Excerpt from SEDUCTION:
Ping. Agnes was back. And Hattie Scott was with her.
"Hattie!" I said, wanting to kneel at her feet and kiss her hand.
"Hmmph," Hattie grumbled. "Guess your fancy school didn't teach you everything."
"Agnes brought you?" I turned to Agnes. "I didn't know you could-"
"Less talk," Hattie said. A small smile crept across her face. "More . . . MAGIC!"
With that, seventeen potatoes sailed across the room. I could feel the breeze as they passed.
I gasped. "Magic?" I whispered.
"Why are you so surprised?" Hattie asked crankily.
"It's just that . . . You never use magic at the restaurant."
"Of course I do. How do you think everybody gets what they need in Hattie's Kitchen? I just don't usually waste magic on things like chopping." Her eyes slid toward Aunt Agnes, who was still hacking onions at an elephantine pace. "But I can see that desperate times call for desperate measures."
"You're right," I said, closing my eyes in gratitude.
"Move out of the way," Hattie commanded as all the knives on the magnetic rack snicked free and fell upon the potatoes in mid-air, raining a pile of perfect dice into three huge skillets, which appeared out of nowhere.
"Now, where are those onions?" The onions flew off Aunt Agnes' cutting board.
"Excuse me," Agnes said with her hands on her hips. "I was cutting those."
Hattie narrowed her eyes at the uneven onion slices floating before her eyes. "Pitiful," she said. With a jerk of her chin, the knives cut the onions into thin even slivers.
"Arrange the salads," she commanded as twenty turbot fillets wrapped themselves in parchment. With a laugh that made me feel good all over, I sent a knife flying toward the beets, carving them into rosettes nestled atop a bed of paper-thin pear slices dotted with dollops of blue-veined cheese shaped like tiny bees.
"Not bad," Hattie said as she batted a dozen airborne eggs into a bowl. I tossed over the flour and other dry ingredients while Hattie sent a big metal whisk into the mix. Then we both flicked five fingers at the dough, and an army of two-inch balls rolled through the air onto some baking sheets.
"I still need to trim the-"
"Asparagus," I finished.
"Who's that?" Hattie demanded.
It was Fabienne.
"Where'd you go?" I shrieked.
"I . . . I don't know. The last thing I remember is my mother complaining . . . Oh, mon Dieu." She took in the sight of all the vegetables flying around us.
"I'll explain later, Fabby," I said.
"Get the potatoes and onions into the oven," Hattie commanded.
Tossing the asparagus into the air, where a peeler spinning like a dervish trimmed off all the tough ends, I ran to the stove. Fabienne's problems would have to be sorted out later.
"Come here, dear," Aunt Agnes said, putting her arm around Fabby.
"She can serve," Hattie shouted across the room.
"No, she can't!" I shouted back. "She's the guest of honor!" I sent Fabienne out to join the other diners.
"Then you do it, Agnes," Hattie amended.
"She can't either," I said, knowing that Sophie would raise a stink if I brought in outside help. "I'll do it. Just give me a clear path."
"And a clean apron," Hattie said, producing a black bistro apron like the ones we used in Hattie's Kitchen when we had to serve.
"Thanks, Hattie," I said. "The dining room's upstairs."
She sent six platters holding bowls of consommé shooting past me. "They'll be waiting for you at the top," she said as I climbed the steep flight of steps.
Everyone was served on time, and every course went without a hitch. By the time dessert was finished, all the entrée and appetizer dishes had washed themselves. Fabienne tiptoed into the kitchen just as the last platter slid into the cabinet.
"Oh, but you are so marvelous!" she said, hugging me. "Thank you for such a wonderful dinner, Katy. I wish you had joined us."
"I couldn't. There was too much to do here," I said.
"And thank you, Madame Hattie."
"My pleasure," Hattie said. "Hope you enjoyed your dinner party."
