Chapter 30 - The Color of Love
"Aaaannndd we're closed!" Calcifer yelled cheerily as Howl locked the Port Haven door.
"Thank heavens this day is over!" Sophie sighed as she sank into an armchair. "I don't think the store's had a busier day."
Howl kissed the top of her head in passing. "We have you to thank for that, my dear. The timing of your love-rampage couldn't have been better!"
"Yeah!" Markl said, ignoring the face Sophie childishly pulled behind Howl's back. "The town thought everything was a publicity stunt for the upcoming Couple's Day."
Sulkily sinking further into the chair, Sophie muttered, "At least it saved my reputation. I'm still the crazy-love-lady, but now I'm the lady-who-acted-like-a-crazy-love-lady-for-business."
Howl exaggeratedly wrinkled his nose. "What's this I hear? My fair lady says she is fine, but methinks she still be grumpy. Would my lady like a cup of -"
A couch pillow hitting his face effectively interrupted him.
Sophie jumped to her feet and headed to the kitchen. "I'll get dinner and the drinks, thank you very much."
Rubbing his cheek, Howl rushed into the kitchen after her. "Let me help with dinner - I'll cook!"
Markl whispered to Calcifer, "That's what men are supposed to do after a fight, right? Make dinner? Master Howl is so good at being romantic!"
Calcifer snorted rudely. "Got it all wrong, kid. Pretty sure he just hates her cooking."
Sophie entered the living room with the tea tray in time to hear Calcifer's last statement. "Now that's not true. Howl loves my cooking! Don't you, Howl?"
Howl quickly took a huge bite of bread and mumbled vague mumbles. "Mmm-hmmm. Mmm, mm-mm."
"Oh, you slither-outer," Sophie said darkly.
Howl swallowed and then smiled his most charming smile. "Why don't we sit down and enjoy the delicious tea you prepared, dear?"
Sophie's mouth started smiling back before she could stop it. That devilish smile of his gets me every time, she thought irritably as she set the tea tray down on the table. Bet he got away with murder as a child.
Once they had finished setting the table, Howl looked over his shoulder and said, "Come and eat, Markl!"
"Could you get another fork, Howl?" Sophie asked. The wizard started to wave his hand. "Without magic. Please."
Howl nodded and headed to the kitchen, but still mumbled "It's like living in the blooming dark ages!" loud enough for her to hear.
Markl giggled at the exchange as he loaded his plate with food. Just as he was reaching for a cup of tea, however, Sophie's touch stopped him.
"Not that cup," she whispered, instead placing it at Howl's spot. In response to Markl's inquisitive glance, she simply put a finger to her lips and mouthed Shhhhh! to both him and Calcifer.
"Oh this is gonna be good!" the fire demon exclaimed, turning three different shades of orange in excitement.
"What is?" Howl asked. He slowly walked into the room, dragging the fork behind him as if it weighed a hundred pounds to emphasize the difficulty of normal work.
"The leftovers, of course!" Calcifer replied gleefully.
"Only if I leave some for you, chubby flames," Howl teased.
"Oh, I'm more worried about Sophie leaving leftovers," the fire demon crowed.
"Ignore him, Howl," Sophie interrupted, glaring meaningfully at the demon. "Come and eat."
And he did. And they did. They sat and ate and enjoyed one another's company.
It seemed as if the love spell debacle was behind them, for it was only mentioned once - when Howl was about to drink his tea.
He lifted the cup to his lips and then paused, roguishly glancing over the rim at Sophie. "You didn't put anything in my tea, did you?"
Sophie looked down demurely. "Why, Howl. You always say the most unkind things."
Chuckling, Howl drank his tea.
And when everyone else started chuckling later in the dinner, he just thought they were finally learning to appreciate his finely honed humor.
Towards the end of the dinner, the clueless man excused himself to use the restroom. As soon as his heels disappeared from view, Sophie got up from the table and started tiptoeing towards her coat.
"I'll just go," she mouthed to the boy and fire.
Calcifer managed to say through his laughter, "You are so bad!"
Markl, who had been stifling his chuckles with a napkin, pulled it away long enough to say, "How long do you think before he notices?"
Sophie squealed at the surprise of the yell and started running towards the safety of her room.
Howl leaped down the stairs four at a time, his face red from anger and embarrassment.
His face was almost as red as his hair.
"Why must you always sabotage me?" he yelled in despair as he chased her through the living room. She reached her room and tried to slam the door shut, but Howl caught the doorknob and stopped it from closing the last few inches.
"Sabotage? Red's a lovely color!" she laughed through the crack of her door.
"Not this shade!" Howl exclaimed. "It's like ... like a tomato!"
"Or a sunburn," Markl said helpfully.
"Or roadkill," Calcifer snickered.
"See? It's hideous!"
Sophie abruptly let go of the door handle, causing Howl to lose his balance and fall on the ground.
She leaped over his prone body and ran for the front door. Before closing it, she stuck her head back in the living room and yelled, "Red, my dear sir, is the color of love!"
The door slammed, muffling her final triumphant yell. "He'll never follow me in public!"
"Oh, won't I?" Howl ran a hand through his hair, tucking a strand behind his ear. His silver earring glinted. "Well, red is the color of love."
And with that, Howl jumped to his feet, brushed off his suit, and ran out the door after her.