Chapter Forty-Seven: In Charge
Monday evening, Gloria collapsed backward on her bed, feeling more exhausted than she ever had in her entire remembered life. Three days off and one day on, and I can't wait until tomorrow night when I know I have two more days off. She'd hardly slept Sunday night, awake with nervousness gnawing at her rest. The recipes were pretty simple, the number of diners few, but still, Maria would not be there to keep her from screwing up.
Granted, she had spent a good hour with Maria on Sunday, taking notes about how to prep for each meal -- Maria clearly not happy about having to stay home for the next two weeks once she was out of the hospital. "You got all these notes in your notebook, quit worrying about it. All the old Bakers are gone this first week, you cook for the younger crowd, probably do better than I could. Use more butter, more seasonings."
Thomas had come in to the kitchen when Gloria showed up at 8:15. She'd waved him off with a wagging index finger. "I'm not on the clock, Thomas, not yet. I need this personal time in here to keep from freaking out."
He'd raised his hands in surrender. "You'll do fine, Gloria. If you need anything, just call me."
Jittering with morning tea that she probably should have skipped, Gloria had inventoried everything that she would need for the day's meals. Everything was there, except for the proteins. Steve would show up with those around ten and that would leave plenty of time for prep.
At five after nine, Susana had ambled in, talking on her phone, to Gloria's astonishment and annoyance. With no greeting, the woman had dumped her purse on the personals shelf and continued to poke at her phone, making another call. Gloria had checked her impulse to backhand the phone out of Susana's hand, thinking that perhaps there was some emergency or urgent news ... god knew that weird crap happened in families ... right up until Gloria heard her say, "... y vamos a comprar en las gangas en Best Buy ..."
Susana had been there in the kitchen for training the three days before Thanksgiving. She knew that phones were forbidden in the kitchen, that personal calls were limited to emergencies. She knew that employees were expected to show up on time, ready to work. Apparently she didn't know that Gloria had taken Spanish in high school, four years of it.
This time only am I not going to kick her out for this shit. Gloria waited until the woman thumbed off the phone and put it in her pocket. It was nine-fifteen. As Susana leisurely made her way past the prep table, looking around lackadaisically, Gloria stepped in front of her. "Mi madre me decia que 'El futuro de California es en espanol.' Si, es la verdad. Tambien es la verdad que llegar en tiempo, y no hace llamados personales durante el trabajo. Es el futuro de su trabajo. Comprende?"
Susana cringed back a little in surprise.
"Let me make myself clear in two languages. Tomorrow, and whenever else you work in this kitchen with me, you get here at nine sharp and ready to jump right into the food prep. Leave the damn phone in your purse, I don't care if you want to go shopping. And if you can't do that, you go to Thomas and tell him you don't want to work in here ... or I will. Got it?"
"You can't talk to me like that, you little ... "
"Get out or get to work," Gloria said tonelessly. "Your choice."
Susana looked like a thundercloud about to spew lightning, but turned away toward the kitchen.
"Wash your hands, put the apron on, and let's start prepping for lunch."
She'd had it all planned out; for lunch, there would be salads topped with shrimp, a citrusy vinaigrette as a dressing, sourdough bread slices. Susana would cut up the spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and lemons, the cutting boards and knives already set out for her. Gloria would put tonight's pork cutlets to marinate, whisk up the vinaigrette, and once the shrimp arrived, shell and clean them. She didn't trust Susana to make sure the mud veins were properly removed, but Susana could cut the bread -- Gloria had marked off a clear plastic ruler to how thick the bread should be cut.
Steve had shown up at a quarter to ten with the shrimp, looking concerned when he greeted her. "Here's your crustaceans, ready for adventure. You doing okay?"
"You look like you're going to war."
"Sorry. I'm fine, just miss Maria, that's all. I know she'd catch stuff that I wouldn't."
"Cook with love, Gloria, and it will all be beautiful. Like the turkey was on Saturday."
"Thanks. That was fun, playing mad scientist with food. See you later."
He has no idea how much his smile helped me get through the day. If I wasn't so exhausted, I'd call him, find out where he lives, and jump in the car and kiss him. The thought made her grin a little, feel a warmth inside. In gratitude, of course.
His words had helped. 'Cook with love' -- she didn't know the Baker family enough to love them, but she did love her job. When the salads were ready, Gloria plunged the cleaned prawns into salted boiling water, took the pot off the stove. The moment the shrimp were pink, she strained them out and dumped them into a bowl of ice water. Tasting one, she was thrilled to feel an almost 'crunch' to them, tender, succulent, just salty enough. Thank you, Maria, for teaching me how to cook shrimp better than any restaurant I've ever visited!
