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Melanie's Cookery Class Part One

Melanie meets Hal and Ben, while Eamon makes mistakes

Melanie first noticed the two men as she pushed her trolley down the dairy aisle of Morrison’s. She smiled at them, encouragingly. They were clearly out of their depth in what they regarded as an alien environment. With smooth efficiency, Melanie scooped up her butter, natural yoghurt and some basic cooking cheddar.

She met them again in household. They appeared to be debating laundry liquid.

“It’s no good Ben, we’ll just have to ask someone.”

“Not one of the staff, this time, Hal. I’m still not convinced about that piece of beef.”

“May I help you at all?” asked Melanie. “I’m definitely not staff.”

She quickly resolved their query regarding the difference between bio and non-bio. They each had boxes of dishwasher tablets in their trolleys.

“Follow me, boys,” she said.

“Look you have each got boxes of twenty. The hundreds are on offer. For only fifty pence more than you are spending getting forty, you could get a hundred. Split the box when you get home. Or have you been given hard and fast instructions as to what to buy?”

Both men seemed to shrink slightly as she looked at them.

“We’re not used to all this,” said Ben.

“Our wives used to do all the shopping and stuff.”

Melanie had worked for a few years as a secretary in a large primary school. She had developed an instinct for detecting the fact that there were some major human stories behind simple statements. Pursuing Ben’s statement was not a good idea, just now, she thought.

“What did I hear you say about the beef?” asked Melanie.

“We’re going to cook ourselves a Sunday lunch,” said Hal, with a proud smile, but a decidedly false air of optimism.

“Show me what you’ve got,” said Melanie.

Ben lifted out a pre-packed joint and offered it for inspection.

“Nice piece of brisket,” commented Melanie. “How do you plan to cook it?”

“Roasting in the oven,” said Hal, his confidence fading before Melanie’s eyes.

“It would be delicious slow pot roasted, but try roasting it in the conventional way and it will be too tough to even chew.”

“My name’s Melanie Frobisher, Mel for short.”

“I’m Hal Bentley.”

“And I’m Ben Jackson.”

“Follow me back to the meat aisle gentlemen.”

The two men relaxed and the three chatted easily. After they passed through the check-outs Hal came over to Melanie.

“Mel, you’ve saved us from what might have been a very negative experience. Can we buy you a coffee?”

“Make that a cup of tea, and the answer is, yes please.”

With beverages in front of them, the three chatted, happily. The men seemed almost relieved that their shopping expedition was ended.

“Hal, I don’t want to pry,” said Melanie, “but what did you mean by ‘a negative experience’?”

For a few moments, both men seemed to be somewhere else. Melanie understood that there was a step they wanted to take, but were nervous of doing so. She put her mug down and reached out with her hands, to place them on theirs. Then she waited.

Ben breathed a sigh. Neither of the men resisted the physical contact, rather both covered her hands with their second hand. Each was revelling in the touch. Mel waited.

“My darling wife Mandy died seven months ago,” whispered Ben.

“Jane was killed in an accident in February,” said Hal. “We’ve been paired in a bereavement programme, which has been wonderful.”

“My son Simon, and his wife, have been having a go at me about living on ‘ready meals’ and putting on weight,” said Ben.

“We didn’t have children,” said Hal. “My sister Beth has been nagging me with the same message. We decided we ought to try and cook. This is our first serious shopping trip with that in mind.”

“So!” said Melanie, “If you had served up boot leather with the Yorkshire puds, it wouldn’t have done your confidence much good, would it?”

“No,” murmured Hal.

“Where do you both actually live?” asked Melanie.

“Northside,” said Ben. “Hal’s ten minutes’ walk away on Rowan Crescent.”

“What dish did Mandy cook for you, Ben, that you most loved?” asked Melanie. “Same question for you Hal. Did Jane have a speciality?”

“It was the cassoulet,” said Ben. “She always did it on special occasions, like my birthday.”

