Hildreth put his phone away.
“Doughnut holes, huh?”
“Not just any doughnut holes, Els. The world’s best and greatest doughnut holes. Like, nothing even compares to how good they are.”
She took his hand and they resumed walking down the sidewalk.
“Except for the lemon custard ones.” He shuddered. “Vile stuff.”
“Hm. So, you don’t like lemon custard. Is there anything else you won’t eat?”
Hildreth thought about it. “Eggplant.”
“What’s wrong with eggplant?”
“It’s horrible. There was this one time I tried to fry it up.” He shook his head. “It never fried up. It just stayed all slimy and sludgy. Then, just for the fun of it, I tried to deliberately burn it. The edges burned, but the inside—-” He leaned his face into her face and widened his eyes. “The inside never burned. It actually got slimier.” He pulled away from her face. “I have a theory that eggplants are manmade constructs. They’re made out of fire retardant materials and chemicals.”
“I mean, have you ever really looked at them? They’re this big weird shape and they’re purple. A deep unnatural purple. And what are they? Fruits? Vegetables? Minerals? What?”
“Maybe they aren’t of this world, Hildreth.”
“Ooo! That’s a good one. I’d never even considered that. Okay. What are they?”
Elsie said without any hesitation, “Alien life pods.”
“There’s this planet out there in the Andromeda Galaxy. It’s in the process of being destroyed by forces deep within its core. So, the residents have been transforming themselves into these life pods and blasting themselves into orbit.”
“And they’ve been landing here?”
“They’ve been drawn here. Something about this planet calls to them and pulls them through the lightyears to land on our soil.”
Hildreth nodded. “Seems legit. But why haven’t they transformed back into their true forms?”
Elsie thought about it. “The combination of elements in our atmosphere either keeps them in a dormant state or it disables their ability to transform.”
“And some bingo found them lying about one day and thought ‘Hoo-boy! I found myself some big purple fruit. I gotta eat this!'”
She grinned. “As a matter of fact, yes.”
“Darn it! I love you.”
“I think your brand of craziness is rubbing off on me.”
“That is possible. Jeff used to be such a serious, sober creature and now? Poor man. He’s so far gone. Especially when we get together.”
“I’ll believe it.” She released his hand and wrapped her arm around his waist. “I can’t remember what it was like to patrol without you.”
He smiled teasingly. “Well, I could go to the other side of town and—-”
“No. I mean, without you in my life. What did I think as I walked the streets? What did I do in my downtime? Trained like mad, I guess. I just can’t remember ever feeling this happy.”
“I know what I did.” His smile fell as he looked straight ahead. “I lived. Lived in perpetual self-doubt. Constantly overthinking what I did wrong in the past. Thinking about what I could have done. What I failed to do. Always balancing on the fine line between happiness and despair. Then, I met you.”
They walked in silence.
“I haven’t made it easy for you, have I?” Elsie said.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. You are the first woman I’ve loved. I didn’t know how to deal with you being with someone like him. Loving someone like him. It made me sick to think about him touching you and you letting him. And…and you loving him. I guess I made things hard for you too. I’m sorry.”
“Are you still jealous?”
Hildreth didn’t answer.
“Hildreth. Are you jealous? Because if you are, I swear I’ll smack you upside the head and punch you—”
He chuckled. “I love you, Els. Maybe that’s why I will always be just a little jealous of him.”
“You don’t have to be jealous. You are the one I love. Just you.”
“I know, Els.” His smile returned. “You think I’m hot. You think I’m awesome. You think raunchy, dirty thoughts about me. You think—”
“I think you should shut up and kiss me.”
“My, my. Elsie baby, you have such a way with words.”
“Not really. I’m much better with actions.” She pulled him into a stop and kissed him.
“Hmmm. I don’t think that had enough heat to it. You’ll have to try again, Vansing.”
“Fine.” She dug her fingers into his hair. “Just so you know, I will make you an eggplant parmesan casserole after we get married. And you will eat it.”
He grinned wide and happy. “Yes, ma’am.”
She pulled him into another kiss.
And he had no complaints this time.