“Where are you with the risotto and sea bass, Elyse?” My executive chef, Dave, screamed out over the line to get my attention.
“Two minutes on the sea bass and stirring until the liquid absorbs in the risotto, chef,” I yelled over the loud kitchen ruckus. After taking the sea bass out to rest, I kept stirring the risotto until the broth evaporated.
“Make it quick. This is the last table to be seated,” Dave rushed, watching my steady movements before checking on the other staff. “The quicker, the better.”
I’ve been working at Eleven for about two years, coming in as the underdog, but quickly proved everyone wrong. My passion for cooking came from my mom, and even though she died, everything I do was because of her. I’ve been cooking since I was little, fascinated by how people can speak through food — the best language. I had recently taken it more seriously after working a few bullshit jobs that didn’t promise growth in the company. Eleven was a major improvement, an upscale steakhouse on Main Street — one of the busiest streets in Pasadena. A typical night for us was a long waiting list, all seats taken, but I preferred that.
Coming to work kept my mind off how badly my life shifted three months ago when I caught my fiancé of three years in bed with my best friend of five. I was put in a position that I never thought I would be in. Jason Michaelson, my ex, blamed me and my busy work schedule, not understanding I had to bust my ass to support both of us since he lost his job. He spent his days drinking, wanting me to stay home with him, but I couldn’t be with him every second of the day. And he hated me for it. I should’ve seen the red flags, but I thought he loved me. Guess I was wrong.
When we first started dating, I was the happiest I had been since my parents died in a car accident. I had to become a parent at fifteen, missing out on childhood to take care of my younger sister. But when I met Jason, I felt alive again. Our relationship grew quick, but it felt right. And now, I’m alone in an empty house by myself, wondering what I could’ve done to avoid the pain, embarrassment, and unhappiness.
Since then, I’ve been working my ass off, trying to prove myself to Dave to be seen as a viable candidate when the sous chef position became available. I put everything on the back burner for Jason, and now, I wanted to improve myself and my job. Because I’ve devoted my life to this place and rarely open up to any of the staff, everyone seemed to worry about me.
I didn’t believe I even knew what fun was anymore. Well, I have fun when I cook because it clears my mind, but I knew it’s not the same. I was still young, only twenty-six, and have so much life to live, but I chose to isolate myself from the world at least until the pain wasn’t so fresh.
Once I plated the entrée, I set it on the line and called out for a server. “Last order out!” I yelled, tapping my hands against the stainless steel.
I loved this commercial kitchen because management kept up with the appliances, making sure the staff had the best of the best. The kitchen was split into multiple sections for different stations — deep-frying, grilling, sauté, and the ovens. In the middle was what we liked to call inventory, housing pans, plates, knives, and anything else needed to run a high-end kitchen.
“Yeah, but we still have to wait for everyone to finish eating and leave,” Alex, the other night-time chef, said, releasing her long brown wavy hair from her chef hat.
We have worked together for some time now, building a great work friendship. We tried to meet outside of work, but those plans usually fell through.
I shrugged, exhausted. “Which means we have more time to clean.
I looked around at the mess from tonight’s service. It never ends.
“Just tell me what the fuck I can do to fix this, fix us,” Jason said, looking at me with his sunken blue eyes after putting his shirt back on. He looked rough; his spiky beard traveled down his neck and his dark hair longer than it’s ever been. He had always been thin, sometimes smaller than me, but all the drinking added a few extra pounds — not in a good way.
I got in his face. “Do you love her?” I asked, trying to push those very words out of my mouth.
Alana, my best friend. The girl I had confided in and been there for since college slept with my fiancé in our fucking bed. I had all kinds of chaotic thoughts rushing through my head, and I didn’t even recognize myself. My skin burned with rage, and my heart beat so fast that I thought I was going to pass out.
“No!” he yelled, his voice strained. “What the hell kind of question is that, Elyse?”
Jason spoke to me as if I did something wrong, and I was the one that caught him cheating.
“Just fucking tell me!” I shouted over him, pushing his hand out of the way as he tried grabbing me. “How long has it been going on? And don’t lie to me, Jason.”
I never thought this would happen to me. I did everything for him — got a house in my name and took care of all the expenses — and I was asking him how long he’d been sleeping with my best friend.
