“Oh, Natsuna, I heard the news from Minnie,” Ruby cooed as sympathetically as she could.
Natsuna’s lips trembled. “Why did I have to pick onions on a day like today?”
“Here, let me,” Rubi grabbed a towel and moistened it to dab Natsuna’s swollen red eyes. Then she placed the root end of one of the onions on top of the girl’s head.
“What’s that for?” Natsuna asked, adjusting the onion as it slid back and nearly pressed against her ponytail.
“An old cook’s trick for stopping tears.”
Natsuna began to cry again.
“I guess it works better on onion tears than real ones,” Rubi bit the side of her cheek in frustration. She took the girl by the shoulders and locked gaze with her. “Look, the course of true love doesn’t always run true and clear. Sometimes it needs a little help. That’s why I’m here. I came to give that father of yours a tongue lashing he’ll never forget.”
“Really?” Natsuna’s eyes widened.
“Of course, no man should get between you and Minoru and the love you share. I mean, it’s so pure and innocent,” Rubi said, as a wave of maternal feelings overwhelmed her and she began to blubber. “And I want so very much to see those adorable babies you’ll make. With your cheeks and his eyes. It’s not fair!”
“Excuse me? Babies?” Natsuna’s jaw dropped and she nearly swooned.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Now I’m crying,” Rubi wiped her eyes. “I don’t know why I get this way sometimes. I get so swept away by other people’s romances. We have to get away from all these onions for a moment.”
“It’s quite alright,” the girl said.
She washed her hands in the basin and suddenly it was she who was comforting her friend, taking her out into the garden. The little fenced-in courtyard was filled with tender bib lettuce, tomato plants already winking with their little yellow flowers, and finger-length asparagus shoots jutting from the black soil. Natsuna showed Rubi to a bench where they could sit.
“That’s better,” the older woman sighed. She thought about confronting Kawanameshi again and now that she’d spent most of her swell of anger on Minoru’s unborn children, she began to reconsider. The tanner was a hard man and stubborn. He wasn’t likely to be swayed by threats, especially from a woman. “Oh, maybe I should speak with your father. It might just make matters worse.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Natsuna looked down at her hands folded in her lap and the forlorn expression returned to her face. “It’s good to know someone cares. Mother already spoke on my behalf, and well, now Father is sleeping on the couch at night.”
“Maybe a few nights away from your mother’s tender loins will persuade him,” Rubi muttered.
Natsuna’s sadness broke for a second and she gave a faint giggle. “I thought maybe I could charm him by making him a nice dinner. It’s always been my solution when Father has been stubborn in the past. I got him to let me keep a bunny as a pet after I made him quiche.”
“And you’re thinking maybe you get him to let you keep Minoru?” Rubi asked. The girl nodded. “Well, Minnie does often remind me of a helpless little animal and the stomach is the best entry point to a man’s heart, especially your father’s stomach. He’s got quite the appetite.”
“It could work.”
“You think so?” Natsuna said. “Oh, but now I’m all thumbs and I can’t seem to get the recipe right.”
“You don’t have it written down? Can you read, dear?”
“I can read. Father sent me to enough school so I could do the books and fill out invoices for him. But I never thought to write down the original recipe.”
Rubi snapped her fingers. “Then it’s a good thing I’m staying at a tavern. I have some cookbooks of my own and I also have some pull with the owner. I might be able to find some recipes that might help. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
... The two women poured over recipes until they found a quiche recipe in the Chyld book that looked simple and didn’t contain any obviously toxic ingredients or combinations. Rubi had often wondered why the book had been cataloged and locked away in Rune’s forbidden book section, but once she had glossed over the poisons and potions sections, she realized that in the wrong hands the formulas and recipes could have dangerous potential. She warned Natsuna about this but didn’t think there was any harm in trying the simpler recipes, especially with a cook of Natsuna’s skill. She had won the previous winter’s bread baking contest with a rye that successfully complemented every cheese and wine the judges paired it with.
They baked two batches of quiche so they could sample the first for taste and texture. When it came out of the oven, it smelled heavenly. And the flavor was even better. The crust was light and buttery, the egg-based filling creamy and filled with just the right amount of cheese in every bite. Strangely, eating the quiche made Rubi think of Kamatari. Natsuna could talk about nothing but Minoru before long.
“I think you’ve got a winner, dear,” Rubi said, fanning the flush from her face which she was sure came from the flood of flavor that was overwhelming her taste buds. “Do you mind if I take some home to my husband? I really should be going.”
“Help yourself,” she said. “In fact, take some for Minnie too. I want him to know I’m thinking about him.”
Rubi packed some of the quiche in wax paper. She bid her friend goodbye and hurried back to her room in the tavern. There she found Kamatari, who’d just come out of the tub, dripping wet with only a towel.
“That dandelion soap you bought is really quite nice. I--”
“Yes, it’s nice dear,” Rubi looked at his wet, bulging biceps hungrily. “Natsuna and I made some quiche. I’d like you to try.”
“That sounds good. Let me--”
Rubi unwrapped the quiche and nearly shoved it down her husband’s throat. Kamatari was surprised, then made something like a purring, growling noise as he chewed his food.
“This is delicious. You made this?”
“Natsuna helped,” Rubi tossed the empty wrapper aside. She had forgotten about the piece that was supposed to be for Minoru. All she could think about was Kamatari’s naked, warm body under that towel and how, with just an accent of dandelion scent, the musk that had bothered her earlier was setting her loins on fire now. “But forget about that. I need you to take my clothes off now.”