“It was a salmon pasta dish,” said Hal. “She added a splosh of Pernod to it.”

“Think about those dishes,” said Melanie. You can cook those, and more, very easily. You simply have to know that you can.

“Now! Our frozen peas are defrosting. I shall be shopping here next Friday morning at 10.00am. If you happen to be here as well then I would love to hear how your roast beef turned out.”

As Melanie put her shopping away, she thought back to the warm conversation she had enjoyed with Ben and Hal. The devotion in their eyes as they spoke about their late wives. It was a devotion she had not detected in Eamon for some time. He was working so hard, these days. He was always so very, very tired.

It was Friday night, maybe Eamon would manage to get away early. They could have a relaxing evening; and then, ‘Who knows?’ she thought.

Her reverie was interrupted by the harsh tones of the telephone.

“Mrs Frobisher? It’s Carrie Fawcett. Mr Frobisher has asked me to call you. He is finishing a report for a Japanese client. They don’t understand ‘Fridays’, I’m afraid. He’s sorry, but he hopes to be home by nine.”

Melanie acknowledged the news with quiet resignation, but she was very unhappy. It wasn’t simply the certainty that this was going to be another loveless night, it was the fact that Eamon had not made the call himself. She also had a suspicion that his new PA, Carrie, was something of a man-eating gold digger.

Eamon did not, in fact, arrive home until nearly ten o’clock. Melanie had taken herself to bed, feeling very cross. When she heard him stumbling about, she let go her book and let it lie, as if she had fallen asleep reading. The heavy breathing she enacted actually helped her to drift off to sleep. She was still conscious enough to detect that Eamon was having a shower. He was using the bathroom, rather than their en-suite.

‘At least he’s got the decency to try not to disturb me,’ she thought, drifting pleasantly.

When she awoke next morning, her husband was still in a very deep sleep.

'Perhaps I could wake him up,' she thought. 'Maybe a bit of a "quickie"?'

Then he let out a rather unpleasant snore and the idea passed from her mind. She made tea for herself and sat up reading, until the continued snoring drove her from the bed.

Melanie had her breakfast of a poached egg on toast with a rasher of crispy bacon. She looked in on Eamon and left a mug of tea to go cold by his sleeping form. Then she took herself outside to tend her tomato plants in the greenhouse.

It was eight o’clock gone, before Eamon came downstairs. He carried his cold mug of tea, hoping to find a fresh pot on the go. He was out of luck. In the absence of Melanie, he made himself a drink, and then went in search of her. She would be in the garden somewhere.

“Good morning, my darling,” he called, spotting his wife in the greenhouse.

“Try again!” Melanie replied.

“Sorry darling?”

“Try again,” Melanie repeated, this time with a bit more force.

“I’m sorry darling, you’ve lost me. Try what again?”

“Never mind,” sighed Melanie. “Sit down on the bench and enjoy your tea. I need to get something from inside and I won’t be a minute. Relax and enjoy the morning sun, dear.”

Three minutes later Melanie returned, with a fresh mug of tea.

“Once upon a time, Eamon Frobisher,” Melanie declared, loudly, “you would not have thought of approaching me in the greenhouse without a mug of tea for me. Now, you add insult to injury by having just one for yourself. Not only do you come back home late, so yet again we don’t have some time together, but you come back stumbling. I am glad to see you obviously didn’t drive home. Thank you for showering in the bathroom and not making a noise in ours.”

“I’ve just been to make myself another mug of tea, thank you very much!”

Eamon realised that he had made some very serious mistakes. He also realised that the situation was probably about to get worse.

“So!” demanded Melanie, “Where is your car?”

“We, er all, er, went out for a drink after we finished. I got a taxi home. I’m sorry darling, we just went to let off a bit of steam after getting the report finished. It will be worthwhile in the end,” he finished lamely.

“And your car?”

“Carrie took it home, rather than it stand in the pub car park all night. She’s going to bring it round later,” said Eamon, feeling his confidence drain with every word.

