“Turn!” I yell at the car in front of me. I’m already seven minutes late and the person in front of me, who obviously isn’t in the same kind of hurry I am, is killing my patience. I hate being late. I lean back in my car and slowly count to ten to calm down. My clock flips and now I’m eight minutes late. I can see Kirkwood Culinary Academy up ahead. I’m twenty-seven years old and I still get butterflies on the first day of school. Technically, it’s the first day of my last semester at the academy where I will finally complete my culinary apprenticeship and become a certified chef. When I quit law school and told my family, my mother sank down on the couch and sobbed. She handled my coming out ten years ago much better. I know she wants what’s best for me, but in her mind, what’s best equals money. In my mind, and in my heart, it’s happiness. Cooking is my true talent. I have a relationship with food that I treat with respect. Food talks to me. I talk back. Unfortunately, I can’t get to class because not everybody is in a hurry. I say a quick “thank you” to whoever is listening when the old man finally turns. I whip across traffic directly on his tail. The second I can pass him, I do. I skid into the parking lot and grab the closest spot I can find. I choke on my seat belt before remembering to unlatch it. Karma for being an impatient ass to the little old man. I sprint to the heavy doors and barge through them, ignoring the startled students lounging in the chairs by the entrance.
I find my class and quietly close the door, hoping to slip into an empty chair in the back of the class. No such luck. There are only two seats open. One is easy to get to, but in the front row. The other is in the third row, but I’d have to climb over students to reach it. Since I’m positive I’ve already irritated the new teacher, I decide to take the seat near her and not disrupt class further. She looks up from her quick review of the syllabus and we make eye contact. If we were at a bar, a grocery store, anywhere but here, I would give her a flirtatious smile. She’s absolutely gorgeous. I stand there for a moment or two before she lifts her eyebrow at me.
“Chef, I’m sorry for being late. It won’t happen again.” I quickly drop into the open seat, breaking eye contact only to make sure my ass lands in the chair and not on the floor.
“I’m sure it won’t.” Her voice is low and dark; the huskiness sends chills across my body. This class just got more interesting. I grab a pen as she hands me a copy of the syllabus. Her name is Taryn Ellis. “This is probably the only day we will be sitting. The rest of the time will be spent in the kitchen. Are there any questions so far?”
Um, yes. Who are you? Where did you come from? Are you single? “I know you’re new to the academy. What made you want to come here and teach?” I ask. I know all of the instructors here because I’ve worked closely with each one over the years. She looks at me in surprise. “I’m sorry if you’ve already answered that.”
“No, it’s a good question. I was asked by the Academy to come and teach. Their schedule fit mine, so I said yes.”
“Are you from another institution or restaurant?” I hear a few students snicker. “I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just curious.” I don’t want Taryn to think I’m somehow making fun of her.
“Both, actually. I worked as Executive Chef at Rally’s downtown for a year and the Culinary Institution here in town.” Before I have a chance to ask her any more questions, she resumes the conversation about class expectations and goals for the students. I find her fascinating. She’s beautiful, probably in her early thirties, and has an accent. I can’t tell if it’s British or Australian.
She brings up the three students still eligible for the Excellence in Culinary Arts Scholarship to attend another culinary school for ten months in Venice, Italy. My competition is fierce. Scott McDonnell is a few years older than I am, and we have battled the last two and a half years. Mary Martin is a distant third, but her pastries kick ass and she has beaten us both with desserts. When Taryn calls my name and realizes I’m the third, she has a hard time hiding her surprise.
“Well, Miss Katherine Blake, hopefully your cooking is better than your timing,” she says. She’s smiling this time so I know she’s teasing.
“Ki. Call me Ki.”
“Quit flirting, Ki,” Scott says. He pokes my back with his pen. I try not to cringe and do my best to hold eye contact with Taryn. She pretends not to hear him and I pretend not to be embarrassed.
“Over the last few years, you’ve grown as chefs, learned how to run a restaurant, and how to plate. Our goal is to fine tune all of what you’ve learned, improve your palates, and learn how to cook under pressure. Even though everybody here interns at their choice of restaurant or food service as part of the program, I’m going to throw you into different environments and see how well you perform. There will be a few nights we will have class, but I will let you know well in advance so you can make the appropriate arrangements.” A few students shuffle at their desks, obviously not happy, but nobody says anything. At least not on the first day.
