|The Cheesecrafter & The Pet Peeve Lady
Author: MagicSwede1965 PM
A young cheesemaker wants to win the means to regain his late father's business; and a teenager sends her nit-picking grandmother to the island in hope of possibly curing her. Follows 'A Little Auld Lang Syne'.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Humor/Fantasy - Chapters: 6 - Words: 22,469 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 1 - Published: 01-31-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5706653
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Here at last is my first story for 2010! I recently learned that Terry Gardner (Bishop T) passed away in June 2009, evidently from a heart condition, and I wanted to give her a special posthumous thanks here. (If you're a Star Trek fan, check out her Vulcan-centered tales.) And as ever, many thanks to Harry2, jtbwriter, PDXWiz and Misheemom. If you are a reader but not a reviewer, I would really love to hear from you, so please take a moment and leave a review, thanks!
§ § § -- April 29, 2006
"Smiles, everyone, smiles!" Roarke reminded his welcome-wagon contingent, just as he had done ever since Leslie had first arrived on the island (and undoubtedly before), and set the plane-dock band into action. Leslie had been glad when he'd resurrected the tune he had introduced in the fall of 1979; it had always been one of her favorites. Sometimes it was nice to go retro, she reflected with a little smile of her own.
First onto the dock was a somewhat overweight older woman, conservatively dressed in a skirt and blazer with a fussy blouse under the latter, her hair more gray than brown and her eyes peering critically at her surroundings from over the tops of half-glasses on a silver beaded chain. "Mrs. Gladys Newbold, of Savannah, Georgia, a widow of several years."
"She looks like she's checking the place out for petty faults," Leslie remarked, noting the way the woman squinted closely at the leis, the drinks, even the native girls.
"You've stumbled upon one of her most obvious traits, according to the teenaged granddaughter who wrote the letter requesting the fantasy on her behalf," Roarke said. "Ashley Newbold says that her grandmother is a lovely lady, very generous and kind, very forgiving—except of petty little things. She has a great many pet peeves, and the young lady asked if I might indulge her grandmother these small grievances for just one weekend, presumably in the hope that Mrs. Newbold will…'get it out of her system'."
Leslie laughed. "I wouldn't bet on that. Once you get hung up on something, it's just about impossible to get over it. What bugs her so much, then?"
"Ashley provided some examples," Roarke said, looking amused. "People who leave shopping carts where they have emptied them, rather than moving them for the sake of others; jaywalkers; misused automobile turn indicators; careless spelling; and those who dress untidily, to name just a few. For this one weekend, she will be allowed to indulge those pet peeves and try to correct them."
"Try, huh?" Leslie inquired, eyeing him sidewise, and he simply grinned before returning his attention to the plane dock. "So is this our cheesemaker?" she asked when a slender, blond young man stepped out of the seaplane's hatch and paused long enough to blink at the sky before shrugging hastily out of his heavy sheepskin coat. "Must be from somewhere waaaaay up north."
Roarke chuckled. "So he is. That is Paul Mahtonen, who hails from the town of Marquette, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. At this time of year it's still quite cold there, even down to snow remaining on the ground. I suspect he brought that coat out of habit."
Leslie stifled a loud laugh. "That's some habit, then! So anyway…his fantasy is to win the Fantasy Island Cheesemakers' Competition, of course."
"Of course," said Roarke. "But he wants to win more than merely the contest. He comes from a long line of cheesemakers who immigrated from Finland in the 1800s, and grew up helping his father make cheese. However, due to a number of unfortunate business decisions and then his father's heart attack when Mr. Mahtonen was sixteen, the family operation had to be sold to an outside interest. Mr. Mahtonen's father was heartbroken and died only a few years later."
"How sad," Leslie murmured.
"Indeed. Mr. Mahtonen has spent the twenty-one years since the sale of the business developing his own varieties of cheese, the three best of which he has entered in the contest. Winning the competition would present him with enough money to buy back the family cheesemaking enterprise."
"Aha. Sounds like this is his life's ambition," Leslie commented.
