Finding a job wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I was practically laughed out of a dozen interviews. Stripping was looking more and more like my destined vocation. My mother had kept her word and twenty-four hours after the argument we had my credit cards were frozen. She couldn’t, however, cut off the flow from my trust fund because it had been established by my grandparents. Mom wasn’t the executor of their estate and after a long conversation with my grandmother; I had her blessing to go on with my life the way I saw fit.
It was a slap in the face to my mom, but it turned out that Gran never much cared for my mother. I wasn’t destitute, but I couldn’t just live off of my trust fund either. I’d done enough of that. I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. There had to be more to it than lying around, going to lunch and shopping all the time. I didn’t want to be a society, trophy wife.
So I sent résumés to any company with an appealing open position. I interviewed to be a receptionist at a dentist’s office, an admittance clerk at a doctor’s office at the nearest hospital, a dispatcher for the police department, an admin for three different marinas… Know what they all had in common? Typing. There were preschoolers who were better at typing than I was.
But I didn’t give up.
The two weeks my mother predicted I would last came and went. There had to be something out there I was good at. I wasn’t ready to give up yet.
I had an interview for a sales clerk at a little boutique a little ways down from Amelia’s house. She pretty much lived on a boardwalk. There were plenty of restaurants within walking distance and almost all of them were hiring all the time, but nothing about waiting tables appealed to me. I wasn’t expecting to love everything about the work I did but I wanted to at least like it.
So I got dressed in a crisp button down top that I tucked into a sleek, black pencil skirt. I put on a pair of five inch Louboutin Mary Jane pumps and pulled my hair back in a knot at the nape of my neck. I didn’t bother with makeup beyond a little mascara and some rose tinted lip gloss. Tara’s Togs was a quarter mile down the beach, but I drove over there anyway. The boutique sold high end beach apparel, sunglasses and other accessories.
I’d learned of the job when I had gone in to buy a bikini with pretty Swarovski crystals on it. It kind of reminded me of that sheer, sparkly bodysuit thing that Britney Spears wore on the VMAs one year, only it was cut down to just a bikini. If there was one thing I knew a little about, it was bikinis. I owned dozens of them.
More than once I had been told I should have submitted my pictures to Sports Illustrated for their swimsuit issues, but I wasn’t convinced I really had that good of a body. Yes, I’d inherited a good hourglass figure. I was in a full C cup before I started high school and I kept growing until I reached a double D cup. My hips flared out and there was definitely junk in my trunk. Maybe a little more than I would have liked.
I put on my pearls and Prada reading glasses, and picked up my purse before I left. Tray was at the garage and Amelia was on a business trip to Indio for a few days. I loved Amelia to pieces but I forgot how loud she could be. Tray never complained about me being there but I was sure he was anxious for me to move out. I was looking at condos, but I hadn’t found one yet that I liked.
The travel time to the boutique was two minutes.
I parked outside the small shop and walked into the building with my head held high and a confident smile on my face. Tara, the owner, was standing behind the sales counter. Her dark hair was hanging in loose waves down her back. She was dressed in a salmon pink romper with big, chunky jewelry.
“Hello,” I said with a friendly smile.
“Hello, how may I help you?” she smiled back.
“I’m Sookie Stackhouse. I’m here to interview for the sales clerk position,” I said.
“Yes, right. Sorry. I’m terrible with faces,” Tara said.
“It’s alright. I brought in a résumé. I know it’s a little sparse, but up until recently I planned on being a housewife and eventually a mother,” I explained.
“Oh, well, it’s too bad that didn’t work out for you. What makes you want to sell beach apparel instead?” Tara asked.
“I love the beach. I grew up in rural Louisiana so I did most of my swimming in ponds and creeks,” I said. I was also lying through my teeth. We had an indoor pool to keep the mosquitoes away. “But even so I’ve always thought it was no excuse not to look stylish. I used to use a glue gun to add crystals to my flip flops.”
Lies, lies, lies…
Tara’s eyes narrowed.
“Didn’t you run out on your wedding a few weeks ago?”
