They’ve worked together for two years, but that’s all they have in common. Like oil and water, they just don’t mix. Julie thinks he’s a shallow flirt, Mark thinks she’s a cold fish. Despite their mutual dislike, they’ve carved out a civil work relationship at the restaurant. But after each of their inner worlds suffer a jolt; the careful, polite kitchen routine becomes a stew of conflicting emotions. Things are about to get interesting.
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What a glorious day. Julie indulged in a slow walk to the steakhouse, reveling in the autumn breeze and its hint of chill. No need to hurry. She’d be early as usual. The sight of the varied trees lining the sidewalk, sporting their vibrant colors, with a bright blue sky above them, ignited a sudden desire to skip.
After a humid summer, there couldn’t be a more magnificent time of year than harvest time in the Finger Lakes. Cool air, clear skies. She glanced at passersby and wondered about their response if she did skip down the walkway. So what if she was almost thirty?
A grin spread. Why not? Joy was way more fun than heartache, after all. She launched into a series of skips. Laughter bubbled up, as much at herself as the scandalized reaction of a nearby cat, who shot off a porch and into the shrubs. She couldn’t help giggling at the frantic exit, with the cat’s tail fluffed out to twice its size. Too bad the poor thing couldn’t appreciate her joy.
She gazed upward. Who could fail to take delight in such a perfect day? God deserved some recognition for creating all this beauty. She almost sang, but figured the skipping would do for now. She beamed in response to the few odd glances she received from pedestrians, and strolled on.
The familiar scent of the steakhouse greeted her as she drew near the back door. The outer exhaust fan blew a warm, aromatic breeze into the back lot, laden with hints of caramelizing onions, simmering soup, and grilling meats. Better advertising than any media spot or food photograph could be. How many customers had said they first showed up just from the inviting aromas?
She sniffed the air and grinned before she shrugged out of her coat, hung it, and curbed her spirits to prepare for focusing on work. Though demanding, she enjoyed the job. Showing up at three in the afternoon hadn’t lost its charm, even after two years. After a long stint of morning-shifts at diners and cafeterias stressed her night-owl blood, this place was a true blessing. Day jobs left too much evening time for brooding.
Mark and Chris trimmed out steaks at their stations, while a rack of ribs wearing a shiny coat of sauce sizzled on one of the grills, and a large tray of shrimp waited at her station. Time for prepping. The two nodded a greeting at her. Chris’s big bald head shone, and he chewed on his ever-present wad of gum. Mark openly teased Chris about his “oral fixation” and said if he wasn’t chewing or smoking, he was eating or asleep. The two loved to harass each other in ways that seemed rough to Julie. But they obviously delighted in the practice.
Strands of Mark’s crop of thick dark hair shifted onto his forehead before he swiped them in place with the heel of his hand. He really should wear a headband or his chef’s hat, to make sure no strand of hair got on the food. And the boss ought to insist Mark wear it every day, not just when an inspection was due. Forget saying anything, to Mark, though. The first time she mentioned it, he’d fixed her with a displeased look and said, “Don’t concern yourself. I know what I’m doing.”
His dismissive tone offended her. Maybe she hadn’t cooked as long as he had, and wasn’t a chef, but everywhere she worked before, people were expected to cover their hair. If he did, he wouldn’t need to scrutinize each finished plate with such intensity. She gave her almost invisible hairnet a few quick pats to assured her of its proper position.
She tied on an apron and got to work. “Hey guys. I smell something different today.”
Mark grinned at her, his dark blue eyes holding a delighted twinkle. “I added Thai spices to the sauce for the shrimp in tonight’s surf and turf.”
Julie stopped peeling shrimp to glance at him. “Barlow okayed that? I thought he didn’t want us to use anything more exotic than a spicy barbeque sauce.”
Chris, large and burly as a bear, let out a snort. “You know how he listens to customers.”
Julie rolled her eyes. “Not all of them.”
“Just the rich ones who come in a lot.” Mark gave a wry laugh. “Anything they want is A-OK. So I got the go ahead for Thai-spiced shrimp.”
Mark stepped over to a simmering pot, his athletic form moving with quick grace as he stirred, then dipped a spoon into the concoction. He nodded and smiled. “Oh, yeah. This is good.”
He turned to Julie. “Grill some shrimp, will you, and we’ll all try a sample of it later with our meal.”
It tickled her that she ate lunch when most other people were preparing or thinking about their dinner. After ten years in food service, she relished having work she loved. Something to look forward to. The hard work and fast pace suited her, while providing excitement at the same time.