There’s nothing like a humid Houston day in a kitchen to make a body feel like the skin’s melting. I could smell myself over the cooking burgers and wanted nothing more than to get away from the hot grill. But the day manager, Greg, had decided a busy Saturday afternoon was a great time for some cross training.
Joe was on drive-thru with him and I was on the grill with Al.
“It’s pretty simple,” Al said handing me the spatula. “Unlike when I worked as a chef, all the meat here gets cooked the same way. Just make sure there’s not any pink anywhere and your good.”
I nodded, smirking inwardly at his sideways bragging. We went through all the steps of putting a sandwich together and, accompanying each step, was an anecdote about a past profession or life adventure. According to Al, he’d been a chef in a fancy restaurant, a short order cook, on the maintenance crew for the Empire State building, a musician with his own band, a soldier, on a landscaping crew, a lifeguard and the member of a biker gang.
“But now, I’m just trying to rebuild my life.” He pursed his lips and regarded me as I continued to slap patties into their beds of lettuce and buns. “I, um, kinda lost a good portion of my life for a while.” His regard turned into a hard stare. “Do you know why?”
Placing a hand on my hip, I turned and looked him in the eyes. “Is it because,” I cocked an eyebrow, “you were in jail?”
“Yes.” He looked away from me. “And now you probably want nothing to do with me.”
“Um… Actually, Monique told me on my second day. I didn’t care then and I don’t care now.” I turned back to putting orders together.
I could feel his eye on me, but I didn’t turn around. I practically jumped as a hand touched my shoulder.
“Oh sorry!” Greg yanked back, his stubby mustache twitching. “I’m just giving you my headset so I can take my break. I’m leaving Joe on drive-thru and I think he’ll be fine, but if he’s having trouble, you be sure and help him out. Al’ll be fine on the grill by himself. Won’t you Al?”
Al snapped his heels together and saluted. “Aye, aye, captain!”
Greg rolled his eyes, handed me his headset and walked away. Grabbing the wet wipes from under the back counter, I cleaned the earpiece and mic before putting it on.
“Hey Al.” Joe motioned out the drive-thru window. “She’s back.”
Al handed me the spatula. “You got things here?”
I nodded. He rushed over to the window and stuck his head out into the bright daylight. I heard a woman’s hearty laughter coming from the window. Quickly throwing together the last order, I inched closer to the drive-thru area.
“Hey beautiful! Where were you the other night?” He managed to squeeze an arm and a shoulder out through the window and I could just make out a woman leaning in to kiss him. I didn’t know what she was saying but her voice sounded familiar. I moved closer and peaked out the window as he pulled back in through the window.
I couldn’t be sure, but the girl in the jeep looked like my sister’s friend, Sunshine. As she drove away, Joe and Al talked about her. Or rather, Al talked and Joe nodded. They seemed to have forgotten that I was there at all.
“Those freckles, man, they’re like a treasure trail! I followed that trail.” He shook his head and sighed. “That trail was worth the follow. The treasure… her treasure…” He closed his eyes and spoke with the reverence of a priest. “I nibbled from her collarbone along the V into her cleavage then kissed all over as they scatter over her breasts and ribs. I bit them as they circled her belly. I licked the arrow of freckles that led from her bellybutton to her panties.” He licked his lips. “And man, let me tell you, there was quite the treasure in those panties.”
Joe cleared his throat and, when Al opened his eyes, jerked his head towards me. I had gone back to the grill to work on the front counter orders and was pretending like I wasn’t paying attention.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Al nod. “To be continued.” He whispered then returned to his work at the grill.
I rolled my eyes. “Listen, I’ve got things here if you wanna keep talking to Jo about Sunshine.”
His eyes widened in surprise. “You know her?”
I gulped wondering if maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that fact. But it was too late to take it back now. I shrugged, not looking at him. “She goes to my church.”
He looked back over at Joe and they shared a laugh. “I had no idea a girl like her went to church.”
I shrugged. I went to church because my parents made me; Sunshine went because she actually wanted to.
“Well, I shouldn’t talk about things like that in front of a sweet thing like you.”
I mumbled, “Maybe I’m not so sweet.”
He leaned in until I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. “What was that?”
I stepped away from him and flipped around. “Look, I’ve got to go to the bathroom. I’m sure you can handle things here, right?” I mock saluted him and walked away to the sound of him and Joe laughing.
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