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Authors: Cynthia Hickey

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance

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BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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Chapter 12

A
dam dashed upstairs and packed his bag. He couldn’t get home soon enough. Hastings hadn’t argued when Adam told him he needed to leave immediately because of a family emergency.

The next train left the station in less than half an hour. He needed at least a moment to say goodbye to Tabby.

He grabbed a few belongings and stuffed them in his bag, then he rushed to the dining room. He might be anxious about his mother, but missing Tabby pulled at his heart, too. What if she left while he was gone? His heart threatened to burst from his chest, not only from his rush in preparing to leave, but because of a flood of emotion. He spotted her at a table by the restaurant window. “Tabby.”

She murmured something to Merrilee before striding his way. “What’s wrong?” She laid a hand on his arm. “You look upset.”

He handed her the telegram. Her face paled as she read it. Closing her eyes, she handed the slip of paper back. “I’ll pray for you and your mother.”

“Won’t you miss me?”
Please, say you will.

Her eyes snapped open. “Of course I will.” She raised her hand to his face, then dropped it before making contact. “We’re the best of friends, after all.” Her chin quivered and she looked away. But not before he saw the shimmer of tears in her eyes. Dare he hope she cried because he was leaving?

Stubborn woman. Couldn’t she let him know that she would miss him desperately? Or was that only his wishful thinking? Why wouldn’t she admit she had feelings for him? “Yeah, friends.” He wanted to kiss her goodbye and show her exactly what he thought of their just being friends. Instead, he nodded and sprinted for the train.

While his thoughts were on his family, a piece of his heart remained in the restaurant with Tabby. If only she was here beside him. Her small, smooth hand engulfed in his. Without a doubt, her presence would give him comfort.

He found a seat and plopped onto it, prepared to spend the ride staring out the window, worrying over Ma and wondering about Tabby’s feelings.

* * *

People didn’t send telegrams unless the situation was dire.

Tabby moved back to her place where she could keep a watchful eye on Merrilee as the girl waited on customers. She lifted a prayer for the safety of Adam’s mother and his quick return, shoving to the back of her mind how much she would miss him.

Dragging her attention back to her job, her gaze fell on Merrilee. Tabby was content with the knowledge that the woman couldn’t snare Adam’s affections while he was gone. Merrilee caught on quick to the art of serving people with efficiency and a smile. Almost as if she weren’t the Southern belle she pretended to be, but someone used to waiting on others. Tabby narrowed her eyes. There might be more to the woman than she’d first thought. Maybe she held a secret, waiting to be discovered.

Mr. Hastings stopped beside Tabby. “I’m going to find a temporary chef. Hopefully Mrs. Mayer can fill in on a more permanent basis than just Sundays.” He leaned closer, his mouth inches from her ear. “Would you like to accompany me? I’m confident the restaurant can do without your services for an hour or two.”

Tabby froze. Was he suggesting what she thought he was? After all, contacting their Sunday chef to fill in during Adam’s absence wouldn’t require a lot of time. No more than fifteen minutes or so. Planting her fists on her hips, she stepped back. “You, sir, are overstepping your boundaries. If you don’t wish for the heel of my boot on your foot, I suggest you change your way of thinking.” With that, she whirled and stomped to the kitchen.

How would she manage without her champion? Adam was the one person she could go to when she needed to vent her frustrations. He would listen, sometimes offering wise counsel. With Abigail also gone, she had no one. She couldn’t go to Miss O’Connor, especially not with the rumors floating around about her and the manager. There was no one to tell about Mr. Hastings’s lecherous comments or inappropriate actions.

Tabby kicked the garbage pail as she passed, ignoring the stunned looks on the faces of the kitchen help, and watched with satisfaction as the can wobbled, then righted itself. Continuing her temper tantrum, she marched outside and glared at the tree line. She envisioned Adam kissing her, and in her mind, she threw caution to the wind and returned his kiss with all the emotion she had in her. The type of kiss a woman gave the man she loved.

