I still don't know why I did it. Maybe I was remembering Donna Marks, all those takeout menus, and how she ended up, or maybe I was remembering a certain someone telling me I had to get out more. Or maybe it was my new addiction to Good Eats. I never really paid much attention to the Food Network before. I mean, come on, the only cookbook I owned was the restaurant section in the Yellow Pages. But I was flipping channels one day, and saw a diagram of molecules…and sock puppets. I had to stop. Who wouldn't?
I got hooked. It was the only cooking show I'd seen that used science to explain why you sometimes had to do crazy things to what you were cooking. It made sense. It almost made me think I could actually make some of things I saw on the show. From scratch. Without burning down my apartment.
So maybe it was some combination of those things, I don't know. But when Nick asked me to housesit the week he was going back to Texas for his nephew's graduation, I found myself staring at his small collection of cookbooks.
I didn't want to go out and buy one, just in case this whole cooking experiment blew up in my face…figuratively or literally. So I guess I was thinking I could just borrow one of his. Try it out, return the book before he got home.
The top three were all Bobby Flay. I wasn't confident enough to try grilling…besides, I'd have needed to buy a grill. Betty Crocker, some random grocery-store checkout-line type cookbooks…then I saw it. It was a small, spiral-bound book. I pulled it out from the stack…"Stokes Family Cookbook," the cover proclaimed. I had to open it.
The front page explained that this cookbook was a collection of generations-old family recipes, collected and preserved in honor of Stella Stokes' seventy-fifth birthday. I checked the family tree; Stella Stokes was Nick's grandmother.
The cookbook itself was well-used; I thumbed through it, noting some pages looked to be a little more stained than others. I figured those were recipes he made more often, favorites. There was a small picture section in the middle; I grinned seeing "Grandma Stella and Baby Nicky."
The whole book was just so much Nick, so much family…something I never really got to experience myself. That's probably why, when I left his house that day, I headed straight to Kinko's, the cookbook tucked under my arm.
I copied the whole thing, and returned the original the next time I checked in on Nick's place. A lot of the recipes that looked like his favorites weren't exactly vegetarian friendly, so I scoured the internet, looking for cooking sites that would help me make the right substitutions. I wanted these to taste good, but still be meatless.
It took me a while to get it right. It was also a good excuse to go out and buy the Good Eats DVDs, for reference purposes, of course. By the fifth time I attempted the recipe, I was pretty confident, but I wanted someone to back it up. Not Nick, though…I wasn't quite ready to admit to him that I'd pilfered his family cookbook. So, on a night I knew he was off, I made up a double-batch and let people know there was community food in the break room.
About an hour after I got there, Greg and I were sent out to a b&e. In the Denali, he brought up the food.
"You made that, right?" he asked. My palms got a little damp on the steering wheel. My first review.
"You never said you could cook."
"I never really did before." I chanced a glance over at him. Since his transfer to the field unit, and the team splitting, we'd gotten to be pretty good friends. He'd even toned down the flirting. "It was okay?"
"Yeah, it was great. I had two bowls."
I could feel the smile spreading on my face. "You're not just saying that to keep from hurting my feelings, are you, Greggo?"
He shook his head. "Nope, it was really good. What's the occasion?"
He shrugged. "I dunno, just, usually when someone brings in food to share, there's a reason. Someone's birthday, a holiday…."
I smirked. "What if I just wanted to use the lab as a test area? Like I said, I only just started getting into cooking. I thought it tasted okay, but my taste buds might be dead from ten years of takeout."
"Well, I'd say the experiment was a success. I bet there's not any left by the time we get back."
Greg's prediction was right. I ended up taking two empty pans home with me that morning. Catherine even commented on it, asking what I substituted for the ground beef. I was feeling so confident when I went home, I decided to bite the bullet.
I got home, washed the pans out, and decided to call him before I lost my nerve. I could feel my pulse racing as I listened to the rings, and was just about to hang up when he answered.
His voice always made me smile. "Sidle."
"Hey, Sar. You just getting home?" His voice had warmed; I swear I could hear his smile through the phone.
"Yeah, you missed an easy shift tonight." I glanced over at the pans in the drying rack and felt my confidence renew itself. "Hey, Nick?"
"Remember when you told me I needed to get out more?"
"Radiator cap. Yeah, I remember." His voice sounded…odd. "Hank."
Oh yeah. I blew air out through my teeth, away from the receiver. "Yeah, well, forget him. Anyway, I was wondering…next week, we both have the same night off, and I was wondering…." This was harder than I thought. "Do you want to come over for dinner? I've been cooking, and…"
"You've been cooking?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, I've been cooking."
"You're serious. Miss Takeout Queen has been cooking."
"Do you want to come over for dinner or not?" Only Nick could get me this riled up.
"Hell yeah. I have got to see you cook."
"See you at work, Nick."
"See ya, Sar."
The night we were having dinner, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Sharing the food with the lab was one thing; serving Nick a modified version of one of his grandmother's recipes was something completely different. What if he hated the substitutions? What if I mixed up the tablespoon and teaspoon? What if, what if, what if?
