DISCLAIMER: Any resemblance to real people or situations is completely coincidental and unintentional.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you to my betas, you know who you are!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To imaginus75[at]gmail.com
I probably don't have to tell you this, but answering the question "Why are you with me?" with "Because you have beautiful tits and a delicious pussy" is a sure way to end any kind of relationship. If you're lucky she won't throw something at you in the process.
Thanking myself for having the sense and quick reflexes to dodge, I stared down at the pile of broken beer bottle glass around me. The source of the flying bottle got into her car and drove off down the alley. I turned and looked at the spot on the brick wall where amber colored liquid that was once my beer had met its untimely demise. Today was definitely not my day.
The back door opened up and Lenny, the general manager of the restaurant came out, her pack of cigarettes in her hand. "Lenny, can you grab me a broom and dust pan?" I asked her and she took in the glass shards that were at my feet.
She nodded wordlessly and disappeared for a minute and returned with broom in hand. She came down the steps from the door to the back alley.
"Just get one of the guys inside to do it. They're already in cleaning mode in there anyway," she suggested.
I slipped my cigarette in between my lips and grabbed the broom handle from her and started to sweep up the glass. "It should get cleaned up before someone gets hurt," I muttered and swept up the glass. Lenny sat down on a milk crate and lit up a cigarette. She held out the dust pan and I swept the pile of glass into it and she tossed it into the garbage bin on the other side of the staircase.
We both sat down onto a couple of milk crates and Lenny shared her beer with me. The kitchen was closed for the night and the staff were inside cleaning up. It was routine for Lenny, myself, and Jason, the sous chef, to regroup over a drink and cigarettes before we returned inside to finish closing the place. "The hell happened?" Lenny asked after taking a drag on her cigarette.
"Let's just say that Rachelle and I weren't exactly on the same page in terms of the status of our relationship," I answered vaguely.
"The discrepancy being that you don't do relationships?" Lenny asked, smirking. Lenny was my oldest and most trusted friend, as well as my housemate. We had met in junior high and remained friends while she went off to San Francisco and got her bachelors and masters degrees in business administration and hospitality management while I went to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America. We had both moved back to L.A. six years ago and by the time I was ready to open my own restaurant, Lenny already had the success of saving three restaurants from going bankrupt under her belt. She was my first and only choice to co-own and manage my first restaurant, Claire de Lune.
"Lesbians are too needy, present company excluded," I commented with a wave in her direction and she gave me a raised eyebrow.
"And you're not a lesbian?" she asked rhetorically.
"I'm a dyke. I'm all about the 'Wham, bam, I don't wanna meet the fam'," I answered and stepped on my cigarette butt. "I don't process, I don't over-analyze, and I don't U-haul. I don't have time for that kind of shit. I put enough time and energy into this place every day, so when I'm with a girl, I don't wanna have to think or deal with drama."
"So then why do you keep sleeping with them if you know they're so needy? Aren't there 'un-needy dykes' you can sleep with?" she asked.
I took a drink of her beer. "There's only so many of us around. I think I've slept with them all. Not to mention that it's getting boring. I don't even have to ask them out to dinner anymore. Just offer to buy 'em a drink and their panties come off."
She shook her head. "You're such a whore."
"What can I say, the old man's genes are strong in this one," I retorted.
"Yeah, but your old man's Rod Carson, a rock god," Lenny pointed out. "You're not."
"What? I never knew that's what my dad did for a living. I just always thought he was a queer and liked to wear makeup," I teased. "But fuck you, I'm a fucking God in my kitchen."
"You mean legend in your own mind?" she teased back.
The back door opened again and Jason came out and pulled a milk crate off the stack of crates by the back door.
"All you chefs, y'all got that God complex," Lenny continued.
"It ain't a complex," Jason answered after taking a drag on his smoke. "We are God."
We sat around, smoking and drinking and discussed the events of the evening shift, the highlights and the lowlights, what the guests had enjoyed and what hadn't wowed them as much. We specialized in offering a prix-fixe tasting menu which gave all our guests a chance to try out many different dishes. These pow-wow sessions helped us adjust our future menus accordingly. After about half an hour, we headed back into the restaurant to clean up. It had been a crazy Saturday night service as usual and we had a lot of cleaning to do.
After we closed up, all ten of us, five from the kitchen and five from the front including the bartender, headed up onto the rooftop patio with a couple of bottles of wine and a case of beer to reminisce about the day's dinner service and relax. Like usual, a magical bag of ganja happened to appear from seemingly out of nowhere, and like usual, I passed on the fatties that made the rounds. We always took whatever time we could to unwind at the end of each day and settled any differences that may have cropped up during it. Given that we all spent six days a week working together, sometimes up to twelve hours a day, we understood the importance of resolving conflicts as soon as possible. Jason and I often lost our tempers and would start yelling when the cooks were in the weeds, but it was a necessity to keep things running in the kitchen.
About an hour later, half of us headed out to our favorite after hours bar nearby. By about two in the morning, I was leaving the bar with a redhead who had been giving me not so subtle come hither looks from the moment I had planted my ass down in the booth I shared with my crew. We ended up at her place, a studio apartment in West Hollywood. After she poured a couple of glasses of white wine for us, I proceeded to strip her naked and laid her out on the kitchen table like Sunday dinner. And like Sunday dinner, I ate and drank like I had been fasting for a week.
When the cab arrived in front of her place a couple of hours later, I finished getting dressed and grabbed my jacket.
"I don't even know your full name," she said, lying naked on her bed, her hair tousled and her cheeks flush from her last orgasm.
"I don't know yours either," I told her and gave her a wink. "It's better that way." And with that, I high tailed it out of her apartment and hopped into the cab. I finally made it home, fell onto the couch in the living room and slipped effortlessly into a nocturnal coma.
In my deep slumber, I felt someone nudging me and calling my name relentlessly. Slowly coming to, I could sense the light seeping through my closed eyelids. I vaguely registered that the voice belonged to Lenny.
"Rye bread, it's your mom," she repeated as I slowly willed my eyes to open.
"Five more minutes!" I mumbled and slammed my eyes shut again.
"Fine, if you don't wanna talk to her, I will," she said nonchalantly. "You know I love talkin' to your mom. Hey, Ms. Stark..sorry, Sarah. Riley's, ah...had a late night. How are you?"
Despite protests in my head, I opened my eyes again. "Gimme the phone," I mumbled.
"Ah, the beast has awaken," she commented and I slapped her thigh. Lenny has, on more than one occasion in our eighteen year friendship, mentioned how she's always thought of my mom as a MILF, before the term ever became popular. It shouldn't bother me, because after all, my mother used to be a model and still had her looks and figure, even after having had two kids. But it did bother me knowing that my best friend has probably masturbated at least once in her life while thinking of my mom.
She handed me the phone. "Hello," I managed to croak into the receiver.
"Good morning, sunshine," my mother's way too happy voice singsonged into my ear. "Did I wake you from your beauty rest?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Did you get my message yesterday?" she asked.
"No," I replied.
"Did you sleep in your own bed last night?" she asked facetiously.
"No sleepovers," I reminded my mother.
"Wow, short answers. Are you drunk?" she asked and I could hear the edge in her voice.
"What. Do. You. Want?" I asked, one word at a time as each word's vibration caused a new migraine in my head.
"Aunt Grace and her girls, and her sister are coming over this morning," my mom began, ignoring the fact that I had ignored her question about my sobriety. "Your sister's coming over as well with Claire-bear. They've all asked for your famous Dutch Baby for brunch."
I knew exactly who it was who was craving the pancake. "Tell Aunt Grace that if I wanted to make breakfast, I would've opened a restaurant that served breakfast," I answered belligerently.
"She's your Godmother," she reminded me.
"Doesn't mean I'm her personal chef," I answered.
"Do it for Claire-bear," my Mom said, aiming for my weak spot.
I sighed and rubbed my temples. "You're pure evil. Fine. For Claire-bear," I told her. "Tell me you have everything I need."
"I have everything you need," she informed me.
"Alright, I'll be over in a couple of hours," I told her and hung up the phone.
It had taken about a week for me to get settled and over the jet lag. Since my sister's divorce was finalized last year, she had been harassing me to come out to visit her in Los Angeles. I missed my sister and nieces, but my work had kept me too busy to take a holiday. Then my relationship of five years ended and I kicked my ex-boyfriend out. After months of restless nights I decided that I needed a fresh start, a new beginning. So I sold the flat in London and packed up my belongings and bought a one-way ticket to America. Grace was thrilled that I was moving in with her as she was feeling like she could use a hand with her two daughters, one of whom was in university and the other in high school. The divorce had been hard on both of them and Grace had been having a rough time dealing with it all.
Things had been going well my first week here as I started making contacts with local newspapers and magazines that were affiliated with news outlets I had worked with in London. I had continued writing on my news blog as well as personal blog throughout the move, just to keep my absence from the freelance journalism arena to a minimum. At the house, the girls seemed to be doing well and it may have just been the novelty of having their aunt around after not having seen me for a couple of years, but then things became slightly dramatic when the weekend came round. The girls were supposed to spend the weekend with their father, but instead, he called on Friday afternoon to say that he was stuck in New York for the weekend and would not be able to make it back to see the girls. They were quite disappointed and spent most of Saturday brooding in their rooms. In an effort to lift their spirits, Grace had arranged for a girls day with her best friend, Sarah Starks, and her girls.
Grace and Sarah had met decades ago when they were both modeling. After they retired from the modeling industry, they formed a fashion design company. I, unlike my sister, did not get the long shapely legs and five foot eleven height and our father's dazzling smile. Instead, I got the five foot seven height, which by average standards was not too shabby, but compared to Grace, I was the runt. I also inherited our mother's literary creativity. There was a ten year gap between us and so by the time I hit puberty, Grace had already moved to Hollywood and was dating actors and musicians. After a few years, she married Salvatore Dimaio, a rock musician and band mate of Sarah's long time partner. I was never envious of her as I knew how uncomfortable it was to live under a microscope and spotlight. Our father was a film director and producer and our mother was an accomplished author. Despite my efforts to disappear into the shadows as I grew older, I had my own sort of spotlight in the journalism community and though the light that shone on my life was but a fraction of the one that shone on the rest of my family, I had grown tired of living most of my life in the public eye, so I completely sympathized with my sister.
