Hell’s Kitchen

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“What did ‘The Chef’ say, Mom?”

Her mother smiled then said, “Look at you. Ten years old and worrying about your mother.”

She gave her daughter a hug and said, “Just one more reason for me to love you so much!”

Her daughter returned the hug then said, “Nice try, Mom. Now tell me what he said.”

“Persistent, too.”

Her daughter, Charity, crossed her arms, tilted her head, and waited for an actual answer.

Her mom sighed then told her, “He said he’s looking at bringing someone else in.”

“What? That’s so unfair! Mom, you’ve worked there for five years waiting tables then two more as a hostess. And you’ve taken cooking classes. You’re on time, you’re smart, you’re good with people, and you deserve a chance!”

Felicia Warren did deserve a chance. She’d just turned 40, two days after her daughter had turned ten, and all the things Charity just said were true. Felicia was too modest to admit it, but she knew she drew a lot of repeat business to the upscale Seattle restaurant. Admittedly, most of it was because of her looks, but if that brought customers back, it brought them back.

No one believed she was 40. No one. Well, maybe not ‘no one’. There were some obvious exceptions like Charity, her family, and her closest circle of friends who knew the truth. Felicia was exceptionally blessed with great skin and a very attractive face. She’d worn braces as a girl and sported a perfect smile that seemed to be a part of her as she was almost always pleasant and upbeat.

She was also heavily into diet and exercise after her husband of ten years, Marty, walked out two years after Charity was born because she just couldn’t lose the 40 pounds she’d gained during pregnancy. Looking back, she knew why. She was deeply depressed and ate from the time her husband went to work until he came home, always careful to hide the evidence.

He was a shit for abandoning her for having put on some weight, but three months after he walked out, his leaving had served as the boost she’d needed to take care of the problem that was destroying her life. After having to force herself to get to the gym for the first three months, Felicia found herself looking forward to going as the depression lifted and the weight came off.

Within six months, she found herself attracting more and more attention as she got back into shape, and by the time she could once again wear a size 6 dress, she was being openly hit on by all kinds of men. Younger, older, black, white, Hispanic, and Asian, and even a few women let her know they were very interested her. But her then-three-year old daughter was her priority whereas dating was not.

A huge side benefit was finding the energy to keep working out and work full-time, and after spending a couple of years waiting tables in a crappy restaurant, she applied for a similar job in a more upscale restaurant and was hired on the spot. She had no doubt whatsoever her appearance played a big role in her getting the job, and she’d paid very careful attention to it ever since.

She threw herself into her work knowing advancement was often slow as very few people quit because the money at a restaurant of this caliber was very good. But she’d kept at it and had moved up to essentially being the maitre’d which meant even more money, money she used to take cooking classes (in her ‘spare’ time) with the hope of one day being hired on as a chef.

Felicia was willing to take any chef position just to get her foot in the door. She didn’t care if she only made salads as long as she had the word ‘chef’ somewhere in her job title.

Just before she left work, she asked The Chef, a man named Daryl Phillips who was the head chef, the GM, and the owner, if he’d consider taking her on as a trainee since one of his chefs had been offered his own kitchen in another upscale restaurant in Portland, Oregon.

“Felicia, you’re an incredible asset to my staff. You’re talented, hard working, enthusiastic, and let’s be honest, your smile has made a lot of money for this establishment.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming,” she’d said forcing one of those amazing smiles.

The Chef sighed, ran a hand through his thinning hair, then said, “Yes. There is a ‘but’. I know you’ve been taking classes, and your work ethic is legend. But I have to go with my gut, and it’s telling me to go with another applicant.”

“I see,” was all she said.

“If there was a second spot…”

“May I just ask what his qualifications are?” Felicia inquired tactfully even as she interrupted—something she knew better than to do but did anyway.

Chef Phillips gave her an evil look but didn’t chide her for cutting him off. He did, however, answer her question in his typical direct fashion.

“Felicia, I don’t work for you, so I’m under no obligation to explain myself to you. Who I hire is my business and mine alone. However, I will tell you I see a lot of promise in this young man, and because cooking is more art than science, I am very confident he will become an excellent chef.”

