Written / Cooking On High


Chapter 27

Fry was finishing out her shift at Grains and Goodness and had told French she’d be back at Bachanal tomorrow. French had been none too pleased when Fry had asked to be excused from the evening shift of her double the following day. She’d told her that given the fact she’d quit and technically been out of a job she’d agreed to help her friend Vince at a catering gig tomorrow night. And while she realized that her primary obligation was to French, there’d be no shortage of takers if she offered the shift to someone else. French had grumbled something about Fry being a ‘fast mover’, then caved in.

Fry looked up from the table where she’d been chatting with Joel and Connie Frankle. She got the second shock of the day when she saw who was standing in the doorway now. In as much as French had looked out of place in the small, unassuming room, Miguel looked positively incongruous.

He was still dressed in his uniform, except for the apron. Fry was sure that it was carefully hung in his locker at work, along with his ‘refresher’ spares. She’d finally figured out how he managed to remain so pristine throughout his shift. She’d begun to think that he wasn’t human. He was able to keep his clothing so neat all night, sometimes she swore it got neater. Turned out he changed his clothing halfway through shift. Apparently, the thing he feared most, next to physical pain, was wrinkles.

Fry excused herself and approached him.

“Hi. Let me guess, you’re not here for the Tofu Special either.”

“No.” To say that Miguel was uncomfortable was understating the obvious. He was probably risking his life by being there. And if French didn’t kill him, the decor might. But once he’d decided on a course of action, he was powerless to change it. This much he understood about himself. “I’ll have a cup of tea.”

“You can just talk to me, you don’t have to order anything.”

Miguel looked slightly affronted. She shook her head and led him to a table. It occurred to her that his extremely mannered professional countenance might be his everyday personality. Poor man.

She went to get his tea. When she returned she’d be darned if he hadn’t rearranged the tablesetting and the flowers. She’d also be darned if it didn’t look better. She sighed and served his tea, then sat across from him. He gave her a look. She gave him one right back. He was nuts if he thought she was going to stand there while she listened to him. He didn’t seem to be able to drop service protocol to save his life.

“Thank you.” He stirred his tea and looked around the room. “That’s a nice fan you did on the napkins.”

Fry blushed. She hadn’t noticed that she’d folded all of them that way. She watched as Miguel sipped his tea.

He shifted in his chair and began, “There are a couple of things I need to tell you. Then I’ll gladly leave you to finish your work. First is that I’m not as you say, a city slicker. I grew up in a small town in Western Massachusetts. My parents owned a Mexican restaurant. Nothing big, it did alright. My father always insisted that even small town America needed good Mexican food. Our mostly Irish neighbors agreed with him. It was the Mexicans who lived there and ran it that they weren’t as keen on. Anyway, I know that you can come from pretty far afield and go very far in the business. If you have what it takes, and want it bad enough.” He was giving her an intense look. Had the Bachanal Twilight Zone just landed in her dinning room? Was it Miguel, not French who caused the delusional field to coalesce so strongly at random? Could he be encouraging her to pursue a career as a waitperson?

He continued, “I know French can be unreasonable at times.” Fry, who’d completely buried the hatchet with the chef, snorted loudly. “She’s extreme, I agree.” He continued. “And I’d consider crossing the devil before I betrayed French, mostly because she could probably get to me first, but she’s changed in a way I never thought possible this summer. If you knew what she could be like before...” Miguel absentmindedly crossed himself. “She was a fury. She wasn’t just bad in an attractively charismatic way, she was hateful. Not the kind of person you wanted to spend any of your downtime with, trust me.”

“Why did you put up with her? What could possibly motivate anyone to stay around her if she was so much worse before? You could go anywhere with your skills. You’re not in love with her are you!?”

“Even you can’t be that naive. French understands excellence, and some of the less attractive qualities that may accompany it. Yes, I can pick and choose where I work, but she’s the one who lets me be. She’s also a talent to behold. I’m privileged to have been able to work for her. And she saved my life one summer, though she’d never admit it. She may not even remember it entirely, she was inebriated at the time. She used to drink a lot.”

“What happened?”