My stomach dropped into my ass.
“Uh, yes,” I admitted.
“My cousin was the caterer,” she informed me.
“Oh… Uh…” I didn’t know what to say but I could tell from the look on Tara’s face that she wasn’t interested in hiring me.
“Thanks for coming in.”
I nodded and turned around to leave. So much for that. I probably wouldn’t have been very good at sales anyway.
At Amelia’s advice, I decided to go by Eric’s restaurant to try the Cuban panini he made. According to Amelia it was the best Cuban she’d ever had. When I walked into the cafe I could tell there was chaos going on inside. The tables weren’t particularly full but there was obvious tension in the air.
“Can I help you?” A brunette with a serious grump on her face asked me.
“Oh uh, yeah just a table for one. I’m a friend of Eric’s,” I told her, even though it may have been a stretch to call myself that.
“Oh, well then right this way, your highness,” she said with a lot of hostility.
Her timing was unfortunate since Eric just happened to come out from the kitchen at that moment.
“Aude, we’ll talk later,” he told her. He looked at me. “Hey, what are you doing here?”
“Amelia said I have to try your Cuban,” I explained.
“Oh I can get you one. You okay? You don’t look like you’re doing so hot,” he said.
“I had an interview earlier this morning. It didn’t go so well, but that’s nothing new.”
“Shit, I’m sorry,” he said sympathetically. “Want to talk about while I make your Cuban?”
“Uh, sure. I don’t want to get in your way. It seems a little crazy in here today.”
“Yeah, we had a few people call in sick,” Eric explained. “Come on, you’ll be fine, just stay out of the way.”
I did as Eric said. The chaos seemed to be worse in the kitchen. Since I hadn’t ever been in a commercial kitchen I didn’t know if that was normal. It seemed to be based on the stuff I saw on reality TV.
“Dammit, Mel, where’s my side of ranch?” A waitress yelled. “You do this every goddamn time! It’s not that hard!”
“Oh really? When’s the last time you had to fill orders for every table in the restaurant at the same fucking time? That’s right, never! Go change your tampon and chill out!”
“Eric, I need an omelet with bacon, Monterey Jack, extra peppers, mushrooms and extra crispy hash browns, a half stack of banana nut pancakes, a blackberry grilled cheese, a bacon barbecue burger cooked medium with swiss cheese, hold the onion, sub potato pancakes and country chicken salad with extra egg, dressing on the side,” Arlene said in a rapid fire way all while someone else was trying to talk to Eric and Mel was still arguing with the other waitress.
His head looked like it was going to explode.
“Enough!” Eric roared. “Mel, get the dressing. Tonya, hold your horses. Charles, we’ll deal with it after the rush. Arlene, give me your ticket because I missed all that.”
“She needs an omelet with bacon, Monterey Jack, extra peppers, mushrooms and extra crispy hash browns, a half stack of banana nut pancakes, a blackberry grilled cheese, a bacon barbecue burger cooked medium with Swiss cheese, hold the onion, sub potato pancakes and country chicken salad with extra egg, dressing on the side,” I recited.
Eric looked at me for a moment with a blank expression on his face.
“Why do you keep turning down my job offers?” he asked.
“Uhhh because I wouldn’t be good at it?” Even I wasn’t so sure of that anymore.
“Are you kidding me? You’ve stood here for thirty seconds and you’re already better than Dawn.”
“I have really good recall but that doesn’t mean I’d be a good waitress,” I argued. Honestly, I wasn’t sure why I was fighting it so hard. It was probably the Michelle in me. My mother had always treated the help like second class citizens.
“Can you communicate?” Eric asked. “Like, can you talk to the servers and tell us what they need? Or if something is running behind can you communicate it to the servers?”
That didn’t sound too hard.
“I think so,” I said nervously. Eric looked oddly amused and I could feel my cheeks turning pink. “Is this funny to you?”
