Beth Stirling heaved a sigh, wiping sweat from her forehead with her forearm as she plated the still steaming fritters she’d just pulled out of the fryer. They were one of her specialties, each one filled with apple slices she’d soaked in bourbon and brown sugar overnight, then dipped into a batter made with stout beer and deep fried until golden. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled in caramel sauce, these beauties were one of the reasons she was still able to keep the doors of her restaurant open. Well, these and few other recipes she had added to the menu over the last few years.
Beth and her older sister, Candice, had inherited Stirling’s three years ago when their father passed away of a heart attack. Long before that horrible day, Candice had stopped working at the restaurant, choosing instead to take a job at one of San Francisco’s largest investment firms, only visiting the restaurant when she had a client she wanted to impress with a free dinner. Thus Beth was left alone to keep the place afloat with only her wits and the dedicated help of her best and oldest friend, Emily Price.
“I think it is going well,” Emily said, putting the delicious smelling creations on a tray. “What do you think?”
Blowing auburn locks out of her sweaty face, Beth looked up into her friends rich brown eyes framed with black lashes.
“I’ve been on my feet eighteen hours straight,” Beth replied, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “I’ve burned myself twice, cut myself three times, broken four dished, and right now I just want them to go upstairs, take a shower and crawl into bed.
“At this point I don’t care how Candice’s meeting is going,” she continued, looking over Emily’s shoulder, “but if we try to hurry her up, she’ll get pissed and just take longer.”
“Darling,” Emily said, slipping into her sweetest imitation southern drawl, “Candice is always pissed about something. What makes tonight any different?”
“Look,” Beth said, wiping down the counter in front of her trying to get as much cleaning done as she could, “I know Candice is tough, but her little get-togethers bring in high-end clients. High-end clients tell their friends how much they enjoyed the food. Those friends come in and spend money, money we need if we are going to be able to upgrade our kitchen in the next few years. If anything goes wrong, she’ll be making our lives more miserable than she already does.”
Rolling her eyes sarcastically at Beth, Emily picked up her tray and forced a smile before walking back to serve Candice and her business associates.
Beth smiled, looking through the serving window as Emily walked away, her thick chestnut curls bouncing on her shoulders.
As she placed each plate in front of the four guests seated at the table, Beth saw Emily trying unsuccessfully to get a feel for how much longer this dinner might take, but Candice quickly made it clear that she was unwelcome and Emily made a hasty retreat back towards the kitchen.
“Damn, I do not like that woman,” Emily said, picking up a napkin from a nearby pile, folding it adeptly into an intricate pattern. After folding her tenth napkin, Emily could no longer stand the silence that hung in the air.
“So,” she said motioning to the dining area, “who is this guy anyway?”
“Candice said he’s one of the big clients she just got,” Beth replied, not bothering to look up from the counter she was scrubbing. “He apparently flew in from New York this morning, specifically for this meeting. She said he was interested in buying property in the neighborhood.”
Her smiling spreading broader, Emily put down the napkin she had been folding.
“How rich is rich?” she asked, dimples appearing on her brown cheeks.
“Uh,” Beth replied, barely looking up from cleaning. “I wasn’t really paying attention when she told me on the phone. I was trying to deal with the appliance guy about eeking another few months out of that stupid convection oven.”
“Okay,” Emily said, craning her neck to look at the group. “Which one is he? Please tell me he’s not the bald one.”
“No, not him,” Beth replied, gesturing with her chin. “The one on Candice’s left, the one in the expensive grey suit and blue tie.”
Emily swiveled her head right and left trying to get a clear look at the man Beth had indicated in the group.
“Him?” she asked, putting a full coffee pot and cups onto the now empty tray.
Sparing a glance up as she wiped her hands on her apron, Beth nodded.
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Apparently Candice’s firm has represented his company since his father owned it or something like that.”
“Money and he’s kinda cute,” Emily purred, looking him up and down. “Looks muscular. Blue eyes and dark hair. There’s potential.
“I like it,” she said, running her fingers through her hair before scooping up the tray. “Wish me luck.”
Too late Beth realized what Emily was going to do.
“Em’, don’t!” Beth hissed after her friend as she walked back into the dining room.
Ignoring her, Emily sauntered over to the group seated at the table and, bending unnecessarily low, offering coffee to the man sitting next to Candice. Without missing a beat, Candice took the coffee pitcher out of Emily’s hand and unceremoniously sent her away.
“Well, excuse me for living,” Emily said entering the kitchen through the service door. “What a bitch. I swear, if she wasn’t a lawyer, I would kick her ass.”
“The fact that she’s my sister and owns half of this place has nothing to do with it?” Beth asked, finishing the last of the pans in the sink.
“Why do you put up with her?” Emily asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the counter. “I mean, here it is, three hours past closing, you and me the only ones left to run the place because you let everyone else go home and she’s out there acting like she’s the one doing you a favor by having her dinner party here.”
“Em’,” Beth interrupted, wanting to end the argument before it could begin. “She is doing us a favor.”
“I know,” Emily pouted, seeing how tired her friend was, “but the only other places in downtown San Francisco that are still open this late are the strip clubs and seedy bars.”
“Well, quit complaining,” Beth laughed, looking out into the dining room. “It looks like they’re done. Just bring me their dishes and we are finished.”
“Amen,” Emily breathed, reaching once more for her tray.