by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by neomeruru
I shook a ton of hands and smiled all sparkle-white to the boys in their suits when we got out of the restaurant, and kept smiling until every last one of them got into their black cars and drove away. “Motherfuckers,” I said, when I was alone, and stopped smiling. I’d have much better wrinkles if I didn’t have to smile so damn much. If our deals worked out, I’d send them the bill for the Botox.
I stepped out of the middle of the sidewalk, because I wasn’t a goddamn tourist, and dug through my purse looking for a cigarette. “Fuck,” I grumbled when I found nothing. I’d technically quit, but technicalities meant sometimes there were emergencies, like having just spent four hours watching a bunch of douchebags eat steak. Not even a lighter in my purse; one of the girls had probably done a sweep of my condo and thrown out all of emergency supplies the last time she’d visited. Children! Always doing annoying things like caring if you lived to be a grandmother.
I gave up on tobacco and pulled out my phone instead. I could at least try to get some other stress relief, like a stiff drink and a sympathetic ear to bitch directly into.
Working tonight? I texted to Alejandra. I need estrogen. And alcohol.
I glared at my email until I got the buzz of her response. just finishing up. stop by and I can guarantee both.
“Thank Christ,” I said as I texted back that I’d be there soon, and hailed a cab.
I made myself take some deep breaths and not look at my phone as the driver took me downtown to where Alejandra’s restaurant was. It wasn’t a slick black car like those boys in suits had gotten into, and it smelled like fratboy cologne and halal cart chicken and rice, but a nice look at Manhattan from the back seat of a moving vehicle still made me feel good, even after thirty years. The drive downtown took the views from women my age in elegant dresses stepping out from having late dinners with their second husbands, to women fifteen years younger than me in trendy jeans yawning on their way to bravely have one last drink before relieving the babysitter, to women thirty years younger than me wobbling on high heels while eating dirty water hot dogs to give them a little cushion for the next round. And then the view was Alejandra’s restaurant, Riña; the lights looked mostly dim, and nothing could have been a better beacon for me right then.
I walked in the front door and the manager, Thea, lifted her head up ready to tell me that they were closed, but then she smiled. “Hey, Maral,” she said. “Good to see you.”
I came over to where she was sitting and leaned over to squeeze her arm and give her a kiss on the cheek in greeting. “You too,” I said. “How was tonight?”
Thea lifted one shoulder and sighed. “Not bad. Could have been better,” she said. “Some hedge fund prick and his friends gave us a bunch of shitty Yelp reviews and we’ve been feeling it.”
“Fuckers,” I said. The internet made everyone think they were Anthony Bourdain speaking truth to the people about the crime of waiting for brunch. “Whatever; it’ll just keep the assholes out.” It was a shame the assholes had the most money, though.
“Yeah,” Thea said. “I hope so.” She gave a nod towards the back of the house. “Alejandra’s back there. Said you’d be stopping by, so she’s probably got shots lined up.”
I let out a little laugh. “She’d better, if she knows what’s good for her.” I gave Thea a little pat on the shoulder and headed back towards the kitchens. Alejandra hired good people.
The kitchen had mostly been cleared out for the night, everything put away proper for the next day’s service, the girl on dishes getting through the last few, the heat of the evening’s fires filtering out of the room. When I found Alejandra she she was talking to the porter. She barely came up to the guy’s nipples, but he was snapped to attention for everything she said. Good people.
When the porter’d left I saw Alejandra’s shoulders go a little less square, could see the long breath leave her. I came up behind her and said, “Ready for a break, boss?” I brushed my hand along the thick length of the ponytail that came part way down her back, smoothing all the strands together. Alejandra’s shoulders jiggled in a little laugh and she turned.
“Sounded like you need it more than I do, chica,” she said, and smiled when she looked up at me. We hugged, her arms going around my waist and mine around her shoulders, and I bent down a little to kiss her cheek. She smelled like sweat and smoke and citrus and a little like cumin. I was feeling better already.
“God, do I ever,” I said, and let her go so I could lean back against one of the stainless steel countertops. I rolled my shoulders a little, hearing my neck make little popcorn pops. “Business dinner tonight. Old white men in suits.”
Alejandra wrinkled her nose up and hissed breath through her teeth. “Oh, honey, my condolences.”
