Coffee stains. Spilled Creamer. Dried on apple tart. A mountain of thick ceramic plates.
Brianna bit her lip a little harder, leaning across the restaurant table and lifting the stack onto her dish cart. Once the bulk was out of the way, she grabbed the disinfectant spray and pumped a few spritzes on the tabletop. With hurried swipes of the cloth, the stains faded into the tabletop and that was good enough.
Nudging the dish cart forward, Brianna repeated the process at the next empty table. A time-check reminded her that her shift continued for the next four hours and that dishwashing was next. She wiped her forehead, continuing on, methodically taking inventory of the current customers of the hour.
There was a slight flicker of relief as she realized there was no one she knew directly, no kids from school, no ladies from church and no men from the repair garage that her father sometimes visited.
It was small consolation.
“Brianna!” Chef Johnson bellowed. “Dishes!”
The everpresent swing cook had her hurrying with the snap of a towel. Brianna dried her hands on the dark apron, quickly guiding the dish cart to the kitchen. She tugged into a corner, unloading her cleaning supplies on the cluttered metal cabinet nearby.
Ducking through the busy chefs in the kitchen, she rolled up her sleeves and tugged on a flowered pair of rubber gloves. Within minutes, she was practically up to her elbows in suds and thick ceramic plates. The automatic dishwashers ran one set, while her hands turned out the next.
Controlled chaos swirled through the noisy kitchen.
By the time it dulled to a haze in her head, Brianna was vaguely aware of Chef Johnson’s tap on her shoulder. He’d kept an eye on her in the past few months and today, his eyebrows arched a bit higher as he snapped a towel at a nearby kitchen boy. “Shift’s over. Get moving. Pasta in the bag.” His head snapped to the side. “Oi, be careful with those platters, one at a time—!” His voice cut through the chatter, making sure he was heard without breaking stride as he moved to the next station, efficiently taking over to allow the fry chef a moment to keep the kitchen harmony.
Brianna excused herself from the busy scene, a wistful longing settling around her as she shrugged into her coat, balancing the bag of take-out on her way to the parking lot. Within minutes, afternoon roadside scenery blurred by and Brianna soon found herself home and parked in the garage.
Stepping out into the concrete coolness of the cluttered garage, she took the stairs to the kitchen, announcing her arrival with a bang of the door while depositing her armful on the empty kitchen counter.
“Marisa?” Brianna called out, venturing in to discover her older sister fast asleep in the tattered recliner, her broken leg propped up on the chewed footstool, her newborn fast asleep in her blanketed arms. A faint wince creased her face as Brianna sent a prayer of thanks upwards for the fact that the babe hadn’t waked with noise of her arrival.
Tip-toing out of the living room, she ducked in the office where her father lay at the desk, fast asleep, a can of beer in the corner, and a few more in the plastic wastebasket. Easing his glasses off his face, Brianna set them out of arm’s reach, plucking the half-empty beer can off the desk.
Returning to the kitchen, she poured the beer down the sink and tossed the can in the recyclable sack. At least they’d have dinner tonight. Hunting through the freezer produced a package of premade meatballs, to accompany the fresh carton of pasta. A bottled can of pasta sauce was poured into a warming saucepan as Brianna backtracked to the garbage can.
Whirling around again, she bit her lip to muffle the words brimming in her throat as she stubbed her toe on something hard. She nearly kicked it back, only to stop when she realized it was her old backpack, sitting in the kitchen corner, next to the garbage can. For a moment, the wistfulness from the restaurant kitchen registered with a definite pang in her chest.
Brianna kicked it—lightly—turning her attention back to the stove.
A high-school dropout could have a thousand reasons for dropping out—but excuses would never explain away the necessary edge of essential education to pursue a higher dream.
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