Empowerment. Engagement. Authenticity.

Rangers Lodge Saga - Singoff Audition

They walked into the main kitchen just after eight to drowsy grumbles, , not quite masked by the hip hop streaming from an Ipod, from young uniformed staff. Now here was a space equipped to cook for an army, Kristen thought. Walls of windows faced east and west to let in as much light as possible, wide granite counters and islands were done in buttery yellow and held racks of spices and canisters of utensils. There were two long walls of ranges, ovens and small appliances all in stainless steel.

Breakfast was being prepared in the main kitchen that day because Jake and Adam would be overseeing the singoff auditions. Adam had expected Kristen to head back to her cabin or to an empty room to practice and had been absurdly pleased when she’d expressed interest in seeing the kitchen.

“Sounds like your crew loves the early start,” Kristen joked.

Adam couldn’t stop his grin. “Thank goodness for Martha.” He indicated a big-boned, brown-skinned woman in her sixties, corn rows tucked under a colourful scarf, a white apron over a simple white blouse and black pants. “She’s our lodge crew manager. Martha was currently hovering over Miguel and his friend, Jesse, at an enormous food processor. When Adam touched Martha’s shoulder, all three of them looked up and the younger men immediately broke into grins.

“Buenos dias, senorita Kristen,” Miguel murmured, his dark eyes twinkling. His dazzling smile and sharp cheekbones were emphasized today by hair tied back at his nape.
“We would
hug you but Ma has us elbow deep in garlic and pepper.” Jesse was lanky, his short black hair shaved at the sides, his skin the same toasted brown as Martha’s. He wiggled his sticky fingers and Martha pulled his ear sharply. “What?” he protested. “That’s what we did yesterday.” Adam looked from Jesse and Miguel to Kristen with a curious lift of a brow.

“I’ve met these two. Dance class and woodwork,” Kristen supplied. With his easygoing personality and Caribbean roots, Jesse had warmed to Kristen quickly. Kristen had no doubt he was the reason she’d enjoyed an hour of incessant hammering and sawing in the woodwork shop the day before.
“Viene a clase este tarde?” Miguel asked.

“Quizas. Si mi novio lo quiere.” The thought of twisting Adrian’s arm yet again to get him to do something she liked had tension tightening her shoulders. She rolled them lightly, turned to smile at Martha and missed Adam’s startled look at her switch between English and Spanish. “Jesse tells me you’re from Trinidad. Me, too.”

“Eh heh?” Martha cocked a hip. “You doh sound it.” Miguel said something under his breath to Jesse and Martha wagged her finger at him. “Ah doh see any choppin’ goin’ on over there,” she scolded.

“Leave dem, nuh,” Kristen said, slipping into the Trinidadian dialect. “Dem workin hard.”

Martha chuckled as Miguel and Jesse gave Kristen a thumbs up. “All yuh children eh no match for me.” She nodded to the food processor. “Cyah use rell peppa but it good to wake up dem Canadian taste buds.” She tipped her head in Adam’s direction and eased up on the dialect. “The young boss can take a good dose, though.”

Kristen arched a disbelieving brow at Adam. “Seriously?”

“I hold my own,” he grinned at her. To Martha, he added, “Kristen has an audition for the singoff this morning otherwise she’d be begging for an apron.”He leaned against the counter and did a casual survey of the chopping and slicing going on at the islands and the sizzling and flipping at the grills. They might make a fuss at being denied their late start but his young crew worked hard.

“Come help tomorrow,” Martha offered. “We cooking up an Indian feast for dinner.” She glanced at Adam for approval but Adam was helpless against the delighted smile that had lit Kristen’s entire face.

“Go right ahead.” Adam felt the same surprising rush of relief he’d felt when he’d handed her the tea and crossword at the quarry. She was back to the lighthearted Kristen he’d lost track of time with on Monday.

