Cara got to work earlier than normal so she could help Sandy with the prep area set up. She hated to admit it, but part of the reason she went in early was to talk to Elliot. Her attraction to him was freaking her out because she had never been attracted to a guy before. There was just something about him. She could talk to him for hours. He was always interested in what she had to say.
She’d tried to date a few girls in the past couple of years. Mostly trying to chase Jenna’s ghost away, but she hadn’t found anyone she could stand spending more than a few months with. Cara hadn’t met a guy that made her want to take a second look.
Elliot was super cute. His dark eyes were intelligent and warm. Cara saw him running one morning down by the lake when she and her grandfather had gone out fishing. Elliot had smiled and waved. It made her heart hurt a little because he was a runner like Jenna had been.
Watching him now as he filleted fish, she felt that pull. He was standing there in a loose fitting black t-shirt, baggy jeans, and biker boots. He had his black ball cap turned backward with his hairnet tucked up underneath it.
Elliot felt her watching him. He looked up and smiled at her. It was killing him that he couldn’t be honest with her, and he was breaking all the rules by talking to her as much as he did. But, he couldn’t stop himself. The feelings he’d always had for her couldn’t be suppressed. It took all of his will power not to grab her and kiss her. Elliot had to keep reminding himself that he had to keep her at arm’s length, at least until after this business with his father and the Cobra Cartel was over.
Steven came in the back door, and Cara turned away to go back to the prep area. Frowning, Steven turned and glared at Elliot, who turned back to his fish. Steven walked over and watched Elliot for a few minutes before saying, “For someone who says she’s gay, she certainly seems to have eyes for you.”
“It’s my animal magnetism,” Elliot said and chopped off the next fish’s head and threw it in the waste bucket next to where he was working.
Cara came over and had a sour look on her face. She pointed to the bucket of fish parts next to Elliot’s leg. “My grandmother would like to have that if you don’t care.”
Elliot raised his eyebrows and looked down at the bucket of fish. “Ah, okay.”
“Do you have a lid you can put on it? I want to try to keep it from smelling up my mom’s car as much as possible,” Cara said, trying to keep from vomiting at just the thought of that nasty smelling bucket being in the same car with her.
“I do, but I wouldn’t advise putting it in a car,” Elliot said, making a sour face of his own. “How about I take it to your grandparents’ house for you. I can put it in the back of my truck.”
The relief on Cara’s face was clear. “That would be great.”
“I’ll follow you home after work. What does she want it for?” Elliot asked.
“Her garden,” Cara said.
Elliot nodded. “It makes good fertilizer.”
“That’s what she said. The land they just bought needs some work. She’s determined to make her little garden flourish. But, if she puts that on there,” Cara said, pointing to the bucket, “I don’t think I’ll be eating anything out of it.”
Steven, who had been watching their exchange, said, “That’s weird coming from a dyke. I thought you’d like things that smell like fish.”
The slap surprised Steven and Elliot. “I’m so fucking sick of your comments about my sexuality.” She turned and started to walk away, but came back and said menacingly, “And if you’ve been with women who smell like fish, you might want to get tested, it generally means they have some kind of STD.”
Steven recovered and charged after her. “You did not just fucking slap me.” He grabbed Cara’s arm and swung her around to face him. He was about to backhand her when Elliot separated them, putting himself between Cara and Steven.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Elliot demanded. “You had that slap coming. You’ve goaded Cara and tried to intimidate her since she told you she was a lesbian the first day she worked here.” Elliot was a good six inches shorter than Steven, and probably thirty pounds lighter, but he puffed up his chest like a bulldog getting ready for a fight. “And, don’t you ever put your hands on her again.”
“Or what?” Steven asked getting directly in Elliot’s face.
“What’s going on?” Sandy demanded as she came to the kitchen from the bar.
“I quit!” Cara announced. She took off her apron and name badge, throwing them on the prep counter before storming out of the restaurant through the back exit.
“Well, I hope you’re happy, Jackass,” Elliot said.
“What happened?” Sandy shouted.
