previous: Run it! ch17
After taking a moment to breathe I decided to take a walk around the outdoor dining area. The California breeze felt peaceful, calming. Looking around, I easily spotted Samuel Yukihira. He was sitting at a corner table with a bottle of red wine. Too exhausted to confront him, I watched as he took a sip of his beverage of choice, while looking up at the night sky.
“Mind if I join you?” A female voice asked. The woman approached from the opposite side of where I stood. I didn’t recognize her voice, but as she approached her identity was clear, this was Hilaria Arato. The elegant woman still had her long lavender hair (which I assumed she dyed using her all-natural product line.)
“What brings you to California?” Sam asked, in a most cordial tone.
“Well,” she said as she took a seat. “After Akira took on the role as Principal, Erica Nakiri was in need of an assistant.”
“Yes, I know that part,” Sam replied, not offering her any wine. It was clear he didn’t want to speak to her but felt obligated to remain polite.
“Then you know why I’m here.” She tilted her head like a scary doll, as she smiled politely.
Sam emptied the glass, pouring himself another. “Weren’t you a holistic doctor until a few years ago?”
“I still am, to my knowledge nothing has become of my degrees and certifications.”
“That’s good to know.”
“I can work on my herbal research at the school, and so can you with your street food techniques.”
Sam laughed out loud. He paused, running his fingers through his hair. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“I assure you I’m not,” she replied with a sense of superiority. “Erica Nakari is offering you a kitchen, an office, even a residential building. You can work, you can teach all while Erica and her husband handle the bureaucratic stuff. You’re in your fifties you need to settle down eventually. Your wife already runs the Polar Star Dormitory as a student liaison. Your kids run your father’s restaurant…”
“All of which gives me the freedom to live my life; to travel, to continue to learn flavors and techniques from all over the world.”
“You’re going to end up like your father, dying alone in some exotic location. Is that what you want?”
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. “Karma’s a bitch,” I muttered as I headed to the main kitchen to wait for Prayikina. It didn’t take long. After her interview, she made it into the kitchen followed by an entourage of camera flashes.
She blew kisses to the crowd as she snuck inside and slammed the door. “Oh, my God, that took forever.”
“Hey, Kiki, you look like you had fun.”
“I did, but I missed you,” she said sweetly as she pulled on her apron and chef uniform.
“I swear your mom is hunting Sam down all over the world.”
My cousin sighed. “You spotted Miss Arato, I assume?”
“Yup.” Her presence was not entirely unexpected. Although I, myself had not seen her in well over a decade I knew she had been following Samuel Yukihira to various locations around the world. “A few months ago, Gigi told me about when Sam came to Rome to watch her compete in the Miss Italy pageant. The purple-haired stalker was seated literally behind him, talking his ear off the entire time. After he congratulated G, he ran from the arena.”
“You know what else I heard?” Prayikina said, “Principal Sam went to New York for the opening of Kyle Mito’s new factory and deli. When he spotted Miss Arato, he ran out screaming.”
“I imagined it was more cursing than screaming.”
Both of us were laughing as Jamie came around the corner. “What’s so funny?”
“Hilaria Arato,” I replied. “Also known as Erica Nakiri’s lapdog.”
Jamie looked over. “So, I take it she’s giving Mr. Sam a hard time for not coming back to the school?”
“Yeah, apparently that is her new life goal.” I saw an annoying little stalker, but apparently, Jamie saw something different, he saw his chance to prove himself.
He picked up a clean apron and a menu from the waiter station. “Good evening Miss Arato.” Jamie handed the woman a menu. “This is certainly a surprise. Would you care for a private booth?”
“No thank you, but that is very sweet of you, Jamie.” She cupped his hand as if speaking to a small child. “How is your dear mother?”
“She is doing very well. As the CEO of her own multimillion-dollar company, she is in a really good place to run her own life. As opposed to being someone’s assistant.”
I covered my mouth to keep from laughing. He was attempting to call her out.
“Well, I’m so happy for her, it certainly lucky that your father never pressed charges for what she did to him that brought you into the world.” Hillary Arato gave a sweet, condescending smile. “I guess it all worked out for the best because here you are working for your little girlfriend,” she paused, looking Jamie in the eyes, “as her assistant.”
Jamie stayed silent as he poured the woman a glass of Sam’s red wine.
“See, you and I have something in common working for the Nakiri family, but unlike you, I also have my medical practice and my herbal company.” Her smile got wider as Jamie’s eyes tilted to the floor. “However, you are correct. Your mother’s company is very profitable, the only difference is my corporation actually contributes positively to the world. You know, as opposed to poisoning people through the use of processed, fermented food. Perhaps I should be grateful many of your mother’s victims find their way to my products to relieve their discomfort.”
Prayikina’s eyes went wide as she hid by my side. “Should we step in?”
