Flash Fiction, In the Weeds

In the Weeds: Part One

Just a quick two part contemporary flash fiction I wrote for a creative writing class. Part two coming next week. 

“Hey, Charlie, ready for tonight?”

I took a deep breath and whirled around to see Hernández’s lips curled up. He cocked his head to the side and scrutinized every inch of my newly pressed uniform. “You got a little something on your shirt there,” he said, pointing a finger at my collar.

“I do?” I glanced down at my crisp white top. “Hmmm, I don’t see any…”

Hernández chuckled. “Just kiddin’, squirt.” He smirked and clapped me on the back. “Good luck out there tonight.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, smoothing down my shirt one last time before I went to take on the incoming crowd.  “So, Ernie, do you always torture the new girls with lame jokes?” I teased as I tied on my apron.

“Nah, just the ‘special’ ones,” he quipped with a wink as he headed toward the kitchen.

I stifled a laugh and shook my head. He wasn’t going to fool me with that classic psych out. I’d heard it too many times over the past five years as I slowly poked and prodded my way up in the New Orleans restaurant scene. I was only twenty-five, but already I’d been offered a waitress position at one of the most high-end places in town. My co-workers were all thirty-plus, and throughout my training I could feel them sizing me up, wondering how such a scrawny shrimp had made it all the way here from the Bronx. It didn’t surprise me that they wanted to mess with me a bit. Tonight would be my first time on my own after trailing behind Diane for the past week.

I knew the menu backwards and forwards, and I’d always been great with people, but a place this swanky? Definitely foreign territory. We had a different utensil for everything, changed out napkins according to the customers’ clothes, and even crumbed the table after each course. It would be just my luck to completely blank on every form of etiquette I’d learned since pre-K on my first solo run. I tried to act nonchalant, and Ernie’s banter helped, but I was still a little nervous. This was the best job I’d been offered thus far. I didn’t want to screw it up.

“Aw, leave the scamp alone, son. Poor girl’s probably shaking in her boots plenty already without the pleasure of one of your pep talks.”

I swiveled toward the kitchen door at the sound of that familiar voice. “Evening, Louise.”

She smiled and pushed into the servers’ area to drape an arm around my shoulders.  “How ya doin’ imp?” She chuckled fondly. “Old Ernie here ain’t givin’ ya any trouble now, right? ‘Cause I can still whip ‘im if you want. I may not be as spry as some of you younglings, but these ol’ wrists still got a few slaps left in ‘em.”

I let out a loud, hearty laugh. Hernández scowled, crossing his arms over his well-toned chest and leaning against the doorframe. “Nah, he was just giving me some last minute pointers before I go out there on my own.”

Louise squeezed my shoulder and offered a soft, encouraging smile before turning on my boss and giving him a mock stink eye. “That better be all he was giving ya.”

“And what if it wasn’t?” he retorted. “I’m your boss too, you know.”

Her eyes narrowed as she placed her hands on her hips and sauntered toward him so they were nose to nose. Or, more like nose to chest. It was quite a sight, watching 5’2” 55-year-old Louise hold a stare down with six-foot-tall 34-year-old Hernández. She may be small, but she sure packed a punch when she wanted to.

“Maybe so, Ern, but I don’t tell the kids ‘round here to call me Mama for nothing.” He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, Louise lightly whacked him on the bicep.  She tightened the tie on her apron and marched out the door, gesturing for me to follow. “Come on, Charlotte, we got work to do.”

I paid no mind to my boss’s glare as I took a deep breath and stepped into the dining room, noting that the dinner crowd was just trickling in and Ally hadn’t seated any of my tables yet. Good. Maybe she would go easy on me tonight.

“Ready, hun?” Louise asked. I grinned.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Atta girl. And if you get stuck in the weeds out there, just gimme a holler, all right?”

I nodded, hoping that wouldn’t happen. In the weeds was restaurant lingo for getting swamped during a service. I glanced over at my section, but still no costumers were headed toward those tables.

“Knock ‘em dead,” Louise said before disappearing into the crowd.

My shoulders tensed as she walked away.  Behind the scenes, she was lax and unafraid to get in everyone’s face, but as soon as we stepped over the threshold, her back straightened and she plastered a bright, sunny smile on her dark lips. Every hair was tucked perfectly in place and she radiated confidence as she strode past the hostess station, maneuvering her way through the maze of tables.

I watched from my spot next to Alison, wishing my poker face was half as good as Louise’s. Instead, I shifted from foot to foot and my palms itched with the urge to be securely hidden in my pockets, I couldn’t deny the anxious butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I prayed I would remember the extensive protocol.

Ally nudged me between waves of customers. I really wanted to impress everyone tonight, to show that I belonged here. But at this point, I would settle for making it through the night without getting sacked.

“Table for four for Dania? ” My senses snapped to alert. A dark skinned woman and her two daughters, one in her mid-twenties and the other just a few years younger, stood in front of the stand with a light-skinned redhead woman behind them. All of them wore dark clothes except the redhead. I wasn’t sure what to say, but I managed to muster what I hoped was a genuine smile.

“Absolutely.” Ally’s blinding grin showed off two rows of perfectly white teeth as she slid off of the stool and grabbed four menus from the hostess stand. “Follow me.”

I raced ahead of them when I realized she was headed toward my section, praying I didn’t look as frazzled as I felt. I pulled their chairs out as the foursome sat down, which earned me a few appreciative smiles.

“Thank you,” the youngest said.

“Not a problem, Miss.” I smiled back; glad I was winning some points with my first table of the night. I filled each of their water glasses as Ally handed out the menus before slinking away, and to my relief, if anyone noticed my hands shaking, they didn’t comment. “All right ladies,” I began, urging my voice not to tremble. “My name’s Charlotte and I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get you started with anything to drink while you look over our menu?”

“Do you have iced tea?” the redhead wondered.

“Of course, ma’am. I’ll bring some right out.” She seemed pleased with my answer and another ounce of tension released itself from my neck. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Just as I was backing away to take care of their beverages, Louise brushed my shoulder. I caught her eyes as they drifted from me and back to the table in rapid succession. I followed her gaze, trying to think what I could have possibly forgotten. I scrunched my brow in confusion when nothing immediately caught my eye, so this time, Louise directed her eyes from the light-skinned woman’s white leggings to her dark napkin that sat untouched on the table. Finally it clicked. Ally had forgotten to switch out her linen. If she used the dark napkin, black lint would cover her clothes by the time their meal was over.

Quickly as I could, I darted to the service station and grabbed a spare white linen. I slipped her dark one from the setting, apologizing profusely before disappearing to get their drinks. Hernández offered a small nod of approval in acknowledgment of my catching Ally’s mistake, even if it took a gentle reminder from Louise. My shoulder sagged. Slowly but surely, I knew I’d prove he did the right thing by hiring me.

Critiques and reviews always welcome! As always, keep making magic, word weavers!

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