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Calla's Kitchen (One of the Boys) by Teresa Crumpton (1)

Chapter 1

Calla

Austin’s brisk morning air is helping to clear my head. I desperately need physical exercise after the nightmare I’d had. Again. Why, after almost a year, I still relived the worst night of my life is beyond me. For what has to have been the hundredth time, this morning’s dream replayed the moment I walked in on my friend, lover, and fiancée in bed with another woman. In our bed, of all places! And I just couldn’t relive that moment one more time. Not today, of all days.

Today is the anniversary of that humiliating act. So, instead of staying in bed, I’m up before the sun is shining through my bedroom window and heading to the Ann and Roy Butler Trail. It is one of a handful of places that can clear the filth out of my mind.

Unlike my usual short runs, today’s run needs to be long and hard. If I could run the ten-mile trail twice, I would. But only once around will have to do today. I have too many things to do at my restaurant, Belladonna, so I can’t spend all day on the trail. The emotional baggage of my past isn’t going to make this week any easier, so I really can’t be too late getting there.

By the time I reach my destination, the early morning rays of sun are shining over the city and sparkling on Lady Bird Lake. The lake runs south into the Colorado River, where buildings can be seen at its eastern edge. As I start my warm up, the I-35 cream and burnt-red bridge comes into view off in the distance. At six-thirty, the traffic is already starting to build, and I can make out a few semi-trailers, SUVs, and trucks at a dead stop.

With my earbuds in and music blaring, I zone out and allow my legs to take over. The burning starts at mile marker five, but I’m not stopping. I can’t quit yet. The visions from my nightmare are still flashing in my mind each time I close my eyes. I have to keep going until I can block them, and the pain, once again. The pain from running is nothing compared to the tension that's knotted every muscle in my body these last few months. Between the food critics’ negative reviews, and my ex-fiancée’s wedding announcement yesterday, my body desperately needs a good, hard tension reliever.

Wes, Adam, and Trey would say I just need a good fuck. Maybe that's all they would need, but if they were honest with themselves, they'd admit that it would break them if their relationships ended. All of them have been in their relationships for too long. Well, maybe not Trey. He likes playing the field now. Thankfully, now that Forest has Ella and has found Jax, he’s no longer on the “lets get Calla laid” train.

Five miles later, the burn radiating around my thighs is the least of my concerns. My legs feel like Jell-O, and the thumping of my heart feels like it might pry open my chest cavity. I slowly come to a stop and stretch at the front of my Jeep, trying to loosen the muscles a little more before they get stiff. I notice there are a few more people out on the trail today than there are normally. Not as many as the weekend brings out, but for a Wednesday, it’s definitely more than usual. One jogger makes eye contact with me as he heads toward his vehicle parked two spaces away. I throw him a smile, as I pull open the car door and hop in.

* * *

Two hours after leaving my apartment, I arrive back home. The elevator seems to drag as I ride up to my floor. After my ten-mile run with my thighs burning and calves aching, I’m dead on my feet. In an attempt to stay upright, I lean against the back corner. At the rate this elevator is moving, I could fall asleep standing here and still not miss my floor.

Even being this tired, I don't trust falling asleep. Not after seeing that woman rise off Torrance in my dream and walk naked out of our bedroom, as he is yelling for her to get the chocolate syrup. The nightmare always ends after my shock and outrage, but before I tell him to get the hell out. Granted, after that, I’d stormed into our room, grabbed a bag and some clothes, and headed to Adam and Nessa’s house.

An audible ding fills the space, pulling me out of my head as the elevator finally stops on my floor. I stagger out and turn toward my loft. No one brushes past me on their way into the elevator like they normally do after I come home from a run, but today I did leave a good bit earlier than usual. Halfway down the hallway, I stop and bend over to pick up the paper that’s laying on the mat in front of my door. As I try to straighten, my legs begin to shake, making me use the door for balance before I’m able to stand upright. Pulling my keys out, I open the door.

The sun shines brightly through my floor-to-ceiling windows, lighting the industrial loft I love so much. Sometimes I’m grateful Torrance cheated on me. Sometimes. If he hadn’t cheated, I wouldn’t have this gorgeous place overlooking downtown Austin. It’s just what I’d been searching for before Torrance asked me to move in with him. Now, I have just about everything I’ve ever wanted.

As I shuffle in the door, I’m assaulted with soft head butts to my calves, along with an endless supply of chatter from my cat, Bagheera.

“Morning, handsome,” I greet him, as I lean down and run my fingers over his silky, black fur.

“Meow.” He nudges my hand, soaking up all the attention he possibly can.

“Are you hungry?”

“Meow.” His tail swishes back and forth, curling into a question mark at the tip.

I straighten and slowly step away from the door, being sure I close it completely so Baggie can’t escape. I head toward the kitchen, trying not to trip over him as he continues to butt his head against my legs.

“Guess you are hungry.”

“Meow.”

Baggie keeps nudging me as he circles himself around my legs. I almost trip over him when we get close to the kitchen, but manage to catch myself before face-planting into the wall.

“Bagheera!” I glare down at him.

