Chapter 1: Breakfast
Part One: Breakfast
Sam Braddock’s morning ritual began before he fell for Jules Callaghan, but now she was as much a part of the process as his weekly stop at the Italian market or the guilty pleasure music he played while he cooked.
There was nothing that made him happier than to look over at her to see her hips swinging to the beat as she very seriously chopped potatoes into perfect tiny cubes, except perhaps the moment when they slipped back into bed with plates full of the delicious meal they’d made together.
Truth be told, he also liked the moment when the plates had been licked clean and he got to put his mouth to another use, but it was different. He’d had that kind of intimacy with other women, but Jules was the first one he’d invited to join him in the kitchen.
His ritual had been a solitary one before her. He’d say a proper goodbye to whatever girl had spent the night and gently guide her out the door before he so much as got the eggs from the fridge. Sam was a gentleman, but there were some things he wouldn’t share even with women he’d slept with, and breakfast was one of them.
Alone in his apartment, he’d gather his supplies: an iPod stocked with Barenaked Ladies songs he’d never admit to liking in real life, the heavy skillet that had been a peace offering from his sister Natalie, and the apron.
He kept it in a high cabinet, away from prying eyes. It was once bright yellow, but the color had faded to a buttery hue over the years. The ties around the neck and waist were a pale shade of lavender and huge bright pink letters stretched across the chest.
Every time he put it on to start breakfast he remembered the first time he saw it. He was a promising young soldier assigned to a base in rural Ontario while he and his fellow recruits underwent rigorous training in modern warfare techniques.
It was a few days before his best friend Matt’s birthday and he was wandering the aisles of a discount store. He’d spent an hour searching for the perfect gift, which by then he’d decided couldn’t be found in a dollar store in rural Ontario, but as he was about to leave something brightly colored caught his eye.
He pulled it out of a pile of nubby tea towels that reminded him of his grandmother’s kitchen and unfolded it. It was a long chef’s apron emblazoned with the phrase “#1 Mom?”
He wasn’t sure if it was the strange punctuation that made it so funny to him, or if it was the thought of his burly friend wearing it, but he couldn’t resist. He bought it. Later that day he found Matt’s real gift in a bookstore: an old leather-bound copy of ‘Treasure Island.’
That book was on the shelf by Sam’s bed now, half-hidden behind an SRU training manual and a thesaurus. He’d bought these presents for Matt, but now the book and the apron were his again because of a bullet.
He remembered how hard Matt laughed when he opened the apron. Matt immediately tied it on. Sam told him it was a nice gesture, but he didn’t need to actually use it.
“Of course I’ll use it,” Matt replied. “Can’t you see me wearing this, barbequing in the backyard, embarrassing the fuck out of my kids?”
Sam could, but now those kids would never have the chance to be embarrassed by their goofball dad. When he’d unpacked the box of Matt’s things when he moved to Toronto, he’d almost thrown the apron away, but he fished it out of the trash. Matt and that stupid apron had cheered him up on too many bleak desert mornings for him to abandon either of them.
The first time he wore it was impulsive. He’d said goodbye to Laura (or was it Lana?) and decided to make breakfast. At first he rationalized it by telling himself that the fabric would protect his bare chest from grease spatters, but in truth he needed the reminder of his friend, alive and proudly unveiling a platter of eggs and potatoes, a small taste of home.
He began to include Matt in his life again in these breakfasts. He wore the apron and he played the music his friend even though it was never really his style. Sometimes he imagined Matt critiquing his technique or insisting that a griddle was so much more useful than a pan.
Soon it wasn’t just the mornings spent cooking that he looked forward to, but to the preparation that went into it. One day Spike needed to pick up something for his mom, so he convinced Sam to stop at a market during a break from patrolling.
He’d wandered while Spike conversed with the store’s ancient owner in rapid Italian. A thick slab of ham caught his eye, so he impulsively bought it, along with a box of eggs. The next morning’s breakfast was one of the best he’d made, so the market became a weekly stop. He wandered, taking his time to select the vegetables that looked the freshest. He even started to pick up a little Italian, although sometimes he wasn’t sure if he was saying “bacon” or “copy machine.”
Soon after his first time at the market, he’d followed another impulse and woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed. She was tucked into his arms, small and almost delicate without her SRU gear. Her eyelids fluttered and he wondered what she was dreaming, tracing patterns on her bare arm with the tips of his fingers while his mind replayed a conversation he’d had once with Matt.
“You’re just a sappy guy,” he’d teased Matt. “It’s not your fault you sound like something out of a chick novel.”
“I’m just saying that I didn’t fuck her, as you so charmingly put it.”
