Food for Thought

Jeanette paused.  She was sure she heard a tap on the kitchen door.  She listened carefully.  Yes, someone was knocking.  She opened the door and nearly fell over.  Ian was there, squelching in half dried mud.  His jeans were soaked through and his shirt clung to him.  He had mud in his hair, on his face and he was kicking off his encrusted boots.  “What happened?  You had better come in.”

Ian shook his head.  “I think I might track some mud in.” He grinned.

“Are you hurt?” Jeanette looked him over but it was hard to get past the brown ooze.

“No.” Ian started unbuttoning his shirt.  “I was dropping off a parcel at a farm just past Copmanthorpe and I saw a load of piping dumped next to the road.  Jeanette, you should see them.”  He dragged his shirt off, showing that the mud had gone all the way through the material and now was smeared all over his chest.  He beckoned Jeanette towards the van and flung open the back doors.  “It’s quality stuff, just dumped there.  They’d even tried to hide it under some grass.  It’s almost everything we need for your irrigation system.  All I need to do is pick up a few more connectors.  They’d even left some half-used sealant.  I can’t believe it.” He looked down at the shirt.  “I’d better dump my clothes in the polytunnel for now.” He smiled apologetically.  “Could you get me a towel, please?  I’ll hose myself down outside and get the worst of it off.  I can’t go in the house like this.”

Jeanette saw the heap of plastic pipes and connectors in the back of the van.  They were just what they needed – and a lot cleaner than Ian.  “How did you get so muddy?” She started backing away as Ian stripped off his socks.  “Were the pipes in a ditch?”

Ian laughed.  “No, but they were next to it, and I grabbed an armful of the stuff, lost my footing and slipped.  I reek of stagnant drainage.” He started to unbutton his jeans.

“I’ll leave the towels outside the polytunnel.” Jeanette said, backing away.

“If you get me some old ones, then I can’t make too much of a mess.  Then if you don’t mind I can have a proper shower in the house, but without clogging up the drains.”

“Sure.” Jeanette fled into the house.  Ian was definitely worth looking at, but she felt it was all wrong.  She wanted to look too much.  She pulled out the oldest towels she had, put some newer ones on the towel rail in the downstairs shower and opened the kitchen door cautiously.  From the puddle of mud stained clothes outside the polytunnel, Ian wasn’t wearing a stitch in there, but at least he had pulled the door over.  Furiously self-conscious, Jeanette hung the towels on the water butt, yelled to Ian’s silhouette that the towels were out there and ran back into the house.

Ian strolled into the house ten minutes later with just a large towel wrapped around his waist.  He had towelled off the worst of the water but his skin and hair were still damp.  “I left my clothes outside.  I may have to write them off.  They’re in a bad state.  Is it okay if I get a warm shower with soap?”

“I’ve put some better towels out.” Jeanette said.  “I’ll put the dinner on while you have a shower.  It’s only us two, tonight.  Luke has a meeting.”

Ian nodded.  Luke was on patrol this evening with Sir Ewan.  Someone really needed to talk to Jeanette, but it wasn’t going to be him.  He had enough on his plate at the moment.  “I hope you’ve made plenty, I’m starving.”

Jeanette was plating up the frittata as Ian came back, looking a lot cleaner.  He hadn’t bothered getting any clothes on, but at least had a fresh towel around his waist.  She wasn’t exactly complaining.  The hours he spent at the gym obviously paid off and he had nothing to be ashamed of, but Jeanette worried that she admired the view too much.  Perhaps she was turning into a dirty old woman.  “Thanks for the pipes.  It must have been an adventure.”

Ian laughed.  “It was hilarious.  I must have looked like a swamp monster when I got out of the ditch.  I’ll clean up the van before morning.  It’s easier to brush off dried mud.”

“Is it bad?  I’ll give you a hand.” Jeanette put the large bowl of salad on the table.

Ian got the mugs out of the cupboard as Jeanette made the tea.  “I can’t get over the find.  It was obviously dumped, they were just left there with a load of rubbish.  I was looking on the local pages and even buying the off cuts and over runs, we’ve saved a fortune.  I’m going to have to keep my eye out on the roads to see if there are any other treasures.”

“If you find a shed, I’ll let you build it here.” Jeanette said a little recklessly.

“Aren’t you taking a risk that I’ll fill it with junk?” Ian sat down and sighed.  “This looks great.”

“It will be perfectly organised junk.” Jeanette sat opposite him and bent her head as Ian said grace.  “It’s the least I can do.  I would never have got so far if it hadn’t been for you.”

Ian shook his head.  “I don’t know about that.  Anyway, it’s been good to get out in the fresh air.  I missed it last night.”

