“We are all apprentices in a craft where no – one becomes a master…”
The help wanted sign hung crookedly in the front window, a line of customers wrapped around the old brick building, faces in their phones, as if they have been waiting a while. Mia thanked the Lyft driver and climbed out of his Buick SUV. Resume in her bag, she took a deep breath and entered the restaurant.
The sound of dishes hitting table tops, laughter from the diners and shouting from the staff near the back kitchen, hit her all at once. Her senses were immediately ablaze contrary to her quite drive over of soft classical music playing from her ear pods. Mia was finally AWAKE! She smiled at the entire loft space, taking in the huge windows, high ceilings, a gorgeous bar lined with glass countertops, deep blue lighting glowing from underneath. Every table was full, some of the smaller tables had extra chairs added with customers snug fit on the corners, leaning into each other in intense conversations.
Mia walked towards the crowded bar, feeling the pull of its electricity, the hairs on her arms stood up, her armpits moist under her crisp, pink button down blouse.
“You looking for Amy?” yelled the good looking guy behind the bar. He was confidently making two bloody mary’s.
“I am,” Mia yelled back, with an insecure grin.
“I’m Nick.” He reached across the bar to shake her hand. Mia instantly relaxed. “You will find Amy in the back, her office is down the hall to the left.”
Mia smiled and nodded her head in a thank you. She moved past the diners and found a closed door with a rusty sign that said Boss on it and knocked.
“Come in!” yelled a voice behind the door.
Mia entered the gorgeous office, painted white with white leather chairs and a mirrored desk. The room looked like a showroom from Z Gallery.
“Hi, you must be Mia, I’m Amy.” Amy reached across her desk and shook Mia’s hand, Mia couldn’t help notice her perfect manicure. Amy’s suit looked like it cost a fortune. Mia sat down and pulled out her resume and handed it to Amy. Amy skimmed it quickly and then threw it in the trash can next to her desk. She sat forward, with her elbows on her desk, and rested her chin on her clasped hands staring at Mia. Mia’s eyes widened and was about to speak but Amy spoke first.
“How has your life been so far?” Amy asked.
“How has my life been?” Mia echoed back.
“Yes, tell me about your life.”
“Well, I grew up in New York, mostly in Soho, until I moved to Greenwich Village.”
“Why did you move?”
“Some family changes, I guess.”
“I don’t really remember,” Mia answered breaking eye contact.
“You went to a community college but there’s no graduation date on your resume.”
“Well, yes,” agreed Mia. “But I plan to return and finish, I just need to work right now and then I plan to go back.”
“Why do you need to work?”
“Well for the money of course, I need to support myself now,” Mia felt uncomfortable.
“Now? Amy interrogated, what is your life like now? Why didn’t you finish school?”
Mia shifted in her chair, she was sure that her wet armpits were obvious. She didn’t want to continue talking, she thought she would ace this interview for a restaurant job, but it was much more difficult to hide her needs then she thought it would be. She decided this wasn’t going to work so she stood up.
“I think I should go,” Mia whispered.
“You want to go where? You have a long break in employment history, why?”
“Well, this is just an odd string of questions, Mia stammered, and I know that my resume doesn’t show the type of education or achievements that employers demand even in industries that shouldn’t really require them! Mia’s voice raised, I find it quite frustrating actually that you have to have a degree nowadays for even entry level jobs, because of what? It shows a work ethic? A commitment to finishing something? Discipline? Well what if I told you my mother had cancer and my father left us and I had to drop out of school because I needed to care for my mother. Is that not discipline? What about real life, real people going through their own hell to try to make ends meet. Is that not a work ethic? Well I’m sorry I don’t have an ivy league education with a trust fund waiting for me and parents that are still together traveling the world on their American Express card!”
Mia sat back down and took in a deep breath, tears beginning to break over her lower lids.
“What is my life like now? I buried my Mother last month. I spent the last of her money for her funeral. I’m broke, I need a job, the truth is, I probably will never make it back to school.”
“Did you write the obituary?” Amy asked, unaffected by Mia’s outburst.
“What?” Mia asked, wiping her tears. “Yes, I did actually.”
Amy swung her laptop around to face Mia. “Show me your Mother’s obituary. I’m sure you can find it online.”
Amy sat back in her chair studying Mia. Mia pulled her chair closer to the desk, pulled up the Google browser and began to type expertly. She finished quickly and spun the computer back around to face Amy. Amy read it and closed her laptop.
“It’s beautifully written.”
“Thank you,” Mia sniffed.
