Thursday, March 23, 2017

Table for Two

"Poor guy at table two looks like he's being stood up," my waitressing buddy Hazel said. "I asked him a half hour ago if he'd like to order. He said he was waiting for someone."
I studied the tall, lean man at table two.
I hadn't noticed him before because I'd been busy in the kitchen loading the dishwasher. Most of the Sunday morning breakfast crowd here at the Hickory Grove Restaurant had cleared out.
 Hazel said, "He's cute but looks sad...or hurt. "Then she winked at me. "Why don't you cheer him up?"
"I'll see if he's ready to order," I said, smiling at Hazel.
Married with three kids, Hazel was always trying to set me up with good-looking guys seated alone. She declared it was her mission to get me paired off with a guy before I graduated from college and quit my part-time job here.
I grabbed the water pitcher and approached the man's table. I spotted his cell phone and a bouquet of flowers wrapped in green tissue lying in front of him on the table. Without asking him, I refilled his water glass.
"Thank you," he said, glancing at my nametag. "Crystal...that's a cool name."
I blushed a little. The man's startling blue eyes amazed me, and his crestfallen voice grabbed my heart. "Would you like to order?" I asked.
"I've been stood up," he said, raking his hand through his sandy-brown hair. "It's over—and I'm glad...I guess."
"Um...maybe whoever you're waiting for got caught in traffic."
He shook his head. "This is the last restaurant in town before the Interstate. She told me last night to meet me here at noon. If she wasn't here, she'd decided to leave town. We were finished." He picked up his cell phone and studied it. "She's not answering my text messages." He turned the cell off, shoved in his pocket, and said, "Would you like these flowers."
"They'd look nice in a vase the counter."
"Do that," he said.
While I arranged the flowers, I expected him to leave. But he didn't. Flashing another wink, Hazel said, "I think he's waiting for you. Give me your apron and clock out."
"I think he's hungry and waiting for something to eat."
I was right. He ordered our breakfast special: eggs, pancakes, sausage links, hash browns, and toast. As I sprayed tabletops and wiped them down before clocking out, I glimpsed him devouring his meal. His girlfriend's dumping didn't seem to bother his appetite. When I handed him his ticket, he smiled an awesome smile and asked, "Been working here long?"
"Four years," I said. "I'm a senior at our local college."
His eyebrows shot up. "I am, too—a senior. Photo journalism. Strange I haven't seen you on campus."
"It's a big place."
Then he exhaled a big breath and said, "Could we talk for a second? I'd like to ask you a question. I mean...if you have time."
"My shift's over," I said. "Wait a minute."
After clocking out, I sat at his table, wondering what was up with him.
He said his girlfriend visited over the weekend and insisted that after he graduated he join her father in the family-owned construction company.The disagreement had been a long-standing problem between them. Last night he flat out refused and this morning the girl left town. "The thing is," he said, "I think all of us are given one life, and there's no prize at the end for spending it on something we don't like." He paused. "Do you think I'm being selfish? I'd like an honest answer from a stranger. Someone who has no reason to lie to me."
My lips pursed. "I think we should all be the author of our own story," I said. "I'm majoring in elementary education—my parents are doctors and wanted me to be one, too."
He leaned back in his chair, his eyes crisscrossing me, as if he were admiring me. "That's awesome. What do you parents say?"
"They agree with me. Anyone who really loves you would have to agree."
Silence gripped us for a moment. I think each of us was absorbing what we'd just declared. Finally, he said, "Name's Brady Henderson" He held out a hand and we shook, his grip warm and firm in mine.
"Crystal McCloud."
"Could I walk you to your car?" he asked. "Maybe meet you on campus? We could talk more," he added hopefully.
I thought about it for only a second. "I'd like that," I said.
While we headed for the door, I glanced back at Hazel. The grin on her face was the biggest, lopsided grin I'd ever seen. Then she tossed me a wink.

The End
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