Sometimes a person’s restaurant order says everything about them. Without them even realizing it. Like me. I always think this is the last order I’m ever going to place. Like a prisoner getting her last meal before being executed.
So it takes me forever, because I want it to be perfect.
“And what can I bring for you tonight?” Angela chase stood beside the table, pencil poised over her notepad. She was supposed to remember all the customers’ orders by heart, but she had only been working at her father’s restaurant for a few days now. She didn’t have the menu completely memorized yet, so she was still using shorthand.
It was all Hallie Lowenthal’s idea. She didn’t want servers taking notes because she thought it looked tacky. “You’re no studying for a test. You’re serving people dinner. It’s twenty entrées—how hard is that to remember? I mean, how hard?”
Every time Angela thought about all the stupid quizzes and tests Hallie had made her take before allowing her to work at her very own father’s restaurant, Angela felt like quitting.
Of course, she felt like quitting most of the time. She’d never had a summer job before. As she jotted down orders, she couldn’t help wondering if “summer job” wasn’t an oxymoron. What was wrong with “summer vacation”?
She pasted a smile on her face an beamed at the last customer at the table to order. “Do you know what you’d like?”
“I’ll have the shrimp alfredo, but with scallops instead of shrimp,” the woman said. “Is that low-fat?”
“It’s…um, seafood. In a cream sauce,” Angela explained. Low-fat when you compare it to a jar of mayonnaise. Maybe.
The woman looked up at her expectantly. “Yes?’
“So…no,” Angela finished. “Its actually pretty high in fat.”
“Are you sure? Would you mind checking with the chef?”
The chef. My Dad the Chef. It’s like a children’s book. Angela smiled, her teeth clenched. “Not at all. I’ll be right back with your salads.”
“Dressing on the side!” the woman called after her.
Angela walked back through the restaurant, an old warehouse that had only recently been converted. Fresh flowers filled vases on heavy wood tables, which were covered with white linen tablecloths. Giant plate-glass windows afforded a view of the downtown street. The word “Fiore” was painted on one window in large flowing script. Angela’s favorite feature in the place was the old, original tin ceiling. She often found herself staring up at it when business was slow and she sat at the small bar, contemplating her life. Or lack thereof.
Angela walked into the kitchen, nearly crashing into Hallie, who was carrying a bottle of wine up from the cellar.
“Geez! Watch it!” Hallie held the bottle up in the air, over her head.
“Sorry,” Angela said, holding the door open for her. Hallie breezed past, wearing a black linen suit, her long brown hair combed back into a tortoiseshell barrette.
One of the other servers, Lewis, was already standing inside the kitchen. He was waiting as one of the sous chefs fixed salads for an order. Angela couldn’t understand it, but Lewis somehow managed to make their official serving uniform—boring white shirts and black pants—look good. On him, anyway. Maybe it was because he was tall, with a chiseled face, blond hair, and green eyes. He had the kind of looks Angela usually noticed in magazines.
Help me, she scrawled on a fresh page of her notepad. She held it up in front of Lewis.
“Help me? Is that tonight’s special?” Lewis smiled.
“Please?” Angela asked.
“I’d love to. But I have enough problems of my own. Like, table nine thinks risotto is a dessert, not an entrée.” Lewis sighed.
“Oh. Well, don’t forget the chocolate sauce,” Angela told him. He walked over to her father. “Dad, you’re going to laugh when I ask this,” she said. “So just bear with me and remember, its not me asking the question.
Graham Chase looked up from the pot of fresh pasta he was cooking. He wore a white chef’s jacket, a pair of black-and-white checked chef pants, and sneakers. “What’s the question?”
“The shrimp alfredo…is that low-fat?” Angela cringed as she waited for the response.
Everyone in the kitchen started smirking. “Low-fat?” Hallie scoffed. She had returned to the kitchen just in time to hear Angela’s inane question. “More like high-fat. The tops. As in heart attack on a plate.”
