Even less-conventional students need summer work. (For 'Vampire Day Jobs' contest)
|Red Jones liked the holidays. She liked term-time too, naturally, but the distinct lack of nine-in-the-morning lectures was a welcome break. There was something fundamentally wrong about learning at such an early hour, even for someone who measured the need for sleep on weekly intervals. It was, she'd decided, a student thing.
So was this.
A prim little bell jingled politely as the door to Café Gérard swung back smoothly at a gloved touch. Red stepped inside, pausing only to cast an appraising glance across the neatly clustered tables, quickly tallying the current clientele load. Busy night. She headed over to the neat white door, tidily placed behind some large, fairly fake plants, and went through. Three steps into the employee cloakroom, and she was suddenly accosted by a voice that was pitched somewhere between ear-piercing and ultra-sonic.
Bats would have winced.
"Red! Oh, thank heavens you're here! We're swamped, and Jane's taken the night off, and one of the chefs has a migraine, and – "
"Good evening, Shauna." Red nodded calmly as she set her bag down and pulled off her coat, carefully folding the voluminous material before peeling her thin brown gloves and placing them neatly on top. A flick of long fingers carefully fixed the white name-tag onto her lapel and she turned back to the still-jabbering assistant manager, fixing her expression into a smile. Shauna flapped her hands a little.
"I'm so glad you're working tonight! We've had such a high staff turnover, all the students going back, I suppose you'll be going soon… Are you sure you can't do mornings?"
"I'm sure." Red lifted today's hat off and carefully smoothed down some unruly strands of brown that clung to the brim. Satisfied that a half-decent level of professionalism had been achieved, she treated Shauna to a bright smile. "Afraid I'm just not a morning type of person. Now –" she raised an eyebrow in the direction of the main restaurant door " – shall we feed the ravenous hordes?"
Shauna had been right about one thing (statistically, it had to happen once): Gérard's was packed that night. Red stopped counting the orders taken eventually, finding it a lot easier to just circuit the restaurant with whatever emerged from the kitchen from the increasingly-overworked single chef. There were two main parties: one group of suited men, each armed with a briefcase, who were managing to discuss accounting fairly effectively considering the number of bottles that passed into the economic huddle; one party of youths of around Red's age who turned out to be in the midst of a twenty-first party; and the rest of the tables were filled with the usual families, lovers, and anyone else who fancied a taste of French Cuisine – all the way from deepest continental Surrey – for their Friday evening. On the whole, everyone was polite, courteous, and appreciative of a fairly short staff on an unusually busy night.
Of course, any description that begins with 'on the whole' opens the towering gates of However to admit the one, darkling shining Exception That Proves The Rule. Red had been watching that one since they'd been seated. A married couple, complete with a sullen teen well into the poorly-planned, monochromatic rebellion stage, and one younger child who seemed to have decided that systematically emptying the ketchup sachets onto the tablecloth was a wonderful entertainment. They were loud – when you start receiving dirty looks from a twenty-first party, you might assume the volume is a bit much – and they were, frankly, annoying. Demands for extra refills, free, for starters to be re-made, free, demands for bread, free…
Shauna was serving that particular table. It was a great pity that the woman seemed to have had 'the customer is always right!' tattooed on the inside of her eyelids years ago. With every fresh tray of drinks, every newly made salad, every fresh can of Coke for the moping teen, who appeared to be consisting entirely on cola, Shauna's already well-stretched nerves took another visible blow.
Physical tiredness may not have been an issue for Red, but her patience could wear as thin as anyone else's.
The final straw came as Red was delivering a tray of dessert to the businessmen's table, and the general background babble of the restaurant was suddenly split apart by a bellow of fog-horn proportions.
"What the hell is this? Can't you get anything right, you stupid bitch?!"
Red whipped round like a cobra, in time to see Shauna burst into tears and flee in the direction of the back room. Her verbal assailant, apparently oblivious to the shocked stares he was now the focus of, sent a sneer following the blonde's retreating back.
"I want a refund!" he yelled after her, then sat back down at his crockery-strewn table and began pouring another glass of wine.
Red's eyes narrowed. The businessmen, shaking their heads and muttering, turned back to a set of desserts that had apparently gone from the trays – which were somehow now leant neatly against a nearby pillar – to the table without passing through the intervening space. Heels clicked smartly on the tiled floor and the loud man looked up, the new glass of wine barely an inch from his lips.
Red Jones was not a particularly imposing figure – a little over average height, with neatly bobbed hair and eyes that looked at the world from behind rimless, tinted glasses – but there was an indefinable quality to the slim waitress' approach as she strode across the room that made certain deep parts of the human mind oddly fixated on teeth. She reached the table, stopped sharply, and smiled.
"Is there a problem, sir?"
The man squinted at her. Alcohol didn't help with his focusing, but he aimed a fresh sneer in her general direction anyway. Somewhere between brain and lips it went wrong, however, and ended up manifesting as a grimace.
"You useless bastards can't get anything right," he slurred, and jammed a thumb towards the plate sitting in front of him. "What'd you call that?"
"That would be a Steak Frites, sir." Red inhaled, ever-so-gently. "Medium, I believe. What you ordered, sir. Eventually."
