Authors: Berry, C.J.
All The Way
About The Author
All The Way
A Sarah Kinsely Story Book #1
Copyright©2014 By C.J. Berry
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places or events are entirely coincidental.
For My M.
Without you there would be no love story to tell.
New job?Check.New place to live?Check.New life?Double check.
Standing in the front yard of the 1940’s remodeled bungalow that was now officially mine to call home, watching the movers huff and puff my things through the rain, I struggled to fight back the tears. No more planning, no more dreaming, no more hoping. There was only time for healing, growing, changing. There was only time for living now.
“Excuse me ma’am,” One of the movers said, “We just have your couch left to move. Where would you like it?”
“Could you put it in the back living room please?” I said.
Now, before you get the wrong idea about me, you should know that I only hired movers because they came as part of my “relocation package”. I’m not the kind of girl who is afraid to lift a few heavy boxes of my own junk and admittedly it was a bit embarrassing having someone else pack up my underwear. True, I didn’t have to hire theCollege Hunks Moving Junkcrew, but since it was my choice I thought I might enjoy the view while the job got done.
Frankly, I deserved it.
I don’t want to sound like a bitch but finding my ex boyfriend naked in the arms of another naked man does entitle me to at least not have to haul my own fridge out of our apartment by myself - even if he still does “want to be friends”.
I stood in the rain waiting for the last of my things to be hauled into my new place. It was going to be an adjustment living alone after spending 3 of my “prime” years living with someone else but I was ready. At least in this house there would be no more lies, no more deceit and no more drama. When I got the ‘thumbs up’ from Jake, one of the hunks moving my junk, I very ceremoniously turned the nob of my front door and entered the labyrinth of boxes and furniture.
This was my dream home on so many levels. The neighborhood was close-in to the downtown area. I could ride my bike to work if I wanted and just two blocks away was an entire parking lot full of food carts. The hipsters gathered just a few streets down on Hawthorne which meant prime people watching and the house itself was like one giant canvas waiting for me to decorate and adorn.
For a 25 year old woman like me it was more than I could have ever hoped for.
The remodeled hardwood floors felt cool and soothing on my sore feet as I stepped out of my rain boots and went sock footed through the place. The kitchen was my favorite part. It had been recently remodeled by a local company that specialized in sustainable design. The counter-tops were made from reclaimed wood that they pulled from an old barn and the kitchen sink was white ceramic. The cupboards alone held more square footage than my entire apartment in New York had and I didn’t have to share it with anyone. It was all mine.
But again, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. I may sound like this style of living is something normal for me - but it isn’t. If anything, I am shocked that I somehow landed upon such good fortune. If it wasn’t for a good friend who knew someone who knew someone, I never would have landed this new job. If I never would have landed this new job, they would never have given me such a nice “relocation package”. Without the “relocation package” I would still be back in New York living in my rat infested apartment paying three times what I could afford working at a job that payed half what I was worth. If I was still living in that rat infested dump that means I would still be living with Jason. If I was still living with Jason then that meant I was still living a lie. A twisted, hurtful lie that we both danced around for years.
For some reason the housing gods had decided to bless me with good fortune and a big enough check to make a down payment on my dream home. I guess sometimes the winds change and you get exactly what you want.
I only had two major items to check off my list that first day in Portland. The first, move into my house.Check.The second, meet everyone at the office.
My new boss had sent me an email early last week asking that I stop by the office when I got settled. Wanting to make a good impression I decided that I would stop by my first day in town. If that didn’t show commitment to the new job I wasn’t sure what else I could do.
I unpacked my bike, rode down to the streetcar station, took the street car across the river and into the Pearl district. In total, it took me 15 minutes to get to work and coming over the river I caught my first glimpse of downtown. If this was my morning commute, I was going to be just fine.
I made my way to the Pearl District with surprisingly little incident and spotted the building with large black letters that said, “Abraams and Snider” and pushed through the large glass doors.
I was greeted by a receptionist whom I imagined worked nights as a burlesque dancer. She had two full sleeves of tattoos, large black gauge earrings, jet black hair done up in the style of a 50’s house wife and lipstick so red it would have made firemen jealous.
“Hello, welcome to Abraams and Snider. May I help you?” She said.
“Yes, please. My name is Sarah Kinsley and I am the new girl. I mean, I am going to be starting work here in a few days. I was asked to come stop by and say hello. Or actually, I am supposed to say I have a meeting with Stephanie.”
Forming coherent sentences isn’t really my thing.
The receptionist smiled.
“Well Sarah, welcome to the team,” She handed me a stack of papers. “If you could fill these out and return them to me we can get you all taken care of.”
I started towards the chairs in the lobby but heard the receptionist speak again.
“Yes, of course. I will.” She said.
I spun around.
“What was that?” I said.
“Sorry?” She said.
“I didn’t catch what you just said. I am sorry, that was rude of me.”
The receptionist stared at me.
I stared back.
My powers of awkwardness had already begun to take hold of her and would soon be consuming this entire building. What little hope I had of not beingthat girlagain slipped away into oblivion when she turned her head and pointed to the bluetooth headset hidden in her ear.
“I was just talking to Stephanie. She said to send you up once you complete the paperwork.” The receptionist said.
