“Just mostly potential transfers from that drama school down south,” he replied, chewing thoughtfully. “You practically have to have a pedigree to get into a school full of pedigrees.”
“Right,” I replied, taking a bite. “How is it?” I asked, alarmed, when he put his fork down after only one bite.
“It’s fine. Good herbs, not bad on the sauce. It’s just…” After a minute he pushed his plate away. “Sorry, Amy, I’m just not very hungry today. My stomach has been upset since breakfast.”
“Oh!” I replied, alarmed, but he shook his head and gave me a soft smile. “Nothing to worry about, love. It really is good.”
“Good enough for a professional chef?” I asked, and his face darkened.
“You need to set your sights higher than that, Amy. Speaking of, when are college applications due?”
“Next month.” I replied. “But I looked into it today. I mean…you don’t just fill out a form and submit as many as you like. They cost money to even submit. It’s about 100, each time.”
He winced at this, meeting my eyes.
“More for the private schools,” I said, looking down. “And that’s for online applications too. But Dad, we don’t have to…” The last thing I wanted to be was a burden. Already, I had seen my father go without a hat or warm coat because of the cost of my medication.
“Don’t be silly. This is your future,” he said, standing up and carrying his plate to the sink. “We’ll figure it out, one way or another, and I don’t want to hear another word about it. Submit to as many as you can, Amy.”
“But…” I started, and he glared at me.
“The discussion is closed. Now,” he rinsed his plate, his back to me. “I’m going to lie down for a bit, see if I can’t shake this. I’ll do the dishes later tonight. You should get a head start on those applications, look into them and see how many you’d like to submit.”
“Alright,” I replied, reluctantly. I already knew in my head that the number was in the double digits, if I could have my way, and I knew that there was no way we could pay for it. But Dad wasn’t giving me a chance to protest, and before I could say another word, he was gone.
After I finished my own dinner, I rebooted my computer, bringing my notebook to the kitchen table. Turning to a blank page and trying to ignore the pages already filled with theater notes, I wrote College, in big letters on the top of a page, and began to write down admission requirements for each. However, each time I clicked on a page full of a list of programs, I couldn’t help but check out the requirements for the Theater Majors. Most required an audition, although I knew already which were good schools and which were not. College or not, none of them compared to the education offered at the theater school down the road, but perhaps it could be another dream of mine.
I was interrupted by the sound of footsteps upstairs, and then, to my horror, my father choking. I shut my notebook in a hurry, heading to the bottom of the stairs. “Dad?” I called, and after a long silence, he responded.
“Oh no,” I came a few steps up to the landing, where I could see him leaning over the sink. He looked terrible, the transformation from just an hour ago was stunning. Pale and sweaty, his jaw clenched as tightly as his hands, he looked like he was about to fall over. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“No, stay away.” He waved an arm at me.
“You think you have a bug or something?”
“Chef’s curse,” he said, with a shaky grin. “I’ve felt it before. I think the milk from this morning might have gone bad.”
“You don’t think it was my peppers, do you?” I asked, alarmed that I might have done something careless.
“No,” he shook his head. “If it was, you’d be sick, but it also wouldn’t have come on so fast. We had left-overs among the kitchen staff this morning which tasted off. I ignored it then, but that’s probably what it is now. Still, if it’s contagious, I don’t want you too close, Amy. I want you to stay downstairs, and wash your hands.”
“Can I get you anything?” I offered, unsure of what to do. My father was my rock, my stronghold, and seeing him weakened was frightening to me.
“No, thank you, darling. Just stay downstairs. I’m sure I’ll be fine in the morning.”
“Right,” I said, unbelieving that he could go from looking so wretched to making a fast recovery. Still, I listened to his wishes, and back tracked down the stairs.
Parts haven’t been cast yet, and I think I food poisoned my father. I failed you on both fronts. I texted Sarah once I was back in the kitchen.
I’ve got something that will cheer you up. She replied, sending me a link. With a smile, I clicked on it, and sat back in my chair watching Dame Judy Dench perform Shakespeare at London’s West End. Sarah always knew how to save the day. Thank God for best friends, even ones so far away.
