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the dress

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There’s no official dress code at the Test Kitchen. They’re all professionals and any dress code would likely be violated on principle. There’s a reason chefs have the stereotype that they do: non-conformist, anti-authority, and a deep value on freedom of expression.

 

Still, when Brad sees Claire walk into the kitchen for the day with her hair piled high on her head in a wild, messy bun and wearing a dress that he’s never seen before, he starts to rethink the need for a dress code.

 

Because Claire, the same Claire who normally comes to work in jumpsuits and conservative, colorful dresses and a classic jeans and t-shirt combination, is getting ready to start her day in the BA Test Kitchen in a dress that stops just above her knees, that crisscrosses in the back and shows off an expanse of shoulder and back as pale and perfect as the rest of her.

 

He’s a pretty simple guy and her jumpsuits—something he never, ever thought would work for him, but God, Claire has a way of making everything look good—had kept him awake at night. Her colorful dresses—gifts from her sister—were charming and adorable and somehow matched and highlighted her bright, effervescent personality.

 

The dress she’s wearing now, though, is new. And it’s distracting as hell.

 

Brad had known, of course he’d known, that Claire had a body under those clothes. But seeing the exposed curve of her knee, the slope of her shoulder, the lean line of her neck had put the fantasies about her he’d so carefully kept guarded into new, technicolor perspective.

 

Twice now, he’d almost sliced the tip of his finger off because he’d been hypnotized by the almost imperceptible freckles dotted across her shoulder. He’d tripped over his own feet carrying a pot of boiling water to his station as he’d caught notice of the hem of her dress brushing over her thighs.

 

Enough was enough.

 

“Hey, uh, Claire? Can I talk to you for a sec?”

 

They’re working on stations facing each other today—normally his favorite kind of day. She looks up at him from the KitchenAid whirring loudly on her station and grins brightly at him, brow furrowed in slight confusion.

 

“Sure thing.”

 

A few moments later, they’re in the walk-in (Brad’s office of choice), and standing in uncomfortable and cold silence as Brad searches for the right words. Claire shivers and wraps her apron around herself for warmth.

 

“Um, Brad? It’s kind of cold in here so—“

 

“Well, maybe you wouldn’t be cold if you were wearing something else.”

 

He winces as her eyes widen in hurt and she looks down self-consciously at her outfit, smoothing her fingers over the fabric slowly.

 

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t expecting to be dragged into the walk-in. What do you need, Brad?”

 

There’s sharpness to her voice, the kind of terse sharpness that means danger, that means he’s on thin ice and testing her patience. It’s been a while since it’s been directed at him.

 

But his safety and sanity is on the line and he needs to ignore the warning signs.

 

“It’s like this, Claire. I know we play it fast and loose around here. Y’know, we’re not your normal workplace. But I’m still the kitchen manger and when there’s someone causin’ a distraction enough to be a safety hazard, I gotta step in. So, I need you to go home and change.”

 

The look on her face is one he never wants to see again: anger, hurt, confusion, annoyance. Again, her fingers smooth over her dress and she crosses her arms, cocks her hip, and glares.

 

“There’s nothing wrong with my clothes, Brad. We don’t even have an official dress code!”

 

“Well, I’m tellin’ ya you gotta go. You’re distracting everyone.”

 

“Distract—what? Brad, no one has said anything. This is ridiculous.” He hates that she sounds hurt, hates the way she won’t stop smoothing her hands over her dress self-consciously. Claire is so damn confident in the kitchen, walks around like she owns the place half the time, that it feels wrong to see her looking uncertain.

 

And the truth is, he can’t argue with her. It is ridiculous. He’s being ridiculous. No one has said anything and he certainly can’t tell her that he’s telling her to go home because he can’t stop thinking about her legs and her neck and the way he really, really wants to get his mouth on her skin and see if it’ll pink up under his touch the way he’s hoping it will.

 

So he glares right back, embarrassed and angry and turned on. “Fine! Just consider this a warning, then.”

 

Claire scoffs at him, shakes her head, and storms out of the walk-in. “Unbelievable,” she murmurs, pushing the door open.

 

He watches her go and tries to not stare at her calves and the curve of her ankle.

 

Well, that went well.

 

________________

 

The rest of the day is tense and tainted. Despite their close workstations, they work in silence. Brad keeps his head down, partially to avoid the glares and huffs being thrown in his direction and partially to maintain what little focus he does still have.

 

They so rarely fight or disagree genuinely, that when they do it filters into the rest of the kitchen. The rest of the kitchen gives them a wide berth, sensing an explosion on the horizon.

 

It doesn’t stop some of the biggest personalities in the kitchen from clashing anyway.

 

When the director of From the Kitchen calls him over as he would normally do to get kitchen feedback on whatever it is Claire’s making, Brad is snarky about the texture of her bread. To be fair, she maybe starts it by pointedly complaining to the cameras about how loud Brad is talking behind her and can they please respect the kitchen.

