“I honestly can’t believe we did this,” Sonia said and laughed. I took a sip from my wine glass and mirrored the smile still lingering on her lips.
“We only did it because of you,” I said. “Everybody likes you.”
“Including you?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Of course including me.” I drank again. Wine was not my alcohol of choice. I only drank it when I had to and today Sonia had said she’d like to have some wine with dinner. A celebratory dinner as our monthly income passed 50,000 newros for the first time ever. It felt good even if it meant working ten or more hours some days. Sonia never complained, she never took days off and at one point I had suspected her of being an agent of Maddy. She was too efficient, I’d thought.
“So, what’s next?” she said. “Shall we hire more partners and grow bigger?”
“I’m not sure about this.”
I was sure. I had no growth plans. The firm felt just right with the two of us and we were making enough money to live in comfort. If Sonia wanted more, she could move on although I wouldn’t be happy about it.
“Hmm,” she said, narrowing her bright blue eyes. “You look sure. So, it’s a no. That’s okay. I’m not too sure I want us to become the next shark in the pond anyway.”
“The sea,” I said and couldn’t help a grin. “Sharks and ponds don’t go together.”
Sonia rolled her eyes and pulled her elbows off the table so the waiter in an all-black uniform could serve her dessert, something round and white, and cheese-like.
“I’m sorry,” I said and nodded at the waiter. Mine was a double chocolate fudge cake. I was conservative when it came to desserts. “I’m a know-all.”
“It’s okay, I’ve already got used to it.” She grinned and picked up her wine again.
A year had passed since Sonia joined me in my previously one-man show in financial advice. I still consider the decision to advertise for a partner one of the best I’d ever made. I also no longer think she is a supernatural being like Madeleine, who poses as my mother, who is living with her son, depriving him of any personal life. Sonia is as human as I am. She is just very good at everything she does. But after Madeleine, I suspect everybody until they prove they are human by simply not doing anything supernatural. Yeah, not the best of approaches, I admit, but the only one I’ve come up with so far.
We both dug into our desserts in comfortable silence, like we worked, but a couple of bites in the noise level around increased. People were murmuring, shifting in their seats, and heads were turning in one direction: the street outside Blibli. Going with the flow, Sonia and I turned to look through the glass screens that made up the restaurant’s front. There were people in the street, at least three dozen people and they were divided in two groups, facing each other.
“Oh, come on, really?” Sonia groaned. She set her fork on the edge of the plate with a loud clank and crossed her arms. “For once I go out for dinner and now these idiots will ruin my evening.”
The group on the left that was taking positions by spreading across the whole street, a few of its members shouting at drivers honking their horns in a futile attempt to break the blockade, was made up entirely of women. All were dressed in dark, tight-fitting clothes, with baseball bats here and there, and very likely knives and brass knuckles though I couldn’t see these. Opposite them, about two dozen men were similarly taking up positions across the street, as if preparing for a game of football. They were all in white, sporting the same weapons as the other group. We had been chosen to witness a stand between the #notme militia and the Albus all-white, all-male group that, in my opinion, took some things way too literally.
Sonia shook her head and took her fork.
“Not your fault. If they could throw them all in prison that would be great.”
Sonia was full of surprises.
“I thought you’d defend the #notme,” I said, getting back to my cake while the two warring bands prepared for the clash. It was weirdly exciting – these two met to fight regularly, always at prominent public locations, but I’d never witnessed a fight until now.
“Why?” Sonia raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m a woman?”
I’d learned early on in our relationship honesty was the best policy.
Sonia frowned for a second and then laughed.
“Thanks for being honest. So, do you support Albus?”
“What? Of course not!” Albus were a bunch of unintelligent men with too much time on their hands and not enough sex, probably. Not that my own sex life was particularly vibrant but these guys acted like they were severely frustrated.
“There you go,” Sonia said and tipped her glass to me before taking a sip. “Stereotypes, Lars, will get you nowhere. I hate extremism, that’s all. These women outside are extremists and so are the men they’re fighting. Sometimes I think it’s just for show, to be honest.”
The two groups on the street had settled into their positions and an air of tension had descended both on the street and in the restaurant where the waiters tried to pretend nothing was happening outside. Yet the clients were distracted, ignoring their food for the show.
