“Nice of you to decide to come home. I didn’t realize your little job at that gym was so important that your boss would keep you late. Don’t tell me that you’ve decided to actually use the equipment for a change; I don’t think my heart could handle that kind of shock.”
Fred sneered as I came rushing through the door twenty minutes later than usual. I hung my jacket up and headed toward the kitchen. “Sorry I’m late. There was an accident over on Sycamore and traffic was held up.”
“And now my dinner is held up too, how convenient. And remind me why you were taking Sycamore. Haven’t I told you more than once that the Fillmore route is a better choice?”
Fred followed me into the kitchen and took a seat at the counter. He raised an expectant brow when I turned on the deep fryer and started chopping an onion. It took me a second before I realized what he was waiting for.
“Oh, would you like a beer?” I set the knife down and went over to the fridge to get his drink.
“Do you really have to ask at this point? I spend all day policing the streets and putting my life on the line to protect this community. A man shouldn’t have to ask for his partner to consider his needs when he spends his days giving so much of himself to others.”
I grabbed a frosted glass from the freezer and poured the beer slowly so as not to let a head build before serving it to him. “You’re right, Fred. You give so much of yourself to everybody, the last thing you should have to do is ask for anything at home.”
He sniffed at my words and gulped his beer while I went back to dicing the onion that I would mix with the hamburger for the cheeseburgers he’d requested for dinner tonight. By the time I had the patties in the skillet, Fred was waiting for me to refill his now empty glass. He watched with irritation while I took a second to drop french fries into the deep fryer before getting his second beer.
Once he’d been served again, I rushed around preparing the burger toppings and getting the buns into the toaster oven. I managed to flip the burgers just in time before the bottom sides burned. Fred shook his head.
“If you’d only organize your time better, you wouldn’t be in such a hurry right now. Honestly, you should listen to me and take the Fillmore route next time. It will shave three minutes off your drive on a normal day.”
I didn’t bother to argue; I’d learned to pick my battles by now. Fred and I had been together for a little over eight months now and had been living together for the past six. One of the first lessons I’d learned was that Fred did not tolerate what he considered to be argumentative behavior.
The burgers and fries miraculously finished at the same time and I got them plated and served at the table. While Fred moved over to the table and took his seat, I grabbed his empty glass and refilled it before joining him.
I’d just taken my first bite of dinner when Fred started grumbling that the spice mixture was off on the burger because I’d been in too much of a hurry. It tasted fine to me, but then, I didn’t have the same kind of job that he did. He was probably stressed from a bad day so I decided to let it pass. When I didn’t answer, Fred chugged his beer and belched before complaining again, this time about the fries.
“Why the hell did you get curly fries? You know I like the plain ones better. Are you trying to give me heartburn? That’s all I need at work tomorrow. I can see it now. I’m sidetracked looking for Rolaids and some perp gets the jump on me because my partner didn’t care enough to consider my dietary needs. Honestly, Kyle. You need to use your brain when you plan our meals. My job is so much more important than that bullshit you call a job of answering phones inside a fucking gym.”
Forgetting myself, I looked up at him in surprise. “But you said you liked this kind. Last time I chose plain ones, and you said that curly fries would’ve been a better option.”
Fred stood and dumped the contents of his plate over my head. Ketchup oozed down my left temple while fries rained over my shoulders and his half-eaten burger landed in my lap. He glared at me as he muttered about his wasted meal then threw the plate at the sink. The edge of the plate hit the corner of the counter and shattered, sending shards of china everywhere while I watched in shock.
This wasn’t the first time that Fred had lost his temper, but it surprised me to see him allow one of his mother’s plates to be broken. I’d always thought he treasured that gaudy, floral set he’d inherited.
He stalked over to the kitchen and grabbed another beer out of the fridge. He popped the top and chugged it straight from the bottle before burping again and pointing his finger at me.
“This shit won’t happen again. I’ve invited a guy I met to come live with us. He’s trained as a French chef and will cook in exchange for room and board. The poor kid had a falling out with his father and needs a place to stay.”
“But… I’m a trained chef. Why would you need somebody else to cook for you? I mean, I don’t have a problem with him staying with us, it’s just that the cooking is my thing, I thought.”
I nervously stumbled over my words, not wanting to upset my boyfriend any further but needing to state my case. I studiously ignored the ketchup that was still oozing down the side of my jawline as I cautiously picked up french fries and put them on my own plate.
“A trained chef, huh? Are you sure you didn’t buy that degree you got? Forgive me if I’m not impressed. I mean, really. Isn’t the only real cooking job you ever had flipping burgers at some diner? And now you work at a gym. Some chef you are, Kyle. Why, you’re a regular Gordon Ramsay, aren’t you? And thank you so much for giving your permission for me to invite somebody to come stay in my house.”
He had a point, as much as I hated to admit it. Could I really call myself a chef when the longest cooking job I’d ever had was in a greasy diner and not a fine restaurant? I couldn’t blame Fred for flinging that in my face. He was probably just trying to keep me honest and make me face facts. But then again, my friend Lukas had been pleased with the catering job I’d done for the opening of his husband’s charity last year. Maybe I hadn’t told Fred about that?
“I admit that I’ve never had the confidence to go for a chef gig, and that’s on me. But, did I ever tell you about the night I catered the grand opening for the TAB foundation? People couldn’t get enough of my empanadas that night. And my bruschetta flew out of the kitchen. I was actually quite proud of the multicultural menu I put together for that event to represent the different people the center would be serving.”
Fred look pissed as he set his beer down and stalked over to the table. Grabbing me by my collar, he pulled me out of my chair and forced me to my knees on the floor. Although Fred was a head shorter than me and I outweighed him by a good seventy-five pounds, he was pretty wiry and surprisingly strong. Especially when he was angry and his adrenaline was flowing.
Before I realized what was happening, Fred had pulled his handcuffs from his belt and had my hands shackled behind my back. “Ow, too tight! Too tight, Fred! The metal is cutting into my skin.”
“Good. You won’t learn not to mouth off if you don’t get punished.” He left the room, turning the light off behind him while I lay there curled up on my side, ignoring the pain in my wrists.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed until the lights flicked on again, but I’d stopped crying by that point. He squatted in front of me as I peered up at him through crusty, tear-swollen eyes.
“Why must you push me, boo? You know how stressful my job is, and how tense that makes me. Come on, let’s get you in the shower. You can clean this mess up in the morning. I just want what’s best for you, Kyle. I wish you understood that.”
I’d expected him to undo my cuffs, but instead he manhandled me to my feet and perp-walked me to our room. He finally undid the cuffs once we were in the bathroom.
“Strip. And don’t make me wait, boo. I’ve had a trying day. I really don’t need this shit.”
I quickly undressed and stepped into the shower. I started to reach for the water knob, but he grabbed my chafed wrists and slapped the cuff back on one of them. I opened my mouth to argue, then closed it. Better to just get through this and let him wind down.
A moment later, I wished I’d fought back when I found myself with one arm cuffed to the shower door while Fred turned the water on full blast. Ice-cold water. He pulled off the detachable nozzle and sprayed me down like he was bathing a dog while I curled up against the tile and tried to catch my breath.
When the water finally shut off, Fred threw the showerhead down into the tub with a thunk and left the room, turning out the light behind him. I lay there, shivering and numb, and tried not to think about my sore wrists or how I’d gotten myself into this situation.