Okay, we have Pancakes for breakfast and Chicken Alfredo for dinner, so how about Ham and Swiss on Rye for lunch.
Another experiment. I have never written a fic from the first person point of view (I don't think I can really count Pancakes), so let's give it a try.
HAM AND SWISS ON RYE
I have never been so nervous in my entire life. And believe me, I've had more than enough opportunities to be nervous. How many other people can say they've defused a bomb, been dangled off a building, hung on the outside of an elevator in their underwear or lived through a bombing run by F-16's? I'm guessing not a lot. So who would guess that a simple picnic lunch could be so nerve-wracking?
I couldn't sleep at all that night, going over and over in my mind various scenarios in my mind for how the day would play out. It's one of my weaknesses. I think up whole conversations in my head with people. One time, when we were kids, I didn't speak to Ellie for three whole days because of an argument that we had when the entire argument had taken place in my head. Boy was she confused.
Anyway, I finally climbed out of bed at five forty-five in the morning after laying there and staring at the ceiling for God knows how long. I tried to be very, very quiet (funny, in my head that comes out vewy, vewy quiet, like Elmer Fudd in the old Looney Toons cartoons) so that I wouldn't wake up Ellie and Awesome. Yes, I was still living with my sister and brother-in-law. I'd been looking for my own place, okay? But L.A. is an expensive place to live and I kind of blew my whole government bonus on Ellie's wedding and reception (okay, okay, and a new Roark Industries R-7 gaming laptop - Dad wouldn't let me have one of his computers just for games. And don't give me any crap for patronizing Roark Industries. Roark was dead, okay? So it's not like the money was going to Fulcrum).
So anyway, I got up early and started getting ready. I dug in the closet and got out the picnic basket. Ellie and Devon got this neat one as a wedding gift that has all the dishes and wineglasses and stuff. And yes, Ellie said I could borrow it. First task was to wash all the dishes and stuff in the picnic basket and, yes, I did end up waking up Ellie. She's a really sound sleeper (unless you pinch her nose. Then she... well, never mind) but she has, like, this big sister radar and seems to know when I'm up to something. Maybe it's mom radar. I'm not sure. Her kids are not going to get away with anything (unless, of course, they're with their Uncle Chuck who will do his best to destroy any Awesome programming and make them into normal kids).
So, Ellie got up and she was like, "What are you doing Chuck?" and I was like, "You said I could borrow the picnic basket" and she was like, "That's fine. So are you taking Sarah on a picnic?" and I was like...
Wait a minute. I sound like one of those high school girls. If I'm going to tell this, I need to do it right.
So anyway, Ellie came in the kitchen and said, "Good morning, Chuck. What's up?"
I said, "Oh, sorry, sis. Did I wake you?"
"No," she lied (I'm pretty sure it was one of those lies like when someone calls you in the middle of the night and says 'Did I wake you?' and you feel compelled to say, 'No, I was up,' even though you were sawing logs like the entire cast of Ax Men and no, I don't watch Ax Men. I think it's an abomination that they show stuff like that on the History Channel. That's not history. I mean, it's like showing ECW on the SciFi channel, although I guess you could make a case that wrestling is kind of like sci-fi, but not for true geeks like me). Oh wait, where was I? Oh yeah...
So Ellie lied and said I didn't wake her, and then she asked, "Going on a picnic?"
I looked down at the picnic basket and the dishes from the picnic basket in my hand and said, "No, actually, I was getting ready for the opera."
Ellie gave me one of those big sister eye rolls and said, "So are you taking Sarah? Please tell me you're taking Sarah and this isn't some 'camping out in line with Morgan to be the first to see some lame science fiction movie.'"
"Okay, first of all, Star Wars is not some lame science fiction movie and you could be reported to the Jedi Council for even suggesting such a thing and second, yes, Sarah and I are going on a picnic," I replied. Witty, aren't I?
"So what are you taking?" Ellie asked.
"I was going to take some wine and cheese and fruit and I thought I would make some ham sandwiches."
"Ham sandwiches?" Ellie asked. "That's not exactly romantic lunch fair."
"I will have you know that I researched this very carefully and that Sarah loves ham and swiss on rye with stone ground mustard with the crusts cut off," I retorted. Didn't know I could retort, did you?
