The first time it happened it was an accident.
As an American in the United Kingdom on a work visa to temp at the BBC, Sasha was living in a cheap flat (with a rent her parents subsidized) within walking distance of the bus stop that took her straight to the studios. Sasha definitely hadn’t planned on making three times as much food as she had needed the night before.
The next morning she clamored onto the bus in the wane, grey morning light, smiling at the bus driver and clutching the reused brown paper bag full of her leftovers to her chest as she took a seat. The bus rumbled along the road as it began to crowd with London’s commuters on their way to begin the business day. At her stop, Sasha pressed the button to signal a stop and the bus crawled to a jerky stop.
She skipped off the bus, her overly large hand-me-down jacket sliding briefly from her shoulder as she let go of the handrail to hit the pavement. She half walked, half jogged to the door to shuffle inside with the rest of the crowd and make her way to the floor where her assignment was. It was a nice assignment – the last assignment of her duration as a temp. (What Sasha considered temping was actually a different kind of internship program the BBC had created, and Sasha actually had learned quite a lot about production from her stint with the British Broadcasting Corperation.)
Margie, an assistant to some producer or another, smiled and waved as Sasha put her leftovers in the fridge for the floor. Margie was tall and thin, with the right kind of curves. In her pencil skirt she looked every bit the part of producer to Sasha.
The voice was familiar, coming from Sasha’s direct boss and supervisor, Daniel Wiggs, an older gentleman with close cropped salt and pepper hair over a dapper tweed suit. He’d begun wearing the tweed when Matt Smith had taken over as the Doctor in Doctor Who.
Sasha turned and flashed her boss a (hopefully) brilliant smile. “Good morning!” she said as brightly as she could muster. Her heavy American accent seemed out of place to her ears even after several months in the United Kingdom. (More than likely due to her habit of watching British Television at home in the states.)
“Simple task today, just go over these for any mistakes that need to be fixed in post production,” he said handing her a stack of disks. “It’s an easy day today.” He grinned and then turned and walked away.
Sasha stared blankly for a few moments before taking the disks to her desk. She should have been used to the abruptness of Mr. Wiggs, after the time she’d spent with him as her boss, but sometimes it left her a little confused.
Margie stopped by several times as Sasha took notes on the videos at her desk, large bulky black headphones looking rather out of place on Sasha’s feathery blonde head. She smiled encouragingly at Sasha and left cups of hot chocolate, and picked up the empty Styrofoam when Sasha was done.
Finally, when Sasha’s stomach began to crave more than an incredibly chocolate cup of hot cocoa, she pressed pause, slid her headphones onto her desk and went to the kitchen to heat up her leftovers.
In the kitchen, Margie was sitting at the table in a sulk, head on her arms and legs askew from under her pencil skirt. Sasha eyed her warily while opening the giant Tupperwear to place it in the microwave. After starting the microwave, Sasha sat next to Margie.
“You on lunch?” she asked quietly. Margie sat up and looked at Sasha with a harried expression in her coffee colored eyes. Her normally rich caramel skin looked pale on her face and Sasha thought she heard the faint rumble from Margie’s stomach.
“I’m on my hour break, yeah,” she grumbled, bunching a hand in her loose black hair, “but I forgot my lunch at home and only have a little spending money. I would get something from down the road but my boss won’t let me leave the building today.”
Sasha scrunched her brow. “Yeah, why is today so special anyway? Thanks for the chocolate, by the way.”
Margie smiled. “Oh that was no problem – you looked pretty down this morning. And I know you don’t drink coffee. Thought it would help.”
The microwave beeped loudly, and Sasha jerked. She grabbed the steaming square of food and a spare fork from the office drawer and sat the dish in front of Margie and presented the clear plastic utensil. Margie eyed it uncertainly.
“What’s this, then?”
Sasha pushed the dish towards her friend carefully. “Food. Come on, you can’t go all day without eating.”
“Are you sure? It’s your food…” Margie seemed to be debating internally whether or not she wanted to eat or risk seeming selfish. Sasha pushed it even closer.
“I made like four times more than I needed. Please, be my guest,” Sasha pressed, taking a bite for herself. The tomato and cheese flavor burst over her tongue and she smiled to herself. Good even as leftovers.
Margie tentatively took a bite.
And promptly dropped her fork.
“Good God!” Margie shrieked.
Sasha looked up, suddenly very afraid that it wasn’t as good as she had thought and she had just offered Margie rather disgusting food. Margie stared at her, wide eyed, and full of awe.
Sasha swallowed hard. “Wh-what? Was it bad? Should I throw it out?”
“Did you cook that?” Margie demanded, brandishing the plastic fork in Sasha’s face like a judges accusatory gavel.
“It’s fantastic!” Margie crowed, giving Sasha a strong hug around the shoulders. “You’re a fantastic cook! This is… This is…” She took another bite and closed her mouth, looking every bit as if she had died and gone to heaven.
“Oven-roasted Tuscan-style chicken and fingerling potatoes.” Sasha recited between a mouthful of potato and chicken. She swallowed and took a swig from the thermos of lemonade she had packed in the bag. “It’s just a recipe out of one of my mom’s books that we get yearly.”
Margie, who had nearly finished off one of the chicken breasts, looked at Sasha as if she were from Mars. She took a sip of her own bottle of iced tea and sat back.
“You made this and you’re saying it’s just a recipe? Sasha – this is genius! Half of the brilliance of a recipe is the bloke – er, sorry, woman – who fixes it!” She took another bite and smiled.
When Margie had polished off one chicken breast and half of another, she finally sat back, placed her fork lovingly on the table, and sighed with content. Sasha ate a few more potatoes and picked at the mozzarella on the last half chicken breast and decided she too was full.