He took awhile to respond.
“I asked you a question,” I repeated, trying to calm myself down. My throat dried as I prepared myself for his answer. Either way, it hurt because I trusted him so much. I thought he would take care of my damaged heart. Instead, he made it worse.
Jason stepped back and paced in a circle. “A couple of months,” he said, aggressively rubbing his hands through his hair.
The space between us grew quiet until I laughed. Hysterical, too. It was the only thing that made sense from the bullshit that just came from his mouth. God, it was pathetic. I bent over and grabbed my stomach, trying to catch my breath. When I rose to his level again, I watched his Adam’s apple bob in his throat as fright washed over his face.
“A couple of months?” I repeated, raising my hand to slap him, but he stopped me. “You fucking pig!”
He cocked his fist like he wanted to hit me but stopped himself. Why couldn’t I have found out sooner that he was an asshole? It would’ve saved me from the pain and heartbreak.
I pushed him as he backed into the nightstand. Once he got himself together, he shouted, “You told me to be honest!”
I stepped away, shaking my head in disgust. “What the fuck am I supposed to do? We were getting married in less than seven months, Jason. Married. I booked the venue and got my wedding dress, and you fucking cheated on me? Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?” I muttered. “What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“Elyse, I love you,” he said, trying to grab me again. “I’ll make it — ”
“Get out of my house!” I shouted, pointing toward the door.
When he didn’t move quickly enough, I leaped toward the front of the room, opening all the drawers to toss his shit to the ground. I didn’t realize how fast I was moving and how quickly a mountain formed on the floor.
“What the fuck, Elyse?” I heard Jason punch the wall, cursing under his breath. “I live here. Where the hell am I supposed to go?”
“Maybe Alana, your parents,” I suggested, slamming the wooden drawers closed. “Either way, it’s not my problem. I just want you to get out of my house. Now.”
I tried screaming, but it came out more like a broken cry. I fell to my knees, letting the pain flow through me.
“I’ll let you know when you can get your shit,” I continued in a mumble.
“What are we going to do about the wedding? Please let me fix this,” he begged.
“The wedding is off.”
“A few of us are going out for drinks after work. You’re welcome to tag along,” Alex said, breaking me from my thoughts.
I shook my head and rapidly blinked, trying to get myself together. I felt dizzy from the heat and the stress.
“I have a date, and it will be rude to cancel. Sorry,” I lied, something I’ve been so good at lately.
“A date? I thought you just — ”
“Don’t,” I stopped her. “My date is with Merlot. At home.”
“You always say that,” Alex snickered. “We miss you.”
“Next time. I promise.”
Needing a second to cool off before breaking down my station, I stepped into the walk-in freezer and leaned against a nearby rack. Being near deep fryers and ovens all day made it feel like I worked in a sauna. Sometimes it’s hard to focus or breathe under all that heat.
I closed my eyes, feeling the crisp, chilly breeze hit my skin. My heartbeat slowed as I took long inhales and exhales. I needed the energy to get through the rest of my shift.
Feeling myself relax a bit, I jumped as I heard the door slam open.
“This ends today,” my younger sister, Alyssa, said, waving her hands all around before walking closer to me.
I paused, scratching my temple, as I waited for her to tell me what the hell she was talking about. I stared at her for a second, confused.
“You hear me talking to you, Elyse Marie,” she called out, crossing her arms to her chest.
It’s serious. She used my middle name.
I helplessly looked into her big green eyes; a trait she got from our father. She took most of his features while I inherited my blue eyes from my mom. To most, we resembled each other, but Alyssa had full, rounded lips and the most flawless skin I’ve ever seen. And we’ve always been the same size, but I’m a few inches taller than her. Despite our age gap, her being twenty-two, we were still close because it’s just us.
“Am I missing something?” I asked, too tired for mind games.
“Are you missing something?” she mocked, throwing her arms up. “Every first Friday, we get drinks. Considering what happened, I let it slide for a few months. But not tonight. It would help if you were around people, sis. Stop doing this to yourself. For me?”
She finally inched her way to me, rubbing her hand down the arm of my white chef jacket. I sighed, dropping my shoulders.