“I asked for it.” My hands wanted for something to fidget with, and lacking a cigarette to gesture dramatically with, I spun the ring on my finger with my thumb. I hadn’t been married for a long time, but I’d found that at my age, wearing a ring prevented a lot of annoying conversations.
“The TV thing?” Alejandra asked. She moved out of my immediate line of sight to claim something from another part of the kitchen.
“The TV thing,” I said. “They ate their stupid identical steaks and creamed spinach and talked about ways I was and wasn’t marketable.” I pressed my fingers to my forehead. “You know they had the sheer balls to laugh it up and act like it was a big goddamn deal I was eating a steak? Thirty years I’ve been a chef and because I’ve got tits, these twerps act like I’m trying to impress them by not ordering a salad with dressing on the side.”
Alejandra came back with two metal measuring cups held between the fingers of one hand and a bottle of mezcal in the other. “Have some medicine.”
“Oh, God bless you,” I said, and held my cup out for her to fill. We gave the cups a little clink and I knocked mine back without any further ceremony. I closed my eyes as the burn carried down my throat to heat my stomach and left smoke to linger in my mouth. I opened them again and Alejandra was there to refill me. This time, I sipped. “Thank you, Doctor Sandoz.”
“De nada,” she said, and refilled her own cup. She had a sweet round face and even though she could drink a man bigger than that porter under the table, she got flushed if you so much as waved a glass of wine under her nose. “They decide on how they’re going to market you?”
My lip curled a little. “Well, no one does straight-up cooking shows anymore,” I said. Actually teaching people to feed themselves was very last century, I’d been informed. “And anyway, they say I lack the ‘warmth’ for that kind of thing.”
Alejandra laughed. “Oh, you’re plenty warm.”
I snorted. “I’m on fucking fire,” I said. “There’s already a Martha and there’s already an Ina, so the ‘older woman who thinks she’s better than you’ market is apparently completely closed up.” I pointed my finger at Alejandra while still holding my cup. “I don’t think I’m better than you, for the record. Well, obviously not you. I mean most people. Some people, sure. But most people, they’re good.”
“I’d watch you teaching me to cook,” Alejandra said.
“Ha,” I said, and smiled. It felt good to smile for real after wearing a skeleton grin all night with the suits. “Like I could teach you anything.”
“Eh, I think there’s always a few things we could learn from each other,” she said, and that color in her cheeks got a little darker, before she took another sip. It felt even better to smirk.
“So, they start talking about how the way to go with me is the ice queen route,” I said. “Make me all ‘The Devil Eats Babbo’ or whatever, put me on some judging panel on some competition show, have me be the real hard bitch.” My lip curled up. “And they said that. They said ‘bitch.’ They said it over and over.”
“Pendejos,” Alejandra growled. “And they walked out of there alive?”
I shook my head. “What kind of hard bitch am I if I can’t put up with that?” I sighed. The first time I’d landed a job as a head chef, the first man in the kitchen who called me a bitch got the end of my chef’s knife about a centimeter away from his dick and very clearly informed that if he or anyone else ever called me again, huevos would be on the menu. Even if I was a bitch, he didn’t get to call me that. “No, I wish I’d torn them all new assholes, but I just laughed and nodded and smiled and sipped my wine and sold out my soul.”
Alejandra pursed her lips and gave me a long look. “Maral, do you really want to do this?” She raised one shoulder. “I mean, you’re in a good place right now. Your restaurant’s kicking ass.” It was true; business was good, even if I wasn’t in the kitchen there as much as I used to be. “What’s with this need to get all famous?”
I finished off the last sip of my measuring cup of mezcal and put it aside while I pinched my brow. “I know, this sounds like a bunch of ego-tripping bullshit, doesn’t it? Make me a celebrity, put me on TV.” I sighed. “And it is, some, but also…” I looked up at her. “You ever watch those channels? You ever read any of those blogs? It’s all dicks; it’s all just a wall of dicks that swing and a token woman now and then to bake a cupcake or give creeps something to spank it over when she eats asparagus.” I put my hands behind me on the counter and leaned my head back. “I just want to represent, you know? Let some girls, let some women turn on their TV and see that you can get in this line of work and keep doing it and survive to be a hard old bitch like me.”
