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---

 

“So you want to be a chef,” Andy says, less of a question and more - well, she doesn't ever really sound unsure. 

 

Nile doesn’t yelp, but because Andy has materialized in front of her while she’s carrying a full tray of glasses, she’s forced to put a lot of concentration into not stumbling and breaking them all in front of her boss. “Uh - yeah. I do.”

 

“Hm,” Andy says, “Have you done any apprenticeships?”

 

“Nope."

 

“Baking school?”


“No, but when I was a journalist,” Nile starts, “I realized I was interested in the hospitality of places like this, and the spheres of cultural exchange that happen within - “


“Okay,” Andy says, cutting her off. She holds out a piece of paper, the tiniest splatter of something on the corner. “Nicky told me all about you already. That’s what we’ll be covering. You have your own knives?”

Nile can't believe this is actually happening. “Joe said he could lend me some supplies to start?"


“That’ll be good enough,” Andy says, and then after another long look at her, she turns on her heel and goes back into the kitchen, like it’s totally normal to casually accost your waitstaff when you’re the head chef in the middle of the evening and propose a plan to get her to become a chef, too.

 

Nile stands there, staring, long enough so that Nicky eventually comes across her on his own. “I think Andy just offered to teach me how to become a chef," Nile says, "Or, I just had a stroke." 

 

“Ah, Andy? She likes you,” Nicky says, looking as though he's been expecting this.  “Keep it up. Also, watch out for table four, they’re - “

 

“Going to make a mess, yeah,” Nile says, with a sigh, and goes back to work before the group of forty-somethings decides that spilling salt everywhere is the only way to get her attention again. 

 

 

---

 

 

Nile had first come across La Vecchia Guardia, or LVG, as all the foodie magazines had referred to it, looking for an article to write.

 

She had been searching for a new spin for the food column she’d been covering for the duration of her coworker’s maternity leave. Nile can count on her fingers how many times she’s been in a fine-dining kind of restaurant like this, but figures that if someone calls back after she leaves them a message during the day, she’ll find something to write about, at least. 

 

Someone does call her back, rather quickly, and lets her know that not only has the restaurant been woman-owned for at least a century, but they have been successfully operating on a pay-as-you-wish scale every Sunday, and the sous chef would be willing to speak with her, how does Tuesday sound?

 

It’s always been a little dream of hers, actually, to work in one of those places, to become some kind of renowned chef. When Nile was little, her grandma would let her help in the kitchen all the time. She’d imagine herself on some fancy cooking show, talking to an audience, and remembers how her face hurt from all the beaming when her family made impressed noises on the plates that she and Nana brought out. She likes to cook now, sure, but one thing had led to another and she never really followed up on that dream. 

 

Nile goes to LVG with an idea about the impact of local establishments, with the potential to cover diversity within the cooking world, spinning to life in her head.

 

That’s how she meets Nicky and Joe.

 

Nicolò, call-me-Nicky, is the head waiter at LVG, and Joe (and maybe Yusuf, Nile’s not sure, because Nicky calls him the former and he introduces himself with the latter, which she uses out of courtesy) is the aforementioned sous chef. It’s pretty evident they’re together within the first ten minutes of knowing them, long before Joe proclaims Nicky “the love of my life, the reason I wake up in the morning”, and Nicky gives her a look like, yeah, what about it?

 

Early on in their interview, Nile asks Joe, “So what brought you to LVG?”

 

Joe smiles. “Nicky was working here,” he says, “And I took whatever job would have me.”

 

“That’s so romantic,” Nile says, softening a bit. She turns to Nicky. “So why did you start working here, then?”

 

“I thought Joe worked here,” Nicky says, “Because he was here all the time, and I was new."

 

“Really?” Nile asks, because this is some unexpectedly gift-of-the-magi stuff she can work with, definitely.

 

“Absolutely,” Joe confirms.

 

“No,” Nicky says in turn, “We were corporate lawyers who screamed at each other every day for six years, and then we fell in love, quit, and found jobs here. In that order.”

