Author's Note: Not really sure what to say about this one other than I've put way more effort into it than I should have. Once again, there's plenty of Italian and French to be had, but I worked really hard to make sure nothing important would be lost to anyone. If you do want to know what's being said, I suggest using Babylon's translator as that is the one I primarily use.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon, the characters, or any designer labels mentioned here. All other businesses are a figment of my own imagination.
I stared up at the ceiling fan as it turned lazily above me. A sudden flash of light illuminated the room while I continued to watch the blades, and although I stayed quiet, I still counted the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. By the time the rumble came, eight seconds had passed, and I realized the storm was still a long ways off. If it decided to come at all at least. Not that it really mattered since I couldn't sleep either way.
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed, I carefully got up while making sure not to wake my companion. Even if I had to be up at all hours of the night, that didn't mean she had to. After all, it was three in the morning, and I knew she hated being disturbed even during the more sane hours of the day. I only hoped that the change in weather wouldn't be what brought her around instead.
Another lightening strike came and went- this one being much closer than the last, but the woman slept on with no signs of having so much as heard the roll of thunder in the distance. Of course, that was no real surprise when she had taken two sleeping pills before going to bed.
"We really are a mess... aren't we?"
I knew I should've been the one to feel guilty since the prescription she was taking was my own, but by the time I realized what was going on, it was too late to stop her. She was addicted because of me. I tried to rationalize it by telling myself that the situation was better than most, but when it came right down to it, her need for a sleeping fix was just as dangerous as any other.
Only by not letting myself look at her was I able to tie the terry robe around myself and make my way towards my balcony. Sure, it was only a studio apartment with a curtain drawn across in front of the bed, but it was still nicer than any of the other places I stayed at. Besides, even if it was small, it had a clear view of the Mediterranean Sea, and that alone made it the perfect place for someone like me to live.
The door was already open and the warm breeze that came through toyed with the white linens I had draped throughout the room. It was refreshing... but it was a feeling I knew would make it even more difficult for me to fall asleep. I also knew I needed it, though. To take in that fresh night air and believe that for once I really could fly right over that balcony and over the sea.
But you can't fly without wings, can you?
"Good evening, beautiful!" I winced, my hand clapping over my ear to tune out the man standing next to me, but he just laughed. "Someone stay up late again?"
"Dan, are you still drunk?" I asked, shooting him a glare. "'Cause if you aren't, you sure smell like it... At least your breath does." Like cheap wine. "You know you can't work if you're buzzing. I told you that when I hired you, didn't I?"
"Come on, man..." Dan moaned, rolling his eyes. "I swear I'm workin' clean today." Well, if I was just looking at him, I wasn't really sure how I was supposed to believe him. He was wearing his uniform at least, but the way his undershirt was only half tucked in and his suit jacket was wrinkled with the back of his collar turned in, I was of the mind to say he had slept in it. "Just went to Eve's last night is all."
"Fine. Just go in the back and clean yourself up," I ordered. "We've got a wedding this morning." Although I heard the other make some comment about it being too damn early for getting hitched, he didn't argue with me. After all, I was the one responsible for his pay check. "And for Goddess' sake, do something that hair of yours!"
"Are you feeling okay, Kai?" I glanced up from my prep work to find my assistant chef hovering over me with his brown eyes filled with quiet concern. If Dan looked like my brother, then this one had to be my twin. Aside from his curly hair anyway. "I know it's none of my business, but you don't usually go after him like that..."
"Denny, it's fine," I assured him. "I just want to make sure we've got everything right this time." I could tell just by the way he kept staring so intently at me that he didn't believe a word of it, but when I pulled his bandanna over those eyes of his, he was so surprised that he almost ran right into the counter behind him. "Stop worrying about me and get your hat back on. I know it looks ridiculous, but the bride wants us to be professional."
"I don't know why it's such a big deal," he complained, pulling off his bandanna and stuffing it into his back pocket. "It's not like anyone's going to see us back here."
