Written / Cooking On High


Just a note: If you e-mailed and didn't hear back, my server ate it. I'm completely frazzled by all of the digital mishaps with my provider. I can't complain about the price, so I might as well complain about the ineptitude. I think someone over there keeps tripping over the plug to the machine that's got my stuff on it.

And for those of you who surfed in from somewhere else and missed the blurb on the Written page... This is it, baby. The grand finale. Enjoy!

Chapter 41

On the way over to Fry’s house, French learned that Harriet was not only an organic vegetable farmer, she was also a practicing defense attorney. She was an energetic and serious woman in her mid thirties with a no nonsense demeanor and an incredible mass of frizzy hair on her head.

The couple of times French had encountered Harriet at the farm stand she wasn’t sure if the woman was angry, or if that was her personality. It was her personality. She had a clipped manner of speech and didn’t suffer fools well, or quietly.

Her rigid interface with the rest of the world seemed pierced only by Joe, who acted as if Harriet were in a constant state of good cheer and merriment. It worked for them, French could see that. Harriet had a way of softening her regard when she spoke to Joe, that didn’t translate to anyone else. Except Fry maybe.

Joe seemed like your run of the mill guy, who wasn’t a guy, kind of guy. He wore his clothes baggy and stayed close to Harriet most of the time like she was prime real estate and no one else had sense enough to know it. Or maybe, possibly, Harriet was the only one in the group who had a chance with Mother Spark, should a fight break out.

French tried to discern the Spark family dynamic. Not an easy feat. The Sparks were not your average clan. Priscilla held a tight reign over her brood. Howard had a more laid back approach, and probably didn’t have to worry about discipline too much. Priscilla had him covered. But how anyone had managed the two sisters was beyond French. Once they’d started talking it was nonstop. And Priscilla and Harriet joined in soon after, the bubbly undertow was too strong to resist. From the cell door to the living room of the Spark’s house, French hadn’t heard anyone pause for breath. Except for Howard who hadn’t said much.

They all took seats. Fry wanted to sit on the arm of her chair, but French wasn’t used to all of the affection she was getting in public. Not that she knew what she should do with it in private, but she was more comfortable with it there. Priscilla seemed to be taking a dim view of it herself. So French indicated that Fry ought to sit in the chair next to her. Fry did not look pleased with that arrangement. French supposed that it was time to have a talk about personal space and the public view. She didn’t want Fry to get the wrong idea that they were an item or anything, not just because she was in her house meeting with her parents.

French didn’t care for the idea of relationships. All of the ones she’d had were strictly user-friendly affairs, whether the other party was aware of it or not. That wasn’t what she wanted with Fry, but she didn’t know what else she did want. Certainly not a U-Haul truck showing up at her front door. There had to be a way to have Fry in her life for a time without her setting down roots or becoming a barnacle. Fry had barnacle tendencies, she could tell.

“Why don’t I start?” Fry thought it might be a good idea to dive right in and get out as fast as possible to spare French as much as she could. She’d tried to sit close and offer moral support, morals being a new concept for French, but the chef had brushed her off.

It took her a while to lay it all out. There was a lot of ground to cover and her mother looked like she was going to pop for half of the time she talked. She told them about Louisa and trying to help French figure out who’d poisoned, allergied or murdered her. She told them about all of their run ins and outs and generally made her parents apoplectic in the process. Joe kept saying, “No way.” And Harriet shook her head as if to say, ‘How do you people survive?’

Silence followed her speech. Fry wished she was sitting closer to French. She could have used some moral support of her own just then.

French was measuring the distance to the door and waiting for the explosion.

Priscilla looked over at French and asked, “Does she get overtime for any of this? How about accident insurance? Are you trying to get her killed!?” Priscilla went on for a few minutes after that, attempting to alleviate some of her maternal anxiety at French’s expense.

“Priscilla, I think we both know Violet makes her own decisions.” Howard begrudged, but he was giving French a look that said he kind of wished she’d pissed him off.

“Of course she does, and with this... this...” It was still too hard for her to say it. “I’m sure she’s getting plenty of encouragement. Did it ever occur to you that these people would come after my daughter eventually? Or was it convenient for you to have a target for them?”

“May I speak, or do I just sit here and take this? I’m not clear on protocol for family chats.” French asked.

“Of course you can speak, this is an open dialogue.” Priscilla bristled.

“Well then. Your daughter,” French glanced over at the woman in question. “Is one of the most obstinate women I have ever set eyes on. At first I thought she might be dense, but as reality set in I realized that she’s not the kind of woman to sit around and wait for instruction. No matter how many times I expected it. She’s got a spine and is as tenacious as any pitbull I’ve had the pleasure to meet. You should be proud. It took me a while to figure out that there wasn’t much I could do but damage control where your daughter was concerned. You’ll excuse me if the idea of me corrupting and endangering your angelic child sounds ludicrous to my ears.”

Priscilla and Howard looked at each other. There wasn’t a lot to argue with there.

French glanced at Fry again who was looking proud of herself.

Fry was thinking that French was so sweet when she tried and failed to give a compliment.

French continued, “I knew she might be a target. We discussed it. What she did with that information was her own business. You can spank her later, but leave me out of it.”

“Ready to run so soon are you?” Priscilla challenged. “You may think you’ve cleverly extricated yourself from any responsibility here but you’re wrong. You can’t believe we’ll sit here while Violet consorts with the likes of you.”

