Chapter 4 - What, You've Never Heard of Moral Support? (EPOV)
Thanks to everyone who's added me to their alerts. I'm so excited to have you along with me. Thanks also to my super-beta Sunflower Fran and Teresa Masen for pre-reading.
Warning: This chapter contains graphic descriptions of organic eggs and pure maple syrup. For adult palettes only… Stephanie Meyer owns Twilight and all its characters.
"I thought you were just giving me a ride," Jasper's eyes narrowed suspiciously as I walked around the front of my truck which was now parked in the Volturi lot.
I tried to be as nonchalant as I could, but Jasper had a way of focusing on you so that you started to feel anxious if he was anxious. He could also make me crack up with just the right smile, which was why I loved my little brother.
"You've never heard of moral support?" I quipped. "Besides, how will I know when to pick you up if I don't tag along?"
Jasper rolled his eyes and waved his cell phone at me.
"No signal on this side of the mountain, bro," I smirked. One man's inconvenience is another man's happy circumstance. It's not as if I was going to interfere with the interview, I just figured I could say hello to Bella and maybe hang around for a bit. Sure, I'd be seeing her again in another day or two when I came to drop off the right-of-way check, but I couldn't resist the excuse to have a little more face-time with her again.
I was also curious to see how Jasper and Bella would get along. I liked to think I was a good judge of character, but no one saw through people like my brother did. If I had the sense to listen to him about some of my high school girlfriends, I probably would have saved myself a lot of grief. But who takes dating advice from their younger sibling? And it's not as if he didn't have his own blind spots – as in Maria.
We were at the front door and Jasper raised his hand to knock. I reached around him and turned the handle so the door swung away and his fist connected with nothing but air.
"Hey," Jasper scowled at me. "That's not very professional."
"She won't hear you if you knock." I replied. "Trust me."
Jasper looked as if he didn't, but he still stepped inside.
I followed close behind.
"Hello," we both called in unison. Our combined voices echoed through the hall.
"Hey," said Bella, coming around the corner from the kitchen. She had dressed up for the occasion, wearing grey slacks and a blue silk blouse that buttoned only partially up the front to a deep v-neckline. Her black heels clicked on the floorboards as she crossed to us, her hand outstretched to Jasper. I fought the urge to step in between them and touch her fingers to my lips.
"Hi, I'm Jasper Cullen," he said taking her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Swan." He tried to be subtle gazing her up and down, but I caught it. I know my brother and there's no way he wouldn't notice what a knockout Bella was. Though I could tell she had actually made an effort to look nice today, she still wore no makeup. There was no way any of that stuff would have improved her appearance. I hadn't been able to stop thinking about how beautiful she was since the last time I saw her.
"It's Bella, please," she replied. "And it's a pleasure to meet you, too. I was very impressed with your resume." Bella's brown eyes met mine over Jasper's shoulder and she lifted one eyebrow, questioningly.
"I hope you don't mind that I tagged along," I said. "I'm Jasper's ride."
Bella said nothing to me, but waved Jasper toward the kitchen. I was probably pushing it, but I figured I'd be slightly less creepy if I followed them, than just standing by the front door the entire time.
I tried to hang back and make myself as inconspicuous as I could while they went through the preliminaries – Jasper's experience, the ideas Bella had for the Inn and what kind of commitment she was looking for, and lastly, what other staff she was planning to bring on. Finally I was included again when Jasper suggested that he make a late breakfast for the three of us so Bella could sample his cooking.
This was where my brother shined.
He stepped into the kitchen, and after familiarizing himself with the equipment she had, set up a small workstation with cutting board, knives, bowls and the cooler he had brought, that was packed with his secret weapon. Bella took a seat on one of the stools pulled up to the center island. I slid onto another stool at the far end of the island, even though I was tempted to take the one right next to her.
Jasper asked how she wanted her eggs cooked.
"Actually, I'm kind of weird about my eggs," she said somewhat guiltily.
"Just tell me how you like them," Jasper prodded.
"I like them in a way that they really frown upon in culinary school." Bella picked up his resume and fiddled with it, avoiding making eye contact. The beautiful pink blush I remembered so well was spreading across her cheeks. I couldn't tear my gaze away and was thankful that she wasn't looking at either of us.
"Pretend you're just ordering them at a restaurant," Jasper tried again.
"Okay..." Bella still looked a little sly as she raised her head. I quickly turned to look at Jasper as if I'd been concentrating on him all the time. "I usually tell the waitress that I like them scrambled and so well done that the cook blushes when he puts them on the plate," Bella said.
Jasper rolled his eyes and I let out a laugh. I like my eggs really dry, too, but usually I just tell them to 'make them dead.' Jasper always said it ruins good food, but he wasn't about to give the woman he was interviewing for any grief like he usually does me. He placed two skillets on the stove and got two bowls ready.
