Ch. 17: You, Sir, Have Impeccable Timing
"Did Alfred eat any of your snacks?" Amelia asked, pulling Arthur out of his memories.
Arthur looked at her. "Hmm? Sorry?"
She gestured toward the chocolate bar she'd put in the shopping trolley earlier. A grin started to creep onto his face when he noted that it had "magically" multiplied into five different brands. "Since I'm replacing the chocolate I borrowed from you this morning," she said, "I thought we might as well get your snacks replaced too." She smiled as she looked at the bars. "I still think English chocolate tastes better than ours."
As if by magic, the girl from all those years ago stood in front of him. "Beth?"
Amelia's eyes widened at the name, and then she smiled. "You remembered."
Before Arthur could react, she pulled him into a hug. He froze, kitten-like, at the sudden embrace. "A-A-Amelia! W-w-we're in the middle of a grocery shop."
"We are?" she asked distractedly, her voice warm and soft.
"Y-y-yes! And people may stare at us!"
"Really." She snuggled closer, not getting the hint at all.
Bollocks. What to do? If I push her away, she might take it as a rejection, but we're in public and— Suddenly, the perfume of vanilla and roses floated up and enveloped him, titillating his senses. That's right, this fragrance . . . also was Beth's . . . why didn't I realize before that she was the same person? Arthur's cheeks tingled as he started to return her embrace, his arms seemingly moving on their own.
He no sooner had embraced her than two elderly women rounded the corner of the aisle. "Goodness, young people these days have no sense of propriety," one woman said to her shopping companion as they strolled by.
Arthur released Amelia instantly, stepping away from her. He cleared his throat and looked away. "I-I-I only hugged you back because it seemed awkward not to," he stated, his face acting like it was on fire. "W-w-we need to finish the shopping and get back before your brother sends out those Marines of his." As he looked back at her, their eyes met, and his heart skipped a beat at the mirth he saw in them.
She let out a small laugh. "If you say so Arthur." She turned and pushed the shopping trolley down the aisle, sauntering slowly while randomly grabbing several snacks off the shelves. She turned the corner of the aisle, glanced back at him, and winked.
Arthur stared as she walked around the corner. He came to himself a couple of moments later and hurried after her. Somehow she had managed to vanish completely, and he was forced to look down every aisle for her. By the time he finally found her, she was already at the front of the shop, paying for her items.
"Did you get lost?" Amelia asked when she saw him. "It's not that big of a store." He could see her eyes crinkle as she let out a light giggle.
It must be an America thing to enjoy teasing me, he thought. "Actually I was worried you were the one who had gotten lost. You don't know your way around my neighborhood, remember?" he teased back.
She let out a laugh and scooped up most of the 12 carrier bags waiting at the checkout counter. The shop assistant's eyes got wide, but she didn't say anything. "I'll let you handle the rest, okay?" Amelia said, nodding at the ones she left behind.
"Of course," Arthur said, grabbing the five she left behind. He turned to the shop assistant. "My friend, she—um—she works out a lot," he told her. "Practically an Olympian that one." I wish she'd be more careful about these things. I shouldn't have to try to explain her strength like that.
The shop assistant raised an eyebrow, got a container of mints out of her pocket, and popped one in her mouth. "If you say so, Arthur. See you later."
"Goodbye Olivia," he replied, grateful she didn't ask any questions about Amelia. "Thank you again."
They walked down the street toward his house for a couple of minutes in silence before he decided to start the conversation. "You went by Beth C. Ross back then, right?"
"Pfft!" Amelia covered her mouth. "Sorry. The USO girls helped me come up with that fake name, and it still makes me laugh when someone says it like that. That's why I had you call me by just my first name."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "I don't understand why it's funny."
She let out a small laugh. "You know: Beth C. Ross . . ." She gestured as if she was trying to coax him to make the connection. Arthur shook his head.
She sighed. "It was kinda a play on words for Betsy Ross."
He scratched his head. "I'm not really familiar with that name."
"No, I guess you wouldn't be," Amelia replied. "The women of American history aren't quite as famous as the men. Betsy Ross is credited with designing the Revolutionary American flag. You know? The one with the 13 stars? I was going by 'America' as a code name while I was traveling with the USO, so when Al told me come up with a new name . . ." She smiled and cocked her head to the side, allowing him to make the connection himself.
