Part Three

From the Story Arc: Shyfting Perceptions

Previous Story in the Arc: Part 1 by Shyft (Wednesday, October 26, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Part 5 by Shyft (Monday, November 14, 2005)

(posted Friday, October 28, 2005)

Part Two can be found on the RP congress board, written by Hegemon.

Special credit and thanks to VickyVee with some of the intersperced parts with Thea

Althea was always the one to check the answering machine. For some reason Alexei breezed right by it every time he came in the door. Usually the messages were for him, but this time--

The message from Comrade Shyft made her eyes open wide and her lips curve up in amusement. Shyft? Cooking? She had been in Shyft's apartment in Founder's Falls, bringing another box of her handmade chocolate-dipped brandied cherries in person. On that occasion she had reason to be in the kitchen, and it was spotless and barren as if no one lived there.

And now Shyft wanted to cook a Russian meal for a man...

"Oh blin!" she laughed, eyes twinkling with merriment. "Poor Shyft!"

Well first things first. Tools. Fortunately Thea knew exactly where to get them. Alexei's apartment had been as barren of the requirements for a good cook, and while browsing the online stores looking for good cheap professional kitchen equipment, she had sighed over the offerings in "Chef's Lair" in Founder's Falls.

And they delivered.

And they had a registry.

Quickly, she registered Shyft and made a list of the basics, which included a good, comprehensively stocked spice-rack.

Then she emailed CeCe with the registry and password.

"Buy everything on that list, CeCe," she wrote. "You would not scrimp on lab equipment: this is your lab equipment. And all of this will last a lifetime even if you abuse it and use the skillet to do things skillets

were never intended to do." It should. Heavy copper-bottomed stainless and cast iron...Thea's mother had a lovely cast-iron pot that had been passed down through five generations of cooks.

She left a brief message "CeCe, check your email" on Shyft's answering machine, and went to check her recipe book for the ones her mother had taught her first. "Simple. Something a man will like," she mused, brows furrowed, then corrected, "Something American man will like." American men did not like fish, in general, and almost every Russian man did. "And something that will not be ruined by overcooking." Which also let out fish. "Perhaps that can be made in advance...." This would take the panic out of the situation on the day.

But Shyft had been a godsend. She had brought Alexei home. Thea could never do enough for her now, and this was one small chance to pay her back.

----- ----- -----

Shyft sat at her workbench, staring at the pile of components that made up her Starshine Suit. It would be the suit that took her to the stars. Now it would be the suit that took her away. Rubbing her eyes with her forefinger and thumb, her ears perked, hearing the familiar "ding" of new mail. She quickly scanned the note from Thea. Her curiosity piqued, she hit the link and dove out to the website. Thea was thorough, she had to admit. She had seen all of these pieces in the various cooking shows she had watched in the last day trying to prepare for the meal. She wasn't sure what most of them were for, but they certainly looked impressive. "If this is what I need, then this is what I need." Shrugging, CeCe entered her credit card information, and checked the box for emergency delivery. She would have them by this evening.

Returning to her suit, she began to run seal diagnostic checks. She had been stressing the suit with trial runs to the Shadow Shard. Everything came back nominal. It was spaceworthy. Question was, "Was she?"

----- ----- -----

Thea bent to the heavy, handwritten book of recipes with all the intensity she had ever put to studying the Nagy family grimoire, or Commissar Fei Li's martial arts exercises.

Several phone calls later to Bella--the only American she knew who cooked at all--ascertained several more important items.

American men did not like beets. So. No beet salad nor borscht.

American men liked meat and potatoes, in general, and loved fried things. Well. This fried business she knew, but she was not going to set CeCe to breading and frying anything. Later perhaps, but not now;

that was a sure path to a kitchen fire in the hands of an inexperienced and flustered cook.

Everything would be baked as much as possible, except for the salad, which could be cut up in advance and bagged. CeCe's oven was a very sophisticated one with a timer, handy to prevent disasters. Most

of it could be baked in advance. And for desert? Thea's own brandied cherries over ice cream. No one was allergic to cherries as far as Thea knew. And it would be very hard even for Seraphic Flame to bungle that.

