Siobhan is singing.
Andrew sits at his desk - how long has he been studying this spreadsheet? Twenty minutes? Forty - and tries to ignore the sounds coming from the kitchen. They are faint; the apartment, though open-concept, is designed to minimize the travel of noise from one room to the next. He remembers the first walk-through with the realtor, who made a point of stepping into the next room to demonstrate this trick of acoustics. A strange moment, forever emblazoned on his memory: a tall brunette, half dignified, half desperate to please, clapping her hands together just out of sight behind the elegant arch of the door - and by his side, Siobhan, rolling her eyes.
Eye-rolling is typical of Siobhan. Singing is not. Perhaps, Andrew thinks, singing is the antithesis of eye-rolling. One cannot be exuberant and joyful at the same time that one is detached and self-protective. And Siobhan has always been … careful.
It's shallow of him, but he loved that about her from the beginning, from the first moment - her tiny frame, her fair coloring, her fragility, the watchful wariness in her light eyes. She notices things, she takes them in and mulls them over. She thinks before she reacts. She places words deliberately, like beads on a chain, gauging them for maximum impact.
Funny, Andrew thinks, how vulnerable she seemed at first, how wounded, how much in need of protection. Funny, too, how quickly that skittishness hardened into something very much like dislike.
He wishes he knew what he did to cause that. Because if he knew, then he would also know what he did to change her back. And if he knew that, he would repeat it. Over, and over, and over, and over again.
Siobhan is singing.
He pushes back his chair - it moves silently; well-oiled wheels against plush carpeting - and edges through the dining room toward the kitchen. The kitchen has seen more use since Siobhan turned happy again, and her good mood is reflected in her culinary creations. He's surprised by what she's chosen to cook, actually - a year ago she took a six-week course with Escoffier and turned out a series of elaborately stylized haute cuisine meals, tiny portions on square designer plates that looked better than they tasted, before she got bored with cooking and moved on to watercolors. No grape salsa or avocado foam now, though; no imported fat-free yam noodles or cremini mushrooms or grated beet slaw. Scrambled eggs, pasta with tomato sauce from a jar (granted, an expensive jar, but still), hot chocolate. Two nights ago, he nearly lost an eyebrow into his hairline when she came into his office with a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup that he'd swear was straight from a can.
Not that he's complaining. Lord, no. Campbell's every night of the week. Mac and powdered day-glo cheese from the blue box. Locusts and honey. Bring it on, as Juliette would say, bring it on, if it means that whatever he's doing is finally the right thing.
He sniffs appreciatively, peers around the corner. She's emptying a package of ground beef into a hot skillet, prodding at it with a spatula to flatten and separate it. As he watches, she picks up a $200 cross-grain bamboo cutting board from Neiman Marcus Home and uses it to unceremoniously dump a double handful of chopped onions into the skillet. She's still warbling along to whatever it is that's pumping into her ears through that skinny white cord - something uptempo and cheerful about the truth coming out, a little at a time.
Not La Traviata, then.
She slides the cutting board into the sink; she brandishes the spatula like a microphone; she spins back toward the stove, eyes closed, intent on the music, hips sliding a slow circle that makes Andrew's throat close with fierce, sudden desire. She's wearing clothes he recognizes - yoga pants from Bergdorf's, something stretchy and knit on top - but he's only ever seen them in her gym bag before tonight. She took ballet as a child, he remembers, dry-mouthed; of course she can dance. But this - this deep-knee bend, this spin and counterspin, this abandoned shimmy, shoulders back and arms out, perfect teacup breasts jiggling - this is not ballet. It's like she's having sex with herself, fully clothed and standing up.
And then the song ends. She opens her eyes, sees him watching her, and flushes deep red from her chest to her hairline.
He grins; he can't help it. This is flip-side Shiv - the vulnerability he remembers from the old days, but turned out toward him instead of in on herself. She shrugs and drops her eyes, another wave of blood coursing into her face, and prods sheepishly at the sizzling pan with the spatula.
"Sorry," she says, not looking at him. "Sometimes I get carried away. How much of that did you see?"
"Not nearly enough," he says before he can think better of it, and is rewarded by yet another blush.
"I thought I'd make spaghetti. Is that okay with you?"
"Fantastic," he says. The blush emboldens him to move a little nearer. "Smells wonderful. Looks even better."
"It's not fancy."
When, he wonders, did he start to hesitate before he touched her? He ventures a hand toward her tousled hair - silken, slightly damp at the scalp with her exertion, back to her natural streaky blonde from whatever homogenous platinum she'd imposed on it. She quivers under his hand; is it pleasure or revulsion? he wonders, and has his answer when her chin tips up and he can read her face at last. Such soft-mouthed invitation, such limpid eyes. Who is this new Siobhan who gives herself to the moment, who looks at him as though she might love him after all, who kisses him in the kitchen and lets the onions burn?
"Fantastic," he says again, his lips against hers. He feels her smile.
Something is different.
Something is wrong.
He is terrified that it will end.