“Well, anything’s possible,” I said and took another bite of my cake. It was delicious, maybe the best chocolate fudge cake I’d ever had. As I swallowed, I almost choked on this deliciousness because a woman burst through the swinging doors that, I assumed, led out of the kitchen and strode to the front. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, her catlike eyes a deep green, her mouth a fine drawing, and her hair a rich auburn that fell in soft waves to her shoulders. I didn’t even have time to go any further than that before she swept by our table.
“Swallow,” Sonia said. “Or you’ll die before you even get her phone number.”
I swallowed and cleared my throat. It was embarrassing to get caught ogling a woman by a woman even if that latter woman had no interest in the person doing the ogling. Nor was there any chance the object of the ogling would ever develop an interest in me. This was pathetic but the woman was a vision of heaven. I cleared my throat again.
“It’s okay, Lars,” Sonia said with a smile. “Being lonely is nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Needless to say, this embarrassed me even more.
“Thanks,” I mumbled.
The woman had opened the door of the restaurant and now stood with her back to us, in her white chef’s uniform, legs spread and arms crossed. Okay, she looked good from behind as well, that was certain. But the moment I think I fell in love was when she started speaking.
“Get out of here,” were the words she uttered and she did so in a deep, luscious voice, a voice like a spring forest, all trees in bloom, warm and full of promise. Then she spoke more to my delight. “You only get one warning, after which I will take care of this situation in a final way. I suggest we don’t get to that. You have one minute to clear the street.”
“Can’t wait to see your final way,” one of the Albus group shouted.
The woman sighed loudly enough for us to hear it, uncrossed her arms and let them drop. There was something in her right hand, a remote perhaps because a second later two columns grew from the ground on both sides of the door. The fighters from both groups froze.
“Say hello to Sonic-1 and Sonic-2. Two hundred and fifty decibels, all for you because I will close the door and this glass you see here is a special sort of glass and will protect us as we watch you break down from the inside.”
I couldn’t get enough of her voice and the words were no less sexy.
“Wow,” Sonia murmured. “I think you’re not the only one in love around here.”
I glanced around. Everyone was staring at the woman’s back, some were gaping.
“Do you really want me to give you a count down?” the woman said and raised the remote. The members of #notme and Albus exchanged a few puzzled looks among themselves, careful to avoid even glancing at the enemy. The leader of the women’s group raised her hands in surrender.
“We’re going,” she said.
The woman nodded and turned to the Albus.
Their leader, a surprisingly slim and non-muscular guy, turned and nodded at those behind him. They broke formation. He raised a hand to the chef.
“Good!” she said. I could just see the smile in her voice. It was the strangest feeling.
The columns slowly descended back into the ground. The woman closed the door and turned to face us. I’m not sure where the applause began but I joined in and Sonia joined in and in a few moments everyone was clapping like mad. There was never danger for any of us – the gangs only fought between themselves and were banned from using firearms – but the chef’s intervention was nevertheless spectacular, better than the fight would have been.
“Complimentary drinks for everyone!” she said spreading her arms and curtsying playfully. “Thank you! Enjoy your evening.” And with this she was gone, back in the kitchen where I doubted anyone would let me. I realized I was staring at the swinging door when Sonia spoke.
“It looks bad.”
“I don’t understand.” A lame attempt to avoid more embarrassment. I was thirty-seven years old and my palms were sweaty like a fifteen-year-old’s.
“Lars,” Sonia said and set her now empty wine glass on the table. “We’ve worked together for a year now. I’ve come to know you and I have to say I’ve let you know me. Don’t be embarrassed, please. Just get her number and call her.”
I barked something resembling a laugh. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d gone on a date. In the two years since I had discovered what Maddy calls powers or talent and I don’t call any special way but ultimately comes to altering reality with my dreams, I had not been on a date. I had used professional services in the area a couple of times but it felt a little too professional, so I gave that up.
“I’m not sure I remember how to do this,” I said, staring at the cream-colored cloth on the table. “It’s been a while.” If I was not the very picture of impotence right now I don’t know what it was.
“Let me help, then.” I raised my head just enough to see Sonia press the waiter call button.