Arthur returned her smile now that he could see why she had laughed. "So you came up with something that represented America," he finished for her before letting out a little laugh. She giggled in response.
They walked for another minute in silence, just listening to the birds as they serenaded each other in the trees. "I want you to know that you definitely made what could have been a bad memory into a good one," he said finally. "I had had a pretty rotten day thanks to your brother. You see, Alfred had told a messenger to ask me for the chocolate I gave you so that he could pull another one of his stupid jokes."
Amelia snickered. Arthur frowned, slightly irritated at her reaction.
"I'm not laughing at you. I promise," she said when she saw his expression. "It's just I know the whole story behind that."
"Yeah. Y'see, the day that happened, I had come by to visit Al to tell him about my new name and ask him if it would be all right for the USO gals to hold a Valentine's Day dance for the soldiers. He seemed in a really bad mood and when I asked him about it, he grumbled to me something like 'Stupid England won't give me any chocolate for Valentine's Day' just as a messenger from your office had walked up. Al had already eaten all his K-ration chocolates*, and when he'd asked some of the locals for English chocolate, they'd refused to give it to him because they had been told not to share rations with American soldiers. I remember the messenger looked back and forth between us and then asked if there were any other messages that Al wanted to send. My brother finally noticed him and gave the message about the troops having to fall back in Italy."
Arthur blinked. "Wait, so that whole wanting-chocolate-from-me business—"
"Was a misunderstanding," Amelia finished for him.
"I feel a little foolish now about how I reacted," he replied.
"You shouldn't," she said. "It was my brother who messed up the message by complaining so loudly about the chocolate."
"But if he didn't have any chocolate, why did he have a bucket full of them when I brought mine?" Arthur asked.
"Oh that. Well, some of the USO girls had developed crushes on Al and asked me why he was upset," she continued. "When I told them, they gave him their chocolate hoping he would dance with them that evening. Then, one of them told me that after she'd given candy to him, she'd seen him making a pass at some London girl and that he was giving her several of the bars the girls had just given him."
"So the reason he acted like he didn't know why I was bringing him some—"
"Was because he really didn't know why," Amelia concluded. "After you stormed out with your chocolate bar, I came by to scold him for taking advantage of my girlfriends. He mentioned that you'd seemed upset that he didn't share any of his candy with you. And that's when we met again."
She looked up into the sky and sighed. "That was one of the best nights of my life."
Arthur thought again of that evening and of the memento he'd kept from that dance all those years ago. "Remind me to return your locket when we get back home."
She stopped and turned toward him. "My locket?"
Arthur stopped walking as well. "You were wearing a locket that night, and it fell off when Alfred rushed you out of the ballroom to go back to the States," he stated. "I meant to give it back to Alfred to give to you, but I k-k-kept forgetting."
He glanced away from her. That last part was a lie. He'd met with Alfred numerous times since that evening but never bothered to broach the subject of Beth or the locket ever again. Then, during the last part of the war and long after it had ended, every time he caught himself thinking about Beth and that night, he would go to the dressing table in his bedroom, pull out the locket, and stare at the loving couple in the photo, torturing his heart like some sort of masochist. As if he was trying to push those painful memories away, he started walking again and she quickly fell into step with him.
"I remember that I had to pack so fast and rush back home that I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye to anyone. I thought I'd lost that locket somewhere in the chaos," Amelia said. "I must have searched the entire plane three times and my bags more times than I can remember." She looked down at the spot where the locket would have hung around her neck. Suddenly her eyes got wide, and she looked at him. "Wait. You didn't open it and look at the photo, did you?"
"W-wh-why should that matter?" Arthur asked, feeling like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing.
Amelia looked down at the pavement. "It's just that it had an embarrassing photo in it."
"You mean the one where you and your brother look like you're lovers?" Arthur teased.
"Auuggghhh! I knew that photo would come back to haunt me!" she said. "Al and I had it taken so that I wouldn't be lonely while he was away in Europe and the Pacific. I didn't think we had been overly-affectionate in our poses until one of the USO girls got nosy and peeked at it. She asked me if Al was my fiancé and no amount of protesting that he was my brother could convince her otherwise."
"Well, your brother implied as much to me," he said. "I think he . . . saw us together and decided it would be better for me to think he was in a type of relationship with you that most nations avoid with non-nations than to let me continue to—" Arthur's face suddenly grew hot and his heart started pounding. A nervousness filled his stomach making it impossible to voice the next part.
