For disclaimers and all that business, please see Part I.
Another restaurant term slipping in: Progress of the open - refers to making certain that there is enough product and that everything, from cleanliness to food preparation, is ready prior to the opening of the restaurant.
And feel free to keep 'em coming…
The waves gently caressed the waterline of the Lessie Mae as Christina nervously waited for Abigail. She hoped to drown her nagging conscience with busy work, but it was no good - every time she stopped for a moment, the half-truth reared its ugly head. Unsuccessfully, she tried to shrug off the uncomfortable feeling. It was her past, and she could share what she deemed appropriate. And maybe an omission wasn't really a lie….
Footsteps lightly treaded the deck, rescuing her from her mind.
"Hey, Beautiful." Abigail smiled and handed Christina a small bouquet of flowers. A warm feeling filled her as she was greeted with a dazzling smile from her lover.
"Hi." Christina's heart skipped a beat as she accepted the carnations.
"What a wonderful smell." The strawberry-blonde embraced her girlfriend, kissing her longingly.
"Me or the food?"
"Only a taste test will tell for sure." Burying her face in Christina's neck, she nibbled lightly. Listening to the soft murmurs from the other woman, Abigail's tongue lovingly explored Christina's soft skin. Everything felt so right, like a jigsaw puzzle falling into place. Suddenly stunned by the tension she felt from her lover, she broke contact.
"What's wrong, honey?"
"It's nothing." Christina shifted uncomfortably, trying to will her away her inner conflict.
"Baby, if it's bothering you, it can't be nothing." Stroking her girlfriend's dark hair, she continued. "You can share it with me. That's what I'm here for."
"It's that talk we had." She sighed and shrugged her shoulders apologetically.
"It's not your fault," Christina responded quickly. "It's my past, it's my mess."
"Hey," Abigail broke in, unwilling to listen to her lover beat herself up. "Your past is only important because it brought you to me now." She gently lifted her lover's chin with her index finger. "I'm more interested in who you are today. And that you love me and I love you."
Christina attempted to respond, but was silenced by her girlfriend.
"Don't say anything."
She turned her head and gazed into the soft, sea-green eyes looking at her adoringly. What have I done to deserve to be loved like this?
"Baby, don't think so much. Just go with the moment."
Finding Abigail's soft, rosy lips, she kissed them delicately. At last, her mind completely free, she melted into her lover's warm embrace. The brunette turned to bare more of her neck and shoulders and was rewarded with a shower of kisses.
"So," Abigail began as she continued to feast upon Christina's neck. "What's for dinner?"
"Huh?" Momentarily roused from bliss, she struggled to respond. "Oh yeah. Dinner. Lasagna."
"Well, I hoped you like it." Temporarily breaking contact with Abigail's lips, she picked up a fork and cut a small piece of lasagna. "Try it."
Christina was awestruck as she watched her lover's tongue swirl about the lasagna and the fork, carefully exploring the nuance of the cheese and meat sauce.
"That was so good."
You ain't lying!
"Can I have some more?" Abigail held Christina's hand and gingerly sucked her fingertips.
Her mind refused to cooperate to process the request.
"Can I?" She closed in on her earlobe and kissed it gently.
"Can you what?"
"Some more." Abigail purred as her tongue flickered about her lover's earlobe and neck.
Can I have some more?"
Christina responded to the hunger burning in her girlfriend's eyes as their lips met.
"Tell me again what happened to the rest of our friends."
"Well, Lita, it's like this." Andrew cleared his throat and withered under her frosty stare. "When you went away, they went with the guy we dealt for."
"And?" She stared with an icy gaze as she advanced toward him.
"TopCat took them in."
"TopCat? The one who replaced me is called TopCat?"
"Well, yeah." He shifted uncomfortably and dropped his hands to his side. "That's his handle. I don't know his real name."
"I want to see Jimmy."
Andrew felt a strong craving for whiskey and cigarettes as he debated over how to phrase his answer.
"Is there a problem, Andrew? I want to see Jimmy."
"He, uh," Andrew stammered. "He told them to stay away from you."
"I dunno." He could see the cold rage brewing inside her. If he wasn't careful, he would become a focal point. "They really looked up to you, I guess."
"What happened with you?" Temporarily mollified, she sat on Andrew's dilapidated couch.
"Me? He didn't really know about me. Everyone else was too busy, trying to shine. I just kind of slipped out the back door."
The bright, morning sun flashed through the cabin windows, waking Christina. She gave Abigail a small kiss as her girlfriend turned over, struggling to escape the blinding rays.
She's not due in for a few hours, anyway.
Careful not to disturb the strawberry-blonde, who was busily sawing down a forest in her sleep, she began getting ready for work.
