kitchen-4“Anyone down there working?” Tommy called from the stairs. They all heard it and they all started out of the meat room.

“Don’t forget the prime rib,” Mary said.

Bill came up last with the rib. He took himself another long drink of bourbon before he went up and he knew it was only by the grace of God that he didn’t fall down. Unsteadily, weaving, he carried up the rib. Then he carried pans from the back to the line. Mary didn’t allow him to carry any hot liquids. She drew him a coffee, fixed it the way he liked it and made sure he drank it before he stepped on the line. She’d done that for Yulie countless times, her heart crying on the inside. Her heart was not crying now, but almost because she knew she was gonna give Bill a good piece of it. She also knew she was heading for a broken heart because sure as God made rain, the boy was gonna leave one day and that would be that.

“I’ll fix you another coffee,” Mary told him after he finished the first one and before he stepped on the line for the lunch service.

“Get me a beer.”

“You had enough. You got to do dinner too, and close.”

“SSDD. I do it every day. So what’s another one? But not so long ago I was crying for a job, any damn job.” Bill reached for Mary. She did not rebuff him or step away. She stepped close to him, kissed his cheek.

“You really like me?” she whispered in his ear.

“More than you’ll ever know.”

“You ain’t messing with my mind?”

“Why would I?”

“Ordering,” Tommy called out.

Bill stepped away and walked to the line from the fryer side, the side closest to Bea’s station and the entrance to the side dining room. His eyes met Bea’s. She leered at him.

“A Top medium-rare and a roast beef lunch,” Tommy called out.

Mary walked to the coffee urn and drew Bill a mug of java. She walked behind Bea and pinched her arm on her way back to the line. “Boy’s so drunk he can hardly stand,” she said.

“He’s still cute.”

“He is, isn’t he? He reminds me of Yulie.”

“That why you sweet on him?”

“I don’t know,” Mary said. “I’m all messed up.”

“Yeah,” Bea said. “You are. Robert would tell you to check out your mind.”

“Ain’t my mind that needs checking out,” Mary said.

“I’m still getting it when I can,” Bea said.

“It’s a free country,” Mary said.

She walked to the line and left Bill’s coffee on the side of the steam table where he wouldn’t spill it. She stood on the line a moment and watched them work. Bill was already slicing the roast beef for the platter he was about to make. Henry Lee was cooking the Top. He had greased the grill and cooked off some hamburgs and some Bleus, the oval shaped hamburgers stuffed with Bleu cheese. In the course of his kitchen career Bill would discover some things he did not care to eat. Bleus were one of them.

“You okay?” she asked Bill.

“Thanks for the coffee.”

“The boy can hardly stand up,” Tommy said. “And you aren’t doing him any favors by encouraging him, either.”

“No,” Mary said. “I don’t think I am.”

“It’s not up to her,” Bill said without looking up from what he was doing.

Tommy shook his head in scorn then went to get a coffee for himself. “You aren’t helping any too,” Tommy said to Bea when he was at the coffee urn by her station. Bea sat reading the racing page in the newspaper.

“I didn’t do anything,” Bea said.

“I know,” Tommy said. “ You’re all just one happy family.” He walked back to the line carrying his coffee and waited for the next orders.