“What? No fucking way… Say that again. Slowly.”
Clara laughed. “I’m… cooking… dinner.” She enunciated every word slowly and carefully, leaning a bit closer to the phone on the counter as she did so, but taking great care not to take her eyes off the stove.
Florian’s chuckle filled the air, slightly muffled by the speaker phone. “Alright, who are you, and what have you done with my fiancée?”
“Ha-ha, very funny.” Clara rolled her eyes.
There was a brief pause before Florian replied. “So, uh… are you wearing a cute little apron and everything?” He teased.
“Oh yeah.” She replied sarcastically. “It’s all frilly and pink. You should see it.”
“And… what’s under the apron?” His voice was low and sultry. Even through the phone, it was enough to send a pleasant shiver down Clara’s spine. “Tell me what I’m missing, baby.”
“Sweatpants and an old t-shirt.” Jocelyne called out before Clara could reply. “And sorry Florian… no apron.” She giggled.
For a moment, Clara could perfectly picture the look of horror on Florian’s face. “Shit, you’ve got me on speakerphone?!”
“Well, duh! How else can I cook and talk at the same time?”
Jocelyne laughed again, stepping closer to the counter. “Save the phone sex for later, buddy.” She teased. “Though Clara, it’d be nice if you give me a chance to fall asleep first this time? Or at least put some headphones on?”
It was Clara’s turn to be mortified. “Oh my GOD, Jocelyne get out!!!!”
Her niece did her best to stifle her giggles before retreating back into the living room.
“Ugh. Sorry about that.” Clara turned down the heat on the stove, hoping the pasta had boiled long enough.
Florian simply laughed, his embarrassment seemingly forgotten. “Maybe you should be apologizing to Jocelyne instead…” His tone was teasing. “Sounds like we’ve been keeping her awake. Guess I’ll have to stop those late night phone calls…”
Clara shook her head, though she know he could not see it. “I’ll keep her up all I want… She’s been waking me up so goddamn early with that stupid alarm of hers. Fair is fair.”
Sometimes it was for class, sometimes it was for an opening shift at the library, and sometimes, Clara secretly thought, it was just to piss her off… But whatever the reason, Jocelyne’s alarm sounded at 6:30 nearly every morning. And, thanks to the apartment’s paper-thin walls, Clara could hear it, clear as day.
As if my class schedule isn’t exhausting enough already. She thought bitterly. Clara had felt almost like a zombie lately – so tired and groggy all the time… And she knew exactly why.
“So… How’s dinner coming?” The sound of Florian’s voice brought Clara back to the present.
She peered down at the pot in front of her. Despite her best efforts, her meal looked far from appetizing.
It was some health-nut type recipe Clara had found on Facebook a few days ago. Not normally her thing, but she had been eating way too much junk food lately… Without the dining hall nearby anymore, her options were reduced to junk food, starving, or forcing down Jocelyne’s shitty cooking. Usually, the bag of Doritos reigned victorious.
Tonight’s culinary experiment was in the hope of bringing back some of the wiggle-room she’d been losing in her pants lately. Of course, she could always go to the gym too. But who has time for that?!
“Uh… it looks… great.” She replied at last. “I’ll have to send you a picture on Snapchat later so you can be jealous.” Clara hoped her voice sounded sincere.
“Uh-huh.” He’d seen right through her, of course. “Babe, I really think Jocelyne needs to give you some acting lessons.”
Clara couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay, okay, so it kinda looks like shit.” She admitted. “But anything’s better than that garbage Jocelyne makes… It makes me sick. Like, literally I actually puked last week after I ate that thing she called a grilled cheese.”
“Clara, it can’t be that bad.”
“Oh, it is. Trust me.”
“I’m still here, you know.” A slightly annoyed voice called from the other side of the kitchen.
Clara winced inwardly at the sight of her niece. “Aw, come on. You know I say that with love, right?”
Jocelyne raised an eyebrow at her, but Clara was relieved to see that she did not appear angry. “Sure.” She replied with a tiny sigh. “I’m heading out anyway, so feel free to keep trash talking my cooking all you want.” The girl drew closer as she spoke.
