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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

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BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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Chapter 6

T
abby lifted a fork and turned it this way and that, checking for smudges and water drops. The lantern’s light glinted off the polished silver, showing it to be impeccably cleaned.

Miss O’Connor seemed inclined to give Tabby the less desirable chores, making her start earlier and end later. Mama, bless her soul, used to say hard work built character. Tabby wasn’t always inclined to agree with her. Moments like this, she felt she had all the character she needed.

After a month, Ingrid already had two points taken off her card, and Abigail one. Both girls had a better grasp of being a good Harvey Girl, it seemed, than Tabby. She was the only one still left at fourteen. She sighed. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for this kind of work. She’d done her best curbing her tongue and keeping her opinions to herself. Maybe she shouldn’t. The next time Miss O’Connor came down hard on Tabby, she’d straighten her shoulders and stand up for herself.

Sure she would, right before she received the last of her pay.

Most likely the spilled sauce had something to do with her points not changing. Maybe someone tattled about her regular conversations with Adam on the back stoop most nights. She shrugged and rolled the spotless fork in an equally spotless napkin and then reached for another.

“Hurry up, Miss McClelland, the breakfast crowd will be here soon.” Miss O’Connor breezed past. “It won’t do to not have silverware on the tables. Our guests cannot eat with their hands.”

“Yes, ma’am.” If not for the nightly conversations with Adam, Tabby would be tempted to give up. She could probably find work in a larger city. She glanced out the front window. Maybe San Francisco would offer plenty of job opportunities, along with the adventure Tabby craved. No, quitting before the end of her contract was unethical, something Tabby was proud to say she wasn’t.

The train whistle blew, signaling the arrival of the day’s first customers. Tabby tossed a spoon onto the counter, hefted the wicker basket with the rolled silverware, then scurried to place a set at each table setting. After placing the basket back behind the counter, she rushed to take a stand beside her assigned table and struggled to regulate her breathing. All she did was run, it seemed. She glanced at the head waitress.

Where was the kind motherly figure some of the girls talked about other wagon bosses being? Many of them were as discouraged as Tabby by the constant barking of orders by Miss O’Conner. Was the way she ran things not the norm? Could Tabby possibly request a transfer?

She glanced toward the kitchen where Adam was cooking breakfast. And lose the best friend she’d ever had? No, she couldn’t. Not yet. She did still crave adventure, and this stop was the first of many, she hoped. She would miss Adam. She would have to think long and hard about moving on when her contract here was done.

She straightened her shoulders. She would do her job to the best of her ability and let God handle the details. If only she weren’t so tired all the time.

Smile in place, she welcomed the guests and took their orders. Someday, she’d be the drink girl and have to carry nothing heavier than a pitcher, nor remember anything more difficult than which way a cup was turned. Meal orders in hand, she dashed to the kitchen. “Two pancake platters, please.”

Adam stood pouring batter onto a hot griddle. His assistants, the same young man who was there when Tabby started working and the new boy, poured syrup into glass bottles and placed slabs of butter on china butter dishes.

“Are you all right?” Adam studied her face. “You look pale. You’re working too hard.”

She waved him off. “I’ll be fine. I just ran from the front of the restaurant.”

He narrowed his eyes, clearly not believing her. “Maybe you should take a day off. Let Miss O’Connor know you’re ill.”

And let the woman have another strike against Tabby? No, thank you. Tomorrow marked the end of her training period, and she would no longer have another waitress hovering over her shoulder all day. “Please, don’t concern yourself about me.”

Tomorrow was Sunday. She could rest all afternoon after church.

“I can’t help—” He turned back to the stove when the door opened behind Tabby.

“Miss McClelland, must I always search for you?” Miss O’Connor glared. “With your training almost over, I would like nothing more than to give you high recommendations.”

Tabby grabbed the pancake plates. “It won’t happen again.” She ducked her head and rushed back to the waiting customers. Tears pricked her eyes. She couldn’t do anything right in the head waitress’s eyes. Her head grew light. Maybe she was ill. No, she couldn’t be. There wasn’t time. It was nothing but nerves. Not that Tabby was normally a nervous person, but working under the scrutiny of Miss O’Connor would stretch anyone to the breaking point.

The constant criticism ate at Tabby. There had to be a way for her to win Miss O’Connor’s approval, something other than just hard work and a good work ethic.

Once the breakfast crowd was gone, Tabby headed to the washroom. Ignoring her glassy eyes in the mirror, she splashed cool water on her face. Hopefully, the cleansing would rejuvenate her so she could get through the day. She planted her hands on the basin and stared at her reflection.

