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Gastronomic Whispers

Blurry white spots danced in front of her eyes as she lurched forward, bottle in hand. Hiccupping, she took another swig, letting the liquid burn her throat as it made its way into her body. As her head jerked back, she felt the stares of bypassing strangers as they took in her intoxicated form. Some of the men whistled, their lecherous eyes raking over her tightfitting blazer, low-cut blouse and pencil skirt. But a single glare was all it took to make those scum disappear from her sight.

Men.

She scowled, tilting the bottle further to get the last few drops of low-class alcohol into her system.

All those useless, attractive, dispensable, heart-breaking…. men.

Letting out a high-pitched titter, she momentarily lost her balance. Her arm flung out to find a support, it landed on a low wooden fence, the full weight of her body leaning on the dependable structure.

Was she such a prick? A snobbish, stuck-up bitch that worked too much?

The bottle slipped from her fingers, shattering on the pavement at her feet. Her mouth opened in a disappointed ‘oh’. As she stumbled backward to avoid the glass, her high heels caught in the gap between the bricked pavement. Her balance completely lost, she flailed her arms in vain.

Yet instead of a back-breaking fall, her body landed on two soft but sturdy arms. Her glazed over eyes traveled upwards to meet two stony black ones. It looked vaguely familiar. As she squinted, the haze over her mind cleared enough to reveal a name.

“….Leslie… right?” she slurred.

The short-statured man nodded curtly. “Yeah. What are you doing outside my apartment?”

As he helped her to her feet, she frowned. Her head swayed to and fro. She tried to concentrate on her surroundings. With a wobbly finger, she pointed at the group of dull-looking apartment complexes along the street. “Yooouuu…. live here?”

Crossing his arms over his chest, he eyed her curiously. “Yes.”

“Well, sorry to bother you then.” She raised a hand to her forehead. With a dip of her head, she stretched her arm out, her hand following its movement in a farewell greeting. Taking not more than two steps, her legs faltered again, giving way under her.

She yelped, her voice muffled as her head pressed into Leslie’s chest, his arms catching her under the armpits. The alcohol started to take its toll. Her eyelids drooped but her mind still retained enough consciousness to hear the man grumble under his breath. “Where do you think you’re going in this state?”

That’s the thing, she thought.

I don’t know where I’m going.

~ ~ ~

Pans clattering. Pepper. Basil. Chicken maybe?

Before her eyes even opened, her ever sensitive nose was tasting the flavors that wafted through the air. It was part of her job after all.

Whatever that was being cooked now seemed fairly decent, she would guess. Probably not the best that she was used to, but it wouldn’t be too bad either. Her eyelids fluttered open as the sound of running water over dishes stopped.

The ceiling above was painted a pure white, the fan that hung from it ancient. That didn’t give her a clue at all as to where she was. Her head rotated to the right. She saw the door to the room open slowly with a loud creak that sent a painful jolt down her nerves.

Perhaps it was the dulling effects of the remaining alcohol in her system or her low mood, but she didn’t really care who walked through the door. It could be a stranger for all she knew and she would be fine with it. She wasn’t curious as to how she ended up in the bed… She lifted her head a little to study herself.

Fully clothed. Well, probably not a pervert then.

A mop of dark hair peeked through the opening, followed by dark black eyes. As the full head and body came through into the room, her expression deepened into a frown.

“Leslie Burnside,” she stated.

The man moved to the side of her bed, his face an unchangeable mask of indifference. Dressed in a simple tee and jeans, his demeanor was exactly the same whether he was inside a kitchen or outside. Although his present attire definitely showed his body off more, there was that unmistakable air of a confident chef about him. It didn’t help that his arms were crossed over his chest, almost as if he were admonishing a little child. That gesture had always annoyed her.

“Do you remember what happened last night?” His voice was monotonous but she could detect a hint of derision, which made her bristle.

Huffing, she replied, “I was drunk, obviously. I was just trying to get to-“

Her words caught in her throat as she recalled the incidents of the night before. Stuck in the streets with a broken heart. Pathetically weaving her way back to someone who didn’t want her anymore. Tears stuck behind her eyes, refusing to come out due to pride. The emotions that came rushing back tore at her heart, reminding her of how lost she was.

She pressed a hand to her forehead, hissing as the pain of the hangover started to throb at the back of her skull. Seeing her discomfort, Leslie swiftly placed a piece of wet cloth – that he probably got from the table by her bed – over her forehead.

His attentiveness to her wellbeing threw her off completely. How could one guy who supposedly loved her just dump her in the coldest way possible? And then another guy who supposedly disliked her was now nursing her in his house? Her emotions in disarray, she exhaled shakily, trying to get a grip on herself.

“Hey, just rest, okay?” Leslie’s voice broke through her hazy thoughts. “I’ll get you some food.”

As he made to leave, she grabbed his wrist, stopping him in his tracks. “Why are you doing this?”