“What you singing for the audition, Kristen?” Jesse asked. “And can we get a preview since we can’t be there?”

“How do you know I’m any good?” she smiled, hoping he wouldn’t push.

“Annie – you met her yesterday – says you’re a great singer,” Jesse said. He blushed a little. “She’s my girlfriend.”

“Sing, sing, sing,” Jesse and Miguel chanted and a few others joined in.

Kristen rolled her eyes but figured a warm up would clear the last cobwebs of annoyance at Adrian from her brain. “Got any Taylor Swift?” she asked, ignoring the groans from the guys. She grinned when one of the girls flipped through the tracks to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” and gave in with a laugh.
“Here, give me that knife. I might as well make myself useful so I don’t get too self-conscious.” She looked at Adam. “And the boss doesn’t get too mad at me upsetting his kitchen.” She joined a trio of girls at a counter and started chopping green peppers as she sang along with Taylor Swift and tried not to think about how different she and Adrian were.

Adam stood off to the side with Martha, both smiling as Kristen nudged the girls into singing along with her. Even the boys added their own ad libs. Adam had to agree with his father’s words – Kristen definitely lit up a room.

“Nice transition from hiker to songstress,” Adam said when Kristen emerged from the ladies’ room near the kitchen an hour later. She had traded her jeans and t-shirt for a pink and purple floral sundress and finger combed her braid into ringlets.

“And I’m confused,” she retorted. “Your change of clothes says boss but your words say flirt.” Kristen thought he looked great in a short-sleeved, grey shirt worn untucked over casual dress pants.

Auditorium A was a medium-sized room, tiled in cream marble. Wall sconces, ceramic urns and plush chairs arranged around low coffee tables were done in royal blue. A stage, its blue velvet drapes drawn back, occupied the front of the room and a line of judges in shirtsleeves sat to its side. Potential performers with numbers pinned to their chests milled on one side of the room while supporters sat sipping coffee on the other.

“Relax,” Adam said to her, feeling her tense as they entered the room. “This is just a formality. I’ve already vouched for you.”

Kristen gaped at him. “Why would you do that? I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Doesn’t deny your talent.” When he reached into her backpack for her camera, Kristen grabbed for it and he evaded her. “What has you so on edge?” he demanded.

Kristen’s eyes tracked through the crowd even as she kicked herself for hoping. Adrian wasn’t there. When she looked at Adam again, the concern in his eyes had her twisting her fingers in her hair. “Not relevant,” she pressed. “Hope I live up to your expectations.”

“There’s our star!” Logan picked Kristen off her feet and twirled her.

Brooke and Raven rushed up to hug her. “Mom and Dad want to hug you, too,” Brooke said brightly, pulling her toward Jeb and Leigh, who were sitting across the room. “Still can’t believe my idiot brother isn’t here,” Adam heard Brooke gripe as she whisked Kristen off.

Ah, so that’s why she’d been so quiet this morning, Adam mused, forcing himself to get into work mode. Mixed with his relief that she’d been telling him the truth and that her mood had nothing to do with him was the same incredulous irritation he’d heard in Brooke’s voice.

She’d sung in public before. That’s what Kristen kept telling herself as she waited to be called on stage. She’d sang in choirs and for family functions and children’s parties. Adrian’s family had seen videos of her singing and she was always singing to Bella and her own niece and nephew. This was no different.
She stepped into the spotlight and focused on the opening notes of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.” She had won an award for singing this song, in public, when she was in grade nine. She loved this song. She was good at it. Kristen started to sing and, as she got into the groove, barely noticed the hush in the room. Singing came naturally to her and flowed through her like cleansing rain. She knew the notes emerged clear and on pitch and smiled as the room broke into applause at the final crescendo. The five judges raised cards reading ten across the board and Brooke and Raven hollered in approval. When Kristen’s eyes met Adam’s, what she saw there was more than pleasure or satisfaction that he’d pulled strings for a worthy contestant.

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