“Ok, thank you.” I said, mortified that I hadn’t even made it past the gatekeeper and I had already committed an act worthy of watercooler fodder.
Just another day in the life.
After filling out my emergency contact information for the umpteenth time and double checking that my new address was correct, I returned the packet of paper work to the receptionist and was allowed entrance to the inner building.
Abraams and Snider was a crazy, inventive and competitive digital marketing firm that had it’s roots firmly planted in the Portland soil, both literally and culturally. The walls were adorned with local art, the coffee stations were stocked with local brews and the corner offices has faux polar bear skin rugs. It was all very trendy and I suppose inspiring.
After making a few lefts when I should have gone right I found the office of my new boss. The plaque on her office door said, “Make Art Or Die” and showed a rather graphic scene involving nudity, a chicken head and some blob I couldn’t make out all arranged in a sort of collage. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be intimidated or inspired. I felt both.
I knocked on the door.
“Come in.” The voice said on the other side.
I opened the door and was surprised to find a woman lying on the floor reading a magazine. Her shoes were missing, her desk was a mess and she wasn’t alone. A man who looked to be in his early fifties was sitting in a chair perpendicular to her. He was reading a magazine too. They appeared to have been in conversation, but I hadn’t heard them when I was standing outside the door.
They both peaked above their magazines when I walked in.
“Who are you?” The woman asked.
“Sarah Kinsley. I am new here.” I said, still processing the scene.
“Oh, right the new copywriter. C’mon in. Have a seat.” The woman scrambled to her feet, pulled her black skirt back down and made her way to the other side of her desk.
The man didn’t say anything. He just stared.
“Hi.” I said.
He didn’t say anything back so I just sat down in the only available seat in the room - the one right next to him.
“Well, I am Peyton Samson, assistant creative director. You and I will be working closely together on projects, and let me tell you we have plenty of work for you to do.” She began rummaging through the things on her desk looking for something.
I was as confused as she looked lost.
“I am sorry, I think I might have the wrong office.” I said.
The man chuckled and asked, “Why is that?”
“I am supposed to report to Stephanie.” I said. I knew that my face was turning red.
The man smiled.
The woman behind the desk stopped searching and the both of them started to laugh aloud.
“Oh god, you are hilarious.” The woman said through giggles. “My name is Stephanie but I go by Peyton.”
“It’s because she is a Nazi.” The man said. They both burst out laughing again.
My confusion reached new levels.
“Oh don’t worry Sarah. We are just a bunch of jokesters around here. What he means is that my initials spell S.S., you know like a Nazi stormtrooper or something. I prefer to go by Peyton. That way my initials spell out that thing you wish you would have said in your letter but didn’t think to add until the very end. The very special part.”
“Spoken like a true copywriter.” The man said.
“And don’t you forget it Brandon.” Peyton said.
“Well, I better leave you two to it.” The man stood up, shook my hand, jokingly told me that Peyton was the worst boss in the world and left.
“Tell me about yourself.” Peyton said as soon as Brandon was out the door.
“Where should I start? I just got out of a bad relationship and when I saw that Abraams & Snider was hiring for a position located on the other end of the country I took it.” I said. It felt good to get that off my chest.
“Wow. That bad huh?”
“Only because I can’t really be all that mad.”
Peyton looked confused.
“I found him with another man.” I said for the first time out loud.
Peyton’s mouth dropped open.
“Yea.” I said.
“Not to pry, but how does that work exactly?”
I wasn’t sure what she was referring to and I wasn’t about to give her a biology lesson so I just looked down at my hands.
“I’m sorry, probably none of my business.” She said.
For the next half hour Peyton and I made small talk. She told me about her life, I told her a little more about mine. She outlined the rules, expectations and projects I could expect to jump in on. She talked about company culture and told me who the office bitches were. We both laughed at that.
Before I left she said, “We are really glad that you are here Sarah.”
I told her I felt the same and walked out of her office. I said goodbye to the burlesque receptionist, got back on my bike, took the streetcar over the river and walked in the doors of my new house.
That night as I lay on my mattress on the floor of my living room I cried a single tear and promised myself it would be the last I would shed for everything that I left behind in New York.
I only wish someone would have warned me about the weeks that were to follow.
The following week was a whirlwind of orientations, meetings and paperwork. I showed up for work at 7am every day and wouldn’t make it home until 8 or 9pm. By Friday I was spent.
I was anxious for the weekend to rest and relax, but knew that a mountain of unpacking still needed to get done. I considered hiring theCollege Hunksagain to come help me unpack. Curling up on the couch with a glass of wine while muscle bound “hunks” did some heavy lifting within view didn’t sound like a bad weekend at all. I wondered if I could convince one of them to rub my shoulders for tips.
Lost in my own fantasy and partially asleep from a weeks worth of exhaustion I didn’t even see her standing beside my desk.
“Hello Sarah.” She said.
“Oh hi Peyton. I’m sorry, I was just-”
“Just falling asleep on the job?” She asked with a smile on her face.
“You caught me.”
“Yes I did and now I am going to punish you. You are coming out with me tonight and a few of the other gals in the office. You’ve had a rough first week.”
She didn’t sound like she was asking and it did sound fun. I just wished I didn’t have so much to unpack still.
