Author's Note: The voice telling me if I don't update soon everyone will forget about my stories has grown too loud to ignore, plus I've found I've been sleeping better on the nights I write. Thank you for your patience, extra thanks for favorites, thanks and hugs for reviews and hugs, love, and thanks if you've done all of this!
"This does not make sense," Naveen said as yet another customer walked out, refusing to pay their bill.
"You better fix it soon, we ain't gonna be able to distract Tiana much longer," Louis pointed out. Charlotte had come by on an impromptu visit, and she was talking to Tiana while Naveen attempted to find a solution. They both agreed it would be too stressful with her pregnant for her to handle the issue herself.
Naveen selected an untouched beignet from the nearby table and took a bite. He promptly spit it into a napkin and made a face. "This is not Tiana's recipe…" he marched off towards the kitchen. "What is the meaning of this? Faldi faldonza, this is awful! Are you not bothering to taste before you send the food out?"
Travis snuck past Naveen, on his way to deliver another round of the offensive beignets to the only customers left in the restaurant. While Naveen was busy yelling at the chefs, Travis waved goodbye as the last customers also stormed off. For the first time ever, Tiana's Palace didn't have a single patron.
Travis headed back for the kitchen, but he didn't realize he'd been followed until Facilier cleared his throat. Naveen stared at the voodoo man in shock and horror.
"You can not be here…you are dead."
"Aww, like a little thing like death would keep me from one of my dearest friends!" Facilier snaked his arm around Naveen's shoulders. "You're in trouble, my boy…I can help you out."
"I do not need your kind of help," Naveen's eyes narrowed and he whirled himself out of Facilier's grasp. "Get out of here. Now."
"Just remember," Facilier withdrew his business card and tucked it into Naveen's front coat pocket, "When you get desperate and need someone to save you, you can always call me. I'll be your own friend from the other side…I just got back from the Other Side myself, you see…looking to change my ways so I don't end up back there."
"Get out of here," Naveen repeated.
"Geez, touchy, touchy. You weren't this serious back when you was a frog, I can tell you that…but okay. I'll go. By the way, how's that pretty wife of yours? Hear y'all have a child on the way.."
"Stay away from Tiana," Naveen grabbed a pot and hurled it at Facilier, who easily stepped out of the way.
"Oh, I will. But you'll be coming to see me, soon enough. You'll be begging me for help 'fore long…and who knows, I may just be willing to give you a hand. I'll be seeing you real soon, princey. Real soon."
As quickly and silently as he came, he was gone again. "No one tells Tiana what happened here today," Naveen ordered. "This man did not show up, and tomorrow all orders will be to her recipe specifications. Let us get this place cleaned up."
"You're awful distracted tonight," Tiana said, leaning in to give her husband a kiss on the cheek. "And you closed the restaurant early. What's going on?"
"It is nothing," Naveen insisted, "I merely wanted to go home a little early to spend extra time with my amazing wife," he seized her hand and gave it a kiss. "Is this not all right?"
"Depends. You certain you ain't hiding anything from me?" she cocked her head to the side as she watched him, her eyebrows slightly raised. Something felt wrong here, but Naveen shook his head.
"Why would I lie to you, Princess?"
Tiana's expression softened. "I guess you're right. Sorry. You've just seemed like your mind's out wandering in space, and you haven't picked your ukulele up a single time today, not even at work. That's not like you."
He grabbed her hand and pulled her around and into his lap, one of his hands resting on her stomach. "I am just thinking about our future. This is all," he kissed her. "I am tired, though. We should go to bed."
Three days later and the problems continued. People kept walking out, and servers and chefs kept quitting for seemingly no reason at all. Naveen had managed to get Eudora to convince Tiana to stay with her for a few days while he tried to sort out the issues, but each day the problem got worse, and he was not certain how much longer he would be able to hide this from Tiana. She was already starting to suspect something was up, but Naveen had given Eudora word on what was going on, and so her mother was making certain to keep Tiana too busy to even think about the restaurant. Right now, Naveen found himself both worried about and envying Tiana. He wished he could be away from the restaurant as well, but he had to fix this. This place had been her dream for so long, he couldn't stand the thought that they might lose it.
"Sorry!" he heard Travis exclaim as for the second time a bowl of hot soup was dropped on one of the few customers who continued to show up each day. The man got up and placed some money on the table before walking out, muttering something about a different restaurant as he went.
"Different restaurant…De Lunes," Naveen repeated what he'd overheard. "I have never heard of this."
"It's across the way," Travis pointed, "Supposed to be the new hot spot in town. …Not that this place isn't anymore," he glanced around. "Well…"
"New restaurants do not start overnight," Naveen insisted, "I know this from when Tiana and I started this place…it took months."
"Maybe they had extra help?"
"Maybe…" Naveen said, though he didn't sound convinced. "We should go ahead and close down for the day. Once the dishes are done, you can go home."
"When do I get my part of the bargain?" Travis asked as he leaned against the wall, his arms crossed. His gaze flickered down at his hand, once more viewing the mark there. It burned all the time now, and it felt as though it got hotter with each passing day.
"All in good time," Facilier said as he shuffled his deck of Tarot cards. "Couple of conditions have to be made first, ain't that right Mr. Fenner and Mr. Fenner?" They both nodded. "You see, De Lunes is doing just fine…but fine isn't enough."
"Tiana's Palace is completely out of business…no one's going there anymore, so what does it matter?"
"What matters is that when Tiana gets back her cooking will be able to restore her little 'palace' back to the top-dog position, and that, gentlemen, is something I will not be having," Facilier pounded a fist on the table. His shadow crossed its arms and seemed to smirk at all of them before circling around the Fenner Brothers and Travis, forcing them to huddle together in the corner. "That's why, Travis, you are going to go fetch me all of Tiana's recipes."
"How do you know they're even written down?" Travis asked, "She may have just made them up."
"She doesn't trust the Fenners after their business relationship went sour, and I think you know how well it will go over if I show up…" he trailed off, "But you, Travis…there's nothing to fear from you. You could get close enough. All it takes is a simple hand shake, and then. Well. You know," his smile grew and his eyes twinkled with delight as he imagined Tiana under Belial's grasp.
"So shake Tiana's hand to get her to our --"
"No, no," Facilier shook his head.
"But earlier you said -"
"I know what I've said. I've had an uh…change of heart. You see, if you were to go after her husband, if he's the one in your grasp…Tiana will give you anything you want to make sure he's safe. When we've taken everything else from her, when she's watched her world fall apart - that's when we'll give her over to Belial as well."
"Belial?" Travis repeated.
"Let's just call him our largest friend on the other side, hmm?" Facilier scooped his cane up off of the floor and gave it a twirl. "Well, Travis, you better go off to put our next stage of the plan in action. We'll start with taking her recipes - remember, if you can't find a copy of them, get to Naveen and give him the mark as well. Hell, boy, if you get the chance grab Naveen even if you do manage to steal the recipes. As for me, I'm off to prevent someone else from interfering this time…"