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Clutching her purse, portfolio, and a pair of heels, Kate locked the door of her upstairs apartment and jogged to her car parked down the street. She was meeting Ben Sklar at The Nines in twenty-five minutes, and she was determined to be on time. Things have definitely changed. Kate’s life in New York became unbearable—the chaotic frenzy of the city, her overindulgence in work, her relationships with women who either could not commit, or couldn’t sit still. Though she still thought of Darcy, how much she wanted it to work. But the constant traveling, the ephemeral rendezvous, the cancellations, the absences…it all just added up to too much.
San Francisco’s cityscape basked in the hazy summer sun. She’s only been here a month and a half, but she’s falling in love with the city. Not a bad setup either—a one-bedroom on the ‘good’ side of Market, networking with gallery owners downtown, yoga classes, and the convertible old Chevy she’s always wanted. Even if it’s a bit more battered than she had hoped for, it makes her happy.
“Come on baby,” she says, turning the key in the ignition. After a few coughs, the ’56 Chevy sputters to life. Kate turns on her portable radio (the one in the car only plays a cosmetic role). She pulls out onto Market, heading downtown.
Traffic holes her up at a busy intersection. The light here takes forever to change. Looking to her left, Kate sees a car with two men. They’re talking, smiling at one another. The passenger giggles coyly as the driver playfully tossles his hair. She imagines this is their first date: how adorable they are in this new knowledge of one another. To her right is an elderly couple in a Mercedes. Dressed formally, they do not talk, but look straight ahead, almost silently urging the light to change. Kate smiles to herself, appreciating how eclectic this city is in its denizens, its polar opposites. And yet, she appears to be in the middle.
Still five minutes left as she pulls up to the valet. The stocky valet compliments Kate on the car, telling her she looks to be the perfect ‘California girl.’ She smiles at this irony, thanking him for the compliment. She hands the valet her keys and eases into her high heels. As the door to the restaurant is opened for her, she can already see Ben at a nearby table.
‘He’s early, damnit,’ she mutters, looking at her watch and smoothing her dress. He sits at a table for two, perusing the menu, a glass of wine already before him. Kate is approached by the maitre d’ and escorted to Sklar’s table. He rises to receive her, shaking her hand warmly.
‘So this is the famous Kate I’ve heard so much about. It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ Ben smiles into her eyes, Kate noticing his eyes leisurely trailing along her body. She removes her light sweater, sitting down nervously. Roger had told her of this ‘reputable’ gallery owner, but she had no idea he’d be so creepy.
‘Thank you, Mr. Sklar. I….’ Kate began.
‘Please,’ he interrupts, touching her hand, ‘call me Ben.’
‘Very well, Ben,’ Kate smiles, ‘Roger had wonderful things to say about you as well.’
‘How do you like San Francisco? Quite a change from New York, isn’t it?’ He fills her glass with Merlot.
‘Yes, it’s refreshing actually,’ she answers, opening the menu. ‘The architecture here is amazing, and the weather couldn’t be more perfect.’ She wishes he’d get to talking about the gallery already; this is supposed to be a business dinner.
‘Well, this city has its unique qualities—hope you don’t mind the women looking at you as much as the men,’ Ben chuckles to himself, taking a sip of his wine.
Kate bites her tongue and pretends to ignore his comment as she studies the menu. ‘The Alaskan salmon sounds wonderful.’ She raises her portfolio, placing it on the table.
The kitchen was picking up pace—orders trickling in, as the dinner crowd began to show. Mike, the executive chef, ran to get the phone. He is a stout man you’d expect to see featured as an extra on The Sopranos—though his foul mouth was no indication of the miracles he performed with raw food and heat. He didn’t fit in with San Francisco or its inhabitants. But for his culinary skill and expertise, the price was right and The Nines fought to get him here.
‘What?! I can’t hear you, speak up!’ he yelled into the receiver. The dinner rush was characterized by the sounds of the radio above the dishwasher’s station, various pots and pans clanging, and general kitchen melee necessary for proper coordination. Mike’s face contorted, his teeth showing. He shot a quick glare to the dishwasher, indicating to turn down the music. It was done…immediately.
‘I’ll tell ya what, ya drunk piece of shit…’ he screamed into the phone, ‘Why don’t you take the rest of the goddamn YEAR off, cuz you’re not coming back into MY kitchen!’ he slammed the phone down. Looking around hurriedly, he assessed the damage. It would still be a while until the kitchen was at its most chaotic.
