It's first thing in the morning and Alice isn't ready to kiss yet. I pad to the kitchen, watching where I put my feet so that the boards don't creak -- it carries through this old house -- and wake her.I slice bananas lengthwise and set them to simmer with syrup, cinnamon, apple slices and a few drops of caramelised sugar. I start batter going for the waffles, find the frozen dough balls for the bread rolls and set aside six eggs to warm to room temperature so she can tell me how she likes them. The bacon I trim, spice and fry with fine-sliced red onions so they're both sweet and salty. The bread I start baking.
I listen out for the first creak that tells me that she's woken up and when I hear it, I start to set the fold-down shelf I call a table and put on the coffee.
The stairs creak their way down to me and Alice appears in the doorway, sleep-crumpled but still sweet. "Morning, Tiny. That smells good," she says.
"Thanks," I reply. "I only hope it'll taste half as good. I've laid out a spare toothbrush and towel in the bathroom. I'm sorry I don't have much in the way of spare clothes."
Alice smiles, a sweet and still-sleepy smile. "Thanks. I think I'll shower at home."
She disappears upstairs and I breathe a sigh of relief. This isn't going to be awkward after all.
I hadn't planned on us getting home at three in the morning but late-running concerts, detours and getting lost will do that for you and we'd just sat in my living room talking. She'd fallen asleep leaned against me. I'd kissed the top of her head: her hair smelled of her shampoo, dust and smoke. I thought of waking her up, but thought it over and carried her to my bedroom. I laid her on my bed, took off her shoes, covered her with the sheet... and left. I'd slept on the sofa. That's it, honest.
Alice comes back, looking more alert with her face washed and hair brushed. The last traces of her makeup are gone, and man I'm telling nothing but the truth when I say she never needed it.
She likes my breakfast! I end up eating less than I usually do, looking at her as she samples each dish and it makes me so happy to see her digging in to each one because it tastes good.
I drive her back in my creaky old van. She didn't mind it yesterday but next paycheck, I'm looking to trade it in. It lets me down. We didn't talk much, not like the way we were yesterday evening, but it's a comfortable silence, not one made up of having nothing left to say.
We get to her home and she smiles at me, pats my hand and thanks me again. "Thanks Tiny. I really enjoyed myself. You're such a gentleman." She closes the door behind her, realises it won't close unless she slams it, which she does, apologetically. Definitely getting a newer van.
A gentleman. That's right next to being a friend. I'd sigh, but that'd be too close to being theatrical. I turn to watch her going into her house but she isn't there.
She comes up to my window, leans in, smiles into my face, then kisses me on my lips. Then she goes.
You couldn't have removed the smile on my face with a belt-sander. It lasts all the way home.