We pulled up to Sarah's estate and were buzzed through the gate. We parked the vehicle in the circular drive way in front of the excessively large and opulent house and were greeted by Sarah in the doorway. We were ushered into the house and I was introduced to Sarah's youngest daughter, Samantha, and her daughter, Claire. The last time I had seen Sarah's daughters were at Grace's wedding. I was an awkward and self absorbed teenager and Sarah's girls would've been very little, so it felt like we were being introduced for the first time. Sam was practically a spitting image of Sarah, long wavy brown hair, blue eyes and a slight figure. Claire, had straw blond hair and big hazel eyes with green flecks and a brilliant smile with full pouty lips. I figured she must have taken after her father, or even her rock star legend grandfather. Either way, when this one grows up, she was going to be one hell of a heart breaker.
My nieces, Madison and Kristen went off and played with Claire while Sarah got coffee for the rest of us. "Riley's coming over in a bit to make us brunch," Sarah said pouring coffee into our cups.
"Riley is Sarah's oldest and my goddaughter," Grace told me and I did recall the name. I just didn't know anything about her, other than that she was Sarah's oldest and Grace's goddaughter.
We went outside to sit on the patio and watched the girls play while sipping our coffee and catching up with one another. A short while later, we heard the doorbell. Sarah went to the intercom and answered it.
"I forgot my key," a low and husky, yet feminine voice came through the speaker.
"Auntie Riley!" Claire screeched when she heard the voice and started running for the house from the yard. Sarah followed her and the rest of us got up and made our way into the house.
When we got to the foyer of the house, I saw a figure with black shaggy hair, wearing an untucked blue button up shirt, jeans and a pair of aviator sunglasses. This was obviously Auntie Riley as I saw Claire clinging onto her hips while she was trying hard to lift two brown grocery bags up and away from the little girl's head.
"Little help here, Mom," she said to Sarah and leaned in to give her mom a kiss and then handed the bags to her. With her hands free, she reached down and picked up her niece. "How's my Claire-bear?" she asked and kissed her on the cheek and the back of her neck, making Claire giggle uncontrollably. Walking towards us, she shifted Claire onto her hip and put an arm around Sam's shoulder. She greeted Madison and Kristen with a flash of a smile.
"Get a haircut, you look like a Muppet," Grace playfully scolded her as she came up to us. "And get a real job, will ya?"
"A real job, like what, modeling? Or maybe fashion design?" she quipped and released her sister. She leaned in and gave Grace a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Besides, if I got a real job, I wouldn't be available to be at your beck and call to be your personal chef."
"True," Grace conceded. "Riley, this is my sister, Alex. Alex, this is Riley. Alex just moved here last week and she's staying with us."
I reached out to shake her hand. She took my hand in a firm grasp and gave an equally firm shake. She smiled a brilliant grin and I looked over at Claire and saw the same grin on the little girl. "It's nice to meet you," she said, her low voice surprisingly alluring.
"Keep it in your pants, Casanova, she's straight," Grace said, much to my confusion.
Releasing my hand, her smile turned shy. "Well, that's just a little awkward," she said. Then she reached up and covered Claire's ear with her hand and pulled the little girls head against her neck and shoulder. "You're just full of piss and vinegar this morning, aren't you, beautiful?"
"Have a little respect and take your sunglasses off. D'you think you're a rock star or something?" Grace continued to chide her, playfully, I hoped.
"She's hungover," Sarah's voice called out from behind us and I was certain there was a sharp edge to it.
"What's hungover mean?" Claire asked having been released from Riley's makeshift earmuffs. "Can I wear your sunglasses?"
Riley nodded. "Just grab them by the sides and be careful."
Claire carefully pulled the sunglasses off of Riley's face and slowly put them over her own eyes and grinned. "What's hungover mean?" the little girl repeated her question. Claire reached up and played with Riley's hair, and to my surprise, Riley didn't even look bothered by it.
"It means I stayed up way past my bedtime and now I'm exhausted," Riley answered her. "But not too exhausted to make brunch for a house full of demanding women, apparently." She turned to look at us, and then at Sarah and gave her mother the evil eye. Although her hair hung over her eyes, I could tell they were slightly bloodshot, but were a sparkling hazel/green. Her dark eye makeup gave off the intense "smokey eyes" look quite effectively. Looking back at Claire, aside from the different hair color, it was obvious who the little girl took after and it wouldn't have surprise me if Riley spoiled the girl senseless.
"Good, God, are you high?" Grace asked, her hand on Riley's chin, forcing the young woman to look her in the eyes.
Lowering Claire to the ground, Riley leaned down and told her to scoot off to the kitchen to get ready to help her make breakfast. She straightened up and put her sunglasses back on after having retrieved them from the little girl.
She opened her mouth to answer as we made our way into the spacious kitchen and seemed to pause briefly. "I'm running on four hours of sleep...and I may have had a drink last night."
"Or two, or three, or ten?" Sam asked snarkily. "Was she worth it?"
"Oh yeah," Riley answered in a deep husky voice and a lopsided smile and I felt goosebumps on my arms. I mentally shook my head and took a breath. First I thought her voice was alluring and her eyes intense and now she was giving me goosebumps? What the hell was going on?
"What was her name?" Sarah asked while Riley started to unload the contents of the grocery bags onto the counter.
"Kate...Kara...Kira...I don't know. I think it started with a K," she answered and shrugged off the momentary thought. So that's what Grace was referring to earlier with the Casanova comment. Apparently Riley was gay and fond of women whom she didn't care to get to know on a first name basis but certainly had a good time with.
"I told you I have everything you need," Sarah said indignantly, looking at the groceries on her counter.
Riley slid her sunglasses down her nose and looked at her mom. She picked up a round red fruit with what looked like prickly hairs on it and held it up.
"No, I don't have those," Sarah admitted.
Riley put down the red fruit and picked up a glass tube containing two vanilla beans.
"I don't have those either," Sarah said and rolled her eyes. "You chefs are so hard done by."
She rolled up her sleeves and washed her hands and Claire's hands. "Now, if you ladies don't mind, please remove yourselves from the kitchen and you'll be fetched when brunch is ready."
We did as we were told and retreated to the patio. The sun was already blistering hot so Madison and Kristen decided to cool off in the pool. We talked about how I was settling into L.A. and then discussed what Sarah and Grace had planned for us this afternoon, which included a home spa treatment for all of us, then some shopping and then dinner at Riley's restaurant.
"Should I go and see if she needs help?" I asked and got an immediate response of head shakes and snickers.
"When it comes to the kitchen, no one is allowed in there with the God almighty Riley," Sam answered. "The only person she ever lets in there is Claire-bear."
"The girl's a control freak," Sarah added, shaking her head.
"I wonder who she got that from?" Grace asked, grinning at Sarah.
From where I was sitting, I could see straight into the kitchen where Riley and Claire were both cutting up fruits and then Riley let Claire taste something off of a spoon. Whatever it was, it was good enough to earn lots of nods from the little girl. They seemed to be happily chatting away, with Claire doing most of the talking and Riley interjecting every so often. Clair de Lune, the name of Riley's restaurant; I wondered if she named it after the little girl or after the DeBussy piece.
Claire was sent out to let us know that we were ten minutes away from brunch and so we got busy setting the table out on the patio to eat. By the time we were done, the food was ready and we all helped bring it outside. The fruit salad and vanilla syrup looked amazingly refreshing and delicious, the Dutch Baby pancakes were puffy and smelled wonderful, and there was also a plate of lean turkey sausages. Finally, Riley brought out a pitcher of what looked like orange juice but we were told was Mimosa, made with champagne and fresh squeezed orange juice, and poured us each a glass. We sat down and started to feast while the girls had a picnic by the pool.
I noticed that none of the food had touched the plate in front of our chef. "Are you not eating?" I asked.
She took a drink from a bottle of water and shook her head. "I don't usually eat before noon," she answered and then looked over at Sarah and added, "because I'm normally still sleeping until then."
She took another drink from her bottle and then sat back and laced her fingers behind her head. I noticed she had tattoos on the inside of her wrists - a black and white nautical star on the right wrist and a lion with its tailed curled into the Leo sign on the left wrist.
"Sausage?" Sam asked, passing me the plate.
I took it and passed it on to Grace. "No thanks, actually. I'm a vegetarian."
"Are you serious?" Riley asked, her sunglasses shielding her eyes so I couldn't tell if she was just curious or annoyed that someone wasn't going to eat her cooking.
"Yes, I'm serious," I answered.
"Why?" she asked, her face not giving anything away.
"Well, for nutritional and healthy eating reasons for one," I began and paused and then shrugged. " And I guess I can't bring myself to eat cute animals."
She seemed to ponder my reply for a moment and then said, "Me neither. That's why I like to eat chickens. They're ugly bastards. So are tuna. Turkeys aren't that pretty either. And don't get me started on pigs. Those snouts and that tough skin? They don't have that saying about a sow's ear for nothing, you know?" And then I saw the slight smirk.
"Are you mocking me?" I asked, unable to hide the smile that was surfacing.
She gave me a wide grin and nodded. "Yes, yes I am."
"Ahem," I heard Grace clearing her throat from beside Riley.
"What?" Riley asked, turning to look at her. Grace merely raised an eyebrow at her.
"As a chef and meatatarian, I'm allowed to question why people don't eat certain things," Riley said and I thought I caught a hint of defensiveness in her voice. "I guess I just don't understand how people can pass up on pork fat or foie gras."
"Because not everyone can eat all that and stay thin like you," Grace answered. "Besides, that wasn't my point."
"Oh, so do tell, what was your point?" Riley challenged with amusement in her voice.
Grace simply fixed her a look and Riley grinned widely.
"Am I missing something?" I leaned over and asked Sam.
"Grace is not so subtly trying to tell Riley to not flirt with you," Sam replied smiling. I felt myself blushing and averted my eyes from Riley's smile which was now directed my way. "
"I suppose I need to come up with a vegetarian menu for you tonight, do I?" she asked, still smiling.
"I do eat dairy and eggs," I confessed. "Besides, I'm sure I can find something to order on the menu tonight."
