How to Boil Water
A Slice of Life Short: Jaxar & Van
“While common Terran wisdom says a watched pot never boils, it most certainly does,” Jaxar said, filling a pot with water.
“Come on. You know you wanna.” Van pressed the recipe card against her bottom lip and batted her lashes shamelessly.
“No. I do not.”
“But it tastes better when you make it,” she whined.
“This competition is of your own making and I find it profoundly unfair that the other competitors were not informed.”
“Pfft,” Van waved a hand, flapping the card in the air. “They know.” They totally knew.
“Come on. You don’t want your wife to shame you, do you?” She pushed the card toward Jaxar.
“Victory is sweetest when earned.” He pushed it back.
“But everything tastes better when you make it.”
He plucked the card from her hand and placed it on the counter. “Watched pots–”
“This is just insulting.” Van crossed her arms over her chest. Her alien husband thought he was so funny. “That happened one time!”
“This is important. Set a timer.” He turned a dial on the cooktop to the right and then told the computer to start a fifteen-minute timer.
“I can’t believe how much of a dick you are right now.”
“The cooktop uses induction technology. The pot will get hot, but it remains safe for you to touch the surface,” he said.
That was actually good to know. Still, Van couldn’t let an opportunity to be insulted go by. “You know, I haven’t actually burned myself cooking. I’m not that bad.”
“No, just several meals. Peel the crustaceans.”
The shrimp—they weren’t really shrimp but bite-sized ocean-dwelling bugs shaped like shrimp, so close enough—had been precooked and frozen. Until someone configured an aquatic bug farming tank on the ship, this was the closest they’d get to fresh seafood. Van didn’t mind. The alien shrimp bugs had a mild flavor, good texture, and tasted great with butter.
“You know, it’s not nice to make fun of my culinary skills. I grew up in an institution.” Van peeled the shell and pulled off the inedible tail, then tossed it in a bowl. “I didn’t have a loving aunt and uncle to take me in and hug me and feed me milk and cookies and tell me bedtime stories. I had to scrub floors and they only gave me rags to wear. My only friends were the mice.”
“Yes, I saw that film, too.” Jaxar sat opposite her at the table. His eyes gleamed with amusement as she laboriously peeled the ocean-bugs. “And then the mice constructed a dress for you to wear to a party to kiss a spoiled aristocrat.”
Van rolled her eyes but continued to shell the space shrimp. The group home she had lived in as a teen had a rotating schedule of chores, so everyone did their fair of work. Staff called it learning life skills, but teenage Van called it a devious way to get around child labor laws.
“I did help with making dinner, all the kids had to, but most of what we made was frozen, from a box, or a can. Nothing was ever from scratch,” she said. She could make instant mashed potatoes or reheat cans of soup like a champ but when it came to chopping actual vegetables with an actual knife, she was at a loss. “Kids’ palates aren’t sophisticated. We were happy with chicken fingers and fries. Just shove it in the oven and you’re done. I guess I just never had an opportunity to learn to make anything else.”
She liked real food. She liked real food a lot but scarfing down an amazing meal did not translate to having the patience or the skill to make an amazing meal. Who had the time? She worked. She studied. She did research on the funky plants in the Night Garden. If Jaxar didn’t set a plate in front of her most nights, she’d gnaw on a ration bar and call it good enough.
Snacks nosed at her thigh. “Look at my good girl,” she cooed. “Do you want a piece of space shrimp? A tasty snack for Snackelton?”
“Do not feed the greedy beast from the table. She will expect such behavior to continue.”
Van sighed dramatically but continued to shell the space shrimp. When he wasn’t looking, she slipped a piece to Snacks. Jaxar might be a hard-ass when it came to being a fretti daddy, but she was a complete pushover for her good girl.
“All done,” she declared, peeling the last shrimp.
Jaxar gestured to a bottle of oil and jars of spices on the counter. “Rinse the crustaceans and drain. Add those to the crustaceans. The measurements are written on a card.”
“I know. I did write the recipe down.” Van rinsed the space shrimp and the bowl, before returning them back into the bowl. Carefully she measured out the ingredients, dumped them into the bowl and stirred. She chose the recipe because it seemed fancy but looked simple enough to be blunder proof. That was no guarantee, of course, as she had blundered her way into plenty of inedible meals.
In an hour they had a couple’s dinner date with Havik and his new wife, just to be friendly and mend fences, blah blah blah. She had been earnest in her efforts to be Havik’s friend but trotting out the new wife in front of the old wife was just plain wrong. Sure, she should be a better person and try to be friendly, but screw that. Van and Jaxar were obviously the better couple and this was a challenge to their couple-ness. She would bury Havik and what’s-her-face in hospitality and smother them with home-cooked food.
Of course, when she invited them over for dinner, she intended for Jaxar to do the cooking. Duh. Van forgot a pot of boiling water once. She didn’t walk away on purpose but had an idea she wanted to jot down in her notebooks before she forgot. Then she had to double-check the reference material to make sure her brain wasn’t making false connections and remembering the wrong information. Look, she had a lot going on in her head and research was hard work. Interesting, but it ruined her short-term memory. By the time she remembered, and only then because her stomach growled, the water had evaporated, and the pot had been ruined.
That happened one time! She brought her notebook with her everywhere now to avoid disaster. That’s called learning from your mistakes.
This meal was going to be so fucking delicious that Havik would declare Van and Jaxar’s obvious victory at being a better couple. What’s-her-face would have to go back to Earth from the shame.
The timer beeped. She checked the water in the pot. “There’s a bunch of little bubbles at the bottom. Is that boiling?”
“I believe you stated that you knew how to boil water.”
“But do I really? How would I know if you don’t check my work?” She dumped in the pasta, not waiting for his response. She talked a lot of shit and Jaxar generally grinned with amusement.