 

Joe laughs, still looking adoringly at him. Nile still doesn’t know if he’s kidding, and decides just to scratch that entire bit. “So why did you stay?"


“Andy,” Joe answers, putting a hand on Nicky's knee. “She took over the business from her aunt, hired us, and she made it into the place it is today.”

 

“Andy,” and Nile checks her notes, “The owner?”



“She’s also the chef de cuisine,” Nicky tells her. “She’s who instigated the payment policy, encouraged feedback from the community on operations and getting people jobs here. She’s going to get this place a Michelin star.”

 

“I’d love to talk to her,” Nile says immediately, “When does she work?”

 

Nicky and Joe exchange a long look. “Look, Nile, you seem very nice,” Joe says, at last. “Andy is one of my favorite people in the world. But she can be… difficult.”

 

Nile can do difficult. She tells him so.

 

“I believe you,” Joe says, kindly, “But Andy doesn’t do interviews.”

 

“But she let you both sit down with me, so I can’t see why she wouldn’t - “

 

“Oh, she’s going to probably try to murder Joe for doing this,” Nicky says, and Joe bumps his shoulder into him with a small hey, “But the place could use the publicity. Andy’s doing good work here - “



“Just five minutes,” Nile insists, “Any time she wants,“ but they’re both shaking their heads simultaneously, the way that really old couples do.

 

“Sorry,” Joe tells her, looking genuinely regretful. “I wish there were another way to get you in here, but our hands are tied.”

 

 

---

 

 

It turns out, there is another way, but it’s not one that she would have really liked, at first.

 

The newspaper has been having a bad time, financially. It’s no secret, though it starts when her colleague gets laid off, and then their boss. Nile isn’t at all surprised at all by the time that the HR department emails her, and she’s laid off within the next week before she even gets the chance to publish the LVG piece.

 

Nile stares at the box that was her desk, once, now forlorn in the middle of her apartment that same day. The notes from the restaurant with Nicky and Joe are on the top, still, and she has a terrible, crazy idea at that. She worked two years at a bar during college - and maybe, just maybe -

 

“Hi,” Nile says into the phone not five minutes later, “You’re not hiring at the restaurant, by any chance, are you?”

 

There’s a pause, and then Joe says, “Hold on one minute,” then in the background, “Nicky? Vieni qui - ”

 

 

 

---

 

 

It turns out that one of the staff quit not two days before she called. With two recommendations from current, star employees, Nile gets a job in the waitstaff at LVG despite having very little actual prior experience.

 

The entire staff is small - just a few other part-time servers, a bartender, and a handful of house staff beyond Nicky, Joe, and Andy.

And Nile, now.

 

While he’s showing her the ropes, Nicky says something about people are meant to be here. The waiter who had just left them apparently moved abroad to pursue his dream of a boogie board shack, Nicky is quick to say, and had only been working here for a few months - “He was nice,” Nicky says, “But we all knew it wasn’t going to last.”

 

“What, does Andy chain you guys here?” Nile says, only half-kidding when she asks. They really are just a bit suspiciously loyal to her. 

 

“We are born and we die in this restaurant,” Joe says, looking entirely serious. He’s joined them for the tour, like he’s brand-new too, and winking at Nicky for most of the time. “Then we come back to life, a miracle to be beheld, and we serve food that is fit for the gods.”

 

“It helps that we actually like to work here,” Nicky says, looking amused, “And I haven’t even gotten into the profit sharing. This is Maria, our bartender. Maria, this is Nile - “

 

 

---

 

 

Nile finally meets Andy at the end of her training shift, when the woman strolls in through the main doors.

 

Whatever Nile is expecting, it’s not for the woman to be wearing combat boots and a black tank top, looking more like she’s running a dive bar than a Michelin-star restaurant.

 

“Nile, right?” Andy says, with a quick nod, her fingers flying over the buttons of the chef’s coat she had shrugged on. “You were the journalist who was going to publish about this place, weren’t you?”

