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Archive for the 'Season 7' Category

Season 7, Episode 10

September 25, 2012

Ana was sitting in the living room staring absently at the page in front of her. She’d read the same paragraph four times and sighed, frustrated, closing the book and tossing it onto the sofa.

“You OK?” Willow was perched at the table doing some kind of spreadsheet for her business.

“Yeah,” Ana said. “Just bored. And restless.”

Willow smiled sympathetically. “No news from any of the jobs you applied for?”

“Nothing,” Ana grumbled. “Not even a rejection email.”

Willow closed her laptop. “Why don’t we do something today,” she said suddenly. “Head out of town somewhere?”

“Like where?”

“How about that place over the bridge. The one everyone seems to go for lunch on the weekends. What’s it called again?”

“Sausalito?”

“That’s it!” Willow exclaimed. “We can hire a car for the afternoon and drive over. What do you think?”

Ana shrugged. It’s not like she had anything better to do. “Sure.”

***

As it turned out, the didn’t hire a car, but ended up going down to Fisherman’s Wharf and catching the ferry across. They sat outside on the deck, sunglasses, suncream, scarves and heavy jackets firmly in place. San Francisco. The ultimate city of contradiction. Even more so than on dry land, out here in the middle of the bay it felt as though two completely different temperatures were battling for supremacy: The icy wind competing with the fabled Californian sun. At this stage, both girls felt as though the wind were winning easily, the huge ball of fire in the sky waging no more than an anaemic campaign.

Ana bought them each a cup of hot tea, more to warm their frozen hands than to drink, and they watched as the landmark rich landscape slipped by: Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the funny pointy building that neither of them knew the name of…

“Excuse me ladies?”

Willow and Ana looked up. Standing in front of them were two affable yet predictable looking chaps dressed in sensible clothing, eager expressions on their college-boy faces. Baseball caps proclaiming allegiance to what the girls’ supposed where sporting teams were perched loyally on their heads.

“Mind if we take a seat?” one of them said. He had a drawling mid-west accent, so in actual fact it sounded as though he’d said “Mahnd if way tayke a sayt.”

Ana and Willow looked around at the almost-empty deck of the ferry. There were about fifty other chairs they could have occupied.

“We’re on vacation,” the friend – with similar tonality (“way’re on vay-cay-shon”) – said, as if that would explain their desire to sit in such close proximity to Ana and Willow.

“How pleasant for you,” Ana said calmly, “and as much as we hope you enjoy your vacation, we don’t, in fact, wish to play a significant role in shaping it.”

“Huh?” The two boys looked at each other. One scratched his head, as though that would somehow arrange the words into a semblance of order for him.

Willow coughed to try and hide the laugher that bubbled up in her throat.

“What I’m trying to say,” Ana continued patiently, “Is that we think you would probably enjoy yourselves a lot more without our company.”

The boys looked a bit put out but had the good grace to know when they were fighting a losing battle.

“I thaynk thay must be les-bee-ans,” Willow and Ana heard one of the young men whisper to the other as they walked away. The two boys turned to look back with curiosity and Willow waved coyly, putting her hand on Ana’s knee, trying not to laugh when one nudged the other and gave him a look: ‘I told you so!’

“You didn’t want to be fawned over by college boys today did you?” Ana said. “Because if so, I wouldn’t have told them to leave us alone.”

“I don’t think I ever want to be fawned by anyone ever again,” Willow said, with far more brevity than she had intended.

Ana smiled at her and gave her hand a quick squeeze.

“Do you ever think about Tom?” Willow said suddenly.

Ana looked at her surprised. “Of course I do.”

“You never talk about him,” Willow said. “I just wondered…” she shrugged.

“I can’t stop thinking about him,” Ana admitted, sighing. “But I know that he wasn’t making me happy, so in that regard it was the right thing to do.”

“Who do you think will make you happy?”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to find a guy that makes me completely happy,” Ana said. “I’m now convinced that I’m going to end up all alone. Maybe with lots of cats.”

“You hate cats.”

Ana shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll learn to love them because I’ll be incapable of loving a man.”

Willow laughed. “Tell you what, we can be spinsters together – with or without the cats – because I don’t think I’m ever going to be ready for another relationship.”

Ana solemnly lifted her paper cup with the now lukewarm tea in it. “Here’s to us,” she said. “Two spinsters in the making.”

***

They had lunch in European style pizza restaurant overlooking the water. It was next to a small yacht club, where the Sausiltians – or honorary weekend Sausilitians – keep their marine craft tied to a long wooden jetty when they weren’t using them. Over here, the warm sunshine reigned supreme. The  food was delectable – the pizza crust wafer thin, the toppings fresh and flavoursome and both Ana and Willow felt a sense of peace fall over them as they sat, listening to the waves lap gently against the jetty, slowly eating their food.

Ana was about to take another bite of pizza when she looked up and paused. “Willow, isn’t that Fred?”

“Where?”

“Over there.”

Ana pointed out towards the end of the jetty, where a man was walking slowly back towards the shore. He had a jumper tied over his shoulders and he carried what looked like a picnic basket.

Willow squinted. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m pretty sure it is.”

Walking next to him was a woman, her short auburn hair gently caressed by the wind. She carried a pair of shoes in her hand, treading carefully over the wooden slats of the jetty with her bare feet. She threw her head back and laughed at something Fred said.

“Who’s the lady with him?” Ana said. “His sister or something?”

They watched as Fred put the picnic basket down and wrapped his arms around the woman, embracing her in a long, passionate kiss. He whispered something in her ear, to which she smiled, staring deeply into his eyes for a moment, before pulling him back towards her, and kissing him again.

“I really hope that isn’t his sister,” Ana said. “That would be too gross.” She paused and took a bite of her pizza. “I didn’t know he had a girlfriend. You never told us.”

“I didn’t know he did,” Willow said. She was as surprised as Ana. Fred had never mentioned any woman, except his ex-wife. But she was still in his ex-house in New York bunkered up with his ex-best friend.

“I would have sworn that he had the hots for you.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “Well hopefully now you can see that’s not true.”

“Maybe he’s a polygamist,” Ana said mischievously, “and he’s grooming you to be his next wife?”

Willow groaned. “I don’t think that’s likely.”

As Fred and his companion walked along the jetty, closer to where the girls where sitting, Willow raised her hand to wave at them.

“Oh my god,” she said, almost under her breath, a frown creasing her face. She dropped her hand.

“What? What is it?”

“I know her!”

“Who?”

“The lady that Fred’s with.”

“You’ve met her?” Ana said. “Who is she?”

“She’s the lady from the bank,” Willow said slowly. “The one who wouldn’t give us the loan.”

“Seriously?” Ana peered at the woman. “Are you positive?”

Willow nodded her head.

“What the hell is Fred doing kissing her then?” Ana said furiously.

“I don’t know,” Willow said, shaking her head in bewilderment. “I have absolutely no idea.”

 

***

 

Ravenous will be taking a break for a few weeks. We’ll see you soon with Season 8. Thanks for reading.

Season 7, episode 9

September 18, 2012

“Wake up! Wake up!”

Johnny stirred, opening his eyes. Someone was knocking on the door to their bedroom. “Yeah?”

Willow poked her head in. “It’s almost ten,” she said. “We’re going to have a picnic in Dolores Park, so you guys have to get up!” She stopped and looked around. “Where’s Mia?”

Johnny rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Bathroom?”

Sure enough, the running tap down the hall stopped and Mia stepped out of the bathroom.

“You OK?” Willow asked. “You look a bit pale.”

“Didn’t sleep well,” Mia said. “Still tired I guess.”

“Well perk up! We’re going to have a picnic!”

“Oh, cool,” Mia said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “Let me just have a shower and throw some clothes on.”

“Hurry,” Willow said. “It’s such a gorgeous day at the moment, but who knows how long it’ll stay like this.”

***

Thirty minutes later, the four friends were loaded up with blankets, suncream, an esky (although, over here it was called a cooler) and a picnic basket, which Willow had heaped full with delicious goodies. They walked to Dolores Park, enjoying the sights and sounds of San Francisco on a sunny weekend.

They found a perfect spot towards the top of the park, the slope of the lush green grass giving them a spectacular view across the city and out towards the bay. Mia and Johnny set up blankets as Ana and Willow started unloading everything.