When the waiter appeared by the table she asked for the check.
“And would it be possible to thank the chef personally? The food was exquisite,” she said. My heart skipped a beat. This was getting more and more pathetic, and I had a sudden urge to just run away. I’d already embarrassed myself in front of Sonia. What’s a little more pain of shame?
“I’ll let chef Griffiths know right away,” the waiter said.
Griffiths. What a lovely name. I still wanted to run.
“Don’t you dare,” Sonia said and pointed a warning finger at me. So my thoughts had been written on my face. I wondered if this could get any worse.
It turned out it could when the chef came to our table. My tongue stuck to my palate and I was incapable of producing a sound.
“Hello,” the gorgeous woman said. She stood a foot from me. I could reach out and touch her. I didn’t, of course, but I did look her over. Tall and thin, small breasts she didn’t try to make look bigger, generous below the waist. It only took a couple of seconds but I felt a flush coming on.
“Lars and I would like to thank you personally for this lovely dinner,” Sonia said, so in control, so smooth, I was eternally indebted to her.
“You’re very welcome,” the woman said with a nod. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“Very much,” I croaked or at least I thought I croaked because the woman did not jump back in disgust but smiled at me. “Thank you,” I tried again. This time my voice sounded normal to my ears.
“We’re happy to have you,” she said, directing a polite smile at me. I thought her eyes lingered a bit on mine but I must have imagined it. “Have a very good night.” With one more nod she was gone.
Sian, this was her first name. Sian Griffiths. In my dream I knew her well enough to be in her kitchen at night, after the restaurant closed. She was preoccupied with mixing things in a bowl and didn’t notice me at first when I entered.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said when I bumped into a tray full of plates and they clattered. “I’m sorry I’ve been so busy but this sauce will finish me before I finish it.”
“That’s okay,” I said. There was no trace of anxiety or embarrassment in how I felt. There was confidence, comfort, and definitely arousal. I skirted the tray and approached her from behind. Her body was familiar and wanted, and I slipped my arms around it and kissed her neck. Which is when I woke up panting, horrified, and with a full-size erection.
Of course I’d had erotic dreams before, just not in the last two years, when dreams took on a whole new meaning in my life. I still didn’t know how to control the reality-altering process and, what’s worse, I wasn’t sure which dreams were reality-altering.
True, in all cases so far I had strongly wanted to alter reality and it had happened while I dreamt. Which is why I woke up horrified. I certainly had a strong desire to exist in a reality where I was with this woman. But the thought of dreaming up another reality where I’ve skipped the awkward first stages of dating to dive straight into a relationship was as scary as it was appealing.
So I sat in bed, my head in my hands, as usual trying to squeeze whatever made me dream these dreams out of my skull, and waited for my heart rate and blood flow to return to normal. I held on to that feeling of warmth and comfort, though, that feeling you belong with someone. It hurt because it was unattainable but… Here I stopped myself.
I had assumed it was unattainable but I hadn’t even tried to make it attainable, which was too pathetic even for me. I no longer looked terminally ill. I was decent in conversation and, I hoped, in bed, and I was damn lonely. Sonia had only scolded me gently last night about failing to take advantage of the opportunity Sian’s presence had given me. Even so, it had made me feel even worse. But now, after this dream, as delicious as Sian’s food, I found a confidence I’d resorted to only using for professional purposes. Maybe if I slept next to someone warm and soft I would stop fearing sleep and the dreams that could come.
“Hello, this is Lars Miller from “Miller and Sveistrup”. I’d like to speak with chef Griffiths whenever she is available. I have a business proposition for her.” I watched Sonia’s eyes grow wider and wider as I spoke, and her mouth hang open. I grinned. “Yes, of course, I’ll wait.”
“I see your balls made an appearance,” Sonia said with a new intimacy. We might have crossed the line between co-workers and friends last night. “I’m very happy for you.”
“Shh,” I said, “Don’t jinx it.”
I was in a better mood than I’d been in months. I would use my dream for my selfish purposes. I would use it for inspiration. This certainly felt a lot less wrong than altering reality to help one single person, which I’d done for the girl that was now my daughter, Tony. The thought of how Tony – or Maddy for that matter – would react to me having a relationship tried to make an entrance but I shunned it. It wasn’t its time yet.
