A/N: As usual, I don't own Sailor Moon or any associated characters, or Sheryl Crow, or Savile Row, or Botox, or Kitchen Aid's 600 series, or Snickers. There's a bit of pottymouth in this installment and rampant food descriptions because, yeah, Makoto, and also Thanksgiving. Thanks to anyone who's read this fic, hope you enjoyed, etc. etc!
It was quite typical for Lita Brown to be up, out and about before the ass-crack of dawn, humming along softly with Sheryl Crow as she preheated her convection oven to 350 degrees before taking out the ingredients to make the breakfast pastries for the morning crowd.
Even so, three in the morning was a bit earlier than usual, even for her.
It was rather convenient, at least, that she lived in the little apartment upstairs above her cafe. The rooms above the cafe were small and plain, but cozy, and for the three years that she's owned Lita's, it had been home.
The night before had been Thanksgiving, and the cafe had been closed. Nevertheless, she had utilized the restaurant-grade kitchen to cook up a feast, turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce and green bean casserole, supplemented with buttermilk biscuits and three types of pie. Nick had been kicked out of the kitchen when he poked in, as he quickly proved more liable to nibble on everything than to be of any actual help. She'd invited Avery and a few of her other employees who were away from their families, and for the first time in years, Thanksgiving had been the way it was supposed to be, warm and casual and loving and lazy. When she'd put the dishes to soak and picked over the leftover turkey to make soup and salad and pot pie, she felt a steady, heartwarming contentment and knew that life was almost exactly as she wanted it. Nick had stayed the night, looking big and handsome and male in her prettily papered little rooms, and her practical twin-sized bed wasn't big enough to fit both of them. They'd slept spooned together, his arms and chest warming her even as he hogged most of her pillows.
Today, though, would be all about business. It was Black Friday, and every last store in walking distance would be open early, enticing buyers with bargains and sales. The weather called for a cold, crisp day, and she was determined that a good number of the shoppers would find Lita's open and welcoming and able to accomodate them for a cup of hot chocolate and a scone before they set off to kick-start the Christmas shopping season.
She'd left Nick sleeping upstairs, looking oddly endearing in her small white bed with its apple-green sheets and floral-patterned comforter, and started up the first pot of coffee as she turned the CD player on low. Pre-heating the oven, she measured out flour, melted butter in a saucepan. With the efficiency of long practice, she mixed and rolled dough for pie crusts.
Avery Parker, assistant manager and head waitress, arrived at half-past four just as she was finishing her third batch of baked goods and getting out the ingredients for the soups and salads and sandwiches. "The early-birds are starting to appear," Avery proclaimed. "Lining up in front of the shops. The shops themselves are due to open in another half an hour or so. I think we can do the same.
"Indeed we can. You can go count the till, do the set-ups and fill the board. After you have all that done, you can come help me with the rest of this stuff. Drew and Liz will be in by five. Everything should be set by then."
And so it was. When the first customer walked in at five minutes past five, the display case was brimming with an array of muffins and scones studded with fresh berries, flaky croissants, cookies of all kinds and slices of Dutch apple pie. By ten o'clock, Lita was on her second batch of everything, and making roux for another kettle of cream of potato soup. A middle-aged, prosperous-looking man in Savile Row came in, nibbled and lingered over his portobello mushroom bisque and tomato caprese salad for a good half-hour, and then offered Lita a jaw-dropping salary if she'd come work for him as a chef in his Atlantic City casino. She graciously declined.
In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, she didn't even notice Nick get up, come down the stairs, and quietly leave out the back door at morning light.
"I saw it first, cocksmoker!"
"Fuck you, your wife, your mom, and the horse you rode in on! I was in line way before you even got here!"
The predominantly female customer base currently present inside the home appliances store stared, appalled, at the two men about to come to blows over the last professional-grade limited edition stand mixer on the shelf. One particularly prim-looking matron clad in a periwinkle cashmere set actually looked about to faint.
"Gentlemen," the harassed-looking sales associate, wearing tacky Christmas-themed jewelry and a smile so fake and fixed it looked Botoxed onto her otherwise-pleasant face, sauntered over. "Is there a problem?"
"Damn straight there's a problem," a grouchy-looking man with grizzled hair pointed a stubby finger at Nick. "This joker here is trying to claim that mixer for himself. When clearly, I saw it first. The wife's always complaining about her stupid appliances in the kitchen."