“Crap!” Willow exclaimed, having searched through all their bags. “I made a chocolate cake, but I’ve left it at home.”

“Oh well, we can have it for afternoon tea,” Ana said, pulling the lid of one of the containers and looking inside. Kale salad. Yum!

“But now we have no dessert!” For Willow, a meal was not a meal without at least one type of dessert.

“It’s OK,” Ana consoled her. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“No, no. You guys unload this stuff and I’ll run over the Bi-Rite and grab something.” Willow leaped up and, throwing her handbag over her shoulder, headed down the hill towards the compact gourmet store on 18th. The others shrugged, knowing that you could not reason with Willow when she had a strategically planned meal in her head.

***

Willow was so focused on the task at hand that she didn’t see the young man walking slowly in front of her until it was too late. She collided with him and they both fell to the ground, the man dropping the basket he was carrying.

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said, scrambling up.

“Hey, not to worry,” he said, smiling affably at her. He picked up the basket, examining the contents, smiling when they were obviously undamaged. “You don’t want to buy some brownies, do you?”

“Brownies?”

“Yeah, chocolate brownies. I make them myself. They’re special brownies.”

Willow raised an eyebrow. She doubted this young – albeit very cute – man could make brownies that were anywhere near as special as her own, with their gooey centre, crispy shell and surprise explosions of dark chocolate and hazelnut. But she had just run into him, and she did need dessert.

“What kind of brownies?”

He looked at her puzzled. “Like I said, they’re special brownies.”

“I meant what flavour are they,” Willow explained. Seriously, American vernacular was sometimes really weird.

“Oh right, I dig it. Chocolate.”

She looked into the basket at the individually wrapped brownies. They did look pretty good, she had to admit. Moist and rich.

“Ok then,” she said. “I’ll take… eight.” They weren’t huge, but two each should be enough, she reasoned.

“All right!” The guy smiled goofily again as he piled eight of the brownies into her handbag. “That’ll be twenty-four dollars.”

Willow was a little shocked at the price, but she justified it by telling herself she was supporting a local sole trader and, to be fair, ingredients were dearer here than in Australia.

She smiled again at the young man before heading back up the hill to her friends.

***

After a feast of salads, bread, cheese and homemade dips, Willow unwrapped the brownies and laid them on a plate, handing them around to the group.

“They’re good,” Ana said. “But… they taste a bit weird, don’t they?”

“They’re probably just American,” Willow said, munching happily on hers. “Different ingredients and stuff.” She popped the last bite into her mouth.

Johnny – who had polished his off in one mouthful – picked up a spare one from the plate and sniffed it. He burst out laughing. “Willow, where did you get these from?”

“A guy was selling them,” she said. “He said they were special…” Her voice trailed off. “Oh my god!”

“What? What is it?” Mia said, looking from Johnny who was in hysterics to Willow who was shaking her head in disbelief.

“Special brownies. They’re hash brownies.”

Ana looked at the partially eaten brownie in her hand and then back at her friends, grinning. “Oh well,” she said, popping the rest of it in her mouth and chewing. “When in Rome…”

***

Not long after, the friends had been joined – or maybe they had joined? – a much larger and extremely eclectic group of people. Johnny had borrowed a guitar from someone and was playing anything by Pink Floyd that he could remember, a couple of others raucously singing along, banging tambourines and clapping sort-of in time to the music. Ana discovered that she could remember how to braid hair and so had taken it upon herself to make sure every member of the group – male, female or other – had a carefully orchestrated plait running the length of their heads. Some people – those whom she deemed worthy – even had small flowers woven through, which she had gone and picked from neighbouring front gardens. Mia was spouting the virtues of Pilates training to anyone who would listen, and had started her own little floorwork class just to the left.

“Imagine that you are peeling you’re spine off the ground like each vertebrae is stuck down with toffee and you have to get it off before the next one will move!”

This had incited peels of laughter and then a sudden need for toffee, so half the ‘class’ had gone on a mission to see if anyone in the park had homemade toffee they were selling.

Willow had cornered the young man who had sold her the brownies and they were exchanging recipes. He was, it turned out, quite the avid chef, and not all his recipes required the addition of marijuana, although all of them could be adapted to suit this purpose if needs be. Willow was fascinated by his ‘special’ roast lamb recipe.

“Great if the in-laws or your boss are coming over for dinner,” he said with a wink.

***

They stayed in the park until well after dark, managing a few more brownies each – “on the house” – and sure enough, when they got home, a huge, delicious chocolate cake was waiting for them, which they devoured in minutes, before piling themselves into their respective beds and falling into deep sleeps, filled with multi-coloured dreams.

***

Mia woke with a start. A faint, watery light was just peeking through the curtains. The rest of the house was still quiet. She felt slightly disoriented for a second, forgetting where she was and what she was doing there. Next to her, Johnny was breathing heavily.

She climbed out of bed as quietly as she could and walked quickly to the bathroom, throwing herself onto the floor and only just managing to lift the toilet seat before the contents of her stomach ungraciously upended themselves. With a shaking hand, she flushed the toilet, sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, her head in her hands. She brushed away the hot tears that were running down her cheeks.

Must have been from yesterday. From the brownies, she reasoned with herself. Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror. The colour was starting to come back to her cheeks, but the sinking feeling that she’d had for almost a week now was stronger than ever. So what was the explanation for throwing up the five mornings before that?

***

Season 7, Episode 8

September 11, 2012

It was all systems go at the little blue house in San Francisco recently inhabited by four Melbournites. Willow had been up since the crack of dawn stirring, whipping and mixing together all kinds of delicious ingredients. She could barely contain her excitement and it showed: the feast being prepared was fit for a king, queen and their entire extended family, in-laws included.

Willow hummed to herself as she layered delicate slices of fresh stone fruit over flan bases filled with homemade custard. On the other side of the kitchen bench, Ana was carefully icing Willow-baked cupcakes and Mia was cutting up fruit for a luscious fresh fruit salad, to which Johnny was adding finely chopped mint. In the oven, several quiches – filled with mushroom, goats cheese, French ham and thick cream – were browning perfectly, the smells wafting across the kitchen and throughout the rest of the house.

“Did I tell you about the great idea that he came up with about how we’re going to move to coffee carts around?” Willow gushed breathlessly, as she carefully placed the final piece of peach down.

“Oh, only about six or seven times,” Ana said good-naturedly. She shared a quick smile with Mia and Johnny, who were doing their best not to laugh.

“Sorry,” Willow said sheepishly. “I’m a bit excited I guess.”

“We’re excited too,” Mia said. “We finally get to meet your mystery business partner!”

“You’re going to love him,” Willow said confidently. “He’s smart and funny and, well, just…”

“Perfect!” they all chorused together.

Willow blushed. “I’ve mentioned it before, huh?”

“Anyone would think you had a crush on him,” Johnny teased.

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Willow said, exasperated. She knew they would all think that. “We just get each other. Professionally. We make a great team. He’s more like a brother than anything else.”

“I wonder if he knows that,” Johnny said, under his breath.

“What was that?” Willow said. “I missed it.”

“We’d better get the table set,” Mia said, changing the subject and giving Johnny a kick in the shins. There was no need to make Willow uncomfortable. “He’s going to be here in about ten minutes.”

***

“I can’t say I love this guy,” Ana grumbled. “In fact, he’s not really ingratiating himself to me at all.”

Johnny and Mia nodded as they eyed the feast in front of them, the food in exactly the same position as it had been two hours ago. They’d waited for Fred, forgiving him being ten minutes late, then fifteen, then twenty, then thirty. After that, they were starting to get a bit antsy. Willow hadn’t let them so much as have a piece of fruit, confident that he would arrive the second they started piling their plates.

“I don’t know where he could be,” Willow said, a tiny frown creasing her forehead. “He knew it was today.”

“Can’t I just have one tiny cupcake?” Ana begged. “Please? I’ll pick the one with the worst icing.”

“Fine,” Willow relented, sighing. “We may as well eat.”

It turned out none of them had much of an appetite anyway and they half-heartedly picked at the goodies on the table.

“He’s probably caught in traffic,” Mia said kindly.

“Or maybe he’s lost,” Ana chipped in. “And forgot his phone.”