 

“I was recently reminded that while we’re an informal workplace, we do still have rules. I just think we should enforce them equally.”

 

It earns a groan and an eye roll from Brad who tells her to knock if off. He hates when he’s on the receiving end of Claire’s sharp attitude.

 

Even if he a little bit, maybe, probably deserves it.

 

The thing is, Claire doesn’t even really understand why he’s mad at her. It hurt more than she thought it would to be told to change out of her dress today. She woke up feeling beautiful and confident and Brad made her feel like she did something wrong.

 

It’s not a feeling she likes or is accustomed to. Especially because there had been a part of her, a voice in the back of her head, that had wondered how he’d react to this dress. She’d wanted to see him look at her like she was something more than a friend and colleague.

 

Instead, she’d been met with almost anger and scorn. And now the whole day has been tainted. She hates it when they fight.

 

From the Kitchen wraps up and she leaves her pumpkin bread, crisp pumpkin seed brittle topping and all, out on the leftovers table. She doesn’t know what the hell Brad was talking about. The texture is absolutely perfect—springy and light, just the way a quick bread should be.

 

Before she can work herself up into a full rant, she catches sight of Brad stalking off angrily towards the exit, through the double doors towards the elevator bay. Enough is enough.

 

She follows him.

 

“Brad! Brad, wait up.” Christ, his legs are so much longer than hers and it’s two or three of her strides for every one of his.

 

“What, Claire?”

 

It’s terse and rude and she glares at him. She’s trying to bridge whatever divide formed between them this morning and he wants to talk to her like she did something wrong. The rant she felt building earlier by the pumpkin bread builds again and she can feel it itching to pour out of her, she wants to let him really have a taste of what it means to have a Saffitz woman angry with you.

 

Except the rest of the test kitchen is breaking for the day and she can hear them and the rest of the digital crew heading out as well, crossing their path. She won’t do this with him in public.

 

So, she wraps her fingers around his wrist and drags all 6’4” of him by the hand into the nearby closet and flicks the light on. They’re surrounded by cleaning supplies and forgotten boxes of files that should probably be upstairs in the office. It’s a cleaning closet mostly definitely not meant for two people to be in at once.

 

There’s less than six inches between them and she fumbles from the light switch, throwing it on and casting them in a low, pale light, dark shadows dance across their face.

 

She pokes a finger into his chest. “What is your problem today?”

 

“Hey, I don’t have a problem. You’re the one who came in—“

 

“Brad, don’t start on the dress—“

 

“Well it’s the dress’ fault! It’s distracting, I told you.”

 

“Distracting who?”

 

“Me! Okay? Me!” He looks startled, like he hadn't meant to say that. And then, defeated, a little softer, “It’s distracting me.”

 

The sound of their breathing fills the tiny cleaning closet and Claire feels hot and cold all over, surprised and pleased and confused. They look shaken at Brad’s inadvertent admission and all they can do is stare at each other.

 

Then. Then.

 

Brad mutters, “Fuck it.”

 

He takes her face in his hands and ducks down, slotting his mouth over hers. She doesn’t hesitate, just kisses him back, arms wrapping around his neck and fingers stroking the curling hair at the nape of his neck, fingernails scratching lightly. Pushed up on her tiptoes, she rolls her body against his, practically crawling up his body to get closer to him. Her mouth opens under his and his tongue wastes no time in slipping into her mouth, stroking over the roof of her mouth.

 

When she nips at his bottom lip and press even closer, impossibly closer, he groans and she grins into he kiss. She likes that she has this power over him, likes the way he’s reduced to just gasps, groans, and her name.

 

He drags a hand down her side, ghosting over the sides and swell of her breast, allowing his fingertips to flirt with the hem of her dress. His hand is so big on her body and his callused palms stroke over her thigh, pushing the material of her dress up and aside so he can get at more skin, more of her.

 

“Christ, Claire,” he pants against her mouth before ducking his head and licking and nipping at her neck. “All fucking day been thinking about this.”

 

The shelf of cleaning supplies rattles when he steps her back, cups her thigh and hitches it up over his hip. She tilts her head back and lets him kiss her the way he wants to, the way she’s wanted him to when she put this dress on.

 

His lips trail over the curve of her shoulder, his tongue sneaking out to lick a stripe over the smattering of freckles he knew was there. Her hands aren’t still, either. She gets one hand under his button-down denim shirt, thinks about telling him what this shirt does to her when he wears it. But she opts to stroke the warm skin of his stomach and let her fingers dip beneath the waistband of his jeans instead.

 

Later, when the frenzy of hands and mouths die down and they sheepishly request building maintenance to help them clean up the spilled cleaning chemicals and sponges from off the floor, they both agree she’ll never wear that dress to the test kitchen again.