Fandom: American Idol S8
Pairing: Kris Allen/Adam Lambert; Adam/OMC
Genre: Romance, AU
Word Count: 14,800
Disclaimer: No infringement on the rights of real people intended. Not profiting in any way.
Notes: For vertigo's birthday. Art by katekat1010. Beta by akavertigo & cinaea.
Remixed Original: This is an AU remix of summerstorm's the hum of silence never seemed so far. Remixed with permission for the Kradamadness Remix Challenge.
Summary: In the game of love, food has an unfair advantage.
In which Kris is a gourmet chef, and Adam is a Hollywood PA on a simple lunch run.
Read the story on Archive Of Our Own or LiveJournal.
Black-rimmed eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You said Jenny Smith?"
"Yeah," Adam said.
"What happened to the regular girl?"
"She got fired," Adam shrugged, fighting back his smile. He'd been warned that the people here were very serious about food.
The checkout girl looked him over with an unattractive squint, eyeliner settling into crow's feet and adding ten years to her face—somebody should give her some application tips. "Wait over there," she ordered, pointing to a corner of the shop out of the customers' way.
"I'm on a schedule," he reminded her as she disappeared through a set of swinging double doors. She didn't look back.
A couple behind him muttered about call-ahead customers, and Adam shuffled to the corner to give them some space. The shop was brightly-lit, the glass cases of entrées and pastries practically glowing with artfully displayed temptation. He looked away quickly for the sake of his willpower and ended up browsing a display of jars bearing simple, handmade labels. He leaned in closer to read: red pepper pomegranate jelly, apple jalapeño jelly, roasted garlic and onion jam…. Adam snorted. This was exactly why he never asked what Margot was eating.
His thumb brushed over the phone in his pocket, and he pulled it out to check the screen: no texts. He sighed and tucked the phone away, telling himself to forget about it.
"Pickup for Jenny Smith?" a man called, and Adam turned to the counter, hand raised.
Another skeptical employee—this one much cuter—was coming around the counter in a denim chef's apron. He stopped in front of Adam, a belligerent set to his jaw and his chest puffed out for a fight. "Name?"
"Adam Lambert," he gave his most charming smile. And then, before he could help himself, he leaned forward and whispered, "Or do I need a codename, too?"
It worked; the tension in the guy's shoulders eased, and he cracked a smile that rated up there with Margot's red carpet dazzler. "Nah, your real name's good enough for me. Sorry 'bout the attitude."
"No problem. But you know her schedule, so—"
"Of course! I have Ms. Smith's order ready; it'll just be another minute. Wait here?"
Adam nodded and didn't look too deeply into those smiling brown eyes. He did, however, check out his ass when he turned around—there was no harm in looking.
When he met the cashier's gaze, she was still glaring at him as though he were planning to rob the place. Now that he was in good with the cute chef, he felt safe rolling his eyes at her. This was lunch, not The Italian Job, for god's sake.
The chef came back with two stainless-steel canisters. "Okay, today she's having orzo salad and sole Florentine. I'm Kris, by the way," he added, juggling the canisters to shake Adam's hand. "She can add salt and pepper to the fish, but no lemon—there's already plenty in the salad. And these are thermal insulated, so the fish should stay hot, but if it isn't hot enough when you open it, you can pop it in the oven for a few minutes to warm it back up. No microwaving the fish."
Adam probably should have been paying attention to Kris's instructions, but there were brown smudges on his apron and something leafy and green in his spiky hair.
"You got all that?"
"Yeah, got it," Adam said absently, and reached out and plucked a bit of parsley out of Kris's hair, just above his right ear.
"Oh," Kris said, his eyes going wide and cheeks turning pink. And then he laughed. "I'm always a mess, don't worry about it."
"You work it, though," Adam smiled and dropped the leaf. "You give me what you've got in your hands and I'll get out of your hair, too." He took the canisters from Kris and stacked them, only to immediately have the top one snatched away.
"Don't do that!" Kris gasped. "This one's 145 degrees! If you stack them, some of that heat's gonna leach into the salad!" He stared Adam down like it was a matter of life and death.
Since Kris was considerably hotter than the cashier girl, Adam chose not to roll his eyes again. "Sorry. I won't stack them, I promise." He tried to look trustworthy.
Kris hesitated a long moment before relinquishing the canisters a second time, and Adam dutifully held them apart. "Ms. Smith said you'd take this more seriously than Felice," he said, and Adam read his disappointment loud and clear.
"Believe me," Adam said with complete sincerity, "I have no intention of ruining her lunch. I'd like to keep my dick attached to my body."
"You just missed it," June said as he joined her on the couch an hour later.
"Not the squat thrusts," Adam groaned.
"The squat thrusts," she confirmed.
Margot's personal trainer Frank was wearing the blue spandex number today, and Adam couldn't have designed a better outfit to highlight his assets. Each clench and shift of his perfect muscles was on display in the bright sunlight. And when he did squat thrusts…. "Son of a bitch," Adam moaned, and watched, disconsolate, as Frank guided Margot through a few reps of pushups. "Traffic on the PCH was brutal," he said.
