Sean walked home at 2am. He was exhausted. He was always exhausted, but there had been a large party with important people in it and he was the head chef and had to be there the whole. They applauded him and bought him a drink and tipped his waitstaff for crap. He had gone to culinary school wanting to make good food, that was environmentally friendly before that was even the thing to do. He had write ups in magazines a couple cook books out, even been on telly a bunch.
And he had missed father’s day.
He got home and let himself into the cramped townhouse and saw the balloons. He had promised he’d try to be home, even if he just popped out for an hour. And then the big party had come in and stayed for hours, and he never let anyone else clean up the kitchen, he was fussy like that.
Sean looked at the cupcake on the table, frosting rock hard at this point and he ate every damn bite and read the cards that the kids left him out. He smiled at the drawings inside, of them all cooking together.
This time he meant it when he swore to himself that he was going to take more time at home. He didn’t want to miss anymore time with the kids, they’d be grown far too soon. He crawled into bed and his wife didn’t even roll over. He kissed her shoulder and stared at the ceiling for an hour before he went to sleep.
“You’re mental,” he said. He and his brother were cooking in the old kitchen in the family farm. “You can’t be serious.” They moved around each other seamlessly, decades of working together. “You have a job in the city, the family.”
“They like the idea,” Christoper replied. “I mean not work, I haven’t told them yet. But the family? They love the farm.” He chopped some carrots and added them to the pot. “Not like I’ve forgotten how to run it.”
Sean took apart a chicken with ease. He didn’t get to do this work at the restaurant and he relished it. The bones broke easily under his strokes and he sighed. “The farm barely breaks even.”
“I have ideas about that,” Christopher smiled at his little brother. It was a smile that lead Sean to riding their bikes past the train tracks, to their first stolen beer, to the matching tattoos of the family crest. Christopher’s alpha scent was cajoling. And he kept with that smile.
“No,” Sean said. “Whatever you are thinking, no.”
“Uncle David wants to retire,” Christopher said. “You take over the butcher shop.”
“Forget breaking even, his shop is barely afloat and mortgaged to the hilt,” Sean protested. He broke down another chicken and started to season them.
“Because he tried to compete with the main grocery store,” Christopher said. “Think about the change in population, in the village. People from London who want the small town vibe but all the luxuries they are used to. They don’t want factory farmed.”
Sean could see what he was getting at. “Ethically sourced,” he said. He put the chickens in the oven. “Small independent farms, organic. Hand made sausage, fresh cured bacon. Grandfather’s jerky.”
Christopher’s smile and scent grew. “And oh look, I’m going to have a farm. Where the animals will be treated better than my own kids.”
“That’s because your children are devil’s spawn, just like their father,” Sean shot back.
“Tell me you don’t remember how much you loved working in the shop,” Christopher said.
“I was 17 and wanted money to impress Robyn,” he said. He looked out the window where his wife was on the phone. He had fallen in love with her when he was 16 and never looked back. Followed her to London, went to culinary school, worked insane hours to help her with law school. They were both top of their fields and she loved it. And Sean realized he hated it, had hated it for years. “Is the shop in decent shape at least?”
“God no,” Christopher said. “Needs at least 10k in updating.”
“I hate you so much,” Sean groaned.
“We’ll take a drive after dinner,” he suggested and they worked together some more, making their mother’s favourite meal for her wake. The family ate outside and toasted her memory. The got the shop keys off of Uncle David who looked hopeful. Sean didn’t want him to get too hopeful. He knew he was dreaming and once back in the city it would seem like a foolish idea. He noticed that the empty stores of the last few years were mostly gone. “People push out further every year,” Christopher explained. “About an hour, bit over into London. Remember the estate?”
Sean rolled his eyes. “Course I do, we broke in often enough,” he said. “Been turned into hotel or retreat or something.”
“No, has a family. A pack at it, been there for years,” Christopher said. “Small one, but they’ve been doing lots of renos, funneled gobs of money into the village.” Christopher unlocked the butcher shop and turned on the lights. It was clean and tidy, well maintained but could definitely use a face list. “My meat, your shop,” Christopher said. He went behind the counter and dug about. Their old work aprons from when they were kids under there collecting dust, bringing up memories.
