Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for 2012

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.

***

Season 6, Episode 11

June 26, 2012

Willow wandered down the hotel hall towards the suite that the three for them had been calling ‘home’ for a couple of weeks now. It was already 11:15am and she’d just managed to catch the very end of the buffet breakfast, the staff leaving it on a bit longer for her, still grateful for the multitude of pastries and cakes that had been left for them by this rather lovely guest.

She inserted her card into the door of the hotel room and pushed it open. Ana was draped over the couch, wrapped in a bath robe, and Mia was sitting cross legged on a chair, staring absently into space, still in her pyjamas.

Willow gritted her teeth. It had been the same every day since they’d arrived back in London: Killing time until Ana and Mia felt better, stronger, ready to make important decisions about their lives. Willow was beginning to feel like she was in limbo, waiting for her fate to be determined by her two friends who were – currently – incapable of making a decision harder than which crappy movie to watch next. She had tried to talking to them about going somewhere new – just like they had planned – and starting fresh, but they hadn’t wanted to do that just yet and Willow had indulged them, not wanting to push them into something they weren’t ready for. The three of them had even talked about the possibility of going back to Melbourne, starting over there. At least there everything was familiar. Mia could give it a real shot with Johnny and Ana could try to work things out with Tom.

But even that was a choice they apparently weren’t ready to make.

“What do you want to do today?” Willow asked in a faux cheerful voice.

Mia looked blankly at Willow. “Huh?”

“Today,” Willow repeated. “What do you want to do?”

“Ummm…” Mia shrugged. “Nothing?”

“We did nothing yesterday,” Willow said, trying to keep her voice calm. “And the day before that, and the day before that.”

“So?”

“I’m bored,” she said, her irritation showing through. “We’re in London. For goodness sake. There are a million fun things we could be doing.”

“I don’t feel like doing anything fun,” Mia said in a petulant voice.

“Oh for god’s sake!” Willow exclaimed. “Snap out of it!”

Mia looked at her, eyes wide, before promptly bursting into tears.

“Oh no… don’t cry,” Willow said, immediately regretting sniping at her friend when she was in such a fragile state. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be cranky.”

“It’s not you,” Mia said, trying her best to sniff back the tears. “It’s just… I miss Johnny.”

“I know you do,” Willow said, stroking her hair. “But don’t you think…” she trailed off.

“What?”

“Well, don’t you think that maybe if we went out and did something then you might feel better? It might take your mind off it?”

“I don’t really feel like doing anything either,” Ana chimed in. “You go out, Willow. We’ll stay here.”

“But it’s more fun if we do something together,” Willow said. “Please? Just for a few hours?”

Ana sighed reluctantly and looked at Mia. “What do you think?”

Mia shrugged. “Oh, all right then. But only for a few hours. I don’t really feel like being around people at the moment.”

***

It was a crisp, sunny day and there were people everywhere, smiling and happy. Tourists posed to have their photos taken and kids ran around, laughing and eating ice-cream. But even wandering along the Thames, going to the Tate Modern and devouring a delicious Greek feast (well, Willow devoured. Ana and Mia picked) didn’t manage to bring so much as a smile to Ana or Mia’s lips.

“Can we go back to the hotel yet?” Ana said yawning, as they stood taking in the vista of London bridge.

That was the last straw. Willow snapped. “I can’t do this anymore!”

Mia and Ana looked at her, puzzled.

“Do what?” said Mia.

“Deal with you two! You do nothing but sit around the hotel and mope all day. I thought that we were meant to be embarking on a new better life? Quite frankly, at the moment it’s a bit crap.” Willow sighed. “We may as well just go back to Melbourne if this is what we’re going to do here.”

“Willow, I think that’s a bit unfair,” Ana said. “We’ve been through a lot and…”

Willow cut her off. “We’ve all been through a lot. No more excuses. We either do this properly or we don’t do it at all.”

“What are you saying?” Mia asked.

“I’m saying that we need to decide. Either we pack it in an go back to our old home in Melbourne or we do what originally planned and move to our new home.”

“Can’t we just stay here for another week or so,” said Ana. “See how we feel then?”

“No,” Willow said adamantly. “It’s time to choose.”

Ana and Mia looked at each other and nodded slowly.

“Let’s go home,” Mia said.

***

There was a slight bump as they touched down. Ana lent over and squeezed Willow and Mia’s hands.

“Welcome home,” she said.

The pilot’s voice came over the loud speaker. “Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to San Francisco where the local time is ten-fifteen am and the weather… well, lets just say it will change about fifteen times over the course of the day.” The pilot paused, giving time for the chuckled laughter of his captive audience. “If you’re visiting this lovely city, then have a fantastic time, and if you’re returning, then welcome home.”