“Or been in an accident,” said Willow suddenly. “Oh my god. What if he’s been in an accident? Should I call the hospitals do you think?”

“Lets give it a bit longer,” Johnny said calmly. “We shouldn’t panic just yet.”

“Right. Right. Of course you’re right.” Willow picked up her phone and dialed Fred’s number again. “I’ll just try calling him once more.” But, the same as the other times, the phone rang out.

***

When he still hadn’t turned up another hour later, impatience had turned into collective anger.

“It’s better to know now,” Ana said, drumming her fingers on the table. “Trust me.”

“Know what?”

“That he’s flaky. You definitely don’t want to be in business with someone like that.”

Willow shook her head miserably. “But he’s not flaky. I promise. He’s a really good person. He’d never do this to me.”

Ana and Mia glanced at each other.

“You haven’t put any money in yet, have you?” Ana said warily.

Willow burst into tears. “I did. I put money in.”

Ana gulped. “Err… how much did you put in?”

“All of it,” Willow wailed. “Everything.”

“But you can get it back, right?” Mia said. “Just call the bank and tell them not to release it.”

“I can’t,” Willow said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “The business account is in his name. I couldn’t open one yet because of the whole visa thing.”

“So you gave some guy you don’t know all your money?” Ana was incredulous. Even she would never be that dumb.

“Yes.”

The shocked silence that followed just made Willow cry harder. “I… trusted… him,” she managed to say between sobs.

“We don’t know for sure what’s happened,” Johnny said. “Lets not panic.” But even he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Willow leaped up, brushing the tears off her face and rushing to the front door. The others jumped out of their seats too, following her.

“I’m so sorry,” Fred gushed when she opened the door. “There was an accident. A guy on a bike got hit, so I took him to hospital and I left my phone at home I think… well, let’s just say the whole thing took longer than I thought.”

As if on cue, Fred’s breast pocket started vibrating.

“Um… I think that’s your phone,” Ana said, raising an eyebrow and crossing her arms across her chest.

“I could have sworn I looked in my pockets,” Fred said, disbelief etched on his face. “I’m doubly sorry now. I’m late and a complete idiot. You must all think I’m a total floozy,” he said, looking towards Willow’s friends who were gathered in the hall.

They looked at the floor, mumbling “Not at all. Of course not.”

He fished a bottle of Dom Perignon out of his bag. “Accept this as a token of my humblest apologies so I can somehow diminish my complete embarrassment. I promise I’m not usually so unreliable.”

He seemed so sincere that they couldn’t help but smile.

“We forgive you,” Ana said. “Now let me put that on ice. I don’t know about all of you, but I need a drink!”

Willow grinned, taking Fred by the arm. “Everyone, this is Fred. My extremely generous, thoughtful and trustworthy business partner.”

***

Season 7, Episode 7

September 4, 2012


“Ana?”

Ana groaned and ducked her head, trying to hide behind her latte as Mena, Chad’s assistant, stalked past the small cafe on the ground floor of the high-rise where Ana now worked. All Ana wanted was five minutes’ peace before the onslaught of the day began, but Mena obviously had other ideas. Ana wondered again exactly why she had sought out a job like the one she had in Melbourne. She knew she used to like it, but she just couldn’t seem to find the drive, the passion anymore. Some mornings she wondered if she came into the office for any reason other than the off-chance of getting a moment alone with Chad – to feel the butterflies ignite in her stomach, her pulse quicken, her…

“Ana?”

How does she even know I’m here?

Ana wondered – not for the first time – if Mena had somehow slipped a locator device into her clothing. Ana hadn’t been working at Bleau long, but she knew that Mena on the warpath meant one thing: Ana had threatened Mena’s life-long fantasy of Chad proclaiming his undying love to her and asking her to quit the job as his glorified minder to become his sex-slave/wife.

Ana smiled smugly to herself. Mena feeling threatened meant Chad must have given some indication he felt something for Ana. In fact, maybe he wanted to see her now and… ‘talk’ about non-work related things?

“Hi Mena.”

“What are you doing down here?” Mena snapped. “Your eight-thirty is waiting in the foyer.”

“My eight-thirty?”

“Yes.” She thrust a business card towards Ana. “Jolene Vale from Roots.”

“Roots?”

Mena sighed, looking disapprovingly at Ana. “Chad had me add the meeting to your diary late last night. Don’t you check your diary?”

Yes, Ana thought, but not when I’m sleeping! “I’m coming,” she sighed, disappointed that it wasn’t a one-on-one with Chad.

***

The woman waiting in the foyer didn’t look anything like Ana expected her to. To Ana, ‘Jolene Vale from Roots’ conjured up images of a simpering, middle-aged, religious zealot squeezed into a pastel twinset a couple of sizes too small. This woman, however, was about the same age as Ana and definitely not overweight. Her fitted black jeans and casual top suggested that the closest she’d come to a twinset was if she’d ever dressed up as Jackie Kennedy for a lookalike competition.

“Jolene? I’m Ana.”

“Call me Joey,” the woman said smiling. She had a firm handshake and a confident manner. “Only my parents call me Jolene. Massive Dolly Parton fans,” she added in a stage whisper. She had an interesting accent: the telltale Californian lilt highlighted by a charming Texan drawl. An import – like so many other people in the city – but obviously one who’d been here a while.

“I’m afraid this meeting was added to my diary rather late,” Ana said apologetically. “So you’ll need to bring me up to speed about your company.”

“Sure,” Joey said, folding her long legs over each other at the ankle and sitting back in a chair. “We’re a nonprofit organisation specialising in food education and advocacy. In a nutshell, we help people – particularly low-income or minorities – eat properly. We let let them know that there are foods out there other than twinkies and pizza, and help them gain affordable access. We also do a lot of work with schools. Educate the kids and try to get them to instigate the change. We hope that one day they’ll start demanding healthier options and therefore the schools will be forced to provide it and the government will have to subsidise real food, rather than the crap they currently do.” She laughed at Ana’s sceptical expression. “I know, I know. It’s an uphill battle, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right?”

“That you do,” Ana agreed. “So what are you hoping to get from us here at Bleau?”

“We got some funding from a private investor who wants us to use it for PR and marketing purposes. I guess I’m hoping to work with you guys and come up with some ideas for things we can do. I mean, we know about posters and ads and that sort of thing, but we want something new. Fresh.”

“Well, lets start throwing around some ideas,” Ana said, “and see what we can come up with.”

***

When they emerged from the meeting room 2 hours later, both the women were talking a mile a minute. Ana’s cheeks were flushed with excitement and her eyes were shining. She couldn’t ever remember being so enthused about a work project before.

“Leave it with me,” Ana said, warmly shaking Joey’s hand as she opened the heavy glass door for her. “I’ll get back to you in a couple of days with some roll-out suggestions and we can take it from there.”

“Perfect,” Joey said. “Thank you. I have a feeling I’m going to really enjoy working with you Ana.”

Ana blushed happily and waved as Joey strode down the hall, remembering now why she had come back into the industry.

“Ana!”

Ana groaned again. What now? “Yes Mena?”

“Chad wants you in his office. Now.”

***

The excitement she had turned to butterflies as soon as she saw Chad’s smiling face. His slightly disheveled hair reminded her of how Marc’s used to look after their frequent, private lunchtime ‘meetings’.

Some psychologist would have a field day with me, Ana thought wryly.

“Ana.”

Even the way he said her name sent a little ripple down her spine. And he seemed to know it as well, his hand lingering on hers a moment too long, his mouth curling in a small smile as she blushed slightly.

“Hi Chad.” To tried to keep her voice light, breezy.

“Ana I…” his eyes locked on hers. She saw his adam’s apple bob up and down and he swallowed. Very slowly, he reached his hand towards her. He hesitated, as though waiting for her to jerk back. She didn’t. Her heart was beating fast. It’s really happening. She hoped her breath didn’t smell and her hair was OK.

He pulled her towards him, covering her lips with his, running his hands through her hair, down her spine and resting them on her bottom for a moment before bringing them to her face. He kissed her hungrily, passionately.

Ana felt desire rush through her body and she pressed herself to him, pressing her hands under his jacket, feeling his muscular back. God, he’s even more sexy than Marc, she thought as she allowed herself to be swept up by his embrace.

