Authors: Shanna Mahin
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Shanna Mahin
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-
Oh! You pretty things / Shanna Mahin.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Chris, of course, for all the yeses.
few hours before I quit my job, I'm stuck at the light on Rose and Pacific, watching a string of kids wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the name of their preschoolâ“Blackberry Atelier”âas they cross the dirty asphalt. Harried teachers urge them onward while supermodel-beautiful moms in Fred Segal sweatpants bring up the rear, tapping urgently on their cell phones.
Another perfect day in Venice, California.
I'm stuck on my bike, even though the only people in Los Angeles who ride bikes to work are fourteen-year-olds and people convicted of multiple DUIs. And me. I'm not a drunk or a kidâor even an eco-warriorâI just have no other way to get around.
When I pull up at the Date Palm ten minutes later, Peteâthe baby-faced twenty-three-year-old managerâis outside smoking a cigarette.
“You're late,” he says, flicking his cigarette toward the sand-filled ring surrounding the public trash can.
“There was a toddler pileup on Pacific,” I say. “It was a bloodbath.”
I give him a nudge with my shoulder as I pass. There's a mild flirty thing we do, even though I'm six decades older than he isâokay, six years, but that's a lifetime in L.A.âand if I can get him laughing, he'll forget that my shift started five minutes ago.
“Seriously, Jess,” he says without cracking a smile. “I need you back there. The new hire's standing around with his head up his ass. Go tell him what to do.”
I stare at Pete. So much for flirting. Also, what new hire? There's no room on the schedule for another counterperson. In fact, I've been looking to pick up a couple extra shifts, but Pete's been stonewalling, and I'm increasingly paranoid. “Wait, you hired someone new?” I say. “Are you still going to put me on mornings?”
Pete eyes the still-smoldering cigarette butt. “We can talk about this later, Jess, okay? Just get in there.”
I push through the warped wooden door and into the near-empty dining room. This is so not how I envisioned myself on the cusp of my thirties. Recently divorced, back in L.A., starting over. This isn't even square one, it's square negative two.
From behind the counter, Jayne chirps, “Hello, luv,” as I stow my purse.
She sounds chipper, but I know she's pissed I'm late. She cloaks her bad attitude behind her Manchester accent, wide hazel eyes, and masses of pre-Raphaelite hair.
“Hi,” I say. “Sorry.”
She shrugs. “This is Kenner.”
I shoot a sidelong glance at the new guy: young, sleekly androgynous, and twitchy in a not-entirely-unappealing way. Could be worse. But
? What kind of a name is Kenner?
I give him a facsimile of a smile as I tie my green polyester apron around my waist, which he takes as an invitation to start talking.
“Jayne's told me all about you,” Kenner says enthusiastically. “I'm so excited you're going to be training me. Don't you love working at the beach?”
I can feel a twisted smirk replacing my faux smile, so I grab a pan of warm gluten-free croissants and start shoving them into the display case. Who the fuck eats a gluten-free croissant? People who live in zip codes that start with a 9-0, that's who.
“A lot of celebrities have houses in this neighborhood, right?” Kenner continues. “Fiona Apple, have you ever seen her? I mean, I wish I lived closer, but I love driving here from the Valley. Once you get over the Sepulveda Pass, there's a change in the air. I swear the temperature drops ten degrees and the people are just so interesting. I heard Julia Roberts has a place down the street. Does she ever come in? Oh my God, I don't know what I'd do if she ever came in. I guess I'dâ”
“Kenner,” I say, whirling around and wiping my coconut-oil-slicked hands on my apron. “You need a star map from the twenty-first century.”
Kenner looks hurt and toys with a pocket on his Nigel Cabourn jeans, which, hello? If he can afford six-hundred-dollar jeans, what's he doing at the Date Palm?
Truth? It's the invocation of Julia Roberts that pushes me over the edge. I mean, I'm a huge fan of abject starfuckery, but can't he find a timelier object of infatuation? Shouldn't he be making references to hip, obscure microcelebrities? It feels like he's reaching into the oldies bin for a star I've actually heard of.
“Sorry,” I say, grudgingly. “I know I've only been here three minutes, but I'm already having a day.”
“No problem,” Kenner says, but his body language says otherwise.
As Kenner sulks, I help a pseudo-Goth kid hidden beneath a scrim of dyed-black hair, who whispers his order for a decaf coconut-milk chai latte.
“How much is that?” he mumbles, not making eye contact.
I consider charging him an extra dollar because he made me strain to hear the word “coconut,” but I've already hit my limit on groundless irritation for the day.
“Seven seventy-five,” I say, and his flat-ironed hair waves in a single sheet as he nods his assent.