“I said, we would give her a bit of lunch, then I would run her home.”

As Eamon finished speaking, he understood the plans he and Carrie had made the evening before, might be falling apart.

Melanie was still for a moment, but realised that staying cool would be a good idea. Suddenly she had a feeling that watching Eamon and Miss Fawcett inter-react might prove informative.

“Okay, darling,” said Melanie, giving him a bright smile. “I’ll make us a quiche. Will you pick some salad leaves for me, please?”

Carrie Fawcett had dressed in an attractive print summer dress with a full skirt, half sleeves, and a modest high cut neckline. She wore flat soled shoes and she had kept her long blonde hair tied up. Of make-up there was no trace. She seemed the antithesis of a femme fatale; Melanie was dubious.

Eamon behaved with model proprietary. Lunch was very civilised, but Carrie let her guard slip twice. The first moment was when they were showing her the garden. It was magnificent in the late June sunshine. As they looked back at the splendid rear elevation, and the landscaped terracing of the triple-layered patio. Melanie saw the look of a predator on their guest’s face. It was gone, in a moment, but there had been something almost feral about it.

The second moment hadn’t been immediately obvious. After they had finished lunch, Carrie had excused herself to go to the loo. They were sitting on the patio when Melanie detected the sound of the flush. She suddenly realised that their guest had not asked for directions. She already knew.

“How long did it take you to get here, Carrie?” asked Eamon.

“Just under forty minutes,” she replied. “A good run, every light on green. That doesn’t happen very often.”

“Okay, I’ll run you back. Thank you again for your help Carrie, I would have been unhappy with the car left overnight in the ‘White Lion’s’ car park.”

“Darling,” said Eamon to his wife, “it’s two fifteen now. Assuming every light is on red this time round, I should still be back by quarter to four.”

“Mrs Frobisher, thank you for a delicious lunch,” said Carrie.

“You are most welcome, dear,” said Melanie. “Thank you for making sure my husband didn’t drive last night.”

She watched them drive off, before going back inside. Opening her iPad she began to track Eamon’s phone. When it stopped twenty minutes later, at what was most certainly Carrie’s house, she noted the time. Standing up, she went upstairs to change out of the smart, but somewhat utilitarian, clothes she was dressed in.

“I’m back, darling,” shouted Eamon, as he opened their front door at twenty to four. “The traffic lights were kind.”

Getting no reply, he assumed his wife to be in the garden and went in search of her. He called again, as he approached the open patio doors.

“I’m down here, Eamon,” he heard her shout, as he stepped outside.

“Bloody hell, Mel!” he shouted, as he looked down. “Get some clothes on, cover yourself up. The neighbours can see you there.”

Melanie was lying on a sun lounger, on the lower level next to the pond. She was completely naked. The tan lines where, hitherto, bikini top and bottoms had shielded flesh from the sun, dazzled. The dark triangle of her pubic hair shouted her nudity, as much as her husband was doing with his rant.

Very slowly, but sensually, Melanie stood up. She did a slow 360 turn, with a deep bend at the waist to pick up her towel, before ascending the steps toward him.

“Once upon a time, Eamon Frobisher, you always raced home from work to me. If you had been through a hard day, or there had been a little success, we would have fucked each other into oblivion.

“Once upon a time, Eamon Frobisher, you would have seen me in the greenhouse, or anywhere else in the garden for that matter, and brought me a cup of tea. Sometimes a cold drink instead, but that was usually afternoons.

“Once upon a time, Eamon Frobisher, if you had seen me lying nude, you would have rushed down and ravished me; or carried me upstairs for some more prolonged lovemaking.

“Today, I remember the upset I felt when Ms Fawcett called, as the bearer of bad tidings. Ms Fawcett, not my loving husband who was steeped in regret over having to work so late. A phone call from a PA, not a quick Facetime and a loving smile from my husband.

“Today, I looked at the fun notice we made a long time ago. ‘Do not approach unless you have a cup of tea or a glass of wine to offer’; then I went and made my own, while you enjoyed yours.

