I awoke the next morning to a phone call. “Hello?” I said groggily into my in-room phone (because God-forbid my mom gets me a cell phone.)
“Your father won’t be visiting you today,” my mother said in a matter-of-fact tone. It was clear she had been awake for a few hours.
“What?” I turned my head looking for my clock. It was barely seven.
“His stomach was hurting. He swallowed some pills with a glass of water, but immediately vomited into the toilet,” my mother continued to speak like a nurse with no bedside manner.
My heart dropped. “Is Dad at the hospital?”
“Is that Elena?” shouted my father’s voice. It was clear he was a good ten feet away, rushing towards to phone.
My mother sighed. he had clearly ruined her plan. “You don’t have to visit her today.”
“Elena’s expecting me.” My father’s voice was closer, but then he seemed to have cupped his hand over the receiver. “Ali, I have some injections I can take, but I’ll need you to help me.”
My mother sounded annoyed. “I’ll help you, but you have to let me pick you up around midnight. You need to get some sleep!”
“You could come with me she’s your daughter too.”
“I would only make her nervous,” with that last, mocking line she stomped off, finally surrendering the phone to my father.
“Because you’re always so critical of her!” he shouted, putting the phone down.
“Dad? I’m still here.” Part of me knew I should hang up, but another part wanted to hear him tear Mom a new one.
“Says the rock star warrior of the kitchen?” my mother shouted back. “As I recall when you were at this school you would scream at opponents for not being as passionate as you! You had standards, but now all you do is baby her!”
“Elena isn’t an opponent, she’s our daughter!” That was the story of my life. I was always in competition with my mother.
“Our daughter who has no ambition! Do you know what she wants to do when she graduates?”
“I doubt she told you,” my father said with a scoff.
I sure as hell did not. I was fully expecting my mother to pull a story out of her ass.
“She told my mother she wants to open a seafood restaurant in California, with Prayikina and that weird rapper boyfriend. So pathetic.”
Ok, that was the truth. I’d told my billionaire grandparents since they had the means to support my hopes and dreams. My grandpa was rarely home but my grandma truly wanted me to find happiness. She knew Prayikina was a major talent and we would make each other super successful. And Jamie. Well, Grandma hadn’t met Jamie face to face, but she was the one who first encouraged my love of music.
“I’ll see you later Dad,” I said calmly, not caring if he noticed my act of hanging up. “I love you.”
I decided to get up and get started on my idea session. ‘What the heck could I make with eggs?’ I quickly got dressed, throwing on a t-shirt and jeans, before heading to the kitchen, where Jamie was already waiting with a fresh pot of coffee.
“Good morning, El.” Jamie was leaning on the counter, looking as sexy as ever.
I smiled, kissing his cheek as I took the cup. “I don’t deserve a guy like you.”
“Yeah, you do.” He pulled me close, with his big strong arm. “So, what are your plans?”
“I dunno,” I shrugged, not wanting to leave his embrace. But I knew I had to.
After another flirty kiss, I walked to the fridge. I took a deep breath, saying a silent prayer for a large number of eggs. Alas, there was not (literally only one container of twelve). Hopefully, Prayikina would use a different practice prep-kitchen. Or perhaps I could pick up some from the off-campus store in a few hours.
Knowing I would need as many options as possible I set about taking down pan after pan to fry, poach, and boil. I brought down a mixer to make fluffy egg whites while separating egg yolks for an entirely different element. I could cook an egg, but nothing was coming together in the way I wanted. The boiled eggs seemed like more of a decoration than a main course. And that was when they came out correctly; there was a fine line between hard and soft boiled. The fried eggs showed some promise but, again they seemed too plain and underseasoned to stand on their own. And my egg whites were just gross. Next thing I knew I was out of eggs.
I screamed in frustration, hurling the cardboard package across the room. It made an audible smack, just as the kitchen door creaked open.
My father stood, smoking a cigarette. “So, no singing today?” He was his usual happy, casual self, despite the bout with illness.
“I hate eggs!” I said with a pout, puffing out my lower lip.
That was when I noticed Jamie waiting quietly in the corner of the kitchen. “Good morning, Mr. Moceanu, Sir,” he said with a wave. “Elena’s having sort of a difficult time.” Jamie covered his face, as if afraid that I would throw something in his direction.
But I simply shook my head. “Whatever.” And turned to walk back to the table.
“Maybe you could give her some inspiration, sir?” Jamie said innocently.
My father thought for a moment. “You went to training camp with Elena?” He was referring to a mandatory camp that all first-year students attended. It was three days at a five-star hotel; a series of classes and challenges, culminating in a breakfast final exam. Anyone who did not get a passing score was automatically dropped from the school (and would have to reapply for the next semester.) It was a literal hell.
“I actually didn’t go to training camp with Elena,” Jamie admitted sheepishly. “I’m a second year. I met Elena when she moved into the dorms.”
“Daddy, why did it have to be eggs?” I cried, hoping to draw his attention away from the fact that Jamie and I were not the same age.
