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Comfort Food

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Comfort Food

Regina Mills barely waited for the automatic doors to slide open before she charged into the grocery store. She was a woman on a mission and no one was going to stop her. If her life had been animated—and there were times she wondered if perhaps her life was some show people watched for amusement—there would’ve been a dark storm cloud floating over her head. Because she had had a day.

Her alarm clock had decided to go on strike and not go off at all. Regina’s internal clock had kicked in, but not until 8:50 AM…when she had to start work at 9:00 AM. She had fired off a text to tell her assistant she was going to be late and to hold her calls when Mary Margaret had reminded her that she had a meeting at nine. And he was waiting for her in her office. Cursing, Regina hopped around her room as she tried to find something to wear that day.

Putting together an outfit ended up being the only good thing about her day. Her car wouldn’t start so she had to call a car service to take her to work. At this point, she was almost a half hour late for her meeting and she was cursing the fact she had made such an early appointment. When she got out of the car, she glanced down to find a giant run in her stockings. Horrified, Regina ducked into the nearest ladies’ room and pulled the garment off. She was going to have to do this meeting sans stockings while she sent Mary Margaret to get her a new pair.

The meeting did not go as well as she had thought it would. She had anticipated an easy sell to get this company to let them handle their next ad campaign. Regina had spent the days prior compiling all the necessary data she had needed to wow them and thought Ruby had made a brilliant mock up for her to display. Yet the potential clients didn’t blink an eye and left her with promises to think about their pitch.

Mary Margaret returned back with her new stockings in time for Regina to wear them as her boss, Mr. Gold, chewed her out for possibly blowing the deal. “I should’ve had Zelena do it,” he spat. “She at least would’ve been here on time and would’ve had them eating out of her hand.”

He knew Regina had disliked the woman since she had arrived at the firm and the feeling was mutual. Gold had chosen to use Zelena to light a fire under her and it worked. She stormed back to her office and buckled down, focusing on the campaign for Gepetto’s Toys. Yet even that went to hell in a handbasket and she had to call all-hands on deck to finish it on time.

Now it was nine o’clock at night and Regina hadn’t eaten since Mary Margaret brought her a salad around lunch time. Her stomach rumbled but she only needed one thing after a day like this. Everyone had a comfort food, even high-powered ad executives.

She guided her cart down the pasta aisle, which was looking a bit bare. The employees were falling down on their jobs, not restocking the shelves. But then again, if she was honest, there weren’t that many people in here. They probably weren’t expecting someone to be grabbing spaghetti and the like at this time of the night.

Which meant there was only one box of macaroni and cheese left. She saw the lone blue box sitting on the shelf as she put her cart to the side. Hurrying up, she reached for it…only for the box to be yanked away before her fingers could grab it.

Regina turned to see who dared to steal the last box of her ultimate comfort food from her. It was a tall blond man with eyes as blue as the box. He wore a green button down shirt under a leather jacket, paired with dark pants and shoes. If she hadn’t been so angry and tired, she might have noticed that he had dark circles under his eyes like hers. Or that they didn’t detract from his handsomeness.

Instead, she only saw red. “Excuse me,” she said, putting all her bite in her words. “I was going to take that box.”

“Sorry, milady, but I got it first.” He dropped it into his cart and began to walk away. “Good night.”

Regina jumped in front of his cart. “Oh no. You don’t understand. I need that box.”

“Why? It’s just macaroni and cheese.” The man crossed his arms.

“No, it’s not. It’s the ultimate comfort food and I need it because I’ve had the worst day ever. No, scratch that. I’ve had the worst week ever. So all I want to do is go home, make some mac and cheese, curl up on my couch in my pajamas and watch some mindless reality show while eating the ooey, gooey cheesy goodness.”

He moved from behind the cart, coming nose-to-nose with her. “Look, lady, I get it. But I got it first. You can just go to another store. Good night.”

Regina had nothing to stay, mostly because for the first time she realized how handsome her foe was. He was taller than her, forcing her to look up into his bright blue eyes. She felt her heart speed up and she fought down the butterflies taking flight in her stomach. This was not the time to get infatuated.

By the time she recovered her senses, he had walked away. Regina’s shoulders slumped and she wondered if there was anything else that could provide the same comfort as macaroni and cheese. Maybe there was a Girl Scout somewhere selling cookies…

“Robin.” His accented voice interrupted her musing. She was so lost in thought, she hadn’t noticed when he doubled back to her.

She glanced at his outstretched hand before looking up at him again. “What?”

“My name is Robin,” he repeated. At her confused look, he let out a little laugh. “I figured if I introduced myself, I wouldn’t be a complete stranger asking another complete stranger over to his flat.”

“To his…Why?”

He sighed. “I feel bad. So I’m taking a chance and asking you to come share the mac and cheese with me. I’m also a really good listener, I swear.”

The rational part of Regina’s brain told her to say no. That it was a bad idea, the start of a murder mystery. It told her to go to another store or to just get drunk instead. Sure she would have a hangover in the morning, but at least she’d still be alive.

Yet there was the part of her that was tired. The part fried from the week she had had, the part that was craving mac and cheese, told her to go with him. At least she’d get her comfort food and maybe get a chance to vent about everything.