Her tone was soft but imploring. Lifting her gaze to rest on his face, her standoffish attitude disappeared. “Don’t you hate me?”

His lips parted before closing again, the crease in his brows deepening as he studied her. Taking his time, he measured his response deliberately. “Well, your views on cooking and food disagree with mine. And I don’t think the cuisine I cook deserves the three scathing reviews I got from you…. But that’s your job. I can’t blame you for that.”

Her head drooped, the bottom lip drawing in under her teeth as she bit down. “So..” She took a shivering breath. “You don’t think I’m a stubborn, stuck-up bitch who only thinks about work?”

Upon hearing no reply, she looked up again into those cold eyes. Scoffing humorlessly, she let her hand drop from his wrist. “That silence is so reassuring.”

“I’ll get your food.”

Laying back down, she covered her forehead with a hand, a small tear running down her cheek.

Food. Maybe that was the bane of her life.

~ ~ ~

“Here. Eat.”

It was just minutes later that Leslie re-entered the room and placed a plate of steaming hot rice and stir fried chicken in front of her. She could smell the fragrant odor of basil and pepper, accompanied by the slight charcoal tang, all very enticing but not what she needed or wanted at the moment.

“I don’t want to eat,” she said, staring through the food.

Leslie clicked his tongue impatiently. “You need some energy in your body. Now eat.”

Shaking her head, she pushed the plate away. “I’m not in the mood to savor it properly. Besides,” She threw him a sideways glance. “It could have been done better.”

He sighed in exasperation, pressing two fingers to his forehead. “There you go again with that idiotic philosophy of yours.”

“Say whatever you want.” Her catch phrase lacked any of the normal edge that laced her tone. There was only resignation and exhaustion. The ramrod backbone of hers sagged, pulled down to the earth. She felt lost, aimless… adrift in an ocean.

“Food doesn’t have to be complicated, you know.” She heard Leslie say but the words felt hollow, meaningless to her.

There was a pause. Then he added, “Even the simplest foods can be tasty if made with the right mindset and feelings. Yes, it sounds fucking cheesy but it’s true.”

Subconsciously nodding, she murmured, “Very cheesy.”

“Look, different foods are suited for different moods,” Leslie continued, his tone softer. “And so are different people. Matching people is like matching the right ingredients.”

Her eyes widening, she snapped her head back to look at him. He dropped his gaze quickly, shifting uncomfortably before making for the door. Stopping at the entrance, he tilted his head sideways in her direction. “I specifically made that dish for you. So… eat.”

As the door closed behind him, she stared at the spot where he had stood, wondering whether she had heard him wrong. Had he been trying to comfort her broken heart?

Her eyes traveled down to the steaming hot plate in front of her. Hesitantly, she reached for the spoon and fork, scooping up a little rice together with the chicken. She brought it up to her lips, letting the smell invade her nostrils so that she could imagine the flavor before biting into it.

The powerful spices that hugged the tender piece of meat erupted brilliantly in the front of her mouth. Accompanied by the sweet and fragrant rice, it slowly made its way down her throat. The lingering flavor on her tongue was delightful but as it sunk in, tears welled up unbidden in her eyes.

Cupping a hand to her mouth, she was taken aback by the effect of the simple dish on her body. Hurriedly, she dug her spoon into the food, closing her mouth over the larger portion. Again, the effect was more pronounced as more tears rushed to the front of her eyes, running down the side of her cheek.

Over and over again, she ate spoonful after spoonful of rice, letting all the sorrow she had kept hidden and locked away just flow out, washing over her like waves. Once the dish was spotless clean, she burrowed her face in the bed sheets, heavy sobs wracking her body. With each tear that dropped from her eyes, it lightened the burden on her heart.

It was as if she had bared her soul to someone. Shared her sorrows and heartache. Because in a way, it was true. Through the food he had cooked, Leslie had reached out to her.

Telling her that he understood.

~ ~ ~

Never once have I questioned my philosophy when it comes to food. But through miraculous chance, I have had the opportunity to savor Chef Leslie Burnside’s food straight from his own kitchen at home. I used to say that Chef Burnside’s tastes were too unrefined, too simple. But I was proven wrong.

The exquisite taste of something so simple was not only due to his cooking techniques, but because he understood intrinsically the gastronomic needs of a person, and was in tune with their desires. Channeling that passion into his food, he made stir fried chicken, seasoned with basil and pepper, accompanied by hot jasmine rice. Though it certainly seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, it wasn’t the chicken that caught my attention but the rice.

Hidden within the pure white grains were traces of onions that not only greatly enhanced the flavor, but delivered a punch to me when I most needed it. Like many of Chef Burnside’s dishes, the unique element of his food is cleverly hidden. In a way, his food is much like the chef himself. The outer shell of what you see may be hard, but give it time, cook it at low heat, and that shell crumbles.

Revealing that soft, gentle inside.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Romance

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