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never the changes we want

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Before you can be altogether sure what’s happening, Hot Guy has wrenched the Institute away from Lampard and offered to refund your tuition. Half your classmates, including Hardison, you never hear from again.

Thomas is still giving Marta those far-too-long looks. Whitney still needs a degree that’ll make her dad give her bike back. You both earned the compliments Chef paid you, and so… School’s out, but neither of you want to quit.

“Five hours a week mentoring the kids,” is what Toby Heath tells you. You could walk away, but whether she’ll ever let you catch her looking back at Thomas or not, you refuse to see the glint in your housekeeper’s eyes if she ever finds out you tried and couldn’t cut it.

*

Helping out with some reading and maths doesn’t turn out half as bad as you feared.

Mr. Heath alternates the teams that man the Tobias’ kitchen – your remaining class mates, the kids, and a mixture of both. He teaches those you think of as professionals exactly the same as the teenage convicts.

This is the man who taught Chef.

Food is life.

*

It’s not frictionless. A profound sigh of relief goes through the kitchen when Fred puts his carving knife down carefully before letting loose on Andre with his fists. Only their shared dread of what Mr. Heath might do to whoever disturbs the ingredients on the counter is holding them back.

By the time they have finished hand-kneading and rolling out four batches of pasta dough to pass Mr. Heath’s scrutiny, feelings have calmed down until next thoughtless word.

*

Six weeks into the course, Mr. Heath allows you to take turns suggesting a creation of your own to feature on the restaurant’s menu. You don’t expect to be moved by the sight of Rick serving his foster mother the chocolate pie you both worked on… but you have to ask Whitney to cover for you and hide in the pantry and breathe after she tells him, “Baby, I’m so proud.”

After, you resolve to send Marta home the next day and cook a three course dinner for you and your husband. You steel yourself with the memory of a man in red knocking out everyone barging into his kitchen that didn’t belong there. As much as you rely on her, it’s you Thomas should watch, and you will not be upstaged in your own home.

*

The tasks grow more advanced and the specialties of the day more creative.

In a real Culinary Institute – though the one time Andre says this aloud you all flinch and assure yourselves that Mr. Heath didn’t hear it – you imagine there’d be intense rivalries between the wannabes. Here, you have Lamar and Freddy constantly egging each other on, and you’re stunned by how much you yourself [and Rick] get out of your and Whitney’s [and Aleena’s] friendly competition.

One weekend every month Chef pays the school a visit and though your back hurts and your feet ache and you really should spend time with Thomas more often, your attendance is spotless.

You’re as ecstatic as Rick every time the customers tell the waiters to give their compliments to the kitchen. You are. You are, but Tobias’ doesn’t quite fit your vision. Nine months in, you’re surprised to discover that you have a vision.

*

Aleena passes her GED. Rick doesn’t, but he doesn’t let it destroy his spirit and he doesn’t leave Tobias’.

Whitney’s father releases her hostage bike early. You don’t see her for a week, but she is back at her station at noon to back up Lamar’s long hoped for debut before his father.

If Thomas is flirting with Marta on your busy nights, you’re not there to see it. As you take up your knife and wait for orders you daydream about opening your own place once Chef or Mr. Heath pronounce you ready. Already you know three sous-chefs you can’t imagine doing it without.

***