Almost kissed (The kitchen)—Albuquerque
Did we almost kiss? You caught me alone in the kitchen, you hugged me and wouldn’t let go, and I thought we were going to kiss. It was so natural that it kind of freaked me out how I almost just kissed you like it would have been the most natural thing.
The kitchen timer beeped as Owen Jameson chopped onions. He wiped away the tears streaming down his cheeks with his sinewy forearms—a futile feat, causing his eyes to burn further with the vapors emanating from the knife in his hand. With his free hand, he pressed the timer’s button and stopped the ringing. His heart had been ringing in his ears for days. Glory Beachum was on her way for a quick visit. The last time they spent time together, they almost kissed. In this kitchen, where he prepared her favorite chili and cornbread and cookies. Cookies Glory’s mother had taught him to bake—duplicating her recipes on blue index cards for him to make on his own.
He loved cooking, but on these occasions, when he awaited Glory’s return from her graduate program in Nebraska, he’d forgotten how to dice and measure and think. His mind reeled with her image, her smell, the feel of her body when they hugged.
After adding the chopped onions in warm salt water to take away the bitterness, he washed his hands. He pulled the last batch of chocolate chip and pecan cookies from the oven, setting the sheet pan on the counter. The smell was as intoxicating as Glory’s brown curly hair and her caramel colored skin. He shook off the thoughts of her and returned to what he knew best.
They were friends.
She insisted on being friends. The distance, lack of time, and fear of breaking their friendship would make for a romantic relationship fail. And he couldn’t cope with not having her in his life. She had always been in his life—since middle school when his transition from elementary school hadn’t gone as easily as his single mother expected. It hurt that the administration had moved him to an all special education schedule, forcing him to deal with his learning and behavioral challenges. Only two things soothed him: Glory and cooking with her mother, Jean-Marie. Mrs. Beachum had taught him everything about cooking—from kitchen cleanliness to baking a three-layer cake. And his most favorite person to cook for was Glory.
When Glory told him she’d come home for winter break, he couldn’t contain his elation. It had been five months since they’d last seen each other. The texts and video chats weren’t enough to fill the void he’d felt by her absence. Sure, he’d dated other women, but they weren’t as beautiful or sweet as Glory. And if she asked him to give up all other women, he would do it in a heartbeat. But Glory never asked. While he never felt compelled to give the other women up, he always had, hoping Glory would learn he was free—for her.
The doorbell rang. His insides coiled. After dropping a cookie on the cooling rack, he inhaled, then exhaled, wiping his hands and preventing himself from hyperventilating. His heart pounded as he jogged from the kitchen to the front door, yelling, “Coming,” so she wouldn’t think he wasn’t home.
Once he opened the door and saw her standing on the other side of the threshold, his heart skipped several beats and the air escaped his lungs—frozen to the spot. Glory looked ravishing despite the bulky jacket and scarf. An early cold snap had infiltrated Albuquerque in the last week but all he felt was heat. All he could think about was wrapping Glory in his arms. He remembered their last hug. How long it took for them to part. How much he wanted to linger in her warmth. How much he wanted to never let her go. But he couldn’t take the risk of frightening her away.
Glory had long decided that she could no longer live apart from Owen but she couldn’t sacrifice her master’s program. She had another year—well, a year and a half—to go. And she needed Owen to help her get through the loneliness of being so far away from home. She couldn’t forget the feel of his collarbone against her cheek. He was always warm—both literally and figuratively. She held on for much longer than she should have. Wasn’t he dating Ellie Reiser at the time? He didn’t talk to her about his girlfriends. Truth be told, Glory never told Owen about the dates she’d had in Nebraska. Horrible dates. They weren’t worth repeating. Not even to her mother who was a great friend and confidant. And as a confidant, Glory’s mother told her not to wait for what she wished for.
And that meant Owen.
They almost kissed, in his kitchen during a quick trip to visit her mother on her birthday. She’d turned fifty—a milestone worth celebrating. Owen cooked a fantastic dinner: grilled steaks, baked stuffed lobster tails, and individual lava cake she never imagined he could make. It was a cozy family event, albeit Owen was just a friend—a family friend. Her mother loved her meal, the wine, and her cake. Her father loved not having to spend money on an expensive dinner, making sure to pay Glory’s tuition at the physician assistant program. And for her father’s thriftiness and pragmatism, Glory was grateful. Her intention had always been to return home and serve her community with quality medical care. And she needed one more reason to return home.
She had Owen to thank for her decision to enter medicine. He pushed her to study hard. Made her snacks and meals during finals week in college. When she passed exams, he baked her favorite cookies. When she received low scores on papers, he made her chili and cornbread to soothe her soul.
When he opened his front door, she could smell her favorite meal emanating from his cozy kitchen—the very one they’d almost kissed in. She could still remember the day, his smell of grilled steaks and garlic mashed potatoes, the feel of his muscles underneath his collared shirt, the heat of his body. It was as if she were transported back to that moment in time. And she couldn’t get enough of him. Owen was simply wonderful.