June hesitated and then said, "You know, that was always Felice's excuse."
Adam knew. He had post-traumatic stress from witnessing Felice's late lunch deliveries and the rage of a sugar-crashing Margot. And he'd almost been late, himself—one more backup that morning and he would've been on the receiving end of her wrath. He gulped.
Outside, Frank was switching to crunches, and Margot's blond ponytail swayed in the breeze as he barked encouragement. They looked like one of those fitness infomercials, Adam mused, enjoying the aesthetics of the jewel-toned sky, red patio, two flawless bodies glistening with sweat, and the dark smudge of the Pacific Ocean beyond. Her pale purple sports top looked especially good in this light. He nodded, pleased with her latest purchase.
"So how was it?" June asked suddenly. "Was the cook as hot as Felice claimed?"
"He's cute," Adam allowed, and didn't elaborate on the charming accent, the snug t-shirt under the apron, and the firmness of his ass in those jeans as he walked away.
"Hey, I'm already spoken for," Adam said. "And so are you."
She hummed thoughtfully and cast him a side-eye. Adam ignored her and pulled out his phone to check. His sigh was a lot louder this time, and June echoed it. "Now what?"
"It's nothing," he mumbled.
"Honey, it's never nothing. Come on, spill. What'd that asshole do this time?"
Adam appreciated her support but wasn't in the mood to hear her badmouth Joel again. "Just the same old drama," he said firmly and stood up, checking the time. "She'll be done in five. I have to set the table."
When he was safely in the kitchen, he pulled out his phone again and started a new text…but closed it before he'd typed a word. It was Joel's turn to apologize, damn it, and Adam shouldn't be the one to cave this time. He couldn't.
He was half-way home, jaw clenched at the traffic, last night's argument running through his brain on loop, when his phone finally beeped. At the next red light he turned it over to find a new message: sorry.
Adam sighed in relief and put his phone away.
The PCH had been a nightmare on Wednesday, but that wasn't the only delay. Adam had already been late getting to the shop thanks to a massive pileup on the 101. Determined not to risk falling out of Margot's good graces over a simple lunch delivery (even if it that "simple delivery" meant driving from West Hills all the way into Downtown and then all the way back out to Malibu in L.A. traffic), he set out an hour earlier on Thursday.
So of course he arrived at the shop an hour ahead of schedule, and cute Kris had to come out of the back to say, "It isn't ready yet."
Better safe than sorry, Adam told himself, refusing to feel stupid.
Kris laughed awkwardly, "It's gonna take a while. You're…well, you're really early. You should probably have a seat or something."
Adam looked around at the bustling shop, his eyebrows rising as he failed to spot any chairs—just display cases and shelving. "Um?" he said.
Kris winced. "We don't really offer seating."
Adam hadn't seen any benches outside, either. "I can wait in my car…" and look like a parking lot creeper, he didn't say aloud.
"No, no, that's— I'm sorry, I can find you a chair, jeez." Kris shoved a hand through his hair, and Adam absolutely did not question the cleanliness of the hands that touched Margot's food. "Come on back."
Kris led Adam behind the counter to the kitchen doors, and Adam saw the cashier girl's well-plucked eyebrows shoot sky high. She was still wearing too much eyeliner. Adam bit his tongue.
The kitchen was a good ten degrees warmer than the shop floor and already crowded with two other cooks hurrying past each other in a narrow aisle between ovens and stoves.
Kris was still babbling. "I mean, it's not that I don't want to watch them eat, it's just…there's no room. If folks stuck around, there wouldn't be any room for anyone else. Plus, they'd want, like, utensils and napkins and drinks."
"What?" Adam said when he realized Kris was looking up at him expectantly. "Oh, yeah, that makes sense. You don't really want people hanging around if you don't have the space…." He looked meaningfully around the cramped kitchen, where—again—there were no chairs.
"I can always fit one more," Kris said cheerfully, and headed over to a wall of shelves stacked clear to the ceiling. He picked up a two-foot stool and carried it over to a steel counter covered with bowls, knives, and a large wooden cutting board. "Here, that's about as out of the way as we get back here."
Adam looked dubiously at the bustle around him and then at Kris's determined grin, and decided what the hell. "You're the boss," he said, and then Kris's explanation sank in. "Wait, is this your place?"
"This is my station," Kris said, gesturing to the steel counter proudly.
"No, the whole place. The shop."
Kris shrugged and said, not bashful at all, "Yeah."
Kris pushed at Adam's shoulders until he sat down on the stool. "Now, stay here. And if we start throwing knives at each other, no sudden moves." He winked and sashayed around to the other side of the counter, bumping into a petite brunette in a red apron. She didn't look up from the block of chocolate she was pulverizing with a wooden mallet.
Adam was stunned. This guy who looked at least a couple years younger than him—who looked Margot's age for god's sake—owned his own gourmet food shop in Los Angeles. Not just cooked in it, but owned it. Another over-achiever leaving Adam in the dust, he thought ruefully. And then he said, "So you know Jenny?"
