Thora was already at work on the salad when Currie slipped into the kitchen.
“Wow!” Currie looked at the strawberries heaped in bowls on the countertop for her cooking class to clean and slice. More than she’d need, and Emeralda was picking raspberries now.
“Ward helped Emeralda today. He had the fidgets and needed something to keep him busy.”
Well, wasn’t that nice? Ward helped Emeralda in the morning, and Price was with her now. “Moving rocks isn’t enough?” Currie asked. She was being catty, and she knew it. Ward wasn’t in her morning art class, and she’d missed him.
“Rocks might get old after a while,” Thora said.
Then he should have tried his hand at chiseling more wood! Currie chopped onions and cabbage for her oriental lentil soup with a little more force than necessary.
Thora said, “Down, girl. He didn’t get to spend too much time with her. Avery interrupted them.”
Currie might have misjudged Avery. He might be a decent sort after all. She started chopping another onion to flavor the potato soup. “Ward didn’t want to be part of a threesome?”
“No, he took off on the nature trails with his hands jammed into his jeans pockets.”
“Poor him.” Currie still wasn’t satisfied, and she twisted the dough for the breadsticks into a tighter braid than usual. She was struggling to put herself in a better mood when Frank Maples knocked on the French doors and brought a tray of halibut fillets into the kitchen.
“I caught this guy off the pier. Em told me you could use it for your cooking class. She said you were going to make something with a cranberry sauce.”
Em. Emeralda was certainly getting on with their male guests, Currie thought. “A compote,” Currie corrected--
a little more acidly than she’d intended.
Frank shrugged. “It’s cleaned and boned and ready to go.”
“You didn’t have to do all that.” Currie shook off her temper at his kindness.
“I wanted to. This fish was like a present from the sea--a fun catch. Your sister couldn’t have given me a better project than working at the fish farms and hatchery. I take Saffron’s gardening classes in the afternoons and her nature walks in the evenings. I can’t get enough of this island. I can’t help thinking that if my boy could come here, it would help him somehow. But he has three more years in the pen, and he’ll come out a different person.”
“Worse instead of better?” Thora asked.
“He’s not spending time with nice people,” Frank said. “It can rub off.”
Currie wasn’t sure that anything could heal Frank’s son, but she didn’t voice her doubts. Instead, she said, “At least the island can help you.”
“That it can. This place is as close to heaven as I’m ever going to get.”
“Who sent you here?” Currie asked.
“My daughter heard about it. She sent in my name, and you guys invited me before I knew I’d applied.”
“Your daughter must think a lot of you.”
“It’s mutual. The wife and me have a great family. At least, we would have--if. . .”
Currie nodded. “You’re lucky you have one son and daughter who are so close to you.”
“Yes, I am, and I intend to get myself in good shape so that I can enjoy them properly.” He looked out the window, drawn by the outdoors. “Gotta clean up before lunch. I smell like fish.”
“There goes a genuinely nice man,” Thora said, watching him leave. “Sounds like a neat family. How do you think one of the kids got hooked on drugs?”
Currie shook her head. “I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anybody does.”
“But it’s odd, isn’t it? Out of a family of three, two turn out good, and one turns out bad.”
“Birth order? Genes? Destiny? Beats me. Not everyone’s strong,” Currie said. “We all have our weaknesses. Some people have more than others.”
“But it almost seems like some people are BORN rotten.”
Currie turned to look at her. “Are they?” She thought about the mutilated rabbits in the garden. “You’ve been around a lot more people than I have.”
Thora shrugged and giggled. “Don’t expect any deep answers from me. I’m a sprite. I’m thinking too much and getting philosophical. I must be spending too much time with you.”
“But are some people born bad?”
“Yeah, I think they are, but I haven’t really followed any mortal from birth to death, so who knows?”
Currie shook her head. She only saw a certain type of mortal on the island--good people in need. This was her first taste of the dark side of humanity.
Thora had had enough thinking. “Let’s load the buffet.”
