The lobby was empty and through the open wall of windows facing into each classroom I could see students hard at work and for a moment my chest ached. I didn’t miss homework, or labs or exams. But I missed this. I signed in at the front desk and waved off the offer for a guided walk through the school, anxious to be by myself without having to worry about giving PC sound bites.
I realized quickly that being back in a school setting wasn’t the best idea as memories of my days in school came flooding back. The shitty part was that memories of Ethan came flooding back with them. A laughing playful Ethan when his whipped cream went flying everywhere in his overly zealous attempt to beat them faster. A surly Ethan after his angel food cake had deflated. A passionate Ethan who pinned me against a prep table late one night when we were alone and practicing some techniques. We’d had a fight after a long day of school and had exploded at each other. Once we had both calmed down, the urgency to touch the other became too much. The way he had devoured my lips as he pinned me between the table and his body had been the release we both needed after being apart for too many days because of work and school.
I shook my head to clear out the memories, still too raw after Ethan’s desertion. As I wandered down the mostly deserted halls, I realized just how much I missed this part of the culinary world. The excitement of trying new things and making them my own creation. The frustration and joy of working next to people who sometimes had your back, and sometimes didn’t. But most of all, I missed cooking and being in a kitchen. Was it all worth it? Thousands of miles travelled, long nights, an empty apartment to come home to?
“Chef James!” I cringed when a tiny loud woman in a chef’s coat made a beeline toward me across the lobby.
“It is him!”
“Chef, can I have your autograph?”
A swarm of students poured out of a rapidly emptying classroom and I plastered on a friendly enough smile and waved as I made a break for it. “Sorry, I’m late for an appointment.” Disappointed the group slowed as I quickly walked through the door and back out into the park.