"You don't have to make mine separately," I told him. "It sounds like Bella and I are on the same page when it comes to eggs."
Jasper looked like he wanted to smack me, but used his most polite voice when he said to Bella rather than me, "I want to show you something, and this is kind of a deal breaker for me."
"Okay," Bella said, again confused.
Jasper opened up the cooler and took out two cartons of eggs. I had seen this demonstration before, but I was curious to see how Bella would respond. Her eyes were cast downward, towards the bowls. I wished I could get a better look. I guessed that cute little crease had formed between her eyebrows.
"These eggs," Jasper said, picking up one carton to indicate, "are from the supermarket. I chose the carton with the latest sell-by date to get the freshest ones I could." Bella looked up to pay attention to him, and I turned to the window, pretending I had noticed something fascinating in the yard.
I turned back to watch Jasper crack open a single egg into a stainless steel bowl. He then handed the bowl to Bella, tipping it forward to indicate that she take a look. "What does that look like to you?"
"It looks like an egg?" Bella replied, making her response sound like a question. It was clear from her voice that she wasn't sure what he was getting at. I was momentarily distracted by the fact that she had leaned over the counter to peer into the bowls, giving me a great view of her cleavage from my side of the counter.
Jasper caught my eye, and I decided to play innocent, so I gave him the thumbs up.
"These," he continued opening up the second carton, "are from the Mason farm on Trebble Road. They were laid probably within the last twenty-four hours." He picked up another egg and cracked it into an identical bowl, then presented both bowls for Bella to inspect. I resisted the temptation this time and followed her gaze to Jasper's demonstration. One egg yolk was a rich golden color, almost orange, with clear whites. The other was a pale yellow yolk in cloudy whites with lots of stringy floaters.
"Oh my goodness," Bella exclaimed. "That's amazing. They're completely different colors."
Jasper and I both nodded. Maybe Bella wasn't the kind of flatlander I had expected, but she obviously hadn't experienced farm fresh food as something other than a marketing term. She probably thought that eggs were always the sickly, supermarket variety.
"Freshness is one thing," Jasper explained, "but the fact that the chickens had plenty of time in the fresh air foresting for grubs, rather than having commercial feed given to them in cages, is another. You can see the difference here, and in a minute you'll be able to taste it." He quickly beat both the eggs in their separate bowls, dropped a pat of butter into the warming pans and poured in the eggs.
With Jasper's back to us, Bella started to turn to me, probably out of politeness. Realizing I had been staring too long, I focused on my brother's back as he stirred over the pans. I seriously hoped he wasn't going to ask me to sample both. I knew what bad eggs tasted like and I definitely wasn't that hungry.
"Bella," Jasper said, "would you like anything to drink with these?"
I felt Bella start to get up and chanced another glance at her. She was quite pink. I didn't think the kitchen was that warm.
Our eyes locked and she licked her lips nervously. "How about some coffee?" she asked.
"That would be great," Jasper responded, before I could make a jerk of myself by answering. I had to remind myself I was the third wheel in this kitchen.
"Why don't I pour us some," I offered, in a lame attempt to make myself useful. "Where do you keep your cups?"
Bella pointed to an upper cabinet on the opposite side of the kitchen. I took out three mugs and went to pour, leaving a little room in one of the cups in case Bella liked cream or milk. Jasper and I always had it black.
My brother was continuing his lecture as he plated the eggs. "All food loses flavor the longer it takes from harvest to being cooked. More importantly, it loses nutrients. I want to use as much local food as possible, that includes eggs, milk, bacon, vegetables, bread, everything."
Bella didn't respond immediately, but took a bite out of each of the samples Jasper had given her. She closed her eyes as she chewed, and my coffee mug got stuck somewhere in midair as I watched her lips.
"It's definitely something I want to work toward," she said, opening her eyes. "But Vermont has a pretty short growing season if you're going to have vegetables in that category, too."
Jasper crossed his arms over his chest. "Local's a hard line for me, but there are plenty of ways we can talk about preservation."
Bella started to nod then shook her head. "Wait a second," she said. "We haven't even talked about salary, yet. I'm not sure I can afford someone with your training." She bit her lip.
Jasper looked uncomfortable. I wondered if I should excuse myself after all.
"I'm afraid I have another concern, too," Bella went on. Now I was too interested to leave.
"What's that," asked Jasper.
"Well," Bella said. "You've been working at full service restaurants, and you obviously went to culinary school because you were interested in more than fixing eggs and pancakes. Are you sure you want to take a position at a B&B? I really wasn't planning on getting into a lunch and dinner service except for certain guests on request."
Jasper and I both knew this thanks to Esme's debrief of her meeting with Bella. I smiled and nodded at Jasper. This was the opening he had been hoping for.