Mike walked down the line, criticizing and complimenting his crew—mostly Hispanic men who could cook any celebrity chef under the table. He only bahis firmaları hired two women—Sara, the homely patissier, was currently swamped in her corner of the kitchen, torching ramekins filled with custard. And Ryan—a small-framed butch woman who could hold her own on the line. He didn’t care for her lifestyle, but she was fast, accurate, and reliable. She knew her stuff.
He stopped behind her, watching her stir the near-perfect risotto. ‘Ryan, you’re on grill tonight. Manny’s out.’
Again? she thought, still stirring. Manny was a nice guy, and a good grill man. He’d just had problems keeping it together these last couple weeks. Glancing over her shoulder at the grill, she saw Armando wiping his brow, looking confused as he tried to coordinate the five filets in front of him. She nodded to Mike, and walked over to replace Armando.
‘Hey Armo,’ she said, slapping her small hand playfully on his mountainous shoulder, ‘I’ll take it from here…Mike wants you on the line tonight.’
He took off his cap, his head sweaty from the open flame of the grill. He spoke little English, but seemed to understand it, as he always followed instructions perfectly. Nonetheless, he looked at Ryan and said simply, ‘muy caliente’ before walking away.
Ryan surveyed her new station…various cuts of meat cooling in the low boy underneath, hotel pans of several dry rubs to her left, garnish and sauces to her right, tongs and spatula hanging within easy reach. She stood a mere 5’3” tall, probably 110 pounds or so. From behind, she looked like a petite man, especially in her skull cap, which covered her short black hair, shaved and faded in the back. Ryan’s eyes, however, were remarkable. They looked hard, like she’d seen and put up with a lot. And tired, with grayish circles appearing around them—a clear sign of working too hard. But their color, a hazel-green, carried such a striking air of beauty, of utter femininity. She gave a quick glance at the clock. 6:20. Time would fly tonight.
And soon enough she was swamped with tickets. She had 15 cuts of beef and fish before her, her attention tuned to know their various degrees of doneness. She was in her rhythm now, thinking of hitting a bar after work, getting a beer, shooting some pool…
‘Refire, please,’ squeaked a runner, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. He stood erect, holding a plate that contained a perfectly cooked filet mignon. ‘Customer said it’s not cooked enough.’
Ryan, clearly annoyed, snatched the filet with her tongs. She tossed it onto a slow spot on the grill, giving it more fire. It was a little pink—perfect for medium in her opinion–but she was careful not to overcook and dry it out. She returned the filet back to the runner, still attending to her grill.
‘Here you are, sir,’ the waiter said, placing the refired filet in front of Ben. ‘I apologize. It should now be cooked to your liking.’ The waiter filled their wine glasses as Ben picked up his fork and knife, scrutinizing the filet.
Kate watched, sitting in front of a beautiful plate of Alaskan salmon, which was now getting cold because of Ben’s complaint. She casually glanced at her watch under the table.
He sliced into the meat, shaking his head. ‘Tell the chef I want it well done,’ he said, handing it back. The waiter apologized again, hauling off the plate for another refire.
Ben had flitted through Kate’s now closed portfolio, and was now talking freely about his own opinions of art. He was on his third glass of wine; Kate had only one. He didn’t seem bothered by the steak being underdone, as if he was the sort of person who complained a lot, and was used to others ruefully trying to please him.
‘Please eat, Kate. They’re usually very good here, but every once in a while….’ he trailed off. He gestured for her to continue eating without him. She felt uncomfortable with this, as it wasn’t polite. But at the same time, she was hungry, and didn’t want this dinner that was already socially uncomfortable to drag on longer than it had to. Fork in hand, she tasted the garlic cream potatoes.
‘Who the HELL orders filet mignon WELL DONE?’ snapped Ryan, as she snatched the steak once again with her tongs, tossing it onto the grill in a burst of flame.
‘It’s that art critic guy,’ chimed the runner defensively, ‘ he comes in a lot.’
Ryan dashed past the line to get a look around the corner at the floor. Large crowd tonight, which was nice. Everyone seemed to be happy with their food. The runner pointed Ben out to Ryan. But her eyes landed on Kate, who looked nervously polite, eating capriciously in front of Ben, who was now talking to the manager and probably weaseling another bottle of wine on account of his steak being ‘cooked incorrectly’. Poor girl, Ryan thought. Though something about her didn’t look like the usual type of woman Ben Sklar dated.
‘You takin’ care of these, Ryan?’ called Scott, the sous chef. He was standing at the grill, tongs in hand, pointing at the filets. “The one in the corner looks like shit…it’s on the verge of well.”
‘It’s Sklar’s,’ she responded, walking up and taking kaçak iddaa the tongs from him. She plated the filet—now evenly brown in the middle—shaking her head. She personally made sure that the other components on the plate were perfectly cooked, beautifully arranged.