“Well, if there are no more questions, let’s get cooking.” She glances at the clock. “I’m giving you the afternoon to prepare me a dish of your choosing. It can be any style of cooking. If you can find it in the kitchen, you can cook it. I want to be able to gauge where you are myself. Today, we start fresh. No looking at recipes or pulling up something on your phones or laptops. Let’s see how well you do from memory.”
She dismisses us with a quick wave of her hand and we scurry for prime spots in the kitchen. I feel like I’m in an episode of Top Chef. I find a spot near the refrigerators, but far enough away so that I’m not bothered by people running back and forth to get ingredients. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and think. What would a woman who lives to cook, loves to cook, wants to teach others to cook, want to taste right now? She’s slender so I’m guessing she doesn’t indulge much in the classic French cooking style where everything is drowned in butter, or bathed in heavy cream. No, she likes to eat healthy. I decide on cedar smoked salmon with rosemary mustard. When I open my eyes, I find her looking at me before she looks down at her laptop. I don’t know why, but the look she gives me fills me with hope. I feel encouraged. I don’t see her look at Scott, or Mary, or any of the other students in the class. I’m even more determined to impress her.
Cooking has always calmed me. Regardless of time constraints. When I’m in the zone, nothing bothers me. The only time I’m arrogant is in the kitchen.
“Chefs, don’t forget hats and coats,” she says. Shit. In my haste this afternoon, I forgot mine. Strike two. I slink over to her.
“Chef, I forgot mine. May I borrow a set?” She looks up at me.
“Bad day, Miss Blake?” she asks.
“You have no idea, Chef,” I say. Charlie, a regular at the diner I work at, had a heart attack right there in the restaurant. I didn’t have time to go back to my apartment to grab my things. I was happy to make it to class at all. She unlocks the supply cabinet and hands me a hat and a clean jacket.
“Thank you so much,” I say. “This won’t happen again.” She gives me a look. “Really,” I add. I head back to my station. I have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.
I watch as she brings the fork up to her mouth. A nice mouth with straight, white teeth, and full red lips worthy of tasting perfection. Just watching her is such a turn on. I have an incredible urge to feed her, and I can’t help but stare at her mouth as she tastes my food. For the briefest of moments, she closes her eyes. When she turns to face me the look in her eyes is that of pure gratification. I know I nailed it.
“Very good, Chef,” she says. She places the fork on the plate and I notice her hand is slightly shaking. I don’t know if my nearness is affecting her or if it’s my food. Either way, I’m suppressing the biggest girl squeal of my life right now. I respectfully nod at her and head back to my work station. I wink at Scott as I walk by and he scowls at me. I smile, remembering how she told him his lamb shanks were undercooked. He really is a good chef, but he’s too competitive and rushes. Hopefully, his impatience helps me win the scholarship this final semester.
I clean my station and wait for the rest of the students to finish. I’m dragging, hoping for some alone time with Taryn. Not just because I want praise for my cooking, but because I really want to get to know her. Scrubbing the work station again just makes me look stupid. I decide to grab my bag and head out. Tomorrow is a new day. Our eyes meet when I head out the door.
“I won’t be late tomorrow,” I say.
She smiles. “I know.”
“And I’ll remember my jacket and hat.”
“Has anybody heard how Charlie’s doing?” I ask anybody who can hear me as I walk through the kitchen doors of Bud’s Diner. Ashley is the only one close by.
“He’s hanging in there,” she says. I exhale quietly. We’ve had some crazy things happen in the diner. Yesterday made the top five list along with a drive-by shooting, a drug bust, a fire in the kitchen, and when one of our waitresses went into early labor. I love the diner. There is so much character here. It’s been my favorite place to intern so far. I’m learning how to cook rich and delicious southern and soul food, and they are learning how to incorporate some of the classic French cooking I’ve shown them into what they already know.
