|nishka//loki (nishka) wrote in paxletalelogs,|
@ 2017-03-26 22:35:00
|Entry tags:||freyr, loki|
i do it for the joy it brings
Who: Nish and Rafe
What: Rafe attempts to teach Nish how to cook.
Where: Nish’s apartment
When: Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Nish was sitting at the dining table, files she’d brought home from work spread out like a blanket across its surface and her laptop glowing in front of her. Chris may have made her go home yesterday, but at least he’d allowed her to take some of the more pressing files with her. She sipped her tea and kept typing, preparing a defence for one of her clients who had been waiting the longest, though she'd already put in a formal request to have the court date postponed until she was given the all-clear. It still needed to be done, either way.
Going out in the afternoons to group therapy sessions were slowing down the work she wanted to get done though. Sitting in a circle with other patients and listening to them talk about their problems did nothing but aggravate her, and she spent the hour wondering what she was even doing there and thinking about all the other things she could be doing instead. The classes afterwards were slightly more helpful; talking about stress management and coping strategies and sleep hygiene and positive self-talk. A lot of it she just let wash over her, saying what she knew the nurses wanted to hear, but once in a while they caught her attention with something useful.
Like the fact that she needed a hobby. She needed something else to care about besides work and friends. Something that was hers, that made her feel good. She still didn't know what that was, but the nurses were full of ideas, getting the patients to experiment with different types of art to let them creatively express themselves. So far, her favourite was pottery, though painting had been fun too.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. On the other side stood Rafael, with two cloth bags of groceries balanced in his hands. He slipped into the apartment when she opened the door, kissing her cheek as he passed. A small smile tugged at her lips as he kissed her and she turned to watch him head into the kitchen with his shopping.
"How are you feeling?"
He set the bags down in the kitchen, then went to work unloading their contents onto countertops and into the cabinets and fridge. It was clear he had a plan, but his gaze remained on her, expectant, and almost happy.
“Okay, I guess,” she said, following him into the kitchen and watching his movements. “What’s all this?” she asked him, leaning against the counter and looking over what he’d brought.
"Well… I thought tonight we could cook something together. I got a few things for a stew I really like." He made a small gesture with one hand, indicating a bag of shrimp, a packet of cod fillets, and a clear plastic bag filled with colorful vegetables. He raised a brow, the corner of his mouth still upturned in a tentative smile. "Are you feeling up to it? This one's really easy, I promise."
Her eyes roamed over the food he’d brought, her smile widening despite herself. “I...can’t promise it will be edible by the end,” she said, picking up the bag of vegetables and looking it over. “You have your work cut out for you, I think,” she said with an impish grin, though on the inside she was flattered that he wanted to do this with her. She put the bag down and looked around herself, not knowing the first thing to do to make...whatever they were making. “What can I do?” she asked, echoing his usual question to her. She felt suddenly unsure in her own space, but trusting that he knew what he was doing.
"The sous chef gets all the really fun work," he said. He beamed a bright grin, visibly pleased she had accepted his idea. He nodded toward the shrimp, their bag still sealed tightly. "I spared you a little and bought the peeled and deveined ones. We'll save all that work for next time." He winked playfully at her.
“Thanks; shelling and deveining shrimp isn’t really all that romantic,” she grinned, a little of the old spark returning to her eyes. Rafael nodded, laughing.
"I agree. So you can start on the peppers, tomatoes, and onion. Just chop them up. Maybe half-inch cubes?"
She pulled a knife out of a nearby drawer and then paused, thinking about where she’d stashed various implements, and then crossing to a cupboard to pull out a cutting board. It was small and plastic and clearly purchased with the intention of rarely or never using it. As it was it has only been used twice, both for cutting up onions for very simple dishes. She put it on the counter and reached for the onion, starting to cut into it and peel off the brown skin. “You’re in a good mood,” she commented, pushing the skin aside and starting to chop the onion into chunks.
"I am," Rafael agreed. The bags unpacked and put away, he opened and dried the cod with gentle pats of a paper towel, then setting them neatly in the base of a bowl. A mixture of ingredients were soon poured atop them. "I'm glad to see you're looking better. And I understand you not coming to the St. Patrick's day event, I really do. But while I was there I talked with some of our neighbors and I invited them to my place for dinner this weekend." He mixed the bowl's contents with a few passes of his freshly washed hands.
"You've met Isobel, I think, and Alice? I'd really like for you to join us."