"Don't worry about that," Sarah told me. "Riley was making us a Chef's special dinner tonight anyway. She's just giving you a hard time."
I looked back at Riley who was still grinning like the Cheshire cat at me. She picked up her water bottle and took another drink, and despite the sunglasses shielding her eyes, I knew she was looking at me.
"Anyone want more coffee?" Sarah asked.
"I don't suppose you have any decaf?" I asked and Sarah nodded while Riley choked on her water. Grace reached over and patted her on her back until her coughing subsided.
"Decaf?" she asked, still slightly gasping for air.
"I've already had a cup of the regular stuff," I explained feeling slightly defensive and unsure as to whether or not I should even say anything more as it seemed that I was constantly offending the chef sitting across from me. "If I have anymore caffeine, I'll be shaking for the rest of the day."
"But decaf?" she asked again. I shrugged.
"That's just bitter dirty water," she said, grimacing and then gave a shudder as Sarah returned with my coffee.
"Well, let's just say that I know my limitations," I conceded.
"Unlike some people," Grace chimed in and looked over at Riley who pointedly ignored her.
"Well, ladies, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do for your dinner tonight," she said standing up. She extended her hand towards me. "It was nice meeting you, Alex."
I took her hand and shook it and returned the sentiment and thanked her for the delicious brunch she had made for us. Grace stood up and offered to walk Riley out, although it didn't seem like Riley had a choice in the matter.
"I do apologize for my daughter," Sarah told me as I sat back in my chair. "She takes after her father."
"So the restaurant keeping you busy?" Grace asked me while she walked me out to my car.
"Busy enough," I answered. When we got to my car, I stopped and turned to look at her and took off my sunglasses. I looked her in the eyes and asked, "How are you doing?"
"Some days are good, some, not so much," she answered quietly and honestly. "I won't lie. It's been rough, especially on weekends like this when the girls were supposed to spend time with him and he cancels on them. I hate it when he disappoints them like this."
"I'm sure he had a good reason," I said and she cut me off.
"Riley, to you he may be Uncle Sal who can do no wrong, and I hate to break it to you but he's no angel," Grace interrupted me and I could tell she was getting upset.
I put an hand on her shoulder to try to soothe her. "Aunt Grace, I know that. I'm not a kid anymore. I know Uncle Sal's not an angel, in fact I know he was a cheating bastard, but I also know that he loves Madison and Kristen more than anything in the world and he'd do his best to not hurt them anyway he could."
Grace reluctantly but finally nodded. "Speaking of hurting," she said, her voice taking on a note of warning, "Keep your hands off my sister."
I held my hands up in mock surrender. "Hands off," I agreed.
"I'm serious, Riley," Grace continued. "First of all, she's straight. Secondly, she's just gotten out of a five year relationship after she found out that the wanker had cheated on her with practically everything that moved. I know you've got a good heart, kiddo. Just don't mess around with Alex's."
I heeded her warning and took her words to heart. "I promise," I told her sincerely. "I'll see you guys tonight." I gave her a hug and drove off towards the farmer's market in search of some new ingredients to fix up a special meal tonight. Despite Grace's request and my promise to her, I still felt an urge to want to impress Alex with my skills and talent at dinner.
It had been awhile since I met a woman whom I found instantly attractive while I was sober, and Alex had fit the bill. The moment I was introduced to her, I had silently wished that I wasn't hung over and hoped to god I was presentable enough with my undoubtedly bloodshot eyes and shaggy hair. Thank God I had the sense in me to put on some makeup that morning. She had a warm and inviting smile and I noticed how, unlike her British kinsmen, she had beautifully white, straight teeth. Although not as tall as Aunt Grace, Alex was still tall for a non-model, which I found appealing as she was about the same height as I was. I can tell you for a fact that dating shorter women can be quite straining on the neck.
The two other features I noticed right away, aside from her shoulder length wavy dark brown hair, were her incredibly bright blue eyes and her dimples. I have always been a sucker for blue eyes and dimples, but the combination of the two and the way her eyes sparkled, I was surprised I had any capacity to carry on making brunch. Then there was her accent. Grace's accent had been diluted over the years while Alex's was still fresh. I swear if we weren't in a house full of people, her accent had the power to rip my pants right off me. But, according to Grace, Alex was straight. Add to that the fact that she just got out of a long term relationship where she was the hurt party, and I could see that her baggage definitely did not match my luggage. She was a walking lesbian drama waiting to happen. And, while that was definitely not my scene, it didn't stop me from wondering if she was a good kisser.
By the time I got to the restaurant, it was almost two in the afternoon and the kitchen crew were already all there, prepping for the dinner service that night. Lenny was working in the office in the back and a couple of the front staff were setting up tables. I brought in my purchases from the market into the kitchen and went off to change. When I returned to the kitchen, Jason was peering into the two bags on the counter. "What's this for?" he asked.
"The private party on the rooftop tonight," I answered and he started to unload the contents for me. "I was thinking three courses, seafood themed. One guest is a vegetarian."
"Vegetarians need a kick in the crotch," Jason offered his opinion.
"And she drinks decaf," I added. He held up his hands and backed away from the counter.
"That's it, you're on your own then," he said.
"She's pretty hot," I told him.
"And that would matter to me because?" he asked.
"Because I want to impress her and I run this motherfucker, remember?" I said with as much machismo as I could muster.
He smiled and shook his head. "Never let it be said that men are the only ones who think with their dicks."
"Allison!" I called out to my pastry chef.
"Yeah," she answered from the other end of the kitchen.
"I need to make two individual quiches for the chef's table tonight," I told her.
"Got it. Dough will be in the fridge in thirty minutes," she answered.
"I love you," I called back out to her in a light but appreciative tone.
"Yeah, me and all the girls you take home," she chuckled.
While the other two cooks had finished up and headed out to the back for a cigarette break, I told Jason what my ideas were for the chef's table and he made some suggestions and we agreed on a final menu. I also consulted with Allison to come up with a dessert for the party and we agreed on a chocolate fondue with a variety of fruits and mini pastries.
About an hour before opening, Lenny came out of the office and checked that the front and bar were ready for opening and then came into the kitchen and gave a report on her tour of the front.
"Who's on the VIP rotation tonight?" I asked her. We had two waiters and one waitress in the front of the house and Lenny made it a point to equally rotate the staff so that everyone would have a turn taking care of private dinner parties throughout the week. We usually had two seatings a night, which meant two private dinner parties each night.
"Jake," Lenny informed me and stuck her head out to the front and called Jake into the kitchen.
The young aspiring actor by day and waiter by night came into the back and I pulled out the paper on which Jason and I had settled on a menu.
"It's a dinner for my family and family friends, so look sharp and don't flirt with my mother," I teased him and he laughed nervously. "There's seven of them - all women; four adults, and three under aged, and I don't care what they tell you, the twenty year old isn't allowed to drink. Got it?"
"Okay, so for my niece, Claire, she's five, we'll start her off with crispy fried frog legs with roasted garlic butter," I began to instruct him on the menu as he'd be the one to explain the meals to the guests.
"Are you sure a little girl will eat frog legs?" he asked.
"She's a freaky one, that kid," I answered. "If it grosses out other people, she'll eat it. Then we've got a mini cheese burger with Kobe beef and brie cheese and shoestring fries fried in duck fat. The fries are going to be in a paper cone to make it more fun."
Jake nodded again, absorbing what I was telling him.
"For the rest of the party, the appetizer trio will be scallop ceviche with truffle lime, fried calamari with blood orange vinaigrette and a mini crab cake with citrus mayo," I continued, showing him how we were going to serve it on a rectangular plate. "Now, there's a vegetarian in their midst as well and so her meal will be the same, except it'll be a heart of palm ceviche, fried seitan instead of calamari and tempeh 'crab' cakes. Still with me? Don't worry, I'll tell you all of this again before you take it out of the kitchen.
He nodded again.
"The main dish will be another trio: sauteed cobia with white bean puree and mustard sauce and micro greens, seared scallop with couscous and sitting in a mini dutch oven will be ratatouille," I explained the entree to him. "For the vegetarian, she'll get the ratatouille as well but instead of the seafood, we're gonna serve two mini quiches: one is a wild mushroom quiche with truffle and one is a leek and Roquefort quiche."
He nodded and looked over the written menu, trying to commit it to memory.
"Relax, it's just the chef's family and friends," Jason told him with a slap on the back and I swore the poor kid turned a shade paler.
"Don't forget," Lenny added. "You've also got a party of four in the private dining room down here an hour before the rooftop party."
Jake nodded. He wasn't flustered by the party of four as they, along with the rest of the diners, would be served the prix-fixe tasting menu. He was just nervous about the new dishes for my family, but I had confidence in the kid. It was just fun to make him nervous. Chefs are asses that way. Soon enough, the first table arrived and the hustle in the kitchen began. We had a full house booked so the kitchen was humming along continuously. Soon enough, Lenny announced that the chef's table had arrived and had been seated. Making sure that Jason had the pass, I called Jake. He brought a tray with bottled water and followed me up to the rooftop.
"Good evening, beautiful ladies," I greeted them with Jake in tow. They had all had their hair done up and were dressed up for a night on the town, even Claire-bear.
"Look at my nails, Auntie Riley!" Claire showed off her fingernails which had little flowers painted onto them. Then she showed me her toes which were done up the same way.
"Too cool, Claire-bear," I told her. "They're so pretty I might just wanna eat them up!" I was rewarded with a shriek of laughter.
"Ladies, Jake here is going to take care of you tonight," I introduced them to their waiter as he poured water into their water glasses. "Be nice to him, and enjoy your dinner." I took my leave and headed back down to the kitchen and started on the chef's table's dishes.
When I sent Jake and Lenny up with the appetizers, I noted to them that the vegetarian dishes were to go to Alex, the one in the black spaghetti strap dress. When they came back down, Jake went off to take care of the party in the private dining room and Lenny came back into the kitchen. "So, who's the vegetarian?" she asked, a smile on her face.
"That's Alex, Grace's sister," I answered, putting the finishing garnishes on four plates that were going out. As the plates were whisked away, Lenny said, still smiling, "Pretty."
