Yay, it's Saturday! Writing has been going great these last couple of weeks, which is always a plus. That said, I hope you enjoyed last week's introduction to my latest project Heart's Desire, because here is chapter two.
Work is the last place I want to be when my heart feels like it’s been stomped into the ground. I’m tired and moody, but I put on a brave face and smile for the diners around me.
“Would you like anymore coffee, sir?” I hold up the pot of decaf in one hand and regular in the other. The graying business man barely looks at me, but he tips his head to the decaf while continuing to talk to the man in front of him. I try to stay invisible as I reach across him and fill his cup. The other man, a much younger version of this one, gives a subtle shake of his head when I lift the pot at him in a silent question.
I spend the next two hours this way, wending through tables, stopping to refill glasses, take away dishes, deliver desserts. I hate my job. Maybe it’s in the way people act like you owe them something so they can treat you like the gum on the bottom of their shoe. Maybe it’s because the waitresses here wash their hands of their job once they take their order, leaving myself and the other bussers to do all the dirty work while they collect all the tips. Whatever it is, I can’t wait to find a new job. I just have to start looking.
“Did you make the sundae for table fifty?” John, my superior, asks. He’s barely older than me, maybe seventeen at best. He’s good looking with his short dirty brown hair and light brown eyes. He’s taller than me too, definitely a bonus, but what I like most is the way he looks at me, like he really sees me.
“I haven’t made one of those before,” I confess, feeling like a stupid kid even though I know the only thing stupid here is my feeling that way. I’ve only been working this job for a few weeks, hardly enough time to learn everything there is to learn. John knows that, I know that, but it doesn’t change how I feel. I want to be perfect, I want to be knowledgeable, I want to impress.
John smiles that nice boy smile of his and jerks his head toward the kitchen. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
I stand beside him in the corner of the noisy kitchen and I am nervous. This is the first time since starting here that I am working with John by myself. The other trainee, Lynnette, is off tonight. I pick out a tall dessert glass while he chooses one of the misshapen metal scoopers.
After filling a plastic cup with hot water, he holds up the scooper. “Start by dipping the scooper in the water to warm it up.” I watch as he demonstrates. “Then scoop out the ice cream. I hold out the cup so he can drop the perfect white ball inside. “Now your turn.”
I take the scooper, ignoring the heat from of his skin as his fingers graze mine. My nerves ratchet higher as he steps back enough to let me slide in. I can feel him hovering over my shoulder, watching everything I do. I don’t want to screw up.
I dip the scooper into the water like he showed me, then move to the ice cream. The bucket is huge and it swallows my whole arm. I’m careful not to get anything on my uniform. It’s harder than I expected. John made it look so easy. I dig and dig, but only come away with frostbitten shreds and uneven chunks.
John chuckles. “Here, sometimes you have to show it whose boss.” He wraps his hand around mine, his front pressed to my back, and together we roll out one more perfect scoop. When he steps away again, I feel flustered, but I make sure my reaction to his nearness isn’t visible.
He shows me the rest of the steps and then leaves me to deliver the sundae. He seems almost eager to get away from me. From there on, my heart beats a little faster each time we brush by one another. Each time he gives me a little smile, like he knows what I am thinking. With each smile I feel the guilt settle in deeper.
At the end of the night, when the last customer has left, we start the clean-up process. John empties garbage while I start clearing tables. No matter how much we clear throughout the night, the place always looks like it’s been ransacked.
I’ve just finished dumping the last of the dishes at table twelve into the bucket and am preparing to wash down the table when John appears beside me holding a rag. “Need some help?”
I don’t, actually, but I nod anyway. “Sure.” I am busy wiping crumbs into my hand when John stops to look at me. “Why do you do that?”
“What?” My instant reaction is to wonder what I have done wrong.
“Wipe everything into your hand like that.”
I shrug. “I don’t know. It’s just habit. I’ve never seen a vacuum here and it makes more sense than wiping it onto the carpet.” I am puzzled by his question. It seems pretty obvious to me that I shouldn’t dirty the floors with bits of food, but maybe that comes from growing up in a household with chores. You learn to minimize the mess.
John’s smile is brilliant. He likes my answer, and I feel a burning satisfaction wrap around me.
Together we work to get the dining room in order and ready for the next day. “So you have a boyfriend, Tess?” he asks as we push a row of tables together for tomorrow’s eight top.
“I do,” I say, and my answer comes out more melancholy than I intended it to as my thoughts flash ahead to the immediate future. In less than an hour Ethan with be outside waiting for me. It’s one of the few nights I wish I had driven myself to work. Every time I look at him I picture him kissing another girl and it’s eating away at me. Sadness begins to creep over me but I force it away with a smile.