Kris quirked a smile. "You don't have to keep using that name, you know."
"I thought it was a State Secret, or something. Felice made such a big deal about it—"
"Nah, that's just around the customers. The staff's cool. And we don't let customers back here, so you're doubly safe."
Adam couldn't help feeling a little smug at being allowed into the inner sanctum. "Okay. So you know Margot?"
Kris flashed an even bigger smile, showing off a set of positively-criminal dimples. "Sorry, you don't have clearance for that. It's strictly 'need to know.'"
Adam was man enough to admit when he'd been charmed. He grinned and started to shrug off his jacket. And then he shrugged it back on, because he loved how broad and powerful it made his shoulders look. But fuck, it was really hot in the kitchen. But Kris was really cute, and being around cute guys always made Adam want to look his best. But if he started sweating off his makeup, he was going to look like the tail end of a Las Vegas bender.
The jacket ultimately came off, folded carefully across his lap to prevent wrinkles and hide certain developing problems.
Kris had already settled into his work, slicing up a mountain of green beans, snapping off the ends between his thumb and one very sharp looking knife. His fingers were red, as though freshly burned, and moved with absolute confidence around the blade, as though it were no more dangerous than Adam's mascara wand. Adam tried not to find that level of competence sexy, but it took a good deal of arguing with his cock to keep it in line.
When he finally managed to look away from Kris's fingers, he found Kris watching him, not the flashing knife in his hands. Adam flushed at the attention.
"Do you have any allergies?" Kris asked unexpectedly. "We have almost everything back here, so if you're allergic to anything, I need to—"
"No allergies," Adam assured him.
"Thank goodness. Any dietary limitations? You're not vegan, are you? Kosher? Gluten-intolerant?"
Adam laughed. "My only dietary limitation is this 32-inch waistline."
Kris's eyes lit up and he bit at his full lower lip. "Perfect," he murmured.
Adam reminded his dick to keep its opinions to itself, thank you very much.
With the last batch of green beans trimmed and boiling in a huge pot on the stove, Kris upended a box of peaches out on his counter.
A dusky, pale-pink fruit rolled across the counter, and Adam caught it before it hit the floor. "I think you might need this?" he said…only it came out more like a purr, and seriously, he had a boyfriend, what the fuck was he doing?
Kris took it from his hand and thanked him, then pulled out a slightly larger knife, whipped it around the peach in a quick slice and twisted it apart, revealing pure white flesh and a starburst of red around the pit.
"Woah," Adam said, and leaned in for a closer look at the fruit. All that drama under its subtle, velvety exterior—it was deceptively stunning, like the best couture.
"White peaches. You ever had one?"
Adam shook his head.
Kris made another quick cut and handed him a thick slice. "I got these from Fresno. This is one of the last months for them."
Adam took a cautious bite and tasted pure peach sweetness with none of the sharp, tangy aftertaste he was used to. "Holy cow," he said, and licked his thumb as a drop of peach juice rolled free.
Kris had this expression—like a sultan showing off his treasure room. "They're amazing in desserts. Gretchen makes an out-of-this-world tart with white peach and pistachio. You'll have to try it sometime."
"Wow," Adam said again, and pretty much gave up then and there. There was nothing wrong with a harmless crush. Right?
"No, I mean, ridiculously hot. That cooking-fu is totally unfair! How is a guy supposed to resist that?"
"So does this mean you and Joel…."
Adam shoved at June's shoulder as they watched Frank lead Margot through her cool-down stretches. "Of course not; I'm still with Joel 100%. This is just a crush." Really, him and Joel were solid. The makeup sex last night had been their best yet. It was just…Kris's hands.
"You're bringing me photos next time—I can't wait to see this guy."
Ha, like that was going to happen. "Sure, I'll try to remember," he lied, concentrating on the marvel of Frank's ass in the shiny black track pants.
Shoes scuffed in the foyer, and Adam looked up to see a thin blonde shuffling in, juggling a Blackberry and two venti Starbucks cups. He nudged June again and jerked his chin toward the stranger.
"Oh, that's Naomi. Naomi, this is Adam. Shoot, I should've asked if you wanted anything before she left. You don't want coffee, do you? 'Cause she can go back out—"
"No, I'm good," Adam cut her off.
Naomi was beaming at June, her eyes bright and eager. Much like Felice's had been, he remembered bleakly—that smile would only last about a week before the bitch-work broke her spirit.
"Are you sure?" Naomi said, turning that shining earnestness on Adam. "I don't mind!" And then her eyes caught the movement out on the patio, and she let out a small gasp. "There she is," she breathed, sinking down on the couch next to them, her eyes glued to Margot's tall frame extended mid-Warrior stretch.
Adam watched Naomi's cheeks flush with a full-on girl crush, and he smiled indulgently. He remembered being that star-struck the first time he'd met Margot. She'd just gotten top billing in her second chick flick release, and with those perfect abs, flawless skin, and ridiculously long legs, she'd been everyone's favorite new Hollywood actress. (Albeit in desperate need of a style upgrade, he remembered with satisfaction. In the last year, he'd turned her into one of the trendiest starlets in L.A.)