“Steven fucked with Cara about her sexuality one too many times,” Elliot said before going out the back door after Cara.
“Hey!” he called as Cara got in her car.
“What?” Cara snapped.
Elliot gently took hold of her upper arms and bent to look into cornflower blue eyes. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Cara admitted. Leaning into Elliot’s embrace, she wrapped her arms around his narrow waist and started crying.
“I’m sorry he’s been such a jerk to you,” Elliot said and closed his eyes. Holding her felt so good. It had been so long since he’d touched Cara like this. His heart ached, even more, to tell her who he was, but he couldn’t. Even if he did, he knew there was a very good possibility that Cara would reject who he was now.
Cara couldn’t believe how comforting it was being held by Elliot. He had a strong body, and she felt safe in his arms. Realizing what she was doing and confused by what she was feeling, Cara stepped back. “I’ve got to go.”
“What about the fish?” Elliot asked, feeling an instant emptiness when Cara stepped away from him.
“I’ll send my grandfather for it,” Cara said and got in her car. She sped out of the parking lot just as Sandy came out with Steven.
Sandy turned to Steven. “Great! She was my best waitress.”
“I’m sorry, Sandy,” Steven said, looking truly forlorn.
Sandy put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “I’m going to talk to her and try to get her to come back, but you are on probation, mister. One more fuck up and you’re out of here. You understand me?”
Steven dropped his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Elliot followed the two of them back into the restaurant. If it weren’t for the fact that Elliot knew why Sandy didn’t fire Steven, he would be furious with her right now. Over the past two months, they had found that Steven had many connections to the local fisherman and hunters, as well as ties to the Cobra Cartel. After they had watched the fireworks at the dam on the Fourth of July, Sandy and Elliot had been able to provide Mark and Dana with new information. That information opened the door to more details which were leading to the arrest of Elliot’s father, Michael Matthews and Judge Sam Nelson. Mark was pretty sure the arrests would come the night of the Cobra Cartel gathering which was only a couple weeks away now.
It couldn’t come fast enough for Elliot. He was sick of waiting. Today, holding Cara in his arms made him want more than anything for this stupid charade to be over, at least with Cara. He wanted to ease Cara’s pain about Jenna. He wanted her to know who he was and that he still loved her.
Sighing, Elliot went back to filleting the fish and preparing for tonight’s dinner crowd. It was going to be a long night without Cara. Everyone was going to have to pull some extra weight. It being Thursday helped because it wouldn’t be as busy as it would be tomorrow night. Hopefully, Sandy would be able to talk Cara into coming back.
Cara’s grandfather showed up at the restaurant a few hours later. Elliot had the bucket of fish parts ready for him. Sandy pulled the older man into a booth and ordered a platter of fried fish to go for him. They spend several minutes talking before Sandy came into the kitchen and went to the cooler for the fish.
When they finally had a slow moment, Elliot found Sandy and asked, “What did he say?”
“He said Cara would come back, but if Steven says one more derogatory thing about her sexuality, she’s going to find some way to press charges for harassment against him,” Sandy said.
“And she should,” Elliot growled. “He should have stopped that shit weeks ago. He’s just pissed off that she shot him down and his ego is still smarting.”
“I totally agree,” Sandy said and leaned closer. “And if I could have, I’d have fired him weeks ago, but we both know why he stays.”
Elliot nodded and went to the grill to turn some meat. “I’m going to get back to cooking.”
Sandy watched Elliot for a few minutes before turning and going back to the bar. She couldn’t imagine how hard all of this must be for Elliot. The waiting, the hiding, the lying. Sandy had been an agent for years and had worked undercover more often than not. She’d been in some tough situations and fallen in love with her share of people she shouldn’t have. This thing with Elliot and Cara was huge. Anyone with half a brain could see it, could feel it. Sandy wondered if the young love that had started so long ago would survive all it was going to have to go through in the coming months. Elliot would have to expose his truth to the world, and then have to decide if he should go back to being a woman or remain a man. She had never known him as a girl, but she couldn’t imagine him as anything but a man.