She glanced at him, eyebrows raised. "Continue to what?"
"There's a shortcut ahead that takes a whole five minutes off the walk," he said, avoiding her gaze. "Come. I'll show you." He picked up speed and turned down a dirt-paved alleyway that had been created by dozens of residents walking between some houses' gardens.
"Arthur, wait. 'Continue to' what?" She picked up her speed as well. "Arthur!"
He had already taken a few steps into the alley when Amelia dashed into it, grabbing his hand. "What were you saying a moment ago? 'Continue to' what?" she asked again.
Arthur grit his teeth. "It's not that important. Why don't you just drop it already?" he snapped as he jerked his hand away from her grip, causing her to stumble forward and lose her balance. She landed on her knees with a loud "Thump", and dust flew up from the impact. A potato escaped out of one of her bags and rolled about a meter away from her.
A flock of sparrows scattered into the air, chirping as they fluttered away from the disturbance. A lump formed in his throat when he realized he'd caused that commotion. Amelia didn't bother to get up or scoop up the other items that had also spilled out of her bag. She just knelt in the dirt and looked straight ahead as if she had been nailed to the alleyway.
Arthur's heart dropped to his feet. "I'm sorry." He hurried over to her and reached out to help her up. "I didn't mean to—"
Without looking at him, she smacked his hand away. "I'm fine." She collected the spilled items closest to her and stood up. She then walked over to the fugitive potato, picked it up, and put it back in the bag. "Please excuse me. I've got dinner to make." She started walking down the alleyway towards the other side, limping slightly as she went.
Arthur hurried after her, tripping over the uneven ground of the alleyway. He caught her hand, which was still clutching several of the carrier bags. "Wait. I wasn't trying to hurt you."
She stopped walking but didn't turn around.
"Amelia. Please. Say something." He tried to squeeze her hand but only ended up making the bags jiggle.
Amelia sniffed. "I know you weren't trying to hurt me." She lifted her free hand and wiped her face. "Y'know, the only reason I came over here was to confess to you, not to help Al with his report. I knew I had a chance of being rejected. I knew it. That's why I tried to play it casual, but you didn't get it."
She drew in a stuttered breath and then coughed. She sniffed again. "So when you just left the library . . . when you didn't say anything after I finally told you that I loved you," she said, her voice cracking slightly. She paused and sniffed loudly. "I thought I had made you feel awkward, that you didn't feel the same way about me and that you didn't know how to respond."
She gasped in another breath. "I was going to run home. I was. But then Al texted me, and I realized I was being a coward, not a hero. A hero would pretend like nothing was wrong and hope for the best final result."
Amelia glanced over her shoulder. Tears had run lines across the dust that had covered her cheeks. Arthur's heart ached at the sight. She quickly looked away and wiped her face again. "I thought I was getting signs that you were reciprocating my feelings," she continued, "but it's obvious now that you just 'didn't want to hurt me' all those times. I'm sorry I bothered you. I'll make dinner tonight and then find a way back home tomorrow. Al doesn't need me here, so there's no reason to stay."
Arthur grit his teeth in frustration at the thought of her leaving. "Blast it, you silly girl! You are just like your brother: jumping to the wrong conclusions," he said, dropping the bags he was carrying. He then grabbed her shoulders, spun her around, and caught her up in his arms. "Don't say something so important so casually! I didn't realize what you had said until after I had left the room."
An ache Arthur had felt earlier in the grocery shop completely engulfed him. He pulled her in closer and found that it settled down a little when he did. His mind reeled at how soft she was and how wonderful it was to hold her in his arms. He relished in her intoxicating warmth and the smell of her hair and skin. "I think that when Alfred saw us together at that dance, he decided to imply that he was in a relationship with you so that I wouldn't continue to want to be with you, wouldn't continue to care about you, and wouldn't continue to fall for a non-nation human even though I knew better."
Amelia dropped her bags and returned the embrace. She buried her face into his shoulder as she clung to him and a staccato of sobs poured out of her. "I love you, Arthur! I love you so much," she finally said in between sobs. "I have loved you for a long time, maybe even before 1944, but I've only known that's what it was after that time in the bomb shelter all those years ago. I was so clueless about my own feelings that my USO girlfriends had to clear up that my heart was pounding because of you, not because of a heart attack."