"Okay, I'm impressed, little brother," Ellie replied. "How can I help?"
"I've got it," I insisted.
"Please, Chuck, let me help. If for no other reason than I want to keep my kitchen from looking like Kosovo." Really. She said Kosovo. I wonder if Casey's been hanging around the apartment too much? Now there's a frightening thought: Casey rubbing off on my sister.
"Okay," I said as I finished washing the last dish. "Do you want to wash and cut up the fruit?"
"I can do that," she replied.
I got out the ham, cheese, bread and mustard while Ellie started washing the fruit. I had bought the fruit at the farmer's market to make sure it was as fresh as possible (although I'm half convinced the 'farmers' at the farmer's market are just trucking the stuff up from Mexico, but what the heck?) Of course, Ellie kept glancing over as I made the sandwich. As soon as I finished, she pronounced it sub-par and tossed it in the trash.
"Hey, that's a perfectly good sandwich," I protested.
"Too much ham, not enough mustard, and when you push down on the bread when you cut the crusts off you smoosh it. Then you have a flat sandwich."
"All sandwiches are flat, well, except those new 'rolls' that everyone seems to be making these days and I'm not sure those really qualify as a 'sandwich.' You know, Morgan and I were discussing the definition of 'sandwich' just the other day and..."
"Chuck!" Ellie is pretty tolerant of my rambling, up to a point, but she generally draws the line when I start to bring Morgan into the conversation.
"Okay, okay," I said. "Tell me, Rachel Ray: How do I make the perfect ham and cheese sandwich?"
"First of all, if you're going to cut the crusts off, it's easier if you do it before you make the sandwich," she began.
I'm not going to bore you with the whole sandwich making lesson, but apparently guys put too much meat on their sandwiches and you need to put the mustard on both pieces of bread to get the proper taste without the mustard making the bread soggy. And no putting the sandwich in those little sandwich baggies. Ellie has these little plastic sandwich boxes so the sandwiches don't get squished. Who knew making a sandwich was so complicated?
I am, apparently, also completely incompetent when it comes to cutting up fruit. To hear Ellie, it's a wonder I haven't starved to death yet. Of course, my idea of cooking is generally dialing the pizza place, but what can you do?
Poor Devon got up and was shooed out of the kitchen. Poor guy didn't even get to make his ginseng, seaweed and guava root shake, or whatever that awful concoction he drinks in the morning is. Apparently, a brother's picnic with his girlfriend takes precedence over a husband's breakfast. A good thing to know.
Even so, Devon got into the act and vetoed my wine and champagne selections and substituted bottles from his own wine cellar. Okay, so the wine cellar is a wooden rack in the corner of the living room, but it's the thought that counts.
After the picnic basket was ready, Ellie dragged me into my room to pick out my clothes. Yes, not only can Chuck not feed himself, he apparently cannot dress himself either.
After a shower and a shave, I brushed my teeth so long and so hard my gums started to bleed. Today, of all days, I didn't want to have halitosis. Then I put on the clothes Ellie had picked out for me.
I looked at my watch. Eight ten. Almost two hours until I was supposed to pick up Sarah. No problem, Chuck Bartowski is a master of killing time. (Ellie would say 'wasting time' but don't listen to her.) First, I booted up the Xbox and popped in the disk for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare... and promptly got my ass handed to me so many times in a row it's not even funny. By a noob! Clearly, Chuck didn't have his game on today. So then I started to go to World of Warcraft but I figured if I was playing this badly, it wouldn't be pretty, so I ditched that idea.
I looked at my watch. Eight forty seven. You want to know how bad it got? I cleaned my room. Yeah. No kidding. I told you. Total basket case.
At nine thirty, I packed up the picnic basket and headed out to the car. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that part. I rented a Mustang convertible for the weekend. Okay, okay, it's not a Ferrari or a Lamborghini; but, well, let's just say the night out with Jill kind of killed the mystique of high performance sports cars for me. A blue Mustang convertible with an automatic transmission would do.
I put my bag and the picnic basket in the trunk and started her up. It was a glorious day; one of those days when you can actually see the mountains, so I put the top down. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Where's that famous Bartowski luck? Chuck rented a convertible, it should be raining cats, dogs and small goats. No my friends, not today. Today was my day and the power of positive thinking was on my side.