“Hello?” the voice of the maitre d’ I was speaking to returned.
“Would 10 am on Thursday work for you? Chef Griffiths always schedules her meetings in the mornings, of course.”
“Of course.” Pompous little prick. “Thursday at ten works just fine. Thank you.”
I put the phone on my desk and tried to concentrate on the figures on my screen. I was doing due diligence of a company for a client but I couldn’t care less about their latest quarterly report. I still made an effort.
I realized Sonia had stopped typing whatever she was typing when she spoke.
“Yes?” I looked up gratefully from the report.
“Are you really not going to tell me what you’re up to?”
I smirked. The pathetic person sweating at the thought of looking at a beautiful woman was dead. Dead and buried deeply in the farthest corner of my mind. Far away.
“I was going to tell you when I had a done deal but if you insist: I’m going to offer Sian a business deal. A line of sauces.”
Sonia’s eyes widened again.
“I checked the restaurant’s website.” These lies came more naturally these days. “I wanted to look her up.”
“Of course you did.” Now Sonia narrowed her eyes at me. “And the sauce idea? Where did this one come from?”
“Nowhere.” So much about naturally coming lies.
“Oh, come on!” She threw an arm in the air to emphasize her frustration with me but her phone saved me from further pressure. “Hello? Oh, hi, Giuseppe, I was just thinking about you. Thanks for calling back. Look, it’s time to exit Apple. Yes, I am completely serious. I’m telling this to all my clients. Yes, I am sure.”
I knew she was. Sonia had such a flair for stocks it was scary and one of the reasons I’d thought she was supernatural like Maddy. I mouthed “Really?” and she nodded.
“I understand it’s a difficult decision. Tell you what, let’s halve your exposure, how about that? You’ll thank me later, at dinner.” She laughed. “Okay, it’s a deal.”
“Apple?” I said, romantic thoughts and schemes momentarily forgotten. “This does sound eccentric.”
Sonia sighed and looked into her coffee cup, which appeared to be empty because she stood up.
“Do you want coffee?”
“No, thanks. So, Apple?”
She disappeared into the tiny kitchen and reappeared half a minute later with a full cup.
“Apple is going down, Lars. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, or next year, but it’s going down. They said they’ll stop reporting sales. What does that tell you?”
“It could be something other than the obvious thing.”
“But it could also be the obvious thing,” she said. “So, about these sauces. Why sauces of all things delicious?”
I cleared my throat.
“I sort of dreamed about sauces.”
“Sort of?” Her right eyebrow went up in amusement. I hate single-eyebrow raising but I didn’t mind it when Sonia was doing it. “I’m sure there was more than that.”
“Okay. I dreamed about her making a sauce. That’s it.”
“And you had the idea of getting a date by making a business proposal based on a dream. Impressive brainwork. Well done, Lars.”
I shrugged. I did feel pretty proud of my idea even if Sonia was being ironic. I also had some money lying around that I could use.
“I’m making enough money to risk an investment. We’re not big spenders at home.”
“The sauce thing sounds like a pretty solid investment.”
Sonia could double as a police detective if she wanted to.
“I also have some savings that could use some moving around.”
The eyebrow went up again but instead of amusement there was curiosity in my partner’s eyes.
“I didn’t ask.”
“But you obviously want to know. I trade, occasionally. I’ve done rather well in the past couple of years.”
I had traded in a frenzy after the first reality-altering dream when I did everything I could not to fall asleep. And I did get lucky. I had half a million newro stashed in my trading account.
“I want in, too,” Sonia said without even stopping to think. Or she had thought it over in the last few seconds. She was quick.
I hadn’t counted on this but I wasn’t surprised, either. It’s funny how you get to know people without even realizing it.
“Are you sure?”
This was the decent thing to say although I could see she’d made her decision.
“I am. Do we have a business plan?”
I didn’t even have an outline. After all, I needed chef Griffiths to say yes first.
“Not yet. Okay, if you’re sure.”
“I ate food she’s made. The sauce will be a smash.”
