I walk in with my tie loosened, looking like a real working man, and almost fooling myself into feeling like one, too. Noticing I’m alone, the hostess asks if I’d like to be seated at the bar. I decline. I brought my book, and I don’t want a screen shoved in my face while I enjoy it.
She takes me to a small table in the corner with two seats. I look around – it’s moderately busy for a Tuesday evening. I loosen my tie until it comes off and undo the second button, sitting with my back to the wall.
The jacket is off and the book is open when the water comes. This is my life now, whether I like it or not. With a wife and a daughter depending on me at home, every waking moment has to be dedicated to the pursuit of improvement: physically, mentally, or spiritually.
“Do you want anything else to drink?” asks a voice as clear as the water before me. I give the waitress a brief once-over. She’s cute. Bronzed skin that somehow reminds me of honey, with dark hair in a ponytail that cascades around her shoulder and close to her left elbow. Her eyes are almond shaped and looking down at me in a dark hazel glow.
She’s more than cute, actually.
“Uh, yeah. Rum and coke, please.”
“Sure thing.” A quick flash of teeth and she’s gone.
I shake my head and return to the book. Old habits, and all that. When she comes back, I pretend not to notice her, but she doesn’t oblige the fantasy.
“Oh, you like history?”
I look up and, despite myself, smile. “Yeah. I guess. You?”
“Definitely. I’m thinking about making it my major.”
“You’re in school?”
“I will be. In the fall.” Another flash of teeth above a pouting bottom lip.
“You have plenty of time to figure it out, then.”
“Yeah. Were you ready to order? Or – ”
I order the lamb shank and a white. I know they don’t go together, but the heat is too much for me to drink a red. Besides, Turkish reds are always too dark and chocolatey. She doesn’t seem to notice anything out of place.
“Okay. I’ll be back in a few.”
I go back to the book. 600 pages on Jefferson. It’s not exactly a page turner, but it’s relevant.
The wine comes with the entrée. The smell reminds me that I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and my mouth begins to water. Waitress talks again.
“So the lamb is really good. It’ll fall off the bone, you probably won’t even need the knife.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Perfect.”
“And the rice pilaf is better if you mix it in with the sauce.”
I’ve eaten food before, I think, before catching myself. I’m never rude to wait staff, but something about this girl makes me want to be. I can’t explain it, but I’m annoyed that she keeps talking to me.
“It looks similar to a few meals I had in Cyprus.” Why mention that?
“Oh, wow! Okay, I’m sorry. I just was trying to help since some people have never eaten Turkish food.” She brushes a strand of dark hair behind her ear, and I suddenly feel embarrassed for bringing up Cyprus.
“No, no. It’s fine. It looks really good.”
To my surprise, she doesn’t leave. “So you a history teacher or something?”
I smile again; I can’t stop. “Nothing that smart. Just in school.”
I shake my head. I generally avoid this conversation, but suddenly I feel an urge to share. “Law.”
“Oh, wow,” she says again. I’m noticing a pattern. “Like a lawyer?”
“That’s so cool. I’ve thought about law school.” Everyone in the free world will tell you that when they hear you’re in law school. Apparently everyone, at some time, has wanted to be part of the most hated profession known to man – it’s probably the nice dress suits that attract them. Everyone wants to wear a suit.
“Well, you seem smart, so you probably won’t do that.”
She giggles, and my head goes light from either the rum, hunger, or something else. My tongue starts to feel a little thick.
She pulls the tray up in front of her chest and crosses her arms over it. Is she really only ten years younger?
“So you’ve been to Cyprus?”
“Yeah, in the Navy.” Why mention that?
I’ve got nothing.
“Thank you for your service. My dad was a Masterchief before he retired.”
“Then thank him for his. I’m sure he did a lot more in twenty years than I did in four.”
“Still, it’s so cool you did that and saw the world. Did – ” A customer calls for her from somewhere in the back. “Oh, I’m sorry. Duty calls.”
I smile, mostly relieved. But a little disappointed. “Of course.”
“Enjoy your meal!”
I try to, but suddenly I’m self-conscious. Every bite, every sip: I’m desperately trying not to make a mistake. To appear calm and adult. To look like a lawyer. Still, though, the food is rich and good, and by the end, I’ve almost forgotten about Waitress.
“Wow, you really liked it, huh?”
“That obvious?” I pat my stomach with a wink.
“Oh, no! I just meant – ”
We talk over each other for a moment before she regains composure.
“Should I get the dessert menu?”
“I better not.”
“Are you sure?” She gives me a mischievous look. “The baklava is pretty good. Comes with fresh cream.”
Something in her voice makes me feel playful – something I haven’t felt in a long time. “It’s too hot for baklava. You got ice cream?”
She frowns. “I thought you said you’d been to Cyprus?”
“They have ice cream.”
“Oh. Well, we don’t. It’s not traditional.”
“Nothing’s traditional anymore. That’s globalization for you.”
She laughs a little too hard, obviously trying to show she understands what seems to her a “smart” joke; though I know it was a horrible one.
“Well, if there’s nothing cold here, I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Any recommendations?” Her smile returns with that.
“Um . . . Twisty Treat is good. It’s soft serve.”
“You go there often?” My stomach jumps as I ask. I haven’t done this in years, but I still know where this conversation is headed as instinct kicks in.
She giggles. “Um, it’s been years, honestly. I used to love it as a kid, though.”
“A kid?” I ask incredulously while raising an eyebrow. “That’s way too long to go without ice cream.”
She giggles some more. It’s not annoying: it’s soft, and vulnerable. I notice her teeth again, and see for the first time that the one next to her front right tooth is bent inward slightly. Somehow, that just endears me more to her. One perfect imperfection.
“Well some of us aren’t fancy lawyers,” she teases back. “We can’t all get ice cream whenever we want.” She’s getting comfortable.
“You’re right. It’s a luxury.” My heart is pounding almost out of my chest, but I sound extremely cool and in control. For some reason, no conscience is there to stop my next words. “But I’m a bit of a philanthropist – you know, always helping the needy.”
Another giggle as she crosses the tray over her chest again. “Oh, really?”
“Yeah, you know how it is. I’m a helper, is what I am. When I see someone in need, I can’t say no; and you need ice cream.”
“Do I?” She bites that full bottom lip for a split second, and I almost lose my breath.
“I think so.” I worry my hand will start shaking, so I cross my arms, and try to look serious. “It’s a burden, but I guess it’s up to me to take care of you.”
For only a split second, dread rises up my stomach as her eyes flash to my wedding band. I hadn’t taken it off. I had no reason to, just thirty minutes ago.
Then, her eyes meet mine. There’s a small, dark mole on her lower left eyelid.
“I guess I could go for a little ice cream.” Her voice sounds a little strained now, as if she’s struggling to maintain the airiness of the conversation just moments ago.
“When do you get off?”
“When we close, in like an hour and a half.”
“I’ll meet you out front.”
That smile, again.
That smile’s going to be the death of me.