Roarke glanced at her and half-smiled, then frowned a little as he focused on Paul Mahtonen just stepping onto the ground from the dock, drink in hand, leis hanging from his neck, his long, handsome face filled with hope and determination. "Indeed, it has consumed his entire existence since the day of the company's sale; he has even sacrificed his social life for the sake of his goal. Unfortunately, there is a little hitch. Under the new owner, the former Mahtonen business has done quite well; they are not large, but they do produce a very tasty cheese. And they, too, have entered this year's contest—with an excellent chance of winning."
"I'm sure he wouldn't care about competing against it, as long as he could win the money to buy it back," Leslie said.
"Perhaps not. But he has labored on this, to the exception of all else, for more than two decades…and what's more, he's going to be unpleasantly surprised when he learns the name of the current owner." A native girl approached him with his champagne flute, and he raised it in toast with the familiar words: "My dear guests, I am Mr. Roarke, your host. Welcome to Fantasy Island!"
Paul Mahtonen hoisted his hollowed-out pineapple in the air, beamed at Roarke and Leslie, glanced with minimal interest at Gladys Newbold, and took a healthy quaff. Leslie found herself wondering exactly what bad news was waiting in the proverbial wings.
‡ ‡ ‡
"Haruko isn't here?" Roarke asked in surprise, seeing Christian guiding the triplets down the stairs. He had been keeping an eye on them at the main house while Roarke and Leslie were greeting this weekend's guests, and now that they were back, he was preparing to take them in with them to his office.
"No, Kazuo and Katsumi took her and Chikako to Japan for the weekend. They're visiting his mother; she's been ill lately, and he had the idea that her health might not be as optimal as could be hoped for, so he decided he'd better have the girls meet their grandmother while they still could. Of course, that leaves us somewhat in the lurch. Ingrid takes the weekends to thoroughly clean house, without us or the children in the way, and I didn't want to disrupt the routine she's worked out."
Roarke nodded and smiled; then both men looked up as Leslie came into the house, closely trailed by Gladys Newbold. "Of course Ah think this island is just gorgeous," Mrs. Newbold was discoursing in a thick southern accent. "It's just that Ah really don't think that wild jungle should be left unchecked like that. Y'all really oughta neaten up all those tacky palms and that nasty undergrowth." She seemed startled to see Roarke, Christian and the children there. "Ah didn't know all y'all were here."
"We were just on our way out," Christian said with a polite smile. "If you'll excuse us…and enjoy your weekend."
Mrs. Newbold blinked at him, then noticed the triplets, who were all staring unabashedly at her, just the way they stared at every stranger who came into their grandfather's study. "Oh mah goodness," she said a little faintly. "Three at once?"
"They're ours, and we love them all, Mrs. Newbold," Leslie said with a smile that even Christian could see was already slightly strained. She stepped into the study and grinned at the three toddlers. "Are you ready to go to work with Daddy?"
"Yeah!" the triplets chorused, making their parents and Roarke laugh. Tobias hopped up and down, beaming, and added, "Me help Daddy!"
"Good for you, son," Leslie said, laughing. "Okay, say goodbye to Grandfather."
"Bye-bye, Ampa," the triplets chimed obediently, and Roarke chuckled and waved at the children as Christian started out of the room.
"Ah didn't know they could talk," Mrs. Newbold remarked, as if she had expected to have met three performing chimpanzees rather than children.
"They're almost two," Leslie told her, "and they're really developing fast now. Before we know it, we'll be sending them off to kindergarten."
"Herregud," said Christian, pausing in the inner foyer. "I daresay we'll know it, my Rose." He hiked an eyebrow at her and she giggled, making him grin. "We'll see you later."
"Three at once," said Mrs. Newbold again, watching Christian shepherd the children out the door and pull it shut behind him. She made a fanning motion under her double chin with one hand, therefore missing the dubious look Christian shot her in the last two seconds before shutting the door. "Y'all must be exhausted all the time. Ah surely would be…Ah just can't abide the sort of mess small children make, and with three of them—"
"Excuse me, Mrs. Newbold, but perhaps you'd like to tell Leslie and me a little more about your fantasy," Roarke broke in before the woman could get carried away. "If you'd care to sit down…is there anything we can get you?"
