“Hey, Zayne.” Caitlin smiled warmly at him as he crossed over the threshold. “Did you have a good weekend off?”
He nodded. “I did, thanks! I got to visit my cousin and her family… It was great!”
That weekend had been the first chance he’d had to stop by and visit Charlie and Ben’s new home. They’d moved about an hour outside of Windenburg a few months back when Ben’s job got relocated. It felt so good to see them again. A small smile came to his lips as he thought of sweet little Dahlia and what a bright little girl she was already growing into.
Time with his family had proved to be a welcome distraction, especially given all the stress he’d been feeling lately about Greg and the restaurant. Zayne had finally gotten Greg to squeeze in a meeting with him on Thursday, and he already knew he’d spend the next three days worrying. I wish I could just get it over with.
Zayne did his best to stay positive and keep his mind focused on work for most of the afternoon. There didn’t seem to be a very big lunch rush that day, so the slower moments made his goal a bit more difficult to accomplish. Any chance his mind had to wander, it always seemed to choose Hope or Greg as its destination.
After fulfilling the fifth or sixth order for a hamburger and fries, however, Zayne found his mind taking a very different path.
“Hey, Tom?” He asked one of the younger chefs curiously. “Have you noticed anything weird about the orders today?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at the tickets we’ve been getting.” Zayne gestured for a moment toward the tiny slips of paper that held each table’s order. “It’s like the same boring orders again and again — burgers, BLTs, salads… Isn’t it kinda weird? We always get at least a few people asking for a Monte Cristo or stir fry or something.”
“Oh.” Tom laughed softly for a moment. “I forgot you were gone all weekend! The new menus came in already.” He explained. “That’s why.”
Zayne felt his stomach drop. “What are you talking about? New menus?!”
“Uh, yeah… I figured you knew about that?” The younger man furrowed his brown in confusion for a moment. “Greg says we’re ‘streamlining’ things, I guess. Sticking to the basics. We cut like ten items from the lunch menu. And a bunch from dinner too, actually…”
That motherfucker. Zayne felt his face growing extremely hot. In fact, his whole body seemed to be almost trembling. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a slow, deep breath. It almost helped.
“You know what? I’m… I’m really not feeling too great.” He muttered. “I think I’m gonna leave early. Do you think you can handle things til Felix comes in?”
Tom’s eyes widened. “Um… Y-yeah. Sure… I guess… But –”
Zayne disappeared out the door without another word.
“Oh, hello Mr. Rosebrook!” Greg’s secretary grinned as he entered.
He ignored her completely.
The woman jumped up to her feet. “Mr. Hinds is in a meeting! You can’t just –”
“Greg, we need to talk.” Zayne practically hissed through his clenched teeth as he threw the office door open. The handle smashed into the wall with a loud crash. Had he broken it? In that moment, Zayne certainly hoped so.
The man Greg had been meeting with looked aghast at the sudden entrance. And, for a moment, so did Greg. Then, a look of understanding slowly found its way onto his face.
“Shit. I knew this would happen.” He muttered. “Sorry to cut things short. Can you stop by tomorrow, Jim? Same time? I’ll have Lindsay pencil you in.” Greg forced a smile at the other man as he spoke.
“Um… Y-yeah. Sure. I’ll… I’ll see you then.” Jim rose to his feet and fled the room without so much as a glance toward Zayne.
Jesus, am I really that scary? Zayne closed his eyes for a moment, fighting to calm himself. He took a slow, deep breath, trying to clear his mind and remember Dr. Hall’s advice about controlling his temper.
When he opened his eyes again, Zayne was unable to find his voice. He was holding back all the angry, vile names he’d wanted to call Greg. But without them, what else could he possibly say?
In the end, Greg was the one who finally broke the silence. “Zayne, please sit down.”
He shook his head, refusing the invitation.
The other man simply sighed. “I’m sorry about this. I wasn’t expecting the menus to be in until next week… I never wanted you to find out like this. I wanted to wait until after our meeting.” He said seriously. “I made a mistake.”