High spots of color on her cheeks signified a fever. Tabby wasn’t sure which she would prefer, an illness or exhaustion. Either one would keep her from working. She closed her eyes.
Please, God, keep me moving. Don’t let me succumb to weakness.

* * *

Tabby sighed and glanced at the clock. Finally, quitting time. She bypassed the kitchen door. Unfortunately there was no energy for a conversation with Adam. Every bone in her body ached.

The stairs stretched on forever, taking the last ounce of strength she had to climb to her room. She waved off Abigail’s questions, disrobed, and slid into bed in her slip. The thick quilt failed to prevent shivers, and weighed heavy on her aching limbs.

“I’m telling Miss O’Connor.” Abigail stormed from the room, leaving Tabby to cringe and wish she could shut out the world.

Way too soon, the head waitress and Abigail returned. Miss O’Connor rushed into the room. She laid a cool hand against Tabby’s forehead.

“Why, she’s burning up.” She snapped her fingers. “Fetch me a basin of cool water and a clean cloth. Tabitha, why didn’t you tell me you were ill?”

“I didn’t want it to reflect badly on my review.” Tears scalded a path down her cheeks, wetting her pillow.

Moments later, Abigail reappeared with the requested items and set them on the small table beside Tabby’s bed.

“Leave us, please.” Miss O’Connor placed a cool rag across Tabby’s forehead. “Miss McClelland. I am hard on all my girls, but I am not in the habit of doing it in front of others, so some feel I am harsher with them than I am with another. You most likely feel you are the only one I am this way with.” She dipped the rag back in the basin. “You are easily the best waitress we have.” She smiled. “You remind me of myself when I first started. Like me, you will make a wonderful wagon boss. In order to do so, you need to know every aspect of the job, from the lowest duty to the highest.”

“But I’m still at fourteen. The others—”

“Will not be chosen first when another restaurant needs a fill-in. You, Tabitha, will be the one sent. These are the reasons I am so hard on you.” Miss O’Connor stood. “I will retire to my room. Abigail will come for me if you worsen. Most likely you are suffering from a cold. Thank goodness tomorrow is Sunday. If you have not recuperated by Monday, you will stay in bed, and I will call the doctor.”

Miss O’Connor glided from the room. The woman’s show of tenderness left Tabby unsure and confused. She was hard on the girls because she cared about them? Tabby was her best waitress? She fell asleep with her mind whirling and feeling as if the last month had been nothing but a strange dream.

* * *

Adam took out the garbage, then sat on the stoop as usual. At least what he thought was usual. Tabby hadn’t shown up the last few nights and tonight he was worried about her. Especially after how ill she looked earlier.

Then one of the other girls came down asking for water and a rag. He glanced up at the row of windows where the women’s rooms were. How he wished he could check on Tabby, but unless he wanted both of them to lose their jobs, that would not be a smart move. He leaned his elbows on his knees, hands dangling between them, and stared at the ground.

Marilyn’s death had started with nothing more threatening than a fever. Since then, any type of illness in someone Adam cared about sent streams of ice through his veins.

Only after knowing her one month, Tabby mattered more to him than he deemed wise. His life didn’t allow for a woman to occupy his thoughts and threaten to divert him from his goal. Maybe in a few years, but definitely not yet. His family was as eager as he was to open a restaurant in San Francisco. Adam couldn’t let them down by losing his job. The sale of their farm wouldn’t give them enough funds for the trek west and opening their own restaurant.

He kicked at a rock in the dirt and decided to go to bed. Even if Tabby wasn’t sick, it couldn’t be a good idea to continue their nighttime visits. His heart ached at the thought of quitting their nightly conversations.

As head chef, he was blessed to have a room of his own. He bounded up the stairs and closed the door. Inside, he removed his boots and tossed them into a corner before falling backward across the bed. It wasn’t until he made the decision to cut back on his time with Tabby that Adam realized how lonely he really was. It would be worse now that he knew what her company meant to him. He had little in common with the rest of the kitchen staff. Soon, he would try to request time off to make a visit home. For his peace of mind, he needed to see his family.

Chapter 7

T
abby sat on the swing hanging in the garden’s gazebo and tucked her navy skirt under her legs. No longer feverish, she needed the fresh air, and the sun warming her shoulders felt wonderful. She had wanted to go to church, but the simple act of dressing had left her shaking. Most likely, she should have remained in bed. But birds sang outside her window, the sun woke her by kissing her cheeks, and Abigail’s soft murmurs in her sleep had Tabby getting up to enjoy the day.

A breeze caressed her face as a sparrow chirped. After the rush of the previous month, a time of rest was exactly what Tabby needed. She laid her head against the wood slats and pushed the swing with her foot, dragging the toe of her shoe back and forth in the grass.