“You are a real bastard,” Sean replied. He could picture his little girl in it easily. Though at 8 she was growing so fast. And his boy was 11. And cared only about video games. He wondered if he could get him into the shop, earn money towards them, spend some time together. He’d be able to be home by 8 at the latest, earlier once the shop could sustain proper staff. “Let’s see the back then.” It was worse than the front, the walk in chill chest needing replacement which would be a huge expense. “This is a crazy idea. I haven’t even talked to Robyn about it.” Sean sat at the counter where he had watched his uncle carve meat, he remembered the first time he used the ancient grinder. And he felt more at home than he ever did in his restaurant in London. He went to the roll and tore off some butcher paper and found a pen. “The farm wouldn’t be enough to sustain this place. Beyond anything, no bloody cows.”
Christopher leaned forward. “I can get you a cow,” he said. He had already talked to a few other farms in the area and they knew people further afield. They spent an hour lost in numbers and ideas.
“You are asking me to give up my restaurant,” Sean said. “Our life.”
“Tell me you are happy,” Christopher said seriously. “Tell me that things are okay in London, that it is the dream you had when you moved there. That it is everything you ever wanted. That all those appearances on the telly satisfy you more than the summers your worked here and I’ll back off.”
“Robyn and I are in counseling,” Sean told his brother softly. “She had an affair. I was never around. We’re working through it.”
“This job, you’d definitely be around more,” Christopher said. “Think about it?”
Sean nodded and endured the headlock that his brother put him in and they went back to the farm. Sean didn’t mention the idea to the family until they were back in London for a few days. The three of them looked at him like he grew another head. “We love the village,” he said.
“To visit,” Robyn said sharply. “You know how much I hated it growing up. And the commute for me to the law office?”
“You’ve talked about your own firm, you could do that there.”
“And go from multi-million dollar accounts, to wills and leases?” she sneered a bit.
“That’s what you do now,” he pointed out.
“You have one of the most successful restaurants in the city!” Robyn shouted, her omega scent growing dark and the kids slunk out of the room, used to their parents fighting. “We have everything.”
“And I’m miserable,” Sean said.
“All adults are, and you suck it up. Bit early for a midlife crisis,” she said. She went to the cupboard and poured a class of wine. “How would you even get the money for this?”
“Sell the restaurant,” Sean replied. He poured himself a whisky. “We aren’t happy. Maybe a change would help.”
“It would make you happy,” she said. “Not us.”
In counseling it was regularly pointed out that he seldom asserted himself in their relationship. He tried. “I really want this. It could be good for the family. We’d have more time together, that’s what you want isn’t it?” When she was quiet he just nodded. “How’s Jason?” She froze a bit and he sighed. “You really should have married an alpha. Never knew why you said yes when I asked you out.”
“Because you had these floppy curls, and the most beautiful smile I had ever seen,” she said. She looked at him. “I am not counting the last two weeks, not with what happened. But when did I last see you smile and mean it?”
“I wish I knew,” he said. “I think I’ll go stay at the farm a bit. At the very least help Uncle David get the shop in tip top shape for sale. I’ll come in on the weekends, to see the kids, work at the restaurant.”
“You’re talking a trial separation,” she said.
“I love you Robyn, and I can’t even remember the last time we enjoyed each others company,” he replied. She smelled sad and usually he would pull her into his arms and nuzzle her and make it better. But they hadn’t been able to make it better for each other for a while. “I’ll talk to the kids tomorrow.”
“We’ll talk to the kids,” she said. “Will you stay in our -” she didn’t finish the sentence.
“Guest room,” he said. He got up and kissed her head and went to sleep on the impossibly hard mattress. The next day they told the kids who didn’t cope well after having lost their grandmother and now this, and since he was the one walking away he shouldered the blame no matter that Robyn tried to bring some onto herself. He grabbed an overnight bag and stopped by the restaurant which was a well oiled machine and said he’d be back for Friday and Saturday night and drove back out to the farm.
Christopher and family welcomed him with open arms and he and Christopher got completely shit faced out in the smoke house.