Arthur wanted to reply, to say something in return, but fear caused him to hesitate. Every time he'd tried to be Alfred's friend, he'd been rejected, teased. Every time he'd opened his heart to someone else, that person had left him, abandoned him, hated him. He pulled slightly away, and she responded in kind.
When they made eye-contact, his mouth suddenly went dry and his stomach seemed to be filled with tiny acrobats. He swallowed, and his heart sped up when she didn't look away. Arthur opened his mouth to try again to say what was in his heart, but the fears of abandonment and rejection caught the words in his throat. Blast it! If I can't say it, then I'll just show it.
Resolve made, he brushed her bangs away from her eyes. Gently, hesitantly, he touched her wet cheeks and wiped away her tears. His own eyes stung when he realized, happy or sad, he was the cause of those tears and that he never wanted them to be sad tears ever again. "Please don't cry," he said. He let his fingertips trail down her cheek, softly caressing her skin as he did. She smiled hesitantly, her cheeks crimsoning in response to the touch. His fingers trembled at the warmth.
Hands shaking, he cupped her face and tilted it up towards his before leaning in. Amelia closed her eyes. A stray tear trailed down her cheek. Arthur delicately touched his lips to her skin to catch it, and they tingled at the contact. She smiled slightly and remained still, allowing him the moment. He moved a hand away from her face to touch the curve of her neck and caress her hair, sweeping some of it away from where it rested with his fingers. He leaned towards her other cheek and kissed it also.
Amelia moved slightly away from him and opened her eyes to gaze into his. She reached up and touched his hand with hers, stroking it with her thumb and sending a jolt of electricity through him. The warmth from the contact seemed to excite every nerve in his hand and arm and that sensation flooded throughout the rest of his body. He could hear his heart thundering in his ears, positive she could hear it too.
All at once, the air seemed to be filled with a mixture of anxious nervousness and aching desire. Arthur recognized that desire from this morning. This time, though, he gave into that impulse, threading his fingers through her hair once again and pulling her face closer to his.
He leaned in, hovering over her mouth, reveling in the thrill of expectation and how fast it made his heart beat, how alive it made him feel. Amelia closed the distance between them, their lips meeting halfway, simply resting against each other gently. Tenderly. A warm tingle started in his cheeks and flowed all the way down to his toes.
They parted for a moment, their eyes meeting briefly, before their lips met again. Heart pounding, Arthur pressed his lips to hers, his breathe deepening and his head spinning, leaving him light-headed. Almost subconsciously, he wrapped his arm around her waist, his hand resting in the small of her back. As the kiss intensified, he pulled her body even closer to his.
Amelia responded by standing on her tiptoes, leaning up into him as if the nonexistent distance between them was too much to bear. She moved her hands from where they were resting at his waist and touched his face. As if she was trying to memorize him and this moment, she trailed her fingertips across his cheeks, moving down to trace along his jawline and his neck. Wrapping her arms around him, her hands clutched at his shoulders, fingertips lightly caressing the material of his suit jacket and causing an exhilarating shiver to flow through his entire body. They parted again, long enough to suck in a lungful of the crisp afternoon air, before kissing again, this one urgent and hungry, their lips moving against each other roughly as if making up for lost time.
Amelia pulled away from the kiss and gasped. Arthur smiled when he realized it was because she'd forgotten to breathe. He allowed her a couple of moments to drink in a few lungfuls of air, and then he leaned in to continue.
"W-w-we shouldn't make out in public," she said before he could reach her lips. She ducked down her head, burying it in his chest. He could see that the pink had traveled all the way to her ears.
Arthur glanced around the alley. As far as he could tell, there were no building or house windows facing where they were standing. He noticed a robin sitting on a fence, preening itself. It looked at them and chirped. "I don't think that cheeky little bugger over there minds what we're doing," he said, lightly touching his lips to her cheek. He touched her chin and tipped her face up towards his.
He gazed into her blue-gray eyes and a smile crossed his lips. He leaned in to give her a peck on the lips, which she happily returned. "Besides," he continued, "I've wanted to do this since this morning—no—wait, that's not quite accurate." He took a moment to consider why he thought that way, and he was able to give the answer almost instantly: "Actually, I have wanted to do this since that dance in 1944." Vocalizing those words brought back the desire from before, making him feel giddy and drunk.
Amelia's eyes widened. "Does that mean that you—" Arthur covered her mouth with his before she could finish.