Kate tipped the valet and settled into the seat of her car, relieved that dinner was finally over. She couldn’t believe the audacity of that man—first to eye her so lasciviously, then to complain not once but TWICE about his food, which was fine to begin with! It was still early—only 7:30pm. She wasn’t tired, but didn’t feel like calling friends. She checked her cell phone—3 messages. It’s probably Kim, a woman she met a few months ago at a gallery opening in Seattle. Kim has lived in San Francisco most of her life, as an openly gay woman. She befriended Kate in Seattle, even though romance wasn’t really in the equation. But since Kate had moved here, they had been seeing a lot of one another, and while they hadn’t slept together yet, the potential was definitely there.
‘Hi sweetie,’ mused Kim on the voicemail, ‘just wondering if you wanted to grab a bite to eat, and maybe watch a movie. Oh wait…you have that dinner thing with Sklar. I forgot. Well, give me a call when you get in. Maybe we can figure something out for later. Bye.’ Kate could hear the smile in her voice in the message. She was suddenly excited to see Kim, to hear her voice in her ear, feel her touch on her cheek….
The other two messages would have to wait. Kate took a detour. Instead of turning to go home, she hung a left and headed toward Kim’s. She stopped at Pain de Mie, Kim’s favorite bakery, where she purchased her favorite dessert—tiramisu. Back in the car, she drove through the night, now painted in foggy shades of purples and oranges in the setting sun. She turned on Clayton, looking up at Kim’s apartment. It looked like a light was on, though she couldn’t see her car anywhere on the street. Kate parked on Belvedere, walking the block and a half to Kim’s place.
A man from the same building was walking out as Kate walked up the steps. He held the door for her. She thanked him, smiling to herself, thinking how she could surprise Kim now that she didn’t have to ring in. Tiramisu in hand, she ascended the flight of stairs to the second floor one bedroom apartment.
Kate moved to knock, then thought she’d try the knob first. It opened easily; Kim must be here. Coming from New York, Kate thought it strange that one could just leave their apartment door unlocked like this. But Kim had insisted she’d been doing it for years, that the building she lived in was so safe, her neighbors trustworthy. Nonetheless, Kate entered quietly. She closed the door, slipping off her shoes in the foyer.
She peeked into the kitchen, which was dark. But a light was on in the living room. Kate peered around the corner as she entered. The place was immaculate—the hardwood floors polished, covered by an area rug. She smiled, touching the cushion of the couch-futon, thinking of how Kim had kissed her here only a few days ago. Things would hopefully be going much further tonight. Her eyes then caught something odd in the dim light—a messenger bag near the bookcase. Not that that in itself was strange, but it had a small rainbow patch on the corner. Kim had been discussing her ‘rainbow theory’ the other day, saying she believed in its symbolism, but didn’t feel the need to advertise her sexuality.
A noise sounded in the adjacent room. Kate turned her attention from the messenger bag to the bedroom door, which was halfway open. Low music tones were now audible, a jazz cd perhaps. But there was more. Voices.
Kate approached steadily, feelings of fear and guilt in her stomach. Should she be doing this, sneaking up on Kim in her apartment? It’s not like they are in a committed relationship. But what was going on in that room? As she drew nearer, the sounds became more defined…kissing, moaning, sucking. Kate stood at the bedroom entrance, spying through the space between the jamb and the edge of the door.
Kim was lying naked on the bed, head arched back, moaning softly. A long-haired brunette woman lay between her legs, supporting Kim’s thighs and ass in her hands. She kissed Kim’s inner thighs eagerly, Kim’s hands moving to her head, guiding her where she wanted most to be kissed. The woman flipped her hair back quickly, then planted her face firmly between Kim’s legs. Kim’s moans grew in volume and frequency.
‘Oh Jenna….you know exactly what I want…’
Apparently this Jenna did, asserting a muffled response. Her tongue was now clacking away, head moving slowly, Kim’s hips thrusting into her face. Kate, watching in astonishment, was actually quite aroused by this sight. Jealousy and hurt had poked her in the ribs, but these women were so in tune with one another, so incredibly sensual. It was strangely beautiful to watch.
Jenna…the name sounded so familiar. Had Kim mentioned her before? But the answer revealed itself immediately, as a slim, though obviously aroused black man appeared by the bedside. For fuck’s sake, he looked kaçak bahis like a tripod. Patrick! It’s Jenna and Patrick—Kim’s next door neighbors….
