OPERATION EMOTION:PHASE DISGUST
“You already brought me welcome-to-the-neighborhood cookies.” Alex stared at the basket on the dining table.
“These aren’t welcome cookies.” I pushed the basket toward him. “These are an experiment. I tried a new recipe and wanted to see what you think.”
He made an impatient noise. “I don’t have time for this. I have a conference call in half an hour.”
“It won’t take you half an hour to eat one cookie.”
Yes, I had finagled an invitation inside Alex’s house again, this time for the second phase of OE. Neither Alex nor I mentioned his, er, morning wood situation a few days earlier. I didn’t know about him, but I’d prefer if we forgot about that morning altogether.
“Fine.” He peered at the confections with suspicion. “What flavor?”
Asparagus, raisins, and garlic brittle.I’d picked the most disgusting ingredient mixture I could think of because this was, after all, Phase Disgust. Part of me felt bad because he’d been pretty nice the night we watched those movies and he’d canceled his date for me; the other part was still a little annoyed by how he’d treated Owen, who was afraid to talk to me now because he feared Alex would pop up out of nowhere and kill him.
I cleared my throat. “It’s a, um, surprise.”
I tucked my hands beneath my thighs and jittered my foot as Alex brought a cookie to his mouth. I almost dove for him and knocked it out of his hand, but I was curious how he would react.
Would he spit it out? Gag? Throw the cookie at me and kick me out of the house?
He chewed slowly, his face not betraying any emotion whatsoever.
“Well? What do you think?” I injected fake pep in my voice. “Good?”
“You baked these.” Not a question.
“You baked the red velvet cookies, and you baked…these.”
My bottom lip disappeared behind my teeth. “Uh-huh.” I couldn’t look him in the eye. Not only was I terrible at lying, I was terrible at keeping a straight face.
My head snapped up. “What?” The cookies weren’t fine; they were gross. I’d tried one myself and almost threw up. Asparagus and garlic brittle did not mix.
Alex finished chewing, swallowed, and dusted the crumbs from his hands. “They’re fine,” he repeated. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to take.”
He left me in the dining room, mouth agape.
I picked up a cookie from the basket and nibbled on it, just in case—
Blech! I gagged and ran into the kitchen to spit out the abomination, then rinsed my mouth with water from the sink to erase the lingering aftertaste.
Alex must have messed-up taste buds, because no normal person would’ve been able to swallow those cookies without at least grimacing.
I came to the only conclusion that made sense.
“He’s definitely a robot.”
PHASE DISGUST STATUS: FAILED
* * *
OPERATION EMOTION:PHASE HAPPINESS
What makes men happy?
The question had plagued me in the lead-up to the third phase of OE. Most of the things that would make men happy didn’t apply to Alex or my situation.
Money? He had plenty of it.
Job satisfaction? Nothing I could do about it.
Spending time with friends? Josh was Alex’s only friend that I knew of, and I was pretty sure Alex did not enjoy most people’s company.
Sex? Um, I wasn’t having sex with him for an experiment. Or any other reason, even if I was the teeniest bit curious about what it would be like.
Love? Lol, okay. Alex Volkov in love. Sure.
Jules suggested a blowjob, which fell under sex and which I vetoed.
It took days of brainstorming, but I came up with something that might work. Perhaps it wouldn’t make Alex soul-happy, but it’ll help him relax and laugh a little.
“I dislike sitting on the ground.” He stared at the grass like it was a mud pit. “It’s uncomfortable and unsanitary.”
“It’s not. How is it unsanitary?” I laid a blanket out and anchored it with the picnic basket so it wouldn’t blow away. I’d convinced him to go for a picnic at Meridian Hill Park. When I brought it up, he’d acted like I’d suddenly sprouted two heads, but he’d agreed.
Now, if only he would stop acting like such a grouch, we could enjoy the last days of summer.
“The grass is probably soaked with dog urine,” he said.
I winced at the mental image. “That’s what the blanket is for. Sit.”
Alex heaved an aggrieved sigh and sat, looking unhappy about it the entire time.
Undeterred, I unpacked the picnic basket, which contained summer pasta (my favorite), lobster rolls (Alex’s favorite, according to Josh), assorted fruit, cheese and crackers, strawberry lemonade, and of course, my red velvet cookies, which Alex seemed to like.
“This is so much better than being cooped up inside.” I stretched my arms over my head, luxuriating in the sunshine. “Fresh air, good food. Don’t you feel happier already?”
“No. There are children screaming everywhere, and a fly just landed in your salad.”
Damn flies. I quickly shooed it away.
“Why are we here, Ava?” Alex’s brow pinched.
“I’m trying to help you relax, but you’re making it damn hard.” I threw my hands in the air, pretty exasperated myself. “You know that magical thing you did during movie night called a laugh? You did it once, you can do it again. Come on,” I encouraged while he stared at me like I was crazy. “You must have some warm, fuzzy feelings left inside of you somewhere.”
And that was the moment a dog from a nearby party wandered over and peed on Alex’s shoes.
PHASE HAPPINESS STATUS: FAILED
* * *