“Alright, with that meal, I think I’m ready to face the day. The disgustingly horrible day,” Margie groaned, lolling her head around to vacantly look out into the office where other workers were eating at their desks or leaving for their extremely late meal on the town.
Sasha sighed. “Well, I have to finish up those reviews for Mr. Wiggs,” she said, struggling to her feet. She replaced the Tupperware in the fridge and closed the door before turning around. Margie was stretching like a cat after a welcome nap in the sun.
“All this fuss for the return of Sherlock, honestly,” Margie mumbled, cracking her neck.
“So that’s the show everyone’s fussing over?” Sasha asked, draping her coat over her arm. Now that she was full, the office air conditioner didn’t seem to touch her. “The show by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat?”
Margie hummed an affirmative and Sasha nodded. It was a good show, and had become quite popular in the states before her trip to the United Kingdom. Apparently the kowtowing to award winners reached even the darker levels of the BBC.
When Sasha turned back around she felt a wad of bills press into her hand. She started, looking at Margie with wide eyes.
“Wh – what? Margie – no, Margie don’t – Margie you can’t pay me for that!”
Margie grinned. “Oh yes I can – I know what kind of budge you live on Sash, and this is what I would have spent had I gone on the town. Just take it.”
Sasha spluttered. “Wh-wh-bu- No!” she exclaimed. “It was for you – for being a good friend!”
“Sasha, that was restaurant quality food! I can’t not pay you – you have to eat some time! And look, if it helps, consider it incentive to bring me more of your leftovers, alright?”
Yes, the first time had definitely been an accident. If the next week Sasha saved enough to make a six serving meal of Dak Kang Jung (Korean Crispy Chicken with Sweet and Spicy Sauce) and Margie had invited her friend from Budgeting, and they both paid restaurant price for two servings each, Sasha didn’t mind.
The week after, she made Chicken Roulade with Zucchini Salad, and Margie’s friend invited two other friends. One of the friends, a nice younger bloke from Accounts Payable, suggested she offer to make lunches for some of the office workers who had no time to go out and were growing tired of cup noodles.
If one of said workers happened to be said bloke from Accounts Payable, Sasha really didn’t mind.
With the sudden surge of cash, the frequent dinners of ramen and macaroni and cheese seemed to disappear and Sasha was able to cook the meals she enjoyed. All the leftovers went with her to work where the kitchen, once desolate with usually only Sasha and Margie, was now filled with six or seven people at a time.
Margie was in charge of divvying up the portions of the food to the other workers as Sasha sat in the corner in the back with her own lunch. On the particular day that everything changed, her lunch was leftover ‘gourmet’ ramyun – ramyun was the spicy Korean counterpart to ramen. The ‘gourmet’ part was the simple add-ins she’d found a recipe for in a video on YouTube (bok choy, mushrooms, pressed fish cake, egg, and a slice of processed cheese).
The chatter in the kitchen was a welcome change from the frigid silence that had filled it when Sasha had to eat alone, or when Margie had been in a hurry and simply wolfed down her lunch in haste. Sasha sipped contentedly on her noodles as she read the open book on the table with rabid delight.
A deep voice from the entrance to the kitchen jerked her from her reverie.
“Erm, sorry, I hope I’m not interrupting some kind of office party…”
Margie’s excited voice pierced the sudden awkward silence.
“Benny!” Margie practically tackled the tall figure in the doorway, who hugged her back graciously and even chuckled softly. “What are you doing here? I thought you were filming!”
“Came back a bit early to see a few post production scenes, just stopping in. I haven’t forgotten that this machine is the one that makes the best coffee.” The piercing blue eyes scanned the group of shell shocked workers. “What’s going on here?”
“Just lunch, a few of us get together to eat now.”
The bloke from Accounts Payable, Henry, spoke up from the back. “We all buy our lunch off Sasha because she’s a brilliant cook.”
“That and none of us can take the time to go out to eat,” another lady said. She was the nice redhead from Costuming that Sasha had met on her first day in the studio.
“You buy your lunch off…Sasha?” The tone was mild confusion and moderate amusement. Sasha didn’t mean to, but she slunk back in her seat just a little, even though Joe from her floor was hiding her from view.
“It’s nothing,” Margie said quickly. “My friend Sasha, she’s a spectacular cook and she makes these really big meals that have good leftovers and a lot of us pay for the leftovers because we don’t like cooking ourselves or can’t go out to eat. It’s all fair – and it’s not like she doesn’t like to cook.”
His eyes scanned the group again, as if trying to find the one who could claim the honor of being the ‘spectacular’ chef. “Which one of you is Sasha?”
To her chagrin, Joe stepped aside and everyone looked at Sasha, tucked away with her cheap Tupperware bowl and reusable chopsticks, flimsy second-hand novel braced in one hand, and noodles halfway to her mouth where they had frozen when he had stepped into the room.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s incredibly blue eyes surveyed her from the doorway and, for what seemed like the first time in her life, Sasha was acutely aware of what she must really look like. Her choppy blonde locks that hadn’t had a decent trim in several months, the overly large second hand sweater from her mother with the logo for a small burger chain in Texas that made her look rather frumpy (and at least twenty pounds heavier), and the slightly crooked red rimmed glasses perched precariously on her nose.
Neatly trim and thin eyebrows arched as Sasha dropped the chopsticks in her soup with a splash as her mouth hung open dumbly. His voice was now highly amused.
“Sasha?” he asked, and Sasha was sure that with this much embarrassment, this must be the end of whatever life she had.
She couldn’t possibly know that it was only the beginning.