DISCLAIMER: This is an Otalia-Uber fiction. The characters in this story portrays the physical and some personality attributes of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera from Guiding Light but they belong to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Blue for her great beta-ing skills!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"How gorgeous is she?"
"I wanna take her home."
"I bet you do," Frances chuckled at Eleanor's enraptured expression. "Don't use and dump her though. That would be cruel."
"I would never!" Eleanor exclaimed, but shot her friend a guilty look anyway. "I tend to do that, don't I?"
Frances did not say anything. She just shook her head at Eleanor. "Remember the last one?"
Eleanor buried her face in her palms. "I am a horrible person," she said, her voice muffled.
The yellow-faced, orange-cheeked cockatiel cocked her head at the two humans before her, seemingly aware that they were discussing her.
Eleanor and Frances were at a pet shop; they could never resist going into the little shop on the corner of Erskinville Road. Teagan would always lecture them about how pet shops were an exploitation and they were better off going to the pound and saving an unwanted animal--most probably one that had been sold by a pet shop in the first place--from imminent death. But Teagan wasn't with them and it was Eleanor and Frances' thing to do their ritual pet shop walkaround.
"I gotta go soon. It's close to six," Frances said regretfully. Tammy said that they had someone coming in to try out for the kitchenhand position at Taters on Thursday but until then, Frances was on the roster.
"Oh. Right. So, um, is Kristen at work today?" Eleanor asked casually.
"I don't know. Why?" Frances stuck her hands in her pockets as they exited the pet shop. "I hope not. She's a pain at work," Frances mumbled. Even though their sarcastic sparring had come to a hiatus, she wasn't sure if the truce would hold at work.
"What? If she's a pain to you then why were you hanging out with her?" Eleanor asked, interested to know anything about Kristen.
Frances did not want to go into detail about the other night and settled for glossing over the truth. "She's all right otherwise. You know how chefs are all obnoxious to a certain extent. My Dad's awful at work too."
"Ah." Eleanor seemed to accept Frances' explanation. "I think she's hot. We, um, had a little kiss the other night," she confessed. She had been dying to tell someone who knew Kristen about what had happened the other night.
Frances' eyes rounded. It hadn't even crossed her mind that Kristen might be this way inclined. "Really."
"Uh huh. She's hot. I totally wanna see her again...." Eleanor trailed off, hoping that Frances would pick up on her not so subtle hint.
"Well maybe you should arrange something with her," Frances said. "Didn't you get her number before you kissed her?" she teased.
Eleanor had the decency to blush. "You know it doesn't always work like that, Frances. It just happened, out of the blue. And then we got so trashed and I kept meaning to ask her for her number but...."
Frances sighed. Eleanor always got who she wanted and this time it seemed like it would not be an exception. "Okay, okay, I'll think of something."
Eleanor squealed and hooked her arm through Frances as they made their way towards Taters.
Kristen wasn't rostered on so a dejected Eleanor had left Taters after securing a promise from Frances to create an opportunity for them to hang out again. Frances put on rubber gloves and got ready for work, idly wondering how she could accomplish that. It would require catching Kristen at the right time and make the invitation casual enough so Kristen wouldn't suspect something was up. Perhaps they could have a barbecue? First of all, she had to check out Kristen's roster to see when the woman was free.
Russell glanced at his daughter's form and sighed under his breath. Even though she was physically not more than five meters away from him, he felt as though they had an unbridgable gulf between them.
His recollection of the other night was blurry at best. It had been Tammy who had hinted at what had happened and he had been mortified.
Russell looked distastefully at the bottle of bourbon in its usual spot beside the grill. He wished that he was not dependent on the drink but he was. He only had a few weeks before Frances would disappear again for God knows how long and he knew he had to do something to repair their relationship; he just did not know what. He scratched his stubbly cheek in silent despair. His fingers itched for the bottle, to feel its comforting weight in the palm of his hand, to savour the hot trek of liquid down his throat. He spared another glance at Frances' back and stopped himself.
When he got home after work tonight, he would see if Kristen was up so that he could perhaps clarify what transpired the other night.