It takes all of ten minutes to get to Sarah's hotel so I pulled into the parking lot at nine forty - twenty minutes early. I pulled out of the lot and drove around the block. Again and again and again. Then I realized I was using up all my gas and the last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas. I mean, not that I wouldn't want to 'run out of gas' with Sarah in the car, but... You know what I mean. So I went to the gas station to fill up...
And spilled gas on my pants. So I went into the restroom and tried to wash it out. So now I smelled like gas and my pants were soaking wet. So I went back home to change. Anyway, to make a long story short... (What do you mean, 'too late'?)
As I was saying, to make a long story short, I was supposed to pick Sarah up at ten and here I was racing over to her house at ten twenty when my cell phone rings. It's Sarah, no doubt wondering where I am.
I'm fumbling with my phone when I see the flashing lights in the rearview mirror.
What I said earlier about the Bartowski luck and positive thinking? Fuggedaboudit.
Now, I don't want the LAPD to think I'm jabbering on the cell while driving, so I hit ignore. Then the cop gets out and I swear I'm looking at the T-1000 from Terminator 2: dark glasses, stiff walk, and all.
So the T-1000 asks for my license and registration and of course I have my license but the car's a rental and I don't exactly rent a lot of cars so I have no idea what I'm doing and I start fumbling around in the glove compartment and the cop's starting to get impatient. I explain that it's a rental and so he asks for the rental agreement. I had just handed it to him when I happened to glance in the rearview mirror and see a familiar black Porsche pull up behind the police cruiser. So I start to slump down in my seat.
The T-1000 heard Sarah's car door and turned. And that's when I knew he wasn't a terminator. Because he smiled. I mean, come on. What guy doesn't smile when he sees Sarah? Okay, the ones who drool, but a guy would have to be dead not to react to Sarah and I'm not so sure that even that would stop me. (Okay, so now I'm thinking about Shaun of the Living Dead and me as a zombie and I really need to get a more normal brain). I don't know, maybe even the terminator would smile. I'll have to discuss that with Morgan.
Anyway, Sarah sauntered up to the officer and I noticed that her hand was behind her back, no doubt on the grip of her pistol. See? That's the difference between civilian and super-spy. I'm thinking 'damn, a traffic stop' and Sarah is no doubt thinking, 'Fulcrum ploy to capture the Intersect.' Okay, I'm hoping maybe 'Fulcrum plan to capture Chuck'; I'd like to think it's a little more personal for Sarah.
And then she smiled. I can't described what it does to my insides when Sarah smiles. When she really turned on the 1000 watt charm. It should be illegal to be that beautiful and that charming. Thank God it's not.
"Hi, officer, is everything all right?" Sarah asked.
"Ma'am," he said. At least his tongue wasn't hanging out. Don't laugh, I've seen it happen. Sarah has that effect on men.
"My friend Chuck there was supposed to pick me up and he was late so I was so worried. I thought something must have happened to him."
Friend. My friend Chuck. Not my boyfriend Chuck. Not the cute nerd who's stolen my heart Chuck. But my friend Chuck. My heart did a flip flop before my brain did one of its rare but timely connect the dots. Hot girl. Male cop. Traffic stop. Hormones.
"Your friend was exceeding the posted speed limit, Ma'am."
"Oh, but that was all my fault," Sarah said. "I called and told him to hurry and he gets so flustered when I call."
"I see," the cop said.
"So maybe you should give the ticket to me, instead?" she said.
"I don't think that'll be necessary," the cop said, handing me back my license and rental agreement without ever taking his eyes off of Sarah.
"Thank you, officer," I said. I might as well have been talking to the man in the moon. He was already walking back toward Sarah.
"You need to tell your friend to be more careful," the cop said. "I can see why he would be in a hurry, but we can't have you causing accidents, can we?"
"I'll give him a very stern talking to," Sarah said.
So finally, at twenty till eleven we pulled into the parking lot for Sarah's hotel. I pulled up beside her.
"Thanks," I said.
"Maybe I should drive," she said, but the smile on her face told me she was teasing me. "You're evidently a menace to society."
