I Hate Valentine’s Day

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“I fucking hate Valentine’s day.”

I glanced up from my station in time to see Sandy kick the swinging door closed behind her. She had a tray in each hand and both were piled high with dirty plates; the balance of servers will always impress me.

“Gee, Sandy, why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” Mikayla called from her station at the far end of the kitchen.

Sandy pushed butt-first through the door to the washing station. “You can’t see it, Mika,” she called, “but I’m awarding you two fingers right now.”

Mika laughed and a chorus of chuckles ran through the kitchen staff. The truth was we all hated Valentine’s day, or at least we hated working it, but it was one of Clive’s “all hands on deck” days which meant almost everyone who worked at La Petite got a shift on Valentine’s Day with a full house of us for the evening. Yes, the restaurant is called La Petite. No, Clive won’t tell us why. I think it was his ex-wife’s idea. Sandy has her own theories.

I finished plating the fish in front of me and slid the plates across to the serving side, then took a step back from my station to stretch. There were five chefs in the kitchen including me. Most of us started at four to prep for the dinner rush but Erik had been there since lunch, the poor bastard. Of course he didn’t have to close tonight.

“Finkelweiner! Back to work!”

I sighed, cracked my back, and grabbed the next order. Here comes the boss.

Clive was a short, loud man who got in your face when you screwed something up and wouldn’t take no for an answer when he needed a shift covered. He also put up with very little shit. On the other hand he didn’t put up with customer shit either, my pay actually included benefits, and he helped out when stuff got rough. Like now.

My boss was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, a wine bottle in either hand and that silly metal spoon hanging from his neck. Helping out on holidays normally meant something he could wear a nice suit doing since “let me speak to your manager” got said a lot more, but he wasn’t above getting in the trenches with the rest of us. I’d seen Clive wait tables, scrub dishes, empty the trash, he even did half the plumbing around here. The one thing he did not do was cook, for which we were all grateful.

“I’ve got three dozen tables out there all waiting for their next course! Get your asses in gear!” Then he raised his voice and shouted back towards the washroom. “You too, Ballsmith!”

The conversation from that direction promptly ceased and a moment later Sandy came pushing back through the swinging doors with an empty tray in either hand.

“Yes, sir!” She called as she squeezed past his round frame and grabbed up the plates I’d just slid over. I flicked my eyes over to our boss and grinned. She rolled her eyes and gave me a smile back.

“Quit flirting you’ve got tables!” Clive called at her as he racked the unopened bottles. “Tables tables tables tables!”

“Hopping to it, sir!” She called, winking at me before backing away hastily with her trays once again piled with plates.

So yeah, I’m John Finkelweiner and she’s Sandy Ballsmith. Ha ha ha, get it out of your system. It says Cassandra on her paystubs but I think I’ve heard her full name exactly twice. I’m named after my great uncle Johan, she’s apparently named after a book character. We were both hired about the same time, a little over a year ago, and from the moment Erik snickered as he read our names off at training we’ve been catching shit for them. We bonded over it in that first week, us against everyone else, and it turned into a friendship. Mostly a work friendship although I’d thought maybe it could be more than that for a while. We got along really well, we were about the same age, we had very different senses of humor but she still made me laugh, and I thought she was hot. Tall, red hair (although she admitted she dyed it), curvy and not afraid of it. Having her around made long shifts easier in more ways than one.

It hadn’t really worked out, though. The flirting had been there almost since day one, but when I’d pushed to see if we could make something more of it a couple of months later she’d shut me down. Not hard or anything, I just asked her out a few times and she said no so I dropped it. We were still friends, we still got along great, and I definitely still liked watching her work; I just didn’t try to make it more than that.

The dinner rush started to wind down about an hour later to which we all breathed a sigh of relief. New diners stopped coming in, old ones kept leaving, and staff started to clock off. By ten o’clock, closing time, there were only a few diners left for Clive to shoo out, then he and Erik both left and it was down to Sandy and I.

“I fucking hate Valentine’s Day,” Sandy said again as the two of us cleaned the kitchen. “Hey, do you want any of this?”

She lifted the glass of wine she was holding. There’d been a couple of mostly empty bottles left sitting out and Clive had passed them off to us, with his compliments. I shook my head. grup porno She took a drink from her glass, then set it down and grabbed up a rag.

“What have you got against Valentine’s Day?” I asked instead.

