RELISH HAD CHANGED since the last time Elle visited. Granted, that had been before the restaurant opened, when Mom was mid-process renovating the broken down building into a quality restaurant. The walls had been a dingy, food-spattered yellow then, and the floors were covered in scuff marks. No such tackiness remained in the modern Relish. Daring, dark green walls gave the restaurant a modern feel (Elle remembered Mom staying up late in the kitchen, staring at paint cards until she fell asleep). Silver minimalist decor danced on the walls, reflecting on the replaced linoleum. The seating area had distanced black chairs, black booths, and black tables, all stylishly ordinary. It smelled faintly of all the best foods, and, more than that, of some air freshener Mom pumped in from the back. The front counter showcased a few of the most popular baked goods Mom made, and the menu was a classy chalkboard hanging above the register.
Has it ever fallen? Elle wondered.
Mom led Elle to an empty table in the corner (most of the tables seemed to be full) and darted back to the kitchen to check on a few orders. Restaurant Reading mimicked grocery store Reading in that everyone was focused on their food and had no time to judge strangers. Elle settled back and watched the chewing inside people’s minds, their worries about abandoned diets and slightly overpriced lemonades, their wandering thoughts about where they would go after their meal.
“Are you Helda?” a voice asked. Elle jumped. A man was peering down at her through a bushy red beard, a kind, older man (forties-ish), a man who she’d never seen before. She Read him to get an idea of what he wanted with Mom.
“You’re one of the cooks,” she said aloud.
“Yes,” he smiled. “So you are Helda! Good to meet you.”
“Patrick!” Mom’s voice intervened gracefully. “Thanks for coming!” She slid into the booth by Elle. “I’m Helda,” she explained. “This is my daughter, Elle. She’s going to be sitting in with us today, if that’s alright with you.”
“Perfectly fine with me,” Patrick smiled. “Good to meet you, Elle.”
“Yeah,” Elle said, trying to hone in on his Reading. It was a little scattered; he was more nervous than she expected from someone who seemed so at ease. He was thinking about someone that comforted him….
Oh, his wife. Elle’s eyes darted down to the big, depressing gold band. He was married.
Mom proceeded to ask Patrick a series of questions, and Elle did her best to listen and record his Readings in her notebook. There was nothing worrying about them, just his wife and kids helping him cook and a few moments of his grandmother slapping the hand he stuck in the cookie batter. Elle felt herself slumping against the seat and tried to sit up straight. She’d realized a couple things: 1) specialty deli chef was a relatively high-level position, and 2) most middle-aged men who had enough financial cushion to apply for a high-level position at a startup restaurant would likely be married or dating someone. Maybe the chef hunt wouldn’t be as promising on the eligible bachelor front as she’d thought it would be.
Everything besides his marital status was fine with Patrick until they got in the kitchen. Mom allotted forty-five minutes for each applicant to cook her their favorite German dish, so she could see what their skills were at the stove. Patrick nicked his own finger with a knife five minutes into the timer. He then proceeded to drop a pan, kick a cabbage across the floor, and trip over his own shoelaces. His bread burnt, his seasonings were all wrong, and when he finally got something served up on the plate and collapsed back against the stove (then yelped and jumped back because it was still hot), it had been an hour and fifteen minutes. And the food tasted horrible.
“Thank you, Patrick,” Mom said sweetly. “We’ll be in touch.”
You didn’t have to be a Reader to know she was lying.
The second cook, Albert, was downright rude. “You a waitress here?” he asked Elle after Mom introduced her as her daughter.
“No.” Elle crossed her legs and began taking notes. His Reading was all thick, solid lines, no scribbles or waverings at all. No room for growth. Elle had learned just to keep her mouth shut around people with Readings like this. It didn’t do any good to engage. Mom’s got that way sometimes, but it was never to the point of no return.
Of course, Elle couldn’t tell Mom this until after Albert left, licking his fingers free of the sauce he tasted with his hand.
Mom rubbed her temples. “Was he…hitting on me, at one point?”
“No,” Elle sighed. “He was trying to figure out how you started the business on your own.” She thought back, then groaned. “Wait, no, maybe he was hitting on you while asking how a woman could have started a business on her own.”
“I don’t think I need the notes on that one,” Mom said, looking around at the kitchen Albert had wrecked to make a simple (admittedly, good) batch of schnitzel.
The third cook was a familiar face, who Elle saw walk in as she was finishing up cleaning the last bits of gravy off the floor. She ducked; it was instinctive, and one of the waiters looked at her funny. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I know that guy,” Elle hissed.
The waiter glanced over to the booth where Ollie Blaese must be sitting down with Mom, begging for another chance. “He has roses,” the waiter sighed. “Everyone’s a hopeless romantic these days.”
“Hear, hear,” Elle muttered. She tried to ignore the fact that the waiter (almost sixty) Read her as a kid who had no idea what she was saying, and she shrunk down lower against the warm oven door.
“He’s gone,” the waiter told her. “That didn’t last long.”
“Yeah,” Elle sighed. “I didn’t think it would.”
Mom rolled her eyes when Elle returned. “Did you see?”
Elle nodded. “I’m guessing he didn’t have the necessary qualifications?”
“He applied under a fake name, Elle. A fake name. He’s starting to turn me off dating for good.”
“How many more applicants left?” Elle asked quickly before that thought could be explored further. The spilled gravy had made her nauseous, for sure, but weirdly she felt as if she could eat something today. And her stomach was very excited about that fact.
“Just one.” Mom checked her folder, then handed Elle a resume. “This guy.”
Elle squinted at the little black and white picture up on the top of the paper. “He looks cute.”
“Thanks,” someone said behind her, and Elle ripped the edge of the paper in surprise.
Frank was cute, in a forty-something-year-old way, and he smiled like someone who would help with physics homework, if anyone needed it. He had on an ordinary suit, but he had an apron tucked in his arm that he was self-conscious about in his Reading. To comfort himself, he thought about the woman who mattered most to him in the world.
He sat down and settled the apron in his lap. “Good to meet you, Helda,” he said to Mom.
“Likewise,” she said, and Elle wasn’t imagining it – Mom’s smile was paired with a Reading that scattered, scribbled and plopped in a frantic kerfuffle.
It could roughly be translated to: He IS cute.
And had a Reading that caught at the edges of Mom’s hair and couldn’t stop looking at the way her lips curved when she said his name.
Elle sighed in relief. At last, things were starting to go her way.
THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!
CHAPTERS 11-14 will be available in July!
The Kindle Cover Contest (see my Instagram for details) is an exciting opportunity for illustrators/artists looking to get their name out there! Sooo, if you know anyone...you should send them my way!