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Cocky Chef(5)

By:J.D. Hawkins

"I dunno, Tony … "

"What are you afraid of? Getting a tan? Working with the best chefs in all the nicest places? Serving food to celebrities and actors and singers? The great tips? The gorgeous men? You're right, it does sound scary."


"Ugh. Men are the last thing on my mind right now. Like … the very last thing on the list of things I want."

"I get it. You're a country girl-hate the city. You wanna spin across the meadows like Julie Andrews every morning-and one day you will, I'm sure. But if you wanna make something of yourself, you've got to go to the city, and L.A. is the one to be in right now."

His words had tumbled through my mind for days afterward, leaving a bitter aftertaste that I could only cleanse by admitting they were probably true. Finally I realized I had nothing left to lose but the little bit of pride I still clung to like a comforter. So I packed up some clothes, books, and all my anxieties and then left my dusty hometown for good. But as I drove down to L.A., I felt more like I was leaving all my dreams behind unrealized than heading toward them anew. Struggling and just about managing to suppress the feeling that I was heading for another personal disaster, that L.A. would chew me up and spit me out.

Karma decided to start cashing itself in when I arrived though. Within days I found a great apartment with an awesome fitness instructor roommate named Asha, Tony had me taking on open shifts at the sushi place he worked at, and after just a couple of months I landed an interview at the hottest place in the city: Knife. I didn't expect to get it, being one of the most inexperienced of the candidates, but it turned out to be more of a cooking test than a formal interview, and I got the job. Martin-the manager who was looking after the place while Knife's owner set up his new spot in Las Vegas-said it wasn't even close.

That was just over a week ago, and things couldn't have gone much better … until about twenty minutes ago when I decided to fuck it all up because I didn't ask anyone in the kitchen if we had any plain thyme. So here it is. Smacking me in the face. Rock bottom. Now I'm pushing open the door to my apartment, struggling not to cry in case I find I can't stop.

Asha's sitting on the couch watching TV, her long, powerful legs propped up on the coffee table. She turns moon-like brown eyes in my direction as I enter, and with the kind of perception that only someone who genuinely cares can show, asks, "Is something wrong? It's not even ten. I thought you were finishing after midnight tonight?"

"So did I," I say, letting myself slump onto the loveseat beside her.

She keeps those eyes fixed on me, and I know she wants the whole story. Asha used to be an MMA fighter, so she's good at staring people down.

"Spill it."

I take a deep breath. "I just fucked up the job at Knife. Royally."

"What?" Asha cries, pulling her legs from the table and facing me directly, toned muscles twisting in my direction. "How? Everything was going so great." 

I rub my eyes and sigh deeply as I replay the scene in my mind.

"I used a slightly different ingredient for the potatoes than what's listed on the menu. It was the first time I've ever done that, and ninety-nine point nine percent of people wouldn't have even been able to tell the difference … so-of course-the plate was going out to the one guy who could."


"Cole Chambers. The owner. My boss."

Asha breathes in through her teeth, and puts a hand on my arm. I can tell she's already thinking of how to soften the blow.

"So … he fired you? Just like that? I mean I know he's supposed to be a jerk, but-"

"I didn't give him the chance. Once he started yelling, I walked out."

"Willow … " Asha says, shaking her head.

"What was I supposed to do?" I say, frustration and anger at myself seeping into my defensive tone. "Just stand there and let myself be embarrassed?"

"Come on now," Asha says, her tone gentle but firm. "You shouldn't have just walked out like that. He might not have fired you."

"No, he would have," I say, shaking my head adamantly. "It's not like I haven't seen him fire somebody before. I recognized the look on his face. He was pissed, and he wasn't giving me any second chances. I was just saving my pride."

Asha sighs and tilts her head in disappointment, braids falling over her shoulder.

"Would he really fire you over that? One ingredient out of dozens, out of a hundred dishes? You could have explained it was a mistake, that it won't happen again. Surely he would understand that."