One month ago she had started work as a Harvey Girl. She still hadn’t determined whether or not she liked the job. Before Miss O’Connor’s confession yesterday, Tabby would have said a definite no. Now, she wasn’t so sure. Having Miss O’Connor say Tabby was like her sent fingers of dread down her back. Someday, Tabby might want a family of her own. Maybe.

Although she was skittish about men, she might be willing to take a chance on one, eventually, because she might want marriage and children. But if she were head waitress, she couldn’t marry. No matter. Tabby had five months to decide whether she wanted to sign on for another six months. No one said she had to be a head waitress someday. Most likely, Tabby would stick with her original plan of moving down the line every six months, meeting new people, seeing new places. And she would try not to be lonely while she did.

A giggle came from the bushes behind her. Tabby stood. “Abigail?”

“Shhh.” Abigail’s head parted a juniper bush. Her hair flowed around her shoulders and the top button of her blouse had come undone. “We don’t want to be caught.”

Tabby put her hands on her hips. “Who are you with?”

“Josiah.” Abigail slapped behind her. “Stop, I’m talking.”

“Are you crazy?” Tabby shook her head. “Miss O’Connor will fire you for sure.” The rules were stricter for immoral behavior with men than for merely talking to them. There would be no warning if Abigail and Josiah were found out. Miss O’Connor would fire her on the spot.

“Not if she doesn’t catch me. Don’t tell.” Abigail winked and ducked out of sight.

Abigail might be someone Tabby considered a close friend, but she didn’t agree with the girl’s choices. Dawdling in the bushes with a man! As Abigail’s closest friend at the restaurant, Tabby considered it her duty to have a serious discussion with the other girl about her wayward actions.

The afternoon’s peacefulness shattered, Tabby headed to the kitchen to fix a light lunch. She nodded at the round, pleasant-faced woman who filled in for the rest of the kitchen staff on Sundays, and stepped into the coolness of the pantry.

Maybe she could eat a couple of slices of buttered toast. Something that wouldn’t upset her stomach. Surely she could make toast. She hated asking the cook to make her something other than what the customers were eating. After all, the woman had more than enough work. While Tabby ate, she would try to figure out a way to keep her roommate from sabotaging her job.

She took the butter and headed out to the kitchen for bread. She took two slices from the mound on the counter then eyed the large stove.

“Need any help?” Adam snuck up behind her.

She gasped and whirled. “Don’t do that. You scared five years off my life. I’m making toast, if you must know.”

“Don’t do a lot of cooking, do you?” He grinned and leaned against the counter, crossing his feet at the ankles.

“Of course I do.”

“Then why not use the oven over there?”

Tabby stomped her foot. “Oh, you.” Must he play with her so?

“I’ll do that for you, miss.” The cook ambled up and took the bread from Tabby. “I don’t like novices working with my stove, and it is Mr. Foster’s day off.”

“Thank you, but I don’t want to bother you.”

“Nonsense. Won’t take me but a minute.”

Tabby stepped back, needing space between herself and Adam. The scent of his shaving cream teased her senses and made her head whirl. Or maybe that was her cold. Nevertheless, she backed away.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” Adam stepped closer.

“Just tired.” Tabby reached for a glass, anything to keep occupied. If she stared into his face, she would drown, not only in the flecks of gold in his blue eyes, but in the dimple in his right cheek as well. She didn’t want to fall for him. They could be nothing but friends. A fine gentleman like him would want nothing to do with a girl who came from a family like Tabitha’s. Nothing serious, anyway. “And hungry. I’ve not had breakfast.”

“Neither have I. Maybe we should eat together.”

Tabby closed her eyes and sighed. “It isn’t allowed, and you know it.”

“Where’s the harm in two people sharing a corner of a big kitchen?” His eyes twinkled.

After Miss O’Connor’s surprising confession that Tabby was one of her best girls, she didn’t want anyone to jeopardize her future, not even Adam. Somehow she needed to squelch her growing attraction for him. After all, the man seemed to disregard the rules at every turn when it came to talking with her. Even if Tabby weren’t bound by the restrictions of being a Harvey Girl, she doubted she would have much to do with a man who had such little regard for his employer’s wishes. No, a man like that was too much like Pa. And Pa had spent more nights in jail than at home, it seemed.

That wasn’t fair, she chided herself. Adam didn’t seem to be anything like Pa. The man just hovered over Tabby like a ray of sunshine, and she needed to put a stop to that real quick.

“I’ll have my breakfast in my room,” Tabby said, accepting her plate from the cook. “I should squeeze in a nap so I’m fit for work tomorrow.”