At least I knew dessert would be okay. Even in Texas, not many desserts are made with meat. I watched "The Crust Never Sleeps" five times to make sure I knew exactly how to make the perfect pie crust, and followed the recipe exactly.
The doorbell rang right at five-thirty.
"Good timing," I said. "The casserole just has a few more minutes left; I was going to start warming the bread."
He sniffed the air appreciatively. "It smells good, Sar." He held up a grocery bag. "I didn't know what you were making, so I figured this would be a safe bet for drinks." I grinned as he pulled a six-pack of Dr Pepper from the bag.
"That'll be great with it." The timer chimed, and I went to take the casserole from the oven. "It needs to sit a little before serving; if you want to get ice?"
We moved in concert, knowing each other's paths. We'd had dinner together before, usually takeout or pizza, so he knew his way around my kitchen, and we'd worked together long enough that we could anticipate the other's actions. No collisions. Soon, the casserole was dished up, the bread was on the table, and the soda was fizzing in the glasses.
I watched, anxious, as he took the first bite. I think he knew I was waiting for a response; after all, he'd been giving me a rough time about cooking all week.
"Well?" I demanded, when I couldn't take anymore.
He swallowed. "It's good. It's really good, Sara." His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he processed. "It reminds me a lot of something my grandmother made…."
Uh-oh. Confession time. "There's sort of a reason for that…." I met his eyes, and started to explain about Good Eats, looking at his cookbooks, and finding his family cookbook. "So, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed it."
Nick looked down at the casserole again. "No, it's okay." He looked back up at me and grinned. "It's kind of sweet, actually."
I grinned back. "Besides, I had to get a copy of the 'baby Nicky' picture…just in case you ever annoy me too much." His groan made me laugh.
We ate dinner with conversation and laughter. It was…easy. He didn't make a big deal out of it, so I started to relax more. He had thirds; I was thrilled.
"Nick, geez, pace yourself!" I exclaimed as he stood to fill his bowl a fourth time. "I did make dessert."
His whole face lit up. "Dessert?" I could swear I saw what he must have looked like as a five-year-old. "You made dessert, too? From the book?"
I nodded. "Pie."
"You made pie."
"I made pie."
He grinned. "Sara Sidle made me pie."
I rolled my eyes. "I made pie, Nick. Not just for you."
"Mmhmm." His eyes were sparkling and I could see the very tip of his tongue peeking out from between his lips. "You made pie."
"Do you want any or not?"
"Crumb-topped apple." It was harder to pick a dessert, since not too many of the dessert pages were marked up, but I figured, everyone likes apple.
He tilted his head to the side. "You make all of it?"
"I didn't grow the apples."
He looked at me, seriously looked at me. "You made pie crust. From scratch."
"Yes…." Something about the way he was looking at me was unsettling. "What?"
His lips twitched in a grin. "Just picturing you, making pie crust." He stepped closer to me. "Bet you had flour everywhere." He rubbed his thumb across my forehead. "A big 'ole streak here." His hand dropped to my cheek, thumb tracing a path across my cheekbone. "Another here." He grinned and tapped the tip of my nose. "And of course, some here."
I tried not to shiver as he touched my face. "Oh, really?"
"Yup." He grinned again; I should have found it annoying,
but really, it was just so good to see him smiling, I didn't care.
"You would have been adorable."
"Oh, really? So that's the way to get your attention, coat myself in flour?" I couldn't help returning his grin. It just felt so good to have this banter back.
"Well, I don't know about coating yourself in flour…guess it depends on what the rest of the outfit is."
He was so close. So close. Part of me wanted to step back, go get the pie, and pretend this wasn't happening. But another part of me wanted to see where this would go. "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Do you get adorably flour-coated when you cook?"
He moved a fraction of an inch closer. "Sara, I'm always adorable."
"That didn't answer my question." I shot him a grin of my own.
"Maybe you should come over some night; we'll cook together and you can find out." He was dangerously close. So dangerously close. I licked my lips, trying not to think about his lips. It wasn't working.
He kept watching me. I don't know what he was looking for, what he was expecting to find. Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was, maybe he was looking for any sign on my part that I didn't want what happened next. He didn't see it.
The next thing I was aware of was the kiss. It wasn't soft, or sweet, or gentle…it was hot, hungry, needy, wanting, demanding, asking, taking. Perfect. I was crushed against him, his arms holding me tight to his body, my arms holding him even tighter to mine. All that existed was Nick. I think I moaned when he started kissing my neck. Someone did, I heard it. I'm just not so sure it was me. Then there was something behind me, helping keep me tight against him. A wall, maybe. I was still focused on the kissing. Just…wow.
When he pulled back for air, I still had my arms around him. His arms were still around me. I think we both forgot about the pie. We had other desserts in mind.
We did eventually get around to the pie. There's just something about wild, wanton sex with someone you've cared about for a long time that makes it taste so much better. Especially when you get to have it naked, in bed, with that someone.
I should have started cooking years ago.