“No, let’s see where Jamie takes things.”
Jamie held the wine glass with one hand and the bottle with the other.
“And don’t think I don’t know about the school’s efforts to save young girls from having to intern at her facilities. Your mother is somewhat of a freak, but I assume you knew that already.”
Samuel Yukihira grabbed the woman’s wrist. “That is enough! Leave now!”
“Fine, I’ll just find you at the next event. I know them all; every winery, restaurant opening, and book signing. Erica has all the info on every past present and future alumnus, so I will always be two steps ahead of you, until you can find the maturity to come to your senses.”
With one swift motion, Jamie tossed the glass of wine in the woman’s face. “Get out,” he said in a soft, calm tone.
The woman stood up, with a look of horror. “I hope Prayikina tosses you out on your ass.”
“Not likely,” Jamie muttered.
“Oh, rest assured, it IS going to happen. You’re nothing more than Elena’s low-class boy toy; you’re disposable, there is no doubt in my mind your relationship will come between those talented successful girls.” She ended her tirade with a poke to Jamie’s chest.
Prayikina stood up, it was clear she had been finally pushed to her limit. “Miss Arato! You are not welcome at my restaurant! If my mother has anything to say about that she can contact me directly.” My cousin grabbed the woman by her shoulder, forcibly escorting her. “I will make it my life’s work to contact all of my friends to insure you are banned from their events. Every winery, restaurant opening, and book signing,” Prayikina paused to adjust her grip, “Any event where Samuel Yukihira is there to support us, security will be there to throw YOU out on your ass. You can tell my mother she has just lost one of her minions.”
“Your mother will hear of this. You are a disrespectful little child. Clearly your father raised you to have an inflated sense of worth if you believe that you carry that level of power.”
“You will not insult my father!” Prayikina shoved the woman out the door, still screaming. Thankfully the majority of the news cameras were gone. “Obviously, I cannot stop you from harassing Samuel Yukihira when he’s traveling.” Her voice was trembling with raw anger. “But I will make sure all of the kids who graduated under Principal Sam’s reign….” her hands were shaking with rage. “When he is taking time to check in on all of the lives he has touched. You will not be there to harass him. And speaking of my mother. What do you think she would say in regards to your little comment about how Sam is going to end up just like his father? My mother was practically catatonic when Sam’s father was pronounced dead.” She slammed the door in the woman’s face before stomping back to the kitchen.
Jamie took a moment to pick his jaw up off the floor, before taking his leave. “Have a lovely evening Mr. Yukihira. A member of our wait staff will be by shortly to take your order. I think I need to resume unloading the truck.” By that he meant he was going to head in the opposite direction, as far away as possible.
I followed close behind, hoping to grab a glance at Prayikina, to check on her mental stability. As we passed by her, Prayikina grabbed Jamie by his arm. “Hey, do you remember the day we met?”
Jamie glanced my way as if looking for approval to answer honestly.
I shrugged my shoulders since even I knew the full story.
“I remember how you called me a piece of dog poop that you would try not to step on.”
My cousin nodded and sighed as she adjusted her ponytail. “That was only after you were hitting on me. Anyway, that is in the past. You’ve grown up, and what you did was very brave. I want you to know if anything ever happened that caused a rift in our friendship, I would be the one to leave.”
“Um, what?” I asked taking a step between them. “I think I’d get a say.”
My cousin crossed her arms over her chest. “No.”
“No? What’s that’s supposed to mean? You two are not a divorced couple and I’m not a minor child.”
“I mean, yes obviously you’d get to choose who you stayed with. Like, if Jamie cheated on you, I’d be more then willing to help you kick his ass to the curb, but I’m just saying I’d never come between you two.”
Jamie reached out for a hug. “Thanks, Kiki.”
Prayikina lifted her hand to stop him. “Don’t ever call me that.”
Jamie looked genuinely confused. “But everyone calls you that, even your fan sites.”
“And I’ve always hated that nickname. The only reason it stuck was that when my mother introduced me to the entire academy faculty, she used that name. She thought it was cute or easier to pronounce. Either way, every teacher’s mindset defaulted to that name no matter how many times I corrected them.”
“What is your name? I mean, I know your name, but it’s kind of a mouthful and if we’re going to be working in the same kitchen together…”
“I’m just P,” she said finally giving him a polite hug. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
Prayikina shook his hand. “Well, I guess we should finish prep work while Elena checks out the dining area.” She turned to me. “Make sure we haven’t been overrun by seagulls.”
“Sure.” I left the kitchen, to the main part of the restaurant. The outdoor patio was nice, but the true beauty came from the interior. The two hundred seat restaurant had an aquatic couture feel. The walls were a lovely shade of deep purple with accent pieces in red, gold, and crystal.