She shrugged, bending over the far side of the cook station to wipe down the counter. Sandy had on a white button up blouse, which was the standard server uniform, but she had a lot on top and generally left the first few buttons undone, which was not. It normally wasn’t more than a hint of cleavage, but with her bending over like she was…

“Enjoying the view?” she asked.

“Yup,” I said, grinning but turning my eyes back to my work. I wasn’t embarrassed, it wasn’t the first time she’d caught me looking and she didn’t seem to mind. I swear she even did it on purpose sometimes.

“Doesn’t Clive get on you about the dress code?” I continued.

“Tits get tips, and I don’t think Clive cares. He got on me about the tattoo once,” she said, motioning to the small green butterfly on her neck, “but it’s a little cleavage it’s not like I’m letting them hang out. You should have seen table bravo-seven, holy crap if she’d turned around too quickly she would’ve come right out of that dress.”

“Worth looking at?”

“Not really, face like a horse and about a pound of makeup. The guy with her though? Yum. I’m a sucker for a man with a beard.”

I, sadly, was not a man with a beard. Oh well.

“Too bad I was stuck back here, sounds like you got all the fun up front.” I finished scrubbing off Mikayla’s station. God damn that woman can make the biggest messes and did the worst job cleaning them up.

“Yeah, fun. Fuck Valentine’s Day.”

“What have you got against happy couples? Bad boyfriend experience?”

She sighed like there was a story there. “A little, I guess, but mostly bad restaurant experience. I’ve been waiting tables off and on since I was sixteen and holidays are always rough. Around here though? This is a great place to work but fuck Clive and his holidays. Special menus, special seating, Valentine’s Day everyone sits for twice as long and tips half as much but here I’m stuck bringing them four courses and a couple of desserts. It’s a pain in the ass. You cooks wouldn’t know.”

“Six hours working over a stove and I wouldn’t know? I think I had about thirty seconds in there where I wasn’t slicing, sauteeing, paring or plating.”

“Proud of that?”

“Very. And the worst part? The little art bits you always have to do on days like this. Here’s a sprig of something green, here’s a swirly sauce shape, here’s a little flower made out of a strawberry or a real goddamn flower that I had to cut into a different, smaller flower. I can’t stand those.”

“I thought you liked cooking.”

“Cooking, sure. Garnishing fuck no. And then there’s closing.”

“Closing’s not so bad when the company’s good.”

“Thanks.”

“I wasn’t talking about you.”

I glanced up. She winked at me and took another sip of her wine.

“Bite me, Sandy,” I laughed.

We chattered as we cleaned, comfortable with each other, talking about work, friends, how my feet were killing me because I really needed to buy new shoes and this great running shoe place Sandy went to. Apparently they could fix me right up. Then finally, as the clock closed on eleven, we finished. The kitchen was clean, the dishes were put away, and we’d done the last sweep up front; the only thing left was trash and locks.

“I think Clive was in the military,” Sandy said. She was sitting on my station, legs swinging, as she finished up the last of the wine. It hadn’t been much, one tall glass, but I’d passed on any since wine’s not really my thing. I, on the other hand, was carting out the trash from the front and doing some actual work.

“Is that why you call him sir?” I responded.

“That and it annoys him.”

“Are you going to help with these?”

“Nah,” she grinned, “you look like you’ve got it handled.”

“Thanks,” I responded sarcastically, “go lock up in front, will you?”

She hopped down off the counter. “Fine, don’t say I never did anything for you.”

“Just for that you can do the back, too,” I said, grabbing up the couple of bags we’d left by that door, “I’m going home.”

“Asshole!” she called after me. “You’re supposed to be closing too!”

“Bite me!”

I heard her laugh, but I didn’t hear her response before the back door shut behind me. I wasn’t exactly leaving her a lot of work, locking up the whole restaurant didn’t take more than a couple of minutes. She’d probably be out before I was even done with the dumpster.

She wasn’t, but it wasn’t much longer. I was fitting my car keys into the lock of my shitty Civic when I heard her shout behind me.

“Asshole!”

I glanced behind me to see her walking across the parking lot, monolithic purse in one hand and a single raised finger adorning the other.

“Mikayla merits more fingers than me, huh?”

“Mikayla doesn’t have a great ass!” She shouted back.

“Good hd porno night, Ballsmith.”

“Good night, Finkelweiner.”