At that point, Gaziantep Gecelik Escort she knew that was all the explanation she was going to get. There was no need to get the second part of that speech which was, “If you don’t agree with my decision, I’m sure there are many other restaurants who would love to have you.” He’d probably end it with an offer to write her a glowing recommendation, but she knew the next restaurant would call, and if she walked out, the verbal recommendation wouldn’t be so glowing.

Felicia also knew Chef Phillips was as good as they get, and he would never bring someone on board who might jeopardize all the years he’d spent building and reinforcing his reputation. And ultimately, she knew he was right. It was his kitchen and she worked for him. That he was so direct was still difficult for her to take, but take it she did.

“I understand,” she told him politely. “Thank you for your time.”

He didn’t reply, but she could tell by his eyes the conversation was over so she stood up and walked out. Or rather back to her same old job, one she was nevertheless grateful to have.

Raising a child on her own was no easy task. Trying to do it without a decent job was even harder. Her ex-husband did pay child support, but it was barely enough to cover the basics for Charity, and Felicia was doing her best to save for college while paying the bills and taking cooking classes two nights a week while her mom watched Charity after school until she got off work late at night. The last thing she needed was to lose a job that paid quite well knowing how hard it would be to find something comparable.

So for now, she would be the best at what she was while continuing to prepare for the future; a future she dearly hoped would one day include not only a better job, but also a man she could both love and trust; one who would love her and her beautiful daughter as his own. She’d put finding one on the back burner for years, but after this latest huge letdown, Felicia was beginning to think perhaps it was time to maybe ‘shift gears’ and try looking again.

If past experience was any predictor of future success, Felicia knew she had a very difficult task ahead of her. Being a very attractive woman, she had no problem getting dates. The difficulty was finding someone who really, truly wanted a ready-made family, and she would never, ever settle for anything less. It wasn’t enough for a future husband to tolerate ‘raising another man’s child’. He would have to be someone who’d want to be a dad to Charity while accepting the fact he could never be her father. It was a tall order to fill, but one on which she would never compromise even if that meant living alone until Charity was in college.

In the meantime, Felicia occasionally found someone attractive enough and nice enough to take care of her own physical needs in a no-strings kind of arrangement. Most of those rendezvous took place when Charity was spending her one weekend a month with her father. Otherwise, she either did without or when desperation won out, she would ‘take things into her own hands’ as a kind of last resort. Lately, the method of last resort was her one and only resort and that was getting very old.

Felicia’s train of thought was interrupted by her daughter who said, “Mom? Are you listening?”

The truth was she hadn’t been, and she didn’t try to pretend she had.

“No. I’m sorry, honey. I guess I’m a little more upset at being shot down than I let on. I wasn’t paying attention and I apologize. What did you say?”

Charity wanted to know if she had to spend the weekend with her father, a comment that really took her by surprise.

“But you like spending time with your father,” her mother said.

“Not since he started dating this…this…new girl,” Charity said.

Her daughter was exceptionally mature for her age. She was ten but sounded and reasoned like someone much older. She was kind, polite, thoughtful, and very sweet. For her to even say something this…uncharitable…was very unusual.

“What new girl?” her mother asked.

Charity did a ‘Valley Girl’ kind of voice as she replied, “Oh, you mean…Jennifer?” her voice rising at the end of the sentence.

Felicia tried not to laugh, but it was too funny to ignore.

“How old is this one?” her mother asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe around 20 or so,” Charity said.

“Wow. Let’s see. Your father’s last bimbo…sorry. Girlfriend…was 25. What’s next? A high school girl?”

Felicia really did try not to criticize her ex in front of their daughter, but between his having dumped her for gaining weight, and his penchant for very young woman, it was sometimes her ‘mission impossible’.

Charity laughed loudly before her mom apologized.

“That was very mean and immature of me,” she said.

“Yes, but it was all true,” her daughter replied. “So do I have to?”

Based on the custody agreement, he had a right to see his daughter two nights a week and have her one weekend a month. Then again, he’d been taking less and less interest in exercising his parental rights, so perhaps she could convince him to reschedule or just skip this month altogether. Doing so would mean she’d most likely have to wait another four or five weeks to…relieve some stress…but as badly as her body ached, her need to put her daughter first always won out and always would.

“I’ll text him and see what he says,” Felicia told her.