They talked and kept running numbers, and made trips to other farms, them and Uncle David and it all seemed to be falling into place naturally, like the world wanted him to be here doing this. When he drove back into London after three days the noise and crowds got to him. The kids wouldn’t talk to him, Robyn already had papers written up and the restaurant didn’t need him.
Three days and he was removed from his life. So easily. Like he didn’t matter at home. And hell, with the hours he had kept, how much difference to the kids did it really make. He talked to his head chef and the general manager and they jumped at the chance to buy 70% of the business. Sean asked Robyn to help with the paperwork and she recommended someone at her firm. He went back to the village and took a sledgehammer to the back of his uncle’s shop. It was almost theraputic. Weeks he kept going back into London for the weekend and getting nowhere with the kids and then everything was sold and Robyn suggested they needed some space. That maybe he try again in a month. He nodded and left the gifts he brought and wasn’t surprised when he passed Jason in the hall.
It didn’t hurt when a month later they didn’t come to the grand reopening of the store. He hid the children’s aprons he had had made up for the kids in the back storage. He was the one to leave, there was no reason they should come to him. He put on a smile and went out to the people eager to take photos with the chef they had seen on the telly. He hoped his face and name were enough to get people in and that what he was selling would keep them coming. The counters gleamed white, and the shelves looked good and when his nephew hugged him, he could pretend for a second it was his son.
Sean was in a suit. The shop had been breaking even which was good but he knew he could do better. And the key was to lure business away. He used to be charming, he could do this. He had sent letters to a couple local restaurants and few households asking for an appointment to discuss moving their business to him. One of the restaurants had agreed, so long as he helped them out in the kitchens when they were short staffed. A few years out of the limelight and he had been largely forgotten and to be honest, he liked it. They weren’t asking him to fill in because of his restaurant or old cookbooks but because they knew the family, and trusted him not to cock up making shepherd’s pie. A line cook for a bit of a hipster pub he could do. Only one private household had answered his letter.
The biggest house in the village, the estate at the outskirts. He drove out with a sampler box of what he could provide in the cooler and fuck things were supposed to look smaller when you got older, not bigger. “Bloody hell,” he said aloud in his delivery station wagon. He stared up at the house and realized that his suit, which was well made would look cheap next to whatever the fine gents and ladies who lived there wore. But it would have to do. He had met celebrities and Prime Ministers, this was nothing, just maybe the new roof. No big deal. He got out of the car and tugged at his jacket a little and hauled the cooler out. One thing he had to say, the big of pudge he had been putting on at the restaurant was gone and his arms were killer from everything he had hauled and helping at the farm for the last 2 years he had been running the butcher shop. He trudged up the steps and rang the bell. He could hear it echoing. After a couple minutes he rang again and a teen girl answered. “Hiya,” he said. “I have an appointment with Percival Rockford?” He flinched at the young alpha scent.
“Sorry, still dealing with ruts, they are balls,” she said. “What’s in the cooler?”
“Uh, samples from my shop. Steaks, game hens, sausage and a bacon I cured myself,” he explained still holding the cooler.
“Fuck a bacon sandwich would be brilliant right now. Da is trying to control the idiots. He’ll be available in a sec. Come to the kitchen.” She started walking into the house and he wasn’t quite sure what to do, but in the end he followed. He walked into the kitchen and sighed. It was gorgeous. All bright natural light with herbs on the windowsill and and a huge range. The girl banged a pan onto it and turned the heat up high. She pulled a package of bacon out of the fridge and looked ready to just toss it on. It hurt his soul.
“Stop,” he said.
She growled at him, an impressive noise for her age, but he was old and well used to the asshole alphas found in the kitchens of London. He looked at the bacon she pulled out and shuddered. “This is pure salt and fat.”
“Well, yeah, bacon. And if you have turkey bacon in there, you can just fuck right off and just try to leave here without a cleaver in your head.”
