Ava hated working at Pedri's Pizza Palace.
It wasn't that she disliked the pizzas, most of which were delicious. It wasn't that the customers were rude, because their regular clientele were very courteous. It wasn't even the cockroach colony in the cleaning cupboard, to whom she fed scraps of pizza toppings from time to time. No, the thing that made Pedri's Pizza Palace unbearable was Pedri himself.
It was Friday evening, and Ava was working in the kitchen. Her hair was tied up at the base of her neck, but loose strands kept falling into her eyes. She pushed a strand back behind her ears with her wrist, and spread some more shredded ham around the pizza base. This particular pizza was the Coconut Surprise; she hadn't been game enough to tell Pedri that coconut didn't go well on pizza, in case he made her clean out the pizza oven again. Begrudgingly, she spread some coconut chips over the pizza before she spread the cheese.
Pedri finished serving some customers at the register and came over to see how the pizzas were going. Ava's heart rate increased. She quickly sprinkled a smattering of cheese across the pizza and shoved it in the oven.
Maggie finished spreading a few toppings over her pizza, a normal pizza, a Vegetarian. She looked up just in time to see Pedri walk in, and subtly took the cigarette out of her mouth, put it out below the bench, and flicked it into the bin. She'd only recently taken up smoking, Ava knew, to impress some local boy who came to get a pizza every Tuesday night. Pedri had a soft spot for Maggie, whom he thought was a star worker, but he wouldn't accept any breach of Occupational Health and Safety, not even from her.
Pedri's gaze slowly swept across the room. "It smells like something is burning," he said finally. His voice sounded like death; the rustling of dead leaves, the slow trickling of a huge stream gone dry, the cries of a million people as the fled for their lives before his dead gaze.
"You know," said Maggie, putting on a thoughtful air, "I haven't seen Ava check her pizzas for a while. They're probably burnt by now, totally inedible."
Pedri turned to Ava. "Is this true?" he asked.
Ava scowled at Maggie, who was trying to subtly push the bin with her cigarette under the bench. "No it isn't," Ava said crossly. "Maggie's just trying to cover the fact that she's been smoking while making her pizzas!"
Maggie glared at her accusingly, but her face turned to the picture of innocence when Pedri turned to her. Pedri walked over, sniffed deeply, and had a look through the bin. He stood up and walked back over to Ava. "I find no evidence of that accusation," he said. Ava's eyes fell angrily to her shoes. Pedri always made her feel like a child. He peered into her pizza oven, only to find two unburnt Coconut Surprises. "No burnt pizzas," Pedri said.
"Maybe Ava already sent the burnt pizzas out," Maggie said desperately. "I really haven't been paying that much attention."
"Silence," Pedri ordered. "You two are causing me a lot of trouble. If I find that either of you are burning the pizzas, or breaking Occupational Health and Safety, both of you will be fired."
The door swung shut, and in front of it stood Odin. His coat was slung casually over one of his shoulders. "You'd be losing at least one of your better chefs then," he said, stuttering only slightly. "And your delivery boy as well."
Pedri stood tall over Odin. He waited in silence for a few seconds, a trick that always made Ava feel terrible about herself. But it didn't work on Odin. He simply took the delivery car keys off their hook and hung his jacket up instead. Pedri eventually spoke. "Maybe I need to get my dear Wrathia in here to have a word with you all." His voice crackled in anger, like logs on a fire.
Ava felt like she was about to cry. Wrathia was just as terrible as Pedri, and she hated when they both yelled at her in the kitchen. The customers were always shocked as well. Nobody liked it when Wrathia came in.
"We're not scared of her," Odin said. It might have been true for him; Ava hadn't seen Odin scared of anything. She was always scared of everything.
Pedri gave them all one last disapproving glare, and walked out to serve more customers at the register. Odin turned to Ava. "A-Are you okay?" he asked. Ava just nodded. "Do you want a lift home?"
Ava took her plastic food handling gloves off and wiped tears from her eyes. "My shift ends in half an hour."
"I'm sure you won't be missed that much," Odin said. Maggie snickered in the background. Odin ignored her. "I've got a delivery right near where you live, it wouldn't be that much of a hassle."
Ava eventually gave in and nodded. "Thanks, Odin." Odin just smiled at her, and took his coat off the hook. He grabbed the pizza delivery bag with his spare hand. They both walked out the back door. Odin gently placed his coat over Ava's shoulders with one hand, and she drew it tight. It smelled of Odin, like cologne and cigar smoke; not the stuff that Maggie was smoking, but nice stuff. There was also another smell that she couldn't quite identify, but it was comforting.
They got to the pizza delivery car, and Odin held the passenger door open for her. The pizzas were put in the back seat for a change. Ava sat with her head leaning on the window, listening to other cars going by as Odin made his deliveries. He eventually reached the last delivery place, literally around the corner from Ava's house, and Ava was almost regretful that she's have to get out of the warmth of the car. Odin pulled the car right up into her driveway. Ava sighed, and took Odin's jacket off, but he stopped her. "Don't worry about it," he said, "J-just return it at work tomorrow."
Ava smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you Odin, I really appreciate the ride home."
Odin just shrugged. "Yeah well, Pedri's just a jerk sometimes. Take care of yourself."
Ava got out of the car, and waved to him before walking inside. She smiled to herself as she walked up the stairs, careful not to wake her parents, and went to bed. Ava drifted to sleep with Odin's scent filling her mind.