Authors: Emily Evans
The Accidental TV Star
The Accidental TV Star
Copyright February 2013 by Emily Evans
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Table of Contents
Thanks! You’re awesome: Michelle, Teresa, Veronica, Jennifer, Stacy, Joellen, Barbie, Brennan, Joseph, Megan, Mishann, Rachel, Wayne, Darlene, Jeff, Heather, Trevor, Mom & Dad.
“Quit your job. I’ve found you a better one. Here. In Hollywood. Garrett Campbell needs a personal chef—
Garrett Campbell. Call me back.”
“Think of this potato as your ex-boyfriend.” I lifted the spud in range of my cell phone camera. Next, I drizzled spray cheese into the core and held it above the commercial-sized fry vat. Heat warmed my forearm, and I leaned away while trying to keep in the frame. “A culinary voodoo doll, if you will.” My fingers tightened on the vegetable as I thought about my ex, Evan.
The oil hissed and popped, daring me. “Sacrifice him.” I gave the words energy and released the potato.
The potato danced in the oil like a revved up concert-goer. So cool. “You think he’ll spend the summer with you before he goes off to college?” I cranked up the heat. “Goodbye, unreliable loser.”
My ringtone jangled out the classic,
, effectively interrupting my recording. I wiped my sticky fingers on the polyester leg of my uniform and took the phone off the supply rack. A picture of Evan appeared. He still wanted to be friends. I hit decline.
Before I could return to my recipe, I heard the jangle of keys on a key ring and the tap of sensible pumps on the brushed concrete floor. That meant Irina, the Fry Hut manager, was headed my way. Ergh. I’d hoped she’d stay in the office until final inspection. Her micromanaging hints just slowed down the close out process. I’d been here two years. I knew where we kept the de-greaser, the window spray, and the tray sanitizer.
Irina stepped into the kitchen. Her gaze zoomed in on the cooker. She pointed to the top shelf. “Oven cleaner’s in the upper cabinet.”
Like that was news. I grabbed the oven cleaner and placed it on the counter, hoping that would satisfy her urge to instruct. The oven was going to get the cleaning of its mechanical life tonight but not until I finished my secret recipe recording.
She pursed her lips and glanced around.
“Come on, Irina, have I ever failed inspection?”
Irina didn’t answer, but she shifted into the hallway that led to the front counters. “The cashiers are done. I’m going to let them out.”
“Okay,” I said to her back. Before I could start taping again, my phone rang out a California-themed ringtone indicating the caller was my BFF Ashley. She’d left a crazy voicemail earlier, saying she could get me a job cooking for my favorite movie star, Garrett Campbell, the hot Scottish actor. Sure, Ashley’s boyfriend Caz knew him, but Garrett Campbell could hire any real, trained chef he wanted. He didn’t need me to be his summer chef.
I answered the phone and jumped right in. “I already have a job.”
Not that the idea wasn’t tempting. It was all I could think about on the drive to work, but even if Ashley could hook it up, I couldn’t take the chance of it not working out. I had to work all summer and have a job in the fall in order to afford tuition and books for my first semester. My Texas Fry Hut job was lame, but it would be here in September when I started college. Dad’s rare efforts at sending child-support checks had ended on my eighteenth birthday and with only me and Mom working, this was my only income.
“Grr. The Fry Hut?” Ashley asked. “How is that better than cooking for one person?”
“Customer feedback has really improved my recipes.”
“Garrett Campbell has more passion for food than all your customers combined. He needs a chef. You need a summer job. Perfect.” Ashley sang the last word. “Come on, take a risk.”
A risk? Ashley didn’t understand the million balancing acts that came from not having enough money. My unreliable beater of a car barely made it to work every day. I used a combination of superstition and denial. Cross fingers, insert key. Ignore smoke pouring from the hood. Pretend not to see the overheating temperature gage. I always made it, but I felt wired, stressed, and grateful before I even walked through the door. It would never make the drive to California.
Ashley had moved to California two days after our high school commencement ceremony. For graduation, her mom had given me an airline ticket to visit. I planned to stay a week. We’d take tours, I’d learn how to swim in the Pacific, and best of all, I’d get home before the West Coast stole my savings.
Despite my sensible plans, I appreciated the call, and the offer, more than I should. Given Garrett Campbell’s friendship with Ash’s movie star boyfriend Caz, I secretly hoped I’d meet him this summer; but with Caz working on a film out of the country, I doubted it would happen. Dropping that fantastical thought, I said, “Thanks for thinking of me though. I can’t wait to see you next week. And, seven days in LA. Happy face.”
