Mimi actually did not have pie until that afternoon.
The day spa offered a full relaxation service much like a resort. After a massage service, clients could relax with tea and snacks either in the atrium or on a lounge chair on the veranda that wrapped around the entire backside of the house and a portion of the wings.
The menu changed often, utilizing fresh local produce, but in general, it comprised of finger foods like what Jenn served for afternoon English High Tea on weekdays at her restaurant. These were the type of snacky bites that she loved making, so she enjoyed herself like a chocoholic in Ghirardelli Square.
Mimi helped the head chef, Geri, to prepare various foods for the guests, but since it was literally only the two of them, she was kept extraordinarily busy.
Luckily, this wasn’t like a restaurant where food was made as customers ordered. Instead, she and Geri prepared all the items ahead of time and simply left them in the large refrigerator unit. When clients ordered, the chef would heat up any food requiring it, which she could do by herself.
“Um … would you be open to a suggestion?” Mimi asked. Geri wasn’t unfriendly, but she also didn’t smile very much, so Mimi wasn’t sure if she was open to ideas. She was used to Jenn welcoming all input, no matter how nitpicky, so her brain naturally zeroed in on productivity.
But she needn’t have worried. “Sure. What is it?” Geri turned to her with eyebrows raised, waiting.
“Right now, customers order what they like a la carte, right? So you have to spend time checking the order and getting the right items before preparing them. But I noticed that you always make sure that all the items on the menu complement each other no matter what someone orders.”
“But if you had, say, two size plates—one small and one large—with a certain number of set items on each plate, you could save time. The large plate would be the same as the small plate but with a few more items.”
“I see,” Geri said. “I wouldn’t need to check the order to make sure I got the right items that the customer wanted, I just need to prepare however many small plates and large plates.”
“Also, you have more creative control of the overall tasting experience. Everything on the plate will compliment each other, without needing to worry about what each customer will order or not order from the menu.”
“That might make things a little easier when deciding the menu,” Geri agreed. “And it’ll streamline when some things need to be reheated and others don’t.”
“About that, I think if you use these types of cups, the mini-quiche will reheat more evenly …”
After discussing reheating and serving options, Geri turned to her and put a hand on her shoulder. Mimi thought she finally might crack a small smile, but instead she simply nodded and patted her shoulder. “Thanks. That’s real helpful.”
She was glad Geri liked her ideas. She was a good chef, who was more considerate of her customers’ tastes as opposed to trying anything too strange and daring. Instead, she put all her effort into making her food taste the absolute best it could.
Mimi ended up tasting a lot of items (oh what a hardship) so she could know exactly what the chef wanted, and Geri ended up tasting a lot of what Mimi made to make sure they turned out right, so both of them skipped lunch. Mimi only really had to help make food just for today, but since she didn’t know if Edytha would be able to find help tomorrow, she stayed a couple extra hours to make enough for tomorrow, too.
They were just finishing up when Edytha poked her head into the kitchen and announced, “I have come for pie!”
Without looking up from icing the mini cupcakes, Geri remarked, “That’s nice.”
Edytha blinked at her, nonplussed.
“Didn’t you have a late lunch?” Geri chided her.
“There is always room for pie,” Edytha replied in all seriousness.
Geri finally looked up from the cupcakes. “I suppose you’re right. Top shelf of the small fridge,” she said, referring to the commercial refrigerator that stood next to the large refrigeration unit.
“Mimi, you look like you’re done. Want some pie?” Edytha’s words were a bit muffled since she was shoulder deep in the fridge with her bottom sticking out.
Mimi, understanding who was the true ruler of this domain, looked to Geri first.
The chef nodded assent, then cast a look of both affection and amusement as she took in the sight of Edytha’s wiggling bottom. However, she only scolded, “Don’t leave the door open too long.”
“I can’t find—oh! There it is.” Edytha emerged with a tin that only had 3 slices left of a creamy mousse pie.
Mimi put two slices on plates while Edytha brewed some passion fruit tea, one of several blends that Geri and Edytha had come up with which were exclusive to the spa.