"Order up," Missy called out, handing over a few dockets to Ramsey and breaking Russell out of his reverie. According to Tammy, the new girl was also present the other night. It made him very uncomfortable that he had conducted himself so badly in front of his employees. Russell cleared his throat and moved his hands. Now was not the time to mull over things; he had work to do.
Ramsey peered at his boss as he put the dockets up. This was the first time he was working with Russell and his never-heard-of-until-now daughter and he was interested to see how they worked together. Tammy had told him how surprised she had been when Frances had walked in one night, helped clear a table and started doing the dishes like it was the most normal thing in the world to waltz into a kitchen and be a part of it.
That was an impressive feat in itself, Ramsey opined, because God knows how quickly employees passed through Taters. Her being Russell's daughter might have had something to do with her still hanging around but Ramsey suspected that it wasn't just that.
Taters had seen many employees in her day. Ramsey was her longest standing employee, having been there since the beginning. Doug Tang was the other chef that Russell had hired around the same time he hired Ramsey, but Doug did not make it to six months before he threw in his apron and stalked out of the restaurant. A string of chefs then went through the kitchen until Kristen appeared and miraculously managed to not get on Russell's nerves and stay. And Ramsey hadn't even gotten started on the number of supervisors and waitresses who ripped through the restaurant like tornadoes.
Right about this time, six dockets came through at once and Ramsey did not have anymore time to waste on musing.
"I said that? I actually asked her why she had to come back?" Russell said in disbelief.
Kristen looked uncomfortable as she nodded. It hadn't been difficult to answer Russell's questions; the events of that night prior to their drinking session at the Courthouse pub were still fresh in her mind.
"Ever so charming, aren't I?" Russell muttered ruefully to the surprise of Kristen, who had never witnessed the self-depracating side of her boss. "Marie would be so disappointed in me," he continued, as though he had forgotten that Kristen was there.
"I think you both have a lot of things to work through," Kristen started hesitantly, not sure if she was speaking out of turn. "She loves you. That's why she's still here."
Russell almost snorted at that. "She's still here because she's waiting on her medical results. As soon as she gets that cleared and gets her visa, she'll be gone again. Love has nothing to do with this."
"Well, yes, maybe those are the circumstances around her visit, but she could have gone and stayed with a friend after the other night. But she's still here, isn't she?"
Russell did not answer, but Kristen's words soothed the ache in his chest a little. "Well. Thank you for that. Good night," Russell said as turned to go back into his house.
"Tammy said that a man from Canning & Cameron turned up at Taters not long ago," she started, not sure if this was the best time to broach the topic but she wanted to know what the visit was about.
"What about it?" Russell's voice was gruff but not foreboding.
"Can I ask what he wanted? It's just that I've had some run-ins with the company before...." Kristen said, hoping that the explanation was sufficient and that Russell would not think that she was just being nosey.
"He wanted Taters to be a part of the franchise. I told him to get out," Russell stated simply. "I'm not interested in being a part of a franchise."
"That was all he wanted?" Kristen had to be sure.
Russell arched his bushy brows. "What else could there be?"
Kristen nodded, relieved but tried not to show it. "Good night, Russell."
She remained in her chair in the yard to finish her tea as she watched Russell let himself into his house. If trying to buy over Taters was what C&C wanted, then Kristen's cover was definitely not blown. However, knowing how C&C worked, Taters would have some cause to worry.
Taters had been mentioned in several eating guides and was a popular restaurants in the area. People were beginning to make reservations to ensure that they got a table and the small restaurant was consistently doing almost two hundred covers a day. Kristen knew that C&C wouldn't stop at just opening a new franchise across the road from them.
Kristen looked up. Pretty popular with the Russells tonight, Kristen thought as she eyed Frances.
She must have just had a shower because her dark locks were rather damp and fell haphazardly around her shoulders and down her back. It was a good look; Frances was actually rather beautiful, Kristen thought idly when Frances flashed her a dimpled smile. She was taken back to the night at the Courthouse where Frances had also had her hair down.