"No, but thank you kindly, Mr. Roarke," Mrs. Newbold replied, seeming to relax with relief and settling herself into one of the leather chairs. Roarke took his own chair and Leslie the other leather chair, watching their guest carefully smooth out her skirt. "Yes, this fantasy of mine. Well, really of Ashley's." Her face lit with what Leslie could have sworn was approval. "She is just the sweetest little ol' child…"
"She seems to feel that you might enjoy a weekend of…helping others to see the error of their ways," Roarke said diplomatically, earning a quick admiring glance from Leslie, who had to admit to herself that she couldn't possibly have come up with anything nearly as clever. "Perhaps we may not be able to address quite all of your concerns, but…"
"Mr. Roarke, if y'all can see to it that Ah can make people understand just what they're doing by disregardin' others, Ah'll be happier than a pig in a holler." Mrs. Newbold beamed while Leslie and Roarke looked at each other with mild surprise at her colloquialism. "And Ah do thank y'all both for giving me the chance."
"Very well," Roarke said and smiled. "Then if you are ready, a driver is waiting to take you to your bungalow; and once you have settled in and refreshed yourself, your fantasy will begin. You need only walk out your door, and soon you will find someone to…help."
"Why, thank you, Mr. Roarke," Mrs. Newbold said and smiled broadly, pushing herself back out of her chair. "The service y'all provide here is exactly the sort that nobody else bothers with nowadays, Ah do declare. Ah'll surely recommend your island to all my friends. Y'all are all just as polite and courtly as can be…a lost art, you understand. Well, Ah thank y'all both once again." And the lady departed, peering around the study through her glasses but mercifully withholding comment.
Leslie fanned herself with one hand and let her eyelids drop to half-mast. "Ah do decla-uh," she simpered in an exaggerated version of Gladys Newbold's accent, "Ah surely hope we-all suhvahve the weekend, Ah surely, surely do!"
"Leslie," Roarke reprimanded with a stern look, and she dropped the act and rolled her eyes. "Suppose you go and bring Paul Mahtonen back here, and consider your attitude toward Mrs. Newbold on the way."
"Mah apologies, Fathuh, suh," Leslie retorted sweetly before leaving the house, shaking her head all the way out the door. Only then did Roarke allow his amusement at her antics to show, and chuckled to himself for a moment as he unfolded Paul Mahtonen's original letter which had arrived in mid-January, to refresh himself on its contents.
"My cheeses are pretty eclectic, Mr. Roarke," Paul began to explain, some forty-five minutes after his arrival. "I figured I needed to make some bold choices in my ingredients if I hoped to have more than half the chance of an iceberg in the Caribbean to win this contest. I've heard of all the different prestigious cheesemakers who come here every year. I'd like to think I've finally dreamed up something that'll stand a chance."
"How 'eclectic' do you mean, exactly, Mr. Mahtonen?" Roarke inquired.
Paul grinned. "They're not inedible, at least as far as I'm concerned. Of course, you and Mrs. Enstad are welcome to try samples."
"I hope you're including my children in that," Leslie bantered with a grin of her own. "They're all cheese fiends, particularly my son. Even the word cheese gets him all excited."
"Sounds like my kind of kid," Paul said, and they all laughed.
"So how long have you been trying to come up with something you think would have a chance in the contest?" Leslie asked.
"Ten years. I spent half that time just perfecting my basic recipe, and then another two or three years playing with add-ins. I've settled on three that seem to have the most promise. A snacking cheese I call Nuts and Bolts, which contains macadamia, pecans and unsalted cashews, along with sunflower seeds, and toasted sesame seeds on the rind. I also have a dessert cheese called Cheer Me Up—a sweeter cheese with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla in it. And then there's the one I've pinned all my hopes on. It's called Sunspots." By now they had reached the fourth of the six long tables in the yard beside the main house where all the various entries sat on plates, most tended by their creators, waiting to be sampled before the contest actually got under way. "Right this way."
Roarke and Leslie followed Paul about two-thirds of the way down the table and paused beside a plate containing a surprisingly small round cheese, dandelion-yellow in color, flecked with small red bits. "This one is a nice mild cheese that I added just a smidgen of tomato paste to," Paul explained low, mindful of fellow contestants around them, "and it also contains finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes."
"Oh, that sounds really tempting," Leslie remarked.
"Would you like to try some?" Paul invited, and both she and Roarke nodded. He sliced tiny wedges off the round and handed one to each; Leslie took a tentative nibble and then blinked in amazement.
