☠ Chapter Thirty-Five ☠
➳ ARIELLE'S POV
I grab my chef's coat from the back of Zayn's car and shut the door. "Hey," he says as the passenger's side window rolls down. I take a step towards the open window and bend down, peeking my head inside the car. "Good luck in there. I know you'll kill it."
"Thank you, I love you and I'll call you when I'm done?"
He shifts behind the wheel of his car and smiles at me, "yeah. I–" he starts but he bites his lip and looks away from me, staring at the steering wheel.
It's been a week since New Years and it was time for me to start my apprenticeship at Liam's father's restaurant. Somehow, Liam had managed to pull some strings, and apparently his father seemed very impressed with the grades I'd received over my time at Le Cordon. Even now, standing in front of his restaurant doesn't feel real. In some way, it all feels like it's still just a dream, like I just started at Le Cordon and now it's almost already over.
I'm still standing at the window as I wait for Zayn to say whatever it was he wanted to, but he seems frustrated with himself. He has to close his eyes and take a breath before looking back at me again. "Good luck," he repeats to me. For some reason it has me feeling like he didn't say what he intended to say. I'm positive he wanted to say something else, but he holds back.
"Thanks," I reply before smiling and backing away from the car. He slowly rolls up the window and I begin the walk to the building. Once I'm at the front door I turn to wave at him, but he's staring at the steering wheel again in concentration. I thought we were over this weird secrets thing, but maybe we weren't just yet. When he finally notices I'm staring at him, he smiles a little and waves. I return the gesture before walking into the restaurant.
It's overwhelming being in the restaurant for the first time. The name of the place was Vinum, which I was told was the Latin word for wine. Apparently Mrs. Payne was quite the drinker, and so the name was an easy pick when her husband was deciding on a name.
Speaking of Mr. Payne, I wasn't sure whether or not Liam's father would be here tonight. I was told that I'd be meeting a man by the name of Hayes, which I assumed meant that Mr. Payne was much too busy with his other ventures to hang around showing me the ropes.
As I step further into the restaurant, the smell is the first thing that hits me. It smells delicious in here, and suddenly the nerves are hitting me because what if I'm not good enough to work here? I know this is just like an apprenticeship, but the chefs that work here are professionals, they've worked their way up the ladder to be here . . . And I'm only here because I know Liam, and his father owns the damn restaurant. I'm going to be the kid that everyone hates because the only reason she's here is because she knows the right people.
My eyes scan around the building and I'm taken aback by the classiness of it. Knowing where I was raised and where I come from, I feel totally out of place in this restaurant. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling which is covered in this stone brick with exposed beams jutting out from the drywall. There's soft jazzy music playing in the background, and an entire wall covered in an elaborate wine holder. I imagine that some of the most expensive bottles of wine are cradled in the rack; a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of the liquor.
"Seat for one?" A hostess interrupts the daze I'm in. When I turn to her, she's the epitome of perfection and the bile instantly rises in my throat. She makes me think of my mother with her hair pulled back perfectly in a bun, and her clothes without a wrinkle, and her lips stained the same shade of red. "Miss?" She's holding a menu against her chest as she stares at me for an answer. She looks a little obnoxious as she stands there, but maybe I'm just being oversensitive.
"No, I'm sorry. I'm here for the apprenticeship. I'm supposed to meet a man named Hayes?" I step toward her as she places the menu back down. She looks down at the podium she's standing at, and points her finger at something before she looks back up at me.
"Oh, yes. Arielle, is it? He said you'd be coming by. Come with me," she begins walking through the building quickly, whizzing past tables. I scurry behind her, trying not to pay attention to the fact that I totally don't fit into this place. Eventually we reach the door to the kitchen and she pushes it open and steps inside. "Hayes!"
Eventually an attractive man steps in front of me. "Yes?" He has short brown hair, dark brown eyes, he's tall - much taller than Zayn - and he's very muscular. He's a little more rugged looking, and maybe a little older than Zayn.
The hostess points towards me, "this is Arielle, she's here for the apprenticeship." She sticks her chest out a little when she looks at him, obviously attempting to flirt with the man, but he seems to be having none of it as he looks at me and gives me a friendly smile.
He rubs his hands together and the second he does so, all of the muscles flex in his arms and it's really distracting. "Thank you," he whispers to the hostess who smiles and bats her eyelashes at him before she turns around and walks out.