"It was perfect," Fabby said. She turned to Agnes. "And thank you, too," she said shyly. "So much."
Agnes took her in her arms and patted her shoulder. Then Fabby left the kitchen, looking as if there were tears in her eyes.
"What was that about?" I asked.
Agnes smiled. "We were in Hawaii," she said softly. "I met her there. I'll bet you didn't even notice I was gone."
"Well . . ." It was true. In the rush of magical food preparation, I hadn't paid any attention to Aunt Agnes.
"Fabienne is a teleporter," she went on, "An astral traveler, like me. She just didn't know it until tonight. Every time she feels stressed, she winks out, but she can't control it."
I was stunned. "Winks out?"
"You mean she's a witch?"
"Of course she's a witch. Cowen can't do what she does."
"But . . . the others . . ."
"She may be the only one in her family," Agnes said sympathetically. "Perhaps after your experience here in France is done, you'll bring her back to Whitfield. I'll teach her how to use her gift to best advantage." She washed her hands. "Well, Hattie and I must be off."
Hattie grinned. "We're leaving the dessert dishes for you."
"That's okay. I appreciate your help."
"Don't expect it every day," Hattie grumbled.
"Actually," Agnes said, "we probably won't be able to come back at all, unless it's an emergency. Gram and I are going to Hakone, Japan. The hot springs will be good for her bones."
"Oh," I said. "Japan sounds wonderful."
"But you have Paris, dear."
Hattie snorted. "And your French cooking school."
I felt abashed. I hadn't served one dish that Hattie couldn't make in her sleep. And without her magic, not even one dish would have been served on time.
She lifted my chin with her strong brown hand. "Still, you did well tonight," she said. "And you've got a job waiting for you back home, whenever you're ready."
I closed my eyes. Back home. Yes. "Thanks, Hattie," I said. "Thanks for-"
But just then Agnes gave a curt nod of her head, and the two of them winked out.
Even though most of the dishes had already been washed and put away, there were still a lot of glasses, coffee cups, and dessert dishes on the table. By the time I got around to clearing everything away, the diners had all gone into one of the sitting rooms.
I don't know what I'd expected-maybe that I'd be called out to take a bow. I mean, even if they didn't like the food, the meal had been an awful lot of work. I thought that at least Peter would have said something, maybe sent word back with Fabby. Something.
But I didn't remember seeing Peter when I'd served the dinner. True, I'd had a lot on my mind just then, but I would have noticed him. After all, I'd really cooked the whole meal for him.
I peered into the library. Fabby spotted me and came over to help me clear away the dishes.
"Better not," I said. "Your mom-"
But she just shook her head and kept working. I guessed Sophie had already gotten to her.
"Er . . . Have you seen Peter?" I asked when we were back in the kitchen. "I don't remember seeing him at the dinner."
She blushed a deep red.
"What's the matter?"
Fabby took a deep breath. "I am sorry, Katy," she said. "Peter did not attend."
I looked away. That hurt more than anything anyone could have said about my cooking.
"Everyone loved the food," she said as we brought the dessert dishes into the kitchen.
"That's nice." I could hear the vinegar in my voice.
"No one has said anything to you because my mother did not mention that you made the meal."
I looked up, squinting. I could hardly believe it. "But it was her idea! She said . . ."
"I know. When I tried to tell them, she interrupted me. And when I tried again, she sent me from the table."
"I thought the dinner was in your honor."
"That was her excuse. She does not care anything for me. I only came down from my room now to talk with her. To tell her that you should have been invited to eat with us. To say-"
"Don't bother," I said. "I was stupid to listen to her in the first place."
"Do me a favor, Fabby. Just pretend nothing's wrong, okay? There isn't anything I can do now anyway. Just . . . leave me to myself."
She looked tragic. "You do not want me to help with the dishwashing?"
"No. I'm fine," I said. "Really."
