Hired Girl -7- Real Bologna


Hired Girl_2_0.jpg

Hired Girl -7-
Real Bologna

by Erin Halfelven


Judith parked on the top level of the parking garage. “This is where the employees for the hotel complex park,” she explained. “We might as well get used to it.” The midsummer sun hit them like a glowing hammer as they stepped out of the car.

Harold felt anxious but tried not to show it. This was the first time he’d gone out in public disguised as Carol, and he was going on a job interview to boot. His sister kept up a stream of chatter to distract him, but it wasn’t actually working that well. He felt sick at his stomach and wished he hadn’t eaten so much of the spicy shrimp.

“Hot enough for July,” commented Judith as they made their way to the ramada sheltering the elevator doors from the direct sun. The asphalt roof felt sticky under their shoes.

“It is July,” said Harold.

She nodded. “Probably why it’s so hot.”

“You’re weird,” said Harold.

They got into the elevator and Judy pressed M for Mezzanine/Lobby. As the doors closed, she looked Harold up and down and quirked an eyebrow at him. The pink dress still looked fresh and attractive. “You’re not,” Judith said. “Weird, that is.”

Harold glanced down at himself. “I feel weird.”

His sister shook her head. “You look cute, not weird. I was just checking your makeup. When it’s hot like this, you have to make sure nothing has got runny. Eye makeup especially.”

The doors opened. “So the first thing we do is find a bathroom, in case we need any repairs. And if you need to go because we took a long ride.” She strode out of the elevator. “The restaurant and nightclub are on the ground floor but we want to stop here first.” She headed toward a lighted sign marked ‘Restrooms.’

Harold looked around before following her. People on the mezzanine were pushing luggage around with their feet while standing in line to check in. One teenage boy looked back at him with interest but otherwise, he and Judith were ignored.

Harold followed his sister to the Women’s bathroom, feeling as if everyone were looking at him, despite the evidence. Anyone could tell that he was a boy wearing a dress, couldn’t they?

But Judith didn’t wait for him or even look around to see if he were following until she pushed her way into the facilities and headed for a stall. “Relief first,” she said over her shoulder.

The bathroom almost sparkled as it probably should in a nearly new building. Green and white tile with magenta accents made it feel cool and relaxed. Harold paused to look at the mirrors. His reflection showed Carol, a younger, slimmer version of his sister. He sighed and chose a stall himself.

“Don’t forget to sit down,” Judith whispered.

Harold didn’t answer but rolled his eyes. He wasn’t a moron. Then she reminded him to wipe, even if he didn’t need it and that would not have occurred to him. He shrugged.

Back in front of the mirrors, Judith had him freshen his makeup which didn’t need it either but was good practice. “When in doubt, a little lipstick and mascara gives you confidence,” she told him.

He nodded. Confidence. As in confidence game? He put his makeup away in his borrowed purse.

“Ready?” she asked, satisfied now with how he looked.

“No,” he answered, following her out the door and back to the lobby.

They paused at the top of the stairs. An entry hall below divided the restaurant from the nightclub side of the lower floor. An unmanned rental car kiosk and a valet parking desk also provided separation. People again stood in line, below pink neon announcing The Promenade, this time to get their names added to the table-waiting queue. The sound of cups and plates and flatware being clicked and clanged together penetrated the softer hum of early dinner conversation. It seemed a busy, successful sort of place.

A few patrons went through the red, plush-padded doors under the blue-green neon Jazz Prom sign into the nightclub, but it was early yet. They might have been going to the bar to wait for a table in the restaurant. Not all of them had dressed like they expected to be going into a nightclub but this was California where casual fits most occasions.

Harold followed Judith down the stairs and toward a hidden door between the rental car stand and the bank of elevators. “I’m scared,” he admitted.

“Sensible if useless,” said Judith without turning to look at him. “You’ll be fine.” She pulled the door open, went through a short hall and opened another door.

A man looked up from a desk as they entered and smiled. “Judith,” he said, and Harold recognized him as Jake Prentiss, Judith’s boyfriend through all her years of attending college in California before going east to get her law degree at Columbia. He’d even been over to the house more than once.

Harold didn’t hear a thing while Judith and Jake greeted each other and even hugged and kissed. A roaring noise seemed to fill his head, drowning out all other sound. When he realized that the edges of his vision were going red, he thought he might be about to pass out.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting in a fabric-covered chair beside the desk with his head down and Judith whispering in his ear. “Don’t pass out, for fuck's sake!” The obscenity might have been intended to get Harold's attention; it worked, and he shook his head a bit.