“Where are you going?” Clara asked, though she already had a guess.
“I promised Mark I’d do an extra shift tonight to help out before closing… Just a couple of hours.”
“Mm-hmm… And by ‘help out’, do you mean suck up to your boss even more than you already do? Or sit there drooling over your little lover-boy?”
Jocelyne’s cheeks reddened slightly. “Yeah, not even glorifying that one with a response… See you tonight, Clara.” She took a peek at the stove. “I guess save me some leftovers?” The girl sounded less than enthused. “It’ll be interesting to see how your shitty cooking compares to mine.” Jocelyne gave her aunt a tiny wink, then headed for the door without another word.
She paused in the entryway. “Oh, and bye, Florian!” Jocelyne called out. “Have fun, and tell Luc to stay out of trouble.”
A slightly static-y laugh filled the air. “Too late.”
With a shake of her head, Jocelyne was out the door.
“Sorry.” Clara turned her attention back to the large phone that sat on the counter. “I promise I didn’t forget about you.”
“It’s fine. That was pretty damn entertaining, actually.” He replied, a smile in his voice. “So…. Now that Jocelyne’s gone… Fill me in on this ‘lover boy’?” Florian chuckled. “Does she seriously have a boyfriend?”
“HAH! She wishes.” Clara turned off the burner and got to work transferring the hot food to a plate. “There’s this American kid in one of her classes who hangs out at the library a lot… She won’t shut up about him.” The young woman rolled her eyes. “Actually, she kind of won’t shut up in general lately… If it’s not about what a bitch that theater director is or how cool and interesting her boss is, it’s how dreamy Elliot is.” She laughed softly. “I love her to death, but it’s kinda pathetic, isn’t it?”
“Hey, don’t laugh.” Florian said seriously. “It might be pathetic to you, but it sounds like this job and this guy are really making her happy. And she totally deserves that, don’t you think?”
Clara paused, considering his words carefully. So what if it was some lame library job and a crush on a weird foreign guy? If Jocelyne was happy, that was all that mattered, wasn’t it? He’s right… Of course he is. And I’m being an insensitive piece of shit, as usual.
“Florian, you’re the sweetest guy in the whole world.” She said at last, surprised by the sudden sting of tears in her eyes. “You’re right about Jocelyne… And I’m sorry for acting like a bitch…” Clara’s voice was thick as she spoke.
“Babe, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
She hastily wiped a few stray tears from her eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just…” She sighed. “I’m having such a hard time putting up with Jocelyne… I just wanna be able to sleep in and eat normal food again… and I miss you so much that it’s killing me, Florian.” Clara choked back a second round of tears. “This whole thing just sucks.”
“Honey, I know.” Florian’s voice was pained. “But I’ll be back before you know it, okay? And Jocelyne’s just doing her best. I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think it is.” He paused for a moment. “But I’m sorry I can’t be there for you right now. I’d love to be, you know I would… Not that my cooking would be much better than yours or Jocelyne’s…” He added.
Clara could almost envision the crooked little smile on his lips. The thought almost made her start crying yet again. “Y-yeah.” She agreed, forcing a laugh. “And I wouldn’t want to force you to choke down this slop I made… So maybe it’s for the best that you aren’t here.”
Her fiancé laughed, then seemed to hesitate for a moment. “Look babe, I hate to do this… But we have to get ready for our soundcheck in a few minutes…”
“Oh shit, yeah! You don’t wanna be late for that!” Clara could not help but feel a bit guilty… not to mention ridiculous for her sudden breakdown. Get a grip, Clara! “Sorry for keeping you, sweetie. Have fun, okay? Go kick some ass… Lucas too. You can tell him that’s a direct order from me.”
Florian chuckled. “Will do. Enjoy your dinner.” He teased. “Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
With a small beep, the call disconnected.
Clara let out a soft sigh as she sat at the table and peered curiously down at the plate in front of her. She leaned forward. inhaling deeply as the food’s unusual aroma reached her nostrils.
She felt her stomach turn at the smell. Yeah, fuck this. I’m ordering a pizza.