Zeth realized too late he had to slow it down. Not that he wanted to, but really, he knew nothing about Zuzu and yet here he was kissing her after knowing her less than an hour, taking her home with him and even imagining her unborn child calling him Daddy.
“Get a grip!” his inner voice shouted.
Zeth knew he should heed this voice. He had ignored it before, many times and the last time…well, let’s just say, he so wished now that he had listened then.
He pulled the key out of his pocket and inserted it in the lock, but before he unlocked the door of the little cottage, he turned to look at Zuzu. Her face was aglow in anticipation…or perhaps it was that fabled glow of pregnancy. He couldn’t tell. The only other person he had seen go through pregnancy was his older sister and she had mostly looked green from a miserable bout of morning sickness which lasted all day for several months.
He smiled. “Now, it’s not much, so…”
“A cave, a hovel or a hole in a tree would all be fine with me just as long as it’s by the sea, and I can actually hear it from here!” she said excitedly.
He chuckled and opened the door. He allowed her to enter first and leaned back against the door, watching her move into the middle of the small living room and turn on an axis all her own, her face rapt with joy as her eyes seemed to absorb all within sight. To his astonishment tears glistened in her eyes as she turned toward him.
“Can I really, truly live here until summer? All fall and winter?” she asked, her voice a reverent whisper.
“If you like. The lease is for six months with an option to stay until May if…”
“Yes!” she almost shouted. “I’d like to stay as long as you let me.”
He smiled again. “If that’s the case, you can stay as long as you like,” he said more calmly than he felt. He tried telling his heart to take a chill pill, but it wasn’t listening to him at all.
Her face fell. “I wish I could live here year round, but…I know the rent goes through the roof for the summer months. I can’t afford that…unless…” She stopped and took a deep breath, placing her hand protectively over her protruding belly.
“You okay?” he asked, instantly by her side, his arm around her shoulders.
“Oh, yes,” she said, smiling up at him as she rubbed her belly. “She’s just bouncing around in here. She must sense my excitement.”
He looked down at her hand moving in slow circles and he felt the urge to do the same. As if reading his mind she giggled and took his hand, placing in on her belly. He gasped when he felt a kick.
She laughed. “Are you going to do that every time she kicks you?”
She made it sound as if she would allow him the pleasure over and over again, that he was almost entitled to it. That should have sounded warning bells in Zeth’s head, but it didn’t. It was so much like a promise of all which he felt was missing in his life, that he couldn’t listen to anything but his rapidly beating heart.
He knew he was falling in love.
“Get a grip!” his inner voice screamed. “Back away now if you know what’s good for you!”
Problem was, he didn’t know what was good for him, not when it came to women and his fragile and very foolish heart.
“She stopped now, I think,” Zuzu said, watching his glazed expression.
“Huh?” he said.
“The baby seemed to calm down,” she said, giggling. She moved away from him and looked into the tiny kitchen. She opened cabinets and gasped. “It’s fully stocked already! Dishes, pots and all you can need.”
“Yes, but I can easily remove all that out if you…”
“Oh, no! I don’t have anything so this is great. Not that I’m much of a cook, but I do so want to learn. This will give me a chance. Oh, Zeth, this is perfect!”
“You haven’t even seen the bedrooms,” he said, pointing her down the little hallway and into the first and largest of the two bedrooms. The windows looked out onto the rocky beach and the grey waters of the sound.
“Oh, my goodness!” she said, rushing to the window and tossing back the curtains. She went to open the window, but it was stuck or she wasn’t strong enough to do it. Zeth stepped in and opened it, even though it was rather chilly outside. She leaned out the window and took in a deep breath, her eyes closed.
“Love that smell,” she mumbled. “Oh, I love it!”
“The beach smell or the cottage?” Zeth asked, although he already knew what she meant.
“Oh, you have no idea how much I’ve always wanted this, and now,” she said, closing her eyes again and taking another deep breath. “Oh, I’ll be so happy here. I just know it!”
“Well, then,” Zeth said, taking her hand and dropping the keys into it. “Welcome home.”
Her radiant smile was almost his undoing. In his head he heard,“Step back, Zeth, stay detached, you are the landlord. Remember that.” It took all his strength to follow the advice and do as instructed, taking three steps back toward the door and away from her.
“You mean…I can have it right now?” she asked, looking at the key as if it was more precious than gold. “Don’t you want…uh, references and deposit money and…uh…anything else I don’t know about. This is my first time renting on my own. Don’t really know what I have to do.”
He smiled and retraced his steps back to her. “We can settle all that tomorrow. Spend the night and see if you really like it. You might find the bed lumpy and uncomfortable and the roar of the ocean may become annoying.”
She gaped at him. “No way! Never will I tire of the ocean. Never!”
“You’re not at all like I thought a landlord would be.”
He shrugged. “And you’re nothing like the other tenants we’ve had here.”
“No? Um…is that good or bad?” she asked genuinely worried.
He laughed again. “It’s good. Believe me. I’ll grab your bags from the car, shall I?”
She nodded and watched him leave. She twirled around in a circle until she felt dizzy. She wanted to shout in glee. She could barely contain her excitement, but she had to or Zeth might think she was off her rocker or something. She drew in a calming breath and let it out slowly, then she went into the second bedroom, barely looking at the pretty yet functional, quality furniture. She noticed the same expansive view of the water from its windows and she smiled.
She placed her hands on her tummy and whispered, “Sweetie, we’re going to like it here so much we won’t want to leave, but we’ll just enjoy it for as long as we can, okay?”
As usually happened, the baby kicked as if in answer.
“We’re finally home.”