But then something happened. She recalled the real Marc: Marc the bastard; Marc the liar; Marc the manipulative asshole who had almost ruined her life.

“No! Stop!” She pushed him away, her breathing ragged and shallow.

“What?” Chad said, disbelief spread over his features. “I know you want me, Ana. You don’t need to play games.”

“No,” Ana said, the familiar revulsion rising up in her. She wiped her mouth. “No. I thought I wanted you. But I don’t.”

He laughed cruelly. “Yes you do. It’s written all over you. The way you look at me, the way you quiver when I touch you…” to demonstrate, he ran his fingers lightly over her shoulder, smirking as Ana shuddered under his touch. He shoved his hand under her blouse, roughly grabbing her breast, pressing himself towards her again. He worked his other hand underneath her skirt, tugging at her underpants.

“Stop!” Ana said, struggling to get away.

“You’re desperate for it,” he added in a husky whisper, not releasing his grip. “I know your type.”

“My type?” Ana glared at him, her eyes burning. With all her strength, she brought her knee up sharply into his groin.

Chad yelled out in pain, doubling over and clutching himself, his eyes narrowed and his mouth hardened into a firm line. “You’re a little bitch,” he snarled. “A classic prick tease.”

Ana took a deep breath. “I quit Chad. I want my full months salary and if you tell anyone about this I will sue you for sexual harassment.”

Chad opened his mouth to complain, but thought better of it. “Fine,” he said tightly. “Get out.”

“With pleasure,” said Ana as she flounced to the door, for the first time in ages feeling like the powerful, take-no-prisoners woman she knew she was.

***

As she wandered home, a cardboard box of her belongings in her hands, she pondered who would take over Joey’s campaign for her. When it seemed that one of the junior assistants was the likely choice, Ana couldn’t help feeling a little bit sad.

***

Season 7, Episode 6

August 28, 2012


Mia stretched languorously in bed, the sheets bunching around her bare legs. She turned over and wrapped her arms around Johnny’s torso, burying her face into the back of his neck.

“Morning,” he mumbled as she gently kissed him behind the ear, running a hand through his hair. He rolled over, so his body was pressed against hers, and inhaled deeply. Mia smell. Best scent in the world. He pulled her closer, covering her lips with his, letting his hands roam her naked body.

“I have to get ready,” Mia groaned.

“Don’t go,” Johnny mumbled. “Skip it.”

Mia laughed pushing his hands away from her and springing out of the bed. “I can’t be late for my interview.”

“I know, I know,” Johnny said, propping himself up on his elbows. “But you can’t blame a guy for trying. I mean… look at you!”

Mia blushed. Her body had changed since she’d left Melbourne. She wasn’t exercising as obsessively and was more carefree with her eating (celery sticks, begone!), but mostly, she was happy. And it showed. Her normally androgynous form had filled out slightly, giving her fuller breasts, a more defined waist and a bottom that stopped grown men in their tracks… even in San Francisco. She threw Johnny a final, longing look before wrapping a towel around her body and heading for the shower.

***

Johnny sat on the grass in Dolores Park, reading a paper and sipping on a very decent espresso. He’d kicked of his shoes and scrunched the grass between his toes, feeling the sun radiating on his back. It was still early, so the gusting winds hadn’t picked up yet. He glanced at his watch. Mia would be done soon.

He desperately hoped that this one would work out. When Mia had started looking for potential employers in San Francisco, she had been astonished at just how many Pilates studios there were.

“One of them will want me,” she had said happily.

“All of them will want you,” Johnny had answered. “You’ll be fighting them off!”

Not so, as it turned out. Every interview went pretty much the same. They were impressed at her teaching ability, her strength and agility. She was personable, articulate and passionate. Every quality they could possibly want in a new instructor. Everything except the citizenship, that is.

“It’s really easy for me to get a visa,” Mia would plead with them. “You just need to sign the paperwork. I’ll do everything else!”

But, they could get any number of other Pilates instructors – without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

The look on Mia’s face as her long legs strode up the grassy hill towards where Johnny was sitting told him that this interview had been no different.

“I’m sorry,” he said, as she sat down.

Mia shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

But they both knew it did.

***

They sat on the grass for a while longer, killing time. Johnny had an appointment to look at a potential space for the restaurant at lunchtime. He’d asked her to come along, but Mia wanted to head home and look for more jobs.

“Why don’t you work for me?” Johnny said casually as they stood up to leave. It was something he’d been thinking about, but was waiting for the right time to bring it up.

Mia raised an eyebrow. “Oh really,” she drawled. “For you?”

Johnny smiled. “All right, maybe I phrased that wrong. Why don’t you work with me?”

“What do I know about the restaurant business?”

“I’ll teach you.”

Mia screwed up her face and shook her head. “I don’t want to be slinging plates and filling glasses.”

“You can do something else,” Johnny said. “Managing. Planning. Hiring. We’d find something that you liked.”

“I don’t know, Johnny. That’s your thing. I don’t think it’s for me.”

“How do you know until you’ve tried?”

Mia gave him a withering look.

“At least come and look at this space with me,” he pleaded. “I need a second opinion.”

“OK,” Mia said reluctantly. Job hunting could wait. “That I can do.”

***

The space was on the second floor of a old building, owned by a guy called Vince who ran the corner store downstairs. He had hefted himself off his stool when they arrived, dragging his eyes away from whatever daytime soap was playing on the portable television set next to the cash register. He took the stairs slowly, leaving a faint trail of cigarettes and chewing gum in his wake. He unlocked the door and handed them the key. A few beads of sweat had gathered in his upper lip.

“Bring it back when you’re done,” he said breathlessly, before making his way back downstairs.

Johnny pushed the door open and walked in. His heart skipped a beat.

This was it! This was the place!

It was brilliant. Smaller than a warehouse, larger than an open-plan apartment, it was big enough for a decent amount of tables, without being claustrophobic. It had large circular windows that looked out over the Mission giving it a whimsical, detached feeling. Up here, you were in your own little world. It had been used as a restaurant previously, and so needed nothing more than a coat of paint and some new furnishings to make it worthy of the place Johnny wanted to run.

“Wow,” Mia said walking in behind him.

He grinned at her.

“I mean… Wow!” Mia wandered around, looking behind the bar, poking her head into the kitchen. “It’s perfect,” she said excitedly. “You can put the tables here and you could have someone playing music on weekends over there and then you could set this area up for drinks, so if people didn’t want to have a meal they could still sit and enjoy the space and…”

Johnny was resting against the bar, a smile playing around his lips. “Come here,” he said, pulling her towards him and putting his mouth on hers. He kissed her urgently, running his hands over her body. “You are so sexy when you’re excited about something.”

Mia smiled slyly. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Am I sexy when I do this?” She peeled off her jumper, followed by her singlet.

“Oh yes,” Johnny said. “Definitely sexy.”

“What about this?” She slowly rolled her leggings down her long legs, kicking off her shoes. She stood in front of him wearing nothing but a pair of black lace underwear.

“Uh-huh.” Johnny’s voice wasn’t the only thing thick with desire.

She knelt down and undid his jeans, pulling them around his ankles, her eyes not leaving his for a second. She kissed his thigh gently and he shuddered, a small groan escaping his lips. She stood up again and took her underwear delicately off. Johnny lifted her up and Mia wrapped her legs around his waist as he gently pushed inside her again and again and again. They cried out in unison, not caring if the whole neighbourhood could hear them.

“OK,” Mia said, breathless.

“OK what?”

“I’ll help you out.”

“You’ll work at the restaurant with me?”

Mia nodded.

Johnny grinned. “This is going to be awesome,” he said. “You’ll see.”

***

Season 7, Episode 5

August 21, 2012


There was a knock at the front door. “I’ll see you guys in a few hours,” Willow called to the others, receiving a chorus of “goodbyes” and “goodlucks” from towards the back of the house.

She  hummed to herself as she ambled towards the front door, glancing in the mirror on the way through, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear and smoothing her silk blouse. It was a big day today and she wanted to look groomed. Professional. Ana had lent Willow a gorgeous navy light woollen suit and had done her hair and makeup. To complete the outfit, Willow had put on a pair of heels for the first time in… she didn’t even know how long. She felt a bit like a little kid playing grown-up – after all, what did she know about the big wide world of commerce? – but she held her head up high as she pulled the door open, a bright smile on her face.

