For disclaimers and all that business, please see Part I.
Just an aside: There is a tremendous rivalry between these two college football teams: Florida State Seminoles and the University of Florida Gators.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Susan and Ruth, who are stuck reading more re-writes and tweaking than anyone should have to put up with Ė I really appreciate you guys....
Thanks again for the encouraging emails! J
And feel free to keep 'em comingÖ
Christina muttered to herself as she showered in Abigail's apartment. How did she end up in this jam, anyway? Trish had never been rude to her, but she'd never been more than polite, either. And theyíd known each since the restaurant opened. Certainly, they'd never even remotely considered socializing outside of work!
"Hey, you about out of the shower?"
"Yeah. Be ready in a minute." At least Abigail lived close to Trish. The proximity made her shower convenient, but delayed the inevitable. Since they stayed at each otherís places frequently, they shared closets in two locations.
"Mmm. Lookin' good, there ma'am!"
Shampoo burned her eyes as she looked down and saw green eyes smile mischievously. Impulsively, she shook her head, getting soap bubbles on Abigail's face.
"Do that again and I may have to take a shower." She wiped the bubbles off and flicked them back at Christina.
"Is that all it would take?" She purred as she grabbed the shampoo bottle.
"Sweetie, remember, Trish and Nick are expecting us." Abigail held the shower curtain open as she stepped back. "Not that I wouldn't love to take a shower with you, but this is important to me."
"Better let me finish then."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Tell me why weíre having the growling cook over."
"Nick, honey," Trish began as she made coffee. "Sheís involved with Abigail."
"Abís involved with that woman?" He demanded, his blue eyes opening wide. "You are talking about the same Christina who used to wash dishes?"
"The same one who had that bad attitude? Slammed bus pans on tables and threw doors off their hinges all the time?"
"The same." Trish shrugged her shoulders. "Hon, Ab doesn't see Christina like that. She says she's changed."
"Like hell! Doesnít she still growl when she's doing paperwork?"
"I know, hon. I tried to tell her that, but you know Ab."
"Well, Iím gonna straighten out this mess!" He stood up and tugged at his Florida State Seminole shorts.
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door.
"You," she shushed Nick, motioning for him to sit down. "Stay out of it, alright? Go sit in the living room, hon. Iíll get the door. And keep your opinions to yourself."
"I will if you will." He scoffed.
Trish led them into the living room and motioned for Christina to sit on the couch.
"Hi, Dad!" Abigail gave him a hug.
Dad? As in father? As is in "Why didnít you tell me this?" Oh boy, have I bought the farm on this one!
"And this is Christina."
Christina stood up and approached Nick's chair. Talk about a bad day!
"Yeah, I know her." He stood up, a somewhat imposing figure of six feet, two inches and two hundred, ninety pounds, proudly sporting his Florida State Seminole regalia. "How ya doiní Christina?"
"Doing good, Nick." She accepted the proffered hand and smiled.
"Have a seat." As they were sitting, he motioned to Abigail. "Ab, why donít you go help Trish?"
Her left eyebrow raised on its on volition.
Christina inclined her head slightly, silently urging Abigail to leave the room. Might as well get this over with.
Taking the hint, Abigail left Christina and Nick alone in the room.
"Trish tells me youíre seeing Abigail."
"I am." Gee, should I have asked Dad's permission before dating Abigail?
"I donít like it."
"Isnít this between Abigail and me?" Christina struggled to keep her peace. After all, Nick was evidently Abigailís father, an important fact omitted in the earlier conversations.
"I remember you, Christina. Back when you were washing dishes. Bad attitude and all." He leaned forward, almost getting in Christinaís face. "Abís a sweet kid. Real nice girl."
"And your point is?" She leaned forward, their noses almost touching. The street kid in her was emerging, rising to the challenge.
"Hi." Abigail came in, carrying a plate of chicken wings and slicing through the tension. Maybe this wasnít such a hot idea. "Whatís going on?"
"Oh," Christina recovered quickly. "We were just talking about college football."
"Youíre not a Gator fan, are you?" She laughed, seemingly accepting the explanation for the tension.
"Nah," Christina responded, "we were just discussing the last FSU game."
"Really?" She turned a suspicious eye to her girlfriend. "I didnít know you liked college football, Christina."
"Well, Iím not a huge fan, but I watch it when I get the chance."
"Whatís that, Ab?" Obeying his demanding stomach, Nick reached for one of the chicken wings. "For me?"
"No, silly, theyíre for everyone." She set the plate down on the coffee table. "Be right back with some napkins. Coffee okay with you guys?"
They nodded their heads simultaneously as she departed.
"Look, Nick." Christina used her best "concerned manager" voice, hoping to defuse the air with him. "I know you remember me from my dishwashing days and what a hot temper I had. I wasnít the nicest person, Iíll grant you that. But Iíve grown up some since then. Give me a little credit here."