She earnestly returned his affection for a moment before pulling away slightly and giggling. "Not that I mind, but you didn't let me fin—" He continued the kiss, not letting her resist the gravity that seemed to be pulling them together. Amelia pulled just far enough away that the heat from her lips ghosted against his as she panted for breath. "Are you trying to keep me from talking?"
Arthur glanced at her. She looked as besotted as he felt. "Not really, but it's a side effect of my wanting to do this," Arthur replied, pecking her on her lips and then her nose. "Are you saying you don't want me to continue?" Mirth bubbled up inside him. He decided to tease her a little by moving his lips a little closer to hers but not close enough to make any contact.
"No. I'm not saying that at all," she said breathlessly, tangling her fingers in his hair and pulling him into a kiss with a renewed urgency, as if she was trying to melt into him. Her aggressiveness surprised him only for a moment before he responded to it by wrapping his arms around her waist and lifting her up on her tiptoes again as they continued for several minutes.
Each time their lips touched, his entire body grew hotter and hotter, the heat pooling everywhere their bodies touched, their hearts beating in time with each other. When they finally parted, he found that Amelia wasn't the only one who needed to remember how to breathe again. He gently lowered her to the ground until she found her footing while he drank in lungfuls of air.
He gazed at her, certain her flushed face was a mirror image of his own. She gasped deeply and rapidly as she slowly pulled her hands from behind his shoulders and down his arms. Amelia leaned up against his shoulder. "Wow," she said, sighing deeply.
"Yeah," Arthur replied, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and enjoying the warmth their closeness created. I want time to stop, right here, right now.
After a couple of minutes of their savoring the embrace, he heard Amelia sigh again. "We probably should get going before Al's stomach finds us," she said. She looked down at the bags. "We're going to have to buy more eggs later. You were the one carrying them."
"That will only be necessary if most of them are broken," Arthur countered.
She laughed, slowly pushing herself out of his arms. "If you are fine with it, then so am I." She knelt down to pick up the bags she had been carrying, and Arthur decided to follow her lead. She looked up at him as she looped her hands in the bags' handles. He smiled, leaned over, and gave her a little smooch on the mouth.
She stared at him, her mouth hanging slightly open at the unexpected token of affection.
"Your fault," Arthur said, his face deadpanned, "your face was too close to mine."
She let out a scoff that sounded more like a laugh. "A likely excuse."
"Perhaps," he conceded with a slight smile and a wink. He stood up, put all of his bags in one hand and held out the other. "Shall we continue home?"
Amelia stared at his hand, and her cheeks resumed the rosy color they had bloomed several times already.
His heart skipped a beat at her possible rejection of his gesture. "I don't want you to get lost," Arthur said, a tingling and warmth filling his cheeks.
She laughed at his using her own words to flirt. "Al never told me how funny you were." She put of all her bags into one hand and grabbed his hand with her other hand.
"I think 'witty' might be a better word," he stated. "He seems to deliberately irritate the hell out of me, so I never talk this way with him."
"I feel really privileged now," she said with a smile.
A palatable nervousness filled the air as they walked to the end of the alley, neither of them speaking to the other. "Go to the left," he directed when she stopped and looked both ways down the pavement.
When they started walking again, Arthur glanced down at their hands. They weren't exactly how he wanted them to be. He adjusted his hand by interlaced his fingers with hers. His body's reaction was instantaneous: the tingling and warmth spread from his cheeks to his entire face, and he became dizzy and light-headed.
"You move really fast, Mr. Kirkland," Amelia teased, playfully glancing over at him.
"I can't help it," he said. "I'm so comfortable with you that it's almost surreal. I mean, even though I've technically only known you for one whole day, it seems like it's been years—Ah! I didn't mean that like it was a bad thing."
Amelia laughed. "I didn't take it that way." She gazed at him and smiled. "I love you, Arthur." She pulled their hands up to her mouth and smooched the top of his hand before lowering their hands again. "Okay. Let's get this Mountain Man Stew home and started." She picked up her pace a little and Arthur matched it.
"Mountain Man Stew?"
"It's something I learned from a friend in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States, and it tastes a lot better than it sounds like it would taste," she said, winking at him.
When they finally arrived at Arthur's home, Amelia released his hand before walking up to the door. She turned around when she reached it. "I think we should wait until Al's stomach is full before he sees or hears about anything that has gone on between us," she said.