"I'm not quite the cheese fan my kids are," she admitted, "but this would win me right over. I do love tomatoes, especially sun-dried, and I can taste the tomato influence in this."
"This is delicious, Mr. Mahtonen," Roarke complimented him with a broad smile. "If this is any indication of your general abilities, I believe you stand a very good chance of winning our contest. Of course," he added teasingly, "my grandchildren will be the ultimate authority on the edibility of your cheese."
"If they like it, I'm a cinch, huh?" Paul asked and laughed. "The sooner they try it, the better. I'm glad you both like it. Having this fantasy fulfilled really means the world to me. I promised myself the day the business was sold that I'd get the family livelihood back, to honor my father's memory." He looked sober. "So I'm really grateful for the opportunity, Mr. Roarke." He lit then. "This is fresh cheese I brought with me on this morning's trip, by the way. It's the only way to eat this stuff. I found out if it ages beyond about a week, it gets a strange taste to it that detracts from the flavor. So if you don't mind, I'm gonna get over to the kitchen and get going on some more batches."
"By all means," Roarke said, and he and Leslie watched the young man hurry away. Then Leslie sliced off a few more thin wedges and stacked them in her hand. "What are you doing?" her father inquired, amused.
"Taking some for Christian and the kids," Leslie said. "I told Christian he shouldn't bother working today, but he said he needed to finish up a website for some client." She grinned. "This'll get him out of that stuffy old office." Roarke laughed as she walked briskly away with her loot.
When the children saw their mother walk in, they all squealed happily and scuttled off the play mats where they'd been horsing around under Christian's supervision, attacking Leslie around the knees and making her laugh. Christian laughed too, standing up. "What brought you over here?" he asked.
"I have treats," she announced with a grin and handed him a wedge of the cheese. "I think you're going to like this. I tried it and even I like it, and you know me and cheese."
"Teeze?" squealed Tobias and began hopping up and down like a jumping bean on speed. "Me teeze, Mommy, me teeze too!"
Leslie giggled merrily and handed her excited son another of the slices. "Here you go. And there's some for you too." She gave Susanna and Karina each a slice, and watched her husband and children sample it. Actually, she noticed with a stifled laugh, Tobias didn't bother pausing to gather the nuances of the flavor; he simply gobbled it right down, smacking his lips and making everyone in the office burst out laughing.
Christian swallowed a bite around his own laughter. "True to form, that son of ours, isn't he." He examined the remainder of his wedge. "This is very interesting. I don't think I've ever seen cheese that looked exactly like this."
"It's called Sunspots," Leslie told him. "The red bits are minced sun-dried tomato."
"I see!" Christian brought the cheese closer to his eyes, squinted carefully at it and then took a larger bite, smiling. "Yes, this is very tasty! Where did you get it?"
"It's made by one of our guests," Leslie said. "The one who's entered this weekend's cheesemaking contest. He has a couple of other kinds, but this is the one he thinks has the best chance of taking the prize."
"Daddy," Karina blurted then, holding up the last bit of her slice. "Yummy teeze."
"It's very good, isn't it, lillan min?" Christian agreed with a grin. "Do you like it too, Susanna lilla?"
"Yum," Susanna agreed and popped the last of hers into her mouth, then peered hopefully up at Leslie. "More, Mommy?"
She laughed. "There's plenty more where that came from. For heaven's sake, my love, haven't you finished that website yet? I'd think you'd want to quit working for the day and come sample all the entries. The tables in the side yard at the main house are full now."
"Oh, are they?" Christian queried with interest and shot a look at his computer. "I do still have some finishing touches to put on this thing, and I promised my customer it would be ready to put online by closing today. Do you think you can wait till I've completed this thing and gotten it off my agenda?"
"Well, since you put it that way, okay," Leslie agreed and grinned. "Don't keep us waiting too long if you can help it, though. We've got three little cheese freaks who are just dying to gorge themselves."
"Don't I know it," Christian said, chuckling and resuming his seat. "Since you're here to keep an eye on the imps, I might just get this done faster."