“Word gets around quickly here, doesn’t it? Besides, Lyss, I’m tired. I told Alex next time. Please, just let me sleep, and I’ll be better tomorrow, promise.” I grabbed her hand, hoping it was enough for her to let me slide this one time.
Alyssa worked as a server here for a year after I got her the job. I guess it runs in the family because she’s good at her job when she’s not arguing with someone. She’s not rude; she’s the kindest person I’ve ever known, but she has a mouth on her.
“You’re such a terrible liar,” she said.
I thought I was decent.
“Everyone knows that sleep to you means drinking a bottle of cheap wine, eating Ben & Jerry’s until you cry, and then tossing and turning for the rest of the night. You can’t bullshit me, so you’re going. I don’t really care what you say,” my sister hissed, changing the tone of her high voice.
“You can’t make me,” I snickered. “You forget that I’m the older sister here.”
She whined like a child, giving me a sad look.
“One drink, and I promise you can go home,” she begged, louder and louder and more obnoxious. I wanted to shoot her down, but unfortunately, I knew my sister, and she was relentless.
“Fine. One drink, then I’m going home,” I caved, rolling my eyes and puffing my cheeks. “I hope you know I hate you.”
“The feeling is mutual. See you shortly.” She blew a kiss before strutting out of the freezer as her long shoulder length hair followed.
I fell against the rack, tangling my hands in my poorly dyed blonde hair. As much as I wanted to waltz into a hair salon, being a chef and constantly wearing uniforms gave me no reason to keep up with my hair because it’s always hidden.
Two hours later, my co-workers and I sat in a booth at a bar across the street from work. The old bar consisted of wooden tables, a jukebox, and pictures of the staff in their twenties. The owners, Ben and Charlene, ran the bar since they were married millions of years ago.
Alyssa and I started this tradition last year, finding a way to let loose. We never hung out in the kitchen because we’re always busy, so we celebrated with drinks after work.
I toyed with my straw, casually sipping my rum and Coke, while everyone conversed about nothing that mattered — work, chef being a pain in the ass, and the long hours.
“I overheard Dave going off on your little boyfriend before we left,” Alex said to me, gulping back her beer.
I arched my eyebrow. “He is not my boyfriend. What happened?”
“He has the world’s biggest crush on you,” she said. “You can be his sugar mama! But he wanted to request a day off tomorrow, but chef said the notice was too late, but Ricky didn’t care.”
Ricky was the youngest chef at Eleven, but he’s talented and knew what he was doing. It’s true. He always had a crush on me, but he’s twenty, and I hate men.
Before I could say anything, Alyssa yelled over the music. “Everyone, shut up. Let’s all take a drink for Elyse finally coming out of hibernation. Yes, it was my doing, and yes, you guys can toast to me instead.”
Everyone’s eyes fell on me as I faked a smile and tightened my lips. This is awkward.
“We’re all happy you came out tonight,” Chris said, being dramatic. He loved cooking, but he would tell anyone his dream was to become a dancer. “And Ricky just tweeted how pissed he is that he couldn’t get in tonight. Sucks being young.”
Did it, though?
I looked down at the wooden table, circling the drink in my cup before taking a long sip. I actually finished my drink and didn’t even know it. I hoped they would forget about the toast idea, not wanting the attention on me, but the subject changed quickly.
Alyssa laid her head on my shoulder. “I hate seeing you like this. You’ve always been the strong one, and I need you. I know this pain won’t go away soon, but I want to be there for you like you are for me.”
She’s right. I was the older sister, and it was my job to set an example for her. But I wasn’t doing a great job.
“Not to be nosy, but I need you too, Elyse,” Alex said, glancing over my shoulder. “You’ve been a real bitch lately.”
The rest of the table laughed at her last comment.
“Thanks, Alexandra,” I barked, using her actual name to piss her off before peeking down at my sister. “I’m sorry, Lyss. You’re right, and I’m going to change how I’ve been acting.”
“Aren’t I always?” She lifted her head off my shoulder and flipped her hair back.
“You’re so much better than a low-life piece of shit that impregnates your best friend. Like, come on, really? Cheers to the start of some — ”
“Wait,” I didn’t let her finish. “What did you say?” I questioned, rolling my neck toward her as my breath caught in my throat, making it impossible to swallow.