Arthur thought about Mexico and nodded. "Yes. I think that's a proper suggestion. A full stomach will slow him down. It'll give me a fighting chance to get away."
She laughed at his witticism as she entered the house and headed for the kitchen. He followed her into the room. She was setting her bags on top on the workspace he usually used for preparing food. Arthur set the bags he was holding next to the others.
"So until we talk to Al, we've got to try to play it casual, okay?" Amelia said, stepping closer to him. She held out her hand as if she wanted to shake hands with him. When he reached out to comply, she pulled her hand back a little and hesitated, staring at their two hands. He glanced down to see what had caught her attention so intensely.
Instead of clasping hands with him, she reached out and stroked her fingertips across his palm and down his fingers. The action sent a thousand tingles all over. He caught her fingers before they left his and held onto them. Then, as if it was the most natural thing to do in the world, he reached down and took hold of her other hand, also only by her fingers.
He looked up at her, and she returned the look. When they made eye contact, he smiled at her and began to caress her fingers and palm with his fingertips, occasionally stopping to brush his thumbs over the tops of her hands. She smiled and responded in kind.
Her smile faded into a serious expression when they continued to maintain eye contact. The atmosphere around them quickly became saturated with an intense anxiousness. Without a word, Arthur leaned in, and they softly kissed one more time.
"We really should stop doing this, or Al will catch us before we have a chance to tell him," Amelia said in a quiet tone, her eyes dazed and warm. She let out a small laugh. "You're making me regret that we didn't walk slower or stay in that alley longer than we did." She let go of his hands just as the door to the dining room opened.
"You found her, Artie!" Alfred said as he swung the door all the way open. "I was really starting to get hungry. Glad the food—er—I mean, you two made it back safely." He glanced at them both and then stared at Amelia. "You feeling okay, Sis?" he asked narrowing his eyes as he studied her face.
"Y-y-yes. Why?" she said, touching her cheeks in reaction to his stare.
"Your face is all flushed," Alfred replied, walking over to her. He put a hand on her forehead and his other hand on his forehead and leaned their faces together. "Hmm. Seems normal."
She pulled her face away from his and then took a few steps closer to where the bags had been placed. "I-I-I'll bet it's the colder temperatures. I'm not used to them."
Please accept that explanation, Arthur thought as he suddenly became very interested in the pattern on the kitchen floor's rug.
Alfred looked at her for a couple of moments, then he glanced over at Arthur, and then he returned his gaze to Amelia. "Yeah. It does take some getting used to," Alfred stated finally.
Amelia nodded at him and then moved over to the carrier bags. She started digging through them and pulling out several items for the stew. She didn't look at Arthur or at Alfred as if she was worried that doing so might give something away.
"Whelp! I'll let you get started on dinner," Alfred said after watching her work for a couple of seconds.
He turned and pointed at Arthur, and Arthur couldn't help but jump at the sudden attention. "Artie, don't you dare cook anything," Alfred said. "Ames can handle it on her own."
Arthur let out a sound of indignation. "What if I only help by preparing the vegetables? Will that be allowed?"
Alfred smirked and shrugged. "I guess. But be careful with your knives around Amelia: I don't know if my insurance is accepted at your hospitals here."
"Go watch some cricket and leave us alone, you berk," Arthur said, walking over to him and pushing him out the door.
Alfred laughed. "Okay, okay." He leaned against Arthur's hands as he pushed him out of the room as if he was putting up a fight, but in reality, he wasn't offering any resistance at all. It was fairly easy to get Alfred out the door and into the dining room.
Arthur turned around and caught Amelia smiling at him.
"You guys are pretty good friends, huh?" she said.
He raised an eyebrow. "What on earth gave you that idea?"
"It's obvious—well, it seems obvious to me—I remember when we were younger, Al would go on and on about how tasty your fish and chips were. It's one of the first things he insisted that I learn how to make," she said with a laugh. Embarrassment at the compliment warmed his face.
She ruminated over the memory for a moment. "It took years to get the burnt smell out of the kitchen walls." She glanced behind Arthur. "Thanks to you, Mattie, I finally learned how to do it right."
Arthur turned around to see Matthew standing almost directly to his left, so closely that it made him jump a little. I didn't even hear him enter the room.
"I came in to help when I heard Alfred in here, but it looks like Arthur is going to be your assistant, eh?" Matthew's eyes sparkled mischievously as he looked back and forth between them.