“Is she going to be all right?” Jake rumbled, sounding concerned and maybe amused.

“I’m okay,” Harold murmured without looking up.

“She’s nervous because of coming here to ask for a job,” explained Judith. “Oh, this is my sister, Carol.”

“Carol,” Jake repeated.

Harold raised his head and looked at him. Jake was tall, athletically lean, wearing a polo shirt over stylish black pants. His straight brown hair was cut very short on the sides and fell forward over his forehead on top. His had that Chris Pratt fringe of beard stubble on his chin. And the same wide gray eyes Harold remembered from before looked back, not giving much away about what the man might be thinking.

“I didn’t know you had a sister, and such a cutie,” said Jake. His smile could be heard in his voice but still didn’t touch his eyes.

Harold blushed. He remembered blushing when Jake had spoken to him years before. Would he, did he remember?

Jake cocked his head, amusement even more apparent. “You’re not old enough to work in the nightclub, are you, Carol?”

“I’m sixteen,” Harold managed to say.

“Too bad,” Jake said. “You’d be killer in a cocktail waitress get-up. Rake in those tips, just like your sister will.” He turned a grin on Judith. “You want me to ask Paul to hire… her? Even in the restaurant, she can’t work as a waitress since they serve wine and beer.”

Harold had noticed Jake’s slight hesitation before using the first pronoun and then the stress put on the second one. He tried to stand up, wanting to run away but Judith put a hand on his shoulder and kept him in the chair. “Don’t,” she said. “If you stand up, you’ll pass out again.”

Jake stepped back, his eyes still giving nothing away. He towered over Judith and Harold, very solid and very masculine.

“Okay,” said Judith. “We’re not fooling you?”

Jake’s mouth smiled. “I’m willing to be fooled. But your mother mentioned to me once that you only had a brother when I asked about the cute younger sister I thought I had seen around the house.”

“Shit,” said Judith.

Harold slumped, head down again to keep the roaring and red vision away. Had Jake thought he was a girl four years ago?

“No big deal,” said Jake. “Paul and I have a cousin who’s trans. Danni would kill to have gotten as young a start on being herself as you’re getting, uh, Carol.”

“I…” Harold began, trying to look up again.

“Carol’s not been, uh, Carol, very long,” Judith stepped in to say. “She’s sort of trying out the idea this summer.”

“I just wanted to be able to get a job,” said Harold aware that he had begun to leak tears.

“No one wanted to hire you as a boy?” asked Jake.

“As a boy, he looks like a pre-teen girl,” said Judith. “So, with makeup, I helped her look her real age.”

Harold finally managed to look up and Judith handed him a tissue. “Dab, don’t wipe,” she warned.

Jake was nodding. “I can see that. Look, I’m sure that Paul can give you some shifts. You willing to work late on Fridays and Saturdays? Those are hard to fill at hostess because you don’t get tips.”

Harold blinked after dabbing at his eyes, mascara darkening the tissue. He looked at his sister who was nodding, too.

“Sure, that’s when I’ll be working,” Judith said.

Harold made it unanimous and joined the nodding. “Yes? I mean, uh, who’s Paul?”

“Paul is my kid brother, my twin, twenty minutes younger. He runs the restaurant now, nights and weekends. My older brother Nathan is the assistant manager at the hotel and Dad and my uncles have the rest of the management spots. And Danni is our director of promotions and publicity.”

“It’s all a family business?” asked Harold.

“Not to say ‘family’ family,” said Jake. “Even though Prentiss was Pergolini when my great-grandfather came over from Italy. Northern Italy, Lombardy not Sicily.”

Judith laughed. “He really does make a mean Bolognese sauce,” she said to Harold then added to Jake, “Remember when you talked me into coming down to the restaurant after it was closed? We had pasta and wine and…." She smirked and didn't finish her sentence

Harold smiled, looking sideways. “Do you use real bologna?” he asked Jake, with all the fake innocence he could find.

Jake’s smile finally got to his eyes as he laughed. “I like her,” he said to Judith and then turned to Harold, “I like you, kid. And you’re cuter than your sister, which doesn’t hurt at all.”

“Hey!” Judith protested.

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This story is 1773 words long.