More food was brought up and Jason and I continued to plate the food. "She's straight," I told her without looking up.
"So you have tried hitting on her," Lenny speculated and I heard Jason chuckle beside me.
"No, I haven't," I said finally looking at her. She gave me a skeptical look but then dropped the topic and headed back out to the dining room.
"Have you?" Jason inquired after Lenny left.
"No, I haven't," I replied. "Not really."
Jason laughed at my afterthought and we continued working in rhythm the rest of the service. By the time the entrees were all served and just the desserts were left, I took leave from the kitchen, leaving it in the capable hands of Jason and Allison and the two other cooks and headed up to the rooftop to check on my guests.
I popped a piece of chocolate covered pineapple into my mouth and savoured the sweetness that took over my taste buds. I closed my eyes and heard the moans of approval from my dinner companions as they too indulged in the chocolaty dessert that had been laid out for us. Finally opening my eyes, I saw that everyone at the table had reclined back into their chairs, satiated from the meal. All except for Claire who was happily biting into a strawberry, chocolate smearing all over her mouth. I couldn't help but laugh at her uninhibited enjoyment.
"Ladies," I heard Riley's voice greet us and I turned to look over at the rooftop door.
She was wearing black pants, a white short-sleeved chef's jacket, and a black chef's skull cap with a pencil tucked behind her right ear. She came over to the table and picked Claire up from her seat and sat down in the chair, putting Claire down onto her leg. The little girl was grinning from ear to ear. Unlike this morning, without the sunglasses and with her hair off her face, I could see her high cheek bones and well defined and manicured eyebrows. She really was an attractive girl and her eyes were brighter now that she had sobered up over the course of the day.
"I see you're enjoying the chocolate," Riley said to Claire and she nodded. Riley picked up a napkin off the table and began to wipe off the chocolate from the girl's mouth and cheeks.
I noted the muscles in her forearms flexing as she wiped Claire's face. Her arms looked lean and strong and I noticed the pronounced vein which ran down the length of each arm. I had always had this idea that visible veins on a woman's arms was too masculine and unbecoming of a lady, but as I watched her, I started to realize how sexy her arms looked.
"You realize that now she's gonna be bouncing off the walls for two hours," Sam said to Riley, interrupting me out of my gaze at the chef.
"You're welcome," Riley told her sister and then turned to the rest of us. "So, how was dinner?"
We all hummed and moaned in unison about how delicious it all was and she turned to me. "And Ms. Vegetarian," she said. "How was your meal?"
"It was absolutely wonderful, thank you," I told her and she gave me a nod. "It was hard to eat out back home, unless you were up for Indian food all the time. This has been quite a treat to have vegetarian food at a fine dining restaurant."
She took off her head wear and ran her fingers through her hair, tousling it. It was quite an adorable look and I wondered if she had the same look when she woke up in the mornings. "I'm glad you enjoyed it," she said finally. "I'm not used to cooking for a vegetarian so it was...it was a challenge."
"It was delicious," I said, holding her gaze and smiling involuntarily. "You're a very talented chef."
"You're welcome and thank you," she responded and smiled, and if I wasn't mistaken, I could have sworn she was blushing. I noticed the laugh lines around her mouth when she smiled made her smile quite sexy.
She visited with us for a short while and then it was time for Sam to take Claire home so we all thanked our host and took leave. When we got home, the girls went up to their rooms and Grace asked if I wanted to join her for a glass of wine. I agreed and she pulled out a bottle of red wine from the wine rack in the kitchen. We settled down onto a couple of lounge chairs out on the deck, overlooking the ocean, and she poured us each a generous glassful of the Chianti.
"How are you, darling?" she asked. The age gap between us sometimes led to Grace mothering me, but I suppose it was better than if we didn't get on at all.
"I'm glad I'm here," I answered. "It was difficult leaving London, but I think I needed to get away and as cliched as it sounds, I think I lost myself in the last five years. Hopefully being on my own, so to speak, will help me find myself again."
"I'm happy to hear it, Alex," Grace said. She reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. "I'm glad you're here too. I've missed this, you and me."
"Me too," I told her and squeezed her hand in return. We sat in a companionable silence, sipping our wine and enjoying the warm nighttime breeze from the ocean.
As much as I tried, the image of Riley smiling and blushing kept popping up in my mind. What was it about this girl that kept me thinking about her all day, from the time she had left Sarah's house until now, not to mention that I kept hearing her voice teasing me about being a vegetarian over and over in my head? It was like she had this coolness, for lack of a better word, to her that I admired. That was probably what it was, I told myself. She was young, witty, charming, talented and obviously quite successful in her own right - those were all very admirable qualities.
"How old is Riley?" I asked, still lost in my train of thought.
Grace gave me an inquiring look and, without changing her expression, replied, "Thirty...why d'you ask?"
"Just curious," I answered and then saw that my sister was still looking at me with her raised eyebrow.
"She's done well for herself," I added. "Quite young, but successful."
"And?" Grace prodded.
"No 'and'," I replied. "I was just curious."
"Darling," Grace said in her motherly tone. "There are two things in this life that should never mix, and that is 'curiosity' and Riley."
"You're a bit hard on her aren't you, given that she's your goddaughter?" I asked, surprised at my sister's display of hostility towards Riley since this morning.
"Don't get me wrong," Grace continued. "I love the girl and she has a huge heart where her friends and family are concerned. But when it comes to women, you can be sure that when Riley enters a room, a girl leaves crying."
"That's a bit harsh, don't you think?" I asked, taken aback by my sister's comment.
"As much as her father has stayed away from marriage, Riley's stayed even farther away from relationships in general," Grace answered. "I know she doesn't mean to hurt people, in fact she's usually very clear about her intentions. Nevertheless, they can't help but fall in love with her."
"She is attractive," I voiced my observation without thinking which resulted in Grace sitting up and turning her entire body to look at me.
"Is there something you want to tell me?" my sister inquired.
"What?" I asked, confused.
"Are you hopping the fence to the other side?" Grace asked again and it took me a brief pause to understand what she was implying.
"No!," I quickly answered shaking my head. "No, I'm - I haven't - no...I was just making an observation." Somehow, I didn't hear much conviction in my answer.
"She's a charming devil that one," my sister said, lying back onto her lounge chair. "Be careful, Alex."
I didn't reply but simply nodded, mentally telling myself to stop thinking about said charming chef.
A couple of weeks had gone by and I had kept busy with my online news blog and my personal blog. I had also met an editor with the L.A. Times at a luncheon, and he had asked if I'd contribute to a column in the Lifestyle section. I told him that I didn't really have anything in the pipelines but he insisted that if I came up with anything to send it to him as he really enjoyed reading my work. I was flattered and had been trying to think of a topic for an article and unfortunately had drawn a blank in the last few days. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon as I sat outside with my laptop trying to do some writing when the phone rang. It was Grace calling from New York.
"Darling, Kristen's school called me and they wanted to have a meeting with me this afternoon," she told me. "I'm not back in L.A. until tonight and Sal's doing a show in New Orleans. I'm sure they're just wanting a donation or something. Would you be a dear and go for me and find out what kind of money they're asking for now?"
I looked at my watch and realized I had been sitting outside for almost an hour and had not written a single thing. "What time?" I asked her and she told me Kristen's school dismissal time. After I hung up with Grace, I went inside to change and headed off to Kristen's school. By the time I pulled up to the school grounds and parked the car, I spotted Kristen out on the front steps of Sacred Heart Academy. She looked like she was on the look out for someone. I walked towards her and waved.
"Auntie Alex! What are you doing here?" she asked. Clearly, I wasn't the one she was looking for.
"Your Mum called and said the school called her," I explained. "She asked me to come in her place."
"Oh," my niece said, looking as if her stomach had just dropped down three floors. Then her face brightened up and she waved at someone in the distance. I turned around and saw a figure with a familiar swagger walking towards us. The figure, clad in a green t-shirt and black motorcycle jacket, low riding blue jeans and black boots, waved back with one hand while the other was carrying a helmet. Gone was the black shaggy hair. Instead, her hair was now incredibly short, especially on the sides and back, and blond, like Claire's. It was styled forward and across her forehead, giving it that "wind swept" look which was complimented quite well with her aviator sunglasses.
"Hey, kiddo," I said to Kristen when I reached her and Alex. "Alex."
"Riley," Alex greeted in return. "You changed your hair...it looks great."
"Thank you," I said, running my hand through the short hair on the back of my head. I hadn't had my hair cut short like this in a long time and so was feeling a bit self-conscious and exposed. "My hair has seen every color in the rainbow and both my stylist and I figured it was time to go back to what I was born with."
"Claire's a spitting image of you," she commented.
"Yeah, we took after the Carson side of the family," I confirmed.
"Aren't you working today?" she asked.
"We close on Mondays," I answered. Remembering why I was where I was in the first place, I turned to Kris. "What's going on, Kris?" It wasn't unusual for Kristen to call me, but usually it was because she was in trouble and needed someone to help her out without being judgmental. So when she had called me earlier in the day, asking me to pick her up from school, I knew something was up. When I saw Alex standing with her in front of the school, I knew this must be a big deal.
"My principal wants to talk to my parents but they're both out of town," Kris began to explain. "So I told her that I'd call my guardian to come in after school."
"Where's your sister?" I asked.
"She's not old enough to be my legal guardian," Kris answered. "Besides, she'll just rat me out the first minute she gets."
"Rat you out for what?" Alex asked. Apparently I wasn't the only one in the dark.
"Kristen!" a voice called from the school building entrance. "Ms. Petersen would like to see you now."
With a long sigh, Kris turned on her heels and ascended the stairs to the school building. I gave Alex a questioning look and she simply shrugged her shoulders. "I know about as much as you do, I suspect," she said. I had to bite my tongue. Even in a state of uncertainty, her accent was cool and soothing to my ears.
As we entered the school and rounded the corner into the school office, I saw a woman in a black skirt suit and my jaws involuntarily clenched. I forced myself to relax.
"Ms. Petersen, these are my guardians while my parents are away," Kristen said nervously. "This is my aunt Alex and this is Riley."