I lifted my head back up to see Alejandra with a soft, sad smile on her face. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I get that.” We’d become friends, years and years ago, when we’d worked together and been mutually completely shocked to be working in a professional kitchen with another woman. Now that she had her own place, she went above and beyond to try to hire women. She was probably the one who deserved to be on TV; she was cuter, anyway.
“And maybe if I do that it’ll get this business to where sausage fests are reserved for the German joints.” After the words came out of my mouth, I covered my face and laughed. “Christ, Maral, that was terrible. Save it for the cameras.” I peeked through my fingers and saw Alejandra was laughing, at least. I picked up my measuring cup and held it out for a refill.
“Well, they probably won’t have ‘be a bitch’ in your contract,” Alejandra said as she tipped the bottle back into my cup. “So you just be yourself in front of the cameras and they’ll have to deal with it.”
“You know how those shows are,” I said. “They’ll edit me down to a core of pure bitchiness.”
Alejandra arched an eyebrow and lifted her cup to me. “Sounds like a perfect role model for girls to me.”
I leaned my head back a little and laughed. I was feeling looser now, from both the booze and Alejandra’s smile. “Now you’ve got me thinking that you should get in on this with me,” I said. “They’ll look at us, think, oh, hard and soft, ice and fire, The Cunt and Someone’s Mama.” It was Alejandra’s turn to laugh. She’d never had kids and had negative interest in ever changing that.
Alejandra came over to lean against the same counter, next to me. “And then we’re both bitches?”
I leaned into her, nudging her with my shoulder while I grinned. “See, we’re already on the same page.” I tapped measuring cups with her again. “Inspirations to the next generation.”
Alejandra raised her cup. “A future with kitchens full of bitches.” She knocked the rest of her drink back and let out a long sigh. “If they tell you to get in there and make them a sandwich, you tell them you’ll make one out of them.”
I grinned and let my hand slip along the counter, just happening to leave my arm around Alejandra’s back. She leaned into it. “We’ll give the boys a little credit,” I said. “They can be useful back here. For instance, a lot of them are good at reaching things that are high up.”
Alejandra snorted and looked me up and down. “We don’t even need them for that with you around, fideo,” she said. “Especially with those shoes you’ve come in here with.”
I was tall enough to look most men right in the eye as it was; I got a real thrill putting on a pair of fuck-you heels to make them crane their necks up a little. “These fucking things,” I said, holding one foot out to show them off a little. “Yeah, let the young women of America know that that lasting a night in a bar full of assholes in a pair of pumps is great training for lasting a night on the line with a bunch of assholes and you can wear goddamn clogs.”
Alejandra held up her own foot next to mine, smaller and clad in a lot of very sensible round-toed rubber. “Not as sexy, though.”
“Bullshit,” I said, and tapped my toes against her before putting my foot down. “Just as sexy.”
“Mm,” Alejandra said, and put her foot down. She resettled her weight and ended up a little closer to me. “If you say so.”
“Well, this show we’re going to have, it’ll have some sex appeal.” I looked over to her, my eyes sly. “How do you feel about eating asparagus?”
“I’ll do it if you do it,” she said, and then covered her face with her hand while she laughed. “Sorry, sorry, thought of a terrible joke.”
“And you’re not telling it to me?” I said. “Christ, you are a bitch.”
Alejandra was still laughing, but hadn’t lifted her hand off her face. “Well… it was going to be about eating clams.”
I laughed and didn’t bother keeping it from getting a little breathless. “Sweetheart, you know I’ll try anything once,” I said. She took her fingers away from her face and peered up at me. “Or twice.”
Now she was really flushed, more than alcohol ever got her. “I was wondering if that might be what you meant by your text,” she said. “Needing estrogen.”
I took a little breath. “It wasn’t,” I said, being honest. I felt Alejandra go a little tense next to me, and let my hand come around to her waist. “But now that you mention it, that’s a really good idea.”
I’d never fucked anyone without a penis until two months ago, when I went to some foodie circle jerk event with the openest of bars, found Alejandra there, destroyed a disgusting number of bottles of wine with her, and then found myself back at her apartment diving headfirst into some bisexual experimentation. The experiments had been very successful. We’d had a fun time, but after I took my hangover home we’d never talked about it again. Flirted a little more than usually flirted, sure, danced around it a little, but neither of us had gotten up the balls — or, well, eggs, I suppose — to come out and ask if it might happen again. Turned out, though, all we needed was some dumb innuendo.