Ever since he protected her from bullies in middle school, she’d felt an unconditional love for him. He became part of her family, cooking alongside her mother, watching football with her father, and pretending to study with her. They were both only children. His mother, being a teen mom who worked two jobs, couldn’t handle Owen’s impulsivity and academic challenges. And Grace yearned for a sibling. For a friend. She had friends in school, but found, more often than not, that girls were fickle. They could be your best friend one day and your mortal enemy the next. But with Owen, they were best-friends-for-eternity. At least, she wanted to keep him in her life for life.
“O, it’s so good to see you.” Finding herself sinking deeper into his embrace, she pulled away.
But once she’d let go, she realized he’d pulled her inside the house. He’d done well for himself. The small ranch suited him. He’d purchased it after completing his cooking certifications and earning a promotion at the local school district. Glory had never been prouder of him. He’d come a long, long way since his visits to the principal’s office and in school suspensions. It seemed that everything but Glory and her parents made him angry.
“I’ve got dinner ready…if you’re hungry.” He beamed. And she loved his toothy grin. The way his nose crinkled and his hazel eyes squinted as he smiled made her heart melt. He took her purse in one arm and with his free hand, turned to remove her coat. He was a gentleman, implementing everything her father had taught him.
Glory’s insides roiled with the thought of everything she wanted to tell him as she watched him hang her coat on the board and batten hook he installed in the foyer. He’d done many of his own renovations and she marveled at his domesticity.
“Let’s go in the kitchen. I’ll serve you up some chili and corn—”
She grabbed him by the bicep, feeling his muscle flex under her touch. Without hesitation, she pulled her hand away and tucked it into the pocket of her jeans. “I’d like to talk.” The kitchen was the last place she wanted to be alone with him before confessing her feelings.
His brow furrowed, and he mimicked her stance—tucking his hands in his jeans. Worry lines wrinkled his forehead. “Is something wrong?”
It would be so much easier for her to tell him what was on her mind if she didn’t have to face him…tell him the truth about her hopes, her needs, her dreams. “I just want to talk.”
She saw his Adam’s apple move before he asked, “What about?” He walked toward the couch. She followed, thankful that his back was to her. He waited for her to take a seat first, and she bit her lip at the sweet gesture. She sat, turning her body toward him.
When he sat down opposite her, she inhaled. The words had a hard time forming in her mind. She couldn’t utter a sound. He put his hand over her clasped fingers. It was no comfort to have him touch her, not when the memory of their almost-kiss was still fresh in her mind. “I have a problem.” He frowned, the look of concern made her smile. Dependable and sweet Owen had always been her rock. She placed her hand on top of his. “It’s not really a problem, but more like a concern.”
“You can tell me anything, Glory. I—”
“I know that. That’s why I’m here.” She looked deeply into his eyes, flecks of gold shining brightly at her. He raked his fingers through his cinnamon-colored hair. “Remember when I was here for my mom’s birthday, you cooked an amazing dinner and dessert for us?”
He chuckled, casting his eyes down. “It was a great night.”
“I haven’t stopped thinking about us since that night.” She squeezed his hand for him to look at her. When he peered up, she smiled. “When I helped you clean up the dishes after my parents left…” She looked away. The intensity in his eyes was too much, fearing his rejection before she’d given him the chance to speak for himself.
“It was a great night, Glor.” He moved closer, his knees touching hers. “I miss us having dinners together. It’s why I was so happy you were coming home.”
“And I will come home soon—when I’m done with my PA program. I intend to come back home, which is why I need to ask you something.” The warmth of his hand and her sweaty palms caused her to pull away from his grip. She ran her fingers over her curls. “I’m just going to say it.”
“If it’s what I think you’re going to say, then I’m sorry I ever made you feel uncomfortable. I didn’t intend for us to be alone like that. To hug…I thought we had a moment and I almost kissed you, which—”
“Which would have made for a perfect ending to a perfect night.”
He shook his head. “Did you just say—”
“That I’d been waiting for a kiss from you since Sophomore year of high school when you asked me to the homecoming dance, saving me from humiliation.”
Owen chuckled and shook his head. “No one asked you to the dance because I threatened to make their lives miserable if they had. I wanted to be the one to take you. To have your dad drive us. To dance all the dances with you.” He gave her a pursed smile.
Glory beamed, feeling heat course through her veins, hitting all her cells, electrifying every fiber of her body, and making her heart beat like a fawn discovering her natural speed. “I know I live in Nebraska—temporarily—but I was hoping we could try—”
Before she could complete the sentence, Owen leaned in, lowering his head to hers. He planted a gentle kiss on her lips. It was the kiss she’d wanted after a long hug in the kitchen. It was the kiss she dreamed of after all of their high school dances. It was the kiss she fantasized about when he would drop her off at home after her part-time job. Owen Jameson finally made all her wishes come true.