Good Friends, Good Food
The day went by without any other traumatic events. Wes mostly kept to himself in his office until the phone orders got crazy for the rest of the day. By the evening closing, he waved the remaining employees off as he locked the front door behind them. He wheeled through the place, just to make sure everything was cleaned up and locked down before he went back to his office to grab his keys.
As he reached for his lanyard, he paused. He was dreading going back up to the apartment. He knew he shouldn’t have yelled, but the idea of having to look at the hurt expression he envisioned in his mind almost made him wheel over to the couch in his office to sleep.
Mary had been through a lot in her life. She didn’t deserve his problems haunting her as well. Sighing, he grasped the keys at last. He owed her this much. He made his way to the front door, unlocking it. He suddenly cried out at a man standing there.
“May I enter, Lord Wes?” The Russian accent made Wes gasp for air. It was Gabriel. He’d forgotten the vampire would be down here at night now. “Lady Mary has sent me to begin mine own duties.”
“Oh... Gabriel... Yeah... Come on in. Why didn’t you just call or something? I would have unlocked it for you sooner.”
“I dare not to break mine own oath passing thy threshold uninvited, Lord Wes.” The vampire walked inside after bowing.
“Is it really that big of a deal to come in without an invitation? I guess it’s true that vampires can’t just break into your home.”
“Nay,” Gabriel’s response made Wes gape as he walked passed him into the parlor, “vampir that have not taken the oath may come as they desire. We that have sworn mortals as cousin ask invitation.”
“There’s an oath to not hurt humans? I guess you really are on our side then, Gabe.” Wes furrowed his brow as he tried to follow everything the vampire was saying. He was going to have to brush up on his Shakespeare. “I’m glad Mary has someone to help her besides just Mitch and me. By the way, you said that Mary sent you. Is she still here?”
“Verily, the lady was at mine own side at which hour I did wake.” Gabriel looked back out of curiosity at the word ‘Gabe’. It sounded like part of his name, but he wasn’t sure.
Listening closely to the chair-bound man, the vampire wanted to understand his mistress better. She seemed to be a private woman, so he believed he might be able to better understand her through the eyes of her companions. Perhaps he could learn how best to serve her that way.
“Should thus not be so?”
“Oh no, I just thought she might have gone back to Europe after this morning,” Wes replied, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. “From now on though, you can come in anytime you want, okay? The same goes for the apartment upstairs. It’s home for you now. Let me show you around, so you know what to do.”
“Lady Mary instructed me on mine own duties. I shall protect the property till sunrise each night and replenish the stock.”
“Pretty much. I’ll show where everything is though.”
As Wes showed Gabriel around the parlor, he realized his clothes were the same from when he first saw him. Mary couldn’t have offered him anything, so he felt stupid for thinking it was strange. One night of this was cruel enough, but Wes felt this needed to be fixed. It just seemed inhumane to make someone live in worn out, damaged clothes. He would have to take the vampire for a night at the mall.
“Hope all goes well tonight for you,” Wes said as he headed for the front door. Pausing, he looked back from the doorway, “If something happens, come get us, okay?” The vampire bowed in acknowledgment. One of them was going to have to get used to how the other was because compromise seemed too complicated. “Night, Gabe.”
“Goodnight, mine own lord.”
After locking the door, Wes rounded the building and stared at the ramp. Mary was home then. He tried not to let the pit in his stomach make him wuss out on going up. He’d promised himself he would face her and apologize. Gripping onto his wheels, he pushed upward.
It was a module, U-shaped ramp with a flat plane at the midway point. That meant he couldn’t go up too slowly or run the risk of falling backward. Way for fate to deal him with the tough cards. He paused once he got to the top. Mitch had fixed the door, and it looked like he saved the knob somehow, meaning his key still worked. Before he could start second-guessing himself again, his nose caught a whiff of something delicious.
“Wes? Is that you?” Mary called from the kitchen when her sensitive ears heard the door open over the sizzling on the stove. “I hope you’re hungry. Not that I think you ate, working in your office all day. I fixed your favorite: fettuccine Alfredo with white chicken breast and broccoli.” The young woman came out to see his face. “I remembered it from your last birthday when Mitch made it. I... I wanted to say how sorry-”
“No!” Wes said, holding up a hand, “It wasn’t you, Mary. It was my fault. I panicked.” The two remained in silence. Wes felt the blood rush to his face as he looked away, running a hand through his black locks. “I... I was... I was really worried about you. I didn’t mean to frighten or hurt you. Forgive me. You didn’t do anything wrong, okay?”
A sad expression grew on her face. She could sense that his panic was rooted in something far deeper than their encounter. For now, though, she didn’t want to pry and risk wounding his pride any further.
Wes was a good man. She knew that. Maybe one day she would find out the secrets that weighed him down as she had told him. Walking up to his chair, she stepped behind him, wheeling him into the living room. Kneeling beside the chair, she looked up at him with a sweet smile.