This job has my mother crying. She expects me to at least work at the finest restaurant in town, but I tell her I have to learn it all in order to do my job to the best of my ability. If I win the scholarship to Italy, I might redeem myself a bit with her.
“That was scary,” I say. It really was. I’m a complete mess in situations of extreme stress unless there is food preparation involved. The only thing I was good for yesterday was holding Charlie’s hand. The five minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive was the longest five minutes of my life. “So what’s the special for today?”
“Ham hocks and beans,” Ashley says. I nod my approval. Perfect for this time of year. Warm, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.
“I’ll make my cornbread.” I grab two cast iron skillets and throw them into the oven to heat up. I whip up the ingredients along with a dash of cinnamon and honey to give it more sweetness and flavor.
“How was your first day?” Bud asks. He does most of the cooking around here. I work in the mornings and I help get lunch started.
“Well, to start things off, I was late to class. Then I forgot my jacket and my hat and had to borrow from the new teacher, who, by the way, is gorgeous. We had to cook her anything we wanted.”
“Did you wow her?” he asks.
I smile at him. “I think so. She said ‘very good, chef’ and she closed her eyes when she took a bite.” I sigh remembering her mouth and how her brown eyes lit up.
“And that’s just day one. You have so many other dishes to show her before this semester ends. How did the others do?”
“Ha! She told Scott his lamb was undercooked and was too salty, but praised Mary for her strawberry shortcake. I’m not worried about her though.”
“Maybe we should be working on desserts with you. How about sweet potato pie, or pecan pie?”
“I know how to make those desserts,” I say. Not very well, though, and we both know it.
“Does your teacher like desserts?” he asks.
“Mary was the only one who made anything sweet, so I’m sure it was a treat.”
“How about strawberry-rhubarb pie?” That perks my interest. I can never seem to get the pie to firm up just right, no matter how much cornstarch I use.
“This week sometime. We have quite a few things to get done today and tomorrow unless you want to come in tonight,” he says. My cat, Sophia, is ready to disown me. I’m sure I will pay for it tonight when she prances and dances across my body while I’m trying to sleep. I’ve been spending several extra nights at the diner this week trying to perfect fried chicken. Bud doesn’t mind as long as I clean up after myself. Plus, whatever we don’t eat or sell, Bud donates to his church’s food kitchen.
“Thanks, but I think I need to stay home tonight and relax. Also, Sophia is getting pissed that I’m not home more,” I say.
Bud laughs. “My wife’s the same way. It’s a good thing you don’t have one of those,” he says. I shrug. I think it would be kind of cool to share my life with somebody. My past girlfriends have all been younger, carefree, and emotionally unavailable. I’m ready for the grown up kind of romance.
We cook in companionable silence. We both prepare the breakfast orders as they come up. In the meantime, Bud thickens his ham and beans, and I take the cornbread out and slice it into equal portions. The heat lamp will keep them warm until orders come in. The breakfast crowd shuffles out and within thirty minutes, the lunch crowd files in and orders are up. I enjoy plating the food as much as I enjoy cooking. Bud thinks I try too hard. I tell him I make art in thirty seconds or less.
“Let’s go around the room and find out what everybody cooked since the last time we saw one another,” Taryn says. We are standing around the center cooking station before she starts a demonstration on the proper way to prepare and cook a soufflé. Students answer and I know half of them are lying. When she turns to me I answer honestly.
“Fried chicken, meatloaf, and cornbread.” I know it sounds simple, but we have perfected the recipes at the diner and have received nothing but praise.
“Nice and rustic,” Taryn says.
I can almost feel the daggers Scott is throwing my way because of the attention she is giving me. I know he’s chomping at the bit to brag. By the time she gets to him, nobody cares. She nods as he goes on and on. He gives her a bright, lopsided grin and winks. Holy shit, he’s flirting with her. Sure, he is somewhat attractive, but how can she not see he’s an ass? Plus, she is way out of his league. She looks at him for a few extra seconds and turns her attention back to the whole class.
“Soufflés are delicate, as most of you know. There is an art to it. Almost magic,” she says. Her voice is fun and I find myself smiling at her playfulness. She is making a smoked mushroom soufflé and we watch her work, talk, teach. She’s amazing. Since she is preparing food, she is wearing her chef’s jacket and tall chef’s hat. Her long, light brown hair is French braided out of her face and hits the middle of her back. Her hands are quick as she whips and explains her shortcuts, and her techniques.