“Wow, you look great,” Fred said. “I should have made more of an effort, huh?”

Willow glanced down at his loose fitting jeans and too-big sweatshirt. Seriously? That was what he was going to wear to a meeting with the bank?

“It’s fine,” she said, trying not to let the disappointment show on her face. She wondered momentarily if he actually owned any other clothes. “I’m probably a bit overdressed.”

“I’ve never been very good at clothes and fashion and stuff,” he said, as Willow closed the door behind her and they walked to his car.

“I’m a bit nervous,” Willow laughed as she did her seat belt up.

“Don’t be,” Fred said with confidence. “The numbers are totally solid. I think we’re in with a really good chance.”

Willow nodded. Fred was right. In fact, he’d been right about a lot of things. Ever since they had met a couple of weeks ago, it had been all systems go for the new business partners. Thanks to Fred’s many years experience working in the hospitality industry, they had drawn up an exceptional budget and business plan. The numbers were good. Even if they did the minimum amount of business that they had anticipated, they would still be able to pay off the loan in a couple of years at the most. And that was worst case scenario.

Willow glanced sideways at Fred’s profile as he drove, wondering again why she hadn’t told him about her inheritance from Robert. If nothing else, it might have saved her mounting stress about their meeting with the bank. Initially, Willow had assumed she would use it to start the business, but then Fred started talking about loans and all kinds of other financial mumbo-jumbo, and Willow realised that she might not need to touch Robert’s money after all. Well, not much of it anyway. She’d need a small amount – about two hundred thousand – to match Fred’s initial startup costs, but the the bank would finance the rest and they’d pay it off over time. It solved the visa issue too, as Fred could sponsor Willow through the business.

“It’s far less risky than investing all the money ourselves,” he said. “Besides, it’s not like either of us have half a million dollars just floating around, is it?”

Willow had laughed, but hadn’t said anything.

***

A woman in about her mid-forties walked into the bank’s customer waiting area.

“Willow? Frederick? I’m Marjorie,” she said, holding out her manicured hand in a limp handshake. Her eyes flickered over Fred’s outfit, her lips pinching slightly in distaste. “If you’d like to come into my office?”

Willow and Fred followed her without a word into the small, airless glass cubicle. She closed the door behind them and offered them a seat.

“Lets have a look at what you’ve got,” she said, holding out a hand for the file Willow was clutching.

She flicked through the spreadsheets, spending no longer than a couple of seconds on each of the pages that Willow and Fred had spent hours and hours preparing. Willow sat in tense silence barely even daring to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” Marjorie said. “But I can’t offer you a loan at this time.”

There was a few seconds of silence.

“Why not?” Willow said eventually.

Marjorie shrugged. “It’s too much of a risk.”

“A risk?” said Willow. “But, the numbers are solid! Just take another look at the…”

“I’ve seen enough.” Marjorie said, cutting her off. She folded her hands over each other and rested them on the desk, her eyes not wavering from Willow’s.

“Isn’t there someone else we could talk to?” Willow said.

“My decision is final.”

“But what about…”

Fred put his had on Willow’s arm. “Let’s go,” he said gently.

Willow stood up and took the folder of papers from Marjorie’s outstretched hand.

***

“She was a total bitch!” Willow said angrily as soon as they were outside.

“She was just doing her job,” Fred said gently. He steered Willow into a cafe that was next to the bank.

“She didn’t even look at the work that we did,” Willow exclaimed in disgust. “She didn’t read any of this.” She dumped the folder containing the precious paperwork on a table and collapsed into the chair, folding her arms across her chest.

“I guess she knows what she’s looking for,” Fred said. “And we weren’t it.”

“I just can’t believe there was no one else we could speak to about it,” said Willow.

“That’s the way the banks work over here, I’m afraid.”

Willow exhaled loudly. “We could have fought for it a bit more.”

“We don’t want to burn our bridges though. What if we need them further down the track?”

“Couldn’t we try another bank?” said Willow suddenly.

“They’ll all say the same thing,” Frank said. “Everyone is being cautious. What with the way the economy has been, the sub-prime crisis, unemployment. No one wants to back a losing horse.”

Willow sighed. He was probably right. She’d read similar things in the paper. “But we’re a winning horse,” she mumbled, crossly.

Fred smiled sadly. “That we are. Now, can I get you a cup of tea?”

Willow watched Fred as he stood at the counter, shoulders hunched. She felt so sorry for the guy. This was the last thing he needed, after his wife leaving him for his best friend. Like Willow, he’d come to San Francisco for a fresh start, but he’d seemed to have setback after setback. Perhaps it’s time I came clean, Willow thought. Do us both a favour.

“I guess it’s back to the drawing board,” Fred said sadly when he reappeared with the tea. “We’ll have to start looking at private investors.”

Willow took a deep breath. “Not necessarily,” she said.

“Oh?” Fred looked puzzled.

“I haven’t been exactly forthcoming with you,” Willow said. She took a deep breath. “The thing is Fred, I have money.”

Fred still looked puzzled. “I know. We discussed this. We both have the initial startup investment. But we are going to need close to a million dollars to really get this thing rolling.”

Willow shook her head. “No, I mean, I have enough money to finance the whole thing.”

Fred’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “To finance the whole thing?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Willow said. “I’m not sure why I didn’t.”

“You didn’t know me at all,” Fred said. “You didn’t know if you could trust me, I suppose.”

Willow nodded slowly. She tried to gauge Fred’s response, to see if he was angry or upset, but he didn’t seem to be at all.

“I know I can trust you now,” she said. “So I’d like to invest the full amount of money to get us going.”

“Well, hang on,” Fred said, looking slightly panicked. “I mean, don’t you want to think about this? This isn’t a decision you just… rush into. There are still other options we haven’t tried.”

“I have thought about it,” Willow said. “And like you said, people are being very cautious about what they invest in. It might be months before we get an investor interested.”

“Shouldn’t you talk to your friends about it? I wouldn’t want them thinking that I was taking you for a ride, or something,” he said anxiously.

Willow laughed. “I’m the one who suggested it. Besides, no one could think that about you, Fred.”

Fred shrugged. “Still, it would make me feel better about it.” He picked up his mug and blew across the top before he took a sip of tea. “But I still think we should exhaust our other options. This is a business. Fifty-fifty is what we agreed on.”

Willow nodded, amused. “If it would make you more comfortable I’ll sleep on it and talk to my friends.”

A look of relief crossed his face. Willow shook her head and smiled as she watched him take another sip of his tea, lost in thought. He was such a funny man. Earnest,  hardworking and honest; the type of guy that you’d call on if you ever needed help. She liked him a lot – not in a romantic way; she just knew that he was one of the good people.

“Can I ask you something?” he said tentatively, looking up from his tea.

“Of course.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but …” he paused. “How do you have that much money?”

Willow smiled slightly. It was time to tell him. She leaned forward and recounted the whole story, managing to hold back the tears. She knew deep down that Robert would have liked this funny man. She knew that Robert would have supported her decision unequivocally. Like her, he would have trusted Fred with everything.

***

Season 7, Episode 4

August 14, 2012

The hustle and bustle of the downtown San Francisco lunch rush wasn’t doing the job that Ana had hoped: Getting her out of the funk that she had woken up in. For the last few weeks the early morning blues had persisted long past the normal pre-caffeine and breakfast fix. She couldn’t quite pinpoint why. It seemed to be a combination of factors – the loved up couple who barely made it out of the bedroom, the constant singing and laughter than echoed around the walls, the positive energy that radiated from every pore of everyone in the house. Everyone except her.

She was glad for Mia and Johnny, of course, but the nagging jealously – certainly not one of Ana’s many virtues – just wouldn’t go away. Why couldn’t she have a relationship that just worked? (She had a convenient amnesia when it came to the trials and tribulations that Mia and Johnny had been through to get where they were.)

And now with Willow floating somewhere around cloud fifteen about her new coffee and cake business, Ana felt like she was the only one who was… well… a bit lost, really. Being out of the house – a lot – seemed to be the best way of dealing with it for now. It was just way too sunshine, lollipops and rainbows there at the moment. Ana preferred it when there were a least a few grey clouds on the horizon. Kept things interesting and made her feel less… inadequate.