Margot finished her stretches and bounded into the living room, dripping righteous sweat and glowing with endorphins. "Hi guys," she said. "Oh, you must be Naomi! I'm so pleased to meet you."
Naomi stood, trembling, to shake her outstretched hand, but Margot laughed her scene-stealing laugh and pulled her into a sweaty hug that nearly swallowed up the new PA. Naomi meeped and dropped her Blackberry on the rug.
"Hi," Margot said again, pulling back from the embrace and pushing wet bangs off her forehead.
Sweaty was such a good look for her; Adam made a note to send her jogging in public next week. Or cycling. Cycling was super-hot these days. Maybe Synergy Relations could arrange something with Matthew McConaughey….
"I'm so happy to have you on our team. Synergy has sent us so many great interns, so I know you're gonna do well. Just make sure the Terrible Two don't run you ragged." She shot Adam and June a faux-stern look. "Remember, I have to pay for her mileage, okay, guys?"
"Yeah, yeah," June said, and Adam blew her a kiss.
Margot's stomach rumbled, and she turned to Adam eagerly. "Is it ready?"
"And waiting," Adam assured her, and Naomi dropped onto the couch with a whoosh of breath as Margot dashed into the kitchen for her post-workout reward. He heard her distant "Yay!" from across the house and tried not to think about the smell of fresh-chopped mint and almonds, the citric tang of lemon, and the succulence of those white peaches, chilled and drizzled with olive oil. His stomach growled with jealousy.
This was why he'd never asked what Margot was eating.
"She's so beautiful," Naomi whispered.
"She's the most perfect woman in the world," June deadpanned, giving Adam a look that said oh great, another fan. "Just don't get between her and her calories after a workout. I doubt Synergy provides medical coverage."
"Okay, so what's on her schedule for today?" Adam asked June to distract himself from the scrape of fork on plate.
June whipped out her Blackberry and read, "Mani-pedi with Babe at 2:00, and an early dinner with Tim Stiggins at Spice."
Naomi cleared her throat and said, "Um, Jerry said he needs her to come in to look over the new contracts today."
June bristled at the mention of her arch-nemesis at the PR firm. "Well, if Jerry wants to get on Margot's busy schedule, he can damn well pick up the phone and tell me himself."
Naomi managed to keep her smile while backing away from June, escaping to the other couch.
"Okay, so she's free between the mani-pedi and Spice?" Adam clarified.
"Yes," June hissed, still glaring at Naomi.
"…which means Babe will drag her to Montana Ave for more antiquing." Talk about a challenging day to style.
Adam loved a challenge.
She couldn't go wrong with cropped black pants, some metallic flip-flops, and that new, oversized Hilfiger shirt. He could pack her a change of top for dinner—something sparkly and backless to show off plenty of skin while down-playing the abs. A plan already forming, he headed upstairs to start working on accessories. As he reached the top of the stairs he thought about Chef Kris again, personally preparing Margot's lunch every day for months, maybe even years. Maybe, Adam thought, he could tease the secret of their relationship out of her while he did her makeup.
He was only a half hour early to Kris's shop the next day; traffic on the freeway was a bitch and made him doubly glad he'd padded his schedule. This time the girl at the register smiled and waved him toward the kitchen before he even made it past the crowd at the deli station.
Kris looked up when he entered the kitchen, wrist-deep in a bowl of shredded carrots. "Hey, Adam. Have a seat," he called. The other two cooks didn't look up from their own work areas.
Adam pulled his stool out from under the counter and sat across from Kris. He was tempted to stare at the man, so he stared at the ingredients on the table instead. "What's cookin'?"
"For her, I'm making curried chicken with cucumber."
The air was a battleground, the musky punch of curry dueling for ascendancy over the heaven of fresh, hot bread when one of the cooks opened an oven door. Adam took a long sip of his Starbucks to hide his drool-response.
Kris kept tossing the shredded carrots, his fingers slip-shiny with oil, and Adam had never thought of cooking as so damn sexual. He crossed his legs and croaked, "And what's that?"
"Hmm? A sweet and sour salad. Carrots, apples, lemon and orange juice, some honey and cinnamon."
"And oil," Adam blurted, and didn't miss the twinkle in Kris's eye or the twitch of his lips.
"Right. Oil is the essential ingredient." Kris pulled his hands out and rubbed his fingers together suggestively, and Adam was happy with Joel, he really was, but Kris was something else.
Kris smirked and stepped to the sink to wash his hands. When he came back, he stirred the strips of chicken sizzling in a skillet next to the counter, rolling and shifting them with a strong grip on the tongs. Adam flushed with the heat from the stove, not watching the way sweat beaded on Kris's temple and the back of his neck.
Kris was wearing a white t-shirt under his denim apron, and as the sweat slid down into the fabric, Adam could make out the Hanes stamp on the inside. Simple, unpretentious. Kris probably bought his shirts at Wal-Mart or something. Adam considered inviting Kris out clothes-shopping, trying to up his style a little, but the only visual he conjured was crowding against Kris in a dressing room, stripping him naked, and—
Shut up, he reminded his dick.
