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stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Christyn retreated into the kitchen for a while after that. Damian waited dutifully outside the kitchen door for her until she emerged with a pot of steaming hot water, a whisk, and a large plastic bucket. He followed her behind the bar and said, “Christyn, please…”

Said, “Please don’t avoid me. I know you know what she said about you, but nothing’s changed about us. I don’t think of you different, or bad...I know there’s two sides to every story.”

She graced him with a small smile and dumped the hot water into the plastic bucket. “Want to learn how to make the jello shots?”

She said, “Get the big pitcher from the kitchen, I think I left it in the soup station. Fill it up to the one-liter line with ice and water. The ice is very important for getting the jello to set.”

When he returned with the ice water, she said, “First the jello goes in, and then the ice water.” She retrieved a bag of gelatin mix from a bar cabinet, tore it open with the knife on the end of her wine opener, and dumped it into the hot water. Then Damian poured in the ice water. “Now give it a mix…”

He picked up the whisk and began to stir. As he did, she disappeared for a second and came back with a bottle of liquor. “One 1-liter bottle of vodka. You can use any 40-proof liquor, but I usually use vodka.” She dumped it into the mix, and as he continued to stir, she began to open up. “Chester never called me his niece. I was always ‘Matthew's daughter,’ or ‘your brother’s daughter’ with Aunt Millie. When I was younger, I thought it was because he didn’t like me. It was othering, but I wouldn’t say it was a miserable existence. Mom and Dad didn’t have much money; we all lived in one small apartment, but Aunt Millicent had married rich. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a big house. So I was happy, even if for a while Uncle Chester seemed cold to me. Me, Brock, and Mike used to roughhouse in the yard together. They usually kicked my ass until one year, I got Mike in a chokehold and made him beg for mercy. I was closest to the maid and the cook, though. They taught me Spanish and I helped them out while they were working. I didn’t really mind being the spare, when I got to live in relative comfort. But then everything changed.

“I turned sixteen, and Uncle Chester bought me a car, just like he’d bought Brock a car a few years prior. I picked out old Carolaine there, she was secondhand and at 5 grand off the lot, the cheapest thing available. I didn’t want to burden him, see, because I knew I was just the extra kid he had pushed on him. But then he started teaching me how to drive her, and we got really close in that car. He confessed all sorts of things to me. Said I had become such a beautiful young lady. He complained a lot about what a nag Aunt Millie was, all while putting his hand on my leg, like, Come on, a little more accelerator won’t kill us…

“He was smart...he was an important man in his field...

“He used to have me drive us to the coffee shop up the freeway, and he’d buy me coffee cakes…

“And then I’d drive us home, and Aunt Millie would be out of the house, so he’d pour us some whiskey out by the pool.

“I felt so special.”

“That’s...Jesus...and here I thought he was a decent man, when all this time he’s been this disgusting--this pedo!”

“I’m not saying what he did was okay, but I don’t think what I did was okay, either,” said Christyn. “You know how it is, when you’re sixteen. You think you’re grown already. At the time, I honestly felt I was falling in love with him. Hell, sometimes I think I still love him.

“Then, when Aunt Millie caught us, and divorced him and threw me out, I drove into the city, and I slept in that car for months, living off scraps from trash cans.

“I can kind of see where you get your pet theory about me. I like to feed people...I kind of like to watch them eat, but it comes from knowing firsthand that having to go hungry is a miserable way to live. I’m not some evil fairytale witch hell-bent on fattening up my regulars. That’s more Auralee’s department; maybe you’ll meet her one of these days.

“Now it’s time to put the jello shots into ramekins and put them in the fridge.” She produced a sleeve of plastic cups and lids, along with a ladle, from another bar cabinet, and let him start pouring the shots while he tried to process everything she had said. It was horrifying, thinking of the smartest, kindest woman he knew living on the streets, and even worse, her pervy old uncle taking advantage of her, even if he wasn’t her blood relative. It made him wish he still had his piece…

But it was hard to show anger outwardly when he was tasked with the delicate duty of pouring liquid into small cups and topping them with small lids. Maybe it was the work that kept him calm on the surface while his mind raced, or maybe it was the steady cadence of Christyn’s voice. “So you started working in a restaurant to survive,” he said. “Me too. Without this job, I’d be fucked.”

“You? The son of a famous supermodel?”

He flushed with embarrassment. “There isn’t any money left from her modeling days. She had a lot of problems with drugs. I had a good job before, in security, but I fucked it up.”

“Hey, who says foodservice isn’t a good job?” said Christyn. “You’re a good barback--”

“You’re the only one who seems to think so. Chance--”

“Screw Chance. He was a total fuck-up at your age. Now, he’s pulled himself out of a hole, and he’s afraid to fall. He’s afraid to do anything except for sit in that chair in that office! But you...as I was saying, you have potential. I’m telling you, stick in the industry, and by the time you’re my age, if you play your cards right, you could have 20 grand in the bank.”

“Nuh uh.” He rolled his eyes.

“Don’t believe me?” She pulled out her phone, pushed a few buttons, and waved a summary of her bank statement in front of his face--all $20,392.00.

He was breathless. He didn’t think he’d ever seen that much money with his own two eyes. “There’s no way that’s yours!”

“It’s got my name on it.” She smirked, almost braggingly, but then, he supposed, she deserved to brag. “And that could be you in a few years.”

He knew that day wouldn’t be anytime soon, though, because at that moment, it suddenly occurred to him that he had been so distracted with work lately, he had missed his last court date.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
This wasn’t the end of the world. He had been let out of jail on a PR bond, which meant even if he missed a court date, he wouldn’t have to go back unless he couldn’t pay the bond amount. It was over a thousand dollars, but he had a good job. On the schedule he’d been working, and with tipout from Christyn supplementing his paycheck, he’d have it by the deadline, easy.

He decided to dedicate himself to being as helpful as possible at work and really earning his keep. Christyn was a great motivator, always eager to help him expand his bar knowledge. She taught him the proper way to open and pour wine at a table, the difference between a lager and a pilsner, and how to pour shots without measuring, although he still left most of the drink-making to her…

Until one day she put him on the spot. “C’mere! You’re gonna make this Old Fashioned for the dude at table 23.”

He was nervous. He’d messed up before when she tried to teach him how to mix, but she assured him this cocktail was easy.

He joined her at the well, where she handed him a thick wooden stick (a ‘muddler,’ she explained), and under her careful instruction, he muddled the orange and cherry together with sugar at the bottom of a short glass, then added ice, whiskey, a splash of club soda, and something called angostura bitters.

She stuck a straw in it when he was done, pulled it out, and took a taste...his heart sunk as her whole face soured. “Did I make a mistake?”

“No, some smartass put salt in my sugar shaker, and I think I know who it was.” She remade the drink in seconds flat, with sugar from a packet this time, ran it to the table and made a beeline for the office.

Damian followed her to the doorway, watching her as she calmly asked Chance to review the camera footage. Video evidence revealed Dave to be the culprit, but Chance insisted he couldn’t fire him: “We’re already short staffed enough as it is.”

“But food tampering is a felony!” Christyn pointed out, right as Dave passed by the open office door. He took a smoke break after that and never returned.

“He probably has open warrants and doesn’t want another one,” Damian concluded.

***

Christyn must have taken the reservation while Damian was in the bathroom on the phone with his father. Last name, Kingston, first, Auralee, party of four for six thirty. He wondered if it was the same Auralee Christyn had told him about, her old boss who was into fattening up the regulars (or had that been a joke? And why couldn’t he get his mind off this stupid topic?)

It had to be her, right? Auralee wasn’t exactly a common name.

All day on a double, he waited, curiosity knotting up his insides, for her and her party to arrive. He was standing at his post by the door, going through the shelves of the host stand and looking for something to do, when at 6 on the dot, a tall, kinda heavy set white dude with a full beard and gray suit walked in alone. He had a bag over one shoulder that was too thick to be a briefcase, and despite his clean, professional appearance, it was with a casual familiarity that he asked, “Hey man, is it open seating at the bar?”

“Be my guest.”

“Sweet, thanks, bro!” The stranger reached over the host desk to offer a handshake, but before Damian could meet him halfway, Christyn called from behind the bar,

“Roger Simmons, stop my heart!”

“You still have yet to convince me you have one, Ms. Brandywine.”

“You two know each other?”

Christyn walked up to the front and gave this Roger guy the best side-hug she could given their height difference. “Roger here is the owner of the Cannon Distillery uptown,” she explained to Damian. “I assume he’s here on a business call...is that right, Roger, have you come to sell us something?”

“Actually, a little bird told me my old business advisor had worked her way up to management, and I thought it might be nice to swing by to see you, grab a drink, and drop off a little early birthday present.” He patted the bag at his side.

“Business advisor! I taught you how to make jail hooch when we were nineteen, you’re the one who taught yourself how to distill and opened a whole company. But come on, sit! My bar’s been empty all day, it’s got me feeling sorry for the seats, they must be cold!”

Damian couldn’t help but linger by the bar watching the two old friends go back and forth with an undeniable sexual chemistry between them. The early birthday present, as it turned out, was a bottle of cognac aged in a chardonnay barrel. “This looks lovely! I’m gonna go put this in my car, though, I don’t think I’m supposed to have any bottles in here without one of those stickers from the TABC.”

While she stepped out, Roger flagged down Damian and asked, “Do you know if Christyn is still dating someone named Jacques Devareaux?”

“No. I mean, she’s dating a guy, but his name’s Jesse.”

“Bummer.”

“You’re interested?”

“Well, to tell you the truth…” Roger looked around to make sure Christyn hadn’t yet returned and admitted, “She and I had a brief thing, once upon a time. But then she ghosted me for a week and the next time I saw her, she was dating this guy from the bowling alley where she worked, a part-time pinsetter mechanic who had served a term in the French Foreign Legion.”

“The what?”

“According to her, Jacques ‘saved her life,’ and how am I supposed to top that? We’ve remained in contact, but mostly just to talk about business. Don’t let her be modest, she’s actually quite a talented financial advisor. But she doesn’t talk about her love life much when I ask. I guess I wanted to do some asking around about the one that got away.”

Christyn came back in then. “What are we drinking today, Roge?”

“How about one of your watermelon kamikazes?”

Christyn winced. “I don’t have any watermelon here, but I can do it with blueberries!”

“Let’s go, then.”

As she made the drink, Damian returned to the door to watch for Auralee, but the next person to walk in was actually Jesse. “Hey, man! Good to see you’re back; Christyn told me you had a little run-in with the law.”

“Yeah, it was bullshit, bro! Someone called me in as an intoxicated driver. I wasn’t even drunk! I just smoked a little weed,” said Damian as he led Jesse to his usual table.

“She also tells me you’re shaping up to be quite a talented barback.”

“She...she told you that?” said Damian, going a little red.

“She tells me everything,” said Jesse as he sat down. Then, with a smirk, he reiterated, “Nothing in her head is a secret from me.”

Damian thought that was a weird thing to say, but put the thought out of his mind. Sure, he wished he could be the guy who got to fuck Christyn, but he couldn’t let it make him jealous or judgmental. Jesse was always nice to him. Whenever he came to the restaurant, they would talk about cars and girls, and he tipped generously.

“In that case, can you tell me when her birthday is?” asked Damian. “I know it’s coming up, and I wanted to see if I’d have time to save up and get her a little something.”

To his surprise, Jesse’s face went blank. “That’s...an excellent question,” he said, but he didn’t answer it. Maybe their relationship was on the rocks. Damian didn’t want to be happy about it, but a part of him wanted to hope he might have a chance. What kind of guy didn’t know when his own girlfriend’s birthday was?
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Any hope he had was soon shattered, however, as Christyn arrived at the table with Jesse’s usual cola, light on the ice. Once at the table, she got on bended knee at the corner, looking up at Jesse with utter reverence, her face beaming. “Sorry about the wait! Guy at the bar wanted a complicated drink.”

“It’s no issue, Christyn. While I do appreciate the attention, I know that here, your work comes first.”

Damian retreated to the host stand, where he stood and watched the table from afar. He expected some sort of affection from Jesse, as Christyn was clearly begging for it, but instead, he just ordered quickly and sent her away. Damian was shocked, and it took two rings of the bell on the host stand to turn him around and bring him to attention.

“‘Scuse me. I have a reservation. Last name Kingston, 6:30.”

