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Dishes clattered along with called-out orders and sizzling food. The hum of chatting dinner patrons and low background music rose and fell as the kitchen door opened and closed with the coming and going of waitresses and waiters. Georgiana hurried to arrange the salads and garnishes, squirting balsamic vinaigrette in a swirl and dots over each plate. “Three.” A ruddy-skinned boy with a shock of red hair and a determined look hurried to collect the plates on a tray.
“I need a tuna on three. And I need the bleu cheese crumbles on the side.”
She grabbed the small ceramic cup and placed it on the salad plate. “Added or changed?”
“Added.” The boy left with the salads.
Georgiana turned. “Tuna with the sword and prawns on three.”
The chef nodded. She detected his sigh and hoped she wasn’t the cause of frustration.
Peter & Andrew’s Fishery had been her place of employment for just under a week and she was treading water to keep up with the pace of the popular restaurant. She’d never worked in the food service business, but she needed this job. It was on the island, minutes from the aunts’ house, and that meant she didn’t have to venture out into the sea of people on the mainland.
She pulled the next ticket off the cable strung between two pulleys attached to either side of the broad pick-up window and began another set of salads. As expediter, she provided a buffer between the dining room and the kitchen. The position allowed her distance from both customers and staff. She worked mostly with the head chef, Reuben, who had hired her to keep traffic organized and pleasant, and to relieve the sous-chef of the smaller tasks of carrot rosettes, shaved chocolate, and aioli. Reuben Blanchard was an older man and had been owner and chef at Peter & Andrew’s for a little over a decade. He was professional and commanding in a quiet sort of way. His control of the kitchen eased Georgie’s nerves, and his outward respect for the staff earned what trust she could offer him. He was a large man with thick arms, and she sensed a sort of comfort around him she liked. She did not read too much into it, only knew that her tension in the kitchen eased a little when Reuben arrived and took over.
She couldn’t say the same about the sous-chef.
“Sam, grab these rangoons when they’re done, will you? And get on that tuna for three, the sword is almost done. I’ve got to see to the prime.” Reuben wiped his hands on a bleach-water towel, called out, “Seven,” and moved to the ovens. “Georgie, the bread.”
Georgie glanced behind her as Sam, the sous-chef, stepped past her. She stiffened as his arm grazed her elbow and in her haste to back away her other elbow knocked one of the salad plates off-kilter. Her hand shot out to grab it and she blew out a breath of relief, shaking a bit as the plate was returned to safety.
“Careful.” The sous-chef continued at the fryer.
Without looking up she nodded. Then she turned, grabbing a tray, and hurried to the walk-in refrigerator where they kept the flat, rectangular loaves of bread. As she reached for the loaves the door shut, blocking all noise but the hum of the fridge. Georgie closed her eyes and took a deep, cool breath, letting her fingers rest on the shelf in front of her.
Pull yourself together girl, you’re letting Ian win.
The door handle turned, and the sudden sound of the kitchen made her jump as the door opened. She shook off her nerves and pulled down six loaves for the bread oven.
“Here you are. Sam says two key limes and a torte, quick.”
“But—” Georgie looked between Mai, a waitress just coming on shift, and the loaves of bread piled on her tray.
“Here, let me.” Mai finished tying her apron, took the loaves and turned, holding the heavy door with her foot, and Georgie pulled the desserts from their shelf. She followed Mai out, watching her spiky black hair with blue highlights. The small tattoo on the back of her neck read, “alis volat propiis”, each word underlined by stacks of small square Chinese characters. The tips of a pair of miniature wings peeked out just above the neckline of Mai’s black t-shirt. Time and again, Georgie’s eyes had been drawn to the tattoo. It perplexed her, as she wasn’t one to stare at things like tattoos, and fascinated her, because the simple latin phrase was a beacon to her.
She flies with her own wings.
Her brother had rehearsed latin with her throughout his college exams and she’d developed such an interest she’d taken a class of her own. But she’d never come across this phrase before.
Georgie lifted the desserts up high as Caleb, a station cook, rushed past with a sizzling sauce on a black iron pan. Some sort of reduction. Was that the right word? Yes.
She caught up to Mai, who was shoving loaves of bread dough in the oven.
“You need to keep this going or Reuben’ll blow a gasket. These in here are about done.”
Georgie nodded and turned to prep the desserts. “Thanks.”
