The Guardian

The Guardian by Katie Klein

Book: The Guardian by Katie Klein Read Free Book Online
Authors: Katie Klein
burgers and slapping a piece of cheese on top of each.
    The manager ignores him. “And you,” he continues, looking at the new cook, “I not afraid to fire you. Is warning. Get to work. Where is Flavia ?” he asks me.
    I point toward the dining floor. “Working.”
    “Good. Your mother? Her shift n ot over.”
    “On a break,” I say, cramming another bite of hash browns into my mouth.
    “You tell her I fire her,” Ernie replies. “And I fire you, too, if you steal my food.”
    “Aren’t we grumpy today,” I mutter. “My shift doesn’t start for another ten minutes, and I said I’d pay for the food.”
    He lets out another grunt. “You not pour tea and take orders in ten minutes, I fire you.”
    He disappears into the kitchen, passing Stu on his way to the office.
    “You can’t fire everyone!” I point out.
    “I the manager!” he shouts. “And I have plenty of cousins to replace you.”
    *               *               *
    The dinner crowd comes through: very good tippers. As far as I can tell, everything in the kitchen goes well, too. As soon as the doors are locked and the lights dimmed, Flavia and I start washing tables and flipping chairs on top. Ernie is in his office going over that night’s receipts, and, more than likely, deducting a side of hash browns from my pay. Mom is Windexing the glass windows before moving on to the floors. Ernie’s n ephew is washing the last of the dishes, and Stu and the surfer are cleaning the kitchen. Waiting on people night after night is hard enough, cleaning up after them is even worse.
    When I finally finish, I pull myself onto a barstool to wait for Mom. My fee t ache and my wrist hurts. I examine it, thinking that maybe I should stick it back in my brace for the night, just to keep it secure. I pull a wad of cash out of my apron pocket and count my tips.
    “Something to drink?” The surfer guy walks behind the coun ter and grabs two styrofoam cups.
    “Water is fine,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.
    “Wouldn’t want Ernie to find out and cut your pay.”
    I roll my eyes. “I’d like to say he grows on you . . . but I’ve been working here for like, a year, and it doesn’t happen. ”
    He hands me the cup and leans into the metal counter between us.
    “So, I haven’t officially gotten your name,” he reminds me.
    “ Arsen ,” he replies, extending his hand. I smile, taking it in mine. He holds on a few moments longer than natural. A wave of heat rushes to my cheeks.
    “ Arsen . That’s a. . . .”
    “Weird name, I know,” he finishes.
    I shrug. “I was gonna go for interesting.”
    He takes a sip of his drink, swallows. “My mom was in a trashy drug store novel phase when she had me. Arsen is Greek. It’s short for Arsenios .”
    “What does it mean?”
    “Strong. Manly. Something like that. I mean, when weren’t the Greeks obsessed with virility, right?”
    I laugh at this. “No. That’s a cool name.”  
    “Nah, it’s lame. I thought about changing it when I turned ei ghteen. I just haven’t gotten around to it.”
    “Okay. So what’s your middle name?”
    “ Eugene .”
    I stare at him for a moment, studying his features, trying to determine if he’s serious. And then, as if reading my mind: “I’m not kidding. I wish I was.”
    I sit up s traighter, tucking my hair behind my ear. “No, it’s cool. I mean. It’s . . . interesting.”
    “ Eugene was my grandfather. And no, I’m not dropping my first name to go by Eugene .” He laughs, and shakes his head in disbelief. “I bet you’ve never met an Arsen Eu gene before.”
    I burst out laughing. “Not one who could surf, anyway.”
    His eyes brighten. “Oh, so you’re admitting I can surf.” He grins, revealing two dimples set deeply in his cheeks.
    “I told you you weren’t bad.”
    “The offer still stands, you know , if you want to learn how.”
    “Nah. I think I’ll pass,” I say, smiling.

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