“I think Sam did it as a joke, in honor of Aunt Erica,” my dad said as he pulled up a chair.
“How she always tried to screw him over when it came to eggs?” I asked, resting my head on his shoulder.
Jamie nodded with visible excitement. “Those stories are legendary.”
“Well, gather ’round children,” my dad said in a fake story-teller accent. “Do you know the tale of how Samuel Yukihira came to rule this fair academy?”
“Yes, we all know the story,” I said with a groan. “When Principal Sam was a kid he had been home-schooled.”
“Actually he went to a normal, public school,” my father pointed out. “This was while volunteering his talents at the restaurant founded by his father and late mother.”
“Well, I know he was testing into the high-school part of the academy,” I replied. I knew the story, I was related to one of the key players. “Unfortunately, since he was traveling on foot, he came on one of the later open-audition days. Since the previous faculty judges were on break, Erica was sitting in for the lead judge. And she tried to throw off the potential wannabe teen chefs by making the main challenge ingredient, a simple egg.”
“Because things that appear the most simple can often require the most skill,” my father said thoughtfully. “Do continue the story.”
“Aunt Erica tried to say his egg dish tasted like crap but luckily the headmaster of the school, who also happened to be Erica’s grandfather tasted Sam’s dish after she left. And upon realizing the Yukihira genius he extended an acceptance letter to Sam behind Erica’s back. Which she was pretty pissed about.” I chuckled just thinking about it. Principal Sam always told the story with great pride. To him, it was an example of the power of love, compassion, and the people who believe in you. “I mean, I’m also pretty sure great-Grandpa was also the reason Principal Sam was even invited to audition. If he didn’t get an acceptance, great-grandpa would have looked kinda stupid.”
Jamie laughed.”Can you imagine an alternate reality where the headmaster didn’t stumble upon Sam’s dish? Erica could have just trashed all the entries before she left the main hall. Principal Sam would have just walked back home, probably ran his family restaurant. I can’t even imagine that. Our world would be so different. For starters, he probably wouldn’t be principal.”
My father nodded, lighting a new cigarette. “If it wasn’t for Sam’s rebellious spirit, my graduating class would have never survived all the crap we went through. Before him, this academy was thought of as a place for the cultural elite. I only got in because I was sponsored by Alicia’s family and even then it was difficult as all hell.”
“Because of prejudice against non-elite students?” Jamie asked. “My dad said something similar, and it was why he left when he did.”
“I remember your father. He was actually a few years older then Principal Sam and me.” He paused to take a long drag, blowing soft rings of smoke. “I consider him to be a byproduct of the previous generation.” The smoke was clearly not of a normal cigarette, but rather some-kind of minty flavored medicinal mix. “It’s why the ten seats are not nearly as powerful now as they were in my day. But that’s a story for another time.”
The ‘ten’ was the name of the student council elected by the school officials, faculty, and alumni. “Yeah,” Jamie said, “I heard back in the day they could actually get teachers fired. Now they’re a glorified cheer-leading squad.”
I slumped over the prep table, feeling even more defeated. “It would still be nice to make it there.”
“For real?” Jamie asked with a snicker. “You want a seat on the ten?”
“It would be nice. We could start a music club. Whatever, it’s just a pipe-dream, I can’t even figure out a freaking egg!”
My father walked to the stove, tasting the fried eggs. He gave a nod of approval, before gathering a variety of spices. “Do you two know the story of Principal Sam’s breakfast challenge debacle?”
Jamie’s eyes lit up. “The soufflé omelets! Principal Sam took it down to the wire.”
The story was told to my class on the first day of the training camp, but it had always been an academy legend. The boy who would grow up to be Principal decided to make an omelet batter that created fluffy, cloud-like creations. The only problem was that these creations had about a thirty-second shelf-life before turning in to a hard, sunken pudding.
Jamie brought down a single egg hard-boiled egg spinning it on the table. “He could have gone with a different idea, something that could actually be made in a buffet style. But no, he had burner afterburner going until he made it to 100 servings.”
“Yup,” my father replied, still making something out of my counter full of mistakes. “That was one exciting training camp, a lot of real legends were made, including Alicia Nakiri. No one had attempted a food-science based breakfast, before or since.
“But wait just a second, Mr. Moceanu,” Jamie said with a somewhat confused expression. “I know Elena’s mom hit so many plates she ran out of ingredients, but you passed too, obviously.” Or else he wouldn’t have graduated. “What did you make?”
Dad shrugged. “It’s a recipe that is very dear to my heart. I’ll tell you both someday. But tell me, Elena, what did you make for the breakfast challenge?”
“Chocolate chip pancakes,” I said with a groan. “I knew the goal was to get people to take my dish,” dishes that did not make it to 100 servings would not even be judged, “And since the event was open to the public, I figured over half the guests would be children.”