“Cheer up, mate. It’s water under the bridge. You’ve had a long day. How’s about I dish up that fettuccine? What would that do for you? Hm?”
He gaped back at her face. She had forgiven him just like that. Mitch’s words about how good a friend she was came to him. Finally, he smiled back in a nonverbal response. She nodded, walking back to the kitchen.
“Anything eventful happen while I was up here?” She said as she turned the burners off.
Crimson eyes gaped at the black areas on the chicken. She never had been much of a cook. She could bake, but cooking was more of a watching skill. She was more of a multitasker, so things tended to get overlooked every once in a while. She hoped Wes wouldn’t mind the darker side of the chicken.
“Not really, the phone just went nuts around four though. I don’t know what was going on, but the line had to get routed to my office to take orders, too.”
“Well, isn’t it Labor Day weekend?”
She had lived in the United States long enough to pick up on dates that people looked forward to, aka: federal holidays. She was cutting the chicken now. Maybe she should have cut it beforehand, but she thought this would be easier...
“Oh right... I guess people were ordering for parties or something. That or moms didn’t want to make dinner tonight when they don’t work tomorrow. We’ll be open tomorrow. I always make it a volunteer shift with holiday pay.”
“That’s good of you, Wes. You really are a splendid man to work for. I’ve heard talk in the kitchen of how much people like working for you compared to other employers.”
Finally got the chicken cut! She’d tried to make it look fancy like Mitch did it. Dishing up the pasta, she covered the fettuccine with chicken chunks before pouring the Alfredo on top.
“Dinner’s on the way, mate!”
“It smells great, Mary. You know I like when you cook.” Wes glanced over to see his roommate walking out with two plates. She set them down on the coffee table. It looked great. “I feel spoiled.”
“Thank you,” she said with a blush. He looked so pleased with it that she wondered if her fretting over details even mattered. “I thought we could talk over good food. I hope it tastes all right. You know I only really do simple dishes. This one was a bit more than I’m used to.”
“Naw, it looks great, and you’re a great cook. I feel like I’m eating home-cooked meals with my mom again whenever you’re in the kitchen. Your parents must have taught you a lot.”
“Mara was better at cooking than I,” Mary said with a sad smile. She didn’t mind reminiscing, but it reminded her that they were gone as well. “My father was better with baking, so while Mara and Mum cooked, Dad and I would make pies, cakes, and breads. He used to say they were like chemistry, and he had an excuse to be in the kitchen.” She giggled just thinking about his face when her mother would try to shoo him out.
“Your folks sound so awesome. I still wish I could have met your dad. I would love to ask him how he came up with that formula. From what I’ve figured out so far, it looks like he used alchemy as a base for whatever he was treating you and your sister for.” He reached to touch her shoulder and smile. “I’ll figure it out though. I made a serious breakthrough the other night. A lot of doors are going to open for us now.”
“Yeah,” she smiled back before she noticed there was no silverware. “Oh bollix! I forgot forks! I’ll be back...”
Wes laughed at her self criticism. She was too hard on herself. When she came back, he filled her in on more boring events that had happened that day. When he got to the part about Mitch coming to his office though, Mary started to snicker, nearly choking on a noodle in her mouth. He gave her a suspicious look. He’d seen that look before on women’s faces. Mary waved a hand in the air in her defense as she tried to swallow her food.
“Wait... Wait...” She laughed at his face. He looked so silly, narrowing his eyes like that. “I only thought about how close you both are. Honestly, he must be your best mate to come up here this morning after you. The fact that he was worried about you even after that just proves how much he cares. I mean, he fixed your door. That’s all I meant, mate.”
“Uh-huh...” Wes said as he slowly pulled another piece of broccoli off his fork. He was trying to be silly now. Mary didn’t laugh like this often. Seeing her smile like that after this morning was all he could ask for.
“You could call him that. We’ve been friends since sixth-grade homeroom. He looked over my shoulder at my schedule and notice we had a similar setup. He asked if I was any good at math or science cause he sucked at them. I didn’t have any friends at my new school, so I guess I clung to him at first. If it weren’t for him, I would have been that shy kid that didn’t reach out to anyone.”
“That’s wonderful,” Mary felt so happy as she listened to him talk about himself. She had decided that day that she wanted to know more about them, so this was great that he was opening up on his own. “I imagine it must have been difficult for you back then with your handicap. Mitch is so good to you.”
Wes stared at his plate when she said that. He didn’t know if he should correct her or not. He twirled his fork in the pasta, watching the fettuccine spiral inward. What was he supposed to say about that?
The accident was still a touchy subject for him. He wasn’t sure if he was ever going to get over it at this point. Did he want Mary to know that much of his past? It wasn’t exactly something he liked thinking about, but at the same time, she had told him about her loses. She had found the ability to smile the way she was now because he had encouraged her to be honest. He would be a real hypocrite if he didn’t follow the same example.
“Mary...” He paused.
She looked up at him. Was something wrong? Had she stepped on his toes again?