I knew it would. Or more precisely I hoped it would but with a high degree of certainty. She did look frustrated in my dream. She took that sauce personally and she wouldn’t give up until she conquered it.
“So, do you want to come with me to the meeting?” I asked hoping for a no.
“Oh, no, that one’s all yours. But do let me know how it goes. In every sense of the word.” The eyebrow wiggle told me she was joking just as I began to get angry with her bluntness and disregard for other people’s emotions.
That night I dreamt of yogurt. At least I thought it was yogurt because it was in yogurt pots with writing in a foreign language I couldn’t read on them. Cyrillic. I was in a huge room full of these pots, stacked in rows as tall as me, all white save for the one word in dark blue. The room smelled of curd and I was suddenly ravenous. I reached out for the nearest pot and pulled it from the middle of the stack, causing it to disintegrate and rain yogurt on the floor. I didn’t care because I was too busy pulling the foil lid off and gulping the contents straight from the pot. This was the most delicious dairy product I had ever tasted. I woke up smacking my lips.
The sun was about to make an appearance when I got up to see if we had any yogurt. Some dreams give you a craving you need to satisfy immediately and this was one of them. I sneaked into the kitchen – it was five thirty – and opened the fridge. My heart dropped in the pit of my stomach. The fridge was full of yogurt, that same brand with the white pots and a word in dark blue. Момчиловци it said. I had a fridge with no other food in it but Момчиловци yogurt and I had a very strong suspicion this could be the case with all fridges in the city.
Two thoughts clashed in my mind. “This is ridiculous” had a good momentum but so did “What am I going to tell Tony?” My daughter didn’t know I sometimes dreamt dreams that changed reality. She was too young.
While I considered my options I started taking the pots out and setting them in rows on the counter, for lack of anything better to do. I could try an all-night supermarket and go buy some groceries before Tony woke up but I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time. She was usually up by six-thirty and there were no all-night supermarkets close by. But she’d want to have breakfast. I reached up to the counter where we kept – Maddy kept – flours and cereals. Thankfully these were still there. The thought about all the other fridges in town kept nudging me but I kept ignoring it. Personal problems first. So, I was selfish. Who isn’t?
There were forty-two large pots of yogurt on my counter. I set one aside and began putting the rest in garbage bags. At this point I had no idea what I was going to do with them. All I wanted was to hide them except… except I still wanted to try some.
I filled a bag, tied the top and took one of the remaining pots from the counter. I hesitated for a second, readying myself for surprises I couldn’t imagine but might be in it, and pulled the foil off. The smell of yogurt hit my nose and settled there. A sweet and sour, thick smell that promised good food. I took a teaspoon from the dryer and dug into the white mass.
The yogurt was as delicious as it had been in my dream. There was not even a hint of the sweetness I was used to but this was only to its advantage. I tasted of cream, milk, butter, and fresh cheese all at once. Before I knew it I was halfway through the pot. It looked like unfinished business, so I finished it. There were still ten pots on the counter. Thirty were in the garbage bags, one was in my stomach and one I’d left for Tony’s breakfast. I’d say it was a special treat for her. It looked like it would go perfectly with her muesli.
“Is this Rhodope yogurt I smell?” Madeleine’s quiet voice said behind my back. “Why, yes, it is. How lovely.”
“You know this yogurt?” I did try to hide the pots with my body for a second before my brain realized this was Maddy and I had nothing supernatural to hide from my supernatural mentor.
“Oh, yes.” She took one of the pots and turned it this way and that. “This is the best, from Momtchilovtsi.”
“It’s a village, a high-mountain village. Perfect for yogurt. It’s in the southern Balkans. May I?”
“Of course.” The Balkans. The Fringe. Now the writing made sense. They still used the Cyrillic alphabet there.
“So,” Maddy said after she tasted a spoonful of the yogurt and mmm-ed with pleasure. “Why would you be dreaming about yogurt?”
“I’ve no—” But I did have an idea. “Last night I dreamt about a chef making a sauce that was giving her trouble. Now it’s yogurt. I might be trying to help her make that sauce.”
Amusement sparkled in Maddy’s hazelnut eyes.
“I see,” she said. “It sounds like love.”
My head suddenly felt too heavy to hold upright so I dropped it, scratching the top.