"Actually, Bella," he said. "I had my own idea that I was hoping you'd be open to, but I wanted to get an idea of what you were thinking for hours and salary."
Okay, now it was my cue to leave. I excused myself and walked back to the front foyer. There wasn't much to distract me out there, but I couldn't hear their conversation other than the mumble of indistinct voices. I wondered if that was something Bella liked or was hoping to change about the Inn. It did make it hard for guests entering, if no one knew they were there.
After about ten minutes, I heard a girly squeal coming from the kitchen.
"What the...?" I walked quickly back. Bella's back was turned to me, and her arms were thrown over my brother's shoulders in an exuberant hug. Jasper looked completely taken by surprise, but was smiling. His arms started to wrap around Bella's tiny waist, but he caught my eye, and instead patted one hand on her left shoulder, his smile fading to a more serious expression.
Bella quickly jumped back from him, turning to me and biting that damn lip of hers again. I tried my best not to look jealous. "So, I take it you guys worked out a deal," I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
"I guess so," Jasper said, a somewhat guilty grin returning to his face.
Bella nodded. "You're brother has some great ideas, and apparently the Volturi kitchen didn't scare him off." She paused, turning back to him. "I have a cook!"
"And I have a job," Jasper said.
"Well," I said, "I guess you both have something to celebrate. How about I take you out for drinks?"
Bella looked a little embarrassed, but Jasper answered me before she could say no.
"Considering it's still before noon, I've got another idea. How about we go to Miller's for some shots?" He turned to Bella. "I could introduce you to the first local supplier I'd like to contract with."
Bella's cheeks had deepened from pink to red. "I wasn't thinking the Volturi would serve alcohol, and how are shots better than drinks?"
Jasper and I both laughed at that.
"Sorry, Bella," Jasper said. "Miller's is the best sugarhouse in the county, and they provide samples of maple syrup in shot glasses to give people a chance to compare the different varieties."
"Oh," Bella said. "That makes more sense. Sorry, I guess I was showing my local ignorance there."
"Don't be silly," I told her. I crossed my arms over my chest to lessen the temptation to reach out and touch her cheek or squeeze her hand. "You'll get used to Jasper's sense of humor, or I should say lack thereof, very soon. And I think a trip to the sugarhouse is a great way to celebrate. You don't mind if I tag along, even though I'm not working for the Volturi?"
Bella nodded her head vigorously. "I'd love it if you came," she said quickly.
My heart swelled at her eagerness.
"Yeah, Edward," Jasper said, wagging his eyebrows vigorously at me as he stood behind Bella where she couldn't see his face. "You have to be our designated driver."
Bella whipped around to face him and his expression became slightly more serious. "No more teasing your new boss," she said. I was sure I could hear her smile in her voice.
With the decision made, the three of us headed out to pile into my truck to ride out to Miller's. Jasper opened the passenger door and waved Bella in, as we were both raised to do. She slid into the middle as I got in the driver's seat, but seemed careful to not actually touch me. I wished I had a slightly smaller truck.
When we reached a stretch of road where you could see a cell tower in the distance, I slowed down slightly and Jasper dialed Miller's to explain that we were headed over. Not that they weren't used to people showing up unannounced, but I think Jas wanted to make sure they were ready to pull out the stops to impress Bella.
A few minutes later we pulled in front of the sugarhouse. Like most buildings of its kind, the wooden structure leaned slightly on its foundation, and the painted sign was a little weathered from the years of rain and snow.
"You'll want to come back next spring when they're actually boiling if you've never been sugaring," I said to Bella as I put the truck into park. "But the good news is today we won't have to deal with any tourists."
"Hey," Bella replied, "none of that greenie trash-talking. Tourists are our livelihood." She smiled conspiratorially at Jasper.
"Tourists AND locals are going to be our livelihood, Bella," Jasper corrected. "And you're about to meet one of the most local guys in town, so brace yourself."
With that he exited the truck and offered his hand to help Bella out. I exited from my side and nodded at Don Miller, who was coming out of the family home on the far side of the driveway from the sugarhouse. He walked with the familiar gate of an old, dairy farmer: quick, but a little lopsided from the arthritis that had forced him to give up milking.
"Morning," he called with a little wave.
"How's it going, Don," I called back.
"I hear you wanted to do some sampling," he replied with a grin spreading over his wrinkled face.
"That we do," Jasper said. "The Volturi's got a new cook and he's committed to keeping it local."
"That right," Don said, now reaching us. "Congratulations, kid. And you must be the new owner, Isabella, is it?" he said offering a hand to Bella.
"Bella," she corrected, giving him a shake. "And, I'd love to talk to you about some gift options as well as a wholesale account."
"We can certainly do that," he said, eyeing her appreciatively. "You looking to sell syrup or sell bottles?"
