Play Me(10)

By: Katie McCoy

“Oh, nothing,” she said in the way that meant it was definitely something.

I put down my knife again and looked up at her. “Out with it,” I ordered.

She gave me a grin. “I just thought it was interesting how much you’ve been talking about your neighbor today.”

“Stop it,” I told her, knowing exactly what she was hinting at.

But of course she didn’t. “I can’t remember the last time I heard you talk about a woman for longer than ten minutes. I’ve been listening to you bitch about this one for almost an hour.”

“Annoyance is not the same as attraction,” I said, realizing too late I had just backed myself into a corner. Dammit. I was too tired to be interacting with someone as sharp as Dakota.

“Aha.” Her smile grew wider. “So she was cute.”

“I didn’t say that,” I argued, even though cute would not be the word I would use to describe Ella. She was hot as hell and just as irritating. But still, even my frustration with her hadn’t dimmed the intense attraction I was doing my best to ignore. She was probably nuts—again, who puts a piano in a studio apartment?—and I had a strict rule about that. Don’t screw with crazy. It had served me well during my dating life, and while I had had a few near misses with girls who got overly attached, for the most part, I had avoided worst-case scenarios. Messing with someone in my building however, well, that could go bad real fast if I wasn’t careful. Too bad I had told her about the curtains though, I could have built up enough fantasies to get me through this dry spell. Ten bucks the sexy lingerie Ella was wearing last night weren’t the only ones she owned.

“I think you did,” Dakota responded playfully. “You think she’s cute. When was the last time you went on a date?”

“When was the last time you went on a date?” I fired back, knowing she was just as busy as I was. Then I wished I hadn’t said anything, remembering how disastrous her love life had been lately. Dakota was great at a lot of things, but finding good guys was not one of them. Her last boyfriend had been one hell of a prick. “I’m sorry,” I told her, but she brushed it off.

“It’s fine,” she said. “In fact, I have one tomorrow night,” she told me, blushing a little.

“What?” How did I not know? But before I could even ask, she reached over and patted my hand.

“You’ve been busy with the restaurant.”

It was true, but too busy to know that my best friend was dating again? Maybe I was getting a little obsessed. I quickly dismissed that thought. I was ambitious. Not obsessed. But still, I could make time for Dakota.

“What are you doing after work tonight?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “Going home and going to sleep,” she said. “Exactly what you should do.”

“Or we could do brownie night,” I suggested. It was something we did in culinary school when we were really stressed out—try to outdo each other with our brownie recipes. And hanging out with my best friend was exactly what I needed to shake off the stress of work and this lingering annoyance over Ella and her goddamn piano. And her legs. And hips. And ass. Fuck. Stop it, I told myself.

“Brownie night, really?” Dakota asked. “That would be awesome.”

“Bring your A-game,” I warned. “I’m going all out on chocolate chips.”

“Oh, you know I will.” Dakota flicked a bit of cilantro at me. “Salted caramel, baby. Unbeatable.”

“We’ll see,” I told her, tossing the cilantro back. “We’ll see.”

Tonight was turning out to be a bitch of a night. By the end of it I was going to be in sore need of something with a kick. Ever since Patricia had left, we would always get at least one asshole customer that would declare fault with the food and blame it on the fact that we had a new chef. It was total bullshit—we were working off of Patricia’s recipes and all of us had worked under her for years—but it still managed to piss me off each time it happened. And tonight seemed to be an asshole convention of sorts. It seemed like every other meal would come back with complaints. The meat was overdone (it wasn’t), the mashed potatoes were too lumpy (they weren’t), and the greatest insult, the new chef (me) was taking liberties with Patricia’s perfect recipes (I wasn’t, though I was itching to try).

“I’m going to go out there,” I said, after a dish was sent back twice. A dish that had been cooked to perfection each time. Not only did it piss me off, but also it was bad for the morale of my chefs who were working their asses off. “This is ridiculous.” I threw down my apron, but Dakota blocked my way. “Move,” I told her.