“Not at all. This makes my life so much easier if you agree to take a position as an expeditor,” he smiled. “All this yelling back and forth shit pisses me off to no end. If you can be our go between I’m offering you a job… again…”
He’d offered me three jobs. That had to be some kind of record. I wasn’t sure if I believed in signs, but it was obvious to me that something in the universe was trying to tell me to stay at the café. I took a deep breath before I nodded.
“Okay. You win,” I said.
“Can you come back after three so I can go through all the job requirements and paperwork?”
“Yeah, sure,” I agreed. “Or I can just wait. It’s almost one and I was serious about that Cuban.”
“That works too. I’ll get started on that. Mel can make Arlene’s order. Right, Mel?” Eric finished over his shoulder.
“Aye, aye, boss,” Mel replied.
“So should I go sit in the dining room then?” I didn’t want to get in his way.
“Yeah, unless you want to take a seat in the office. I can bring your food and if we slow down we can get started,” he suggested. “It’s the door that has the Captain’s Quarters sign on it.”
“How naval of you,” I smirked. “Well I guess you’ll know where to find me.” I turned toward the door and I could feel him watching me. Without looking back I yelled, “Eyes off my ass, Northman!”
“They weren’t on your ass, Stackhouse,” he called back.
“They were on your rack!” Mel supplied and I heard a towel snap, followed by an, “Ow, fuckface!”
I giggled and let myself into the office. It was surprisingly neat and organized. For some reason I figured Eric would be a hot mess. There were a few pictures of his daughter on his desk. She was a pretty girl. I was jealous of her curls. My hair never retained curl for too long. She had beautiful skin and in one of the pictures she was missing two of her front teeth.
There was a custom made collage on the wall to my right of album art. I recognized record covers from the Eagles, the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Boston… He would probably be surprised that I knew any of those bands.
I was still looking at the collage when the office door opened. My head turned and the bitchy brunette from the front of the restaurant was standing there.
“What are you doing in here?” she snapped.
“Waiting for Eric,” I answered. I didn’t know what her deal was but abrasiveness wasn’t a good look on her. That scowl was bad for her skin.
“Did he tell you come in here?”
“He did. He’s got some paperwork for me to fill out,” I explained. I held out my hand to her. “My name’s Sookie, by the way.”
“Aude, I’m the front of the house manager,” she replied without shaking my hand. “Are you going to be a new waitress?”
“No, I’ll be working in the back with Eric.” I was pretty sure I saw steam billowing out of her ears.
“Of course you are,” Aude muttered.
“How long have you worked here?” I asked curiously. Despite her nasty demeanor I had no reason to be rude to her.
“Six years. Most of the girls have been here a while.”
“Did you start out as a waitress?” I could tell she wasn’t fond of being questioned but I was only trying to keep conversation going.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Eric saw something special in me so he promoted me after two years.”
“That’s great,” I said sincerely.
She gave a strange look and before she could respond Eric walked in with my sandwich.
“Aude, what are you doing in here?” he asked.
“Taking a break and getting to know Sookie,” she said with a fake smile.
“Right…” He looked skeptical.
“I’ll be out back,” she smiled before bouncing off.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with her lately,” Eric sighed, handing me a plate with a delicious smelling Cuban panini.
“She didn’t seem too thrilled that I’ll be working in the kitchen,” I told him. I took a seat on the folding chair next to Eric’s desk and set my plate on it.
“She’s not allowed in the kitchen, that’s probably why. She just gets in the way,” he sighed, rubbing his eyes.
“Oh. Well that’s unfortunate. Isn’t that kind of awkward with her being a manager?” I took a bite of the sandwich and moaned. It was perfect.
“She’s front of the house manager. She has no business in the kitchen. I’ll be your manager. If Aude tries to boss you around you’re free to tell her you’ll check with me first,” he said. “She’s good at what she does but gets on my fucking nerves.”
“Got a little buyer’s remorse with that one?” I picked up a house made potato chip. It was crispy with just the right amount of salt.
“A little bit,” he chuckled. “I’ll wait until you’re done eating before we get started. I need the break anyway. My daughter talked me into getting her a puppy so I’ve been up all hours of the night running it outside to piss.”