“Is it?” Alejandra said. Her voice was a little softer. I’d known her to date boys and girls through our whole friendship, so I didn’t get why she seemed like the nervous one.
I brushed my hand along the curve of her waist down to her hip. “Well, it might not actually be a good idea,” I said. “But it seems like a really fun one.”
She brushed her hand against my stomach and it made me go hot all the way down. “So, you going to act on those ideas,” she said, and looked up at me with big, soft brown eyes and a little smirk on her big, soft lips, “or are you some kind of bitch?”
I laughed and curled my other hand around the back of her neck and leaned down to kiss her. She tasted smoky from the mezcal and bit at my lower lip until it made me gasp. It felt good to kiss someone smaller than me, good to let my hands move over the curves of her body. Alejandra was thick all over, but she had serious muscle under all her softness. I squeezed at her thigh and felt it barely give under my fingers. She’d nearly taken my head off with those last time; I was definitely in the mood to give her another chance.
Alejandra was hissing breath through her teeth while I rubbed my thumb over her nipple through her clothes, when we heard noise from the front of the house. Right, Thea was still out there, hard at work, and we were back here being two tipsy, horny assholes who were breaking health codes. Alejandra and I both looked at the kitchen doorway, breathing hard.
“You want to go…” Alejandra started, but I could tell from her face that she wanted to go out and hail a cab and worry about whose place to go to even less than I did. Maybe she was worried I would change my mind on the way. Not a goddamn chance.
I gave her ass a squeeze and grinned at her. “When was the last time you fooled around in a walk-in?”
She laughed and leaned her head back, but not for long enough to give me the chance to kiss her throat. “Christ, not in forever.”
“Double forever for me,” I said. I’d made a point of avoiding fucking on the job, or even other chefs in general, because of worrying about my goddamn reputation. My reputation was good and settled now, though, and I maybe was thinking of working up a new one. I gave Alejandra a little swat on the hip and one more kiss. “C’mon, let’s go.”
She laughed, breathless and gorgeous, and yanked open the heavy door. The cool air felt good on my skin, and I let my suit jacket fall off my shoulders onto the floor before I went for Alejandra again, kissing her. She was so good to kiss, soft and hungry all at once. I shivered when she brushed her hands over my shoulders, and she laughed when I kicked off my stupid sexy heels. I didn’t need to be that much taller.
I put my hands on her hips and walked her back until her ass collided with a waist-high freezer. She took the hint and hopped up on it, putting us a little more eye to eye. I just grinned at her while I went for the buttons of her chef’s jacket, and she grinned back while she helped. Me from the top, her from the bottom, and then I had the thing off.
I’d spent years thinking Alejandra looked sweet and innocent and gentle until the first time I saw her not wearing something that covered her from neck to wrists and got to see all the ink. She had tattoos on almost every inch of her from her collarbones down to her thighs. I brushed my fingers down the dahlias she had running down both of her arms and she leaned her head back, finally giving me the opportunity to start running kisses from her throat down to the twin swallows inked swooping over her breasts.
Alejandra made a little yelping noise when I mouthed at her nipple through the fabric of her bra, and put her hand into my hair so I had no doubt that was a good noise. She squirmed her hips and made me make a sound of my own brushing her fingers down my throat. She was gasping when I lifted my head back up.
“Very good fun,” I said, and pushed the straps of her bra off her shoulders. She grabbed hold of one of the supports of a nearby shelf as I went back to playing with her nipples, rolling one between my fingers until it was taut while I ran my tongue around the other, then switching, then back again. I kept at it until her heel thumped against the side of the freezer and she let out a fantastic string of filthy words in Spanish. That was the vocabulary I knew very well.
I eased up to kiss her again, and then drew away when I let my hands fall to unfasten her pants. When I’d gotten the zip undone, Alejandra got her hands in my hair again to tug my head back and lick a hot stripe down my throat. It got a dark, good moan out of me as I felt my nipples go tight just from the feel of her breath on the skin of my chest. I stepped back out of her reach, though, and smiled when she gave me a grouchy look. “You’ll get your turn,” I said, and then she was laughing while we worked together to get her pants off.