"You could set the table," Amelia suggested, grabbing her apron and putting it on. "Arthur, where do you keep your soup bowls?"
"Oh, um, they're in the cabinet in the dining room," he said, moving towards the door to the dining room.
Matthew held up his hand and grinned. "I think I'll be able to find them just fine. Thanks." He walked out the door, leaving Arthur to stare at it.
The room filled with the sound of something being dumped into a sink. Arthur turned back to see Amelia take a paring knife out of her "essentials bag" and start peeling a potato. She looked over at him and smiled. His heart pounded in response.
"Thanks for helping out, Arthur. It'll cut my preparation time in half. Could you wash, peel, and cut up the carrots?" she asked.
He nodded. "It'll be my pleasure. I actually enjoy cooking." He took off his suit jacket and set it aside, away from the food. He rolled up his shirt sleeves, grabbed the carrots out of the bag, and selected a peeler out of the knife drawer. He decided to use the sink next to the one she was using for depositing the potato peels.
"You must think I'm odd, being a man and fond of cooking," he said, embarrassed that she didn't reply to his first comment.
She finished peeling and started to cut up the potatoes into large chunks. "Nope. I don't. In fact, I think it's kinda hot," she said, using the same tone of voice she'd used that morning.+
Arthur glanced over at her. Is she teasing me? Or flirting with me? It's hard to tell with this girl. He noticed that she peeked from behind her bangs at him and winked. He also noticed that the proximity of the sinks made their arms brush against each other every now and then as they worked . . . that, and that she smelled fantastic.
Giddy from the exhilarating sensations this caused, Arthur spontaneously dropped the peeler and carrot he was holding and hugged Amelia from behind, wrapping his arms around her waist. He nuzzled his cheek against her hair and drank in the seductive aroma that floated up from it.
She gasped and dropped her paring knife and the potato she was cutting into the sink. "Art—"
"Roses . . ." he mumbled distractedly, interrupting her.
She stroked her fingertips along his arms, tickling the skin and sending an electrical pulse throughout his whole body. "Y-y-yeah. Prairie roses are a native flower in the United States†," she said, "so it's one of my natural scents."
"Your natural scents?" Arthur found himself too light-headed to really understand what she was saying.
"Yeah. I've been told my friends who hug me that I either smell like prairie roses or vanilla, which makes sense since they're both indigenous to North America,†" Amelia stated. "I've noticed that Al either smells like chocolate or a sweet gum tree. After I told him that, he decided that he didn't like being told he smells 'sweet', and he tries to cover it up with the scent of his leather jacket or men's cologne.†"
She flicked her bangs out of her eyes with a quick toss of her head, and the motion moved her hair as well, exposing her neck and shoulder. Arthur stared at the now naked skin of her neck mere centimeters from his face.
"I've tried to tell him a million times that I think he smells more like the resin than the rest of the tree and that it's a very manly smell†, but he just blows me off because I'm his sister and not a good judge of such things," she rambled on. She turned her head slightly to take a side-glance at him but quickly turned away again with a blush.
"Now your scent is amazing. Sometimes it's like a musky rose, but most of the time the fragrance is like a deep forest after rain, at least, that's what it smells like to me. I remember noticing it the first time you hugged me back in—" She stopped short when Arthur nuzzled against her shoulder and planted a kiss on it. He trailed several more up her neckline and then kissed her neck just under her ear. She let out a gasp. "Arthur, what are you doing?" she said, panting a little.
Arthur smiled at her reaction. "Your fault. Your bare neck and all that talk of sweet things made you too irresistible. Why? Am I distracting you?" he asked, lightly touching his lips to her neck again.
She stuttered out a breath, trying to control her reactions. "No . . . not . . . at all . . . I'm . . . completely focused."
"I see. Speaking of sweet things, I remember your hair smelling like chocolate chip cookies this morning," he said, brushing his lips against her hair and then back down on her neck.
Amelia gasped in reaction, seemingly unable to say anything while he was bestowing his tokens of affection on her. Arthur smiled, satisfied by her response as he nuzzled his cheek against her hair. She leaned against him.
"Well, that's because Al and Mattie wanted to eat cookies on the way here," she said finally, "so I got up a few hours before our flight was scheduled to leave and made—" She turned to look at him, and her cheeks crimsoned deeper. Their faces and lips were so close that Arthur recognized the now-familiar nervous clutch in his chest and overpowering urge to close the distance between them and capture her mouth with his. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. He closed his eyes and leaned in towards her lips.
