Bitter 286

Lunch was okay. It wasn’t great, but it was edible.

“Very good,” said Dad, “for a first try.”

Mum nodded unconvincingly and forced herself to take another bite.

“What did I do wrong?” asked Britta.

“Nothing. It’s fine. You just need some practice.”

She had followed Dad’s instructions exactly. In a game, if you did as you were told, step by step, you got the result you were expecting. Well, not always. Sometimes you had to rely on RNG. Follow all the steps and then roll the dice to see if you were successful. But even then, you either were or you weren’t. You didn’t end up in between with something that was sort of okay, but not really.

“It doesn’t taste anything like when you make it.”

Dad’s risotto was creamy and delicious. Hers was a bit too crunchy.

“It’s like most things,” said Dad. “You have to keep trying until it clicks. And you won’t be able to tell the difference in what you’re doing, but it’ll definitely be a lot better. That’s what makes it so hard to teach someone else. You aren’t really sure what you’re doing, yourself.”

“There’s your dad’s life summed up for you,” said Mum smiling slyly. Until she took another bite of risotto.

“The important thing is to keep trying,” said Dad. “The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.”

“Won’t I waste a lot of food in the meantime?”

“It isn’t a waste. There’s nothing wrong with it, really. It isn’t bad, it’s just that it could be better. You just need to fiddle with it a bit.”

Not exactly the advice of a master chef, but he was probably right. You couldn’t just read a skill book and magically get better, unfortunately. Whether it was Dad looking over her shoulder, or some celebrity chef on the TV, you still had to learn the basics, and then fiddle with it.

“So, how did the housekeeper take your rejection?” asked Dad. She had been telling him about the quest she’d been offered, and her refusal to help the Mayor’s wife.

“I’m not sure. I left pretty quickly after saying no. I think she was a bit surprised. But it wasn’t like his wife’s in any danger. She’s just too scared to leave him.”

“That was a bit mean, though, wasn’t it?” asked Dad. “Some women are too insecure to walk out without anywhere to go, aren’t they, love?”

Mum looked at him, and then up at the ceiling, thinking about it. “Yes, but I think Britta made the right choice.”

“You do?” said Dad.

“I mean, if they’ve got their bags packed and need a ride to their new place, and you’ve got a car, sure, offer to give them a lift. But if you have to drag them out of there and make sure they’ve got everything they need and teach them how to take care of themselves… that’s a big commitment. You’re going to be stuck in that quicksand a long time. And then she’ll probably end up going back to him. You remember my friend Star?”

“Oh, yes,” said Dad, shuddering. “What a disaster she was. Gorgeous-looking, but every guy was worse than the one before.”

“You thought she was gorgeous, did you?” said Mum.

“Now, love, I’m only speaking from a coldly objective position. Not as coldly as you’re looking at me right now, but close.”

Mum slowly looked away from Dad, her eyes the last to leave him. “Other people’s relationship problems… the whole thing’s a big sticky mess. Best to stay well clear.”

“Yes,” said Britta, glad that Mum agreed with her.

“Fair enough, but I never realised you two were so cold-hearted,” said Dad. “She’s probably been married to the Mayor since she was young. Doesn’t know any other life. Just sits in her room, miserable, waiting for a prince to come rescue her. Why are you both looking at me like that?”

“We don’t all need rescuing, Dad.”

“No, of course not. I’m not saying you do. But this isn’t real life. Plus, you miss out on the reward. Five extra points in charisma…” He let out a low whistle.

“If I’d been in your position, I probably would have helped her,” said Mum.

“What?” said Britta, taken aback by the sudden change. “You just said best to stay clear.”

“In real life. But you want to find out more about this Mayor character, don’t you? She probably knows more about him than anyone. If you helped her, she’d probably tell you anything you wanted to know.”

Britta sat there, stunned.

“If anyone wanted to know your Dad’s secrets, all the really embarrassing stuff, I’d be the one to talk to. Hoo, boy. I could completely destroy him.”

“Alright, alright. No need to start fantasising about your role in my downfall.”

“He’d never be able to show his face in public.”

Britta hadn’t even considered using the Mayor’s wife to get information on the Mayor. Why hadn’t she? It was obvious now that Mum had said it.

The only thing on her mind had been for his wife to deal with her own problems. No one had come to Britta’s aid during her tough times—she’d had to struggle through as best she could. So why should she help someone in a similar situation?

Was she really that petty? No one helped me, so why should I help others? Not that this was anything like the problems Britta had faced in her life, but that wasn’t what was troubling her. It was that she had been so overwhelmed by her determination to not lend a helping hand that she totally overlooked a chance at getting an advantage over the Mayor.

If she really wanted to go toe to toe with the people in charge, she had to stop being so emotional, and start paying attention to her own goals.

“Are you alright, sweetheart?” said Dad, sounding mildly concerned. “You look a bit funny. Undercooked prawn?”

“I’m fine,” said Britta, taking another spoonful. “Next time I’ll do better.”

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