An hour into the afternoon shift the next day Fry realized they were making people uncomfortable. Chili could barely look her in the eye, Jacqueline was furious, Miguel was rearranging the napkins in the dining room upstairs for the sixth time and telling Barbra that there were grease spots on the immaculate carpeting in the hallway.
She got the hint. The next time she was with French she mentioned her observations.
Miguels always been an obsessive compulsive pain in the ass. The rest of them can shove it.
But I dont want to make everyone uncomfortable.
Fry, theyre used to me acting like this. Its one of the things that makes me so popular.
So Ive heard. But Id like to try to consider how they feel.
You cant be serious. Youre telling me that I not only have to be sensitive to your feelings about sex, but I have to consider theirs as well? You didnt tell me you were into kink.
Im just saying that maybe we should be a little more discrete. Maybe stay out of the hallway and the break room. Thats all. I thought poor Juan was going to have a heart attack when he walked back there this morning.
Serves him right, dirty old man. I think hes got a thing for you.
So? That makes him what? Dead? Besides, his wife lives in Ecuador, or El Salvador or wherever.
Guatemala. And it does matter. Hes very sweet and I dont think hes got a thing for me at all.
Well, he may not, but the rest of the kitchen does.
Stop it, they do not! Fry batted Frenchs arm.
Do so. Chilis been shooting daggers at me since yesterday. When he doesnt think Im looking.
Well okay, maybe Chili has a small crush on me. But youre such a liar. This entire restaurant lusts after you and you get all bent out of shape because one guy likes me.
Hey, whos bent? I was just making an observation.
You were not, I saw the look you gave him yesterday when he was talking to me. I thought you were going to slug him when he asked if I was going to the Dance Bar Friday night.
He was socializing during a rush.
Hes perfectly capable of handing me the salad as he asks a question. Besides, youre one to talk. What about that guy who was in here yesterday? Mr. Nudge Nudge Wink Wink, wasnt that a good time last summer? I thought he was going to faint from dehydration the way he was drooling over you. That couldnt have been sanitary. And Fry couldnt help but notice that the man was an excellent specimen of his breed. His sleek, tight fitting outfit displayed a muscled physique. Too muscled for Frys liking. She noticed that his breasts were larger than hers. This was an attribute shed come to understand was very important to the chef.
Oh please. If you start down that road well be sitting here for weeks, maybe months.
Fry gave her a look. That was something they hadnt gotten around to discussing. With one thing and another.
Lets ease off for everybodys sake. In there, I mean. Fry leaned over and picked up her shirt that French had draped neatly over the arm of the couch.
If you insist. But Im not making any promises if you go tying your apron strings all sexy again. French looked around for her bra. Shed felt it come off, but hadnt seen where it landed. Shed considerately stacked all of Frys clothes in a pile.
What is it with you and knots? Is that why you make us wear these ties and not clip-ons? Fry slipped on her vest and buttoned it.
Its called authenticity. French found her bra slung over the doorknob to the bathroom.
Its called an inconvenience. Whos going to know if Im wearing a clip on or not?
I will. Besides, French grasped Fry by the tie and pulled her over. It makes a great handle. She kissed her and let her go. Now where had her hair tie gone to?
French approached the planning of a party in much the same way a general strategized a battle. And in this case, the two things had more in common than they usually might. Most hosts might worry about seating a guest near someone who might bore or offend them, French had to consider which guests were more likely to try to kill the other.
Not that the guest list was long. There were five people on it.
French had spent some time researching the names shed seen in the documents in the box. She could have saved herself some time by looking up the names of the committee members responsible for the Darzley/ Fitch gambling bill. She would have gotten to the punch line that much sooner.
Louisa turned out to be one smart number. The evidence shed compiled was solid. The place shed run into trouble with it was in putting it to use. Thats where her talents had run their course.
Gathering that kind of information was one thing. Using it effectively - that was a skill unto its own. Too bad Louisa didnt have the sense to stick to her strengths or her own diet.
French had a hunch whod murdered Louisa, but hey, why not kill two birds with one stone? She had some people to get off of her back, her restaurant, and if possible, her island.
She sent the invitations out to the printer for engraving. They read:
Join me for an evening of fine dining and stimulating conversation.
The menu will include the most exquisite black box.
And wouldnt you all like to know whats inside?
Your attendance is strongly advised.
She told Fry her plan and set to work. All she had to do between now and the date, three days hence, was figure out how she was going to pull it off.
That may have been easier if she didnt want to spend the rest of her time trying to get her favorite waitress horizontal, or whatever. French wasnt picky when it came right down to it.
Shed decided that Fry was her favorite waitress during her lunch break the day before. Fry gave food service a whole new meaning. Who knew that that little socialist would be such a willing convert to all things French? She thought Fry would be a whole lot more complicated to deal with once they were having sex, not less so. Urge or not, shed have made a move on her ages ago had she known the result.