“Mary, I wasn’t in a wheelchair back then.”
“Really...?” Mary gaped. Wes had never talked about why he was paralyzed. She had seen his chair tip over once and had helped him back up. She knew that people with limitations didn’t like feeling that they were handicapped, so she tried not to talk about it. If he wasn’t born that way though, what had happened?
“If it’s not too painful, what happen? I don’t want to step on eggshells if you don’t want to though...”
“Well...” Wes couldn’t look at her. She was too nice to him, too considerate. He felt guilty for being afraid to talk about it. In all honesty, if Mitch didn’t already know about his accident, he probably would have kept it from him as well. He just wanted to bury everything surrounding that part of his life and forget it. Sadly, the chair he sat in would never let him.
“It happened my senior year of high school... There was an accident. My car got hit, and my seat crushed me.”
The crimson irises stared back at the young man, sadly. How awful. He knew what it was like to be free of that chair. He had had strength in those legs once. The shame she saw on his face as he looked away from her told her that there was a completely separate layer beneath that pain he hadn’t shared. Not wanting to force open the wounds of his past, Mary reached to touch his hand. He looked back with a timid gaze.
“It’s all right,” she said with a sad smile. “You don’t have to tell me everything. Remember, you told me that shortly after I arrived. If you ever want to tell me, you can. If not, I won’t look at you any differently. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Swallowing the lump forming in his throat, he smiled back, trying not to cry. Way to eat his own words. Mitch was right. He had helped Mary, and in return, she was reaching out to him. Was that what Mitch had meant about her being a better friend? She understood what loss felt like, so she knew how hard it was to open up about it. Maybe one day, he would tell her what happened that day. Right now, they would be patient with one another. Nodding, he went back to eating, as did she. He paused as he bit into a chunk of chicken. What had Mitch meant by the ‘what she was to him’ remark though?
After a few more laughs, Mary finally took up the dishes to clean up her mess. Wes wheeled in behind her to help. It felt like things were back to normal. Both of them appreciated the relaxed atmosphere after the anxiety they had suffered today. As Mary washed the dishes, she handed the clean ones to Wes to dry. The kitchen was small enough for him to put them away, especially since everything was stored in lower cabinets. To pass the time, they decided to talk about the conversation Mary had tried to start that morning.
“So did you hear me mention my dream that woke me this morning?” She glanced down at him, hoping that wouldn’t be a trigger for him.
“Yeah, I guess you didn’t follow up on whatever happened. I honestly thought you would have gone just to get out of the apartment, you know?”
“No... I nodded off after we had our tiff. I got a bit of a headache.” She felt bad about lying, but she didn’t want to admit that she cried herself to sleep. It was embarrassing, and she didn’t want to make him feel bad for yelling at her again.
“Either way, I had this dream where I heard Mara crying. She said she was frightened, and I had this horrid sense of foreboding, like something bad was coming.”
“Have you ever had a dream like that before? How do you know that was even Mara and not your subconscious worrying about her? I hate to sound pessimistic, but I just don’t want you to follow a whim without something more to go on.”
“I know you’re right, but...” The woman paused to look out the window that overlooked the roof over the pizza parlor. She couldn’t explain how she knew, but she could feel that Mara had reached out to her.
“Have you ever felt a sixth sense about something? It felt like that. I can’t rationalize it. I just feel it in my gut.”
“I haven’t,” Wes said as he dried a plate, “but Mitch has. He has instincts that I’ll never understand completely. He got a bad feeling when I had my accident, actually. I’m probably here today because of him. Maybe this is your latest clue then.”
“Perhaps... I’ll have to follow up on it later. Tomorrow is Monday, and I do have to work to drink after all.”
“On the topic of the serum, actually,” Wes sounded like he hesitated to bring this up, “will I be making serum for Gabe, too? That will mean double the ingredients. I’m not worried about either of you earning your keep, but will your connections ship double? Unless we can find suppliers stateside, this could get pricey.”
Mary nodded in understanding. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought about it. She just rathered not to. The company that her father had ordered from was in Ireland, and since the nature of the company was a bit unconventional, she had remained the contact rather than Wes. She was certain they would hear out her request, but the price would go up. Hopefully, Gabriel’s earnings would be of help.
Wes didn’t charge her a thing to live there, and in the long run, she didn’t receive her check from the parlor. They had drawn up a contract that she would work in the pizza parlor, and her earning would be put directly into an account that wired money to purchase the ingredients to make the serum. She didn’t have any other expenses to worry about, so the arrangement suited them just fine. Now that Gabriel was working for Wes as well, he would probably be amended to the contract.
“Don’t fret over the company, Wes,” she said with a smile. “They really are decent, and we have always complied with their requests before. I’m sure I can work out some kind of break, financially. I guess it’s a good thing you figured out the formula? Perhaps we could get a bulk discount?”
“What would you do without me, Miss Black?” He smiled up at her, teasingly. She laughed, wiping tears from her eyes. “Fall to tears, apparently. Haha!”