 

She’s almost unfairly gorgeous, all sharp angles and short-haired intensity. “Yes,” Nile says, “That was - me, at one point.”



“I heard you coaxed my best waiter and sous chef into an interview,” Andy says, “Even after I expressed my… disbelief that your newspaper would be fair about this place.”

 

“Um,” Nile says, at the same time that Nicky goes, “Boss, she sent me the copy before it got cut. It’s a shame that it never got published.”

 

“Relax,” Andy says, and it takes Nile a moment to realize she’s talking to her.  Her eyes are like lasers boring through her, though, as she asks, “You ever work with Copley?”



Nile shakes her head, but she knows who she’s talking about. “I heard that he didn’t have such great things to say about this place, but I didn’t let it - “

 

“He,” Andy says, “Has trashed this restaurant twice, under the guise of a critique. At first, I thought it was just different tastes, but the second time - it’s personal.”

 

Nile isn’t quite sure how to respond to that. Joe says, “He’s got no taste, Andy, we know this.”

 

“It’s some kind of vendetta,” Andy says darkly, then seems to come back to attention. “Nicky, come find me before we open.”

 

Nile watches her go. “And that,” Nicky says from beside her, “Is our fearless leader.”

 

 

 

---

 

 

Nile keeps the job, mostly because she genuinely likes Nicky and Joe - and even Andy, from the little they interact those first few weeks because she can respect that woman’s hustle from afar, and it's clear that she's committed for all the employees. 

 

Andy does, however, take absolutely no shit. She chews out both two customers and their produce supplier within a week with quiet, vicious words that make everyone speed-walk by her and the unlucky target when it happens. Nile kind of gets the vibe that she's not really a people-person.

 

The tips are surprisingly good, and her shifts pays the rent, and she’s surprised when she feels like she actually likes going to work, for the first time in years. 

 

She thinks that Joe and Nicky must befriend everyone, at first, only it seems that they really like her, too. A few shifts after her first day, Nicky invites her to their house for dinner. Joe makes them shakshuka and more than a few passing references to keeping Nicky far away from it during the whole process.

 

“So you’re the one who cooks at home, too?” Nile asks Joe. She had volunteered to help him while Nicky makes considering mutters to himself, poring through their wine collection not too far away.

 

“Nicky has incredible culinary passion,” Joe says immediately, “His palate is perhaps the most refined I’ve ever come across, the most sensitive, his tongue most curious. I trust only him when coming up with new menus, after all, even before I go to Andy with my ideas.” He finishes slicing his tomatoes with extra flair, as if for emphasis.

 

“Okay,” Nile says, “But does he ever cook, himself?”



“I love that man more than life itself,” Joe says, “But he would burn a pot of water.” He nods approvingly to her chopping the bell peppers. “You, on the other hand, I would take you in the kitchen any time." 

 

“It’s a major character flaw of mine, I’ll be the first to admit,” Nicky says, coming up behind them. Joe accepts a kiss on his cheek from him.

 

“If you had a thousand years to learn, habibi, then maybe you could improve. Maybe.”

 

Nicky steals a piece of tomato. “I’m going to check the cellar, I swear we had another ’97 that would be good for this.” He tops off Nile’s glass with the wine already in his hand, then heads into the basement, whistling a little under his breath.

 

Nile’s not entirely surprised that they’re old money, wine cellar kind of rich - or maybe they’re serious about the ex-lawyer thing, who knows. She had asked them again, earlier, and got an even more perplexing answer about meeting on the battlefield from Joe, which Nicky had clarified, it was a secondary school trip to a war reenactment site.

 

The shakskuka is excellent. Over dinner, Joe asks, “Do you like to cook, Nile?”



Nile smiles. “I do,” she says. “I actually have more time to try some recipes, now.”

 

“Ever want to be a chef?” Nicky asks.

 

“When I was a kid, sure,” Nile says. “Then I thought I wanted to be a reporter. Now - I don’t know what I want.” Saying it out loud, with no judgment on either of their faces, makes something lift off her chest, something she hadn’t even realized had pressed heavily there until it was gone.

