Dishes clattered on the counter as the executive chef continued to chop onions and peppers and drop them into sizzling hot pans of oil. Two of my co-workers buzzed around me, one humming a lovely Mexsimican tune and the other asking a question about allergens in a certain dish. The cramped kitchen didn’t really have the space for three chefs, two servers, and a bartender. The bright orange walls and yellow-and-brown flower-tiled floors were fun and lively, but contributed to the pocket-sized feel of the room. However, this fit the vibrant, relaxed atmosphere El Sombrero Festivo, the restaurant attached to Casa de la Esperanza.
Opening one of the two hefty stainless steel refrigerators, I shoved the citrus fruits I needed for tending bar into my green apron, and then grabbed a tray of tonight’s drink special – Océano en un vaso – or Ocean in a glass. The drink consisted of blue curacao, agave tequila, lime juice, and a carmalized sugar “sand” floor. I wrinkled my nose, uncertain about the smell of the beverage, but I was assured this was a popular drink. Zarela, our executive chef, assured me this was a favorite of São Patenese residents. I would probably sample the non-alcoholic version with São Patenese limeade and blue raspberry syrup. However, tonight was all about celebrating our guest of honor and his home town.
Miguel, our resident vampiro, was turning thirty today. He had been so excited about his birthday all week long, dancing around the house, clapping his hands as he told everyone he was turning… sixteen. I smiled wistfully as I stepped out of the way of another server. Thanks to his cruel family, Miguel had suffered head trauma, effectively stopping his mental aging process. He invited, what seemed like, the whole town to his birthday celebration, and the Webster brothers had sprang for an extra chef or two to help the normal staff. Rosalie had closed the restaurant to outside guests, and we had spent the day decorating the café with heart platters, and red and pink roses, Señor Carillo’s favorite colors. Due to the large party, I had offered to work the bar, and Rosalie had happily accepted. I knew I could make good tips tonight and maybe start paying back some of those hospital bills.
“Can I get you anything, Dad?” I asked, passing my father in the crowd.
“This place is hopping,” he grinned.
I rolled my eyes. “Dad!”
“What?” Dad reached an arm around my neck and gave me a squeeze. “I am getting into the spirit of things.”
“I’m glad,” my face relaxed into a smile. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m good, just mingling,” Dad replied, his face bobbing up and down in time with the music. “Thought I might go in back and see if Zarela needs any additional hands.”
“I’m sure she’d love that,” I sighed. “But it’s super crowded in there.”
“I’ll go look,” he remarked. “See you later, kiddo.”
For the next half-hour, I popped back and forth to the kitchen as it seemed I was constantly running out of things for this thirsty crowd – swizzle sticks, orange juice, marachino cherries, and even ice. Miguel entertained his guests with some strums on his Simspani guitar. I tried to listen to the music as I streamlined through the crowds and refreshed beverages. The birthday boy had offered to give me a few lessons if I so desired. I had been learning earlier in the year, and readily accepted. He even offered to teach Juanita. The little girl was dressed in a red and yellow lace princesa costume tonight in honor of Miguel, calling him her Príncipe Azul. She hadn’t left his side as his adoring fan. Miguel seemed to enjoy playing along with the young girl. They seemed more like brother and sister than housemates with a strange age gap. Miguel was really a gentle giant though. I had grown fond of him myself.
I sighed heavily upon seeing another customer sitting at the bar. Already tonight I had to shoo two other groups of drunk party crashers. One had been group of stereotypical rich-looking white Sim Nationals. I gathered after some struggle they had stumbled off a “booze cruise” and gotten lost in Desierto Rojo. One of the inebriated men had waved a crisp fifty at me and told me to satiate their thirst. I told him fifty wouldn’t cover it, and the bar was closed. They complained and whined for a minute before I ushered them out the door. The other had been a group of frat boys from La Fiesta Tech who were rowdily shoving each other and singing ear-splitting tunes. When I told them the restaurant wasn’t open, one of them irritatingly tugged at my apron strings while another tweaked my bra strap. I glared at the first, and smacked the latter. Thankfully, Brad had been nearby and ushered the unsavory crowd out of the restaurant and made sure they safely got into a taxi. I was grateful that despite his preference for men, Brad looked and sounded masculine, and he was a consummate gentleman.