“Thanks, Mom! You’re the best!” Charity said before giving her a hug.

She still got hugs regularly, but Felicia knew that wouldn’t last. Yes, girls tended to be more affectionate for longer amounts of time than boys, but even girls wanted their space and independence so she’d take as much as she could get for as long as she could get it.

Marty typically took a day or more to get back to his ex-wife, but this time the reply was almost immediate.

“No problem. I’ll catch up with her next month,” was his terse reply.

Felicia could feel the relief in his words, and she felt both happy and terrible for her daughter and found herself hating him just a little bit more. Being bitter did nothing good, and most of the time she avoided feeling that way, but when he put his girlfriends above his daughter, it pushed her right to the brink and beyond.

“I’ll let her know. Have fun with…Jennifer,” she replied regretting it as soon as she hit ‘send’.

A follow-on text surprised her even more.

“You mean Heather?”

This time, Felicia didn’t take the bait as she realized he’d already moved on to some other new, young bimbo. To herself she said, “Whatever” and didn’t bother replying.

After being off the next day, Felicia went to work and within seconds of arriving, the young, attractive girl who’d taken her place as a server before being promoted grabbed her and said, “You have got to check out the new chef!”

“Why? What’s the big deal?” Felicia asked as she put her things away.

“The big deal? Just wait. You’ll see,” the girl said with a smile.

Two minutes later, it made sense. Daryl was walking around with someone who looked like he might be in his mid-20s—maybe—and Felicia understood her replacement’s comments. He was an exceptionally good-looking young man.

Her first thought was he must have gotten lost on his way to a photo shoot. She’d seen many, many attractive men before, but this guy was uniquely…hot.

He was tall, had very thick, dark hair, high cheek bones, and the most gorgeous face she could remember seeing in…maybe ever. Every so often he smiled or laughed and Felicia had to admit he was gorgeous.

Her next thought was he was probably either French or Italian and had just graduated from some very prestigious European cooking school. She’d been trying not to stare, but when she finally noticed he was staring back, she shook her head, looked away, and turned around.

“Ah, I see you noticed Felicia,” she heard Daryl say loudly. “It’s kind of hard not to, huh?”

The younger man didn’t answer, and even with her back turned, Felicia knew they were coming toward her.

“Felicia! I’d like to introduce you to my new sous chef.”

She forced herself to turn around then smiled brightly as she extended her hand.

“Felicia Warren, this is Noah Phillips. Noah, our maitre’d, Miss Felicia Warren.”

He shook her hand as she said to him, “Noah Phillips doesn’t sound French or Italian,” as the realization he was a family member hit her hard.

The younger man smiled and said, “No. Sorry. Bellingham, Washington. Born and raised.”

She ignored his reply then said, “Sous chef. I’m impressed.”

“To be honest, I just feel very fortunate,” Noah said. “The Chef is taking a huge risk on me. I hope he won’t be disappointed.”

“Nonsense!” Chef Phillips said as he slapped Noah on the back. “I know talent when I see it.”

“I think you mean ‘potential’ in my case, but that was very kind of you to say, Chef,” Noah told him while looking at Felicia. “Oh, and he’s right about you being hard not to notice.”

Felicia was already predisposed not to like this guy no matter how nice or good looking he might be. But he if was to also turn out to be humble in spite of his looks, it would be very hard to hold a grudge.

Against her will she found herself smiling as she said, “Thank you. That’s very kind.”

“It’s also very true,” Noah said with a smile of his own. “I’ll look forward to getting better acquainted.”

“Just not now,” Chef Phillips said. “I have more people for you to meet and then we need to get you into the kitchen and unlearn any bad habits you’ve picked up. The good news is you’re young enough it won’t take me long to set you straight.”

He nodded to Felicia then took his young charge with him as they headed toward the other end of the restaurant.

Out of nowhere, Felicia’s replacement said from right behind her, “See what I mean?”

Too mesmerized to be startled she said without turning around, “I do. He’s very handsome.”

The rest of the night Felicia wasn’t sure whether she was resentful or jealous or possibly even something else she couldn’t put her finger on. She still wanted to know the new guy’s qualifications because being hot had nothing to do with being able to run a kitchen.