She spread her legs and I put my fingers right to her cunt. She was slick and wet and hot, and I could smell her, that thick smell of sex and sweat that hit me right in the gut. It gave me an appetite. I went down on my knees. Slowly, though; I was much older than the last time I’d been kneeling in a cooler.
I put my face between Alejandra’s thighs and got in close enough to bury my nose in the dark curls of her hair and breathe in. I loved the way skin smelled, all the strange and wonderful scents you could only experience when you got your face right against somebody. I could spend ten minutes smelling a good glass of wine before I took my first sip, and I could have done the same thing with Alejandra if not for how she was panting.
“Maral,” she growled. “Don’t tease.”
“Not teasing,” I said, and she whimpered when I let the breath of my words go right against her clit. “Savoring.” I laughed and put my hands against her thighs, letting my thumbs slide forward to part her lips. “Now, come on, give me some space.”
Alejandra laughed and parted her legs further, as much as she could with her pants tangled around her ankles. It was more than enough. I buried my face in her, licking her cunt slowly from bottom to top. I moaned a little myself as I slid my tongue into her, tasting her as much as I could. I’d always been a champion cocksucker, or so I’d been told, so it had come as a surprise more to Alejandra than it had to me that I liked eating pussy the first time as much as I did. I’d spent my whole goddamn life thinking about taste and about putting things in my mouth. Of course I fucking liked it.
Hell, I loved it. Just getting something new at my age was a goddamn blessing. I could just spend forever down there getting crushed by Alejandra’s thighs, learning the map of her body with the tip of my tongue. It was so good to be on the other side of it now, seeing if what I knew felt good on me worked just as well on her. From the way she grabbed at my hair and growled my name, it seemed to be working just as well indeed.
Alejandra crushed both hands into my hair as I sucked on her clit, rolling my tongue around it and waiting to hear her bark out a little sound each time I flicked my tongue a little harder. She was breathing hard, her whole body heaving around me. She had me completely trapped and I could barely breathe, and I hadn’t felt so good in — well, in about two months. I slipped two fingers inside of her and it seemed like seconds later she was coming, the rain of filthy words coming out of her mouth muted to me by how her thighs covered my ears.
I stopped when she loosened her hands in my hair and gave me a little nudge. I had to look like I’d been in a wind tunnel by that point. Good. I leaned back a little to look at her, panting and flushed all over, from her cheeks down to where the coiling snakes she had tattooed down her thighs ended. Alejandra opened her eyes, looked at me, and said, “You.” She pointed a finger at me. “You have no business being so good at that.”
I wiped my mouth with my hand and sucked my two fingers in my mouth. “I’ve got all the business in the world being good at everything,” I said, and pulled myself back up standing. Alejandra shook her head and grabbed me by the waist of my pants to pull me closer.
“Bitch,” she said, slow and sly and satisfied, and we were both laughing while she kissed me and slipped her hand into my pants.
Anyone who said that women couldn’t have good sex after fifty both didn’t know shit about shit and was probably a man besides. Alejandra’s fingers, her strong little fingers with all their years of burns and knife marks, found me completely dripping wet, and she had me coming until my knees buckled in an amount of time that would have made a sixteen-year-old boy look impressive. I kept myself standing with my hands on either side of her hips on the freezer, and let my head rest between her breasts while I caught my breath.
“You know,” she said, after a bit, as she ran her fingers through my hair to try to straighten out some of the damage she’d done earlier. “I think you had a pretty good idea.”
I laughed. “No shit,” I said.
Alejandra made a warm sound. “Mm, no, that too, but… us working together. Being a team.”
I pressed my cheek against her chest, listening to her heart beat. “Mm,” I said. “TV, books, inspiring the youth, all that good shit.”
She smoothed my hair behind my ear. “Eventual world domination,” she said, and I laugh. “A bitchocracy.”
I lifted my head up and smiled at her. I slipped my arms around her waist in a lazy embrace. “Sounds good,” I said, and there was something in her eyes, some little uncertain spark that made me say what I said next. “You know, I think if we’re going to be that kind of team, couldn’t hurt to be this kind of team more often.”
I saw her swallow, and the color rise in her cheeks again. “You think?”
“Sure,” I said, even though I wasn’t, really. But something about the way her arms felt around me, the way I could still feel her lips on mine, the way I’d come right to her to feel better about the world and she had pulled it off… well, it made me not so worried.