“Meow.”

“Come here you little shit.” As I pick him up, he starts rubbing his head against my chin. I kiss his head, and he jumps down after one last nustle.

Baggie reaches the kitchen first, jumping up on the counter next to the pantry where his food is hidden from his greedy paws. Stepping into the large gourmet kitchen area, I bend down and pick up the empty, small steel bowl that sits between the kitchen and dining room. He yowls at me as I slowly make my way down to the pantry where he waits. He yowls again as I’m scooping out his cat food. Being an impatient imp, and letting me know I’m not moving fast enough, he aims to get his head into the bag of food. When I push him out of the way, he nips at my hand, and I swat at him.

Baggie takes the hint and scampers out of the pantry. I finish scooping all his food into his bowl, walk it back to the end of the counter, and place it next to the water bowl on the floor. As soon as he takes his first bite, he immediately starts purring. Sliding to the floor next to him, I begin stroking his sleek fur.

When my stomach begins growling, I push myself off the floor and make my way to the refrigerator. This kitchen almost tops mine at Belladonna… almost. It’s a cook's wet dream come true, with all stainless-steel appliances, a gas stove, and granite countertops. Opening one of the side-by-side doors of the fridge, I reach in to gather the ingredients for my breakfast. An omlet sounds good after my punishing run earlier, so I grab the carton of brown eggs, turkey sausage, sharp white cheddar cheese, and the fresh salsa from my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Ingredients in hand, I step over to the counter next to the stove. After placing all the ingredients on the counter, I reach into the cabinet to my right and remove my favorite steel mixing bowl and set it next to the food. Whisk in hand, I begin creating my omelet. I whisk two eggs, season them with sea salt and coarse black pepper, chop the turkey sausage, and grate the cheese. Moving the stainless-steel skillet I always leave on the stove to the bottom right burner, I flip the gas burner on and drizzle two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into the skillet and let it heat.

As the oil and skillet heat, I toss the turkey sausage in. Mouthwatering smells begin to permeate my kitchen, and I add my remaining ingredients. Normally, I am able to determine when my breakfast is done by the savory smell alone. But not today, because I’m not really paying attention. Suddenly, a burnt egg smell wafts from the skillet, turning my stomach. Dry heaves quickly follow.

“Damn it!” With a flip of my wrist, I turn off the burner and throw the skillet into the sink.

I stalk out of the kitchen, balling my hands into fists and kicking off my shoes. The workout clothes I still have on are still drenched in sweat and clinging to my body. Unclenching my fists, I fumble to grab the bottom edge of my gray and pink tank top. With two tugs, I remove the sweaty, clingy shirt and throw it in the laundry room as I pass the open door. I keep moving toward my bedroom while removing one sock at a time, stumbling a few steps and trying not to fall into the walls. Safely in my bedroom, I step into my bathroom and fight with my black sports bra for an entire three minutes before it gives up it's tight grip on me. Thankfully, my gray cropped pants and black hipsters slide off me easily and onto the floor.

Walking to the shower, I turn the faucet all the way to the left and step in. I stand under the spray waiting for the water to warm from cold to hot in hopes that it will relax my stiff muscles. Ten glorious minutes under the relaxing spray pass before the cleaning ritual starts; washing my face, shampooing my hair, shaving, rinsing my hair and conditioning it, washing my body, and rinsing everything off. My actions are mechanical as I zone out and let my body take over. I’m still zoned out as I step out of the shower and grab my towels. After quickly wrapping my hair in one towel, I hurriedly dry off with the other while steam still hangs in the room, keeping me warm. As I open the bathroom door and move back into my room toward my closet, the heat from my shower rushes out with me. All dry and hair still contained, I peer into my closet contemplating my outfit for the day.

"Jeans and layered t-shirts," I murmur to myself and grab the closest pair of jeans and two tees; one heather gray with long sleeves, and the other a short-sleeved pale steel blue.

Clothes in hand, I step from the closet, toss the shirts and jeans on the bed, and head over to my dresser that sits between the closet and bathroom. Now, to pick out the perfect bra and underwear for my outfit. I’ve felt compelled to match my undergarments to my clothing since I was young, and to this day, I can't stop. It's much like how I feel compelled to keep my closet and kitchen meticulously organized. Everything has a certain spot and a certain direction it has to face. I call it OCD, but my friends with psychology degrees disagree. Whatever. It still isn’t normal.

Fully dressed, I head back into the bathroom to finish getting ready. The last routine of my morning is to fix my hair. I finish towel-drying it and spray it with leave-in conditioner before blowing it dry. Curling the ends and wrapping it up in a bun, I am armed and ready for the rest of my day. On my way out of my loft, I stop at the kitchen bar to scratch Baggie's head and kiss his little pink nose before walking to the front door.

As I leave my apartment building I notice that even this late in the morning, people are still bustling about. The air holds onto a chill, which is odd this early in Austin's fall season. Fall usually doesn't start until late October here, and it’s only mid-September. Even with the chill, I decide to walk to work, stopping at the neighborhood coffee shop to grab breakfast.