The Temporal Bard and Modern Lasagna
Gabrielle didn't know how long she had slept the second time around. The last thing she remembered was watching two of her strange benefactors charging at each other, armed with swords. The next, she was curled up on the bed, clutching the pillow to her.
She looked out the window at the fading fiery light of the setting sun and stretched. Had she slept through an entire day? Two days?
From outside she could hear the sound of many people socializing in the main hall of the place. The music was playing and she felt it reverberate in the floor beneath her feet.
She did her best to fix her appearance and opened the door. She could make out several people by the large green table and a thin haze of smoke hovered several feet above the floor. A thick tobacco scent overpowered everything in the hall way. She sniffed and sneezed quietly before walking slowly out into the open.
There was the massive bulk of Tommy sitting on a stool at the corner of the hall. He turned and looked at her in surprise.
"Well," he grinned. "Look who finally woke up." Then he turned and bellowed into another back room. "Shakespeare! The House Mouse is alive!"
Apparently, the large man had heard the impromptu nickname bestowed upon her by Dusty.
David emerged, wearing jeans, tee shirt, sneakers, and a red and white checkered apron. His long dark hair was tied into a thick tail that hung down between his shoulders. He wiped his hands on the apron and grinned.
"Hey there, Mouse. Bout time," he said. "You hungry?"
She smelled the preparations of a meal coming from the kitchen and suddenly her belly growled with hunger she hadn't even realized she felt. She nodded.
"Good," David said. "Get in here."
Confused for a moment, she hesitated.
"You know how to cook, don't you?" David asked.
She nodded. "A little. Nothing fancy."
"Alright, Nothing Fancy," he said with a grin. "Get in here, unless you'd rather be part of the cleanup crew?"
Gabrielle ducked under the bar and followed David into a large, modern kitchen.
The smells flooded her nostrils, spicy and rich, making her stomach protest even more.
On a massive stove were several steaming pots or flat pans, and an illuminated oven showed two large silver covered dishes within.
At least a dozen steaks sizzled on a broiler, and David was moving from one station to the next, here flipping over a steak, there, and adding spices to a large boiling pot.
He gestured to a small pile of ground and partially cooked meat.
"Start by making the meatballs and dropping them in the crock pot," he ordered as he moved over to a large flat frying griddle.
Still uncertain, she stepped over and smelled the rich tangy scent of the sauce slowly bubbling in the pot before her. Again, her belly cried out in anticipation.
As she did, she watched David with growing fascination. He seemed tireless as he moved from one place to the next. The kitchen was easily large enough to support a staff of several cooks.
Gabrielle smiled as she recalled Joxer's tiny tavern. She and Xena had wandered in after their long sleep and found their old friend and his wife, bustling about like a dog with its tail on fire.
There was a sudden pang of regret as she remembered, yet another friend she had lost.
She paused in her preparations for a moment.
"Look out!" David said cheerfully as he squeezed between her and a standing rack holding various cooking utensils. "Ingredients, coming through!" He held two small clear bowls in his hands, passing them over her head as he moved. Stopping at another large pot, he tossed the mixed contents of one bowl in and stirred them gently with a large wooden spoon, then he turned to a second, equally large pot and dumped the contents of that one in. That pot contained boiling water. He stirred that pot a few moments and then turned away, ducking beneath the hanging pans and setting them to clattering against one another. He opened a large door and withdrew a box, lined in plastic and steaming from the contact with the warm air. He spun theatrically and ducked back underneath, drawing long spindly crab legs from the box and placing them into the boiling water. Then he looked into the box and upended it over the pot. Shrimp fell in by the dozen.
"That works," he said, tossing the box into a corner and wiping his hands on his apron again. He grinned and stepped back to the first pot, stirring it carefully.
Looking back past her again, he saw the amused smile spreading on her face. He slipped behind her again, stopping at a large flat pan containing more ground meat, simmering within.
Reaching up, he took a small bottle of reddish liquid and poured copious amounts into the skillet. A large burst of brilliant orange fire leapt up from the pan with a sizzle and he grabbed the pan in one hand and shook it, expertly tossing the flaming meat around.
Gabrielle almost dove for cover when the minor explosion occurred.
"Rupee!" David shouted as he worked, then she laughed out loud.
"You're out of your mind!" She exclaimed.
David only grinned more broadly and tossed the meat until the flames died, then he spun back around and circumnavigated Gabrielle and the utensil rack, returning to the first massive pot. He spooned the meat into the pot and set the skillet into a large steel sink, then he stirred the pot again. He was whistling as he worked, loving every minute.
