“Order up!”

Heather grabbed the ticket the waitress pushed across the counter toward her, scanned the shorthand scrawled there, then stuck the paper to the bar overhead. Life as a chef was a bit rough, and definitely fast-paced. With the clientele in the 6- and 7-figure income brackets and a lunch costing a cool couple of hundred per plate, she felt even more on her toes than she otherwise would.

Still, the pay was incredible, and the work was extraordinary. One of the only humans in the world hired to work in such an elite restaurant, and one of only a few trained in properly preparing a live meal for her guests.

She pivoted on her heels, quickly opening the cooler behind her. Her hand almost reached in automatically when she paused, staring at her fellow humans, shrunken down and dangling by their ankles inside.

“Rose?” She reached in, plucking one of the upside-down humans by the hook holding her onto the rack. Thin string bound the girl’s arms and legs together, just as they did on all the others suspended inside the cooler. Her eyes looked dazed, half-asleep. A thin band of cloth was tied over her mouth, leaving only her nostrils clear to breathe.

She studied the girl for a moment, laying her in her palms. She just barely fit across both hands, body lying entirely still except for the near-imperceptible rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Red hair swirled around her head, still quite long, kissed with frost from the cold air that had been blowing over her. 

“Oh my gosh, Rose,” she said with a smile, carrying the tiny figure back toward the prep line tabletop. “I never would have thought you’d volunteer for this!”

She laughed, setting her down on the heated tabletop. “I know, I know, you can’t really respond to me. It’s silly to try and talk to you.” Her attention moved to the grill, adjusting the knobs controlling the temperature until the flames settled below the iron bars covering the cooking surface. The miniature girl’s head turned slightly, eyes wide at the sight of the flickering flames. “Oh, don’t worry!” Heather waved a hand dismissively, taking a pair of tongs from their hook on the hood above her. “It’s just a bit of heat to warm you back up. Can’t serve the guests cold food, after all!”

The metal arms of the tongs pressed into the sides of Rose’s belly, causing the tiny woman to squirm even more. “Hang on, let me grab a plank.” Heather pulled a thin strip of dark wood out from a slot at the back of the prep table. “Everyone loves hickory, and warming a tiny on a hickory plank lets the flavor settle right into the skin.”

The plank hissed when laid on the grill, a small cloud of steam rising up over it. Heather closed her eyes, breathing deep. “Oh, that’s good. You’re going to love this, Rose.” With hardly another thought, she dropped the shrunken human down onto the strip of wood and carried onward, only casting an occasional glance back to ensure the centerpiece of her meal hadn’t rolled off of her bed.

“Let’s see… a nice little surf and turf dish…” She laughed, looking over her shoulder towards Rose as she collected ingredients. “Guess that makes you the turf!” She shook her head at her own humor, returning to lay an iron pan on the grill top beside the plank her miniature girl laid upon. “Some scallops, garnish with greens, and then add hickory-smoked human! You’ll make such a delightful dinner for someone. You should be proud!”

Butter hissed on the pan, making Rose jump at the explosion of sound. Heather brought her tongs down gently on the girl’s belly, laying her out flat once again. “Nothing to worry about! That’s not for you, after all.” Her hands went back to the prep table, working a knife quickly over a few cloves of garlic before tossing those, too, into the skillet. “We’ll let the butter absorb that real quick,” she said, smiling down at her guest. “In the meantime, let’s turn our attention back to you!”

She picked up a glass bottle, pressing lightly on the nozzle with a single finger as dark brown liquid drizzled out and down over Rose’s chest and belly, hissing where it splattered against the plank beneath her. “A little dash of Worcestershire sauce for a hint of saltiness,” she said before chuckling a little. “Didn’t we always joke that you could be a bit salty? People would pick on you all the time about being delectable and you’d get so mad… I guess you just decided to accept the facts of things, finally.” The knife again, its edge clapping down rapidly through a bit of onion and down against the steel tabletop. “And a little bit of onion. We’ll just let that cook for a bit on you.” Another deep breath. “You’re already smelling magnificent. I’m just sorry I can’t enjoy you myself!”

Back to the skillet, the butter in the pan just turning a golden color as it took in the flavor from the minced garlic. A fresh pair of tongs set each scallop in gently, careful not to simply drop it in and splatter the oil before moving on to the next. She was in constant motion, turning each round disc, making sure one side didn’t cook more than the other, her eyes constantly coming back to Rose – the tiny woman was writhing slowly on her plank, sauce dripping down her belly and over her sides, letting off puffs of steam when it hit the wood’s surface. Her mouth seemed to move under its gag, eyes pressing closed. “My, Rose,” she said, leaning down close to the tiny woman. “You’re really enjoying this.”

But then she was in motion again. Plate retrieved off the warmer, set on the prep table. First, the scallops, now cooked to the color and sheen of pearls, edges kissed golden brown. Then Rose; the plank lifted with her on top off of the grill and onto the plate, trickles of sauce pooling on the sparkling dish’s surface. Then, a bit of garnish; some parsley, some spinach, a slice of lemon for the scallops. Lastly – Heather’s favorite part – a kiss, pressed to her fingertip, then pressed to Rose’s lips.

“You’re going to be delicious,” she said, beaming with pride at the beautiful presentation her friend now laid in the midst of. She laid the dish on the upper counter, waving a quick farewell to the wide-eyed girl on the plate.

“I hope the experience is wonderful for you!” Heather giggled, tapping the bell, the waitress hurrying up moments later to whisk away the plate. “Order up!”

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