We are pleased to present Chapters 2 and 3 of E.J. Sefer’s novel, Yellow Roses, set in the Catskills. It is full of the flavor of kitchen and dining room life, and ex-waiters, waitresses, and busboys will find vivid descriptions of their times there. Sefer tells us that, “I am an academic who was a mountain rat and currently split my time between academics and writing.” She has four romance novels due out next year with Starlight Publications. She teaches nursing in Sydney, Australia, a long way from The Mountains. Sefer got so involved in writing this novel and in sharing it with Catskills veterans, that she is already working on another. She tells us that “I refused to give up the story and continued with a twin piece that will bring everyone back to the Catskills in the end, a fitting ending to close a circle.”
The musty odor sent Shari reeling backwards as she pushed open the door to her room. The wooden shacks they had passed on the road that seemed in danger of tumbling down were the staff quarters. She bit back her lip to hold back the tears noting her mother’s triumphant smile.
“Disgusting,” she murmured, one finger brushing a scratched wooden bureau. Her father and Andrea followed, too shocked at the dingy room furnished with two single beds, a rickety warped bureau and a bare lightbulb to say anything. Sticking to Shari like a faithful dog, Charlie panted under the weight of her two suitcases, dragging them across the warped wooden floor.
Mrs. Forman made a face at the mold covered mirror and filthy sink.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
Charlie dumped the bags on a lumpy mattress.
“Down at the other end of the porch. No guys allowed, off limits,” he said seeing her arched brows.
“The office girls have the other rooms in this cottage. Men bunk down the path.”
“You can always go in the woods if the bathroom is anything like this room,” Andrea offered helpfully.
“Both of you stop it. Once the girls get the room cleaned up, it will look different,” offered Max.
“Fine talk from a doctor,” Bea retorted. Evidence of another resident was present in the heap of clothes dumped on the other bed. The door slammed open hanging off its hinges, the shadow lengthening across the tiny room.
Shari turned and studied the girl standing in the doorway. Round shouldered and skinny, the girl’s lanky chestnut hair hung halfway down her back. Her muddy eyes were sizing Shari up as if trying to work out if she would be a friend or foe.
“Wendy Weiner, your roommate, Shari Forman,” Charlie introduced. “And these are her folks.”
Wendy sauntered into the room and waved to the group. Her poor posture did nothing to disguise the fact that no bra was worn under a skimpy halter top and skin tight cut-offs.
“Get lost Charlie,” said with a yawn not even bothering to acknowledge the astounded Formans all staring pointedly at her bare feet.
“I think we should be on our way,” Max said when he recovered his voice. He bent over Shari and slipped several bills into her hip pocket.
“Lock it up in the hotel safe,” he whispered. “In case of emergency. Use the penicillin for a sore throat and call us once a week.”
“Daddy, I’ll miss you,” she whispered.
“Enjoy your freedom, but don’t be afraid to call if you’re not happy.”
“Promise me you’ll clean up this filthy pigsty,” Bea said as she pecked Shari’s cheek.
“Be cool,” Andrea said. “See ya in August.”
Wendy’s eyes followed them out the door, still hanging askew from the hinges.
“Don’t trust you for the summer?”
Ruefully, Shari hung her head.
“Nah, mine don’t care as long as I’m out of their way.” She gestured to the bed with the suitcases.
“That’s mine, I like the bed near the window. Hope you don’t mind. You care if guys stay over?”
Too astonished by the frank question, Shari stared back.
“It’s okay, you can have one if you like too,” she continued. “Get unpacked and use the top left and second drawer for your stuff. Did you bring a hairdryer, I could use one. You can use my record player if you want,” she offered, pointing to a small valise.
“Where do we hang our dresses and uniforms?”
The head inclined towards several bare hooks on a wall. “Use those. We have a staff meeting tonight. Dave will go through the usual routine and Jake will act like a big shot. Anything you want to know, ask me. I had a job here last summer. Stuck with the camp kids waiting table. Nothing but chocolate milk and hamburgers. All they want to eat are hot dogs and stuff like that. It was disgusting but I made decent money. The kids are real slobs. Yuck.”
“How come you came back?” Shari’s brows arched.
“Cause Jake promised me a spot in the main dining room. Good money and a chance to hang around with the guys.” Her eyelids drooped as if to match her shoulders. The thin mouth twisted in a grimace.
“That Jake’s a barracuda. Watch it or they’ll eat you alive here. And keep away from that Charlie. He’s hopeless. Chases after every new girl. You can do better than that.”