“I know.” Jeanette helped herself to some salad.  “But the coffee evening was sort of a success.”

“Loads of people were asking Fiona when the next one was, so that part was successful.” Ian said dryly.  “And the coffee and cakes were amazing.”

“I know.” Jeanette said.  “Though I’ve never seen so much sugar used in one night.”

Ian thought that someone really needed to have a talk with Jeanette.  The elfen had devoured plate after plate of honey with meringue and added spoonful after spoonful to their coffees.  “I can’t bear that amount of sugar myself.  But the coffee was good.  Freydis has put some work into it and it’s paid off.”

“What was going on with her name?” Jeanette asked.

Ian shook his head.  “Freydis just felt like a change.  I have no idea what will stick, but I doubt she’ll stay Freydis.  I just hope she doesn’t choose something too ridiculous.”

“She looks nothing like a Mocha.” Jeanette said, taking a large forkful of the frittata.  “And she doesn’t look much like a Chai, either.”

“I did wonder about Typica, but apparently that’s a type of coffee.” Ian helped himself to more salad.

“I don’t think that suits her either.” Jeanette said.  “And what was going on with her and Lord Ragnar?”

“They got divorced last year.” Ian said.  “But I’m not sure either of them really wanted it.” He put down his knife and fork for a moment and thought about it.  “I think that they never really got the hang of being married, and so they ended up divorced and confused.”

“I think they’ve both been reading books.” Jeanette said.  “It’s never a good sign when you have to read a book about your relationship.  Freydis was being Strong and Independent and Having Her Own Interests at one side of the room and he was being Strong, Silent, Intense and Determined on the other.  It was enough to give you a headache.”

Ian laughed.  “That’s a perfect description.  I wonder how long they’ll stay separate?”

Jeanette finished her last mouthful of frittata.  “I think they are both enjoying the drama too much.  I’ve made a cake for after.  It’s not as good as Mrs Tuesday’s baking, but it’s here.”

“Mrs Tuesday does make some good cakes.” Ian said.  “And now Mrs Anderson and Mrs Cadwallader are helping out with the café, there is some really amazing treats.  But they’ve been cooking for at least fifty years longer than you and your stuff is still amazing.”

They relaxed into a comfortable silence over their cake.  Jeanette found her mind gently idling as her thoughts drifted from the new lemon cake recipe that had been a success to the dinner in general and how her cooking was getting better, to how she was sitting in a room with a nearly naked, gorgeous man and she had never thought that would happen to her.

Ian was leaning back in his chair.  For once he looked totally at ease.  Jeanette wondered how old he was.  There were lines on his face, but they looked like they came from hard experience rather than age.  His body looked young, but she hadn’t had much to judge it against.  Her few boyfriends all seemed a lot younger than him.  Jeanette stared down into her tea to stop herself staring at Ian.  She had worked so hard for years to try and get this chance.  She had worked extra jobs, stayed in and abandoned her social life to try and save for a little growing space of her own.  Someone like Ian was not going to be interested in her.  She drained her mug and stood up to put her plate in the dishwasher.  Ian stood up to pass her his plate.  For a moment they were close, too close, and Jeanette could smell the soap he had used in the shower.  Ian was staring into her eyes and he looked hungry.

Jeanette didn’t know if she was reading the signs right, but she tentatively reached out and touched his shoulder, stroking down the smooth skin of his arm.  She leant closer and Ian bent down for a kiss.  Jeanette found herself clinging to Ian as he ran his fingers through her hair and then held her pressed against him.  It was very clear, he wanted her just as much as she wanted him.  She ran her hands over his back and hair as she lost herself in the kiss.

Ian pushed them apart.  He was breathing heavily and his fists were clenching.  “I want more.” He growled.  Jeanette nodded, watching as Ian struggled for control.  “Are you sure?” He asked.  Jeanette nodded again and then gasped as Ian picked her up and carried her to her bedroom.

Dave never admitted it, but he loved visiting York Minster.  It was usually crowded with tourists and noisy with tours and there was always some exhibition going on.  But if you ducked around the corner from the gift shop and sat in one of the side aisles, you could sit and think without disturbance.

Very few non-normals came in here, at least, none of those based in York.  They seemed to think that the Minster was for tourists and most of them went to St Agnes or the Presbyterian chapel.  The brownies were almost all Quakers, for some reason and he didn’t want to speculate about what some of the goblins got up to.  Dave looked at all from the outside and couldn’t work it out.  Where did he fit in?

