“I cannot believe you do not know how to cook.”
“This from the girl who didn't recognize a hamburger eight months ago.”
It's summer in Helsinki, which isn't as warm as you'd expect – especially if you're from Louisiana or a small island in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, it's bright and sunny, pretty close to 24 hours a day. The locals are used to it, apparently, but all the light keeps Rosie awake. Which means Carter isn't getting much sleep, either.
“I will teach you. Starting this very night.” Rosie slings a canvas bag over her shoulder, grabs Carter's arm, and tows her toward the door. “But first we must purchase ingredients.”
Their mission starts in two days, so Carter can't think of an excuse to refuse. Well, not as though she'd be likely to refuse Rosie anything.
The outdoor markets are bustling, sun bright in a clear blue sky. They find chicken and garlic and eggs easily enough, and fresh, whole fish that Rosie says will do, though it's different from the species her mother taught her to prepare.
The right spices are harder to track down, but eventually they find them inside a tiny, crowded shop. Carter winces at the pricetag – even allowing for the variance in currency conversion, these are not cheap.
Rosie just smiles that winning smile and whips out her credit card – her private credit card, the one tied to the royal treasury of Costa Luna, not the PPP card. “I'll take two jars of each,” she says to the shopkeeper, in Finnish. “Just in case.”
The jars go into the bag – which Carter is now carrying, for some reason – along with the fish and garlic and all the rest. “Once Bait Girl, always Bait Girl,” she grumbles. Then Rosie turns the smile on her, and she can't help smiling back.
They are two dark-haired girls, getting rapidly suntanned, in a sea of pale, blond Scandinavians. With their oversized sunglasses and bright summer dresses, they would probably stand out anyway.
“I knew mangoes and figs would be hard to find,” Rosie says, leading the way back into the maze of market stalls. “But it should work with any fruit. We will try these berries instead.”
When she speaks to the vendor – an old man in a fisherman's cap – in his own tongue, he grins and refuses payment.
“Wow, ok,” Carter says, as they walk away. “I didn't know speaking Finnish would be such a big deal.”
“Carter Mason, I was not speaking Finnish.” Rosie's obviously amused. She glances back, nodding toward the old man. “He is Russian. Not many people speak Russian with him, here in Finland.” She ducks her head, slightly embarrassed. “My accent is terrible. My tutor in Russian was a Frenchwoman.”
“He doesn't seem to mind.” Carter pats Rosie's arm.
Rosie grabs Carter's hand. “Come on. Now we need only rice.”
The rice proves to be a problem. It's hard to find in the first place, though there's plenty of barley, millet, and oats. When they do locate rice, it isn't the right kind.
At what might be the twelfth grain-seller, the conversation between Rosie and the vendor becomes increasingly heated. Carter can't understand it, of course, though she thinks it might be Swedish this time.
Rosie stops, mid-sentence, an expression of horror on her face. When she continues, it's in quick, irritated Spanish, finishing up with, “Lo siento, Senor. Lo siento,” as she runs out of the shop.
“What..?” Carter and the shopkeeper look at each other, equally bewildered.
“You will go after her?” the shopkeeper asks, in accented English.
“In a minute.” Carter pulls out her wallet. “I'll take one kilo of rice, please. Any kind.”
When she catches up with Rosie, the princess is standing on a pier, facing the sea. Facing south.
“There is only long grain rice.” Rosie doesn't turn around. It sounds like she's on the verge of tears. “I do not see why no one is selling arroz calasparra.”
“You made long grain rice for my dad and I, in Louisiana.”
“I wanted to teach you the proper way to make arroz con pollo.”
Carter sets down her shopping bag. “I probably won't get it right the first time, anyway.” She steps forward until she can hug Rosie around the shoulders. “When we finish this mission, maybe we can go to Costa Luna for a while. Or someplace on the Mediterranean, at least. Someplace warm. And you can show me again, the right way.”
Rosie draws in a deep, shaky breath and lets it out. “My mother would be so disappointed in me.”
“I dunno. After you declined being queen and joined the PPP instead, do you really think she'd care if you use the right kind of rice?”
“She would be disappointed that I did not know the right words in Swedish. Also, that I argued with the shopkeeper.” Rosie lifts her chin and straightens her back. “And I did not decline being queen. I only delayed it.”
“Still.” Carter turns away, picking up the shopping bag once more. “You're traveling the world with Bait Girl, and she's ok with that.”
“One day, I must return home and make a marriage of state.” Rosie blinks, eyes still overly bright. “Until then, my mama wants only for me to be happy. And she is not disappointed that I am happy with you.”
Carter raises her eyebrows, because that can't – it can't
– mean what it sounds like to her. “Costa Luna does things their own way, that's for sure.” She starts walking back down the pier. “I bought some long grain rice. Let's get cooking.”
The cottage – not a villa, and not a shack – is on the sea, too. It's exquisitely furnished, and then includes the kitchenwares. Rosie has acquired aprons from somewhere: voluminous things, patterned with roosters and pineapples, which she insists that they wear over their clothes.
“I could wear this for a dress,” Carter says, as she wraps the apron ties around her waist a couple of times, and Rosie giggles.
To Carter's surprise, Rosie is completely willing to get her hands dirty. “You know how to clean a fish?”
Carter tosses her hair out of her eyes. “Of course.”
“Then come and watch, while I show you what to do with a chicken.”
Learning to cook, it turns out, is made up of many small lessons: how to joint a chicken. How to chop garlic. How much broth to add to the rice. How long to cook the egg custard. How much sugar goes in the berry sauce. Each one seems to involve up close, physical instruction from Rosie: hold the knife like this, tip the spatula that way, crush the berries like this. The big kitchen is warm and bright, heated by the stove, and there's a particular clarity to the evening sunlight.
Somehow – against all odds, Carter thinks, and in spite of
involvement – they produce a complete meal. Rosie sets the table while Carter puts the pans to soak – washing dishes is something she does know how to do.
“There.” Rosie is all but glowing with pride, as she takes Carter's arm and leads her into the dining room. “You have done well, Carter.”
Carter wrinkles her nose. “All I did is what you told me.”
“That is the first step to learning something new.” She extends her free hand, regal gesture taking in the beautifully laid table. “Do you remember what Major Mason said at breakfast, my first morning in Louisiana?”
Carter shakes her head.
Rosie looks right at her, fingers still on Carter's arm. “He said, 'Grab whatever looks good.'”
Their eyes stay locked for what seems like a long time, and Carter's heart beats faster.
“Everything-” Carter's voice cracks, and she licks her lips. “Everything looks good.”
Rosie's smile absolutely shines. “I think so, too.”
She brings her other hand up to rest against Carter's cheek, leans forward, and kisses her. It starts gentle, closed mouth against closed mouth. Then Carter wraps one arm around Rosie's back, lifting the other hand to wind fingers into Rosie's hair. I'm kissing an honest-to-god
, she thinks, and her mouth opens in a tiny gasp. Rosie deepens the kiss, and Carter responds in kind.
When they break apart, there's a flush to Rosie's cheeks, and Carter is breathing hard. “Everything looks great,” Carter says, leaning forward to gently bump their foreheads together. “Everything
Rosie kisses her again. At least for the moment, it's true.