What did I get myself into? Shari sat quietly attentive listening to Dave explain the routine. Twenty other young men lounged around, several seated on chairs turned back to front, their legs spreadeagled as they nodded their understanding. Most of them had worked in the place before. The lecture was for the benefit of the few new ones. Serving tables was only part of the job.
“And if someone wants to order everything on the menu, you bring it. With a smile. That’s what they’re paying for and you’ll have guests that will do it. Any problems, you see Jake. If he can’t solve it, come to me. Somebody wants a special order that isn’t on the menu you come right to me and I’ll fix it.”
Dave pulled Shari aside and hissed in her ear.
“I gave you a decent station with Charlie to help you so don’t let me down.”
He strode out the double doors of the room as Jake rose and read from a list of extra assignments.
“Everybody gets a side job, you annoy me, you get stuck with the worst one. Shari and Wendy, drugstore.”
Shari shot a puzzled look at Wendy sitting beside, her, feet twisted into a pretzel on the chair.
“He means we have to clean out all the condiments bottles and jars. I hate that job. We have to refill ketchup, mustard, all that stuff. We also have to wipe them down and clean them. The maple syrup is a nightmare. It takes forever.”
Jake went on down the list.
“Alan and Brian, sweeping, Mike you go with Jeff and bring up extra table tops. Full house this weekend, everybody gets 30 people to serve. Steve, you’re on linen. Take everybody’s dirty table linen for washing three times a day. And everyone tie their napkins together in a bundle to make Steve’s life a little easier. Every Thursday night after dinner, everybody on GI.”
“General inspection,” Wendy whispered. “Jake examines your station. He checks inside coffee pots, the cutlery drawers, the works. He pulls everything away from the walls and we scrub those too. Any dirt and you scrub the whole thing top to bottom with him standing over you until the silver, floor, trays, everything shines.”
“Anybody caught dumping crumbs in the dirty linen hauls out for the rest of the week until Thursdays. Everybody clear?” Heads bobbed up and down as they wandered through the doors, the newer staff grumbling under their breath.
“Shari, wait up.”
Wendy shot her a pitying glance.
“I hate to say it, but they’re gonna eat you alive. Try not to look so naïve. See ya downstairs in the coffee shop. We might as well go now before the place fills with guests. After that, we can’t go in.” She followed after the men, her arm around one in greeting.
“Hey Barry, I thought you weren’t coming back again.” The sounds disappeared across the lobby, now deserted except for a bellhop whirring a vacuum cleaner across the navy carpet.
The lights flicked lower as Shari felt warmth breath on her neck.
“I can give you an easier side job if you play ball. The best tippers too.” The palms on her shoulders made her shiver as she whirled around and faced Jake grinning down at her in the dim room. The smell of his sour nicotine breath on her mouth made her stomach churn. Without a word, she shoved his hands away and ran out the door, down the graveled path in pursuit of the others.
She pulled up a chair along with the rest of the group, her heart sinking as Charlie elbowed his way through the crowd to sit beside her. She felt a sense of dread as she realized Charlie was determined to follow her around trying his best to impress her.
“Want a coke?” Her mouth felt dry after her escape from Jake.
“Diet coke, thanks.”
She forced herself to calm down watching two of the group playing pool at a table nearby, her pulse racing as she tried to concentrate on the others discussing prospects for the summer earnings.
“Barry cleared two grand last year and the pickings should be even better this season according to Dave.”
Her skin felt clammy, just the smell of Jake made her recoil the way she would at the sight of a reptile. She listened without taking in the conversation.
“Good money,” another one was saying. “I cleared better than two grand last year and made more at the track.”
“I heard Lisa is coming back as a camp counselor and you know what she’s like,” leered one with a knowing smile.
Her nerves jangled at the sight of Jake’s large frame in the glass doors, silently sliding them open. He shot her a dark look and murmured as he walked past to the cue sticks on the rack on the far wall.
“Think about what I said. Don’t be a dope.”
Shari gulped as Charlie handed her the icy paper cup. Anxious to get away, she rose, her foot hooked around the chair leg sending her sprawling in the lap of one of the others. Ice cubes and fizzy brown liquid splashed on the floor. Cheeks scarlet with mortification, Shari twisted her head to look into an amused face.
Crinkled hazel eyes met hers. Long fingers clutched at her waist a second too long. Shari bit her lip in humiliation and ducked her head, unable to face him after landing like a clumsy elephant in his lap.
One finger lifted her chin and grinned at her.
“Were you that anxious to meet me?” he teased. He settled her like a child cradled on his legs and cocked his sandy head at her. Shari could see dimples dancing in his freshly shaved cheeks. A subtle brushing of freckles dotted his long straight nose.
