#50 Shaughna to the rescue
Francesca has her tongue between her teeth, concentrating as hard as she can on not crying while she’s chopping onions. Dshawn and Aston are staring at her, trying to spot the first tear leaking out – they made a bet on how long she’ll last – and I’m on the couch, happy to not be in charge of dinner tonight. I got a recipe for spaghetti arrabbiata from Kieran, and Francesca insisted on making it.
It’s the first time that the four of us are hanging out together since Aston stopped sleeping with Francesca, so I think she’s just trying to keep busy. Aston hasn’t talked about his sex life so far, and he’s been here for almost forty minutes, so that must be some kind of record. Dshawn and I insisted that they’d both come over for dinner to celebrate the fact that we’re officially moving in together. We honestly don’t need a celebration, but we figured that we needed a reason good enough to make Franny feel like she had to come. She’s been avoiding Aston, and we just want the gang back together again. Hopefully, tonight proves to her that she can be friends with him.
When the doorbell sounds, we all look at each other in surprise. Everyone is already here, so who could that be? Caroline is cooking for Nathan and his daughter Rose tonight – she sent a picture of Rose trying to help her chop tomatoes earlier – so she’s not in town. Who else would show up here unannounced?
Dshawn moves over to the intercom system and a few seconds later, Marcus’ voice sounds through the living room. Pressing the button to buzz him in, Dshawn turns to me with a frown. I shrug and motion for him to go open the door for his brother. After that one time with the necklace, Marcus hasn’t shown up unannounced anymore. He’s been over to watch movies and scarf down pizza, but Dshawn always picked him up and drove him home.
“I fucking hate Nia!” I hear Marcus tell Dshawn in the hallway. “And mom!”
“Language, darling!” Francesca yells at him from the kitchen, grinning at me. “Please tell me you’re here to help me cook! These assholes do nothing but stare at me!”
When Marcus hears Francesca’s voice, he hurries into the living room, his face lighting up when he sees her. Yeah, that boy still has the hots for her. “Hi Franny!” he says almost shyly.
“Marcus, does Asia know you’re here?” I ask him sternly. “Or Terryl?” His face says it all. “I’ll go call them,” I say with a sigh. “You go help Fran with dinner.”
I walk into the bedroom, pulling my boyfriend with me. Before he can say anything, I’m already calling Asia and putting her on speaker.
“Please tell me Marcus is with you,” she says the moment she picks up.
“Yes,” I assure her. “He just arrived. You’re on speaker, Asia. Dshawn is right next to me.”
“Shawny,” Asia says with a sigh. “I’m so sorry to keep dragging the two of you into this. Marcus keeps running away when we get into a fight and he’s getting to the age where he thinks he knows better than Terryl and me…”
“It’s fine, Mom,” Dshawn assures his mother. “You’re not dragging me into anything. He’s my brother, my family. What happened?”
Asia quickly relates what happened. Apparently, Marcus is still dating Bee, the girl he stole the necklace for. She wants to go on a real date for her 14th birthday, and Marcus asked his mother for money to take her to a restaurant, but Asia thinks he’s too young for that. And then Nia caught him stealing money from Terryl’s purse and she snitched on him.
“He can stay here for dinner,” Dshawn says when his mother is done with the story.
“No!” Asia bites out. “We can’t keep rewarding that boy for running off to your place. I’m glad that you have a relationship with him now, but he needs to learn that stealing isn’t okay.”
“Asia…” I hesitate. “Why do you think he’s too young for a date?”
“He’s 13!” she exclaims. “That’s too young!”
“He’s almost 14,” I argue. “Look, I know it’s not my place to have an opinion about this, but… well, I was 14 when I got my first boyfriend. And let me tell you, if my parents had told me that I was too young to go on a real date with him, I think I would have pulled something like this too.”
Asia grunts. “Yeah, okay. That’s what Terryl said too. I just… I had Dshawn at 16 for a reason. I started dating boys when I was 13. I don’t want Marcus to follow in my footsteps.”
“Ew, Mom,” Dshawn says, knowing fully well what his mother means by the word dating. “Too much information.”
“I work at a restaurant,” I tell Asia, an idea hitting me. “The food is good, but simple. Pizza, meatballs, chips, burgers, salmon… They could have their date there. I’d be working as a waitress, so I could definitely keep an eye on them without Bee even noticing.”
“Oh, right, Giovanni’s,” she realizes. “That might work. I know that he’s already hanging out with her and that I can’t stop him from doing… well, that, because no one was able to stop me when I was his age, but I have to at least try, right?”
