Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Unexpected Valentine

"I'm sorry," Charlie said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I lifted my chin. "No, no. It's all right. I'm here to prove to myself I'm over being dumped on Valentine's Day night. Right here. At this very table. I'm ready to move on."

          Charlie the waiter stood over my table in Mama Joy's Supper club and looked down at me, transfixed. A menu in his hand, he was just as I remembered him—tall and blonde with lovely blue eyes. Quite handsome.
"I never expected to see you again," he said, and smiled. He wore black slacks and a red shirt, his uniform for tonight. "But I'm delighted."
I pulled my chair closer to the tiny table and smoothed out the red tablecloth. Diners crowed the club; soft dinner chatter rippled everywhere.
"Valentine's Day night last year," I said, "was the worst night of my life."
"The guy was a jerk. You must've waited two hours before he showed up."
I closed my eyes a second at the memory.
"I'm sorry," Charlie said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I lifted my chin. "No, no. It's all right. I'm here to prove to myself I'm over being dumped on Valentine's Day night. Right here. At this very table. I'm ready to move on."
"Good for you. Are you waiting for someone else this evening?"
I shook my head. "I'm alone."
"May I suggest our combo—steak, lobster tail, baked potato, and tossed salad. Choice of dressing. Something to drink?"
"A glass of white wine, perhaps."
Charlie bowed and disappeared.
That night a year ago while I sat at this table, waiting and waiting for Alex Knight, Charlie the waiter stopped at my table several times, asking patiently with a warm smile, "May I bring you anything? Are you all right?" I kept replying, "Nothing. I'm perfectly fine."
When Alex finally did show up all breathless, he sat down and said he was sorry he was late—he couldn't get away from the office. He knew I was thinking about marriage, but he wasn’t ready for a commitment. He thought he should tell me before I expected more than he could give. He apologized for hurting me this way, especially on Valentine's Day, and said he simply had to do this—right now—the sooner the better. It was the best for both of us.
I bolted from Mama Joy's Supper Club and staggered into the snowy night through the rear exit door, chocking with tears and embarrassment.
"White wine," Charlie said, snapping me back to reality and setting a sparkling glass of wine in front of me on the table. Then he cleared his throat and asked, "May I sit down?"
I thought it strange he should ask to sit with me since the place was bustling with customers, and he surely had other tables to wait. But I said, "If you like."
He leaned across the table. "I want to tell you something...something that may help you feel better. Even after all this time."
I looked at him curiously. "All right."
"I saw you dash out the exit door that night. What you didn't see is that a woman waited impatiently for your date in front by the register. I suspect she waited to make sure he broke up with you. A blonde. She'd probably given him an ultimatum. Do it now!"
I shivered. "Madison Farnsworth. He married her in the spring."
"Don't you see? This guy set you free. He did you a favor."
"I know. It just took me a long while to realize that."
Charlie smiled—I loved his smile. "Look," he said, "I'm going to take a chance here. My name's Charlie Joy..." He said his mom and dad owned the supper club. He worked here as kid sweeping floors, busing tables, washing dishes. Now he helped his folks out on busy nights once or twice a year, waiting tables. He owned his own business, Quality Home Repair.
I sat back in my chair, amazed. "I'm Eileen Hanson," I said. "I'm in real estate. I've seen your remodels. When I sell an older home, I always refer the buyer to your company—in case they want to make improvements." I shook my head. "I don't believe it..." My voice trailed off.
Charlie nudged the menu toward me. "Have you made a selection?"
I sipped my wine. "The combo will be fine."
"An excellent choice." He swallowed. He rubbed his head of blonde hair. "May I join you? Dinner will be compliments of the house, a Valentine's Day gift."
I stared into his soft blue eyes; I felt flushed. And tongue-tied.
"My mom and dad," Charlie said, "will understand my bailing on them and dining with the most beautiful lady in the place."
I blinked back tears. I remembered how bitterness overwhelmed me when I sat in this chair last year. I tried to speak now but a lump had invaded my throat. Finally, I managed, "This is so...unexpected."
"Perhaps an unexpected Valentine is the very best kind."
He touched my hand with his fingertips. I felt a spark and said, "I think you're right."
The End