The afternoon sun played teasing the new leaves with a gentle caress of things to come. It whispered to the green militia under foot of the reward for standing strong under the picnic blankets, baskets, and bottoms gathered there. To the rafts of plaid flannel, solid cotton, and stripped wool, it shone as a calm warm light in the tempest keeping them from the shaded cool beachhead of the stage. They parked their raft amid the other vessels waiting in turn for the daylight delight. Travis packed a late picnic lunch of cheese, fruits, and watercress-tofu sandwiches with soymilk and wine. Twice he remarked on the simple dress she wore noting how delighted he was she did own such a garment that matched the spring season so well. Thrice she warned him about it.
The play was passable for an amateur production, including the missed queues and flubbed lines. Just as they arrived, they returned home in the hired car only to make it two miles away when the vehicle blew its engine. Opting for the evening walk, off they went into the dusk only to greet forecasted thunderstorm. They jogged the half mile to Travis's home through the drenching sheets and howling winds arriving soaked and chilled to the bone.
Travis stripped at the front door dropping his wet clothing in a heap in the mudroom. Alexis left her sneakers and socks in his heap and dashed for the shower. As the water drove the chill from her bones, she could hear the light blessing from Travis as lit the fireplace. Twenty minutes of the heated rain and she was warm enough to venture out into a robe on the heated towel rack. Moments later, she was padding down the hall in her fuzzy slippers to the fireplace.
Travis made the fire and cleaned up the mudroom assigning a suitable cycle in the washer for their clothing and placing their shoes on the hearth. Working on the platform in the North Sea, he grew accustomed to the wet cold. The slight soaking they received on the way home was scarcely a whisper on his flesh. He set about making warmed cider with nutmeg and cinnamon topped with whipped cream. It would warm her from the inside out and assure a restful sleep. Having just poured the cider in the pot, he heard the light slaps of her slippers on the stairs.
"Ah… You're just in time to watch it warm. I know how you love the smell as this simmers," he smiled streaking into the living room, pot strategically held low near his hips. "I'll just place it on the hearth here," the embers kicked up as he pushed the pot half into their spent ashes and covered it. "I'll have my 'fourth' shower while it heats up then I'll whip the cream-in a robe."
"You promise? A real robe Travis Wozick?" wearily left her lips as she snuggled down into the sofa watching him dash up the stairs, "that will be the day..." The moment the water was detected, Alexis ran back to her room and retrieved a small ornately gift wrapped parcel from her bag. She reclaimed and replicated her position on the sofa carefully hiding the box under the blanket and tended her damp hair. "I think it's boiling… Smells great!" she called trying to get him back to the fire. He was an OCD chef and would start the entire dish over if not to his standards and should the cider scald, the process would begin again over a lecture.
His robed form descended on the hearth testing the goodness in the pot. "It's just perfect to infuse that nutmeg. I'll set it on the counter inside to cool while I whip the cream," he gripped the pot with the hem of his robe.
"Be still my heart: a robe?" She feigned surprise, dropping the brush for added effect.
"Of course; how else am I to grip this hot pot?" he smirked. "Why don't you join me in the kitchen and pick out two cups."
"You're joking… Me? In your kitchen and disturbing the collection? Surely you mean a couple of mugs," she sat up carefully evaluating his words. Was he truly asking her to enter the sacred realm and use the forbidden tools?
"No, I mean the china teacups, Teacup. They are in kitchen now. Come on in and have a look birthday girl…" he snickered vanishing through the opening once again. "Bring that box you're hiding and tell me all about this 'beau' of yours."
"How do you do that?" Travis always knew when she was hiding something be it a scrap of paper in her wallet or the box under the blanket. "Stop calling me that!" another throw
pillow sailed through the air half-heartedly, landing behind him.
"Please stop throwing things if you are going to miss… I know I taught you how to hit your targets."