“Right. You ‘made love’ to her.”
Matt shook his head and laughed. “You’ll understand when you meet a woman who’s too important to fuck.”
That first morning, Sam wondered how Jules would articulate what they’d done the night before. Were the fevered movements of their mouths and bodies just sex to her? Or worse, would she hurry him out of her house when she woke because it was just fucking? Perhaps she had her own ritual that required solitude.
She stretched and murmured in her sleep. He’d wondered more than a few times what she’d look like and what sounds she’d make when he touched her. He’d been with women who were loud and he knew some of them were exaggerating for his benefit. He’d rather they didn’t, and he knew even before they’d reached her bedroom that she wouldn’t be like that.
He remembered the noise she’d made when he entered her for the first time. It was the perfect blend of a gasp and a moan, and her eyes had flicked up to his as he moved inside her. He didn’t have words to tell her how she was different than all the others before her, so he just held her gaze and hoped she knew.
Somehow Matt understood something long ago that Sam only learned that first time Jules invited him to her bed. There was almost nothing different about the actual physical act; he’d used many of his favorite tricks on her and she responded much like the other women he’d touched those ways had, but it was different because it was her.
He eased himself out of bed without waking her and crept down to the kitchen. Her fridge was nearly empty, but he found some eggs that were only a few days past their expiration date. The only bread in the house was spotted with mold, but he persisted until he found a few unblemished slices.
Sam scrambled the eggs and placed a rounded portion on each plate. He couldn’t find her toaster so he’d grilled the pieces of bread in a hot skillet until they were crisp, then divided each slice into four even triangles. He arranged the toast around the eggs and finished the plates with a squiggle of the hot sauce he’d been happy to discover behind the craft beer in her fridge.
He’d hoped for orange juice but other than the beer the only beverage option he could find was a bottle of red wine. He debated, then opened one beer and split it between two glasses.
He was about to go upstairs when he realized something was missing. He quickly gathered what he needed and added it to the tray.
It was a shadow of the breakfast he would have made for her if they’d been at his place, with his well-stocked fridge full of fresh herbs and organic eggs. He’d considered going out in search of supplies but he didn’t want her to find the house empty and think he’d left without saying goodbye. This simple offering would have to do.
She opened her eyes as he came back in and he was relieved to see no sign that she regretted their encounter. He placed the tray in front of her and something flickered across her face that he didn’t understand as she reached out for his last minute addition to their breakfast spread: the three deep purple flowers he’d arranged in an empty jam jar.
“Where did you find violets in January?”
“Your neighbor’s greenhouse,” he said sheepishly, but she laughed and asked if he’d stolen the champagne from them too.
“It’s just beer,” he replied, blushing, but she told him she liked beer a lot better than champagne anyway. Then she ate every morsel on her plate and helped herself to more than a few bites of his.
He’d made love to her three times that day: twice with his body and once with a meal and three stolen flowers.
A few months later, he planned a menu of frittatas and fresh biscuits. They were at his apartment that morning. She woke him early with a trail of kisses down his abdomen, whispering that she had a present for him. Afterward, she let her hands roam soothingly over his body until he couldn’t help but fall back to sleep, frittatas be damned.
The next time he opened his eyes, she was standing over him with a tray.
“Donuts and coffee from Timmy’s,” she explained. “But I put it in real cups, that’s gotta count for something right?”
“You get the flowers from Timmy’s too?”
“No. I brought them from home.”
He knew she had, and the glass too. It was the same one he’d used that first morning and he wondered if she knew that.
“There’s a chip in the rim,” she said, seeming to read his mind. “I’m sorry, I tried to cook something for you, but it didn’t go so well.”
“Did you set off the smoke detector?”
“I took the battery out.”
He pulled her head down to his and kissed her deeply. She tasted like coffee and dark chocolate. They were breathing hard by the time they broke apart, but as much as he wanted to undress her and spend the rest of the morning in bed, but he had another intimate act he needed to share with her.
“Why don’t you come to the kitchen with me and we’ll make some fried potatoes to go with these donuts?” he asked. She grinned and snagged the Boston Crème and bounded for the kitchen before he could protest.
When he caught up to her, he turned on the music.
Jules wrinkled her nose at him. “This? Really? I didn’t picture you as an quirky-acoustic kind of guy.”
“You want to cook breakfast with me or not?” Sam asked as he loaded her up with vegetables and eggs from the fridge. He grabbed the pan from its place on top of the fridge, but hesitated at the cupboard.
“What’s wrong, Sam?” An errant carrot leapt from her full armload and rolled across his kitchen floor. He pulled the apron from its hiding place and held it up for her to see.
