The air conditioning chilled the concrete, and blended together an aroma of wood, paint and ceramic, teasing Max’s nose. Plodding along the warehouse aisle in his work boots, he stuffed his hands into his jean pockets, and then lingered by a collection of power tools and their discounted price tag.
“This way,” said Bridget. With a jangle from her bracelets, she waved a beckoning hand, hefted her purse and spun into the bathroom displays with a swirl of her sun dress’s skirt.
Taking a long perusal of a pneumatic drill, Max sighed.
“Look at this one, hon,” said Bridget, her voice echoing upon the steel beams overhead. “It’s the one I wanted to show you.”
Cringing, Max trudged past an array of battery-operated screwdrivers, and through a white and glass standing shower, toilet and sink combination. After detouring through another set that seemed in need of lace and potpourri rather than water-saving plumbing, he found Bridget grinning by a claw-foot bathtub.
“I was thinking this style, but in a soft blue with these tiles.”
Max rubbed the back of his neck. “If that’s what you really want.”
“I want your opinion.”
Meeting her sparkling hazel eyes, Max slowly grinned. “No you don’t,” he said softly. “You want me to have your opinion.”
Bridget opened her mouth to argue, and then snapped her lips together into a firm pout. “I want to do this with you. That means I need your opinion, whatever it is.”
Max raked his gaze across the tub, and then the tiles Bridget held as if they were made of glass. “I don’t like it.”
“Don’t like what?”
“Any of it.”
Bridget swiveled to his side, and stared at the tub from the same angle. “Why?”
“It’s too small.”
“For what, a polar bear?”
Max shrugged his ursine shoulders. “I’m just giving you my opinion like you asked.”
“What about these?” Bridget raised the tiles like playing cards.
“No, not those either.”
“It looks like a plate of spaghetti got spilled on them.”
Bridget scowled. “It’s modern art.”
Bridget huffed, and set the tiles in the pedestal sink. Crossing her arms, she faced him. “Is there anything here you do like?”
Bridget rolled her eyes, but Max spotted the quick grin she tried to hide. “Of these displays, Casanova.”
“Let me take a look.” Max took his time strolling through the other collections, noting a floral disaster, and one made completely of steel and chrome. “I like that one,” he said, pointing to the first he’d passed after being beckoned. “It’s got clean lines, a simple design and no weird animal feet on the tub.”
“You’re a mechanic, what do you know about design?”
“I know what I like.”
“And you don’t like my standing tub?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Max. “That one’s just so small. I don’t know. I feel like I’d break it.”
“With a sledgehammer, maybe.” Bridget tugged his arm, and drew him back to the claw-footed bath. “Just try it for me.”
“What? Here? Now?”
She gave him a Cheshire grin. “Why not?”
“If we get kicked out it’s your fault.” Using his hands to balance on the edge, Max swung one foot after the other into the tub, and squirreled his back against the sloped sides. Stretching his legs, his knees remained half bent, until he propped his feet on the lip.
“See.” Bridget whirled around, and returned with the spaghetti tiles.
Max groaned, leaned back and closed his eyes. The lip of the tub cradled his neck like a firm pillow. “I draw the line at those things.”
“Brute,” said Bridget. “Stay put, I’ll grab the sample booklet.”
Max gave her a thumbs-up without opening his eyes. He followed her movements through the displays by the clattering of her purse and jewelry.
As her honeysuckle perfume began fading, someone gave a nervous cough at Max’s shoulder. “Are you finding everything all right, sir?”
Rolling his head toward the voice, Max squinted into the florescent gloom. A uniformed shop attendant with a wobbling grin on his pock-marked face, bounced on his toes like a pogo-stick.
“Yes,” said Max. “My wife just went looking for the tile samples.”
“Oh. Excellent.” The attendant plucked at his boney fingers as if removing a pair of invisible gloves. “Can I show you anything while you’re waiting? Maybe some of the other displays.”
Max smiled. “You want me to get out of the tub, don’t you?”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
“Fair enough.” Heaving to his feet, Max avoided glancing down to see if his boots had left grease stains, and stepped back onto the concrete floor.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Hey,” said Bridget. “You were supposed to be trying-.”
Max covered his cough with his hand, and pointed toward the attendant as Bridget rounded the corner.
“Supposed to be standing right where I left you,” said Bridget. She clutched a three-ringed binder against her chest, and blinked her eyelashes coquettishly at the attendant. “I hope he wasn’t causing trouble.”
The attendant’s cheeks flushed, matching his crimson jersey. “Oh, no, not at all ma’am.”
Max tactfully turned his laugh into another cough as Bridget bristled.
“Can I help you find anything, ma’am?”
Her flirtatious edge hardened into iron. “We’re fine, thank you.”
Whether or not he grasped the point, the attendant withdrew, bobbing his head amiably before vanishing behind a closet mock-up.
“I don’t know,” said Max. He sat on the display’s stool, and stared at the tub. “It’s growing on me.”
“Even with the feet?”
“Even with the feet.”
“Not a chance, ma’am.”
Bridget smacked the binder into his shoulder. Grinning, Max rubbed the sore spot on his arm.
“All right.” Perching on the tub with a wary glare, Bridget opened the binder so it faced him. “Then we’ve got lots of options to go through.”
Max dropped his head for a moment before gazing over the initial page of miniature tiles, and then catching her eye. “You don’t have any in mind already?”
Her grin rebounded with devilish intent. “Funny you should say that.”
Retrieving her thumb from a section two thirds of the way into the binder, she began listing their next set of choices.