It would have been impossible for John to deny Stella a job after tasting her cheesecake. Especially when Jason had been making weird sounds as if he had been experiencing some sort of orgasm and stuffing cheesecake in his mouth and nodding enthusiastically.

So John had indeed given Stella a job as his new pastry chef. He still reserved the right to fire her in the spot during the following week if he wasn't satisfied with her cooking, but for the time being she could consider herself part of the staff.

Stella was nervous as she approached Zephyr. It was a handsome early XX century building located downtown, right across Reagent's Park near the several theaters and cinemas and bars.

As she walked into the building - using the employees' door! – Stella felt a rush of excitement, to work in a place like Zephyr had been her dream since she was a little girl – and there were pictures of her attempting to bake with her Easy-Oven to prove it – and now her dream was within her reach… if she could manage to hold onto the job.

It was ten sharp when Stella made it into the kitchen, both John Devane and Jason Sadler were standing in the middle of the kitchen with what looked like the whole staff of the restaurant gathered around them. Stella remained in the back of the room, not sure where to stand. It was like the first time at the High School's cafeteria during freshman year, all over, again. Only that this time there was no Lauren to act as buffer of the awkwardness.

And as usual, everyone was taller than she, so standing in the back, Stella could neither hear nor see a thing. Great! Just Great!

"Right, looks like everyone is here," John said. "So let's begin."

He had been ridiculously acutely aware of the moment Stella McAdams had walked into the kitchen. It had been exactly one past ten on a Tuesday morning. John had always been annoyingly good at remembering things like that, dates, days and hours. Chloe had left him on a Saturday, Mark and Sabrina had died on a Wednesday… he had met Stella on a Monday.

"John?" Jason asked. Apparently he had been spacing out for the last couple of seconds. That wasn't at all like him.

"Sorry? Oh, yes. Staff meeting, yes." John muttered to himself. "All right! I'm pleased to inform you that we have finally hired a pastry chef, which will lessen Mr. Sadler load of work and will make him less irritable, which I'm sure you'll all appreciate." There was an appreciative murmur from the staff. "So, please welcome Miss McAdams to our midst." John continued, briefly locating Stella with his eyes and motioning towards her causing the thirty or so other people in the room to look at her.

Taking pity on Stella – who was blushing wildly, clearly not welcoming the attention – John moved on with the list of things that needed to be done, going over the menu and drawing attention back to him. Everyone listened to him attentively. John was the type of person who commanded that kind of attentiveness.

"So that's all." John finished and dismissed the staff by bidding them to do go on with their works, which they all did with alacrity. John walked slowly to his office. He should have been thinking about the produce list, the payroll, the fact that Jess would be starting first grade in the fall and she still wouldn't talk…or his mother annoying him to find a girlfriend and settled down, all the little problems that plagued his life constantly

But he wasn't.

His thoughts were on something else… something that had been popping in and out of his mind since the previous day…

"Stella, mind if I call you Stella?" Jason asked, he was a tall man with blond hair cut short and nice pale blue eyes and quite handsome in a devilish sort of way. If this had been the Victorian era, he surely would have been a rake.

"That's all right." Stella said shyly. Once John was gone, the staff was back at openly staring at her as if she were a small cute animal at the zoo.

"Stella, you're going to work here," He said, guiding her to a worktable supplied with knives and pots and all kinds of other stuff. "You know where the supply room is. Each three days you're to give me a list of the produce you will need. Remember, each three days! This will be your ovens, they are six in all each can heat up to 450° F."

Stella nodded not for the first time wondering at the great responsibility that she had. It was a great opportunity to be given to someone as young as she.

Jason finished by giving Stella a list of the cakes, breads and tidbits he wanted her to make for the day. Zephyr served a wide selection of cakes and tarts for dessert and it was up to Stella to make every single one of them each day.

After a brief examination of the list, Stella conferred with the couple of cooks –Caroline and Sarah- who had been assigned to help her and the preparations began.





Soon the smells of vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and fresh fruit and berries were drifting in the air. Everyone at Zephyr was well disciplined to be sure, but by no means cold or unwelcoming in anyway. As they chopped fruit or greased molds, both Sarah and Caroline put Stella up to date with the coming and goings of practically everyone who worked at Zephyr.

There was Tom, the head waiter, who was going through a nasty divorce, or the accountant Melissa who had just quit chain-smoking and so on. By non she knew who was out, who was a hot and who to avoid. The girls had two main focuses for their gossip, John Devane and Jason Sadler.

Jason was said to be a total playboy, all suave and debonair to whom women came all too easily. He had dated his way across town, and was pretty proud about it; he was a gifted chef and a cheese enthusiast.