Failed marriage, failed business, failed social life. I’m quite the catch, Ana thought to herself bitterly as she dodged people dressed in suits and skirts, hurrying about with pre-packaged sandwiches and their Starbucks excuse for ‘coffee’. She had a brief moment of nostalgia for her previous life, where she was the one grabbing a meal-on-the-go between meetings. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.

Maybe if I found a job things would look a bit brighter, she thought.

She found a cafe that didn’t look like a chain and joined the long queue to get another coffee, taking her place behind two impeccably dressed women, one with brilliant flame-red hair and the other with glasses that were almost too fashionable. They made an incredibly striking pair and Ana tried not to stare at them. Not that they would have noticed – they were deeply ensconced in their own conversation.

“I can’t believe Jenny left,” Ana heard the the glasses woman say. “That’s… what… the fourth consultant since the start of the year?”

The redhead rolled her eyes. “I swear there’s something in the water. They all start and then – bam! – pregnant within a month.”

“So what’s he going to do?”

The redhead shrugged. “Advertise again. Hire a new senior PR consultant.”

Ana’s ears pricked up.

“I just hope he does it soon,” the redhead continued. “We’re swamped.”

Before she knew what she was doing, she had tapped redhead on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I worked at one of the top PR firms in Australia, but I moved over here and now I’m looking for a job.”

The women looked her up and down.

“I don’t normally dress like this,” Ana said, suddenly embarrassed by her oversized t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans.

“I love your accent,” the redhead said.

“Er, thanks.”

“Where did you say you were from?”

“Melbourne. Australia.”

The redhead nodded, thoughtfully.

“She looks like the sort of person Chad would like,” glasses said, with an almost-sneer.

“Chad?” Ana said.

“The president of the company,” red said, fishing a business card out of her bag. “Email me your CV and I’ll pass it on. You never know,” she said with a shrug. “You might get lucky.”

Ana grinned. “Thanks. Thanks so much.”

The women collected their coffee and turned to leave. Red stopped, turning back to Ana.

“Oh, and…?”

“Ana.”

“Ana. Include a photo.”

***

Two days later, Ana was dressed in her favourite Prada suit, Manolo Blahniks, her hair freshly washed and twisted up into fashionable bun, sitting in the foyer of an incredible fifteenth floor office in downtown San Francisco. The company was simply called ‘Bleau’ and they were the one-stop marketing shop for all of San Francisco’s promotional needs. Their clients ranged from tech companies to hospitality to non-profit organisations.

Ana glanced at her watch. Her interview was supposed to start twenty minutes ago. She flipped through an industry magazine, which had a three page spread on ‘Bleau’ highlighting the multitude of awards they’d won in the last year. Ten minutes later a woman appeared and smiled frostily at Ana. “Follow me. Chad will see you now.”

Ana followed her through the impressive open plan office, noting that most of the people that worked there were very attractive women. Alarm bells started ringing somewhere in the back of Ana’s mind. The woman ushered her into a huge office – bigger than Ana’s living room back in Melbourne – and shut the door. It opened again seconds later, and there was Chad.

Ana’s breath caught in her throat as his cool grey eyes locked onto hers. He was tall, with a thick head of dark hair, his bespoke suit emphasising his lean, toned body.

Deja Vu.

It was Marc all over again. Everything about him reminded Ana of her old boss. Her old lover. His appearance, the way he moved, but most of all, the way he looked at her.

“Ana.” He held out his hand and Ana took it. Even though she was expecting the current of electricity that was going to run through her body as soon as their hands touched, it still took her by surprise.

“Sit, please,” he said, indicating to a sofa in the corner of the room. His lips curled into a small smile as he looked at her. “Tell me about yourself.”

***

Season 7, Episode 3

August 7, 2012

The chilly morning sunlight was barely seeping through the curtains as Mia silently zipped her suitcase and gave a final, cursory glance around the room. Aside from the rumpled bed covers it looked exactly the same as when she had arrived only weeks ago: Empty.
She tiptoed out of the room and pulled the door closed behind her as quietly as she could. Carrying her case instead of dragging it so as not to wake the others, she went into the kitchen. The kitchen was at the other end of the house to the bedrooms and she was fairly confident that the others wouldn’t be able to hear her as she made a cup of tea and put some bread in the toaster. She knew that making breakfast was a bit like tempting fate: The longer she spent in the house the more likely Willow or Ana were to wake up and try and stop her.

Maybe I want them to stop me? she thought. Maybe I don’t really want to leave?

If she was honest with herself, she didn’t want to leave. Not really. She felt like going back to Melbourne was a step in the wrong direction – a step backwards – but the thought of not giving it a go with Johnny was something she knew she’d regret more. She knew she was being a coward, leaving like this, but she didn’t want to deal with Ana’s pointed remarks, Willow’s hurt look. She didn’t want to face the inevitable questions that they would ask.

“Why are you leaving?”

“Why not give it some more time?”

“Have you talked to Johnny about it?”

That last one was the kicker. Why haven’t I told Johnny?

The nagging doubt that had been her constant companion for the last few weeks intensified: What if he said “Don’t come”?

Mia sighed, frustrated. “Am I doing the right thing?” she whispered into the tea cup.

Not surprisingly, the curling steam didn’t provide a definitive answer.

***

Ana stretched as she walked into the kitchen, rubbing her bleary eyes. She opened the fridge, pulling out her precious supply of coffee beans. Standing near the sink, she ground them and transferred the spoils to a stove-top espresso machine. She frowned when she saw the white envelope sitting on the counter. It was addressed to her and Willow and wasn’t sealed.
She pulled out the letter and started reading.

***

Security check was done, customs was done. Mia found a seat near her gate, managing to sit still for a grand total of two minutes before she got back up again and started walking aimlessly around the terminal. When she’d passed the same news agency for the third time, she looked at her watch and groaned. She still had hours to kill. The sooner she could be airborne, the better. Once she was on that plane there was no going back, no changing her mind.

***

“Willow!” Ana threw open the door to Willow’s room. “You have to get up! We have an issue!”

Willow sat bolt upright in bed, not quite awake. “Whassamatter?”

“It’s Mia!”

“Mia?” Willow flung the covers off and jumped up. “What’s happened to her? Is she OK?”

“She’s gone!”

“Gone?”

“Back to Australia,” Ana said. She thrust the letter towards Willow. “Look.”

***

Mia stared absently through the airport crowds, waiting for her flight to be called. Her heart skipped a beat as she caught a brief glimpse of a faded denim jacket, a guitar case, a sandy mop of hair. She half stood, her mouth dropping open, before the stranger was swallowed back into the throng of people coming and going. Mia sank down, feeling stupid. She’d been doing this for weeks – seeing him in crowds, at bars, as she glanced into coffee shop windows. Of course it wasn’t him. It never was.

***

“We have to stop her,” Willow said.

“I know,” said Ana. “Seriously, she couldn’t have picked worse timing, could she?”

“Is she answering her phone?”

Ana shook her head. “And I’ve tried having her paged over the loud speaker at the airport, but no luck.”

“We have to get to the airport.”

“How are we going to get in?” Ana said. “We don’t have tickets anywhere.”

“I’ll buy the cheapest flights I can find,” Willow said, grabbing her purse and flinging on some jeans and a jumper. “Come on, you drive and I’ll book the flights.”

“Wait,” Ana called. “What are we going to do about… you know.”

There was a loud knock on the door. “I guess we’ll deal with that right now,” Willow said.

***

“We’d like to welcome aboard all remaining passengers traveling on Qantas flight 482 to Melbourne.”

The announcement startled Mia out of her daydream. She picked up her bag and made her way to the end of the long line of people, all queuing up to sit in the tin can in the sky for a ridiculous number of hours. She never understood why people always seemed so eager to get on the plane and strap themselves into that little seat. They were going to be there for long enough anyway; why encourage the inevitable? She always waited until the last possible minute to get on.

“Welcome aboard, Ma’am,” an attractive stewardess said as she scanned Mia’s ticket. “Enjoy your flight.”

“Mia!”

She turned. It had been faint but she was certain that she’d heard her name called. She scanned the crowd, but couldn’t see any familiar faces.

“Everything all right Ma’am?” The stewardess looked inquisitively at her.

“Mia!”