“How long have you been together?”
“Almost a year.” I force my voice to sound proud even though my brain is shouting stupid, stupid, stupid!
“That’s a long time.” John sounds surprised but I’m used to that reaction. Most kids my age don’t make it more than a few months.
“Yeah, well, we’re probably going to break up.” I don’t know why I said that, but it just slipped out. John stops everything and looks at me, like he’s not sure what to say. I feign indifference, like I didn’t just dump my bag of dirty laundry at his feet.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Can I ask why?”
He’s probably fishing, I tell myself. I’ve caught the way he watches me when he doesn’t think I’m paying attention. Once again I wonder if he is really interested in me, if he thinks I am pretty, and I find myself evaluating him as a potential boyfriend. I am shocked with myself for even venturing down this path, but my mind keeps returning to the facts. I already have a boyfriend. I love him. He says he loves me. I promised to give him another chance. And it would be wrong of me to go back on my promise so soon after making it.
But I like talking to John. He makes it easy to do, and I find myself wanting to share with him. Besides, what harm could it do? We don’t go to the same school; we don’t run with the same crowd. He’s just a friend. “He cheated,” I say for the second time in less than twenty-four hours.”
“Really?” Unlike Charity, the look on his face and the tone of his voice sound genuine, like he is offended for me. I appreciate it more than he knows. John balls his rag, abandoning his cleaning duties, and leans his hip against one of the tables. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know, because he’s stupid.” I laugh, and John joins in.
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” he says, staring at me intently. Ours eyes hold. I can’t help feeling like something has transpired between us just then. Not a spark, exactly, but maybe an understanding. Whatever it is, I feel like I can trust him. I haven’t felt that in a long time, I realize, not even with Charity.
His next words flood me with disappointment. “I would never cheat on my girlfriend.”
I blink several times. “You have a girlfriend? How long have you been together?”
“Yep. We’ve only just started dating. So about a month now.”
So it’s fresh, which means even if he does like me, it’s probably not like that. Why do I feel so disappointed? “Good for you,” I say cheerfully, as if I am actually happy for him. And I am. I wouldn’t wish this kind of heartache on anyone. I’m just jealous. I want to go back to those few good days in the beginning when I didn’t have to worry about the bottom falling out of my life.
“So, what do you think you’re going to do? About your boyfriend,” John clarifies.
I resume wiping down the last two tables to distract myself from his piercing gaze. “I think we’re going to try to work it out.”
“So you’re not going to cheat on him or anything?”
I am surprised by his question. I never really considered it. It’s not in my character to do something like that. “No,” I tell him calmly, truthfully. “I would never dream of stooping to his level just to get back at him.”
And then I see it again, that flicker of admiration glowing in his eyes and I can’t help feeling lighter for having pleased him.
What is wrong with me?
Ethan is waiting for me outside the back entrance when I get out. I wave goodbye to John and take a deep breath as I walk the ten feet to the car.
“Hey,” I say as I drop into the seat, grateful that the heater is already running. Fall is coming and the chilly air gives me goose bumps.
“Who was that?” Ethan sounds terse and I follow his gaze to John’s black Volvo as he pulls out of the parking lot.
“Oh, that’s John, my boss.” I shrug, all nonchalant, but I feel uneasy, like he can see right through me. Like he knows that I kind of like him. When I catch him watching me, I wonder if he does know.
“Okay.” Ethan breaks into a smile and he leans in to kiss me. I dutifully kiss him back, just a light peck on the lips, but when Ethan’s hand wraps around the back of my neck and he tugs me closer, I feel the butterflies in my gut take flight. This is the boy I fell in love with and within the quiet confines of his car, with the darkness encapsulating us, I am reminded of that.
When he pulls away his eyes are dark and filled with lust. “How was work?”
Boring. Taxing. Interesting, I think to myself. “Meh, it was fine.”
Ethan chuckles. He knows how much I hate having to go to work—almost as much as I hate going to school. I’ve always been the kind of person who practically crawls out of their skin when forcibly confined by walls and rules. I think it’s in my nature to break them, but I respect authority too much to ever try.
“Are you hungry?” Ethan asks as he angles the car toward the busy intersection. Reaching over, he takes my hand, lacing his fingers with mine. I take comfort in the familiarity that comes with having known each other for so long. I think that maybe we can get past everything, that love might be enough to see us through. In the back of my mind, I worry that I’m just deluding myself. We’re not out of the woods yet, the wounds are still too fresh, but maybe with time…
“Not really, but we can pick something up if you are.” I know how much he likes it when I defer to him.
He gives my hand a little squeeze. “Love you, babe.”
“Love you more.”
So, what did you think?