The knife paused in her hand. “Oh,” she said, blinking rapidly to dispel the onion-induced tears. “Uhhm...yeah, I know Isobel...I don’t think I’ve met Alice though,” she said. Her previously playful tone was replaced by uncertainty. She wasn’t sure she was ready for...people yet. Especially neighbours. Neighbours who probably know too much about her now. She tried to push away the slight panic, but the harder she tried the worse it got. She let the knife fall to the cutting board, hiding her reaction by picking up the scraps from the onion and tossing them in the nearby garbage.
Rafael carried on, his own excitement keeping him from noticing her hesitation. "I think you'd like her. She has a bakery near here. It's very good. Her decorating is really nice, too. I can bake a few things, but what she does is art." He set the covered bowl of marinating fish into the fridge, then fetched the pot into which the other items would go. "She's bringing dessert. I'm cooking everything else, but you could help if you wanted. Otherwise you and Mr. Fishy can keep me company and watch television." He smiled, glancing back to her to gauge her reaction.
She avoided his eyes, trying to think of some way to let him down gently but failing in the face of his obvious excitement. A dinner party...sounded like hell to her right now. She was just barely starting to get a handle on dealing with the people in her therapy group, adding new people to her life right now was a test she wasn’t sure she was ready for. By the time he was done speaking the muscles in her face seemed to have forgotten how to smile, and instead she bit her lip and went back to the cutting board. She busied herself clearing the onions onto a plate and started to quietly work on the tomatoes, not realising she hadn’t yet spoken in answer to him, lost in her own thoughts.
He did not pause in his peeling and cutting of the plantains atop a makeshift cutting board of stacked paper towels, but his brow furrowed when he looked over at her. "What's wrong?" His own work done, he took what tomatoes she had finished and began placing them in the pot. This was easier work to do while keeping an eye on her, and he did so. The enthusiasm had entirely bled from his voice when he spoke again.
"You don't have to come," he said. "I thought it would be nice to get you out of the house. Away from work. Just something relaxing and quiet."
She bit her lip, finishing with the tomatoes and reaching for a paper towel to dry her hands, holding it tight in clenched fingers. “I…” she paused, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. “I’m not sure I’m ready for people yet,” she said, looking down, avoiding his eyes. “People here, at least.” The group didn’t count. They were all dealing with their own shit, so picking at hers wasn’t high on the agenda. But neighbours...she wasn’t strong enough yet to deal with what she was sure would come out of that meeting; mockery, accusations, insults. If she wasn’t still so weak she could handle it, but it was too soon. She wasn’t expecting anything like that from Isobel, but this other woman was an unknown element to her. She couldn’t put herself in that kind of position. “I really don’t need to be seeing anyone who isn’t my therapist.”
Rafael fell silent for a time, processing this as best he could. Careful consideration was written on his face, as open and obvious as with every emotion he felt. He scooped up the tomatoes and dropped them inside, then continued with the other vegetables. He finished with the sliced plantains, taking greater care with their placement than was required. That done, and the lot salted, he washed his hands and turned to face her, propping himself up on the counter behind them.
"I understand," he said. "I'm not going to push you past what you can handle right now. And if you change your mind, you're still welcome, obviously. We'll just be a few flights of stairs away."
She watched him finish prepping the food, growing increasingly uncomfortable with his silence, and the sudden absence of his enthusiasm. She had done that, taken away his joy over the upcoming dinner that he was planning. She started silently berating herself for it, telling herself to get over it, to snap out of this stupid funk she was in. All it was doing was bringing others down with her. “I'm sorry,” she said, having barely registered what he'd said. “If I ruined your plans. I'm sorry.”
Immediately he shook his head. "You didn't." He reached out, taking her hands in his. She looked down at their hands to hide the tears that had suddenly sprang to her eyes. "You really didn't. I mean it… I don't want to push you. If you need to rest, please, rest. I know…" He squeezed her hands. His gaze fell to the floor as he composed his next thoughts, taking pains to consider each word before he spoke. "It helped me to be around people, when I was… getting better. Healing. But everyone is different. You know what's best for you, and I'll support it. Whatever it is. I mean that."
She wanted to ask him what he meant...when he was healing. Was this physical healing? Injuries from work? Or something...closer to what she was dealing with?