Somewhere between their second bottle of wine and Jäger-bombs, Kristen distinctly recalled someone coming over to chat Frances up and the embarrassed smile that she had given her friend, Nell, after the woman left her a slip of paper that had to hold a number. Kristen wondered if Frances had given the interested party a call.
"How was your day off?" Frances asked, taking a seat beside Kristen. She had noted Kristen's and her days off this week and had decided to ask her out on Sunday.
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Kristen replied, "Good. How was your day?"
"Filled with dirty dishes." Kristen's face broke out in an amused smile but before she could comment, Frances casually asked, "Are you free on Sunday? I was thinking of going snorkelling with a few mates. Do you wanna join us?"
Kristen took another sip of her tea and glanced at Frances. She felt like something was up. Her mind quickly ran through the possibilities and quickly came to the most likely one that Frances' friend, Eleanor, had put Frances up to this. "Maybe," she answered noncomittally. On the other hand, she could be wrong and snorkelling did sound like a really nice way to spend her next day off.
"It'll be fun," Frances persisted, hoping that she could get a definite answer from Kristen so that she could set it up. "Have you been to Gordons Bay?" Kristen shook her head. "Well then I'll have to insist that you come," Frances said tucking an errand hair behind her ear. "It's beautiful there. You won't regret it. Actually, you might even thank me for it."
"Huh." Kristen chewed on her upper lip as she considered. It had been too long since she had a social life of any kind. When she had an itch to scratch, a venture to the club would do the trick. But those connections were never lasting. And to be honest, there wasn't much 'socializing' in those escapades. That night at the Courthouse was the first in a long while since she was a part of a social gathering and it had actually been fun.
"So what do you reckon, Chef?" Frances asked, her head slightly tilted as she anticipated Kristen's answer.
Kristen's eyes crinkled as she smiled. Frances was pulling out the big guns.
In a way, she was glad that Russell had his drunken outburst the other night because that had been the catalyst for this blossoming friendship between Frances and herself. She hadn't realised how much she was lacking in the friendship department until this moment. She narrowed her eyes playfully. "Should I be suspicious about why you seem to want me to come along so much?"
Frances shrugged innocently. "Just thought you'd enjoy it."
"You're not hitting on me, are you? And this is not some roundabout way to ask me out, is it?" Kristen teased with a smirk. She began to chuckle when Frances widened her eyes in alarm.
"What? No!" Frances all but blurted. Me? Asking Kristen out? As if! "Eleanor's the one who's interested in you, not me!"
Kristen arched a brow at Frances. "Aha! Gotcha! Knew there must be a motive," she said, shaking her head as she rolled her eyes. The knowledge flattered her, of course, but it also changed things. She did not want to be spending her day off at a gorgeous bay trying to dodge someone's advances the entire time. "I'm really flattered by your friend's... attention but I'm not... interested in her," Kristen said regretfully.
Frances could have kicked herself for disclosing that information. She sent her friend a mental apology. "Ah, I didn't mean to let that slip," she confessed ruefully.
"It's a pity, because it would have been nice otherwise to check this place out," Kristen said wistfully as she picked up her now empty mug. "Well I'm off to bed now. Good night," she said playfully as she got up from her seat.
"Hey. I meant to go to Gordons Bay regardless and... I haven't invited anyone else other than you at this point, so do you wanna come with? Just you and me?" she suggested.
She did not want Kristen to feel as though she had only asked her out for Eleanor's sake. Well, she did but now that she had and had heard Kristen's reason for rejecting the invite, she felt a little bad. Before Kristen could say anything mocking, however, Frances hurriedly added, "For the record, I'm not asking you out. I mean, I'm asking you to hang out with me, not out on a date."
Kristen smirked. She stood there with a mug in one hand and her other hand on her waist. "You're cute when you're all nervous and flustered," she observed.
Frances' eyes widened. "Wha- I'm not nervous or flustered!" she exclaimed, not liking what the woman was insinuating. "God!" she huffed.