“Elena!” Jamie shouted. “You made chocolate pancakes with candied bacon and a sunny-side-up egg!- You made history by clearing 600 servings!”
“How did you clear 600 plates?” my father asked.
“Every single element was made ahead of time, even the eggs.”
“But 600 servings?” My father’s eyes went large as he took a seat by my side, accompanied by a bowl of bright red egg soup.
“I actually made 900 servings- Caffeine pills mixed with Redbull- not something I ever want to do again.”
“Well, when you run your own restaurant,” Jamie added with a shrug.
“When I run my own place the only buffet will be a salad bar! Anyway, the rules said I had to clear plates, they did not forbid little kids from grabbing two or more plates at a time. I had little kids sitting on the floor in front of my station grabbing plate after plate. That is how I cleared 600.” I started to laugh. It had been one hell of a day. The kids were all so happy, it didn’t even matter that the professional judges gave me a barely passing grade.
“That’s why you are such a genius! Elena,” Jamie patted my shoulders like a football coach. “You never give yourself credit for how brilliant you are!”
I cracked a smile as Jamie went to the fridge, pulling out items to accompany his hard-boiled egg.
“I wasn’t even there and I know you were every bit a star as Prayikina,” Jamie said as he started to put together a vinaigrette of sorts.
I knew he was recreating the egg dish that cleared him 140 plates; a single egg cooked in a wok, with lemon, water, and pickle juice, topped with chopped sour pickles and peppers. It was actually quite good.
Jamie plated his dish, taking a seat. “The school paper called Elena: Alice 2.0.”
It was all I could do to not flip his plate, or punch him in the face. “Are you fucking serious.”
I got up leave, but Jamie followed close behind. “I’m sorry, El!”
“I need to go buy more eggs,” I replied while heading back to my room. I hated being compared to my mother. I would have given anything to be called the next Remy Moceanu, but no. I had to be compared to the narcissist one-trick-pony.
“El?” Jamie sat on the bed by my side.
“I forgot to lock the door, didn’t I?”
My dad chuckled as he entered the room holding both his and Jamie’s dishes.”If you weren’t putting the moves on my daughter before you certainly won’t be now.”
“Did you bring my dish?” Jamie asked, his voice going soft as his attention drifted to the plate.
“Oh yes, a unique take on pickled eggs.” My father took a bite, confirming his statement with a decisive nod.
“It doesn’t hurt your stomach?” I asked, sitting up.
“The softness of the egg paired with the sourness of the pickles and peppers actually felt quite soothing.”
Jamie was silent, his eyes bulging out of his head in awe.
“It was actually very good, I could taste your mother’s influence but it was not overpowering. I can easily see how you passed training camp.”
Jamie was about to speak when Moma entered the room with her violin case. “Yo, Elena! You forgot what you promised last night? I need access to your recording equipment.”
“It’s noon already?” I asked, flopping back on my bed. I felt angry and annoyed all over again, having wasted nearly half the day. But yes, I remembered what I had promised Moma. We were going to record a track that she could use for her online portfolio.
“Yes, it’s noon. Everyone’s awake, so there’s no fear of a noise complaint.” Moma patted her violin case. “Are we going to jam or what?” She crawled into my bed. With her long black hair, she looked like a Japanese horror movie demon. Although, admittedly a cute one.
“Give me a second to set up, I spent all morning screwing up the world’s simplest food.” I got out of bed, heading towards my closet.
“You have recording equipment?” My father asked, looking genuinely intrigued.
“Yeah, just a few things I’ve picked up.” I took out my laptop, placing it on my desk, accompanied by several cords and microphones.
“Are you going to sing?” my father asked sweetly.
“Technically,” I said as I booted up my laptop, opening the necessary recording program. I used the free to download, ‘Audacity’ since I needed to cut corners whenever possible. “Program is ready.” Lastly, I kicked my own violin out from under the bed.
“You kept your violin?” my dad asked.
“Yeah,” I replied quickly. “Grandma asked if there was anything she could bring me, the last time she visited.”
“The violin your mother gave you?” he asked with a snicker.
“Technically,” I said again. Opening the case it was clear this was ‘my mother’s’ violin in the same way Dr. Frankenstein’s monster was a human male. “This is my baby.” I had invested money in adding custom digital elements, giving each string a unique sound. This was in addition to all the stickers, logos, and hand painting.”
“Is that a sunflower?” my father asked.
I had to pause to look at what he was referring to. Sure enough, on my laptop was a sticker made from a name tag, the kind that says, ‘Hello, My name is…” but instead of a name there was a trio of sunflowers drawn using pen and highlighters. “I didn’t draw that,” I replied. “Prayikina made one for me and one for Gigi, in honor of us moving into the dorms together.”
My father only nodded. Thankfully he knew to drop the subject.
My mom had a sunflower necklace given to her by Aunt Erica. It was to symbolize their connection as mothers but also because Erica really liked sunflowers. Prayikina wore a familiar necklace as her good-luck charm. (Because she had a mother who actually loved her.)
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