"She's not really mad," he said in Moe's ear. "Her eyes get sorta dark and scary when she's really mad."
He bounded up. Moving fast, Zoe grabbed Moe's collar before he could follow. "Oh, no, you don't. Look at the mess you made. What do you have to say for yourself?"
He collapsed and rolled over to expose his belly.
"The only way that's going to work on me is if you know how to run a vacuum cleaner."
She let out a little sigh when she heard the knock on the door, and Simon's shouted "I'll get it!"
"Perfect. Just perfect."
She stared after Moe as he raced away, and heard Simon's excited voice telling Brad about Moe's latest adventure.
"He ran all over the house. He made a real mess."
"So I see." Brad turned into the living room where Zoe stood, surrounded by shredded toilet paper. "The fun never stops, huh?"
"He must've nosed his way into the linen closet. I just have to clean this up."
"Why don't you take care of these?" He crossed to her, held out a bottle of wine and a dozen yellow roses. "Simon and I can clean it up."
"No, really, you can't—"
"Sure I can. Got a vacuum cleaner?" Brad asked Simon.
"I was getting it." He dashed off.
"Really, you don't have to bother. I'll… get it later."
"I'll take care of it. You don't like roses?"
"Yes. I do. They're beautiful." She started to take them, then looked down at her hand, and the soggy remains still gripped in it. "Oh," she said on a very long sigh, "well."
"Trade ya." He plucked it out of her hand before she could stop him, then filled hers with the flowers. "You'll want to take this, too." He passed her the bottle of Chianti. "You might want to go ahead and open that, so it can breathe."
He turned away from her when Simon hauled in the vacuum. "Plug her in, Simon, and let's get this done because something smells really good around here."
"Spaghetti sauce. Mom makes the best. But we gotta have salad first."
"There's always a catch." He smiled at Zoe as he rolled up the sleeves of his dark blue shirt. "We've got this covered."
"All right. Well. Thanks." Not knowing what else to do, she carried the roses and wine back into the kitchen. She could hear Simon still chattering away, then the quick roar of the vacuum, followed immediately by Moe's insane barks.
She'd forgotten Moe considered the vacuum a mortal enemy. She should go back and get him. Then she heard Simon's peal of laughter, the deeper, but equally delighted sound of Brad's, and the increasingly frantic barking that meant man and boy were only encouraging Moe to go postal.
No, they were fine. She should leave them alone.
And it gave her the opportunity to simply bury her face in the flowers. No one had ever given her yellow roses before. They were so sunny and elegant. After some debate, she settled on the slim copper urn she'd rescued from obscurity at a yard sale. With the brilliant shine she'd given it, it was a suitably bright home for yellow roses.
She arranged them, opened the wine. After putting a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, she went back to the salad.
It was going to be okay, it was going to be fine. She had to remember he was just a man. A friend. Just a friend who'd dropped by for dinner.
"Back to normal," Brad said as he strolled in. He noted the arranged bouquet she'd set on the counter. "Nice."
"They're really beautiful. Thank you. Simon, why don't we put Moe out back for now? You can take your books in the other room and finish those last couple of problems. Then we'll eat."
"What kind of problems?" Brad asked as he wandered around to Simon's books.