Gabrielle finished her appointed task and looked over at her host expectantly.
David glanced over and nodded. "Check this out," he said.
He drew the spoon out, covered in a thick red sauce. He tasted it and then offered it to Gabrielle.
"What do you think?" he asked.
She tasted it and her eyes widened in surprise.
"That's good," she said. "What is it?"
"What is it?" David repeated in shock. "What is it? Good God lady. You're tasting Shakespeare's magic venison pasta sauce!"
"Pasta?" Gabrielle asked.
"Christ, lady," David exclaimed. "You're from Greece. Italy's only a short swim away!"
"I've been to Italy," Gabrielle replied. "And I've never seen them prepare anything like this?"
David stopped stirring the pot and looked at her quizzically. Then he shrugged. "Well, you're in for a treat."
He pointed at a large cabinet next to the refrigerator. "Grab the little green boxes that say Angel Hair on them and dump the contents into that other pot over there." He pointed to another pot of boiling water on a second burner. Then he tasted the sauce again and frowned critically. "Needs more garlic," he said, and he took down a small clear container, opening the end and pouring the granulated contents in. After several seconds, he ceased and resumed stirring, then he tasted it again and nodded in satisfaction.
Gabrielle found the requested boxes. He pointed at them for confirmation. David nodded and she took them down, ripping the ends open and dumping the stiff contents into the boiling pot.
At the same time, David placed a thick mitten over one hand, and drew a large, silver covered dish from the oven. He removed the covering and spooned a generous amount of his sauce across the top of the contents, then he set the dish back in the oven.
He tossed the mitt on the counter and poked his head out into the main room.
"Twenty minutes people!" He announced. "Set the table!"
Derek called from a corner.
"Hey! Where's your brain pot and cell?"
"On the entertainment center!" David replied. "You get em?"
"You betcha!" Derek replied with a grin and returned to fiddling with a different helmet.
David ducked back in and went over tot he large flat griddle. He pulled two small metallic dishes from the top shelf and set them on the hot surface, then he reached behind him and took a long sharp knife, and onion.
"How's the sauce look?" He asked.
Gabrielle looked down at the pot she was stirring. The sauce was thick, red, and well – sauce?
"I think it's okay," she offered.
"Cool, grab eight eggs, and the veggies in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Bring them over here, please."
Gabrielle stepped over and opened the refrigerator, surprised to feel the cold air within the box. She opened the drawer and took out a huge bundle of mixed vegetables, all skinned and prepared for cooking. She brought them over to David who promptly tossed them all onto the griddle, dousing them with oil.
"Eggs, please," he said as he drew out his knife.
Gabrielle ducked back and quickly retrieved the eggs, holding them patiently as David worked. She watched the razor sharp blade sliced through the mixed vegetables with a swiftness that surprised her.
David held a spatula in the other hand and he quickly and neatly scooped and sliced veggies at blinding speed. Then he set the two implements down and grabbed two eggs, expertly cracking them over one of the bowls. He repeated this until all the eggs were in the bowl and, taking a whisk, he mixed them furiously for a few moments before dumping them on the griddle as well.
"Now," he continued as he worked. "I need you to grab that strainer there," he pointed to the thing, hanging on the rack. "Fish me out a bunch of that shrimp in the seafood pot and bring them here too."
"Okay," Gabrielle replied. She did as instructed and returned. David nodded to the griddle and she poured the small shellfish on there as well.
"Where'd you learn to cook?" she asked as David quickly lined the small creatures up and neatly cut off the tails in one easy stroke.
"Two more like that should be good," he said. Then he smiled. "I've been cooking since I was a kid. Went to school for it after I saw the guys at Benihana in action." Gabrielle returned two more times and then sat back to watch.
David moved with speed and fluidity that she had never beheld before, at least in a kitchen. The tails were stripped and scrapped off the cooking surface before she even realized they had been severed, then the eggs were diced into tiny fragments and mixed in with a large pile of brown rice that seemed to have magically appeared from nowhere.
Suddenly, the spatula caught one of the shrimp and launched it into the air. David expertly caught the morsel in his mouth and continued.
"Want one?" David asked, looking over at her, his hands never slackening speed.
"Sure," Gabrielle replied, and another morsel flew up in the air right at her. She caught it neatly and popped it into her mouth.
"Ah, what the hell was that?" David asked. "If you're going to do it, do it right." And another shrimp went skyward. Gabrielle didn't even have to adjust her position. It landed in her open mouth and she grinned as she chewed.