It took him about forty more minutes to decide he had done all he could do with his client's site, and carefully saved it for final approval before putting it live online. He then helped Leslie get the triplets settled into the car and drove back to the main house, parking on the far side of the fountain from the porch and staring in amazement at all the tables full of cheese. "A cheese lover's paradise, for certain."
"The kids should have a fabulous time here," Leslie agreed, grinning. There was a definite smell of cheese in the air, and the triplets were wriggling impatiently in their car seats, eyes and noses working overtime. It was all Christian and Leslie could do to keep them from taking off before they had all three children freed and under at least a little parental supervision.
Leslie spotted Paul Mahtonen just replacing an empty plate with a full one and went for him, with her husband some distance behind collecting cheese samples for the clamoring triplets. "Having to replenish your supply already?" she asked with a grin.
Paul looked up and grinned back. "That's a good sign, Mrs. Enstad," he said cheerfully and picked up the empty plate. "Means I have a good chance in this thing. I think Dad'd be really proud. Hey…are those your kids?" He had glanced past her and spotted the triplets emptying Christian's hands of cheese slices as fast as the prince could produce them.
"My little cheese fiends," Leslie said and laughed. "Christian, my love, over here."
Christian approached as soon as he had distracted the triplets momentarily with more cheese, and the children followed like a trio of puppies, waiting for more handouts. Leslie introduced him and Paul, and Paul presented Christian with a partial bow from the waist up. "Good to meet you, Your Highness. Have you tried my cheese yet?"
"I certainly have," Christian said through a laugh. "Very tasty. If you don't watch out, my children will completely clean you out."
"You and everybody else in the contest," Leslie added dryly, to answering laughs. "So it looks like your cheese is pretty popular, huh?"
"Either that, or people are just hungry," Paul remarked in an attack of self-deprecation, watching Christian slice off cheese wedges and hand them to the children. "I've seen them sampling everything. But this is my third batch of Sunspots here, so I must be doing something right." Someone came up behind him, murmuring an excuse, and he stepped aside and watched with a smile as the person cut off a nice thick wedge of his brand-new cheese. "Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome," came the reply, and the guest sauntered off, munching on his cheese. The triplets, who had been watching, immediately demanded some as well, and Leslie laughed and cut off some for them.
"At this rate they won't eat any lunch," Christian said, shaking his head a little as his son rapidly worked his way through what must have been his fifth or sixth slice. His sisters weren't too far behind. "Though I expect they're going to get thirsty from all that cheese."
Karina looked up at Paul, who grinned at her, and said unexpectedly, "Yummy teeze." Paul laughed and thanked her, and Christian and Leslie chuckled when their daughter added, "More? Peeze?"
"How old are they?" Paul asked curiously.
"Almost two," Leslie replied. "Just in the last few months, they've started really talking up a storm. We can almost hold conversations with them now. Hey, you three, let's go see what Mariki's going to make for lunch, huh?"
"No," wailed the triplets in nearly perfect chorus. "Want teeze," Tobias added, as if he'd been elected spokesperson.
"Just a little more, and then you have to stop," Christian said firmly. "Let's find something from home, hmm? Thank you again, Mr. Mahtonen…my Rose, are you coming with us?" Leslie smiled and bid Paul goodbye, and trailed her husband and children over to the next table. Paul watched them home in on a cheese from Lilla Jordsö that had a strange color and an oddly sweet odor he could detect even from where he stood, and then turned back to arrange another plate of his Nuts and Bolts cheese next to the already-half-missing Sunspots wheel.
"Mind if I try some?" a feminine voice asked from nearby, and he looked up with a nod, then froze in astonishment, recognizing the woman who hovered beside him. Her face went slack with recognition too. "Paul Mahtonen?"
"Janelle!" he blurted, astounded. "Never thought I'd see you here!"
"Neither did I," Janelle Frainey admitted with a little laugh. "What're you doing here? You're still making cheese, huh?"
"Oh, you bet," Paul assured her proudly. "In fact, I'm entered in the contest."
Janelle surveyed all the tables around them and then returned her attention to Paul's little area. "You sure have a lot of competition."
"Well, I'm hoping I'm onto something here," Paul said, neatly cleaving off a slice of Sunspots and handing it to her. "Let me know what you think."