Ashley wheedled, “Please think about the job. We can always change the date on your return ticket. We’d have so much fun spending the whole summer together.”
Staying a week with her family was one thing, mooching off them for the entire summer, was another. “You’ll be busy with Caz.”
“His movie’s running overtime and over budget in London so he can’t come see me ‘til next month.”
I’d only met Caz the once, when Ashley brought him to our winter dance. Ashley had known him for much longer, since she’d interned on his set last summer. She’d even had a small part in his film. Maybe she really could get me the job.
The cooker sizzled, taking my attention away from the call.
Maybe the spuds were too round for the French fry bins or I had the heat on too high for too long. Oil shot against the backsplash, higher than I’d ever seen it. “I gotta go. The fry vat’s fighting back.”
“Okay. Call me later and tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
I hung up, put my phone on the supply rack and hit
. I’d taped about twenty of these recipes. When I opened my own restaurant one day, I’d use them as marketing—a personal documentary on how I refined my craft. I turned to the video camera. “When your ex pops back in your life, like this potato here—” I raised my spatula high. Swat.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Jangle. Jangle.
I shut up and lowered my arm.
Irina came into view with her clipboard. “Are you talking on the phone instead of cleaning?”
“No.” One of the Judas spuds bobbed up and oil misted around it.
Irina moved closer to the fryer. “Is this thing still on? You’re supposed to be scrubbing it by now. The 409’s under the shelf.”
I was the only one doing the close out tonight, which meant there was no way to diffuse her micromanagement. All her unwanted guidance landed on me. The summer would be a long one with Irina and me both working full time—not that I preferred the general manager. Lech Larry. He liked to shove his big belly against the workers while saying, “Excuse me, pardon me,” as if the four-foot walkway was too narrow for him to squeeze by. I splashed him when he did it to me, but the soda, ketchup, and cheese spray hadn’t deterred his proclivities. Maybe some of this hot oil would cool his ardor.
Irina poked one of my voodoo spuds with her pen. “What is that? Are you wasting product?”
“I’m trying a new dish.”
“That’s a health code violation. You can’t keep sticking your weirdo recipes in the master bin.”
“I’ll clean it out. It just needs a few more seconds to reach perfect crispness.”
“It’s food. It’s at the right temperature. There’s no violation.”
Irina dropped her pen and shook the handle on one of the baskets, making the potatoes writhe. “It’s trans-fat and cross contamination.”
Irina didn’t even know what those words meant.
“This recipe’s perfect. Cheesy inside. Special sauce for the outside. It’ll make money.”
“I said off.” Irina cranked the knob the wrong way, increasing the temperature to maximum. An overheated droplet of grease splashed out and landed on her chin. She jerked away, wiping at the spot. “Ouch.”
I reached around her and turned the knob to
. “You’ll ruin them.” As if to demonstrate the truth of my words, four of the bobbing potatoes wrinkled and blackened. The over-heated oil burst into flame. I jumped back.
“Ack.” Irina grabbed a pot soaking in the sink and threw the water at the fiery spuds. “You’re useless.”
“Don’t.” I backed further away as the flames grew. Please let this polyester uniform be as flame-retardant as the tag promised.
Freaking moron. Instead of letting the flames die down, she grabbed a canister from the counter.
First she threw flour, then sugar at the vat.
Flames blasted toward the ceiling.
“I said, stop,” I yelled, and grabbed a large bag of salt. Moving past her, I threw it at the grease fire, then took the baking soda and tossed that in too.
The flames ebbed, leaving the smell of burnt potatoes, overcooked oil, and burning metal in the air.
I sank to the dirty floor, not caring that the spilled flour and soda would coat my uniform. One swipe with a rag and the sturdy polyester pants would look the same as when I tore the wrapper off them two years ago.
Irina stood over me. Her brown eyes were wide and glassy, and red splatter dots marred her forehead under her singed brunette bangs. Irina liked to mock my hair. She called it fry-colored. She wouldn’t be talking smack about anyone’s hair this week, at least not mine, because the fry hat, the most hated part of my uniform, had done its job. I dragged the oil-splattered protective covering off my head, grateful for the first time for its overlarge size. I crushed the ugly fabric to my chest until my heart rate slowed to normal.
Irina looked from me to the smoldering mess. She stopped rubbing at the blisters on her skin and placed her hands on her hips. “Unbelievable.”
I wondered how this would read on the inspection report. Ticking
does not meet expectations