“Oh, yes! You must be Ms. Auralee…”

The first thing Damian noticed about Auralee was that for such a thin woman, she took up a great deal of space, almost as if she was making a point to do so. She was leaned over the host stand with both elbows on the surface of the desk, spread wide, one long, long glittery manicured fingernail tapping her name on the reservation list. Her feet were in a similarly wide stance, her hips sticking way out into the entryway. Even her hair, which was bright auburn and fell past her mid-back, was all over the place. She was wearing huge hoop earrings and a draping shawl and chunky suede boots that looked at least a size too big for her. Her grin was big, too; she might have looked like one of those magazine models his mother used to pose in catalogs with, only those girls always had such blank, calm expressions on their faces. Her head was cocked to one side and he could tell she was staring him straight in the face even through her oversized sunglasses, although he could not make out the color of her eyes.

“I see you’re a few minutes early,” he said. “Would you like to wait up at the front for the rest of your party?”

“Oh, it’s just me. I put in a four-top reservation because I wanted a booth,” she explained. “One by the bar, if you have it?”

“Sure...right this way.”

He led her to table 4, where she threw herself into one side and laid out across the bench with one elbow on the table and her feet up. “Christyn will be right with you.”

And right with her she was, once she’d rung in Jesse’s dinner order. The two women chatted animatedly, catching up, Damian presumed. He would have liked to get a word in with her edgewise, just out of curiosity, even if she was a little...not what he’d expected? She had this weird energy about her. And he didn’t want to think it, lest he have to admit he was a kind of shallow, but she was too skinny for his taste. Meanwhile, Roger had started to look around uncomfortably, practically squirming on his barstool.

He stepped back behind the bar to check up on the guy. “Is everything okay? Ah, I see what the problem is,” he said, his eyes falling to Roger’s nearly empty glass. “You need another drink. You want a beer? Or, if you want, Chrissy taught me how to make this drink, it’s called an Old Fashioned.”

“It’s not just that,” Roger admitted. “My ex-girlfriend just walked in.” He gestured with his head towards Auralee’s table. “And it wouldn’t be so bad, except...well, we broke up because I cheated on her...with Christyn.”

“Oh. Was this while they were both working at the bowling alley?”

“You know what? An Old Fashioned sounds delicious…”

Damian made the drink, set it down, and waited for Roger to tell him more of the story, but he didn’t. He just complimented him on the cocktail.

“And make me something good!” Auralee called towards Christyn’s back as Christyn returned to the bar to ring in her dinner order. She threw a drink together, one of the cockails from the menu she’d made, and handed it to Damian. It looked like a Mimosa, but it had some dark liquor sunk to the bottom and some orange zest and a decorative flower on top.

“Damian, this is for Auralee, but she’s cut off after three, understand?” she said. “I don’t need her crashing her car and making either of us criminally liable.”

“She really has that low a tolerance?”

“That, and I suspect she may have started before she got here,” said Christyn. “Man, she used to be a terrible influence on me. Back in the day, we used to start in the middle of the shift...then, once the bowling alley closed, we’d hit the clubs, then drink straight from the bottle at her penthouse...wake up feeling like we’d been eviscerated. Though, I suppose she actually has been eviscerated…”

“I...I don’t know what that word means.”

“All the same, it’s probably not my place to talk about it. But she’ll probably tell you all about it after her second drink. Oh, and can you bring her a water, too, please?”

“How’s that going by the way, the drinking thing?” he asked as he poured the water.

“Good. I’m down to three shots a night, or some nights, nothing at all,” said Christyn, smiling with pride.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
When he brought Auralee her drinks, she was feeling chatty. “What’s your name?” she asked, so he told it to her. “Ah, so you’re the barback Christyn won’t stop talking about.”

“She...she talks about me with you, too?”

“She said you’re one of the best she’s ever worked with; ‘in need of some polish, but that comes with experience.’ Her words. Anyway, how’s the chicken prosciutto flatbread here?”

“I...well, I heard it’s good.”

“If I don’t finish mine, do you want the rest?”

“I...uh...sure.” He knew Christyn was going to buy him dinner later on her manager tab, but he could always offer Auralee’s leftovers to the guy that did the dishes. She seemed a little too pleased with his ‘yes,’ though, so it looked like Christyn wasn’t joking about Auralee’s particular interests.

She chucked back her drink in one pull. “This is good,” she said. “It’s not one of the drinks I taught her, though.”

“She invented it,” said Damian.

“Tell her it’s excellent. And that I want another one just like it. And one for the cute baby grand sitting at the bar.”

He put in the order with Christyn, just in time to hear two dings of the bell from the kitchen. He dropped off Jesse’s food, then Auralee’s food, and noticed Auralee was slumped over in her seat noticeably more than before. “So how do you know that guy?” he asked, already knowing the answer, but he wanted to see just what she would reveal to him.

She laughed. “We go back years and years...he must have been about your age when he first walked into my bar. About your size, too. Well, taller, obviously, but you get the picture.” Why was she looking pointedly at him when she said that? It was almost as if she knew he secretly fantasized about being fattened up by a beautiful woman...but how could she? Had Christyn told her? But how would Christyn have known? He was pretty sure he hadn’t let that slip to her, but sometimes he did a bunch of drugs and did stuff and forgot about it.

“Yeah, Christyn did mention…”

“Mention what? That I was a feeder?”

So there was a word for it.

“Sit,” said Auralee. “You’re working too hard,” and the customer was always right, and he was exhausted from working so many extra hours lately, so he sat in the booth across from her.

“I can’t help it,” she said. “Ever since the bypass, I’ve been ruled by the compulsive urge to feed up my men...maybe so I can live vicariously through them while watching them enjoy their meals, or maybe I miss my old body and I want at least one of us to be soft to make the sex experience a little more comfortable and interesting. I try not to overthink it. Ooh, do you want to see pictures?” Without waiting for a response, she whipped out her phone and pulled up a photo of three people. One of them was Christyn, with a bottle in one hand and her arm slung around the shoulders of this guy with dark hair and a distant expression, and then, on the left, a very round redheaded girl, who Damian would not have guessed was Auralee. “I was cute, no?”

She was, actually. There was a light and vigor in her eyes back then that she didn’t have now. “Who’s the guy?”

“That there’s my brother, JD. He and Chrissy weren’t dating yet, but she’s always been the biggest tease. I don’t even think she knows it. But that right there is his ‘trying to hide a boner’ face.”

Damian snickered a little before his mind made a connection: “JD...Jacques Devareaux?”

“He was born Brandon, but he picked up a new identity when he joined the military in France--he couldn’t join here because of his record. So, what have you heard about him?”

“Not much...just that he saved Christyn’s life.”

Auralee was taking another sip of her drink, and she almost made herself choke laughing. “That Chrissy, always so melodramatic!”

What happened, according to Auralee, was this: Roger and his college buddies were regulars at the bowling alley, and one day he got the bright idea to try and buy beer without an ID. Christyn and Auralee, of course, refused to sell it to him, but they did offer him some liquor out of flasks they kept in their aprons outside by the dumpster. Christyn even taught him how to make wine at home out of fruit juice and bread yeast, which tasted like crap, but when you were underage, you took what you could get. The three of them became fast friends.

Christyn and Roger were about the same age, with Auralee a good five years older than both, so maybe, in hindsight, she should have yielded him to her protege--but she was smitten, and Christyn swore she would back off. Besides, Roger seemed to like having an older sugar mama to buy him fancy bottles of liquor and take him out to fancy dinners.

“And then one day I walked in on the two of them drunk, fucking in my pool. I was understandably upset...so the next day at work, I slipped Chrissy a little sedative in her soda, and once she passed out in a booth, I dragged her to the walk-in cooler and handcuffed her to the shelf with all the kegs on it. Oh, don’t look at me like that! It was only meant to be a harmless prank. I was gonna let her out that day...but then I got drunk and forgot about her. JD found her in there a week later. She was withdrawing really bad from alcohol and according to him, she’d soiled herself.”

“You could have killed her!”

“But I didn’t, obviously. Oh, can I have another drink?”

Three was the cutoff, he remembered, and he was going to ask Christyn to make Auralee’s last one and then close her out, but before he could, Chance called her into the office. While he was in the bar area waiting for her to come out, Roger asked him for another Old Fashioned.

So, he made two, handed one to Roger, and ran the other to Auralee. “She’s busy. Here’s an Old Fashioned. It’s all I know how to make.”

She took a sip and gave him a delighted smile. “This is really good!” she said. Then, “Hey, I hope you don’t think I’m a monster or anything, for what I’ve confessed today. Christyn and I, we get into some mischief, but I never meant to hurt her. I try and take care of all my employees. I actually have an offer for you, if you should choose to take it.” She held out her business card across the table. “That’s my mobile number. I’m actually hiring for barbacks, servers, and cooks at the moment.”

“I already have a job.”

“I see that...but just so you know, the girl I have barbacking now can only work on the weekends, but she walks with over a bill a night, and that’s just her tipout from me. She makes an hourly wage, too, none of this $2.13 bullshit. We have whole leagues full of loyal customers with deep pockets coming in from all over the state, and I even have a few choice clientele who come in to see me at the bar for, shall we say, a special, tailored experience, and tip over a thousand dollars, which, of course, is split with the support staff. Imagine making at least two hundred dollars off of one tab!”

It would get him out of the financial woods as far as his legal fees were concerned, and more…

“What are you thinking?” asked Auralee.

“If I was making that much, I could afford to get Chrissy something nice for her birthday,” he said.

“It’s on the twenty-first. You like her, don’t you?”

“As a friend.”

Auralee snickered and rolled her eyes.

“And you said you already have someone for the weekends, right? I could work over there early in the week, and keep working here, right?” The more he considered it, the more attractive the offer was looking. But what if it was too good to be true? What if Auralee was just trying to mess with Christyn at work as part of their age-old feud over a man? And besides, he already knew Christyn was good to him. He had no idea how Auralee was as a manager, and she had an off-putting vibe. He was about to tell her, thanks but no thanks after all, but Christyn, who had at some point emerged from the office, came out of nowhere, plucked the business card out of Auralee’s hand, and tucked it into Damian’s front pocket.

“He’ll think about it and call you,” she said, set down the check, and walked off.

Damian followed her, catching up in three or four strides--she moved fast, but he was still a good deal taller than she was. “Christyn, what’s wrong?” he asked. She looked like she had been crying.

“The restaurant is bankrupt,” she said. “We’re shutting down in two days.”
 
Last edited:

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
SIX

There had been a lot of yelling in the office.

Christyn didn’t think she’d ever yelled so much in her life. She knew she’d be catching Jesse’s disapproval. He liked her demure and level-headed in all things.

But how could she help it?

After all she’d done for the Capital.

Who was this mysterious owner to just decide to pull the plug?

Had he looked at the profit margins on her drink specials? At the list she was compiling of all the wines in back storage that weren’t even on the menu, that could make the restaurant so much money if only they advertised them? Hell, Christyn had never even met the man. Who was he to give up when he never even stepped his foot in the door?

But in the end, Chance was just the messenger. There was nothing he could do, and no amount of yelling at him could change that, so she fell to tears.

One by one, she broke the news to her patrons. Roger told her that there might be some room for her at the distillery, and she responded that she’d think about it, only if there was room for her barback, too, and he squirmed in his seat and avoided the subject. Auralee tipsily offered to slash the restaurant owner’s tires. Jesse said, “I’m so sorry, kitten,” but though she was sure he thought he was doing a good job of hiding how pleased he was, he wasn’t, and she just cried harder.

Yes, she knew she would have no trouble finding another job with her resume, and she had enough money saved up to live comfortably in the interim, but what about her little barback? He was doing so well. From a fledgeling with an authority problem, he’d grown into a worker with some promise of surviving this cruel, capitalist hellscape called ‘society,’ but what would happen to him if she wasn’t around to guide him?

She found him in the back, splitting Auralee’s untouched dinner with the dishwasher, and tucked a folded piece of bar printer paper with her phone number on it into his shirt pocket. “What’s this?” he asked, pulling it out.

“That’s me. After we close down, I don’t want to never see you again.”

“You’ll see me again. We still have brunch in the morning,” he promised her.

***

But he didn’t see her in the morning.

Damian was dangerously low on gas, so at the last minute he decided the best thing to do was skip the last two days of work and save what little he had for the trip up to the restaurant to collect his last check.

So he stayed home, smoked the last of his weed, and made himself a couple of toaster waffles for breakfast. Food made him feel better when he was stressed, and right now he was stressed to pieces about finding another job, and about whether that check would cover his bond amount, not to mention what he was going to do about rent. So, he made the rest of the box of toaster waffles and plowed through them even after he ran out of fake maple syrup.