"Well, now, how can I say no to someone who calls me 'God'?" Kristen said with a smug look on her face. This was just too easy. Frances was definitely losing her touch. Must have been all those dirty dishes.
Flabberghasted, Frances could not reply and watched as Kristen went back to her flat. Then she sighed and scratched the back of her neck. Oh, wait. Was that a yes? She must be too tired; her brain felt like mush. Did she just arrange for herself to hang out voluntarily with Kristen for an entire day?
Russell was still up in the kitchen when Frances let herself into the house. She glanced at him in surprise. "I was thinking maybe you wanna come fishing me next week," Russell said abruptly. "We could hire a boat out to sea. You're not leaving yet, are you?"
"Um, no, not yet." Frances leaned against the kitchen bench. "Yea, okay, when?"
Russell shrugged. "I don't know... Monday, maybe. Everyone gets Monday off."
The awkwardness between them grew as they lingered around the kitchen, looking at everything but each other. Frances couldn't bear the thought of having to spend an entire day with her father in such a manner. What if he got drunk again? She wouldn't even be able to escape if that happened because they would be on a boat!
"Hey, Dad, I- That'll be really nice. Shall we ask the Taters crew to come along with us?" Frances suggested, hoping that her father would be open to the idea. "Do you guys hang out much outside of work? I mean, you know, it'll be nice to have some kind of team bonding experience...." Frances trailed off, knowing that she was rambling.
Russell got up from the kitchen table. Knowing that his daughter did not feel comfortable being around him made him sad but he had to acknowledge his own sense of relief when she suggested adding company to their outing. He felt the same way she did. At least this way, they could spend time together without the pressure of only having each other to talk to. "Good idea, lass. I'll tell them tomorrow. Now get some sleep," Russell said as he turned to go up to his room.
Frances felt the urge to run over and give her father a hug, to erase the lines from his face, to hear his hearty laugh again. But instead she stood rooted to the spot beside the kitchen bench as she murmured, "Good night, Dad." She could not even bring herself to tell him she loved him.
Kevin Russell sat up in his bed, knocking over several things on his bedside table as he reached out blindly for his mobile phone, all the while mumbling under his breath. His heart was racing as he peered at the small mobile screen that had lit up because of his fumbling fingers. It took him several tries to get it to unlock and he quickly scrolled down the list of numbers in his phonebook. He was still groggy as hell and a little intoxicated but he had to get hold of someone at the Metro because he had forgotten to order sausages for the restaurant!
When an operator finally picked up his call, Russell barked, "I need five kilos of lamb and rosemary sausages for Taters."
His busy brows furrowed. "What do you mean what do I mean? I need sausages!" Good help was extinct these days! "Lamb and rosemary sausages!" he reiteriated.
"Huh? What? Mastercard?" Russell finally opened his eyes and hit the 'end call' button before scrolling down his phonebook again. He had called Mastercard instead of the Metro grocery shop. Letting out a groan, Russell slammed the phone back onto his bedside table and looked around. He was at home, in his bed, and... he had better check to see if he had ordered those sausages.
After a quick shower and a few painkillers, Russell left his room and was surprised to smell the aroma of food in the air. Following his nose, he was led into the kitchen, where Frances had her back to him at the stove.
"Hey Dad," Frances greeted. "I felt like chorizo burrito for brekkie so I made us some." She slipped a tray into the oven and turned to face him with a tentative smile playing on her lips, flashing her dimples briefly. Russell felt guilty and uncomfortable, surprised and happy in rapid succession. "Coffee?" she offered. Russell nodded mutely and went to sit down at the table.
Frances brought two steaming cups of coffee over to the kitchen table and slid one over to her father. Then she lifted her own mug and blew on the hot liquid before taking a sip. The welcomed bitterness enveloped her mouth.
Russell gazed at his daughter for a second before pulling his eyes away. He felt awkward if he looked at her for too long. "So tell me about what you've been doing abroad."
"Other than teaching and sightseeing? Nothing much," Frances said, lowering her coffee mug. "I didn't think I was going to stay anywhere in particular until I landed myself a job in Vietnam. It's... different. I feel very privileged. And I feel like I'm making a difference. Life there is... simple, for the lack of a better adjective."