"I spilled gas on my pants," I explained. "I had to run home and change."
I popped the trunk and Sarah threw her bag in. Then she slid into the Mustang's passenger seat. "Hi Chuck," she said and leaned over to give me a quick peck on the lips.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can be proud of me. I did not grab her and throw her into the back seat of the car and ravish her right there, no matter how badly I wanted to. Besides, I don't really think for a minute I could grab Sarah Walker and throw her anywhere.
"So where are we going?" she asked.
"It's a surprise," I replied.
"We have to let Casey know where we're going to be," she protested.
I held up my wrist and tapped the GPS tracking watch. "He knows where to find me," I said. "I've learned my lesson. Casey gets grouchy when he doesn't know where I am."
"Casey's always grouchy," Sarah laughed.
"Okay, grouchier," I replied.
Sarah slipped a hand behind my neck and played with my hair. "Come on. You know I don't like surprises. Where are we going?"
"Uh huh," I replied, putting the car in gear. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride, Miss Walker."
"Fine," Sarah pouted. Now I knew Sarah well enough by now to know that she didn't pout unless it was part of a ploy to get what she wanted. But I was too smart for her. I was wearing my lucky anti-pout underwear. She's just have to suffer.
I pulled out and navigated my way over to the 5 (the Santa Ana Freeway) and headed south. We were running late, but I wasn't about to speed. Fortunately, traffic was light. Okay, it's L.A. Traffic is never light; it's always a horrible, soul-sucking experience. But today, at least, it was a little less of a horrible soul-sucking experience than normal.
We drove south until we reached the town of Dana Point. Dana Point is a nice little town right on the Pacific Coast Highway on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. It's named after Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast. In his journal, Dana called Capistrano Bay (what is now Dana Point), 'the most romantic spot on the California Coast.' Well, I was counting on old Dick Dana being right.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Blue Lantern Inn, a bed and breakfast on the bluff overlooking the ocean. Devon and Ellie had been here several times and raved about it as a perfect, romantic B&B.
I won't go into the machinations I went through to get Sarah to come with me. The arguments, the pleading, the tears (mine, of course - hey, it works for the girls; I figured I would give it a shot). Finally I simply announced I was going and if Sarah was going to protect me, she better come along, too. She, of course, threatened to send Casey. But in the end, the Bartowski charm and a liberal use of the Bartowski eyebrow dance won out and, finally, there we were.
Just to be on the safe side, I even went over to St. Charles Catholic Church over in North Hollywood and lit several candles with a prayer that I wouldn't have a flash on this trip. Hey, Morgan's mom swears it works.
So, as I said, finally, there we were, just Sarah and me, alone in the 'most romantic spot on the California coast.' At least, I think we were alone; but I wouldn't have bet money that Casey wasn't somewhere nearby.
We pulled the bags and the picnic basket out of the car and went to check in. The Blue Lantern looks like some kind of rambling old house (okay, a very, very big house with a ton of guestrooms) on a cliff overlooking the harbor. The rooms are really nice (and really expensive) and I had reserved the best room in the place. It had a sunken living room with a fireplace, a plush four-poster king-size bed and a bathtub big enough for two (yeah, yeah, if only). This particular room was at the very end of the Inn, with a patio right out on the point that gave you almost a 270 degree view of the Pacific.
We put the bags in the closet and I looked around. It was probably the nicest room I had ever stayed in. "Beats the heck out of that motel room in Bartow," I said. I looked over at Sarah and thought I saw her blushing. Nah, must have been a trick of the light. Kick-ass super spies don't blush.
"It's really nice, Chuck," Sarah said. She walked over and sat down on the bed. "Can I ask a favor?" she asked.
"Anything," I replied, noting her choice of seating locations with a smile. Hey, I'm a guy. We read way too much into stuff like that.
"Well, um, you still smell like gas. Would you mind taking a shower?" The smile slowly faded from my face.
"Yeah. Sure. Um, okay," I said. Great, Bartowski. Just great. A romantic ride in a convertible to a cozy little getaway and you smell like a refinery. Honestly, I really couldn't smell it, but then isn't that the way it always is?
I grabbed my bag and went into the bathroom and took a long shower, making sure I scrubbed my legs really, really well. I didn't want a single trace of gas smell.
