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And a Side of Soup, Please!

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“I swear, when she comes in for lunch today, you’ll understand what I mean.”

Zazzalil made this promise to Keeri at the 6AM start of their shift, standing side-by-side brewing coffee in the kitchen of the Blue Hat Eatery. Keeri only laughed and said, “Sure!” to Zazzalil’s earlier statement: the new girl who comes in at lunchtime with the nearby hospital’s doctors looks like the daughter of the sun and stars.

Yeah, that was a little cheesy, Zazzalil could admit. But she’d be damned if it weren’t true. This new medical student, or intern, or something, was the most spectacular and beautiful woman that Zazzalil had ever seen in the flesh. Her name- something that started with a “J”. Zazzy hadn’t been around their table enough to eavesdrop that detail. Maybe today.

Now, Keeri balances a full tray of faux-artesian lunch dishes and a second tray of drinks, while Zazzalil bounces up and down on her toes at the till, cashing out some of her patrons. The day is young, and her parents’ restaurant is still new, so the Blue Hat’s business slow. Beyond bussing some tables, Zazzalil has little to do but wait for the new girl and the cohort of doctors she’s with. Zazzalil’s last breakfast-rush customers file out the door. She checks the time: 11:31 AM. Soon.

Clean the mess. Remove the dishes. Wipe the table down. Refill the ketchup, salt, and pepper. Place the cutlery. It’s all routine to Zazzalil, something she could do with her eyes closed. She’s been bussing tables in various restaurants she was fifteen. And now, working in her parents’ restaurant at age 21, it’s become a lifestyle.

The jingle of the doorbell suddenly breaks her out of her rhythm. Zazzalil spins to check who has arrived.

It’s her!

“Hello!” Zazzalil chirps to the gaggle of hungry medical staff. “Sit anywhere you’d like.”

There’s about seven of them today. They choose two four-tops, pushed together. The new girl sits at one table’s corner. Today, her curly auburn hair is out of its usual ponytail, resting on her shoulders. She’s wearing leaf-green scrubs that bring out the colour of her eyes. J’s magnificent smile is apparent as she chats with her coworkers and browses a menu, too. And everything about her is so-

“Zazzalil, quit being such a useless gay and go take their drink orders.”

It’s Keeri, smirking and then sticking out her tongue at Zazzy. “You’re staring.”

Apparently, Zazzalil had ceased wiping a table in the middle of the job to gawk at the new girl. Smooth.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” replies Zazzalil, sheepishly. She moves to wipe the rest of the table, but Keeri bumps her with one hip and gestures Zazzalil to go.

Zazzalil nods her thanks, then walks up to J and her table, notepad at the ready. She puts on a smile that’s enthusiastic (but not too enthusiastic) and tucks a few stray hairs behind her ear before greeting the group and asking for their drink order.

Most of them ask for Coke or coffee and water. The new girl is last to order. “May I have a black tea with honey, please?”

Her usual, but Zazzalil doesn’t point out that she knows this. “Of course!”

She wishes J’s gaze would linger on her a little longer, but the whole group from the hospital is hungry, and so the new girl looks back at her menu.

“I’ll give y’all some more time with the menus,” says Zazzalil. She walks off through the swinging doors of the kitchen, where Keeri is grabbing her jacket. She’s probably heading outside for a smoke break.

Upon seeing Zazzy, Keeri grins. “Are you gonna handle the med staff’s table, or will you be too busy coming up with pick-up lines to prep their food?”

“I’ve got it,” Zazzalil almost snaps, but Keeri is an old friend- she knows she’s joking. Instead, Zazzalil adds, “Did you see her?”

“Yeah,” says Keeri. “She really is gorgeous.”

“Yeah.” Zazzalil portions ice into several glasses, then pours water into each. There’s water for everyone at the table of seven, in addition to their other drinks, making for a full tray. It takes a few minutes, and by then Keeri has returned from the back of the building.

“Let me help?” she offers.

“As long as you aren’t too busy,” replies Zazzy. She slides the tray of waters to the taller woman.

“I’ll have to get back to my table soon.” says Keeri. “Honestly, I just want to see if my gaydar goes off near your girl.”

Keeri!

Before Zazzalil can stop her, Keeri pops open the kitchen door with a hip and heads outside. Zazzalil hurries to put the last touches on J’s tea- a slice of lemon, a tea bag, and two packets of honey, set on a dish with a steaming hot mug of water. She balances the tray, then heads out into the dining area. Keeri is finishing giving waters to each of the patrons.

