Fred followed Lorraine the short distance between Dynamite Coffee House and 44 Cherry Street. They parked around back behind the Black Mt. Center for the Arts and walked through the gate of the high wood fence and into the backyard.

“What the hell is all this?” Fred blurted out, seeing Peter’s Survivalist Campsite which had speed to cover every inch of the yard.

Lorraine hadn’t really paid attention to the slow sprawl of the Prepper Village since the night Peter had cut through the power lines. Seeing it though Fred’s eyes gave her a bit of a shock. Not only was the yurt in place in the center of the yard, but a hive-shaped oven had been built. A windmill had been installed. Catchment barrels had been connected to the roof gutters to collect rainwater. a solar power grid had been placed in a sunny spot in the yard, connected to the yurt. A makeshift hot tub had been built using scrap wood and used packing crates. Raised beds for growing vegetables had been constructed. And a chicken coop complete with about a dozen chickens had appeared, the chickens left to scratch about the yard. Oh, yes: and a kitchen sink had been hooked up to one of the catchment barrels.

She was pretty amazed herself at what Peter had managed to complete in a short time. At least he had put some muscle behind his beliefs. She was willing to live and let live, but she could tell that Fred found the display tacky. “Well,” she said, “my crazy neighbor is convinced that civilization as we know it is about to implode. This is his attempt to create an insurance policy for himself. Frankly, though, if civilization were to collapse, I’m not sure I want to survive.”

“Yes,” agreed Fred. “I’m not sure life is worth living without luxuries. I can’t imagine life without ski trips, movies, great food, and good wine.”

Lorraine’s eyes lit up. “I couldn’t agree more!” she said. “I love hot baths and a refrigerator full of food, myself!”

She felt Fred’s eyes on her, going straight to her hips. Or was that her imagination? She changed the subject. “Let’s go inside and celebrate civilization with a bottle of good wine and some excellent French cheese. I just got a case of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc and a hunk of St. Andre cheese I just bought at Earth Fare.”

They climbed the stairs to Lorraine’s apartment and heard Suki going crazy behind the door, barking and growling. “Hush, Suki dear! Fred is a friend!”

Once the door was unlocked, Suki came charging out nipping at Fred’s jeans legs and barking like a lunatic. Fred looked worried and was squirming fiercely, trying to avoid getting bitten. “I love dogs,” he said between clenched teeth.

“Oh, Suki Baby! You are so funny. Fred isn’t a bit scared of you. Now please stop all that racket.”  She ran inside and found a rawhide chew stick and lured Suki away from Fred, wo stood stiffly by the door.

He looked around the apartment, taking in her antiques, while she thanked her lucky stars that she had vacuumed and dusted before she had gone out. “Please come in and make yourself comfortable,” Lorraine said, gesturing towards her couch where Suki was already curled up with her treat.

Fred sat, instead, in the upholstered wing-back chair facing the couch, as far as he could get from Suki.

Lorraine brought in a tray with two crystal wine glasses, a  $25 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a fresh baguette,  an expensive hunk of French cheese, and plates, napkins, and a knife. She opened the wine and poured out the glasses, handing one to Fred.

Fred sipped the wine appreciatively and sampled and approved of the cheese. The two of them settled comfortably on the couch and launched into a lively conversation about New York City, movies, and books they both loved. The exterminator came and went and they continued chatting and laughing. Lorraine had been saving that bottle of wine for a special occasion, and this seemed to fit the bill.

Lorraine sometimes felt the strange sensation of finding herself separating from her body and observing herself from above. She did so while she and Fred sat together talking animatedly on the couch in her cozy apartment. They made a great pair, she thought. Look how well they get along and how much they have in common!

When the wine bottle was empty, the cheese all eaten, and the exterminator long gone, Lorraine glanced at the small antique French clock on top of her desk. “My goodness!” she said. “It’s eight o’clock! How did it get to be so late?”

“Oh!” responded Fred. “Is there a restaurant close by where we could grab some dinner?  This wonderful snack has whet my appetite.”

Lorraine named the restaurants in Black Mountain, and Fred selected Ole Guacamole’s, where they decamped. Truly, Fred, as tiny as he was, had eaten and drunk most of the snack, but Lorraine was excited by the attention, and for once she found herself with no appetite. Besides, even though she felt comfortable with Fred, she didn’t feel comfortable enough to eat in front of him. She ordered a glass of water and one taco, while Fred ordered Sangria and a whole meal.

The conversation was easy and entertaining, and Lorraine was truly enjoying herself. She thought that she would really like to get to know Fred better. They talked about getting together soon and seeing a film at the Fine Arts Theater in Asheville and discussing it over dinner afterwards, and Lorraine was happier than she had been in a long time. This guy was great and so much fun. She imagined that they would travel well out west together to ski, and in the meantime, they would date and enjoy each other’s company here in the Asheville area.

Dinner over and the dishes cleared, the waiter brought the check and handed it to Fred. He studied it carefully checking the accuracy of the waiter’s arithmetic. After a pause, Fred said, “OK Lorraine, your share is $3.50.”

Lorraine sat up straight in her seat. Was he really asking her for $3.50 to pay for one taco? Wasn’t he the guy who had consumed almost an entire expensive bottle of wine? And eaten a $20 hunk of cheese? And he didn’t have the generosity of spirit to pay for her taco?

“You want me to give you $3.50?” she asked, just to be sure her ears hadn’t been playing a trick on her. Even when she shared a restaurant meal with a woman friend, one or the other of them always offered to treat the other.

“Yes,” answered Fred cheerfully. “I love you modern women. I know how independent you are! I know how you insist on paying your own way. Besides, I am careful about how I spend my money. I am on a fixed income, you know.”

“Translation,” thought Lorraine. “I don’t mind drinking your wine and eating your cheese and skiing out west and bragging about your travel and adventures, but I am not willing to spend a penny on anyone except myself.”

Oh, how she hated a cheapskate, especially one who hid behind the excuse of respecting the independence of modern women. She opened her wallet and handed Fred a five. “Use the rest to pay towards the tip,” she said coldly, and stood up to leave. Her dreams of a future with Fred crashed around her like shattered glass.