I was about to explain, but Bella's beautiful laugh filled the air of the Miller's yard. She answered before I could say anything. "Well, if I listened to my flat-lander college professor, I know the answer should be bottles, but I'm thinking the people I'll actually cater to will probably just want the good quart and gallon jugs."
The three of us Vermonters exchanged looks. For someone so young and not from around here, Bella had obviously done her homework.
"Okay then," Don replied. "Let's step into my office and talk some syrup."
Jasper and I hung back a bit while Don showed Bella his boiling equipment and gave her the full spiel on what made his syrup the best. Including how many of his family were "in the ground." Miller was one of those who wouldn't consider even Jasper and me to be real Vermonters. We were only second-generation born, after all. He at least skipped the biscuit line, but I had a feeling Bella would hear it soon, if she hadn't yet.
Finally, he pulled out some syrup bottles. "You boys joining us?" Don asked.
"I'm certainly not going to pass it up," Jasper said, and I walked with him over to the stainless steel counter where he was arranging over a dozen tiny shot glasses.
"Okay, then. Miss Bella, since you've obviously got some brains and spent some time in Vermont, I'm assuming you're familiar with the grades we've got."
"Yes, and I'd like the dark for our table syrup." Bella replied.
She really was a completely different person than the one I'd met. Today she was in control and a self-possessed business woman. I didn't think it was possible for me to find her more endearing than the sweet and slightly overwhelmed young thing I had met on the floor of the Volturi. But, her confidence was also extremely attractive. Self-assured Bella was just - sexy.
"Why were you thinking that, Bella," Jasper asked.
"Well, obviously I'm not going to make food choices without you," she said, her confidence wavering just a fraction as she cast her beautiful eyes downward. "But, I like syrup to really taste like maple. To me, the fancy is called that just to attract tourists to a weak-flavored version."
Don chuckled. "We've got a live one here, don't we boys?"
I tried not to roll my eyes, but was at least glad he was being an equal opportunist in his condescension. Jasper and I would always be boys to the old man.
"Bella," Jasper said. "I'd agree with you at least nine times out of ten. But, that's why I wanted you to do a tasting at Miller's." He smiled at Don, who nodded back in recognition of the subtle complement.
"Why don't we start with our fancy," Don said, pouring four shot glasses from one of his jugs. When he put down the bottle, we each took a glass and Don offered his cheers.
I enjoyed my taste, but I enjoyed watching Bella's reaction more. She took her sip politely, not like a crazy, college girl would knock one back in a bar, but like a lady might sip a bit of tea. As the amber liquid met her lips, however, her politely interested expression changed. Her eyes closed as she drank more deeply. As she finished the nip, she smiled in appreciation. A small drop of syrup fell on her bottom lip. Thankfully, she licked it off before my own base urges made me attempt to do so myself.
"Oh my," Bella said. "I've never had syrup like that before."
"That's because you've never had mine, dearie." Don said with a wink. If I didn't know better I'd swear he had just taken a shot of something else. "Sweet stuff, huh?"
She smiled back at him, apparently charmed. "Liquid gold," she replied.
After that we tried the other two varieties. Each time I watched Bella intently as she tasted, thankful that she wanted to savor the syrup with her eyes closed.
"So, you still want to go dark on the wholesale then?" Don asked with a twinkle in his eye.
Bella smiled and turned to Jasper. "What would you think about putting fancy and dark on the tables and letting the guests choose?"
Jasper nodded. "Sounds good, boss."
At this Bella laughed. "Okay, Don," she said to the old timer. "What do we need to do to set up an account?"
"Well, I guess I'm going to need to take down all your financials," Don replied. "Let me get out a form."
With that he pulled out a napkin from his back pocket and he led Bella to the far corner of the table, away from the many, now empty shot glasses that still had drops of syrup on them.
As Bella gave Don her name and contact information, Jasper sidled up to me. Quietly, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Tell you what," I responded. Since I couldn't bear to pull my gaze away from the back of Bella's figure, I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. But I decided to play dumb anyway.
"You know," Jasper said, elbowing me gently in the side.
"I wasn't going to just tell you how gorgeous she was," I said.
"That's not what I meant," he replied.
Finally I turned to him. "Am I being too obvious? Do you think it might be creeping her out?"
Jasper nodded his head in disbelief; I wasn't sure how to interpret his expression.
"Dude," he said finally. "I think looking at all those road drawings has made you go blind. She's obviously crazy about you."
Does Jasper see things betterthan Edward? Do you think Bella's creeped out by Edward's attention, or is she blind, too?
How many of you have chickens?
Who knows the "biscuit" line?
What's your favorite grade of maple?
I've based the description of the fancy Bella tries on my favorite RL sugarer, and I'm happy to share who that is in exchange for a review.