“Hi, guys. I have the rest of your drinks here,” announces Zazzalil. She doles out the cokes and coffees first, saving the tea for last. Most of the menus have been closed, signalling the hospital staff is ready to order. Zazzalil can predict what about half of them will ask for- they’ve been coming here for lunch since the restaurant opened a few months ago.

Zazzalil sets down the new girl’s tea, and says, “Let me know if you’ll need more honey, honey.”

She’s been working on that line for the past ten minutes. It’s pretty good for her standards. Just a little flirty, but easily passable as friendly fun. And J has been coming to the Blue Hat daily for about two weeks, so it’s not like they aren’t acquainted.

Before she can think about it too hard, Zazzalil says, “Are we ready for me to take your orders?”

There are some nods. The man sitting across from the new girl says, “You start, Jemilla.”

Jemilla.

She does, ordering the soup of the day and a sandwich. Zazzalil nods while writing a heart next to her order- so she’ll remember what pattern the food orders came in, of course. The rest of the orders are made in moments, and the medical staff pass their menus down the two tables. They end up in a pile in front of Jemilla, who hands them off to Zazzalil once she finishes scribbling down the final doctor’s gluten-free-vegan order substitutes.

“Thank you,” says Zazzalil. Their eyes meet, and for just one second too long, Zazzalil is floored while smiling at Jemilla. God, she’s pretty.

The waitress turns and walks to a computer, inputting their order promptly. Since the Blue Hat Eatery is low on customers today, it’s likely the cook will prepare the food in little time. Zazzalil scans her section and finds a few tables have been seated. She makes her way to them and goes through her usual routine.

As she’s sorting out a drink order in the kitchen, Keeri approaches her, saying, “I have news.”

“Good news or bad news?” asks Zazzalil, pounding on the side of the soda machine a few times to try and fix the poor pressure.

“Good news.”

“Do tell.” The machine sputters back to life and coke sprays out of the machine, narrowly missing Zazzy’s face. “Jesus!”

“I definitely think your doctor-student girl likes girls,” states Keeri, proudly. “That’s the vibe I got.”

“Oh god, Keeri,” says Zazzalil. “You meant it when you said you were going out there to- to-”

Keeri giggles. “Yeah. I’m not a womanizer or anything, but you know me.”

And with two finger guns and a wink, Keeri grabs a waiting set of dishes and leaves the kitchen. Zazzalil groans. Her best friend can be so extra, sometimes.

Ding!

The hospital staff’s order is up. Almost perfect timing. Zazzalil runs out the drink order she was working on, then returns to the kitchen. It takes a few moments to load everything onto a jumbo tray, but for an expert like Zazzy, it’s a breeze. The smells of hot and fresh food fill her nostrils. Damn, is it time for a lunch break yet?

She carries everything out to the group of medics, who seem surprised their food is ready. Their lively conversation dies down, and Zazzalil begins to call out, “Vegetable lasagna for you. . . beef dip for you . . .” And again, Zazzalil leaves Jemilla’s meal for last, just to savour those extra seconds of the new girl’s eyes on her.

“A chicken noodle soup and BLT for you,” finishes Zazzalil. Jemilla thanks her.

Before Zazzalil can ask if anyone needs a refill, she’s interrupted by Jemilla, who smiles widely and says, “I need more honey, honey.”

Well, then. Zazzalil is blushing before she can register the request, and after a moment she says “Yes, of course.”

She turns and hustles into the kitchen. When she gets there, Keeri takes one look at her and snorts.

“Did you get asked out?” she laughs.

Zazzalil frowns, shaking her head.

“Then what happened?” asks Keeri.

“She used my ‘honey’ line back on me. And- I forgot to ask about the refills,” says Zazzalil.

“That’s cute! And you can just take them a pitcher of water, probably.”

She quickly takes care of business with other customers, retrieves a pitcher of water and two more honey packets, and then drops them off at the hospital staff’s tables. She lucks out- everyone is happy with more water, and Jemilla gives her a polite thanks for the honey- and half an hour later, the group is paying for their bills with Keeri at the front desk. They left a decent tip in cash on the table, Zazzalil notices as she begins cleaning their mess. Nice.

Beside a neat stack of dishes at one end of the table, where Jemilla had sat, is a napkin with writing in blue pen atop it. Zazzalil picks it up curiously, heart beating louder in her chest.

It reads, “Thanks, honey :)”

Jemilla.