I wasn’t sure if I heard her right, but the feeling in my chest was unbearable like someone had just stabbed me right where my heart should’ve been. But I lost that a long time ago.
Alyssa roamed her eyes around the bar, not keeping eye contact. “Uh, I-I, w-what I meant was — ”
I repeated. “Alana’s . . . p-pregnant? By Jason?” My voice strained, and my mind went fuzzy.
I shifted in my seat, completely turning toward Alyssa. I already felt horrible, but this was the worst kind of pain after my parents’ death. I had felt it when Jason cheated, and for three months, I’ve been trying to come back from it, but here it is again. And it fucking hurt out of this world.
“It could be anyone’s baby,” she said hesitantly, shrugging her shoulders with a fake laugh. “Elyse, don’t do this. I shouldn’t have said anything. Me and my big ass mouth.”
“You were going to keep that from me?” I muttered, my voice cracking.
As the tears built up in my eyes, I stared at her. Jason wanted a baby, and we talked about it a few times. I wanted to wait until I had my career set because I was the only one working. Having a child was expensive, and I didn’t want to be the type of mom that worked all day with a newborn at home. I suggested we wait until after we tied the knot, but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
Now, he’s having a baby with my best friend. My. Fucking. Best. Friend. Well, ex-best friend.
I saw the pity in my sister’s eyes and the regret for telling me. My co-workers grew silent, unsure what to say because I never told them what happened. I wanted to keep what was left of my business to myself. I couldn’t catch a break no matter what I did or changed in my life.
I slipped past Alyssa, running toward the door as she called out for me. When I scrambled into my Toyota, I rested my head on the steering wheel and cried. I didn’t want him or this get to me, but I was so fucking sensitive. I never used to be this way. That was supposed to be my baby. My life. My husband. Just when I thought everything could get better, it got worse.
Without thinking, I grabbed my phone and unblocked Jason, reading his last message about the stupid fucking ring. He wanted it back, but I had been ignoring his broke-ass. After some contemplating, I sent him a text.
ME: For months, I tried to understand what I did wrong to lose everything like this. I kept blaming myself, but it was you. I was about to be your wife, and you chose my best friend to have a baby with. I hope she’s stupid enough to fucking support you, asshole. I hope you rot in hell, you sick bastard. I’m pawning the stupid ring.
I regretted sending the message as soon as I hit the button, and I pathetically prayed it would somehow get lost. I banged my fists on the screen before throwing my phone in the passenger seat in frustration. I knew it was stupid to show him that he bothered me, but I wanted him to feel my pain. I wanted him to know that I learned about Alana being pregnant and how much of a dick he was. I hoped karma would give him what he deserved, and I wanted the front row seat in watching his life unfold.
I heard my phone ringing and saw that it was Alyssa. I wasn’t in the mood to talk, nor did I know what would come out of my mouth. I’ve never been the crazy type, but lately, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I had so much anger inside, and I was always so damn mad.
When I finally calmed down, I drove home, speeding through the late Pasadena traffic. The second I arrived at my house, fucking Jason hopped out of his car that was parked by the curb.
I slammed my door shut. “My text was not a fucking invitation to my house. You need to leave!” I barked, my voice ten times deeper.
He cleaned up himself, cut his beard and his hair. His clothes were wrinkled as hell, with wet spots dotting his shirt. He’s probably fucking drunk.
“I’m not fucking going anywhere,” Jason said, catching up to me, but I kept my back turned. “You had me blocked for months, and I want my goddamn ring. I paid a lot of money for it, and you called the wedding off.”
His last words slurred, and I stopped walking and smelled the alcohol fuming from his skin.
“Oh, yeah? And guess why I called the wedding off, Jason?” I scoffed and continued walking.
He aggressively grabbed my arm, turning me toward him.
“Get the hell off me and go home. You’re drunk! Call a cab.” I yanked my arm away from him.
“I’m drunk because you kicked me out, broke up with me, and fucking ruined my life!” he shouted, spit flying from his mouth.
Are you fucking kidding me? I ruined his life?