A second email went out to CeCe, instructing her to pay the grocery deliveryman when he arrived with the materials---enough for several failures. And for CeCe to call when tools and food had arrived for her lesson.

Then, at last, the hard part. Russian recipes rewritten painstakingly for a physicist. Every step noted. Every measurement exact. No "pinches," no "dashes," no "handfuls."

Finally, she was ready. The question was, would CeCe be?

----- ----- -----

The deliveryman smiled at the pair of twenties Shyft pressed into his palm before closing the door. She turned and faced the mound of boxes and bags that filled the elegant marble-floored entry parlor to her home. Both deliverymen had arrived within minutes of each other, and it looked as if she was just moving in.

She was able to put away the groceries easily, as her cabinets and fridge were mostly empty. The cookware was another matter entirely. CeCe's kitchen was very modern. Everything was brushed aluminum, glass or gloss white. Large cabinets with featureless doors, huge empty counters and a professional sized island in the center had all been selling points from the perspective of the realtor. The large wine cabinet and automatic ice dispenser in the double sized fridge had been the only things she had really noticed.

She lifted the handset of the kitchen phone and dialed. "Thea? It has arrived."

----- ----- -----

The two women stood in the midst of the kitchen. Piles of dirty pans, several blackened, sat in the sink. A light dusting of flour covered far more surfaces than needed, a side effect of CeCe's attempts at sifting. Although Thea was immaculate except for a few spots on her apron; Shyft looked like a bakery truck had run her down.

In the midst of the chaos, an immaculate meal sat on trays in the center island of Shyft's kitchen. "I told you, you could do it." Thea smirked at the senior hero. Shyft may have been worldlier, but she had been near tears when they first started. Several attempts at browning boiled baby potatoes had turned into pan fires. The first roast was more akin to shoe leather than meat. It had taken some coaxing, some reassuring and a little bit of laughter, but CeCe was beginning to find her way in the kitchen. She still had years to go, but it was a start. "You are the wonderworker, Shyft. You can do anything."

CeCe laughed. "No. I am a good scientist. Is just science. This - " She waved her hand over the meal. "This is amazing. Thank you." Shyft leaned over and hugged Althea tightly. "I could not have done this without you."

"This man. He means much to you, da?"

Shyft allowed herself a small laugh. "Enough to get me in the kitchen."

Thea took a roll of aluminum foil and handed it to CeCe. "Cover them. I will write up cards with instructions to reheat them. Just follow the cards directly." Pulling a stack of note cards out of her apron pocket and a pen from the drawer, Thea began writing. "So.....what are you going to wear?"

"It is hanging on the back of my bathroom door. I have not worn it since Renaldo made it for me."

Still scribbling, Thea crossed the house to the master bedroom, and entered the master bath. On the back of the door was a spectacular maroon bangled minidress with a plunging neckline and flared sleeves.

"It is gorgeous, but I thought this was supposed to be a casual dinner."

Shyft smiled. "It is darlink! It is. Just because it is casual does not mean I cannot look fabulous."

Thea came back to the kitchen and placed the cards on the foiled trays after slipping them into the fridge. "I am thinkink you are ready, CeCe."

Shyft smiled and hugged Thea again. "I cannot thank you enough. I could have not done this without you." She went over to the bulletin board next to her phone and pulled off an envelope. "I hope you do not think it forward of me, but i was always taught to be gracious." She held out the envelope, allowing Thea to see the "Chef's Lair" logo on it. "It is a token of thanks."

Thea blushed, held her hands out and shook her head. "CeCe, I could not possibly...I..."

Shyft took Althea's hands and pressed the card into her palm. "If you will not take it as a 'thank you' for helping me, then take it as an early wedding gift for you and Alexei. I will not take no for an answer."
Her jaw set and Thea saw there would be no arguing with her. "An early wedding present then. You have already done so much..." The two women embraced. "Now get yourself ready. He will be here in a few hours, no?"

----- ----- -----

Shyft reclined in the hot tub, relishing the scent of lavender and vanilla. The dinner was ready. The movie was chosen. Now it was just a matter of waiting for Hegemon. Hopefully the rest of the night would be easier than making the meal.