Carlos jumped to his feet to help Sami wrangle the kids. He stopped when she put her hand on his arm. “Eat your dinner,” she said. “I’m fine.”
If she’d been holding up a blinking neon sign above her head, it would not have been any more obvious to Carlos that she was most definitely not fine. He’d watched the tension enter her body as the laughter left her eyes the second her ex husband had pulled up in front of the restaurant. “Let me get them boxes for their dinner,” he offered.
“No. Really,” she wiped soup and avocado from Archie’s face, “it’s fine. I’m sure Franklin is going to feed them something.”
Ben groaned. “Sushi. He’s going to make us eat sushi.” He slumped in his chair and crossed his arms. “I hate sushi,” he muttered mutinously. Carlos sent a glance to Jessa. As if reading his mind, his friend jumped to her feet and started stacking tortillas. A quick glance around the table set everyone else into motion. Like the well-oiled machine they were, his crew started packing enough food to feed a dozen children.
“Don’t worry, man,” Carlos told the boy, “stuff some of these tortillas in your shirt and you can eat them.”
“Carlos!” Sami laughed. “Ben, do not put tortillas in your shirt,” she said as the boy reached for his plate.
Carlos grinned, glad that he’d made her smile, and walked to the kitchen to grab a bag for the containers. Footsteps followed him.
“Dinner was good, Carlos.”
He turned. “Thanks, Centava. I’m glad you liked it.” He shouldn’t have favorites, but if he did, this little girl with her white blonde braids and serious gray eyes would be his.
“Can we come again?”
“Anytime, mija. Anytime.” He pulled on one silky braid. “You’d better get going. Your dad is waiting.” He handed her the bag then leaned against the counter and watched her walk out the door.
Jessa strode through the opening before it had a chance to swing back. “I could kill that man,” she seethed. Carlos crossed his arms and raised a brow. “Don’t you act all cool and calm, Carlos. I know why you came back here.”
“To get a bag.”
“To keep from punching that idiot in the nose,” she snorted.
Carlos shrugged, not denying it. He’d like nothing more than to pound an apology out of that miserable excuse of a man Sami had divorced. Jessa was quiet for a long moment. The sound of chatter hummed through the doors. Carlos glanced at the clock, calculating the time it would take to get ready to open and decided to give them another fifteen minutes. He’d been head chef of Buchons’ for almost a year, taking over when the previous owners had sold it and downsized. “Have you heard from Brie?” Carlos asked.
Jessa glanced at him sideways before taking the change of subject. “We went to breakfast this morning, actually.”
“Yeah? How’s she doing?”
“Fantastic.” Jessa bit her lip. “They have news.”
“Are you going to tell me?”
Jessa shook her head. “I can’t. But it’s good.”
Carlos grinned. He liked the Buchons. He’d started working for Mark Buchon the summer before senior year. His parents had been feuding over which alma mater he’d be attending after graduation when he’d seen a help wanted sign in the window of a little place that looked more like a sandwich shop than the top notch cafe it’d turned out to be. He’d gotten the job of washing dishes. That it made his parents grit their teeth and remind him of summer enrichment programs only made it better. By the end of summer, he’d been helping Mark with prep and had found his calling. The Buchons were family.
Mindy popped her head into the kitchen. The redheaded hostess smirked. “The coast is clear,” she said before disappearing to the front of the house again.
“You’re going to have to tell her at some point,” Jessa said pragmatically.
“She’s not ready, yet.” He thought for a moment. “How long has Mindy been here?”
“Two months, maybe three. Why?”
“Does everyone know?”
Jessa patted his arm. “Sweetie. You’re not exactly subtle.” She kissed his cheek and left him to his thoughts while she checked on her dough babies ready to go into the oven.
“Everyone?” he called after her.
“All but one,” she said, taking the plastic wrap off her trays. “You might want to try making a move at some point.”
“I’m working on it,” he mumbled.
“You’re not getting any younger.” Jessa started stacking the trays of rolls into the oven.
“Yeah, but I’m getting older.” He pushed away from the counter and walked to the doorway. Pushing it open, he lifted his hands to rest against the top of the door frame. “Time to get this show on the road,” he called out. He stayed for a moment while his staff made half-hearted groans and got to their feet. He glanced out the window. Sami was still outside, her arms crossed tightly in front of her while Franklin spoke to her. Carlos pushed away from the door and retreated to the kitchen. Yeah. He’d like to crack that guy’s skull. After he thanked him for letting Sami go.