“Sookie, it’s Bill. Look, there’s no rush but I was wondering what you wanted to do with your stuff here. I can toss it if you don’t want it or I can arrange to have it shipped to Louisiana. I heard through the grapevine that you’re in California. I’m guessing you’re staying with Amelia. It explains a lot if I’m right. It’s fucked up, swee– I miss you and I hate you at the same time. It’s not the same here without you. Call me back,” Bill requested on his voicemail.
He sounded so sad and it was difficult to hear him like that. Most of the time I could push the guilt away but it wasn’t always so easy. Hearing him like that made it harder. I saved the message and got out of my car.
It was my first day at the café. Eric’s giant truck was outside already. A few other cars were in the lot too. I walked to the back door where Eric told me most employees entered the building. I found Eric in his office looking over invoices. It was 6:30, but he wanted to show me around the kitchen before the restaurant opened for the day.
“Morning,” I said.
“Mornin’,” he replied looking up at me with a sweet smile. “Are you excited?”
“Nervous is more like it,” I told him. If I screwed up it wasn’t just the customer that suffered. A plate coming back could throw everything off.
“You’re going to be fine,” he said confidently. “Imagine what it felt like opening this place. I threw up twice before I unlocked the door for the first time.”
“Yikes.” It made me feel a little better to know that, though. “You don’t still do that, do you?” I joked.
“Not in about nine years, but that was because I drank too much the night before,” he winked. “You can leave your purse in here. I’ve already talked to everyone and they know what to expect. We shouldn’t be too busy so I’ll work with you until you’re comfortable.”
“Okay,” I nodded. I set my bag down on the folding chair beside his desk.
“If you want you can put that in here.” He opened the drawer on the other side of him.
“Oh, yeah. That’s probably better.” I moved my purse to the drawer and in doing so I got a closer look at some of his tattoos. I had finally decided what I wanted to wear in my skin. “Do you mind me asking who does your tattoos? I think I figured out what I want but I don’t want to go to some random artist.”
“Rene Lenier,” he answered. “I can get you his card.”
“That would be great, thanks. I’m a little nervous about doing it but in a good way,” I told him. I figured if anyone could understand that it would be Eric.
“If you need a hand to hold I can come with you,” he chuckled. “What are you going to get?”
“Don’t laugh, but I was thinking an empty birdcage with the door open,” I told him. It was good symbolism, right?
“Why would I laugh at that?” he asked curiously. “I think it’s great. It means something to you, that’s important.”
“It does. I don’t want to put something on my body that doesn’t have meaning to me. No tribal butterfly tramp stamps for me.” Amelia had one. She got it on the sly in Cancun on her senior year spring break trip.
“Good, I’ve told Amelia how trashy she looks when that shit on her back is hanging out,” Eric said. “I have all Japanese traditional tattoos because they all mean something.” He held up his arm and pointed at his forearm to show me a tattoo that didn’t fit. I was a sloppy heart with ‘I love u’ in the middle of it. “This is the first time Jo wrote that she loved me on paper. It’s my favorite.”
“That’s sweet,” I smiled. “I bet she loves that one too.”
“She does. Every now and then I let her draw on my chest with her markers. She likes to give me her own tattoos. I have a feeling she’ll grow out of that soon.”
“Yeah, probably,” I laughed. “It’s cute that you let her do that though. I don’t know many dads that would.”
“I don’t get that. She’s my best friend, next to Tray. She’s also a cool ass kid, so…”
“Plus you both love Dimples,” I reminded him. Eric might tell people he was annoyed with the puppy but he spoiled the little thing.
“That’s between me and you, Miss Stackhouse,” he winked.
“So no ‘I heart my Dachshund’ bumper sticker for you?”
“No,” he replied firmly.
“Maybe Tray will paint it right on your Chopper,” I suggested. Eric was not amused.
“You do know I can make your life a living hell if you keep that up?” he teased.