After that, he collapsed back in bed, almost uncomfortably full but not quite at that pain threshold yet...and he didn’t like how good it felt. His stomach was rounded out and straining the drawstring of his sweats, and to his horror, being that stuffed gave him a guilty thrill and a raging boner.

He gave it a minute, but it didn’t look like his erection was going anywhere fast, so, defeated, he took himself out of his pants and began to stroke himself off.

The first thought that came to mind was Christyn. She was sitting on his lap, working his shaft with one hand while forking more waffles dripping with syrup and butter in his mouth with the other, whispering sweetly, I know you have a bit more room in there...come on, eat for me, baby. I want to make you nice and thick. Besides, you’ll need every extra calorie for energy in bed…

He was getting close. He hiked up his shirt and thought to himself how hot it would be to come all over his full gut. Then he thought to himself, What the fuck is wrong with me?

But he was too worked up to stop now, and with a few final strokes he blew his load right in his own face. “MOTHERFUCKER!” he swore at the walls of his empty apartment, squeezing his eyes shut tight against the burn. He stumbled blindly to the bathroom to clean himself up, having to run his eyes directly under the faucet for several minutes before they stopped stinging.

When he checked his phone, he had several missed calls from Chance. That’s right, he’d forgotten to call in. He didn’t really want to talk to Chance, though, so he called Christyn.

“Hi, thank you for calling the Capit--” she began in her customer service soprano, before stopping herself. “Hey, sorry, the phone at my job has been blowing up all day. Anyway, you’ve reached Christyn Brandywine, may I ask who’s calling?”

“It’s Damian.”

“Oh, thank God! When you didn’t show up I thought something terrible had happened to you!”

“Nah, I’m just low on gas. Anyway, how’s work?”

“I just left.”

“But I thought you were on a double?”

“Yeah, I was, until the power went out. I guess the owner didn’t pay the bill. Anyway, we packed all the inventory into boxes, and tomorrow some trucks are coming to pick it up, but Chance said I didn’t have to be there for that.”

Her voice trembled as she spoke. Had she been crying again? Damian didn’t like that. To see the toughest person he know reduced to tears...it didn’t sit right.

“What are you gonna do with the rest of your day?” he asked.

“Cook dinner. Maybe get hammered. I’d ask you to join me, but you’re low on gas.”

“I have a little gas!” he said. “What’s your address?”

She texted it to him; she was only twenty minutes away, on Westheimer and Dunvale, next to the grocery store. “Are you sure I can come over?”

“Yeah, in fact, do you have any food allergies?”

“Don’t worry about it, I just ate. Could use a drink, though.”

“You can eat more than once in a day, you know.” After some prying on her part, he admitted to her that he didn’t have any allergies, but he just really didn’t like onions, and he didn’t know what he liked to drink; he’d only ever had light beer and while he enjoyed the buzz, it tasted how he imagined piss tasted.

“Great, I have a bottle of cognac, you can try that. And I’m probably going to do pasta marinara, because that’s all I have the ingredients for right now. But don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste the onions.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
To whom it concerns,

I am writing to recommend Damian Mendez for hire at your establishment as a host, barback, or server. After having had the pleasure of being his supervisor, I can personally speak highly of his work ethic and say with confidence that he would make an asset to your team.

When I first met Damian, he was working as a host at the Capital Cafe, but it was always clear that he was not one to let his position limit him from taking on additional work outside his station. Damian regularly assisted in tasks such as cleanup of the dining room and bar, and on one occasion volunteered to run errands that required him to leave the workplace, despite having to subject himself to poor weather conditions. After my own promotion to management, I expanded his duties to barbacking, a role which he stepped into not only with marked enthusiasm, but a natural aptitude.

Though my time on the clock with Damian has been cut short by the shutdown of the Capital, I sincerely believe in the future of his career in the restaurant industry. I will be lucky if I ever again have the privilege of supervising another employee with his level of versatility, his willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and, most importantly, his rare understanding of what it truly means to be a team player.

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about Damian’s performance.

Thank you for your time, and best regards,

Chris Brandywine
Bar Manager, Capital Cafe

She had enclosed her contact information in the letter and printed copies in triplicate on company letterhead in Chance’s office. She would have printed more, but the power went out. She had been planning to have Chance mail them to Damian along with his last check, but she was glad Damian had taken up her offer for dinner, so she could give them to him in person.

At around 6:20, he called her. “Hey, I just pulled up, you said you were in 1205, where’s that at?”

“It’s in the back, here, let me come out.” She walked out into the driveway and said into the receiver, “I’m standing right in front of my unit, can you see me?”

“I don’t, but maybe if you turn location on I can figure out where you’re at. Do you have your phone?”

Did she have her…? She took a deep breath. “Damian, I want you to ask me that question again, and really think about it this time.”

At last, she spotted him, walking towards her on the sidewalk near the mailboxes. She jogged to meet him halfway. “How are you holding up?” From the looks of it, he wasn’t great. His hair was a mess, he looked like he had either slept all day or not gotten any sleep at all since the news broke about the Capital, and as for his attire--well, Christyn was used to seeing him dressed up nice for work, so it threw her a bit to see him in the sort of plain white shirt one might sleep in, along with orange pants which, upon further observation, had a number printed on them. “Oh God, are those your jail pants?”

“Yeah...they let me walk out in them, since when I was arrested, I, uh...didn’t have my pants on.”

“Good Lord, why not?”

“I was at home, okay? I didn’t know they were coming that day.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, come on inside. Be warned, though, my apartment looks like an alcoholic lives in there.”

It was his turn to roll his eyes. “Just looks like?”

“Oh, shut up, I’ve been doing good.” Indeed, she now had no problem going bone-dry all day and could probably go longer if she wanted to, but lately she’d been allowing herself leniency whenever the urge did strike her to drink. The withdrawals were gone now; drinking was no longer a physiological need for her so much as a reward for having to deal with such a tremendous amount of stress in the workplace lately.

She led him inside, feeling a little self-conscious about the mess. “Go ahead and keep your shoes on; the carpet’s filthy. I’d clean it, but my lease expires in a few months here so I figured I’ll just start over fresh wherever I end up.” She watched him look around the place, eyes darting.

“I thought you had cats.”

That’s right, she recalled, she had told him that to explain the gash in her cheek that one day at work. “I had cats over, for that week. I was watching them for a friend when she went out of town.”

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing up at the large metal hook in the ceiling from which Jesse sometimes liked to suspend her in chains by the wrists, or once, by a cord attached to a collar around her throat.

“I was thinking about hanging a disco ball. I never went through with it.”

He seemed to accept this explanation. Dinner was almost ready, and while she waited for the noodles to get soft enough, she poured them each a glass of water and two fingers of cognac. He chucked his measure back, coughing and bending double. “Fuck me, that actually hurt! You drink this shit?”

“You’re supposed to sip it, not shoot it, you dolt,” she said, sipping from her own glass. It was very good cognac; she would have to send Roger her compliments. Nevertheless, as she served dinner, she fixed him a drink she thought he might find more palatable, muddling some strawberries she had onhand into the bottom of a highball glass and topping off the cognac with ice and ginger ale.

She left the pot of spaghetti in the middle of the coffee table, and he sat down in one of her chairs and fixed himself a small serving while she helped herself and finished her first drink. She watched as he took a bite experimentally, nodded, and loaded himself up with a big, heaping plate full. “You’re right, I can’t taste the onions. This is actually really good!” She took it as a compliment when he cleaned his plate--and emptied his drink. “Can I have another one of these?”

“How do you feel? Are you buzzed? I don’t want you getting drunk; you took your own car here, didn’t you?”

“I’ll be fine, I’ve drank loads of times before! Don’t worry so much,” he said, so she made him one more drink. “So what do you even do around here, without TV?” he asked.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who more or less lives at work and visits home sometimes,” she said.

“What are you going to do for work now? Or are you gonna take some time off and hang out with Jesse?”

“No, I need a job.”

“Why? He seems well off, and you’ve got twenty stacks in the bank.”

“It’s complicated.” That’s all she said; she didn’t want to dive into the matter of Jesse wanting her to quit serving, and how she felt like if she did, she’d be giving up a part of her identity. There were times when the idea of relinquishing her identity was attractive, she would admit. Her past could be a burden to bear, and sometimes becoming Master’s empty-headed little house slave sounded a lot like an escape. But then she wouldn’t get to enjoy the little things, like crass gossip in Spanish in the work kitchen, or the familiar satisfying burn in her calves after a long and lucrative shift, or getting to see her friends--her friends, not the suit-wearing crowd of intellectuals and professionals Jesse would parade her before, who had nothing in common with her.

“I have a couple of interviews lined up. One at the Sapphire Lounge and another at this place called McCarthy’s,” she said to change the subject slightly. “If either of them takes me, I’ll put in a good word for you. Oh! I almost forgot!” She retrieved the letter of recommendation she had written for him from the counter and handed it to him. “Show this to the hiring manager of wherever you decide to apply to.”

She refilled her glass as he read the letter over. “This is...really nice of you, Christyn,” he said, but didn’t smile. “I just might not need it.”

“That’s right, don’t you have a job offer from Auralee on the table?” she remembered. “I imagine it’s daunting to think about having the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel as a bar manager, but if you take the job, you’ll be making beaucoup money!”

“It's not that.” He finished his drink and set down his glass. “There’s something I wanted to tell you, but I’m way too sober to do it still.”

“Alright, fine,” she said, “but will you have a little dessert with me, too? The chef let me take home the greater part of a strawberry rhubarb pie, and I’ve been dying to try it all day!” She hoped getting a little more food in his stomach would keep him from getting too wasted, and thankfully, he acquiesced.

“Sure, strawberry’s my favorite.” There was still something off about his demeanor. She made his next drink and left to go to the kitchen, hoping he’d share whatever was troubling him once he finished that one.

She gave the pie a quick reheat in the oven and came back with two slices on plates with spoons. He was finished with his drink by that time, but to her relief, inhaled his serving in just a few bites. She smiled, once again taking his appetite as a compliment on her service. “It’s funny,” she said, “but I bet you could actually outeat my boyfriend.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s amazing to me that he maintains such an imposing frame; I’ve never actually seen him overeat. He likes to maintain control in all things,” she explained.

“Me, I just eat when I’m stressed.”

“Oh, and what has you stressed?”

“I’m going back to jail.” He leaned forward to set his empty plate on the table and in the process, fell out of his chair.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
“Oh my goodness!” Christyn was on her knees at his side in an instant, helping him upright and propping him against the wall. “How are you already this drunk?”

“I poured extra liquor in that drink while you were in the kitchen,” he confessed.

“Christyn, I’m so sorry,” he said.

Said, “I didn’t mean to, but I ran on a PR bond.”

Said, “This is probably the last time I’m ever gonna see you.”

“Damian, slow down! Breathe!” She rubbed his arm and bit by bit, got him to explain his situation with the court, how he’d missed his court date and was now responsible for a bond amount that he didn’t think he could pay before the deadline. He was near tears now, and so was she.

“You’ll see me again, I promise!” she said. “And I have a confession, too.”

“What?”

“I’ve been brainwashing you.”

He looked at her with a confused expression. He didn’t seem upset...just surprised. “Why?”

“Because I didn’t want to lose you again!” she said. “When you went to jail, I missed you so much. I thought if I could get you to just be a good worker and stay out of trouble, nothing like that would ever happen again. So, I started building a rapport with you. I went out of my way to be especially nice to you, while at the same time stepping into the role of your boss so that you’d get conditioned to like doing whatever I told you to. I used subtle nonverbal cues to get you to stop popping pills on my clock...it’s the same kind of thing Jesse does to me, only, I didn’t have any sexual motives with you, I just wanted to keep you in a job.”

“Wait, your boyfriend’s brainwashing you?”

She flushed. “We kind of have this BDSM thing going on. He likes me to call him Master...I know it’s weird.” She reached over to the table and poured herself just a smidge more cognac. “But enough about my sex life, just tell me: how much money do you need?”

“No, I can’t take money from you.”

“I have twenty thousand dollars, Damian. And it’s for emergencies like this that I keep so much onhand!”

“But what if you have an emergency? What if one of these days you need to buy yourself a new liver?”

“Let’s worry about my emergencies when they come. Besides, your emergency is my emergency. You’re my best friend.”

