There were many tasks that the Head Waiter from Taste liked to do. Rocky liked to dance, he loved making people happy, he adored making his partner laugh like a little kid, but he did not like sock shopping. It wasn't so much the task itself, but rather the subject. For work, he had few options. They needed to be black and comfortable. However, in his non work hours, he preferred socks with a personality.
"What do you mean you have no ABBA socks?" he asked the clerk. The store literally sold nothing else. There were racks upon racks of socks, socks with cats, dogs, professional sports teams, points of interest, even cartoon characters, but no band-dedicated hosiery. His beloved Swedish band had no hosiery to its name.
"I'm sorry, man. Like I said last time, there just isn't a market here." At least the clerk tried to make it sound like he cared. "What else can I interest you in?"
"Nothing at the moment, thank you." Rocky walked out and plopped down on a convenient bench by the shop's entrance and picked up his stored drink. He had to let go his dark mood before going back in or, indeed, anywhere else. He was always aware that he was the one of the faces of Taste. If someone recognized him, and often they did, his conduct was reflective of his employer and he would do nothing to embarrass Matt or Illya.
It was summer in the city and the day was hot and dry. Often there would be a breeze in Old Sacramento because it sat on the water. It would be tolerable while the rest of the city baked, but not today. Today the air was as still as an oven. You could smell the heat and see it ripple up off the pavement.
Rocky took a sip of his iced, now lukewarm, coffee and sighed. While he liked the idea of specialty socks, they were very expensive.
A horse drawn carriage clopped by and Rocky didn't know which looked more heat worn, the horse or the driver. The driver found a bit of shade just in front of Rocky and stopped, climbing wearily from the carriage. He led the horse to a nearby water trough and let it have a good drink.
"Yeah, get that into you," he muttered and wiped the sweat from his face. "I'm sweltering and you're stuck in a fur coat."
He pulled a feed bag from the front of the carriage and settled it upon the horse after it was apparent it was finished drinking. "There you go, mate, have a nosh." He looked longingly over at the ice cream shop and Rocky waved his hand. People from all around the world somehow ended up here and the man's definite British accent didn't surprise Rocky in the least.
"Go. I'll make sure she doesn't run off."
"Are… are you sure?"
"The farthest I'm going might be back in there. I'll keep an eye on her." He glanced back at the horse and grinned. I mean, him."
"Thanks!" The man walked quickly across the cobblestone road and joined the queue. The horse looked after him longingly and shook its head.
"Don't worry, he'll be back. And if you are good, he might even bring you a treat."
That seemed to comfort the animal and Rocky went to back his drink, realizing his foul mood had dissolved.
"You are good medicine," he said to the horse. "Just what the doctor ordered."
The horse nickered in response and returned to its slow chewing.
"I don't believe this!" Rocky's ear picked up another British accent, but this one was less polished. "This bloody heat and he vanishes."
Rocky couldn't help himself. It was what he did. "Can I help, ma'am? Have you lost someone?"
The woman looked surprised. "Do I know you?"
"You may. Have you been to Taste in Jackson?"
"Gone to school at Sac State?"
"Not likely." The woman laughed and looked longingly at the empty spot next to Rocky. "Do ya mind?"
"Not at all. Let me guess, first time here?"
"First time anywhere," she muttered. "Do you know how bloody big this place is?"
"Old Sacramento or the city itself?"
"The whole bloomin' state!"
"Welcome to California." He offered his hand. "I'm Rocky, by the way."
"London." She glanced around at the buildings, many of them original from their Wild West days, although carefully restored. "This isn't what I expected?"
"Well, it's a bit of a tourist trap, but it's fun for a bit of shopping. Evangeline's always has some great stuff. And when did you last see an entire store dedicated to socks?"
"Just socks?" She sort of looked into the store as if afraid to venture in alone.
Rocky stood and offered his arm to her. "Would you like me to escort you in?"
"It would be my pleasure to be seen with such a lovely lady." Rocky let his charm weave its magic. He kissed her hand and placed it upon his arm. Jackie beamed and blushed just a little.
"You're young enough to be my… younger brother."
"Good genes." To the horse, he said. "Don't do anything that will embarrass us." To his surprise, the horse threw its head as if nodding in agreement.
Fifteen minutes later, Rocky carried their bags from the shop and dropped them onto the bench. The horse looked over and then back at the ice cream shop. The driver had just gotten to the counter.
"Wow, that's some wait," Rocky muttered. He settled Jackie on the bench and held up a finger. "Sit tight for a minute."
He was back in five with two iced cappuccinos. "Here you go!"
"Rocky, what would I have done without you?"
"Oh, the number of women who have told me that."
Rocky sighed happily. "Me, too. He is going to love his socks!" He'd gotten Matt some with images of Italy on them. Wine themed for Napoleon and cooking themed for Chef. He'd gotten wildly colored tie dyed socks for himself. They were going to make a statement, to be sure.
"You need to let me pay you for mine."
"Not at all. They are my gift to you. I hope Rose likes them. There's nothing like a good pair of socks. They are just what the doctor ordered." He grinned. He was saying that a lot today.
"The Doctor?" Jackie was gobsmacked. "Do you know the Doctor?"
Rocky frowned. "Well, I know several doctors. I wasn't referring to anyone in particular. It's just a saying here."
The carriage driver crossed the street. He was carrying a tray with several ice cream cones in it.
"There you are!" Jackie was on her feet. "Trust you to be playing it cool while I was roasting out here!"
The driver grinned. "Hello, Jackie. I wondered when I'd bump into you. Ready to go home?"
Rocky sat very still, not sure exactly what to do next.
"From the minute I got here." Then her face softened. "Well, maybe not the minute, thanks to Rocky here."
The man sighed. "Get in, Jackie. Hello, Rocky." I'm The Doctor." He handed the tray to Jackie, removed the feedbag and offering one of the cones to the horse. The horse whinnied. "I know, but they didn't have green tea. You have to make do with pistachio ripple." He handed Rocky an ice cream cone. It was only mildly surprising that it was his favorite flavor.
"Right. Color me confused."
The Doctor grinned. "Naw, not confused, perhaps just dazed by the heat."
"Confused about what, sir?"
Rocky blinked and looked at the clerk behind the counter. He had the strangest feeling that something had happened, but he wasn't sure exactly what. "Um, that you don't have any ABBA socks."
"We do have some music themed socks over here." The clerk started to walk to the back of the store and Rocky heard something, an odd whining sound. "Sir, the socks? I think you'll find we have just what the doctor ordered."
The faces of a smiling blonde woman and a carriage driver flashed across his mind and he shook his head. "Oh, yes, thank you." He looked back at the ice cream store. "Excuse me, do you know if they carry green tea ice cream over there?"
The clerk took a pair of socks from a display. "Naw, the closest to that you can get is the -"
"Pistachio ripple," Rocky finished. He blew out a deep breath. "Okay, about those socks…"