Chapter 1: Life goes on
I stepped into the cool night air and took a deep breath. I was completely exhausted, but then I always am after a Friday night dinner rush. Chef James had been particularly harsh tonight, more so than usual. He screamed at Tyler because a sprig of parsley was askew, and Felix is lucky he’s still alive, though he kind of deserved getting reamed out for wiping his sweaty face with his hand towel. You just don’t do that in any kitchen.
I had received many compliments via the wait staff for a new dish I put together. Chef James just looked down his nose at me. He didn’t think it was possible that anyone could come up with better dishes than him. I just tried to keep quiet and learn all that I could. Chef James Beaufort was a legend in the restaurant business. I nearly peed my pants when I found out I was hired right out of culinary school. It was the break of a lifetime.
I had heard of his reputation for being a hot head. I thought I could handle it, people get stressed out in the kitchen of a very busy, very expensive restaurant with three Michelin stars. I was beginning to rethink my ability to deal with all of the crap that Beaufort threw in my direction.
I unbuttoned my chef whites as I walked through the back parking lot to my old Chevy. I inserted the key and began to fight with the lock. I really ought to just leave it unlocked. It’s not like someone’s gonna steal this old beast. Left then right, left again and then I turned it in the lock. If it wasn’t done just right the key would get stuck. I climbed in and shifted from side to side finally settling into a spot with the least amount of tears in the vinyl upholstery.
I fiddled with the radio settling on a simple classical station and pulled out of the lot. As I came to a stop at a traffic light I rolled my shoulders and closed my eyes for a second. The music was already helping me decompress from my day. I wove my way through the downtown Chicago streets and hopped on the Eisenhower Expressway. It was a forty five minute drive from The Loop to Bloomingdale at what ever you want to call one am, night? morning? unreasonable?
It wasn’t such a bad drive at this time of night, at least there weren’t very many cars on the road so I could almost go on autopilot. I kind of liked seeing the world around me morph from a concrete jungle to old trees and sprawling suburbia. It helped me shed my stressed out work self and shift back into my normal self.
I pulled into my neighborhood and cringed slightly at the loud chugging my engine made, I just hoped the old thing wouldn’t backfire when I parked. I liked this neighborhood because it was quiet and safe and I didn’t want the neighbors to start hating me. I certainly didn’t want someone calling the police to report gun shots, again.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I pulled into the garage and shut off the truck without incident. As I opened the door a loud creak groaned through out the house. I really needed to oil the hinges. I heard footsteps padding slowly toward the living room and quickly shucked off my crocs and dumped my purse on the small table next to the entryway.
“Bella, you home sweetie?” I smiled at my mother’s disheveled appearance. It looked like she’d fallen asleep reading one of her romance novels again.
“Yeah mom, I’m home,” I whispered.
“How was work?” She always tried to show some interest in what I was doing.
“That good huh?”
“Chef Beaufort was on one tonight, I’m just lucky he didn’t bite my head off. I did get several compliments on that dish I was playing around with the other night, though.”
“Oohhh that was a good one. I’m glad hon,” as she let out a huge yawn.
“Did you hear from Phil?”
“Yeah, they should be back in town in a couple days.”
“Good. So how did everything go at school today?”
“Fine, Mrs. Yates sent home a writing assignment that’s due next week. I think Nessie wants you to help her with that.”
“Sounds good, I’m working the lunch shift tomorrow so I’ll be home before her bedtime.”
With another yawn my mother retreated back to her downstairs master bedroom. I don’t know what I would do without her. I turned off the lights in the living room and quietly made my way to Renesmee’s bedroom. I carefully turned the knob and tiptoed inside.
I had to smile as I looked on my daughter sprawled out on her bed. Her long bronze hair was quickly turning into a tangled mess. She moved around in her sleep almost as much as I did, at least she didn’t sleep talk.
I leaned over and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead as I pulled up her comforter. She stirred a little and let out a contented sigh. I backed out and closed the door softly.
As I entered my room I flopped down on the bed eager for sleep, but totally unmotivated to get ready for bed. I laid there for a while and thought about how I ended up here. It was most definitely not where I thought I would be in my early thirties. I closed my eyes and tried to blink away the tears that threatened.
I figured I would be happily married, living in my own house in the ‘burbs, two or three kids running to soccer practices, music lessons, and dance classes. But no, I’m a single mom living with my Mother and step Father, working crazy hours to make ends meet, and feeling so alone.
While Nessie was my whole life, and I loved her to death, it was in these quiet moments, when I was by myself that I fully realized how alone I really felt. When Eric died I thought that my whole world had ended, but I’ve realized that what I really miss the most is having someone there and Nessie needs a father. Eric was such a wonderful father and the perfect husband. Though I don’t think I miss him as much as the idea of him. We were married for such a short time we hardly got to know how to live like a family.
Nessie looked more like me, which was good that I wasn’t constantly reminded of him, but it made me sad that he was fading from my life more and more.
My life has been missing something, Nessie’s life is missing something. I’m just not so sure anymore that what we are missing is Eric. He was my best friend though, and I’ve really missed having that. Renee is great, but she and Phil are in their own world most of the time, and I just don’t have many peers that really understand me. Of course I always have Alice, but I only ever see her at work.