He sniffled. “Not the lady from the bowling alley?”

“Just tell me how much you need.”

The cost to cover his bond amount plus his remaining unpaid tickets came out to a little under one and a half grand. With some prodding, she managed to get his bank account information out of him, and she wired him the money directly from her phone. “There, now, that wasn’t so painful, was it?”

“I’ll pay you back as soon as I can,” he promised.

“Don’t even worry about that.”

“I should probably go,” he said, staggering to his feet. “I feel like I wrecked your night now, and I’ve cost you more than my life is worth. But thanks for dinner.” He was out the door before Christyn could stand.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
She ran out after him to try and reason with him. “You should probably stay, at least for a few hours. You just fell out of your chair. There’s no way you’re good to drive!”

“I’m fine, Christyn, really. I drive stoned all the time.”

“Yeah, and the last time, you got a DUI. What good is it that I just paid your legal fees if you end up with another one?”

“I’ll make it back, don’t you believe in me?”

She did not believe in him, especially as he stumbled in the direction of his car, keys in hand. But if he wasn’t going to listen to reason, she was going to have to do things the hard way.

She tackled him in the lawn and he went down easy, struggling to get on his back underneath her so he could try and push her off. He wasn’t having an easy time; she probably had several pounds on him, and she wasn’t letting up. They fought over the keys as she straddled him, and she might have gotten them out of his hand, too, if she hadn’t noticed something stiff pressing insistently into her inner thigh…

“Oh my God, do you have a boner?”

In the moment that she was distracted, he gave her the slip, making it up to his feet and across the parking lot. By the time she got up and caught up to him, he had already keyed the ignition, red with embarrassment and all the more in a rush to leave the situation. “Damian, wait!”

His window was rolled halfway down, and she hooked her elbow inside it while placing her foot stubbornly behind his front driver’s side tire. “Move, Christyn.”

“Not until you listen to me!”

He put the car in reverse as if trying to force her to move, but she stood her ground.

“I know you don’t want to hurt me,” she said, dropping her voice low and staring him straight in his eyes. His expression changed, his gaze opening up suddenly, as if he was becoming receptive, but he still showed no signs of going back on his decision to drive.

It was time, then, to resort to drastic measures.
Jesse had this parlor trick he liked to do where he would talk her into a trance, often in public. Lulled into a dreamlike state, she would be amenable to his every request, most of them harmless and for his amusement--he’d make her meow like a kitten or freeze in her seat at a restaurant holding her drink a few inches off the table. She had been through the motions enough times to know what to say, and if she could pull it off, she could keep Damian from endangering himself on the road tonight.

Still maintaining steady eye contact, she said in the same instructive tones she used when training him as her barback at the restaurant, “Now, listen to me closely.”

“I--”

“You don’t need to say anything. Just listen. Focus on the tone and tempo of my voice and let my words occupy your thoughts. You can feel yourself start to enter a hazy, complacent state of mind, can’t you?”

“Yes, Boss,” he murmered.

“That’s good. Now I want you to settle deeper and deeper into that pleasant, obedient mindset. Bit by bit, let me occupy you until you feel your mind resting in my control and your body surrender automatically to my commands. Focus on how good and relaxing it feels to let yourself obey me. Let go, and let me have you to do with you as I wish, knowing I will protect you.” As she spoke, she slowed the pace of her words and let her pitch rise up to a honey-sweet soprano. She noticed his breathing had slowed, and his eyes were trained hard on hers and nothing else. “How do you feel?”

“Relaxed.”

“Gooood,” she drew out the word. “And what do you want to do?”

“Obey.”

“Very, very good, my star employee. Now, you are fully under my command. You will comply to my orders, and you will be released from this state when I snap my fingers and say the words, ‘return to me.’ When I release you, you will regain full control of your actions, but you won’t want to drive again until you reach a full state of sobriety. Do you understand?”

He nodded.

“Repeat the words that will lift you from your trance.”

“Return to me.”

“Good boy, Damian! Now, with your foot still on the brake, I want you to put the car in park.” He did as he was told, and she smiled. “Good! Now exit the car and hand me the keys.” She stepped back so he could get out, and when she held out her hand, he dropped the keys into it. “You’re very good at this. Now, follow me back inside.” She led the way into her apartment and helped him sit down on the bed before snapping her fingers. “Return to me, Damian.”

He shook his head and blinked. “How did you--?”

“I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” she said. “How do you feel?”

“Okay...still a little drunk, though. Can I crash here for the night?”

“Mi casa es su casa, mi amor.” She got him a glass of water and a blanket, helped him get all layed down and comfortable, and, like a gentleman, took the floor.

As he gave in to sleep, she couldn’t help but give him a small platonic peck on the cheek. Just as former work buddies. It wasn’t like she was falling for him or anything.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
2. A Sign of the Times

SEVEN

In the morning, Christyn made pancakes from scratch. Damian seemed to thoroughly enjoy them, but he didn’t attack them with such a ferocious urgency like the previous night. He looked more carefree than ever as he helped her clean the kitchen and do the dishes. “Thanks for what you did for me,” he said. “Before you offered to pay the bond, I was thinking, maybe I should just serve my time, maybe I’d learn my lesson if I did. But I really didn’t want to do that.”

“I could tell.” He had looked so sad and scared to be returning to jail, and to her, $1500 was a small price to pay to save him from going through that again. She would have given anything. She’d been prepared to give up the use of her right foot. “Hey, I was serious about you applying wherever I get hired. I’d like to work with you again. Unless you’d like to work with Auralee.”

“I’d like to work with you, too,” he said. “Promise me one thing, though: no more brainwashing.”

“Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I really shouldn’t have done that to you without your permission.”

“I think you had my permission.”

“How do you figure that?”

“Remember when we first met? You gave me an agreement that we’d have each other’s backs, and I shook your hand on it. You were only trying to help me, and I guess if I didn’t want to get literally brainwashed, I should have been more specific about what kind of help you could give me. I’m not mad at you, but I do really want to get my shit together, and I want to know it’s me doing it on my own, not just because you’re pulling the strings.”

She smiled. “That’s very mature of you, Damian. And I got you. I’ll still always have your back, but from now on, I’ll stay out of your head.” She reached out a hand to shake.

“Imma hold you to it,” he said, and met her halfway.

On his way out, he offered to take out the trash. “Thanks, bud. Hey, text me when you get home. We can workshop your resume over the phone.”

Shortly after he left, she changed clothes, did her makeup and hair, and headed out into the parking lot, intending to go to the print shop and print copies of her resume, food handler’s permit, and TABC certification for the upcoming job hunt. Jesse was waiting for her outside with his car. “Master, what a pleasant surprise!” she said, trying hard not to let her voice tremble. How long had he been here? Had he seen Damian leave her apartment? He had to know she would never dream of straying from him. But if she were in his shoes, she might be beginning to get suspicious.

“You don’t sound happy, kitten. I would have guessed you for a slave who likes surprises. After all, you sure are full of them. It seems you’ve now graduated to brainwashing your coworkers, hmm?”

“Did...did you exchange words with Damian just now?”

“No, kitten, in fact, I don’t believe he noticed me. But I did see you trance him by the side of his car last night.”

Had he been here all night?

The blow from his backhand came unexpectedly and almost took her off her feet. Tears stung her eyes. Normally, when Jesse wanted to play rough, he gave her some forewarning so she could brace herself. But this time, she had clearly displeased him, and he hadn’t even bothered to tell her what she was being punished for!

“I swear, Master, nothing happened!” she cried. “Damian’s just my friend! We slept separately! I only tranced him so he wouldn’t drive drunk!”

“And you put my property in danger! What were you thinking, stepping behind his wheel?!”

“I w-was thinking that I wanted to stop him from h-hurting anybody out there...or himself...because...I was t-trying to be a good girl...good girls don’t send drunk drivers out on the road...r-right?”

Jesse glared at her for a long moment. Finally, he pinched the bridge of his nose and said, “This is just as much my fault as yours. True, you should have consulted me before taking up the task of attempting hypnosis. Your work is sloppy, my pet, and needs refinement. But I should have suspected you would eventually pick up on my techniques and try to use them yourself. Let’s go inside, kitten. I’m going to teach you the proper fundamentals of neurolinguistic programming.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Damian was applying for jobs online when the text from Christyn hit his phone:

I’M HIRED!

Thrilled for her, he banged out a response:

Awesome! Where at?

She called him and he fumbled to answer. When he picked up, she was breathless on the other end of the line. “You know that fancy steakhouse, McCarthy’s?”

“No way! I heard celebrities eat there!”

“Yeah! And I looked at their menu; tabs could easily exceed $100 for even a two-top! I’m gonna be rolling in it, just you wait!”

“You’re already rolling in it. And once I pay you back this $1500--”

“Don’t even worry about it. Hey, we should celebrate!”

“You and me?”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know, I just thought you might want to celebrate with your boyfriend.”

“We celebrated already. Now I want to do something with my best friend. How about lunch? I’ll buy.”

***

Christyn’s car was already in the parking lot when Damian arrived at the restaurant to which she’d texted him the address. It was a quiet little French cafe in the middle of a suburban neighborhood with string lights on the patio; not terribly fancy, but nice enough to make him feel out of place. He would have dressed nicer, but he hadn’t wanted to make it seem like he expected it to be a date.

“Hey, I’m meeting a friend here,” he told the hostess as he stepped inside. “Oh, there she is right there,” he spotted her through the window at an outside table in the back. The hostess waved him past, and Christyn looked up and smiled at him as he joined her.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” With the help of some makeup, Christyn had managed to mostly hide a fresh bruise under her right eye, but Damian could still tell it was there.

“I’m fine, I think I’m just having an allergic reaction to this new makeup I tried out...it’s not too noticeable, is it?”

“So that’s what that is. No, it’s not too bad.” He claimed a seat, and after a bit of smalltalk, she confessed to having an ulterior motive to inviting him out, besides bragging about her new job.

“Jesse found out what I’d been doing at the restaurant, so he decided to run me through the basics of neurolinguistic programming; I guess he thinks my technique could use some refinement. So, I thought I would impart my new knowledge on you, since you were so adamant about the no-more-brainwashing thing. I was afraid it was going to be difficult for you to follow the conversation over the phone, so I wanted to get together.”

It was difficult for him to follow it now. “Neuro...I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

“Neuro, meaning ‘brain,’” she began to break it down for him. “Linguistic, meaning ‘language,’ and programming, meaning, well, programming. Put it all together and what do you got? A means to make people do what you want them to, using only what you say. In short: rudimentary brainwashing.”

He blinked. “You want to teach me how to brainwash people?”

“I want to teach you how it works, so you won’t be as susceptible to future attacks. A lot of people do it without knowing they’re doing it; managers are some of the biggest culprits. Shall we begin?”

“Sure.” He took one of the waters on the table and took a small sip. He wished there were something other than water available; he was strapped for cash, and, as such, hadn’t eaten in a while.

“The first rule of neurolinguistic programming is: you can’t make anyone do what they don’t want to do. When I say that, what does it make you think? Do you interpret that as a physical law, or a moral one?”

“Moral,” he said at once. “Just like you can make an animal do tricks, you can make a person do things they wouldn’t do if you bribe them or torture them.”

“Good, good, you’re on the right track. But I’m not talking about torture. I never tortured you, did I?”

Yes. Only by looking so good and being taken.

“Mull this around for a second: ‘That which cannot break, must bend. That which will not bend, must break.”

“So you can break the rule?”

“Precisely! You can’t make anyone do what they don’t want to do…”

“But you can make them want to do it,” he finished for her.

“Now you’re getting it!” she nodded. “Rule number two: the law of social compliance. By and large, we’re all conditioned to be more inclined to do what someone asks so long as they ask nicely. Example given: in our industry, who do you think gets their drinks in the well first; the server who prebusses the bar and asks the bartender if they need any help on the regular, then gently reminds them of the drink ticket, or the server who screams over the counter at them?”

“Be nice, got it. Seems like it should be common sense.”

“Should being the operative word. Three: the law of approximation. If you can’t get someone to do the big thing you want them to do, get them there in smaller steps. Reward them along the way.”

“Like with free food and tipout and promotions?”

She winced. “You can’t begin to fathom how sorry I still am that I wasn’t upfront with you.”

“I already told you I’m not mad,” he said. “One day we’ll look back on everything that happened at the Capital and laugh.” Maybe they’d be married. It was unlikely, but a lot could happen in a few years.

