More Than Crave You(5)

By: Shayla Black

The day I turned eighteen, I packed my bags and left my foster mother’s house. Diana was great, the closest thing to a mom I have left, but once the state stopped paying her to look after me, she didn’t need a financial burden under her roof. There aren’t many jobs in rural Washington State, especially for a starving artist who’s never held a job longer than six months. Besides, she swears that she and the wind are conjoined twins, so she goes wherever her sister takes her. Since she gave me a much-needed, if off-beat, home for six years, I now give her financial security so she can breeze across the world.

“Growing up, Mom and I took turns with the chores. Her motto was that doing everything for me wouldn’t teach me how to fend for myself. That’s why I can both cook and do some home repair. Now, I’m going to help you.” She holds up a casserole dish. “What did you make in here?”

“Nothing. One of my neighbors brought me lasagna shortly after Becca’s funeral.” I probably should have washed and returned it, but I didn’t want to spend any more time in Becca’s kitchen than I had to. Her absence simply reminds me too much of the fact I’m alone.

“You know, if doing dishes were more like rocket science, you’d probably understand it better.”

“No doubt you’re right,” I admit wryly.

“Put some dish soap and hot water in this, then set it on the counter to soak.” Nia shoves the dish in my hand.

A thick layer of black and green crusts the bottom. “It looks like something that belongs in a Petri dish.”

“It totally does.” She rolls her eyes, but there’s a smile hovering at the corners of her lips.

I smile back, then finally remember that I have a few manners. “Wine?”

Nia turns to me with raised brows. “You have some?”

“Yeah.” I don’t mention that most are bottles people have given to me over the years—birthdays, corporate events, congratulations on a great year/new offices/coming baby sort of thing. I simply open the pantry door. “I’ve got a collection. Take a look.”

She strolls toward the mostly empty shelves. “Keep working on that pile of dishes. We should probably have some zippy white with chicken and seafood for dinner, but I love me a good red. Merlot it is. That okay?”

“I guess. I’ve never tried it.” Becca didn’t drink, and I only imbibe when I’m hanging out with Sebastian.

“I’m beginning to think my mission in life is to expand your horizons.”

I only know random details about Nia’s past. She grew up in Georgia, then decided she wanted a totally different experience while she pursued higher education, so she applied to institutions in the northeast and northwest, finally deciding to attend the University of Washington. She graduated with honors in four years with a degree in communication and a minor in business administration while holding down crappy minimum-wage jobs. She filled the summers of her college years with adventures—backpacking through Europe and building clean-water facilities for rural South American villages. For graduation, she saved up for an epic trip, journeying to Africa by herself to see the other side of the world. I give her tons of credit, especially since I don’t step out of my shell much.

“If anyone could, it’s you.”

She looks proud of herself as she wags a finger at me. “Don’t you forget it. Corkscrew?”

I shrug.

“I’ll look around. You keep washing.”

I hear her rummaging through drawers, muttering softly to herself as I continue to work at the mountain of glass and china that’s been stacking up for months. At least the stove is relatively clean since I’ve hardly used it.

“Ah-ha!” After some clinking and rattling, she holds up the implement, triumphant. “Found it.” Moments later, she has the bottle open and she’s poured some into two clean glasses. “What should we toast to?”

“Me getting my act together?”

“Other than this domestic mess, no one has their act more together than you. How about…new possibilities?”

Like a clean house and a new wife? “To new possibilities, then.”

We clink glasses and sip. It’s not awful, actually. I’m surprised.

For the next two hours, we talk about work and fix the abysmal state of my living room while I try to ignore the spices wafting through the place and making my stomach rumble. Becca preferred bland food, but I like something with kick. What Nia is simmering smells divine.

By the time it’s ready, she’s reorganized half my cabinets, directed me on how to scrub my refrigerator from top to bottom, and sorted months’ worth of magazines and mail off the kitchen table and into either the trash or my home office.