“You bet your ass you did.” Zayne practically spit at him. So much for controlling myself. He took another deep breath. “How could you do this without talking to me first?” His voice was much steadier this time. “We’re supposed to be a team.”
Greg shrugged. “Every team has a captain, doesn’t it? A leader? Someone the others follow?”
He said nothing for a moment, considering his next words carefully. “I’ve been following you since the beginning.” Zayne spoke at last. “I’ve always gone along with what you want, Greg. But this menu is mine. It’s the one thing you told me you’d never mess with!”
“I know. And I understand why you’re upset. But things change, Zayne. All of our biggest competitors have some kind of specialty menu… We had too much. There was no focus. And trust me, that would have hurt our business in the long run.”
“You can’t know that!”
“I couldn’t.” Greg agreed. “But I could make a damn good guess. And in this business, there’s no time for hesitation… We needed to make a decision — fast.”
“You mean you needed to make a decision. You weren’t going to let me have a say at all!” Zayne could scarcely believe what he was hearing. “We’re supposed to be partners! This isn’t what I signed up for.”
Greg said nothing for a moment, and neither did Zayne. How could he have let Greg manipulate him like this? How had he been so blind?
At last, Greg rose to his feet and crossed around the side of his desk, closing the distance between himself and Zayne. “I know this all must sound terrible to you… But Zayne, you have to understand. I just want what’s best for this business.”
“Yeah, well so do I!”
“I know. Believe me, I do.” Greg smiled. “Kid, you have so much passion. It’s amazing. And that’s exactly why I wanted to work with you in the first place. I see so much of myself in you. I really do.”
Zayne raised an eyebrow at him. “Oh yeah?” His skepticism was apparent. “How so?”
“I had a lot of big dreams too, back when I was your age. But I didn’t really know what I was doing either. I needed a lot of help, and I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way.” He paused for a moment. “I guess what I’m getting at is I want to help you, Zayne.”
The younger man shook his head slowly. He wouldn’t let himself fall for another of Greg’s stupid salesman pitches. He couldn’t. “I don’t mind you helping me, but this isn’t the way to do it!” Zayne insisted. “I signed up for a partnership. You’ve gotta let me start having a say in things! You can’t call all the shots!”
“You’ve had plenty of say.” Greg assured him. “Hell, do you think I know a thing about cooking? So what if I took a few things off the menu? These are still your recipes. It’s your food all the customers keep coming back for. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? To share your cooking? Make people happy? That’s what you’re best at. And that’s exactly what you’re doing here, Zayne.”
Greg’s smile widened. “And me? I’ll be honest with you. I want to make money. And I’ve been doing a damn good job of it so far, if I say so myself. So why don’t you just keep doing what you’re good at, and let me keep doing what I’m good at?” He gave Zayne a small wink as he spoke.
“I… I… I don’t…” Zayne’s throat felt extremely dry. Greg had a point, didn’t he? Shit… I don’t even know anymore.
A heavy sigh passed Greg’s lips. “Look kid, I didn’t wanna have to put it like this… But I don’t think I can say it any more plainly — You need me. You can’t do this thing alone. But as for me? I hate to say it kid, but there are a hell of a lot of talented chefs out there… Dozens. Maybe more. And I’m sure all of them would be grateful to be in your shoes right now.”
“Great. So I’m easily replaceable. Is that what you’re getting at?!” Zayne snapped.
“I don’t want to replace you, Zayne! All those other chefs? I doubt they have even half the passion you do! And that’s why I want to help you! That’s why you’ve gotta trust me with the tough calls. I’m looking out for us. Our restaurant. Can’t you see that?”
“So that’s it then?” Zayne’s voice was very small. “You won’t let me have a say in anything? You won’t listen to me?”
“Oh, I’ll listen all day, kid.” Greg’s smile suddenly seemed so different. Cold, almost. “But in the end, I’m the one running this thing. I’ve got all the connections. And I’m the one pulling the strings around here.”
“So what does that make me, huh? Your puppet?!”
Greg didn’t even bother answering. “Thanks for stopping by, Zayne.”
He returned to his desk without another word.