He tried not to laugh, little alpha trying to sound tough. “Yes, bacon should have salt and fat, but not so much you only taste those.” He turned the range off and the oven on. “Find me a baking sheet and rack for it.” Roxy shrugged and found them. “Tinfoil?” She pointed to a cupboard. He lay some down on the sheet and added the rack. He went into the cooler and pulled out a package and unwrapped it. “How many sandwiches do you need?”
“Two,” she decided. “Rut’s coming on, going to have to wank at some point.”
He blinked. “Are you supposed to share those details with me?” he asked. “I’d hope my son doesn’t share that with strangers.”
Roxy frowned. “Sorry,” she said.
She said in an odd voice. “Are you sorry for over sharing or that my son doesn’t?” he asked.
Roxy grinned at him. “Oooh you catch things quick.”
He lay out 6 strips of bacon. “Oven the fat drips down, cooks more evenly.” He couldn’t stop himself and put on one strip of the cheap stuff she was going to cook up. “Look at the difference,” he said. “Mine still beautiful fat to give it flavour, but actual meat there as well. And watch what happens when they cook.” He put it in the oven and then washed his hands. “Although, I should be saying this to Mr. Rockford.”
“Saying what?” Percival asked as he walked into the kitchen. “My apologies Mr. McKnight. My mate and our pack alpha are idiots.” He reached out a hand and Sean shook it. “What are we doing?”
“Cooking bacon,” Roxy replied.
“In the oven?”
“What he said to do.” Roxy went to the toaster and threw some bread in.
“Please call me Knights,” Sean said. “Work nickname that seems to be sticking.”
“Very well,” Percival said. “Your letter intrigued me. Especially when you made it clear you would cost me more money. Not a common selling feature.”
“Not going to lie, just to get my foot in the door,” Sean replied. He should have, it was what had gotten him so many rejections. “It is about quality. Live in a house like this you have to understand quality.”
“Live in a house like this, you learn the importance of saving a dollar or two,” Percival countered. “You know we have an account with the grocery store, every other week delivery, we pay our bill on the last of the month. This is our average list for them with their price break down.” He handed the list to Sean. “How do you compare?”
Sean looked at the oven, he had two minutes. He looked at the list and took the pen Percival offered. He knew enough to know it was a thousand pound pen. He wrote his prices in comparison. He slid the page over to Percival and checked the oven. He switched it to broiler and hummed god save the queen. He pulled the sheet out of the oven and put in on the range. He ignored the muttering from Percival, he knew a lost sale easily enough. He pat the bacon dry and gestured Roxy over. “Look.”
Roxy stared at the pieces her mouth watering. “The one looks so shriveled, and how does it look burnt and anemic at the same time?” She poked at it and growled like the bacon had personally offended her. Sean went to the toaster and pulled out the slices. He checked the fridge and grabbed the mayo and a tomato.
“Tomatoes should be on counter, the fridge will kill their flavour,” he said and sliced it thin. He put the sandwich together for Roxy and handed it to her. She took a bite and her scent which was already high swam with pleasure.
“Dad,” she said. “Dad, this is soooo much better.”
“All bacon is bacon,” Percival replied. He opened his mouth and his daughter jammed it into his mouth. He chewed and then scowled at both of them and Sean had no idea what that meant. Percival swallowed. “No,” he said. “They are in a mood.”
“Too bad, they need to try this,” Roxy said and went to an intercom. “Kitchen. Code bacon,” she said. She ate a few more bites and Sean backed into the counter when two men ran in with a battle axe and a sword.
“Where’s the pig we need to kill?” One of the alphas snarled and Sean barely managed to not tilt his head in submission.
The other didn’t say a sentence just growled and this time Sean absolutely tilted his head. Roxy grabbed two strips of bacon that hadn’t been put on a sandwich and tore them both in half. One was the grocery store stuff, the other his. She took it to them. “Eat,” she said. They both kept glaring at him and chewed.
Eventually the one who was clearly the pack leader looked at Percival. “Take care of it,” he said. He then swung the sword and the man easily blocked. They were clashing and running out of the kitchen and the girl grabbed an 8 inch kitchen blade and started to follow.
