Fry recognized Senator Harding as he walked through the hallway at Bachanal. He was on his way to the kitchen. It was midafternoon and either the light was doing funny things in the restaurant, or he looked very pale.
As much as she wanted to follow him, she had a job to do. She was also pretty sure that he was there to see French.
Can we talk? Jay entered the kitchen looking like hed seen better days. French called for Brian and took Jay back to her office.
French sat at her desk and faced the weary Senator whod sat carefully and was glancing around the room. Id forgotten that you werent keen on decoration.
Hardly useful in a kitchen. I suspect youre not here to critique my interior decorating skills.
He smiled. No. Im here because Im worried about Julie.
And I can do what about that?
Whatever youve got, I want it. Ill pay. I dont expect you to go to all of that trouble for nothing.
Sweet of you. But youre not very good at this sort of thing. I suspect its not one of your strengths. No energy to rustle up some creative proposition? Youre looking awfully tired Jay. Is the stress of your present company beginning to wear on you? Or could it be that after all of these years, theyve finally rubbed off on you? Difficult time sleeping at night knowing the truth, isnt it?
What do you want?
Simple. I want you at dinner tomorrow night. Actually, Ill need you there. As you say, this may be hard on Julia.
You ruined her life once, wasnt that enough?
Im not sure what you mean. I helped her father rid himself of a failing asset. Shed done that and worse to many others. And for the record, the secretary wasnt a big surprise to her.
And you have too much heart. Its a fault as much as a virtue if youre not careful.
Shed let Jay out the back. She knew she should have felt worse for him than she did. However, hed always been aware of Julias doings, so he was no angel himself. He looked like hell, he had dark bags under his eyes, he was sickly pale and there was a slump to his usually squared shoulders. She hoped he didnt keel over in the middle of the night. That would really throw a wrench into her plan. But Jay was solid stock, she figured hed make it to the party.
With a very helpful Monica, French had tracked down the inside source shed been seeking. And you could have knocked her over with a feather if she didnt know her personally. It had taken her a moment to register the name. And she was annoyed to know that someone else had figured out Mitchells propensity for nocturnal rambling. But then, women are such resourceful creatures.
Fry was a great example of that. French couldnt imagine how the woman still had any sanity or goodwill left in her system. Not after the ordeal the community had put her through over getting that community center up and running. Not that Fry complained at all in her book. But French knew her well enough to translate the text. Whenever she spoke about various challenges or peoples fears, French knew that she was talking about assholes who were getting in her way and generally making her life hell. Fry never put it that way, but French knew.
On the battle front the chef was prepared. She had all of the angles covered and the oysters had arrived from Wellfleet. She reasoned that if you were going to spoil someones hard work and scheming, you ought to feed them a good meal. Fry must be rubbing off on her.
She was finishing out the shift when the woman in question appeared before her station.
Come with us to the Dance Bar. Youve planned all you can for tomorrow. Lets have some fun.
Fry didnt know a lot about planning if that was her take on it. We dont need to go out to have fun.
You know what I mean. Come on, itll do you good to get out of your routine and let loose. We can dance and you can meet some friends of mine. Bobbys going to be there, he never goes to those places and hes dying to meet you.
Youll recall the last time I was there with you, you started a riot. If thats your idea of fun, Id rather stay home and catch up on my reading.
We didnt go together and I did not start that fight. Fry insisted.
Like Ive said, trouble follows you.
Well youre proof of that.
They planned to meet at the Dance Bar at twelve and stay long enough to have a drink and say hi.
It had been an entire hour since Fry had seen French at work so when the chef walked through the door of the Dance Bar, Fry launched herself at her and gave her a big kiss. French wasnt sure how she felt, standing in the middle of a bar with Fry attached to her face, so she eased her off and said, Hi.
Hi! Fry took Frenchs hand and started to lead her off to meet her friends. They ran into Bobby whod come from the table and was on his way to the bar.
Its nice to finally meet you. Bobby said after Fry had introduced them.
French smiled and once again eased herself away from Fry who seemed intent on occupying as much of her personal space as possible. She was edgy with everything that was going on and needed some breathing room.
Is there anything I can get you guys? Im on rounds.
Ill have another Corona. Fry requested.
Nothing for me, thanks. French wasnt interested in staying all that long.
Catch you over there. Bobby headed off to fight the crowd at the bar.
French looked down at the woman whod managed to tuck two fingers into her beltloop and was giving her a doughy eyed sort of look. How many beers have you had?
Just one. Fry smiled and tried to give French another hug. She was so huggable.
You could have told me that you get more touchy feely when youre drunk. I would have been prepared.
That wasnt nice. Fry took a step back. Do you have a problem with me touching you? I was under the impression that its the kind of thing you were into.
Of course I like it. Im just not big on you touching me in the middle of a straight bar filled with drunks.
Oh, I can respect that. Most of the people here know Im gay if that makes you feel any better.
No, it doesnt. I dont want you to hang on me thats all.
The more French talked, the worse it sounded to Frys one beer-buzzed brain. Do you have a problem with people knowing youre with me?
No one could have missed that fact, so its a moot point. French was definitely feeling prickly on that issue.