“You know I can talk Tray into painting your bike pink with the phrase ‘I heart my wiener’ on it, right?” I countered. It wouldn’t take much at all to talk Tray into that.
“No you can’t. He wants to get paid for it and if he fucks it up he’s out a lot of fuckin’ money.”
“I bet Josie would approve,” I laughed.
“She would approve of the pink, that doesn’t mean I’d be okay with it,” he chuckled.
“Isn’t she the boss?” Their dog’s name was Dimples. She was the boss.
“Some things she’s allowed to boss, my Chopper is not included. When she turns eighteen she’s more than welcome to get a pink Chopper for herself,” he told me.
“People would sure take notice though.”
“People notice me already,” he shrugged.
“I mean the bike, goof,” I laughed again. It would be hard to miss a big, pink Chopper speeding down the highway.
“I’m good. I don’t need a pink Chopper. You want one? When’s your birthday, I can arrange it.”
“Not until July next year and I think I’ll pass. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle and I’d probably fall off if I tried,” I said.
That really meant I was a big chicken but I didn’t care.
“A scraped up knee is good for the soul,” he chuckled. “It means you put on your big girl panties and tried, right?”
“I’ve scraped my knee,” I said a little too defensively and Eric shot me a skeptical look.
“Uh huh,” he nodded.
“Well I did,” I insisted. “I tripped over a tree root at boarding school and… Why are you laughing at me?” His shoulders were shaking but no sound was coming out of him.
He shook his head, but couldn’t say anything for a moment. “Stick with me, Sweetcheeks,” he said eventually with a silly grin on his face.
“So I can get scrapes and bruises? No thanks. I’ve done just fine without those things,” I said.
“That’s not why,” he told me. “There’s a whole lot you need to learn and experience, Sookie.”
“Yeah I know that. Believe me, I know.”
“You’re going to do alright,” he smiled.
“I know.” I knew I had a lot to learn, not just about life, but myself. It was going to take time to figure things out. I was okay with that.
I followed Eric out of the office and while he went to go check with the prep cooks to make sure everything was on schedule, I waited by the pass. The door leading to the dining room swung open and Aude sashayed in, wearing a tight dress and five inch heels. It was also obvious she’d gone and gotten highlights in her hair and I was pretty sure her eyes used to be brown…
“Good morning Aude,” I said politely while she looked me up and down.
She huffed and shook her head. “Your nails.”
“What about them?” My polish was a shimmery ocean color.
“No one wants flecks of your polish in their food, that’s what,” she said smugly.
No one told me it wasn’t allowed.
“Aude,” Eric groaned. “Sookie reports to me, if I had a problem with her nails I would have told her.”
“If she reported to me I’d uphold the public health code and send her home,” Aude retorted.
“I hope you remember you report to me,” he told her. “Sookie isn’t going to be touching food anytime soon. Her nails are fine.”
“It’s your business license on the line,” Aude shrugged. “The front of the house is ready to open.”
“Okay, thanks. We’re ready,” he said.
“Good. Then I’ll open.” Aude looked at me. “At least your hair won’t get in the food,” she said before she sauntered off.
“Who shit in her Cheerios?” I asked Eric.
“I know, right? I don’t know what’s been up her ass lately, but this isn’t like her,” he told me.
She had been consistently rude to me, so her attitude was status quo in my opinion.
Eric started my tour by introducing me to his sous chef Mel, who I’d met before when he argued with that waitress. There was Charles, the other chef and Eric’s right hand. Over in prep there was Luna, Sweetie (she insisted on being called that) and D’Eriq. Luna seemed a bit socially awkward, but nice. Sweetie didn’t seem too interested in being pals, but I was okay with that as long as we weren’t bickering all the time. D’Eriq seemed about as mellow as a person could get. I figured out why when I spied the joint tucked behind his ear.
Eric led me out front to meet the servers. Aude maintained her sourpuss while the waitresses rejoiced at having a more organized back of the house operation. One by one I said my hellos to the servers.
