“Hey, could I get more coke?” a voice called from behind him.
Kevin turned on his toes, bending to pick up the empty frosted-glass cup, “absolutely, sir. And more lemonade for you, too, miss?” He didn’t wait for an answer before spinning back around and trotting off toward the drink station. When he passed from the carpet to tile he slid across the floor, dropping the nearly empty coke into a tub with a few other discarded items and picked up two glasses from the tall stack of cleans. He dashed the cups through the ice and began filling them under the fountains.
“Dude,” Rick’s voice found its way through the roar of a hundred conversations and into Kevin’s ears. “You don’t owe me a thing for table four. D’ you check out the tits on them?”
“I thought you’d like that.” Kevin smiled, turning away with his now full drinks. “Catch you in a bit.”
“Lucky bastard,” the Noob said, nudging open the kitchen door with his shoulder. Freddy Mercury belted a high note from inside. “Hey Chef, time to go hunting.” Voices from the kitchen faded away as the door closed.
Kevin reentered the fray, spinning and stepping around tables, secreting tips away into his apron pocket, continually scanning. Table seventeen is wrapping up their meal, six is going to need some refills soon, and eleven is ready to order. Kevin sorted out the floor in his mind and stepped toward table eleven. “Good evening, my name is Kevin, I’ll be your waiter for the evening. Are we ready to order?”
Nods went around the table, save for an exceptionally thin man with a crooked haircut and glasses that only looked straight because of his hair. “Almost. What do you recommend?” The man’s voice reminded Kevin that he hadn’t played World of Warcraft in over a month.
“I’d recommend the French dip, myself. The sandwich is so fresh that when you order it, the chef actually goes out and kills a Frenchman, just for your sandwich.” The joke had stopped being funny to Kevin long ago, but it was comfortable and made people laugh¸ giving him potentially higher tips. He smiled, gathered their orders, and stepped off toward the kitchen.
Chef and the line cooks could be heard from outside the kitchen door singing back and forth the fact that Beelzebub has a devil put aside for Chef, for Chef, for CHEF!
“Time to go hunting, Chef,” Kevin called, nudging the door open.
“I need two hick steaks, s’getti – no balls – with beans, and a goddamned Frenchman.”
“Ooh, one of those! We’ll get right on that, right boys?” Chef threw his arms wide and erupted back into song, singing along with the radio hanging from the wire rack. It was the first time Kevin had ever seen Chef not leaning against the counter across from the door, and he was dancing, surprisingly light on his feet and his hips being more involved in the dance than Kevin was completely comfortable with. Privately he wished Dancing Queen would come on the radio so he could see if Chef would dance and sing along.
* * *
Kevin silently cursed the nerds at table eleven. They’d stuck around through the dinner rush, complaining about the food and never seeming to have enough to drink, and topping it all off with leaving four dollars and eighty-seven cents in tips. Apparently, they wanted to leave a clean tip, all of the change was at the bottom of a half-empty coke. He found himself wishing he’d stabbed one of them with a fork.
After wiping the table down, scrubbing at congealed stains in places to get the table clean, Kevin dropped their dishes off at Tom’s station for cleaning. He whistled a different tune than was playing on the radio, but he seemed happy. Tom’s blond hair swayed in time with his own song as he sorted through the dishes, spraying and scrubbing at them to remove excess food. Kevin couldn’t remember a time when Tom had spoken, which was fine. He didn’t need the conversation.
“Hey, Tom!” The whistling stopped, it was the most he’d ever done to acknowledge Kevin. “I’m gonna step out back to grab some air before finishing up out on the floor.”
Tom’s hair swayed forward and his whistling began anew, a tune that Kevin couldn’t identify.
He stepped outside. The air had begun to chill at nights, the summer rapidly coming to a close. Kevin bent his knees for what could have been the first time that night in a deep squat. His back found the dumpster, and he found himself wanting a cigarette. Not that he’d ever smoked before, he figured that he was missing out on the full experience of being a waiter if he didn’t crouch out back of the restaurant, grabbing a quick smoke before venturing back inside for more abuse.
Chef was outside, huddled with his back turned away. He spoke quietly into a cell phone, his tone excited. Kevin tried to give Chef his privacy, but he couldn’t help but lean closer, trying to hear what could make the big man so animated. The man shook with what looked like laughter, he asked the other person on the other end of the phone “You’re sure it’s him? Absolutely positive?” He pumped his fist, called the other person on the phone a Godsend, and hung up. Chef’s smile broke his face in two, held together seemingly only by his teeth. “Kevin, I didn’t know you were out here!” His smile didn’t falter, but his voice held an uncertain edge.
“Needed to step away for a second. It was pretty busy tonight. How are you holding up, Chef?”
“Best day of my life," Chef said. “Let’s go finish cleaning up the mess, and we can all go home happy, shall we?”