He turns to me once she's left, placing his hand in front of mine, "it's nice to meet you, I'm Hayes. I'll be the person watching over you while you're here, so you should probably kiss my ass." He smiles. I shake his hand awkwardly, unsure of what to say all of the sudden. "Lighten up," he says as his hand touches my arm, "it's a joke, Arielle."
"Actually I prefer to be called Ari," I point out.
He smiles at me again, "alright Ari, would you like to meet your boss?" I nod my head. "Follow me . . . And don't worry he's like the nicest guy you'll ever meet." He begins walking away from me but I'm too distracted for a moment to even realize it. The kitchen's full of chefs running around. Clattering pans, sizzling, running water . . . All of the sounds fill my ears and even though it's so hectically noisy, it's wonderful.
"Ari!" Hayes calls out to me, and I look at him a little embarrassed. "Come on!" He waves me over and this time I follow him through the massive kitchen. Midway through the kitchen he stops at one girl's station. "Good job Rae, keep it up."
"Thanks," she says confidently, never taking her eyes off the onion she's cutting. When she looks up, she notices me and she gives me a genuine smile.
Hayes keeps walking then and I'm forced to follow. Eventually we reach a door at the back end of the kitchen with the name Julian McKinley in a black font. Hayes knocks lightly on the door while peeking through the window. After a moment, he opens it and allows me to step inside the office first. He follows behind me and closes the door, coming to stand beside me.
"Chef, this is–" Hayes starts.
"Arielle Hawthorne, I'm here for the apprenticeship." I reach forward to shake his hand, "it's lovely to meet you." When I look at Hayes he's smirking with an eyebrow raised. He looks at me as if he's proud for a moment before we both turn back to Chef Julian.
"Same to you, Arielle. I'm Chef Jules," I immediately take note of his raspy voice. He shakes my hand with the utmost confidence. He's also an attractive man, with dark brown hair that's in the same haircut as Hayes' hair - in a crew cut style. His blue-green eyes are a little mesmerizing as he looks at me. "Mr. Payne sure did get you in here quickly, it isn't often that we see newbies in here," he comments.
"Don't worry about it, I'm just teasing. It's nice to see a new face, was tired of all of their faces," he jokes.
"Same goes to you Chef Jules," Hayes teases.
Chef Jules walks around his desk, and leans up against the front of it. His once white chef's apron has been stained with a rainbow of food colours, but that seems to be the only remotely messy thing within this office. It's immaculate, every single paper or file seems to be in order, and it's nice to see because it shows me that he's responsible, unlike some of the other chefs I've worked under.
"So Hayes will be the person you will follow for your first time here. You'll follow him until you're confident enough to be on your own. If Hayes happens to not be here, you'll be under Raelyn's wing." Chef Jules adjusts himself on the desktop before continuing, "today I'll go easy on you. Hayes will show you around the building, show you to your kitchen, introduce you to a few people . . . just show you how we work around here at Vinum."
"My break is coming up Jules, so if it's alright with you I will hand her off to Rae until I return," Hayes comments from beside me.
"That's fine, you can go now. Introduce Arielle to Raelyn on your way out," Chef Jules steps towards me, entrapping my hand in a handshake again. "Welcome to the team, Arielle."
"Thank you, Chef. But please, call me Ari."
"Of course, Ari. Hayes and Raelyn will take good care of you."
"Thank you, Sir." Hayes and I exit the office together and he nods his head towards the front of the kitchen.
"C'mon," he says before he starts walking. He nods, waves, and offers a few encouraging words to his coworkers as he walks past, and it's all so genuine that it makes me smile. Both Hayes and Chef Jules seemed so genuinely kind-hearted and it's so comforting, knowing just how awful Chef Wilson turned out to be.
Eventually he stops at the kitchen where he greeted Rae earlier. He points to the chef's coat within my arms, "put that on, you'll fit in better." He puts his hand up to cover his mouth as if he's telling me a secret, "the others won't even realize that you're a newbie. Promise." He smiles.
I slip the coat on my shoulders as we wait for Rae to return from wherever she is, and after a minute or two she's speed-walking towards her station with her hands full of utensils. "What are you-" Hayes begins.
"Jesse stole my damn spatula again!" She rolls her eyes as she tosses several utensils onto the metal surface. "Asshole!" She shouts loud enough for him to hear.