"You are," she said. "You are crazy. One minute you're beating the stuffing out of someone, and the next?" She gestured at him, smiling.
David scooped the eggs and some of the vegetables into the rice and tossed them expertly.
"Girlfriend," David said. "If enjoying life is crazy, then I'm certifiably insane." He consumed another shrimp in the same airborne manner and scooped the rice into the large waiting bowl.
"Table ready?" He shouted out the door.
"Bring it on!" Someone called impatiently from without.
"Come and get it!" David replied grinning like a madman as he scooped the rest of the veggies into another bowl.
Four women entered the kitchen. The first one was a tall, rail thin woman of forty years or so, with long pale blonde hair and deep blue eyes behind thick glasses. She had an air of authority about her as she stepped in. Her name was Debbie, though most of the Squad simply referred to her as the Queen.
"Whatcha got for us Shakey?" she asked with a slight southern drawl that augmented her husky voice.
"Lasagna's in the oven," he pointed. "Rice, veggies, sauce, and the dinner rolls," David replied. He looked over at his guest. "Could you give them a hand?" he asked.
Smiling, Gabrielle moved to assist.
The next girl was shorter and a bit heavier in build, with thick dark brown hair and hazel eyes. She wore black, skin tight jeans and a deep red tank top beneath a black leather vest trimmed in a red of the same color. Her fingers were covered in rings and she wore a thick silver chain about her waist as a belt.
"Michelle," Debbie ordered. "Grab the stuff in the oven, would you?"
Michelle grabbed the oven mitt and a matching one from a drawer and drew out the casserole dish.
She sniffed and sighed in anticipation.
"Shakespeare," she said. "You have got to give me the recipe for this."
"No way," David replied. "I do that and we'd never see you. Or we'd see a helluva lot more of you."
"Ha, ha," Michelle countered and she whisked the dish out into the other room.
The next girl to come in had long thick auburn hair that reached down beneath her waist. She was young, about twenty with thoughtful green eyes. She wore a violet leather halter and a pair of blue jeans over her curvaceous figure. She quickly stepped up and gave David a friendly kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks for cooking again tonight, Shakes," she said.
She grabbed the two bowls of vegetables and rice, and then looked over at Gabrielle as she backed away.
"Did he do the flying shrimp trick?" she asked.
"Hey, Katrina," David barked, and another of the small shellfish sailed across the room into her waiting mouth.
"Food – table – now."
Katrina smiled as she chewed and departed.
The final girl was small and thin. It was immediately apparent that she was related to Debbie. Same hair and eyes. Same build, and same infectious grin.
"Hey, Jesse," David ordered. "Get a couple of towels and grab the sauce pot, would you?"
"Sure," Jesse retorted in a confident melodic tone. "Give me the heavy shit."
She also received a shrimp in the mouth for her comment as she went, grinning to her appointed task.
Through the entire operation, Debbie had simply sat back and watched David work.
"Is the serving platter behind you, Deb?" David asked.
Debbie reached up into another cabinet and drew out a large flat dish.
"Gabrielle," David asked. "Can you grab the steaks off the broiler and take them out please?"
"Sure," Gabrielle took the dish and a pair of metal tongs. She quickly stacked the steaming steaks on the platter and headed for the door.
David smiled as he heard the cheers when the steaks emerged from the kitchen.
"You did that on purpose," Debbie said knowingly from behind him.
"Yup," David smiled as he cleaned the griddle and moved to the boiling seafood pot.
Using the strainer, he scooped the remaining shrimp from the water and then dumped the pot over into the adjoining sink. The steaming crab legs fell in with a clatter.
"So," Debbie asked casually. "Who is she? And why does she have such a wild aura about her?"
David smiled knowingly. "Aside from her name," David said. "I don't know, but I have my ideas."
"Oh?" Debbie stepped up next to him, her eyes looking at him expectantly. She smiled a wide toothy grin.
"Not those kinds of ideas," David corrected her, recognizing that look. "I think it might have something to do with Samhain?"
"Ah, those kinds of ideas," She leaned against the end of the rack. "Is this the one Shilah called me about?"
"She called you?" David dropped the pot on the floor with a clatter.
Gabrielle stopped short at the doorway when the massive utensil hit the floor. Several other faces peered in over her shoulders, curious about the noise.
"Damn, Shakespeare," Debbie smiled, easily moving off subject to avoid the awkward moment. "That's the first fumble I've seen you make in three years. You're slipping."
David bent to retrieve the pot and looked up at Gabrielle. She stood there with an alarmed look on her face.