“Good luck, then,” Maddy said and left as quietly as she’d come in, taking the pot of yogurt and a teaspoon with her. She hadn’t said anything about the yogurt being all over town, so it probably wasn’t and if it was I would just feign ignorance. After all, all food suddenly turning into a healthy dairy product wasn’t exactly a disaster. I returned all the pots to the fridge. I would take one to Sian on Thursday, which was an agonizing two days away. Or one, if I used Tony’s way of counting, which did not include the current day even if it was early morning. One more day.
The last time I had felt so nervous was when I applied for my first job, in the bank I’d always wanted to work in. Hard as I tried to convince myself it was only a business meeting and I needed to be professional and persuasive my brain obviously did not believe me, making my heart race and palms sweat. That pathetic man from two days ago had returned to life and was crawling out of the shadows.
“Right this way,” a young woman said and gestured towards the kitchen doors. The restaurant was empty so early in the morning but the tables were set impeccably, waiting for the crowds to descend on the place.
“The office is to the right,” the woman said and continued through the kitchen, where I saw a couple of men moving crates of oranges, tangerines, and, I think, broccoli or something else green. That was before I looked to the right.
The door was open and Sian – whose name I reminded myself not to use before she told it to me – sat alone at a tiny desk in a tiny office. She wore glasses that were clearly made for utility and not as a fashion accessory, with a sturdy gray frame in an unimaginative rectangular shape that I supposed covered her whole field of vision because they were quite large. The glasses did not do her face any justice and still she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I reached out to knock just when she looked up from the papers she was reading.
“Hello,” she said. No smile this time, only exhaustion. “Are you Lars Miller?”
“I am, yes,” I said and I walked into the tiny space that made me feel ridiculously tall and clumsy.
“I’m afraid that’s all the space I have for meetings,” she said and stood to shake my hand. “Please, try to make yourself comfortable.”
Her hand was surprisingly small but her handshake was firm, exactly as I’d expected.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of time, Mr. Miller, but I would love to hear your idea, which has so far remained a mystery.”
I cleared my throat and it was the first sound I produced since I entered the office.
“I was actually thinking about a line of sauces with the restaurant’s brand,” I said. I impressed myself with the confidence that rang out of every word. I was being professional and the clenched stomach was a sad but ignorable affair that had nothing to do with why I was here.
“Sauces,” Sian repeated flatly.
“Yes,” I said with a nod for emphasis. “There is always market for sauces and judging by the food you served me and my partner – business partner – two days ago I strongly believe any sauce you offer on this market will be a success.”
Her eyes that looked smaller but still as bright behind the glasses narrowed for a second and then widened.
“That’s right, I thought your face looked familiar,” she laughed. “But I thought I’d seen it in a dream.”
My stomach flipped and a freezing wave of shock splashed against me.
“I’m sorry?” I managed. “A dream?”
She waved a hand and straightened the pile of what looked like receipts into a neat stack.
“Oh, nothing creepy. I just had this dream a few nights ago and I was making a sauce and there was someone in the kitchen but I didn’t get a good look at him. I was sure it was a man, though. Anyway, it was funny that you said sauces. I’m sorry, ignore this.” Here she smiled revealing a set of even teeth. “Interesting you should mention them, though. I have been working on a new version f hollandaise I wanted to include in the menu but I’m having a little bit of trouble making it my own. Unique.”
I was too stunned to respond in any way. She had had the same dream. This couldn’t be a coincidence. Antonia, in her past reality, had had a dream of my neighbourhood pub, the Dansk Finanzbar and she had come to it with the idea someone there will help her with her brain tumour and her work on a nuclear fusion reactor. This reactor was now decades away but Antonia was alive and well, my daughter of seven, and with any luck she would never develop a brain tumour in this reality. And now this woman was saying we had sort of shared a dream.
“Mr. Miller? Are you okay?”
“Please call me Lars,” I muttered, forcing myself to drop the whole dreams line of thought and focus on the matter at hand. “I’m fine, yes.”
“You went very pale.” She was looking at me with concern and if I wasn’t so shocked by what she’d just said I would have probably melted under her gaze.