The sales associate glanced at the other shoppers, all of whom suddenly found themselves interested in the selection of pots and pans several aisles down. No one was there to corroborate or refute the claim. She tried another tack. "Is it on someone's wish-list?"
"My girlfriend's," Nick interjected evenly.
All the women in the store stared at him as though he'd grown another head. "Your girlfriend wants a kitchen appliance for Christmas?" The sales associate asked in a relentlessly sweet customer service voice which belied her raised eyebrows.
Nick felt as though he was being put on the spot and gave her a truculent glare as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Well. I got her a ring a few months ago which I'm also planning on giving her, but this, at least, I know she wants for sure. She owns a restaurant. Not that I should have to explain myself to any of you."
The sales lady and the other man exchanged a long glance. Somewhere back in the pots and pans aisle, another customer sighed and softly whispered "Awww." Finally, the other man shuffled off and the sales lady took the stand mixer off the shelf, bright smile still in place.
"This is part of Kitchen-Aid's 600 series, with a $29.99 mail-in rebate and four free attachment parts. As with everything else today, it's on special for half the usual price, and comes with a lifetime warranty," she told him in a chipper voice as they made their way to the checkout counter. "Will that be cash or charge, sir?"
It was sometime past eight o'clock at night when Lita was finally able to sit down and relax. Her feet were killing her, the kitchen looked as though a tornado had hit, and she'd had to call in two more employees than scheduled just to deal with the post-shopping dinner rush. She opened the door of her tiny little office, a wide smile on her face, and thought that she couldn't be happier.
It was then that she noticed Nick hunched over her desk, swearing under his breath, trying vainly to wrap a large box in rustling dark-green-and-gold patterned Christmas paper.
He gave a start when he heard the door open, and would have shoved the box somewhere out of sight had there been any such spot. "Erm, this is your Christmas present," he said hurriedly. "Which I should have gotten gift-wrapped at the stupid store, but it slipped my mind. The sales lady there was kind of this grotesquely smiling zombie thing."
She peered at the partially-covered box, made out what the label said, and squealed. "OH MY GOD! YOU DIDN'T!"
"Uh, yeah I did," he raked a hand through his hair, then chuckled as she threw herself at him. "I nearly got into a fight with another guy at the store because this was the last one. I know you wanted it. Mind, I had to repeat the name and brand of the thing ten times in my head this morning to make sure I got the right one."
"These things cost, like, twenty bazillion dollars!" Nothing could have meant more to her. Her voice, muffled against his shoulder, hitched ever-so-slightly. "Thank you. It's the best present ever."
"I actually got you another one. Another present, that is," he said after a moment. "Not another mixer. I didn't think you needed two, and, yeah, there was only one left."
"This one is already more than enough," she reached up and kissed him. "It makes the romantic seven-course dinner-for-two I was planning look totally amateur in comparison."
He shook his head and pulled away just enough to gaze into her eyes. "You know, it's never about the dollar amount with you, Lita. It's always about heart, and warmth, and caring. You've more of that than anyone I know, and it means more to me than anything. I guess since the cat's out of the bag with that," he pointed at the mixer, "and you're in a good mood, I should just give you the other one as well. I'm not ashamed of pressing my advantage."
His coat was draped over her desk chair, and he picked it up, dug inside a pocket. As she watched, wide-eyed, he took out two jewelry boxes and gave her a self-deprecating smile.
"I remember getting you a girl present for the first time when you were in the hospital, and you cried. This kind of goes with it, but I really hope you don't cry." Carefully, he flipped the top of the smaller box open, and revealed an engagement ring fashioned of pink gold molded into the form of a rosebud with gemstone accents. "Well, actually, the mixer's kind of a bribe so you'll accept this."
"Oh." She couldn't seem to find the words, and he hurriedly opened the other box.
"And... I know that since you work in a kitchen and such, and don't really wear jewelry on your hands since they get in the way with making food and stuff, I got you a chain so you can put it on your neck while you're at work."
It was just like him to think of something so small and yet significant, and all she could do was nod, her smile all but splitting her face. It took a moment, but she finally found it in herself to answer him, surprising both of them with her insouciance.
"You can put them on me, Nick, and we'll see how they look. After that, what do you say to the last of the day's batch of Snickers brownies in bed?"