Alison tightened the knot of her dark burgundy apron and hurried to pick up the polished silver tray from the pass which would be her faithful companion for the rest of the day. “Fifth table!” called out April, the restaurant manager, after her. “Yeah, I’m on my way,” Alison nodded in response and confidently pushed the revolving kitchen doors aside, brushing her reddish bangs off her pretty face. She had been working as a waitress at the Golden Lion restaurant for a year and had learned to fit into the hectic rhythm of the establishment when circumstances demanded.
The job was far from easy, but it had its advantages such as staff meals provided by The Establishment and flexibility. However, the main advantage of working here were the generous tips that often helped Alison make it from paycheck to paycheck without dipping into her so-called Untouchable cash reserve where she saved the money for her subsequent training at a college.
The Golden Lion was not just an ordinary cafe where you stopped by to gulp down a couple of cups of coffee or order mashed potatoes with a cutlet for a cheap lunch. No, there was a full-fledged menu here consisting of several selections of eastern and western cuisine. You could find both Asian pad thai noodles with chicken in sweet and sour sauce or Korean-style fried rice with scallops and shrimp, as well as Greek Caesar salad, meat stewed in French pots, or Italian pizza made according to ancient recipes by an experienced chef who had trained in Rome itself. To emphasize the specialty of his establishment, the director of The Golden Lion specially hired an administrator who personally controlled the arrival of all guests and made sure that the most affluent of them always got the best tables.
“April, table five,” the restaurant manager called again, snapping Alison out of her thoughts. She quickly assessed the income of the guests and based on that, distributed them to the most advantageous seating positions. She would then signal the waiters in what order and at what speed to serve them this or that order. Alison correctly caught the gaze of the manager who pointed her to a group of young businessmen in the right corner of the restaurant. They obviously came from a large business center across the street, judging by the fact that there was not a single free seat at their wide table. They were either celebrating something or concluding some grand deal.
Alison decided to approach them a little later and first serve the handsome elderly gentleman at the second table who was modestly sitting behind a huge exotic floor plant in a bright clay pot. His strict business suit and neatly combed gray hair, together with his gold watch and exquisite pen, identified him as a practicing lawyer. Such people constantly strive to settle all their personal affairs as quickly as possible because in the office they already no doubt have a couple of prospective clients waiting for them, missing out on which would be an unacceptable thing.
The main hall had quickly filled up with visitors, and Alison took a deep breath of the cool air. She was in for an extremely tough work shift today, in large part because her partner had chosen the wrong day to get sick. Friday was one of the busiest days for cafes and restaurants, and poor Nina had fallen ill with a cold, so Alison would have to be alone all day, which was very difficult when the restaurant became so crowded that there was literally no room to move.
Suddenly, Alison caught April’s angry glare, who whispered with her lips, “Table five, quickly.” The girl felt momentarily flustered as there were so many people around and she was alone, but then the waitress managed to gather herself, taking control. She headed towards the group of wealthy men who were still waiting for her to appear at their table. “Look who has honored us with her attention,” one of the businessmen half-jokingly muttered. “Miss, we’ve been waiting for you for an hour,” Alison apologized, introduced herself, and took their order.
As the girl suspected, these young, respectable businessmen were celebrating some happy event, as evidenced by the number of snacks they ordered, as well as several bottles of alcohol which the men asked to be brought to them immediately for an aperitif. As a young waitress waited for the food in the kitchen, a furious April ran up to her and asked, “Where have you been, Alison? Do you want to destroy our reputation in one day? These are our most important guests. You should have run to them first, and you left them waiting for a quarter of an hour. This is simply outrageous.”
“I have everything under control,” the waitress said, calming her down. “They were still engrossed in their conversation, and besides, they had to decide on their choice of dishes from the menu. There are seven of them, so they can’t…”
April’s beautiful face turned crimson with anger. “Are you going to argue with me? Hurry up and get in the hall, otherwise, I’ll tell the director right away, and he’ll kick you out with a snap of his fingers.”
Alison didn’t argue anymore and hurriedly brought the first batch of alcohol and snacks to the designated table. As soon as the food and drinks were in front of these young men, their mood immediately improved. Based on her previous work shifts, the waitress knew that this kind of audience became much softer and less demanding towards staff after half an hour. Therefore, they could leave her very generous tips.