Graham laughed. “Hallie, its not that bad.”
Hallie shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong. It tastes great. Fantastic. But you can’t exactly run a marathon afterward.”
“And You’re always doing that,” Graham teased her. “Running marathons.”
Hallie snapped him playfully with a dish towel. “I could.”
Angela cleared her throat. Why did she always feel like she was interrupting something between her father and Hallie? “So anyway, Dad. I told the customer it wasn’t low-fat, but she insisted I ask the chef,” Angela said.
“Right. Well, tell her she might want to order the broiled chicken, or the pasta with vegetables, if she wants a low-fat choice,” Graham said calmly.
“Dad, I like, know that.” Angela tapped a pen against the long, thin menu. She kept closing her eyes and blindly hitting the pencil against the menu, trying to see what random order she’d place.
Foi gras to start.
Followed by the rack of lamb with green peppercorn sauce.
Complete meal with the crème brûlée.
She thought of what her father had said when Hallie was quizzing her a week ago: “If you don’t know the menu cold, I can’t put you on the floor.”
Know the menu cold? Put me on the floor? Angela had wondered what language her father was speaking. He had been so worried about the restaurant opening that he kept saying things that definitely didn’t sound like him. Maybe it was from spending so much time with Hallie. Too much time, in Angela’s opinion. But she knew that the two of them had to be completely dedicated to getting the restaurant off the ground.
At least listening to her father was easier than dealing with Hallie. She kept acting like she was doing Angela a huge favor by letting her work at Fiore for the summer. Like they didn’t already employ three other people from high school and college. As if Angela weren’t good enough.
Hallie and Graham had met at a cooking class in night school. When the teacher had to quit, Graham had taken over teaching. Hallie had pushed Graham for months to open his own restaurant, and he’d finally given in. Angela’s mother had been very doubtful about such a risky business venture, but she seemed somewhat supportive now. Like she was trying really, really hard to get behind a visiting team from another town. Angela, on the other hand, had always loved her father’s cooking and encouraged him to do more with it than just feed her and her kid sister Danielle.
“So what did you tell table nine about the risotto?” Angela asked Lewis on her way out of the kitchen.
“I recommended a cannoli instead,” Lewis said, shrugging. “I guess they figured it’d be okay if it had an Italian name.”
Hallie began pacing by the kitchen door-way, peeking out at the front of the house. “It’s not full enough,” she complained. “It should be fuller, right? It should be standing room only. They should have an hour wait—“
“Calm down, Hallie. They’ll come,” Graham told her. He left the stove for a second to put his hands on Hallie’s shoulders, giving her a reassuring squeeze.
She looked at him over her shoulder and smiled. “Do you always have to be so positive all the time?”
“Tell yourself: if you cook it…they will come,” Lewis joked.
The restaurant had received a glowing review in the city newspaper last week. Apparently Hallie wants the place to be mobbed, Angela thought despondently. Then again, that would mean I’d be rich from tips. Maybe she’s onto something here after all.
“Anyway, Hallie, there’s only one empty table,” Angela pointed out. “And there are more customers coming in the door right now.”
“Oh. Hurry, people, we have customers waiting!” Hallie sailed out into the dining room and rushed to the hostess stand.
“I hate being called people,” Lewis said under his breath.
“I know. It’s like—what are we, a magazine?” Angela complained. “She could at least call us…Vogue or something.”
“Personally, I prefer Sports Illustrated,” Lewis said.
“Oh, yeah? You mean, the swimsuit issue?” Angela teased as they headed back onto the floor.
Lewis winked at her before turning to his tables. “A guy can dream.”
Angela laughed. She got back to her shrimp alfredo table just as Hallie was seating another table of four in her section. Only three more hours, she thought. Then I’m free.
“Do you want double, triple, or quadruple prints with that?”
