kaigou: The two things that matter most to me: emotional resonance and rocket launchers. (3 whedon wisdom)
[personal profile] kaigou
Someday, I'll find a story with a scene like this, and I'll be very happy. Don't tell me I'm gonna have to write it myself. I have enough on my plate. (Also, it was supposed to be much shorter, but tonight I didn't just have Good Sushi, I had Okonomiyaki, and thus is bliss.)



Eleanor turned away from the sink and nearly ran into someone, backed up into the counter and glared at the man's collarbones. "What," she snapped, too startled to care about manners. The water continued to run over the dishes, splattering the small of her back.

"I was told to bring these in," the man said, holding up four glasses, held precariously between long fingers. "Where should I put these?"

"Counter. There." Eleanor motioned with a jerk of her head, still not bothering to look up. He twisted from the hips, neatly depositing the glasses while still crowding her. "This kitchen isn't so small we need to play sardines. Besides--" She reached behind her, splashing a hand into the soapy water, felt around and withdrew a knife. "It's best to give plenty of room to the woman with a sharp object."

"But sardines are so much fun," the man parried. He leaned away a little, but his feet remained in the same place.

"It's always fun and games--"

"Until someone loses an eye." He sounded amused. Eleanor's peripheral vision gave her a glimpse of his flashing smile, even white teeth against golden skin. "But can you reach that high?"

Eleanor fought to keep from rolling her eyes at him. "I'd aim for somewhere considerably lower." She sharpened the words with a thin smile, and motioned with the knife.

The man took the hint -- finally -- and backed up. He made a point of raising his hands, smiling still. Eleanor promptly turned her back on him. If she'd been in the mood for that kind of shit, she wouldn't have volunteered for kitchen duty. He didn't leave, though. Just leaned against the countertop on the other side of the open dishwasher, and watched her work.

"Trey told me Ellie's in charge back here," he said, his tone both amused and thoughtful. Perhaps he thought it sounded sexy, low in his throat like that. Yeah, fine, it did, but sexy and a counter full of dirty glasses didn't mix, in Eleanor's opinion. "I guess that means you're Ellie."

"You'd guess wrong, and I don't expect that's what Trey said, at all," she retorted, irritated all over again.

He laughed. Maybe he'd been clunked on the head in a scene earlier. "I don't see anyone else in--"

"Trey knows my name." She withdrew a hand from the water and pointed it at herself. "I'm Eleanor."

"Right." He nodded pleasantly, and offered his hand. "I'm Paul."

You're something, she wanted to say, but didn't. Instead she held up her soaking hand and let water drip from her fingers, explanation for not taking his hand formally. She tried to get a better look, but refused to give him the satisfaction of watching her tilt her head back to take him all in. A glimpse of dark brown hair curling around his nape, too long to be a corporate type. Strong jaw, long nose, thin lips. Two earrings in one ear, little silver hoops. A dark blue button-up shirt in something silky skimmed his chest without clinging. Long legs in black jeans. Light reflected off the buckle at his ankle. Engineer boots, the kind motorcyclists wore.

Nothing familiar at all, so not even one of the guys who only came around when single. Strange. Trey wasn't one for talking with strangers, not now he could leave that to Drew. She dismissed the curiosity and focused on rooting out the rest of the silverware, sorting it neatly into the dishwasher's plastic holders. Knives and forks pointed downward, or else Maria would be having another obsessive-compulsive breakdown as the night's final drama.

"I'm impressed," Paul said, reminding her of his presence all over again. Eleanor nearly skewered herself on the last knife, swore silently, and dropped it into place. "I've never seen someone so meticulous about the dishes. You do this professionally, Ellie?"

Eleanor hummed to herself, softly, and swished the water around before starting on the plates. She kept humming, a soft almost-tune, and with the clatter of the china she almost forgot her urge to throw hot soapy water in the man's face. He didn't speak again, and she hoped he'd realized his error. He was rather handsome, after all, from what she could tell. Too bad he'd had to open his mouth. She slid the last plate into the lower rack.

"I asked you a question," he said, quieter, but with an edge to it.

She gave him a look of mock-surprise. "Did you? I figured you were talking to someone else."

"I'd say it was pretty clear who I was talking to."

"Seeing how you used someone else's name, I'd say it wasn't." She held up a glass, frowned at the lipstick marks, and wondered if the dishwasher would take care of those. Better to be safe. She reached for a sponge, and threw the man a sly sideways look. "Paulie."

His brows came down, and she looked away, expression schooled to be perfectly blank. He startled her, then, with a soft laugh. "Is that why you're back here? Your attitude? Or just an off-night?"