John, on the other hand, was a mystery, he ran Zephyr with an iron fist but he wasn't a bad employer, he had never, say, dismissed a female employee for getting pregnant or been intransigent when someone asked for a medical leave or had a son or parent sick at home, and he never got behind neither with the bills nor with the payroll. But other than that, there was little to be known about John Devane.

At around noon, the employees' door burst open and a young woman came, sipping from a to-go Starbucks cup and carrying another in her hand. She was wearing slender stiletto heels, a plaid mini skirt –not indecent but short enough to show a good amount of leg – and a sweater set. Everyone single one of her auburn hairs was brushed into place and she was quizzically looking around.

She located Stella and went straight to her.

"So," She said, resting her hip against Stella's work table and handling her one of the coffee-cups she held. "How's the first day goin'?"

Stella vaguely heard, reaching for the coffee as any true coffee addict would before even thinking on what her friend had asked. Once the caffeine began to kick in, Stella regarded her friend from above the rim of the cup.

Lauren Martineu was surely a sight to be hold – of medium high, perhaps not the prettiest girl in the block but so confident and charming that everyone was drawn to her - and just about the last person Stella would have associated with, as the two of them were as different from each other as night was from day.

But they had been friends since the third grade, when Lauren had moved into town from Maryland and the kids at Central Elementary had made fun of her accent. As they were the only two M's in Mrs. Norman's third grade class they ended up sitting next to each other and that small circumstantial proximity had led them to fifteen years of unconditional friendship.

They had been there for each other, sticking together through thick and thin. They survived the war zone of Central Middle together, the awkwardness of High School, the deaths of pets, parental embarrassment and bad hockey seasons.

Settling the cup on the table, Stella answered. "It's all going just fine."

"That's good!" Lauren answered cheerfully. "How is this place called again?"

"Zephyr. I don't think you have reviewed it yet." Stella answered slowly.

Food was one thing Stella and Lauren did have in common. Not that Lauren could cook… at all, but her dad owned a Grill and Bar and she had been born right in the south with all that delicious, artery-clogging food. Lauren knew food, even if she couldn't cook, and so, after getting her degree in restaurant management – for she hoped someday to run The Sticks, Jocks and Hockey Grill & Bar – she had landed a job as a food critic for a local magazine.

"Maybe," Noticing the two girls who were working with Stella –both of them a little older than either Stella or Lauren – Lauren introduced herself as it was only polite. "Hi! I'm Lauren."

The girls, who had been following the conversation – gossipy souls that they were and all – were suddenly startled by being included into it but recovered quickly and began to chat as if they all had known each other for ages.

Up until John came to yell that the restaurant was about to open and that everyone should be ready.

Caroline and Sarah quickly speeded up their tart decoration and Stella began to add liberal amounts of cinnamon and corn liquor to the mix for the apricot cake she was working on.

"I guess that's my cue to leave." Lauren said. "It was nice to meet you two!" She said to Caroline and Sarah. "You call me," She added to Stella, and in a very similar fashion to who she had irrupted into the room, Lauren swept from it.

Just as Lauren left, Stella became aware of a picky feeling in the back of her neck, the kind of feeling you get when someone is watching you. And sure enough, when she turned she found John looked straight at her, his eyes trained on her form as she was about to give him the answer to questions such as 'Why are we here?' 'Are we alone in the Universe?' and so on.

It felt weird to be regarded in such way; men never looked at Stella like that, most men she knew didn't even notice her at all. But John kept looking at her, his gaze unwavering, making Stella blush to the roots of her hair and finally look away.

It was, John thought, The Perfect Plan.

It would be completely high handled, not to mention that the world extortion came up in his mind quite a bit; but it was the perfect solution to his current problem. Finally he would get his mother off his back.

Stella McAdams wasn't his preferred style when it came to women, but she was comely enough in her own way, yet he wouldn't be in any danger of falling in love with her. Plus, his mother didn't know her – which was quite a feat since Hannah knew practically everyone – and she badly needed something John could offer her: A permanent job and steady income.

John would hire permanently, and give her a hell of a big fat salary, and all with the only condition that she would pretend to be his girlfriend in front of his mother.

It was a neat simple plan.

Now all he had to do was get her to agree…



Thanks to everyone for the acceptance of this story.

Special thanks to: crazychick88, Ginevra-lily, Rosie Elizabeth, BangBangYoureDead, Puppy, aBitterkiss, annie, grumpirah, Katsiebee, Renzie, Katty, Kim, Lilybet Edyvean, nurin, Maddy, Drea, blueangel87 and Watch. And to Lauren for the liberal use of her first name.

And to Starry,

Love, always,