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Cocky Chef(6)

By:J.D. Hawkins

"No, you don't get it. Cole's whole thing is that he's precise, meticulous. His recipes are like paintings, every brushstroke matters. For me to just throw something else in there-"

I stop myself to drop my head in my hands, my own stupidity sounding even more ridiculous when I'm forced to articulate it out loud. Asha reaches out and rubs my back.

"Whatever," she says, in a voice as soft and soothing as aloe. "It'll be okay. Los Angeles is full of restaurants."

"And all of them are a step down from Knife," I say. "It's not like I can just coast much longer. I'm still paying off my debts, and I'm not even sure I've made rent this month."

"Leave all that for the morning," Asha says, standing up with a sudden burst of vitality, enthusiastic defiance in her voice. "Look, the night's still young. Let's go get a couple of drinks-maybe a few too many. My first class isn't until tomorrow afternoon. We'll get dressed up, we could dance a little," she says, swaying her hips, "and I guarantee you it'll all seem much less like the end of the world when you wake up with a hangover."

I look up at her, forcing a smile to show how much I appreciate it.

"Thanks, but … I don't really feel like going out. All I wanna do right now is make a gigantic batch of the sugariest, chocolateyest, meltiest fudge brownies and eat myself into a sugar coma."

Asha raises an eyebrow mischievously as she considers it, and I can almost hear her stomach growl.

"Well. That works for me."



I turn up at Knife early the next morning. Early enough to smell the jasmine still lingering in the coolness of the night air. Insomnia can be a real problem, but in the restaurant business it's virtually a necessity. So here I am, in the only area of Knife that I allow to be a mess: the back office.


I'm sitting behind the desk, among the filing cabinets and piled-up receipts, a few crates of wine in the corners (I let the staff use the room for storage sometimes). The sound of the dish washers hosing down the last of the pans a satisfying background music as I run through the accounts and figure out the pricing of some seasonal menu items.

As a couple of the chefs start arriving for the lunch shift, I hear a knock on the open door and look up to see Leo's bald head in the doorway. He's wearing a buttoned-up checked shirt and creased slacks that would have been out of date even in the sixties. He's one of the few chefs for whom the chef whites are a step up. Even though he's forty two, he still has the smooth, puppyish skin of a baby. Clean scalp reflecting even the dim light of the office, skin pale enough to make you wonder if he commutes from Alaska.

"Hey boss," he says, in his gritty, quiet voice. "Willow just turned up. Should I tell her to leave?"

"Why would you tell her to leave?" I ask, my voice firmly dismissing his assumption.

"Ok, ok," he says, holding up his hands. "I didn't know you wanted to fire her yourself."

I lean back in my chair, cross my arms, and shoot him a look like I'm about to challenge him to draw.

"Who told you I was going to fire her?" I'm feeling defensive about her all of a sudden, and I don't know why. Especially considering that her behavior last night was unacceptable.

Leo looks at me a little nervously, as if performing a dozen calculations at once. He glances back into the hall, looking each way, then steps inside the office, leaning forward so he can lower his voice.

"Of course you're going to fire her. Right? I mean, she fucked up a main dish and made a scene in front of the customers, then bailed in the middle of a dinner shift. We were a man down for half the night."

I look at him for a few seconds and he waits expectantly, oblivious to my intent.

"Come see me after your shift, Leo," I say calmly, returning my attention to the computer screen.

I don't want to hear anything else-and Leo's just about smart enough to realize that, so he turns on his heels, rubbing his bald head as he leaves the office.

Shortly after that I hear another light rapping on the door, and look up to find Willow there. Except this isn't the Willow from last night, a pretty face poking out of that shapeless chef's uniform-there's nothing shapeless about her now. Tight, ripped jeans hug her toned legs, her shirt struggling with the combination of her round breasts and that tight stomach, leaving a mouthwatering strip of flesh around her navel that reveals itself only a little as she moves.

"Shut the door," I tell her, growling the command, then watch with focused eyes the balletic movements of her body. Delicate fingers on the door handle, swish of her hair against the nape of her neck, turning just enough for me to study the jeans-filling roundness of her ass.