Lena pours some red wine into her glass and lets it aerate before taking a sip, with her other hand she takes the wooden spoon resting on the silicone holder next to the stove and removes her mix.
The aroma of the spices with garlic fills her apartment and some of the stiffness in her body leaves with each inhalation. It had been a particularly long day at the lab and as much as she loves her job, being slouched for hours with her head glued to a microscope isn't kind to her body.
That's why she chose science over gastronomy for a career. Even though she's passionate about what she does and can spend literal days working before feeling the need for a break (if she's focused enough), it's never relaxing. She's certain that if she had pursued gastronomy, cooking would have lost its therapeutic effect on Lena.
There are few things that make her feel the warmth that a homemade meal does. Cooking, baking, watching MasterChef, The Great British Bake Off, or any other food-related show that Netflix offers is comforting to her.
The kitchen endows her freedom that the lab doesn't. Sure, it still requires following a sequence of steps but it's also instinctual and adventurous, sometimes a little spontaneous.
Tonight though, Lena is being none of that. She decided to cook one of her favorite dishes - spaghetti all'aglio e olio - that also happens to be simple to prepare, perfect after her extenuating day to accompany with the garlic bread left from yesterday, wine, and an episode of Tiny House Nation on the couch.
She's about to add the spaghetti to the pan when there's a knock on the door. It's barely there and for a moment Lena thinks she's imagined it but then a firmer one follows it. She lowers the fire and checks through the peephole who's on the other side. Jack must probably be out clubbing and Sam is in the cinema with Ruby.
Please not mom, I don't want the "carbohydrates for dinner: bad" conversation again.
But it's not her friends nor her mom, and thank God is not an inebriated Lex only wearing a poncho and cowboy boots again either. Instead, she sees long blonde hair and a strong side profile, Lena thinks she's seen this person before but she can't quite place her, it's most likely a neighbor.
She opens the door in a swift motion and the woman on the other side jumps, startled, in her place. Her a-little-too-long bangs, which had been carefully sitting to the sides, fall and cover her eyes.
“Hi.” she says, timid and brushing her bangs off to their place.
"Hi" She answers back, Lena's eyes drift briefly to the blonde's round stomach and her brain makes the connection.
It's Mama Penguin.
Lena has seen her a few times in the lobby and hallway. The woman is all big with a slight rocking pace, always holding grocery bags or chatting with Alexandra, one of her neighbors, Lena actually reminds her mentioning in one of the elevator rides they sometimes share that her sister (Kiera or was it Ciara?) would stay with her during her pregnancy leave. Although, this is the first time she's seen the woman's face.
And what a pretty face that is. She’s devoid of makeup, freckles dot high rosy cheekbones that serve to accentuate bright baby blue eyes looking at her like a flashed rabbit.
“Sorry to bother you," Mama Penguin says in a timid voice. "but what are you cooking and could I have some?"
The woman presents her an empty plate and the pink of her cheeks gets darker and darker until two red blotches are adorning her face.
“Pasta and sure, it’ll be ready any minute now." Lena laughs internally but her expression betrays nothing, she opens the door further to let the woman come in. "Would you like to wait inside?”
Mama Penguin looks and sounds a little surprised when she says. “Yeah? thanks.” then proceeds to enter, a gentle swaying to her walk, like she's not quite used to the extra weight and space occupying her body.
“Want some garlic bread in the meantime?"
She nods and Lena passes her the reheated bread.
Lena was roommates with Sam during her whole pregnancy so she knows that sometimes there are cravings pregnant people can't resist, she's heard of some craving for soap, sponge, or even plaster. Luckily for her, Sam just wanted weird combinations like pickles with peanut butter and noodles mixed with ice cream, although she would get very irritable unless she satiated them. So she actually means it when she says to Mama Penguin that it's fine.
The woman takes a seat on one of her counter table's stools while Lena resumes her preparation and incorporates the spaghetti with the rest of the ingredients in the pan, then adds a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
“This bread is delicious, where did you buy it?” the woman asks appreciatively with what sounds like a full mouth.
She turns her head to answer. “Oh, I didn’t.”
The woman swallows so audibly that it hurts Lena's throat.
“You baked it?”
The blonde takes another piece and bites it. “Are you a chef or something?”
“More like something .” Lena shrugs, nonchalant. “No, I’m a geneticist but I like food.”
Mama Penguin laughs, it’s a light and sweet sound, what many people would probably describe as ‘musical’.
“I love food too but that doesn’t mean I’m a good cook. My specialty is Chinese take out and I make the yummiest cereal with milk too.”
Lena turns off the stove and goes to lean on the counter, she takes a piece of bread between her fingers and tears a smaller bit that throws into her mouth. The blonde's eyes are fixed on her, cheeks inflated with bread but motionless, as if Lena’s stare had turned her into stone.
She raises an eyebrow. “Well,” Lena drags the word in her palate, elongating it three syllables. She grabs the plate the other woman had brought from the counter to serve her the pasta. “I hope you like Italian too then.”
"I do and just a little is enough, I don't want to leave you hungry."
The blonde says, playing with her hands, still shy and not wanting to take much space. The idea is as ridiculous in a literal sense as it is in a figurative one.
It's been a while since she's interacted with anyone outside her close group of co-workers and friends and so far it's been lovely.
"Don't worry,” Lena dismisses her comment with a wave of her hand and serves a little more to the plate before handing it to the woman. “I made enough for two. Here."
"Thank you and sorry for the bother again."
"It isn't a bother, at all. I just hope you like it."
"I will!" The woman almost screams with enthusiasm that makes Lena chuckle. "I m- I mean. It always smells delicious so I'm sure it tastes just as good."
There's the flush again. It's cute, she's cute. It takes Lena two more seconds of staring to realize she's biting her lip.
Stop it! She's pregnant and probably in a relationship.
Lena chastises herself and (mentally) shakes her head to clear it from any ideas her mind has involuntarily started forming. She frees her lip to replace it with a smile, gaining one even brighter in return.
"Well, I'll get out of your hair now so you can continue with your thing. Good night."
The woman walks happily back to her apartment with Lena's dinner between her hands.
Lena sighs and munches what's left of her bread. Maybe she had lied about having cooked enough for two, but it's okay, she thinks with a smile on her face while she observes her retreating figure.
The woman gives her one more shy wave before entering her apartment and Lena returns it before closing the door.
Next time she'll make an extra portion, just in case Mama Penguin wants some.