“Alright, the fourth and final rule of NLP is the law of repetition and mantra. This is what makes us restaurant workers particularly easy marks for brainwashing. We do the same sidework every day, we say the same things at our tables. We change jobs frequently, and it makes us susceptible to having our routines changed for each new workplace, which makes us vulnerable to having our routines altered by anyone who decides they want to. If you control someone’s routine, you can obtain obedience without a second thought. Now, repeat the rules for me, so I know you have them down.”

He did, making it through three and a half repetitions before the waitress came to check on them. “Now order me a virgin mimosa and whatever you want to drink.”

“Can I get a virgin mimosa for the lady, and I’ll have a sweet tea with two creams in it,” he said mindlessly. The waitress gave him a funny look.

“So she just wants orange juice?”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
What had he just said? A ‘virgin mimosa’? He looked at Christyn, mortified, and she smirked. “Behold, the power of repetition and mantra!”

“Shit, so this NLP stuff really does work.” Of course, he ought to know by now.

When his drink came, he sucked it down deeply through the straw, almost collapsing from the pleasure of the sudden rush of sugar. “You alright there?” asked Christyn.

“I was just thirsty.”

“Are you hungry?”

God, he was hungry. So hungry it had been an ordeal trying to think straight through their whole conversation. “I mean, I could eat.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“At your house.”

“But that was three days ago! Damian!”

Fuck! Something about the way she whined his name.

She raised a hand to flag the waitress down so they could order. “What do you want? Do you like salmon?”

“Yeah, I like it a lot, but--”

But it was the most expensive thing on the menu, and he didn’t want to make her spend too much on him after all she had already done. Nevertheless, when the waitress came, she declared, “He’ll have the beurre-blanc salmon, medium, with mash and broccolini, and I’ll do the quiche florentine.”

As the waitress walked away, Damian shrunk against the back of his seat. “You don’t need to worry about me like this. You survived being homeless; I’m sure I can get through this little broke spell between jobs.”

“Yes, I was homeless, but I kept myself fed.”

“How?”

“If you look for pennies all day, eventually you’ll find ramen,” she said. “But I want more than that for you.”

In his starved and half-delirious state, he almost thought she’d said, I want there to be more of you. He imagined her spoon-feeding him until his stomach was full and rounded out to the point where his pants wouldn’t close, then rubbing it in slow circles and promising to stuff him even more next time before she mounted him into her wet hot pussy and--

Fuck his life! Why was he thinking that?

When the food came, he couldn’t help himself from attacking his meal, cutting into the salmon with his fork and nudging some mashed potatoes onto the same bite with the knife so he could taste both at once. Then he went in for some of the vegetables, then back to the salmon and potatoes, over and over in desperate silence, once in a while looking up at Christyn. Her beautiful brown eyes were fixed on his even as she enjoyed her own meal, seeming to give him permission. “That’s it, Damian, eat up! You need your fuel if you’re going to focus on your job hunt.”

Once he cleaned his plate, he felt refreshed and much better. She offered to order dessert, but he was afraid if he got too full in front of her, he’d spring a boner at the table and have some explaining to do. (Why was he like this, why was he like this, why was he fucking like this?)

As they parted ways in the parking lot, she made him promise to keep her posted on his progress.

“Progress?”

“On getting a job! And if you don’t find anything in the next few days, please, call me! I’ll take you to the grocery store. I can’t let you starve.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
EIGHT

The Original McCarthy’s on Bunker Hill was a 20-minute, beautifully woodsy drive from Christyn’s apartment. She arrived fifteen minutes early for her first training shift, parking in the back where she’d been instructed to park and entering through the kitchen. “Good to see you ready to work!” said the owner, old Mac McCarthy, coming up to her to shake her hand. She had passed her interview with him with flying colors, and his smile told her he remembered her fondly against a sea of applicants. Four other people had walked in looking for work that afternoon, but she was the only one he had offered a server position to on the spot. She was a little disheartened to be returning to waiting tables after having so much fun behind the bar at the Capital, but hopefully if she impressed him, she would soon be promoted.

He handed her a white kitchen apron. “This is for you, for now. I’ll hunt down one of the black waitstaff ones and give it to you before training ends.”

Ah, the work apron: the submissive collar of the working-class world.

“You’ll also be taking a menu test at the end of the week,” old Mac went on.

“Actually, I’m ready for the test now,” said Christyn. She had studied up well into the wee hours of the night, and she wanted to get it over with while the material was still fresh on her mind.

“Well, I don’t have one printed right now, but I can give it to you at the end of your shift today.”

“Wonderful! In the meantime, is there anything I can do before everyone else comes in?”

“My my, you are quite the eager young worker bee! If you really want to, I guess you can polish the bread pans. They’re on the shelf under the oven behind the bar. You’ll see it as soon as you step out of the kitchen.”

The round bar was the centerpiece of the restaurant floor, an impressive stone oven burning warm at its back end. Christyn stepped behind the bar, found a towel, and set to work, rubbing down each of the rectangular metal pans and setting them aside before giving the shelf a quick dusting and finally popping back up to sweep all the crumbs off the floor with a broom. “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bread station look so spotless,” said a new voice behind her.

She turned around to face its owner, a dark-haired, aquamarine-eyed boy who couldn’t be much older than the drinking age, if he was even there yet. For a male, he was rather petite, even if he did have one or two inches on Christyn’s height, with a slim, compact frame filled out by the slightest visible hint of muscle definition. “You must be the new girl. Christyn, right?”

“You said it right!”

“What’s the note of surprise for? Anyone should be able to get it right if they try. I’m Shane; since I’m shift lead today, I’m going to be your trainer.”

When he extended a hand to shake, she took it firmly, but replied with a giggle and a low, “Enchante,” which somehow felt right.

“Well, let’s get you dressed, and then we can start shaking things up!” he declared, picking up the apron she’d been keeping on the bar-top. He folded it in half so the top part wouldn’t show and wrapped it around her natural waist, tying it in the front tighter than she might have liked, but not impedingly so. “Fabulous! Girl, you look like a thousand bucks, which is what you’ll make in your first three days out of training if you follow my lead and follow it well. We’re in section 5 today, which means we have tables 31 thru 35. Do you have your copy of the floor map on you?”

“It’s up here, Captain,” she said, tapping her right temple. “We have the three booths opposite the bar, the round high-top in the happy hour section, and the high-top booth by the back patio door.”

“Color me impressed!” said Shane, nudging her in the arm with his elbow. “Now, Section 5 always refills the sugar bowls for opening sidework. I’ve already knocked that out, but follow me.” He led her to the back of the restaurant, where in the entrance to the dish pit, a chart hung on the wall indicating each server’s duties by section. “If you ever forget what your opening duties are, this is the place to look. Now, if you want to follow me, I’ll show you where we keep the sugars.” She fell into line behind him up a flight of stairs and into a spacious supply closet. “So here are the sugars,” he said, pointing to the boxes of sugar and sweetener packets on a shelf right at her eye level. “While we’re here, here are our to-go cups...boxes...catering supplies...peppermints…” He pointed out each object’s location in turn before unpocketing a small, oval-shaped device and taking a long pull. “This is also a great place to take your vape-break. No cameras, see?”

“What if I smoke real cigarettes?”

“Staircase on the other side of this floor takes you straight to the roof. Now come downstairs, pre-shift starts in five minutes!”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
She followed him back down the way they had come. As they passed the host stand, he took two leather-bound booklets from on top of it and handed one to her. She opened it up and skimmed its contents:

Daily Specials

Appetizer: Shrimp and Crab Fondue with Garlic Crostini

Lunch: Hanger Steak Salad featuring Romaine Lettuce, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Lightly Roasted Pepperoncini, Smoked Gouda, and House Made Garlic Croutons tossed in a Poblano Cream Dressing

Dessert: White Chocolate and Strawberry Mousse Cake

She had said to old Mac during her interview, I feel like I would be spoiled as a server here. Your gorgeous menu sells itself! His specials would definitely live up to her suck-uppery, if they were as delicious as they sounded.

Pre-shift was quick and to-the-point. Old Mac told the servers to sell the specials and push bottles of a new French chardonnay they’d just gotten in. At the end of the meeting, he put his hand on her shoulder and said, “This is Christyn, the newest member of the McCarthy’s family. Christyn, why don’t you stand up and tell us a bit about yourself?”

“Well, I’ve been in foodservice since I was sixteen, and I’m twenty-five as of a few days ago. I’m from Beaumont, I’m a middle child between two brothers…” Cousins, but she had grown up with them like brothers. “And my favorite color is black.”

The other servers welcomed her with a chorus of hellos and nice-to-meet-yous, but though she mingled a bit and shook a few hands, she never strayed too far from her trainer.

Soon, the shift was in full swing, and Shane was sat with his first party of four at table 32. “Hi, welcome back to McCarthy’s,” said Shane with an obvious familiarity, setting a daily special list on top of each pre-set bread plate. “In case any of you don’t remember, my name’s Shane, and this is Christyn, my trainee for the day. We’ll both be taking care of you. Now, would you like us to get you some glasses of water while you take a look at our wine and cocktail lists?”

“Actually, I’ll stick to unsweet tea. No lemon,” said one woman.

“Iced tea and water for me.”

“Pinot grigio, whatever the house is, I’ll just take a glass.”

“Water, no ice, with three lemons, please.”

“Thank you guys! I’ll get all that for you in just a moment, but before I walk off I wanted to tell you a bit about the specials…”

While Shane was talking, Christyn dipped into the kitchen and built the drink order--well, everything except for the wine, which he would have to ring in. She set it on the table before he even left, and he looked at her with a stunned gratitude before turning back to his guests. “Before I go and grab that wine, are there any appetizers I can get you started with?”

“Yeah, let’s do the shrimp and crab dip,” said the man who had ordered water and tea. “You guys want anything else?”

“Can we get the lobster potstickers as well?” said the woman who was drinking water without ice.

“Right away! I’ll go put that in for you, and if you need anything before your appetizer arrives, or if you find yourselves ready to order mains, don’t hesitate to flag me down. You can raise your hand, yell my name, make a dinosaur noise, whatever you feel like doing in the moment. Now, if that’s all you need for now, I’ll see you in a few minutes!”

That ‘dinosaur noise’ line earned him a round of laughter from the table and Christyn. “How do you come up with this stuff?” she asked as they walked away from the table.

“Well, I have to get up pretty early in the morning, but it’s well worth it. The guests tend to thank me financially for my tableside humor.”

Before long, their section was filled, and Shane had to take more tables on the patio, which was being rotated, as regulars came in and requested him by name. His work began to take a frantic pace as he became overwhelmed with covers, but nevertheless, he did his best to teach Chrystin her way through the menu on the computer and quiz her on the contents of each dish. In turn, she made sure his tables had bread before their meals, were neatly prebussed, and his guests’ waters and soft drinks stayed full.

After an afternoon of doing for Shane what Damian had done for her at the Capital, Christyn was flagging. As the 2 PM lull set in, he noticed her exhaustion and said, “Honey, are you okay? Are you thirsty? Hungry?”

“Yes,” she replied, a little short of breath. She had eaten a good breakfast at home of a poached egg on buttered toast with some salsa, but that had been at 7:45, and the workload had been fast-paced and exhausting.

“Aw, sweetie, come here. Take a seat.” He put an arm around her shoulders and guided her to the yet-today unused private dining room upstairs. “What do you drink?” he asked, sitting her down in a booth.

“Lemon-lime soda.”

“Do you want ice?”

“Don’t need it.”

He disappeared for a few minutes and returned with her drink and a plate of of the freshly baked focaccia bread that came complimentary to tables, along with a ramekin of whipped herb butter. As she drank, he spread a thin layer of butter onto a piece of bread and held it to her lips. “Eat this, honey, it will help revitalize you.”

This was a huge exercise in trust; Christyn would have to take it on blind faith that Shane's hands were clean. (At her lowest point, she’d eaten out of the garbage to survive, but that was years ago and it wasn’t an experience she looked back on with any fondness.) But he had been so nice to her, and she had a sense that he wouldn't let her come to any harm. She took a bite from his hand, then another, sighing in relief as the bread settled her stomach. The butter was deliciously spiced, and she let herself relax in the booth as she enjoyed the flavor. “If the bread here is this good, I can only imagine how good the food is that people are actually paying for,” she said.

“You can see for yourself once we get cut. At five, the dinner shift comes in, we’ll be off, and since you’re training and I’m training you, we both get to order whatever we want from the menu. We do a great porterhouse here.”