Kim’s figure, which now lay askew on the bed, was blocked by Patrick, who appeared to be…oh God…rubbing his cock all over her face. Kate watched in disbelief, the level of her arousal sinking, that of hurt rising quickly. She didn’t want to see any more of this. It was bad enough hearing his repeated demands of ‘suck it baby…yeah…more’. She retreated slowly, edging her way out of the small space in which she had been standing. An audible crinkle made her stop suddenly and look down. The bag with the tiramisu was now underneath her naked foot…some of it squished between her toes and onto the wood floor. In horror, she looked back through the door jamb into the bedroom…positions had certainly changed, though it didn’t seem as they’d heard anything. Kate smirked…. ‘such wonderful neighbors’…. ‘they’re so accepting of me as a woman, as a lesbian’. Kim was so full of shit. Slowly walking on her heels, Kate eased her way out of the apartment. Kim can clean up the tiramisu herself; it was the only mess she could fix as far as Kate was concerned.
The tears didn’t come until she got to her car. She sat at the wheel, not knowing where to go, what to do with herself. In a city that seemed so welcoming, she suddenly felt so horribly alone.
‘Hey hey, there she is,’ the edgy femme bartender said with a sly smile. ‘We were just talking about you. How ya been, chef?’
Ryan walked into Violets Are Blue, a well-known lesbian bar (more of a dive, actually) in the city. She smiled tiredly at the small group of women who had turned to greet her from the bar. Others throughout the dim, red-tinged room had noticed her entrance as well…butches, femmes, and many in-betweens all seemed to find her attractive, or at least alluring.
‘No complaints…just workin’ hard,’ she replied, walking up to the wall and taking a cue and a worn square of chalk. Bikini Kill was playing on the jukebox, and Ryan gave a little shake of her hips as she gathered everything up. She approached the pool table, which still had a tear in the fabric, precisely where the cue ball goes. Putting her index finger lightly under the torn piece, she smiled at the bartender.
‘I know…we’ve been meaning to get that fixed. Don’t go making it any bigger now,’ the sassy bartender remarked. She turned around for a second then held up a cold Heineken, raising an eyebrow at Ryan.
Ryan removed her finger, smoothing over the tear. ‘You know I like them small, Sadie,’ she said with a wink. Nodding at the Heineken, she walked up to the bar. For someone so petite, she carried herself in such a confident, easy-going manner. Now in her jeans and black hoodie, she had the air of an arrogant adolescent boy…even though she was fast approaching 30. Something in the electricity of her eyes.
At the end of the bar, a tall redheaded woman had been sitting, had been staring hard at Ryan since she entered. Ryan had noticed, but acted as if she hadn’t. Now she had no choice, as the beer was inches from the woman’s own drink. The other women and the bartender were now engaged in another conversation…something about the closing of one of the lesbian clubs in town. As Ryan went to retrieve the bottle, the redhead laid her hand gently over Ryan’s. Underneath the bar, her other hand went to the crotch of Ryan’s jeans…lightly caressing, then questioningly squeezing.
‘You’re not packing tonight, baby?’ she whispered in a sultry tone. ‘Ted’s away on business. And I’ve missed you so much….you were always so good to me….’
‘I’m just here to shoot some pool, Laura,’ Ryan said somewhat dismissively. They had a fling about a year ago. Two months into it, she found out Laura was married…found out the hard way. They were in Laura’s bed one late afternoon (why was it always at such odd times?), Ryan driving that strap-on cock deep into Laura’s wet pussy. She thought she heard something, but Laura had her legs locked hard around her, and her moaning…God how her moaning could drive Ryan wild. Laura’s betrothed turned out to be a massive block of a man, with a temper to match. Ryan barely recollects the vulgarities of the scene, but remembers the consequences–losing her job at Canonne (missing too much work from the broken ribs) and the black eye that never quite seemed to fade, not to mention the pleading phone calls from Laura. Seeing Laura in the bar always seemed to bring it back so vividly; it made her ribs hurt again.
Ryan lifted her hand out from under Laura’s, looking into her eyes briefly. She then looked down, took the beer off the bar and walked toward the pool table. Laura’s hand fell limply away from Ryan as she moved from her. Placing the beer down, Ryan scattered the balls on the table blindly, rolling the cue ball to a random spot to begin some practice shots. She leaned over and slid the cue between her fingers, it rubbing against a fresh burn on the middle finger of her right hand. Wincing, she lined up her first shot. Through her black hair that had lightly fallen over her right eye, as her hair was growing longer on top, she saw the rebuffed Laura leave the bar. Scratch. Straightening up, she took a swig of her beer, the bottle’s condensation soothing the burn.
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