In confirmation of the girl’s thoughts, as she headed off to serve other guests, she heard the first of many long toasts by the businessman colleagues congratulating each other. A little relaxed that the situation had taken a calm flow, Alison went to work further, allowing these wealthy men to have fun until it was time to bring them snacks or an additional portion of wine.
The girl decided to keep an eye on them to be able to approach them in time when needed. Currently, when Alison wanted to focus all her attention solely on this fifth table, the restaurant door unexpectedly creaked, letting in a new guest into its space. The waitress turned around, obeying her professional instinct, and to her surprise, she saw a little boy, almost seven years old, shyly sitting down at the furthest table.
The child seemed to want to become as inconspicuous as possible so as not to distract other visitors from their lunches and daytime coffee. His old, worn-out jacket was picturesque, torn at the right elbow, and his jeans were short, exposing the skinny, bony ankles of the boy. The boy squeezed his old knitted cap in his hands, looking around fearfully. Looking at him, one could think that this little boy was a homeless person who had accidentally wandered here by the beckoning lights of the bright signboard.
Alison was interested in what he was doing here, and besides, the woman always had a kind soul. She thought, let the little one warm up a bit, in any case, the restaurant won’t suffer from it. Just in case, she decided to approach and ask if the boy wanted something to eat; surely he had been hungry all day. “Would you like to order something?” Alison kindly asked, approaching his table. “Hello,” the boy said a little shyly, “ma’am, I’d like a cake with cream.”
Alison felt her heart warm up. She really liked how this poor boy politely asked for a treat. It was evident that he had a natural upbringing and tact, even though life apparently had not spoiled him with any benefits. “Of course, I’ll bring you a cake,” the waitress smiled, making a note in her order book. She quickly went to the kitchen and handed the order to the chef.
While the confectioner was baking a cake, the girl decided to get to know the little visitor better. The boy’s name was Mark, and he really did not have a place to live. He had come from a distant city, trying to find his mother, who had moved here after she got a job at a prestigious law firm. However, as soon as the boy arrived in the city, his mother’s phone was lost, and he simply got lost trying to find the office.
Mark didn’t know what to do or where to go, so he just wandered around the streets, occasionally popping into some place to warm up a bit. By a lucky coincidence, he saw the sign of The Golden Lion just as he was passing by the cafe, and the boy was just overcome with the strong, pleasant aroma of freshly baked goods.
Mark felt his mouth water, and at that moment he had an idea to ask for a small treat, so as not to go hungry on the street anymore. When Alison returned to him with a slice of chocolate cake and a spoon, Mark’s eyes lit up with happiness. The boy eagerly began to eat, as if he hadn’t seen food for a long time. His hands were trembling slightly, which he tried to hide from the waitress. “Is it delicious?” she asked gently. Mark nodded without taking his mouth off the spoon, not wanting to waste a single crumb.
Alison watched him for a moment and then asked, “Would you like me to find your mother? Maybe I can help.” The boy’s face lit up with hope. “Oh, ma’am, could you? I’m so scared and lost.” The waitress reassured him, “Don’t worry, Mark. We’ll figure this out. Just finish your cake and then we’ll see what we can do.”
As the boy continued to eat his cake, Alison couldn’t help but feel a mixture of emotions. She was heartbroken by the boy’s situation, yet inspired by his resilience and manners. She knew that she needed to do something to help him, even if it meant going beyond her duties as a waitress. With determination in her heart, she made a decision to assist Mark in finding his mother and ensuring his well-being.
And so, in the midst of the bustling restaurant, surrounded by the chatter of guests and the clinking of cutlery, Alison found herself forming an unexpected bond with a young boy named Mark. Little did she know that this encounter would set off a chain of events that would not only change Mark’s life but also challenge her in ways she never imagined.
Despite having an honorable certificate for academic achievements, the young job seeker couldn’t find a job. Employers were not ready to take on an employee who had no professional experience. Each time the recent graduate was faced with a refusal, it was always the same wording: “Sorry, but currently we are not ready to invite you to work in our company. Try contacting us next year when you have minimal experience in the desired position.”
Gradually, from an applicant for the role of a full-time employee or a business company, Alison moved into the category of applicants first for the position of a sales assistant and then the cashier of an ordinary supermarket. Still, the girl repeatedly received refusals, as if some invisible shadow was following her. Allison was very upset, feeling an increasing panic inside. She feared she would soon become completely unemployed. What would she do then? The girl simply couldn’t imagine because she still had to pay for her grandmother’s apartment every month, and expenses for food and clothing couldn’t be ignored.