The principal looked first at Alex and held out her hand for a handshake which Alex readily gave. Then she turned to me and there was a momentary pause which I hoped Kris hadn't noticed. "Riley," Ms. Petersen said in greeting as her soft hand shook mine firmly with a nod of her head. "Please, if you'll all come into my office." She opened up the mahogany door to her brightly lit office and we all entered. We seated ourselves in the chairs which faced the Principal's desk, with Kristen in the middle. I could tell the kid was nervous as hell.
"I'm glad that you could both come in on such short notice, but an important matter has arisen," the principal began as she walked around her desk and sat down in her leather chair. When she passed by me, I noticed the absence of a panty line under the fabric of the skirt which was hugging her backside quite nicely. "Kristen was caught smoking behind the school's main building this morning."
"Smoking what?" I asked before my brain could stop me.
"Cigarettes," Ms. Petersen said slowly and gave me an arched eyebrow. I looked over and Alex had an incredulous look on her face and Kristen looked like she was about to die from embarrassment. I simply nodded my understanding.
"Aside from it being illegal because of her age, it's also against the school's policy," the dark haired principal continued. "An infraction such as this is subject to a possible suspension...but Kristen's been with us since Kindergarten and she has never gotten into any kind of trouble like this in all the years she's been here, I'm inclined to overlook a suspension. You will be, however, sent to detention during your lunch hour for the next week. But if anything like this happens again, I will have no choice but to suspend you. Seeing as how this is your senior year, I don't think you want that to happen."
"This is the part where you tell her you understand and say thank you," Alex leaned over and whispered to Kristen.
"I understand," Kristen said meekly. "Thank you, Ms. Petersen."
I leaned over to Kristen and added, "And it won't happen again."
"And it won't happen again," Kristen repeated.
The principal nodded. "How are things at home?" she asked, her voice softer this time.
"It still sucks," Kristen replied. I laughed inwardly at the eloquence of youth. "But it's getting better. At least they're not yelling at each other anymore."
Petersen nodded. "If you ever want to talk, my door is always open," she told the teenager beside me. Then she turned and looked at me and then Alex. "Thank you for taking the time to come in. I trust you'll have a chat about the health risks of smoking?"
"Yes, absolutely," Alex replied and we all stood up to leave.
"Riley, can I have a minute please?" the principal asked me and I looked at her and nodded. Then I turned to Alex and Kristen and told them I'd meet up with them outside the office. Ms. Petersen walked them to her door and opened it up for them and closed it behind them. I stood up and perched myself on the edge of her desk. I picked up the name plate off the desk and read it: Principal M. Petersen.
"Like I said before, this is a first infraction for Kristen so I'm inclined to keep this off the record...I just think that there are some things we should keep between us," she told me as she came over to the desk and sat down beside me on the desk's edge. I nodded, flashes of what had transpired between us the last time we had met flitted through my brain.
"I like what you've done with your hair," she said quietly. "You look good,"
"Thanks, so do you," I replied. I held up the placard. "Principal? Really?"
"We all have our secrets," she joked, her eyes on my mouth, which was smiling as I noted the blush that had crept its way across her chest. "Except for you, right?"
"What you see is what you get," I answered.
"Speaking of seeing, I haven't seen you at Girl Bar in awhile," she said, her eyes fluttering between my eyes and my mouth.
"I've, ah, been busy," I said, realizing how cliched that sounded.
"I'm sure you have been," she said, teasingly and finally closed the gap between us. I was instantly reminded of how soft her lips were and like that night months ago, they tasted like strawberries. She parted her lips and I granted her tongue access to my own as she tangled one hand into my hair. Our lips and tongues reacquainted themselves and I could hear a deep moan emanating from her chest.
When we finally broke apart, she smiled.
"Do you wanna go for a drink?" I asked. I often avoided sleeping with the same woman multiple times if I could help it, but since I had been too busy for any hookups in the past couple of weeks, I was willing to bend the rules a little.
"Are you asking me out on a date?" she asked teasingly.
"I don't date, remember?" I answered, "But since I am trying to get in your pants, or skirt, the least I can do is buy you a drink."
"Always straight to the point," she observed.
"No sense in being coy," I answered. I always believed in honesty when it came to sleeping with women. That way they can't claim to know what my intentions or lack of intentions were.
"I'd love to go for a drink right now but I can't," she answered, breathlessly. "I have a staff dinner meeting. In fact, this whole week is shot."
I nodded my head. "Do you wanna come over Friday night?" she asked.
It was my turn to smile and nod. "Sure, but I don't get off from the restaurant until about midnight."
"I"ll keep the light on," she offered.
"Okay, I'll see you Friday night," I told her and stood up, placing the placard back onto her desk.
"Don't you need my address?" she asked.
I shook my head. "I still remember from last time." She gave me a curious look and then reached up and wiped her lipstick off my lips with her thumb.
"See you Friday," she said. "Oh, and ride your bike. I like you in leather." I chuckled and I let myself out of her office.
As soon as I closed the door behind me, Kris and Alex both stood up from where they were seated in the office and I followed them out into the hallway.
"So what was that all about?" Kristen asked anxiously.
"She said that since this is your first time, she's keeping it off your record," I answered her.
"She could have told that to all of us," Kristen thought out loud and then eyed my suspiciously. "Did you flirt with her?"
I normally don't like to tell lies, but I knew that Principal Michelle Petersen wanted discretion and Kristen didn't need to know about my sex life. "She and I have some mutual friends and we were just catching up," I offered and then added before she could question me further, "Go get your stuff. We'll meet you outside."
Kris did as she was told and went off to her locker to collect her school bag. Alex and I walked out of the building and towards the parking lot.
"You have slept with her, haven't you?" Alex asked, and I thought I had detected some amusement in her voice. While I contemplated my answer, she added, "A seventeen year old girl may not have noticed it, but I certainly saw the hesitation between you two when Kristen introduced you."
I shrugged my shoulders. There was no sense in lying. Besides, for some strange reason, I didn't feel right lying to this woman walking with me. "It was a long time ago," I answered.
"You didn't shag her back there in her office did you?" she asked, this time, sounding fearful of the possible truth.
I laughed. "No, we didn't," I answered. "Besides, I like to take my time." I swore I saw her blush. I considered telling her that I was going to see Michelle later in the week, but then realized it would have sounded like I was whoring myself for Kristen. When we got to my bike, I pointed at it. "This is me, obviously."
"Nice bike," she complimented with a smile, giving the Triumph Street Triple a once over.
"Thank you," I accepted and sat sideways on the seat of the bike. "I have a few weaknesses, fast motor vehicles being one of them."
"And women being the other?" she added teasingly.
"Perhaps," I told her and held her gaze for a moment. I decided to change the subject when Grace's voice kept screaming at me to stop flirting. "Did you find out from Kris why she was smoking?"
"No, she was too busy begging me to not tell her parents that we never got 'round to that conversation," Alex answered.
As if on cue, Kristen came out of the school and joined us in the parking lot.
"So, out with it, girl," Alex accosted her immediately. "How long have you been smoking?"
"I haven't," the girl answered sheepishly. "This was my first time."
"What on earth would possess you to try smoking?" Alex continued to interrogate the kid.
"Riley smokes," Kris tried to deflect the topic to me. Alex turned to look at me and I realized that I had a cigarette in my mouth and my lighter in my hand.
"I smoke as a form of occupational therapy," I began to defend myself but then realized what Kris was doing. "Besides, this isn't about me, it's about you," I told her, diverting the conversation back to her.
Alex turned back to Kris and added, "It's a disgusting habit not to mention it's illegal for you and unhealthy!" Alex and Kristen both turned to look at me again.
It was something in the way Alex said "disgusting" that made me lose all desire to light up the tobacco stick. I stopped mid-action and closed the lid of my lighter. I took the cigarette and put it back in the pack, aimed the pack and tossed it into a garbage bin nearby.
"I'll quit so long as you don't start up," I told Kristen after Alex gave me a curious look.
Alex turned back to Kristen, expecting some kind of response from the girl who finally shrugged her shoulders and said, "It was kinda gross anyway. It won't happen again."
"It had better not or you know I'll have to let the parental unit know," I told her and she looked at me as if to say "how could you betray me?"
She's always known that I am a woman of my word, so as long as she kept her nose clean, I would forget about the incident from today. Luckily for her, she accepted today's victory and I knew she wouldn't be caught dead smoking again, at least before she turned eighteen. Softening my demeanor, I asked her, "Do you want a ride or do you wanna risk it with the Brit in the behemoth SUV?"
"Hmmm....motorcycle...Range Rover....motorcycle....Range Rover," Kristen pretended to weigh her options. "Not much of a contest there."
I unlocked the extra helmet I had brought along and she slipped it on. "I'll follow you back to the house," I told Alex.
We arrived home after awhile as I was still getting used to driving on the wrong side of the street so avoided the freeways as much as possible, which resulted in a lot of side and residential roads to return to Grace's house in Pacific Palisades. But we made it back without incident and Kristen climbed off the motorcycle. For some inexplicable reason, I heard myself ask, "Do you want to stay for a bit? Maybe for dinner?" Riley, still sitting on her motorbike looked at me curiously.
"That is if you don't have any plans," I managed to stutter out. What was I thinking. Of course THE Riley Carson, if she was who Grace seemed to personify her as, would have plans on a day off.
"Are you cooking?" she asked and I couldn't tell if she was horrified at the thought of eating a vegetarian meal or if she was teasing me again.
"Yes, I can cook, thank you very much," I told her, feigning offense at her comment.
"So long as it's not vegetarian lasagna, I'd love to stay," she answered, getting off her motorcycle.
"I promise it won't be vegetarian lasagna," I assured her. She took off her helmet and ruffled her hair which was now a haphazard mess, but nonetheless adorable. 'Christ, get a grip, Alexis!' a voice inside my head shouted at me. I mentally shook my head and we headed into the house where Kristen went off to change out of her school uniform and Riley and I went into the kitchen to get a drink. Riley, to my surprise, declined an offer for a beer and instead chose sparkling water, reasoning that she didn't like to drink and drive, even if it was just one beer. Kristen came down after changing and asked Riley to help her with some chemistry homework. Thankfully Riley was able to help her as I have always been pretty useless when it came to the sciences.
