It's been too long since I've done this, just puttering round the kitchen enjoying myself. The problem is that real cooking demands preparation, and my exciting lifestyle with CI5 doesn't often leave me with both the time and the energy. I've spent too many evenings looking longingly at the makings of a meal, too knackered to actually do anything about it. There have been days when even frying eggs was too much. So in the end I resigned myself to surviving on restaurants and take-aways. It's not a hardship, London is well supplied with both, but it meant that I'd forgotten just how relaxing it could be wielding knives for recreational purposes.
The other thing that real cooking demands is ingredients, and CI5 have even seen fit to cause problems there too. I will never forget the time we came back from Germany, via Kenya and Washington. We were supposed to be out of the country for two weeks tops. It took months. I got back, dived into the kitchen for coffee (black, strong and real, damn it) and was faced with the Vegetable Rack From Hell. Half a cabbage had turned into slime, and seemed to be encouraging the carrots to try on furry green coats. The potatoes had grown roots thick enough to walk on, and the parsnip that I had intended to roast with the beef rotting in my fridge seemed to have mummified. I had to throw the whole lot out, rack and all. There are depths even I won't sink to.
Cooking is now an occasion in itself, and today seemed like a good day. We've been together for a year now, ever since a car bomb made us both realise that we'd rather die than lose each other. I've got him a present, of course, but I wanted to do something special to mark the day, and cooking him a romantic meal seemed like the ideal thing to do. I even managed to charm Malone into letting me go early so that I could shop and prepare.
Malone knows, of course. Nothing happens in CI5 without him finding out, sooner or later. He took a whole week to realise that our partnership had extended into our private lives, or maybe that was his idea of a trial period. Then he called us into his office, reminded us that our relationship didn't come into work with us and that he expected us to stick to rule number one, and wished us all the best. We'd need it, he said. We have. We've survived, though not without heartache and tears. We've had to risk each other, leave each other to our own resources in order to complete missions. It's broken my heart each time I've done it, and his too I think, but we've always put work first and agreed that we were right. We've also pulled some amazingly stupid stunts, things I hadn't believed myself capable of, to bring each other home safely. It's incredible what love will give you the strength to do.
So I sit here, nursing some of the Rioja I've been cooking with and waiting for my lover to arrive. There's nothing else to do. The casserole is quietly sitting in the oven, the chocolate mousse is chilling nicely, the soup is simmering and the vegetables are ready to go. There have been no culinary disasters for once, though I did nearly balk at preparing the liver. Funny that, I have no trouble working with meat, but liver makes me twitchy. I couldn't face kidney; too many bad memories.
The knives and bowls are washed. The table is laid, complete with candles. Even the work surface is gleaming. It's just possible that I may have allowed too much time here. Or that he's late. No, that won't happen. When I told him "Seven thirty, my place, don't be late," I think he got the idea. Hell, he practically glowed. He won't be late.
I am just beginning to worry when I hear his key in the door. I smile, pouring a glass of wine for him. It's that kind of night; I know that this once, no matter what he'd normally say about my choice, he'll like it.
"Honey, I'm home!"
"Oo, that good a day was it?"
"I have a feeling the evening's going to be better. That smells good... hang on a minute, don't tell me you skipped out on me to cook?"
"A special meal for a special day. It beats ordering out."
"Yeah, but I forgot to bring my stomach pump." His eyes belie his words though, and he kisses me gently on the cheek as he takes his wine. "Seriously, I'm flattered that you've gone to all this effort. It's a marvellous present. I don't deserve you."
That shy smile does it to me again, making me feel like I'm walking on air. I'm the luckiest man in the world. "No, I'm the one who doesn't deserve you. Every morning I wake up and wonder when you'll come to your senses." I'm grinning so hard it hurts. "Happy anniversary, love."
"Happy anniversary, Chris."