"Magically delicious," he explained. "Requisite for any sort of building project."
I shook my head, still amazed at how he had managed to weasel his way over here. "This isn't a date."
He cut me a scandalized look. "Obviously. I'd bring Count Chocula for that."
"I'm serious. Not a date," I maintained.
"Yeah, yeah. I get it." He set the stuff on the counter and turned to me. "So, where is it? Let's get this started."
I exhaled, uneasily relieved by his matter-of-fact manner. No flirtation, no overt come-ons. Just honest, friendly helpfulness. I'd get the shelf built, and then he'd be gone.
We tore into the huge box, dumping out loose shelves and panels, as well as an assortment of bolts and screws. The directions were short on words, mostly containing some cryptic diagrams with arrows pointing to where certain parts went. After minutes of scrutiny, we finally decided the large backboard was the place to start, laying it flat on the floor with the shelves and walls placed on top. Once everything was properly aligned, Roman picked up the screws, studying where they joined the various parts together.
He examined the screws, looked at the box, then turned back to the shelf. "That's weird."
"I think... most of these things usually have holes in the wood, then they include a little tool to put the screws in."
I leaned over the wood. No premade holes. No tools. "We've got to screw these in ourselves."
"I've got a screwdriver... somewhere."
He eyed the wood. "I don't think that'll work. I think we need a drill."
I felt awed at his hardware prowess. "I know I don't have that."
We hightailed it over to a big chain home store, walking in ten minutes before they closed. A harried salesclerk showed us to the drill section, then sprinted off, calling back a warning that we didn't have much time.
The power tools stared back at us, and I looked to Roman for guidance.
"Not a clue," he finally admitted after a span of silence.
"I thought you excelled at this 'handy-type stuff.' "
"Yeah... well..." He turned sheepish, a new look for him. "That was kind of an exaggeration."
"Like a lie?"
"No. Like an exaggeration."
"They're the same."
"No they aren't."
I let the semantics go. "Why'd you say it then?"
He gave a rueful headshake. "Partially because I just wanted to see you again. And the rest... I don't know. I guess the short answer is you said you had something hard to do. So I wanted to help."
"I'm a damsel in distress?" I teased.
He studied me seriously. "Hardly. But you are someone I'd like to get to know better, and I wanted you to see I've got more on my mind than just getting you into bed."
"So if I offered you sex here in this aisle, you'd turn me down?" The flippant remark came off my tongue before I could stop it. It was a defense mechanism, a joke to cover up how confused his earnest explanation had made me. Most guys did just want to get me into bed. I wasn't quite sure what to do with one who didn't.
My glibness succeeded in killing the pensive moment. Roman became his old confident and charming self, and I almost regretted the change I'd wrought, wondering what might have followed.
"I'd have to turn you down. We've only got six minutes now. They'd kick us out before it was done." He snapped his attention to the drills with renewed vigor. "And as for my so-called handy skills," he added, "I'm a remarkably fast learner, so I wasn't really exaggerating. By the end of the night, I will excel."
After arbitrarily picking out a drill and coming home, Roman set himself to aligning the bookcase's pieces and putting them together. He fit one of the shelves to the backboard, lined up his screw, and drilled.
The drill went through at an angle, missing the shelf entirely.
"Son of a bitch," he swore.
I moved in and yelped when I saw the screw sticking through the back of my bookshelf. We took it out and stared bleakly at the conspicuous hole left behind.
"Probably it'll be covered by books," I suggested.
He set his mouth in a grim line and attempted the same feat again. The screw made contact this time but was still at an obvious angle. He pulled it out again, finally inserting it correctly on his third try.
Unfortunately, the process only repeated as he continued. Watching hole after hole appear, I finally asked if I could try. He waved his hand in a defeatist gesture and handed me the drill. I fitted in a screw, leaned over, and drilled it in perfectly in my first attempt.
"Jesus," he said. "I'm completely superfluous. I'm the damsel in distress."
"No way. You brought the cereal."
I finished attaching the shelves. The walls came next. The backboard had small hash marks to help with alignment. With careful scrutiny, I tried to line it up cleanly along the edges.
It proved impossible, and I soon realized why. Despite my perfect drilling, all of the shelves were affixed crookedly, some too far to the left or right. The walls could not fit flush with the backboard's edges.
Roman sat back against my couch, running a hand over his eyes. "My God."
I munched on a handful of Lucky Charms and considered. "Well. Let's just line them up as best we can."
"This thing'll never hold books."
"Yeah. We'll do what we can."
We tried it with the first wall, and though it took a while and looked terrible, it sufficed as serviceable. We moved on to the next one.
"I think I finally have to admit I'm not so good at this," he observed. "But you seem to have kind of a knack. A regular handywoman."
"I don't know about that. I think the only thing I have a knack for is barely scraping by with things I have to do."
"That was a world-weary tone if ever I heard one. Why? You got a lot of things you 'have to do'?"
I nearly choked on my laugh, thinking about the whole succubus survival scene. "You might say that. I mean, doesn't everyone?"
"Yes, of course, but you've got to balance them with things you want to do. Don't get bogged down with the have- to's. Otherwise, there's no point in being alive. Life becomes a matter of survival."
I finished a screw. "You're getting kind of deep for me tonight, Descartes."
"Don't be cute. I'm serious. What do you really want? From life? For your future? For example, do you plan on being at the bookstore forever?"
"For a while. Why? Are you saying there's something wrong with that?"
"No. Just seems kind of mundane. Like a way to fill the time."
I smiled. "No, definitely not. And even if it was, we can still enjoy mundane things."
"Yes, but I've found most people harbor dreams of a more exciting vocation. The one that's too crazy to ever actually do. The one that's too hard, too much work, or just too 'out there.' The gas station attendant who dreams of being a rock star. The accountant who wishes she'd taken art history classes instead of statistics. People put their dreams off, either because they think it's impossible, or because they'll do it 'someday' "
He had paused from our work, his face serious once more.
"So what do you want, Georgina Kincaid? What is your crazy dream? The one you think you can't have but secretly fantasize about?"
Honestly, my deepest longing was to have a normal relationship, to love and be loved without supernatural complications. Such a small thing, I thought sadly, compared to his grandiose examples. Not crazy at all, just impossible. I didn't know if I wanted love now as a way of making up for the mortal marriage I'd destroyed or simply because the years had shown me that love could be a bit more fulfilling than being a continual servant of the flesh. Not that that didn't have its moments, of course. Being wanted and adored was an alluring thing, a thing most mortals and immortals craved. But loving and longing were not the same things.
Relationships with other immortals seemed a logical choice, but employees of hell proved nonideal candidates for stability and commitment. I'd had a few semisatisfying relationships with such men over the years, but they'd all come to nothing.
Explaining any of this, however, was not a conversation Roman and I were going to have anytime soon. So instead, I confessed my secondary fantasy, half-surprised at how much I wanted to. People didn't usually ask me what I wanted from life. Most just asked me what position I wanted to do it in.