“ I took over this restaurant 10 years ago, explained Amy, I never finished High School and my parents were drug addicts. My Dad beat me when he felt like it and my mother never did anything about it. I was moved to a few foster homes, which continued the abuse, so I ran away and lived on the streets for about 2 years until I landed on the doorstep of Martha Maples home in the Bronx. She scared the shit out of me, but in a good way. Martha raised me and taught me what I needed to know to survive. And now I give back, and I do it here in this restaurant. We were awarded our first Michelin Star last month thanks to my master chef Antonio who joined us just 5 years ago.”
Amy got up from her desk and walked over to the bronzed file cabinet. She pulled out a folder and placed it in front of Mia.
“Study this, make sure you understand the entire contract and then sign it if you want the job.”
Mia looked up at Amy with a puzzled look. She opened the folder and skimmed the contract. Starting salary of $100,000 annually. Stock options after a 90 day probation period. Full medical, dental, vision and life insurance. One paragraph caught her attention.
Employee void of a college degree(s) and any such certifications. All cash or credit card tips earned by employee to be kept solely by employee.
“You’re going to pay me $100K plus tips, without a degree?” Mia asked, “with full benefits and life insurance?” Mia seemed concerned, “this is way more then I assumed I would be paid, your ad said experienced server.”
“Are you not an experienced server?” Amy handed a Montblanc pen to Mia.
“ I believe I am,” agreed Mia as she signed the contract.
Amy put her hands on Mia’s shoulders and spun her chair around so they were face to face. She stared into Mia’s eyes with a devilish grin.
“Welcome to the family kid. I’m going to start you out in the dining room tomorrow, I want you to get a feel of the place, meet the staff and then I will find a position for you. Be here at 7 AM for the morning meeting.” Amy handed Mia a kleenex and left her office.
Mia arrived at 6:45 AM the restaurant felt peaceful as she roamed around looking at the dinnerware, the kitchen, the back of the bar. Nick was already there bringing a case of freshly washed wine glasses to the counter to put away. Mia quickly began helping, grabbing a white linen cloth from the stack to dry them.
“How’d your interview go?” Nick asked with a sheepish smile.
“It was pretty intense,” Mia whispered with a grin.
“Yeah, Amy made me cry the first 5 minutes I was with her,” Nick admitted, “it’s her way of cutting through all the bulll shit and finding out who you really are. She’s pretty amazing actually.”
“Is she married?” asked Mia.
“No, she was for a while but it didn’t work out,” he used to come in here right before the break up and cause a lot of drama. I had to escort him out one time, he’s pretty harmless, just loud. He’s all bark but no bite, Amy used to always say,” Nick laughed.
The front door opened and a skinny girl with a mohawk sauntered in rocking out to something playing loud through her headphones. She pulled the headphones down and yelled hello to Nick, pulling her headphones back on making her way to the kitchen. Nick just waved shaking his head with a smile. “That’s Annie, he laughed, she’s a character, you’ll like her.”
The rest of the staff came in and one by one sat down at the large family style table in the middle of the room ready for their morning meeting. As Mia took a seat next to Nick, Amy came out of her office with a folder of paperwork.
“Good morning everyone!” Amy said cheerfully. She was dressed in another impeccable pencil skirt suit with heels to match. “I hope you all got some rest. I want to go over the stock with Vanguard equities, It just doubled overnight causing your shares to explode. If you want to diversify your portfolio I suggest you do it now.”
She passed out the stock sheets to everyone, including Mia. She rested her hand on Mia’s shoulder and lingered behind her as she continued to explain the fortune her employees made overnight. Mia looked at the foreign page in front of her and tried to make sense out of it. She followed along as best she could. Mia looked around the table, everyone seemed to nod their heads at the same time, absorbing the stock language coming from Amy. Mia felt out of her league for a moment, her insecurities creeping back in.
“Ok, let’s move on,” Amy said with a quick hand gesture as she flipped through the paperwork in her file. “I want you all to welcome our newest member to the family, Mia Jones!”
Everyone looked at Mia with big smiles and clapped a welcome so warm it dissolved her fears once again.
“Ok, next item to discuss is our reservation’s tonight.” Amy took a seat at the head of the table and looked over at Annie.
“Well the table of 15 is confirmed for 7PM tonight, with a large deposit of $1000.00,” Annie read from her tablet. “The wine from Venice should arrive by 11AM. The escargot is wrapped in salmon skin to protect its freshness and nutrients until Antonio steams them. The rack of lamb came in last night from Morton’s Farm. The arugula and butter lettuce is in the chiller and all the root veggies are here in the pantry crate.”
