She could tell that something was wrong by the way he walked around the living room, looking around, moving his feet back and forth. He'd been through an awful lot
in the past several months. Perhaps he was just feeling a bit lonely, or even missing his wife. Just because they were divorced, didn't mean that the love he'd felt for
her was completely gone.
It was true that he was with Mel now, but their relationship was so new that it was hard to tell if it was really true love. But she knew that he felt something for the
attractive plastic surgeon. Daphne certainly didn't care for his new girlfriend and she knew that his brother and father felt the same way. However, it wasn't her place
to comment on her opinion of Mel. She should be happy for Niles. And she was happy for him. He'd been alone for so long that meeting Mel had improved his disposition
dramatically. It was nice to see him smiling and happy again.
But her happiness was fabricated, for lack of a better word. Ever since Frasier had taken those bloody pills for his back (oh how she wished that he'd never hurt
himself!), she'd been a complete basket case. If she had been comfortable in being around Niles before, she was now acting like a shy school girl. Every word he spoke
to her was accepted with a smile and with a flutter of her heart. She knew that his so-called feelings for her had long since melted away. He had Mel now and…
Oh why was she so damned jealous? She had Donny and they were engaged to be married. It would do her a world of good to remember that, lest she forget. One
glance at the ring on her left hand was enough of a reminder. But that reminder made her heart ache. Why did these things always have the worst possible timing?
Why hadn't she seen what was right before her face all of those years ago? The signs were there-they practically haunted her-but she chose to ignore them. Niles was
her friend, her boss' brother and no more. But oh how she wished that she'd paid more attention to the signs that were so obvious to everyone else.
Now she watched him as he paced the living room. He was all but ignoring his older brother who was telling a rather dull story about a caller he'd helped on the radio.
Daphne had heard the story many times before. Not this particular story of course, but one like it.
"Don't you agree, Niles?"
Niles stood, staring out the window, as though he was the only one in the room.
Surprised, Niles turned around. "What?"
"Dear God, you haven't heard a word I said, have you?"
"I-I'm, sorry Frasier. I'm just a little preoccupied."
"A little? Do you have any idea-."
"Dr. Crane, leave your brother alone!" Daphne shouted, immediately regretting her outburst. But there was no taking the words back now. When Frasier glared at her,
the only thing she could do was finish her thought.
"You were saying, Daphne?"
She avoided Niles' gaze, which she could tell was directly on her, because to look into his gorgeous blue eyes would be…
"I'm sorry Frasier." Niles was saying, thus saving Daphne from a lengthy and most likely poorly worded, insincere explanation. "I suppose I am a bit pre-occupied lately,
what with Mel and all. Go on with your story. And I promise… I'm listening."
Frasier chuckled. "Thank you, Niles. Well as I was saying…"
In Daphne's mind, Frasier's voice trailed away, replaced with Niles' sweet one. And still she couldn't look at him. To do so would bring her to tears, knowing that she
could not have him.
While Frasier's story droned on and on, Daphne could tell, even without looking at him, that Niles was becoming bored. But she didn't dare say a word. Instead she
picked up the morning paper, feigning interest in an article about a local celebrity who had gone to great lengths to organize a beach clean-up on the popular Alki
Beach. She had to admit that it was tempting to help out, not only to see the man in person but to do something good for the community. But she knew that given the
popularity of the actor, there was little chance of her actually being able to come anywhere near him. Most likely there would be hundreds of people who wanted their
chance to see the man who made Seattle Shores such a popular made for TV film. And she knew that those people would arrive hours early, perhaps camping out in
sleeping bags along the shores of Alki Beach. As ridiculous as it sounded, and had things been different, she might have considered camping out as well.
"Oh gosh, I'm late for my meeting at the station. Shall I walk you out, Niles?"
Niles looked up, perplexed. "What? Oh, no actually Frasier I'll stay here for a while."
Frasier's eyes narrowed. "Really?"
"Yes, um, that is if you don't mind."
"No, of course not, why should I mind?" Frasier replied much too quickly.
"Thank you Frasier."
"I'll be back in about three hours- four if Kenny goes on one of his long-winded tantrums again. Goodbye, Niles, Daphne."
"Bye Dr. Crane."
When the door closed behind him, Daphne's heart beat rapidly. Here she was alone with Niles in his brother's living room. If ever there had been more perfect chance
to tell Niles how she felt about him (that, over the course of only a few weeks, she'd managed to fall in love with him) this was it. But instead of being her usual
assertive self, she found herself staring at Niles, silently wanting to kiss him so badly that it almost hurt to breathe.
No, this was wrong. It was so, so wrong on so, so many levels. She couldn't be thinking about him this way. She shouldn't be. Not here, not now and perhaps not ever.
"Daphne, can I ask you a question?"
She jumped at the unexpected sound of his voice.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startled you."
