“Table 13 has multiple bees in her bonnet.” Caryse announced, sliding two licked-clean plates into the murky dish-pit. “I’ll take care of her, she can smell fear.”
Alerie glanced into the dining room, at Table 13, a middle aged Dornish woman was picking at her egg white omelet and scowling into the middle distance. The chunky blonde highlights in her brown hair and the stack of charm bracelets on each wrist reminded Alerie of her problematic aunt who was notorious for antagonizing defenceless baristas.
“I don’t know why people like that eat out if they can’t stand to be around employees.”
“I think it’s the rush. I mean if the only satisfaction I was getting was six minute long scheduled missionary with Todryk The Beer-Gutted Accountant, I’d take it out on a starving college kid who can’t talk back.” Caryse smirked, “anyway, we’ve got a walk-in at Table 7, so I’m pawning it off on you, they’ve got menus, I need a dart.”
“Okay. Enjoy cancer in four years.”
Caryse grabbed a pack of Valyrian Blues out of her coat pocket and grinned. “You know I always do.” she slipped out the screen backdoor into the alleyway, letting it bounce off the frame.
The guy was big and pale and the girl was dark and tiny. He had the menus shut and set aside and was on his phone while the girl sat perfectly still, hunched over. Alerie didn’t know why but he gave her a weird vibe, grimy almost.
“Hi, what can I start you off with?”
“Hi. Yeah. We’ll both have pancakes. And just… water.”
“Do you want to add anything to the pancakes? We can add blueberries, chocolate chips-.”
“Sure, we’ll do blueberries, why not?” he switched his phone off and looked up at her. There was something about his eyes that was just… off. They were so pale grey and slightly bloodshot. His hair was shoulder length, dark and greasy, and his skin was gross. The girl was scrawny with her hair chopped to just below her ears. It was flat and unkempt. She had the same golden-brown complexion as Alerie and every other ethnic Northerner but there was a bloodlessness to it, like she was sick. Her eyes were big and brown and glassy.
“Good choice. I always add blueberries to mine.”
“Vitamins are important. Sometimes I go months without eating a vegetable.” he laughed and the girl stared at the teal formica tabletop.
That’s… concerning, Alerie thought to herself, taking a step towards the table and picking up the stacked menus. The girl’s foot tapped against her ankle, right where her jeans ended and her skin began. She leaned forward a bit and Alerie met her eyeline. She stared for a few seconds, then looked at the man then back at Alerie.
“Okay. I’ll be right out with those.”
“Great. Thanks- oh wow.” he trailed off, “sorry, this is so weird to say but you have the most gorgeous hands.”
Alerie forced a customer-service smile. So I guess they’re not a couple. Kill me. “Thanks.”
“Doesn’t she have nice hands, Arya?”
The girl looked up, locked eyes with Alerie and nodded. Under the table, her napkin fell slowly to the floor, settling on her left foot. Something that looked almost like regret came over her face.
Table 13 was paying when Joren started the pancakes, shuffling through a pile of small change. Caryse was washing the smell of smoke off of her hands in the back so Alerie rang her through. She could always tell when a customer was about to unload all their personal issues onto her and from the look on this woman’s face she was either about to request a manager or announce that she was taking her business elsewhere, as if she would be missed.
“The girl who served me was absolutely clueless.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll be sure to bring that to our manager’s attention.” The woman glared over Alerie’s shoulder into the kitchen, Caryse glared back.
“I’ve been coming here for fifteen years.”
“That’s all you have to say?” the woman picked her purse up and made an indignant noise. “Well, you just lost my business.”
What am I supposed to say to that? I’ve never even seen you before. “Have a nice day.” Alerie smiled. She turned and left without another word. Caryse mimed a kick in her direction and Alerie turned to face her with a saccharine grin. “Someone’s not very happy with you.”
“Bitch, I AM the manager.” Caryse growled in the direction of the door, she held up the tip jar, “no tip either. Lovely.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, Table 7 complimented my hands just now so we might have a new Sweatervest Guy.”
“Wonderful.” Caryse frowned. “You do have nice hands though.”
“Delicate. Like little mouse paws.” Caryse smirked. Joren slid two plates of blueberry pancakes onto the shelf above the grill. “As your immediate superior, I give you permission to kick him in the stones in self-defense but only as a last resort.”
“What can I say? I take care of my employees.”
Table 7 was on his phone again and this time Alerie caught a glimpse of the Facebook post he was in the process of angry-reacting.
First Lady Margaery Tyrell Spotted Reading ISM Manifesto at KLTC Station-
“Okay, here we go.” Alerie’s customer service voice took over as she delivered the pancakes to Table 7, the guy looked up with a forced grin and the girl eyed the plates suspiciously.