A smile formed across her face as she sat back on the bed and ran her hand through Abigail's hair. Unconsciously, her lover smiled back and scooted closer, never once waking.
"Do you know I love you?" She asked softly, brushing her hand against her cheek. "It's so hard to say when you're awake."
The other woman beamed in response and grabbed the hand caressing her, bringing it to her bosom.
Unable to help herself, she lay down and cuddled next to her lover. For the first time in her life, she felt secure with another person. That the other person really cared for her. It gave her such a feeling of euphoria that the earlier worries of doubt and insecurities escaped her.
The clock kept ticking. It was almost time for her to leave. She frowned as she silently slid her arm from Abigail's grasp and gave her one last kiss before she left.
She wrote a little note and set it by the jar of instant coffee.
Her heart filled with joy as she looked back at the sleeping figure on her bed. As long as she was with Abigail, all was right with the world.
The walk to The Edge was pleasant. A cool morning breeze touched her skin as she approached the back door.
"Hey, girl!" Samantha stood outside, smoking a cigarette.
"Owen's coming." She dropped her cigarette into the butt can. "And the boss wants to see you."
"Yeah. She's in the office."
The two women walked inside. Not wanting to surprise Darlene, she knocked on the office door before entering.
"Hi. Heard you wanted to see me."
"Christina." She smiled broadly and motioned for the Kitchen Manager to sit down. "Owen's coming in today for an inspection. He'll be here about lunch time and I've got a list of things we need to work on."
"Okay, I'll get right on it." Her blue eyes flickered over the cleaning list. Nothing really major, so they should be able to finish the list without impeding the progress of the open.
"Thank you. I knew I could count on you."
Abigail loved waking up on the boat. It was such a peaceful feeling, listening to the waves as they softly rocked the Lessie Mae. She sat for a moment, just enjoying the peace and tranquility.
Enjoying the moment, she could not believe how right everything felt with Christina! It was like they were meant for each other.
For once in her life, the sex was more than sex. There was such a deeper feeling that she never had with Kat. Maybe it was because she had not really loved Kat. And Kat had not really loved her.
Just thinking of Christina made her heart soar.
She hugged herself with the covers as she tried to recapture Christina's scent.
Looking around, she realized, as she had before, that her girlfriend had no photographs of family or friends on her houseboat. Well, she could change that. It always made Abigail feel better, to see the living room photographs of her and her parents.
Maybe it was because Christina had so much hurt with her family.
And whatever was bothering her lover was past. She would not press her about it. Let the past lay where it was.
Looking in the tiny kitchen, she saw a note by the jar of coffee. Smiling, she put on one of Christina's old button up shirts. She rubbed her face along the inside collar and felt content. She had surprised herself by telling her girlfriend how she felt. I didn't mean to do that, but it just seemed right.
The decking groaned gently as she walked the short distance from the bed to the coffeepot. She had to make herself put the water on first. Carefully, she unfolded the note. Although written from a small note pad, she handled it like it was gentle china.
Hi. I just wanted to let you know that I love you and miss you already.
I would tell you how special you are to me, but words just fail me.
A feeling of warmth spread throughout her body.
Andrew drove to work with trepidation. It wasn't hard to figure out what his next task from Lita would be: an audience with TopCat. She had to know she would never be able to meet with Jimmy without TopCat's approval.
At least TopCat didn't base his operations in Pinkston. Tampa, being a larger and more accessible city, was his city of choice.
No matter what, he didn't want go back to peddling drugs. He just didn't have the stomach for it. This plan is getting worse by the minute!
Cursing to himself, he wished his construction job was his destination instead of the restaurant. So far, the people he was actively plotting against seemed pretty nice. Nicer than Lita, anyway. The whole thing sucked.
He parked his car and grabbed his stashed fifth of whiskey. Swallowing quickly, he enjoyed the burn in his mouth and throat, knowing that relief from his conscience was just minutes away.
Careful with his drinking, he drank only enough to allow him to forget and be able to function at the restaurant. Once he finished, he removed his toothbrush and toothpaste from the glove box and scrubbed his teeth like a man with a mission. He gurgled with mouthwash, hoping the mixture of smells would obscure the alcohol scent.
He re-hid his empty bottle and entered the restaurant and clocked in. When he smiled, he inhaled, not wanting to have his breath noticed.
"Andrew, just the guy I was looking for."
Looking behind him, he saw Christina round the corner from the stock room. Damn! I was hoping to avoid her today!
"We've got an inspection coming up around lunch and I need to make sure…" her voice trailed off as she sniffed the air. Something didn't smell right.