Eleanor shrugged. "I volunteered." For some reason she couldn't pin a finger on, she almost felt sorry for the guy. Really, he probably couldn't help being a complete sexist asshole. Probably raised to think it was just fine. "Maria has OCD, and I'm one of the few people she's known long enough to trust I'll do things exactly as she wants them. She's having the off-night, actually."

"I see." Paul still sounded amused, but it was tempered with something else. "She's trained you well."

There was a double meaning in that, and hardly subtle. Eleanor chose to ignore it, treat it as a joke. "Yeah, I guess."

"Yes, what?"

His demand took a second to dawn on her, and she almost blinked at the audacity, at the same instant any last sorry feeling dissipated like the pop of a little soap bubble. She pulled the plug on the sink, and stepped back while the water drained, getting enough distance that she could stare him in the eyes without feeling halfway into a back-bend to do it.

"Yes," she repeated, enunciating carefully, "I do guess I've fully learned the details of what Maria requires to be able to relax, at least for this part of hosting a party."

A line formed between Paul's brows, though his mouth remained curled, like he wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or to laugh at her. Maybe both. He opened his mouth, and Eleanor put up her hand.

"Hold on. I need to mark these down."

To her surprise, he closed his mouth, waiting while she whipped her card out from under her shirt. No pockets in her long skirt, so she'd tucked the card into the waistband, not expecting she'd have enough interaction to be using it. Eleanor skimmed the boxes, dug out a pen from Maria's over-organized excuse for a junk drawer, and carefully X'd off three boxes. Crowding, top left corner. Pet-names, fourth box in the top row. Damn it, this card didn't have humoring name correction. Wait, it did have demanding title-use, and in the top row. Eleanor whistled.

"On second thought," she told him, waving the card before tucking it away again, "keep going. I only need one more and I'll win tonight's kitty."

"Kitty?" Paul frowned, but without that forbidding line. A look of confusion. "Is there a betting pool?"

"Door prize. Last I heard, it's fifty bucks, and more cash never hurts." Eleanor spared him a grin, feeling much better now there was the chance she could get something for the irritation. "Given everything else you've said, I have every bit of faith you'll deliver the one square I still need. And then, bingo! Cash is mine." She knocked the water back on, and began washing down the suds clinging to the sink.

"Bingo? I didn't get a card," he replied.

"Of course not. Some people play, and some people pay. You pay." Eleanor shut off the water and began wiping down the counter while he processed her retort.

Only once the counter was perfectly clean and dry did she check the dishwasher, fill up the detergent, and close the door. The washer started right up, red light blinking. She made a note of the time, and dug out the black electrical tape. She cut off a piece, carefully covering up the timer, bemused that she could feel Paul's gaze on her every move. She returned tape and scissors to the drawer, checking one more time to make sure the pen she'd used was back with others of the same color.

She straightened up, arching her back to stretch, and looked over the kitchen one more time. Everything seemed to be in place, but she'd have David check anyway. Paul's intrusion had thrown her off the routine, and she didn't want to have Maria dealing with the fallout just because Eleanor couldn't concentrate perfectly with some freakishly-tall newbie staring at her.

Paul's soft laughter drew her attention back to him. "What," she asked, but without too much heat. Her brain was still rattling off the list: all canisters facing outward, ordered by height, doors and drawers closed, sponge... damn it, sponge in the tray on the left side. Eleanor made the switch, and put a finger to her lips, tapping while she ran through the list yet again. Soap bottle wiped off and closed...

"You're not very submissive, are you," Paul said.

Eleanor nearly leapt in glee, drawing the bingo card out and studying the top row. "Damn it!" She glared at the card, but marked off questions submissiveness on the third row. She needed finds anger cute. Damn it. She'd had plans for that fifty bucks. She capped the pen and put it away again, tucking the card into her skirt, trying for a philosophical air. The night was still young, and who knew what other sexist crap the newbie might yet pull out of his ass.

Speaking of the overly-tall newbie, he was staring at her with a look somewhere between annoyance and utter fascination. She wasn't sure which might be worse. The first, bad enough dealing with prickly male ego. The second... well, that was just creepy.

"Typical," she said, wiping her hands one last time. "Ever occur to you that perhaps it's you, and not me?"

That threw him off-balance, she was pleased to see, but she gave him points for at least getting rid of that smug smile when he asked, "what do you mean?"

"Because you aren't acting anything like a true dominant," Eleanor replied. His mouth worked, the slightest, and she knew he'd just exerted some major effort to keep from letting his jaw drop. She folded up the towel and set it in the laundry hamper. "But you're doing marvelously at being an asshole."

Paul straightened up from the counter, coming up to his full height. If he'd still been crowding her, then she might've had to admit such height was intimidating. But now Eleanor stood on the other side of the kitchen from him, and all she had to do was spin on her heel and walk away. She did so, with great pleasure.

Even if she really would've liked to have won the evening's fifty-dollar kitty.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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