Mary reached into Henry Lee’s plate for some fries. She stood next to Henry Lee, leaning against the counter opposite the stoves. Grandma was frying chicken by the stoves a little way down. She reached into one of the three pans she had working and pulled a chicken breast out which she delivered to Henry Lee’s plate.
“Grandma’s chicken, baby,” she said. “Nothing like it.”
Henry Lee thanked her and put his plate down to cut the steak. When he was done, he rubbed his leg, the one that hurt incessantly when he was tired.
“Leg hurt?” Mary asked.
Henry Lee nodded. He turned so he was leaning against the counter too, and Mary again reached to his plate, this time for a piece of steak.
“One of these days,” she said, “Alfreda and Marie gonna have a fight. You mark my words.”
“It’s nothing. Just a piece of strange.”
“Alfreda don’t see it that way.”
“I love Alfreda. I don’t love Marie or anyone else.”
“If you loved her, you wouldn’t fool around.”
“You only live once,” Henry Lee said.
“Mercy me,” Mary said.
Standing there and looking toward the line and the rest of the kitchen, they heard Lillian ordering a whole new stack of orders, almost all of them steaks.
“I need to cut more meat,” he said. But he didn’t move. He stood eating.
Mary reached into his plate every so often. She took a French-fry or a piece of steak.
“I don’t say nothing about you and Bill, or Bea and Bill, or Bill and Evelyn,” Henry Lee said. “You old enough to almost be his mama. And Bea, she could be his grandma.”
“Guilty,” Mary said. “Like Robert says, if it’s good to you it’s good for you.”
“He good?” Henry Lee asked.
Mary blushed a full red over her dark chocolate. She smiled sheepishly and looked to her feet, but she didn’t say anything.
“He’s thoughtful. He’s not selfish,” Mary said after a while.
“And you don’t care that he’s doing Bea?”
“I ain’t marrying him. I’m just getting me some. But I ain’t married with two little ones.”
“Shit,” Henry Lee said. He ate gingerly, Mary taking more fries per her inclination. He ate the chicken last, giving some of that to Mary too.
“How’s that chicken?” Grandma asked. She had turned all the chicken frying and turned toward them so she could see them eating.
“It really is special,” Mary said.
“I’ve eaten a lot of fried chicken,” Henry Lee said. “This is the best.”
“Don’t mind to butt in,” Grandma said. “The Bible says something about not committing adultery. I was married for forty-six years when my only love died. I was true the whole time and so was he.”
Neither Henry Lee nor Mary said anything so Grandma turned back to the chicken. Henry Lee, his plate empty, told Mary he’d see her later and walked over to the dishwasher station where he deposited his plate. He was careful not to leave it for the dishwashers to do. After he was free of the plate, he offered each of the dishwashers a cigarette and asked if they wanted anything to drink. When he had their orders, he stopped the first waitress and told her to bring in four sodas.
“You need to pee?” he asked Bill and Mr. Jim before he went back to the meat room. Both said no, but Jimmy took a quick break, ran down the stairs and back up again so that in all he was gone less than three minutes actual time.
“Ordering, ordering,” Lillian barked. The hood fans droned endlessly. The dish machine motor, a deep hum, added to the noise as did the splash of the water jets and water spray as the first position dishwasher sprayed the dishes to ready them for the machine.
All was right with the kitchen world, at least for now.