“You know, I was really hoping to get some time to unpack.” I said.
“Nonsense. You can unpack when you are an old maid and have nothing better to do. Since your boobs aren’t sagging nearly enough for old-maid status you don’t qualify for shut-in weekends just yet. You are coming out with us tonight and that is an order.”
I smiled. She was persuasive.
“Ok, I am in.”
At 7pm I met Peyton, the receptionist and one other girl in front of a gritty strip joint in downtown Portland calledMary’s. A half-lit neon sign blinked half caring if patrons came or went. There was a sad mix of done-up girls and lonely looking men coming and going. It was surprisingly busy for looking like a disease infested black box in a random part of downtown.
Peyton introduced me to the girls. Angela, who worked directly with clients of the firm in accounts looked like she had just stepped out of a JCrew catalog. Her shoulder length sandy hair curled slightly as it rested against her shoulders. She wore thin black-framed glasses that hung on the end of her thin nose. When she said hello she had bent her nose down and looked up at me over the top of her frames. Being almost a foot shorter than even I was I was impressed that she was able to find clothes that looked so posh and adult. I reminded myself to jot her down as a potential shopping asset in the near future. If she could find clothes like that to fit her tiny body, who knew what magic she could work for me.
Lizzy, who I already knew as the receptionist, had also joined our little crew and looked exactly as you might imagine a burlesque receptionist would look on a Friday night standing in front of a strip joint. Her Levi blue knee-length showed just enough cleavage to expose the twin eagle tattoos that adorned her intimidatingly large breasts. Her lipstick was a dark red, almost black, and she had a red bow in her hair that made her look like a modern Rosey the Riveter. Her white gauge earrings dangled in ears as she talked.
Peyton outclassed us all. She was a high powered exec at an up and coming digital marketing firm and her clothes showed it. An all black dress hugged her thin body accenting all the right curves and her black clutch sparkled in the lights of downtown. She was the only one in heels and didn’t seem to mind that, compared to the rest of us, she looked overdressed.I want to look like her when I grow up.
We said our cordial hellos and then curiosity got the best of me.
“We aren’t going inside are we?” I said anticipating a night atMary’sshared with strangers.
The girls all laughed.
“Seriously Sarah, you are hilarious.” Peyton said.
Without answering, all three girls started across the street. I ran to catch up.
To my delightful surprise we entered an Asian fusion restaurant in which all women were fully clothed. No stripper poles, no bad music and no fried chicken. Just low lighting, the smell of garlic and ginger, and plenty of classy, beautiful downtown types quietly chatting about whatever they considered important in their lives. I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Did you know,” Angela said to me, “That Portland has the highest per capita strip joints in the country?”
I didn’t. After the work I put in this last week at “Abraams and Snider” I considered asking how much the strip joints paid.
“Don’t believe that for a minute.” Lizzy said slapping Angela’s arm.
Peyton shook her head.
“Yea, never believe the people in accounts. That is rule number uno.”
Lizzy and Peyton smirked. Angela scoffed.
The waiter brought our menus, we ordered drinks and spent the evening gabbing about this and that. I was happy that Peyton had basically forced me to come. The boxes could wait, she was right. This was fun and I needed it.
“Is this one of your regular spots?” I asked trying to make small talk.
“Yea,” Peyton said, “Brandon, the creative director you met on your first day, went to high school with the owner. If Lizzy wears a low cut enough dress we can usually get the waiters to give us free food. They know us here.” With that she took a long sip on her water and then snapped her fingers in the air.
A man with a full beard wearing all black approached our table.
“Oh ladies, not you again.” He was the most burly, effeminate gay man I had ever seen in real life. Not even New York could lay claim to the gay class of burly logger-man.Only in Portland could such a rare and beautiful specimen be found.
“Hey Marcus, what can you do for us tonight?” Lizzy said pushing her arms together and nearly squeezing her breasts out of her dress.
“Ha, girl you know that shit doesn’t work on me. If it ain’t sausage I ain’t cooking!” He gave Peyton a hi-five.
I liked Marcus.
“Go get the chef. I want to bust his balls for what happened last week.” Peyton was looking at a menu trying to keep a straight face.
“Damn girl. You still mad about that? Ok, I will go fetch him for your highness.” Marcus twirled away and made his way to the kitchen. Even from our table we could hear his voice rise above the low hum of the restaurant as he called for the chef in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but smile.
After about 10 minutes Marcus returned, a sullen look on his face.
“I am so sorry to trouble you all-” he said.
“But you are out of everything we ordered?” Peyton asked offhanded.
“The chef has asked that you all come back to the kitchen.”
Lizzy and Angela shot glances of surprise towards each other.
Marcus looked as confused as we did.
“Hell yes, we are going right now.” Lizzy tried to scoot and shove her way past me. I half fell out of the booth.
“Wait,” Angela said, “Why does he want us to come back there?”
The waiter shrugged his shoulders.
“We are going.” Peyton said.
This is why hanging out with your boss can be bad. You can’t say no when you really want to. I briefly considered trying to protest but realized I held little equity amongst the girls and was just as likely to get left behind. This was no time to try and stand out.Just follow the lemmings over the cliff for one night and everything would be fine.
We followed Marcus through the restaurant.