Janelle took a bite and blinked, then smiled broadly and gave him a thumbs-up, nodding vigorously. Paul grinned while she swallowed and finally said, "This is fantastic! What did you put in it, anyway?" Then she held up a hand. "No, on second thought, don't tell me. Say, listen, is this what you've been doing since college? Making cheese?"
"I spend all my spare time at it," Paul said. "Have to keep myself under a roof and clothed and fed, you know, so in real life I'm an accountant. But I never gave up on developing my own cheeses. I mean, if I didn't, I'd be a disgrace to the family line."
Janelle nodded as if she'd heard it before. "Yeah, I remember…that old family pride. If you win, what'll you do with the money?"
"Buy back the business," Paul said. "I can see it now. I'll build up Mahtonen Cheese Company from the beginning, starting with Sunspots and my other two best ones here, and then I'll keep on developing different cheeses as I go. I just wish Dad could see it. He'd be so proud…" He was lost enough in his longtime dream that he didn't see the look on Janelle's face; she turned away and set about taking a slice off the wheel of Cheer Me Up cheese to hide her expression.
"Well, good luck," she murmured, suddenly eager to absent herself from the area. It was probably time she checked up on Genia and Uncle George anyway. There was no telling what they might have cooked up this time.
"Hey." Paul caught her as she started away with slices of Sunspots and Nuts and Bolts. "You here for the weekend?" At her nod, he suggested a little diffidently, "How about we have supper together, over at the pond restaurant? Scuttlebutt says they have great food over there. We could take a break from cheese and catch up."
"Well…" Janelle hesitated, but Paul's expression was so eager and hopeful that in the end she couldn't resist him. Just like back in college, she thought, faintly annoyed with herself. "Okay, sure. We could meet there at six."
"It's a date," Paul said immediately and grinned at her. "See you then."
Released at last, Janelle tossed him a quick wave and hurried off to the kitchen, which Mariki had reluctantly surrendered for the weekend to the cheesemakers. She had, however, insisted on barricading off a corner of the room so she could prepare lunch for Roarke, Leslie, Christian and the children, and was hard at it when Janelle let herself in the kitchen door. She didn't miss Janelle's entrance, though, and looked up with a harassed expression. "Not another one," she grumbled resignedly.
"Sorry," Janelle said sheepishly and smiled. "I just thought I'd better make sure my uncle and cousin don't contribute more than their fair share to the general destruction." That just got her an eye-roll from Mariki and a groan, and Janelle hastily put distance between herself and the cook in the hope of avoiding any further confrontation. She scanned the room, and after a moment spied her quarry in a far corner, doing something furtive-looking behind a screen of menus they probably had snitched from the hotel restaurant. Janelle sighed and crossed the room, weaving around tables and dodging other contestants till she had reached them.
"Geez, as if your plotting weren't enough, now you've gone and stolen menus," she complained, startling the young woman and the balding, graying man into staring at her for a split second of alarm before they relaxed.
"Oh, it's only Janelle," said Genia Prentice, Janelle's cousin, flapping a dismissive hand at her. "Don't worry, Dad. And by the way, Jan, we only borrowed these, we didn't steal them. We need them to make sure nobody sees what we're doing." Genia tugged back her long dark hair and fished a clawlike clip out of the pocket of the voluminous apron she wore, gathering the unruly curls into a messy knot and clamping them in place atop her head. "Blast it, I swear, I'm getting a haircut while I'm here. It's all on the tab anyway, isn't it?"
"Our tab, young lady," George Prentice reminded her sternly. Janelle's mother's older brother, who had recently inherited the business from his father, was flushed and perspiring; the heat in the kitchen was steadily building, between all the cheesemakers and Mariki's lunch preparations. "In the end, we're still paying for everything. We're taking a big gamble here, and you'd better remember that before you go spending all our money in this little paradise. Now where'd you put the bucket?"
"Right here." Genia squatted, dragged a covered white plastic pail out from under their work surface, and heaved it up, setting it with a bang on the metal countertop. "We're good to go, Dad. I got these from a fisherman in town yesterday afternoon, already shelled, and I've been babysitting them ever since. They're as fresh as I could get 'em."
"What are they?" Janelle asked, wondering if she'd regret the question.
"Oysters, my girl," George replied with a broad grin, his voice low but triumphant. "These will be the key ingredient in my masterpiece cheese."
