I recognized them first.  They didn't see me.  

I work as a waterboy at a fancy Chinese food restaurant, complete with white tablecloths and candles on each table.  The food is naturally salty and so keeping water glasses full was my priority.

Once they were seated and settled the waitress took their drink orders. As soon as she left I swooped in with glasses in hand and a full jug of iced water. I said my obligatory hello and remained anonymous. They were too busy looking over the menu to take notice of my presence. I poured them two glasses using the side-jug technique so that a few ice cubes jingled in. I paused for a moment to take a quick look to make certain it was them. It was.

I had six tables on the go that night which pretty well made sure that as I finished table six it was time to return to table one.

Table two was a big family: grandparents, parents and lots of children. They were celebrating the grandma’s 85 birthday and were definitely out of place.  There were too many and too loud. Happily, their meal was on to “coffee and tea”.  All the desserts were done. The dishes cleared. They had cracked all of their fortune cookies and had paid their bill. They really didn't need a top up but I did my job nonetheless and expertly filled each of their glasses without spilling a drop, even with kids scurrying under foot.  

At next the table sat tired parents who were out on a much needed date night. They wanted to get away from young kids, if only for a couple hours. I recognized the defeated look in their eyes as they found themselves still immersed in family chaos even though it was another family’s mess. I sympathized with them and thought of offering them hope by telling them the other table was almost done.  If the couple just stayed a little bit longer and had an extra dessert or another cup of coffee, they would be able to enjoy the adult silence they so desperately craved. But I’m just the waterboy.  It‘s not my place to advise guests on purchases. That job is for the waitress. 

My other tables included a family with adolescent children, all of whom were absorbed in their cellphones; a pair of young women, friends catching up on the latest while sharing a bottle of wine and a couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary who actually took notice of me. They thanked me for each refill.  It felt good to be acknowledged.  I replied with a smile and a genuine "you're welcome". 

I finished my round then returned to table one.  They had their drinks.  He had a draft of amber beer while she was enjoying a Cosmopolitan. They were both smiling, leaning forward, holding hands across the table. My first reaction was to do something, anything but I decided not to be rash and instead waited and watched just in case I was misreading the situation.  As soon as they saw me approach on their periphery they let go of their hands and sat back as if caught by the chaperon.  They paused their conversation until I was finished.

The big family birthday party finally left and their long table was broken down into five separate ones, three of which were immediately filled.  I delivered them their first glasses of water and continued on with my originals.  

The date night couple were actually smiling, enjoying an after dinner liquor. I was happy they stayed.  Margaret and Tom - the seniors had introduced themselves to me - told me all about their grandson who had graduated from medical school. They had lots to celebrate.  The girlfriends meanwhile ordered another bottle of wine and laughed heartily at the trials and absurdities happening in their own lives. The adolescent family continued to read and text even when their meal had arrived.

 When I returned to table one they were well into their meal. They didn't even notice I had returned and continued their conversation. 

"Yes, it was a little bit of waiting for all the planets to align. Sorry it took so long."  The man said.

"That’s OK." The woman replied, disappointed.

I filled the second glass and lingered for a moment so I could listen.

"It’s been a busy week." He explained 

"Any word on the transfer out west?”  She asked.

“Still waiting to hear back.”

I had to move on before they recognized I was still there.

The date night couple were so relaxed.  They were holding hands across the table, happy to have a moment alone. The girlfriends knew they should slow down but the drinking and talking was flowing too easily.  And the phones had moved on to dessert mode.  I mused to myself that their fortune cookies should have come with QR codes.

Margaret and Tom asked if I had a girlfriend.  I said no to which Tom replied.  “Someone as good looking as you?  I don’t believe it.” 

Margaret came to my defense. “Oh Tom!  Stop it.  You’re embarrassing him. ”  

I smiled and slipped away to fill up my jug with fresh iced water. When I returned to table one they didn’t even acknowledge I was there.

“I'll be so happy when all this is behind us.” She declared. 

"Just a bit more time. I promise." He replied.

The woman paused. She suddenly realized I was lingering. The  man stopped too.  I quickly retreated before they actually looked at me or suspected something was up.

Margaret and Tom asked if I was alright. They recognized a change in my demeanor.

"I'm fine." I said. "But thanks for asking."

The next time around, I decided to pause at an empty table near table one and eavesdrop on their conversation. 

“Have you contacted the lawyer?”  She asked.

“I told you, it’s been a busy week.”

“What if we just run away.  Worry about the details later. Just pack up and go.”  She suggested eagerly.

“You know that’s not possible.” He chided her.

“I know.”  She admitted. “Sorry. I don't mean to put pressure on you.  I’m just excited. Finally after so many months things are really going to happen. We won’t have to sneak around any more.”.

And that was it. I had heard enough. I stepped up to their table with my freshly filled jug of iced water.  "Hello Rob. Hi Wendy."

They both froze, like cats with canaries in their mouths, one feather hanging loose. They weren't sure how much I knew, though the fact they were together made them guilty.

"Hi, Hi Alex." Rob stammered. "I didn't realize you worked here." He flashed a glance at Wendy. "We were just -"

"Just what?" I interrupted and looked at Wendy.

She shrunk in her seat.

"We were just out as friends. Talking about Sarah’s upcoming birthday.  We’re thinking of making it a surprise…" He looked to Wendy for help.

Wendy started crying. "I'm sorry."

"Do you even love my sister?" I hissed at Rob.

"Of course I do." He replied indignantly. "Now don't make more of this than it should be.  Wendy and I are just having dinner together. Nothing more."

"Why?" I demanded.

"Tell him Wendy, there's nothing going on."

Wendy bowed her head. "I'm sorry."

"You were her maid of honor. You’re her best friend.” I pressed.

"This wasn't supposed to happen." She sobbed. "It wasn't planned.  We both just -"

"This doesn't have to change anything." Rob interjected. "Sarah doesn't need to know.  What do you want?  Name your price.  It’ll be our secret.  Wendy and I will never see each other again. I promise."

Wendy looked at Rob surprised by how quickly he disowned her.

I ignored his offer and asked, "How long have you been seeing each other behind her back?" 

I looked at Wendy. She had collapsed into sobbing. 

"Not long." Rob pleaded. "It just happened. Spontaneous. You know how it is.  It means nothing."

I looked at Wendy. She was crushed by Rob’s words. She thought they had something more, that she was special and together they were spectacular. 

"So now that's two women you're dumping. How many more do you have on the go?"

He opened his mouth to protest but I had had enough. Using the side-jug technique I emptied my iced water jug right into his lap. Satisfied by his shocked expression, I walked away to call my sister.

August 26, 2022 14:10

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