David saw the genuine concern on her face, as did Debbie, and she began to smile again.
Michelle's dark head poked around the corner.
"Everything okay?" she asked in surprise.
"Yeah," David said, snapping out of his stare at Gabrielle. He suddenly felt incredibly awkward. He picked the pot up and set that one inside the other, within the sink. "Got the wine out?" he asked quickly.
"Yup," Michelle responded with a frown.
David turned around to find Debbie holding another large platter and bowl. Quickly David set the crab legs on the platter, then he strained the noodles in the final pot, added a little olive oil to keep them from sticking and poured them into the bowl.
"We'll talk later," Debbie nodded and winked mischievously. Then she lifted the platter and swept out of the room.
"Bullit!" She shouted. "Get yer paws out of the lasagna!"
Derek stopped with his finger a fraction of an inch over the steaming casserole.
"Damn, girl!" he countered. "You're cruel."
David followed out of the kitchen, bearing the bowl of noodles, preceded by Gabrielle.
Everyone was standing behind a chair around a long table, waiting.
The table was covered with food and several bottles of red and white wine. All was set, and yet, still, no one moved.
David took a plate and moved around the table, selecting a small portion from each prepared dish. When he finished, he filled a glass of red wine and stood at the head. He bowed his head and muttered something. Then he looked up and said aloud.
"That we should never hunger,"
Some of the others repeated those words, while most simply replied "Amen" or said nothing. Then David took the plate and vanished through the side door.
When he returned, he resumed his place at the head of the table and looked around. Then he lifted his wine glass. The others all followed suit with their selected beverage.
With an overblown, bombastic tone. David nodded to one of the men further down the table.
"I think a toast is in order." He raised his glass. "To Mister Zynda. Our thanks for bringing down that beautiful stag last week, allowing us to enjoy such a wonderful repast together in the spirit of friendship and family as we have always –"
Derek couldn't stand it any longer.
"Man," he interrupted. "Talk like a white boy, will ya!"
David paused, a blank expression on his face for a moment. Then he sighed.
"Hey, Marty," he said simply. "Thanks for killing the deer. Let's eat."
Cheers broke out and everyone settled into a chair and began to pass the plates around.
Still somewhat curious about the plate of food left outside, Gabrielle settled into a seat between two other women. Katrina and Jesse were both open and friendly, and soon Gabrielle was doing one of the things she did best. She was talking. The talking turned to joking, and the joking turned to stories. Before long, she had most of the table enraptured as she spun tales from her life, though she made them sound like regular stories.
As the night progressed, she discovered a sense of community that she had forgotten since leaving her childhood home. These people, as different as they each were from one another, had formed a family, of sorts. Their individual differences made them a stronger whole, each one contributing to the security of the others.
Gabrielle also heard stories from them. Stories that centered around brotherhood, respect, and shared adventure in the open wild.
There were several people at the table that night that she formed the beginnings of a strong friendship with.
The first one was the massive and suspicious Tommy. By the time the second helping was making the rounds, both he and Derek, by David's estimation, had been won over.
It went without saying that Debbie and the other girls in the party found Gabrielle's company pleasant.
By the time the bottles and plates were empty, Gabrielle, Michelle, Katrina and Jesse were deep in their own conversation. Suddenly Michelle looked up at Debbie.
"Hey," she said, a little drunkenly. "Gabby, here, has never been downtown! Can we take her this weekend?"
A sudden twinge of angst flared in David's gut. But he shrugged.
"She's a big girl," he said. "She don't need my permission. Just don't get her too lit." He smiled. "I doubt she could handle it."
Gabrielle met his stare with a challenging one of her own.
"Oh, man," Dusty leaned over. "That looks like a challenge to me."
David smiled. "Yeah, whatever." He took his wineglass, averting his eyes, and took a long drink.
"You gonna take that," Dusty grinned mischievously. "She's just a girl."
Opposite Gabrielle, Tommy closed his eyes and shook his head, smiling. "Dusty, man, you do not want to go there."
"What?" Dusty looked over at Tommy and in the process saw Gabrielle staring at him now.
"Just trust me," Tommy said knowingly, looking at Gabrielle and smiling. "She will hand your ass to you and make you like it."
Dusty slammed down the rest of his Jack Daniels and sighed. "Yeah, right." He grabbed the bottle and refilled his glass. Then his eyes met Gabrielle's and he paused.
She simply looked at him, and her eyebrow rose up slightly in question.
Katrina looked between the two of them and a smile began to spread across her youthful features.
"Dusty," she said knowingly. "This would be another really dumb move on your part."
