Emily needed to finish cleaning up if she wanted to meet up with her best friend. Easier said than done when she still had tasks leftover from days prior. Starting an inn had been her dream, but now, several years into it, the work was pilling up and wearing her down.

She managed to get things clean enough she wasn’t breaking any health violations. Promising herself there would be plenty of time for the other hundred things on her list, later.

“Oh, my goodness! Has it been that long since I’ve seen you?” Emily exclaimed in excitement at Charlotte’s belly. She’d already been pregnant when she arrived home several months ago.

Charlotte laughed, “I’m not that big, am I?”

“You’re pretty large,” Emily smiled, “but that means you’ve got a beautiful healthy baby on the way.”

Charlotte smiled, “you always know what to say to get my spirits up.” She hesitated, «you look exhausted.”

Emily blushed, “visibly so?”

Charlotte nodded.

“Oh.” She looked disappointed, “I was hoping it was all in my head.”

“That much work at the inn?” Charlotte said as they began to walk towards both of their favourite coffee shop.

Emily nodded, “it’s a success, everything I hoped. But now I don’t know how to manage it. I don’t want to send guests away when I still have rooms available, and the restaurant, café part of the inn is what makes it, well, what it is.”

Charlotte nodded. “Remind me why you haven’t hired a helper?”

Emily bit her lower lip, “I’ve had a couple of people here and there. But they’ve never lasted, it’s hard work.”

Charlotte nodded, “I’d offer a helping hand—”

“You have a baby to take care of,” Emily finished with a glare, “I would never let you.”

Charlotte laughed, “I know.” She looked thoughtful, “you know, I do know someone who may be interested in a job.”

“Oh?”

Elizabeth sat at the table outside, her posture perfect, her clothes immaculate. She looked professional and had everything down except for her smile. Her expression stern.

Not that any of that mattered. Emily could smile enough for the both of them, and this whole interview was more of an introduction. Emily trusted Charlotte’s judgement, and Elizabeth only wanted a job to keep busy.

“I’m so happy to finally meet you,” Emily placed down the two coffees, “I’m Emily,” she held out her hand.

Elizabeth shook it firmly, “Elizabeth Owen.”

“Oh, um, Emily Hill.”

“Thank you very much for receiving me for this interview.”

Emily realised Elizabeth was far more professional than she was accustomed to. “Well, a friend of Charlotte’s is a friend of mine. And she had some really good things to say about you, plus, I have the longest to-do list.”

Elizabeth in turn realised her professionalism was out of place. Letting her posture sag a little in an attempt to fit in better, she sipped her coffee.

“So, I should warn you, there can be a lot of work.”

“I used to be the head of security for the king and the personal bodyguard of the second in command, I’m used to long days and hard work.”

Emily nodded, “then I should probably warn you I don’t pay quite as well as I imagine the king himself does.”

Elizabeth smiled and looked down at her coffee, “I already have a good pension. I just can’t stand sitting around all day with nothing to do.” It was honest, but her eyes widened slightly. “Despite that I assure you I don’t take any job lightly; I will work hard and—”

“If you want the job, it’s yours. It’s cleaning, cooking, serving and maybe handling the counter at times. If that’s something you’d be into, I can promise a decent hourly pay and flexible hours.”

Elizabeth’s posture relaxed and she smiled, “thank you Mam, you won’t regret your decision.”

Emily had never been called mam before and certainly wasn’t keen on it. “You start tomorrow if that’s okay by you, I’ll give you a tour in the morning.”

In the morning, Emily showed Elizabeth the reception area, one of the empty rooms, the stairway, and last the kitchen.

“All the recipes we use are written down here. We usually have to cook at least three times as much though, you just multiply the amounts.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“Don’t worry too much about cooking though, I’ll probably handle most of it. Today because it’s your first day just follow me around and pay attention.»

“Okay, that’s how I used to train new recruits.”

“It’s a method as old of time,” Emily joked.

Around lunch time Emily got far too many orders in. Elizabeth was washing the dishes but looked up to see the list of about eight orders still untouched. Without hesitation she washed her hands, grabbed the recipe book and started cooking.

Emily came running back with another four orders. “This is fine, this is fine,” she repeated to herself in a mantra until she reached the order station to see it empty.

“Everything’s in the oven or on the stove,” Elizabeth informed taking the new orders from Emily, taking one glance and then a knife to some onions. Her slicing was fast and on point, she measured out the ingredients and added them to the pan. “Don’t worry about the kitchen, I’ve got this all under control. Do you need backup out there?”

“Backup? No, no, if you can handle the kitchen, we’re good out there.”

“Perfect,” she pulled a pie out of the oven with the oven mitts, “then we’re on track.”

And that’s how they both fell into their respective roles. Emily didn’t become anywhere near as stressed with Elizabeth there. At mealtimes she smiled, took orders and made small talk with the customers.

Those orders made their way to the kitchen where Elizabeth was fast and efficient, creating perfect dishes every time. Later when they had more time Elizabeth even expanded the menu with new dishes from Oppida.

In between mealtimes Elizabeth cleaned up the kitchen and Emily cleaned up any rooms that needed it. Together the inn ran smoother than it ever had.

“You know, I’m happy you get a good pension and don’t need this job. But at the same time, I’m bit scared by it.”

“How come?” Elizabeth asked as she chopped up some spices before lunch.

“Because I’m scared you’re going to get bored and leave. I don’t know how I ever managed to run this place without you.”

Elizabeth offered Emily a bit of a strange look before continuing her cutting. “I wouldn’t worry about that. I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.”

“I know. But don’t you feel underwhelmed? I mean, you’re used to managing the security for the palace, for the king and for the capital. Isn’t cooking just… underwhelming?”

Elizabeth looked thoughtful, “a little,” she admitted, “but it’s also nice. If I ever mess up a dish I know nobody’s going to die.”

Emily laughed, “I mean, no. Not that I can imagine you ever messing up a dish.”

“Well,” Elizabeth threw the knife up, catching it with ease, “I can’t lose my touch can I? Especially not when—” she stopped.

“When what?”

Elizabeth sucked her lips in, “nothing. I’m running low on ginger, could you add it to the list?”

Emily didn’t miss the subject change, but she didn’t want to argue with the woman. So, she smiled, nodded, and added it to the list. “Lunch starts soon, I should go lay some tables.”

Elizabeth nodded, continuing her cutting. Emily had to wonder about the woman. But not too much, for lunches may run smoothly, but that didn’t mean they weren’t quick paced and requiring of Emily’s full attention.