He pressed the dial down and turned it. There was the hissing of gas and three sharp clicks of the spark before the largest ring on the hob ignited with a whomph! He poured a drizzle of oil into the wok and watched as the heat caused the surface of the oil to ripple slightly. Judging the heat to be right, he picked up a handful of green beans from the chopping board and dropped them into the wok, then followed with the last few as the kitchen was filled with the sound of the beans sizzling.
“Can I do anything to help?”
Her voice was quiet, and he glanced at her and smiled as he gave a flick to the wok, tossing the beans to cover them in the oil.
“You can grab the butter from the fridge?”
She did so, and cut a lump off and passed it to him. He gestured at the wok and she dropped it in. A hiss and fizzling as the butter began to melt, and he stirred the beans out of the way with a wooden spoon, settled the yellow rectangle into the centre of the pan. As the butter melted, he ground pepper and a little salt into the pan, and tossed the beans to mix them.
“Is that all it is?”
He smiled and shrugged.
“That’s it. Butter, oil, salt and pepper, let them blister.”
“It works though.”
He looked at her.
“You doing okay?”
She watched the beans in the wok, and the question went unanswered. He opened the oven door an inch or two and looked in. The sweet potato wedges were browning nicely, and the bacon wrapping the chicken was crisping up.
“Not long,” he murmured, and closed the oven door. As he straightened, she spoke.
“Sorry if I’m quiet.”
She was leaning against the kitchen doorframe, eyes on the hob, but looking inward, he realised. He smiled at her, and shrugged.
“Nothing to apologise for. Quiet company is still company; it’s nice spending time in yours. And if there is anything I can do…?”
She smiled a small smile, and then moved to the drawers next to the fridge. She tried the first, then the second and rummaged among the cutlery. He murmured thanks as she moved to the table and set places, and he reached for the handle of the wok once more. The beans were blistering nicely now; they were nearly ready.
He knew that there was nothing he could do to help, not really. But in going through his own few troubles, he’d come to believe two things very strongly. The first was that sometimes, little things could make a big difference. He tossed the beans one last time, and nodded. Cooking was only a little thing, after all. But it might be enough, for now.
“Right then,” he said brightly. “I think we’re about there.”
She poured two glasses of squash as he turned off the hob and the oven, then leaned once more in the doorway as he plated up their meal. Chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in bacon. Sweet potato wedges seasoned with paprika and soy sauce. A mountain of blistered beans. Food that sought to comfort. She carried the glasses to the table and set them down, sliding into a chair as he placed the plates down, sitting opposite her.
A moment of silence between them, before she spoke.
“Thanks for this.”
“Welcome anytime. Hope it’s alright.”
“It looks great.”
She speared a couple of the beans with her fork and lifted them to her mouth. He paused as she chewed, watching for her reaction. She met his eyes, and smiled.
He faltered, seeking for the right words. The second thing he’d learned, that he believed… She waited, her eyes questioning, and it came to him.
“I just wanted to say… Storms come. But however bad they get, they can be weathered. And, in time, they pass.”
He smiled at her, worry at overstepping himself creeping in at the edges of his thoughts, but then she smiled back at him.
And so, sharing food and friendship, they ate together.