She approached the door with trepidation, but when she unlocked and opened it a crack, she saw a woman about her own height and size on the other side of it.
“Fila?” the woman said brightly. “I’m Camila—I’m opening a restaurant next door to yours. Can I come in?”
“Okay.” Fila only hesitated a moment. Surely this slight, cheerful woman couldn’t do her any harm. She held the door open and Camila walked inside.
“I love what you’ve done to this place. It’s really gorgeous,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to meet you. Ned let me in last time and I met some of your other friends when they were fixing up the place for you. You’re so lucky knowing so many people here. I’ve been here a month and I hardly know anyone.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Fila stammered when Camila’s torrent of words came to a halt.
“Isn’t opening a restaurant exciting?” Camila tossed her thick, dark hair. “I can’t wait until the first night. I’m going to have a huge party. Live music and everything. These cowboys won’t know what hit them!”
“That sounds nice,” Fila murmured.
“Nice! It’ll be better than nice! It’ll be spectacular!” Camila crossed her arms in mock outrage. “What about you? What are you going to do opening night?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“Opening night is huge. Your whole success depends on it. You have to contact the local paper and radio personalities, try to get them to come so they’ll promote the place for you. You should mail something out to everyone in town, put flyers on people’s cars—lots of things like that. I’ll help you if you like. Women should stick together, right? So—is Ned your boyfriend?”
Fila’s head whirled at her sudden change in topic. “Uh…no!” Was he? She wasn’t sure.
“Oh—good!” Camila grinned. “He’s hot, isn’t he?” She fanned herself with her hand. “I was afraid there wouldn’t be anyone worth dating up here in the sticks. I didn’t want to come to Montana.” Her tone was confidential, leaving Fila no time to formulate the words she needed to say. “But now I see I was mistaken. The men around here are a lot more handsome than I expected. Especially Ned. He looks like he’d be all kinds of fun in the sack!”
Outrage blossomed within Fila. She pulled back. “I think I must get back to work.”
Camila’s expression faltered as Fila shooed her toward the door the way she’d shooed the scrawny village chickens out of her way when they congregated too close to her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—” She broke off, suddenly contrite. “Did I say the wrong thing? I didn’t mean to.”
“No, no,” Fila said. “But I have to go.”
“You’ll come over and see my restaurant, won’t you?” Camila walked to the door reluctantly.
“Another time.” Fila knew she was being rude. She knew she would probably regret it later when she was home alone in her room, but she couldn’t stand to listen to another word of Camila’s banter. What right did she have to imagine Ned in bed?
“Fila.” Camila was truly distressed as she slipped back out the door. “Whatever I said, I didn’t mean it. I hoped we’d be friends. I don’t have any friends here.”
“Good-bye,” Fila said firmly and closed the door in her face.
Fila was waiting by the door with her coat on when Ned came to fetch her for lunch. He tried to gauge her state of mind from her expression, but it was hard to read. Although she wore jeans and cowboy boots, her bearing made her outfit seem far more formal than it was.
“How did your morning go?”
“Very well,” she assured him as they locked up.
“Want to go home or out to eat?”
“Are you sure?”
“Ned!” Camila’s bright voice broke through their discussion and Ned and Fila both turned to see her poking her head out of the door of the building next to Fila’s. “Won’t you come and see the place? I’d love to get your opinion on it! Hi, Fila!”
“Sure thing.” Ned lowered his voice. “That’s Camila—the woman I told you about.” He led the way toward her. “Fila, this is Camila. Camila, this is Fila.”
“We’ve already met, silly,” Camila said, giving his arm a playful punch. “Come on in. Tell me what you think!”
Ned’s stomach tightened as they entered the space. In many ways it was similar to Fila’s restaurant, with a modest seating space up front, a counter splitting the building in two and behind the counter a wall cutting off the front of the restaurant from the kitchen and storage rooms. Camila had painted the upper two-thirds of her walls a vibrant chili pepper red. The lower third was black. A border of chili peppers on a black and white checked background separated the two. The tables and booths were chrome, and there was a counter along the inner wall with chrome stools in front of it. Large mirrors on the side walls created the illusion of more space. The menu on the wall behind the counter had been painted black on a white background, with more chili peppers and black and white checks forming a border around it.
“It looks great.” It really did. And Mexican food was much more familiar to the inhabitants of Chance Creek than Afghan food would be. Not for the first time, he wondered if Fila’s restaurant would suffer in comparison.
Camila beamed at him. “The fixtures were all here. I just had to paint. Come taste my homemade salsa.” She dragged him by the hand to a booth where a red plastic basket full of chips sat on the table next to a black bowl filled with salsa. “Come on, Fila!” She waved her over as Ned took a seat and she shoved in beside him.
Ned shrugged at Fila and gestured to the opposite seat. Fila slowly sat down across from him.
She watched Camila scoop up a heaping portion of the salsa with a tortilla chip, toss her thick, dark curls over her shoulder, and feed the chip to Ned, holding her other hand cupped underneath it to catch any drips. Ned gamely allowed her to poke the chip right into his mouth. As he bit into it his face lit up.
Camila’s mouth stretched into a wide smile. “Do you really think so?” She leaned in toward him.
“Give me another one so I can be certain.”