kitchen-4

Bill waited until they were all out in the hall. Only Mr. Jim had stayed in the kitchen. Bea sat on her lettuce cases with her legs spread wide. Mary sat atop the metal milk cases, two of them stacked so she could be comfortable. Her legs were crossed at the ankles and her knees slightly apart. Henry Lee had cooked off some hamburgers and bleus and now they were hanging out before the first order came in. Tommy was already back in the kitchen. He was busy folding his towels to set them up to hold the dupes in place after he called the orders.

“Another damn day,” Henry Lee said.

“Another damn year,” Bea said.

“Lordy, I’m tired,” Mary said.

“What you got to say?” Henry Lee asked Bill.

“I’m glad I got a job,” Bill said. He was smoking a cigarette and leaning against the wall next to where Mary was sitting.

“You lucky you got a job, boy,” said Bea. “Wasn’t for Robert, you wouldn’t have no job.”

“But for the Grace of God,” Mary said.

“That old queen probably thought he was gonna bed you down,” Henry Lee said to Bill.

“Never even crossed my mind,” Bill said.

Bea and Henry Lee guffawed. Mary looked up at Bill then over at them.

“He’s a sweet naïve boy,” she said.

“You stupid,” Bea said. She and Henry Lee had another big, heavy laugh.

“She all messed up,” Henry Lee said. “Ain’t never seen her like this, out all night and taking them drugs the boy got. Kind of amusing when you come to think about it.”

“Yeah, it is,” Bea said.

“Up yours,” Mary said.

Mary was flush red in her face now, something Bill really loved to see. He’d told her so many times and many times he tried to make her blush just so the crimson would come out on her chocolate cheeks. Now it was out in full and he wanted to kiss her on every bit of it. Instead, he walked into the kitchen and got her beer. When he came back out in the hall, he handed the beer to her and told her take the upper.

“You think? I’m feeling so nice and dreamy.”

“Trust me,” Bill said. “Take it now and you’ll get through the meal okay. Then you can chill out all afternoon.”

Mary retrieved the pill from her dress pocket and popped it into her mouth. Henry Lee saw her doing this and shook his head. He looked at Bill after watching Mary swallow it down with her beer.

“You know she got kids to care for,” he said to Bill.

“I got it covered,” Bill said back.

“You better man.”

“Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.”

“She ain’t used to doing that shit.”

“Be okay,” Bill said.

“Ordering!”

They all heard the call from inside the kitchen. Bill and Henry Lee went in immediately and stepped into their positions on the line. Bea came a moment later. She walked through the line and goosed Bill as she by passed him. Bill would have goosed her back, but he was cutting the first order of roast beef from the top of the round. Those pieces of meat were slightly discolored from having been exposed and from being under the warmer lights too. Bill made sure to turn them over on the plate so only the fresh side showed. By the time he’d built the plate, it was beautiful: the meat nice and rare set on a slice of white bread with a bit of au jus covering it and parsley sprinkled over the au jus, mashed potatoes in a lovely ball with a dollop of bordelaise sauce ladled into a perfect nest in the middle of the ball and parsley sprinkled on them too, and a kitchen-spoonful of mixed vegetables right next to the potatoes. The meat was set so it could be eaten without having to move any of the side dishes.

Mr. Jim came from around back to inspect Bill’s work. “See,” he said to Tommy. “The boy’s getting damn good.”

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