 

“Well,” Joe says, “To new beginnings, then.” They clink glasses before falling into a comfortable silence, only occasionally interrupted by Nile and Nicky making appreciative noises over the food.

 

 

 

---

 

 

 

If anyone took her transition from junior reporter to very junior waiter poorly, it was her mother.

 

Since moving out, Nile has, admittedly, not called her as much as she should have. The news is not particularly well-received, both because it had taken her a few weeks to gain the courage to do so, and that she breaks it over text.

 

Nile holds the phone two inches from her ear for most of the phone conversation that proceeds, eventually says, “Okay, okay - okay, wait, I have to go, love you, okay, bye - “ before hanging up, immediately texting her brother, please tell mom i’m not going through something.

 

He sends back, this might be more dramatic than the time u brought home ur girlfriend for thanksgiving without telling her.

 

Family, huh. 

 

 

 

---

 

 

Nile gets a number of short breaks throughout the nights she works, mostly because Andy’s policy is if you’re exhausted out there, you’re just going to break more china. Like some of the other few waitstaff, she spends it in this little nook by the kitchen, where she can watch everything happening without being in the way.

 

Joe’s always doing something or another in the back, and he works the hardest when he’s in charge - only second to Andy - commanding the respect of the entire staff for that alone, if not also for his talent. He does flirt with Nicky outrageously, sometimes doing knife tricks to amuse Nile or anyone else who'll stop to watch, and he's often called out to the front by people who want to pay their compliments to the chef. (Regardless who made the dish, Joe volunteers easily when such requests come, while Andy looks like she’d rather put a knife in her own hand.)

 

Out in the front of the restaurant, Nicky has a quieter kind of authority, a kindness that extends to the staff he clearly sees himself as a mentor for. The first time that Nile has an issue with a patron, the kind who swears at her and demands to see her supervisor for no real reason, before she could even lift her head to find Nicky he materializes right beside her at the man’s table.


“You know,” Nicky says pleasantly enough, “It is considered poor taste to ask for…. ketchup, for your steak, at an establishment such as this one, where the chefs prepare foods in certain ways based on the long-standing traditions they inherited from their teachers.”

 

“You don’t look old enough to be her boss,” the man complains, clearly gearing up to something, “And I don’t know why you people - “

 

“But I can understand that you seek familiarity,” Nicky continues like he hadn’t spoken, “And that would be fine. We all search for meaning in the unknown. But you had no need to speak to my colleague here in that tone, and I must ask you to apologize to her.”

 

“I - what kind of place - I am the customer here, and you are wasting my time - “

 

“Our time will come to each of us, one day,” Nicky says, managing to be rather ominous in his delivery despite the calm, even tone. “Life is finite, sir. Would you like the check?" 



The customer leaves pretty quickly after that, and Nile doesn’t even care that he didn’t tip because holy shit, Joe was right about Nicky having an edge.

 

But as much as she likes hanging out with Joe and Nicky, there’s something about Andy that draws Nile in the most.

 

Andy is some kind of chef goddess. She rarely raises her voice, but keeps moving the entire time she works, directing and giving orders and keeping the entire operation running smoothly even on the most chaotic nights. Every time that Nile is back in the kitchen to pick up a plate, Andy’s always doing something different, and has a kind of hyper-focus to her when she's cooking that really does make it look like an art. While she’s intense, it’s clear that she cares about her staff first, and far more often cracks a smile at Joe’s proclamations about Nicky’s capability and elegance upon grabbing him a napkin, for example.

 

It’s over finishing a bottle of house red - another perk -  after they close up, that Nile wonders out loud what if she had decided to become a chef.

 

“I like the idea of creating something that people share,” Nile says, “To bring them some joy just about the food, you know? I kind of wish I had taken that path now. I mean - you must feel the same."

 

“Yes,” Joe says. “I first wooed Nicolò with a panna cotta that made him fall to his knees. And then it was me on my knees that night, and the panna cotta was forgotten in favor of - “



Anyways,” Nicky says, to Nile’s eternal gratitude, “Why didn’t you?”



