M

imi took the elevator to the 11th floor and hesitated in the hallway. She scanned the rows of matching brown doors. Suddenly she couldn’t remember Bea’s last name.

The last door opened, and Bea poked her head out, frowning, but winking. “I saw you from the window,” she said.

Inside Bea’s tiny peach-and-brown kitchen, Mimi leaned her head against the wall. Onions and garlic and bread baking. She swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.

“I can’t have you for long, my dear,” Bea said. “I won’t have a guest I can’t feed! Can you drink something, at least?”

Mimi sighed. “It’s okay, I’m not hungry. But it smells... so good here.”

Bea made a noise in the back of her throat, switched off the TV, and gestured Mimi into a sagging armchair.

Mimi swallowed. “I know you’ve been talking to Daddy, and also Mommy. I’m just wanted to tell you we miss you.”

Bea gave her a fond look, but the hurt burned in her eyes.

Mimi plowed forward. “And that it’s awful. Zoberman’s is hardly Zoberman’s without you.”

Mimi sat for a few more minutes, but there wasn’t anything left to say.

Back in her office, she found Marcy standing over Kaylie’s desk, talking fast.

“So, really, I feel like it’s only a matter of time, and then everything will swing into place. It takes a while to get into the groove, new staff, new menu. It’s a process.” She was smiling, but her voice was an octave too high, her hands moving in continuous gestures. “But in the meantime, Zoberman’s has built a really... ah, unique client base. Ever since the old cook left, I’ve been getting these dirty looks.”

Kaylie bit her lip.

Mimi thought of Mommy, now slaving over the pots, along with Manuel, trying to replicate Bea’s most-requested dishes. “That’s ’cos she wasn’t just any old cook,” she said.

Marcy jumped. “Oh, Mimi. Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Mimi turned away, switched on her computer.

Bea. Mimi thought of long-ago days in the sweltering kitchen, bread baking, the pungent sweetness of slow-cooking beets, and pepper, and frying onions, always onions, and roasting garlic. The late-afternoon sun spilling through the back windows, Mommy calmly directing the staff. Mimi dangling her legs on Bea’s big wooden stool, eating cold fries. Bea, in the middle of everything, telling dark tales of her son’s escapades, laughing, always laughing. At Manuel’s corny jokes, at the craziness in the kitchen. Something ached in her chest.

“Well, nobody is totally indispensable,” Kaylie said coolly, trying to mollify Marcy.

Mimi ignored her. Marcy murmured something and left the office.

Mimi hated the silence, hated Kaylie, hated this whole mess. Maybe she should just walk up to Daddy and say, hey, thanks for everything, but I can’t do this anymore? Sure.

“This is just so crazy,” Kaylie said suddenly. She shot up from her chair. “We all want Zoberman’s to succeed. So why are we — why does it feel like we’re fighting... fighting different battles?”

“I don’t know,” Mimi said with a shrug. But you do know, Kaylie. You want Zoberman’s to succeed — with you at the center.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 597)