“You aren’t better?” He tried to touch her forehead.

“Adam, really.” Tabby slapped his hand away. Must he be so forward? “I will see you tomorrow.” With her nose in the air, she stormed past him. She’d been looking forward to a quiet afternoon in the garden, too. That man! Handsome or not, she didn’t want him, or anyone else, to baby her so.

* * *

Adam’s stomach dropped when Tabby said she needed to lie down. Should she be out of bed? Should he find Miss O’Connor? He ran his hands through his hair. What if Tabby were to fall ill and die as his wife had done? His knees threatened to give way.

“Are you all right, Mr. Foster?” The cook stared with compassionate eyes. “Not taking ill, too, are you?”

He waved off her concern. “No, just need some fresh air.” He rushed out the back door and leaned against the building. He had done what he said he wouldn’t ever do again. Come to care for a woman.

Well, he wouldn’t allow it to grow. He could keep an eye on her from a distance. No more talks on the stoop. He plopped on the top step and put his head in his hands. Loneliness could be lived through. Losing another love could not. He pushed to his feet.

Who was he kidding? He could no more give up his so-called friendship with Tabby than he could rope the moon. He’d pray for her safety, watch her closely, and take her to California with him. She said she wanted adventure and travel instead of marriage, but maybe she would come around in time.

He hadn’t watched Marilyn closely enough. He wouldn’t make that mistake with Tabby.

Laughter drifted from the gazebo and Adam headed in that direction. Anything to pull him from his thoughts and solitude.

One of the waitresses emerged from the bushes and straightened her clothing. She giggled again and turned, fixing her hair as she did. Adam ducked around the corner of the building, wanting to avoid the awkwardness of discovering a forbidden tryst. Was there nowhere besides his room to spend a Sunday afternoon in peace?

He stared east, envisioning home. The family was most likely relaxing on the porch after stuffing themselves with Ma’s Sunday roast. He remembered all the times with Marilyn by his side that the family had simply sat around and talked.

Tomorrow, Pa would be harvesting the fields, and Ma would be in the kitchen or doing laundry with his sister’s help. Ma and Pa were getting too old for such hard work. At least when they had their own restaurant, Adam would take over the cooking duties, leaving Ma to do something less physical. Sometimes Adam wondered about the wisdom of leaving them to keep the farm going while he traveled the country earning money. Maybe if he’d stayed at home and helped, the land would be more productive.

The back door banged closed, and Tabby exited the building, her reticule slung over her arm. Without a glance in his direction, she headed around the corner.

Adam followed, keeping a distance behind her as she took the walk alongside the railroad tracks and down Main Street. Most of the girls did their shopping on Sundays, since that was their only day off. The mercantile would open for them if the owners were around to hear the bell.

Tabby stopped in front of the store, pulled the rope that triggered the bell inside, then cupped her hands around her face and peered inside the window. After a few minutes, the door opened, and she disappeared inside.

Glad to see she apparently felt better, Adam sat on a bench to wait. Maybe she would need help carrying packages. If he were lucky, she would accept a lunch invitation. They could go to Betty’s Boarding House and pretend there weren’t silly rules hanging over their heads.

He leaped to his feet when Tabby stepped out, a wrapped package in her arms. Sitting on top was a box tied with a red-and-white-checked ribbon. Adam grinned. She liked chocolates.

“Good afternoon.” He jogged to her side.

She sighed. “Good afternoon, Adam.”

“May I escort you to lunch later?” He felt like a young boy with his first crush. Nothing about the look on Tabby’s face said she was happy to see him.

“I like you, Adam. I really do, but—” She took a deep breath. “I’m rethinking the wisdom of our friendship. I have no intentions of staying here. I told you on the train I want adventure.”

“Have an ice cream with me.”

“No.”

“I’m only asking for friendship, Tabby.”

Her gaze connected with his. “So you say, yet your actions prove otherwise.”

“If I were one of the girls asking you for a treat, would you accept?”

She cocked her head. “Of course, but you aren’t one of the girls. Keep it at our occasional evening conversations, please.” She marched down the sidewalk.

Instead of following, he watched her go, her dark skirt swaying around her ankles. She might refuse his invitations, but she couldn’t stop him from keeping an eye on her. Whistling, he headed in the opposite direction. At the first opportunity, he would go into the mercantile and purchase the biggest box of chocolates they carried.

At church that morning, the pastor had spoken about how God loved giving His children the desires of their hearts. Adam’s desire lay in storefront property in San Francisco and in a girl with hair the color of sunshine. He prayed God would grant both desires. Self-promises or not, Adam knew he had lost his resolve when he sat down next to Tabby on that first train.

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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