“How long have you been cooking, Chef?” I ask.
“Since I was four,” she says. I smile and picture a small girl standing on a kitchen chair scrambling eggs with Mom close by.
“What’s your favorite thing to cook?” Scott asks.
“That’s a hard question. I enjoy so many different things. I love the simplicity of omelets and the complexity of coq au vin. As long as I’m in the kitchen, I’m happy.” Coq au vin is difficult because it requires braising a rooster, not a chicken, with a ton of other animal parts I’m not overly fond of, in a red wine sauce. Not my favorite thing to eat or cook. “A kitchen has endless possibilities and every day is a new adventure.” She says the word adventure with an ‘ah’ at the end, and I struggle to stay focused on her cooking instead of her mouth. I wonder what she is like with a lover. Does her raspy voice drive him or her crazy? Does she talk during sex, whisper words of encouragement, or is she quiet and her mouth busy? I sternly remind myself to focus on her efficient technique, but my mind wanders over her slender body. She is taller than I am by a few inches, and has a body of a runner. She does her best to hide her slender waist and long legs under her clothes and her jacket, but it’s hard to cover up perfection.
“Ki?” she asks. “Ki?” I look at her. I’m sure my face looks guilty, and I feel the heat of embarrassment color on my cheeks. I have no idea what she just asked or said to me.
“Chef, can you please repeat?” I ask.
“Is class not challenging enough today to keep your interest, Miss Blake?” she asks. I hear an edge to her voice and I know I’ve offended her. Shit.
“My apologies, Chef.” She ignores me and asks another student the same question. I feel like an ass. I’ve single-handedly managed to bring down the mood of my instructor. Again. How is this possible? I’ve always been teacher’s pet. I’ve even taught a class a time or two. So far, I haven’t made a very good impression on Taryn. I know she approves of my cooking, but she’s not impressed with the rest of me. I make it a point to stay focused on her lesson. I promise myself that I will make the best soufflé today.
When she dismisses us to our workstations, I plan a spinach, mushroom, and Gouda soufflé, adding just a little bit to her original recipe. She has given us free reign on what to add to our dishes, but since we have an abundance of mushrooms in the refrigerator, most of us are using them. I see Scott pull out a lobster tail and I can’t help but roll my eyes. Both Mary and Taryn see me and for a brief moment I’m embarrassed again, but they both smile and the private moment shared between us gives me strength. I sauté shallots and mushrooms until the sizzling subsides, then add spinach, and try to recall Taryn’s steps. I close my eyes for a moment and watch her fold the separated ingredients together. From memory, I follow the best I can. It’s impossible for me to take notes in a kitchen. Cooking utensils only, not pens. I start the process and find I actually have enough ingredients to complete three attempts. I give a quick and silent prayer that one of them turns out and that nobody fucks with my oven. I stand guard over it and grab a cookbook Taryn has available for us to flip through. I about fall over when I see that the cookbook is actually her own. I’m trying not to put Taryn on a pedestal, but it’s hard when she is obviously perfect. According to the book’s forward, she was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation Award for the northeast two years ago. What the hell is she doing here in the midwest? Completely engrossed in the book, I almost miss my timer when it goes off. I’m not overly excited about my soufflés. One is overflowing, another is too dark because of the mushrooms roasting at the surface. The third has potential. I can’t cover up the top with a glaze because obviously it’s not a sweet dish. Instead, I decide to flash fry a few mushrooms and add them to the top. Not only will it add texture to the dish, but it will cover up the dark spots.