I slid into the driver’s seat and my keys slid into the ignition.. Fuck it had been a long day. I was fried. It would be a fifteen minute ride home, then I could fall into bed, maybe chug a half gallon of water first. I didn’t have work tomorrow, I’d take a shower in the morning.

I turned the key. The car cranked. The car coughed. The car did not start.

No.

I turned the key again. The car cranked. The car coughed. The car did not start.

No no no.

I turned the key a third time. The expected happened.

“What the fuck!” I shouted. Sure, the Civic was making a few noises when I drove it, and I was overdue for an oil change by a month or four, but it hadn’t not started before. Except here it was now, not starting at eleven at night on Valentine’s Day after seven hours on my feet. Maybe Sandy was right.

I thumped the steering wheel. “I hate Valentine’s Day!”

There was a knock at my window. I glanced over to see Sandy smiling at me.

“That’s the spirit!”

I popped my door. “My car won’t start.”

“I can hear that,” she said.

“I don’t even think the buses run this late.”

“Do you want a ride?”

“You live in the opposite direction from me.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, but you’d be doing me a favor too. I had a glass of wine, and it was a very big glass of wine. I probably shouldn’t be driving.”

“So, what do we do with your car?”

“You could drop me at home then take it to your place. You can drop it off in the morning and, I don’t know, maybe we can get breakfast?”

I pulled out my keys and climbed out of the car, Sandy taking a step back to give me room. “It would probably be a pretty late breakfast.”

“I’m okay with that, I’ve got nothing to do until tomorrow afternoon.”

Breakfast, huh?

“Sure, I’d like that.”

Sandy’s car was about as new as mine but a lot bigger. It bore a few bumper stickers she told me were remnants from a previous owner, which made sense considering she was neither an avid birdwatcher nor a strong proponent of public radio. Sandy unlocked the car as we approached, her SUV flashing and chirping at us, then tossed me the keys.

“Change whatever you like, I’m not picky. Except the radio, touch that and die.”

“Noted.”

I had to change a lot, because Sandy is a little shorter than I am and never uses her mirrors. By the time I was done she was giving me the squint eye and glancing meaningfully at the clock on her phone.

“Keep your shirt on,” I commented, “we’re moving.”

There was no one on the road (unsurprising given the hour) which was probably a good thing given how zoned out I was. It was green lights all the way down Seventh and the first few minutes of the drive passed quietly until we finally hit a red at Seventh and Lane. I cruised to a stop and, as I did so, caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I glanced over; Sandy was unbuttoning her top.

“What are you doing?” I asked, suddenly a lot more awake.

“Taking my blouse off.”

“Why?”

“Because it smells like garlic, bleach, and desperate people trying to get laid.”

“Ummm,” I said as I watched her fingers undo another button.

She grinned at me. “I’m wearing a camisole under it. And your light’s green.”

I snapped my eyes forward to see the solitary green eye of the streetlight laughing at me, then started us moving again. I could still see her out of the corner of my eye, shuffling around, and glanced in the mirror a few more times as she finished with the buttons before sliding down her sleeves.

“What’s a camisole?”

“This is. Get a girlfriend, John.”

“When would I have time?”

She mumbled something.

“What?”

“I said I know how you feel. Between work, school, and my mom I barely have time for sleep.”

“How’s your mom?”

“Doing better, not in and out of the hospital as much” she responded, finishing with her shirt and leaning over to toss it into the back. She had a thin white tank top underneath that hugged tight to her curves and fell a lot lower than her opened buttons had. Red straps peeked out on her shoulders. I’m a sucker for a bra strap. “Turn right ahead.”

“I know how to get to your place,” I reminded her.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, from the last time you indulged in the wine, remember?”

“Right,” she said, reaching both hands behind her back and fiddling with something. She let out an audible sigh when she finished, then crossed her arms over her chest.

“Now what are you doing?”

“Taking off my bra, what does it look like I’m doing?”

“Taking off…” I started, eyes snapping to my right. She’d slid the red straps off her shoulders and was busy pulling one down her arm.

“Eyes front, Finkelweiner!” she shouted, pointing ahead.

I whipped my gaze back forward and centered the drifting Subaru in our lane just as my tires rumbled latin porno over the bumps on the middle line.

“We’ll be at your place in ten minutes!” I commented.

“That is ten minutes too long,” she said, reaching up her top and pulling a red bra out from under her suddenly very thin looking camisole, “fuck that feels better.”