Instantly, when Alison was already desperate, fate unexpectedly took pity on the unhappy girl. Help came from where she least expected it. One day, Alison went to an interview that, as she hoped, would finally bring her the coveted position of Junior Manager Assistant. They told her on the phone that they were ready to consider the girl’s candidacy, but with a probationary period. Encouraged, Alison literally flew to the office, anticipating long-awaited success.
However, when Alison arrived, she was deeply disappointed. It turned out that just a couple of hours before, the director of the company had hired another more experienced employee for this position, someone who already had experience with document flow at the previous company. To say that the girl was crushed by this failure is to say nothing. Allison left the company building, walked a couple of steps, after which she stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and, without embarrassment, burst into loud tears in front of everyone. Then it was absolutely unimportant to her what others thought of her. After all, her last hope for improving her financial situation had suffered a complete collapse.
Passersby looked at the girl in complete bewilderment, but no one stopped and tried to offer her any help. But suddenly, Alison heard a quiet, calm voice behind her, clearly addressing her: “Well, why are you crying, girl? Look, you’re about to flood the whole street with your tears.”
Alison turned to the voice and saw a pleasant woman about 40 years old in front of her, holding a cute bag of large knitting with an extremely unusual salad green color. She also wore a knitted beret in the same shade as the bag. The woman was looking at the girl with interest and frank sympathy.
“Oh, don’t even ask, please,” the girl replied sobbing. “Have you ever had this feeling that the whole world around you is collapsing into an abyss, and you’re standing on the edge, and you don’t know what to do? It seems that there is no point in running back because you will fall anyway. But you do not want to jump forward either.”
The woman frowned and quickly approached Alison, taking her by the elbow. She suggested that they go to the nearest park and sit on a bench to rest and talk properly. Alison was too exhausted to refuse, and besides, the strange woman, whose name was Mrs. Gravatt, had managed to win her over. Yesterday’s graduate felt that she could trust her, and right now, more than ever, Alison needed support and the opportunity to share her doubts with someone.
Later in the park, the two started talking. Alison told Mrs. Gravatt about almost all recent events in her life, including the death of her beloved grandmother. She ended her story with an honest confession that she was afraid of being permanently unemployed. “Well, well, what a situation,” Mrs. Kravatt shook her head, causing her funny hat to tilt slightly to the side. “Have you tried going to the job center?”
“Of course,” Alison said through tears. “They tell me to take the lowest position, at least as a secretary. But how can I become a secretary if they require experience everywhere, and I don’t have any except for my school?”
Mrs. Gravatt thought for a moment. She really wanted to help this poor girl, and she had shown herself to be so nice. However, would Alison agree to accept her offer? After all, the girl graduated with honors, and now this…
“It won’t be below her status, of course, just a little bit. Well, never mind, listen, Alison. I have one offer for you, but I don’t know if you’ll like it. You see, I work as a Cook’s assistant in a respectable restaurant, and we’re currently catastrophically short of waitresses. Last month, one girl broke her leg, some kind of complicated fracture, and says she’ll have to spend at least three months in a cast. And another one just went on maternity leave a week ago. In short, do you want to go to our restaurant as a waitress?”
Allison looked at Mrs. Gravatt in amazement. She couldn’t believe that this nice woman was offering her a job so easily. “What do you mean, as a waitress? You’re not joking, are you?”
The woman’s round face broke into a kind smile. “What jokes could there be, my dear? I’m offering you a real one. In Golden Lion, our director, Mr. Jennings, is quite a character. Of course, he’s a hard nut and a piece of work, but you can get used to him. In any case, he won’t eat you for nothing.”
Mrs. Gravatt laughed, and Alison suddenly felt someone turning on a bright white light inside her. It was hope. “Oh my god, of course, I agree!” the girl exclaimed joyfully. “Thank you so much, Mrs. Gravatt, thank you so much! And when can I start working?”
The woman was a little embarrassed but then patted Alison’s hand and quickly said, “Let’s do it this way: I’ll go to work tonight and I’ll put in a good word for you with the director. And you come tomorrow morning, early. Just don’t be late, deal?”
Alison nodded in agreement, and Mrs. Gravatt shook her bright green hat. “Well, that’s great. And don’t cry. Tears are never helpful in our line of work. Calm down and come tomorrow, exactly at nine o’clock when the restaurant opens,” she reminded the girl, just in case.
