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Mademoiselle of La Mancha

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CRASH!

The shattering of a ceramic plate was received by a chorus of resounding cheers from the inn's tenants, a bunch of brutish, sadistic, guffawing muleteers.

They're all the same…

Babette scrubbed at the pan even harder, her fist clenched tightly around a soapy yet food incrusted rag. It was her job to pick the food, make the food, serve the food, clean the dishes, clean the kitchen, clean the rooms, clean the chamber pots—it was a miracle she didn't have to clean their asses, too. The innkeeper and his wife were too cheap to hire more help, and even the other wenches that were here hardly did a thing but sleep on their backs wherever the tenants wanted them. She had to take on all the responsibilities—and for what? To get pulled at and pinched by horse-faced imbeciles while she served them their stew and beer.

Setting the pan aside, she wiped the sweat from her forehead before running to the hot stove to finish cooking dinner. In this stifling stucco building in the heat of late summer, she was always drenched in her own perspiration within an hour of waking up at dawn. Her shoulder-length chocolate brown hair made lusterless by the years of harsh Spanish sun and hard labor stuck to her face and neck. Not to mention the reason she ended up in the middle of Spain at a nowhere inn…

Babette shut her eyes, shaking the thought away. One pair of arms is like another…

Men. Over the course of her pathetic life, men have been the catalyst that have spurred her to where she was now. When she was young, carefree, and doe-eyed, she had believed love was real, that they could feel it as much as she did. She had sacrificed her family, her friends, her job, her entire world for love, and they have all gotten up, spit on her, and walked out, leaving her spent and used while they took another piece of herself with them. Her last hope for a better life had taken her out of her homeland, filled with promises of a good home, comfortable living, and the first time in her life to have others serve her. It wasn't until they arrived at his wife's house that she realized he had intended for her to be his mistress. It was the final heartbreaking straw that broke the mule's back.

She grunted in disgust. Look at her, making Spanish farmers' analogies. If she didn't already feel like she had hit the bottom of the dung pile—

BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

A cacophony of stomping and banging metal mugs on the wooden tables reached her ears while a chant matched their rhythm. "Ba-bette! Ba-bette! Ba-bette!"

Gritting her teeth, she turned off the stove and poured the beef stew into a big serving bowl, sweeping a pile of bowls under her other arm before striding furiously outside.

As she can hurrying out of the kitchen, she was met with mocking cheers as they already began taking swipes at her skirt and posterior. She slapped them away whenever she could as she tried to serve them as swiftly as possible. "Here is your trough, pourceaux," she snapped. "Enjoy."

Before she could escape to the kitchen again, the men began running to block her path and grab her as she outmaneuvered them, saying things like, "There's room enough for you, cariño!" "Trying to fool us with your fancy French, mademoiselle?" "I kinda wanna try a bit of French cuisine myself!" "Yeah, stay a while!" "How about a taste, huh?"

With saccharine flirtation, Babette replied, "You want a taste, non?" And then promptly slapped the man who last spoke. Some rage seeped through her veneer as she asked, "Want to try the other side, too?"

But before she could land a backhand slap, the muleteer caught her arm. With a crooked, menacing grin, he leaned in so she could smell his rotting breath. She then recognized him as the leader of this rat pack. "It's a good thing I like my French extra spicy."

She was able to tear her arm away from his grip before retorting, "I am not on the menu."

As she tried to move past him, he managed to grab her arm again. He clenched tightly as she struggled to free herself. "You forget…" He untied a small coin purse and held it aloft. "You are, and ripe for the taking."

Recognizing the implication immediately, Babette narrowed her eyes. He placed the purse in her hand before letting her go, her arm never moving. She stared at him for moment before flicking her wrist and letting the purse jingle to the dirt. For good measure, she spit on it.

A group "Oooh!" came from his friends, coupled with whistling and jeering. Babette announced to them all, "I sleep alone!"

"Not tonight, you're not!" one of them blurted, and a round of laughs followed his outburst.

Though she was hot in the face, and a drop of sweat was trickling down her temple, Babette took a deep, calming breath before saying with sweet venom, "Allow to me to rephrase my words: I do not like you." She pointed at the leader, and then to those around him. "Or you, or, frankly, any of you. I do not like this life I lead either, but I am stuck with it, and par le Dieu, I will live it how I choose, and that includes giving what I want to give when I choose to give it." She stood toe-to-toe with the head muleteer though her eyes were level with his chin. "Comprendez?"

Cool silence was their answer, and she believed she had finally gotten them to listen and learn. With head held high, she turned and moved toward the kitchen, but was met by a couple of the men's shoulders. She flashed her blue eyes between them, daring them to make a move at her. After a mutual glance, they stepped aside to let her pass. Once out of their sight, she allowed herself to smile at her success. For once, she had felt in control of the men in her life.