"Like I said, it's what the bride wants."
"Good thing you understand Italian then because I didn't catch any of that," Denny muttered. I only chuckled before garnishing the last of the hors d'oeuvres for that morning's events. To be honest, I felt that the goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms were a bit too heavy for a mid-morning meal, but while I could offer even the best advice, it was ultimately my customer's decision what was served. "Do you think we have enough bruschetta?"
"If we don't, then we don't," I replied calmly. "Our bride might not be happy if that's the case, but it's the groom's family that's paying us. I've got my orders not to spend so much as a euro over what we agreed on."
"Better start lookin' lively, boys," Dan announced as he poked his head in through the back door. "The sposo e la sposa have now arrived."
With that, the next hour was little more than a blur as the real work began. As always, Dan managed the floor with his wait staff being a constant revolving chain while Denny and I did our best to hold our own in the kitchen. We had two other cooks from the hotel there to help us, of course, but since they were Italian themselves, my assistant found it hard to explain himself to them. A situation that was bound to cause more than a few misunderstandings which I had to manage.
"Ora non ci preoccupide lui per, Dario," I assured one of the young men. "Ho mi prenderò eura degli scalogni mentre lai trova la pasta pronto." He nodded curtly before stepping behind and towards the stove, and as soon as he was out of the way, I began slicing what was left of the scallions with a natural ease. "This should've been done during the cocktail hour," I scolded my assistant beside me. "Not ten minutes before the reception starts."
"Sorry, Kai," Denny apologized as he continued shelling the oysters laid out in front of him. "I tried to tell him that we didn't need them to be minced, but that's a little too advanced for me just yet."
"You're doing fine as it is," I insisted, handing him a bowl. "Now get this to Martelli over there and tell him to li salti in quella salsa di origano e li quarnisca là col basilico e pomodoů. If he asks any questions, just call me back over."
Thankfully, the meal went on as planned with little complaint aside from an aunt bemoaning the fact that she had no taste for seafood. This, of course, I was more than certain to apologize for, but I soon forgot the incident had ever happened. After all, I wasn't able to let myself so much as have a single complete thought in all the controlled chaos- especially when I had no sleep the night before.
However, while I was busy inspecting the last course to be served, I felt a light tap on my shoulder. Knowing that my staff wouldn't bother with doing such a thing, I turned without hesitation. When I did, though, I found myself being face to face with a woman I had never met before.
A very beautiful woman at that.
She was rather petite, only standing at my collar despite her high heels, but the way in which she looked up at me more than accommodated for whatever disadvantages her height may have left her. Not to mention her eyes were the most cold and unforgiving blue I had ever seen, and given where we were in the world, her platinum blonde hair and creamy pale skin made her all the more striking. Even so, it was what she wore that gave the most credit to her brazen character.
For one, despite the hour in which it was, she was clearly wearing an evening dress. One that- although I was mostly unfamiliar with such things- was designer as were her gray heels and matching clutch. The dress was sheer lace from the hem all the way up the sweetheart neckline, and if that wasn't scandalous enough for another's wedding, then the color certainly was.
Pure wedding gown white.
"Mi scusi, signore." Her voice was light, yet I knew from her tone she was talking down to me. The woman's delicately upturned nose was even held just a little bit higher as if to emphasize her importance to me. There was also a slight accent and a harshness to her speech which told me she was much more familiar with a language to the north, but her pronunciation was still flawless giving me the impression she was still more than fluent with the what was being said around her. "E il chef de tusta?"
"Che is sono," I agreed with a nod. She smiled then, her lips full and lacquered in a bright red, but said nothing else. "E che non ho il piacere di parlare con?"
"Claire Blanc," she replied. Then, without warning, she began speaking to me in English. "I cannot say for certain, yet I believe we have met once before... though I must admit I am unfamiliar with your name, chef di signore."