Marcus pulled us through the double doors that led to the kitchen and planted us in a corner out of the way of traffic. The aromas that had been teasing our pallet and causing our stomachs to growl earlier were stronger here in the kitchen. Cooks in white coats were whirling, twirling and flipping their pans. Fire danced and grew as orders were shouted from across the kitchen towards each other. The repetitive noise of knives chopping had a certain rhythm that combined everything together and made me feel like dancing. Or maybe it was just the booze. Either way, I felt a strange urge to grab Marcus and Tango across the kitchen.
“Please wait here while the chef finds a moment.” Marcus said and left.
I was wide eyed as I watched the cooks tending to their craft. Their motions were so fluid, so precise. They all had that calm look in their eye even though the kitchen itself looked like a mad house. I considered the obscene amounts of time I had spent over the years watching the Cooking Channel and realized how very little I actually knew about kitchen life. It looked much different in real life.
“Damn. I want to take that one home.” Peyton said pointing to the cook standing at the head of the kitchen. He wasn’t standing over a stove but he seemed to be the one in charge, barking orders and handling tickets.
“Well I want that one.” Angela pointed to the muscle bound cook who was gently laying cuts of fish on a hot pan. We could see the oil popping and cracking but he seemed unphased to use his hand to place the fish in the pan.
“Hmm, I would take any of them home. Find me a man who can cook and I am in heaven.” Lizzy licked her lips and thrust her hips.
We all laughed.
Just as Angela began to get restless and suggest we go somewhere else, the chef arrived.
His hair was just long enough to be pulled back and just dark enough to shine against the bright florescent kitchen lights. He wore thick framed glasses, but took them off to shake our hands. His hand was rough, and it nearly wrapped entirely around mine. A towel was flung over his shoulder and he wore a dark gray chef’s coat that hugged his body in all the right places.
It may have been the alcohol, it could have been the atmosphere, but I was certain that he had lingered a bit longer in shaking my hand than the others. I could have sworn that he gave a little extra squeeze before releasing. And if I hadn’t emptied so many glasses just minutes before I would have testified in court that he gave me a little side smirk.
But one can never be sure about these things with lightening courage coursing through the veins.
“Thank you very much for coming.” He said, his voice smooth and deep.
“Well, thank you for having us.” Peyton said as Lizzy gave her a little nudge with her elbow.
I had this funny feeling that we were all in high school again and the star quarterback had just waltzed into our slumber party - but like I said; alcohol. Either way, we were giddy and he played right along.
He showed us aroundhiskitchen. Introducing the cooks, talking about what each station did in thelineand at every station he asked,insisted, that we sample something being cooked at the station.
I tried the smoked salmon in lemon-herb soy glaze, the fresh truffles and pickled garlic. I would have hated the pickled garlic except he hand fed me the little devils and I just couldn’t resist. I had to haveanother.
At just about every turn our four bodies would get jammed in a corner. The kitchen didn’t seem to be made for people but for ovens and stoves and when it was time for us to move on to the next part of the tour the chef would have to wiggle his body past ours to get out of the trap we had made. Lizzy could barely contain her delight when he would rub past her. I tried my best to steer clear. As hot as he was, the last thing I needed in my life at that moment was to be touched by a man. Especially a man likethat.
He took us to an area of the kitchen where beef was being prepared. He said something unintelligible to the cook and took the knife from his hand. He made quick slices of the beef and laid it gently in the pan. The sound and smell of searing meat had me nearly drooling on the floor. After a very short time he pulled the beef off of the pan with his bare hands and laid it on a white plastic cutting board. He effortlessly ran the knife back and forth, back and forth against the meat until he had enough shards for each of us. Not even Gordon Ramsey made cutting meat look so damn sexy.
We tasted the meat. It was soft and flavorful.
“What did you put it in?” Angela asked still chewing, savoring each morsel.
“Love.” The chef said and walked on to the next station.
They say that if you can’t handle the heat in the kitchen that you should get out and normally I would have gone running out the back door but the girls kept ushering me along.
I had to stay.
After the chef saw that we were all properly flirted with and fed, he ushered us into a small back room which looked something like a private office with a portion of the wall knocked out so you could see the kitchen as you ate.
“Please have a seat.” He said.
There was a little table for four attached to the wall and four little chairs which we promptly sat our behinds in.
“I will be with you in a moment, but please enjoy the view.” He turned on his heel and left.
We giggled as he left the room. We could see the entire kitchen from where we sat. It was like watchingCirque Du Soleil. Cooks were calling out to each other in a coded language I couldn’t make out. Each cook seemed to have his or her own style as they chopped ingredients, plated food and danced around the kitchen. The chef stood at the head of it all tasting, inspecting and controlling. I couldn’t help myself but be attracted to his ability to command his ship. I found his sense of control in all that chaos calming, assuring and even sexy. Every once in a while he would bite the end of a pencil he used to mark off tickets and I felt the room spin slightly.
I shook my head and tried to direct my gaze to the dishwasher.Now is not the time to be getting all hot and heavy over some random guy.Luckily, there wasn’t anything sexy about a machine that scraped used food off of dishes. It worked.
Lizzy was the first to put words together into a coherent sentence.
“Oh.My.God. That guy is spicy hot.” She said as she grasped her head with her hands and pulled her cheeks.