"Anyways," Hayes says awkwardly, "this is Ari." I look at Rae who's beautiful, with a blonde bob reaching her shoulders, and pink lips, and blue eyes. Her hair is half pulled back to keep it out of her face as she scurries around the kitchen, and I can't help but think that not only is she really pretty, but she looks like a really nice person. She looks like someone I can see myself getting to know, and becoming good friends with.
Rae wipes her hands frantically on a tea towel before she steps towards me. I extend my hand for a handshake, but she has other plans as she pulls my body in for a tight hug. "It's nice to meet you, I'm Raelyn, but you can call me Rae."
"It's nice to meet you," I reply.
She smiles at me before she turns to Hayes, "I'm assuming she's the newbie that Jules told me about?"
Hayes nods his head, "yeah, I'm supposed to be on my break, so she's all yours for the next half hour." He turns towards me, placing his hand on my shoulder. "Treat her good, Rae. Ari, I'll be back sooner than you think."
"Great." I smile.
"I will," Rae says at the same time.
Hayes turns from us then and begins walking towards the west end of the building. "So, is that where the lunch room is?" I ask, pointing to where Hayes just went.
"Oh, no, he must be going for a smoke."
I stare back at the door, a little surprised that Hayes smokes.
"Would you like me to show you where you can put that?" Rae points to my purse as she talks.
I nod my head, "yeah it'd be nice to put this thing down."
"Not a problem," she smiles. "Follow me." She weaves in and out, around a bunch of other people's working stations before we reach this door and she pushes it open. "This is like our little locker room, you can lock your things up in there." She walks over to this little desk and finds a fresh lock, along with its code and hands it to me.
I walk towards the cabinet and toss my things into it, ensuring that I've locked it.
"Next I'll show you where your station is." She opens the door and holds it for me to walk through. "Head back to my station," she says from behind me.
When I don't move and she doesn't push past me I realize that it's a test. She's testing me to see if I've learned the layout of the kitchen. It's massive, but I think I know where her station is. It's located near the western part of the building and so on instinct, I head in that direction. I walk confidently past several stations, along with the chefs who work in them but ultimately I end up where I believe Rae cooks.
I hear her voice come from behind me, "good job. I see you're good with direction."
"Thanks," I blush. "I don't even know how I just did that. I'm too nervous to think straight."
"Don't be," she comments. She steps in front of me, leaning against the countertop. "Look, I was really nervous on my first day here too, but Jules is like the best boss you'll ever have. I'm late . . . Always. I've been late for two years and I'm still working here. How about we get to know each other first, I'm sure that'll help calm you down. Tell me, which school did you come from?"
"Le Cordon Bleu," I answer.
"Ah," she nods her head, "Le Cordon. I went there too, that's actually where I met my girlfriend."
"Oh, really? Does she still go there? Maybe I know her."
"No, she graduated with me two years ago. Do you have a boyfriend? Girlfriend?"
"Yeah, my boyfriend, Zayn. He didn't go to culinary school though. I met him at a party." I think back to the first night when I saw him. I was about to go to sleep when I heard cars outside our dorm room and so I leapt down the stairs to see all of the commotion, and in the crowd, was him.
"How long have you two been seeing each other?" Rae asks as she wipes one of the knives down and places it delicately on the cutting board.
I have to focus to even remember how long it's been. We met in September, and it's already January. "Four months," I reply slowly.
"You seem surprised," she chuckles.
"I am, actually. When I met him I really didn't expect us to get anywhere far, if you know what I mean . . . I didn't even realize that it's been that long already." I guess time moves a little faster when you're happy.
"Does that mean the I love you's have happened?" She jokes.
"Yeah," I lie. "What about you and your girlfriend?"
"Oh, Chelsea?" She shrugs her shoulders as she breaks eye contact with me. "We're kinda on and off. It's been two years, and we've hit a rough patch. I'm not sure if we'll make it through."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
She waves her hand at me, "don't worry about it. I've seen it coming. Guess I'm going back to men," she jokes. "Know any you can hook me up with? Maybe your boyfriend has some hot, single friends?"
I genuinely laugh along with her, "it's possible." I instantly think of Louis for some reason, but Louis is happily with Zoe. I could never betray Zoe like that when I know she's so crazy over Louis, and he's the same with her.