“Very nice, Chef.” Taryn breaks open the soufflé. Thankfully, it is fully cooked. A few other students hang around to see my dish and congratulate me as well. “Nice use of the mushrooms on top.” She takes another bite and savors the taste before she swallows. I can’t keep my eyes off of her mouth. Her tongue darts out to quickly gather a few crumbs left by the last bite. Her mouth is generous and I wonder what it’s like to devour it. I have an urge to reach out and run my thumb against her bottom lip, feel its softness under my touch. I know she has to be a fantastic kisser with lips as red and full as hers. “Thank you, Chef.” Her words bring me back to reality. I find that I have moved somewhat close to her and I’m in danger of invading her personal space. I quickly nod at her and head back to my station. A few students congratulate me on my dish again. I can’t even remember what I just made. The image of Taryn’s mouth and what I want to do with it overtakes my thoughts.
Saturdays at the farmer’s market down in the River Plaza are a chef’s dream. Cheap, organic, local food. I push myself through the week just to make it to the weekends so I can bargain with local farmers and growers for the best deals. I know several of the vendors. Some of them know me and save some of their better items, knowing I will buy from them.
I stand for a moment and enjoy the sounds and smells around me. Spices from around the world, flowers from local gardens, fruits and vegetables from farmers. I hear several different languages, mothers scolding children, and vendors singing to buyers. I can spend hours here. Today is my first Saturday off in a long time. I’ve been working at the diner on the weekends since Morgan had her baby, so today is my day of freedom. I immediately head for the spices. I’m most excited about them and they are the easiest to carry.
“Where have you been, pretty lady?” Akim asks. He smiles as I practically skip over to his vast array of spices. He has a permanent shop in the River Plaza and I stop in every time I’m here. I walk up and down the aisle, trying to figure out which ones I want.
“Stop flirting, or I’ll tell your wife,” I say.
“She knows I only speak the truth,” he says. “What are you cooking this week?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. I know I will need cumin and cinnamon. Do you have fresh rosemary this week?”
“Of course. I also have whole saffron.” He whispers it to me as if we’re sharing a secret.
“Shut up,” I say. He nods. “Hook me up.” After spending too much on spices, I reluctantly leave his stall and head for vegetables.
“Look what I have for you.” I hear George yell from the second aisle, waving his arms to get me to his booth. I swear he has ESP and knows when I’m near. He holds up the largest eggplant I’ve ever seen. I head over to him, my brain already concocting recipes for eggplant a dozen different ways. My heart stops and I gasp when I notice Taryn picking through some zucchini and squash near George’s stand. I’m completely surprised at the little girl who is holding onto the pinky finger on her right hand. The girl is adorable. She has curly, dark blonde hair and big brown eyes just like Taryn. Of course Taryn has a family. She’s beautiful, smart, and can cook better than any chef I’ve ever known. I’m in a bad spot right now. This is her private life. It’s always unnerving when you meet an instructor outside of the classroom.
“Hi,” I say. Taryn turns to me with a surprised look on her face.
“Hi,” she says. We stand there smiling at one another. I’m completely tongue-tied around her.
“You haven’t been around in weeks, Ki,” George says. I turn to him.
“I’ve been working weekends for the last month. Today is my first day off in forever,” I say.
“You are too young to work this hard,” he says. He bags three eggplants and hands them to me without even asking how many I want. “You should try slicing the eggplant thin, bake it, and halfway through, add some of your fresh herbs and spices.” He points at my bag. Sounds simple and delicious.
“That sounds good, George. Thanks for the idea.” I turn back to Taryn. “He has the freshest eggplants and squash around here. Do you come to the market a lot?”
“Olivia and I just moved to the area. This is our second trip down here. Olivia, meet Ki. She is one of my students.” Olivia shyly sticks her forefinger in the corner of her mouth.
I squat down so that we are eye level. “Hello, Olivia. I’m Ki. Like pie.”
Olivia giggles. “Pie? Your name is pie?” Oh, my God. She has a slight accent, too.
“No. Ki, with a ‘K.’” I wink at Taryn. “C’mon. How cool is my name?”
“Almost as cool as mine,” Olivia says. I laugh. She’s a spitfire.
“Olivia is a very pretty name. You’re the first Olivia I’ve met,” I say. She smiles.
“What are you doing here?” Olivia asks.