Sometimes he walked around the Minster checking for his sparkles.  Most of the time he was plain, but in a few odd corners he showed as a paladin as he crossed a small patch that was considered Most Holy.  Why him?  He had detoured past a group of French tourists and hit a patch this morning.  Fortunately, the multi-coloured shadows from the stained glass that filled the walls covered up any unfortunate twinkling.  He’d no idea why some parts were Most Holy and some weren’t.  Perhaps he was walking over the bones of saints.  The Minster was so stuffed with tombs and grave markers that there must be hundreds, if not buried here over the centuries. At least they were quiet here.

His shoulder throbbed.  If this carried on, he would be unfit to be a paladin, and then what?  What was he good for?  Dave looked down at the polished stone.  He was still a fraud.  He could talk the talk, and he could hold up his end in a fight, but he wasn’t a good man.  He had been talking his way in and out of trouble, coasting along and charming his way into people’s wallets.  What sort of person did that?  Yet there he was, in the paladin’s house, getting cakes from little old ladies and faking Tarot readings.

He rubbed his shoulder.  The cool of the building was setting it off.  At the moment just walking set it off.  If he thought about it, the Tarot readings were probably the best part of his life.  He couldn’t see the future in the cards, but he could read people.  He’d made his living reading people.  Far too many of his clients came to him because they were lost and lonely and confused.  He could act like a counsellor, talk stuff through with them, listen to them when no-one else would.  He had started keeping a list of charities and organisations which he could print out for those spending money they didn’t really have looking for answers which they should have been able to get from the council or the bank or the school.  It was hard work, but at least it meant that he was worth something.

But that was all he was.  Good at lying about what he saw, talking the talk, and listening to what people meant instead of what they said.  The person he admired most at the White Hart was Ian.  Ian was a werewolf who had accidentally summoned a demon.  He had lost everything that was important to him as a result.  He had lost his wife, his place in the pack, he had been cut off from his trade and he had been sent away from everything and everyone he knew. But Ian had picked himself up and got on with things.  What was it they said?  Ian had kept his fur flat and his tail up and now could get some credit.  He had taken charge of Callum and kept him on the straight path.  Callum had been bewildered when he made it to the White Hart and Ian had sorted out bank accounts and taxes for him, showed him how to watch his money and how to deal with the unexpected freedoms that he hadn’t known before.  Dave had watched Ian drive himself to be better at whatever he did.  The warehouse was immaculate, the plumbing at the White Hart was now incredibly efficient and from the sound of it he had done a great job at Jeanette’s small holding.

Dave kept his head down as a school tour went past.  The teacher was being very clear about the architecture, but not talking about the faith.  Dave knew enough about people to know that the stones and mortar weren’t necessarily about religion,  People had given money for the building to look good, to make the right impression, to hide guilty consciences and sordid pasts.  But Dave had seen how Ian and Darren acted, and he knew that some of them would have given money and time to raise the building because they believed.  Ian struggled with the memory of summoning a demon, but he still looked himself in the eye when he shaved.  He didn’t turn his head from what he had done.  Despite what Ian had done, he prayed.  He read the Bible and wasn’t looking for loopholes.  He did his best.  Darren told Ian, “God can forgive you, if you really turn around.  Can you forgive yourself?” Ian was still working on that.

Staring at the polished floor, Dave started praying.  He let out all his guilt and fear over his failures, his faults, his shady past.  He prayed for help.  He prayed for the guidance that he gave others in his Tarot readings.  He prayed for the first time in his life, and he didn’t know why he had started and he didn’t know how to stop.  A great peace settled over him as finally his prayers faded and he was sitting with utter stillness in the soaring cathedral, untouched by the crowds.  Then a sharp pain stabbed through his shoulder and he yelped.  He slowly rotated it and it felt a little bruised, but otherwise it was fine.  He flexed it again.  It was working.  Perhaps he should ask Darren about this.

Darren felt under siege.  Mrs Tuesday had insisted that he called in to the White Hart.  “I don’t like to think of you without a good meal inside you.  I know how hard you work.”

“I’m capable of cooking a meal.” Darren tried to sound firm.

“But you don’t bother half of the time.” Mrs Tuesday guided him to a chair in the upstairs kitchen.  “Me and the other boggarts are going to sort out the café.  Mrs Anderson makes wonderful cakes and Mrs Cadwallader’s scones are amazing.  We need to work out how to go on.  Jasmine will eat with you up here, though, so you won’t be lonely.”

Darren looked over at the skinny werewolf.  She looked barely old enough to vote and as awkward as he felt.  “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“Then don’t make any.  I’ll be back up later.”

Darren watched Mrs Tuesday disappear and sighed.  “Hi, Jasmine.  You don’t need to wait on me, you know.” He stood up and started getting out the cutlery.  “Or has Mrs Tuesday insisted?”

Jasmine managed a smile.  “She said if we ate together then we were both likely to finish our meals.”