“Duly noted. I’ll probably just get some of that broccoli cheddar soup, though. I’m a vegetarian.”

“That’s good! It's better for your health anyway, and now that you’ve made the switch you can probably expect to lose a few L-B’s!” he said brightly. She knew he meant well, but she had to laugh.

“I’ve been a vegetarian for six years.”

“Oh.” His eyes widened and his hand rose to cover his mouth. “Oh,” he said again, his face paling with guilt.

“It’s really not a big deal,” she said.

“But I just--”

“Implied I was fat? So what? So did the last doctor I went to see, although I don’t know what that had to do with the case of strep throat I went in for.” Despite having the sort of curvy body type, with prominent breasts, powerful thighs, and a round derriere that made her tummy look small in comparison, that made her attractive to most men she encountered, she was technically a few pounds overweight in the eyes of the medical community. Nevertheless, the extra weight had never bothered her, nor had the comments it occasionally brought on, mostly unsolicited diet advice from other women. There were too many important things to focus on besides trying to fit society’s thin-normative ideal. Most days, unless she was in pain, she was barely cognizant of the fact that she had a body in the first place. There was simply too much work to be done to think about it. “I promise, I take no offense. I just think it’s funny that you’re talking about weight loss while hand-feeding me buttered bread.”

“We’ve been on the clock too long to go without a little carbs in our systems,” he said, taking a piece of bread himself. “Let’s take another five, and when we go back downstairs, I want you to start running service.”

“Already?”

“You’re killing it on the floor, and I appreciate all the help you’re giving me, but you’re not training to be a backserver. I want you to be familiar with the clientele so that when they release you from training, you’ll feel at ease taking your own tables. What do you say?”

“If you think I’m ready, Captain.”

Christyn didn’t have Shane’s charm on the floor, but she was a good deal quicker, so when he yielded half his section to her, the tables she took wanted for no refills of drinks or condiments. When her guests’ entrees arrived, she took a step back, watching them from a distance to gauge their levels of satisfaction, occasionally swinging by with a casual, “How’s lunch?” in contrast with Shane’s habit of getting roped into long conversations. She could see how his personable nature made him well-liked and memorable among the regular crowd; she could also see how it got him in the weeds. To relieve some of the pressure, she stocked a stash of steak knives in a cabinet near their section so they wouldn’t be running back and forth from the mise-en-place station in the back of the dining room. She advised him to keep one or two extra check presenters in his apron pocket so he wouldn’t be looking around for one when one of his tables asked to tab out. At the end of her shift, she sat down in a booth upstairs with a bowl of soup and another plate of bread and took her menu test, which she aced with flying colors. Shane counted out $50 from the day’s tips and handed it to her. She had worked in tipped-out positions before, but she’d never been tipped out as a trainee. “This is too much,” she insisted, trying to push $40 back on him.

“Don’t be ridiculous, you were a great help today.”

“I’ll take $20 at the most.”

He was having no negotiation. “Shut up or I’ll give you fucking more.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
McCarthy’s Steakhouse on Washington Avenue was the biggest restaurant Damian had ever set foot in. He had come in intending to pick up a job application in the hopes of joining Christyn at her new workplace, but even though she had told him over text that she was currently at work, he didn’t see any sign of her. Then again, this was a big place, with doorways leading to what he assumed were back rooms, and a second floor up top framed by an impossibly high ceiling from which hung a giant crystal chandelier…

And she could be anywhere.

Or maybe he had the wrong place.

She had said McCarthy’s, right?

He was standing in the front for a minute before the hostess returned from seating a table, only for the phone to ring. She picked it up, giving Damian an apologetic look. “Thank you for calling McCarthy’s on Washington, this is Heather, how can I help you?” She placed her hand over the receiver and mouthed that it was open seating at the bar.

He helped himself to a stool, and the bartender was quick to take notice of him. “Hel-lo! I haven’t seen you in here before.” Small and slim but quite muscular, she had dark hair tied in a low ponytail that reached her mid-back and a devious look in her amber eyes. Damian guessed she was somewhere in her early twenties, Hispanic by the looks of her.

“First time,” he said.

“What’s your name, then, hotshot?”

“Damian.”

“Mucho gusto, me llamo Estrella.”

“Sorry.” He winced. “I don’t know any Spanish.”

“My name,” she said, “is Estrella.”

He fumbled over the syllables a few times unsuccessfully before she said, “You can call me Stella if you want. Everyone does.”

“Stella, then.”

“So, Damian, what do you want to drink?”

“I, uh...don’t have any money,” he admitted.

“I can cover you...it’s happy hour, and wells and martinis are five bucks.” She took out a $5 bill and put it in the register.

He hated to take charity from a total stranger, but since she insisted… “Can you make me something sweet?”

“Can I?” A few shakes of a martini shaker later, she was setting a drink before him in a stemmed glass, full to the brim and rimmed with sugar. He took a sip and found it delicious. He had asked for sweet, and that was exactly what he got. It might have been too sweet any other day, but he was hungry from being out of work. He’d had a little to eat the other day when his neighbor had smoked him out and provided snacks, but his last substantial meal had been with Christyn, and he had too much pride to admit to her he needed more help. He was avoiding his reflection; whenever he went hungry he started to thin out in the face first, and mirrors only reminded him of his miserable circumstance. But the sugar rush from the drink was helping.

“What is this?”

“You never had a lemon drop martini before?”

“Of course I have!” he said, not wanting to give away his age. “Yours is just the best one I’ve ever dranken before!”

“Aww, don’t flatter me. On second thought, I liked that. Keep flattering me!”

“Well, for starts, that’s a great outfit.”

Being in uniform, Stella fixed him with a deadpan look that indicated she was less than amused. “Cheeky little thing, aren’t you?” She didn’t look like she was used to hearing any snark from men, and she seemed to spend several seconds trying to decide whether or not she liked it.

His eyes drifted past her to the big oven behind the bar, inside of which sat several pieces of flatbread baking away. “Think I can get some of that bread?”

Stella turned to one of her barbacks and said something in Spanish. The barback went to the oven, pulled a set of tongs from its place on the wall, and pulled some bread onto a metallic pan. Stella would have had to walk all of four steps, but instead, she rested her elbows on the bar in front of Damian, propping one hip up on the bar cooler. The barback set the plate, which held four hunks of pita bread about the size of a standard dish sponge, in front of him, along with a small saucer of herbs, onto which he poured olive oil from a bottle that had been sitting at the corner of the bar.

“You have an impressive command of the bar,” said Damian. He guessed that the bread had been fired for another ticket; the line of tickets grew one shorter every time a server picked up a plate and carried it off to his or her section, but Stella was able to convince her guy to bump Damian to the front of the line.

“That’s more like it,” said Stella. “So, what brings you into a steakhouse if you don’t have any money?”

“I was looking for my friend, she told me she works here. Her name’s Christyn.”

“Hmm...never heard of her, but she might work at the other location in Memorial City.”

He was beginning to think he had the wrong place entirely. Christyn had told him that the food at her new job was delicious, but the bread here tasted to him exactly how he thought dish sponges might taste: bland, rubbery, and tough. There was something off about the olive oil, too. Wouldn’t stop him from finishing the plate. After a couple of days without food, it was easy to forget how hungry he was, but only at first. Maybe his stomach had contracted or something. He cringed at the thought.

But once he took that first bite, it didn’t matter what it was. If he could, he would probably keep eating and eating until he passed out. But as it were, he was limited by his budget to one plate of not-great bread. He was satisfied, but barely. If he had another encounter with Stella, he thought to himself, he might try and use what Christyn had taught him of neuro-whatever-it-was-called to finesse a real meal out of her.

Before he left, she slipped him a piece of paper with her number on it. “Text me! That way I’ll have your number, and I’ll keep you updated about your friend if I hear anything.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
“I need you to take over service to table 84.”

It was Christyn’s first day officially on the floor. Earlier in the shift, Shane had provided her with a new apron: It's time to trade your fledgeling white for server black-on-black, honey, he’d said, beaming like he was sending a child off to college. Although he had been confident enough in her level of experience to yield half of his section to her rather than having her follow him during training, this was the first time he had asked her to take a table he had already started.

“Do they want a bottle of wine?” she asked. A few days ago, she had seen him struggling with bottle service, having to set the bottle on one of his tables to puncture the cork. She hadn’t wanted to humiliate him by pointing out his mistakes in front of his guests, but later on, with the bartender’s permission, she taught him the proper way to do it and had him practice on the well with bottles the bartender already needed opened anyway. He was getting the hang of it, but wine presentation was the first thing he asked her to do to lighten his load if he was in the weeds.

“No, I just--can you please take it, or are you weeded?”

He looked distressed, as if someone at the table was giving him a hard time. “I got you,” she said, and took over, getting their orders and bringing them a round of water refills. She listened in on their conversations, ears pricked for anything offensive--homophobic comments or something of the like--but it was all very innocuous. As far as she could discern, these people were just really into the latest diet trends.

After 84 paid out, they were out of tables. Christyn was on her way to the back to get a head start on their sidework when she saw Shane walking into the office. “You wanted to see me, Mr. McCarthy?”

“Yes, Shane, I wanted to ask you how you would feel about a transfer to the other location in the Heights?”

“Am I being punished?”

“No, my boy! On the contrary, you’re one of my best and brightest. My daughter runs the other location, and she’s experiencing some shortness of staff, so I wanted to send her only my most excellent servers to help lighten her load, and, well, you make the cut with flying colors.”

This was great for Shane! Having his talent recognized by the big boss himself...but then, did that mean he and Christyn would be separated?

“I don’t know, Boss,” said Shane. “I’ve been here for over a year, and I have a good following of regulars here--”

“Which you’ll gain over there soon enough, if you continue to work like you do! Come on, Shane, what can I do to convince you?”

Shane seemed to think about it for a minute. Finally, he said, “Let me take my trainee with me. If she wants to come, of course.”

“I’ll do it!” said Christyn, stepping into the doorway. “That is, if you think I’m ready, Mr. McCarthy.”

If old Mac thought her rude for eavesdropping, he made no mention of it. “Christyn, I actually wanted to speak to you next. You were actually explicitly requested by my daughter.I’m glad to hear you’re onboard.”

Despite Shane’s initial reluctance to accept a transfer, he decided that moving to the Heights location would be an exciting new opportunity, and after work, invited Christyn for drinks to celebrate. “I don’t know if my boyfriend would like that,” she said as they walked out together.

“You know I’m gay, right?”

“It’s not that. He just doesn’t want me getting day drunk all the time like I used to, when I first met him.”

How they met was this: Jesse was in the ER with a broken ankle after tripping over a curb during some field camera work for the oil company. Christyn was in with alcohol poisoning, getting her stomach pumped.

“Oh, trust me, honey, there are deadlier vices.” He looked over his shoulder as if to assess whether or not they were far enough yet from the restaurant for him to make some shocking revelation. Satisfied with the distance, he pulled out his phone and opened a photo on his screen. “That was me in 2016.”

The Shane in the picture was thin and drawn, with dramatic dark circles under his eyes and a smile that nowhere near reached them. “Heroin?” she guessed.

“Anorexia.”

She reached over and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “You’re better now, though, right?”

“Yeah. I mean, sometimes I still have bad thoughts, and I trigger easily.” That would explain why he’d had her pick up that table of diet-mongers. “And I probably drink too much. Honestly, you’ve seen me tipsy at the restaurant. But it calms me down so I can make sure and eat something.”

“Jesus, and you drive yourself home?”

“I take the bus. License is suspended. I can’t believe some of what comes out of old Mac’s mouth about me being such a great waiter...if I’m being honest, I, uh...I faked all of the experience on my resume. This is my first table waiting gig. I actually used to sell cars; well, I started, but then…”

“Then…?” Christyn prompted.

Shane’s cheeks reddened. “I was schmoozing a potential buyer over drinks on my lunch break one day, and when I got back to work, I got a little more fucked up and decided to take one of the cars off the lot for a joyride...after that, I completely blacked out. They found me five days later in the fucking car, and they had already reported it stolen.”

“Damn, who woulda thought Calvin Klein over here was such a little badboy!” Christyn snickered.

They walked ten minutes up the road to the Memorial Lanes bowling alley, where Christyn always drank for free, and was sure Auralee would be willing to hook Shane up, too. When they arrived, only two lanes were occupied and the restaurant area was empty. Auralee was polishing bottles of liquor behind the bar and stopped to pour herself a shot just as Christyn and Shane claimed a pair of adjacent stools.

