"Kit!" Mercy's voice cut a swath through the chatter of everyone else in the cafeteria room. Kit located her cousin with relieved eyes. She'd been standing in the center of the cafeteria looking lost for the past five minutes.
"So, how was your day?" inquired Mercy once Kit had settled in comfortably.
"Fine," Kit said, digging into her pasta ravenously. "Classes were good."
"What about you, Mercy?" Judith asked, downing a gulp of water. Mercy smiled.
"My teachers are fantastic," she said.
"Well, that makes one of us," grumbled Judith, before setting her cup down. "Oh, he's cute."
Kit turned around, seeking out the object of Judith's attention. Instead, she saw John. "John!" she called, giving him a friendly wave. John balanced his tray in one arm and waved back in acknowledgement before turning to find a seat with some of his friends.
"You know him?" Judith asked skeptically.
Kit looked taken aback. "You think John is cute?"
Judith forked a bit of salad into her mouth before answering. "Cute enough. How do you know him?"
Kit stared at Judith in amazement. "Judith, he's in our history class."
"Well, fancy that," said Judith. "I'll have to strike up a conversation with him sometime. Does he play any sports?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," admitted Kit. "I don't think so, though."
Judith sighed. "That's a shame. I'm more into the football player type."
"Like William," said Mercy, rolling her eyes, but with an affectionate smile.
"Like William," Judith agreed. "Although…" she trailed off.
Kit looked from sister to sister, utterly confused. "Who's William?" she wondered.
"The boy who ran into you earlier today," answered Judith. Kit thought she sensed a tinge of disappointment in Judith's voice. "He took an awfully long time to pick your things up."
Kit stared at her food, but couldn't help the blush that rose to her cheeks. "It was nothing. He was probably just startled, that's all."
Mercy watched their exchange quietly. When she spoke, her voice was prodding but gentle. "Kit, have you met a boy?"
"I…no, of course not!" stammered Kit, marveling at how the word "boy" took on so many more implications when Mercy said it like that. "I just…we ran into each other in the hallway and he helped me pick up my things."
"You should be grateful," chimed in Judith. "William's family is loaded. They've got the best house in town and everyone—or, well, almost everyone," said Judith, revising her statement, "knows that he's the most eligible bachelor in Wethersfeld High. Senior and captain of the football team. We had an on-again, off-again thing last year," Judith added, and Kit had a feeling the statement had been thrown in on purpose.
Her mind, however, chose to ask a different question. "Doesn't he go by Will?"
"What?" Judith looked surprised, wondering if Kit had listened to anything that she'd just said.
"William," Kit repeated. "Doesn't he go by Will?"
"Oh, no, so don't go around calling him that," said Judith. "He's very proper and insists on being called by his full name. None of that silly name-shortening. He's sophisticated." Judith said it with an air of reverence. Kit fought to roll her eyes.
"He seems like a pleasant enough guy," she offered instead.
Judith shrugged. "I don't see what he saw in you to be speechless about—no offense. You aren't a stunner or anything, but it's probably because you're new. Everybody likes new blood, and I guess you have that slight sun-kissed thing from Florida going on," she remarked. Kit studied her skin. Granted, compared to Judith and Mercy she was a bit tan, but it was hardly much of a difference. Still, after knowing Judith's tendencies, Kit knew that Judith's offhand remarks were hardly things to get affronted about. Still, she wanted to change the subject, and she opened her mouth to do just that. However, Judith was still speaking. "You know what it is? I think that rich people have this thing where they just know when there's another person like them around and they get attracted to that person like a magnet. I mean, think about it. It would explain why all the popular kids here at school are filthy rich and band together, too. It makes sense. And it would explain why William took an interest in you. He must have, like, smelled the money on you or something."
"Judith…" There was a touch of exasperation and amusement in Mercy's voice. "Don't you think you're being rather harsh on Kit?"
"Well," sniffed Judith. "It was a valid explanation." She finished up the last of her food and lifted her tray before finally making eye contact with Kit. "Come on, we've got to head back to class."
"So, how was your day?" Aunt Rachel asked eagerly over dinner that night. Dinner was casserole, and it was delicious. Kit wiped her mouth with her napkin before speaking.
"It was good," she said, simply.
From across the table, Judith spoke up. "Kit met a boy today."
There was a derisive snort from Uncle Matthew's position at the head of the table, but other than that he was too busy reading the paper to take much notice of their conversation. Aunt Rachel, however, was delighted.
"A boy!" she said. "Do tell, Kit."
Kit wanted to bury her face in her hands. Why did Judith have to keep bringing up William? It was an awfully funny way of displaying jealousy—because, by now, Kit had figured that was what Judith was—insanely jealous.
"I…" she grasped for words that wouldn't come. "It was nothing, really, just a run-in in the hallways."