"So how'd she like the haricots verts?" Kris asked over his shoulder.
"The what? Oh, the green beans—she was crazy for them."
Kris's smile turned into something goofy, uncalculated. "Really?"
"Yeah. She raved about them all afternoon. Especially the peaches."
"She loves peaches," Kris said softly, still smiling, and Adam gratefully latched onto a safer train of thought.
"So…why do you cook for her, if you don't mind my asking?"
Kris thought about it for a moment, setting aside the tongs. "I love cooking," he said. When Adam opened his mouth to protest that non-answer, Kris held up a hand. "I'm not— I love making people happy. And the look on their face when they eat something that I made…it's a great feeling. Especially when it's the right person. I guess you could say I like to watch," he added, that impish twinkle coming back. "D'you ever cook for your friends?"
Adam blinked and considered. "I'm terrible at it. I tried cooking for my boyfriend once, and the kitchen almost burned down." God, that had been the worst third date of Adam's life, sitting on the front steps of his new apartment building while firemen stormed past, Joel breathing through an oxygen mask next to him. But he'd still been holding Adam's hand, and Adam found himself smiling at the memory.
"I hope that didn't kill the romance," Kris teased.
"Nope, we're still together," Adam grinned…but he thought he caught Kris's smile waver for a moment. Adam was definitely taking this crush too far, projecting emotions onto Kris. He had to get control of his imagination.
Kris cleared his throat and pulled out half a dozen cucumbers and a big knife. Adam leaned back when Kris's knife started flashing through the vegetables, reducing them to neat stacks of half-inch slices.
"So that's for the curry?" Adam asked, a little uncomfortable now that Kris was only focusing on the food in front of him.
"Yup." Wearing a thoughtful expression, Kris slid the cucumber slices into another bowl and poured in a creamy liquid and a handful of spices. "This is one of my favorite recipes. The crème fraîche is a little sour, the cucumbers just watery enough to lighten it, and the lemon juice for brightness."
"Lemon juice?" Adam asked, and almost fell off his stool when Kris squeezed half a lemon over the hot skillet, sending up a billowing cloud of fragrant steam.
Kris scraped at the pan with a spatula, moving the chicken strips around and releasing more wafts of citrus before dumping the bowl of cream and cucumber into the skillet.
"Oh my god," Adam said, seeing the ingredients come together and slowly rise to a simmer. "That looks so good."
Kris nodded and dipped a spoon in to taste. He added another dash of spice and stirred, then dipped his spoon again and held it out to Adam. "Care to try it?"
Hypnotized, Adam leaned forward and let his eyes slide shut. Kris's fingers came up under his chin, smelling of curry and cinnamon and black pepper, and he opened his mouth to taste.
He was only supposed to handle the lunch deliveries until Naomi got up to speed, but the following week, Adam found himself volunteering to continue the daily trek to Gourmet Foods On Figueroa. He had to stand his ground pretty firmly; Naomi seemed determined to volunteer for everything, as if it were her one goal in life to be the office bitch. June made the final call and officially gave the responsibility to Adam.
He may have bribed her with the promise of Margot's coral-colored Ferragamo flats. (He would be telling Margot to retire them after a few more wears, anyway.)
Before he started picking up lunch, Adam had enjoyed a reasonable 45-minute commute out of the hills and down to Malibu. And Margot never needed him before noon, which meant he could sleep in every day. So he had a hard time explaining to Joel why he now wanted to make those long drives downtown. Hesitant about how Joel might take his completely innocent crush on the hot chef, Adam lied—pretty convincingly, he thought—that the traffic gave him a lot of time for meditation.
Joel sighed unhappily when Adam left their bed at 7 a.m., but didn't press for more reasons.
Every morning, Adam walked into the kitchen, pulled out his stool at Kris's table, and settled in to watch him prepare Margot's lunch and the next day's specials. He met Gretchen the pastry chef and Dave the baker, and started dropping hints to Lydia at the register that gradually sank in; by his third week, she'd switched to a smoky-gray liner and was only drawing it on her upper lid. It took years off her face, and Adam congratulated himself on a job well done.
Adam picked at his mixed-greens salad and did not watch Margot devouring the tamarind-glazed turkey burger Kris had made for her that morning. He didn't remember watching Kris's face sheened with sweat as he sautéed the fresh ginger before boiling it in tangy-sweet tamarind and honey. Or how his fingers had kneaded the ground turkey, lovingly working mayonnaise and jalapeno powder into the meat and shaping it into a dozen symmetrical patties. Or the taste of exotic, spicy glaze Adam had stolen while Kris helped Dave pull out trays of cupcakes from the oven, and the knowing look he'd received when Kris caught him still sucking the spices off his finger.
How was Adam supposed to enjoy a limp, room-temperature salad when he knew—intimately—what Margot was eating right next to him?
But Margot earned those calories with two hours of personal training every day, maintaining the abdominal muscles that had launched a thousand magazine covers, while Adam sat in traffic for two and a half hours. Fair was fair, he supposed. (His D-Squared skinny jeans agreed.)