“Don’t let old fussy britches over there bug ya. She’s just mad you might get to hop on the boss’s joystick before she does,” Dawn explained.
“Uh, no, I’m not here for that,” I told her. She laughed and patted my arm.
“All Dawn thinks about is sex,” Eric whispered. “Watch her, she gets handsy.”
Good to know.
“I think she’s more interested in you than me,” I replied as we headed back to the kitchen. “Apparently you have a desirable joystick.”
“I don’t know why, no one here has seen it,” he chuckled. “Now if they had… I’d get it,” Eric winked.
“You don’t offer it like you do your backside?”
“No. And don’t tell anyone here you got that offer. I doubt anyone knows that tattoo extends that far.”
“Just between us,” I promised.
Orders started to come in a minute later so it was time to get the show on the road. To start Eric was going to have me observe so I could get the hang of it and see how the kitchen functioned. There was a synchronicity to it all that I needed to get used to. It would take time but I was confident I could do it.
Watching Eric was like watching a finely tuned machine. Being in the kitchen seemed to come naturally to him. It was like he was on autopilot. I had to admit it was impressive, especially to someone who couldn’t fry an egg without ruining it. Maybe I’d learn how to cook while I was at it.
Stranger things had happened.
My hands were shaky but I was excited. Eric was picking me up in a few minutes to go meet with Rene about my tattoo. I was wearing the same capris I’d had on earlier but I’d swapped tops for something cropped. My birdcage was going on my hip where I’d put Eric’s hand.
Amelia gave me a curious look when I came down in the half shirt.
“What? Does it look silly?” I looked down at myself.
“Nope, just wondering where you’re going looking like that,” she said.
“I’m getting a tattoo.” I said it like it was any other Thursday night.
“A tattoo?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yep. Something wrong with that?” I further surprised her by grabbing a beer from the fridge and popping the top on the counter the way Eric showed me.
“Um, no, but who are you and what have you done with Sookie Stackhouse?”
“Aren’t you the one who said I needed to get rid of Michelle?” I took a long drink from the bottle. I touched my hip where the tattoo was going to go. “I think a tattoo right about here should help with that.”
“Yeah, that’ll definitely do it,” she nodded. “Uh, where are you going to get it? What shop, I mean.”
“I don’t know the shop name but Rene Lenier is doing it.” Both Eric and Tray got their tattoos done by him and the work was excellent.
“Tattoo Royale,” she supplied. “He’s from Louisiana, has a thick Cajun accent.”
“Thanks for the warnin’,” I said, letting the south out of my mouth for a change.
“No problem. Is Eric taking you?”
“He offered to go with me,” I told her. The little smile on her face told me she thought I was hiding something. “He’s my boss and we’re barely friends. That’s it.”
“Uh huh. Barely friends that have dinner until all hours of the night on a work night and then go get tattoos together,” she smirked.
“Friends eat dinner together,” I shrugged.
“It’s nice, that’s all. He’s a nice guy and I’m glad you’re making new friends.”
I took another drink of my beer.
“Bill called me. I have to go to New York next week to oversee my stuff being packed up. I’m having it shipped here and put in storage until I find a place,” I told her. “He sounded so sad, Ames.”
“You guys were together for a long time, of course he’s sad. How do you feel about seeing him?” she asked.
“Sad. I’m afraid that my guilt will get the better of me, you know?” I hated to see anyone suffer. My mother used to tell me I was too emotional and all my empathy was nothing but trouble waiting to happen.
“You’re a strong girl. Remind yourself what life is like with him,” she said. “If you start to feel too bad call me, or Eric, or any of your new friends at the cafe and we can talk you down off the ledge.”
“I will.” I definitely wasn’t calling my mom for advice. Gran maybe, but not Mom.
I heard a rumbling that I assumed was Tray’s bike pulling up to the house. I took another drink of my beer and nearly spit it out when Eric strolled into the house instead of Tray.
If he thought I was riding a bike he was out of his clodhopping mind.