"She met William Ashby." And there Judith went, again with the name-dropping. "He helped her pick up her things and then stood there for five minutes staring at her."
"Judith!" scolded Mercy, but, like everything Mercy did, it was a soft kind of reproaching tone; nothing that Judith took heed of.
"William Ashby…" Aunt Rachel fumbled with the name. "Isn't that…?" she looked questioningly at Judith, unsure whether to voice her thoughts.
"Oh, yes, it's the same one I'm always going on about," said Judith, waving her hand. "But Kit can have him. In fact, I've set my sights on someone else—and I bet he's ten times smarter than William."
Both Mercy and Kit gaped at Judith.
"John Holbrook," said Judith dreamily, resting her elbows on the table as she faced her mother. "Really, Mom, he's got the greatest eyes—"
"Good Lord, all this and only the first day back," exhaled Uncle Matthew, tossing his paper down on the table. "I'm off to work, away from all this petty gossip." They watched him go. After a beat, Aunt Rachel spoke up.
"Have you and Mercy told Kit yet?"
"Told me what?" Kit asked, confused.
Aunt Rachel shot Judith a stern glance, to which Judith shrugged sheepishly. "There's a little restaurant where Judith works. The owner is hiring, and we figured you could get a job there. He's a personal friend of ours, you see, and he has no problem taking you on. You'll probably be waitressing or taking orders—nothing you can't manage, I'm sure. Mercy has agreed to drive you and Judith down there tomorrow so he can interview you really quickly and get everything together for you, and then you'll start work."
"Oh. Okay." Faced with the deluge of information, Kit wasn't quite sure how to respond. "What about Mercy? Where does she work?"
Mercy smiled faintly. "I work down at the library and run programs for the younger kids sometimes," she answered.
"Ugh, kids." Judith wrinkled a nose. "You'll have a lot more fun with me, Kit. Waitressing is more fun, plus you get tips."
"Well, you girls have more school tomorrow, so don't be up too late," reminded Aunt Rachel, pushing out of her chair. She gathered up her plate and made her way to the kitchen.
"Goodness, we have homework already, don't we?" said Kit, staring at the tablecloth. She honestly didn't want to get up and do anything—dinner had been so satisfying, and she wanted to sit around talking for a little longer.
"Better get started now, or you'll never get it done," advised Mercy, picking up her own plate and heading to the kitchen. Kit sighed.
"Oh, all right."
"Skio's Short Stop," read Kit doubtfully, looking at the neon sign over the diner.
Judith bundled her hair into a bun and rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. Look excited, Kit."
"I am," said Kit. "I just…what sort of food does this place sell, anyway?"
Ten minutes later, she got her answer. After filling out a brief questionnaire (any previous work experience? No. Have you ever been charged of a misdemeanor? No. Age? 16), Mr. Skio had disappeared into the back storage room, reemerging later with a half-apron.
"This pocket is for your notepad, and this pocket can hold pens and napkins and whatever else you need," said Mr. Skio, holding up the apron at eye-level. It was a plain black with a triple "S" monogrammed in the corner. Kit took it and tied it off around her waist.
"You'll be running the cash register for now," instructed Mr. Skio, "But as business picks up later tonight I might have you switch over to waitressing. The register is really simple. You type in the number of whatever item they ordered—so, say they got a cheeseburger—that'd be number six, see? Then you press enter and go on to the next item. Once they're finished ordering, you press enter twice and it'll tally everything up for you and you can print the receipt.
"Now, some people might not want to order-up. We have a menu, too, where we serve the more homey dishes that you sit down and eat: pasta, salad, fish, all that good stuff. So if a customer comes in and doesn't come up to the register, if he just finds himself a table and seats himself there, then the waiters and waitresses will pick him up. They'll know what to do. So, recap: Register, they're ordering a quickie, table means they're planning on some fine dining." Mr. Skio finished his talk with a whoosh of air, and Kit found herself wondering if he'd taken a breath once in the course of his spiel.
"Sounds simple enough," she said, taking her place behind the register and brushing some hair out of her face.
Mr. Skio patted her on the back. "Atta girl."
It was only after she'd been at the register for a while that Kit got the time to fully examine the menu. It offered a strange assortment of items, encompassing everything from fish and fries to steak. Kit had to wonder if Mr. Skio kept all the dishes because they were truly popular or because they held some sentimental value.
Ding. Kit looked up as the bell chimed, signaling another customer. Her eyes widened as she recognized Nat, who seemed just as surprised to see her. He made his way to the counter.
"You work here?" he asked, skeptically. "I thought you were rich." Kit flushed at his comment. She hated how he kept making assumptions about her when this was only their second time speaking, but managed to ask, with the barest amount of civility, "Look, are you going to order or not?"
