THE SCARLET ARMADILLO

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Bad things happen in threes; at least, that's what Annie Fullerton has always believed. And the way her life is shaping up, she feels like the proverbial poster girl! Her career as an up-and-coming sous chef has gone up in smoke, she's lost her beloved pet, and then her roommate, Danica, has betrayed her in the worst possible way. It's the straw that breaks the camel's back. I mean, come on! A person can only take so much! 

In a sudden impulsive move, Annie pulls up stakes in the big city of Toronto and drives out of Dodge to start over. When she finds herself on a remote Gulf Island on BC's west coast, she unexpectedly lands a job at The Scarlet Armadillo - a quaint and tiny café in a quaint and even tinier community. 

After a few weeks on the job, and for reasons Annie can't explain, it seems everyone who eats her Soup D'Jour sees their luck changed for the better, be it in their career, studies, finances, or even in love. Is there something in the water, or does Annie have skills she isn't aware of?

When she receives something precious in the mail-something that belonged to her recently departed and much-loved grandmother, Annie discovers a little something about magic, meals, men, and most importantly, the unique ingredients vital for living a happy life. 

ONE

A BONA FIDE TRAIN WRECK

 

THEY say bad things come in threes, and from my own experience lately, I'd have to say that's bang on. They also say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, though I’ve always hated that expression personally. It's an unimaginative platitude-the sort of thing people cough up when they don't know what else to say-like when face-to-face with someone who has survived a tiger shark attack but lost both of their legs and half of their face.

My roommate, Danica, said it to me on Thursday night. We were eating Thai take-out from The Green Lotus (spring rolls to die for) while we half-watched some old Walking Dead episodes.

"It was just a job, Annie," she said matter-of-factly. "You'll find another one. Besides, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Just a job... I'll find another one ... And while this may be true, whatever gig I land, sure as shit won't be in a five-star restaurant working alongside the insanely hot executive chef, Kye Kingswell.

"Anyway," Danica said, "everyone knows you aren't supposed to eat the fish in the company pond."

Jesus, such a "Danica" thing to say. 

"Umm...," I said, slightly annoyed. "I believe the expression is, Don't fish off the company pier."

"Whatever. You know what I mean. You shouldn't have been sleeping with Kye, Annie. End of story. What were you thinking, anyway?"

What was I thinking? Is she serious? Do I really have to point out all of Kye Kingswell's long list of fine attributes? I mean, for starters, is the woman blind?

"Gee, Dani," I snarked. "Thanks so very much for the pep talk. I feel so much better now. Like, 100%."

Danica shrugged, took the one remaining spring roll (of course), and poured herself the last of the Chardonnay. "Look," she said, her mouth full. "I get it, though. Kye is hot. But still, girlfriend. Jeez! And you were really on your way at La Fleur's-you even got that thumbs-up from Larissa Jacobs in EAT magazine! Larissa never has anything good to say about anyone, but she said your Crème Brulee was a--

"Danica!" I shouted, willing her to stop, though I knew it wouldn't make any difference; Larissa's words had been running on a loop in my head for days. 

...Fullerton's Crème Brulee is a golden expression of hedonism, both subtle and seductive...

I grabbed the remote and cranked up the volume, grinning as dozens of flesh-eating zombies ripped the intestines from the belly of a tall guy with a man bun. 

I smiled. Kye had a man bun. Kye also had intestines. And the thought of them being yanked from his body by a hoard of blood-thirsty zombies was satisfying AF. What Kye didn't have, however, was a heart. Or at least, not one with any space in it for me. That much had been made very clear two nights ago when we'd both been busted, naked from the waist down, in the walk-in cooler of La Fleur's, my "former" place of employment. And while Kye, Toronto's most talked-about Executive Chef as of late, had only received a slap on his wrist (and most likely, a private "old boy" slap on the back), I had received an escort to the back door. Once I'd put my pants back on, that is, much to the irritation of the maître d'hôtel, Barrett Finch. As for Kye? I hadn't seen or talked to him since. 

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

"Well," Danica said, grabbing the remote off my lap and switching off the TV, "It's all water under the fridge now, and I've got to get to work early tomorrow, so I'm going to bed. You should, too, Annie. You look like absolute shit. I swear you've aged five years overnight. Did you even shower today?"

I didn't answer, but Danica didn't seem to notice. Ten minutes later, I heard her bedroom door close, and when the light disappeared from under her door, I felt my shoulders relax a little and allowed myself to exhale fully.

"What a mess I've made, Geoffrey," I said, scooping up my old tabby cat from the cushion he had been sleeping on for the better part of the night. "Do you even know how lucky you are to be a cat?"

Geoffrey attempted to mew; only no sound came out. That was okay. He was fourteen, and things like mewing took a certain amount of energy he most likely couldn't bother to muster. He sometimes forgot to breathe altogether. But I got it. Especially today.

I walked to my room, plopped him on my duvet, then went back to clean up our take-out mess (always my job). I couldn't stand waking up to dirty dishes. Danica insisted on telling me I was ridiculously anal, but I argued I was merely responsible. Or at least, I used to be. I guess all that was different now because I was no longer Anna Fullerton, the city's rising sous chef 'to watch,' the food blogger extraordinaire, or the secret girlfriend of Kye "I-will-make-you-crepes-while-you-stay-in-bed-you-insatiable-little-vixen," Kingswell. No. I was just Annie--Bona Fide Train Wreck, unemployed, unshowered, and most definitely, unattached.

***