"Still growl when youíre in the dining room on Sundays. Iíve heard you."
"Well yeah," she shot back, her irritation growing, "Iím doing paperwork."
"And that means what?" He chewed on a chicken wing and leaned back in his chair. "You donít have to have manners? Too busy to have respect?"
"Donít you ever concentrate on something that never comes out right the first time?" She sighed, desperately struggling to control her frustration.
He raised his eyebrow and adjusted his ball cap.
"You know, Nick," she continued in her defense. "I work a fifty plus hour work week and I hate doing paperwork in the small office in the back. I get annoyed when people don't pull their share and it really pisses me off when paperwork is done in a slipshod manner and I'm stuck fixing it. And you know what else? I belch and fart like everyone else."
"Alright," he conceded. "Iíll cut you some slack."
A wave of relief showed on her face.
"A little. Donít get too comfortable and donít be an ass to my Ab. Iím keeping my eye on you."
"Fair enough," she responded, reaching for a buffalo wing.
Trish and Abigail rejoined them, entering with their drinks.
"So Christina," Trish asked, sitting in the chair beside Nick. "Been fishing lately?"
"Earlier today." She paused and tested her coffee. "Caught a couple of trout."
"Yeah?" This got Nickís attention. "Fish from the bank?"
"She lives on a boat, Nick." Abigail interjected.
"Boat? You got a boat? What kind?" Nick found himself warming up to Christina quickly.
"Itís not much, really." She drank her coffee and wished she was somewhere else.
"Yeah? What, a sixteen foot weekender?"
"Nah. Itís a retired old shrimp boat."
"You live on a shrimp boat?"
"Well," she replied, mentally preparing herself for the next attack. "Itís had some work. Got rid of the shrimpy smell and fixed up the cabin."
"Trout all youíre after?"
"Anything thatíll bite, actually." She laughed, relaxing. He likes to fish, too. Okay, maybe Iíll luck out here!
"Nick here caught a twenty-four inch trout last weekend." Trish beamed as she bragged on her husband.
"Yeah?" Her right eyebrow leapt up on its own accord.
"Went out with some friends after work." Nick smiled proudly.
Trish took advantage of the relaxed atmosphere. "Tell us a little about yourself, Christina."
"Me?" The brunette sputtered and nearly drowned in her coffee. "You want to know about me?"
"Sure," Abigail chimed in. "Youíve never told me much about life before Pinkston."
"Well," she began as she mopped up the coffee mess on her face and shirt. "There isnít really much to tell."
"Youíre among friends." Abigail smiled.
Said the spider to the fly!
"Donít be shy."
"I was kid." She smiled sardonically, feeling very uncomfortable. "I grew up. Then I moved. Or maybe I moved and grew up."
"Oh, you!" Abigail playfully swatted her arm. "Donít be such a tease!"
"Me? A tease? Oh, please," she laughed. "You got me all messed up!"
Nick and Trish stared at her solemnly.
"Right." Oops! She sighed as she began filtering her life. "It was all boring, really. I was the middle child and all that nonsense."
"Whereíd ya move from?" Nick leaned forward, interested in the reason for Christinaís evasion.
"Tampa area." She paused only momentarily. Okay, this should end the interrogation. "My father died when I was eleven. I really donít like to talk about it."
"Iím sorry." Abigail moved closer to Christina and put her arm around her. "I didnít know."
"You donít have to talk about it if you donít want to."
"Thanks." She exhaled, grateful to end the exhumation of her past. One
day, Iíll have to tell her, but not here, and definitely not now. But soon.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"So how do you like it so far?" Jack asked as he helped Andrew stack the dishes on the Cooksí Line.
"Itís okay." Andrewís right eye ticked nervously.
"Hey, Iíll help you out any way I can." He repositioned the rubber floor mats as he left the line. "We wonít be too busy tonight."
"Appreciate that." Andrew could feel his guilty conscience begin to get a firm grip.
"Iím going to get something to drink." Jack stated as he washed his hands. "You want something?"
"No, Iím okay. Thanks anyway."
Andrew stared at Jack as he went through the pass-through door. Maybe working here wasnít such a good idea.
"Iíll give you a hand with the floors." Jack re-entered with his drink in hand. "You know youíve got to pull the mats out back and scrub them, right?" Andrew nodded assertively. "Well, Iíll get the mats and you get the trash, okay? That way, you wonít be here all night."
Business was painfully slow. Andrew found different areas to clean to avoid Jack. It didnít work.
No matter what area of the store he cleaned, the lanky cook seemed to find him. His only escape was cleaning the front restrooms and floor.