Currie was in a better mood after lunch. She took
Thumper and went outside to walk in the vegetable gardens for the half hour before her cooking class. The air smelled fresh and green, so she picked an apronful of peppers, broccoli, bok choy, and eggplants to make a vegetable stir-fry. Her students could slice and dice till their fingers got tired this afternoon. She pulled two, warm red onions from the rich earth and was brushing the dirt off them when Thumper hopped over to sniff them.
“You don’t like onions.”
The rabbit crossed the dirt path to nibble on romaine.
Currie picked some for him and called him into the kitchen with her. In front of the French doors, she’d set up a pen that she borrowed from the animal nursery--almost like a playpen for bunnies. She didn’t want to take any chances, worried that whoever had killed his family would find and hurt him if she left him outside.
When the guests came for their cooking lessons, Currie was surprised to see that Price and Ward were part of the group. Price looked at Thumper and asked, “How fresh is the food you use for the lessons?”
“He’s my pet, not an entrée,” Currie said. “Frank brought us halibut for the fish course, and I have skirt steaks to sauté with port and teriyaki sauce.”
“Ward and I volunteer to cook the steaks,” Price said. “We’ll man the grill.”
“No grill.” Currie looked at Ward. “Are the steaks all right with you?” She wondered what he was doing in this class. He looked uncomfortable jostling in the kitchen with the others.
He shrugged. “Anything that will make me a better cook. I have to fix meals at the fire station sometimes, and no one’s very impressed with what I come up with. If I could learn three or four fast and easy meals, it couldn’t hurt.”
Currie nodded. That was why he was here. Practical, as usual. Disappointment washed over her. What had she hoped for? That he’d missed her when he didn’t make the art class and wanted to see her this afternoon? Get smart! she told herself.
“All right, you two can do the steaks then. A couple of people can work on the vegetables for the stir-fry, and someone can do the fish.”
“What about dessert?” Avery asked. “I’d like to learn how to cook something romantic.”
“It has to be chocolate then,” Teri said, teaming with Leann to cook the fish. Brent and Thora started to slice vegetables. “Something decadent.”
“Easy chocolate nemesis,” Currie said. “A rich, wonderful, flourless cake. We’ll make two of them, and sprinkle red raspberries on top.” It irritated her when she found herself paired with Avery to make the cake, which wasn’t a difficult recipe, but had lots of steps. She only left occasionally to help the others from one point to the next with their cooking, but Price came to her often to ask questions. Even when she was in the middle of measuring an ingredient, he bombarded her for information--“Can you use other types of steaks for this recipe?” “Why port? What about burgundy?” “Could you grill these?” By the time class was over, Currie wished Price and Avery would find an activity they liked better than spending time in the kitchen.
As people filed out the door, she gathered her courage and asked Ward, “Did you become a better cook?”
“Maybe.” He cocked a dark eyebrow. “This class was interesting. Do you have a recipe for everything from steak to soup and salad to serving mankind?”
“What?” He’d caught her off-guard and she didn’t know how to answer him.
“Do you have a recipe that makes everything better?”
“And who’s helping you deal with your dad’s death?” He glanced toward the willow. “I can feel him here. He was a big part of the island, wasn’t he? His death has to be hard for you.”
“I have my sisters.”
“You can all grieve together?”
“Something like that.”
“They’d miss their dad too,” he said.
“My dad. They loved him, but they had their own fathers.” The words slipped out before she realized what she said.
Ward stared. “You each had a different father? This place is odd. Something’s a little off. I can’t figure it out, but I can feel it.”
“The island usually makes people happy.”
“It’s beautiful. I’ll give you that, but it’s almost too perfect. That worries me.”
“Why? Why can’t you just enjoy it?”
“In my life, whenever things go too well, it’s always a buildup to disaster.”
“Maybe it’s time for that to change.”
“Maybe. Thanks for the lesson, and yeah, it made me a better cook.” He turned and left, leaving her uneasy.