Antonio came out from the kitchen with two steaming dishes, he placed on each end of the table. Annie continued with her check list and then grabbed a few pieces of bacon off the plater and began to nibble. Everyone else followed suit. Mia reached for a warm muffin, it had chocolate chips with a hint of cinnamon in the center. It tasted heavenly. The other staff scooped warm scrambled eggs mixed with goat cheese and chives onto their plates with fresh blueberries and oranges.
“Mia, I decided where I want to start you,” Amy declared, while she scooped her own eggs onto a plate. “I want you to put together some content to write on our webpage. Every morning I write a blog about our menu and I post it by 10 AM. Today I want you to write it. Annie can provide you with today’s menu and then just use your imagination to put something clever together that will make our customers run in here tonight! You can use the office upstairs in the loft so you can have a quiet space.” Mia looked at Amy, feeling overwhelmed she was about to speak but Annie cut her off.
“You’re already giving her the Blog?” She just started! Protested Annie.
“Remember the content you wrote last month?” Amy’s voice was sarcastic.
“That was different Amy! I was trying to attract the Millennial crowd! I had to wait months before I got to write. Maybe I should just tell her! “ Annie’s neck was pulsing.
Amy ignored Annie taking another spoonful of her eggs. She swallowed delicately and raised her eyes. She nodded her head at Antonio who was standing behind Annie and with that, Antonio grabbed Annie under her armpits and dragged her off her chair. Annie fought, spitting on the floor in Amy’s direction, her doc martins making scuff marks on the polished wood floors as she disappeared into the back kitchen.
Nick squeezed Mia’s thigh. “I told you you’ll love Annie, she’s a character,” Nick chuckled as he helped himself to more bacon.
Mia climbed the spiral stairs to the loft, it was again a picture in a magazine. Polished concrete flooring, white walls, a black lacquered desk in front of a huge wood paned window. Mia sat down in the soft white leather chair and stared at the laptop looking back at her. She had no idea what she was going to write. She heard someone coming up the metal stairs, Annie appeared, she walked silently over to Mia avoiding eye contact and placed a crisp piece of paper in front of her with today’s menu printed in dark blue ink.
“Why do you stay?” Mia asked, placing her hand over the menu.
“Why would I leave? Annie countered. Annie lingered for a moment waiting for an answer.
“Well, you just don’t seem that happy here I guess,” Mia suggested.
“What the hell would you know about it?”
Mia stared at Annie, taking in her confidence. Her waif – like frame seemed more elegant then unusual at the moment, her hand on her hip demonstrated a slight arrogance contrary to what Mia witnessed just minutes ago.
“I guess I wouldn’t know,” Mia admitted.
Annie scoffed a grin, turned and grabbed the handrails to the staircase, slid down until she hit the bottom.
The laptop screen suddenly lit up, a message at the bottom. Write the blog Mia and then meet me in my office. ~Amy.
Mia clicked on the browser and it took her immediately to the website of the restaurant. The username and password was printed on the menu. Mia was in and began to type her blog, the words flew out of her, she didn’t know where they were coming from but it seemed right, she was in her moment. She got a chill up her spine, she hadn’t felt this good since her own blog entry documenting her Mother’s positive response to chemo. Her words filled the page, inviting the neighborhood to dinner tonight, what they could expect and what they would be in store for; leaving a suspenseful dangling incentive to find out for themselves. She stood up shaking her hands as if they were wet. Wet with images of her mother looking up at her on her final day. They said goodbye and promised each other they would both be OK.
Mia walked to the window and looked outside. Nick was out front talking to someone in a car. He was laughing and then he slapped the driver hard in the face, the driver got out of the car and stood tall in front of Nick. Nick pushed the driver back into his car and walked away. The driver drove off leaving tire prints on the road.
Mia came down stairs her mind racing. She could leave, that was her thing. When in doubt? Walk away. She did that all her life, so no; she thought. I’m going to stay. The money she was making was more she could ever make right now considering.
Amy was in her office on the phone when Mia knocked. Amy waved her in and pointed to the chair in front of her desk. Mia sat down, remembering her first encounter, her first real interview she’s ever had. Amy hung up the phone.
“So how did the blogging go?” Amy questioned, I haven’t read it yet. Did you publish it?”
“Uh no, not yet, I thought you might want to approve it first?” Mia bit her bottom lip, feeling uncomfortable again.
“I trust you wrote something from your heart, as you did for your Mom. I don’t micromanage here Mia, I ask you do something and I expect it will be done well.” Amy got up and went to the bronzed file cabinet and pulled out a box and placed it in front of Mia. It was a brand new Apple iPad. Sign into this with your own apple id, it’s your work computer, log into our WIFI and it will populate all the apps you will need to use here. You can get the current passcode from Nick, he changes it from time to time. The calendar app will give you your daily duties that I need completed before you go home today. Just click on the icon with your name on it. When you’re done, you can go home or hang out here and work on something else if you think it needs attention.”