Would the world end if she gave in and welcomed his attention? Allowed him to court her? He seemed as far from Pa in his way of acting as the Atlantic Ocean was from the Pacific. And maybe he could accept her background and not reject her as others had. But she wasn’t ready to take that chance yet. Wounds from childhood pains ran too deep, leaving emotional scars. She sighed and turned back to the kitchen.

How could they be prepared for the lunch crowd? Even if Mr. Hastings brought Mrs. Mayer back immediately, getting lunch prepared would be a miraculous feat. Tabby glanced at the stove. No, it was better she stay out of the kitchen unless it was for something easy such as washing dishes. Nothing she prepared would be palatable, much less suitable for the high standards of a Harvey restaurant, although she did know what good food tasted like.

“Mr. Foster’s absence is going to cause a great deal of distress.” Miss O’Connor bustled through the kitchen and into the pantry. She reemerged with a sack of coffee beans, which she thrust at one of the kitchen helpers. “We need these ground as soon as possible.”

“He didn’t choose for his mother to become ill.” The head waitress couldn’t be so cold as to not care about an ailing woman.

“You’re right, of course.” Miss O’Connor waved a hand. “Forgive me for seeming so unfeeling. I need you to help Mrs. Mayer with the kitchen staff.” She glanced at the clock. “If the woman ever gets here. Where is Mr. Hastings?”

“What about my trainee?”

“She’ll have to make do on her own. She seems to be doing fine, and everyone is going to have to pitch in where they’re needed.” She stormed from the room, muttering something about the manager most likely imbibing in a drink or two.

Tabby scratched her nose. Now what? She hadn’t the faintest idea how to run a kitchen. She glanced at the clock. Less than an hour before the lunch crowd would arrive. Fingers of dread snaked through her veins. Oh, where was Mrs. Mayer?

Five faces turned in her direction. One tall, plump girl stepped forward. “I can cook. Not a lot, but there is the beginnings of stew simmering on the stove. If you can slice bread, I’ll take over that.”

“Oh, bless you.” Slicing bread, Tabby could do. Within seconds, the helpers scattered to do their assigned jobs and make sure lunch was on time. They might not have a varied menu, but the food would be good and wholesome. She peered under the lid of the large pot on the stove. The girl obviously didn’t know there was little but meat and liquid in the pan.

The fragrant aroma of chicken broth tickled her nose. Her stomach rumbled. After replacing the lid, she stepped back and thought what other ingredients might go with the shredded chicken. “We need chopped carrots and celery, maybe some potatoes. And we need it all within half an hour.” She tapped her finger against her lip. Think, Tabitha. You’ve eaten plenty of chicken stew in your day.

She turned to the girl who suggested she slice bread. “What is your name?”

“Dorothy, ma’am. Don’t you worry none about the meal. I’m a good cook. Got me eight brothers back home and they are all as hefty as me.” The large girl smiled, her eyes all but disappearing in her round cheeks.

“I’m Tabby, and you are a blessing. I’m going to go tell Miss O’Connor that today’s lunch is chicken stew and bread and ask her to advise our customers when they arrive.” Then she needed to slice the bread, make sure there were clean dishes... With her mind ticking off the hundred things she needed to do in a very short amount of time, Tabby pushed into the dining room and made a beeline for the head waitress. “Miss O’Connor.”

The head waitress turned, a frown marring her brow. “Please don’t tell me there are more complications to this already-tiring day.”

“No, ma’am.” Tabby grinned. “Everything is running smoothly. I’ve come to tell you that lunch will only be chicken stew and bread, but at least the customers will be fed.”

“I’m sure Mr. Hastings won’t mind if we offer the one choice as a special of some kind. Maybe charge a lesser price.” She nodded. “It’s a wonderful idea, Miss McClelland. You’re a valuable asset to the Harvey restaurants.”

