Hired Girl -8- Garden Salad


Hired Girl_2_0.jpg

Hired Girl -8-
Garden Salad

by Erin Halfelven


Paul looked a lot like Jake, but it wasn’t the first thing you noticed about him. That would be the wheelchair. The second thing most people saw would probably be the occasional twitches of arms and legs and facial features. Then if you knew Jake you might notice that Paul looked a lot like him.

Same dark brown hair with the unruly forelock, same gray eyes in a similarly lean face; Paul looked enough like Jake to be his twin, which he was. Not identicals but as close a resemblance as siblings were likely to have, like that between Judith and Carol. Except Paul looked like a Jake who had been crumpled up, then sort of smoothed out, and finally discarded into a wheelchair.

Harold tried not to show any reaction when he first saw Jake’s brother. No one had mentioned Paul’s disability; why would they? But Harold knew that Paul had noticed his first reaction, something in the man’s eyes signaled that the disguised boy had not gotten away with pretending that everything was just as expected. Paul looked right at Harold, seeing Carol, and smiled. And his smile went all the way to his eyes, leaving a twinkle there.

Jake made introductions as they walked into Paul’s office in the ground floor restaurant of the Promenade Hotel. “Paul, you remember Judy, my old, er, ex-girlfriend…”

“Watch it,” said Judith.

“And this is Carol. Judy’s younger, cuter, sister,” Jake continued with a grin. “Carol, meet my younger, nicer, smarter brother Paul.”

“Enchanté,” said Paul, nodding to the girls.

“He’s always rubbing it in that he speaks French as well as Spanish,” said Jake.

“Not as well, but in addition to. And we both can make ourselves understood in bad Italian.” He grinned too. “As you can see,” he waved at his brother, “the older twin got his choice and picked looks, so I had to settle for everything else.” Paul had a slight stutter on some words when he spoke, and his right hand sometimes moved in rhythm with his speech. “Looks like you two made a more equitable distribution, except Judy got more height.”

Had Paul just winked or was that another of his twitches like the one that caused him to move his jaw from side to side at the end of each short speech? Something grabbed at Harold’s heart and without thinking about it, he winked back.

Paul’s face split in a grin and he laughed. “I like her,” he said to his brother.

“Yeah, I know,” said Jake. “That’s going to make it easier to give her a job.”

Harold blushed but smiled at the brothers.

Paul squinted at him. “What kind of job?”

Jake tapped his brother on top of the head with a knuckle. “Hostess, jeez, what were you thinking about? Don’t tell me. She’s too young to be a waitress.”

Rubbing his scalp a bit awkwardly, Paul kept grinning. “Do you have a prom gown?” he asked Harold. “All our hostesses wear prom gowns because of the name of the restaurant. Or tuxes if they are guys.”

“Uh, no,” Harold admitted. “I don’t have either of those.”

Jake and Paul both cracked up at that. Harold just smiled, wondering what exactly had been funny about it. Paul wiped his eyes after he stopped laughing. “With that short hair, maybe we ought to put you in a tux. Da-dang it, but you would be so cute!”

Judy laughed, too, this time and Harold blushed.

“So she’s got the job?” Judy asked.

Paul nodded. “Don’t see why not, except you can’t start tonight because H.R. is closed so no paperwork. And you could do the job in that, but we really would like you to wear something a bit more dressy. How old are you anyway?”

“Sixteen,” said Harold. He glanced at Judy. “Do you have something I could, uh, I could wear?”

“No, nothing that would fit you well enough without some tailoring. I was taller than you are now, even back in Junior High. And better built.”

Harold glanced down at his chest then glared at Judy.

His sister laughed again. “Just getting her into a dress for this interview was a chore and now she wants something prettier,” she confided to the brothers.

“Oh, a bit of a tomboy?” Paul asked. “Do you play sports? Baseball? I tried out for third base on my high school team but they said I wasn’t enough of a square.”

Harold watched Paul’s slow grin until he suddenly got the joke. He blinked rapidly, trying to figure out how to react. Jake and Judith were already laughing. Harold decided to just smile and shake his head. Paul winked at him again. I will not giggle, Harold told himself.

Still grinning, Paul rolled forward in his chair. “Why don’t I show you around the place, Carol. Then these two can go off somewhere and suck face or whatever they had planned for the night.”

Jake pulled his foot back quickly to keep Paul from running over it. “Remember, she’s only sixteen, Lothario.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Paul headed toward the door of his office. “This way, Miss Pink. Ignore my brother who is still trying to figure out why he stopped dating your sister.” Paul laughed.

Harold followed him out, bemused by the interplay between the brothers.

“That way is the dining room,” Paul indicated the direction with his whole chair, “but let’s go through the kitchen first.” He turned down a short hall and pushed through a door into the food prep area. “Don’t touch anything while you’re back here since we didn’t stop to wash up.”