I opened my eyes to a now familiar sound - that of my father coughing in the early dawn light. This had been going on for a week and it wasn’t getting any better. What he thought was just food poisoning was either the worst case that had ever existed, or something more. Either way, I was suffering along with him. Not just from seeing him in pain, but from his lack of work. The chefs relied not only on their salaries, but also on tip outs that were shared with the staff when they catered big events. Dad had not been to work for a week. When I checked the bank account online yesterday, which should have been pay day, I was shocked to find a negative amount. And it was two more weeks until he got paid again. We needed money; we were already only just getting by. We couldn’t go on like this.
“Dad,” I said, appearing in his room as the sun rose. I was dressed in black pants and a white shirt, with my jacket on. The moment he saw me, I’m sure he knew what I was going to do.
“And why not, exactly?” I asked, leaning against the door post. “Have you seen the amount of money we have lately?”
“Amy,” he sat up, trying to take a sip of water, but finding his stomach wouldn’t have any of it. “This isn’t what I wanted for you, to ever have to do this.”
“Don’t be dramatic, Dad,” I said. “Leave that for the students. It’s not forever. It’s just for a few days, until you feel better.”
“You’re better than this,” he managed, and I sighed.
“If it’s good enough for you forever, it’s good enough for me. It’ll be fine, Daddy, don’t worry. It was fine when I spent those few weeks working with you a summer ago.”
“That was…” He gasped at the pain in his stomach, wincing for a moment, and then continued. “That was for work experience, for your college applications. You shouldn’t have to worry about money, or jobs or any of this.”
“Well, maybe I need more work experience. Other girls my age have much more experience than me, at multiple jobs. A few more days can only inch closer to looking good,” I said, with a half smile. I knew him too well. We would argue for another few minutes, and then he would let me have my way. That’s how it always was.
“How are you feeling?” he asked and I raised my eyebrow, finding it funny that in light of the situation, he was the one asking me this.
“I feel fine, I swear,” I replied. “And my cell phone is fully charged, I promise I’ll call you every break.”
Eventually, he sighed, too tired to argue. And he knew I was speaking sense, he had seen the contents of the fridge. I was doing what was necessary.
“Alright,” he said, finally. “Call me every break. And I know when they are.”
“Of course,” I replied, blowing him a kiss from the doorway. “Can I bring you anything else?”
“You’ll be late,” he said to me, and I grinned, nodding as I closed the door behind me. As soon as I was outside, in the early morning sunshine, I texted Sarah.
He said yes! To the school I go.
The reply came back almost instantly.
TELL ME EVERYTHING! Oh my God, SO LUCKY!
I smiled at this. When Sarah and I had discussed it last night, I thought it would be impossible. But now as I walked towards the school, it felt like I was living a dream.
Even if I had not spent every second day sneaking around the school, I had spent enough time there legally to know it like the back of my hand. There were no first day jitters, no fears of the unfamiliar that usually accompanied entering a new place. Instead, I was full of energy with a huge smile on my face when I slid through the back door of the kitchen.
“Watch out, Trouble Jr. is here!” called out Adam, who was my Dad’s right hand man, and had known me since I was a child. I grinned, opening my mouth to explain the situation, but Adam shook his head. “He already spoke to me, kid. You’re not the only one who can communicate with a cell phone.”
I laughed at that, slipping my phone into my back pocket. “So, what’s happening today?”
“Big group of people today, few different events going on,” Adam said, as he led me towards the back so I could get an apron and cap. “Now, listen, Amy, I know it’s hard to cook with gloves, but…”
“You need me to, in case I cut my hand off and blood goes everywhere,” I replied, with a tight smile. “I know. Don’t worry about it”
“Don’t cut your hand off, your father will be mad,” Adam replied, trying to lighten the situation. “That’s a general rule for all chefs.”
“Right,” I nodded, and shooed him out so I could suit up. Feeling a bit like I was a surgeon preparing for an operation, I exited the changing room and headed for the prep line.
“Alright, can you cut up these veggies?” Adam asked. I nodded. “We need enough for an army, so don’t stop until you can’t find another vegetable in this kitchen. You get three coffee breaks and an hour for lunch, and you can take them whenever you need, kid. Just pace yourself and be…”