Tears pricked Tabby’s eyes. No one had ever called her valuable before. In the early years of her childhood, her mother told her she was precious, but endearments and encouraging words were few and far between in her family.

Now she excelled at something, a job that would provide a good living and a full life. If only Adam’s face didn’t pop into her mind every time she contemplated a career with the Harvey restaurants.

* * *

Adam lay in his bunk in the Pullman car, hands folded behind his head, and stared at the ceiling. Worries about his mother and confusion over Tabby had his brain spinning like a drunken twister. Why couldn’t life be smooth, going along a track as dependable as the Santa Fe Railroad? He didn’t mind the occasional season of mild upheaval, but he definitely preferred a calm life.

Six months ago he sat down with his family and made their plans to move to San Francisco. He couldn’t go ahead with the dream if his mother wasn’t a part of it, not after her excitement over opening a Foster family restaurant and bakery. Ma did love making her pastries and passed on her love of cooking to her only son. Adam grinned. Daphne could cook, but nowhere near as good as he or their mother.

He rolled over to his side. He should be home by tomorrow afternoon. His heart leaped, despite the reason for returning. His family was his life. The one important factor, other than God, that Adam could always count on. If only he could add Tabby to that list.

How was the restaurant doing without him? He hated running out in the middle of the day, but family came first. Always. They would manage without him at the restaurant. He shouldn’t worry.

He sighed and flopped onto his back. Sleep would arrive as slow as Christmas to a child. Would it help if he dwelled on the memory of his kiss with Tabby? Maybe. He smiled. And maybe thinking of that moment would make sleep even harder to come by.

Chapter 13

T
abby untied her apron and tossed it into a basket of dirty laundry beside the pantry door. What a long, frantic day. She planted fists on her hips and surveyed the spotless kitchen. She’d done it. Not cook—Mrs. Mayer had shown up by dinnertime—but she’d managed, with help, to get lunch served and keep the kitchen clean.

“It’s a good feeling, ain’t it?” Mrs. Mayer laid a heavy arm across Tabby’s shoulders. “For a little bitty thing, you got a backbone of steel. Not a person here that could’ve worked harder or done a better job.”

“Thank you. It does give me a great feeling of accomplishment.” For as far back as she could remember, Tabby didn’t think she’d ever been this proud of a day’s work. Customers were more than understanding about the absence of a cook at lunch, and happy to pay a reduced price for a simple meal.

“I’m right sorry I wasn’t around at lunchtime,” Mrs. Mayer said. “But you managed just fine. Besides, from what I’ve heard, most railroad houses can’t give a person a meal even as fine as that chicken stew.” She removed her arm and untied her apron, then tucked it into a bag under the counter. “I’ll be here early in the morning to help with breakfast.”

Tabby grinned. “I’ll be here.”

Mrs. Mayer laughed. “I know you will. Good night.” She hustled out the back door, leaving Tabby in a sudden silence that hurt her ears.

Without the day’s busyness, Adam’s absence assaulted her. She would have loved for him to see her accomplishment. He would have given her that wide grin of his and said how proud he was.

She banged out the door. Locusts buzzed and crickets chirped, adding their songs to the music played by the evening breeze. Tabby closed her eyes and leaned against the warm wood of the restaurant.

Nothing soothed and calmed better than time spent quietly in God’s creation. She glanced toward the gazebo, white in the moonlight. Muted conversation drifted from that direction. She squinted, trying to see who was enjoying a nighttime tryst.

She couldn’t see well enough and turned her attention to the night sky. Did Adam look upon the same stars and moon and think of her, or did he sit beside his mother’s sickbed and ache with worry? Tabby prayed he hadn’t been welcomed with bad news.

Life held nothing more important for Tabby than Adam’s friendship. If he was unable to return to Topeka, she’d have to move along without delay. Kansas held too many memories of the handsome cook, always ready with a smile and a listening ear.

Her heart sank as she thought of that morning. Clearly he’d wanted a word of encouragement from her. Something that told him she cared. She couldn’t. She wasn’t ready to hand a man her heart. What if she never was?