“How is ten minutes too long?” Although I honestly wasn’t minding.

Sandy again leaned between the seats, tossing her bra in the back with her blouse. A line of skin was visible between her slacks and top. “Have you ever tried wearing a pushup bra for a seven hour shift?”

“I can’t say that I have,” I responded, my eyes straying to the rearview mirror again, trying to see if I could tell the difference between Sandy in a sexy red pushup bra and Sandy out of a sexy red pushup bra. So far the answer was yes, but I would probably have to do a lot more investigating to be sure.

“You wear a pushup bra to work?” I asked.

“Tits get tips, remember? Not that I don’t have a lot to start with but every little bit helps.” Then her eyes moved up to meet mine in the rearview mirror and she smiled.

“Eyes front, Finkelweiner.”

I centered the car again. “You’re a little distracting.”

“Really? I’ll keep that in mind.”

The rest of the drive was decidedly less exciting, sadly, although I’d never seen Sandy in so little before and I was definitely enjoying the experience. I said I’d had the hots for her and still did really, I just tried not to make that her problem. So the view was good, the conversation was good if a bit exhausted, and the next ten minutes to her place were enjoyable and over too fast. Before I knew it I was pulling up alongside her place and Sandy was fiddling with her seatbelt. Then she was grabbing her things from the back and I was at that awkward stage of figuring out how to say goodbye when you’re actually driving the other person’s car.

I ended up with: “Thanks for the ride, or I guess for the car.”

“Thanks for the ride back,” she returned, but didn’t immediately move. “Um, John?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to come up?” She asked, pointing a thumb towards her apartment building. “Have a drink or something? Maybe just chat?”

I glanced at the clock: 11:27. Yes, I did, but…

“I don’t know, Sandy, it’s pretty late and it’s still half an hour back to my place.”

“Then come hang out instead and sleep at my place. I’ve got a couch. You look worn down to nothing, and then you wouldn’t have to drive back over here tomorrow.”

That caught me by surprise; this was not a conversation I’d expected upon leaving the restaurant, or in fact at all. Then again I hadn’t expected my car to fail or Sandy to half strip in front of me so it was a night of firsts. My first reaction was no because I was tired and hadn’t slept on a couch in years; the thought of doing so again did not appeal.

Then my brain caught up with my ears and my second reaction was a very enthusiastic yes.

“Sure.”

Her face lit up. “Come on then.”

Her apartment was on the third floor of a relatively new building: well lit hallways, muted earth tones on the walls, and not a lot of wear and tear. The elevators were huge, the apartments less so.

“Cozy,” I commented as I took in the small living room nearly half filled by a couch, table, and a couple of wooden chairs. The living room seemed to be in the center of everything: there was a passthrough on the right to a kitchen that might fit two people and a couple of doors on the other two walls that I assumed led to the bathroom and bedroom. My apartment may have been twenty years older with flaking paint but at least it was spacious.

“Thanks, and the rent is surprisingly good. Take your shoes off and leave them on the mat, closet… right you don’t have a coat. Um, want a beer?”

“Sure, whatever you have in the fridge.”

“Help yourself, I’m going to get comfortable. Shit you don’t have pajamas with you and I don’t have anything that will fit you. Um, I’ve got a bathrobe?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I responded, finishing with my shoes and heading for the kitchen, “I don’t sleep in much.” Actually I normally slept in nothing but I wasn’t about to say that.

“Okay, be back in a sec.” I heard a door open behind me.

I popped open her fridge, hearing the jingle of bottles as I did so. The contents were sparser than mine: a few staples, a couple of leftover takeout boxes, and a collection of condiments and mostly non-alcoholic drinks in the door. I had a lot more fresh vegetables in mine, but like I said I enjoy cooking; I just don’t garnish at home because fuck garnish.

“Grab me one too?” she asked from behind me.

I grabbed two beers from the door and turned back around. My imagination was hoping she’d wandered out with a slinky nightgown and an apology about not having anything more decent, but no she’d just traded black slacks for soft flannel pants. She looked good in that camisole though.

“So, couch?” she asked.

“Sure.”

I flopped down on the couch, hearing it make a rather ominous noise as I did so.

“Maybe not that hard,” she commented, sitting down a lot less so on the opposite end.

“Yeah, sorry.”

“You break it you buy it, Finkelweiner.”

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