I met Jensen at The Glass Palace, the worst rated restaurant in town, I had thought it would be funny to go to what had been unaffectionately nicknamed The Ass Palace by my classmates. I was a senior in high school at the time, and as soon as I walked in, I was hit by an overwhelming stench. It smelled far too similar to rotten meat for my liking, which did nothing to increase my want to stay and eat there, but that was when I spotted Jensen from across the room. She was drinking a milkshake at the booth in the far corner. She had thick, wavy, brown hair, and she had earbuds in and was reading a book. She had on a maxi sundress with a slit up the thigh. It was red with white polka dots, and her pale calves were on display. She wore daisy sandals, and had on a sunflower necklace and ring, and a honeycomb bracelet with a matching bee ring on the opposite hand as the sunflower ring. Her makeup had strong pink tones, which suited her perfectly, and though her eyeliner was rather messy, I thought she looked perfect.
Gathering all of my confidence, summoning every drop of courage in me, I walked over to her. I tapped on the table to grab snag her attention, and when she looked up with a polite smile, removing an earbud, I asked, “What book are you reading? You seem very invested, and I’m always looking for a new read.”
She hesitated, then gave a self-deprecating laugh. “You wouldn’t- Well, it’s a kids book. I’ve been reading the series since I was ten, and never outgrew it, I suppose. This is the newest one in the series.”
I smiled at her and responded, “There’s nothing wrong with kids books! I just read a series last year that’s for kids and I was a junior in high school!”
She tilted her head at me. “All right, trade book series, and I’ll let you sit with me. You go first.”
I told her the name of the series, and in response, she put a receipt in the page of her book, laid it face up on the table, and scooted over to make room for me to sit next to her.
A laugh broke out of me, unprompted, at the sight of the book cover. “No way, that’s my younger sister’s favorite series! She’s twelve, she’s so excited to read this one, but mom doesn’t get paid until next week, so.” I shrugged.
“Oh, I’ll be done with this one in about an hour, they only take me about three hours to read, you can take it to her to borrow if you like!”
“She’d love that.” I paused, then said what I had been thinking this whole time. “Why have I never seen you around before? You look about my age, and even if you were older, I’d have seen you at school at some point in the last four years of high school.”
“Oh, I’m a senior too, but I go to school in the next town over, over in Springview. This is my favorite diner though, so I come by here every so often. The food is terrible, but there’s nothing better than their milkshakes. I recommend the strawberry Oreo.” She seemed so enthusiastic about these milkshakes that I couldn’t help but want to do whatever it took to keep that enthusiasm, and I found myself ordering the strawberry Oreo milkshake. She was right; it was wonderful.
By the time we left, the sun was approaching the horizon, and despite the smell of rotting food, the stickiness coating the floor and tables, and the occasional sound of something breaking from back in the kitchens, I couldn’t help but think, This is the best restaurant in town.
At 10:00 P.M., I was excited to get home and get in bed. I had been waiting tables since 9 A.M., and despite the $237 in tips I carried in my pocket, I was still short on rent, and I had no idea how I was supposed to pay it now that I had no one to split rent with. I rushed down the sidewalk, hoping to get back to my apartment before I dropped from exhaustion.
I was, in fact, so tired that I failed to realize that I was taking the most direct route home, rather than the route that avoided that my least favorite part of town. It was only when I caught a faint whiff of rotting meat as I heard a door open with the jingle of a bell that I realized I was walking by The Glass Palace. I couldn’t help but glance through the windows as I walked by, ashamed to find myself hoping to see a head of frizzy brown hair. My heart rate picked up as I spotted someone at our table before I realized it was just a couple so closely intertwined that I was unable to tell where one began and the other ended. I had a moment of fear that Jensen had moved on already, before noticing that she was blond and preppy. Definitely not my Jensen.
I thought back to two months ago, when she had left me. After almost four years together, she ended it all in one night.
“Is there someone else? Is there even a reason that you’re ripping my heart out with your bare hands?” I pleaded, hoping that there was some rhyme or reason to her delusional behavior.
“I already told you, we’re not any good for each other. I make you miserable, and you-” She cut herself off abruptly, but it was too late.
“I make you miserable, do I? Then why didn’t you leave before? Why only now when we’ve moved in together? Has your goal been to make me a fool the entire time? Have me thinking about our future together while you’re moving on?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She had been with me for so long, and now she just wanted out?
“I didn’t leave before because I love you!” she cried out, clearly distressed, but I didn’t care.
“If you love me, then STAY!” I screamed, knowing how desperate I must sound, but not giving half a damn at this point. “People who love me don’t leave me!”
“Everyone who loves you leaves you! You’re unbearable to be around! Don’t you even realize that you’re doing it? Even now, you’re trying to manipulate me into staying with you! You constantly have to bring everyone down to your level, and it’s exhausting. You’re always saying something about what I’m wearing, or the fact that you made more money than me in a month, or whether you’re more successful than I am, and I’m sick of it! You need everyone to have the same amount of confidence as you, which is to say, none. The only friends you keep around are the ones with no self-confidence as well! I’ve seen you destroy friendship after friendship because they got sick of your belittlement, and now you’ve destroyed your relationship as well!”
I was speechless. I couldn’t believe she would say such a thing to me. And she was wrong. I would never do anything to hurt my relationships like that. My old friends were all just jealous that I had an amazing girlfriend and a good job and a place of my own. Jealous people had no place in my life.
Shaken out of my thoughts by the door jingling again, I looked to my right to watch the couple walking down the street, hand in hand. With a scowl on my face, I turned back to the window of The Glass Palace. As I looked at the cracked and faded pleather booth, my nose full of strawberries and rotten food, I couldn’t help but think, This really is the worst restaurant in town.