"Don't get smart!" The man waved a finger under Red's nose. "I know what medium is, and that crap ain't it!"
"You tell her, dear," the woman trilled in, looking down her nose at Red. "Might have to talk slower, no one smart works as a waitress."
The sullen teen smirked and looked up, clearly waiting for Red's response. He looked disappointed – and a little unnerved – when she simply closed her eyes and smiled faintly. The man took another gulp of wine and went to speak again –
Red's eyes opened. There was something very wrong with that stare.
The word wasn't snapped, or shouted, or spoken in any way that would usually lull the noise of Friday-night Gérards.
But the moment stopped. Conversations broke off mid-word, hand gestures froze in mid-air. One of the businessman froze, his fork halfway to his mouth, and a lump of cream started an oozing break for freedom. The newly-twenty-one girl halted with her glass high in the air, suddenly staring blankly forward into nothingness.
The only still-animated figure reached forward and delicately plucked the wine glass from the man's frozen fingers, and set it down on a clean area of tablecloth. She kept contact with eyes that were the only still-moving part of his face, and watched the sudden terror dance there.
Red Jones smiled and, this time, she used all her teeth.
"Now," she said quietly, leaning back a little on the paused businessman behind her. "Perhaps you will listen to me. You have been obnoxious since you arrived, intolerably rude for every second you've spent in here, and have apparently decided that the best way to get your pathetic little kicks of an evening is to drive to tears someone who has done nothing but tried to please you, and your objectionable family. In terms you will understand, sir: You have been a total shit since you got in here, and I'm tired of you wasting… well," she laughed quietly, "I would say 'wasting my air', but that wouldn't be completely accurate. Wasting air that could be used by far more pleasant individuals than you."
The man's eyes flickered frantically. Were his usual body responses currently working, he'd probably have wet himself. Red shook her head.
"Now, now. Don't strain yourself." She leaned back again and looked at the roof, allowing the tip of her tongue to run visibly around the twin points of razor-ivory stark against her bottom lip. "Interesting how quiet it can be in here, don't you think? You could hear a pin drop."
She straightened up suddenly and leaned forward, whipping her index and middle finger out and hovering the tips just over the sweat-beaded skin of the man's throat. "Or a heartbeat. Yours is very fast, you know? Can't be healthy, all that fatty French food."
Interesting. It really did look like his eyes were trying to find their own way out of his head. Red leaned in again, until she was – proverbially – breathing down his ear.
"And that steak is medium. I'm a good judge of meat, sir. Although I rather prefer mine a little more blue." The tips of her nails twitched, so close to the skin they almost touched -
Red straightened up abruptly.
"Since I see you're very apologetic, and have carefully considered the health implications of your diet… I'd say a forty-percent tip would confirm your remorse, don't you agree? And try to at least get home before fainting, please."
She waved a hand in front of the man's eyes and watched them glaze over, then sighed. Being a jerk was probably not a good reason for Mesmerising someone to that level. Then again, her father was trying to make the same trick work on telemarketers, so perhaps she didn't have to let on when she got home. She picked up her trays and stacked them neatly on the bar, straightened one of the plastic plants that Shauna's flight had skewed, and laid a hand on the little white door, before rolling her eyes and waving back at the restaurant.
"Oh, alright. Resume."
As the noise started again, Red slid through the door to offer comforting shoulder-pats to Shauna, and assure her that the customer had seemed very apologetic that he'd upset her so much.
By the time they re-entered the restaurant, the loud family had left, and Red caught Shauna's teary expression of surprise at the size of the pile of notes flung onto the non-ketchup-covered part of the table.
The rest of the night was busy and mostly uneventful – aside from several of the businessmen needing to be half-carried out by their friends, and a certain amount of briefcase-mixups – but Red couldn't suppress a sigh of relief as the final table was cleared, belongings collected, and the tired staff dispersed into the chill night air. Red was the last one out, so still within earshot as Shauna finished locking up and called out to her.
"Red!" The blonde woman hurried over, wrapping her coat tightly around herself. "Brr… Aren't you cold?" she said, eyeing Red's unbuttoned coat and gloves sticking out of a pocket, unnecessary under the amber glare of streetlamps. Red shrugged.
Shauna shivered again, and looked up at her, suddenly serious.
"Did you speak to that guy? After… after I… left?"
Red shrugged again, a little uncomfortably.
"I…" she hesitated. "…made some suggestions."
"Thanks." Shauna smiled, and actually looked slightly less frantic than usual. "He left a big tip, so whatever you said must have worked. You're a marvel, Red, I don't know how you do it."
"Innate people skills."
Shauna laughed, and then looked startled as her stomach gave a loud growl.
"Oh my! You know in all that, I forget to eat? Well, there must be somewhere still open, you fancy a quick bite?"
Red stared at her for a moment, half-wondering where the hidden camera was. Those kind of set-ups never actually happened, did they?
Red shook her head and grinned.
"Maybe another time. See you tomorrow night, Shauna."
With that, she turned, giggling under her breath, and walked away until the night enveloped her.
Or, at least to the bus stop.