“Hey, Chef,” Kevin called. Chef, for the first time he'd ever seen, wasn't leaning and wielding his broad spoon. Instead, his back was turned, his spoon balls deep into a pot of the day's soup, lobster bisque. The spoon traced a loose figure 8, dipping deeper and scooping soup up from the bottom and plunging back into the depths. “It's… time to go hunting.”
Wiping his hands on his apron, Marcus, a sous-chef, put his hand on Kevin's shoulder, turning him away. “What'chu need, Kev?”
“What's wrong with Chef?”
Marcus looked over his shoulder at Chef, still despondently stirring. “He didn't get much sleep last night, is all, he'll be awright.”
“Um,” Kevin said. “Steak, half-blood, with potatoes and soup.”
Marcus inhaled sharply and looked over his shoulder at Chef. “That’s not going to be a good idea, Kev. It’s that old guy, Bryan Something, right? Comes in just about every day?” Kevin nodded. “Tell him we ran out of the bisque, or something.”
“Why? We’ve got a full pot of it.”
“Soup ain’t any good today.” He checked over his shoulder again and lowered his voice. “Chef fucked it up, and now he won’t leave it alone until it’s ‘fixed.’ ”
“Is that what that smell is? People have been complaining about that all night.” Kevin faintly heard Chef muttering to himself, but couldn’t make out any words.
“Don’t let him hear you say that. Believe me, you don’t want that kind of attention. He almost chased Kati out of the kitchen during the lunch rush.”
“Seriously?” Chef didn’t seem capable of uprooting himself from his spot in front of the stove, let alone to chase anybody. Marcus nodded, grabbed Kevin by the shoulders and gently ushered him out the door.
“We’re out of soup today.”The door swung shut, leaving him alone in the drink station. He’d never so much as seen Chef frown, let alone seem so completely dead on his feet. His heart ached, he wanted to go back into the kitchen and talk to Chef, to find out what was wrong, and maybe even help. Unfortunately, he wasn’t being paid to take care of his boss – who felt more like an older friend than a boss – he was being paid to take care of customers. Kevin shook himself, plastered a smile on his face, and stepped out into the dining area.
In surveying the floor, he found that Sandra and a few of her friends had seated themselves in his area. He felt his temperature rise and his smile become genuine. As he weaved between tables, checking on drinks, prompting people to try some dessert, and disappointing Bryan about the lack of edible soup, Kevin knew that this would be the day he would ask Sandra for her number. He couldn’t identify what exactly it was that gave him such confidence, but he felt that he was running out of time.
At first, she had returned his flirtations with a shy smile, often playing with her straight blonde hair, but recently, she’d taken to greeting him with a hug, and a half-shouted “Hey, Baby!” She seemed to call everyone that, but Kevin liked to believe it was special when she said it to him. Today, she sat still in her chair, rail-thin body seeming eager to leap from her chair and dance to music only she could hear. Her small breasts, covered, but expertly displayed from behind a vintage style yellow Pikachu tee shirt, perked up, as if excited to see him. When she saw him and flashed a big, toothy smile, Kevin thought that steel or butter, or anything else in the path of that smile would melt . . . but instead of melting, he felt a subtle hardening. He hoped it was subtle, anyway.
Kevin returned her smile, sure that his face was nothing short of a pure red hue. “Good evening, ladies,” He said, hoping he sounded smoother than he felt. “What can I get for you?” Sandra’s friends ordered, and he was sure he wrote everything down, but he couldn’t fathom a guess at what they might have asked for. When she ordered, he found his attention drawn toward her lips, his heart beat faster, watching them trace around every word. The sounds of the restaurant left, drowned out by the sound of her lips moving. He held desperately to the sound of her voice, but didn’t need to hear it. He knew what she wanted, and by God, he was going to give it to her . . . Food. Her food order. Kevin shook himself, bringing the restaurant back.
He glanced around, seeing the restaurant exactly as he remembered it. Rick the noob caught his eye from the bar, flashed him a smile and an encouraging nod, and turned back to his customers.
“Hey, Sandra, this might seem a little –“ A hollow, metallic crash, followed by some alarmed shouting, came from behind him, interrupting Kevin. He snapped his head back, looking for the cause of the disturbance. It came from the kitchen. He gave a polite bow, “Please excuse me, ladies, I’m going to slip away and put your order in.” Kevin smiled and turned away, cursing his luck. Kevin dodged around tables, muttering to each of his customers, ensuring that he hadn’t forgotten about their refills and other requests, all but dashing toward the kitchen. He pushed open the door, neglecting to use his shoulder and found the room sprayed with bisque like blood from an old slasher movie.
Marcus and Joey stood at a sink, holding their arms under cold water, Joey wincing. The pot and Chef sat on the floor, both seeming unable to hold themselves together. Chef merely sat, eyes wet, looking around at the kitchen, seemingly unaware of the mess. His legs splayed out, soaked and probably getting burned from the soup. He didn’t pay it any mind.
“Chef?” Kevin tiptoed around spilled soup, holding his hands out toward him.
Chef’s eyes met Kevin’s, but he wasn’t looking at him. “I couldn’t save the soup. I tried so hard, but I couldn’t do it.”