She nodded in understanding and touched my shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
I shrugged and put on some rubber gloves. At this point, I was too demoralized to conjure up any magic. All I wanted was to get this day over with.
After Fabby left, I let the noise of the running water cover up my self-pitying sobs as I washed an endless stream of stemware.
Okay, so I was being a drama queen, but it wasn't as if anyone was there to see me. I just felt bad. And it wasn't that no one had complimented me, or even that Sophie hadn't mentioned me. It was that Peter hadn't shown up. If he had, he would have been with me now, washing up together like old times.
But the old times were gone, I guessed. Old times, old friends, old promises . . .
"Everything sucks!" I yelled in a welter of soapsuds.
"I beg your pardon?"
Oh, merde, it was Belmondo. "Nothing," I said quickly, wiping my hand over my eyes.
He grinned. "Is this a disguise?" he asked, touching my face and coming away with a handful of bubbles.
Great, I thought. As if having the worst life on the planet weren't bad enough, I also happened to look like a Kentucky colonel.
"Your meal was delicious," he said.
"No," he said. "I have dined here many times. Mathilde is a terrible cook." He laughed and shook his head. "But seriously, tonight the food was prepared with care, with passion. I thank you for sharing your passion with me."
I didn't know what to say. "Uh, no problem," was the best I could do.
And then, before I could stop him, Mr. Beautiful World stuck his hands into the dishwater and started singing "Edge of Glory" in French. He sounded good, too.
I laughed. "Where did you learn to do that?"
He shrugged. "I do it every weekend," he said. "At a club in the Latin Quarter."
"You're a singer?"
"Guitarist, mostly. The club is called 'Mozambique'. We can go there, if you like. A friend is subbing for me tonight."
That took me by surprise. "Oh," I said. "Okay. I'll go sometime."
"Not sometime. Now."
"Right," I said, laughing. "Just let me get my evening bag."
"You can change clothes," he said.
I stood there for a few seconds, blinking. He couldn't be serious.
"Go ahead. I'll finish here."
"Now? Are you kidding me?"
"No," he said, as if he were suggesting a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. "Hurry up. We can still catch the second set." He grinned. " Of my band, 'Eterna.'"
"No," I protested. "I can't."
"Yes, you can." He pinched my nose. It was the strangest gesture. I couldn't help but laugh. He did, too.
And then I thought of Peter. I'd never gone out with anyone else. What would he say?
Oh, you mean what would he say after he comes back from wherever he's been during the dinner you spent all day cooking?
"No!" I looked up. Belmondo was staring at me. "I mean . . ."
"You mean yes," he said.
I looked back at him for a long moment. "I mean yes," I said quietly, and went upstairs.
What are you doing? I asked myself as I was looking through my nearly empty closet. I didn't even know how old Belmondo was. Out of school, for sure. Maybe even out of college? Fabby had said he was the landlord of the building where we lived.
Well, so what? That didn't make any difference. It's not like I was dating him or anything.
Oh, no? What do you call going to a club with a guy at eleven o'clock at night? Non-dating?
"Just hanging out," I said out loud as I got into my only good pair of jeans. I pulled a tank top over my head. Not very stylish for Paris, but still better than an apron and rubber clogs. I'd brought a pair of strappy heels with me which I hadn't worn since I got to France, and I put them on, too. Then I brushed my hair and applied some red lipstick that a friend had forced on me before I left Whitfield.
When I checked myself out in the mirror, I was pretty surprised. I looked good. At least I thought so, although I was sure Belmondo (Was that his first name, or his last?) was used to being with girls who were lots cuter. Still, I didn't usually look like this at all. The heels, the lipstick, a smear of charcoal eyeshadow, my hair hanging down almost to my waist . . .
What would Peter say?
Maybe that he's sorry. Maybe that he's missed me. Or maybe that he just didn't think anyone else would want to go out with me.
I saw myself blushing in the mirror. Peter obviously didn't care what I did.
So maybe I didn't, either.