Lydia’s first look at the pie kitchen inside the Piled High Diner shocked the air out of her lungs so fast she felt her lips backfire. A kitchen with a blur of unsuitable utensils begged her to make sense of irregularly sized pie pans, aluminum foil tins – unworthy stock in any kitchen – broken spatulas, and plastic bowls – none of which fit the outdated mixers. Sure, there were pie tins to choose from if she didn’t mind erratic diameters and heights. Staring through a stash of bake-ware, not one brand name stepped forward.
Turning toward the pantry she swung open the doors to an afterlife of generic foods, the 2 for $5 peanut butters not even smooth but crunchy, slabs of lard definitely not dairy, chocolate nibs missing their cacao, and key lime from a bottle. Struggling for air, she felt her chest fill with concrete. How could she bake 100 pies with substandard tools and ingredients? How could she keep her promise to Maggie?
Sensing the room spin, Lydia leaned against the nearest wall and slumped to the floor. The inadequate kitchen tipped her lifetime of struggles into a crushing weight that left her body limp. She sat with her back against the wall, head down, shattered.
Juan – a grill chef – rushed to Lydia’s aid. Kneeling in front of her, he reached out to hold her hand. His face chiseled and furrowed suggesting his own seasoned past, he had a warmth that stopped time. She knew he could be trusted, by the way his eyes pierced her cracking armor.
Lydia struggled to form words. With inferior tools and supplies in the Piled High kitchen – well she’d be lucky to make a pie worth eating. Her dream to be surrounded by adoring customers nodding approvals while mouths overflowed with delicious pie had ended. She wanted to run. Just as she had done 1800 miles ago. The memories of working her last job formed a black cloud of pain to well in her eyes.
Biting her lip, she fought tears that refused to stop and Juan squeezed her hand, encouraging her to speak. She poured out a wrenching childhood story. Bouncing from one foster home to the next leaving her empty. So empty, that she rarely talked. Introverted, painfully shy, robbed of speech, her voice had retreated. She had never connected, or fit in. She learned at an early age how to bake. A skill that became part of her ‘foster DNA’, the only way to feel wanted as a family member. She thrived on the love seen in the faces of those who ate her desserts. Food moved people to love. She saw how they connected to food. And she would give anything to be part of that connection.
Hired by a Boston bakery whose owner recognized her gift for making pie, she thought things would change. She thought she would feel the warmth her cooking brought to their customers. Instead, the job did nothing other than validate she was all alone. Isolated to the kitchen, baking pie was not enough. She needed to belong, to feel loved.
Juan handed Lydia a tissue. Dabbing her eyes, she bared on. Reaching the Piled High Diner, it was Maggie who believed in her. On the spot, offering her a home, a family she never had and an opportunity to make pie. At least that’s how she saw it. Discovering the kitchen starved for quality, there would be no extraordinary pie – the kind people would notice. And, if they didn’t notice her pies, they surely wouldn’t notice her.
Lydia sat quiet, and exposed. She had never divulged her past, a secret she carried in baggage that was better off lost. She thought about Juan. This beautiful man, a stranger who understood her completely. She felt closer to Juan, than to anyone she had ever met.
“What do you think?” Lydia asked after several minutes of silence. “Maybe I should get on with making pie? It won’t be the best pie I’ve ever made, but it might be good enough.”
He caressed her hands and she beamed as their eyes locked. Juan didn’t understand a spit of English, but that didn’t matter. She hugged him, holding him close, not wanting to let go. He helped her to her feet, before returning to the grill. Savoring their bond, Lydia grabbed two mismatched mixing bowls, and began whisking the kitchen into a bluster of white sifted flour.
~~Fiction by J Wadsworth