Edytha carried the tray and led the way through the atrium, which was tinted rose gold from the sun just starting to set behind the mountains directly behind the manor house. There weren’t many tables there, probably to keep a more peaceful atmosphere, but almost all of them had clients seated. Mimi also saw several people sitting in lounge chairs on the veranda out back.
In the northern wing of the building, at the very end of a second floor hallway, Edytha nudged open a door and entered what was most certainly her office. The spacious room actually had two desks—one with two computer monitors on top and a computer tower tucked away underneath, and a smaller one covered with papers, but they were in neat stacks and paper clipped or stapled together. There was also a round table with a few padded chairs where Edytha set the tray.
Mimi tried the tea first—slightly astringent from the black tea leaves, but with a faint melon aroma and a delicate tartness from passion fruit mellowed by pineapple. “Wow, that’s good.”
“Now try it with the lilikoi chiffon pie.” Edytha had already shoved a bite into her mouth.
It would make sense that the passion fruit (also known as lilikoi) tea would pair well with the pie, but Mimi was amazed. The crisp crust contrasted with the mousse’s airy texture and balance of sweet and tart. “I’m in love,” she mumbled through a full mouth.
“Geri’s recipe,” Edytha said, taking another bite. “She makes tartlets for the guests, but only the staff gets full slices of the pie.”
Mimi had seen the tartlets in the fridge, which Geri had made yesterday, so there hadn’t been a need for her to taste any of it (rats!). “She’s a great chef,” Mimi said. “She’s methodical, efficient, and careful.”
“Did you have any issues working with her?”
“Oh, no. We got along pretty well.” In fact, despite Geri’s aversion to smiling, she was surprisingly chatty while they worked. “She mentioned you wanted to expand into a restaurant in the evenings and catering so you can offer the house for weddings.”
“I would like to do that eventually, but lately I’ve had too many people suddenly quit.”
She had mentioned that earlier. “They’ve all gone to work for the Pleiades Resort?”
“Yes, all of them.”
“That’s kind of suspicious, don’t you think?”
Edytha sighed. “Well, the resort probably pays much better, but yes, it’s a bit coincidental that they all jump ship in order to work for Pleiades. I’ll have to go about hiring a new Sous Chef. The problem is that it’s only a part-time position for now since Geri usually only needs help making food in the mornings.”
“Hopefully, you won’t have problems finding a new Sous Chef. Sakura and Lila stopped by for a snack, and they said that everyone here likes working for you.” Mimi had been making tea sandwiches, which the two women pilfered while chatting.
“They weren’t saying that just to get more lilikoi chiffon pie, were they?”
“No, because Geri wouldn’t let them.”
“I can always count on Geri to protect my afternoon snack.”
“Geri said she likes working for you because you’re understanding about when she has to take off work for medical or family matters. My cousin Jenn is the same way.”
“Tell me about your job in California.”
It was so easy to talk to Edytha, the woman should have been an interrogator. Mimi probably overshared about her family, including the infamous Oldest Single Female Cousin (unofficial) title that had been the bane of many a young woman’s life until Mimi took up the crown for the last several years.
“Are you married?” Mimi asked.
“No, I just never found anyone to fall in love with, and then my sister went missing, and I became a single mom to my nephew.”
“She’s missing? I’m sorry.”
A fierce light blazed from Edytha’s green-brown eyes. “I’ll find her. I won’t stop pursuing this.”
It reminded Mimi of what Edytha had said yesterday, and the main reason she’d come to the spa today (lilikoi chiffon pie notwithstanding). “What did you mean when you said I should start hunting God?”
Edytha laughed a bit self-consciously. “That just kind of came out. It sounds silly when I hear someone else say it. Basically it’s a reference to Philippians chapter three, verses twelve to fourteen: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.’”
Mimi had read the verse a few times since becoming a Christian a few years ago but hadn’t memorized it like Edytha. She had to admit she often skimmed over it because she found some of the phrases excessively complex, and after a lifetime of reading trashy gossip mags, more intellectual reading gave her hives.
Edytha continued, “In contrast to most people who are discontent with their lives, Paul was discontented with his spiritual state. He felt his relationship with Christ and how well he knew Christ was too shallow. He was driven to learn more about God.”