I must have drifted off to sleep because I woke up at four am with my legs still dangling off the edge of the bed and my back was killing me. I slid off the bed and shucked off my clothes, tossing them into the hamper in the corner, threw on my comfy pajama’s and climbed under the covers.
I tried my best to put all thoughts of who I used to be and who I wished I was now, out of my mind and catch a couple more hours of sleep, but it was restless at best.
What seemed like minutes later, my alarm was going off. I groaned and flopped my hand onto the snooze bar. I buried my head under the pillow trying to shield my eyes from the morning sun.
I was starting to drift back into dream land when I heard my door opening. Small footsteps padded across the cool wood floor and I felt the other side of my bed dip down. In no time at all the warm little body of my daughter was burrowing into my side. Even though she was almost eleven, she still loved to snuggle on Saturday mornings.
I slipped my arm under her shoulder and tucked her further into my side.
“Morning sweetheart, how are you?”
“Morning mommy. I’m fine, it’s seven o’clock now.”
“I know honey, I just need a few more minutes, I got home really late last night.”
I had to institute the seven o’clock rule when Renesmee was five years old, waking up at six in the morning and jumping on me. I put a digital clock in her bedroom and threatened all of her toys and books if she even thought about coming and waking me up before seven. Now it’s more habit than anything else.
“Can we have waffles for breakfast?”
“Hmmmm, I think that can be arranged. Would you like syrup or strawberries and whipped cream?”
She could never decide, especially since I insisted on real, genuine, eight-bucks-a-bottle maple syrup. None of that cheap stuff for our waffles. But this time she chose the strawberries.
“Because they were daddy’s favorite,” she added. My heart squeezed a little when she mentioned her father.
She was only two when Eric passed away, so she really didn’t remember him at all. Just the little stories and things I would tell her from time to time. Like how he loved my special weekend waffles with strawberries and whipped cream.
“Sure thing sweetie. How about you go get some plates and silverware out and I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Mmkay.” She hopped out of the bed and thundered down the stairs. She had never really figured out how to be quiet. She was born with two volumes, loud and louder.
I didn’t bother getting dressed, just slipped on my favorite slippers and headed down stairs. Nessie had the table set for three and was just finishing with the last cup.
“Why don’t you go clean up your room while I make the waffles, but quiet, I’m not sure if Amma is awake yet.” My mother couldn’t resign herself to being called Grandma, so Grammy was out too. According to her, she was too young to be a grandma. A compromise was reached when Nessie was learning to talk and the only thing she could say to get Renee’s attention was Amma.
“Okay mom.” Nessie scurried back upstairs as quietly as was possible for her and began to work on her room, hopefully she didn’t just shove it all under her bed.
I quickly got to work in the kitchen throwing the ingredients into the bowl and mixing with ease. My secret was to keep the egg whites out and whip them separately. I folded the whites into the batter which made the waffles super light and fluffy.
As I was alternating between cutting strawberries and checking the waffle iron, my mom came into the kitchen. She was dressed in black yoga pants and a strange Indian style tunic. Her hair was pulled back and she was carrying a long stick of incense. She must be feeling the need to align her Chakras.
“Morning mom, waffles?”
“Sure Bells, I’ll have some after my meditation.” She went into the small den off of the living room. That was her sanctuary. The walls were covered in all sorts of far eastern decor and she had little Buddha statues all over the place.
I set breakfast on the table and verbally rang the dinner bell. Nessie came running to the table shouting, “oh boy oh boy oh boy, I’m havin’ waffles!” My mother was apparently still meditating. So we started with out her.
“Do you have to work today mom?”
“Mmhmm, I have to be in by nine thirty to prep for the lunch service.”
“So that means you’ll be home early right?”
“Yep, I should be home by seven at the latest. So you and I can work on your writing assignment togther.” She grimaced and shoved a huge bite of food into her mouth.
“I wiff Amma hadn’t faid anyfing,” she tried to speak.
“Manners please, I don’t want to see your mashed up food Renesmee.”
“Forry,” she continued as I help up my hand to stop her.
She swallowed hard and took a big gulp of milk. My mom emerged from her temple and sat down next to her granddaughter. Nessie huffed and said, “you told.”
“Yes dear, I did, but only because your mother would be much more help to you than I would, and it’s important to do well in your classes.”
“But I don’t even care about writing, the only classes that are any fun are the music classes.” She was whining now, a sound which completely drives me insane.
“Ness, you can’t just focus all your energy on music, even though I know you love it, you have to have a well rounded education.”
She rolled her eyes at me and finished her food. I picked up the dishes and took them to the sink.
“Why don’t you read your book while I get ready.”
Nessie rolled her eyes and said, “fine,” and walked back into the living room as I turned to go up the stairs. “I should be home by seven tonight okay Mom?”
“That’s fine Bella, maybe Nessie and I will go to a movie this afternoon.”
“Sounds good, she’d love that.”
I walked upstairs to take a shower and to put on my mental armor. I would need it for work today.