“Probably the same thing you girls are doing here. Buying fruits and veggies.” I stand up and am face-to-face with Taryn. She looks completely relaxed. Her hair is loosely pulled back in a ponytail. She’s wearing a thin white oxford with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows and faded jeans. I wish I would have taken more time getting ready this morning. I’m wearing yoga pants, thin sweatshirt, and athletic shoes. My hair is also pulled back, but I’m a mess, and she looks great. Suddenly self-conscious, I quickly smooth down my hair and stop when I see her smile at me. She knows what I’m doing.
“You seem to know the area pretty well. Are there vendors we need to stay away from?” she asks. I’m surprised she’s asking me for advice.
“Most of the vendors on the ends of each aisle are the best. They have the prime spots and have been here the longest. They also know their customers pretty well.”
“You seem to be popular.”
I smile at that. “I shop here all the time. Well, I used to before I got added shifts.”
“So, why do you work at a diner? Your cooking is fantastic. You could really work anywhere.” Her voice is so soothing and calming. It takes my mind a few seconds to process her compliment.
“Thank you, but I want to learn all types of cooking, and I really like it there. You should come by. Both of you. We are just down at the corner of fourteenth and Grand.” I’m embarrassed. I just invited my teacher to my work. Now, we will awkwardly stand around until she says something non-committal. “No big deal. Just if you ever want to know why, come on down to the diner.” I can’t shut up. I will her to say something, anything.
“That sounds great. We just might do that.”
“Can we go see the animals now?” Olivia asks. Taryn turns her attention back to her daughter.
“Can we pick up some fruit first?” she asks. Olivia thinks about it and nods.
“But we have to hurry, okay?” she says. “Come with us, Ki.” It’s more of a command and Taryn shyly nods her head in their direction, her invitation cute and playful. I am not used to this side of her.
“Hey, Olivia.” She looks up at me. “Last time I was here, there were baby chicks. I even held them. They are so fluffy.” She smiles at me and quickens her pace.
“Hurry, Mum.” She tugs at Taryn’s hand and zigzags us through hordes of people bartering with vendors in the aisles.
“Hang on, love. Let me pick up some apples and mangoes. Ki, any fruit vendors you like in this aisle since this is the only one I will get to?” Taryn asks. I just can’t believe she’s so relaxed. And beautiful. I notice other people glancing at her and I’m torn between being smitten and jealous. She mentioned she and her daughter just recently moved to this area. She didn’t mention a husband, or a significant other. “Ki?”
“Sorry. Just trying to figure out where the good vendors are.” Hopefully, I sound believable and she didn’t catch me staring. She has to know I’m gay. Hell, Scott outed me on the first day of class when he accused me of flirting with her. I point to a farmer on the left and we head that way. Olivia drags her heels anxious to get to the animals instead of studying fruit with the adults. “How fresh do you want the mangoes? I mean, are you cooking or eating them right away?”
“Don’t tell anybody, but we are going to work on mango glazes and chutneys in class so I need a few ripe ones now to practice with and several for Monday,” she says. “Mangoes are fun and chutneys are easy. It will be a simple class.”
“I have a mango chutney recipe that’s fantastic. I serve it on the side with pork chops at the diner.” She looks completely surprised. “This is why you need to visit the diner. Diners are completely misunderstood.” Bud’s Diner was created from love and it shows in his cooking. He’s had several famous people dine at his place, and photos on the wall to prove it.
“We will. Let me know the next time you have a Saturday special that’s spectacular, and we’ll visit you there.” I’m so happy I feel like I’m floating. My heart is racing like I’m on a first date, but I keep reminding myself that this is a chance meeting. Not only is she my instructor, but she’s way out of my league.
“Finally.” Olivia rolls her eyes. Taryn and I smile at one another. Taryn gives Olivia a few quarters for hay pellets to feed the goats and kids. Olivia has no fear.
“How old is she?” I ask.
“Six going on sixteen.”
I nod my head in sympathy. “She’s very cute. Very smart.”
Taryn smiles at me. “She’s quite the handful. But she’s my entire life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I nod, not understanding if that’s her way of telling me she’s not interested, or if she’s just opening up to me like a new friend. Taryn gets out her phone and takes a few pictures of Olivia feeding the baby goats. Olivia’s delightful giggle is infectious and soon several bystanders are laughing with her.