Brian Krakow tapped his pen against the inside of the Plexiglas drive-through window. He held his breath, trying not to inhale the carbon monoxide fumes being spewed from the old, rusted-out sedan.
“I don’t care. Just make them look good!” the man ordered before he sped off in a blew cloud of exhaust.
“He didn’t even say if he wanted matte or glossy,” Brian complained.
“When they don’t say, it means glossy,” his coworker Samantha told him.
“Oh.” Brian finished filling out the envelope, checking all of the “economy service” boxes on the front. If the guy’s car was that ancient and rundown, he wouldn’t want to spend much getting a roll of photos developed. He probably had a lousy camera, too.
Why couldn’t I get a job at Mike’s Camera? Brian thought as he rang up the next sale. Instead, I’m working in a box. He and Samantha were crammed into their tiny drive-up booth like sardines. The only window was a tiny sliding one, just big enough to slide a roll of film through, and the air conditioning had two settings: Antarctica and off. He and Samantha argued about the temperature constantly.
Good thing I’m only here twenty-four hours a week, Brian thought. It’ll still look good on my college applications. Along with the fact that I’m balancing this, a calculus course, a physics course, and a job at the hospital this summer.
He watched the trail of exhaust drift through the strip mall parking lot.
It’s just…my life theme to do everything in twos. I can’t have only one job, so I have two. One course wouldn’t be hard enough, so I have two. I play the saxophone, but that’s not enough, so I play the flute, too. Two jobs, two courses, two parents, two instruments…zero girlfriends.
At least he wasn’t like some people, who only had one job and spent the rest of their time making out with their “significant others.”
Now that she was working nights, he didn’t see her much. He had been reading in bed last night when he heard Jordan Catalano’s car pull up outside Angela’s house, across the street from his own. He hadn’t even wanted to look outside. Why did he torture himself like that? But he had to. He’d been doing it for years.
Carefully he’d peeked through the curtain. All he could see were two shadows. Becoming one shadow.
He hadn’t been able to sleep all night.
“You look like a raccoon,” his mother had said that morning at breakfast. “Those dark circles under your eyes—“
“Mom, nobody at Foto Fusion cares what I look like.” Nobody cares…period. Brian had lifted a spoonful of Grape-Nuts cereal to his mouth and started chewing, hoping that the loud crunching sound would drown out his inner monologue. But it kept going, incessantly—just like the questions from his mother.
“Well, what about the hospital, then?” Mrs. Krakow had asked. “Don’t you want to make a good impression?”
“Mom, I help take the X rays,” Brian said. The patients make the impressions.”
Mr. Krakow laughed. “Good one, Brian.”
I’m so glad I amuse my parents. I should be able to make someone laugh at my pathetic life.
“So are you going to develop those today or what?” Samantha asked, jolting Brian back to Foto Fusion. His coworker’s short platinum-blond hair was colored in random streaks of red and orange. She had more tattoos than Brian had freckles.
“Sorry,” Brian said. He was actually a little frightened by Samantha. “I was just…”
“Daydreaming,” Samantha said, nodding. “I know. You have to do that a lot in here, or you’ll go crazy. But the guy will be back in an hour, so you know the routine.”
“How long have you been working here?” Brian asked.
“The past few summers,” Samantha said, shrugging. “I know, it sucks, but they give me the hours I want. Hey, speaking of hours, could you take my Friday night shift? We got tickets for a concert.”
“We?” Brian asked. He didn’t mean to be nosy. Well, okay, maybe he did.
“My boyfriend, Python…”
“Python?” Brian asked.
“He changed his name to reflect his personality. Cool, huh?” Samantha smiled.
Brian thought about it for a second. If he changed his name to reflect his personality, it would probably be “Spineless.” Was everyone in the world attached except him? What about his Friday night? When was he going to have plans on a Friday night?
“Sure. No problem,” he told Samantha. “I can work for you.” I’ll just…put off having an actual life for another week. What difference does it make?