Actually, what Robert had done when he put Bill’s hand back over the fire was pretty much kill the nerves in those fingertips. Bill lost nearly all feeling in them for many years. That ended up being both a good and bad thing.
Within two weeks, Bill had mostly mastered the broiler cook’s job. He was fairly accurate at gauging how the steaks were cooked and was getting faster at handling orders. He could do the rushes on most weeknights but he still needed help on the weekends.
Henry Lee was teaching Bill to cut meat. Bill worked with Mary from six to nine then went down in the meat room with Henry Lee. He had learned the easy stuff, how to trim a top butt and take the first two cuts from it for the Boston Strips then split the butt and cut the tops, triangular steaks, in two sizes. The bigger size was called a Super. He could also trim a strip loin and get thirteen NY strip steaks from it. His cuts weren’t always perfect yet and sometimes he left too much meat for hamburger, but day by day he was getting better and better and he continually practiced.
He saw Eleanor again on his second day as a cook, that Tuesday. She had been off on Monday. She worked the dinner shift and was positively elated to see him. She’d told everyone the soup story, about his defending her and the subsequent issue with Drenovis resulting in Robert protecting him. She did omit the kiss part, she told Bill, the part, she said, about her being sweet on him.
“I am, you know, sweet on you.”
“I’m living with someone,” Bill said.
They were standing in the side dining room where the staff ate after lunch was over and when it was empty late at night. It was just before the start of dinner. Mary, Henry Lee and Bea were getting close to going home. Alvin had come over to do the dinner with Bill and Grandma was already in. Grandma made the fried chicken and replenished the line at night.
“I’m living with someone too. So what?”
“A little fun at work never hurt anyone.”
Bill didn’t say anything. He was twenty. He was male. What was to say? But he wondered and finally asked Eleanor how she would feel if her boyfriend fooled around. Eleanor shrugged it off. Then she repeated something she’d heard Robert say. “If it’s good to you it’s good for you,” she said. “Robert says it all the time.”
“You wouldn’t be jealous or upset?”
“You only live once, sweetie. Whatever experience I gain from you will benefit him. Same for you and yours.”
“That’s a novel way of looking at it,” Bill said.
“Anyway, we’ll have plenty of time to do whatever we do or don’t do,” Eleanor said. She pinched Bill’s butt as she left him for the main dining room floor.
Later that night, after they’d stopped taking dinner orders, Eleanor was waiting for Bill downstairs. Apparently, she’d been watching for him to go down and then gone down herself using the customer stairway. Bill was putting things away for the night and bringing up things he needed for cleaning. Alvin had already gone home. Bill was finishing up and waiting for the van to take him downtown. He was in the walk-in box in the meat room. She opened the door and went in with him.
“No Drenovis tonight,” she said. She stepped up to him and kissed him hard and long. “When he’s here, ain’t none of this for us. But he does waitresses all the time in the storeroom. That’s where I’m doing you first.”
“Do say.” She kissed Bill again while she took his hand in hers and led it under her uniform dress and between her legs. She continued kissing him as she helped him find precisely what she wanted him to touch. Then she closed her eyes and helped him touch her.
“Call it my welcoming you aboard,” Eleanor said. “Call it my formal hello.”
Bill had no words for it. He couldn’t decide if Eleanor would make it easier or harder to come to work. He only knew that that walk-in now held memories permanently etched into his mind.