“Those look amazing, what do we say, Arya?”
“Thank you.” the girl choked out, picking at her cuticles. Alerie noticed blood under her fingernails but tried not to dwell on it, remembering that one customer who had come in soaked head to toe in vomit and tried to pay with a Yi-Ti Express gift card. She had just begun to back away from the table when the girl swept her cutlery off the table with the back of her hand.
“Arya!” the guy snapped, “what was that about?”
“All good.” Alerie smiled, “I’ll go get you some clean-.” Before she could finish the girl grabbed her by the wrist, she was way stronger than she looked and Alerie’s first thought was ‘if I have to use my Caryse-sanctioned self defense on this kid…’, the girl stared at her with glassy brown eyes, Alerie couldn’t help but notice a purple-green shadow where her left eye ended and the side of her nose began. She stood in stunned silence, maintaining the most agonizing eye contact she’d ever had to suffer through. The girl mouthed something that Alerie couldn’t make out.
“That is enough, Arya.” the man said in a tone that made Alerie’s skin crawl. The girl softened her grip and her hand crept slowly back into her lap. He looked up at Alerie, his expression visibly shifting from anger to a fake smile. “I am so sorry.”
“Oh, it’s okay.” Alerie turned to the girl, “did you need something?”
The man stared at the girl, Alerie could have sworn she saw his lips move and the girl lose about an inch of height. She shook her head, staring back at her plate. “I’m so sorry, she-.” he sighed, “I’m a social worker. I work with mentally challenged youth, we, uh- as part of their occupational therapy we do these ‘community integration outings’, but-.” he laughed emotionlessly, “-as you can probably tell, Arya’s struggling a bit.”
That explains… nothing. “Oh, I see. Well, it’s okay. She’s learning. I’m not mad.”
“Well-.” his teeth clenched, “yeah, we’ve been working with her and-... she’s anxious, uh, she doesn’t really have impulse control, I- I’m sorry, it’s been a long day for her.”
It’s not even noon yet…? “All good. You’re both doing great.” Alerie forced a congenial laugh.
“It’s a challenging job, but so rewarding.”
She was cleaning the counter for the third time in an hour when Table 7 came up to pay. He was holding onto Arya by a strap around her wrist. Alerie cringed, she already found it weird when people used those on little kids, but come on, she’s, what, 15?
“How was everything?”
“Ugh, so good. Always satisfied when I come here. How much?”
“Worth every cent.” He pulled a wallet out of his pocket with his free hand and pulled out a beat-up debit card. “And we’ll do… 20% tip…” the receipt began to print. “Go through okay?”
“Yeah. You’re good to go.”
“Thanks. Uh, one more thing.” he pulled a stack of a few papers out of his jacket and set them on the counter. Missing- Theon Greyjoy, 21, eyes-green, hair-black, race- Ironborn- “I noticed you have some ads posted out front, do you mind if I put one of these up?” he lowered his voice, “he’s a family friend. He’s been missing a while, we’re, uh… we’re pretty much looking for a body at this point.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Of course, feel free to put one up.”
“Yeah. It’s been hard. Hard on Arya, she doesn’t really understand the concept of death. So, you know, she doesn’t get why Uncle Theon doesn’t come over anymore...” Table 7 shook his head. “We’ve all kind of been dealing with it.”
So, a Northern girl with an Ironborn uncle? “Are you… family?”
“Oh.” he laughed, “not by blood, unfortunately. Arya’s dad dropped her off at the center when she was like 10, we don’t know if she has any family. I kind of took her in, more or less. I mean, don’t tell anyone, but she’s probably my favourite client.” He pulled Arya in front of him and hugged from behind, she kept her eyes fixed on the floor. “This kid saved me. Clean and sober, five years. Someone somewhere was looking out for me, weren’t they?” her face was still completely emotionless with a slight downward twitch at the corners of her mouth. “You’re in a weird mood today. Normally she’s not this shy, I don’t think she slept well last night.”
“Well, I’m happy for you both.”
“It’s not an easy job but someone has to do it. Nothing more rewarding in the world.” he reiterated, kissing the top of her head. “What’s your name, by the way?”
Think of a fake name, think of a fake name, think of a fake name, “Alerie.” Really?
He grinned. “Wow.” he shook his head incredulously. “That was my mom’s name.”
“Aw, that’s nice.” Aaand a new work stalker has entered the pantheon of work stalkers...
“Yeah, we lost her last year. Stroke. She was… such an amazing woman.” he extended a hand, Alerie shook it. It was clammy and his grip was hard, “My name's Domeric. Domeric Snow."