“What a delight, Chrissy! You haven’t been in for a while. I was beginning to worry you’d gone stone cold sober. You know if that happened, we couldn’t be friends, right? And who’s this cutie?” With her elbows on the bar, she leaned in close to Christyn’s ear and whispered so only she could hear, “He’d be even cuter with a couple more pounds on him, no?”

“Sorry, Aura, you’re out of luck if you’re hoping to sink your teeth into this one,” Christyn replied at normal volume.

“Don’t get me wrong, honey. You’re pretty, for a girl,” Shane added. Auralee’s eyes drifted to the ‘No Hate’ rainbow pin affixed to the key lanyard around his neck, and it dawned on her.
“I see. What’ll it be to drink then? Perhaps something fruity?”

Shane rolled his eyes. “Dirty gin martini, bleu cheese olives if you have them, and make it bruised.”

“Chrissy?”

“Whatever you have on tap that’s light; I’m not trying to get too wasted.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Despite her claim, Christyn ended up quite tipsy. Shane had Auralee keep the martinis coming, and in an effort to keep up, Christyn graduated from beer, to wine, to shots, neat, unchilled, with a water chaser.

“Look, here’s what I think about eating disorders, and I know I probably don’t have any authority to talk about this, seeing as I’ve clearly never had any trouble eating,” she said after they downed their seventh drink.

“You never can tell just by looking at someone, though. Not everyone that has an eating disorder is skinny. Not that--fuck me!” he swore, realizing the underlying implications of what he had said.

“It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine,” Christyn assured him, words coming out rapid fire with drunken enthusiasm. “All I’m saying is, don’t you think a bad relationship with food is incredibly manufactured by forces outside our control? Rich, White men in offices who we’ll never meet are saturating our media with weight loss ads and images of frail, dehydrated celebrities, brainwashing us into thinking that looking like that is ideal, all in the name of selling us pills and diet food that don’t work, or work for a while and then stop so we have to come running back for more, wallets open. And by ‘we’ I don’t mean me, because I’ve never bought into this bullshit. But you know what, let’s not even pretend I’m innocent here, or that I’m immune to the grip of the so-called ‘invisible hand,’ because in another life, maybe I would be obsessing about the number on the scale, if I wasn’t so busy obsessing about the number on my bank statement.”

“So what you’re saying is, when the bad thoughts creep in...it’s not really my fault?”

“It’s capitalism’s fault!” she declared, smacking the bar counter.

“Here she goes again,” Auralee chuckled. “That VC blood runs thick. Careful, Sean, or she’ll try and lend you her copy of the Communist Manifesto.”

“His name’s Shane.”

“Wait, you’re Vietnamese?” asked Shane.

“Half.”

“No way! I’m a quarter!” He leaned over and wrapped her in a clumsy hug that almost pulled her off her stool. (She was wasted, they both were; and deep down she knew she was doing the wrong thing, but she was having more fun than she had in weeks!)

“Oh my god! We’re like long lost cousins!”

“I guess you must get your hair color from your father’s side?”

“I get it in a box for three bucks and change! Another round, if you will, Auralee?”

Checking her phone, Christyn was shocked to see they had been at the bar for almost five hours. “It is way past dinnertime...Auralee, bring us a cheese pizza!” She knew from working here back in the day not to order anything fried; some seriously unsanitary crap got dropped in the fryer. But the pizza was decent. In fact, Christyn didn’t think she’d ever had a bad pizza. “I’ll pay for it.”

“You most certainly will not!” Auralee helped herself to another shot, then called into the kitchen, “Zach! Fire me a large cheese pizza!”

A tall, skinny Black guy wearing a baggy shirt and glasses sauntered out of the kitchen holding a spatula. “You know that not my name,” said Zeke Thomas, before rounding to face Christyn. “The fuck, girl! You don’t call ahead no more?”

“It’s good to see you too, Zeke.”

“And who’s this? Your new man? Oh, I forgot, your heart only beats for size 4X these days. I told you that Auralee would rub off on you if you went around her too much.”

Christyn pouted in frustration. “Why does everyone think I have a fat fetish these days?”

“Uh, cause you with a thick guy, ‘thick’ being a understatement,” said Zeke.

“That doesn’t mean I have a fetish!”

“Would it...would it be so bad if you did?” asked Shane.

Christyn shrugged. “I guess not, as long as it didn’t interfere with my focus on work. Why?”

Shane had already opened up a lot to her today, and with the introduction of many, many martinis into his bloodstream, it only took the smallest bit of prompting to crack him like an egg. “I don’t know that I would call it a fetish, but I can get down with some cushion for pushin’. Which confused me for years because of the whole eating disorder thing. It was like I had this mental block where everyone was allowed to indulge except for me.”

“Oh, we’re going to get along famously,” said Auralee. Then, “Zeke, where’s my pizza?”

“Coming right out, Mistress,” said Zeke sardonically, retreating into the kitchen.

Christyn’s heart dropped into her stomach. Zeke’s obvious joke about slavery reminded her of her broken obligations to her own Master. It was Thursday night, and here she was, so drunk her face was numb in Auralee’s bar. She texted him to apologize, but didn't have time to wait for a response before Auralee snapped her out of her thoughts.

“I almost forgot, I have something for you. I was going to give it to you at your job, but it occurred to me that I don’t know where you work anymore.”

“We both work at McCarthy’s up the street, but we’re getting transferred to the Heights cause we’re the besssssst serversssss,” Shane slurred.

“I would have surmised as much. Chrissy, open your present!” she insisted, sliding a neatly wrapped package across the bar which Christyn suspected had been wrapped by Auralee’s personal valet, Wadsworth, a kindly old man who’d been working for Auralee’s family for decades and often helped her with delicate tasks she was too drunk to adequately perform herself.

“Thanks, what’s the occasion?”

“Your birthday? Belated, but it seems it’s all the same to you.”

“Shit, I totally forgot. I was working.”

Auralee’s present was a bottle of perfume that smelled strongly of buttercream frosting and had an exciting effect on the senses. “Why does smelling this make me want cake and sex?”

“Because it’s laced with female pheromones.”

Shane smirked. “Chrissy, you didn’t tell me you swing both ways! Although I should have known; you’re too decent to be straight.”

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe the things she can do with her tongue!” said Auralee.

“Anyway, how was Zeke?” asked Shane.

“How did you--?”

“Oh come on. His eyes were gleaming with the memory of conquest.”

Christyn shrugged. “Attentive. Big dick, too. Too much competition, though. Guy’s got a certifiable harem. We’re better friends than lovers anyway.”

Soon, the pizza arrived. “I stole a little slice,” Auralee confessed. There was maybe a quarter of a full size slice missing: Auralee didn’t eat much these days, but when she had to be convinced, the way to her heart was cheese. “Anyway, how’s Damian?”

“He’s still job hunting.”

“It’s a shame I’ve filled the barbacking position, then. I could still take on a part-timer, but I really would have preferred to take him on full time. It’d have been better for his wallet...and I bet he would fatten up quite nicely if he spent 40 hours a week under my supervision.”

“Auralee, you’re incorrigible!” snapped Christyn. “You can’t just fatten up everything that moves!”

“You don’t think he’d like it?” Auralee drawled. “I saw the way he looks at bigger men with envy, and the way he looks at food. He’s obviously into you, too. Ask me, that boy is a closet feedee if I ever knew one, and he goes home at night jacking off just thinking about you stuffing him full of fattening treats until he bursts out of his clothes.”

“Jesus, there’s a word for it, even,” said Christyn with a roll of her eyes. She was vaguely familiar with Auralee’s particular set of preferences, but had never bothered interrogating her about it for a lack of interest. She glanced to her side to see how Shane was faring; she hoped this conversation wasn’t triggering him. He seemed fine, though. Talk of weight loss she knew could upset him, but the discussion at hand of weight gain seemed to...fascinate him? “You’re ridiculous, Aura.”

“Care to lay $40 behind your doubts in my intuition?”

“I’m not going to turn my best friend’s sex life into a betting sport.”

“Chrissy, I’m hurt. I thought I was your best friend,” said Auralee, but she wasn’t hurt enough to slow the flow of free drinks.

Christyn and Shane left at closing time.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
NINE

In the dream, Christyn was entering a townhouse she understood to be hers. It was a cold winter night and it was late; work had kept her after hours and her husband’s car had already been parked on the street long enough for frost to have gathered on the windshield. Why wasn’t anyone doing anything about climate change? While the poles melted, it seemed down here every winter was getting colder.

She balanced a white cardstock box in one hand as she turned the key and let herself in. Inside was warm and dimly lit by the light of the TV in the living room. Christyn padded to the kitchen, where she turned on the light, set the box down on the counter and popped the lid open to inspect her haul of beautifully decorated assorted donuts from a bakery between work and home. “What did you bring me, babe?” Suddenly, she was hugged from behind, her lover’s thick, pillowy arms wrapping around her while his squishy jelly belly pressed warm and soft into her back. (So she hadn’t married Jesse--corpulent though he was, with a gut that entered a room before he did, there was nothing soft about him in either demeanor nor physicality. She didn’t get much opportunity to touch him, as her hands were usually bound when she was with him, but she suspected she could bounce a quarter off his belly if she tried. Not that she would ever dare; he’d probably throw her out a window and make her beg him to do it again.)

“I thought I’d pick up some sweets for my sweet,” she said.

“You’re too good to me, Chris.”

“Nothing is too good for my darling. Now open up, love, I bet you’re starving.”

As she was released, she picked out a chocolate donut with pink frosting, broke it in half with her fingers, spun around, and lovingly placed a piece in Damian’s mouth.

***

“Fuck my life.”

Christyn awoke at the crack of dawn in the backseat of her Fiat, in the McCarthy’s parking lot, under the blanket she kept in her trunk just in case she ever did what she’d done the previous night and got too drunk to drive. Her throat was dry and tasted of stale booze, her head pounding. Her bra was in her purse; she must have gotten uncomfortable and taken it off in the bowling alley bathroom. She drained a water bottle she kept in her cup holder for such occasions and thanked the powers that be that it was too early for any of her coworkers or supervisors to be around to see her like this, and that she still had ample time to prepare for her shift at 5 tonight.

Crawling into the driver’s seat, she decided to chalk up that weird sex dream--or was it even a sex dream? Every other sex dream she’d had, she had actually, you know, had sex. Ugh, whatever. It was all Auralee’s fault for that conversation last night, and the lingering scent of that cake-scented aphrodisiac perfume couldn’t be helping. She keyed the ignition and headed off, homeward bound.

Still no text from Jesse.

When she got home, she asked the night guard if a guy had swung by her unit, about yay tall, 280 pounds, driving a black Mercedes. Nothing.

When she got to the doorstep, Damian was asleep on her stoop, propped up on top of two patio chairs shoved together.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
“Wake up, buddy.”

Christyn gently shook him awake by the shoulder, steadying him to keep him from falling off the chairs as he sat up. “What are you doing here, huh?” she asked, her tone soft and lifted with concern.

“They padlocked my door. I didn’t have rent.” His plan had been to save his pride by showing up and getting Christyn to pour them each a few drinks, then forbid him to leave for the night. That would buy him a day without having to admit just how bad things had gotten for him while he struggled to look for a job. But when he’d knocked the previous night, she hadn’t been home.

She looked rough. Her server uniform was rumpled as if she had slept in it, her hair and makeup a mess to match. She wasn’t wearing a bra, and he’d be thinking about how nice it would be to have his face smushed into those ripe breasts if he wasn’t worrying about if she was alright. “What happened to you?”

“I got drunk at Auralee’s bar,” she said. “How much money do you need?”

“Chris, no, I already owe you so much money.”

“How much?” When he responded with silence, she pulled out her phone and said, “I guess since you won’t talk, I’ll just have to wire you another grand--”

“Four hundred! I’m four hundred short, okay?”

He wanted to kick himself as she sent the money, but at least he wouldn’t have to sleep outside again.

“Now, come inside. I need a greasy, fried breakfast to get rid of this killer hangover, and you look like you’re hurting for a good meal, too.” ‘Hurting’ was an accurate way to put it. He was so hungry, he was starting to feel sick.

He followed her inside, collapsing into a chair by the coffee table while she disappeared into the kitchen. “Job hunt not going well, then?” she called into the living room as she cooked.

“I’ve applied everywhere online, I just haven’t gotten a phone call.”

“Well, have you tried hitting the bricks?”