June sat across from them, eating her cantaloupe and cottage cheese and trying to coax Naomi into gossiping about "those assholes at Synergy." Naomi just smiled innocently and peeled the plastic film off her Lean Cuisine microwave lunch.
Margot rolled her eyes at June's bitching and told Naomi, her mouth full of burger, "Hey, I need you to tweet a happy birthday to Beth from Don't Date Him."
"Who's Beth?" Naomi asked automatically.
"One of the extras I met. Nice girl."
Naomi grabbed a napkin and scribbled down the instruction. "No problem. And hey, the cover of the new Glamour was released yesterday, and it's gotten a lot of traffic on the fashion blogs. Overall opinion is 85% positive on the dress, and 74% positive on the hair. I'll pull some quotes for you this afternoon."
"Outstanding." Margot licked her lips and then winced and said, "What'd you think?" looking to Adam.
He rolled his eyes. "I think I've told you ten times that ice-blue doesn't work with your skin tone. I don't know why you keep letting her dress you in it—"
Margot groaned. "I knew you would hate that."
"Then why'd you wear it?"
"'Cause it was Versace, duh."
"Duh," he parroted back, and poked at her lunch plate. "If you wanna play dress up that badly, I'll take you to Rodeo Drive tomorrow. We'll find some couture that actually compliments your complexion."
"Not tomorrow," June said, clicking through her BlackBerry. "You have the first read-through for Garry Marshall's movie."
Margot's face fell. "Oh yeah. Maybe Saturday?"
Adam didn't even blink at the imposition on his weekend. "It's a date. So where am I bringing lunch tomorrow?"
"No, the fire was the third date. If that'd been the first, he never would've moved in!"
Kris chuckled as he rolled out dough for the butternut squash raviolis. When Adam picked off a scrap of dough to pop in his mouth, Kris didn't slap his fingers away.
"Not that there really was a first date. I guess it was more of a hookup. We met that morning, signed the lease that afternoon, went out for drinks to celebrate, and ended up at my old apartment for a little…extra celebrating."
Despite Alisan's and Brad's accusations, Adam hadn't actually been looking for a boyfriend when he placed that ad on Craigslist last year. But Joel was the first guy to answer his ad for a roommate; it was pure luck that he had that boyish smile and wiry, cyclist build. When they toured the place Adam wanted to rent, they got along well enough for Adam to bear his company for twelve months. And by the time they'd moved in a week later, they'd agreed they only needed to bring one bed and to use the spare bedroom for extra closet-space and bike storage. And it had been so blissfully domestic, like winning the lottery the same day you got your dream job.
Kris was smiling, but his head was cocked slightly as he said, "I wouldn't have thought that was a good plan, hooking up with your future roommate. I mean, you barely knew each other. What if it didn't work out?"
That was Brad's favorite complaint, but Adam shrugged it off like always. "It was fate; I just knew I should go for it. And obviously it's working. So far." Even as he said those last two words, he wasn't sure why he'd included them.
"I'm glad," Kris said, and pulled a sizzling tray from a small oven behind him. Sweet potato fries spilled off the tray onto a baking sheet covered in wax paper. Adam leaned in and drooled over the browns and burnt siennas, Fall Fashion Week in carbohydrate form, and Kris cranked a sea salt grinder liberally over them.
"If those taste as good as they look…" Adam said, awed.
Kris wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, face flushed red from the heat, and picked up a spear of sweet potato and held it out for Adam to try. "You tell me," he challenged, and Adam met his eyes and leaned forward to blow on the tip.
"Mmmmph," Adam moaned, sinking his teeth through the crispy, salty exterior to find fluffy-sweet clouds of miracle inside. "Oh my god, seriously. This is so going in my top ten. I think you just bumped spaghetti carbonara off the list."
Kris's eyes were glowing, fixed on Adam's mouth. "You mean it? You really like it?"
"Are you kidding? I wanna have these at my wedding. People should eat these at my funeral."
Kris gave a gleeful laugh and popped the rest of the fry into his own mouth. "Thank you," he mumbled, his head ducked down with modesty.
"Thank you," Adam corrected him.
He kept smiling like Adam had made his whole week and said, "So what's number one on your list? I have to know what my competition is, if I'm gonna top it."
"My mom's blueberry pie," Adam said, and stole another fry off the tray, promptly burning his fingers on the hot grease. "Ow!" he yelped and dropped it. "How the hell can you pick that up?" he demanded.
Kris picked up the molten fry between thumb and forefinger, leaning in to brace his elbows on the counter as he considered it. "Years of cooking over hot stoves and dipping fingers in sauces. I think my hands are oven-tested to 150 degrees by now. Here, I'll hold it for you," and he held it out so Adam could eat from his fingers again, bottom lip caught between his teeth and his wicked eyes alight with a temptation Adam couldn't resist.
Kris saw through his pasted-on smile the moment he sat on his stool.
"Rough morning," Adam said, waving his hand for Kris to forget about it.
