The snow hadn’t stopped for several hours, covering the majority of the city in a complete blanket of luxurious white fleece. Leon had left his car parked somewhere near (insert street) and walked the rest of the way home through the blizzard. Elise had managed to get home earlier in the day and had already built up the fire and put on an old Ella Fitzgerald album. She sat down in the bay window, wrapped herself in a blanket, and sipped a glass of Merlot listening to the crackle of the ancient vinyl. There was always something soothing about that sound, particularly when the snow fell: the silent, overbearing snow.
The back door rustled open and Elise heard the familiar thud of Leon’s boots. She looked over at the clock on the fireplace mantle and saw that it was only five forty. He wasn’t home until at least eleven most nights. She stayed sitting in the window and watched the snow cascade violently against the old glass pane. She didn’t know what kind of mood he’d be in and she did not feel like ruining the peace of the moment she had created, however brief.
It had been like this lately, this impending fluctuation of Leon’s moods. He was tired of working for another chef, another owner, another creative genius, another person calling the shots. It was beginning to take a toll on their marriage. Elise knew that he needed freedom, but she had no clue how to help him achieve it, other than to tell him to quit and try somewhere new, somewhere his voice would be heard. She had even doubted that rationale, wondering if the problem wasn’t the other kitchen staff, but her own husband. But she was a loyalist through and through, and so whenever the fleeting thought came into her head that Leon might be the source of his own unhappiness, she pushed it aside for a more productive thought.
She could hear him stomping his boots aggressively against the stoop just outside their back entrance on the third floor. He was not in a good mood, by the sound of it. She thought about sneaking out the front door before he got inside and going for a walk in the peace and quiet of the silent storm outside, but guilt caught hold of her before she could must the energy to do it—and the full glass of wine that she had just finished. She decided to pour herself another glass to fortify her nerves for whatever ever version of Leon would walk through the door any moment. As she walked to the kitchen, he managed to open the door in front of her, blowing the angst of the winter in with him.
Leon was covered in a layer of powder from the top of his wayward hairline down to his semi-frozen socks.
“What happened to your feet?” Elise asked, concerned.
“The snow is already so deep that my boots were useless.” He threw his coat on the ground, stripped his socks, pants, and sweater off and practically galloped into the master bathroom. Elise heard him crashing around in the bathroom, attempting to start the shower so he could warm up. “Come on!” she heard him yell through the closed door and down the hall. She set down her glass and went to inspect. Leon was naked, pacing around their tiny bathroom, looking under the sink, then back to the shower.
“What’s wrong?” she couldn’t help but smile when he was in one of these moods, furious and pouting like a toddler.
“There’s no hot water! The perfect ending to this shit day!” Elise calmly walked over to the shower and turned the water off. She was smirking despite his seemingly angry tirade. He looked so funny: thin, pale, and utterly frustrated. She imagined that their tiny son would look much like Leon did right now, throwing some ridiculous temper tantrum in the bathroom in a distant future.
“Stay here. Put on your robe and I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Elise turned the water on for the tub and began to fill it. She then walked into the kitchen and pulled out Leon’s biggest stock pot—one he used for canning salsa and other such delights. She filled it and put it on the stove, waiting for it to boil. She heard Leon turn the water off in the bathroom and ruffle through some drawers in their bedroom. Once the water reached optimal temperature, Elise put on her oven mitts and carried the giant pot over to the bathroom. She poured the water into the tub and swirled it around with some lavender essential oil. It was now perfect for soaking Leon’s weary bones.
“Think you can avoid splashing all over the place, Mr. Burke?” she smiled. He sheepishly took off his robe and gently climbed into the tub, taking care not to splash. Elise let him settle in and went into the kitchen to retrieve her wine glass. “You want a drink?” she asked, carefully.
“No.” A brisk answer, still. She prayed that this soak would do him some good. She was oddly relaxed, even smitten, by the chaos that was raging outside their walls. Snow storms had always been her favorite. She drank another large gulp of wine and made her way back into the bathroom.
“You want to tell me what’s really going, Lee?” she sat on the side of the tub, rubbing his hair, caressing his curls at the back of his neck.
“I’m over it.” She let that stick in the air for a minute. Leon slipped back and dunked his head under the water, holding his breath for quite some time. Elise watched his body float up and down in the dark room, through the blanket of the water he was submerged in. She had always thought he had a perfect figure: tight muscles, olive skin, just enough hair. Her eyes wandered over him, luxuriating in him. The wine had really gotten to her tonight. He came back up for air, almost startling her out of her trance.