I finished the shower, dressed and went back out into the room. No sign of Sarah. I threw my bag back into the closet and looked out on the patio. Sarah was sitting in one of the wicker chairs, her hair blowing in the ocean breeze. I stood there for the longest time, just looking at her. Eventually, she must have sensed me looking at her, because she turned around and gave me one of those dazzling Sarah Walker smiles. I felt my insides turning to jelly.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Watching you," I replied.
"But I'm just sitting here," she said.
"Yeah," I replied with a sigh. "I know."
She shook her head. "'C'mon. It's really nice out here."
I took the seat next to hers and, looking over at her, I couldn't help breaking into a huge grin.
"What?" she asked.
"You," I said. "How did I get so lucky as to get you as my pretend girlfriend?"
"Pretend?" she asked.
"Not to me," I said. "Sarah, I..."
"This is really nice, Chuck," she said, cutting me off. "It's so beautiful here."
"Yeah, beautiful," I said, not looking at the view.
"So you brought a picnic basket?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot," I said and hurried back in the room to get the picnic basket.
When I got back, Sarah had pulled the chairs over to the little table there on the patie. I started unpacking the picnic basket, pulling out the plates and wineglasses, the fruit and cheese.
Sarah laughed when she saw the sandwiches in the little plastic sandwich boxes. "Ellie?" she asked.
"Hey, I was going to do it myself, but it's hard when you live with Martha Stewart."
She opened the lid of the container. "Ham and swiss?" she asked.
"On rye with stone ground mustard," I replied.
"And you cut off the crusts!" she exclaimed, as if she just found the Hope Diamond inside the container. For a hard-nosed secret agent, Sarah can suddenly turn very girly at times. It's rare, but it never ceases to amaze me when it happens.
I pulled out my Swiss army knife and started to open the wine.
"Chuck, there's a wine opener here in the picnic basket," Sarah said, holding it up.
"Sarah, I've had a corkscrew on my Swiss army knife... well, ever since I pleaded for a knife just like MacGyver's, and I have never used the corkscrew. By gosh, I'm going to use the corkscrew."
Evidently, the corkscrew on a Swiss army knife is not mean to be used for actually removing corks, because I managed to butcher the top of the cork. In the end, I had to push the remainder of the cork into the bottle, leaving little bits of cork floating in the wine.
Sarah laughed and used her finger to fish the floaties out of the wine I poured.
We sat and I picked up my wine glass. "To a beautiful view," I said. Am I smooth or what?
Okay, so not that smooth because Sarah laughed. "You sound like Roan," she said.
"I was going for suave and debonair," I said.
Sarah's smile turned tender. "You don't have to be suave and debonair with me, Chuck," she said. "Just be yourself. It's worked pretty well so far."
Now, I want points for not jumping up and doing the happy dance right then and there. I mean, 'it's worked pretty well so far'... can I get an 'Amen' brother?
"All right," I said. "Here's to Sarah Walker, the most wonderful woman I have ever met and could ever hope to meet." We clinked glasses and each took a sip.
"So what have you brought?" Sarah asked. I ran through the list of menu items: fruit, cheese, and sandwiches and then prepared a plate to her specifications. She gave me another warm smile as she bit into the sandwich. "Just perfect," she said, licking her lips. "Ellie obviously helped."
"And why do you say that?" I asked.
"Guys tend to put on too much meat, so it overwhelms all the other flavors. And this has just the right of meat, cheese and mustard."
"Well, I'm glad you like it," I said. I took a bite of my own sandwich and chewed happily. After eating in silence for a bit, I finally worked up the courage to say, "I'm glad you came."
"I had to," she said. "It's my job."
"Just a job?" I asked.
Sarah looked down and paused a moment. When she looked up, there was the ghost of a smile on her face. "No, Chuck. Not just a job. I'm glad you invited me and I'm glad I came... The view would have been wasted on Casey."
We both laughed.
Now as part of my cover as Charles Carmichael, I have eaten at some pretty fancy places. I've had Black Sea caviar at embassy functions and gourmet meals at four star restaurants. But I don't think I have ever had a meal as good as those ham and cheese sandwiches on a patio overlooking the Pacific. Of course, the company might have had something to do with that. Oh, I usually was with Agent Walker at those fancy restaurants or embassy functions, but I wasn't here with Agent Walker; I was here with Sarah. Sarah the beautiful. Sarah the incredible. Sarah the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Yeah, you heard me.