“I want his body on my body.” Angela said without even cracking a smile.
Peyton was barely able to keep her watery eyes open she was laughing so hard. The three girls exchanged a few variations on what they already said and then Angela paused.
“What about you Sarah? What do you think about our old friend the chef?”
Silence. The other two girls stopped laughing. Only the clanging of the pots and pans in the kitchen could be heard now.
I knew to tread carefully here. I was the new girl. This wasn’t just a question about what I thought of the hunky guy who just took us on a personal tour of his kitchen, this was a vetting process and I was unprepared.
Instead of saying what I really thought abouttheirchef, I said,
“He seemed nice. His kitchen is really big.”
At this the girls lost it. Every possible innuendo about kitchen size and male anatomy that could be made was made. Angela nearly passed out from laughing so hard. I felt embarrassed, but was happy to see that I had passed the test.
Whatever this mysterious chef had planned for us that evening I was excited to be sharing the experience with these girls.
We weren’t sitting there long when the chef returned, plates balancing precariously on his arms. I knew they were full sized dinner plates but the chef’s forearms were so wide that they didn’t even teeter as he swung his body through the door and delivered the food to our table.
He placed each plate, a different dish, one by one in front of us.
“I have cooked you each something very special,” he explained, “Off the menu.” He winked.
He proceeded to give us each a rundown of the dish sitting in front of us.
For Angela he prepared a mushroom udon with oyster sauce and sauteed vegetables.
“A sturdy dish, full of solid flavor and deeply satisfying. Whenever I am in need of a dependable meal, this is what I make myself.” He said to her.
For Lizzy, he had made a bowl of sweet beef ramen in a spicy broth topped with buttered corn and green onion.
“This is an experimental dish. It is zesty, fun and a crowd pleaser. Not something I would feed my grandmother, but I love it even more because of that.” Lizzy took a deep breath over the broth’s spicy aroma and licked her lips.
Petyon’s dish looked like a piece of architecture straight out of Japan. Cuts of Kobe beef, teriyaki chicken and roasted marinated vegetables sat atop steaming jasmine rice.
“Sometimes you want the best, and most of the time you just want it all.” He winked at Peyton as he made his way around the table to my seat.
I looked at my dish. It looked like curry, but smelled sweet and fragrant like it had been dowsed in honey butter. I did my best to wait my turn and not just dive into it headfirst. My stomach was still growling with hunger.
“For you,” he said as he leaned over putting his head near mine so we were both looking at the dish, “I have created something soft and sweet. Something that I learned from my travels overseas. It is my secret recipe for chicken tiki masala. There is only one other person on earth who knows the recipe and she lives in a rural village in India so I feel pretty confident in saying you won’t try anything like this again in your entire life.”
I felt my heart pound faster. Suddenly, the girls were looking at me and my dish instead of the chef and his body. I felt like I might pass out. As much as I was trying to enjoy the moment memories of the pain that I had left behind in New York flooded back into the front of my mind and my body was instantly overcome with feelings of painful anxiety. I was having a panic attack. I didn’t want his attention. I didn’t want to play this flirting game anymore. I certainly didn’t want Mr. Chef Suave over here to ruin my chances of any type of peace and harmony back at work. These girls seemed really into him. To me he was just the guy who cooked my food.
“It looks lovely.” I said, keeping my head down and eyes pointed directly at my “once in a lifetime” meal trying not to pass out, freak out or walk out.
The others began eating their meals as well. The only sounds being the moans of oral pleasure that come from eating the best meal you have ever tasted cooked by a man you would have no problem sleeping with if he would but ask. At one point, I thought Lizzy may have been putting it on a little heavy with her moaning, but the chef seemed to enjoy it. After he saw that we were enjoying our meals he left.
“I am sorry ladies, but I have my kitchen to run. I hope that you don’t mind.”
Before we could respond he was gone.
The moans stopped and all three pairs of eyes were on me. I kept shoveling the tiki masala into my mouth. I could hardly taste it, I felt so embarrassed. Each bite that entered my mouth caused me to gag. The growling of my stomach had turned into a painful knotting. I had come to get used to that feeling of anxiety. I didn’t like it, but I was used to it.
I wanted this dish to be as delicious as I knew that it probably was but there was more to it than just taste. This was a dish with meaning and I didn’t want to eat it.
“So.” Peyton set her fork down and put her arm around me.
“So, what?” I said, refusing to look at her.
“So, what are you gonna do aboutthat?” She pointed to the dish now half empty.
Almost as soon as the words left my mouth Angela and Lizzy were up in arms.
“What do you mean nothing?”
“Are you crazy?”
“She must be crazy.”
“Peyton you hired another crazy one.”
“Jesus Peyton don’t you vet these people anymore? How are we supposed to have any fun around here?”
Suddenly, Angela put up her hand. A look of shock across her face.
“Omigod Sarah, I just realized how insensitive we have been. I am so sorry, I didn’t even think to ask.” She said.
“Ask what?” I said, curious that the harassment had stopped so suddenly.
“There isn’t really a delicate way to ask, and it really isn’t any of my business, but,” she paused and shot a quick glance to Peyton then back at me, “are you a lesbian? Is that why you aren’t going to do anything about that guy?”