“Today, I felt humiliated. You did not rejoice in my nakedness, but shouted it out as a shame to the neighbourhood.

“Now, I stand naked in front of you. I’m sorry if this upsets, rather than excites you. I shall go and get dressed.”

“Wait, Mel, wait! I’m sorry darling, it was thoughtless of me. I was surprised. You’ve never done that before. I didn’t mean it to sound as it did. I just didn’t want the neighbours ogling you.”

“Actually Eamon, I quite like the idea of being ogled. It’s not something you seem to have been inclined to do for a while. I’ve been in the sun for an hour though; it’s time I covered up. Might go out for a bit more tomorrow.”

Eamon was stunned. He also realised that he had made some very bad moves.

Melanie behaved with calm civility, wearing a gentle smile, toward her husband for the rest of the weekend. She cooked their meals and they talked about the garden. Eamon had several times reached out to his wife to try and hold her. Melanie used body language to make it clear that such contact was not currently on the agenda.

As she lay in bed, keeping distance between them, Melanie had many conversations with herself.

“I want to be held, cuddled and fucked. But only when you have, without any intervention or challenge from me, got rid of the scheming bitch. You will prove to me, I know not how, that it is over. All I really have is the lies you both told over how long it takes to drive to her house.”

Eamon was glad to get back into work on Monday. Carrie was pleased to learn of the frost that had fallen upon the Frobisher marriage. She thought long and hard about keeping herself out of the line of fire, if such should break out.

During the week Melanie let the frost thaw. She even wore her sexy scarlet silk pyjamas to bed. “He’s got to have an opening to begin a campaign to show I’m still special,” she thought. Eamon did not push at the open door. Melanie also thought about Ben and Hal, and their devotion to their late wives, quite a lot. She envied the lost ladies their men.

When Friday came her eyes scanned the aisles.

“Hal!” she heard a voice cry. “It’s our shopping advisor.”

Melanie turned. She saw her two friends from the week before, grinning broadly.

“My master chefs,” laughed Melanie. Then she delighted both men by leaning in and offering her cheek for a kiss.

“So,” she demanded, laughing, “how was the roast beef?”

“We’ve a lot to learn,” said Ben. “It was tasty, but more well done than we planned.”

“We gave it just the right amount of time, according to ‘Delia’,” said Hal.

“Whose kitchen did you use?” asked Melanie.

“Mine,” said Ben.

“How old is your cooker?”

“We had a total refit eighteen months ago. Everything is top of the range. It was Mandy’s dream kitchen.”

“Do you remember what temperature you cooked it at?” asked Melanie, gently. She was aware that a lot of raw emotion had found its way into the conversation.

“Two hundred, then turned down to one-eighty after fifteen minutes.”

“Too high, sweetheart. You’ve got a fan oven and a very old copy of Delia. Drop the temperature with a fan oven by up to twenty degrees. Buy yourselves digital meat thermometers, if you haven’t already got them, and look up internal temperatures for cooking meats on the internet.”

“What do you want to cook this week?”

“Pork,” said Hal. “We’re using my kitchen and we want crackling.”

“Don’t listen to Delia,” said Melanie, “listen to me! Come gentlemen, to the meat aisle and the butchery.

“Look at some of the pre-packed joints. See anything that you like the look of?” asked Melanie.

“This looks about right,” said Ben, lifting one of the packs.

“Nice looking joint,” said Melanie. “You won’t get crackling though. Look closely. The rind has been removed, and that’s the bit that crackles. Come over to the counter.

“My friends are learning to cook,” said Melanie. The butcher had come to the counter to enquire how he might help them. “They want a nice pork joint for roasting, and they want crackling. I intend to instruct them in the art.”

Twenty-five minutes later they had all completed their shopping. They had moved as a trio of trolleys through the all the aisles. The banter was friendly and Melanie imparted common sense wisdom to her companions. They returned appreciation and respect. Things that had seemed sadly absent in Melanie’s life for some time.