"Hey Artie! You got anything good to snack on while I wait for dinner? I'm starving," Alfred said as he barged through the door to the kitchen.
Amelia raised her head so quickly that she almost clocked Arthur in the nose. He froze and turned to look at Alfred. His face became hot as the other nation took in the sight of him embracing Amelia from behind.
Alfred stared at the couple, and then his right hand instinctively balled into a fist. "What's going on in here?" he asked finally, furrowing his eyebrows.
If the last chapter didn't make up for the super-long wait between updates, I'm almost certain this one should do the trick X3 . . . if not, then I still need more practice on my kissing/making out scenes . . .
*K-ration chocolate was better tasting and more like the commercially produced Hershey bars of the time. If you couldn't get K-ration chocolate, you were stuck with D-Ration or "Tropical" bars, which were detested by soldiers and all who ate them. D-ration bars were hard to chew and described by some as "tasting no better than a boiled potato". Therefore it's only natural that Alfred would want to use the K-ration chocolate instead to impress a lady. Only England wouldn't be able to tell if a chocolate tasted nasty or not; his people, on the other hand, have much better taste-buds than he does ;) (also the British citizens really were told not to share their rations).
+This is a reference to her quoting/mimicking the character "Sister" from Red vs. Blue web series in Ch. 2. (I must remind you that Amelia only pretends to talk like Sister; she would never act like Sister . . . she isn't like that).
†Rosa arkansana, a.k.a. the Prairie Rose, grows on dry hills and prairies. It is native to 21 states and Canada in Zone 4 and higher and it is threatened and endangered in the State of Ohio. Its flowers are single, range from pale pink to red. Rosa arkansana var. suffulta is a low-growing (6 to 18 inches), spreading prickly shrub. It is native to Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and New York. The prairie rose produces a heady rose scent.
†Vanilla really did originate in America, but more specifically in Mesoamerica. The vanilla Amelia claims is the V. Pompona (sometimes called Mexican vanilla). There are 3 major types of vanilla grown today: Vanilla Planifolia (syn. V. fragrans) grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. Tahitensis grown in the South Pacific; and V. Pompona, which is found in the West Indies, Central, and South America. Most of the world's vanilla comes from the Madagascar vanilla (more commonly known as bourbon vanilla). It is second only to saffron as the world's most expensive spice b/c making it is so labor-intensive.
†Liquidambar styraciflua, a.k.a. sweet gum tree, is a North American tree that has prickly spherical fruit clusters and fragrant sap. Sweet gum trees are aromatic, which means they smell good (crushing a leaf and smelling it can give you a good idea of this). While the tree is mainly used for ornamental and commercial hardwood purposes, its resin (sometimes called liquid amber or copalm balsam) has been used for fragrance purposes along with other commercial uses. The golden-honey colored resin has been said to have a sweet, earthy scent and been compared to ambergris, which we all know has been mostly known for its use in creating perfume and has fragrance much like musk.
†Although chocolate (a raw or processed food produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree) originated in the Americas, 60% of cacao is now produced in West Africa, with the rest still grown in Mexico, Central and South America as well as several tropical islands and countries. Its earliest documented use is around 1100 BC. Chocolate as many know it was created by Europeans, who added sugar and milk to it and used it primarily for sweets (not as currency or for religious and royal purposes like the Mesoamerican people did).
British slang/terminology translations:
grocery shop = grocery store
shopping trolley = shopping cart
shop assistant = cashier, clerk, etc.
carrier bags = shopping bags
gardens = backyards (believe it or not)
pavement = sidewalk
berk = idiotic jerk
Meanwhile in the lounge, Matthew is watching TV, intent on the forward of Canada's soccer team making the goal, which he does.
Matthew: Yes, finally! * turns to where Alfred should have been sitting * You owe me 50 bucks, Al. *stares at the empty space where Alfred had been, then looks at the door * Um . . . where . . .
* remembers what Alfred had said before leaving *: Yeah, yeah, sure they're going to win. Soccer's stupid and boring, dude, except when ladies like Mia Hamm, Hope Solo, and Alex Morgan play . . . Anyways we're outta snacks . . . be back in a minute, Bra.
Matthew: * thinks for a moment what could be taking so long, and then realizes *: Ah nuts! * jumps up and dashes toward the kitchen *