Her arrogance was enough to irritate even me, but despite my wanting nothing more to do with her, I tired my best to be accommodating. "My name is Kai Makani," I explained with a slight bow as I took her hand in mind and kissed it. "E'un onore aver incontrato una donna come equo come ta stesso nel corso di tale giciosa occasione."
"You speak very beautifully," the woman mused, "yet it would seem you are not from here if you will excuse me saying so."
"I came from the United States," I replied. "I was born and raised by my mother in the Pacific. It was my father who was Italian." I left the matter rest there, not wanting to give away too much, and although I expected for her to ask for more, she remained silent. "What was it you wanted to ask me then? I'm afraid we still have some work to finish."
"I understand completely, Signore Makani," she agreed before dipping her delicate hand into her bag. She then drew out a business card and handed it to me. It was a perfect white with only a silver feather decal etched into the back and a small one above her name and number. However, it was at that same moment that I noticed that something was amiss.
"Is Morel your maiden name then?" I asked. After all, she had introduced herself as Claire Blanc, but inspecting her hands again, I realized she was without a ring. "I'm very sorry," I apologized after realizing my error. "I did not mean to-"
"It is of no consequence to you nor I," she assured me with another smile. "My former husband and I only recently decided to separate... I am sure you are familiar with a Frenchman by the name of Monsieur Clifford Morel, are you not?"
Of course I was. After all, he was one of Europe's finest wine crafters, and although I only knew half of the story, he had only become such because of a coincidence. It was through a chance meeting that he met the Morels, a couple with a small winery and no children, or at least that was what they had always claimed. It was only recently that there had been any indication to the contrary, and even then, I wasn't so sure what to believe.
"Yes, we met once," I agreed. "I have to say, though, he didn't seem to be the kind of man to leave his woman for another."
"People are rarely what they seem," Claire replied cooly. I thought to ask her if she was talking about the man in question or herself, but I decided to let the issue slide. "However, that has nothing to do with this conversation," she insisted. "I only wished to ask you if you would be willing to cater a private event for me."
"Kai, we're going to start carving the cake now."
"I'll be there in a minute," I called back over my shoulder. "I'm sorry to have interrupted you, Ms. Blanc," I said as I brought my attention back to her. "Would you please continue with what you were saying?"
"This will be more of an informal event," she explained with only a brief glance towards my help. "An associate of mine asked for me to put together the cocktail hour for his cousin's gallery opening tomorrow, and the caterer I had arranged for has unexpectedly left for Paris without my knowing. As I'm sure you can understand, I am not at all pleased with the situation."
"I can imagine." After all, I had no uncertain feelings that Claire was a woman who demanded absolute control. "The only problem is this comes as such short notice for me as well..."
"Which is why I'm offering to pay double for your services," she said with a curt nod. "I only ask for your top staff to be present which I assume to be family of yours." Just by her tone of voice, I knew it was anything but a question, but she had apparently decided to test the waters of our relationship even further. "To be perfectly honest, I would prefer to have only you attend, but I suppose that wold be out of the question for you."
"That it would."
"Mi familia... isn't that right?" Of course that was what it came down to. Most of my family was broken with only stray pieces left for me to find, and when I happened upon one worth keeping, I wasn't about to let it go. "Well, they appear to be capable enough," Claire continued, "so I suppose I have no complaints about them being present."
"Signora," I said with a grin. "I wouldn't care even if you did. To me, money means nothing if I can't share it." It was then that the woman frowned for the first time, but my grin only grew. "I'm sure it's not something everyone can understand, though."
Ms. Blanc chose not to reply, having never heard a man say such a thing before, but I was still careful not to step on her pedicure too much. After all, even if I wasn't all that concerned about money, that didn't mean my cousins didn't need it. Then again, knowing them, it'd be gone soon enough albeit to very different things.
"I will see you and your family tomorrow then," she said as she leveled her head once more. "I hope you will look forward to it."