“I’m Mike. Mike Stone. I think you’re new here this year too. I just got in this morning.” Shari felt her heart flutter at the brilliant flash of perfect white teeth at her. She was barely aware of Charlie and Jake both watching the scene intently.
“Don’t do that!” Shari’s loud squeal was muffled by the clatter of waiters banging metal trays as they polished the silver dumped from their buckets onto the large silver ovals on folding stands beside their stations.
An all too familiar pair of hands groped her waist sending her sprawling beside the cupboard holding the condiments. Gritty sugar granules rubbed her bare thighs. She glared up at the all too familiar face, the lazy grin making her fume. Ketchup stains dotted her snow white uniform coupled with mustard spots her white lace up oxfords, only polished that morning. Her knuckles brushed against the abraded skin on her shins. She sighed with disgust.
“Look what you did now. I’ll be stuck here all night cleaning this mess.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed on her.
“Your choice. And I found bread crumbs on your linen.” He shouted past the others still industriously polishing and clattering, anxious to finish. Eleven pm and no end in sight.
“Scott, Morty, you guys are off linen.”
Two young men hauling an enormous bundle of food stained white table clothes tied together like a giant sized Santa sack dropped the load and cheered. Steve had watched like a hawk and when they had been caught dumping crumbs, he had crowed with pleasure, cheerfully handing the job over to them until someone else got unlucky.
“Who’s the poor stooge?”
Jake’s head inclined to Shari, still sprawled on the floor.
“Aw, Jake, you must be kidding. That’s not a girl’s job. She can’t lift all that.”
“She’ll make two trips then.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared meaningfully at her crotch. She grimaced and boosted up on one knee, blue eyes riveted on the bundled linen. They darted back to the sticky mess left to clean in the cupboard and at her disheveled appearance. She didn’t look any better than the filthy shelves.
“I’ll have to wash out the uniform and do the shoes again, too,” she mumbled. “I’ll never get to bed to tonight.”
“The question is not whether or not you get to bed but if you get to sleep,” Charlie quipped watching the scene and blinking through the glasses like an owl.
“Funny, very funny.”
In the past ten days Shari had slowly discovered that the entire place reeked of sex. Wendy was out almost every night until early in the morning when she would wander into the room and flick on the bare light bulb to wake Shari. She waited on her tables with droopy eyelids but somehow managed to handle all thirty guests, never forgetting or confusing her orders. Humming a Joni Mitchell tune the night before, she hadn’t the slightest consideration for Shari who had to go to sleep with the door unlocked, terrified that someone might barge in on her.
As for Charlie, Shari had given him a cold shoulder. He had invited her to a party carrying a bottle of cheap wine only the evening before. Many of the staff illicitly smoked grass in the evening, hiding in the woods near the camphouse to disguise the telltale odor. They would saunter into the coffee shop while guests were in the nightclub, the only time they were permitted in because the owner wanted their business, red-faced, laughing at nothing, and demand ice cream and chocolates.
“The munchies,” Wendy giggled as if she had made a hilarious joke. “You should come with us and stop acting like some fairy tale princess. Do you think Prince Charming is going to ride up and rescue you?” Shari had squirmed while everyone laughed as if Wendy had made a clever remark.
Her face burned as she recalled her stupidity at believing Charlie was actually taking her somewhere for fun.
“Where are we going?” she had asked as he led her into a dark room hidden behind the nightclub.
“I didn’t know there was a room here.”
He yanked her inside where she stood blinking her lashes, her eyes still adjusting to the dark. The blare of a trumpet and Spanish style music vibrated through the paper thin walls.
‘Marco and Marissa, the Latin lovers,’ a Latino dance act was on. Marco and Marissa, what a joke. Milton and Mary-Anne Klein from Canarsie with their thick Brooklyn accents of dese and doze.
Charlie unscrewed the bottle in his hand and took a swig. He handed it to Shari who shook her head.
“No thanks.” She swiveled around, hands on hips staring at foul smelling mattresses piled against a wall.
“Where’s everyone else?”
Charlie grabbed her hand and yanked her down on the pile of the mattresses.
“Just like the fairy tale,” he breathed. “The princess and the pea. Do you feel something hard?” His hardened erection rubbed against her crotch.
She squirmed but even slightly drunk, he was stronger than she. A sick panic curled in the pit of her stomach as she felt one hand paw her breast.
