Vespers. Noun, plural. The sixth of the canonical hours that is said or sung in the late afternoon; or a service of evening worship. For us at Baker it meant hundreds of religious people filling the dorms during the holiday season for about a week. Baker pampered the Vespers and they were a good group. It was only one of two times that the kitchen staff had to change their demeanor and every year, they did a marvelous job.
The kitchen was a disaster area as everybody was running back and forth and you could plainly hear Kathryn yelling orders at everyone. I walked in and everything came to a halt. My hair was uncombed and hanging in my eyes; I also needed a shave and the suit I wore was all wrinkled and unkempt.
“Jeff?” Wendy reluctantly began. “Are you okay?”
“Huh?” I turned my head dumbly toward her.
“Are you feeling all right?” Aaron asked.
“What? Oh, yeah, sure. I’m fine…I’m great!” I lied. I hadn’t slept in two days and I had been drinking pretty heavily since I left Topeka a few days ago.
“Jeff!” yelled Kathryn. “About time you got here! I need you to come up with a dinner schedule for the staff. Just split the staff in half and give everyone a thirty-minute dinner.”
“Can do!” I stupidly said, twirling around and heading toward my office.
“Hey!” Kathryn screamed, grabbing my arm. “Shape up, Jeff! This is a very important night and I don’t need any guff from any of my staff!”
“Technically, they’re my staff! Only Melissa works under you and everybody else works under me!” I jerked my arm out of Kathryn’s grip, went into my office and sat down. I hammered out a quick dinner schedule and delivered it to Kathryn. “Here’s the dinner schedule.”
“Thanks Jeff, and you’ll be working in the Dish Room tonight.”
“Look at you! You look horrible. It looks like you haven’t showered in days!”
“I’ve showered, it’s just a little difficult to shower in a place I also call my toilet.”
“No arguments from me but you are still working in the Dish Room.”
I walked away, grumbling.
The Vespers were well-respected at Baker and every year they got the royal treatment. This year it was barbecue beef and veal, a wonderful handmade salad, sweet potatoes, Italian green beans, and for dessert was the sweetest red velvet chocolate cake drizzled in raspberry syrup I had ever tasted.
Working in the Dish Room wasn’t bad, it was just very busy because pots and pans would come in all the time and there were three “rushes” where a large group of people got up to leave and put their trays on the belt at the same time. When everything slowed down in the dining room, that’s when our dinner started. The first shift was Jason, Chrissy, Chris, Melissa, Wendy, Emily, Phil and Karla.
I cleaned off the sprayer area and sat on that while everyone else gathered around Dish 3 to talk. Maggie noticed me sitting alone and came over to me.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“No, everything is just peachy. What could possibly be wrong?” I said sarcastically. “I’m happy. Happy. H-a-p-p-y, happy!” I hopped down off the sprayer area, punched the side of the dish machine and stormed out of the Dish Room.
“He doesn’t sound very happy…” said Jay.
I was sitting in the small computer kiosk room downstairs in the Grill watching TV in the dark when Maggie found me and stood in the doorway. “I have wanted to sleep with you ever since I met you,” she said, kind of loud.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s true. I came down here to tell you two things: its dinnertime and I’m here.”
I chuckled and turned toward Maggie. “What?”
“I want to give myself to you. Now, I know you said that you didn’t want to ruin our relationship but tonight, it can mean whatever you want. It can mean the world to you or nothing at all. I just want to see you smile again.”
I stood up and walked over to Maggie. “Me smile? Did you know that my grandma died?”
“No, I’m sorry. How long ago?”
“A month and I found out when we all went to Topeka which was what? Four days ago? My own family didn’t even tell me that the only family member worth a damn was dead! They knew how to get a hold of me!”
“I’m so sorry, Jeff. I…”
“My ex-fiancée who once said that she loved me with all her heart and soul and would never leave me, who left me, is back in my life with a boyfriend. It’s also my 28th birthday, betcha didn’t know that!”
“And guess what? For the 28th birthday in a row, I’m spending it alone. I have nothing and even if I wanted to sleep with you, I probably couldn’t because I haven’t been able to maintain an erection since Melissa broke up with me!”
“Yes, Maggie I’m impotent! So you see why I haven’t smiled lately? There is nothing to smile about and I hope I never smile again!” I pushed past Maggie, angrily walked away and went upstairs to get some dinner.
It was almost midnight when everything was finally finished. Maggie, Aaron, Nathan, Wendy, and I were the only ones left and we had just finished giving the kitchen the best mopping it has ever had. I threw the mop over the ladder in the mop room and joined the others by the fryers. “You guys can all leave. Thanks for all of your hard work tonight.”
The four of them clocked out and left. I went into my office and sat down. “Aren’t you leaving?” Maggie asked me.
“In a little bit. I walked here tonight so I’m gathering up my strength,” I said.
“You walked? Come on,” Maggie started trying to pull me out of my chair. “I’m driving you home.”
“I can walk, it’s no trouble. I need to stop by the bank anyway.”
“It’s no problem. I will drive you home and we’ll stop off at the bank and everything will be fine.”
I shut and locked my office and we left. The bank’s ATM was not a drive-through so you had to park, get out and go into an unlocked portion of the bank. We went in together and I proceeded to get out money. A guy came in and shouted at us: “Give me your money!”
I turned around and noticed he had a gun. “Oh, crap,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Happy birthday to me.”
“Just give me your money and no one gets hurt,” the man ordered.
“Well, maybe I want to get hurt,” I said.
“Jeff…” Maggie exclaimed through gritted teeth.
“What? Think about it, Maggie. There are three cameras in this room, he’s not hiding his face and he’s robbing people in a bank across the street from the police station.”
“Shut up, man or I’ll…”
“Or you’ll what? You’re too nervous to shoot and actually hit me so what are you going to do? Pee your pants?”
“Jeff, I don’t…” Maggie never got to finish her sentence as the gunshot echoed through the room. Everything seemed to slow down as the bullet missed me by a long shot and lodged in the wall behind me. The gunman ran out the door and I fell to my knees. Maggie was quickly at my side. “Jeff! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just take me home.”
We arrived back at my place and just sat in her car. She held my hand and softly rubbed my fingers. “You know my offer still stands…”
“What offer?” I asked, honestly not knowing what she was talking about.
Maggie leaned over and kissed me, long and full on the lips. She stopped, pulled away and licked her lips. “That offer…”
“I lied earlier. Down in the basement I said that I didn’t want to sleep with you but from the moment I laid eyes on you I had in the back of my mind that I was going to sleep with you. Right now, you are the only reason I go to work.”
Maggie leaned back over and kissed me again. “Let’s go inside,” she whispered.
“All right but I can’t promise anything…”
“It’s okay, I’ll understand.”
I lay on Maggie’s soft naked body and brushed my nose on her cheek, which tickled her and cradled her neck in my hand. I pulled out which caused Maggie to gasp and I laid down next to her and put my hand on her stomach.
“You’ll never know how much I’ve wanted this…” she said hugging my arm and snuggling into the bed. I had already fallen asleep with a smile on my face. Maggie rolled over on her side, facing me. She looked at me, touched my mouth gently with her ring finger and kissed the spot next to my eye. “Happy birthday, Jefferson Franklin.” She pulled herself closer to me and fell asleep.
Part Three begins. Jeff gets a new apartment but needs a roommate to afford it. The staff has to start wearing name tags and Jeff and Melissa are forced to do stuff together.