“She’s got you wrapped around her little finger, huh?” It was good he was so dedicated to his daughter. I respected that.
“She does. I’m a sucker. She bats her eyelashes and I say yes,” he smiled. “She gave me options though. A baby sister, a girlfriend that she never wants to meet or a puppy.”
“That’s real love. You chose the puppy over the girlfriend, who would most likely be much more fun for you than a furry piss bucket,” I chuckled.
“I’m sure she would be. Most girls I meet are after my money and I don’t need a gold digger. I moved to San Diego and got an unassuming job to hide it, but when Mommy is a movie star it kinda follows you,” he shrugged.
“You should date someone famous looking to keep it quiet,” I suggested. “She won’t want your money and she’ll keep your relationship off the radar.”
“No thanks,” he chuckled. “I also have to take Josie into account. If I start dating someone she’s going to have to accept my daughter, plus my limited time. It’s easier to stay single.”
“Whatever works for you. I’m clearly not in a position to be giving out advice on relationships given the way I just ran out on my wedding.”
“That took guts,” he told me. “I didn’t want to get married when I did and it ended in shit. The only thing good that came from that relationship is Josie. I’m a little envious I didn’t have the balls to leave my ex before we got married. Not only that, I tried to make it work after she cheated for my daughter.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to try and forgive someone, no matter what the circumstances are. You were trying to give your daughter a family. There’s nothing wrong with that.” I took another bite of the sandwich. The pickle was the best part.
“That’s what everyone that knows said too. I’d doesn’t make me feel like any less of a fool for sticking around. Most of my guy friends thought it was a non-issue because she cheated with a woman. Sex is sex regardless, you know?”
“I think maybe in some crazy, pornographically driven theory that makes sense, but in reality I don’t think it holds up. I would be devastated if my husband cheated on me whether it was a man or a woman, but I think it would be worse if it was a man he cheated with. That’s a whole other part of his personality I know nothing about and I should know him better than anyone,” I said.
“Thank you. That was my argument when she told me. It was a mess from the beginning. We’re finally being civil with each other,” Eric told me.
“That’s good.” I took another bite.
“I take it you like the sandwich,” he smirked. “You make sex noises with each bite.”
“I do? Sorry.” I didn’t even notice after the first bite.
“It’s alright. That’s the only way I’ve made a woman moan in way too long,” he laughed.
“I’m sure you could easily change that if you wanted to.” Our eyes met and I felt a charge build between us. Eric was about to respond when the door opened without warning and Aude walked in.
“Boss, you’re needed. We getting busy again,” she said. Eric looked at the clock before looking back at Aude.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” he told her.
Aude nodded before she closed the door.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told her about knocking,” he said as he stood up. “We close in thirty minutes. You still going to hang out here?”
“Yeah, I can. Or I can meet you somewhere later…” Wait what? Why did I say that?
“My place at five?” he suggested. “We can do all the paperwork there and you can meet Dimples.”
“Yeah, Jo named him,” he chuckled.
“I figured. Where do you live?” I’d only seen him at the garage and at the Dawsons’ house.
Eric leaned over me to pick up a pen and notepad. He wrote down his home address. His handwriting was also neat.
“I assume you have GPS?”
“Heck yes. I’d be lost without it, that’s for sure,” I laughed.
“You have a pretty laugh,” Eric complimented. The sheepish look on his face told me he didn’t mean to say that.
“Thanks. You have neat handwriting.” I could be nice… sometimes.
“Thanks. I’ll see you in a bit. I’ll make sure Aude doesn’t come back to fuck with you.”
“Okay. Thanks again.” I popped another chip in my mouth and watched him leave the office. Okay, watched his ass leave the office. It was a nice ass.
If he could tell he kept quiet about it. I wasn’t sure about working with him but I could always quit if it was a bad fit. In the meantime I could take comfort in knowing my uppity mother would be horrified by my means of supporting myself. That was almost better compensation than whatever Eric was planning on paying me.