“To hunt God?”
“Yes. The words ‘press on’ mean to pursue or chase, which are hunting terms.”
“But why did you think that referred to me?”
“Paul was considered a pillar of the church, and yet he still felt too far away from God. He wasn’t happy with who he was.”
Now she was starting to get it. “Like how I’m still regretting my past.”
“When I heard you talk about that, it made me think you’re exactly like Paul—you’re discontented with your spiritual state.”
“I … suppose that’s true, although I wouldn’t have described it like that. I just want to be better than what I once was.”
“So like Paul, you need to strive toward knowing God more and forgetting about your past. Paul said it: ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.’”
But rather than comforting her, the words only made the guilt feel heavier on her shoulders. “But I can’t forget about my past when it keeps following me into the present, like how I fell back on old habits and ended up leading Ivan on.”
“It’s like I told you in the parking garage—we’re not perfect, and we’ll make mistakes. But we can trust God to forgive us. And if God forgives us, then we don’t have an excuse not to forgive ourselves.”
“Maybe that’s it, that I can’t forgive myself. But I somehow feel that’s just an excuse I’m telling myself. I worry that I’ll always be alone because I’m not lovable enough for someone to want to marry me. At first, I wondered if my standards are simply too high, or maybe I just have too much pride. But lately, I feel like I’m searching for something that’s not even there, that doesn’t exist.”
Edytha reached out to clasp her hand. “I can say this to you because I’m in the same boat—I’m getting older and haven’t found anyone, either. But we both need to stop worrying about our futures and instead just focus on doing what God wants us to do. We have to trust in God to guide us.”
She was right—the words coming from a woman older than herself did pack more punch than if it had come from her cousins, who were all happily married and at a much younger age than Mimi was now. She thought about conversations she’d had with Jenn. “I’ve been trying to learn how to depend on God. It seemed so much harder for me than for Jenn because I’ve always been independent. My parents seemed to favor my brothers over me, and so I became used to doing things myself and depending only on myself.”
“You feel like depending on someone else is like asking to be disappointed, right?”
Edytha seemed to really understand what Mimi was feeling, and the words kept pouring out of her. “Asking God for guidance and trusting in God is just too frightening and uncomfortable. Even with my ex-boyfriends doing things for me and taking care of me, I never really trusted them. I only ever trusted in myself and took care of myself.”
“God controls everything around you. He really is taking care of you, even now. You have the burden of always trying to be in control of everything weighing you down, but don’t you think it might even feel a little freeing to have that taken off your shoulders?”
To trust God to take care of her and help her to change. To trust Him to forgive her when she screwed up and help her back on her feet. To trust God to be guiding her path to the right place to be, no matter how crazy and twisty her journey.
To be free of regret, knowing God was all she needed.
“You can trust that God will never fail you,” Edytha said, squeezing her hand.
For a moment, Mimi felt a Presence in her chest, all around her. Suddenly she felt completely … filled. With Someone’s love for her.
She was not alone.
She had never been alone.
And God loved her still.
It was a moment of awe, like the first sight of a grand and beautiful monument—the peak of a mountain, the endless horizon of the ocean, the deep mysteriousness of ancient woods.
It was only a moment, fleeting. And then the feeling was gone. But Mimi still felt its echoes inside her. She felt like she was grasping at whispers of smoke, trying to hold on to something that had already disappeared.
What did it mean? Had what she felt been real?
Was God really that magnificent?
Had God really been that close to her all this time?
She abruptly realized she’d been silent for long minutes, but Edytha didn’t seem to mind. She still held Mimi’s hand in a gentle clasp, studying her face with a tender smile.
Finally Edytha said, “I think it was God’s will that we met.”
“I would never have met you if I hadn’t gone to see Tosh.”
“And if Waite and Ivan hadn’t walked into the restaurant right at that moment.”
When she put it like that, it was pretty coincidental. Mimi hadn’t noticed before.
“From what you said, you’re the oldest among your cousins here in Hawaii, right? But me and Tosh are your age. It’s good to have peers who understand you. It’s probably why you get along so well with your older cousins in California like Jenn.”