The questions were still there, but they were generally focused around pleasurable subject matter. That was fine with French. Especially when she benefitted directly. And when Fry started moving into areas less to Frenchs liking, she was able to redirect her attentions without too much difficulty. Fry was a pleasure hound.
She wondered exactly how far she could push it. Fry couldnt stay in the clouds forever, or could she? Would French want her to? She wasnt ready to test the theory yet, she was catching up on months of celibacy.
Fry was perfectly happy where she was. Well, not technically right where she was, in the bar being lectured by Barbra. But in general she was pretty darned happy.
I dont want to burst your bubble, but you need to start getting a grip. I dont think youve got a very clear picture of whats going on around here at the moment. Barbra looked at Fry who was nodding and smiling back at her. For all of the disappearing shed been doing, her work wasnt suffering from it. The people who she served seemed to get happier in direct proportion to Fry. It was weird, but her mood was infectious. Her customers would have waited forever for her to finish with the chef out back, as long as they didnt know what she was doing, or who.
Barbra didnt give a damn about the restaurant. She was worried about Fry and what was going to happen when French started seeing other people. Because she always did. Barbra wanted Fry to have at least one foot on the earth when it happened.
Barbra had to admit to being surprised by French. She really did seem to like Fry a lot. And while Barbra still didnt like the chef all that much, shed also admit that she wasnt being a total ass to Fry. Not yet anyway.
Could French have changed that much? It was something that intrigued Barbra. Not that there werent a lot of intriguing things to observe at Bachanal, but at the end of the day, French was still the main attraction. For all of the womans faults, she was fascinating. Too bad she was so screwed up. She could have been a halfway decent person to know, instead of a dangerous curiosity, best kept at arms length.
She took a breath and tried one last time, for Frys sake. Look kid, I just want you to have your eyes open here. That woman is a wolf, know what that means?
Yes. Shes wild.
As in untamed. As in, not monogamous. As in, sleeps around and oh my god you had better be having safe sex with her or you are crazier than anyone on this island ever thought! But you also need to know that shes going to roam sooner or later. Probably sooner and I just wanted you to keep it in mind. I dont think you guys are doing a whole lot of talking back there.
Fry blushed three shades of red, each deeper than the last. Ummm... were um, not talking a lot, no. Well, not that kind of talking. And yes, were being safe. Ive done this kind of thing before you know. Its just that I find it hard to concentrate when she touches me...
Too much information, too much! Stick to the basics here, were at work.
But its true. I go in there with the intention of checking in, finding out how shes feeling about everything, and I leave and we havent said a word about it. Shes like a magician.
And youre too easy. Fry blushed again and Barbra continued. Im sorry, but its true. Dont be such a pushover.
I am not a pushover!
Sure sound like one to me. Have you asked her if youre dating yet? Has she asked you?
French isnt the dating kind of woman.
And youre okay with that?
Sure, why shouldnt I be?
I dont know, why dont you ask one or two of the people I know whove slept with her? They might have some input. Of course, once you get them started it may be hard to stop them.
Frys head was beginning to ache. She knew what Barbra was getting at. I appreciate what your saying, but were just having fun. I know shes not going to stick around for the long haul, Im trying accept that and let it be whatever it is.
As long as that is doesnt mind sharing the bed with some other iss I guess youre okay then. Barbra pushed off the bar and walked out to her post. Fry was going to have to figure it out for herself. She hoped she didnt have to get too hurt in the process.
French had decided to forego sleeping in the restaurant for a night. She couldnt stand the thought of that couch again and if someone was going to torch the damned place, at least shed be having a good time while it burned. Besides, shed hired a security agency. Fry was right, you couldnt do everything by yourself. Not if you wanted to keep up with the woman in question.
She walked home and waited for Fry. She didnt usually have people over to her place. It would be kind of different.
There was a knock on the door and surprise, surprise if it wasnt her favorite waitress with a basket of fresh strawberries.
For us. Fry slipped past the chefs grasping hands and headed for the kitchen.
French sensed something was up and followed.
For now. Sit.
For later, come here. French walked over and pulled Fry in. She felt something cool press into her stomach. She looked down, it was a small bottle. Whats that?
Fresh cream. Fry watched Frenchs nose twitch.
Whered you get it?
Not telling. Not until after we have a little chat. Fry watched Frenchs expression closely. Her eyes had narrowed and Fry guessed that French was trying to figure out a way to get everything she wanted all on her own terms. It was taking her a moment to prioritize which shed go after first.
Well chat later. French, having made a difficult decision, was ready to proceed.
Im glad to know that I won out over the cream. Fry said as she pushed French away. She sidestepped around the island next to Frenchs refrigerator and scooted to the opposite side. Having a solid obstruction between them was probably the safest bet. But I think its time we started talking. About us.
French was trying to look casual, as if Fry hadnt just said the u word. She also tried to look like she wasnt interested in getting around that counter and removing the cutoffs and sweater Fry had on. Sure, shoot. French started to clean her nails, as indifferently as you might do that kind of thing.
