With that, he drove away, his tires squeaking. He left Lisa alone, with the smell of grease-laden pizza and the memory of his tired, money-hungry eyes. With four hundred dollars having been stripped from her in the previous hour, she felt naked, barren. Fatigue pushed her toward the subway station, back to her one-bedroom in Brooklyn.
In the morning, she’d rectify her predicament. With her industry-honed survival tactics, she’d be halfway to five figures in less than 24 hours. And about a million steps closer to a professional photography career. Which would make everything else worth it.
The following evening, Lisa arrived at the Matador with her blond ponytail swept cleanly behind her head, her body cinched into tight black pants and a black button-down shirt, and her mind buzzing with knowledge of the menu, the wine list, and the necessary cocktails. She’d stayed up all night, but her bright eyes showed no sign of fatigue.
She entered the restaurant, her chin high and her skin glittering. As she stepped into the kitchen, she heard the frantic yelling of a chubby-faced man in the corner, telling the chef that this was “the most important night” of their careers, and that he better not screw it up.
“You’re new here, kid,” the chef said to the chubby-faced man, scoffing beneath his grey-tinged beard. “So sit back and relax. Let the big kids do the cooking.”
The chubby-faced man, who was clearly a manager, took a step back, frazzled. But the chef turned away from him before he could sneak in another dig, and he began to sizzle some vegetables, whistling a tune.
In that moment, the manager caught a glimpse of Lisa, behind the pots and pans. “What are you doing here?” he said gruffly. He powered toward her, his belly bouncing. “Get out. GET OUT!”
But Lisa held up her fingers, her expression apologetic. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I suppose—I suppose I didn’t meet you yesterday,” she stuttered.
The man frowned. Beneath his nametag, which read “Hank,” was a mustard stain. He looked chaotic, strained—and less than ready to greet the royalty that would be appearing later that evening.
“Yesterday?” he said. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry. My name’s Lisa,” she said, smiling and extending her hand to shake his. “The other manager hired me yesterday. Quizzed me on the menu and everything. I’m proud to say that I’m up on all my truffles, Wagyu beef, and caviar. Although I might get the two wines from the Florence region mixed up.” She smiled sheepishly.
“Walter hired you?” Hank asked, tilting his head. “He didn’t mention anything—”
“Well, he seemed rather busy,” Lisa said. “But he said he needed me this evening. That you had some big event, and you were understaffed anyway.”
Hank sighed, swiping his thick palm over his hair. “I suppose that’s true,” he said, scoffing. “All right. Let’s not waste any time, shall we? The dining room needs organizing. It’s a goddamn mess, frankly, and our head server seems to be going through some kind of personal crisis that could not have come at a more inconvenient time. That’s Evelyn. You’ll find her weeping about her boyfriend over the silverware.”
Lisa nodded and turned toward the dining room, stopping when Hank grasped her elbow.
“Wait. Get yourself in uniform, at least,” he said, turning his finger toward the side closet. “We’re expecting Prince Francesco and Princess Rose tonight. This is big! I mean—this is royalty. Do you understand?”
Lisa did. She nodded quickly, accepting the uniform from Hank before moving to the staff bathroom where she donned a tight black dress and a black apron with red stitching. She was in the dining room less than three minutes later, draping long, linen tablecloths over the tables, consoling Evelyn about her breakup, and setting forks and knives and plates upon tables that wouldn’t be eaten at. The Prince and Princess had asked that each table be set, so as to give them a selection. How ridiculously snobbish, Lisa thought to herself.
Five minutes before the clock struck eight, Lisa lined up at the side of the restaurant with Evelyn, another server, a bartender, and a bus boy. Anticipation simmering through them all, and through Lisa for very different reasons. Her camera was tucked within her server’s apron, a heavy reminder of what she was there to do.
Evelyn whispered in her ear. “I can’t believe this is only your first day with us. It already feels like you’ve been on a journey with me.”
But Lisa couldn’t remember any specifics she’d told the woman. She smiled blankly, looking straight ahead as she spoke. “Let’s just get through this together.”
In that moment, the restaurant doors opened, and a crisp autumn breeze rushed over the set tables, sweeping across Lisa’s cheeks. The Prince and Princess stood in the foyer, dressed luxuriously. Prince Francesco removed the Princess’ fur coat, sweeping it from her thin shoulders before handing it to the cloakroom boy.
As he walked closer to Lisa, she couldn’t tear her gaze from his attractive face. His high cheekbones gleamed in the candlelight above the five o’clock shadow that outlined his jaw. His dark eyes revealed clear intelligence, and his black hair was wavy, wrapping around his ears.
“Look at her dress,” Evelyn breathed to Lisa, causing Lisa’s eyes to flicker right to assess the Princess. Rose’s dress was long and glittering, sweeping around her model-like legs, and allowing just a bit too much cleavage to spill over the bodice. Her hair was curled and adorned with jewels, which highlighted the sharpness of her collarbones, and the height of her nose as she walked.
“She looks like a bulldog,” the other server whispered, and Lisa stifled a giggle.
The Prince and Princess sat at an off-center table, the Prince pulling a chair out for the Princess. She blinked at him, looking like a selfish child.
“We’ll talk about it later,” the Prince said darkly, referring to something Lisa and the others hadn’t overheard.