“Look, Mom,” Dshawn says, giving my arm a grateful squeeze. “Marcus can stay here tonight. It’s Friday, so he can even spend the night. Aston and Francesca are here, and they already know Marcus, so they won’t mind. We’re about to make enough food to feed the whole town anyway. It’s not a big deal. You and Terryl can spend the night thinking about a proper punishment for stealing money, and make a decision about Shaughna’s offer. We’ll drop Marcus off at your place tomorrow morning, okay?”
The moment Asia agrees and I hang up, my phone starts vibrating, startling me. It’s Giovanni. Fuck. I don’t want to answer because it might mean that I have to go into the restaurant tonight, but I need that job. I’ve given Terrence my two weeks’ notice, so my waitress job at Giovanni’s is all I have right now.
“Hey Gio,” I say when I pick up, grimacing at Dshawn. I keep the phone on speaker so he can listen in.
“James just fired Kieran and two of the waiters,” Gio groans on the other end of the line. “We’re fucked. For the first time since I opened the place, Giovanni’s may need to close for the night. I need you to fix this mess.”
“What?” I can’t believe my ears. “James fucking Miller fired the head chef? Kieran has been there from day one! He created the menu with you. He can’t be fired!”
“Exactly, so I fired James,” Gio agrees. “Kieran isn’t picking up his phone right now and Hollister and Michel are on their own tonight, the dishwasher called in sick, and we’re short two waiters. It’s a fucking disaster. Annie just called me, crying. I can’t possibly get there on time, I’m six hours away. Hollister told me that the only person who can possibly fix this is you. Please tell me he’s right.”
“One second, Gio.” I put him on mute and look at Dshawn. “I need to get over there.”
“Of course,” he agrees immediately. “Can I do anything to help?”
“Actually…” An idea starts forming in my head, and I walk out of the bedroom, my phone still in my hand on mute as I walk into the kitchen. I quickly explain the situation to my friends and Francesca immediately turns off the stove and grabs all of our coats. Oh, I love that girl.
“Tell him we’ll be there in ten minutes,” she says, quickly stuffing the ingredients for the pasta back in the fridge. “Between the five of us, we can do this. You ready to wash some dishes tonight, Marcus?”
Dshawn’s brother nods, his eyes alight. Of course, he thinks this is all a big adventure.
“Gio?” I say into the phone, taking him off speaker and unmuting him. “I’ll be there in ten. And I’m bringing four friends. One of them is 13. Is that a problem?”
“Shaughna, I don’t care if you bring a whole class of first graders. Go and save my restaurant!”
The moment all of us walk into Giovanni’s through the backdoor, Hollister and Michel let out loud sighs of relief.
“Thank fuck,” Hollister grunts. “We’re saved.” He’s covered in sauce and trying to flip burgers while cutting tomatoes.
“Dirty motherfucker,” I yell at him, slipping right into my usual role before I realize that Marcus is there to hear me cursing. Oh well. “Put on a clean shirt. Now. Aston and Dshawn, you’re in the kitchen. Hollister, show them what to do. Marcus, you’re the dishwasher, Michel will show you the ropes. Francesca, you’re with me.” I throw her an apron and tie on my own. “Let’s go make the restaurant our bitch!”
“Is she always like this?” I hear Aston mutter to Michel.
It’s Hollister who answers, wearing a clean shirt now. “Boy, you’ve got no idea.”
I don’t bother replying and just walk into the dining area, plastering on my best fake smile. I immediately spot a couple about to leave and I motion for Franny to talk them into staying. Thank God she used to work here, because there’s no way I could have set the boys loose in here. Back in the kitchen they can mess up without anyone seeing, but we need professionals to handle the mess in here. Annie is trying to tend to every single table, but she looks worn.
“Annie,” I say, smiling when she turns around with a relieved look in her eyes. “Go ahead and give every single costumer a complimentary drink. Wine, beer, soda, I don’t care.” While she nods and moves over to the first table to take their drink order and apologize for the long wait on their appetizers, I motion over the other waitress. It’s new one I hired, barely trained. Great.
“I’m sorry,” she tells me, looking close to tears. “I screwed up two orders and I spilled a beer over the table.”
“Change of plans,” I tell her, “you’re not taking orders anymore. All I want you to do is go into the kitchen to take the food waiting there over to the right table. Just read the number on the ticket and get it to the table, okay? This is not your fault. You’re doing great. I promise you that I’ll make sure you won’t get fired. Just keep smiling.”
She nods. “Thanks, Shaughna.” With that, she rushes into the kitchen and returns almost immediately with two bowls of tomato soup.