After saying goodbye, they went about their business. Alison spent the rest of the evening and the first half of the night in nervous anticipation. She was distressed, hoping that at least in this place everything would go smoothly. Unpaid utility bills lay on the coffee table next to her. Finally, the girl managed to fall asleep with an uneasy, restless mind.
The next day, Alison stood in front of the wide revolving doors of the Golden Lion at 8:40 in the morning. The girl was very nervous and kept pulling at her already long skirt. She wanted to make a good impression on the director so that she could finally get the coveted job.
Inside the restaurant was huge, with a beautiful European standard renovation.
Shiny new panels were everywhere, and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, reflecting light on the shine of polished parquet floors. The menu here was also excellent. There were at least 20 different hot dishes alone, and the rich wine list could easily compete with some small French restaurants. In short, Alison was very impressed with the place where she was about to start working this morning.
The director reluctantly, but still, hired the girl. Mrs. Gravatt’s personal request played a role here. After all, as Mr. Jennings said, Mrs. Gravatt could make such a Caesar sauce that even Michelin himself would be delighted. This, as well as the complete lack of prospects for hiring a competent waiter in the next couple of weeks, made the director make a positive decision regarding Allison.
“Well, time will tell,” he reasoned, and he showed Alison the utility room so that she could change into her uniform and meet her new colleagues. On the way to the utility room, Alison managed to notice Mrs. Kravatt, who joyfully winked at the girl and showed her a big thumbs up.
Having arrived in the utility room and exchanging a few words with other girls, Alison realized that they all worked here not for a good life. For example, Nina lived in one of the poorest areas of the city and, without having any education, miraculously got a job here. Suzanne, on the other hand, had a good education but got pregnant early, and now she had to work here for half a day to be able to support her little son. Serious firms, she explained to Alison, would never agree to hire a young mother, let alone one with a one-year-old child in her arms. The only one who came to work here by the call of the heart was Marissa, a young girl who wanted to become a cook. She decided to go here to gain experience and later she was going to enroll in a college to learn the craft of cooking.
In general, all the girls were united by one fairly clear aspiration: to earn as much money as possible in this restaurant to later be able to get a more prestigious job.
Then Allison saw April for the first time. The statuesque beauty stood out favorably against the background of other girls with her impressive appearance. She was very proud that she was hired here thanks to connections. However, a little later, Allison concluded that the restaurant administrator had no more power here than all the waitresses, and therefore most of the establishment’s employees were more than indifferent to her affected sarcasm and pathos.
The colleagues quickly brought Alison up to speed, explaining how to categorize guests and assuring her that it was a valuable skill. “You need to learn how to immediately determine who is in front of you based solely on their appearance,” Nina advised Alison. “If the suit is made of expensive fabric and the shoes look obviously more expensive than what you’re used to seeing on men, then that’s our client. These handsome guys usually come here to grab a bite from the elite business center across the street. For them, a standard lunch is like a week’s salary for us, and they always leave good tips. And the nicer you are to them, the more tips you can earn during your shift. Got it?”
Alison nodded uncertainly. “And please keep in mind the most important thing,” Suzanne continued to her friend. “At the end of the day, all the money received as tips must be presented to Mr. Jennings.”
“But aren’t we supposed to keep that money?” Alison asked hesitantly. “We earned it through our quick thinking and tolerance towards the guests.”
“Well, you did earn it,” Marissa replied sarcastically. “But he always takes the biggest share anyway. Those are the rules here, my friend. If you complain, you’ll be shown the exit.”
Alison realized that the job she had gotten was far from easy. After a brief safety briefing and rundown of the basic rules of behavior for waitresses in the hall, April threw Alison into the deep end. Alison’s first shifts were monstrously difficult. At first, she felt like she couldn’t keep up, but then, as she got used to it, the young waitress felt that she was already doing well in communicating with the visitors, and she became more confident in holding the tray of food. However, every day at the end of the first week of her new job, the girl literally collapsed from exhaustion. Huge calluses formed on her feet almost instantly due to the uncomfortable shoes that all the girls were required to wear.
Gradually, Alison was able to get into the swing of things, and each new shift no longer brought her such torment. And now, everything was over. Not only was Alison fired from the restaurant, but the director didn’t pay her full salary. That scoundrel knew 200 in her face and laughed. Everything else went to pay off your debt to Golden Lion. Or did you think we were joking here? Get out of here, fool.