Still, the thought of handling another unwanted guest irritated me. I zigzagged my way through the crowds as a young woman complimented my Tiffany blue shirt and another young man tried to tell me a lewd joke. I laughed politely and moved on, keeping my eye on my interloper. A few other party guests requested drink orders for their table, and I was forced to take a few notes. One drink was particularly complex and I had never heard of it, so I figured that would be a Zarela drink. Another guest alerted me to the buffet table shortage of desserts. I wandered over to check for myself and ran back to the kitchen to replenish the flaming angel food cake and key lime pie trays. One of the other servers assured me he would keep an eye on the nachos and tacquitos. I made my way back through the party to the bar at the entrance of the restaurant. I mustered up enough politeness despite my tired, aching feet and heightened emotions.
“Siento, señor, we are closed for a private party,” I remarked upon reaching the counter.
He spoke a flurry of Simspani, and I shook my head, annoyed that I still didn’t speak the language fluently. I had only been in the country three weeks though so I really should cut myself some slack. The man glared at me impatiently as if waiting for a response.
“Señor, estamos…” I fumbled for the words, feeling like an idiot. “…cerrados?” I said almost as if it were a question.
The man didn’t look Mexsimi, rather more Sim National with a hint of Simasian in the shape of his eyes. From what I could tell beneath his grey fedora, his hair was wild and black-brown with cerulean streaks peaking out around the edges. He looked casual in his white and blue polo and steel blue pants with white loafers, like a traveler trying too hard to fit into the local scene and color, and yet his demeanor struck me as someone serious and important, or at least he thought of himself that way. Probably his pompous unshaven chin, I inwardly smirked.
He grunted. “Are you serving here at the bar? Your service sucks. I’ve been waiting here almost a half-hour…” he looked at me again as if expecting a response.
I blinked rapidly. He spoke Simlish. Good.
“…what are you deaf, honey?”
“The restaurant is closed,” I replied. “And your attitude is rude.”
“This is how you treat your customers?” he said in a shocked tone.
I gave him a loud “harumph” and crossed my arms in disbelief. “This is how you treat wait staff?”
“Honey, I don’t need to take your attitude,” he grunted. “I just want one drink.”
“My name is Kass,” I said, tapping my foot in annoyance. “And your bad manners are not appreciated.”
“Whatever, look, I…” he began.
“Look, I don’t have to take your attitude, Señor,” I narrowed my eyes. “We’re closed.”
An unclear emotion flashed in his eyes and his jaw twitched before his face relaxed into a smile oozing with lecherous charm.
“Señorita,” he slowed his words. “I can assure you I’ll pay. I’ve traveled a long way to get here. There are rave reviews about this…” he looked around at the ceiling trim before pointing to the countertop. “…place.”
I bit my tongue to keep from losing my cool. “I doubt that,” I managed tersely. “We’re a home for the wayward…”
“Well,” he straightened a little taller on his barstool. “I’ve lost my way, Señorita, do you think you can help me find it?”
I walked over to my small sink and grabbed a sponge to clean out a glass. “You could try la mercado in plaza de la ciudad, but they won’t open until mañana,” I replied without looking at him, and then snarkily added, “I’m sure you could go annoy another pretty girl who is dumb enough to fall for your charm.”
He surprised me by chuckling. “Ouch, okay, I deserved that. I apologize for my rudeness. I’ve been traveling all day and I’m parched. And I was serious, someone did direct me to this restaurante, raving about small-town charm and local Mexsimican flair, although I have to say I wasn’t expecting a fiery Bernish babe such as yourself to be behind the bar. I might’ve come sooner.”
My nostrils flared. “Seriously, where do you get off thinking I’m Bernish?”