Six shrimp were arranged on each salad, and the vinaigrette carefully poured in a ribbon over them. Gloria looked up at Susana. "Not too much, not too little. We're romancing a bonus for Christmas here."
"Needs some heat," Susana grumped. "This is like shrimp and cow food."
"What would you add for heat?" Gloria asked, knowing she was not going to dump tabasco on the salad.
"Garlic, some jalapenos, a little sour cream, cilantro ..."
"Great, let's do some on the side. I don't know how much heat the Bakers like, let's find out. Do it, use the little Cuisinart to chop the stuff. I'll get the cilantro." That's how Maria would have answered me. "If nothing else, it will be fantastic for them to spread on the sourdough."
It had been an unmitigated success. The Bakers had loved the side spread with the salad, as Thomas reported when the table was cleared.
"Brilliant, Susana, that's what we're talking about," Gloria told her assistant. Susana's countenance had brightened.
"I can cook, too, I promise you."
"You can. Let's knock this pork cutlet right out of the park."
The rest of the day had not been too bad. Susana didn't have another speed beyond "Slow," but the dishes were simple. The staff had been happy with the turkey stew, the pork cutlets turned out tender, and after dinner had been served, Gloria'd had plenty of time to butterfly chicken breasts for Tuesday's meal. At the end of the shift, Gloria did a visual inventory of all the equipment, making sure everything was exactly where Maria wanted it.
Gloria kicked her shoes off, wiggling her toes. Wait. Why is the house so quiet? Her mother would be at work, but where was Ben? And the disgusting Lolo? And it was after sundown, Will should be home. In socks, she went to the kitchen to see if there were any messages on the phone. None.
There was, however, a note on the table, in Ben's handwriting: Will came and got me to show me his new project. Back by nine. She had an hour and a half to herself; a hot shower was just the thing to wash the fears and sweat of the day away.
There was even time to go to the store and buy some cake mix and make a birthday cake for Will's birthday tomorrow ... or they could celebrate on Wednesday when she had the entire day to cook. What would he like best, chicken and mashed potatoes, or ribs and macaroni salad?
When Gloria emerged from her room, hair still damp, fluffy slippers on her feet, she heard high heels clicking in the kitchen. Lolo.
"Hello, Gloria," the harlot said pleasantly. "I found work today. Just part time, just for the season, but it's a start."
"Congratulations," Gloria replied, wishing she could grab Lolo by the hair and fling her out the front door. "Where?" So I can avoid you.
"At the mall, Macy's cosmetics. They had an opening for an afternoon shift. Too bad there's no commissions, like with car sales. I can't wait to tell your mom, she's been so encouraging for me. I don't know what I would have done without her."
Not been an adulteress? Who is she kidding? She apparently doesn't know that I know about her relationship with my father. Otherwise she wouldn't be standing here yapping at me. Or maybe she thinks I'm as dim in the head as my mother.
"Well, good for you. It's a tough job market out there, for sure." She got a glass from the cabinet, put three ice cubes into it, and filled it with water, intending to go hole up in her room again. The front door opened, however, and in walked Ben, followed by Will.
"Hey, Lolo and Hag Sister," Ben called. "How'd it go today?"
"It went, and I didn't have the nervous breakdown I thought I would. Gonna be a long two weeks, though. Long time no see, Will, done with your project?"
"Almost," he answered. "Tomorrow I'll show it to you."
"That's right, tomorrow! Happy birthday tomorrow, Will," Lolo chirped.
"Speaking of which, Birthday Brother, what do you want for a special celebration meal?"
Suddenly Will looked almost furtive, and turned away. "Don't worry about what I want, just make something good."
Gloria turned to Ben, not asking aloud. Ben's face had the reddest blush she'd ever seen on him. He backed up a step, and turned away, too. "Got to check on my eBay stuff," he muttered.
Lolo looked puzzled, aware that some family dynamic had communicated far more than words. She smiled faintly, and told Gloria she was going to go read until Philli came home.
As Gloria passed by the boys' rooms, she noted that their doors were shut. That in itself might not have been all that unusual, but considering their demeanors a few minutes ago, Gloria's suspicions were bubbling up.
Will's up to something, something no good. And Ben's in on it.