Once again they sat in the café area. The men had been promised access to secret knowledge in the creation of crisp crackling.

“Boiling water,” said Melanie, then she went on about dousing the skin first.

“Give me your left hands, boys,” Melanie said, gently.

“Now, hold them limp for me.”

Melanie caressed their hands into position. It was an action that sent memories of delight through both men. She could read it in their faces and was thrilled to give them this simple pleasure.

“I’m going to show you a touch test for seeing how well done meat is. It works very well with steaks, but it’s also fine with modest-sized joints.”

“Press the forefinger of your right hand into the soft flesh between your thumb and forefinger on your left hand. That’s the pressure you would feel with raw meat. Now bring your thumb and forefinger together. Touch again, and that’s rare. When you join your thumb and little finger, then you have the feel of meat cooked ‘well done’.

“Mel,” laughed Ben, “Do you give cookery lessons?”

“Oh please, Mel!” said Hal, picking up on the idea. “It would be good to have someone show us how to use half the kit we have in our kitchens.”

Melanie was a little taken aback at the invitation. Their boyish eagerness was compelling. Quite suddenly she felt a thrill and an excitement about the idea.

“I’ll do it,” said Melanie, grinning. “I think we could have a lot of fun. Whose kitchen do you want to begin in?”

“Ben’s,” said Hal. “His oven is the one we’ve struggled most with.”

“I expect Mandy and Jane had all sorts of cookery books,” said Melanie. “I’ll look them over and see if I think of some that it would be good for you to have, bearing in mind you are still only apprentice master chefs.”

“When can we start?” asked Hal.

“From a practical point of view,” said Melanie, “we could start on Monday or Tuesday next week. Instead of beginning cooking straight away, how about I visit your kitchens first? Then I know what equipment you’ve got. We plan the menus at the same time, and make shopping lists. I’ll come with you to do the shopping as well.”

Ben and Hal were thrilled. Their lovely friend was going to be spending quite a bit of time with them. Close female company they missed. After the deaths of their wives, various women had tried to take them over; they had resisted all such attempts.

They agreed on Monday for the kitchen inspections. As Melanie drove away she reflected that she was getting more ‘companionship, with Hal and Ben, than she was with Eamon.

Melanie put her Boeuf Bourguignon in the oven at four o’clock, wondering what time Eamon might actually come home this Friday. Hardly had she done so but her iPad chimed an incoming Facetime request.

“Ha! What’s today’s excuse for dallying with Ms Fawcett?” she asked.

“Hello darling,” said Eamon, brightly. “I should be getting away on time today, so I’ll be home by six.”

“Oh that’s lovely,” said Melanie. “I’ve done us a Boeuf Bourguignone. It’ll be ready by then but you can have a shower and relax a bit first. I’m looking forward to a nice evening in with my husband.”

Melanie looked at the clock; it was ten past three.

“I think we’re trying to be clever,” she said out loud to herself.

Fifteen minutes later she was sat at her laptop, tracking Eamon’s phone.

“You’ve left the office early, Mr Frobisher,” she said to herself, “and the direction of travel is not this house.”

Five minutes later the car stopped.

“At least two hours together in the love nest, dears. Enjoy yourselves, because life may get quite difficult in the not too distant future.”

After a quick phone call, to her cousin Lizzie, she had an appointment with Harriet Greene, a private investigator for a week on Monday.

Melanie sat down and poured herself a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. She was surprised at how relaxed and calm she felt. “Why don’t I feel sick with the betrayal? Why am I not consumed with rage? Why am I not crying my eyes out?”

Then she thought of Hal and Ben and how they talked of Mandy and Jane, and she understood.

“Out there, Eamon Frobisher, there is a man who will one day talk about me like that. You’re a fool, Eamon, to even think the tart is really going to love you, as I once did. Particularly when she discovers she can never be mistress of this house.”

“Now! How can I really piss him off?”

 

 

 

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