“I have some trouble sleeping,” I said. “Nothing to worry about. Let’s talk about sauces.” I even managed a grimace I thought could pass for a smile and apparently it did because she smiled back.
“Well, Lars, if I have to be honest and I like to be honest, I could use a boost right now. This restaurant is not making as much money as I’d hoped and it took all my savings. I don’t see it surviving for long unless I change something. So, I’m open to new business. But I have to ask why?”
“Why what?” The question was confusing.
“Why did you come to me with this idea and not to someone else.”
“Because I really enjoyed my dinner the other night. I think you are a brilliant chef and I also have some money set aside for the right investment. I’m a financial advisor during the day.” And a dreamer of weird dreams during the night.
“And a superhero during the night?”
I started but she was clearly joking. Besides, I was no superhero.
“A trader by night, more like.”
“Ah, I see.”
“So, you’re the sole owner of the business?” I changed the subject, wondering at this point if I could fall any deeper for her. Probably. This particular pit didn’t seem to have a bottom.
“I am, yes. If I knew what I was getting into I would have stayed with my old boss. Or then again, probably not. He was a bastard.” Another smile flashed lightening her face up. She took off the glasses. “Okay, Lars, how do we go about all this?” she asked interlacing her fingers under her chin and peering at me over them.
“Well, I thought you could make the sauces and I could do the rest.”
I hadn’t thought that far. I hadn’t thought beyond this meeting.
“The rest being?”
“Production and marketing.” My brain was waking up. “For starters I suppose you could do a limited series here, if you have the capacity but when the line takes off we’d need a factory or production line, or whatever it is called.”
Another slight widening of the eyes stopped me.
“Is something wrong?”
Sian shook her head and as she did her hair fell over her face. She tossed it back.
“It’s just all very surprising. I’d heard about angel investors but—”
“I’m not an angel investor. I just think this is a winning idea.”
She was quiet for a while, her eyes on the receipts. When she looked up her face was set, her lips pursed. She breathed out.
“Okay. What do we start with?”
“I’ll outline a plan and send it to you. All you have to do is create a couple of sauces. I’m sure it’s harder than it sounds.” I grinned because I was so happy I could kiss the world. Okay, so I hadn’t got a date with her but I would be seeing more of her. I would have a chance. Unless she was already in a relationship, of course. The distasteful thought had not entered my mind earlier. Now it spoilt my mood immediately.
“Something wrong? You look like you ate something bad.”
“I just remembered a meeting I have in half an hour. It’s not with my favorite client.”
“Oh, well,” the woman of my literal dreams said, “Life’s not perfect.”
“Oh, it’s you,” Sian said when I bumped into a trolley full of plates. “I’m sorry I’ve been so busy but this sauce will finish me before I finish it.”
“There’s no rush,” I said and moved the trolley to its rightful place. It was past midnight but I knew Sian would be here and I also knew she wouldn’t mind me stopping by. The reason I knew was because she had told me.
“I regularly stay until the small hours experimenting with this and that. Then I can’t get enough sleep and my work suffers but I can’t stop,” she had said when we met for coffee a few days after that first meeting. “I constantly want to try new things, you know?”
I did know. I could see it in her eyes, this thirst for creativity and how it was taking its toll on her. There were dark circles under these eyes and her cheeks were hollow unlike the first time I’d met her.
“I catch up on my sleep during weekends,” she’d explained. But now she was busy with that sauce for the line I’d proposed and she couldn’t catch up.
“How is it going?” I asked. At that same meeting I’d asked for permission to visit and she had agreed gladly, I thought. I was in no rush to declare my feelings. Getting to know her had its own charm that I wasn’t going to miss.
Sian didn’t answer. Her right hand stirred the yellowish emulsion in the metal bowl vigorously while the left one held it in place over the pot of boiling water. She let go of the whisker for a second, took a pinch of something and put it in the sauce. She stirred some more and then took a teaspoon from the table and tasted the sauce.
“Here,” she said. “You try it.” She took another teaspoon – she had a stack in front of her – and scooped up a little sauce.
I stepped up to the counter and leaned over her. Sian smelled of nutmeg and vanilla. I had to stop myself from leaning all the way for a kiss.