“Right,” Harold agreed. The kitchen felt hot and steamy and smelled of meat cooking along with the fresher scent of vegetables being cut up and washed. A man and a woman worked at long grills while another man seemed to be inspecting the contents of a bucket on the floor. At a counter, a younger man chopped and prepared what looked to be twenty or so bowls of garden salad.

“Hey guys, this is Carrie Pink,” Paul announced to the busy people. “She’s going to be our new hostess starting tomorrow. Unless H.R. finds out she’s an ax murderer or something.”

Harold winced but tried to smile. Carrie? he thought.

David continued introductions. “Carrie, this is Manuel, he’s the head cook on this shift.”

“Chef,” said Manuel.

“Yeah, chef,” agreed Paul. “These two are Sally and Berto, his assistants. And Pascal is the busman tonight, keeps the kitchen clean. Hey!”

The man with the bucket looked up at Harold and waggled his bushy eyebrows. “Doan’ get nothin’ on that pretty dress,” Pascal warned, moving his bucket out of the way of Paul’s chair.

Everyone smiled at Harold and greeted him as “Carrie,” and he knew he was blushing. He tried to call everyone by name in returning their greetings, a trick both of his parents had told him would be useful for remembering names and seeming more likable. He followed Paul through the swinging doors into the dining room.

“Hey, Tiffany,” Paul greeted a tall brunette making coffee. “This is Carrie Pink; she’s going to be your new hostess, starting tomorrow.

“Yeah, hi, kid,” the woman replied. “Ain’cha cute! Look, Paul, this new coffee isn’t up to what we been serving and people are noticing. We should go back to the old supplier.”

“Talk to me later about that,” Paul said but he stopped to sniff the air near the coffee machine. “It doesn’t even smell as good, does it?”

“Yeah, no,” agreed Tiffany.

“Damnit,” said Paul. “Don’t let me forget to check into this, Tiff.” He turned back to Harold. “Tiff is the floor manager tonight.”

“Hi, Tiffany,” said Harold, hoping he didn’t sound twelve again. Meeting all these people made him nervous about his appearance, his behavior and even his voice.

“Hey, kid,” said Tiffany. “Watch your feet around Paul; he’s run over mine a dozen times.”

Paul grinned. “She thinks I do it accidentally,” he stage-whispered to Harold.

“I heard that,” Tiffany called after them as they entered the dining area. Over-padded booths lined one wall and glass doors in another led to a covered patio. Tables of various sizes dotted the main room with planters dividing it from the waiting area and the wide hotel hallway. A dozen tables and booths were already occupied.

“The rest of the crew are taking orders, looks like,” said Paul. “Maureen, Phillip, Donna and that’s Zoey being hostess tonight, showing those people to a table.” All the female servers wore short gowns in different colors, styled to look vaguely like prom dresses and Phillip did indeed wear something that approximated a tuxedo.

“Um,” said Harold.

Paul wheeled past the register and through the entry of the restaurant, greeting a party of people waiting. “Hi folks,” he called out cheerfully. “Your hostess will be with you in just a bit. Enjoy your dinner!”

Harold smiled so hard he thought he might get a cramp in his teeth and everyone smiled back. “Hi,” he murmured, waving a hand and blushing.

They talked about what Harold’s duties would be while Paul led their way back to his offices through the hotel administration corridors. “The hostess has to coordinate with the servers and floor manager to be sure not to overcrowd any one server station. There are simple rotations to follow to make the best distributions. You have to find a table to the right size and people might have preferences for booths or sitting on the patio. Which, by the way, is only open in the evening right now since we don’t have the spray coolers working and it’s too hot out there most days in the summer.”

Back behind his desk, he motioned Harold to take a seat. “How many shifts do you want to work? Most will be six or seven hours, and I’d like you to take four or five if you can.”

“Um, okay,” Harold said. “I don’t drive yet, so I’ll need to get here with Judy.”

“Hah,” said Paul, looking thoughtful. “She’ll probably want the evening shifts to get the better tips, and Jake will undoubtedly give them to her.” He grinned. “Those two used to be like…” he glanced at Harold and changed his mind about what he had been going to say. “Hostess shifts end at ten or eleven, cocktail waitress shifts end at midnight or two a.m. With cleanup and sides after. So….”

Harold felt his heart sink a little.

Paul went on. “Looks like you’re going to be at loose ends for an hour or two before you can go home with Judy most nights. You can probably take your dinner back to the employee lounge in the hotel to kill the time. How’s that sound?”

“Okay. I guess. Uh,” Harold hesitated. “There’s something else I really ought to tell you.”

Paul smiled and nodded, waiting.

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This story is 1881 words long.