"I'm trying to fight off a cold." Andrew covered his mouth and coughed. He hoped his weak explanation would be plausible for her. This was definitely stupid!
"Is that what it is?" She frowned, unsatisfied, but not sure if she should confront him on such flimsy evidence.
"Yeah." He said as little as possible, knowing that he must be sweating whiskey out of his pores.
"Hmm." Deciding not to press the issue, she continued. "Like I was saying, we're having an inspection and we've got some extra cleaning to get done. Here's a list." She handed him a slip of paper. "Make sure you follow it in order because it's prioritized. Let me know when you get halfway through so I can check the cleaning, okay?"
He nodded his head in assent, happy to have avoided a confrontation about his alcoholic odor.
Christina didn't feel comfortable ignoring the signs that Andrew had been drinking, but it wasn't the first time she had to watch someone in reference to substance abuse. If she confronted him and was not backed up by Darlene, that would spell disaster for her authority in the restaurant. Rather than to risk it, She decided to bring up suspected alcohol/drug use at the next managers' meeting. Better to be safe than sorry.
"Hey, Chris." Samantha threw a dry towel at the Kitchen Manager, which she snatched from the air. "How'd it go last night?"
"Great. Thanks for letting me use your oven." She put on her rubber apron and washed her hands. "I need another favor."
"Okay," Samantha borrowed a pen from a server close by and acted like she was taking notes on her hand. "That's quite a list you're building."
"Come over here a minute."
Samantha returned the pen to the server and followed Christina onto the Cooks' Line.
"I need you to help me keep an eye on someone."
"Who?" The grin fell from her face.
"The new dishwasher, Andrew. I think he's been drinking."
"What are you going to do?"
"Nothing yet. I have to see if he can function and what the boss' policy on this is."
"Good idea." Samantha shook her head in agreement. "That last general manager really put you out there last time. Kept re-hiring people you fired for coming to work drunk or high."
"Yep. I'm not willing to go that route again."
"Enough of that." She made a list of stock needed for the lunch set-up on her end of the Cooks' Line. "Now deal."
"Ain't got no cards." Christina surveyed the freezer, pleased that Jack had restocked appropriately. He was improving!
"How did it go? Big, special night - you brought out one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal." Samantha smiled mischievously as she handed Christina the list for dry stock.
"It was good. She liked the lasagna." The Kitchen Manager fought to keep her face impassive.
They stood facing each other, both with their hands on their hips.
"Uh, Sam, you know we're having an inspection today?" She hoped to change the subject to distract her friend from pursuing the conversation.
"Didn't Ms. Hughes tell you?"
"No." Immediately, the petite, black lady began checking her area to see what she would need to pay special attention to for cleaning detail. "Shit!"
Christina smiled as she left the line. Mission accomplished!
Owen entered his restaurant and walked around the dining room. Already brimming with business, it looked to be a profitable lunch. Great - makes the inspection that much easier.
Dressed in a cream-colored business suit and blue silk tie, he talked with guests, to find out what their impressions of the restaurant were. In a small town like this, he had to nip problems in the bud or business would be difficult to rebuild. He smiled as he received the favorable comments and took notes on the discrepancies. Scanning constantly, he observed that all employees had on their appropriate uniforms. So far, so good.
The inspection continued without a hitch. Owen was happy. It would be nice to spend the next day in Pinkston, hammering out the beginnings of a new business plan with Darlene and catching up with Christina, rather than to be trapped trying to fix an ailing store.
Abigail beamed as she finished tidying up the houseboat and got ready for work. She figured if she kept it up, her face muscles would probably hurt from being so happy.
A feeling of contentment filled her as she sat on the bed. Looking for a piece of paper, she scribbled down a poem for the woman who was a constant presence in her thoughts.
The cool, summer breeze
Lightly touches my skin
And I think of you.
Only moments from my sight,
You are far too far
From my arms.
I ache to hold you,
To feel your warmth
And to be bewitched
By your smile.
A brief stitch in time
Can be a lifetime.
And that time is now.
So, come, my love -
Spend a lifetime
She placed the poem on the counter by the instant coffee and left for work.
Lita grinned maliciously as she walked around the car, observing her handiwork.
That beat-up Dodge Charger looks a lot better with its new black windows!
Holding the spray can of flat black paint near the front windshield, she applied the final touches.
And I'm sure that idiot Jack will appreciate his new tint job. Oh, it's good to be me.
Pleased that she could not see her reflection in the car's freshly painted black glass, she walked towards the rear of the Charger. Drinking most of her bottled water, she opened the gas cap and poured the rest of the water into the tank.
Nothing like a nice, refreshing drink of water on a hot, summer day!
Continued in Part IX
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