“Regina.” She shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Same. Now, why don’t you go grab some ice cream and we’ll make this a proper pity party?” He smiled, revealing dimples that stopped her heart.

She smiled as well. “Sounds like a good plan. Meet you at checkout?”

 

Robin’s place wasn’t far from hers. It wasn’t as luxurious as hers, but it was a decent apartment. “My roommate’s on a business trip, so we’re on our own,” he said, carrying the grocery bags into the kitchen.

“Is there anything I can do?” Regina wandered after him.

He motioned to the cabinets behind her. “Care to set the table?”

Within a half hour, they were sitting at the table with bowls of steaming macaroni and cheese. Robin had also offered her a beer and Regina had taken it. She was already this far, might as well go all the way. Soon, they were sharing the reasons they both had had horrible, no good, very bad weeks.

“So you didn’t get the grant? Even after all that work?” Regina put another forkful in her mouth.

Robin shook his head. “Turns out we didn’t stand a chance. I learned the other guy was sleeping with someone high up in the parks department.”

“Ouch.” She winced. “Well, it looks like I might have blown a big contract and that means my rival at work is going to walk around like a queen for weeks, gloating and holding it over me.”

“Well, she sounds lovely.” Sarcasm laced his words.

Regina laughed. “She can be a real witch sometimes. Then again, sometimes I’m no better.”

They lapsed into silence and Regina put her fork down. She sighed before looking at Robin. “I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have snapped and I shouldn’t have demanded that you give me the mac and cheese.”

“Thank you,” he said. “And I guess it turned out for the best in the end, huh?”

She smiled, taking another swig of beer. When she put down the bottle, she glanced around the apartment. There didn’t seem to be a woman’s touch reflected anywhere but that didn’t mean anything. “So, do I have to worry about a jealous significant other misconstruing this dinner?” she asked.

Robin laughed, his dimples returning. “No, no. I’m currently single.”

“You? I find that hard to believe.” Regina was surprised by the sincerity in her words, but she found they were true. So far, Robin had proved himself to be a kind man who was bright and funny. This night was proving to be the best she had in a long time.

And the fact she was finding him to be more and more attractive with every passing moment didn’t hurt either.

“Yes, well, it’s the truth.” He took a swig of his beer. As he toyed with the fraying label, he grew serious. “I was in a relationship for a long time. But well…Let’s put it this way—I got the invite to her wedding the other day.”

Regina grimaced. “Well, you’re not the only one unlucky in love. I was dumped a few days ago because my ex thought I worked too much. He also had a few choice names for me that I’d rather not dwell on.”

“He’s an idiot.” Robin frowned. “You’re better off without him.”

She smiled. “Thanks, but I’m sure there was some truth in his statements.”

“Don’t let him get to you.” He reached across, taking her hand in his. “He’s not worth it. Trust me.”

 

After doing the dishes, they ended up on his couch with new bottles of beer. They had moved on from their horrible weeks to more pleasant, if embarrassing, stories. “So there I was, stark naked and staring down my professor,” Robin said, blues sparkling.

Regina covered her mouth with her hand, trying not to laugh. She moved it down a bit to ask: “What did you do?”

“Turned on the famous Locksley charm. It’s yet to fail the men in my family.” He winked at her. “She let me off with a warning.”

“You were lucky.”

He shrugged, taking a swig of his beer. “Your turn.”

“I guess it’s only fair.” Regina sighed. “Okay, when I was fourteen, I decided one day that I was old enough to shave. After all, all my friends had already started—or so they claimed. So I stormed downstairs and demanded my mother teach me how to shave my legs. I just didn’t know she had invited some of my father’s colleagues over.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Except that I was only in my training bra and pink frilly panties, standing in front of a room of middle-aged men.”

Robin grimaced. “Okay. That’s bad.”

“Mother reamed me out for that. And I think that’s why she refused to let me shave for two more years.”

He propped his head up with his hand, a weird look Regina couldn’t identify in his eyes. “You know what? I think this is the best risk I’ve taken in years.”

“Me too,” she agreed, putting down her empty beer bottle. “Though I’m still not sure you aren’t a serial killer.”

Robin let out a bark of laughter, setting his own empty beer bottle next to hers. “You have a point, milady. I guess you just have to trust me.”

She let out a little hum, sliding closer to him on the couch. With her heart hammering in her chest, Regina Mills threw caution to the wind and kissed the man she had only met hours before at a grocery store. A man who had invited a perfect stranger into his home because she had had as bad a week as he had.

A man who was a great kisser.

He cradled her head as he deepened the kiss, tongue exploring her mouth. Both tasted of beer and the cheese from their macaroni earlier. Not exactly her definition of romantic but it was something Regina found herself hoping to keep in her life.

She wanted to keep him in her life.

They broke their kiss but Robin pulled her close for a hug. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Are you complaining?”

“Nope,” he replied. “Though I would like to do it again.”

Regina sat up. “Me too. But I’m afraid I need to go home. I need to get up early if I hope to salvage what today ruined.”

“Will I see you again?”

She smiled, pleased that he was going to miss her and wanted more as well. Pulling out her business card, she jotted down something on the back and handed it to him. “That’s my cell. Give me a call and we’ll set up another date.”

“I’ll call you tomorrow night,” he promised, standing as she did. “Until then.”

Regina nodded, kissing him again. “Until then.”