Last Time: Tracy wandered her new neighborhood in search of a meal and food before (sort of) talking her way into a job at The Wilted Pen, a bar/restaurant with a taciturn bartender.
Chapter 3 Dropping at The Wilted Pen
I went with safe over interesting when it came time to show up at The Wilted Pen again. Black t-shirt and jeans and my hair in a sensible braid.
There was still a stubborn glimmer of glitter across the toes of my sneakers, but they would hold up well behind the bar.
The apartment is coming together slowly but surely. My mother has always said that I have the style of a teenage boy who thinks interior design is hanging a poster on a wall with used bubblegum. But my bags are unpacked, and I’ve acquired a few creature comforts like sheets and pillows, and an alarming number of magnets for the tiny refrigerator.
The door of the Wilted Pen has a bell over it. I hadn’t noticed that the first time that I pushed through it, but that’s not terribly surprising considering it’s only 2 PM on a Monday. There is not a crowd at the bar. In fact, I’m the only one in the main dining room.
I jump a little when the kitchen door bangs open, and the waitress from the night before pushes through hauling a bucket of ice in each hand. She startles when she realizes there is someone else in the room with her but shrugs the headphone from her ear and smiles.
“Hi,” she says. “We don’t open until 4 for service.”
“Oh, no, I’m Tracy,” I say with a smile, stepping forward to shake her hand from muscle memory. Three years in a sorority house, and I can be bubbly to the point of annoyance when I flip the “getting to know you” switch.
I get no response from my name, and step back again realizing she has no hand to shake with the buckets.
“Um, I’m supposed to start today?” This last comes out as a question, but I needn’t have worried.
The buckets drop with a bang, and the girl throws her hands into the air.
“Oh thank God!” she exclaims. “Nell finally hired someone. I’ve been begging for weeks. Have you waitressed before? Tended bar?”
I see her shoulders bunch up as she hefts the buckets again, and there is a crash behind the bar. Ice is cascading against metal even though the girl is still smiling at me. I take this as my cue to keep talking.
“Yeah, I did both back home in Indiana.”
“Awesome. Grab a bucket and come on. I’ll introduce you around. Nell’s on her way in.”
She doesn’t wait for me to follow, just moves quickly towards the kitchen.
“I’m Claire. Tonight will be you, me and Nell. She tends bar every weeknight, and we handle the floor.” She points things out as we walk. “The tables are numbered so we can help each other out. The menu is easy to memorize and the customers are a surly lot for the most part so don’t take any of it too personally.”
The kitchen is what I expect: ceramic tile everywhere, metal shelving and appliances and two men behind the cook line with hair stuffed under caps and tattoos up and down their arms.
“Mike,” she indicates with a nod towards the taller of the two. “And Jed. Be nice to them. Do not go behind the line. We use ‘behind’, ‘hot’ and ‘sharp’ in this kitchen so if you hear it, get out of the way.”
Claire’s run down continues as we make our way to a small walk-in freezer, and I breath in relief realizing that my experience at The Nest is going to translate easily to another kitchen and another city. The common language of kitchens and restaurants is amazingly valuable when you think about it.
Nell says little when she arrives but grunts in our direction. I take her lack of denial as a sign that my reference was fine, and she is indeed starting me out.
“Davis will be here on bar tonight,” she says shortly before settling herself into the chair in the office.
From the corner of my eye, I see Claire stiffen at the other name but she says nothing in response. Back in the bar she slams a tray of saltshakers onto the bar and hands me the red and white canister to refill them before attacking the coffee pots with ice, salt and lemons. We clean in silence, my head bopping to the music that’s drifting from the kitchen, but no conversation.
With only twenty minutes left before opening, I’m wondering whether this other guy is actually going to show up. A violent ringing draws my eye towards the door just in time to see a guy a little older than me slamming his way through the room. His dirty blonde hair is spiked into a crooked mohawk, and his blue t-shirt has spent more time in a ball on the floor than in a drawer if appearance is to be believed. His eyes wander over me disinterestedly before narrowing when they land on Claire. He goes out of his way to hip check her as he makes his way towards the kitchen.
“That’s Davis I assume,” I ask once he’s cleared the swinging door.
Claire nods and shudders disgustedly.
“He’s an ass. And he’ll run all over you if you give him half the chance.” She turns back to the final wipe down of the tables and by the time the first drinkers sidle in, Davis is behind the bar with an apron around his hips, and Claire is in the kitchen, shooting the breeze with the guys there.
I grab the first table that sits, and try not to be as painfully aware of Nell’s regular visits to the dining room and hawk eyes every time I enter the kitchen. I think I’m even doing fairly well.
And then, the family of seven arrives.
There are four kids, one teenager and two parents. There is little to no effort to control the younger ones, and the parents seem to have no concern that they have brought their children to what is, essentially, a bar for dinner. They are consuming pints of beer almost as quickly as I can deliver them, and the smaller children are chucking everything from the table to the ground almost as quickly as I can replace it.
I don’t see or hear the ketchup bottle fall, and if Davis or Claire do, they don’t clue me in so I’m none the wiser rushing across the floor with a tray of sandwiches in one hand and two pints balancing on my palm.
I hit the ketchup with the grace of Daffy Duck stepping on a banana peel.
My feet literally go over my head, and in the moment before my ass hits the floor, all I can think is “Thank God I’m not wearing a skirt.”
Staring at the ceiling from my back, I notice that silence has fallen for a brief second before the two older kids are clapping and cheering and the teenager is whistling with glee.
There’s a reason I don’t always love kids.
No one rushes to my aid, and I pull myself up once I’ve caught my breath. There is glass around me, beer in puddles, and I can feel the ketchup seeping through the back of my jeans and t-shirt. Awesome.
“You alright Tracy?” Nell yells over the customers from the kitchen doorway.
“Yeah,” I shout back with a wave of my hand.
A clean tray appears on the ground beside me as I crouch to pick up the pieces. Davis is barely containing his grin, but he drops beside me with a towel and sweeps the worst of the ketchup up with one arm.
“Don’t worry Trace. You should comp the kids ice cream with chocolate sauce just to punish their parents.” With an evil smile, he bundles the towel now filled with ketchup and glass between his hands and heads towards the kitchen.
I drop back to my knees and close my mouth. Claire is hustling towards me with a frown, and I start to see what she means. That evil grin and sense of humor could cause problems if I’m not careful.
Cover art for Headed towards the Right Decisions was created by Maritza Lugo.