“Exactly. I mean, I think they put the question mark on there by accident, but—“ He stopped himself. After a deep breath, he began again.
“I bought this for Matt as a joke. A long time ago. He used to wear it when he was making breakfast while we were deployed.” He plucked an imaginary piece of lint off the yellow fabric and hoped she’d interrupt, but she waited for him to go on.
“When he died, I got it back. I never thought about that, what happens to things like old birthday presents when a person dies. It was just a stupid apron, but I couldn’t throw it out. Then one day I was making breakfast and I just… put it on.”
Sam looked at Jules, searching her face for any sign that she thought that was strange or overly sentimental. There were things in her face he could not read, but he saw no judgment there.
“It feels good to wear it, like maybe if I remember the details of his life, he isn’t completely gone. I don’t know, I’m probably not making much sense,” he said, balling the apron up and reaching up to put it away.
“Then you should wear it,” Jules said quietly. She dropped the vegetables onto the counter, causing a few more to drop and roll across the floor.
She took the apron out of his hands and slipped it over his head. She turned him around and tied the lavender strips into a loose bow, then snaked her arms around him. She pulled him close to her and rested her head on his back. Sam absentmindedly rubbed his thumb over the scar on Jules' wrist and wondered what her version of breakfast was and who it helped her hold onto. They stood that way for a long time, their breathing synching as they both thought of people who now only existed in things like aprons and fading butterfly tattoos.
“The eggs are going to go bad,” she murmured, pressing her lips against his bare back.
“Eggs don’t go bad that fast, Jules.”
“Do I look like an egg expert to you, Braddock?” she asked, releasing him. “You’re the one who’s supposed to be showing me the finer points of this whole ‘breakfast’ thing.”
“Then what are you waiting for? Go get the olive oil.”
Soon she was cheerfully slicing into potatoes as he rolled out the biscuits. Later, as he garnished the plates with fresh basil, he saw her rummaging in his fridge. He watched as she found two champagne glasses and carefully split a Heineken between them. She placed them gently on the tray, then added the basket of steaming biscuits.
“These are ready too,” he said, passing her the plates. The frittatas were perfect squares of egg studded with colorful vegetables and tiny pieces of ham. They were joined by neat piles of rosemary potatoes, the best ones he'd ever tasted, although maybe it just seemed that way because she'd helped make them.
“Is this everything?” she asked. He surveyed the tray, then shifted the plates so he could add the violets.
“So did you learn anything, Jules?”
“Yeah,” she called from the hallway. “You secretly have terrible taste in music.”
Sam waited until she was out of earshot before taking off the apron. He folded it and placed it gently on the shelf.
“I get it now, Matt,” he said quietly as he closed the cupboard door. “I just wish you were around to meet her.”
Chapter 2: Lunch
There might have been a time and a place for Sam to ask Jules about the scar on her wrist, but lunch was not the time and Maggie's Delicious Donuts Diner was not the place.
Thanks for all the fabulous feedback on part 1 of this story. This chapter is a bit shorter and a bit less fluffy, but hopefully "Lunch" is as satisfying for you as it seems that "Breakfast" was!
If he’d stopped to think, Sam wouldn’t have asked at all. He would have realized that the topic hadn’t come up before for a reason, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, like an accidentally discharged bullet.
Those words hung in the air and he watched her swallow hard, a French fry paused halfway to her mouth.
If he’d been smart, he would have asked her some night just before they fell asleep. She could have let the darkness cover the unease written on her face. She would have kept her voice steady while she answered, but both her calm and the words would have been a lie. It would have been a dignified lie, though, rather than the messy, uncomfortable truth that daylight demands.
Sam wasn’t smart, though, and he’d just asked Jules about the scar on her wrist in Maggie’s Delightful Donuts Diner. In doing so, he’d ruined what up until that moment was a fantastic lunch with the woman he loved, whose lips were now pressed together in a thin, tense line.
Jules Callaghan placed the fry on the edge of her plate like it had suddenly grown mold, then took a very long swig of her coffee.
“How many women have you slept with?” she asked suddenly, and all his thoughts of her scar and the deep trouble he was in were forgotten.
“I… could ask you the same question.”
She laughed. He loved the way her teeth showed when she laughed and he felt the metaphorical noose around his neck beginning to loosen. He started to hope that maybe they could share a piece of key lime pie and forget that he’d brought it up at all.
“Two. Your turn.”
He should have known that she’d shoot the question right back at him. He blushed and ran his fingers through his short, blonde hair.
“A lot more than two.” He focused on his strawberry milkshake and wondered how he’d dig himself out of this one. “Only two, really? You‘ve only slept with one guy other than me?”
“You didn’t ask how many guys I’ve slept with.”