Mia was about to leave but stopped, lingering at the door. “Who was that man outside? I saw Nick slap him and try to fight with him.” Mia was feeling a bit attracted to Nicks assertiveness.
“Oh? Probably my ex husband, Amy sighed, he’s been having a hard time. Oh and I suggest you post the blog before 10 AM, our customers expect it.”
Nick was pouring a two finger scotch at 9:30AM for a customer sitting at the bar when Mia walked up. The old women looked frail but balanced in a Chanel suit with matching handbag half dangling from her lap. “You must be Mia,” the women announced, with raised pencil drawn eyebrows looking over her scotch.
Mia smiled and took a seat at the bar, preoccupied with unwrapping the iPad to log into her new machine. Nick pushed a piece of folded paper over to Mia with the passwords.
Mia looked up, the name was familiar. The restaurant was beginning to get noisy, with tables being set and trucks pulling up out front, delivery people with dolly’s bringing in food from Morton’s Farm. Annie was yelling at the men to bring the crates into the kitchen.
“Have you found your home?” asked Martha. Delicately sipping her scotch with her raised pinky finger.
“You should know by now, it should only take an hour or so to feel the culture here. Amy has been interviewing for 2 months now. She’s gone through a dozen applicants just this week. I think it’s wonderful that she finally found you.”
Mia looked up from her iPad, caught by the choice of words.
“All we knew was that you lived in Greenwich Village darling, of course we couldn’t come to you, your Mother would have never allowed it.”
“You knew my Mother?” Mia’s voice caught, her mind racing.
“Sweetheart, I knew your Mother before you were born, Martha sighed, we were great friends. She needed help so I helped her.”
Mia logged into her tablet, connecting to the WIFI when the app’s populated one by one. A photo journal came up first with photos of her mother holding her as a baby.
“What is all this?” Mia insisted.
“Well look there.” Martha leaned in and pointed to the photo of her in the background. “See that’s me there standing by your father and there’s Nick and Annie.”
Mia couldn’t believe what she was looking at, everyone looked exactly the same as they do now. How could that be? Mia looked around the restaurant for Nick, she wanted to ask him what was going on. Her body started to feel lighter, as if she could float, she had been noticing the changes since she arrived to work this morning.
The photos were of the restaurant, her mother was smiling holding her as a baby, standing in front of the bar right where she was sitting now with Martha. Nick was behind her mother smiling, looking just as he does now. Mia slid off her barstool and ran to Amy’s office, without knocking she let herself in.
“I need to see the contract!” Mia yelled.
Amy was on her computer she closed her lap top and looked at Mia with a slight smile on her face.
“Did you meet Martha?”
“Show me my contract!”
Amy slid the folder towards Mia, as if she knew this moment was coming. Mia scanned the contract and for the first time read the bottom paragraph.
“Applicant’s relationship with the natural world ends on the date of this contract, applicant relieves his or herself of any obligation to the natural world and will solely exist as immortal in the fold of the restaurant under the care of her family. Mia stared at her signature.
“No one ever gets past the income paragraph and stock options Mia. They just sign their name as soon as they see the money, Amy chuckled. Your mother did the same thing, only she knew she was sick so she made a deal with us. In exchange for her health you would be given to us at age 25, at the end of her life.” Amy closed the file.
The office door opened and the man that Nick slapped just a few hours earlier walked into the room.
“Hello Mia,” his voice was soft, “welcome home honey.”
“Dad?” Mia felt her legs become weak.
Ten Years Later
At 6 AM Mia parked her Mercedes SUV in her parking space. As she approached the front of the restaurant she stopped to admire the renovations. The staff she trained with was gone, replaced with new employees eager to make a mark in this world. Nick was calling her on her cell phone.
“Hi beautiful, I will be home later tonight my flight should arrive at 11 PM.”
“OK darling,” Mia said with a flirtatious tone, “I’ll see you tonight.”
Mia walked past the glowing blue bar waving hello to Michael. Once in her office she closed the door behind her and looked at the sheet of applicants she was interviewing for the experienced server position. She opened her tablet, a photo of Amy and Annie popped up, they were standing in front of the families most recent acquired building in Paris with a note on the bottom.
Hey Mia, good luck with your interviews today, I just hired
two more servers for our new location that I think will be perfect for the restaurant, ~Amy.