“Jesus Christ,” Peyton slapped her forehead with her hand, “You are going to get me fired Angela.”
“What? I just need to know for future situations you know? I totally understand if you went lesbian after what your ex did. I totally get it. I am totally cool with it, I just-”
“Shut up Angela.” Lizzy said studying me for a reaction.
The night couldn’t get any more awkward.
Realizing that Peyton had disclosed what I thought were private comments in our first meeting my mind spun trying to think of a way to salvage what reputation that I may have had left. In a way I was glad Peyton had shared my story. I needed to laugh about it with someone. If I played this situation out with some class I may even get a permanent spot in these girls’ little group.
I sighed, crumpled my napkin and said,
“No. I like penis, just like my ex does.”
The girls didn’t know how to react. They held it in as long as they could but the alcohol got the best of them and they burst into crying laughter. Peyton flashed a genuine smile and that familiar feeling that comes when you realize you may have just made a lifelong friend fell gently into my mind.
“You really are a hoot Sarah.” Peyton said as she cut a slice of Kobe beef.
“Well, if you aren’t going to do anything about him, I will.” Lizzy said and left the table.
“Now you’ve gone and done it.” Angela said as she twirled an udon noodle around her fork.
Minutes later Lizzy returned with the chef in tow. Literally, she was pulling him into the room. He was yelling for a waiter as he entered the room.
“I am so sorry,” he said, “I didn’t realize that you were ready to go so soon. I will have my waiter come show you out and clear your table.”
Peyton and I exchanged confused glances. I certainly wasn’t ready to go. If the gods were going to force me to keep living after that embarrassing little moment earlier I wanted to reap the rewards and finish savoring the incredible dish that lay before me.
“No chef, it isn’t that at all. It’s Sarah. She has something she would like to say to you.”
I almost choked on a piece of chicken. A wave of heat overcame me, like my head had just been rammed into one of the industrial ovens inhiskitchen. I didn’t say anything.
For the umpteenth time this evening, only the sounds of the kitchen could be heard in that little room. All eyes were on me.
“I am sorry - Sarah was it?” The chef stepped over to my chair and put his hand on my forearm. My stomach flipped and a tingle shot through the floor of the restaurant up my legs. I tried not to, but I shivered.
“I am sorry,” he said in a deep chocolate voice, “if you weren’t satisfied with your meal. I can prepare you something else entirely if you wish.”
He was close to me now, a little too close. Marcus came running into the room. Four sets of eyes were now watching the chef and I as he leaned in. I didn’t press him back or ask him to move because I didn’t want him to. To be honest, it had been a while since a man had leaned that close to me who wasn’t also riding the same bus or trying to squeeze past in an overcrowded grocery store.
He was so close to me that I could smell him. A mix of shampoo and kitchen spices. I bit the inside of my lip.
I didn’t know why I wasn’t resisting. Just minutes earlier my body had gone into anxiety mode when he tried his little “secret recipe” move on me. There was something annoying and wonderful about being this close to him. I could almost feel his body heat radiating against mine.
“Well,” Peyton said, “Do you want him to cook you up something different or did you want to say something else?” She was being my boss now, trying to move things along.
I cleared my throat.
“This is fine. There must have been some misunderstanding, I just wanted to know how much we would be paying for our meals.” It was the best I could do considering.
Angela tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at me but said nothing. She didn’t have to.
The chef stood, ironed out the front of his jacket with both hands revealing that he wasn’t only a good cook, but he was a fit cook as well.
“I am sorry that I hadn’t made that clear before. The meal is on the house. My guests are always free.” He rolled up a sleeve of his coat revealing that he, like Lizzy, was tattooed. His were of the geometric nature, not tribal, his were more interesting. He flexed his hand and the muscles in his arm made the little geometric shapes move like boats on the open ocean.
There was something sexy about seeing his arm ripple his tattoo like that. I suddenly felt very distinctly the four other people in the room. Their eyes felt like they were burning into my flesh. I felt suffocated. The anxiety returned. I couldn’t handle the heat, it was time for me to get out of the kitchen.
“You know what,” I said standing up, “I actually do think I am ready to go.”
“What?” Angela said.
“Yea, I think I may have had one too many glasses and I don’t feel too well. I should probably get going.” My hip brushed up against his body as I squeezed past the chef blocking my escape. It lasted less than a second but even in that short time I could feel the firmness that he was. I didn’t see the girls’ reactions, I was too busy trying to make my way out and too busy thinking about my hip brushing against his body.
I had almost made it all the way to the streetcar stop just a block away from the restaurant when I heard a voice calling my name.
“Sarah!” Came the shout.
“Oh shit.” I mumbled under my breath as I realized who it was. I turned around slowly, hoping I just didn’t recognize the voice correctly.
“I had to bring you your leftovers.” It was Mr. Chef Suave toting a white paper bag with what I guessed was the half eaten piece of heaven he had served me earlier.
“Youhadto?” I sure can be a bitch sometimes.
He frowned, scratched his head and said, “Well, no but I wanted to see you once more before you took off.”
I didn’t say anything. Icouldn’tsay anything. The last thing on earth I wanted was to meet somebody in this town.
Portland was supposed to be my escape from men.