“Stop it!” She shoved with both hands as he bent his mouth over hers, his tongue plunging into her mouth wide open with outrage. Desperate to get away, she kneed him in the groin. He rolled to his side, cupping himself, moaning in agony. Shari scrambled to her feet her mind vaguely aware of applause and cheers in the background.
“I bet if I were Mike you’d have your pants off already. You’re hot for him, everyone can see it,” he spat as she darted out the door, her heart racing in fear.
She ran down the wooded path, head swiveling back to see if he followed. The next day, he acted as if nothing had happened working the station with his usual grin to the guests who thought he was adorable.
“Are you two kids an item?” asked one of the women. “Not likely,” she had replied smiling but seething inwardly. Charlie said nothing, lifting a bucket of silver to tote back to the dishwashers.
“And stay away from those bimmies,” he warned. Shari didn’t need any warning. Dave and Jake both reinforced the necessity of both girls keeping away from the dishwashers called bimmies although no one was sure exactly what the term meant.
“They bail them out of the drunk tank. That’s why we all get paid every two weeks, so they don’t have to bail them out every week,” Jake explained to the newcomers.
“Guys only allowed back there. Keep away from them, that’s an order. No girls near those guys.” Shari had shivered, as if she needed a warning. She had enough trouble keeping the waiters and busboys at bay. The thought of drunken vagrants flashing a knife at her throat was all the warning she needed to keep away from the flotsam and jetsam of humankind that washed the mountains of cutlery and china in all the resorts. As for Charlie, Shari chalked it up to drunken bravado and said nothing.
She sighed and stooped to untie the linen bundle, rebundle it into two and glared at Jake. He stood leaning against a wall, arms folded over his chest, legs crossed at the ankle watching her.
I won’t give him the satisfaction. I won’t show him how hard this is for me. My shoulders ache, my back hurts, my feet are sore but I won’t show him.
She dragged the retied bundle past him, an Arctic chill in her blue eyes. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted a curvy redhead in a skintight neon green shirt and white cutoffs wander in the doors of the dining room and lean against Jake. Her pink lipsticked mouth pressed a stain against his cheek.
“We still on for the track?” Robin Geller was a counselor for the kids in camp. “I have to be back for curfew.”
Jake squeezed her waist, but Shari could sense his eyes on her behind as she trudged past them. She sighed with relief as she glimpsed him disappearing out the doors with the redhead.
“Here, you shouldn’t be doing that. Let me give you a hand.”
Blue eyes blinked up in gratitude at the hazel eyes crinkling down at her in sympathy. He winked at her as he lifted the bundle over his shoulder with ease, her mouth open at the unexpected rescue.
“Where’s Wendy? Isn’t she supposed to help with that mess?” His eyes darted to the filthy cupboard. Shari nodded silently, her eyes still on Mike.
“Hey Wendy, get a move on. Shari’s done more than her share.” Wendy slouched over and stared disdainfully at the cupboard. One half had been wiped clean, not a stain in sight, the other a filthy mess of spilled jars, sticky drippings from honey and spilled sugar containers.
“I’ll help you both if you hurry,” Mike offered. Wendy grinned up at him, her lashes fluttering flirtatiously.
Mike turned to Shari, winked again and disappeared through the swinging doors behind the cupboard.
“Did you see that? He came looking for me. I bet he asks me out tonight.” Wendy scrubbed at the mess with more energy than Shari thought she possessed. She worked like a demon, anxious to get out of the cleaning duty and out to socialize. Mike came up behind them and wiped the shelves as the girls scrubbed the canisters, quickly stacking everything in place.
They turned to walk back into the dining area. Everyone was gone. Chairs had been uplifted onto tables for sweeping and mopping, the paneled walls gleamed in the dim light, and everyone had taken advantage of Jake’s disappearance with Robin to run out as fast as possible.
Shari felt her heart sink as Wendy elbowed her to one side, her uneven teeth grinning up at Mike.
“Doing anything tonight?”
He smiled back down at her.
“Not yet.” Shari caught her triumphant smirk as he turned slightly on his heels and grimaced at the tie around his neck. Long fingers pulled the black bow tie loose. He breathed a sigh of relief, the hazel eyes on Shari’s face.
“Feel like going out for a pizza and getting out of here? I have my Dad’s car for two weeks while they’re in Europe.”
Her face wreathed in smiles was all the answer necessary.
“Does that mean yes?”
She grinned up at him and nodded.
“Okay. I’m off to shower and change.” Meet you in half an hour near the kids’ playground.”
“Great.” She dashed off, already turning over in her mind what to wear, barely aware of Wendy’s acid comment.
“Who figured Prince Charming drove a Buick?”