"I-it's all right. I'm just a little jittery today. I don't understand why. Perhaps I'm just tired. What with the wedding planning and all."
"You work very hard, Daphne and planning a wedding is a big project. It's only natural that you would be tired. I certainly don't want to keep you from your rest. I just
wanted to ask you something. Actually, I need a favor."
She barely had time to let her emotions react to his compliment when she was peaked with curiosity. What on earth could he need a favor from her for?
"Y-you need a favor…"
"From you, yes."
"All right, what is it?"
"Daphne, are you free on Saturday night?"
Oh my God, he was asking her out on a date… how was this possible? He knew that she was engaged and he was with Mel and… A strange feeling of hope swelled
inside of her. Could it be that he and Mel had broken up? Perhaps he needed someone to quell his loneliness?
"S-Saturday night? A-as in this Saturday? But that's only-"
He smiled. "Yes. I know it's short notice and I completely understand if you can't-."
"Yes. I'll do it."
He chuckled. "But I haven't told you-"
"It doesn't matter. You've done so many wonderful things for me that I can't possibly say no." She swallowed hard, unable to take her eyes off of him.
He reached for her hand and squeezed. "Well, I did those things out of friendship because I care about you, Daphne. I don't expect anything in return. And you're
probably wondering why I didn't just ask Frasier."
Her eyebrows rose. "Frasier?"
"Yes. As you know, normally I would have asked him but this is a bit different."
Her heart sank, just a few inches with disappointment that shouldn't have even been felt. His mention of Frasier ruled out any possibility of a date. But
then again, perhaps not.
"I see. So what is this favor?"
"It's... special I guess is the best way to put it. And I wouldn't dream of asking anyone else, only I'm sure you're quite good at it. I suppose I could do some research
online and put it together myself, but it needs a personal touch. And you're the first and only person who came to mind."
Her eyes widened. She couldn't possibly begin to imagine what he was talking about. What favor could he possibly ask of her that would require her presence?" She racked her brain trying to think of anything-
"You've mentioned that you like Sticky Toffee Pudding."
The silly, dreamy sigh escaped before she could stop it. "Oh yes, I love it. As a girl I had a hard time convincing me mum that I deserved that third helping!"
Niles laughed. "Well, I'm glad because…"
When he hesitated, she leaned closer, taking note that they were now holding hands. When, she wondered, had that happened? And who initiated it? Either way, she
found that she liked the feeling of his hand in hers. And she noticed that neither of them were in a rush to let go.
"What? Oh, I… Well I'm having a dinner party for… Um, some people in my building and I thought that an English desert like Sticky Toffee Pudding would be a nice way
to end the meal. I was thinking-I mean, I was hoping, that you'd come over and teach me how to make it."
It took her a moment to digest what he was asking her. "I-."
"Please, Daphne? It would mean so much to me."
"Well, Dr. Crane, I-."
"How inconsiderate of me."
"What are you talking about?"
"Daphne, I'm sorry. I didn't even consider the fact that you might have other plans. What with it being Saturday night and all. You and Donny-.'
"No." The word came out much too quickly. "I mean, no, we don't have plans. In fact he told me that he's going to dinner with a client so all I had planned was sitting in
front of the television with a pint of Ben and Jerry's Double Chocolate Fudge, watching Pride and Prejudice".
Niles nodded. "Ah yes. Wonderful book."
"I-I suppose, but really I only watch it for Collin Firth. He's so dreamy and-." She felt her cheeks flush at his amused glance. "I-I mean... of course. I would love to help
you, Dr. Crane. I'll make sure that I go to the store as soon as possible to buy the ingredients. Me Grammy Moon's secret receipe is still in the drawer in the kitchen."
Even though she had no idea what she'd expected him to ask of her, this was the last thing she'd imagined. "Oh…"
"That's not necessary."
"Oh, you mean you have your own recipe?"
"Well, no. Please bring the recipe, but as for the ingredients, I'll take care of those."
"These aren't the sort of ingredients that most people stock n their kitchen. And besides, you don't need to go to all of that trouble. You're a very busy man, what with
your wine club, your patients and your-I-I mean Mel. I'm sure she takes up a lot of your..." her voice trailed away and she glanced at out of the window, afraid to say
"I insist. Think of it as my way of paying you back."
"All right. I appreciate your faith in me, Dr. Crane. Anyting else?"
"Well, this dinner party..."
"What about it?"
She noticed that his demeanor changed and he suddenly looked very nervous. He was tugging at his tie and figiting.
"Dr. Crane are you all right?"
"What? Oh, yes I-."
"What were you going to say about the dinner party?"
"Well, I was going to say that you're welcome to join us. It's only fair that you get something out of the evening."
She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Niles was actually asking her to join him at his dinner party? If the party was anything like the ones his brother threw, the
personalities of the clientele were worlds away from her own. She'd be a fish out of water, and that was a big understatement.