"The one that's gonna win us the contest," Genia added smugly.
Janelle stared at them in disbelief. "This is your secret ingredient?"
"Shhhh!" Genia and George hissed at her in perfect unison. "Don't you dare tell anyone about this, Janelle, you understand? If any of the other contestants hears about this, next thing you know, our idea'll get stolen and we'll lose. And we have to win!" This impassioned declaration came from Genia, who as far back as Janelle could remember had had a hankering for the finer things in life. Janelle had once suggested that Genia just marry a millionaire, to which her cousin had tossed her head and said scornfully that millionaires didn't hang out in Marquette, Michigan, and who wanted to be tied down to a man anyway? Janelle stared now at the bucket of oysters and slowly shook her head.
"So what's this…creation of yours gonna be called?" she muttered.
"Love Me, Love My Cheese," Genia said with pride. "I came up with that myself."
"I'm not surprised," mumbled Janelle, making a face as George pried the lid off the bucket and revealed a mass of oysters within. She watched him doubtfully while he reached in with both bare hands and scooped out a bunch of the slimy little creatures, spreading them out over the metal work surface and giving his hands a hasty rinse under the nearby faucet before grabbing a butcher knife and quickly mincing the oysters into tiny pieces. She watched till she couldn't look at the mass slaughter any longer, and peered at her cousin. "So what exactly are these things supposed to do for the cheese?"
"Oysters are aphrodisiacs, right?" Genia said, speaking as if Janelle should have been born with this knowledge. "The idea here is to get the judges to fall madly in love with the taste of this cheese, and voila, we win. Simple as that. Inspired, no?"
"No," Janelle responded under her breath, unsure whether she wanted Genia to hear or not. Not that it mattered; Genia had already turned back to watch George finish slicing and dicing the helpless oysters. Janelle shook her head, her doubt growing. "You're lucky I'm not one of the judges. I'd give that the award for Weirdest Cheese."
George shot her a quelling look and growled, "You forget I used to be a cook—and a damn good one too, if I may say so myself. I know what'll go good in cheese and what won't. If all you're gonna do is stand there and criticize, then I suggest you go someplace else and find something to do with all your spare time. You do want us to win, don't you? This is the only way I can get an infusion of cash to keep this place running. If this cheese is gonna clinch us the win, I've gotta concentrate on what I'm doing and not have to put up with crap from the peanut gallery."
"Yeah, well…but oysters?" Janelle finally asked, screwing up her face.
"You just wait and see," Genia said defiantly, whirling around and getting right into her cousin's face so that Janelle was forced to back off a step or two. "Dad's done wonders with this business ever since Grandpa bought it off that old sick Finn years ago. This is the cheese that's gonna put us on the map. I thought you were here to give us moral support. Are you with us or aren't you?"
Janelle thought of Paul and bit her lip, deciding the lack of that particular knowledge wouldn't do either Genia or George any harm. She cleared her throat. "I'm going for some lunch, and it's not gonna be cheese. You two want anything?"
Genia shrugged, apparently satisfied that she had properly cowed Janelle into obedience. "Is there a McDonald's on this island? I could sure go for a Big Mac."
"Big Macs have cheese," Janelle grunted, making a face and feeling overwhelmed by cheese all of a sudden. "Besides, I don't think there's one here."
"Too bad," Genia said with a sigh. "It's my favorite guilty pleasure. Well, see if the hotel restaurant makes cheeseburgers, then."
"Only if you take those menus back by suppertime tonight," Janelle retorted, ignoring the disgusted look on Genia's face. "Anything for you, Uncle George?"
"I'll grab something later," George replied dismissively, absorbed in scraping his oyster bits into a bowl and scooping out another double handful from the pail. "Why don't you go on out and get us some of the competition's samples before you come back, so we know what we're up against."
"Yeah, okay," Janelle agreed, deciding there was nothing wrong with that, and left the kitchen with something of a sense of relief. She'd already had enough cheese to last her the next few months, but she wasn't averse to gathering new samples for her uncle. Then she smirked to herself. Wait till they taste Paul's cheeses, she thought wickedly. If they're as good as he says, they might realize that ridiculous oyster cheese of theirs doesn't stand a chance!