Spice

Elizabeth Marie Green is a sous chef...in a university cafeteria despite only being twenty-two. Not the most glamorous job. When her old mentor and father figure Sam passes away, she finds herself reeling. She instinctively reaches out his son and learns that Sam wasn't the best father, forcing her to confront everything she's ever known, including her own rocky past.

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1. Chapter 1

I am a fan of life’s simple pleasures. I like the sunbeam that comes through the window on rare days off when I can sleep in. I like looking up at the azure summer sky instead of the ground when I walk. I like looking at people on the street in their own worlds and I wonder what their families are like, who they’re texting on their phone, if they just got off from work. I like wearing a good, well-fitting coat, a red lip, a dress and heels just because, no occasion necessary. Maybe that makes me superficial, caring about my appearance, but I like taking off my makeup at the end of the day with a cleansing cream the way my grandmother taught me, exposing the under layer of skin underneath the polished exterior, the truth revealing itself. 

But the biggest thing I like? Ah, that would be, of course, a pastry, something, anything sweet but small, with a steaming mug of tea, no sugar or milk or lemon. Reminds me of Paris, though I’ve never been so I suppose I wouldn’t know. I can remember the first time he served me, wrapping the tag and string of the bag gently around the handle of the cup while I lay naked in his bed, still half-asleep.

“Why did you do that?” I asked, amused. “Now it’ll be difficult to take out.”

“It’s what the British do,” he said, giving me a morning kiss. “Keeps the tag from falling into your tea.”

A small detail, but one I remember nonetheless. I still don’t really know if that’s how British people really take their tea, or if he was just saying that to charm me. That’s the funny thing about relationships. You remember all the million smaller details, and none of the big picture until it’s over. Then you see that you were blinded by all the tiny things and ignored the glaring holes because all the tiny things were so shiny and pretty. In the long term, though, the small things don’t matter. That’s what I thought before I met him.

Ah, but it seems I’m getting ahead of myself. Who am I? I don’t really know, truthfully, does anyone ever know fully who they are? I know my name. Elizabeth Marie Green. Named from queens, born with expectations from parents that were equally as lofty as my namesakes. Safe to say that I have failed all those expectations. I know what I like, clearly, but that seems to change with time. I used to hate alcohol. Now I enjoy a glass of a dry, sweet white wine on Fridays because I can’t afford to drink it more often. 

I tend to ramble on a bit, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting that I know me, well, most of me anyway, and you don’t, so I’m bombarding you with all these silly, useless little details. The big picture matters, right? Get to the story, you say? All right, all right.

“Russ, how long on those carrots?” I bark. A piece of hair falls into my eyes, and I blow it out frustratedly. 

“What does it look like?” He growls back, stirring a tub of carrots with a pot in the butter liquid.

“The station has no side, I need you to speed it up a bit. Marcy here is waiting on you, and we got hungry kids to feed.”

Marcy shrinks to the side. New student worker with the hat on and the shirt with the freshly made name tag. I know how she feels. After all, four years ago I was a dish washer here, trying not to get in people’s ways or step on their toes. I wanted to be invisible. Now I’m the loudest person here.

“I get it, I get it, Liz,” says Russ. He dumps some of the mixture into three serving trays. Marcy whips out the kitchen door with them on her cart, probably off to go feed the crowd of hungry sharks. I relax, only now noticing that my shoulders are knotted from the stress. Sighing, I turn my attention to the next thing and snatch a cookie from the dessert prep station even though it’s not my break yet. 

Yep. That’s right. I work in a cafeteria. At least it’s for a prestigious university, not a high school. And hey, to me, it’s fancy, even though I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes at me right now like I’m a poser acting all high and mighty with my life’s simple pleasures spiel. Give me a break. I get enough shit in my day to day life. Can’t someone just revel in the small things?

“Uh…Chef Liz? Um, I’ve got a million gross looking bananas that no ones taking when I restock the fruit, what do I do?” Another newbie student worker. I love them, but god damn sometimes I wish that the student supervisors would tell them what to do for their job. I hold back my sigh. Poor kid is clearly nervous.

“Get a large trash bag from the back. Peel them and put them in the chef’s fridge here, I’ll make banana bread for Sunday Brunch.”

Sunday Brunch is the worst shift every week. Fifteen hours straight for me, two paid thirty-minute breaks, but man I get so tightly wound I think I’m going to snap. I’m not a person with a temper, but sometimes I need people to move faster. These kids we serve are the brightest of the bunch, entitled and total assholes. The last thing I need is them complaining to mommy and daddy that the food they put in their precious mouths wasn’t perfect, and boom I get sacked. I call them kids even though I’m the same age as some of them. I’m twenty-two. And the only reason I got this promotion from dishwasher to line cook to sous chef is because of Sam.

Sam used to be the sous chef here. He was the first person that noticed me. He saw me one day with a plate of dishes, staring at him as he chopped vegetables with high speed precision, tubs and tubs of them for food prep.

“Do you know how to cook?”

Tongue-tied, I shook my head. At that time I was eating off of frozen pre-made meals. I told him, and he laughed, and shook his head.

“You’re awfully young. How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

“Why are you in here, a full-timer, and not out there with the other kids studying, like someone at your age should be?”

I mumbled some silly excuse about not being on good terms with my parents and how I didn’t want to go into it. Understatement of the century. He seemed to understand that though.

“I got a kid your age. I wish I could afford to send him to this kind of school, but no way. Listen, cooking is a life skill. It’s more than that, as you’ll learn with time. But first and foremost, you’ll save a lot more money if you learn to cook.”

“Yeah right,” I said. I had a real penchant for sarcasm back then.

“You will!” he insisted. 

“Really? Because right now I eat for like ten dollars a day with this job,” I bragged. We got a paid lunch break where we could eat from the buffet like all the other students.

“You could eat for two a day, maybe less if you learned to cook,” he said simply.

I shut up really fast after he said that. I was behind on rent. 

“How?”

“Well, it’s easy. You have to invest first though, in spices, in a bushel of potatoes or a large bag of rice.”

“I don’t have the money for spices.”

He sighed.

“After closing, I’ll help you out a bit. Stick around.”

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