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Lassati chewed on her bottom lip, flipping through her choices for the dinner meal. She had 12 recipes for sandpig, 13 if you counted the one she had crossed out with the note "Don't ever serve again." It had given her customers such vile gas that she'd had to open all the windows in the middle of the winter to air the place out so that more diners would even come in.Author's Notes
She couldn't really count that one. So, she had 12 recipes to choose from, and a mountain of sandpig taking up entirely too much of the valuable room in the time crystal storage unit.
"Lassati?" Osatha was standing in the doorway, twisting her apron in her hands.
"I'll decide soon," Lassati promised. "I've narrowed it down to three. You've prepped the oven?" She couldn't hear the swoosh of the air rushing into the oven room yet, but it would only take moments to heat the unit once the meat was put in and the forward running time crystals were moved into place. "You can start cutting up the starchroot supply, if you've got nothing else to work on."
In her mother's day, food preparation had to be done at the time of cooking - starchroot would go brown within a few hours, unless cooked, and it reheated poorly. Most fruit had to be peeled at the time it would be eaten, or spoil. Vegetables wilted if you took them out of the garden early. Time crystals changed all of that, of course. Lassati could have her assistants peel and cut everything days, even months in advance, and it would come out looking like minutes had passed. And the oven to speed cooking time meant she could decide on a recipe just a few tenticks before the lunch diners started coming in, and still get it cooked in plenty of time. She could even have the individual plates prepared with the hot food out of the oven, then put in the storage unit, to be removed as deliciously hot and steaming as they'd gone in hours - even days - before. The time crystal appliances were a time-blasted high expense, but worth every penny.
They just needed to invent something that would make them larger, now, because when you got a delivery of sandpig, there simply wasn't enough room to cram it all in between the safety walls of the storage unit, and the air requirements for the oven meant that it took an entire extra room, even though the cooking area was no larger than her conventional oven had been.
Osatha was still standing in the doorway to Lassati's office, and the owner finally looked up at her. "What is it?" Had Sromaffo come up with some brilliant new marketing scheme to steal away her lunch crowd?
"There's, ah, a delivery for you."
Osatha's behavior was puzzling; she was usually a very forthright assistant. Lassati rose from her chair and went to see what had her so twitchy.
A box was open on one of the un-occupied tables, and in it was a shirt. Not just any shirt, but the frilliest concoction that Lassati had ever seen. "That's not for me," she said firmly. "Are you sure it wasn't meant for you?" Osatha was a feminine little thing, and the low, tight-cut shirts she wore tended to get her good treatment from the customers.
"You'd look good in it," Osatha said coaxingly, and Lassati looked at her suspiciously, happening to catch sight of Beju behind her, watching intently from behind his service bar. This smelled worse than the aftermath of recipe 13.
"Trying to change my look, are we?" Lassati was skilled at sounding mild, even when she was ready to break a plate over someone's head.
Osatha flushed. "It's just... ah... we..."
Beju, having caught Lassati's glance, stepped forward to rescue the server.
"You should try it, Lassati." He had the nerve to pluck the shirt up by the shoulders and show it to her. "You'd look so lovely."
Lassati tried not to feel insulted. She just didn't like the way girl's shirts were cut. She liked the way her shirts felt, pulling in on her breasts and loose around the waist to fit at her widest parts. Her mother had always worn mens-cut clothing, and even if Lassati wasn't quite as slim and straight, she'd never been able to shake the idea that that was what proper clothing looked like.
But her assistants were looking at her with wide, well-meaning eyes that looked half fearful and half hopeful. They were clearly trying to help. And at least it was a good, bright red. "If I wear this today, will you leave off this idea, already?" she asked. They nodded eagerly, and she sighed, resigning herself to the experiment. She'd wear it to please them, then take it off and never speak of it again. They could rest easy that they'd at least tried, and she would go back to wearing the right kind of clothing.
Osatha stopped at Beju's bar during the lull after lunch. "This hasn't worked out," she confessed.
The sandpig had been a great success and the red shirt looked smashing on Lassati.
But the compliments they had expected her to get - that they had expected to win her over to a more flattering style of clothing - had not come.
The regular clients looked at her in surprise, but not one word of flattery for her strikingly new appearance was forthcoming. Though they spoke highly of her food, not one of them mentioned her clothing, and none of them lingered over their tea afterwards.
"Did she warn them all and make them promise to not to say anything?" Beju wondered.
"Is there a note in the menu that if they give her compliments, she'll fork them in the hand?" Osatha proposed desperately.
"Maybe they thought they'd embarrass her?"
"Maybe, it's just not me." Lassati was behind them, looking a dozen times more comfortable in her old, familiar men's-style shirt. She had the red shirt folded up in her hands. "It's not this eatery. It's not who I am."
Osatha scuffed a foot, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Lassati," she said meekly. "I just wanted you to wear something... pretty."
"It's very pretty," Lassati agreed with a sigh. "But, it's not... appropriate." She laced her fingers together and sat down at one of the empty chairs. "When I was a girl, growing up, making food was a man's work. A pretty girl could serve the food," she said with a half-smile at Osatha. "But the one deciding between 12 recipes for sandpig and actually preparing it - that was for men only. My grandmother wasn't allowed to own a restaurant, at all, and my mother had to change her licensed gender, which was horrifically difficult then, and she had to get a divorce to do it."
"Things are different now, though," Beju insisted. "You don't have to be a man to do this work better than anyone in 20 blocks." Osatha kicked him and glared. "Well, she doesn't," he protested.
"I don't have to be, no," Lassati agreed. "My license is as a woman, and I'm perfectly happy with that. But a lot of our customers come from those earlier times - they wouldn't feel comfortable with a woman, dressing as a woman, flaunting that she was a woman. At least with my 'ugly' shirts, I can give them an illusion they could cling to. 'Comfort' isn't about logic and current laws, it's about what you're used to, and this is what our customers are used to. It's about what I'm used to."
"We're sorry," Osatha said again, for both of them. "We didn't understand."
"Your shirts aren't ugly," Beju added.
Osatha did not agree, but didn't say as much aloud. "At least the sandpig was a success," she said meekly.
Lassati gave a bark of laughter. "Yes," she agreed. "At least the sandpig was a success!"
Prompted and sponsored by Michelle, this one was fun to write!