The lights were a series of massive jellyfish and cephalopods. They were Prayikina’s pet project. She designed their basic forms and commissioned artists in India to bring her ideas to life.
The tables were made from resin, poured to look like individual fish tanks. We were adamant that we didn’t want actual living fish used as decoration. The square-shaped tables were, by default for two to four people but could be pushed together for larger parties. The simple, classic ceramic plates were the color of seashells but the flatware was something far more unique. I wanted something holographic, like a treasure from the depths of the sea. What I managed to find was a manufacturer in Denmark who made compostable pieces with a metallic oil slick finish.
I picked up a single fork, letting the colors dance in the light. I spun around, catching my reflection in a nearby window. I looked like a typical Disney fangirl performing her best Little Mermaid impression. Still, the moment fit. Standing there in the middle of my own fantasy land, I wanted nothing more than to be part of this new, amazing world. I put down the fork, with a sigh. With everything in order, I walked past the main kitchen entrance one last time.
I heard a female voice, “So, do you have the ring?”
This was followed by, a male voice, “Should we do it now?”
I assumed it was Jamie and Prayikina but they were too far away for me to be certain. Suddenly, ‘Marry you,’ by Bruno Mars started to play throughout the restaurant. “It’s a beautiful night, we’re looking for something dumb to do. Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you.”
I had seen the song used many times for viral video marriage proposals, but it was so generic, it could’ve been meant for anyone. That was until Jamie emerged from the kitchen, reading lyrics off a piece of paper. “Is it the look in your eyes, or is it this dancing juice? Who cares baby, I think I wanna marry you. Wow, that song is dumb.”
I stood awestruck. “I’m surprised you’re not singing.”
“The song was Kiki’s idea- I mean P.” Before all of our waitstaff and kitchen crew, Jamie took hold of my hand as he got down on one knee. “I don’t do that anymore. I want to live my life only for you. I want to worship you, I want to make all of your dreams come true. We don’t have to have the wedding right away. I want to give you a ring to symbolize my loyalty to you. I will always be your attendant to…”
Prayikina cringed, as she patted Jamie’s back. “Did you seriously say ‘attendant’?”
The word conjured images of my mother’s relationship with my dad. I’d lived through all of that. “What did you just say?” Jamie’s use of the word implied I wanted a man who was as subservient as my father had been forced to become. My happiness abruptly faded into a smoldering disdain.
“Jamie, this is what I was talking about earlier,” Samuel Yukihira said as he started a slow clap. “Elena, if you like I can retrieve the wok from the kitchen sink.”
“To smack some sense into my boyfriend; yeah, no thanks.” I started to laugh. “Stand up Jamie.” I reached out my hand. “I want my ring.”
Nervously, Jamie did as I asked. “I’m sorry. I guess I can’t help but be a screw-up.” His hands were trembling with a sense of innocence and fear that I’d never seen before.
I took the ring, placing it on my finger. For the first time, I got a good look at what he decided on. He didn’t get me a diamond, nor did I want one. The ring was a gold band with a crystal lobster wrapped around it. It was absolutely adorable. “Where did you get a lobster ring?”
“My dad taught me metalwork,” he said looking down at the creature on my finger. “I’ve been carving that little guy for a few months and then I made the ring and hoped to god I knew your size.”
I was smiling so wide; I could feel my cheeks flush, and I knew I was moments away from crying. “He needs a name.”
“We can call him Leo, after your little brother.”
Now I was picturing my little brother; his sweetness, his smile. “I think he’d like that.” I started to blink tears from my eyes. I felt happy, grateful, but at the same time, I was so alone.
“Or maybe you can name him Remy, after your dad,” Jamie added. His eyes seemed to light up with a sense of confidence and hope.
His words caused me to sob. I nodded and then with all the newfound energy in my heart, I threw my arms around him. “I will marry you because I love you. Because I want real love. Real love is a partnership where we are equals. When we lay in bed and I rest my head on your big strong chest I want you to feel like a man.”
With tears in his eyes, Jamie cupped my face, pulling me close for a long sexy kiss. The entire restaurant erupted in applause.
I smiled, taking a bow for our audience of employees. I looked into Jamie’s eyes. “But if you ever use the word ‘attendant’ in reference to our relationship, you’ll be hearing bells long before our wedding day.”
Jamie chuckled along with the rest of the restaurant. “I’ll try my best.”
“That’s all I can ask.” I leaned in close, kissing his lips. Jamie tasted like beer, sweat and gummy bears. I turned to my waitstaff and kitchen crew, “Now, let’s get this party started!” We don’t have a full house, but we do have a crap ton of reservations. But we don’t care, you’re working for a bunch of kids living off our parent’s money so no matter what you’re getting paid. I want you all to go out there, have fun, and don’t take shit from anyone!”
next: Run it! ch 19