“Home,” Willow repeated softly, letting the word linger on her tongue. It felt good. Right. A new start with new people to meet and adventures to be had. Her stomach rumbled loudly. Adventures will come, she thought. First things first. At this juncture, the most important thing was discovering some new food to be eaten! Even in business class, plane food was still plane food.

They collected their bags and walked slowly towards the big shiny doors that stood between them and their new lives.

“Ready?” Ana said.

“Yep,” said Willow.

Mia nodded and took a deep breath. “Absolutely.”

Together, they stepped through the doors. They were home.

***

This is the final episode of Season 6. Stay tuned for Season 7, when Ravenous returns in a couple of weeks.

Thanks for reading. xxx

Season 6, Episode 10

June 19, 2012

By the time the three girls managed to check back into the Langham in London, Willow felt as though she were a nanny in charge of two sullen children: Ana was feeling very sorry for herself and the general state of her life; Mia hadn’t resolved anything concrete with Johnny – who had flown back to Australia a few days earlier – so was in a particularly foul mood too. The two of them had spent the day sniping at anyone and everyone – air hostesses, taxi drivers, the concierge, even each other – and Willow was looking forward to a long bath and having some time – and space – to herself.

The suite they’d booked last time – but didn’t really get to use – had already been taken by someone else, so they stayed in a smaller suite, equally lavish but with slightly less space. They could have arranged for separate rooms, but Willow wanted the three of them to stay together, at least for a little while, until she was sure that Ana was doing a bit better.

As soon as they got into the room, Ana and Mia plonked themselves on either ends of the couch, sighing simultaneously. Mia kicked off her shoes and tucked her toes underneath her as Ana picked up the remote, flicking aimlessly through channels until she came across a movie. George Clooney’s face filled the screen and Mia and Ana both let out a little sigh.

“I truly believe,” Ana said, “that our lives would be one hundred percent better if we could just meet George Clooney.”

“Oh yes,” Mia said. “I agree.”

Willow smiled and rolled her eyes. She had never understood the George obsession that most females tended to have. “Do you guys mind if I head out for a little walk?” she said.

She took the grunted response to be in the affirmative and walked out of the room in search of some piece and quiet.

***

It was raining outside and so Willow decided to say within the hotel. The concierge had pointed her in the direction of a small, secluded bar, that was reserved for special guests. Willow took that to mean guests who were paying stupid amounts of money for their accommodation.

As it turned out, the bar was perfect.  It was at the top of the hotel, affording an incredible view of the twinkling city below, and was empty aside from a barman cleaning glasses and a guy softly playing the piano. Willow ordered a glass of champagne and took a seat next to the window, getting lost in the maze of alleys and lights, wishing that Robert could have been there to share it with her. She took a sip the champagne, the bubbles popping lightly on her tongue as the cool liquid slid down her throat. It should have been a happy moment, but she was overwhelmed by a sadness so exhausting that all she could do was give into it. She been bottling it up for the last few days, trying to keep a happy face on when she was around the others. Out of nowhere, tears sprang to her eyes and she started crying. They weren’t uncontrollable sobs, but delicate hiccups of tears. She cried for Ana’s divorce and Mia’s relationship that seemed destined for failure. And she cried for Robert, her beautiful man who she would never ever see again. She barely even noticed when the pianist stopped playing mid song and walked over to her.

“I’m no concert pianist, but I didn’t think it was that bad,” a kindly American voice said.

Willow smiled thinly. She was not in the mood for small talk. “The playing is beautiful. Please don’t stop.” And please leave me alone.

“Well if it’s not the playing, then is it something else I can help with?”

“No thanks. I’d just like to be on my own.”

“How about another drink?”

“Oh for gods sake,” Willow said angrily. “Can’t a girl cry over her dead boyfriend in peace?” She immediately regretted shouting at the man. He was just the piano player, after all. She softened. “I’m sorry. That was very rude of me. I apologise.”

“No need to apologise,” he said. “I shouldn’t be sticking my nose in other people’s business, but when I see a beautiful girl crying…”

Through her tears,Willow gave him a scathing look.

He laughed. “OK, I get it. At least let me buy you a drink though. To apologise. My girlfriend would never forgive me if I didn’t try to make amends after offending someone.”

Willow sighed. “Oh, OK them. A champagne please.”

A bottle of French champagne appeared at the table minutes later. “They don’t do the really good stuff by the glass,” the man said, shrugging. “You don’t have to finish the whole thing.”

