The activity in the kitchen was rather frenetic, but come six o’clock, the hors-d’oeuvres were ready, the raw bar was set up, two bars for drinks were staffed by the contractor and ready, and the guests began arriving.
Mark stayed hidden in the kitchen. June found some cooks jackets and pants for Sharon and Lena to wear while setting out the buffet. Though Mark was focused on cooking, he did notice Sharon and Lena chatting as they prepped the ham, cheese, and olive plates. Sometime later, he saw Sharon talking to the home’s director and handing the woman something.
He was finishing cleaning up when he heard the director, a stately woman in her early fifties, turn on a microphone.
“Excuse me,” she announced. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the speeches. I’ll do my best to keep it short. As most of you know, I am Lorraine Chavez, and I am director for the Laine Children’s Home. Our mission here is to find stable, loving homes for our neediest children and to shelter those who are waiting for such homes. It’s not an easy mission, and indeed, one of our toughest challenges is how to help those of our children who are aging out of the system. In most cases, children who turn eighteen are basically cut off and turned out, and it’s no surprise when many of them end up guests of our criminal justice system. Thanks to your generous donations and time, many of our children get mentors and scholarships for college educations and get a chance to become the successes they deserve to be.”
Chavez stopped for the smattering of applause and took a sip of water.
“You are here because you are have donated already, so I’m not going to ask for more money tonight. But I will be asking again soon. Our board of directors has decided that we need a new capital campaign, not to expand our facilities, although we could use quite a few more beds. Our goal is to increase our endowment so that we can hire more counselors to help our foster families create stable homes for our children. One of the biggest problems in our foster care system is finding long-term family situations. We’ve all heard about children being bounced from home to home to home. Our goal is to prevent that. We also want to provide more mentors for our children aging out of the system. In fact, I’ve got a perfect example of what your kindness and generosity have already done. Lena, will you come out here?”
Blushing furiously and ducking her head, Lena hurried out from the kitchen in her chef’s jacket and checked pants. Chavez put her arm around the girl.
“Lena Dutton is one of our success stories. She was raised by her grandmother and the two dreamed of opening a restaurant, serving good home cooking. Sadly, her grandmother passed away when Lena was ten and Lena came into the system. In five years, Lena was placed in seven different homes and was sexually assaulted in one of them. Somehow, she has hung on to her good nature and her passion for cooking. In fact, she volunteered to assist our substitute cooks today and was responsible for hand-slicing the ham you enjoyed on your cheese platters tonight. Lena, who will age out in two weeks, recently received a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America, in New York. The only problem was, it did not include her books and tools, nor did it include room and board. I am happy to announce that tonight, one of our volunteers has offered to pay for anything the scholarship doesn’t cover. We do need to find a mentor or two to help Lena make her transition from the system into normal life, but she is well on her way to success thanks to the generosity of people like you.”
In the kitchen, Mark’s head whipped up and his eyes fell on Sharon, whose attention was focused elsewhere. Chavez finished up and Lena came back to the kitchen, her eyes overflowing. As Mark gave the sink a final wipe-down, he saw Sharon out of the corner of his eyes, handing Lena a package wrapped in a towel he recognized from Sharon’s townhouse. Lena shook her head. Chavez wandered by and Sharon stopped her. The two talked and Chavez took custody of the towel-wrapped package while saying something to Lena.
Sharon also insisted that the after-party for the volunteers happen at her townhouse and the basement rec room known as the PFZ – Protocol Free Zone. Mark found an excuse to slide upstairs to Sharon’s kitchen and noticed that her special hand-forged knives were not in their spot in her butcher block.
He also managed to wrangle a dinner invite to her place the next night, a Sunday. The knives were still missing.
Monday, the city was buzzing with the rumors that it had been the President cooking for the children’s home dinner. Many scoffed simply because there were no YouTube videos posted, or even a fuzzy photo on Facebook or Twitter.
“I can’t believe no-one thought of it,” Karen told Sharon as they two ate lunch together in the White House mess.
“We were all pretty busy,” Sharon said. “Besides, everyone was probably thinking someone else was taking the pics. I hear Jean’s pretty mad.”
Jean was Jean Bouyer, the President’s press secretary.
“Fit to be tied.” said Karen, giggling. “The boss won’t let her confirm the rumors. Or deny them, either. And the eligible bachelor hashtag has been trending off the charts.”
“Yeah. I saw that. Rich, single, powerful and he cooks!” Sharon shook her head.
“Jean spent an hour in my office trying to talk me into getting the boss to confess,” Karen said, contemplating her sandwich.
Sharon speared a lettuce leaf with her fork. “I can see why he doesn’t want to own up to the children’s home. He did it because it needed doing and he does like to cook. But you know somebody will make it out to be some political maneuver.”
“That’s what I told Jean and she finally agreed. We just have to convince the boss that it’s okay to come clean on the cooking thing. Most folks know he does. And it does humanize him.”
“You sure it doesn’t make him too good to be true?”
Karen thought about it. “Nah. He’s not that good a cook.”