But she didn't. Instead, she stepped closer to him, letting her head rest on his shoulder. “I have about all the rest I can handle,” she said, “I'm getting bored.” Though it was meant as a joke, the humour never made it into her voice. “I just...can't face them yet. Our neighbours...how can I, with what they all know about me now?” Therapy was full of coping strategies, things she could do for herself when she was feeling overwhelmed. But what was she supposed to do about what other people thought of her? There was no way she could forcibly change everyone's mind about her. Even one on one ...she'd tried with Abel on St. Patrick's Day, and that had been a spectacular fail. She's lost her gift. At least for now.
Rafael chuckled. "What do you mean, what they know about you?" He held her hands in one of his; with the other, he raised her chin to guide her eyes to his. "Half the building has seen me have sex. The other half have heard all about it by now. So they read a few rude things someone pretended you wrote. Who cares. In a week or two something else will happen and they'll forget all about it. They may have already. Did you see what Brittany wrote about Mr. Brandt? I mean…" He shrugged, and squeezed her thin fingers again. "Don't worry about them. Worry about you."
She forced a smile through her tears, but they fell anyway. That same warmth she always felt when she was near him started to bleed through her skin, soothing her as much as his words did. “I never used to care what people thought of me,” she admitted. “What bothers me is...what people will think of you. Because of me. That they'll believe those lies.” She raised one hand, wiping a tear away. “I'm afraid I'll ruin your friendships just by being there,” she finally admitted, though she hadn't intended to say it aloud.
"I'm not." Rafael drew away from her only to find the closest paper towel he could bring to hand. He held it out to her, eager to help wherever he could. "If that's all it takes to ruin a friendship then it wasn't a very good one to begin with."
She took the paper towel from him and nodded, pressing it to her eyes with a self-deprecating laugh. “I'm sorry,” she said, “It's...they have me on these pills. They're supposed to make me feel better, but instead I'm kinda weepy.” She thought back to the other night with Daniel, though at least she'd had the movie to explain it away that time. Rafael smiled, reaching out to take her hand once more.
“I'll go,” she said finally, catching his eyes and forcing a smile. “You're right. I need to get out.” She still wasn't completely sure she was ready for it, but she had to try. She was tired of feeling sorry for herself. And Rafe would be there. She trusted him.
With a shaky sigh she glanced toward the half-prepared food. “What’s next?” she asked, trying to sound cheerful but not quite getting there.
"Next," he said, bringing her hands to his lips for a small, quick kiss. "Next we wait a little. Fifteen or twenty more minutes and the fish can go in that pot. Then it's basically finished, except for a little cooking time. But the hard part's done." He tipped his head out toward the living room. "Do you want to go watch something while we wait?"
She smiled, his kiss causing warmth to spread out from her belly. “Sure,” she said, leaning forward to press a kiss to his lips. “You pick...just nothing sappy or with puppies getting murdered,” she said, grinning a little at the in joke and wandering into the living room. She had a shelf full of DVDs near the tv and scanned it with her eyes for likely candidates.
Rafael trailed behind her, eyes wide, shaking his head. "Puppies getting… no. I think I'll pass on that." He chuckled. "Let's just find a documentary on Netflix. Planet Earth is on there right now. Nice and relaxing. And we won't miss too much when we get up to finish the stew."
Nish smiled and sat next to him on the couch, curling her legs under her and leaning against him as she surfed through Netflix. “That sounds nice,” she said, pulling his arm around her shoulders like a security blanket. Lately this was all she wanted when they were together - comfort and warmth. He seemed to heal her with his mere presence, his voice, his touch. She got more therapy out of spending time with him than she did in the group sessions at the hospital, which she was sure was a waste of time that wasn’t helping at all. She didn’t like it, Loki hated it, but she went, because it made Rafe happy.
She snaked an arm around his waist, holding him close to her as the nature show started on the screen. “So tell me about the party,” she said, a little calmer now than she had been in the kitchen. “That other woman...Alice? What’s she like?” The unknown element...she’d be more comfortable if she knew a little bit about her going in.
Immediately, Rafael smiled. "She's very nice," he said, "and easily embarrassed." This was not the most accurate or charitable of descriptions; though Rafael would do much to avoid embarrassing anyone, his profession made embarrassment a frequent occurrence in his interactions. "She's easy to get along with, I think. I first met her at her bakery. She sat with me for a while and was just very easy to talk to. And an excellent baker, like I said. No matter what you think of what I'll be cooking, I'm sure dessert will be outstanding."
She smiled, appreciating his description of the other woman, some of her anxiety fading. She shifted her head on his shoulder, looking up at him. “What are you making?” she asked, her brows rising in interest. “Do you need a sous chef?”