I grabbed my laptop and figured I'd try to see if I could get past my writer's block and settled down at the breakfast counter, a few feet away from the two younger girls to give them some room. I browsed through the archives of the LA Times to see what articles had been written already and what had not to give me a starting point. I caught myself frequently looking over my laptop towards Riley and Kristen and the older one would, intermittently, try to explain something to the teenager animatedly with her hands and arms. She wore a silver ring on her right middle finger and I noticed that she had strong yet feminine hands with long slender fingers.
After she had explained how rates of reactions were calculated, she folded her arms on the counter and watched Kristen work on some exercises from her text book. Riley's right hand was rubbing her left upper arm and when her t-shirt sleeve inched up a blt, I thought I saw another tattoo on her tricep. I wondered just how many tattoos this girl had? I had heard they were addictive but I just thought it was an excuse for people to get more tattoos. My mind began to wonder about other things - When did she first realize she was gay? How many women had she been with? Was she a one-night stand kind of girl or did she ever have girlfriends? If she had girlfriends, then that encounter that left her with a hangover a couple of weeks ago, was that an indiscretion? Had she ever cheated? I must have zoned out because the next thing I knew, she was looking right at me with smirk on her face and I felt myself blushing.
"How's it going?" she asked, giving a nod to my laptop.
I swallowed a mouthful of air. "Um, fine, thank you. Just a bit of writer's block."
"I'm sure you'll come up with something," she answered and gave me a smile and I couldn't help but smile in return. "I've read your blogs. You're a talented writer."
I felt myself blush even more. "Thank you."
She turned back to Kristen and the homework but not before I caught a quick wink. I chastised myself for having been staring at her and then getting caught. I argued with myself that I couldn't help it. There was just something so charming and alluring about her. When was the last time I had met anyone as charming as her? Ah yes, years ago, and I fell in love with him. And he cheated on me. No, I had promised myself that I would not write anything regarding my ex-boyfriend or the heartache I had gone through because then I'd just be another bitter bitch who was done wrong by a man and writing about it. But wait...I looked up at Riley again and I could see why Grace called her a Casanova. She had a very strong sex appeal to her. What if I wrote a series of articles? What if I wrote about infidelities and indiscretions and all the different types and forms they take on? Articles on topics like infidelity are bound to bring in a plethora of comments and that's exactly what newspapers do - they want comments, good or bad, because it meant someone was reading it.
I started to type down my ideas for what I'd write about and before I knew it, I had come up with three possible article ideas for my series. And even if the LA Times editor didn't want it or like them, I could post them on my own blog. Ah, the perks of being a freelance journalist. "You sound like you're on a roll," Riley's voice broke through my thoughts and I looked up to see her sitting on the bar stool beside me.
"I guess when an idea hits, I run with it," I answered and looked at the wall clock. "I guess I best get on with making dinner, shouldn't I?"
"Can I help with anything?" she offered and I was going to say no, but then remembered that I was in the presence of a professional chef. What in the hell was I thinking, inviting a professional chef to have dinner with us?
"The Caesar Salad?" I tossed out as an option.
"Caesar salad I can make," she said smiling.
"Good," I told her and shut down my laptop. "I was going to make mushroom risotto. That alright?"
"Sounds good...but where does the meat come in?" she deadpanned.
Luckily, before I got my knickers in a knot, I realized she was teasing me again. "Indulge me, alright?" I pleaded with her, looking into her green eyes. I saw her tongue flick over her bottom lip and she bit down on it. "Absolutely," she finally said huskily, the brown flecks in her eyes having grown darker.
She went to the fridge to gather whatever ingredients she felt she needed to make the dressing from scratch and I got the rice, vegetable stock, mushrooms and other ingredients for the risotto. I set the stock to begin simmering on the stove while I cut up the shallots, garlic and mushrooms. As I started to slice the first shallot, I thought I heard something from my kitchen companion. I looked over at her and she had a huge grin on her face and I realized she was chuckling *at* me."What?" I asked self-consciously.
"May I?" she asked softly in that deep voice I have found to be soothing. She held out her hand and it took me a moment to realize that she was asking me for the knife I was holding. I offered her the handle and she moved closer beside me and took it. Holding her right hand open, palm facing upwards, she laid the knife handle in her palm and proceeded to explain to me how to position my middle finger against the back of the blade and how to grasp the knife blade between my thumb and side of my index finger. "Don't treat the knife as an extension of you. It *is* you," she explained rather seriously.
"Does that work on all the girls?" I teased her and a flash of confusion crossed her facial features.
"What?" she asked.
"The whole Zen of cooking and slicing and dicing," I elaborated and she lowered her head and grinned, her cheeks turning pink.
"Oh," she said with realization. "Yeah, I guess that did come out pretty cheesy." She put the knife down and moved around me to stand on my right side. Her embarrassment was quite cute actually, and for the first time since I had met her, I felt like she wasn't intentionally flirting or turning on the charm.
"Hold out your hand," she told me and I complied, holding my right hand out, palm facing upwards. She put her right hand under mine and placed the knife in my hand. With her hands, she closed my fingers around the knife and positioned my thumb and index finger accordingly. "See how much more control you have over the knife when you hold it this way?" she asked, her hand still on mine as she turned it and we mimicked some cutting motions. I nodded. From the first moment her hand touched mine, I had felt a flush throughout my body and I couldn't trust my voice to not betray the rapid beating inside my chest. She released my hand and handed me one of the shallot bulbs. I started to slice into it and after a couple of cuts, she had me stop and hand her the knife and showed me how to properly dice the shallot. She handed the knife back to me. Her proximity had caused a momentary lapse in my short term memory and I apparently grasped the knife handle incorrectly. She quietly corrected me and adjusted the knife in my hand again and I was able to dice the second shallot to her approval.
She returned to making the salad dressing and the salad and then proceeded to cut up the wild mushrooms while I started to cook the risotto. We chatted amiably while we cooked and I learned that she had taken a year off after high school and travelled through Latin America, Europe and Asia. As she went from place to place, she had begun to appreciate the various local cuisine and flavors. Half way through her travels, she decided to become a chef and applied to the Culinary Institute of America in New York and started her studies after her world tour. She worked in a few restaurants to gain as much experience as she could and saved up to open up Claire de Lune with her best friend. When she talked about her experiences and of her own restaurant, I saw a raw and honest passion that emanated from her. If only more people could be as passionate about their work as she was, there would be a lot more happier people in the world.
When the risotto and mushrooms were cooked, we mixed them together and then I surprised her with a sprinkle of truffle oil on each plate of rice. Kristen and Maddison joined us for dinner and retreated back to their rooms to finish their homework and studies. As we cleared the table and were putting the dishes in the dishwasher, I inquired as to when she had gotten into motorcycle riding and she asked if I wanted to go for a ride. The girls were occupied with their studying and Grace had not required a ride from the airport as she was having a car service pick her and Sarah up, so I accepted the invitation. I changed from out of my skirt into a pair of jeans and a leather jacket and we headed out to her bike.
She handed me the spare helmet and before I strapped it on, she outlined her three rules for riding with her, "Hold onto me at all times. Lean with me when I lean. Do not get off the bike until I tell you it's safe. Okay?" she asked, doing up the chin strap on her own helmet. I nodded and she got on her bike and lifted it off the kick stand. She motioned for me to climb on, which I did, and I wrapped my arms around her waist. She started the engine and after checking that I was ready, we rolled down and out the drive way.
I was nervous at first, as I had never been on a motorcycle before, but she handled the bike well, shifting smoothly from one gear to the next. I could tell that she wasn't going as fast as she probably normally did, and I was grateful for it so that I could acclimate myself to the feeling of basically being unprotected on the streets and moving fast. Once we left the busy city streets and found ourselves on more deserted roads in the mountain ranges, she picked up some more speed and we wove and wound our way up the cliffs. The feeling of being on the motorcycle with her was exhilarating and I could see why she rode a bike. Eventually she slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road where there was a patch of ground for stopping on an otherwise narrow roadway. She killed the engine and held the bike for me to dismount first. We went to the edge of the clearing and sat down on the ground.
I looked out and took in the breath taking view. In front of us was the Pacific Ocean and surrounding our sides and backs were mountains. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply and slowly let out my breath. The fresh air and peacefulness of our location relaxed me instantly.
"I've never brought anyone up here with me before," I heard her say softly. I glanced at her and saw her eyes fixed out into the horizon. She looked tranquil. "It's just always been my little place where I can go and just...be."
Her statement, although simplistic, conveyed a lot of meaning and I realized that perhaps being the eldest offspring of a rock star and a supermodel may have been too much of a spotlight on her, although one probably couldn't tell that from seeing and meeting her. I knew what it was like to grow up with famous parents. What it was like making sure that whatever you said or did couldn't come back to harm your parents or their reputation. Luckily for me, Grace's modeling career took the spotlight off of me and I was more than happy to disappear from the public eye to a certain extent when I got older and started to live my own life.
"I have an embarrassing admission to make," I confessed and she looked at me and raised her eyebrows, her facial expression soft and encouraging.
"I've been here once before, but by complete accident," I told her. "I had gone out to the store one day and was driving home when I took a wrong turn and got lost. Of course I was too proud to stop and ask for directions, thinking my sense of direction was better than what it really was, and anyway, I somehow ended up here. I would have panicked about being lost, but when I sat and looked out at the ocean, it didn't seem so bad that I was lost. Eventually a passerby gave me directions back to Grace's home. I've been wanting to come back here but I can't remember how for the life of me."
"Well, I'm glad to be of service," she said with a nod of her head and a swing of her arm out towards the view. I couldn't help but smile.
She smiled a genuine smile of amusement which reached all the way to her bright eyes and made her dimples appear. The breeze blew her long wavy hair across her face and I instinctively reached out and tucked some hair behind her ear. Her smile faded and I saw her eyes quickly flicked from my own eyes down to my mouth and back up. I pulled my hand back. "I'm sorry," I apologized. "It's just an involuntary reaction I have. I know you're straight, so, um, I'm not trying to hit on you or anything like that." I heard myself babble on and forced myself to stop before I made an even bigger fool out of myself.