There is was again! She spun around again, this time watching as the crowd parted and Ana and Willow came rushing towards her. There was a third person behind them, jogging at an easy pace. Mia blinked. Faded denim jacket. Sandy hair pushed back from his face. For the second time that morning, her heart skipped a beat.

“Don’t get on the plane,” Ana panted, the first to reach Mia.

Mia barely even noticed her. She was staring behind Ana at Johnny. He drew up level with Mia.

“What are you doing here?” she blurted out.

“Franco has taken in some new investors in the restaurant who want Medina to go global,” Johnny said. “He wanted to set up in LA, but I convinced him to go with San Francisco.”

“So, you’re… moving here?” Mia said, processing the information.

“Moved here,” Johnny said, correcting here. “This morning. I was hoping to surprise you at home, but…” He shrugged. “And, look, I don’t want to rush you into anything, so I’ll get my own place and…”

“No,” Mia said quickly. “It’s not rushing.” She blushed. “What I mean is, you can stay with us for a while… or longer… if you want to?”

Johnny grinned. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“What about… Cecelia and the baby.”

“Mia, you’re the most important person in my life,” Johnny said, taking her hands. “Cecelia finally understands that. I’ll still be in the kids life,” he added, “but from a distance.”

Mia nodded slowly. Willow and Ana were hanging back a bit, barely able to contain their excitement.

“You knew about this?” Mia said to them.

“Only recently,” Willow said quickly. “And we promised not to tell.”

“I’d like to say, for the record, I wanted to tell you,” said Ana.

Mia turned to Johnny “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“Probably for the same reasons you didn’t tell me you were leaving,” Johnny said in a low voice. “What if you didn’t want me?”

“I want you,” Mia said. “I want you so much it hurts.”

Johnny leaned in and kissed her softly before whispering in her ear. “Well, let’s see about getting you home and taking care of that.”

***

Season 7, Episode 2

July 31, 2012


It was still early when Willow caught the trolley across town to the Saturday morning Ferry Building farmer’s market. Much like her beloved Victoria Markets in Melbourne, it appeared to be the serious foodies who rose early to hit the stalls before the regular punters came through. She had a small pang of homesickness as she wandered past a woman laughing animatedly with one of the stall owners as he piled her basket high with fresh produce. Willow wondered how Lorenzo – her favourite purveyor of fruit and vegetables at the Vic Markets – was doing. He would be wondering why she hadn’t been to visit him in such a long time, and she felt slightly guilty not telling him that she was leaving. Perhaps she’d send him a postcard?

She did a lap of the stalls out the front, marveling at the fact that she was able to buy all the summer fruit she could ever want, in the middle of July. In Australia, this was the time of year for stewing and poaching apples and pears, serving them piping hot with homemade custard, as you huddled inside the stay out of the cold. Here, you still had to huddle to stay out of the cold (that wind was biting!) but at least you could enjoy peaches, nectarines and figs while you were doing so.

To the right of the main building, she noticed a huge queue of people. They snaked from towards the rear of the markets all the way back down the pier. Willow wondered what on earth would possess people to queue up this early on a weekend. Some rare Californian delicacy perhaps that you could only buy on a Saturday?

Curious, Willow joined the back of the line, tapping the woman in front of her on the shoulder. “What are you lining up for?”

“Coffee,” the woman said.

Willow’s mouth dropped open. This was the line for coffee? “Isn’t there anywhere else to get coffee here?” she said.

The woman laughed. “Sure there is. But this is the line for the best coffee.”

Given her previous coffee experiences Willow was sceptical, but she kept her place in the line, slowly making her way towards the small stand where about five people were frantically taking orders and making hot beverages.

“What can I get you?” the dread-locked man behind the cash register said in his easy Californian drawl.

What to order? She’d learned that a cafe latte was a no-no (seriously, no-one needed that much milk!) and a cappuccino was often a mug of froth with some coffee floating somewhere down the bottom.

“I don’t suppose you could make a flat white, could you?” she said, knowing that the answer would be the same as everywhere else she’d tried to find her favourite coffee: “A flat what?”

A freckled face peered around the side of the coffee machine and beamed at her. “‘Course we can make a flat white, mate! Coming right up!” He said in his unashamedly antipodean accent.

Willow grinned. It figured that the best coffee in the city was made by an Australian.

***

Sipping her absolutely perfect flat white, Willow wandered down the pier, gazing out over the bay. The sky was blue, and the sun had risen high in the sky, finally sharing some if its magnificent warmth. In the distance, the bay bridge sparkled in the sunlight. The wind had dropped and the water was perfectly still. A line of low fluffy clouds sat just above the hills of the east bay, giving the otherwise clear sky some texture. Willow smiled to herself. Now this view beat the scenery of the Vic Markets hands down.

“This coffee is amazing,” she overheard a middle-aged man say to his wife, as they too wandered away from the coffee cart. “Best I’ve had since we were in Italy.”

“Shame they don’t do pastries as well,” his wife sighed. “Now we just have to queue up all over again to get a croissant.”

Willow silently agreed with the woman. A flaky, buttery croissant would certainly complete this nearly perfect moment. If only there was someone that did amazing coffee and mouthwatering pastries…  Willow suddenly stopped mid-stride.

“I’m a genius,” she said out loud. A few people looked at her strangely, but she didn’t even notice. Great coffee and amazing pastries. Great pastries and amazing coffee. It wasn’t a new concept, but it was one that seemed to work the world over. And one that obviously hadn’t fully infiltrated San Francisco yet!

***

On the trolley ride home, Willow’s mind was buzzing. She hadn’t been so excited about anything since… well, since Robert. And she knew that this was something that Robert would support her doing, were he still alive. She knew she’d have to look for a business partner. Someone who had experience with setting up these sorts of things and some idea of US rules and regulations.
As she rounded the street to their rented apartment, she stopped in her tracks for the second time that day. On the lamp post, someone had taped up a sign.

Got a startup?  Want to invest in a startup?

Come for Demos, Drinks and maybe meet an Angel at ‘The Lab’ on Valencia St. 4-6pm

 

Willow wrote down the address. Seriously, if this wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was.

***

“What kind of startup have you got?” a man said. His name tag proclaimed ‘Brad’ in large red letters and his eyes didn’t stay in one spot for very long, constantly scanning the room to see who was there. “Software? Hardware? Games? Design?”

“Er, no,” said Willow. “Actually… coffee.”

Brad looked dumbfounded for a minute before shaking his head. Willow heard him say “time waster” under his breath as he walked away. Willow blushed and surveyed the rest of the crowd. Surely there must be someone there who would be as excited about her idea as she was? But the more she looked the less confident she became. Everyone just looked a bit… tech. Pulling off her name badge and sighing she made for the door. It had been worth a try.

“Excuse me.”

Willow turned towards the voice. It belonged to a man who looked as far from ‘techy’ as Willow did. His whole composure had a world-weary, defeated look about it, but in his eye he had a little twinkle that said ‘I’m not ready to give up just yet’.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he said. “But I couldn’t help overhearing. Coffee?”

“Yeah,” said Willow. “It was just an idea. But I don’t think anyone here is that interested in it.”

“Would you believe that my business idea is for a mobile coffee cart? Well, coffee and cakes to be exact.”

Willow’s heart sank a bit. That was her idea. “I’m more interested in starting my own business, not really  investing in someone else’s,” she said. “Sorry.”

“Oh, you misunderstand,” the man said. “I’m not looking for an investor. I’m looking for a business partner.”

Willow blinked. “You are?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s an idea that I had a while ago and was all set to launch, but then my… partner left for another… business.” He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Actually my partner was my wife and the other business was my best friend.”

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said.

He shrugged. “Anyway, it’s left an opening. We’d split everything fifty-fifty, including the initial costs, but we should be able to do it fairly cheaply if we start small. Any experience with coffee?”

“I drink a lot of it,” Willow said. “And I did a dash as a Barista in my university days. Plus,” she added, her eyes twinkling, “I make some of the best pastries and cakes in the whole world.”

The man grinned. “Well, I can’t bake to save myself, but I’ve got years of experience managing world class restaurants – New York, Rome, Paris, Madrid – you name it, I’ve done it.”

“What made you leave the restaurant industry?”