Four hours later she went to the break room which was close to the kitchen and tried not to laugh when she heard Chef Phillips laying into his new assistant.

“Don’t make me regret hiring you already!” was the first thing she heard. That was followed by, “If you can’t make a simple gravy sauce, you can get yourself the hell out of my kitchen! I wouldn’t feed this shit to my cats, and they’ll eat anything!”

Felicia had been on the receiving end, too, but never like that. But were she to have been given this opportunity, she couldn’t help but think she’d be the one getting yelled at. And as much as she wanted and needed the job and the money, she didn’t need that kind of grief in her life so she closed the door and tuned everything out for a few minutes and just relaxed.

With ten seconds to spare, Felicia got up and opened the door and heard, “And if you can’t go six hours without having to take a piss, just keep on walking!”

She saw Noah coming her way and when he was next to her said, “Welcome to Hell’s Kitchen.”

He wasn’t smiling now as he said, “Is he always like that?”

Felicia laughed then told him, “No. Sometimes he gets angry. And when he does, watch out.”

“Oh, goody. Gee, great. Thanks for the warning.”

He turned after taking two steps then said, “No. Seriously. I really appreciate that. You’re the first person who’s said a kind word to me all night.”

She wanted to say something else sarcastic but couldn’t. The truth was she felt sorry for him. Yes, that was how Chef Phillips treated everyone, but Felicia didn’t have to like it.

“Oh, sure thing. We all need a little support every now and then,” she said in a kind way.

“Chef Phillips told me you wanted my job. I hope you don’t hate me,” he said rather sheepishly.

Felicia forced a smile then said, “I kinda did until I heard The Chef laying into you. Now I’m kinda glad you’re here.”

She paused then said, “Kind of.”

Noah finally laughed as he said, “I’m glad you’re here, Felicia,” just as The Chef’s voice boomed out, “How long does it take to take a fucking piss?”

“I believe that would be me,” Noah said as he turned to take care of business.

“Good luck,” Felicia told him sincerely.

“I’ll need it!” Noah said as he hurried down the hall.

Mercifully, no one could hear a sound from the kitchen in the dining area, so Felicia was able to pretend all was well the rest of the night. She went to grab her coat around 2am and heard Chef Phillips still giving the business to Noah as she went by his office.

On her way back it was dead silent, and she noticed Noah standing there with a dazed look on his face. He finally saw her and smiled.

“Felicia. Hi. Mind if I walk you out?” he said politely.

“No, but you don’t need to do that,” she told him just as politely.

“Oh, no. I wasn’t implying you needed an escort. I was only hoping to spend a few seconds with someone…”

He got very quiet before whispering, “Sane.”

Felicia was very tired but couldn’t help laughing.

“Come on. My car’s out back,” she told him.

As he opened the door at the rear of the restaurant for her, curiosity got the best of her.

“Do you mind me asking where you went to cooking school?”

“Oh. That. Well, you see, I didn’t exactly go to cooking school. Not formally anyway.”

Felicia stopped walking, turned toward him, then said, “Are you serious? You have no formal training?”

“I didn’t say that,” Noah replied with a weak smile. “I just didn’t attend a formal cooking school.”

Felicia was too dumbfounded to speak and that wasn’t lost on Noah.

“I was a cook in the military,” he explained.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said hardly believing her ears.

“That I was a cook or that I got hired with that as my background?”

“Yes,” she said for both.

“I also worked at a couple of other restaurants before being hired,” he told her.

That helped, but it wasn’t enough. People just didn’t get hired at restaurants of this caliber without real, substantial resumes.

Felicia shook her head in disbelief, something else Noah didn’t miss.

“And…Chef Phillips is my uncle,” he finally admitted.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” she said again, shocked beyond words. “Do you have any formal experience in high-end restaurants?”

“Um, well…one night,” he said even more sheepishly than before.

He was smiling but Felicia wasn’t.

“I have a daughter I’m raising by myself. I’ve worked here for years, and I’ve been taking formal classes. I needed this job. I deserved a shot at it. But did I get the chance? No! And why? Because Chef Phillips believes in nepotism! He hired his…nephew with no experience over me. So please excuse me if I’m just a little bitter!”

“I…I think you’re beautiful. Does that help? Even a little?” he said with that same boyish innocence.

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