Author’s Note: Hey folks! Before we get started, I just want to point out something. Although the chapters in this story aren’t numbered, I organize the pictures by chapter number on my computer. I think it’s so totally appropriate for this to be the 100th chapter! Enjoy!
The sun had barely risen, and Aubrey lay wide awake in her warm bed. Attempting to return to sleep was futile, so she gave up. She had the jitters, so she ate breakfast in hopes the food would displace the uneasy feeling in her stomach. Within a few hours, the restaurant would open its doors for the first time, and she was stoked…and terrified. She had nothing to worry about with her father by her side. She had her own credibility from working at his side for so long, but she couldn’t help doubting herself just a little.
Oh, Julio. He was so supportive and a great cheerleader. Because of his own businesses, he wasn’t always able to be present for Aubrey’s big moments. But, no matter how busy he was, he always found time to let her know he was thinking about her, and she appreciated it.
Jonathan’s voice startled her, but it also brought comfort. She couldn’t decide what she thought he would do. Sometimes, she felt like he would let her go alone so he wouldn’t step on her toes. She would understand but really wanted him there. But, there he was, taking a seat next to her before dawn. At that moment, she knew he wouldn’t leave her hanging.
“You feeling all right?”
He sat next to her, smiling as always. “It’s ok to be nervous, you know.”
“I’m terrified,” she whispered.
He patted her shoulder. “I know. You’ll be great. Let the fear be the fuel for your success. And, of course, I’ll be around if you need me.”
“Thank you, daddy.”
Another pair of feet plodded down the stairs. They belonged to her mother who sat behind them. “Good morning, sweetness.”
Aubrey wasn’t too far from her teen years and loved that her parents hadn’t withdrawn their support–not that she expected they would. They woke up early and aimed to comfort her just as they did for her first day of school and first everything else. They were the greatest!
When the time came, she and Jonathan made their way to J. Pruett’s Grill. Actually, they were a little bit late, and Aubrey was so mad at her father. Knowing him, he probably couldn’t decide what shirt to wear or which side he wanted to part his hair. She tried to forget about it and calm down, but walking in and seeing three tables already seated made it hard. On one hand, she was glad to see the restaurant working without her. On the other hand, J. Pruett’s would only ever get one opening day, and she missed greeting her inaugural customers as soon as they came in. To add insult to injury, Aleah–the hostess–was very pregnant. Aubrey had no idea. True, it was Aleah’s right to not disclose that information. She could have sued if she found out she wasn’t hired simply because she was pregnant. Still, it was a pretty big deal, and Aubrey would have loved to know about beforehand, and now she would soon have to deal with the consequences.
While Aubrey went to greet her first customers, Jonathan stood around and checked the place out. He helped build the place and had seen it before, but he wanted to soak in the newness while he could. It felt weird to have something named after him while he was still alive. When Aubrey told him what she wanted to name it, he was moved deeply. She decided to go with his original idea and name future restaurants after family members. Although he wished she would have used one of his names to honor the Pruetts of the past, he was honored she would choose him for the first.
“Hey…how are ya?” he asked the server who stood at the window with his hand on his hip like a model.
The man gave him a nod and went back to staring into blank space.
He extended his hand to him. “I’m Jonathan, Aubrey’s father.”
The man shook his hand. “Wassup.”
Oh boy. It took everything he had not to question Aubrey’s judgment about who she hired. Perhaps this guy also had the first day jitters. “What’s your name?”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Malakai.” He wasn’t too sure about that.
“Hey, Mr. Pruett,” the cook shouted from the kitchen. “I’m Wilson, and I’m a big fan.”
“Great to meet you.”
Jonathan had never considered that Aubrey’s employees might actually have ulterior motives until then. Every now and then, he had the pleasure of forgetting the fame that came with the Pruett name. He lived with it his whole life, but it was still new to Aubrey. Everything in him wanted to work there permanently to protect her from charlatans, but he couldn’t do that. She was grown, and this was her thing. He needed to let fight her own battles though he would certainly die for her if he needed to.
The tray sat in the window for at least a whole minute. He tried not to interfere. He wasn’t there to work, and this wasn’t his staff. They needed to learn to respect Aubrey and listen to her, but Watcher help him if that tray sat for one more minute!
Jonathan’s impatience reached its limit. Aubrey was still chatting it up with two old geezers looked like they were giving her a hard time.
He cleared his throat. “So, uh, are you gonna get that?”
Malakai sighed heavily and picked up the tray. Sheesh! He was worse than a teenager with an attitude! Where did she find this guy?
He scared the disappointment out of her. Why did he stand so close? “Yes?”
“Can I take a break?”
It took everything she had to resist snorting. The restaurant hadn’t been open for even an hour yet, and he needed a break? Hopefully, she hadn’t made a mistake with him. They were slow, however, so she let him go. If the need arose, she could easily do his job and greet the customers at the same time. He ran off to do whatever he needed to do, and she went back inside to find her father but was intercepted by a very special guest.
“Aubrey! Hello! Do you remember me?”
It was Katelin Flanagan. “Hi! Of course I remember you! Welcome to J. Pruett’s Grill!”
“Oh, thank you. When I heard you were opening this place, I just knew I had to come.”
“Thank you so much, Katelin. I really appreciate you coming in.” Jonathan had just come in from the patio. “Daddy! I want you to meet someone!” She pulled him over to the table.
“This is our cousin, Katelin Flanagan! You’re gonna have to explain to him how we’re related.”
They all laughed.
“Your great-uncle Owen was my great-grandfather.”
“Wow! So, you’re a generation nine Pruett like me! It’s so great to finally meet someone from that side of the family!”
“I know,” she said. “The Pruett family tree has so many branches, it’s hard to tell which ones are still growing, huh?”
“You are so right about that.”
“I’m a twin, but my brother, Chase, died a while back. He didn’t have any children, but me and my family are still living in Grandpa Owen’s house in Oasis Springs.”
“Her son’s were in my class,” Aubrey said, beaming.
Katelin laughed. “Yes, my crazy twins. I have another little boy with my husband.”
Jonathan laughed. “Life is full of surprises, huh? And oopses!”
“Oh yes! You know about those too!”
“Do I ever!”
“It was great to see you,” Aubrey said. “Excuse me.”
She stepped away and let the adults finish talking while she got back to business. Malakai came back from his break; she was glad to see that it was only 10 minutes. He looked…sad. Or, maybe frustrated? Something was off. He wasn’t the confident, charming man she met a few weeks back.
“Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Is everything ok? You seem distracted.”
He sighed heavily. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize… I am, actually. I got stuff going on at home. I had to make a phone call. That’s why I took a break so early. I’m sorry. I’ll be more aware.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. She wanted to tell him to smile more, but correcting people older than her was not something she wanted to do, but she was the boss now. “Thank you. I hope things get better…at home.”
He smiled for the first time all day. “Thanks, boss. I won’t let you down.”
And, he didn’t.