“Too many late nights. And I was always working too hard for someone else.” He smiled wistfully. “All I want is a small coffee and cake business, where I know the regulars by name, the quality is exceptional and everyone is happy.”

“That sounds exactly like what I had in mind,” Willow said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait – are you on a visa at the moment?” he said suddenly.

“Oh,” said Willow. “Just the tourist one. But I’m hoping to get a more permanent one.”

He shook his head, sadly. “That would involve sponsorship and I’m not sure how willing they are to offer it for this kind of industry.” He looked thoughtful for a minute. “Well, there is one other option, but… no, on second thoughts that probably wouldn’t work.”

“What is it?” Willow insisted.

“There is something called an Entrepreneurs Green Card. But it involves a fairly hefty investment in a business.”

“How hefty.”

“A million dollars.”

Willow whistled. “That is hefty.”

He chuckled. “Like I said. Wouldn’t work.”

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t work,” Willow said slowly. She wasn’t that keen on advertising her new-found wealth to anyone, but if it was the only way… “It might work,” she said. “I’d have to see.”

He looked nonplussed, as though he didn’t believe this unassuming girl would have anything close to a million dollars.

“Well, I guess we can cross that bridge when we get to it, hey?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Fred, by the way.”

“Willow.”

They shook hands.

“Willow, shall we get out of this place and go and figure out if we want to make the best coffee and cakes in the whole of San Francisco?”

Willow grinned. “Fred, I think that sounds like a splendid idea.”

***

Season 7, Episode 1

July 24, 2012

Ana had been awake for a good few hours before she’d finally allowed herself out of bed, the dark circles under her eyes evidence of the fact that she’d slept terribly, if at all. She checked her watch. It was only seven in the morning, but felt like mid afternoon. Jet lag. It did wonders to the body clock. Feeling disoriented and foggy, she pulled some clean clothes out of her suitcase and dressed quickly, knowing the only thing that would fix her was a double strength flat white.

She found Willow sitting in the kitchen, perched precariously on a kitchen stall, her body curled into a tight ball, biting her nails as she read the last few chapters of the trashy crime book she’d started on the plane.

“Did you sleep?” Ana asked her.

The grunted monosyllabic response could have been in either the affirmative or negative. Ana could tell that Willow would be pretty much out of action until she knew whodunnit.

“I’m going out to get coffee. You want some?”

Although Willow didn’t take her eyes of the page, she nodded her head and let out an excited squeak.

The apartment where they were staying was in an area called Hayes Valley. They’d found it online yesterday (or was it the day before? It certainly felt like they’d lost a day somewhere) and, even though it wasn’t cheap, they had promptly booked it for two months. They’d heard that the rental market here was much like Melbourne – competitive and expensive – but were counting on beginners luck to find somewhere a bit more reasonable as soon as they could. The morning was sunny but brisk, a light breeze gently rustling the tops of the trees. Even though it was the middle of summer, it was too cold for the light shirt she’d thrown on, so Ana picked up the pace, hoping that there was a Di Bella equivalent somewhere within walking distance.

***

Ana kicked the door to the apartment closed behind her. In one hand she had three enormous cardboard cups of coffee, stacked on each other like Lego, her chin resting on the top one to stop them toppling over. In her other hand, she held a bag containing three Danish pastries.

“I thought we’d lost you,” Willow said, emerging from the living room, her hair freshly washed and pulled back from her face in a tight bun.

“Sorry,” Ana said. “I had to go to about seven different coffee shops. Most places only do that awful filter stuff.”

Willow took the bag of pastries from Ana and went into the kitchen. Ana followed her, carefully placing the coffees on the bench.

“Is that coffee I can smell?” Mia said, emerging from her bedroom, rubbing her eyes.

“It’s the closest thing I could find,” Ana said, handing a cup to Mia. “One soy latte.”

“Do they only sell it by the litre here?” Mia said, eyeing the cup suspiciously.

“And that’s just the medium,” Ana said, pulling the lid off her own cup. “Well, cheers. Here’s to our first morning in the US of A.”

The three of them solemnly clinked their gigantic cardboard goblets and took a cautious sip of the hot liquid. Ana promptly spat her mouthful of coffee across the kitchen bench, Willow swallowed, making a face, and Mia subtly dribbled hers back into the cup.

“It tastes… weird,” Mia said, wiping her mouth.

“It’s fucking awful!” Ana said, dumping hers straight into the sink. “The milk’s too hot, the coffee is burned, and they’ve got the quantities all wrong!”

“It’s not that bad,” said Willow, taking another tentative sip. “On second thoughts…” She emptied her cup next to Ana’s in the sink. They settled instead for the pastries which, although sweeter than they should have been, were actually rather good.

“I guess the first thing we need to do today is hunt down good coffee,” Ana said. “And then what? Golden Gate Bridge? Alcatraz? Fisherman’s Wharf? Something a little less touristy?”

“We could just have a wander,” Willow said. “Orient ourselves a little.”

“We should also start thinking about jobs soon,” Mia said. “If we’re going to stay.”

Willow and Ana looked at her blankly. “Jobs?”

“Yes,” said Mia. “You remember those don’t you? Where you go to a place and do stuff for them and they give you money?”

“Oh those,” said Willow, sighing dramatically. “I might pass. I’m going to be a lady of leisure for a while I think.”

“And I’ve got the rent money from my house in Melbourne,” said Ana. “That should see me through for a bit, at least.”

“We’ll look after you too,” Willow added quickly. “So you don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Yeah, as if we’d let you get a job,” Ana said. “Mi Casa es su Casa.”

“That means ‘my house is your house’,” Mia said.

Ana shrugged. “Whatever. The sentiment is still the same. Our money is your money.”

“That’s very generous,” Mia said patiently, “but you still have to get a job in order to stay here. Assuming we do want to stay.”

“Why?”

“For the visas.”

“What visas?”

Mia groaned and rolled her eyes. “The visas to stay here because we’re not US citizens. Why do you think at customs they ask you how long your trip is? And why do you think we said only two months?”

Ana shrugged. “I don’t know. I just figured they’d sort of forget about us and we’d just… stay.”

Mia looked at her witheringly.

“What did you mean ‘assuming we want to stay here’?” Willow said, looking curiously at Mia.

“We might decide we don’t want to,” Mia said, a tad too defensively.

“We?” Willow arched her eyebrows.

“Fine,” Mia mumbled. “I might decide that I don’t want to stay.”

Ana and Willow looked at each other. “Johnny.”

Mia turned a charming shade of fuchsia. “No,” she protested. “Not entirely. It’s just… well… it might not work out here.”

“I thought we were all for one and one for all,” Ana said. “The five musketeers or whatever they were. Isn’t that what we agreed?”

“It’s the three musketeers,” Mia said. “And yes, we did say that, but I’m just saying that we shouldn’t force ourselves to stay if we don’t want to.”

Ana sighed loudly and took another bite of her pastry. It was too early and she was far too caffeine deprived to have this conversation now.

“How long have you been thinking about going home?” Willow said, her eyes sad.

Mia paused, looking at the ground as she answered. “Since Johnny left,” she said quietly.

“Have you spoken to Johnny about this?”

“Not exactly.”

“Why not?”

Now it was Mia’s turn to sigh loudly. “We sort of had a fight before he left, and we haven’t really spoken about it since, and I don’t want to tell him that I’m thinking of coming back because he’ll think it’s because of him…”

“It is because of him,” Ana said exasperated, pastry flecks flying out of her mouth.

“He doesn’t need to know that,” Mia shot back.

Ana rolled her eyes again. “Seriously, if you and Johnny ever get your shit together I think I’ll die of shock!”

“Ana, that’s not fair,” Mia protested.

“No Mia, what’s not fair is saying that you’re going to do something with your friends and then running after some guy.”

“He’s not just some guy. Besides, who are you to give relationship advice?”

“Mia,” Willow said in a low voice, shaking her head slightly.

“What? She started it,” Mia said, crossing her arms defiantly across her chest.

Ana held up her hand. “Whatever.” She jammed her handbag onto her shoulder. “I’m going out to find decent coffee.”

“Fine,” Mia shouted after her, before promptly turning on her heel and stalking back towards her bedroom.

The two doors slammed simultaneously, making the apartment shudder. Willow threw her hands up in despair.

Not again.

***