“Don’t you dare,” Sean said unthinking. Percival made a low noise in his throat, strong for a beta, and Sean didn’t care. “That knife is dull. A kitchen knife should never be dull. Sharp knives save lives.” He looked around the drawers and found what he was looking for. “Not a proper sharpen but it will at least help.” He gave several smooth strokes and the blade was more even. “There we go.” He handed the knife back over and she ran out and he realized what he had actually done. “I armed a girl the age of my children to go fight men with swords.” He sat in a chair. “I’ll just pack up and go.”
“No, you won’t,” Percival said. “Because you are right, I recognize quality. And that was excellent bacon. Is there steak in that box?”
“A rib eye,” Sean said.
“Cook it for me. If I like it, we’ll talk numbers,” Percival said. He easily ignored the sounds of crashing and battle cries.
And if he could, Sean could too. Because if he got this account, it would mean he would get others, just from people wanting to copy those at the grand house. Who he was pretty sure were insane. He cooked the rib eye and left with a six month contract.
All he could think was that was a house that sorely needed an omega in it. But what omega would take these people on?
“Hey boss,” Mikey said hurrying into the back.
Sean was busy with inventory, they had done a brisk business the last couple of weeks and he needed to keep an eye on sausages. The nice weather had people breaking out their backyard grills early. “Hmm?” Sean didn’t look up from his counting.
“Customer,” Mikey hissed. “Get out front.”
“Mikey, you’ve worked for me for six months, I think you know how to handle a customer.”
“Of course I do, but you’ve also made it clear to come get you if it is the blonde lady you fancy.”
Sean flushed a little. “I don’t -”
“I will play you the recording of when you sold her that lamb,” Mikey warned. “You stammered.” He looked at the paper in his hand. “I’ll box this up, you go talk to her.”
Sean went out and there she was. Ms. Unwin. He felt ridiculous having a crush at his age, but there is was mooning over her like he had Robyn when he was 16. A crush was a much better look for a 16 year old than a 55 year old long divorced beta. She brushed her hair behind her ear and he smiled a little. She was so pretty. “Ms. Unwin,” he called out. She turned her head and he saw the bites on her neck. He remembered when he first saw her she covered up a lot, hiding the multiple alpha and pack bites and then one day she stopped hiding them all. Dared anyone to comment on it. He thought her so brave. There were whispers about her and the lad, the Mathe pack omega, but never been confirmed and they were well a part of the community now. She babbled a little and he barely heard it staring at her and the way her eyes scrunching as she talked. She had an expressive face and a sweet scent. He told her about the new bacon he was putting in the box, reserve stuff that he should be charging almost twenty quid for and gave away. Christopher would never let him live it down.
He carried it out to the car for her and debated for the millionth time asking her out. Christopher had been yelling at him to for nine months. That no one should be a hermit, that one bad experience didn’t mean anything. Like that experience hadn’t been almost 30 years of his life. Sean decided to be a little bold and reached out and squeezed Michelle’s shoulder. He felt her freeze under his touch and her scent went from happy to wary in a second. Guess he knew how she felt, she was just a friendly sort. He felt like a fool. He quickly backed off and wanted to run to his shop but he had some dignity.
"You could come by the flower shop sometime? I've thought a couple hanging baskets outside your door, or a barrel, they could be nice?" she called out.
Sean paused and looked back to her. She was biting her lip, chewing off the pink lipstick. She looked worried that she upset him. He wished he could read her better. But he was miserable at reading people. If he was better at it, he would have seen his marriage collapsing. If he was better at it he might have a relationship with his kids beyond birthday cards and Christmas cheques he sent. “You next work Tuesday right?” he asked. She mentioned that anyone at the shop could help him. “I’ll maybe come by on Tuesday,” he said, hoping she understood he was doing it for her. She gave him a small smile and he thought yet again that maybe he should ask her out.
Sean went to the shop and Mikey took one look at him. “Jesus man, ask her out! You are killing me. And I don’t even know you that well boss man.”
“Oi shut it and go count those jalepeno sausages, we are selling a lot of them.” Sean gestured to the back and Mikey went and Sean sent a message to Percival to make sure that the next order would be correct. So very odd for that man to screw up something so simple.
But he got to have a few minutes with Michelle so he wouldn’t complain.