Still, there we were, standing on a random street corner in the heart of downtown Portland. The city lights casting shadows on our faces that made it very hard to be so defiant and sure of my decisions. The alcohol was really swooning in my stomach by now and the moment was getting away from me. Some part of me wanted him to just grab me and kiss me right there in the street to see what he really was all about.
“I would like to see you again,” He said.
My knees betrayed me and I nearly reached out to grab him for balance. Whatever magic he was performing was working. I gathered myself and willed my body to obey.
“Well, I don’t want to see you again.” I said and clasped the doggy bag from his hand. I cheered myself for somehow making the words come out.
I turned on a heel and walked down the street not entirely sure where I was going. I probably looked like a complete idiot walking east towards the waterfront when I should have been walking west to get back on the streetcar. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get away. I just wanted to get back to my new house so I could curl up on my floor and forget.
Forget him. Forget tonight. Forget New York. Forget everything.
Abandon your boss and coworkers on your first night out in townandrefuse one of the hottest guys you have ever met in your life all within the first week of your new life?Check.
I woke up the next morning feeling like the whole of Portland had taken a nap on my head. My body ached worse than it did when I ran my first marathon and my mouth was so parched I could barely swallow. The alcohol had worn off now and my head was clear.Logical Sarahhad returned from her overnight vacation.
The worst part about waking up that Saturday morning was the sudden feeling of regret that welled up in my chest as I realized the true ramifications of what had happened the night before.
Laid out before me like a red carpet reserved for the highest echelons of the celebrity rich was a man, ready and willing to woo me into submission. He cooked, he was handsome and dammit he was in to me, which was a breath of fresh air for someone like me. But I tossed it aside, and for what? So I could mope some more? God knows it had been a good long while since my sex life had been anything to be proud of.
Sure, he was a little forward and yes, I was incredibly embarrassed that he picked me out of the lot to cook his secret recipe, but had I just passed up a golden opportunity for rebound sex? Yes. Yes, I had. The realization depressed me.
But that wasn’t even the worst part.
I had left my boss and the girls in the lurch while I ran off and had a minor anxiety meltdown. It was beyond embarrassing. It was mortifying, humiliating, terrible and probably the beginning of the end for me at Abraams and Snider.
What was it that Angela had said?“Don’t you vet these people anymore? How are we supposed to have any fun around here?”
I spent the morning trying to unpack my things. It was no use. I could only think about last night, about the chef, about the girls. Everything I tried to take out of boxes just ended up on a counter-top somewhere to deal withlater. It was hopeless.
I had to call someone to try and make amends. The only person from last night who I had in my phone was Peyton, and it was her office number. I decided after very little deliberation or thinking through all the way, that I would leave a brief, semi-professional voice-mail apology. That might tie me over until Monday when I could grovel at her feet and apologize in person.
I picked up the phone, found her number and dialed.
“Hello?” Said the voice on the other line.
Oh shit. It must have redirected to her cell. Caught off guard again.
“Hi Peyton.” I said trying to stall so I could think of something to say.
“Omigod Sarah where the hell did you go last night?” Peyton’s voice was hard to read. I assumed the worst.
“I am so sorry, please can you guys forgive me? I promise I am never normally-”
“Don’t you dare say another word,” Peyton sounded like she was giggling, “That was the most fun I have had in a long time. You should have seen the chef’s face when you stormed out of there last night. It waspriceless.”
A sense of relief passed over me. Thoughts of a semi-normal working life re-entered my mind.Phew, at least they have a sense of humor.
“I do aim to please.” I said.
Peyton burst out laughing. I heard her repeat what I just said to someone near her. There was laughing.
“I am glad to hear it,” Peyton said, “because you are coming out again with us tonight - and after you ditched us last night you don’t get to say no. You owe us, even if it was hilarious.”
I didn’t feel like going out but the fact that they would even invite me somewhere again made me jump at the chance.
“Sounds great. Where am I going to make a fool of myself tonight?” I asked.
“Oh you’ll find out. I will be by to pick you up tonight around six.”
And with that I put my fate in the hands of my boss and her friends once more.
Not knowing what the event was that I should be dressing for I decided on my go-to casual piece. A teal, knee length with a v-cut neck line that shied towards “Gee mister, that is a mighty fine tuxedo you got there” without making me look 12. I did a once over in the mirror, pulled my hair back and grabbed my clutch just as Peyton and the girls started banging on the door.
And boy were they banging.
Approaching the door I could hear the laughter of three grown professional women who sounded as giddy as middle schoolers before the big end of the school year dance. The laughing made me hesitate to open the door. Something was up. I could feel it on my skin.
“We know you are in there. Come out with your hands up.” Yelled Angela.
“Yea, we are the police and we are here to arrest you, you sexy bitch.” That one was Lizzy.
“C’mon Sarah, we really do need to get going.” That was my boss.
I opened the door. I was under-dressed.
“Oh great.” I said out-loud as I scanned the three women in front of me. They were dressed to the nines. All black, high heels, amazing hair. I spun around on my heels and started back for my bedroom.
“I don’t think so.” Peyton said as she grabbed me by the shoulder.
Lizzy ran in front of me and started to push as Angela shut my door behind us. That was it. Where ever we were going I was going to stick out like a sore thumb.
I was surprised when the car stopped.
“Is this it?” I asked.