Kris didn't forget about it. "This doesn't look like traffic-rough, or even they-forgot-the-nutmeg-in-your-cappuccin
"Roommate stuff," Adam reluctantly admitted.
Kris's eyes narrowed. "You mean 'boyfriend stuff'?"
"No," Adam said quickly. "Roommate. It was just an argument about the bathroom—domestic arrangementy stuff." He didn't want to think about how quickly it had gone from his penchant for leaving hair products on every available surface to Adam hating the restaurants Joel loved, and Joel not wanting to go to Danielle's birthday party next week. It was the same old drama that blew up every other week, but it was getting…exhausting.
And the worst part was that Adam knew he'd just get more and more stressed from worrying about it unless he relented and apologized soon.
Kris hmmed like he was going to share an opinion on Adam's living situation, so Adam cut him off.
"What're we making today?"
"We?" Kris asked, eyebrows raised. "I'm making pumpkin and apple soup."
"Now there's something you won't find in a Campbell's can," Adam said.
"Exactly. This tastes at least 5% better."
"Well, I don't mean to brag but…I've heard 10%."
"Your modesty is inspiring, Kristopher."
"So is your hair," Kris quipped back, and Adam preened a little, glad someone appreciated the hour he'd spent getting his hair up in a three-inch pompadour that morning.
They grinned at each other, and then Kris sliced into one of the ten onions waiting on his counter.
Five minutes later, Adam returned from the bathroom without swathes of mascara dripping down his face. "That was mean," he said.
Kris said, "Sorry? I was going for cathartic."
"Tell me the onions are gone, or I'm waiting in the parking lot."
"They're already cooking; they can't hurt you anymore."
Adam approached cautiously to find that Kris had moved on to grating ginger over a skillet of yellowing onions. "Not only do you work in a sweat lodge," Adam whined, "but you're gonna make me break out the waterproof mascara from now on. You don't know how clumpy that stuff is."
Kris shrugged and handed him a bottle of cold water. "It's only until your tear ducts shrivel away."
"Holy shit, does that actually happen?"
"No. Now come back over here and tell me about your mom's cooking."
Adam talked for half an hour, stopping for breath when Kris ran the blender, puréeing batch after batch of the thick soup and dishing it into small plastic containers, a sprig of rosemary floating on top of each serving, just enough accessorizing to make the rich color pop. Adam caught a thick bead of soup that dribbled down the outside of the blender and tasted the honey and sautéed cloves in it, behind the stronger cinnamon and pumpkin. The apple had completely disappeared, except for the slightest hint in the aftertaste. It was mellow and fragrant and hot, reminding him of Novembers in San Diego, the air chilly around the beach bonfires at night. Just that one taste was enough to warm up the last bit of bitterness in Adam's day.
Kris looked at him from under his eyelashes and asked, "Can you taste the love?"
"My grandma taught me that food only tastes good if it's cooked with love. You have to care about the people you're cooking for; if you don't, it shows in the flavor or the texture, something that's out of harmony. And then the specials fall flat, and your customers abandon you for Monsieur Marcel on West Third."
"A little bit, yeah," he said, unabashed.
"So you always cook with love?" Adam asked.
"I try, but it's hard," Kris admitted. "I'm back here all day; I never see the people I'm cooking for. It's easier when I know who they are, like Margot—and you. You make it easier."
Adam snorted. "I've never thought of myself as a cooking-muse."
Kris laughed. "Not quite like that, but…you should look for that, you know? See if you can taste the love in the foods you eat. If it's not there, it's not worth your time."
Adam suddenly got the feeling they were talking about something other than food, but he deflected with a laugh and said, "Well, I definitely taste the love here, no worries."
"Good," Kris said. "Then you won't mind when I pack two lunches today."
Despite Adam's protests, he ended up leaving with two thermoses hot under his arm and strict orders to report back on how he liked it.
The soup was obscene. Adam cradled the warm ceramic bowl and moaned between mouthfuls, way past caring about calories. He didn't even remember the latest fight with Joel until he'd packed Margot off to her costume-fitting and gotten in his own car for the long drive home.
While the pans of chicken au champagne roasted in the ovens, Kris found two whiskey glasses and filled them from the last unopened bottle on his counter.
"Is this a special occasion?" Adam asked.
Kris smiled enigmatically. "I got a new shipment in from my importer. You're gonna help me sample the merchandise."
"You want my help?"
"Why not? You have excellent taste in food."
Just because he now indulged daily in Kris's gourmet cooking didn't mean he could tell the difference between Kobe pastrami and what he got at the Jewish deli in Van Nuys. "I like your food," he hedged.
"Exactly," Kris said, as though Adam had just proven his point, and continued unpacking cheeses and meats and jars of fruit spread. He commandeered a baguette straight out of the oven and sliced it thin, scenting the air with the aroma of fresh-baked bread, a smell that went straight to the pleasure center of Adam's brain and shut down any remaining self-preservation instincts.