“I don’t know,” Nile says, “I guess I didn’t think about it ever as a real possibility. I like cooking by myself, but I’m not great at it or anything - it’s just a dream, I mean, it’s not like I’m ever going to become a chef now." 

 

Nicky and Joe share another significant look. Nicky says, “If the opportunity arose - “



“Would you take it?” Joe asks.

 

“I mean,” Nile says, “I guess I would. Why?”



“It might be less hypothetical than you think,” Nicky says, then he asks, “What if you started training as a chef, here?”

 

Nile stares at him. “You can’t be serious.”

 

“I can help you out with supplies,” Joe says, rather breezily, “And you know what, I think Andy would, too.”

 

Would, not could. Nile says, “I can’t just ask her that - or that of you either, I mean.”

 


“Nile,” Joe says, “Would you want to take a shot at your dream? Even if you find out you hate it - wouldn’t you want to know?”

 

And that’s how Nicky told Andy that Nile wanted to be a chef, and that’s how Nile started her training.

 

 

---

 

 

Nile is considering whether or not Joe will be so busy preparing for tonight that he won’t notice her trying to drown herself in one of the industrial sinks back there, when Nicky arrives.

 

He’s unzipping his hoodie - and Nicky is the only person in the world who manages to wear a hoodie to work and still look semi-professional - when he catches sight of Nile sitting at one of the tables, probably looking pretty pathetic. He heads over to her after a moment.

 

“You look,” Nicky starts, then stops. “Well, you've looked better." 

 

“Andy gave me a schedule, on paper, for the next six months,” Nile tells him, brandishing the pristine sheet. “What have I gotten myself into?”

 

“Andy’s tough but fair,” Nicky says comfortingly. “She’s all about finding your place in the world.”

 

“Yeah, but,” and Nile gestures in the air, rather broadly, “I mean, is this some kind of trick, to get me to quit?”

 

“You’re smart and motivated, and that’s what matters,” Nicky tells her, “It’s not like you’re signing away your life. You don’t like what it takes to be a chef? Then you stop, and you do what you need to.”

 

It's the words she needed to hear, and it doesn't quite soothe all her panic, but it does go greatly. “You should be a life coach,” Nile tells him. “Were you really a lawyer before this?”



Nicky raises a single finger to his lips, which makes everything ten times more mysterious before they hear a voice from the kitchen. “Nicky! Come try this reduction for me,” Joe shouts out from behind the swinging doors, his voice a little muffled. Nile doesn’t bother asking how he knew that Nicky had just walked in.

 

“One moment,” Nicky calls back, then turns to her. “Listen, you’re going to get through this, right? You might not have known Andy for long, but I have. She’ll help you.”

 

“Fine,” Nile says, “I don’t believe you, but I’ll trust you.”

 

“I’ll take it.” Now Nicky heads over to the doors, where Joe is now waiting with a spoon, his hand under it to prevent any drips. “Mm. Two more minutes, I think. For over the strawberries in tonight’s dessert?”



“I will save you a dish,” Joe promises, then looks past him at Nile, “And for you, too, because you look like you need something to look forward to.”



“Thanks,” Nile says back, a little glumly because having an anxiety attack into some of Joe's delicious food would definitely sour the experience. 

 

She’s still studying the paper, worrying one of the corners - Andy wants her to get in when? - when the woman in question drops into the chair across from her.

 

She really needs to start wearing a bell, or something, for Nile’s nerves. "It’s early, but you’ll need the extra practice at first,” Andy says without preamble. Nile slowly folds up the paper in half, vaguely panicking over the possibility that Andy can read minds, as she continues, “We’ll start off with your knife skills, which is perhaps the most crucial building block to becoming a chef.”

 

“Okay,” Nile says, “And just to be clear, if you get sick of teaching me, that doesn’t mean I lose my job, does it?“

 

“I like a challenge,” Andy says, and her smile is all teeth. “You’ll learn, one way or another.”

 

“That brings me no comfort,” Nile says, “But thanks, I guess.”

