Read Chef's Delight (Stories of Serendipity) Online
Authors: Anne Conley
Cover photo by Bryan Brenneman. Cover art by Anne Conley.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarities to real persons, living or dead are purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Table of Contents:
This one was the one. She was sure of it.
She had been watching him, since he’d moved into the house. All the changes he’d made excited her, and she could tell he loved the house as much as she did. He was the one that she would be able to be with, Louise could tell. For some reason though, he didn’t see her.
But this one was different from the others.
She knew in time, he would be able to sense her presence. She just needed to be patient. In the meanwhile, she would continue to watch him, and wait.
He would be hers.
Jessica sighed and took a sip of her whiskey and coke, grimacing at the taste. “Heard from Kathy, yet? She should be here by now.”
Summer shrugged. “She texted me a little while ago. Said she was having a problem at work, and might not be able to make it.” Summer drank deeply from her frozen margarita and grimaced. “God, this drink is awful. Doesn’t even taste like a margarita. I think I’m going to get wine on my next round.”
“Yeah, this drink’s pretty bad, too. I should have stuck with beer.” They were at the Gin, actually, its official name was the Shelton Hall, but since it was an old renovated cotton gin, most everybody just called it the Gin. Decorated in neon beer signs, and posters featuring bikini-clad women, it was definitely a dive bar, but one of the only places to go in town for a drink. Apparently, tonight was not the night for mixed drinks though. The bartender must be new, Jessica thought to herself.
Summer was bouncing in her seat to the beat of whatever rap-type, top-forty song the DJ was playing. “You feel like dancing, Jessie?”
“Naw, you go ahead though. I’m fine right now.” Jessica took another swig of her drink.
Summer hopped up and boogied out to the dance floor, and Jessica watched her pull some of her moves. They had been friends since high school, and managed to still get together occasionally. With both of them trying to keep small businesses afloat, though, it was tough to be able to have social time.
As her eyes flickered around the bar, Jessica noticed Asshole come in the door. “Great,” she muttered under her breath as he noticed her and sauntered over to where she was sitting. The smile on his face was smarmy, in a totally creepy, domineering way.
“Hey gorgeous,” he was leering at her now. She had to struggle not to vomit up her drink.
Chad.” Jessica crossed her arms and leaned back. Exes could be asses on a good day. This particular ex deserved the moniker with a capital A.
She appraised him, carefully, wondering what attracted her to him in the first place. Granted, he was good-looking, but he knew it, and reminded her constantly.
“You out trying to find my replacement?”
“Maybe. Although, if I do find another one of you, please put a bullet between my eyes.” She took another sip of her drink, grimacing. ”You’re definitely a one of a kind, kind of asshole.” She wasn’t sure why she was trying to provoke him. Ignore him, and he'll go away…she reminded herself.
His eyes narrowed, as he grabbed her knee under the table. “You know you really shouldn’t say things like that, Jessie. It’s not nice.” His fingers tightened on her knee.
“We had something great, Jessie.”
“We had sex, Chad. Nothing great.” She tried to pry his painful grip from her knee, with no avail.
He smirked at her. “It was great, and you know it.” His grip released, and he got up from the table to wander over to the bar and get a drink.
Not wanting to stay there, Jessica swigged down the rest of her drink, stood from the table, and meandered over to where Summer was grinding with some strange man on the dance floor.
“I’m going to get some air. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“You okay?” Summer asked her over the loud thumping of the music.
“Yeah, Asshole showed up.” Jessica swung her chin in the direction of the bar, where
Chad was standing. “I just need a minute.”
“Let me know if you’re ready to go home.”
“Not yet, but I will. Thanks.”
Jessica walked out the front door and around behind the building. There was a scenic little footbridge somebody had built, in an effort to make this area look like it overlooked a creek, instead of a ditch. She sat down on the boards, and put her head in her hands.