Defenses lowered, Adam sipped his Veuve Cliquot and didn't fight when Kris held out the first slice to him, topped with sweet fig spread and a soft piece of buttery Belletoile. "This is cruel and unusual punishment," he whimpered after the first, insidious bite. He didn't care if the cheese was French, Italian, or Canadian—it tasted like sin; he could practically feel it going straight to his waist and ass.
Kris just smiled at him.
Kris was thoughtful enough to offer a cup of coffee after Adam had gorged himself on carbs and alcohol, the memory of that last, salty ("Argentinean," Kris had explained fondly, "from the Jura mountains") goat cheese still tingling on his tongue.
"It's only a matter of time," Adam insisted, slightly tipsy from the two glasses he had drunk. "Felice got sick of it after, like, ten days. Naomi's got a good game face, but all the grunt work's gotta be getting to her. She's too smart for that minimum wage internship crap. She should be making real money in an office somewhere, not driving all over L.A. for our coffee and dry cleaning. I don't understand half the numbers she gives Margot, and she can sure as hell spell better than any of the other social media interns we've had."
"Then why is she still playing the game?" Kris asked. He was doing erotic things to the half-roasted chickens, rubbing them down with herbs, hands greasy like the second time Adam had watched him cook.
Adam tried to think of unsexy things—cardio, road rash, medicated chamois cream…. He shuddered, victorious.
"I think it's the cult of celebrity. She goes all starry-eyed every time a celebrity replies to one of her tweets—well, one of Margot's tweets, since it's Margot's account. But she's so caught up in it, I think she likes to pretend they're talking to her."
"'Cause you're totally jaded and wouldn't stammer at all if, say, Brad Pitt walked in here," Kris teased without looking up from his work.
"Well, I'm not saying I wouldn't pop a hard on, but I definitely wouldn't stammer. And I certainly wouldn't blush."
"So you're jaded toward the Hollywood elite and you're a fashion genius. Wow, if only there were a way to make a career off that."
"It's not that easy," Adam sighed. "I do all of her styling—which kicks ass, by the way—but she goes to that over-hyped harpy Tina Gordon for the photo shoots and red carpet looks. And that's what I really want to do. But I don't know how to get there. I mean, how am I gonna get my hands on a Versace gown that hasn't even hit the runway yet?"
"It's a pickle," Kris said.
"I'm hoping if I get photographed shopping with her enough times, and if she drops my name in the right circles…. Hell, I don't know. But it's gonna happen, I know that much."
"I know it will," Kris said, tipping his head to Adam.
Adam sipped his coffee and said, "So what about you? How did Kris Allen from Arkansas end up owning Gourmet Foods On Figueroa?"
Kris laughed. "Well, it's a funny story…."
"No, not really. Me and two friends from culinary school, we decided to come out west and make a go of it. We borrowed money from our parents and bought this place together." He gave a final pat to the chicken before glancing up to meet Adam's eyes. "I dropped out of business school so I could go to culinary school. And now I'm running my own business." He shook his head and headed for the sink to scrub his hands.
When he came back to the counter, Adam jerked his chin at the other two chefs. "Gretchen and Dave?" he asked.
"What about them?" Kris looked over his shoulder and then turned back, understanding. "Oh, no. Those guys left. We had a couple great years, but they wanted to try the restaurant business. I bought them out with a bank loan last year and brought in Dave and Gretchen to help me cook."
"No restaurant for you? I thought you loved cooking for people."
"I like cooking what I want to cook, when I want to cook it. I'm my own boss, here. I don't take orders from anybody."
"Not even Margot?" Adam asked, angling for a bit more information on that front.
Hands on his hips, Kris snorted, "Have you ever heard her call in an order?"
"…I guess not." Adam thought about that—about being free to make all his own decisions. "Sounds like you ended up with exactly what you wanted."
Kris opened his mouth and hesitated before saying, "Yes…and no."
"Margot?" Adam asked again.
Kris smacked his shoulder with a towel. "Stop that. And no, that has nothing to do with it, really. It's just…hard, sometimes. Chuck and Bo, they liked to party. They came to L.A. for the excitement. But we figured out pretty quick you can't go to clubs when you're opening a kitchen before dawn every morning. They missed the nightlife, and their restaurant lets them have that."
Kris was frowning again, and Adam frowned right along with him. "What about you?" he asked, wondering what it felt like to be left behind like that. But Kris had chosen to buy them out; he should have been happy.
"I go to bed at eight every night," Kris shrugged. "I don't miss the nightlife. But it is kind of hard to date with those hours."
"Oh," was all Adam could say. Kris was trying to look nonchalant, but he could see the frustration in his shoulders, the disappointed tightness around his mouth.
"Chuck has a fiancée now," Kris said, forcing a laugh. "I haven't got past four dates with anyone in…years. I heard L.A. was shallow, but damn."
Adam made a sympathetic noise, no idea what to say to Kris's loneliness. He'd had Joel's sweet kisses in bed that morning, after staying up half the night watching classic, romantic movies, snuggled together on the couch like an old married couple. So he said nothing and drank his coffee, offering silent support as Kris started prepping the meatballs.
When he left for Margot's, he let Kris pack an extra lunch, just to see him smile.