Willow laughed and shook her head. “You may as well join me then,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to see good champagne go to waste.”

***

As it turned out, the man was a very good listener and sat silently while Willow recounted – what felt like – her entire life story. It was so good to talk to someone about it though, someone who didn’t know her or Ana or Mia or Robert or Johnny or Tom. Someone who would just listen and not offer advice.

“I thought that leaving Melbourne would help me forget,” she said after she had been through the entire sage. “But it hasn’t.”

The man took a thoughtful sip of his champagne. “What would you do to make yourself feel better if you were at home?”

“If I was at home?”

“There must be something that you do when you’re feeling sad. Something that you can only do at home. For example, I like to get into my oldest pyjamas and climb into bed with a huge stack of newspapers and a plate of toast and not worry about getting crumbs on the sheets.”

Willow grinned. “Well, if I was at home, I’d bake. I’d keep baking until there was nothing left to bake. Until I’d used every single cup of flour and gram of butter in the house and every single surface was covered in cakes!”

“Baking, eh?” The man smiled at her. “Wait here.”

He sprang up and spoke quietly to the barman who made a phone call and then nodded at the gentleman.

“Follow me,” the man said, waking back towards Willow.

“Where are we going?”

“The kitchen.”

“The kitchen?”

“I know it’s not your own one, but it might help a little,” he said, weaving through a maze of corridors. “Ah-ha. Here we are.”

Another man, dressed in an impeccable black suit, pushed open a door and ushered them into the biggest, shiniest, most beautiful kitchen Willow had ever seen.

“It’s all yours until the breakfast shift, Mr Clooney,” the man in the impeccable suit said as he walked back out.

Willow turned around sharply and looked at the man in front of her carefully. Tall, dark, handsome, well dressed, American…
“Errr… What did you say your name was?” she asked slowly.

“I didn’t, but it’s George.”

“Right,” Willow said, feeling like a prize idiot. “George. As in, George Clooney.”

He shrugged, smiling, and pulled on a white apron. “Tell me what to do, Chef.”

***

Even Willow wouldn’t have been able to bake her way through all the flour and butter that this kitchen had to offer, but she did her best. Hours later, the counters were lined with croissant, cakes, pies and breads. As it turned out, George had proven to be a very good assistant, even licking the mixing bowls clean when she’d made up the batter. Willow hummed happily as she washed up the last of the crockery and put it away.

George yawned. “Well, not even my jet lag is going to keep me awake for much longer, Chef. I think I might turn in.”

Willow looked at the clock. It was nearly time for the breakfast crew to start preparing anyway.

“I might take some of these though,” he said, filling a container with fresh croissant and danish. He winked and gave Willow a small wave as he walked towards the door.

“George?”

He turned.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely.

***

Willow opened the door to her hotel room quietly. She was smiling to herself and for the first time in weeks she felt completely at peace. The TV was still on in the background, both the girls asleep on either ends of the couch.

Ana sat up groggily as she heard the door close.“Whatimeisit?”

“It’s still early,” Willow whispered, so as not to wake Mia. “Go back to sleep.”

Ana stretched and rubbed her eyes. She peered at Willow. “You look different,” she said. “Happy.”

Willow grinned. “You were right,” she said. “All I needed to do was meet George Clooney.”

***

Season 6, Episode 9

June 12, 2012

Ana shoved the rest of her belongings into her handbag and picked up the large bunch of flowers that still sat next to the bed. She looked around the small hospital room to see if there was  anything she’d forgotten. She wasn’t going to miss this place, that was for sure: Bad food; pervasive smell of disinfectant; grumpy nurses. Yep, she sure was glad to be going home.

Home.

Wherever that was.

It was a strange feeling not knowing where you belonged. Up until recently she had been sure of where her home was. It was in Melbourne, with Tom. But now…? Now it was anywhere she wanted it to be. But she wasn’t quite sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

The door to the room opened and the doctor walked in.

“I’m glad I caught you,” he said in a friendly tone. “I wanted to say goodbye.”

“I would say it was great to be here,” Ana said. “But, I don’t look forward to coming back anytime soon.”

“I hope not,” the doctor said with brevity. “I sincerely hope you mean that.”

“Of course I do,” Ana said.

The doctor hesitated. “You know there is always help around you if you need it.”

Ana laughed dismissively. “Oh, I don’t need help. I’m fine.”

“Well, if you ever do…” He trailed off as Willow walked into the room.

“Everything OK?” Willow said, concern etched on her face.

“Everything’s fine,” Ana said brightly. “I’m ready to go when you are.” She hitched her bag onto her shoulder and walked past the doctor, out of the room.