An awkward, staccato laugh burst from his throat as his brain struggled to make sense of what she’d just implied. Jules was smiling at him, completely unflappable, watching as his train of thought screeched to a halt in the station.
She was enjoying seeing him twist in the wind. His mouth opened and closed several times and she giggled, being reminded of the motions a fish makes trying to breathe on land.
“I…?” Jules prompted as she reached for Sam’s milkshake, gently loosening his clenched fingers from around the base of the tall glass. She ran her tongue along her upper lip before closing her mouth around the straw, finishing the last of the sugary drink before Sam even thought to object. She pushed the empty glass back toward him and grinned.
“You okay, Samtastic?”
“What? Yeah, I’m fine.” He carefully searched her face and body language for any indication that she was pulling his leg, but found none. “So… you’ve slept with two women and you didn’t think to tell me?”
“You never asked.” She leaned over the table toward him, offering a French fry. When he didn’t take it, she popped it into her own mouth and chewed with gusto. “Sam, when you ask a question, you run the risk of getting an answer you’re not expecting. Sometimes the answer is one you want to hear, but sometimes it isn’t. Either way, you’ve got to be ready to hear it.”
Sam rubbed his face and groaned, realizing her point. “I’m sorry I asked about the scar, Jules.”
Her face softened. She reached for one of his hands, covering it with both of her own.
“It’s okay. I just wanted to warn you that there are things… once you know them, you can’t forget, no matter how much you might want to.” Jules spoke so softly he had to strain to hear her over the clattering of the diner lunch rush.
Sam took her hands and turned them palms-up, running his fingers along the thickened tissue that began at the base of her right thumb. He gently massaged the edges of the pink scar, back and forth as if he were memorizing it with his hands.
“Jules, you don’t have to tell me. But there is nothing I could learn about you that I’d want to forget. I love every piece of you, including this one,” he said, pulling her hand to his lips and gently kissing the angry patch of skin.
Jules blushed. Leave it to his Jules, Sam thought, to hint at secret Sapphic trysts without batting an eyelash but to blush at such a simple gesture.
“You could tell me that this scar is from a subject with a knife who got you when you guard was down or a wild bear you wrestled in the woods. It would just be further proof to me that you’re the toughest chick I’ve ever met. You could tell me that it’s a bite from a piranha from the time you hiked through the Amazon and I’d ask you when we can go back. Tell me it’s from the car accident that killed your first true love Amanda---“ at this, she finally cracked a smile, “--- and I’ll secretly thank the universe for getting her out of the way so I could be your second true love.”
Sam paused to gather his thoughts before he forged on, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he could censor them. “If someone did this to you, I’d be so angry at them, because I never want to see you hurt. Even though I know you can take care of yourself. But if you… if it was something that—“
“Sam.” Her fingers curled into the palm of her hand and her lips twitched as she clenched her teeth and Sam was reminded of how complicated his lover was. He searched her face for an indication if he should abandon the conversation and apologize profusely or if he should press on, but her features were inscrutable.
“Jules, it wouldn’t matter. Not to me.”
She nodded and pulled her hands away from his, cradling the scarred wrist in the crook of her elbow. Sam tried not to see it as a rejection. He knew it wasn’t about him, but it still stung that he couldn’t find words to convince her that he would never judge her.
“We should get back,” she said as she counted out a generous tip and slid it under the ketchup bottle. He nodded and reached for his jacket.
“Jules, I’m sorry I upset you.”
“You didn’t,,” she said, reaching across the table to caress the side of his face with her palm. He knew it was a lie but he knew better than the argue.
They were silent as they left the diner. Jules automatically climbed into the driver’s seat of the SUV.
“Jules… that thing, about you, and other women… That was just you making a point, right?”
She turned and flashed a smile at him. “Do you really want to know?”
“Would you ever make out with a chick in front of me?” he asked, as he buckled himself in beside her.
“Would you want me to?”
“Is that a trick question? Yeah, maybe in my fantasies I’d want to see that, but in real life I don’t want you to make out with anyone but me.”
She nodded and smiled broadly. He watched as shadows of her thoughts flickered across her face, the smile fading as they drove toward HQ. After a long silence, Jules pulled the SUV over and put it in park.
“It’s a burn,” she said, holding her wrist out toward him. She seemed about to continue, but then pulled back out onto the road. They drove the rest of the way to HQ without speaking.
“Jules?” Sam asked as they walked toward the building.
“Thank you. For lunch.”
She smiled and nodded, unconsciously rubbing at the pink mark on her wrist. She paused to press a kiss to his cheek before they went inside.
“You’re welcome. C’mon, let’s keep the peace.”