“Yup, all it takes to know I’m safe, is for your incredibly hot body lying next to mine,” I winked giving ‘hot’ a second meaning. Chance chuckled loudly and swept me into his arms again, I pushed deep into Chance’s body and let him be the comfort he wanted to provide.
I ducked Tati’s planned shopping trip despite agreeing to go along with her. Once I was released from the hospital, Chance insisted I stay at home for two days to recover. I spent the rest of the time at the tearoom, finalising the last few details. Vinnie had known a pair of brothers who worked as baristas and had agreed to work for us. It still left us a barista short over two days, but the brothers had been desperate for work and decided to work six days each. I was worried about them working long hours, but they needed money so badly I didn’t have the heart to deny them.
Duncan and Douglas worked the shifts out between them, and Leslie approved their plans and stuck them on the rota. Frighteningly, I was suddenly the joint employer of ten people, and I hoped and prayed the tearoom would make the money we needed it too. Leslie and I hadn’t stinted on wages either, we were paying everyone a decent salary. The staff could keep their tips with twenty percent going towards the chefs and Vinnie. Leslie had deemed that fair and everyone else had agreed.
The rest of the week was spent cleaning everything again, stacking crockery and cups and mugs. On Thursday our food deliveries arrived and the three chefs, Vinnie and me, began cooking with a vengeance. We wanted to try each item on the menu, and Hellfire and local shops found themselves inundated with free food samples. I baked so many cakes. I thought I’d make Hellfire fat. Whatever we took over to the clubhouse was devoured. Luckily those eating our trial recipes included the mechanics, so nothing was thrown away.
By Sunday, I was becoming a nervous wreck as I spent the morning re-going over plans again and again. Chance finally had enough and swept my detailed plans away and forced me onto the back of his bike. We spent several hours riding through the Black Hills and stopping at various beauty spots. By the time we returned home, I was relaxed and putty in Chance’s hands. Staffey was sitting on the wrap-around porch when we returned with a crate of beer and three pizzas.
“Hey, kids!” Staffey cried, getting to his feet.
“Been waiting long?” Chance asked as we both swung off his bike.
“Few minutes, Chance said you been fretting girl, so I came with distractions and something else,” Staffey said, reaching into his jacket. He pulled out a tattered brown photo album, and I gasped as I recognised it.
“I thought that was lost!” I exclaimed reaching for it. Staffey let go after a playful tug of war, and we entered the cabin. Chance nodded for us to sit in the cosy area and we crashed down with me on Chance’s lap. Quietly, I opened the album and choked back tears and the first photo of myself. I was dressed in second-hand worn clothes, my hair hacked into a semblance of a bob cut and I was skinny, so skinny.
“That you?” Chace rumbled reaching for a slice of pizza.
“That’s when I got Clio, never seen a more terrified rabbit, she came with a bag of second-hand clothes and nothing else. Not even a teddy, girl only spoke when spoken to and was politer than an etiquette expert. That first day I was ready to blow at all the please and thank you’s Clio uttered,” Staffey said around a mouthful of pizza.
“Hey, manners had been drilled into me!” I exclaimed aiming a slap at him.
“Too much drilled into you, first few months Clio was so grateful for everything it broke a man’s heart ya know?” Staffey addressed Chance who nodded thoughtfully. “Couldn’t stand seeing my girl like that, Clio blossomed when she realised it would be a long-term placement. First fight Clio had at school I came up roaring like a dragon, fuck if I was letting them suspend her.”
“You were in a fight?” Chance asked, turning his head to me in surprise.
“A girl called Stasia Manners, she sounds entitled, right? Stasia thought she was entitled to everything and anything, one of the popular girls who bullied anyone she wanted. I took a lot of her shit, but one day she called Staffey a dirty biker, and I snapped and slapped her across the face. Stasia was so stunned she didn’t know how to react, no one had ever stood up to her. But there was this orphaned waif who not only refused to be bullied anymore but had given her a well-deserved slap,” I said.
“What happened?” Chance rumbled. Staffey took up the story.
“Stasia finally regained her thoughts and slapped Clio back, knocking Clio to her knee’s. Clio launched herself at Stasia and brought her to the ground where they rolled around slapping and pulling each other’s hair. Teachers broke them up, and Stasia was about to get away with it when I and Stasia’s parents arrived. Of course, her parents and the teachers leaned towards allowing Stasia to get away with it and wanted to suspend Clio.”
“But Staffey belted into the headmistress’s office and threatened to take everything to the papers and put in formal complaints. We’d documented every act of bullying Stasia had committed, not only at home but at school. Staffey demanded to know what type of ineffectual leadership team the school had running the place.
The headmistress and Stasia’s parents blustered, but Staffey ignored them all and contacted his lawyer who on loudspeaker began talking about the actions he’d take against the three of them. Stasia ended up suspended for a full week. Little bitch was forced to take anti-bullying lessons for six months, and her parents were red with anger,” I finished the story.
“This happen a lot?” Chance asked with a hint of anger in his voice.
“Quite often,” I shrugged. “I was labelled a troubled kid because I was a foster. Few foster parents stood up for me, but that day cemented a bond between Staffey and me.”
“I saw a little fighter that day, and knew I’d fallen head over heels, I wanted Clio for my daughter. Clio was spitting with fury, like a kitten, if Clio had hackles, they would have risen, she was so fucking cute,” Staffey chuckled. Chance gave a grim smile in response.
“You took me for burgers,” I said, smiling at the memory. Staffey had arrived in a car, he never once put me on the back of his bike, telling me I was too precious to be risked.
“And the huge milkshake you downed. Never seen the like, this tiny little waif, and she downed a milkshake that would make a grown man struggle. And scoffed an adult’s size burger and fries. Seems Stasia had been stealing Clio’s lunch money, something else that I went after the school for. Clio ate for free for the rest of the semester, thanks to their precious little brat.”
“Others came forward if I remember, Stasia had been stealing their money too?” I queried, unsure.
“Yeah, she’d been bullying ten other kids, had taken hundreds of dollars off them. It ended up with her being expelled a month later when all the parents got together and threatened legal action,” Staffey confirmed.
“Sounds like the bitch got what she deserved,” Chance rumbled as he reached for another slice of pizza.
“Yup,” Staffey agreed amicably.
“I wonder what happened to her?” I mused, and Staffey grinned. “You know!” I accused, and his grin grew broader.