Miguel hesitated and readjusted his cup on it’s saucer. “I made a poor choice of company for an evening... He’d come into the restaurant a few times and one night we decided to meet in town when I was finished. I was new here and didn’t know the address he’d given me was a side street downtown, with nothing on it but a parking lot. Long story short, by the time I saw the group of young men it was too late. I got worked over badly and just when one of them had the bright idea to start bashing my head in with a pipe, there was the most awful noise and the guy who was holding me up from behind let go. I fell and wasn’t conscious for much longer. All I know is that bodies dropped like flies into my field of vision on the ground.”

“I came to the next day in French’s house. She asked me if I was interested in pressing charges. You can guess what my answer to that question had been. She said it was all the same to her and she was going to spend the day at the restaurant nursing a hangover. She took care of me for a couple of days. Then she gave me a map of the town and told me not to be such an idiot. She’s never mentioned it since.”

Fry was stunned. What could you say to that?

“I’ve paid back a good chunk of what I consider a sizeable debt. The woman has threatened my life tenfold in the last five years, but she’s never really hurt me. Nothing permanent anyway. That’s more than I can say for anyone who’s so much as looked at her crooked. This summer I’ve seen something that’s been truly amazing and while I shouldn’t doubt that she’s capable of anything, I never thought she’d be able or interested in becoming something like a decent human being. She’s changed. I think you might have something to do with that. And I’d like you to reconsider your resignation. If not for French’s sake, then maybe for all of us who are going to have to suffer through the rest of the summer with her.”

“I don’t know what to say. I’m...” What she really wanted to do was give Miguel a big hug. That is if she wasn’t completely certain that it would make him exponentially more uncomfortable than he already was. He’d rearranged the entire table four times since he’d begun his story. Each time it had become more perfect. He was in the process of refolding and smoothing the napkin in his lap again. She couldn’t imagine how awful it must have been to go through something like that. “I’m so sorry that happened. And I’m glad that French was able to help. And I think you should know that I am coming back. Didn’t you know that French came by already?”

Miguel gave her a look of surprise. “No, I didn’t.”

“She was here about ten minutes ago. She apologized and we decided to try to work it out.” She thought she might have to get Miguel a glass of water. He was coughing violently. She gave him a minute. He took a sip of his tea and cleared his throat.

“Excuse me. Did you say she apologized?”

“Yes. I was surprised too. I thought she was going to blame the whole thing on me again and storm out. She doesn’t like it when someone else gets in the last word. But that wasn’t it at all. She came in, sat and had a pretty normal conversation. For French, anyway.”

It was Miguel’s turn to be speechless.


Wednesday morning Fry walked through the kitchen on her way to the dining room. She stopped in front of French’s station to give her an enthusiastic hello.

French looked at the woman in front of her doing a fairly reasonable impression of a hedgehog. She’d have to have a talk with Priscilla Spark about the definition of the word ‘trim’. “What happened to the rest of your hair?”

“Aren’t you even going to say ‘hello’? Didn’t you miss me even a little bit?” Fry looked at the frown still on French’s face. Try to move this woman’s focus an inch and you’d find yourself engaged in an impossible and fruitless undertaking.

“Alyssa cut it for me. Like it?”

“No. We’ll see what the customers think. I get any hedgehog complaints and you’re off to the barber.”

“Know what your problem is?”

“I have a feeling you’ll tell me no matter what.”

“You’re too picky. Ever consider letting go for a minute? Letting some sunshine in?” Fry had added that last bit because she knew French would make that face. She looked slightly repulsed, like she’d swallowed castor oil.

“Get lost. And tell Barbra to only seat horny old men at your tables today. They won’t care what your hair looks like.”

“Oh wow, was that humor? It was almost funny.”

“Yeah, yeah, move it.”

French was glad that things were back to normal. Except for Fry’s hair. But there was only so much she could do about that. And even though the impulse to reach out and organize the messy strands on top of her head had been strong, she’d overcome it. On reflection, she didn’t mind the new look that much.

The crew in the kitchen let out a quiet, but collective sigh of relief. French had been agitated all morning. Now that Fry had appeared, she seemed to settle down. No one questioned the effect the waitress had on her anymore, they were just thankful.

Continued in Chapter 28.

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