“I thought you wanted me to stop doing illegal shit!”

“Not ‘hit a lick,’ you dork, hit the bricks! It means go knocking on doors, applying in person, you know.”

“Does that still work nowadays?”

“In my experience, it works better.”

She walked back into the living room holding two plates, two forks, and a skillet holding a mess of scrambled eggs, beans, baby tomatoes cut in half, potatoes diced into tiny cubes, and what had to amount to a whole fresh avocado. She had cut pieces of bread into small squares too and let those toast in the skillet, soaking up the eggs and juices from the tomatoes as they cooked. When she handed him a plate, he helped himself enthusiastically. It smelled amazing, everything coated generously with seasoning, and when he took a bite, he thought to himself that maybe he had been stabbed in his sleep and now he was in Heaven.

“Oh, by the way, I found this in my kitchen. Is it yours?” she asked, holding up a small object. It had a handle about as wide as a ballpoint pen, but only half as long, attached to a thin metal rod that was curved at the business end.
“If that was mine, I wouldn’t have had to sleep on the porch.”

“What do you mean?”

“It's a lock pick, Christyn.”

He finished his plate and was about to ask her for more, despite already being full. His stomach could stretch to fit another plate, and he wasn’t sure when he’d get to eat again, so he figured he had better get down what he could while he was here. That’s when he noticed she was only about halfway through her own plate and looking off-color. “I’ll be right back,” she said as she dismissed herself to the bathroom, but she wasn’t right back, and soon, he heard her puking in there. Wracked with concern, he stepped in to see if she needed any help.

She had decided to lose the shirt--probably threw up on it--so there she was, tits out, not that he could see anything, as she was bent over the toilet. Wanting to help in any way he could, he swept her long blonde hair behind her shoulders and held it out of the way so she wouldn’t get vomit in it. “Thank you, Damian,” she said once she stopped throwing up.

“You know I got you.”

She was still bent double, and he noticed just above the waistband of her slacks these two raised lumps an inch or so off-center of her spine. “What happened to your back?”

“You know the discs of cartilage between your vertebrae? Couple mine got dislocated.”

“How?”

“Got hit. Don’t wanna talk about it,” she said, breathing hard.

“Do they hurt?”

“No, lucky for me. It’s just sometimes my legs get numb. I should have surgery, but I don’t have any health insurance.”

She seemed like she was done puking, so he left her alone so she could have her privacy.

She came back out wearing her PJs and collapsed in her bed. He brought her a glass of water and she tried to drink a little, but ended up setting it on the floor. She still looked so miserable, and in a desperate bid to make her feel better, he sat down on the bed and experimentally rubbed her stomach in slow circles through her thin shirt. “Is this okay?” he asked.

“Mhmm.” She nodded without opening her eyes. “Keep doing that, it makes me feel better.”

He did as he was told. “Which McCarthy’s do you work at?” he asked.

“Bunker Hill, but I’m getting transferred to Washington.”

“Washington? Great, lemme apply there.”

“Please. I miss working with you.”

As they spoke, he continued to massage her belly and hoped he wasn’t enjoying the act too much. She had a perfect little handful of softness just below the navel that, while it didn’t hold a candle to her tits or her ass, which with plenty of muscle tone but enough jiggle to drive a man crazy was easily her most prominent physical feature, was very pleasant to get to touch. As she drifted off into a midmorning nap, he wondered what it must feel like to be soft, and to have $20,000 in the bank.
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Christyn’s first few days at McCarthy’s on Washington were proving to be a challenge.

She and Shane continued to have each other’s backs on the floor, or at least, they tried their best. Sometimes, that had to be good enough. The new setup included more steps of service to each table. Instead of pint glasses, water service entailed setting a stemmed glass barely larger than an egg cup in front of every customer and a decorative bottle of water in the center of the table that couldn’t have contained more than a refill and a half for a four-top. Christyn found herself having to replace the water bottle at least twice before she even took the appetizer order, and not being able to rely on a pitcher of water with which to hit her whole section in one pass was slowing her down major.

Bread service was different, too; rather than just taking some bread and butter from a server station, servers had to ring in each plate and wait for it. Instead of butter, there were bottles of olive oil on the table, which they were expected to pour onto a plate in front of the guests for what Christyn guessed was the sake of theatrics.

Sections were three tables wide, but even such a small section could weed them with the extra steps of service to worry about, especially considering the design of the restaurant. Spacious though it was inside, the dining room was minimalist in structure, with no cabinets or nooks and crannies for Christyn to make an impromptu server station out of like she used to at the old store. There was one mise-en-place station, towards the back of the dining room, which made resetting silver a pain in all but the two back sections. It was like the restaurant was deliberately designed to waste their time. Luckily, Christyn and Shane were able to develop a system to keep them ahead of seating. They would pool their sections together, Shane greeting all the tables and taking orders while Christyn dropped water and kept an eye on the well and the line to run food and bar drinks. As Shane sold desserts, Christyn prebussed, and as he stood at tables making himself their new favorite server who they’d be asking for next time, Christyn folded both their shares of napkins for place settings, polished both their shares of wine glasses for the next shift, and collected the olive oil bottles from all their tables to refill them from a five-gallon drum in the dish pit onto which was taped a sign:

USE ½ GAL EVOO
4.5 GAL CANOLA

Their system worked for three days, until they were both called into the office by Libby McCarthy.

Libby was a big woman--not at all fat, but tall and broad and imposing, not like her father, who was short and stooped and generally had an air of a cool temper. If Christyn had been easier to intimidate, having the owner of the Heights store glare her down from where she stood behind her desk would have her shaking in her non-slips. But if Libby thought she was scary, she should meet Jesse. He’d have her running for the nearest exit to her own establishment, Christyn was sure.

“Christyn, I’m troubled. Joe tells me,” she said, Joe being one of the middle-managers who was also scheduled a few server shifts, “that you haven’t been greeting your own tables or taking your own orders.”

“What difference does it make as long as the orders are being taken?” said Christyn. “The food gets on the table either way. And I’ve been running my own food, Shane’s food, and anyone else’s food that happens to be on the line when I’m in the kitchen, which is more than a lot of the other servers do.”

“But how is the food hitting your tables if you aren’t taking orders?”

“Well you see,” said Christyn, “there’s a printer in the kitchen that spits out tickets that indicate what food goes where. And when I went to school, they taught me how to do a thing called reading.”

Libby’s eyes narrowed; she was clearly not amused by Christyn’s sarcastic sense of humor. “You need to be on the floor, selling. If you’re not selling, you’re no use to me. Or maybe you’d rather I demote you to server assistant? And you,” she said, rounding on Shane next. “Joe tells me you haven’t been doing your sidework.”

“Tell Joe that as a manager, he has the option of giving us a verbal warning first, before playing the snitch,” said Shane. “And the sidework is getting done; Christyn’s been helping me so I have more time to talk to tables.”

“Doing sidework builds character,” Libby said sternly, “and I won’t let you stand around and get spoiled on my clock. Now, I need each of you to sign these.” She put write-up slips in both their hands.

Despite now both being in the bad books, they walked out of the office chuckling. “Girl, you were a badass in there!” said Shane.

She could scarcely believe everything she’d said in there. After surviving the Capital, she had a new sense of her own worth as an employee that she had never felt before. It didn’t hurt either that she had Shane for an ally.

“Me? Look at you, standing your ground.”

“Well, shucks, I couldn’t have done it without you there for emotional support.”

“You know I got you. In this industry, that’s the way it’s gotta be.”
 

stevita

like the pancake
Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
215
Location
Texas
Days passed, and she still hadn’t heard from Jesse. She was beginning to understand that this torturous silence was to be her punishment; it was agonizing, but not the worst he could do, which was fitting, because her infraction had not been her worst, either. Once, toward the beginning of their relationship, they had been playing around with a cat-o'-nine tails, Christyn bound by her wrists facedown in bed, when he’d struck the backs of her thighs and said to her, Those little grunts of yours are cute, but I want to hear you scream. She had made the mistake of outright sassing him: Then why don’t you make me? So, he grabbed the toy by the whip end and struck her with the handle, and now she needed back surgery.

In the wake of Jesse’s falling off the face of the planet, everyone and their cousin seemed desperate to get a hold of her, as if the universe was trying to soothe her by drowning out her ache for his presence with endless noise. Chester wanted to know where she was working so he might swing by and leave her a good tip for her belated birthday. Roger wanted to let her know that his distillery was holding a bartending competition towards the end of November, and she was encouraged to enter. (Sadly, one had to be currently employed as a bartender in order to be eligible to apply, so unless Libby promoted her, she didn’t have a shot, and Libby wasn’t getting any warmer towards her.) Paloma from the Capital wanted to grab a drink, but Christyn made an excuse not to go. Auralee wanted to grab a drink, but Christyn said she was busy. Hope Thomas, Zeke’s little sister, drunkdialed her from beautiful Verona, Italy, where she was spending her summer after making a killing at her last table waiting gig, bragging about what a great time she was having and promising to catch her up as soon as she returned over--what else?--a drink.

She was irate by the time Damian’s call reached her phone one morning while she polished glasses for the mise-en-place station. Still polishing, she put him on speaker and propped him up against the back of a shelf. “To what do I owe the pleasure? Let me guess, you want to get f’d up, too?” (Earlier in the week, Libby had gotten on her about swearing, even before any guests walked in, so she was now making a point to censor herself while keeping it clear exactly what she meant.)

“I...um…” There was silence on the line for a solid minute.

“Sorry, Damian, I didn’t mean to snap. Temptation’s been a real B-I-T-C-H on all fronts lately.”

“No worries. Hey, I’m in the front of your restaurant filling out an application. Think you can come up here and help ya boy out?”

When Christyn arrived in the foyer, Damian was seated on the bench, wide-eyed and shaking from the chill of being damp from the sudden rainstorm outside and subjected to the AC. Aside from being a little rained on, though, he looked presentable. He was wearing khakis and that blue-gray shirt Christyn liked on him. “You changed your hair! I like it,” he said. “Not that I didn’t like it before…”

“Thanks. My boss didn’t like the platinum; she said with my dark roots growing in I looked ‘unprofessional.’” Last night, she had bought a box dye for $3.97 and returned to her natural dark brown. She didn’t really like it, but she had liked the platinum even less; she only dyed it that color in the first place to please Jesse. Her hair was tied into a tight bun that gave her a headache; apparently, the low, loose one she’d worn at the Capital wouldn’t suffice here. “Now, what are you having trouble with?”

“How do you spell ‘customer'?”

She wanted to smack herself. Or him.

She sat down on the bench next to him, eyes forward as if she didn’t know him, lest the boss pass by and catch her feeding him pointers. “C-u-s-t-o-m-e-r. Look, I have to be quick; morning pre-shift starts in a minute or two.”

“Great. Thanks. How do you spell ‘service'?”

“You know you’re applying for a customer service position, right?” She dared a glance down at his application and had to stop herself from reacting physically to what she saw. “You’ve misspelled your own name.”

“No, see, that was on purpose. ‘Damien' with an E don’t have no record.”

“You know, you might be smarter than I ever gave you credit for. But also: s-e-r-v-i-c-e.”

“Are you sure?”

“Have I ever led you wrong?”

He was still shivering so bad his hand shook as he was trying to write. “You’re freezing.”

“How are you not?”

“I got here before it started raining, silly. That, and I have a bit more insulation than you have. But I can fix that,” she said, standing up and walking behind the host stand.

“How...how would you do that?” he asked. He had a look on his face that she wasn’t sure how to interpret...not that she had time. She took her purple fleece sweater from where she had stashed it on a shelf with the menus and tossed it at him to put on; it was a little short in the sleeves but even as he left it open, she could tell it would zip up with some room.

Just then, the bell rung, like they were still in elementary school, and Christyn scurried off to the back room for pre-shift.

As Joe was rattling off the specials of the day at an auctioneer’s pace, Libby strode into the room holding a stack of papers. She looked pointedly at Christyn and interrupted the meeting to say, “That’s your man up at the front?”

“He’s my friend, yeah.”

“I can see that. You’ve written him a glowing letter of recommendation.”

“He was a great employee while he worked for me.”

“Well, I don’t think he’s a good fit for the company.” She tore through Damian’s paperwork straight down the middle and let it flutter to the floor for the staff to pick up.

Christyn was the first to her knees, her eyes burning. One of the bartenders, a tall brunette, soon came to her aid. “Meet me on the roof after shift,” she said.
 
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