Darren looked at the t-shirt hanging off her. “Are you anorexic?”

“Mrs Tuesday warned me that you said things without thinking.” Jasmine said.  “If I was, you shouldn’t ask.”

“I’m not good at the right questions.” Darren grumbled.  “But you don’t look like you should refuse food.  If that’s an okay thing to say.”

“It just feels wrong, like I’m taking advantage.” Jasmine said.  “I don’t need charity.”

“You really do.” Darren said.  “And there’s nothing wrong with accepting a helping hand.  As long as you give help to others when you can.  Anyway, I thought you were getting paid.”

“Steve has given me an advance on my wages.” Jasmine said.  “He suggested I get some clothes.  But I’m staying here and getting food.  It feels wrong to take money.”

“Are you getting a deduction from your wages for rent?” Darren asked.  Jasmine nodded.  Darren pulled the plates out and put them on the table.  “Are you putting into the food money?” Jasmine nodded again.  “Well then,” Darren said, “You are being more than fair and you’re getting the going rate.  Kieran Latimer does the same with his pack.  So does Tyr Armstrong over at the Village.  It’s not exactly a pack here, but it’s not too bad.”

There was a long pause.  “Rick used to do the same, when we were working.” Jasmine said softly.

“That’s Rick Lowther?  Head of the Liverpool pack?  I know him.” Darren poured the tea as Jasmine piled their plates with chips and thick slices of chicken.  He guessed Mrs Tuesday had decided the portion size.  “He’s always been tough, but I thought him a pretty fair man.”

“It’s not his fault.  I had to leave, it wasn’t working.” Jasmine added the beans and then set the plates gently down on the table.

“I’ve not heard the full story.” Darren added ketchup to his plate.  “But grace first.”

Jasmine bent her head over her plate as Darren said a few words and then speared a chip.  “There’s not much to say.”

Darren knew better than to push.  Jasmine was a bundle of nerves at the moment.  She was probably wondering what the catch was.  Life as a werewolf outside a pack was tough and the White Hart must seem like an improbable paradise.  He ate hungrily.  The work here was taking it out of him, and Mrs Tuesday knew how to cook a chicken.  The silence stretched and he looked up and caught Jasmine watching him warily.

“I’m not going to pounce on you, you know,” she said.

“And I’m not going to pounce on you either.” Darren said, taking a bite of the luscious chicken.

“You couldn’t.” Jasmine said.  “You’re just a normal.  I could fight you off.”

“So why aren’t you pouncing on me?” Darren said.  “Or is it because Mrs Tuesday’s cooking tastes better.”

“That’s an awful thing to say!” Jasmine snapped.

“Is it?  Nobody’s going to pounce but I may use stern words if you don’t eat your dinner because Mrs Tuesday will blame me if your plate isn’t cleared.”

Jasmine looked down at her plate.  She had eaten at least half, but the rest of it looked daunting.  “I feel full.”

“You’re not used to eating a lot, and you’re nervous about a stranger eating with you.” Darren pushed some ketchup towards her.  “Take your time, don’t stress if you can’t finish it and enjoy the ketchup.”

Jasmine stared at the ketchup.  “I haven’t had ketchup for a year.”

“Really?” Darren stared.

“I’ve been scrounging a lot of food.” Jasmine said, not meeting Darren’s eyes.  “You know, cash in hand work plus a free pizza if I was delivering, or a free burger for clearing out some rubbish.  I’ve not really been in a place to have ketchup.”

“Do you like it?” Darren asked.  How could ketchup be such a big thing?  And where did he start?  He was no good at the pastoral side.  “Help yourself.”

Jasmine shook the bottle and added a little to her plate.  “Thanks.”

“No problem.” Darren said.  Inside he was panicking.  If she was this caught up about ketchup then what other pitfalls were there?

Freydis appeared in the doorway.  “Lord Ragnar is refusing to call me Macchiato and refused to duck when I threw a cup at him. I nearly hit him!”

Jasmine and Darren exchanged a look.  Jasmine stood up.  “Mrs Tuesday made a coffee cake.  Would you like a slice?”

“How can I eat cake when Lord Ragnar refuses to duck?” Freydis stamped her foot.  “I’m going to find the perfect name and then he’ll listen to me.” She stormed out.

“She’s going to end up being called Filter Paper.” Darren said.  “But now you’ve mentioned it, I think I’ll have a slice of the cake.  Mrs Tuesday has her uses.”

For those with enquiring minds and wondering about Dave’s shoulder, I have dislocated my left shoulder three times and while I have only dislocated my right shoulder once, it took two years to heal.  In my opinion, Dave’s shoulder clicking back could have a natural explanation, a supernatural explanation or a divine explanation.  It’s up to you.  

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