CHAPTER THREE

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     The smell of food wafting from the kitchen wakes me. I open my eyes to the golden haze of early-evening light filtering through Bram's floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Before joining Bram in the kitchen, I let my gaze take in the scenery of his conservatory. Outside, just beyond the glass, brick wraps around the perimeter, enclosing the conservatory at the back. The top is open to the sky above, letting in all the sunlight, wind, and rain nature provides.

     A rumble from my stomach betrays my general dislike for Bram's home-cooked meals. Despite his best efforts - bless his heart - the man can't cook. Not that I can do any better though.

     "What's for dinner?" I ask, rounding the corner of the large antique brick column separating the living room from the kitchen. Portions of Bram's studio dates back to the original building from the 1940s. The brick is whitewashed in spots as if someone poured white chalk paint over various areas. It's beautiful and gives the entire apartment a special charm.

     "My famous spaghetti," Bram stirs a thick red liquid as it pops and bubbles.

     "Oh, you mean jarred sauce and noodles?"

     "Yeah, but this time I made a special side dish."

     "As long as it's not a wild plant. I told you I refuse to die being an experiment!" I lean against the brick and cross my arms.

     "Hey, you said if I tried it first, and didn't die within eight hours, you'd trust me and give it a shot." A mischievous grin pulls at his lips as he reminds me.

     "Okay, fine. Good thing you're cute and smart. So... what are we trying tonight?"

     "There are several names for it, but I call it 'smilax'. The young shoots that vine up and sprout out of the top can be eaten raw or cooked. These were from this past summer; I forgot I had some stored in the freezer. Roots from certain species are an ingredient in root beer. There's more I can share, but your eyes are glazing over already." He winks.

     "Ah, you know me too well." I grab plates and silverware, head to his futon, and set up the TV trays.

     Bram had sautéed the smilax in garlic butter and peppered it. To my surprise, it's incredible; the flavor is similar to asparagus but less woodsy. I know he is proud, so I offer thanks with a quick kiss on the cheek.

     "Don't forget... I cook, you clean." Bram piles his plate on top of mine and reclines back, patting his stomach.

     "Yeah, rub it in." I blow a strand of hair out of my eyes and lean forward, propping my elbows on my knees. That "full bellied" exhaustion creeps in, and I have to talk myself into standing. Bram knows I go into a comatose mode at night after eating, and he finds my lack of energy amusing.

     He flippantly circles his hand, encouraging me to get on with it.

     Begrudgingly, I push off of the futon, grab the stack of dishes, tuck our drinking cups under my arm, and mosey into the kitchen.

     "You realize I clean every time, right?" I yell over my shoulder as I turn the corner.

     "Try that thing called cooking. Problem solved."

     "Yeah. Nope. You know very well that cooking is the bane of my existence. I burn water, for goodness' sake."

     No really, I do. I've lost count as to how many times I've tried to boil eggs and forgotten about them. Only when the water evaporates and the shells start to attach, burnt, to the bottom of the pot, do I ever remember. Nothing like the delicious smell of char to serve as a gentle reminder. Timer shmimer.

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