***

“What shall we do tonight?” Willow said as they walked slowly towards Ana’s hotel room. “Anything you want.”

“I think I’ll just have a quiet one,” Ana said. “I’m pretty beat. Besides, it’s so nice to have my own room with no nurses coming in every five minutes to check on me.”

“I guess they were just doing their job,” Willow said. “We were all pretty worried about you.”

“I know,” said Ana. “But you really didn’t need to be. The doctors said that there was no long term damage and that I’m right as rain.”

Willow tugged at a loose thread on her t-shirt. “I suppose they weren’t sure… you know…”

“If I was going to kill myself?”

“Well I wasn’t going to put it quite like that, but yeah, I guess so.”

Ana laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”

“You’d talk to me if you weren’t though?”

“Of course.” Ana stopped outside her door and slid the card into the lock. “I promise, Willow, I’m absolutely fine.”

Willow gave her friend a hug and walked next door to her own room. Ana pulled the door shut and rested against it, closing her eyes, sighing in relief.

Alone, at last.

It felt as though she hadn’t managed any alone time in weeks. She stepped out of her clothes and turned on the shower, letting the hot water rush over her body, steam filling the room. She washed her hair, inhaling the smell of the shampoo. It reminded her of Tom. She was almost certain that it was the same brand that he used. She felt a sudden pang of… regret? Sadness? She hadn’t had time to miss him before now, but it suddenly hit her, and she felt tears well in her eyes and start running down her cheeks, mixing with the shower water. She rinsed her hair quickly and stepped out of the shower, not bothering to dry herself properly, pulling on the hotel bathrobe.
She picked up the phone and dialed Tom’s number. She still knew it off the top of her head.

“This is Tom’s phone.” The voice was light, playful, a hint of laughter around the edges. “Hello? Anyone there?”

Ana heard a small struggle then giggling.

“Give that to me,” Tom’s muffled voice said. The girl laughed again before handing him the phone. “Hello, this is Tom.”

Ana felt her heart skip a beat.

“Hello? Hello? Anyone there?”

“Tom…it’s…it’s Ana.”

The background laughter stopped. Ana could have sworn she heard Tom say “shhhh”.

“Ana! How are you?”

Ana curled the cord of the phone around her fingers. “I’m fine.”

“I haven’t heard from you in ages. Not since… I tried calling you a few times, but you never answered.”

“I’ve been away,” Ana said. “Overseas.”

“But you’re back?”

“Actually, I’m still away,” she said carefully. “Not coming back for a while I don’t think.”

Silence on the other end of the line.

“Tom?”

“Yeah, I’m still here.”

“Oh. Well… how are you?”

“I’m fine,” he said brusquely. He sighed loudly. “Ana, what do you want?”

“I just wanted to say hi,” she said in a small voice. “To see how you were.”

“Well, I’m doing just great,” he said angrily. “You know, the usual. Working too hard. Wife divorcing me. Trying to get on with my life.Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Who was that in the background?” Ana said, immediately wishing she hadn’t.

Tom sighed again. “That was Carly.”

“Are you… You’re seeing someone?”

“Well… yeah. I guess. I couldn’t wait around for you, could I?” he added defensively.

“No,” Ana said quickly. “I think it’s great. It’s really great.” Tears pricked her eyes again. “Tom, I’ve got to run, but we’ll chat again soon, OK?”

She hung up the phone before he could respond. Her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She felt frantic, her breath coming in short, shallow gasps. Without even realising what she was doing, Ana went to the fridge and yanked it open. She pulled out the small bottles of spirits and drank them, one at a time, barely stopping to take a breath. She couldn’t stop crying the entire time.

“I don’t’ want to feel like this anymore,” she whispered to herself between sobs.

She staggered into the bathroom where she’d put her toiletry bag and rifled through it finding what she was looking for. A full bottle of sleeping pills, prescribed before she left, to use for jet lag. She’d hardly had any of them. She popped off the lid, and emptied the pills into her hand.

***

Willow was flicking through television stations when there was a quiet knock on her door. She peered through the peephole. Ana was dressed in a robe, her hair wet, her face red and puffy from crying. Willow pulled open the door and ushered her in.

“What happened?”

“I’m not OK,” Ana said between sobs. “Willow, I’m not OK.”

Willow wrapped her arms around Ana and pulled her close, feeling her body heaving as she sobbed uncontrollably. Willow could smell booze on her breath and saw that, in her hand, Ana clutched a full bottle of sleeping tablets.

“I’m here,” Willow said. “It’s all going to be OK.”

***