Okay then. Fry wasnt fooled. Every time French began to clean her nails her mind seemed to go into overdrive. Fry had fallen for it more than once already and approached her in what she thought was an indifferent state of mind for the chef. It wasnt. And for the record, Im on to the nail thing.
What nail thing?
Whenever you scheme, you get this totally indifferent relaxed thing going. It may look like you dont have a care in the world, but Ive figured out otherwise. Where do you keep the bowls?
Berries and cream, what else?
If she was going to be made to suffer the more mundane aspects of short-term monogamous sex, French couldnt think of a better way to do it. Cabinet, over the knife rack.
They sat at the table in the kitchen enjoying the fresh fruit and rich cream.
Not bad for peasant food. French remarked.
Are you calling me a peasant?
No. Do you want me to?
No, Frys bad enough.
Whats wrong with Fry? It suits you. French was hurt, shed come to think of it as an apt nickname.
Its not my name for one thing. But I guess its not so bad since you stopped saying it with that sneer in your voice.
French looked at her fruit. Not the fruit exactly, but she didnt feel like looking at Fry then. It wasnt easy to hear such a sparkling example of what an incredible bitch you could be. Sorry. You dont want me to call you Violet do you?
Fry sighed. French failed miserably on the finer points of sensitivity, but she was trying. No.
I want to tell you something, but Im not sure how to say it. Fry said.
This was news to French, Fry didnt usually have trouble in the saying department. Where were the questions? Like, How long will this last?, Are you going to start seeing other people?, and the dreaded, Should I leave a towel here or something?
I know your style is different than mine and if you want to sleep with other people, thats okay. Fry said. It wasnt easy, but she said it.
French perked up. This wasnt the kind of thing shed expected at all. She should never have underestimated Fry. She smiled. Well, Ive never been much for monogamy.
I know. And Ive really enjoyed being with you. Fry gave her a small smile. But Im not into non-monogamous sex. Its not for me. So if youd like to, you know... Id appreciate you letting me know.
French knew there was a catch hidden in there somewhere. Let you know what?
That you want to renegotiate. Move on. We could try having a non-physical friendship again. I meant it, I do really like being with you French, and if I cant have sex with you, Id still like to try to maintain our relationship on a friendship basis.
Well, that sounded like crap to Frenchs ears. You mean that if, say, I want to have sex with someone else, Im free and clear and thats fine with you, but then youre off limits?
I said it was okay, as in I understand that not everybody wants the same kind of thing that I want from a relationship. I didnt say it was fine. Of course, Id be unhappy. And no, I wouldnt continue a sexual relationship with you.
Ive heard about this kind of thing. Its some kind of passive-aggressive trick or maybe a reverse psychology thing. And it must have been, because all of a sudden she was getting pissed at herself on Frys behalf. What was with that? She hadnt even considered having sex with anyone else yet. Shed been too busy.
Im not trying to manipulate you. Im letting you know what works for me. Okay? Fry tried to explain. Shed known it wouldnt be an easy conversation. Her heart was pounding.
Fine, Ill keep it in mind. Besides, since Im breaking myself back in after a long hiatus, maybe sticking with you for a while is a good idea. Im emotionally raw as youve said. Maybe consistency is the way to go for now. Maybe youre just the thing I need. Youre solid stock and all of your parts work. You can keep up with me which is always a plus. Youre not bad to look at, in a girl next door trying to get into my pants kind of way. Maybe Ill see how it goes.
You know Im going to make you pay for all of those comments later dont you?
I figured as much.
Anything you want to add? Any deeply felt, sensitive comments about the last few days? French gave her a blank look. Alright then, Im sure thats probably all you can bear for one night. Thanks for listening.
French knew a challenge when it was laid before her. It may not have been intentional on Frys part, but French took it that way. Fry hadnt been pushing her, had let her pretty much have free reign the last few days. Of course, French put that down to her own powers of persuasion and the fact that Fry would roll over if you promised her a biscuit. But Fry had inferred that French was incapable of doing something. And her instinctive competitive response was that it wasnt that she couldnt, she just didnt want to.
And then she considered why. As long as they didnt talk, she didnt have to consider Frys feelings. Well, she did, but not in any deeply meaningful, long-term sort of way. A way, she was reluctant to admit, she didnt think she was fully equipped to handle. But she could sure as hell give it a try. There was Fry, putting it on the table, not being a sap. She didnt seem to have any illusions about French in the fidelity department. Shed better not given her stunning track record.
Fry had guts damn it. French respected that. As long as she wasnt doing the suffocating, clinging thing, French would make an effort to keep Fry posted. It all came back to what Barbra had said. The world did not revolve around her, and if she cared, she had to make an effort.
Fry hadnt expected to still be seated in her chair a full minute after shed spoken. French hadnt launched across the table and grabbed her. She was moving the berries around that were left in her bowl contemplatively.
Continued in Chapter 39.