Dusty simply held Gabrielle's stare evenly, a sly smile beginning to spread across his thin features. Gabrielle only mimicked that look as her own mind began to turn. Her hands rose and fell on the table as if to ask.
Katrina looked down towards the other end of the table.
"Dad!" She called. "Dusty's picking a fight again!"
At the opposite end of the table, a slender, middle aged man named Gary sat up straighter and looked down at them. He had long pale hair and wore a dark flannel shirt under his leather vest, a cigarette dangled easily in between his fingers. He looked at the two of them and smiled.
"I got ten bucks on the lady," he said, eliciting a chorus of laughter.
David simply put his head in his hand and shook it slowly. "Oh to be in the warm fuzzy glow of all this liquid courage," he muttered. Then he looked up at Dusty.
Dusty merely smiled wider, never taking his eyes of Gabrielle. "Why not?"
Then he looked up at David. "Just a friendly sparring contest, come on?"
Gabrielle also looked at David questioningly.
David only shrugged.
"Don't break him, is all I ask," he said. "I might have cracked that thick skull of his last night?"
Gabrielle's smile grew as she realized that this, like the swordplay of the night before, was nothing serious. She stood up and drew the sais out of her boots.
"Whoa!" Dusty exclaimed as he saw the two weapons.
Gabrielle set the two weapons on the table and rose, stepping out away from the table a few paces
Tommy just held his hand up and waived Dusty away as his massive frame shook with internal laughter. "Man, I tried to warn you."
Dusty rose from his place and stepped into a small open space, away from the table. She stood waiting, her hands at her sides.
"Well," Dusty said with as much bravado as he could. "I'll be gentle."
Gary called out from the opposite end. "I hope she will be!"
Dusty stood before Gabrielle. The two of them were about the same height, though Gabrielle was a bit larger in build than her slim opponent.
Debbie called out from her place at the table.
"Dusty! You behave yourself, now!"
Dusty dropped into a fighting stance and shuffled in, throwing several slow experimental punches that Gabrielle deflected easily. It was clear that this contest was not about hurting anyone.
Dusty shuffled in again and tried a little more speed. Again, Gabrielle deflected them easily, matching his movements.
Dusty stepped back and smiled.
"You're pretty good," he acknowledged. Then he came in again at full speed, though he did not try to strike her directly. Again Gabrielle blocked his attacks, and this time managed to sneak a couple of taps on his body in the process.
Several of the people at the table clapped, especially the girls.
"Easy there, Gabby!" Michelle called out. "You're going to hurt his feelings!"
Gabrielle smiled and looked over at Dusty. He simply nodded and then shuffled in, quick as lightning, trying to wrap Gabrielle up in some kind of hold. Instead, Gabrielle expertly reversed it and brought the stunned man down to his knees, one arm held behind him in a wicked arm bar.
Dusty turned his shaggy head and looked up at Gabrielle, an enchanted smile on his face.
"Now that was cool," he said. "Marry me?"
Gabrielle released her hold and her mouth dropped in surprise. She laughed out loud.
"Dusty got beat by a girl!" Katrina taunted him.
"Yeah," Dusty said, rising to his feet. "But I think I liked it."
"Oh Lord," Michelle moaned. "Gabby, he's gonna follow you around like a little lost puppy for weeks now."
Gabrielle laughed and extended her hand to Dusty. Instead of grasping her forearm, he took her hand and kissed it chivalrously, bowing. Then he saw Debbie holding his bottle of Jack Daniels and he sighed.
"On second thought," he said apologetically. "It would never have worked." He ran over and sat down on Debbie's knee, eyeing his bottle.
"Marry me?" he asked again.
She shoved the bottle into his arms and pushed him off. "I already got me a man," she replied. "Behave yourself!"
As the laughter died, Gabrielle decided that she would go into 'downtown' with the girls that coming weekend. When she informed Katrina of this, the young lady looked at her critically for a moment.
"Well," she said. "Then we need to get you some new clothes." She looked up at David. "Hey, Shakespeare. Can I borrow your bank card? I wanna take Gabby, here, shopping."
David looked quickly down at Debbie, who gave a subtle nod.
David slowly withdrew the card and passed it over to Debbie. "Fine, but you get parental supervision."
"My parents are in Phoenix," Katrina retorted. Then she saw Debbie take the card from David. She perked up immediately. "Okay, no problem!"
David looked at Debbie, eyes pleading. "Be gentle, please?"
"Define gentle," Debbie asked, grinning.
"She doesn't get her own bike," David retorted.
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