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The ever-present odor of fresh fish and the tangy scent of saltwater followed Elizabeth as she sauntered down Fisherman's Wharf. The wharf wasn't far from where she was staying at the St. Francis, one of San Francisco's most prestigious hotels. A little breeze ruffled her golden-brown hair and added a shade of color to her otherwise pale features.
With the morning paper tucked under her arm, she strolled into a small French cafe. It had only taken three days for the restless boredom to make its way into her thoughts. How could she sit in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with the homey scent of freshly baked bread drifting from the restaurant kitchen and feel this listless?
A friendly waitress dressed in a crisp pink uniform with a starched white apron took her order for coffee and a croissant. She wasn't hungry, but she had noticed this morning that her clothes were beginning to hang on her and decided to make the effort to eat more.
Lackadaisically her eyes ran over the front page of the newspaper. Nothing had changed. The depressing stories of war and hate were the same on this day as they had been the week before and the month before that. Sighing, she folded the newspaper and waited for the waitress to bring her food.
"Are you looking for a job?" the young waitress asked eagerly as she delivered Elizabeth's order.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I saw you looking through the paper and thought you might be job-hunting. I wouldn't normally suggest something like this, but there's an opening here, if you'd like to apply. You could start right now."
Elizabeth's pale blue eyes widened incredulously. What was this girl talking about?
"I know it's not much, but a position here could tide you over until you find what you're really looking for. The other girl who normally works with me called in this morning and quit." She paused to forcefully release her breath. "Can you imagine? Without a minute's notice. Now I'm left to deal with the lunch crowd all by myself."
Elizabeth straightened in her chair. Why not? She didn't have anything better to do. "I don't know that I'd be much help. I've never been a waitress."
"It doesn't matter." The younger girl's relief was obvious. "I can guarantee that by the end of the day you'll discover everything you ever cared to know about wait-ressing and a few things you didn't." Her laugh was light and cheerful. "By the way, I'm Gilly. Short for Gillian."
"And I'm Elizabeth."
"Glad to meet you, Elizabeth. Boy, am I glad." The breezy laugh returned. "Come on back to the kitchen, and I'll introduce you to Evelyn. He's the owner and chef, and I'm sure he'll hire you." With determined, quick-paced steps, Gilly led the way across the room to the swinging double doors. She paused and turned around. "Don't be shocked if Evelyn kisses you or something. He's like that. I think it's because he's French."
"I won't be surprised," Elizabeth murmured and had trouble containing her smile. What would Gilly say if she knew that Elizabeth spoke the language fluently and had lived in Paris?
A variety of pleasant smells assaulted her as she entered the spotless kitchen. As a little girl, her favorite place in the huge, rambling house had been the kitchen. The old cook would often sneak her pieces of pie dough or a cookie. Her childhood had been happy and untroubled.
"Evelyn," Gilly said, attracting the attention of the chef who was garbed completely in white and working busily at the stove. "This is Elizabeth. She's going to take Deanne's place."
The ruddy-faced man with a thick mustache that was shaped like an open umbrella over a full mouth turned and stared blankly at Elizabeth.
Giving in to impulse, she took a step forward and extended her hand. In flawless French, she explained that she hadn't done any waitressing but would be pleased to help them out this afternoon.
Laughing, Evelyn broke into a wild speech in his native language while pumping her hand as if she were a long-lost relative.
Again in perfect French, she explained that no, she wasn't from France or Quebec, but she had spent several years studying in his country.
An expression of astonishment widened Gilly's eyes. "You should have said you were from France."
"I'm not. I studied French in school." Elizabeth didn't explain that the school had been in Paris.
"You know, that's one thing I'm sorry for," Gilly said, thoughtfully pinching her bottom lip. "I wish I'd studied French. A lot of good Spanish does me here. But then" she paused and chuckled "I could always end up working in a Mexican restaurant."
Elizabeth laughed. Gilly was delightful. Amiable and full of enthusiasm, the younger girl was just the antidote for the long day that lay ahead.
Luckily, the two were close enough in size that Elizabeth could wear one of Gilly's extra uniforms.
After a minimum of instruction, Elizabeth was given a pad and pencil, and asked to wait on her first customers, an elderly couple who asked for coffee and croissants. Without incident, Elizabeth delivered their order.
"This isn't so bad," she murmured under her breath to Gilly, who was busy writing out the luncheon specials on the chalkboard that would be displayed on the sidewalk.
"I took one look at you and knew you'd do great," Gilly stated cheerfully.
"You took one look at me and saw an easy mark." A smile revealed deep grooved dimples in each of Elizabeth's cheeks.
"Does everyone call you Elizabeth?" Briefly, Gilly returned her attention to the chalkboard. "You look more like a Beth to me."