“Northern Hibernia,” he guessed. “The cheekbones and the shape of your ears and the red hair are a dead giveaway. If your cheeks were set lower and your hair a slightly different shade, I would’ve said southern Hibernia…Simirish, but you are definitely Bernish, milday.”
I grunted, wishing and praying that Brad or Noel or my father would circle by again, or even Rosalie so I wouldn’t have to deal with this obnoxious customer who wouldn’t leave.
“I have a little Bernish in me blood too,” he offered with a slight accent as if we were bonding. “You wouldn’t happen to have Simnness on tap would you?”
“How many ways can I say closed?” I leaned over the bar.
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the countertop, and offering another smile, albeit a gorgeous one. “As many times as you want, mi guapa reina, but I am a persistent one.”
I threw my hands with my white towel up in the air and huffed. “I can serve you one drink, Señor, and then you will go away and you won’t come back.”
“I can live with that, although I might come back,” he smirked and quickly added, “…just not tonight, of course, Señorita, because you’re…”
“Closed!” I snapped. “What do you want?”
“Sí, el bar está cerrado!” he waved his arms as if surrendering. “Do you hear that everyone?” he called loudly. “Mi guapa reina says the bar is closed.” He smacked the counter for effect. “So no one’s allowed to order after me.”
This comment was met with a few laughs and sighs from the guests.
I groaned audibly. “They can still order. They are guests. You are not,” I said with gritted teeth. “Now I’m serving you one drink. What do you want?”
“Good, I’m starved,” he shifted in his seat and reached for a menu.
“We aren’t serving at the bar,” my eyes narrowed.
“I’ll take two orders of tacquitos and a double shot of tequila to start,” he said, lifting two fingers.
“Look, mister…” I slammed my fist down on the bar, drawing the attention of a few party guests.
“Shore,” he replied suavely. “Brendon Shore. Like Bond, you know.”
“I highly doubt you have his class,” I grunted.
“But I have his persistent doggedness,” he laughed.
“Okay, Mister Shore, look, I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t treat people like this, anywhere, not just Mexsimco. I said you could have a drink, and that’s it, but so help me God if you push me anymore…”
“I’ll give you five thousand simneros…” he interrupted me.
My eyes widened.
“…for the use of this exact seat for the night,” he grinned, evidently used to getting his way with money. “That’s roughly two thousand Simos, and I’m sure that’s much more than your usual tips per night.”
I grimaced. His last comment was infuriating even if it was true. Like he can buy whatever he wants…
“And I’ll even pay for a bowl of…” he eyed the menu and chuckled as if that would make it better. “…Mamma Avila’s famous chile de pollo.”
I pursed my lips. “Would you like avacodo with that,Señor?” I asked with an edge, pouring his tequila shot.
“Yes, absolutely and sour cream,” he nodded.
“We don’t serve sour cream,” I said with a forced smile. “Ruins the flavor down here in Meh-simi-co…”
Author Note: Hope you enjoyed this chapter. If you’ve read KFLL, you’ll recognize a prominent character in this chapter. I wanted to give him a good backstory and a great introduction to Kass. I had fun with the writing.
For the record,
- El Sombrero Festivo – The Festive Hat (the restaurant and bar attached to Casa de la Esperanza)
- Océano en un vaso – Ocean in a Glass (based on a real alcoholic drink)
- São Patenese – people from São Paten, on the other coast of Mexsimco
- Vampiro – vampire
- Señor – Sir or Mister
- princesa – princess
- Príncipe Azul- Prince Charming, in Spanish and Italian, he is called the Blue Prince
- Siento – sorry
- estamos – we’re
- cerrados – closed
- Señorita – Miss, an unmarried woman
- la mercado – the market
- plaza de la ciudad – the city plaza
- mi guapa reina – my beautiful queen
- Sí – yes
- el bar está cerrado – the bar is closed
- chile de pollo – chicken chile
Simneros are a play on dinero, Spanish money. Bernish peoples are northern inhabitants of Hibernia and Simirish peoples are southern inhabitants. Oh and a Simnness is a play on the Irish Guinness beer.