I fill a white paper cup halfway from the steaming glass carafe of black chai tea waiting on the warmer, then dump a few inches of organic coconut milk into a steel pitcher and foam it up on the espresso machine. When I push the cup across the counter, he peers at me with one kohl-rimmed eye.
“Did you steam the milk with the same wand you use for dairy?” he says.
“Of course not. We only use that one for almond and soy. And the occasional coconut, obviously.” I wave my hand toward the other side of the behemoth machine. “Dairy happens over there.”
He flips a quarter into my empty tip jar, and shuffles away.
“You're definitely going to hell,” Jayne says, laughing.
“I don't get it,” Kenner says.
“That steamer hasn't worked since I've been here,” Jayne says.
I bring Kenner to the kitchen to watch the line cook whip up a batch of famous secret-recipe Date Palm granola. If you ask me, it's nothing to get excited about. I make a granola of my own with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds that blows it out of the water. The Date Palm version is eight dollars a bowl and has more saturated fat than a rib eye, but the tourists line up to buy souvenir bags of it for twenty-two bucks a pop.
When we return to the front, Jayne has emptied her tip jar onto the freshly wiped counter, stacking the bills in neat rows. I'm no fashion expert, but that's when I notice that Kenner's wearing a pair of leather sneakers that cost more than my car. Oh, wait, make that more than my
“Those are some impressive kicks,” I say. “Are they Prada?”
“Rick Owens,” he says in a weird monotone. “They were a gift from my last boss.”
“Wow, generous boss.”
“Hazard pay,” Kenner says.
“What'd you do?”
“I was his personal assistant.”
“Oh, yeah? What's that like?”
“Hazard pay,” he repeats, then turns to wipe down the already clean counter.
“How'd you do?” I ask Jayne, nodding toward the stack of bills.
“Not bad.” She folds the cash into two unequal piles. “We were slammed until three.”
I look around at the empty restaurant. “Must be nice.”
The day shift at the Date Palm is the cash cow, but Jayne gets first pick of the schedule, so I'm always the weekday closer. The differences are staggering. She stacks twenties while I'm happy to get an occasional five. Which sucks, because I'm trying to scrape up some savings. I don't even know why at this pointâmaybe I just need one stable element in my otherwise unbalanced life. It's clear that my ship of youthful exuberance has left the dock. Don't get me wrongâin almost any other town I'd be considered viable. Here? They're about to set me adrift on an ice floe.
Jayne tucks the smaller wad of cash into the pocket of Kenner's fancy jeans. “Here, luv,” she says. “You killed it today.”
Kenner throws his arms around her. “Oh my God, thank you so much. You're the best.”
Hold up. I'm barely covering rent and Jayne's tipping the new guy out on his first day? And also,
? Did Kenner work the day shift before I got here?
“Wait a second,” I say. “Did you work lunch today?”
Kenner looks stricken. “I, umÂ .Â .Â . Yes?”
“Since Pete, uh, hired me for then?”
is getting the day shifts? I shoot a side-eye in Jayne's direction and she shrugs innocently, but I know she's got details.
Pete picks that moment to roll in. He sees Jayne and me gnarled in a counter knot, and says, “Two horses walk into a bar, and the bartender says, âWhy the long faces?'”
He's big on bad jokes, which might have something to do with the fact that he's twenty-three and perpetually stoned.
“Dude,” I say, “are you giving Kenner day shifts?”
“Well, nothing's decided for sure,” he says, and his eyes flick toward the door.
“Really, Pete?” I can't keep the hurt from my voice, and I take a deep breath before continuing. “We talked about giving me days. Or putting me in the kitchen. You know that's where I'll kick ass.”
“We don't need another cook, Jess.” Pete rubs his temples and sighs. “I'm not trying to be a dick, but, c'mon. Kenner fits the demographic around here. You'reÂ .Â .Â . well, you know how it is.”
Yeah, I know how it is. I was born and raised here. Beauty talks, average walks. I'm a solid size eightâsometimes a tenâwith plain brown eyes and plain brown hair that I've been dyeing auburn since my late teens, with the exception of that one unfortunate flirtation with platinum blond, which ended in a pixie cut and tears.
Pete looks at me imploringly. “Jess, you're awesome, but you are kind ofÂ .Â .Â . aging out of the barista scene.”
I fucking knew it.
“Please don't make this into a thing.” He sounds earnest and heartfelt, which is unfortunate, because
is my kryptonite. “I can't give you those shifts. I'm sorry, I just can't.”
“Yeah, okay,” I say. “I get it.”
Pete gives me a look of gentle empathy, so I sidle into the bathroom before I well up or, worse, bust out the full ugly cry. Once I start the ugly cry, it's pointless trying to hold it back.