“Your welcome. Looks like I’ve got the upper room. See ya.”
Mai left the kitchen, her wings following her. Plates of seared tuna, grilled swordfish, and battered prawns arranged next to steamed asparagus, red potatoes and basmati were slid in Georgie’s direction. The reduction spilled over the edge of a plate and she grabbed a bleach towel. “Three,” she called, and wiped the spill just as the redhead swept the order onto a tray and disappeared again. Before she could move, the desserts were pushed toward her, the whipped cream held in front of her in a piping bag.
She turned her head quickly toward Sam, taking the cream. “Sorry.” She avoided him in general, but he wasn’t usually this impatient.
He shook his head, scowling. “You’re fine.”
Georgie pressed her lips together and garnished the desserts, then reached for the next order. Sam was about her age, she guessed. Maybe his dark curly hair made him look younger than he actually was. His intense gray eyes and full mouth would have made him a target for any aiming young woman, but he was sullen, his eyes shadowed, and everyone around him gave him space.
As he turned from the fryers to make his way back to the gas stoves, Sam nearly growled. “The bread.”
She jerked at his tone, drawing her shoulder up in defense.
“Take it easy, Sam. I remember your first week.” Reuben had returned to the front. Georgie breathed. “Georgie, after you take out that bread get that order to the back and start the salads.”
She hadn’t looked up, knowing the heat she felt in her face would register as bright splotches from her cheeks down. But Reuben’s firm, gentle voice had worked. The timer on the bread buzzed. She swallowed and stood up straight, lifted her head, grabbed the plate-size spatula and moved to the bread oven. By the time she had sliced several loaves, arranged them in baskets, and returned to the salads, thankfully, Sam had gone to the back.
“Hey, seventeen up yet?” Mai smiled, her narrow black-framed glasses accentuating her exotic features.
Georgie took a deep breath, placing a cup of butter next to a baked potato. “Nearly.”
“Hey, you okay? You’re all splotchy.”
Reuben added a plate between them. “Good to go.” He knocked on the counter and took the next order back. “A bowl of the bisque, Georgie, for fourteen.”
“It happens,” Georgie lowered her voice and fingered the ladle in the soup, “when I get flustered.” Ian had referred to them as her hot spots. She hated that term. It had been funny at first. A flirtation that had made her flush even more. After a while, though, it was laced with a hint of his disapproval.
“Hey,” Mai leaned over the counter and touched Georgie’s arm. “You’re doing great. Reuben wouldn’t have hired you if he didn’t think you could handle it.”
“Ribeye and king for two, table ten,” Sam said, appearing suddenly.
Georgie held her breath as he turned away.
“Cheer up, Sam,” called Mai after him, “you’re bringin’ the place down.” She shook her head, gathering up her order. “Poor guy got dumped a couple weeks ago.” She picked up her tray and turned to go, but stepped back again. “I’ll take that soup to fourteen.”
“Thanks.” Georgie placed the soup on the tray.
“And don’t be flustered. You’ll get the hang of it.” She smiled again and left.
Georgie sighed and reached for the next order, then quickly readied six salad plates as she called it out. “Pepper oysters, two prime, medium, one fettuccini with scallops, one tuna, one mahi mahi, and one fish-n-chips.” She held the ticket out to Reuben, who caught her eye and gave her the slightest of smiles.
“And get that bread out.” He put his hand up to stop her puzzled protest and pointed at the bread ovens just as the timer buzzed.
She attempted to hide her smile. “Bread’s done.”
“So I hear.” He grinned and went to work.
Georgie turned from the salads with the spatula and couldn’t help stealing a look at Sam. A slight scowl turned the corners of his mouth down and he seemed to be turning the steaks with excessive force. She quickly turned away, not a doubt in her mind as to why someone would break up with him.
Ian’s devastating smile flashed in her mind, confident and alluring even when his words cut her down, causing self-doubt in their very means of delivery. Maior risus, acrior ensis. Her brother had taught her that. A warning she had shrugged off as ridiculous. The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife. James had never liked Ian. She should have paid more attention to his sensibilities. James liked everyone.
Georgie glanced again at Sam’s scowl. He paused and ran a heavy hand over his face, revealing fatigue and, for a brief moment, pain. He drew in a breath, wiping his hands clean, and continued working. Georgie turned back to the salad, trying to recall if she had ever seen the sous-chef smile.