 

 

---

 

 

Andy is definitely a brutal teacher.

 

Nile has not been to culinary school, so she has no real reference, but while no one’s screaming at her or belittling her career change, she is put to work a lot. Andy has her chopping onions and scrap herbs and anything and everything for hours on end, correcting her knife form, her posture, and quizzing her about all sorts of food preparation and safety regulations the entire time. That’s before she even lets her near a saucepan, or into the stock room, or even make a grilled cheese by herself in the kitchen.

 

It would be awful, except it’s not. Nile feels alive in the kitchen, even when it’s eight pm on a weekend and Joe’s shouting something over the chaotic noise, and Nicky’s hair is coming more and more tousled as he runs exasperated hands through it when customers put in late substitutions, and Andy’s focused as ever on putting the final touches on plates, telling Joe that they need to do some magic and make something out of all that extra lamb because one of the staff made a mistake in ordering. 

 

Eventually, Nile gets to help Joe out when she starts to get better, doing prep for him when one of the line chefs are out. He praises her new skills and lets her cook little things on quiet afternoons, sometimes, that they’ll make Nicky or one of the other staff samples and give her their reviews.

 

The first time that Nile successfully breaks down a chicken by herself, acceptable enough to Andy’s high standards, her hands are flying around like she would’ve never imagined before this job. Andy makes a considering noise, and she lets her spend the first half of her shift helping Joe in the back.

 

 

 

---

 

 

Nile’s favorite part of her training is when it’s late at night, and she’s doing something much less high-energy because then Andy sits by her, and they can talk.

 

Like when they’re peeling potatoes, and Andy says, “Have I told you about the time I hitchhiked from Novosibirsk to Samarkand?”

 

In between jobs working as a chef, Andy has traveled much of the world, picking up odd jobs in between gigs. She does martial arts for fun, was part of a roller derby team that she got kicked off of because of a language miscommunication, and she currently holds the world record for the number of axes thrown off a skyscraper to hit a target on the ground. (Nile doesn’t even know if she’s kidding about that, because Andy will say something like that and her whole mouth will slant to the side, either at her expression or because she’s making that shit up).

 

Nile shares her own stories, too, and even though they’re much less exciting than Andy’s, the woman listens intently all the same. She tells Andy about her first job out of college, a really awful TV station boss who’d called her up at 3am to go out and cover a cat stuck in a tree. She talks about her mother, and her brother, and even what it’d been like when her father died in Afghanistan, and how she thought, once, that she’d enlist like him.

 

She likes Andy as much as she likes Joe and Nicky before long. Andy is brash, honest, and mysterious all at once. Andy looks at Nile in the eye when Nile is speaking, and after a while, she doesn’t look like she minds when Nile asks her ten thousand questions over some kind of cooking technique, or how she knows how to measure that much liquid for a certain recipe.

 

Nile realizes that Andy likes her, too, when Joe says, “I knew you two would get on like a house on fire,” after Nile has been recounting how Andy is encouraging her to go out to this weird kind of farmer’s market-inspired bistro in the city, just to expand her taste palate.

 

“I,” Nile starts, then stops. “I mean, I’m her employee, and I guess she wants to see me succeed - “

 

“Yeah, but you’re family, too,” Joe says, and he grins at her. “Now, pop quiz time - what might I use to deglaze, oh, I don’t know … “

 

There’s no place else in the world where she’d be able to do this. Eventually, Nile figures out what Nicky meant when he said that people were meant to be here.

 

These people become her family, and she doesn’t understand that until one day, she realizes she can’t imagine her life without Nicky or Joe - or Andy.

 

 

 

---

 

 

One day, several months into her chef training, Nile finds out about Nicky’s secret.

 

Joe has the day off - he has a long explanation of how he has to go to the doctor so he doesn’t leave Nicky as a hot widower before his time. Nile isn’t surprised when Nicky says he’s going to take the time off as well.