“Gee Mom, why don’t you slap a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest? It’s not like Violet hasn’t dated a hard case before.” Joe added helpfully.

“That’s not being helpful Joe.” Priscilla countered.

“Yeah Joe, shut it.” Fry agreed.

French looked over at Fry wondering who the other hard cases were.

“What I’m saying is that you’re not known for your quality relationships with your waitstaff. I’m not going to sit here and cheer while you’re using my daughter, no matter how much she’s enjoying it.”

“Mom! That’s not fair! You can’t attack French because she has intimacy issues.” Fry was quick to the defense.

“Violet, there’s a difference between having an issue and taking one out on other people.”

“It’s been wonderful sitting here having my shortcomings laid out so clearly before me like this.” French said. “You all have a way of being devastatingly supportive. But I’m not interested in group therapy, and I don’t need a lecture on dating etiquette. I’m not dating your daughter, she knows that. Our relationship is our own business, whatever you may think. In the meantime, I promise to do whatever I can to minimize the contact she has with any of my more dangerous acquaintances. And I’ll do my best to limit her exposure to my less pleasant qualities while I’m at it.”

The room was silent for a moment, then Fry spoke, “Good boundaries, French!”

Joe and Harriet nodded their heads. French gave Fry a wry look. Priscilla shifted in her chair. Howard didn’t look like he’d bought it.

“Perhaps we ought to adjourn this discussion for the time being. French, would you like to join us for dinner?” Howard asked.

“Oh, no Dad, she can’t.” Fry jumped in for the rescue. “She’s, um, going out to Gillman Rock with me.”

“Well,” Priscilla stood. “You’ll need something to eat in either case, so I’ll go fix you something to take.”

Fry looked at French who smiled an exceedingly polite looking smile at her mother and said, “Thank you.” She hoped Priscilla wasn’t inspired by the mention of poison earlier. Not that French thought she’d be eating anything Priscilla made for her. And why would a woman who’d spent the last fifteen minutes chewing her out want to give her food anyway?

Priscilla left. Howard followed. Joe sat staring at French, Harriet distracted him before he could ask her to armwrestle. She hated when he did that.

French looked around the room. She had no idea what she was doing there. Fry got up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You were great. Thanks for sitting through that. To show you how grateful I am, I’ll go a whole shift without asking you any questions. I’ll even do what you say for a while.”

“Oh, save it. I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors by accepting that offer. You’d explode.”

“She’s got your number sis.” Joe said.

“You did well for someone who’s not sat through one of Priscilla’s ‘discussions’ before.” Harriet commented. “I nearly slugged her my first time. She forgets that they’re grown, especially when she’s had a scare like today.”

French had to concede that any other parents probably would have shot her on the spot, not sat down for a ‘dialogue’. Fry excused herself to see if she could get anything French might like to eat included in their package. She wasn’t even sure the food would make it any further than French’s front stoop, but you never knew.

Joe was beginning to worry French. Not that she thought he was checking her out, but he kept looking at her arms. She was still wearing her jacket, so she didn’t know what it was he was thinking. She wondered if he had a fetish. He didn’t look the type, but then she knew well, you could never really know that from looking. She’d had her toes licked one too many times by people you’d never have guessed would be inclined in that direction. Whatever it was, Harriet was on the case and kept re-directing his focus.

They were a funny couple. There was a considerable age difference, but like all of the apparent differences between them it worked. Joe was young and laid back, Harriet was older and tense. Joe wasn’t as small as Fry, but he was still on the short side and fairly thin. Harriet was taller and more on the heavy side. Joe had a short cropped neat haircut, Harriet’s hair appeared untamable.

French distracted herself by looking at the books on the shelves. Fry was taking forever. They read a lot those Sparks. Low bookshelves lined the walls of the room. She wouldn’t be caught dead reading most of them. The volumes covered a wide range of topics, but there was an underlying leftist theme. Lots of books on the labor movement, prison reform, racism, sexism, homophobia. French wondered if they hid the fiction so as not to give the wrong impression to the neighbors. One of the volumes on a bookshelf near her chair caught her eye.

She got up and pulled it out. It was a small volume called, Growing Space: The Building of a Community Center. It was the author’s name that had drawn her attention. Violet Spark. There was a photo on the cover of a building French had seen in town. There was a group of people on the front steps and Fry was in the middle. She was younger and not looking at the camera, but at a child who was pulling on her hand.

French flipped the book over and looked at the back. She quickly gleaned that it wasn’t a history of the Comstock Community Center, but the story of how Fry had located the space and coordinated the funding to create it.

“Pretty neat, huh?” Joe asked.

French looked over and nodded. There was a lot she didn’t know about this Violet Spark.

“She wrote that the year after it opened. Coordinating the Center was what got her through Mom’s illness. That’s Violet, she always turns a situation into something positive. It’s her nature. Mom encouraged her to write the book to let people know that there was something they could do in their own communities to affect change. It also kept Violet from going stir crazy during that winter. She’s got a lot of energy.”

French nodded again. That much she knew.

“You can borrow it if you want. This is more of a lending library than anything else. My folks won’t mind.”

“Thanks, I will.” French tucked the book under her jacket. She was going to do a little research.

Continued in Chapter 42

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