What bothers you more? The fact that someone here might not think youre available? Or that youre not quite dating one of your waitresses? Fry had had it. If French was cautious in public that was one thing, if she was ashamed of her, that was a different kettle of fish.
Come on, lets drop it and go talk with your friends. French didnt feel like having another heart to heart about her emotional shortcomings and what a jerk she was.
Why dont you answer the question?
Because Ive already forgotten what it was. This is stupid. Lets just drop it.
Fine. Ill see you around. Fry turned to go to her friends.
Whats that supposed to mean?
When you can remember the question, well talk. Goodbye. And off she went.
French stood, dumbfounded, with people milling around her. She hadnt seen it coming. She didnt have to take that kind of abuse, not from a little pipsqueak like Fry, she didnt. But there was something preventing her from following her over to her table and giving her a piece of her mind. She needed to think for a minute.
She turned and headed for the bar. One of the advantages of being tall is that getting a drink isnt all that hard to do. Being solidly built doesnt hurt either. She had her drink and was leaning against the wall, plotting. Barbra, whod been in the bar since eleven, hanging out with friends and waiting for Michael to join the party, decided to see what would happen if she talked to the chef outside of work.
Why here in the corner by your lonesome Chef? Lots of folks here you know. Barbra said.
Too many for my taste. Im here to meet Frys friends.
Barbra looked at French, then glanced around the bar. She thought shed seen Fry sitting at a table before. She spotted the group and Fry was seated with them. She looked back at French, puzzled. Shes right over there, didnt you see her?
I saw her.
Barbra looked back over at Fry. Fry glanced in their direction and her expression went a long way to clear up the confusion in Barbras alcohol clouded mind. Whats up? Miss Congeniality looks ticked off.
She got all pissy because I told her to stop hanging all over me. I cant stand when women do that.
Whats the matter French? Does the idea of people knowing youre here with someone you intend to leave with make you uncomfortable? Barbra asked as innocently as she could.
It makes me uncomfortable to think I may suffocate in a room crowded full of drunks with Fry attached to me at the hip. Im not big into touching.
Ha! Thats not what Ive heard, you liar. Barbra was on her third Margarita and was feeling no pain. If French decided to slug her, shed be fine.
I meant in public. Besides, Fry doesnt need my reputation following her around.
Ah, ah. Weve already been down that road remember? You, you, you. Its not all about you. Youre chicken shit, admit it. You let her touch you in public, that slick veneer of brooding independance gets diminished. Youre afraid youre going to look weak if you let one little, itsy-bitsy, tinsy lady touch you in public. You big scary chef, youre chicken.
And youre smashed. How many of those have you had?
Ooh, its about me now, is it? Give it up tough gal. You hurt her feelings again because youre chicken. I think I like saying that.
Ill remind you when youre sober. Well see how much you like saying it then.
Okay tough gal, its a deal. In the meantime, youre chicken if you dont go over there and make up with her. Do you know how many people in this town wish that woman wanted to touch them as much as she wants to touch you? Its not like you got the booby prize Chef. You struck gold when she walked into your restaurant. Youre just too screwed up to see it. Oooh, oooh! Or is it that you dont want your fancy friends up on the Hill to know youre with a townie? Youre such a snot!
You know Barbra, if you werent drunk, Id have rearranged your seating plan by now. I dont take kindly to people telling me where to get off and how I ought to treat people. But in this one case, Im going to make an exception.
Because youre right. French turned and walked away. She really did feel like pounding Barbra. The truth hurt and lashing back was pure reflex for French.
She approached the table of friends Fry had joined. Fry wasnt paying her any attention as she stood there. Some of the other people glanced up and nodded, but no one addressed her. Oooh, shunning, how old New England. She placed a hand on Frys shoulder. Fry turned her head in Frenchs direction, but didnt look up. French brushed Frys cheek with her index finger, but then Fry turned away.
Come dance with me? French asked.
We wouldnt want to give anyone the wrong impression. Maybe wed better not. Fry responded.
Please, come dance with me? French urged.
Fry was caught in a dilemma. Of course she wanted to dance with French, but the woman was sending her scrambled messages and her patience was running thin. All of this was further complicated because French, darn her, had used the magic word. Fry hadnt heard that particular word cross Frenchs lips as yet in their acquaintance. Well, since youve asked so nicely, I dont think that I ought to decline. But that doesnt mean this is over.
Of course not. To herself French said, Perish the thought.
Fry excused herself from the group who gave her surreptitious signs of support.
French had become intimate with Fry in myriad ways over the last week. Theyd done plenty of metaphorical dancing, but this was different. They were surrounded by people on the crowded floor, many of whom didnt seem at all comfortable with them being there together. French didnt care for crowds.
The feeling of Frys hands around her waist mitigated the anxiety caused by her surroundings. She looked down and caught a shy smile on Frys face. It was lovely. French began to sway slowly to the music. Fry moved with her. It was a slow number, but it didnt really matter because they werent paying a lot of attention to it.