 

She wasn’t on the schedule to work that day, but Maria calls her around noon and asks if she can do some prep for tonight, because her girlfriend has the flu and she needed to take care of her, and Nile is happy to oblige. She doesn’t bother texting Nicky because it’ll be barely an hour of work most likely, so she punches in and gets to it.

 

She's setting up the cash register when Nicky walks in, sees her, and he stops dead in his tracks.

 

“Okay,” he says, when Nile blinks at him, “You can’t tell Joe about what happens next." 

 

“Um,” Nile says, wondering if her ideas about love are going to be forever ruined by whatever Nicky is about to tell her. “Okay?”

 

“I am going to be meeting a man here,” Nicky says, serious, “And we are going to lunch at another restaurant, and Joe cannot know because I am not supposed to be talking to this man, let alone be having mediocre pancakes with him.”

 

Nile’s stomach plummets. “Oh, god. Tell me you’re not - “

 

“Worse,” Nicky says. “He is on the do not serve list. Andy knows I’m speaking to him, but she wants full deniability in case my partner finds out before I’m ready to tell him.”

 

This just provokes more questions, but she figures one step at a time. “Um,” Nile says. “Is he a… friend of yours?”



Nicky glances around, like Joe is about to pop out from underneath a tablecloth or something. “Booker used to work here,” he says, slowly, “He was another chef.”

 

“You really should have started with that, okay?”

 

“He and Joe were close, we all were,” Nicky explains, “And then he - well, he got poached for another restaurant, about two years ago.”



“I mean, people do take other jobs,” Nile reasons, still not getting it. “And if he’s family - “



“Andy’s ex poached him,” Nicky says, “To get back at Andy, mostly. Booker’s very talented, and the job paid more, but he didn’t realize how bad it looked until half the waitstaff followed him. Joe took it very personally that he just up and left like that, and he put him on the do-not-serve list himself.” 

 

“Oh, damn,” Nile says. She closes the register. “Joe holds a grudge, still? I didn’t think he was the type.” 



“They went to culinary school together. Booker was his best man at our wedding,” Nicky explains. “Joe would prefer that I would be having an affair than talking to him at the moment, but I’m trying to rebuild that relationship so that when the time comes, it’s easier for everyone.”

 

“Well, that’s an exaggeration,” Nile says.

 

“It’s really not,” Nicky says. “Just don’t tell anyone that I’m meeting up with him, all right?”



“Okay,” Nile says, dubious. “I mean, it’s not like Joe is going to straight-out ask me - “

 

“Nile,” Nicky says, “You’re like a work daughter to me - “



“You’re, like, ten years older than me, max - “



“- but I am deadly serious about this,” Nicky finishes, “Please.”

 

“Okay, okay,” Nile says, “I’ll keep your weird secret.” He nods, satisfied, and she adds, casually, “Hey, is Andy going to be in today?”



“She said she’d be in early, I think,” Nicky says, “Thank you - ah, there he is - “ and he’s striding out the doors, tugging that hoodie over his head with a final wave of his hand. 

 

Nile watches him cross the street to meet an unimpressive looking white man with sandy hair across the street, pulling him in for a hug. For someone who’s a - restaurant wrecker? - Booker doesn’t seem that harmful looking, as he and Nicky start to walk down the sidewalk, talking. She wonders who Andy’s ex is.

 

“Ah, the Booker situation,” Andy says, from beside her, and Nile jumps a little. “Hi, Nile. I didn’t know you were working today.”

 


“I’m just covering for Maria,” Nile says, then, quickly, “Nicky said you know about the whole Booker thing already.”

 

Andy nods, just once. “All right,” she says. “You want to learn about beef yield percentages today?”

 

She had been planning on going back home before her shift, to put her feet up and maybe take a nap, but when the opportunity presents - “Sure,” Nile says, and she follows Andy into the kitchen.

 

Andy also shows her how to debone a fish that afternoon and if Nile thinks it’s sexy the way that Andy deftly spins a knife around in her hand before switching to the tail side, then that’s between her and whatever higher powers there may or may not be.

 

Then she meets Quynh.

 

 

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