“So it’s really your first time, huh?”
She nearly dropped her buns at the sound of the calm, smooth and only-on-very-rare-occasion squeaky voice behind her. Her head turned, gaze focused on that small shock of dark hair so flippantly hanging over his visor.
“Yeah,” was all she could reply, a sneakered foot fidgeting shyly yet effortlessly against the fry grease-slicked floor.
“It’s no big thing,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll get it. Here, I’ll help you.”
Her heart pounded as he drew up behind her and she stiffly turned back to the food preparation counter. He took hold of her warm, browned bun bottom and set it in front of her.
“Now the patty,” he said softly into her ear.
She hesitated, then reached up and removed a patty from the small bin, her tongs trembling slightly as she concentrated on placing it with precision on its breaded bed. Finally, she let it go, exhaling the breath she had not realized she was holding.
She didn’t dare look back, but she could feel him nodding in approval, wafts of his Calvin Klein cologne mixing with the grease vapors rising from the flame-broiled beef. It was intoxicating.
“You’re a natural at this,” he said. “Now the mayo.” She was more than happy to oblige, squeezing the emulsion out in a spiral on her newfound palate. As he continued his instruction, she hung on to every one of his edible words, her mind flashing to that movie she watched with her mom once with Demi Moore and that guy who recently died, soul churning like the milkshake machine with the feeling that something more than a sandwich was being made here.
“Perfect,” he said. “Finally, the ketchup and onion.”
She looked down at the nearly finished burger before her. The time now felt so fleeting, but she had to consummate the consumable. She laid down rings of onion, ending with a squeeze of ketchup she was tempted to form in the shape of a heart. Her delicate, plastic-gloved fingers set the top bun into place and she turned around with a squeal of joy threatening to burst from within her.
That squeal stuck in her throat like plaque in an artery as she saw the sullen look on his face.
“It’s wrong. At the end. It’s ketchup, then onions. Not onions, then ketchup. I’ll have to tell the manager.”
“Wh…what?” was all she could reply.
The manager came and cast a quick glance at the burger — their creation. Or just her creation.
“Yeah,” the manager said. “Go back to the broiler until you can learn to make a sandwich.”
Her jaw dropped in shock. She turned to him, but his eyes had grown silently cold; his visor-defying shock of hair more spiky.
She cast her eyes toward the fry grease-slicked floor and slunk to the back of the room. For the rest of her two weeks there, she only saw him through the portal of a bulky machine as she sacrificed slabs of meat to the flames within.
[Author’s Note: I was actually scolded once in the exact same way the manager in the story scolds the worker while I was working in fast food and placed the ketchup and onions on in the wrong order. It’s apparently a sin against the customer, but I did not see the man die after biting into my culinary abomination.]