Now that everyone knows their role, I start helping Annie by apologizing to customers for the wait. I concoct a lie about the chef and the waiters all calling in sick at the same time, because I can hardly tell them that the manager fired a bunch of people before getting sacked himself. Luckily, handing out free booze is always a great way to convince people to stay and be patient.
Half an hour later, most of the acute problems have been solved. The kitchen is a little slower than usual, but the boys are slowly catching on to the way things work. Hollister is really stepping up, channeling Kieran’s usual calm. Our eyes meet and I smile at him. He’s an asshole on a personal level, but he’s doing his job exceptionally well tonight. And I’m here as a waitress and well, let’s face it, I’m filling in for James tonight, so I know that I need to put my problems with Hollister aside for now.
“Great job,” I tell him, earning me a surprised look. “Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you tonight?”
He thinks about that for a moment, looking around the kitchen. Dshawn is making salads and pouring soup into bowls, Aston is manning the grill and Michel is dressing the plates and making sure that Marcus is alright doing the dishes. They’re not the well-oiled machine that Kieran always runs in his kitchen, but they are doing great. I know I always call Kieran a lazy motherfucker, but he’s a great chef, he motivates his staff and he keeps a level head. I can’t believe that James fired him.
“We’re out of salmon,” Hollister tells me. “And I can’t find the pan of arrabiata sauce that Kieran made earlier, so don’t let anyone order that.”
I nods. “Done and done. What dishes should we push? What’s easiest to get out there fast?”
“Oh, good idea!” Hollister runs over to the stove and the oven, checking what’s ready to go. “Meatballs, tomato soap, and of course fries are always good.”
“Keep up the good work!” I yell at all the guys.
“Alright, honey,” Dshawn replies, winking at me. The sound of his voice makes me feel more in control, and I blow him a kiss.
With a real smile this time, I walk back into the front of the restaurant, happy to see that things are still running relatively smoothly. I give Annie, Francesca and the new girl the new instructions about the menu, and rush to the entrance to seat the couple that just walked in. This night might end up as a success instead of a disaster after all.
Five long, long hours later, the last customer leaves the restaurant, leaving the place completely empty. I turn the sign on the door from open to closed and lean against the wall for a moment, closing my eyes. We did it. We really did it.
“I need a drink,” I head Aston say a few feet away. “In fact, I need several drinks.”
Laughing, I open my eyes to see everyone pouring in from the kitchen, looking exhausted. Marcus is the only one who still looks like he’s on an adventure, even though his clothes are wet and dirty.
“Drinks on the house,” I decide, motioning for Franny to pour everyone something from the bar. “I’ve got to call Gio.”
I walk back into the now empty kitchen, grunting at how dirty it still is. I’ll let everyone enjoy the win for a moment, but I know that I’ll need to get them back in here to clean up before the night is truly over. Same goes for the dining area.
“Please tell me you’re calling to tell me you did it,” Gio says when he picks up. “I’ve been calling you all night, but you never picked up.”
“My phone is always off and in the back when I’m at work,” I reply with a smile. “I was a little busy to call you.”
“Busy saving my restaurant, I hope?”
“Yes, Gio, and we did it.” I laugh at his cheer. “I had to give away some drinks and pull two dishes from the menu, but we did it. No one left and we even got great tips.”
“Thank God,” Gio breathes. “So Hollister was right. You were the one for the job.”
“He wasn’t too shabby himself,” I admit. “Hollister can run the kitchen almost as well as Kieran. He did great.”
“I’ll be in tomorrow to talk to everyone and to try and get my old staff back,” Gio tells me. “Except for James, obviously. He’s done. Please tell me that you can be in tomorrow. I know that you had the whole weekend off for the first time in months, but I need you right now.”
“Morning shift?” I grunt. “Okay. Fine. I’ll be there. On one condition: all of my friends get paid tonight, even the 13-year-old dishwasher. And you better make their checks generous.”
“Done,” he agrees immediately. “You’re getting a bonus too, obviously. Thank you, Shaughna.”
When he hangs up, I sit down on a stool for a moment, taking a deep breath. Suddenly, two arms wrap around me from behind and I lean back against the man behind me, finally relaxing my tense shoulders. There’s no one I’d rather have with me than the man I love. He smells a little different – no oranges – but then again, he’s been in the kitchen all night, so he’s probably covered in all kinds of sauces and foods.
“I’m so proud of you, baby,” he whispers into my ear.
The moment I hear his voice, I know it’s not Dshawn.