Now, if I would have planned better, I would have waited until sunset. I mean, sunset on a bluff overlooking the Pacific? Perfect, right. But I couldn't wait. As soon as we finished eating, I cleared the dishes away. "Now for dessert," I said. "Do you like carrots?"
"Carrots?" Sarah asked. "You mean, like carrot cake?"
"I mean like these," I said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the small, velvet box. I got out of my chair and went down on one knee as I opened the box. Inside was what I had spent the last of the government paycheck on. It might not have been as big and fancy as the one I gave to Jill or even the one Sarah wore when we were 'Mr. and Mrs. Carmichael' in the Meadow Branch subdivision. I didn't have all the resources of the CIA.
I held out the box to Sarah and said, "Sarah Walker, I love you. I have loved you since the day you came up to the Nerd Herd desk with a broken phone while I sang 'Vicki Vale.' I can't imagine my life without you. Sarah Walker, will you do me the honor of being my wife?"
Sarah started at the ring for a few moments, then looked at me, then back down at the ring. "Chuck, I..." she began.
"Before you say 'no'," I said, interrupting her. "I know you're a CIA agent. I know how complicated this will make things. I know that there are certain things that you have to do as part of your job. I know that you could be sent away tomorrow to... Jakarta or Nairobi or Dubai and I wouldn't see you for who knows how long. And we don't have to get married right away. We can wait until you're ready. I just... I just want you to know, to always remember, how much I love you. And no matter what happens. If they send you away or stick me in a deep, dark hole, I will wait for you, Sarah Walker, because you are worth waiting for."
There were tears running down Sarah's cheeks now, and I couldn't tell if they were tears of joy or sorrow. I tottered on the one knee (spending a long time on one knee is hard) and braced myself against the table.
"So what do you say, Sarah. Will you marry me?"
Sarah pulled me to her as she stood, bringing me to my feet. She embraced me and laid her head on my chest. "Chuck, you have no idea what you're asking," she said so softly I could barely hear it over the sound of the surf and the seagulls. "You don't have any idea who I really am."
I put a finger to her chin and raised her face so that I could look in her eyes. Tears were streaming freely down her cheeks. "I know all I need to know," I said. "I know who you are right now. You're the woman I love. It doesn't matter who you were before. All that matters is that, here and now, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I know it won't be easy and I know I'm not the greatest catch. But I promise you that I will love you to my last breath and beyond."
Then I kissed her. She resisted at first, and then put her arms around me and kissed me back.
After what seemed both a moment and a lifetime, she pulled away.
"Chuck, I love you, too, but..."
"No," I said quickly. "No but. Just stop at 'I love you, too.' Isn't that enough? I love you. You love me."
She reached up to wipe away the tears, but fresh ones quickly took their place. She was shaking her head. "You want a real life, Chuck. You want a home and a family. I don't know if I can ever give you that."
I took her hand and reached up to brush away the tears. "I want you, Sarah. The rest won't mean anything unless I have you in my life. I've come to realize that, now. I was stupid for not seeing it earlier. I love you, Sarah. Marry me."
She threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. When she finally pulled away, she said, "I love you, Chuck. I... Yes. God help me. Yes, I'll marry you." I slipped the ring on her finger, and she kissed me again.
We left the dishes, the picnic basket, everything out on the patio and hurried into the room.
As to what happened next? Well, there are certain things a gentleman does not discuss.
Author's Note: The Blue Lantern Inn in Dana Point is real, and I stayed in the very room described in the story many years ago. The view really is breathtaking and the room is fantastic. The innkeeper was very, very nice and upgraded us to the room when she saw how tall I was (we had a small room on an upper floor). So I guess this is partially to say 'thank you' to the Inn for that night (and, unfortunately, it was only one night).
I'm posting this tonight (without running it past my editor/proofreader - sorry Poa) in celebration of the announcement that Chuck has been renewed for a third season. Woo Hoo! So sorry for any typos, etc., but I'm excited.