The other waitresses sympathized deeply with the poor girl, but unfortunately, they couldn’t help her in any way. They were too afraid to repeat the fate and lose their job. Mrs. Kravatt was especially worried about Alison. “Look at him, what a jerk. Okay, okay, he’ll get his. Tomorrow evening, I’ll put something special in there so that he remembers it for a long time.”
“I can’t believe that he started humiliating poor employees in front of everyone. It will end up with him running around the hall with trays and glasses. All the girls will either quit or get fired because of him, so don’t worry, Alison. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last, as they say.”
Alison thanked the assistant chef for her kind and encouraging words, but deep down she wasn’t sure that such a firmly established order in this restaurant would ever change. Gathering her things, the girl said goodbye to everyone except April and then left the walls of the Golden Lion forever.
For the next few days, Alison couldn’t even get out of bed. Depression weighed heavily on her, not allowing her to escape from the crushing burden of various problems. For a brief moment, Alison gave in to dark thoughts and sinfully thought that it wouldn’t be so bad to follow her grandmother and parents to heaven. However, she soon forced herself to throw all of this out of her head. What would her grandmother say if she saw how her beloved granddaughter was wasting her spare time completely uselessly?
Alison forced herself out of bed and brewed herself a strong cup of coffee. She had to decide what to do next. Although the only logical action in this case would be to start looking for a new job. Taking out her old dusty laptop from the closet, Alison began to browse through the latest job listings. At that moment, she was attracted by some movement in the courtyard outside her window.
Imagine her surprise when she saw the same poor boy who had politely asked her for a pastry not so long ago. “Hey, kid!” she shouted out of the window, then grabbed her coat and rushed out onto the street. The boy calmly collected cardboard scraps and glass bottles around the garbage cans, apparently intending to take all this to a special recycling point.
Seeing this, Alison felt tears welling up in her eyes. “Wait!” she called out to him again. The boy straightened up and looked in the direction of the female voice calling him. To the girl’s delight,he recognized her almost immediately. “Hello,” he greeted Alison shyly. “Do you remember me?”
“Of course I do,” she replied, smiling. “You asked me for a piece of cake at the bakery the other day. How are you doing?”
The boy shrugged. “Everything is as usual. I gather bottles and cardboard, then take them to the recycling point. The money isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing. And what about you?”
Alison leaned against the fence, thinking about how best to tell her story. The boy didn’t seem like a stranger to her, and it was somehow easier for her to open up to him.
“I worked in a restaurant, but they fired me,” she said, trying to keep her voice from trembling. “And now I don’t know what to do next. I need to find a job, but it’s not that easy.”
The boy nodded understandingly. “I know what you mean. My mom used to work in a store, but they let her go when she got sick. We’ve been struggling since then, but we manage somehow.”
Alison’s heart ached as she listened to the boy’s story. She felt a connection with him, as if they were both facing similar struggles. “What’s your name?” she asked softly.
The boy hesitated for a moment before replying, “David.”
“Well, David, I’m Alison. It’s nice to officially meet you,” she said, offering her hand for a handshake.
David shook her hand with a shy smile. “Nice to meet you too, Alison.”
As they stood there talking, Alison realized that this encounter was a reminder that even in difficult times, there could be unexpected blessings. David’s determination to collect recyclables to help his family survive despite their challenges inspired her. She felt a renewed sense of purpose and determination to face her own difficulties head-on.
“David,” she began, “do you think you could help me with something?”
He looked at her curiously. “Sure, what do you need?”
“I’m looking for a job, and I was wondering if you know of any places that might be hiring. Maybe you’ve seen some signs or heard about opportunities?”
David thought for a moment, then nodded. “There’s a small grocery store a few blocks from here. I think they might be looking for someone to help with stocking shelves and stuff. I can take you there if you want.”
Alison’s heart swelled with gratitude. She couldn’t believe how a chance encounter with a young boy who was facing his own challenges could turn into a glimmer of hope for her. “David, that would be amazing. Thank you so much.”
As they walked to the grocery store together, Alison felt a renewed sense of determination. She realized that unexpected blessings could come from the most unlikely places and people. David’s willingness to help and his resilience in the face of adversity inspired her to keep pushing forward and to never give up, no matter how tough things seemed.
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