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Christmas Eve in a Chinese Restaurant

Some friends on Facebook want a sapphic Christmas Eve scene about the owner of a Chinese resaurant faling in love with a customer. And because I love a challenge, here's the beginning. Will add more soon...

“We might as well close up early at this rate,” Juliette sighed, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand. “The snow’s getting worse, and it’s Christmas Eve. Two customers in three hours isn’t cutting the mustard.”

Vivienne sat down hard on the white plastic chair just inside the restaurant kitchen door. Jules was right, of course; Jules was almost always right. Her restaurant was barely scraping by as it was, and losing money by staying open until the closing time she’d posted on the door made no sense. 

She was tired. Not just regular, I-run-my-ass-off-keeping-a-small-business-going tired, but bone tired. It felt as if she hadn’t stopped moving since Yìzé had passed away. Ten months now. He hadn’t only been her husband, he’d been her best friend. This place had been his dream, his passion. He’d made it work, right out of the gate.

But then he was gone. And he’d taken her heart and soul with him. All she had left were the walls that held his dream and a gigantic space in her life where he used to be. She didn’t know the first thing about cooking or running a business. She’d been a guidance counselor for twenty years. You think I’d be able to guide myself out of this, somehow. But instead she came in every day and worked, unable to let go of what he’d created, as if making huge pans of fried rice and dumplings could keep his spirit here with her somehow. And I drag Juliette along with me. What the hell am I doing?

She knew she needed to let the Chinese restaurant go. She wasn’t honoring Yìzé’s memory running this place into the ground. It was draining her dry of energy and finances. But if I let this go, I have nothing to take its place. She already felt empty and spent; she couldn’t imagine making it worse.

“Customer,” Juliette said softly from where she was restocking the carry-out bags. “The bell just rang. You want me to get it, Viv?”

“No,” Vivinenne sighed, standing up slowly. “I’ve got it. This will be our last order of the night.”

She pushed her way out through the swinging door to the dining room, and the counter where she took carry-out orders.

It took her a moment to recognize the woman who stood there because of the layers of outerwear she had on. Puffy blue boots, a thick ski jacket, a knitted hat, and a scarf pulled up over her face nearly to her eyes. Deborah. 

Deborah was one of her regulars. She lived just a few streets away and was passionate about supporting small, woman-owned businesses. She came in a few times a week, bringing clients in for lunch, complimenting the food, and ordering carry-out for her extended family. They always seemed to be getting together to watch a game, or celebrate someone’s birthday, and Viveinne couldn’t be more grateful for her patronage. There were days where it seemed as if Deborah alone was keeping her kitchen in business. “Everything you make just tastes so fresh,” Deborah would exclaim. “I love it!”

That would be Juliette’s doing, Vivienne would think. She can actually cook, and understands the recipes. And she spent two semesters in China in college.

Just about two weeks ago Deborah had come rushing in to order the largest single order the restaurant had ever had. “My brother’s sick and now everyone is coming to my place for Hanukkah! Shit! Help me!” Deborah had laughed. “There’s like sixty of them!”

And while they had worked out the order together, Vivienne had felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time. Joy. Deborah’s laughter and merry attitude were contagious; her generosity made Vivienne want to be generous. Deborah was bold, and funny, and opinionated, and Vivienne found herself admiring her. I wish I could be more like that. Deborah felt…alive.

But as Deborah unwound her scarf from her face, Vivienne noticed a change. It wasn’t just the wind and cold that was making Deborah’s face red and her eyes water. She looked like she’d been crying. And her normally bright, warm energy was gone; she looked subdued. Beaten. She looks like me.

Vivienne stared. What’s happened to her?

“Hey,” Deborah said, sniffling and avoiding her eyes. “Um, Merry Christmas. I think you said you celebrate Christmas. I…I’d like to place a carryout order, please.”

And Vivienne found herself having strange thoughts. She felt suddenly fiercely protective of this woman. Tell me who made you cry, she thought. Tell me who stole your light so I can go get it back for you. 

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