French hadnt moved her hands to touch Fry. Something was holding her back. Her need to appear independent? Unattached? Indifferent? Aloof? Why wasnt it simple to do it whether she meant it as meaningful or not? Fry didnt seem to notice and was certainly happy without it.
French began to wonder if she wasnt redundant on the dance floor in any case. Fry could probably do this just as well on her own. She had her eyes closed and was swaying to the music and French could tell she was getting into one of those grooves of hers. Fry was the easy going, personable type who could probably walk onto a dancefloor and start dancing by herself and enjoy it. Not that that would last any length of time. Shed have a swarm of offers to join in in a flash. People would probably climb over each other to get at that swaying little sensualist.
French looked down again and caught Fry, eyes still closed, with a broad smile on her face. She also noticed that somehow shed wrapped her own arms snugly around the small woman. She wasnt sure when that had happened, but it seemed like a good idea.
Michael had finally joined the party. Hed been busy helping his unit put out a brush fire started by a gang of overzealous marshmellow roasting preteens. He and Barbra watched the dancing couple from a table. So you have to watch that kind of thing all of the time at work? He had a newfound respect for his longtime and easily aroused girlfriend.
Yup. Barbra affirmed. She would have rolled her eyes too, but couldnt manage it.
Im surprised Im still able to walk.
After dancing and chatting with some of the people they knew, theyd rejoined the table of Frys friends. They were a group of young townies. There was Bobby and four women French didnt know, but they all seemed to have an idea who she was.
So French, Bobby started. What are your intentions toward my cousin?
I intend to take her home where she can sleep it off in a bed and give my lap a break. She was referring to Fry whod passed out in her lap with her arms slung around Frenchs neck. Someone should have warned her that Fry was such a cheap date. Shed barely started her second beer.
I mean, you know. Once the summers over and she goes back to school. You guys going to keep... whatever it is youre doing?
French was beginning to feel uncomfortable. There were three other eager faces looking at her from around the table. We havent discussed it Bobby, is this something you ask all of the women she hangs out with?
We take care of Violet. Sarah, one of the three interjected. Sometimes she needs a little help.
Im glad to know youre concerned, but I dont think were talking about the same woman. French said.
You havent met some of her old girlfriends. Megan, the woman sitting next to Sarah added.
What were they like?
All pretty different. Except usually they screwed up big time because they were sorry losers. Violets a great person, and people who need a lot of affection are drawn to her. But its not always the best deal for her, you know? Megan was giving French the eye. French had been given this look enough to know exactly what she meant. She raised an eyebrow in response.
A groggy voice spoke from the vicinity of Frenchs shoulder. Aw cmon guys, give her a break. My parents have already put her through the ringer.
Fry leaned back unsteadily. Besides, she said, taking Frenchs face in her hands. Shes so cute when shes sorry. Look at this face. Shes so cute.
It looked like Fry was leaning forward to kiss her, but she lost consciousness half way to her goal. French got a forehead to her chin instead.
She could have taken Fry home to Spark Manor, but she brought her to her own place instead. That way, she wouldnt have to walk into that house to face those people with their daughter hanging off of her, three sheets to the wind. She didnt care how old Fry was, that wouldnt help her own case with the Sparks one bit.
She tucked Fry in and undressed. Fryd been mumbling amiably to no one in particular the entire way home. At least French didnt think Fry was talking to her. Most of the time she was unintelligible and once she made French stop so that she could ask a cat how it got so small.
French got into bed and turned off the light.
French? Frys voice was sleepy and slurred.
Good night Fry.
I dont think that cat liked me.
Maybe it was having a bad night. Why dont you try to get some sleep? French thought cats rarely liked it when anyone pinched their cheeks. No matter how small they were.
Can I touch you?
I think weve cleared that one up Fry.
Good. Fry rolled over and laid her head on Frenchs shoulder. Sorry Im such a cheap date.
A few hours later French was woken by a stirring in the bed next to her. It was daybreak and a cool gray light filtered into the room. She looked over at Fry who was mumbling and making distressed noises.
French propped herself on her elbow and began to think through a strategy for gently waking the deep sleeper at her side. Thats when she saw the tears streaming down Frys face. French moved over and positioned herself. She took Fry in her arms and began to rock and soothe her, while quietly calling to her. Fry began to struggle in her arms and push her away. She protested several times before she became conscious, and froze.
French had begun to worry that shed given Fry a shock. She was lying there staring at her in the dim light, not saying a word.
Sorry. Fry finally said quietly. She was totally embarrassed.
Its okay. Were you having a bad dream?
I guess. Fry moved away a bit more. She had a feeling of impending abandonment and in her half wakeful state, she moved away from the source of her pain.
Want to talk about it?
No, thanks. Im probably nervous about dinner tonight. I get these dreams sometimes, usually when Im anxious. Fry began to wake more and get some perspective from the dream shed been so caught up in. She saw the worry on Frenchs face and reached out to touch her. She was solid and she was there.
French leaned into the touch. Fry wasnt even two feet away and shed almost felt alone when shed moved off. Maybe you should try to go back to sleep.
Maybe. Fry agreed with her mouth, but her body was getting ideas of its own. She leaned over and kissed French. French kissed her right back.
Continued in Chapter 44