Securing her robe, she paused at the threshold of the kitchen. "Wow." He stated in the past that he would have the entire kitchen gutted and remodled if he could find the suitable materials and appliances. The ultra modern stainless steel combined with rustic salt and pepper granite countertops, snowflake obsidian tile, and deep amber bamboo woodwork gave the room an airy feeling matching the window wall and the view. The wall continued up in a half glass ceiling tying into the roof just above the loft of the master suite. Standing at the centre a three level island—bar, breakfast, and prep—Travis stood whipping the cream next to another fuchsia bowed box. "I though you said minor overhaul…"
"I'll take that as a 'you can woo any woman with this kitchen' and am suitable for marriage now." Testing the peaks on the cream, he gestured with the whisk, "cups are over there." The whisk fell back into its rhythm. "And bring a of sprig mint from the garden too." Turning Alexis saw the forest of an indoor herb garden. The modest breakfast nook was gone along with the back patio and bar-b-queue pit replaced with another detail he wanted in his kitchen: raised beds to grow herbs all year long even though he would be on the platform for 2-month tours. At the far end, the massive ancient cedar cabinet stood unchallenged like a mighty sequoia. It held behind its lead glass doors the 'collection.'
"You took out the wall…" a strained note of horror mixed in with the surprise of her words tickled his ear.
"Yes, I added an additional 500 square feet to make—"
"How could you! That was the only bit left of them! You promised!" The gift made a slight thud on the tile as she flew at him, claws seeking his eyes, venom in her heart. "The only bits found and YOU took out the entire wall!"
"Whoa!" whisk and bowl clanged on the granite as he quickly marshaled her talons before she did damage. "I saved it!" She kicked at his shins. "Stop trying to kill me and I'll show you!" She kneed him in the groin ceasing her assault. Without a word, he pulled her across the floor and up to the behemoth pressing her face to the glass. "See look, the entire back IS the wall." He mashed her face into the glass as if trying to make it part of it then let her go in disgust. Walking back to the island he cleared the bowl with a sweep of his arm sending it crashing to the floor. "Now I have to start over; the peaks fell," marched out as he cooled his rage, "the cider will be just right if you give me those herbs," he let out slowly regaining his composure.
Rubbing her face, she shot daggers in a final sortie then opened the cupboard. The pinewood back was gone replaced by a dark section of mahogany wainscoting. Gingerly reaching over the fine porcelain, her fingers sought the comfort of the marks, dried blood, and shot grains. The crime lab had treated the area with a preservative lacquer like substance: it was the only evidence the murders left. The jury was brought to the house as removing the panel from the wall for transport to the trial was more than her fragile psyche could handle. Losing her mother, father, sister, and brother after having such a hard start in life just about did her in.
Travis cleared his throat bringing her back to the present. "That mint would be handy about now." Twisting off a good-sized mint sprig, she penitently walked back to the island. She offered it silence, eyes lowered, and braced for his wrath. He accepted it with the lightest of touches.
"You were going to tell me about your beau…" he began bruising the mint. "When do I get to meet him? Don't forget the cups…"
"Well that's the problem." She approached the cupboard again reverently. Fine china teacups with matching saucers arranged in neat rows, each with its own wooden puzzle box. "Your reputation precludes my even getting one out here to meet you."
Alexis scanned the shelves looking for a suitable pairing for their evening dessert.
Every pair—cup and saucer—of exquisite bone china, contained in the cupboard turned crypt, each with their own caskets to protect them. Bones in boxes inside a box without its bones, holding the memory of what could be; what will never be; destined to collect more bones for the missing.
"Are you sure Teacup?" Travis lifted the lid off the spiced liquid letting its perfume carry throughout the house trying to pull her back. "You're temper would definitely give a guy second thoughts about coming to you with spear in hand." A sniffle tickled his ear. "I'll use these mugs since you can't decide on two…" Travis collected the tray from the table, selected a few fruits from the basket there—a dragon, a few kiwis, and the bowl of freshly dehydrated persimmons, mango, and dates—for a light evening snack to balance out the acid from the cider.
"Yes I'm sure. Not many men receive the congressional metal of honor, your freaking famous." With an angels grace she embraced the cupboard closed, careful not to shake a single dust mote. "Then they make the connection with… with the trial and me," a sigh of stone fell through the air. "Stop calling me that…"
"Never," he waggled his tongue. "They turn from men with spears to boys with sticks." Shaking his head, he ladled the steaming liquid into the mugs topping them with the cream and a stick of cinnamon for straws. "Come let's sit by the fire," he lifted the tray and maneuvered around the mess on the floor much to her surprise. "I'll clean it later. Come on; you want to talk, I can feel it," Travis smiled leading the way back to the fire. Alexis collected both gifts and followed.