Russell was silent for a long time as he took in what his daughter had just told him. Pride swelled in his chest; Frances had matured. Oh, she was still hot-headed and had a quick temper to match but he could see and feel the difference... almost as though she was calmer. Then his inspection turned inward and the pride was quickly replaced by shame. What had he done with his life in the same amount of time?
"I'm glad," he said gruffly, brushing away an invisible tear when Frances' back was turned.
"Burrito's ready," Frances announced, plating up for both of them. "Here, Dad. Extra chili for you."
Russell chuckled and dug in. Sausages be damned! It was his day off, he was eating a breakfast prepared by his only child and it was good.
When Russell stepped into Taters, he immediately picked up on the vibe that something was not right. Missy was setting up for service; Russell was glad that the girl had stuck it out. She seemed like the good sort and everyone seemed to like her. She looked up from what she was doing to flash him a quick smile which he attempted to return. He also recalled Tammy telling him that they were trying out new waitstaff that evening. He was glad to leave the administration part of running Taters to the woman. Maybe he should give her a raise.
"Hey, Russell," Ramsey greeted him when he entered the kitchen. He was about to go to the cool room and check on the sausages--it had been niggling at him the entire morning--when Ramsey made like he wanted to talk to him. Kristen was on her side of the station finishing up some prep but Russell could see that she was tensed up about something.
"What is it? I forgot to order the damn sausages, didn't I?" Russell grumbled. Ramsey gave him a blank stare which annoyed him further. "No? Then what is it? Spit it out already!"
"Nothing, nothing," Ramsey said hurriedly. "Just that someone from Canning & Cameron came by again today and left this." Ramsey handed an envelope to his boss. "The man said something about a friendly cooking competition."
"What man?" Russell asked, grabbing the envelope from Ramsey and ripping it open unceremoniously.
"Oh. Uh. I forgot his name. But he left his business card...." Ramsey patted down his pants pocket and finally retrieved a business card from one of them. "Uh, Steve Johnson," he said, handing the card over to Russell who made no move to receive it. Ramsey ended up placing the card on the bench in front of Russell. Kristen had come up to stand beside Ramsey; both of them were curious about what C&C wanted.
Russell placed the envelope and its contents on the business card and shrugged. "What do they want?" Kristen asked, a tad concerned. He motioned for them to read it for themselves and they did. "Huh. A cooking competition," she murmured after Ramsey and she did a quick scan of the document.
"Wonder what they're up to," Ramsey said, stroking his chin.
C&C was proposing holding a friendly cooking competition at their new franchise across the road to mark the opening of the restaurant in a few weeks. Apparently, it was a practice that they had adopted a while ago, inviting popular eating establishments around their restaurants to compete with their kitchen.
"Lush, A Small Fish and Mexicana were invited as well," Ramsey said. "I guess it could be fun."
"It's a gimmick. That's just gonna draw them crowd," Kristen said, trying to keep the annoyance from her voice. "Are you gonna say yes, Russell?"
"It's my day off. I'm checking on the sausages and then I'm going fishing," Russell announced.
"What's wrong with the sausages?" Ramsey asked, confused.
"Nothing! I just need to make sure that-" Russell stopped himself when he realised that he was actually explaining himself to his subordinate. After he saw that there were plenty of sausages in the cool room, he slammed the door shut behind him cleared his throat. "Let everyone know that if they're up for it, I'm taking everyone fishing. Monday. On a boat."
Ramsey and Kristen exchanged a raised brow look when their boss left the establishment as quickly as he had entered it. "Maybe he had a dream..." Ramsey started.
"About us running out of sausages?" Kristen continued.
"And in his dream he felt so guilty, he had to offer to take us out to sea to make up for it!" Ramsey concluded. They snorted at each other and shook their heads. "He's never done that before. Ever."
"What, forget to order sausages?" Kristen said drolly. They exchanged another look and laughed before turning back to their work.
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