“We didn’t always get along,” Mimi said ruefully. “When I was in my twenties, we were all worried for a while that me or Trish would be arrested for attempted murder. Or at least slashing a car tire or two.”
Edytha smiled. “You two get along now?”
“Motherhood mellowed her. Before that, Trish was nuttier than Rocky Road ice cream … aaaaand I admit I enjoyed baiting her to get her to blow a gasket.”
“I was like that with my sister.” But then Edytha’s smile faltered. “What I wouldn’t give to be able to prod her off the deep end again.” She gestured around the room. “The spa was hers, originally. I was co-owner when she disappeared, so I moved my P.I. business here and let Fred do the heavy lifting of running the place.”
So losing all her employees to Pleiades Resort must feel like she was failing her sister. “What are you going to do about your Sous Chef?”
“I already contacted a local temp agency, and they said they’ll send someone tomorrow morning.” But then she tugged at Mimi’s hand, pulling her upper body close, as if sharing a secret. With a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, Edytha asked, “How would you like to work for me?”
“Huh?” The idea was so sudden that Mimi couldn’t quite formulate actual words in response.
“To see if you like it, you can register with the temp agency, and I’ll hire you through them for a few weeks.”
“But it’s only part time.”
“For you, we can extend your responsibilities toward maybe making your auntie’s lotions for the spa? We would pay her, since it’s her formula, but she’d be paying you for your labor, right?”
Mimi grimaced. “Aunty Noriko’s idea of payment is an extra slice of cheesecake for dessert.”
“You could also develop your own lotions for us to use. Didn’t you mention you made some for your cousins?”
She had actually wanted to make lotions to sell online but couldn’t because she didn’t like putting potent preservatives in the formula, so the products only lasted a few weeks. But if they were used quickly by, say, massage therapists …
Mimi found herself a little short of breath. Was she really considering this? She could imagine herself enjoying working for Edytha and being a Sous Chef here at the spa.
And as for moving to Hawaii, it wasn’t as if she didn’t know anyone here. She flew over often enough that it didn’t feel like a tropical vacation so much as a visit to relatives.
“The idea has some appeal …” she said vaguely. “But it’s a big decision to leave California. I’ll need to pray about it and maybe talk with Jenn.”
Whoa, had she just said she’d pray about something? Without Jenn prompting her to? Was she really asking for God’s guidance on a decision rather than just kicking off her shoes and jumping in?
“Take all the time you need,” Edytha said.
Like most old houses, the floors creaked like an old man complaining about every aching joint, so they were able to hear someone approaching Edytha’s office long before the knock came at the door.
“Come in,” Edytha called.
Tosh opened the door and stopped at the sight of Mimi. Was that dismay on his face?
Irritated, she was about to get up to leave when she realized the dismay wasn’t for her. “Is that the last of the lilikoi chiffon pie?” he asked.
“There’s one more slice left, but that’s Geri’s,” Edytha said.
Tosh looked like a kid who’d been told they were canceling Christmas.
Mimi sighed, propping her chin in her hand, and pushed the plate in his direction. “You can have the rest of mine.”
His face immediately turned radiant.
“No, Mimi, that’s yours,” Edytha said sternly. “Let the bottomless strawberry-cake thief go hungry for a change.”
Tosh affected an expression of soul-crushing injury. “Lila gave those slices to me, I did not steal them.”
“She gave you her share of culinary treasure. Your nefarious acts of larceny will not go unpunished. Begone, evil-doer!” Edytha jumped to her feet and pointed dramatically to the doorway.
Tosh looked at the doorway, at Edytha’s pointing finger, then at the plate of half-eaten pie. He promptly sat down and pulled the plate toward him. “Thanks, Mimi.”
Still standing with her finger pointing toward the door, Edytha glared down at Tosh. “Why does it seem like all the women in your life spoil you rotten? What’s your secret?”
Tosh quite obviously did not answer her question. “Is there any tea left?”
Edytha sighed and sat back down. “At least earn your pie. What happened today?”
“Waite left early and went straight home.”