Did she want to be a head waitress? The day’s events proved she had the capability of making decisions under pressure. The head waitress’s pleasure had been evident in the pleased glances sent Tabby’s way throughout the day.

She rested her elbows on her knees. Folks didn’t seem to look kindly on a woman working outside the home. Women were meant to have a husband and children, not a job. Sure, teachers worked but quit once they married, same as a Harvey Girl. Tabby traced an
A
in the dirt with her shoe.

Since married women weren’t allowed to work in most places, did that mean marriage was a woman’s only option in life? She groaned and scuffed away the letters of Adam’s name. What was she doing allowing such thoughts? She was a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, having nothing of value to bring to an upstanding man like Adam with a good family and dreams of owning his own restaurant. If she married him, and people found out about her less-than-respectable childhood, it might reflect badly on Adam. Tabby didn’t want to risk his being shunned or disrespected. And she didn’t want to have to explain her past to him, either, to have him think less of her. No, she was better suited to remain alone.

Someone once told her that a woman always married a man just like her daddy. Well, not Tabby. That held absolutely no appeal.

A woman’s voice raised in anger drew Tabby’s attention back to the gazebo. She got to her feet and stepped into the shadows, not meaning to eavesdrop, but not wanting to go inside in case someone needed her.

“Stop!”

Someone definitely needed her. Tabby glanced around for a weapon, finding nothing but a fist-sized stone. Better than nothing. She grasped the rock and made her way along the edge of the building.

“I said no, and I meant it!”

Tabby gasped as she realized the voice belonged to the head waitress. Miss O’Connor stood in the embrace of Mr. Hastings, averting her face.

“I won’t kiss you until you promise to stop making eyes at every girl who comes through the restaurant.”

“Gertie, it’s only you that’s important to me.” He tried again to kiss her. “I promise. The others mean nothing. It’s a mature woman I want.”

Miss O’Connor’s teeth flashed in the light of the moon. Tabby shrank back, not wanting to witness a lover’s spat that showed signs of cooling in anger and heating in ardor.

Clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasps, she fled back to the building. Never in a month of Sundays would she have believed Miss O’Connor would put up with a philandering man. She sagged against the wall. Maybe that was just the way it was. A woman tied herself to one man, while the man found pleasure with any number of women. After all, the men in the Old Testament had multiple wives. Maybe the desire for more than one woman hadn’t been bred out of them.

Tears poured down her face. Maybe Adam would be like her pa and Mr. Hastings, unable to help it any more than Tabby could help being a McClelland.

* * *

Adam bounded from the buckboard and sprinted up the stairs to his family home, leaving the neighbor to drop his bag on the porch as the man saw fit. “Daphne! Pa!”

“Here, Adam.” His little sister, a diminutive blonde who barely reached his chin, launched herself at him. “Ma is resting. Come have something to eat.”

“Okay. You can fill me in on the details.” He followed her into the kitchen and swung a chair around backward before straddling it. He focused his gaze on his sister’s freckled face. “What’s the matter with Ma?”

Daphne poured him a glass of milk. “She started having trouble breathing about a month ago. When she got worse, Pa fetched the doctor. We thought it was a cold at first, now it appears she’s got pneumonia.” She turned to the stove, where she took a pan and dumped its contents onto a plate, then set it in front of him. “I cooked you some eggs.”

“Thanks.” He stared at the food. “Is she going to die?”

“I don’t know. She’s pretty bad off. Doc says if she lives, we should get her to the coast as soon as we can.” Her voice shook. “There may be something around here she’s allergic to, and the cold winters aggravate her lungs.”

“She’ll live.” He shoved the plate away without taking a bite and leaped to his feet. Ma’s dying wasn’t an option. “I’ll figure out how to get the money we need somehow. Where’s Pa?”