“Now, heat a skillet,” Jaxar said, pulling out a pan from a lower cabinet. “Add butter. When the butter is melted, we will add the garlic and crustaceans.”
The garlic sizzled and popped when it hit the butter. Carefully so as not to splatter herself, she added the contents of the bowl and spread it evenly in the pan. “Now what?”
“Cover it with a lid. Wait five minutes. Give the pasta a stir.”
“Just wait?” That didn’t seem right, yet she set a timer.
While Jaxar collected the dirty dishes and utensils and loaded up the cleansing unit, she wiped down the counter. Someone made a mess and dribbled space shrimp juice all over the place. “Check the pasta,” he said.
Please don’t be terrible.
Tender to the fork, she drained the pasta before tossing it back in the pot. The recipe called for another pat of butter, so she buttered up those noodles. The timer dinged. When she lifted the lid on the pan, a blast of buttery goodness hit her right in the face.
They were so going to crush this competition that Havik didn’t even know he was in.
Nothing gave Jaxar as much pleasure as preparing and sharing a meal with his mate. Well, a different sort of pleasure, one derived from the satisfaction of caring for his mate. As gratifying as he found the sight of his mate closing her eyes and humming with pleasure as she ate, he found he equally enjoyed watching her learn to care for herself.
Van read the printed recipe card, then read it again. “I just dump the whole thing into the pasta? That really doesn’t sound right.”
“Those are the instructions.”
She emptied the crustaceans into the pasta. Using a wooden spoon, she lifted one morsel. “Oh no. I’m so clumsy,” his mate said in a flat tone, and dropped the crustacean to Snacks, who swallowed it whole.
“Spoiled,” he muttered.
Vanessa shrugged her shoulders in a purely Terran gesture that communicated that she knew she was in error but did not care.
He had been dubious about the fretti’s capability to be a companion animal after having been raised to be a fierce guard animal and did not understand what Vanessa saw in the creature. Half-starved and snarling at anyone that approached, Vanessa convinced him that the creature was worth rescuing.
She had been correct. Snacks blossomed into a fierce guardian of her pack and loyal companion who followed Vanessa’s every step, a fact which should not have surprised him. Vanessa was much the same way, wary of strangers, snarling and snapping until she felt safe, only to have her fierce exterior melt under affection.
He particularly enjoyed making her melt.
“What’s that look for?” his mate asked.
His grin made his reply. Pink color rose to her cheeks. He stalked forward, trapping his mate’s form between himself and the counter and pressed his nose to the crook of her neck. He sniffed her hair and pressed a kiss to her exposed skin, enjoying the strength of her lush, green scent.
“We must conduct a taste test,” he said, reaching around her to retrieve a fork from the top drawer. He may have ground his hips into her, and she may have pushed back.
Using the utensil, he speared a crustacean and a piece of the tube-shaped pasta, and he fed it to his mate. Her crushed-berry lips closed around the mouthful, moaning in appreciation. He had less than culinary thoughts about what he wanted to feed his mate. She would look gorgeous on her knees with those plump lips wrapped around his cock.
Shame they had company arriving.
“Oh my God. So good,” his mate moaned. “I made this.” She turned around in his arms and bounced with excitement. Snacks yipped. “I made this!”
She broke free from his embrace and did a victory dance. At least, she had explained that the flapping of her elbows and wiggling of her hips were a celebratory move. Snacks joined, her long body undulating on short legs.
“Oh, you’re such a good dancer,” his mate cooed to the fretti. He did not want to spoil her happiness by mentioning that undulating was typically a warning that the fretti was about to attack. He felt confident that Snacks was happy and not preparing to clamp her jaws around Vanessa’s legs. He would expect the fretti to attack anyone else, himself included, but not Vanessa.
Jaxar placed the meal into the warmer and set the table. “Do you need to prepare?”
“You saying I stink?” Vanessa paused, mid-twist.
He pulled her close, ignoring the way Snacks twined herself between their legs, and he licked the side of her face. “Butter and garlic. Delicious.”
“Gross.” She batted her hands uselessly against his chest. “Let me go and I’ll wash up.”
While his mate retreated to the cleansing room, he tidied their quarters. This competition was only in her head and completely juvenile. He was a grown male but Havik annoyed him on several levels and he refused to lose.
Vanessa returned, wearing fresh garments and her face glowing. She was a marvel. How had he been so fortunate to be her mate?
“We’re gonna show them we’re the best couple ever,” Vanessa, holding out a clenched fist.
He knew that gesture, having seen some Terran females pantomime a collision of their fists. Gently he tapped his fist to hers. “Boom, bitches,” he said.
“Are those not the sacred words for the ritual?”
“Oh my God, how are you serious with that face?”
“Yes. Very. This is my serious face,” he said. He gathered her in his arms. The chemical smell of artificial milk and honey of her moisturizer nearly covered up her unique scent. He loved the layers of her, the way she went from guarded and moody to happy enthusiasm. She teased because she loved, and she loved without limits. He was a lucky male. “But we have nothing to prove. You are the only female for me. The only one I have ever wanted. I have already won.”
Read more about Vanessa and Jaxar!
Once bitten, twice shy.
Vanessa knows what aliens want—babies— and she’s not having it. She’ll change her name, change her ID chip, and hunker down on a miserable moon on the far side of the galaxy before she gets matched to a Mahdfel brute.
Jaxar knows that Vanessa is the one for him but he needs time to convince her. With the clock ticking, he’ll do anything to claim her reluctant heart.
Even steal her.
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printer or electronic form without prior written person from the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Author’s Note: This is a work of fiction and all people, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. All characters depicted in this work of fiction are eighteen years of age or older.