"Oh, okay, no apology required," she told me and I thought I heard a slight hint of disappointment. "I'm comfortable with you being gay and I'm not going to take every action or statement as flirtation."
"Good," I said, relieved. Wait, but what if I wanted to flirt with her? Would she be oblivious to it? 'No! No flirting with Alex!' I heard Grace's voice in my head scolding me.
"So what brought you out to Califor-nigh-eh?" I asked, trying to change the subject to something more neutral. "Speaking as a native Californian, it may be beautiful here, but it's not exactly London, you know?"
"I needed a change in scenery and Grace was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the divorce," she answered and seemed to hesitate for a moment before she continued, "I had just gotten out of a five year relationship and I suppose I just needed an excuse to sell my flat."
"Too many memories?" I asked, treading lightly. I had no idea what being in an adult relationship was like, much less a five year one, and from what Grace told me, it appeared to have ended badly.
"Yeah," she answered, looking out at the ocean. "It was a blessing in disguise though. I had lost myself in the relationship, so now I'm just going to take my time and just....be." I looked over at her and saw a smile tugging on the corners of her mouth as she echoed my earlier comment.
I offered her a smile in appreciation of her teasing. "I have no idea what it's like to be in a relationship," I admitted and she looked at me as if she was waiting for me to continue with "of five years." When I didn't say anything more, she raised her eyebrows.
"You've never been in a relationship?" she asked, disbelievingly.
"Not unless you count sleeping with the same person for three consecutive weeks in college," I answered. I bit down on my lower lip "I'm a random hookup kind of girl. I'm just not cut out for relationships with women. I love women - it's just that they tend to get too needy for my capabilities. I have enough stress at work as it is so I just wanna take it easy when I'm not there."
"I don't think all women are too needy," she countered and I wondered if she thought I implied she was a needy type..
"I didn't say that all women are needy," I explained and then added, "I haven't slept with all the women in the world so I can't attest to their requirements."
At that, she laughed, asking "How many women have you slept with?"
I sucked on my bottom lip, contemplating my answer. She must have taken my pause as a bad sign because she quickly added, "I'm sorry, that's really none of my business."
"No, I was just trying to do a mental count," I shook it off lightly. "Let's just say I've slept with enough to know I'm not the relationship type."
"You're very adamant about that aren't you?" she asked, looking at me sideways. "The relationship thing."
"I like to be honest," I told her. "I don't make pretenses about what I look for when it comes to women."
"And how's that working out for you?" she asked teasingly.
"Most of the time it works out fine," I admitted. "But every once in a while, someone will be convinced that they can convert me, using the 'you just haven't met the right woman' argument."
"And you don't believe that," she commented.
"I believe there are those who are capable of relationships," I answered. "I'm just not one of them. I don't have that gene that monogamous people have."
"So it's not so much that you don't want to be in a relationship, you just don't want to be stuck with one person," she pointed out.
"That's exactly why I don't do relationships - people who are in them call it being 'stuck'," I teased back. "Let's just say I have a broad appreciation for women and I want to get to know as many of them as I can."
She laughed and shook her head. "You really are your father's daughter aren't you?"
"Life's short," I answered. "You gotta enjoy it while you can."
"You're absolutely right about that one," she concurred and we sat for awhile longer in a companionable silence, enjoying the view. It felt different, spending time with an attractive woman and not actively flirting. We seemed to have a mutual affinity for teasing one another, but in a relaxed and honest way. After the sun had set completely, we headed back to the house.
"Thank you so much," she said, after she dismounted the bike and took off her helmet. I turned off the engine and strapped the extra helmet back onto my bike. Just then, a car pulled up and it was Grace returning from the airport. We helped Grace with her luggage into the house.
"Where have you kids been?" Grace asked lightly but I knew she was taking the situation in any way but light.
"I was helping Kris with her homework and stayed for dinner," I answered, not giving away why I was over at their house in the first place. "Then we just went for a ride up to Malibu."
Alex asked if I wanted to stay for a drink. I was going to accept, but the look on Grace's face made me think better of it so I politely declined.
"You have somewhere else to be?" she teased me again.
"Something like that," I answered and smiled. I had found myself smiling quite a bit in her company.
"Thank you again," she said. "I had a wonderful time."
"You're welcome," I told her.
"I'll walk you out," Grace said and ushered me out the front door, her arm hooked onto mine.
"How was New York?" I asked, intentionally avoiding the lecture I knew was coming.
"New York was busy but it went well," she answered, obviously not interested in sharing any details with me at the moment. "What are you doing with Alex?"
"Nothing," I told her. "We just went for a ride. I'm not trying to flirt with her. I'm not trying to do anything. She's straight. I don't try to convert straight girls, okay? That's not my scene. Especially straight girls who've been hurt recently."
Grace sighed. "I'm sorry, Rye," she said and I could feel the tension slowly leaving her body. "It's just that she's my baby sister and she's been through a lot lately. And I know the affect you have on women, yes, even straight women. I just don't want Alex getting hurt."
I nodded. Grace was right. Despite my honesty with the women I have slept with, I can't honestly say that none of them ever got hurt. Suddenly I found it difficult to say the next words, but I forced myself to say them to Grace. "I promise I'll keep my distance."
"Don't forget," she said. "Kris' birthday party on Saturday."
"I didn't forget," I told her. "I'll knock off early and I'll be there. Joe treating you well?" I asked, referring to the caterer whom I had introduced them to for the party.
"He's wonderful," she answered. "Ride safely."
I nodded and pulled on my helmet and rode off.
I pulled up to the familiar white house shortly after midnight and rang the doorbell. The door opened and Michelle was wearing a spaghetti strap tank top and silk pajama pants.
"You're late," she scolded me in a teacher-like manner. I stepped into the house, closing the door behind me and held out my arms to show her I was wearing my riding gear. "Forgiven," she acquiesced and grabbed me by the jacket and pulled me into a hungry kiss. I dropped my helmet onto the armchair beside the door as she pushed me up against the door, her body pinned against mine.
While our lips and tongues got re-acquainted, she proceeded to strip me of my leather jacket and I cupped her ass with my hands. She started kissing my neck as her hands slid under my shirt. I stopped her hands with my own and instead, stripped her of her shirt and pants, revealing her black lace bra and matching thong. We continued to kiss as I tried guiding her to her couch but we got distracted and ended up on her living room floor.
"You're wearing too many clothes," she told me in between kisses.
"Patience," I told her and began kissing her neck and down her chest. Removing her bra I gently tugged on her right nipple, before paying the left one a little more attention. For my efforts she arched her back, pressing her breasts into my mouth. I rewarded her with a slight bite that made her breathing grow heavy and ragged as she told me, "I need... you...fuck me now!"
It wasn't the first time I'd heard this in my life and I know my cocky grin only fueled her more. I watched as she took off her thong, threw it at me, and positioned herself on her hands and knees on the couch, her ass slightly raised for me to slip between the cushions and where she wanted me. She spread her legs wide and wasted no time grinding herself onto my tongue, setting her own rhythm as she rocked. When she picked up her pace, I slid two fingers inside her, curling them upward as I began to pulse both them and my mouth against her in perfect sync with one another. I felt her start to tighten, her orgasm growing from within, before she began bucking against my face and hand, her mouth screaming out profanities that would surely have earned detention at her school.
When she came down from her orgasm, her upper body collapsed down onto her arms on the couch, her ass still on display and I appreciated the view she was giving me. I pulled away and stripped my t-shirt off and moved to hover over her when she decided at that moment to push herself up. The last thing I remembered was the back of her head crashing against my face and then a white blinding pain. I must have yelled out because soon she was sitting up with me, apologizing profusely. I removed my hands from my face and saw blood in them. She fumbled for some tissues on the table behind the couch and when I went to wipe my nose, I was almost blinded again by the pain. "What the fuck!" I yelled out.
"Holy shit, I think I broke your nose!" she said, panicked at first and then when I caught her eye and realized that she was probably right, along with the state of undress we were in, something in both of us snapped and we started to laugh.
"Stop, it hurts when I laugh," I told her. Still holding the tissue under my nose, I went in search of my phone in my jacket.
"Lemme get dressed and I'll take you to the hospital," she said, heading off to her bedroom.
"I'll ride my bike," I called out stubbornly but when I bent down to get my jacket off the floor, the pain shot through my face again and more blood dripped out of my hose.
"Like hell you will," she told me when she returned, pulling on a t-shirt and zipping up her jeans.
We headed to her car and I dialed Lenny's number. Luckily she and her girlfriend, Gabriella, were at the house and so I asked them to meet me at the hospital to give me a ride home. When we pulled up to the ER entrance, I thanked her for the ride and said that I already arranged for a ride home.
"I'm not just going to drop you off like this," she said.
"It's okay, see, my ride's here already," I pointed to Lenny's car pulling into the parking lot "Besides, I wouldn't want them to have you arrested for assaulting me during sex."
"I am so sorry," she said for the nth time.
"You owe me one," I told her and gave her a wink. I got out of the car and waited for Lenny and Gabriella. When Michelle saw that I had company, she pulled away and drove off.
Lenny took one look at the bloody tissues I was holding against my nose and said, "I guess you can't say it's boring anymore."
"Bite me," was all I could think of through the pain. "What took you guys so long? Our house is only five minutes away."
"Sorry...strap-on," Lenny deadpanned.
The house was filled with people, mostly teenagers, as they all gathered to wish Kris a happy seventeenth birthday. I mingled and chatted with some of them but spent most of the evening chatting with Grace, Sarah, Rod and even Sal. Surprisingly, Sal and Grace were very well behaved around each other and I was glad to see that they were able to put aside their issues for Kristen's sake so that she could enjoy her special day.
"Where's your new girlfriend?" Madison asked Sal when she and her best friend, Kenzie, came over and joined us. So much for trying to keep the peace. Ever since the divorce, Madison had made no effort to hide her hostility towards any of Sal's new female companions.
"Not here," Sal answered calmly and added, "Today's your sister's day and I'm here to help her celebrate." I glanced over at Grace and saw her give him an appreciative smile. I smiled inwardly, glad that the two adults in the family were finally behaving maturely.
As we sat around, we all reminisced about Kristen growing up and I realized how much of my niece's lives I had missed out on having lived on the other side of the world. But now that I was living here and Madison was going to college close to home and Kristen was going to do the same, I would get a chance to know them a little better as adults.