“Trying to figure out how many cattle to sell. We’ve only got the bull and a few cows left.” She sniffed. “We’re down to the bare minimum in livestock. Pa’s getting rid of everything he can to raise money.”

“I’ve got a few hundred dollars set aside. Do you think we can do three more months?” He’d make sure they had the money if he had to work a second job. “What makes the doc think the ocean air will be better for Ma than the air in Missouri?”

“He doesn’t know for sure. Only that Ma talks about the ocean all the time.” Daphne plopped into a chair and rested her forehead on her arms. “That’s what makes me think she’s going to die and that she wants to see the ocean before that happens.”

“Stop talking like that.” Adam pushed in his chair and stormed from the room. In the hall, he stopped and struggled to slow his breathing. It wouldn’t do to see Ma with fear raging through him.

He took a deep breath, pushed open her door and stepped inside the dim room. Heavy curtains hung where once sheers allowed light in. A mound of thick quilts covered his mother’s body. Adam slid the curtains apart an inch or two to let in some afternoon light, then pulled the room’s one chair, a rocker Pa had built, to the side of the bed. He took his mother’s hand in his. “Ma? I’m here.”

“Son.” The word wheezed from her. “Open the curtains wide. Let me see you.”

He jumped to do her bidding and blinked against the sun’s glare. “Are you sure? It’s bright.”

“Yes. Help me sit up.”

Every word she forced from tortured lungs tore at him. “What can I do?”

“Nothing. I’ll be fine. I’m just tired.”

“It’s pneumonia, Ma.” Adam fluffed the pillows and added an extra one so she could recline.

“Pshaw. That doctor doesn’t know anything. It’s been the same thing off and on my whole life.”

Adam sat back in the rocker. “It’s bad enough that Daphne’s worried sick herself. I haven’t spoken to Pa yet.”

She coughed hard enough to shake the bed. “You shouldn’t be here. You should be working so we can move.”

“Why are you in such a hurry? You need to get well first. California isn’t going anywhere.”

“Son, I’m getting old. I’ve always wanted to see the ocean. It’s as simple as that.”

He shook his head. Nothing was ever that simple with Ma. She had something up her flannel sleeve besides a handkerchief. He squeezed her hand. “Tell me the truth, Ma.”

“I am.” She averted her face.

“Ma.”

“Fine.” She crossed her arms looking exactly as Daphne had at the age of ten. “I want some adventure before the Lord takes me home.”

Adam laughed. “I know someone else who wants adventure. She’s one of the girls I work with. You’d like her. You’re a lot alike.” He glanced out the window. Waves of wheat shone gold in the afternoon sun. He’d miss his childhood home, but his heart leaped at knowing California waited.

“Is she pretty?” Ma raised her eyebrows.

“Very.” Adam stood. “Now, you behave and rest. I’m going to find Pa.” After planting a kiss on her forehead, he left the room and headed out the back door.

Pa led a yearling colt out of the barn. “Son, you made it. Sorry I didn’t meet you at the station. Found a buyer for Little Red.”

“You aren’t selling all the stock, are you, Pa?” Adam hoped not. He’d miss the big red stallion Pa had raised from a baby and Ma’s dapple gray mare with the gentle eyes. He glanced around for his dog. “Where’s Twister?”

“She’s in the barn nursing her latest litter.”

Adam clapped his pa on the shoulder, then trotted to the barn. When Adam left home, Pa had brought home a dog of mixed breed who shook her tail so hard at times Adam thought she’d twist in half. Hence her name. They’d been friends since Adam’s first visit back. He’d fallen in love with the silky-haired mutt. A sharp bark welcomed him to the barn, and the black-and-brown brindled dog bounded to his side. Four yipping pups stumbled after her.

Adam knelt on the packed dirt floor and held out his arms. “My girl!” He laughed and fell back when eighty pounds of dog crashed into him.

“You’re such a kid.” Daphne stepped from one of the stalls, grinning. “So, big brother. Got a special girl in Kansas?”

BOOK: Cooking Up Love
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