“We’re all going to be working longer hours because of Black Friday coming up, so Michiko gave him a short shift today,” Mimi said.
“You didn’t see Ivan hanging around the shop, did you?” Edytha asked with a more concerned tone.
“No.” Tosh glanced at Mimi, and there was a growly quality to his voice that surprised her. Then he said, “I’m … I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stop Ivan from following you yesterday.”
He had seemed angry, but was he angry on her behalf because of what Ivan did?
“Everything turned out okay,” she said.
“You haven’t seen anyone outside your auntie’s house, have you?” he asked. “No unfamiliar cars on the road?”
Alarm spiked through her. “No, nothing like that.”
“Tosh, don’t frighten her,” Edytha chided him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “Force of habit.”
He must have to evaluate the safety of a lot of different clients, but she thought he might have not been telling the entire truth when he said that. She got the distinct impression that he was really worried about her safety. Mimi hadn’t expected that kind of concern from him—not for her, at least—but then again, Tosh was always a nice guy. He’d probably be worried about any young woman who’d been approached in an isolated place by a man she had rejected.
“Do you really think he’ll try to talk to me again?” Mimi asked. “In my experience, when a man has been rejected, he doesn’t usually come back for seconds of humiliation.”
“He shouldn’t have come back at all,” Tosh shot back at her. “You weren’t disagreeable enough the first time.”
“That’s because I lavished that all on you,” she retorted. “Gimmie my pie back.”
He grabbed his plate and held it out of her much shorter reach. “No backsies.”
“You’re so immature.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I am going to give both of you a spanking,” Edytha interjected, rubbing her temples.
“Look,” Mimi said, “I never saw Ivan do anything illegal, so it’s not like he’ll be worried I’ll say something about anything on the date. I’m no threat to him even if he’s neck deep in drug deals—which I didn’t see any proof of.”
“He’s a pretty big spender considering what his salary must be as a security guard at the resort,” Tosh said.
“A man can be a big spender with money he doesn’t have to spend, not because he’s got an illegal influx of cash,” Mimi said.
Tosh grunted in reluctant agreement.
“We’re just worried because none of us expected him to come find you,” Edytha said.
“It’s fine since you were there,” Mimi said. “And I still believe that I needed to stand up to him myself rather than hiding behind a protector, otherwise Ivan wouldn’t really listen to me.”
“I agree with you on that,” Edytha said.
“But I’m glad I wasn’t alone when that happened,” Mimi said. “Thanks again for being there, Edytha.”
At that moment, there was another knock on the door, but Edytha barely called out before Fred entered, not looking up from some papers in his hands. “Edytha, I have the budget …” He stopped when he looked up and saw all of them. “Sorry, I’ll come back.”
“No, I’ll let you get back to work.” Mimi stood and gathered the plates and cups on the tray. “I’ll take this back down to the kitchen.”
“No, I’ll carry it,” Tosh said, adding Mimi’s empty plate after eating the last bite of pie.
As they walked down the hallway and out of the north wing of the house, Tosh cleared his throat. “I, um … I have the last five volumes of Bunny Foo Foo in my car, if you want me to let you borrow them.”
“That would be great,” she replied automatically, just like she would when they were teenagers, before remembering that there was a gulf between them that had been carved out by her own hands. “Um … why do you have them in your car?”
“I was cleaning up yesterday and saw them, and uh … just in case I happened to see you.”
“But you didn’t know I was going to be here at the spa when you came to talk to Edytha.”
He gusted out a sigh, and his neck turned red, the color creeping up his jaw and cheeks. “I was going to drop by your house after I got off work at the restaurant, since I’m not working a full shift today.”
Mimi hadn’t known that delight could be flowery and effervescent, like those Japanese ramune sodas. But Tosh was obviously excruciatingly embarrassed, and she decided not to tease him. “I’d like that,” she said coolly. “Are you going to be okay driving all the way to Honolulu?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. Edytha’s got the early shift of watching Waite tomorrow. Around nine at Judy’s Diner?”
“Sure. Text me when you get there.”
When she drove out of the spa parking lot, she was so jittery that she hit the gas too hard and almost ran into the mailbox.