“You’re making this my fault?” I matched his energy, making him understand he couldn’t play the fucking victim like usual. I quickly lowered my voice, realizing how late it was and knowing I had neighbors. “I have nothing to say to you anymore. You need to leave my house now, and I’m not asking again, Jason.”
“I’m not going anywhere until you give me my fucking ring. You’re not going to pawn something that I paid for,” he yelled, poking my forehead with his finger. He clenched his jaw as darkness clouded his eyes.
“So you can give it to your pregnant girlfriend?” I spat, going back and forth with him like a teenager. I should’ve stopped, but his words pissed me off. “The one that was a mistake, right?”
Go in the house, Elyse.
Jason pushed himself in my face, looking at me with wide eyes. “What does it matter to you? It’s not like you gave a damn about anything but work,” he snickered, putting a grin on his pale face. “Oh, you don’t like being alone, do you?”
“That’s not fair.” I shook my head, trying to remain strong. “You took everything from me, and all I ever tried to do was make this work. I worked my ass off, and I’m the problem. Fuck you.”
He laughed and watched me fight my tears. “You don’t know how to be with anyone. I have needs, and you failed to meet them because you wanted to fucking cook. Your food isn’t even that good. You just want pity all the time, and I’m not doing it. You made me do this. I cheated because of you.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I hate you. I hate you so fucking much for what you did and said to me. You never loved me. I was easy for you, and you used me, but that’s okay. Karma will bite you so hard in the ass, and when it does, I hope it makes you realize the damage you’ve caused. Alana will get bored with you. I witnessed how she treats people that she’s dating, and you deserve it. You finally have a job, being a father, you fucking asshole,” I yelled in one breath.
“Get my fucking ring!” he demanded, ignoring everything I said. “Before I get it myself. I don’t have all night to listen to your bullshit.”
“You’re not allowed in my house,” I replied, walking up the steps.
Jason scoffed, “Try me.” He tried pushing past me, but I blocked his way, holding my ground.
I didn’t want to give up the ring because it reminded me of what could’ve been. But that part of my life was over. I probably should’ve pawned it sooner.
I yelled for him to stop, but instead, he yanked me back and pushed me to the ground. When I hit the concrete, I gasped in pain, feeling my skin brush against the gritty sidewalk. I was too shocked to say anything and too angry to feel the pain after the first few seconds. I couldn’t believe he put his hands on me like that, someone he wanted to marry at one point. The thought made me cry so hard my vision went blurry.
I kept my head down, watching my tears fall to the ground. I heard Jason jiggle the doorknob, cursing under his breath when he found out it was locked. Within seconds, he stalked down the steps, standing over me.
“Why are you still playing fucking games? Get my shit now, and I’m not going to ask you again,” he barked, getting louder and louder.
I couldn’t remain strong. “It’s in my car — the glove box,” I winced.
“Everything okay out here? Is there a problem?” I heard an unfamiliar voice join the conversation, but I didn’t bother looking up.
I felt embarrassed and hurt. It was too much — too overwhelming. Everything I was feeling crashed down, flowing through my body. I had enough.
Jason cleared his throat. “Even though it’s none of your business, I’m just getting what’s mine.”
My messy hair fell over my face as I remained stuck.
“It becomes my business when you’re yelling loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear and push someone smaller than you. Let alone a woman,” the unknown man shouted back.
“Unless you’re going to do something about it, fuck off.”
I wasn’t sure what the hell had gotten into him. He never touched me or spoke to me like this.
I listened to my car door slam before the sound of Jason’s footsteps disappeared. I remained quiet until the unnamed stranger stood before me.
“Here, let me help you up,” he said, offering his hand.
He smelled nice like he had just gotten out of the shower. I sniffed, trying to get myself together.
“Are you okay? I’ll get help if you want to do something about it,” he spoke again, his deep voice ringing in my ears.
When I finally got the courage to get up, I kept my head low, looking at the blood on my hands. My skin had ripped, but I was too numb to feel anything.
I closed my hand and muttered, “I’m fine.”
My face burned, and I didn’t bother moving my hair out of my face. I cleared my throat, trying to play it off and avoiding all questions. I had no idea where he came from, but I appreciated him more than he would ever know.
“Well, I just moved in next door, and if you need anything — ”
I cut him off. “I-I don’t — please, just — I’m fine.”
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