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Rangers Lodge Saga - Kitchen Therapy

With a vigorous stir that had the curried chicken sizzling, Kristen stepped back from the stove, hips swaying to energetic soca music, only to have Miguel’s hands clasp her waist as he moved their bodies in intimate sync. Laughing, Kristen passed him the spoon she held and spun away to peek under the lid of another steaming pot, then danced her way over to Jesse who was kneading dough, arms and legs in perfect time to the beat. Kristen slid an arm around his waist and bumped their hips together as she reached for a Pyrex dish in the cupboard beside him. Chopping onions next to him, Annie grinned.

When Miguel hollered that the best part of the song was coming up, Kristen held out the dish to Martha with a helpless shrug and grin. Martha shook her head in amusement and turned to the sinkful of dishes. Kristen flicked her camera to video mode and propped it on a tripod.

She pulled Jesse and Annie to the centre of the room. Miguel passed Kristen her curry-crusted spoon and twirled an oil-slicked spatula. On the stereo, the Mighty Sparrow spun a sordid tale of a black cannibal holding two white women captive in his cooking pot. As he cackled with glee, the four cooks sweating in the main kitchen at Ranger’s Lodge raised their hands and utensils high and gyrated as they spluttered out the victorious line, “He eat she raw!” The guys howled and high fived as the storyteller lamented that the cannibal ate until his stomach upset but he himself had never had white meat yet.

“Did you tell them you’ve never had anything but white meat?”

Kristen whirled around at Adrian’s lewd chuckle. She barely heard Miguel’s whistle. Nothing could have prepared her for seeing Adrian and Adam side by side in the kitchen doorway. Adam, in brown khakis and an ivory golf shirt, an expression of intrigue on his face, Adrian, grinning from ear to ear, casual in the faded jean shorts and blue t-shirt Kristen had laid out for him the night before.

The air in the main kitchen was warm and heavy with the aromas of curry, tumeric, coriander and a myriad other Indian spices despite the windows thrown open on Wednesday afternoon. The room pulsed with soca music and every burner on the two ranges was turned on under sizzling pots of curried chicken, mango, chick peas with potato and steamed rice.

Jesse grinned sheepishly at his boss and went over to the sink to wash his hands, Annie trailing behind him. Miguel flipped Adam a salute as he poured glasses of ice water for all of them from a chilled pitcher. Passing Adam and Adrian their glasses, Kristen blushed when Adam only propped his chin in his hand and raised an eyebrow at her.

“Umm…that song was just about a cannibal,” she ventured. She grinned as Adrian, Miguel and even Jesse erupted into skeptical laughter. On the Ipod, the song
continued to praise the cannibal.
“And, according to Adrian, that was just a dance you were doing.”

“One of many, I’ll bet,” Adrian smirked. “It’s how she works best. What else have you danced to…Big Bamboo?” This time, Miguel and Jesse’s laughter drowned out the music.

“You understand the lyrics?” Miguel asked curiously.

“Off and on. She translates,” Adrian said.

“We’re sticking to songs about food and eating,” Kristen said as she moved to the stove, checked a bubbling pot of dhal and set down the ladle she was still holding. She glanced over her shoulder at Adrian. He had come a little further into the room, cautious of the kitchen chaos, probably hoping she would meet him half way. She stayed where she was.

“Any of it caught on video?” Adrian asked. “Might make interesting dinner entertainment.” Kristen recalled that the video was still running and hustled to turn it off.

“We were hoping the boss would let us do a dance for the guests,” Miguel said, looking at Adam as he stirred a pot. “We could dance then get the guests to come up and try.”

“You’ll have men rushing the floor,” Adrian smirked to Kristen.

“Are you okay with that?” Jesse asked Adrian. “You could dance with her instead.”

“Nah,” Adrian returned and Kristen winced at the carelessness of the response. “I’d rather run the video.”

Kristen swatted his shoulder. “What exactly did you tell Adam about Caribbean dancing?” She hadn’t seen Adrian since she’d left their cabin at five thirty that morning to meet Adam. Her mind flitted to the night before when they’d made frantic love, make up sex Adrian had no doubt convinced himself excused his absence at her audition, his refusal to attend Miguel’s dance class with her, his disinterest in doing anything but watch TV after dinner. And then, once again, he had sent her off alone on her early morning excursion today. But saying nothing to him was as good as forgiveness, Kristen reminded herself.

“Judging by his silence, your actions said enough,” he teased, downing his water and reaching for her hand. “Man, it’s hot in here and you’re soaking wet.” He walked his fingers up her sweat-dampened arm. “Hang on, weren’t you wearing a shirt when you left this morning?”

Kristen’s hands flew to her chest. She had been wearing a red shirt but had slipped it off as the kitchen heated up. Under the shirt, she wore a red bathing suit, cut high in the front and low in the back. She looked around for the shirt now and saw that someone, most likely Miguel judging from his wide grin, had hooked it on a cupboard way above her head.

“Leave all yuh children alone and yuh play de fool,“ Martha said, clucking her tongue.