“She’s a ham, but completely adorable. She looks like you.” I almost face palm myself at my stupidity. Rule number one: never, ever hit on your teachers. Not even subconsciously. Taryn’s smile turns tight, and I know I’ve said something stupid. I’m not sure how to get out of this uncomfortable silence that seems to be going on forever. “So tell me where you’re from. Both of you have accents.” That seems innocent enough.
“I’m originally from South Africa, but moved to Florida when I was a teenager. I went back to Cape Town after college and was there for ten years. Olivia and I moved back to the United States about four years ago.” She nods at her timeline.
“Wow. I’ve never met anyone from South Africa before. I was trying to figure out if you’re from England or Australia. Well, you have a great accent.” I cringe again because I still sound like I’m hitting on her. “I can tell Olivia has a slight accent, too.”
“Hers will probably disappear over time. Mine won’t,” she says. I’m okay with that. “Honey, move your shoes away from the mama goat. She’s trying to eat your laces.” Her attention is back on Olivia. Olivia responds by dancing and moving around, squealing with a mixture of delight and alarm. “She’s going to need another bath.” We both watch in pure disgust as several baby goats nibble at her hands, their slobber webbing her fingers. Olivia doesn’t seem to mind, but I’m already trying to find the hand sanitizer. As a chef, I am constantly washing my hands. I hate for them to be dirty. I know the mentality of a six-year-old is different than mine.
“They have hydrants here somewhere. We can just hose her off,” I say. Taryn briefly touches my forearm and laughs. She quickly pulls away as if my arm has burned her.
“I’m sorry,” she says. And now things are awkward again. We turn our attention to Olivia, the silence heavy between us. I make a conscious effort not to look at Taryn, even though I’m very much aware of her nearness, her smell, her loveliness. I see her gradually relax again as she watches her daughter. “Olivia, it’s time to go. Say good-bye to your new friends.” Olivia starts pouting and I can’t help but smile. It’s amazing how much they look alike. She gradually makes her way over to the gate, slowly, making sure to pet each goat along the way.
“We need to come back here every week,” she says matter-of-factly. She fusses a bit as Taryn douses her tiny hands with hand sanitizer. “And can we bring cookies for them to eat?”
“Sweetie, I don’t think the mama goats want their babies to eat cookies. I think we’ll just stick with the tiny pellets.”
“Okay. But can we see them every weekend?” Olivia wrings her tiny hands hopefully. I’m nodding with Olivia, completely inserting myself into this family moment. I agree they should come back every weekend, not only for the great produce, but for the opportunity for me to bump into them again.
“We’ll see,” Taryn says. Both Olivia and I sigh. Everybody knows what that means. I try to lighten Olivia’s mood.
“You know what, Olivia? Even if you skip a weekend or two, the babies will still be really happy to see you the next time you are here.” She doesn’t quite smile at me, but her frown is gone. “And if I’m here and you aren’t, I promise to give them some food and tell them it’s from you.” Okay, score. That does it. She’s happy again.
“Really? Do you think they will remember me?”
“Oh, I’m sure goats are like dogs. They will remember you and your smell. I’m sure you are stinky to them.”
She giggles. “I am not.”
I catch her smelling her arm. I point and laugh. “So maybe instead of calling you Olivia, I should call you stinky.” She huffs, but can’t help but laugh. Even Taryn is smiling. “Come on, stinky. Let’s help your Mom get these fruits and veggies to the car.”
“Thanks for your help, Ki. I appreciate it. This is a great market.” I can tell Taryn is nervous, almost skittish around me. A part of me wants to reassure her I’m not going to jump her, but then I’m not entirely sure of that.
“You’ll love coming here. There is so much to choose from and I always come up with new recipes every time I shop.” We walk over to a black SUV and I help her load up the back while Olivia climbs into her booster seat. I lean into the window.
“Nice to meet you, stinky.” I wave at her.
“Bye, pie!” she says. I look back at her with my best annoyed look. She laughs. She’s just delightful.
“Have a good rest of your weekend, Taryn. I’ll see you Monday.” I leave them without a backward glance. I don’t want Taryn to think that she affects me, and I don’t want to scare her off because she does.