“Open,” she said and unconsciously, I think, opened her own mouth. I mirrored the move and she gently fed me the sauce. It was delicious, a little hot but only a little.
“Well?” she asked, still holding the spoon.
“I love it.”
Siam shook her head, dropped the spoon and rubbed her eyes.
“Lars, you love every sauce I’ve made you try in the last three days.”
“That’s not my fault.”
“But you’re no use.”
“Then you should hire a professional taster.”
I propped myself on the counter, picked up the spoon and took another taste. I hadn’t lied. The sauce was great but I was no professional and I had no idea what Sian was trying for. And then it came to me. The yogurt. I had planned to take a pot to her for testing and then I’d completely forgotten about it. Perhaps it would help make the sauce unique.
“I have an idea,” I told Sian. “But I’ll tell you tomorrow. It’s a surprise.”
Sian stared at the sauce with a weak smile.
“I used to like surprises. I can’t remember the last time I got one.”
“You’re getting one tomorrow,” I promised and stepped away from the counter and the sauce, and the woman I wanted to touch so much it hurt every time I saw her. “I’m going to get some sleep. Dare I suggest you do the same?”
She laughed and lifted her hands off the counter, raising her arms in mock surrender.
“Half an hour and I’ll go.” She turned to face me. “I can’t wait for my surprise.”
The flutter of her lashes and the way one corner of her mouth pulled up smacked of embarrassment. She was being shy? In an instant this made me the most confident creature on earth. I stepped towards her and put my hand on her shoulder. I even stroked it once with my thumb.
I sent a pot of yogurt by courier the next day. I didn’t want to see her. That is, I wanted to see her more than anything but I was willing to wait until she did some experiments with the stuff and saw if I was right. But I was almost certain I was. Why else would I dream yogurt into existence? Besides, I was busy sending Maddy and Tony of a one-week vacation across the sea. We took a taxi to the coast, got on the ferry and I waited with them for half an hour until it was time to leave.
“Make sure you take a lot of pictures,” I told my daughter whose latest passion was photography. “I want to see everything you see.”
“Oh, I will,” Antonia said and grinned. She hugged me tightly and I hugged back. She was so easygoing, this girl that a year ago was a thirty-year-old nuclear physicist who came to me for help. She charmed nearly everyone who laid eyes on her. I had a bad feeling about ten years from now when boys would become a bigger part of her life. Being a father was fraught with difficulties of all sorts. The thought Madeleine would not be with me to help made me cringe. She had told me her time with me was running out but hadn’t said exactly when – or how – she would leave. This was something we needed to talk about after they returned.
“Have a great time, Maddy,” I said when Tony let go of me and I bent to kiss my so-called mother on the soft cheek.
“You too,” she said with a glint in her eye that sent the clear message she knew something about the future that I didn’t. This glint sent my hopes sky high.
Incapable to concentrate on anything not related to Sian, I’d taken the day off, leaving Sonia to the hyenas. It was a Friday, however, so I doubted there would be many. I went home, made myself a quick lunch – scrambled eggs, toast – and wondered what to do. I itched to call Sian, to find out if the yogurt did the trick, if it made her sauce perfect and unique, and whatever she wanted it to be but I resisted the urge. She would call when she could, I told myself. She wouldn’t leave me hanging like this.
Still incapable of doing anything that required any amount of concentration I went on the trading platform I hadn’t used in two weeks now. This was a surefire way to kill time, the best I knew. The hours just flew by as I stared at charts, browsed through the newsfeed and picked stocks and commodities to buy briefly. I was placing an order for five lots of Persian crude when someone knocked on the door. The clock on the laptop told me it was eight-twenty. Trading had not failed me. I’d spent seven hours staring at the screen.
My heart rate picked up as I got up from the small table in the living room, passed through the kitchen and reached the door. The knock came again, not urgent but eager. I took a deep breath, let it out and opened the door.
“It’s perfect,” she said, eyes ablaze, smile wide, her chest moving like she’d been running. She was in my arms before I could even open them wide enough but I wasn’t about to complain.
“I’m glad you liked it,” I murmured a while later.
“This is not me thanking you, by the way,” Sian said another while later.
“What is it then?”
“Seeing something I want and taking it.”
My bed had never felt so soft.