The girls still hadn’t told me anything about their plans and when we stopped in front of what I could only assume was the Governor's house atop Nob Hill I was struggling to figure it all out.
“Yep, this is the place.” Lizzy said getting out of the car first.
I strained my neck to look up the driveway that led to the house. It looked like a slightly smaller version of the White House placed square center in a large grass plot. Across the lawn were strung tea candle lights from end to end. Underneath the largest of the several oak trees was a large white tent. Through the partial tent flap opening all I could see was decadence. My stomach turned into a lead ball. I suddenly didn’t care if the girls hated me or not, I wanted to turn and run. There was no way I was going inside that tent.
Lizzy must have sensed my anticipation because she grabbed my elbow and said, “Steady on girl.”
When we made it to the entrance of the white tent we were asked for our names. When I told the hostess my name her eyes lit up.
“Oh yes, we have been expecting you miss Kinsley. This way please.” She ushered me away from the tent.
“What about my friends?” I said.
“Oh, yes please bring them along.” The hostess said and then began to walk off towards a gravel path leading up to the house.
We arrived at the front door and were greeted by another host of sorts. A young man, sharply dressed in a three piece black suit greeted us, let us in through a large oak doorway and proceeded to remove our coats for us.
“This way.” He said gracefully ushering us through the front room of the house.
The house was immaculate. Handmade furniture seemed to be the house standard and there was certainly no shortage of it. Great big crystal chandeliers hung from nearly every room. The house looked too clean and too posh to actually be lived in.
We made our way through a narrow hallway. In it I heard the familiar banging of pots and pans.Where were we going?
Peyton and the girls were clearly having a good time. They hadn’t stopped whispering, nudging each other and looking about wide eyed since we had been ushered into the place. When they too heard the banging of pots and pans they began the usual moans of appreciation that one makes when they expect big things to come their way in terms of culinary delights.
I still had no idea where we were, whose house this was and why we were here so you can understand my slight apprehension as to walking into a stranger’s kitchen with any expectation other than complete and total embarrassment and anxiety.
We finally made our way into the kitchen. It was gorgeous. A large granite island set in the middle, the cupboards were dark oak and all the appliances were stainless steel. Don't get me wrong, I love my house but this kitchen made me a little jealous. I took notes for further remodel projects down the road. I was anxious, not dead.
Lizzy turned to me and whispered in my ear, "now that's a kitchen."
I nodded my head in agreement and she took my arm and we marched behind the host who led us to a small dining table where we all sat down.
In the kitchen were a few cooks. One of them I recognized from the restaurant that Peyton and the girls had taken me to the night before. My stomach sank as I realized where we were. I turned to Angela and asked, "whose house is this?"
"Oh sweetie, you'll see."
A few minutes passed, the girls and I made small talk, every once in a while one of the cooks would shoot us a polite but distant smile. I felt like a peacock in the zoo being watched, observed, and judged. I imagined they were keeping an eye on me for their own perceived safety. After witnessing my little outburst last night I wouldn’t have trusted me around sharp objects either.
Eventually, the same host who had taken us on the short tour through the house came back with glasses and a bottle of fancy Red whose name I can no longer remember. He poured us each a liberal glass and we drank. The cooks began to serve us tasting plates of what they had prepared. Each plate brought with it a completely new culinary experience.
The first dish was a palette cleansing lemon sorbet. The second it touched my tongue I felt my entire mouth electrified by its tartness. Its coldness slid down my tongue easily and smoothly. Peyton could barely keep her eyes open it was so tart.
The next sample that they provided were thin strips of deeply smoked ham. It was so thin and fragile that it nearly fell apart in between my fork as I tried to poke it and put it into my mouth. The deep, earthy smokiness of the ham filled the entire base of my tongue with a hearty flavor that left me deeply satisfied.
This was followed by a tray of cheese. They explained the varieties that lay spread before me but I forgot their names almost as soon as the cooks mentioned them. I picked out one that was particularly soft. It tasted deep and rich. I couldn’t help but spread it around my mouth with my tongue. I chased it was a sip of Red and a new flavor emerged from the marriage of ingredients in my mouth. I almost started laughing out loud it took me by such pleasant surprise.
As uncomfortable as I felt socially, feeling like I was in a zoo being watched, the sensations happening in my mouth made me momentarily forget where I was, who I was with and the fact that I still didn't know what we were doing there.
As we were being served Pomme Frites, I heard a deeply smooth voice growing louder as it spoke entering the room. My heart stopped, tried to start itself again, failed, hit the reboot button and finally started again. It was him.It was the chef.
The last time I had seen him he was wearing a gray well fitted chef’s coat, had his hair up in a bun and was cooking and serving me secret dishes. Now, here he was dressed more casually looking like he lived here instead of worked here. He wore dark blue jeans that hugged his thighs which I had a hard time looking away from. He had a blue and white checkered button up polo that fit him like a glove. His hair was down, he looked clean and he had a light afternoon shadow peppered on his face. He looked oddly casual in such a formal setting. The cooks who had been serving us our meal ran to him as soon as he entered the room to give their reports, he nodded at what they were saying but then looked directly at me. Even from across the room his pale blue eyes stood out. They were like two small blue diamonds sparkling, calling to me.