"A-are you sure? I couldn't possibly-."
"Please, Daphne. Please do this for me?"
He looked so sincere that she smiled. "All right. Of course I'll come. What time do you want me to be there?"
His boyish grin nearly melted her heart. "Oh… Well, thank you Daphne. That means a lot to me. Can you be there around, say seven thirty?"
"Of course I will. I can be there even earlier if you like. That way we'll have more time to-."
"No, seven thirty is perfect."
His hasty answer surprised her, but she thought nothing of it. "All right. Well then I'll see you at seven thirty on Saturday night."
"I'm looking foreword to it."
"So am I."
They sat for a minute in silence and then Niles rose to his feet. "I should probably get going."
"So soon? Would you like something to eat? Or a drink, maybe?"
"Thank you but I really should be getting home."
"Right. You probably have plans with Mel."
"Not tonight. She's out of town, actually but she'll be back in time for-."
"The dinner party." Daphne finished. "So she's coming too?"
"Yes. And she'll be thrilled when she finds out that you're coming."
The fantasy-bubble that surrounded Daphne suddenly popped, and reality threatened. Of course Mel would be there. Why shouldn't she be? After all, it was Niles'
home, soon to be their home, once they were married. He hadn't even hinted about proposing to Mel, but Daphne could feel it. A wedding and a marriage were in
Niles' future. As much as Daphne didn't like Mel, the same was true of Mel's feelings about Daphne. She constantly referred to Daphne as the maid and made snide
remarks about how fragile Martin had become. Daphne knew better. Martin was getting stronger every day, but of course Mel refused to see it, much less consider that
Daphne had something to do with it.
She quickly followed Niles to the foyer."Well then, I'll see you Saturday at seven thirty, Dr. Crane. And I'll bring the ingredients. It doesn't take long to make."
"Great. Well, goodnight, Daphne."
"Goodnight, Dr. Crane."
But as soon as he opened the door he turned to her. "Daphne, I-."
He engulfed her into the longest, most wonderful hug he'd ever given her. She melted against him and closed her eyes, inhaling the scent of his cologne. And she
couldn't help noticing that he wasn't affording her a hint of the musky scent of his cologne. "Thank you so much for agreeing to do this for me, Daphne. This means the
world to me and I'll never forget it."
"I'd do anything for you, Dr. Crane. Anything at all." Never had her words been more honest and truthful or her heart more filled with love.
She shut the door and leaned against it with a sigh. She hated to let her silly fantasies get in the way yet again but she had a feeling that Saturday night was much
more than a dinner party. And she couldn't help but smile at the feeling it left in her heart.
In the wee small hours of the morning...
Friday night she tossed and turned, unable to sleep no matter how she tried. Try as she might, she couldn't get the feeling out of her mind that Niles had asked her
over for something more than a dinner party. She had to admit that asking her to teach him to make sticky toffee pudding was quite clever. If Donny had made the
invitation, he would have said something silly, such as he wanted her to come and meet a client. But Niles...
Her heart did a crazy flip, picturing his sweet smile and remembering the way he had hugged her tighter than ever before. It was the most wonderful hug imaginable
and she found that she wanted to stay in his arms forever. What, she wondered, would he have said if she had told him how that hug made her feel? Certainly he
would blush. It was a trait that was very uncharacteristic, but one that made him boyishly handsome.
She mentally went through her closet, trying to decide what to wear, but nothing really seemed suitable. She couldn't show up dressed for anything less than a dinner
party, even though she suspected that there wasn't a dinner party at all.
Still, she couldn't help wondering what he was up to. Why Saturday? And why at his home? She could have taught him just as easily in Frasier's kitchen. Unless, of
course he wanted to make sure that they were alone. She smiled, remembering how excited she had gotten when he confessed to falling in love with the fictitious
Phyllis. There they were in his kitchen, chopping vegetables for his dinner when he pointed out that they were chopping in rhythm. A song followed along with
laughter and a playful fight. She never looked at raw vegetables in quite the same way.
And then there was the night that she helped him make dinner for Mel. Despite the way she felt about Mel and vice versa, it turned out to be an enjoyable evening.
That is until Niles burned his hand. Her nurturing side took over and she came to his aid immediately. She closed her eyes, remembering the softness of his palm and
the way he was looking at her. Who knew what might havfe happened had Martin not come into the kitchen? The image both thrilled her and filled her with unease.
One by one they came to her, all of the signs. They'd been there from day one. The way he'd looked at her the first time they met, the way he was always
complimenting her, how he was always there for her. The night on the balcony at Frasier's Christmas party... the list went on and on. Why hadn't she seen them? She
was psychic! Her visions should have spelled it out for her. But now her heart was telling her something else. It was time to make what was perhaps the boldest move
she'd ever made. One that would change her life in more ways than one.