“Fuck.” She couldn’t understand what in the world had possessed her to go out with Chad in the first place. It seemed like, in retrospect, it had all been wrong. He was a cop who had pulled her over for speeding. After letting her off with a warning, he had then looked up her phone number from her DMV records, and called to ask her out. The first date was alright, the two of them ending up in her bed, having crazy sex. The next time he called, there was no date. The rest of the “relationship” had been a series of bootie calls, interspersed with occasional belittling remarks. Jessie got tired of it, and him. When she broke up with him, he went nuts, giving her a black eye and a broken rib after punching her and throwing her off her front porch. She called the cops, and Chad’s immediate supervisor had come out himself to drag Chad off.
Jessie hadn’t pressed charges against him, which looking back, had been a mistake. Apparently, he took it as a sign of weakness, and used every opportunity he could find to remind her how superior he was. She had initially treated him like a little kid, ignoring him in hopes that he would go away. It wasn't working, and she let out a frustrated sigh as she pondered her options.
She could try a restraining order, but wasn't sure if that would work, since she hadn't pressed charges initially. And his uncle was Judge Foster, the Justice of the Peace. Judge Foster seemed like an okay guy, but Jessie didn't know him that well, and the fact that Chad was still on the police force despite his indiscretions said something, didn't it?
Connor was upset. Tonight had been a disaster. The restaurant hadn’t even been open two weeks, and already, his dairy supplier was flaking out on him. He had ordered goat cheese and goat milk for the restaurant. He had several menu items requiring those ingredients, and he had had to take them off the menu tonight, because he couldn’t do the cheese tray appetizer, the fig and goat cheese pizza, or the goat’s milk ice cream. And one of tonight’s specials was supposed to be a filet mignon with a goat cheese cream sauce. So, of course, that didn’t happen.
Then, his refrigerator had gone out. He couldn’t even begin to figure out that one. It was a brand new, commercial-grade refrigerator. Why it had gone out was beyond him. So he had to use ice-chests all night, and pray that the department of food safety didn’t pay a surprise visit. Whatever he didn't use would probably have to be thrown away. What a waste.
Kathy, his head hostess/kitchen manager/waitress/sous-chef in a pinch generously decided to close up shop for the night, and let him go get a drink. So here he was, at the Gin. He had only been here once before, and it wasn’t really his style, but the beer was cheap, and cold. And the music was loud.
He sat at the bar and drank a beer, then another, and another, dwelling on what his life had become. He had finally left Houston, and given up on one dream to pursue another one. He hoped the success of the restaurant might someday help his other dream come to fruition. Although, at the rate he was going, it would be a while, and Connor was not a patient man.
And now, here he was, trying to run a restaurant in the old Cargill mansion on
Magnolia Street in Serendipity, Texas. And it wasn’t working out like he thought it would.
He saw her as soon as she came in, the woman with the long auburn hair, wearing worn jeans and even more worn cowboy boots. He probably noticed her initially, because she was so tall, she stood out in the crowd. She had on a creamy beige, peasant style top, which she wore off her shoulders. He hadn’t noticed a woman in a while, and he sighed heavily as he remembered why. Something about this woman made him want to keep looking, though.
Connor watched her and her petite friend with the pink hair visit for a little while, before her friend went off to the dance floor. He was still watching her when the little guy sat down to talk to her. Connor watched her body language while she talked to him. She did not seem happy at all to be having whatever conversation they were having. Connor watched the little man get up and walk over to the bar. Little probably wasn’t the right word, but compared to Connor, this guy was little. He walked with a swagger, which suggested he knew he was little, and tried to give a bigger impression. Connor didn’t know the man, but his first impression was, he didn’t like him. His eyes were following the woman when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, big brother, watcha watching? Or should I say who are you watching?” Connor turned to see his brother sitting on the stool next to him at the bar. He hadn’t even noticed he had come in.
“Hey Luke, nothing much. Just noticed a pretty girl.” Connor took a swig of his beer and motioned with his chin as the woman in the peasant blouse finished her drink and then went to say something to her friend on the dance floor. He watched the sway of her hips as she crossed the floor and went out the door.