"Well, I guess that's enough chitchat. Your station is right there," she points to the one directly beside hers. "Oh! Wait! I almost forgot the newbie tradition, come!" She hurries into the gigantic fridge, but when she comes out, she's empty handed. She heads towards the smokers exit, but I hesitate. "Well, come on now!"
I follow behind her to find Hayes, leaning up against the side of the building. He's wearing a black leather coat now, with a white V-neck shirt underneath it - smoke billowing around him from his cigarette. "Hey girls," he rasps the second we step outside. Suddenly he's the epitome of a bad boy standing there, a total 180 from just minutes ago.
The second my body fully steps outside, the cool hits me and I'm wrapping my arms around myself, trying to warm up. "Newbie tradition," Rae comments as she pulls three shot glasses out from underneath her coat, along with a bottle of tequila.
"Ari," Rae calls my name as she hands me a shot glass. Suddenly I'm looking around the dark alleyway in search of someone that'll catch us. I know Rae stole this liquor from the restaurant's refrigerator, and I know we shouldn't be doing this. But all I can think about right now is how exhilarating it feels to think about the possibility of being caught.
"Ari, are you cold? Here," Hayes says as he shrugs the coat off his shoulders and wraps it around my body. Suddenly I'm engulfed with the familiar scent of cigarettes, along with the totally unfamiliar scent of amber. It's foreign to my nose, and in a way, it feels like I'm cheating on Zayn. But this is all totally harmless. Hayes gave me his jacket because I'm cold and nobody should be reading anymore into it.
But why do I feel guilty?
Rae yanks the lid off the bottle and pours tequila into all three of our glasses. "To Ari," Hayes says as he holds his glass in the air – Rae and I follow suit and we all clink our drinks together in celebration. Throwing my head back, I swallow the liquid and it burns all the way down.
"Thanks for this guys."
Rae starts filling up our cups again. "So, where are you from?" Hayes asks me.
Hayes quirks an eyebrow, "Minnesota? And you ended up here."
"Sure is a long way," Rae says as she downs another shot.
"I don't blame her. Who wants to deal with the cold and the snow?" He chuckles before placing the shot to his lips and sucking it back.
"I never would've left," Rae says. "I saw snow once when I was twelve and I fell in love."
"Wasn't so much a fan of the cold," I say with a chuckle. I place the shot to my lips and down it with ease. "Actually I just recently went to New York City with my boyfriend and I forgot how much I missed it . . . Surprisingly."
Hayes raises an eyebrow again and gives me a strange look. "New York?" He questions.
"Yeah, it was for an internship slash apprenticeship that didn't quite pan out."
"Oh, really? Why was that?" Rae asks, pouring herself another glass.
When she offers me another shot, I accept. "Last one," I say sternly. She pours it as I think about how to answer her question. How the hell do I answer? I obviously don't want to tell her about my stalker professor, or my psychotic mother. "Oh, they found someone in New York that wanted the job, so it was just easier." I lie.
"Sorry to hear that," Hayes offers his sympathy. But that's the thing, I'm happy I didn't get the internship.
"Yeah, I'm sure that was one hell of a job opportunity." Rae pours herself another. "You must be really good, newbie." She narrows her eyes as she seems to assess me.
"Oh, it was nothing, really." Literally. It was all a setup. "So, did you two grow up here?"
"I'm from California," Hayes says.
"I was born and raised here." Rae puts the tequila bottle down onto the cement. "I've never even left this damn state."
"Is your boyfriend a chef?" Hayes asks as he downs his last shot. He looks at me softly while he waits for an answer, but his eyes dart to my torso, where his jacket is still hung loosely over my shoulders.
"What does he do?" Hayes questions.
"He's in the car business."
"That doesn't surprise me, lots of people in Miami seem to be in that business." He says it with such nonchalance that it calms my nerves. I was worried that Rae and Hayes would figure out that Zayn's an illegal street racer, and that's the last thing I want. I don't want him to be caught doing what he's doing, especially since I don't know what he's doing, and just how illegal it truly is.
My phone begins vibrating in the pocket of my jeans, and I pull it out. "Speak of the devil," I comment, staring at the name flashing across the screen. "I need to get this, I'll be right back."
I step away from my two new co-workers for some privacy and answer the call from the one man I'm madly in love with.