Beth, Elizabeth mused thoughtfully. No one had called her that since her school days, and then only her best friends. After all, she was a Wainwright. "Elizabeth" was the dignified name her family preferred.
"Call me anything you like," she said in a teasing tone. "No, on second thought, you better stick with Beth."
A half-hour later Elizabeth was answering to a variety of names, among them "Miss" and "Waitress." Never had she imagined that such a simple job could be so demanding, or that there were so many things to remember. The easy acceptance given her by the customers was a pleasant surprise. Most of the cafe's luncheon crowd were regulars from office buildings close to the wharf. Several of them took the time to chat before ordering. A couple of men blatantly flirted with her, which did wonders for her sagging ego. A few asked about Deanne and weren't surprised when they learned that she'd quit.
The highlight of the afternoon came when she waited on a retired couple visiting from France. She spoke to them in their native language for so long that Gilly had to point out that there were several other customers who needed attention. Later Gilly was shocked to see that the couple had left a tip as large as the price of their meal.
"Tutor me in French, would you?" she joked, as she passed by carrying a glass coffeepot.
Elizabeth couldn't believe the time when she glanced at her gold wristwatch. Four o'clock. The day had sped past, and she felt exhilarated, better than she had in months. Tonight she wouldn't need a pill to help her sleep.
"You were terrific. Everyone was saying how great you were," Gilly said, laying on the praise. "A couple of regulars said they hope you'll stay. And even if it was your first time waitressing, you were as good as Deanne ever was."
After all the orders she had mixed up, Elizabeth was surprised Gilly thought so. Of course, she had eaten in some of the world's best restaurants and knew what kind of service to expect. But giving it was something else entirely.
"Would you consider staying on for a while?" Gilly's tone held a mixture of hope and doubt. "I'm sure this isn't the kind of job you want. But the pay isn't bad, and the tips are good."
Elizabeth hesitated. "I. .I don't know."
"It would only be until we could find someone to replace you," Gilly added quickly. "That shouldn't be long. A week or two. Three months at the most."
"Three months?" Elizabeth gasped.
"Well, to be honest, Evelyn saw you with the French couple and told me that he'd really like to hire you permanently. I suppose it's too much to ask, with your qualifications."
What qualifications? Elizabeth mused. Oh, sure, she knew all the finer points of etiquette, but aside from her fluency in several languages, she'd never had any formal job training.
"Just think about it, okay?" Gilly urged.
Elizabeth agreed with a soft smile.
"You'll be back tomorrow?" The doelike eyes implored, making it impossible to refuse.
Exhaling slowly, Elizabeth nodded. "Sure. Why not?"
Why not indeed? she mused later as she unlocked the door to her suite at the St. Francis. Her feet hurt, and there was an ache in the small of her back, but otherwise she felt terrific.
The hot water filling the tub was steaming up the bathroom when she straightened, struck by a thought. There was no one she wanted to visit this summer, no place she wanted to go. There wasn't anything to stop her from working with Gilly. It would be fun. Well, maybe not fun, but. .different, and she was definitely in the mood for different.
With the sound of the hot water still running behind her, she knotted the sash of her blue silk robe and eased her feet into matching slippers. Sitting atop the mattress, she reached for the phone. For the first time in months, she felt like talking to her father. He had a right to know where she was staying and what she was up to. Over the last year she'd given him enough to worry about.
Bently answered the phone. "Good evening, Miss Elizabeth," he said after she identified herself.
"Hello, Bently. Is my father home?"
"I'll get him for you."
Had she detected a note of worry in Bently's tone? He was always so formal that it was difficult to discern any emotion.
"Elizabeth, dear." Her father spoke crisply. "Just exactly where are you?" He didn't wait for her to answer. "Bently said that you were home, and then, before anyone knew what had happened, you were off again."
"I'm sorry, Dad," she said, though in fact she wasn't the least bit regretful. "I'm in San Francisco. I've got a job."
"A job," her father repeated in a low, shocked tone.
She laughed, mentally picturing the perplexed look working its way across her father's face. With a liberal arts degree as vague and unimpressive as her grades, she knew he doubted that anyone would want to hire her. "I'm a waitress in a small French cafe called The Patisserie."
"A waitress!" Charles Wainwright exploded.
"Now don't go all indignant on me. I know this is a shock. But I'm enjoying it. Some of the customers speak French, and the chef is from Paris."
" Elizabeth could feel her father's shock.
"But if you wanted to work," he went on, "there are a hundred positions more suited to you."
"Honestly, Dad, I'd think you'd be happy that I'm out of your hair for the summer. Wish me well and kiss Grandmother for me."
"My bath's running. I've got to go." A resigned note she recognized all too well entered his voice. "Take care of yourself, my dear."