“Well, go get her!” Luke punched Connor playfully in the arm.
“Naw. I don’t think so, man.”
“Why not? You never know what could happen. And she is hot!” Luke had been trying to convince Connor to start dating again, since they had moved to Serendipity. Connor suspected Luke wasn’t planning on sticking around, and wanted to make sure his brother wasn’t lonely. As if he had time for a woman.
“What would it accomplish? I’m not interested.” But he was interested. He kept thinking about those hips, in those tight, faded jeans. And her hair, which hung in loose waves down her back. Connor briefly wondered if her hair was as soft as it looked. He was so entranced in his own vision he didn’t notice Luke was talking to him. He snapped out of it just in time to hear the end of his monologue.
“…to her.” Luke took a swig of his beer.
“I’m sorry. What?” Connor tried to shake the vision of the woman so he could pay attention to his brother.
“Dude. Go out there and talk to her before she leaves.” Luke sounded annoyed with him.
Connor decided it couldn’t hurt to go outside for a minute and get some air. Maybe he would see her, maybe he wouldn’t. He finished his beer, slapped some money on the bar and walked out the door.
When he got outside, he inhaled the clean air. Just one whiff and it was obvious he was out of the city. He loved the feel of Serendipity air against his skin. In
Houston, when you walked outside, it was like getting slapped in the face with a wet washcloth. Here, it was like being enveloped in a flowery caress. Connor could smell the flowers planted in the area.
He decided he could look around for the girl, just to see if she was still around somewhere. Connor didn’t see her right here, but he knew she might have walked over to the side of the bar to get away from the light. Maybe. She had come with her friend, and her friend was still dancing, so Connor assumed she was around here somewhere…
He walked around the side of the bar, and heard the tinkling of water. As Connor followed the sound, he noticed a small footbridge, with the woman sitting right in the middle of it, her legs dangling over the edge. He stood still for a minute or two, just watching her. She was hard to see in the dark, but he could see her hair contrasting with her blouse, and again, he imagined what it would feel like between his fingers. She looked up at the sky, and her profile was clear against the moonlight. She had a smooth forehead, even nose, and velvety lips that looked glossy as the moonbeams hit them. Connor watched as she licked her lips, and then he felt something inside himself turn to mush. Then he felt something not so inside him harden. He inhaled sharply
Jessica heard something and looked over to the noise. There was a man standing there, watching her, in the dark. Suddenly, she felt danger in the air. There was something dangerous about being caught behind a bar, alone, in the dark. She was suddenly aware of her weakness, her feminineness, and his audacity. And it pissed her off.
Another night she might have embraced the danger, flirted with it, even. Tonight was not the night.
The man stepped forward, “I’m sorry to bother you.”
Jessica stood quickly, wiping her hands on the seat of her jeans, “Right.”
He looked nervous, but Jessie didn’t trust her perceptions. “I just came out to …”
“You just came out to what?” Jessica was on edge. This was a dangerous situation, and she wished she had brought her purse with her. She kept her .380 in there, and it was doing her no good in the car.
“Say hi.” He ran his hands through his hair, and wiped them on his pants leg. He shuffled his feet. “Hi.” He said, hopefully.
Trying not to give away her anxiety, she replied “Hi.” Jessica said, as dismissively as possible. She was hoping he would just leave.
He stood there awkwardly, for a minute. “This wasn’t a great idea. I’m gonna go. I’m sorry to bother you.” He turned around and walked back to the bar.
After he had left, Jessica counted to 100, then followed him back to the bar. When she got inside, she found Summer, who was doing a shot of something green with her dance partner.
“Hey! Where’d you go? I missed you!” Summer leaned over and draped her arms around Jessica’s waist, and leaned her head on Jessica’s shoulder. She’d had a few drinks since Jessica left.
“I just took a walk. I ran into Asshole, and needed some air, only to be followed outside by another asshole. So, I decided to come back inside. Safety in numbers, right?”