sweater, and a peacoat. She smiled in return, and just managed not to blush.
“Welcome to my tiny kingdom,” Rilla said, gesturing around her to the overcrowded bookstore. “Oh, flip the sign, will you? I’ll start closing things down.”
“Of course,” Marius said, moving to comply with your request. “Should I have come a little later?”
“No, no, you’re fine,” Rilla called back as she headed over to the hot chocolate bar and made sure everything was poured out, washed down, and turned off. “Though I will kick you out just ahead of me so I can set the alarm and all that. But you being here isn’t a problem, and now I have someone to talk to while I go through the boring steps.”
Marius seemed to have the sense to just wait patiently as she counted out the till and locked up the deposit – the owner would come by for it Monday morning. There were a few extra steps since it was a Saturday and they wouldn’t be open for the next two days. Rilla and Marius exchanged a handful of pleasantries about their day, the weather, inconsequential things that wouldn’t interrupt her pattern and also effectively got the pleasantries out of the way. Finally, Rilla shooed him outside for final lock up.