“Maybe,” Kristen smiled. “But we got all the food done.”

“Yeah,” Jesse piped up. “Kristen worked us harder than you do, Ma.”

“How many breaks did they take?” Adam asked Kristen and raised an eyebrow when the four cooks exchanged blank looks and burst out laughing. “Not even a break to eat?” Adam asked. That was Jesse and Miguel’s common excuse to take off from a task.

“Um, we taste tested as we went,” Kristen said, flushing a little. “And we took time to dance.”

“Obviously, Kristen has a magic touch,” Martha smiled. Miguel and Jesse stuck their tongues out at Martha’s back and Kristen giggled.

“If you two would like to help with the roti,” she said, smiling from Adrian to Adam, “we’ll transfer the rest of the food to the warmers.”

Adam looked at the large pots on the stove. “If we pitched in with the food, the transfer would go quicker.”

“These guys can do it in seven minutes,” Kristen bragged and Miguel, Jesse and Annie took exaggerated bows.

“I have to see this,” Martha laughed. Adam looked just as skeptical.

Kristen finished her water and handed Martha the glass. She looked over her shoulder. “One of you boys cue the music,” she called to Miguel and Jesse. “I’ll set these recruits up.”

Taking Adrian’s arm, she beckoned for Adam to follow her to an island where roti sat in cloth-lined baskets. “The task is to rip these into pieces like a ruined shirt,” she explained. A new tune started. “The trick is to dance while you do it and keep your movements in sync with the music. You two,” she pointed to Miguel and Jesse, “start with the chicken and dhal. Annie and I will do the channa and mango.”

When the task was done, and Kristen was rewarded with Adam’s impressed grin, she checked her watch. It was just after three. “Are we still on for tubing at four?” She prayed Adrian wouldn’t have some excuse handy. She was looking forward to time on the ocean after her work here.

Kristen had enjoyed the homey atmosphere despite the mountain of work. They’d made the work fun, singing, dancing and joking around. Kristen had walked into the kitchen simply craving a distraction from her jumbled thoughts. She had gotten her wish immediately as Jesse and Miguel, dressed in matching red shirts and black shorts that ironically mirrored what she had chosen to wear, hustled her into a photo against a backdrop of exotic ingredients.

“Yeah,” Adrian said and Kristen let out the breath she’d been holding. “Just thought I’d see what you were up to. Now I could use some cooler air.”

“Go with him,” Martha urged. “We’ll clean up.”

Kristen was torn. Here Adrian was, ready to spend time with her and she would rather stay in the kitchen. Adrian sensed her hesitation, although his next words told her he didn’t understand at all. “Cleaning and washing dishes are two of her favourite things,” he laughed. He kissed Kristen’s cheek. “Have fun. See you later.” He left the kitchen.

Adam tipped his glass of water to his mouth. Martha was back to washing dishes, Jesse was wrapping roti in foil, Miguel was once again monitoring pots on the stoves. With some effort, Adam shifted his mind to work and away from the sight of Kristen in that orgiastic huddle Adrian had claimed was a dance.
“You three have the night off,” he said to Jesse, Annie and Miguel. “But if you want to do a dance, and if Kristen wants to join in, go for it.”

“If you wouldn’t mind taking over for ten minutes,” Martha said to Adam, turning off the faucet and looking over at Kristen. “Kristen and I could use a break. Won’t have you saying I’m working one of your guests to death, after all.”

“Of course.” Adam’s eyes went back to Kristen, forgetting to mask their concern. Like the previous day, Kristen had been subdued when she’d met him in the breakfast kitchen that morning. Unlike the previous day, Adam’s teasing and storytelling during their polar bear dip and stroll along the beach hadn’t lightened her mood. Oh, she’d put on a good pretense to the contrary but Adam had seen the shadows in her eyes. Kitchen duty had obviously been the trick but those shadows had returned the moment she’d seen Adrian.

The back deck of the lodge faced the east lawn with its oval patches of red geraniums and purple salvia. Whitewashed concrete paths wound their way through
and umbrella-shaded tables provided perfect spots for a cocktail. Martha gestured Kristen to a chair at one of the tables.

“Don’t tell me you don’t need a break,” Martha chided and Kristen sank onto the seat. “You’re hoping working nonstop will keep you from thinking of anything else. I’ve been around long enough to know that aint going to work.”

Sitting did feel good and Kristen appreciated the cool breeze fanning her heated skin. She went with the simple answer. “Boyfriend issues is all.” If she could believe that, if she could stop wondering if the issues were hers, everything would be fine. “Jesse’s a great kid,” she said, changing the subject.

“Yeah he is,” Martha said with a fond smile at the kitchen. “And since you’re all kids to me, I’ll tell you this. Don’t let any man take advantage of you.” Martha sipped her water. “Jesse’s father is a very nice man but I couldn’t keep up with everything he expected me to do. Finally, I had to make a choice. As much as I wanted Jesse to have a traditional family, I knew I wouldn’t be a good mother if I continued at that pace. So I made the choice to leave Jesse’s father. He’s not a bad person but we’re much better as friends.”

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