It wasnít that he didnít like Jack. That was the problem. He did. Jack was a very nice guy, quick to lend a hand. Lita would be very disappointed in him if he backed out of her plan.
Of course, with Lita, disappointment usually at least ended up in a hospital visit or, at the very least, a visit to the health clinic.
He popped a top on his beer bottle. Thank God thatís over with! Chug-a-lugging his beer, the bottle was drained in seconds. He hadnít expected any complications. After all, these were the friends of the guy that nailed Jimmy with that drug charge. And the ones that got Lita put in the slammer. He had assumed they were going to be straight-laced, boring, stupid people. So far, Jack seemed like an okay sort of guy. Maybe if Iím lucky, that Thanis woman and my boss will be real bitches!
Glad that he was home, he rifled through his cabinets, rummaging for food.
"Andrew." Lita purred as she opened the front door.
"Hey, Lita." He ran his hands through his sandy blonde hair and tried to smooth it out. Well, no rum and coke tonight!
"Howís life at The Edge?" She sat moved his clothes aside and sat on his couch.
"Okay, if you like being a dishwasher." He gave her a coke and sat in the chair close to the couch. "Want some pretzels?"
"Andrew." She put the coke down on his makeshift coffee table and shoved the bag of pretzels aside. "You know what I want."
His heart skipped a beat.
"Tell me about Abigail and her friend."
"Well," he began, his gray eyes clouding over slightly. "I worked with Jack tonight."
"Jack?" She twirled her bleached-blonde hair in her fingers, half-tempted to strangle him. "I want to hear about her new friend."
"Oh, Christina?" He coughed nervously. "Iíve only met her briefly."
"Tell me about it." She said as she relaxed.
"Sheís the Kitchen Manager." Andrew began breathing again, relieved that the tension in the air was dissipating slightly. "Her name is Christina Stavros." He stopped for a minute. "But I already told you that."
"Get on with it!"
"Yeah, okay." He drank his coke, wishing it was another beer. "She makes out my schedule. Havenít really worked with her, so I donít know a lot about her."
"What about Abigail?" Lita was quickly losing patience with the lack of substantial information he was providing.
"I havenít worked with her at all. Hey, I just started there this week!" He said defensively. "But youíll be glad to hear this. All the employee schedules are kept in the same place, so I can copy Abigailís without drawing suspicion."
"Thereís been a change in plans."
He hoped that meant he could quit his new job.
"I want you to befriend them. I want you to find out all you can about them and move into their little clique."
Andrew nursed his coke, pretending it was filled with rum.
"You can do that for me, canít you?" She threw her arm around his shoulders and nibbled on his earlobe. "That one little thing?"
"Yeah," he croaked. "Iíll do it."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The stars danced in the midnight sky as Abigail and Christina sat on Abigailís apartment balcony.
"You never told me that Trish was your mom."
"Trish?" Abigail laughed, sitting back in her chair.
"Yeah, Trish. You know," Christina shot back, miffed. "That server you work with?"
"Honey, she's not my mom."
"Is Nick your father?"
"Tell me, then," she asked petulantly. "Why did you call him that?"
"He's like a father to me." She replied softly. "And Trish is like a mother. They helped me out and took me in when I was going through a bad time with my family." Abigail paused for a moment and studied Christina. "Are you okay?"
"Why do you ask?" She maintained her defensive posture and argumentative tone.
"Well, you're not yourself. Kind of edgy. You've been reserved since we left."
"Iím alright." She smiled and took her girlfriendís hand.
"I wish you would talk to me." Her green eyes reflected the moon's glow.
"It was a long time ago." She almost felt guilty for using her fatherís death as a way out of the conversation, but what was the alternative? "Letís talk about something else."
"Okay." Abigail lifted Christinaís hand to her lips and kissed it lightly. "But I really donít know much about your life before Pinkston."
"I know." She stared out into the moonlit sky. "We were comfortable. Not well-off, by any means, but comfortable. It all changed when my father died.
"My father killed himself and had gotten us into a lot of debt, so we didnít see any of the insurance money. We had to move." She stood up and walked to the railing.
"I was about eleven. My older brother got a job and me and my younger brother took over a paper route. We all tried to help out." She took a deep breath and tried to ignore the rising panic that enveloped her. "Anyway, life happened and we drifted apart." It was a half-truth, but all she was willing to say.
"My drinking had a lot to do with it." Christina turned away, unwilling to face Abigail.
"Iím sorry." She stood up and hugged Christina from behind. "Youíve been through so much."
She turned around to face Abigail. Her conscience was holding her hostage as she looked into those loving green eyes.
"Iíll be here for you. You can count on me."
"Youíre something else, you know that?" Christina smiled and pulled Abigail close. I wish I could believe that.
"Iím not going anywhere."
Continued in Part VIII ....