"Of course I do. And I had one in particular in mind..." He kissed her upturned forehead. "I'm making feijoada with rice and farofa on the side. It's a stew, sort of, from home. Spicy. One of my favorites. No-one's vegetarian or vegan or anything, and no allergies, so I thought that might be a good, fairly simple thing to throw together."
She nodded and watched the animals on screen for a minute, mouthing the strange words he'd said to herself as if she'd learn them that way. “Do you miss home?” she asked. She really did want to know more about him, where he came from and who he was, but she also just wanted him to keep talking. His voice was soothing and comforting, and lately she couldn't get enough of it.
But her question quieted him. He was sure of his answer, but it was a difficult thing to explain. "I do. I always do, but some days more than others." He shrugged. His eyes remained on the screen, as though he did not trust himself to look away from the lithe foxes playing there. "I guess it's a little like missing someone who's died."
Nish frowned slightly, looking down from his face to watch her hand drawing nonsense patterns on his stomach. “You should visit then,” she said, not saying ‘we’ even though that was what she was thinking. She watched the screen for a moment, letting the playful animals lift her spirits a little. “Why did you leave, if you miss it so much?” she asked. She knew nothing of his past, but belatedly realised that she may be stepping in a minefield here. She’d left Illinois as an escape from...a past life. He may have too.
Rafael twitched a very small, fleeting smile. "I visit when I can," he said. "It's… complicated." That word again, that seemed to crop up so often, and in so many contexts. He nearly cringed to hear it fall from his own lips, but it was the only word that truly fit. He slid down against the couch cushions, settling comfortably in. "I grew up very poor," he said, his tone matter-of-fact. "My best friend talked me into going to Miami for school. School didn't work out, but Miami did, and..." He shrugged. "You know the rest."
She slid down with him, letting her cheek pillow against his chest. She let her eyes close as she listened to the rumbling of his voice under her, sighing contentedly at its soothing cadence. “But I don't, not really,” she murmured, her fingers lazily drawing on his shirt. “I want to, though. I'm tired of talking about me. I want to know you.” It seemed as if that was all she did these days, talk about herself. With Simone, in group, in checkups with Lucas, and these times with Rafe. Listening to someone else for a while was refreshing.
“Tell me a story,” she said, pressing a kiss to his chest under her, “about anything. Just talk.”
His lips parted on a wordless sigh. Stories eluded him for countless reasons. So little of his present life was fit for storytelling; so little of his past was easily dredged up. She needed comfort now, stability, and he was uncertain how to provide either. Luckily he had the ready excuse of dinner quite soon. He had to buy only a little time, and he could redirect her focus back into the kitchen.
"Okay…" He cleared his throat, picking at the seam of his jeans. His eyes remained on the television. "When I was four I went surfing for the first time. I mean, I'd been before, but this is the first time I, you know, stood up, and tried to balance, myself. My dad had his longboard. I was in the middle, he was on the back.
"I fell a few times, but then we caught this incredible wave, and I actually stayed up. We were right there in the barrel, you know, and it was perfect, so I looked over, right, and there were these dolphins inside the curl. Swimming with us." He smiled, looking for a moment almost boyish. "I guess that's not really a story, but." He shrugged.
Nish closed her eyes as he spoke, letting his voice wash over her, settle on her like a blanket. Picturing what he was saying - a little boy that looked like Rafe, crouching on a surfboard with his father. The clear teal water around them, the wave, the dolphins. She smiled, capturing that moment in her mind’s eye, making it real. “That’s perfect,” she said quietly, encouragingly. “It sounds so...happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dolphin, not for real. Did you touch them? They’re supposed to be friendly, right?”
"They can be," he said. He toyed with her hair. Glanced down to the watch on his wrist, trying to sort out how much time their food had left. "A friend back home swears they ran off a shark one time when he fell off his board. They'll attack the shark with their snout, you know. Drive them off. Usually they're defending their little ones. Calves, they call them. But sometimes they'll do it for humans, too, so maybe he's telling the truth."
“I'd like to see them someday,” she murmured with a smile. After a moment she tilted her head just enough so she could press a kiss to his neck, just under his jaw. “We should do that. Go surfing. You could teach me.” She remembered, what seemed like a long time ago now, he told her he sometimes went surfing in the mornings. Now that she wasn't strong enough yet for her morning runs, that sounded like a great alternative.
"Absolutely." He pulled her tight against him and kissed her temple. With some reluctance he drew away, only to guide her up alongside him. "Now c'mon. Let's go finish dinner."