“I’m going to sit and watch the snow.” She stood up to go and Leon reached for her wrist.
“Wait. Don’t go.” He pulled her back down toward the tub. “I’m sorry. I’ve been terrible lately.” He paused and thought for a good thirty seconds before speaking again. Elise stroked his wet chin, looking down at him with affection despite his childishness. “I can’t work for Clarence anymore. That place will be the death of me.”
“Honey, you make more there than the last three places combined. We’ve finally settled in this beautiful place. What’s the problem? Be reasonable.”
“Reasonable? This isn’t just a career for me, it’s my soul at stake. Cooking for me is like having two lungs to breath with. You can’t ask me to give up on my life, on my heart. Clarence is a huge dick with money as his only bottom line. He doesn’t care about the people he serves, the food I make, or the staff. He’s in this as a businessman, strictly. I’m tired of working for guys who don’t give a shit.” She saw the pain in his eyes, understood that he was tormented every day by this passion for food, this consumption to find heaven in every morsel, every cut of meat, every sauce. She had never been that passionate about anything and she envied him for it.
“Do you already have another place in mind?” She knew him. He’d already have four other people offering him tempting positions as head chef in their “cutting edge” restaurants. That was what happened to people that had gotten as far up the ladder as Leon had in his short life.
“Not yet. But I promise you, I’ll start looking tomorrow, when I’ve given Clarence a peice of my mind.”
“Stop. Why do you always have to have the last word? Just give him your two weeks’ notice and take the high road, Leon. I’m tired of watching you burn bridges with these types of guys. It’s not worth it.”
“Someone has to tell him that he can’t get away with treating people like that!” Leon said, with indignance. Elise looked him square in the face, feeling brave.
“Let the next hot shot do you the favor. Leave it.” She said, with conviction. She was all fired up now, wanting partially to protect Leon from his own stupidity, but also because she knew she had him on the ropes and he might just listen, for once. It got them both charged, this sudden reaction from Elise.
“I like this side of you.” Leon smirked. He splashed a little water toward her, teasing. She flinched and almost dropped her glass. Instead of getting up to go, she gulped the last bit of wine she had left and set the glass on the floor. She slipped off her loafers and climbed into the tub, still in her leggings and cardigan, wrapping her legs around Leon’s and facing him. “Mrs. Burke, I do believe you are still clothed. How preposterous.”
“Maybe I can warm the water up for you, Mr. Burke.” He laughed at that and tried not to slip backwards, the two of them sloshing around. She set her eyes on his and held them there as long as she dared. She ran her finger over his lips, tracing his curves, teasing. “I love your soul, Leon. I want you to do what makes you feel alive. I hate it when you come home late, come home angry, come home empty. When you’re empty, I’m empty.”
“I know. And I’m sorry. I try to leave all that stuff at work, but yeah.”
“It’s okay. Because I love you and I want you to feel safe talking. I swear to you though, if you make me move one more time—” Elise laughed and threw her head back.
“I promise, I swear! You won’t ever have to move again if you don’t want to.”
“Good.” She had a gleam in her eye. “And one more thing.”
“Anything.” Leon tried to keep from laughing, cracking a smile.
“I want to fall asleep next to my husband at least four nights a week. I miss you, Lee. I want you. I need you. I don’t want to keep waking up alone or going to sleep alone.” Leon took a deep breath, knowing that he might have a difficult time delivering this particular request. He couldn’t giver her a verbal response, but he stroked her face and held her penetrating gaze. She had an uncanny way of tapping into the depths of him. He leaned in to kiss her and felt the immensity of her longing. Her passion for him had grown more over time and she was a much more reciprocated lover than she had been at the beginning of their marriage.
“Kiss me again.” She said, unbuttoning her blouse.
“You sure you don’t want to—” She kissed him, shutting him up and stirring up all the angst that he had come home with.
Outside, the storm was raging ever-stronger, stacking flake upon flake on the cold February ground. Many people had been stranded on this particular night throughout the city, as the third largest blizzard on record for Chicago wreaked its havoc from Texas all the way up to Toronto. Inside, Leon and Elise swirled in their own storm of all-consuming passion.