Grace and Sal left to chat with the guests as the party was winding down and people were making their exodus. I headed into the kitchen to refill my wine glass. When I entered the kitchen, Kristen was talking to someone with a blond faux-hawk. I wasn't sure who it was as she had her back to me, but given the posture that exuded confidence and plain coolness, even from behind, I had a pretty good guess.
"This is so cool! Thanks, Riley," Kristen said, indicating an envelope she was holding in her hand and they embraced.
"Happy Birthday, kiddo," Riley told her and they broke apart.
"Do you want some ice?" Kristen asked but Riley shook her head.
"I've taken some pain killers and I've been icing it pretty much all day already. Go, say bye to your friends," the chef's deep voice replied. Kristen smiled and left the kitchen. Riley turned around and I was shocked at what I saw. Her nose was swollen and she had black eyes. She looked like she had been hit by a truck and was in pain.
"Oh my God, what happened?" I asked, feeling an uncontrollable urge to do something to help her. I walked over to her and my hand involuntarily lifted to touch her face. I quickly realized that I didn't want to risk causing her more pain so stopped myself.
"Long story but basically I have a broken nose," she answered sheepishly and I could have sworn she was blushing.
"Does it hurt? It looks painful," I said, wincing.
"When the pain killers wear off, yes, it hurts," she answered. "But right now, it's just annoying because I can't breathe through my nose very well."
"God, when did it happen?" I continued to inquire.
"Last night," she answered and I realized that she wasn't going to elaborate any further. "So where are the people I do recognize?"
"Outside in the back," I replied. I grabbed a wine bottle while she grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and we headed out to the back yard.
As soon as Sarah and Rod saw their firstborn, they were immediately on their feet and by her side, inquiring about what happened. Riley, always cool and unaffected, simply said "It was an accident. I'm fine," and sat down on part of the sectional sofa with her parents. Sarah put an arm around her and to my surprise, Riley leaned her head on her mother's shoulder while Sarah wrapped her arm protectively around her. "My poor baby," I heard Sarah hush.
"What happened, a jealous girlfriend or boyfriend?" Rod asked with amusement.
"No," Riley said, her eyes closed but then I saw a smirk on her lips, one which was practically identical to her father's. "Not this time." I shook my head in wonder at just what kind of lifestyle this mysterious young woman led.
"Oh my God, did you steal someone's girlfriend?" Grace's voice asked from behind me as she, Kristen and Sal returned from having seen off the guests for the night.
"No," Riley answered, her eyes opened this time, a hint of frustration in her voice, but then she added flippantly, "At least I don't think so. Look, it wasn't a violent situation or a fight or anything like that so don't worry about it."
"Are you going to need surgery?" Sal asked.
"No, the doctor in the ER last night didn't think so," she answered. "I have to go back after the swelling goes down so they can check it again."
"Seriously, what happened?" Sarah asked, full of concern.
"I walked into a wall," Riley answered.
"You're not going to tell us are you?" Madison inquired with a knowing smile.
"Nope," came the reply, her head still on Sarah's shoulder.
"Did it involve one of your hussies?" Sarah teased.
"Are you kidding me? Your precious is the hussy!" Grace pointed out and laughed.
Riley just rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You know, I haven't had a smoke in five days. I really do not need the abuse right now, especially about my social life."
Everyone gave her a questioning look at her admission about her tobacco habit but she raised a hand and shook her head again, putting a stop to any impending questions.
"My friends think it's great that you're so open about being gay," Kristen said, lying down on the other part of the sectional sofa, her head on Grace's lap and her feet on Sal's lap. It felt like old times having everyone together again.
"So, how did you come out to Uncle Rod and Aunt Sarah?" Kristen asked.
"I didn't exactly come out to them," Riley said hesitantly. I arched an eyebrow questioningly. I would've thought that as confident and self-assured as she was, she probably came out as soon as she first realized she liked girls.
"No, she got caught," Sarah added, laughing.
"You got caught?" Madison, Kenzie and Kristen asked in unison, wide eyed. "How?"
"Well..." Sarah began and Riley closed her eyes and shook her head.
"Oh, I remember that night!" Grace interjected, grinning.
"Please, they don't need to hear this," Riley said and laid her head down onto Sarah's lap and pulled her jacket over her head. She curled up her body onto the sofa. She looked adorably child like, wearing jeans and canvas sneakers. Her fetal position on the couch was a stark contrast to the edgy punk rocker image that her faux-hawk gave off.
I was thoroughly intrigued by now to find out what could have happened that would cause this much embarrassment to the young Casanova.
"It was the summer that Riley came back from Europe," Sarah began the story. "We had gone out for dinner with your parents and she was at home alone. I believe Sam was over here babysitting you girls. At any rate, we were supposed to go to a show but for some reason it got cancelled and we came home to just hang out and have some drinks."
"Kill me now," I heard Riley mumble from under her jacket.
"Anyway, we came home and the next thing we knew, Riley was coming into the house, her hair was wet and her clothes sticking to her so it was obvious she was in the pool and just haphazardly threw her clothes on," Sarah continued. "Clearly she wasn't expecting us home so soon. Then a girl comes out from the guest bathroom, Riley introduced us, and then walked the girl out to her car."
"So there was a point in time when you remembered the girls' names," Madison teased.
"So while Riley's seeing this girl off, I went to sit on the couch and noticed something under the coffee table. I pull it out and it's a bra. So Sarah checks the label and it's clear the bra didn't belong to Riley," Grace continued the story.
"How?" Kristen asked with rapt attention.
"Well, 'cause the bra was a D cup and well, Riley...is not," Sarah said, pulling the jacket off of Riley's head to reveal the blushing blond. We all chuckled at the chef's expense.
"So she comes back into the house and Sarah's dangling this bra in front of her and Riley tries to pass it off as hers, being all apologetic about leaving her clothes around the house," Grace continued. "Your father comes over to the couch to sit down and lifts up a throw pillow and there's the matching undergarment to the bra. There was no way in hell any of us were going to touch it."
"By now, I'm trying to process why that girl's underwear was strewn around in my living room and Riley was just fixated with staring at the floor," Sarah added. "I told her to make sure her 'friend' got her underwear back and I went upstairs with your mother to change and well, get over the shock of what I had just discovered."
"What did you do, Uncle Rod?" Madison asked the blond haired bass guitar player.
"Yeah, Dad, what did you do?" Riley repeated.
Rod pursed his lips and said, proudly, "I told her 'D cup? Well done, kiddo!' and your father and I took her out to the patio and poured her a drink and gave her a cigar."
Sarah shook her head and rolled her eyes. "I couldn't believe how you guys were egging her on."
Rod and Sal both gave her a shoulder shrug as if they didn't know what she was talking about.
"You asked if Riley was that girl's first and then you gave her this," Sarah recollected, holding her hand up in the universal "rock 'n roll" gesture with the index finger and pinky finger sticking up. "And then when you asked her if she was in love, she said 'Love's a strong four letter word.' and you agreed with her. Not only that, you told her to never promise marriage!"
"Because what does marriage lead to, Dad?" Riley asked snarkily.
"Marriage leads to lesbian bed death," Rod said very matter-of-factly.
"And you know this how?" Riley continued asking her father with whom she obviously shared an appreciation for women and a fear of commitment.
"Well, I'm a learned man," Rod replied, smiling.
"Can someone show me where the Tylenol is?" Riley asked, sitting up. "I think I need some more painkillers after this little session."
I had noticed since the moment that Riley joined us, Kenzie had been subtly stealing glances at her, so it was no surprise to me when Kenzie volunteered and led her into the house and Sarah continued to chide Rod about how they had encouraged and passed on his womanizing ways to their daughter. As much as Sam was Sarah's daughter, Riley was clearly Rod's daughter, from the physical resemblance to their love of women. But hands down, Riley was much prettier than her father.
Grace re-filled everyone's glasses with wine and emptied the bottle I had brought out. I got up and offered to get some more from the house, which earned me a questioning look from my sister. I grabbed a bottle of Merlot from the wine rack in the kitchen and was about to return to the back yard when I heard Kenzie's and Riley's voices in the hallway on the other side of the wall from the kitchen. I knew I should've left them alone but I was curious when I heard Kenzie's voice ask, "Do you, um, wanna go out some time...for coffee maybe?"
"Kenzie, does Maddi know that you're..." Riley asked softly.
"Gay?" Kenzie finished the question.
"Asking me out?" Riley corrected her.
"No," Kenzie replied. "I think she knows that I like you, but she doesn't know I'm asking you out."
"You're what, nineteen?" Riley asked.
"Twenty," Kenzie answered.
"Kenzie, I'm flattered, I really am. I've known you for a few years and I know what a wonderful person you are, and if I were younger and the girlfriend/relationship type, I'd say yes in a heartbeat," Riley said to her softly. "But I don't do the dating thing, so I'm not exactly the best...choice for you. You're young. Go out, meet other girls, have fun, and if you're still interested, call me when you're twenty-one." There was some silence which I assumed was some kind of understanding between then and then I heard Riley add, "Thanks for showing me where the Tylenol is."
I took that as my cue to make my way out. "Hey," Riley's voice called out to me. I turned around and smiled, a stirring of concern rising up inside of me as I took in her swollen nose and black eyes again. I held up the bottle of wine and indicated the crowd outside with a tilt of my head. "Alkies," I joked.
"Are you alright?" I asked, more seriously.
"I'm fine, this isn't the first time they've embarrassed me and it won't be the last," she answered and it took me a moment to realize she was referring to the story of her coming out.
"I meant your nose," I clarified with a smile.
"Oh, right," she said and nodded. "Just an unfortunate accident."
I offered her a comforting smile and I don't know why but she added meekly, "I was with someone and she moved one way, I moved the other, and next thing I know, I have a broken nose."
"There's a lot to be said about safe sex," I joked lamely but actually got a smile out of her in return.
Just then, everyone started to pile into the house from the patio. Apparently a challenge had been thrown out about who had dancing skills and who didn't and so they were going to bring out the dancing video game. Shrugging our shoulders, we joined them in the family room.
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