Nat raised an eyebrow, as if to further establish that he'd won the round, before tilting his head back to regard the menu. Kit's brow furrowed in annoyance, and she took out her frustration on the cash register, punching in numbers with a steady series of jabs.
"I'll have a Mushroom Swiss sandwich, but without the cheese," decided Nat.
"You might as well have just ordered a mushroom sandwich," grumbled Kit. "What's the point of it being a 'Mushroom Swiss' without the Swiss?"
"Don't they have a company policy or something that says you can't give your customers attitude?" inquired Nat, looking like he enjoyed tormenting her. Kit grit her teeth, but was unable to stop her retort from slipping out: "If you don't watch out, I won't be giving you your sandwich, either."
Nat laughed, the sound ringing loudly through the sleepy restaurant. When he looked at her again, Kit saw a new expression in his eyes—one of amusement, even acceptance. She'd proven to Nat that she could hold her own in their verbal banter. The knowledge warmed her, but she fought to preserve her air of nonchalance. "Anything to drink?"
"Water's fine," said Nat, pulling out his money and paying her. Kit handed him his receipt, then pointed to a table.
"Go ahead and find a seat; your food will be out shortly."
"Yes ma'am," said Nat mildly, flashing her a smile. He really was a strange guy; annoying one moment, polite the next. Kit filed it away in the back of her mind, making a mental note to ask Judith about Nat later. He was probably a junior, just like she and Judith were, but so far Kit hadn't seen him in any of her classes.
When Nat's order arrived, he took it and settled into a small table tucked in the corner, near one of the windows. A short while later, Kit was relieved of her register duty.
"Kit!" came the call from one of the backrooms, "you're taking orders, now!"
Kit accepted her job readily. It was a relief to move out of the cramped confines of the space behind the counter.
As time wore on, and as Kit moved to and fro taking orders, she noticed that one man left his plate untouched. Eventually, he called her over to pay. Upon seeing his almost-full plate, Kit asked, "Would you like me to pack that up for you?"
"This?" The man looked at his food, as if noticing it for the first time. "Oh, no."
"Was there something wrong with it? I can talk to the manager—we'll be happy to provide you with a different meal," Kit said, attempting to figure out the reason for the man's meager appetite.
"Oh, no, it was wonderful," said the man. "I just don't want it, that's all."
"What about your wife or kids?" prodded Kit. "Surely they'll want some."
"I don't want to take it home," repeated the man, this time with a bit more force behind his voice. Sensing her blunder, Kit hurried to remedy the mistake.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to assume—"
"But you are assuming, aren't you?" interjected the man. "Now if you'll just let me pay, I'll be gone."
Kit stared at the plate of food. Maybe, had the man not interrupted, she would have been content to leave the subject be. However, his interruption had stirred something inside her, and the sight of the untouched food stirred her even more. What a waste, thought Kit. There were so many other mouths that plate could feed, but that man had picked at it, so it could hardly be given out to someone else. Still, it seemed a terrible injustice that the man wasn't willing to take the food with him and make use of it, to feed either himself or his family. You didn't just waste food like that, not when there were so many other hungry people in the world, and before Kit could censor her thoughts she blurted, "If I could offer my opinion: I think you're wasting perfectly good food. Is it really that much trouble to pack it up and take it with you?"
The man gaped at her, insulted by her insolence. "I never asked you for your opinion," he said, surly. "I'm willing to pay the money—stop pestering me about wasting the food. Who do you think you are, some saint?"
"I…" Kit drew herself up, incensed. "I don't appreciate that comment, sir."
"Well, I don't appreciate your comments, either," retorted the customer. "You're a waitress—you're hired to take my order and maybe suggest a dish here and there—not that anyone follows waiters' suggestions, anyhow—but you aren't here to give me your opinion on what I do or what I buy. I have a wife for that."
By now, their heated argument had attracted the stares of the other diners. Kit could hear Judith's sharp intake of breath. Mr. Skio had probably heard the commotion, too, and would be out in any moment. With a sinking feeling of regret, Kit realized that, once again, she'd let her temper get the best of her. Great. She'd probably end up fired, and only after one day on the job.
"Kit, come here, please." Sure enough, Mr. Skio had witnessed the event unfolding and summoned Kit to the back room. Kit shoved her notebook back in her pocket and made her way to where Mr. Skio stood, forcing herself to hold her head high. She resisted the urge to look back at the man. However, for reasons unbeknownst to her, Kit couldn't help her gaze from flicking over to where she had last seen Nat, seated beside the window. He wasn't there. Kit felt relieved—the last thing she wanted was for him to make a comment.
A/N: Whew, that was a lot (for me, at least XD). It's summer break for me, so hopefully I'll get more frequent with this! Chapter five and six should be up soon (just minor edits/making sure it flows). In the meantime, PLEASE let me know what you think! :)