This Ben character seemed entirely too suspicious for Willow to feel at ease with him across the table from her. It didn't help that her hair was a mess, she had no makeup on, and her work clothes were little more than tattered rags, so his appearance made her feel supremely tiny and cheap. It also didn't help that her beloved Chan's seemed to be enraptured with every charming thing he said.
They thought he was a prince. Prince Charming.
She mentally stuck out her tongue at the thought, but externally she politely smiled at another mundane story he was telling.
He must've been taking advantage of them somehow.
Maybe he was a crook.
Why would a rich guy come to China Town and accept a free meal from two poor restauranteurs who could barely afford the meat he was pulling out of the boiling water and oil in between them?
Something felt off, and Willow wasn't about to let the Chan's continue to fall for this guy. No matter how much longer he'd known them than she had, they'd given her a home and a job without any question and she'd repay them by protecting them from their own unconditional kindness.
"I think it's time to talk about business," Ben said seemingly out of nowhere.
Or, maybe they'd come to that naturally. Willow wasn't sure because she hadn't been listening.
"We're going to have to make some pretty drastic changes around here," he said and Mr. Chan looked simultaneously nervous and excited. "I want the quality of service and atmosphere here to match the heart you put into the food, uncle. Willow, how much are we paying you?"
We? Since when was he part owner?
He looked at her patiently and cleared his throat.
"Nine dollars an hour," she answered.
"I'm tripling it and making you an assistant manager," he said. "I've seen you work. You've practically ran the place since uncle brought you on. We haven't seen a substantial boost in profit, but we have seen a large decrease in losses with you caring for the cleaning and storage of equipment, as well as maintaining the old tables in chairs. They break down far less often, and your instinct is to fix rather than replace, which was sort of out of our wheelhouse before."
She hadn't realized she'd made that big of an impact. Wait? Since when had he seen her work? This was the first time she'd met him. And triple?! Mr. and Mrs. Chan could not afford that.
"Since we're increasing your income to a livable wage, I'm going to have to ask that you find an apartment. We're breaking several codes by allowing you to sleep here."
"I can't afford a deposit," she swallowed. "And I broke my previous lease when I lost my job only a few months ago. I don't think I'll be able to do that soon."
He smiled. She couldn't decide if it was sweet or smug.
"I'll get you set up, don't worry about it. Just, start covering the rent when you're able. I understand you'll have to invest in furniture, as well, so there's no rush."
"What's funny?" Mrs. Chan asked.
"This can't be legitimate. Are you a loan shark or something?" Willow asked, still laughing. "Mr. Chan, you can't let someone like this put you in debt. He'll swallow you whole."
"Willow! Don't speak of Ben like that," Mrs. Chan scolded. "He's a good boy. He's taken care of us for a long time."
"It's okay, Auntie," Ben just kept smiling. "Miss Willow, I don't know what's happened in your life to make you so suspicious of people, but I'm doing this to help people I love stay in business. My intention is not to just dole out money and expect payment with interest. No, I'm investing as a partner and I plan to assist in reforming the way we work here so that this restaurant lasts. We would like to keep you on board, but your circumstances make that difficult moving forward. As we remodel, we'll see more and more inspectors and city officials coming in and out of here. Setting you up with a place to live is more of insurance for us rather than charity. And I mean it when I say I'd like you to take over payments when you're able to. I have money, but I can't afford to pay a stranger's rent forever."
God, he was long winded.
Willow just nodded. And he was too good at the whole last word thing. How could she turn this down?
"Now, let's address point of sales options," Ben continued.