The feeling was so surreal—being hopeful for the first time since I’d lost hope.
“Order up!” Chuck yelled from the window in an authoritative deep tone that he only used for that purpose.
It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the normal river of voices louder and more animated. Families occupied almost every table with babies crying, a toddler running in circles around his table, and teenagers hovering over a single cell phone and then bursting into laughter.
Hannah, the high schooler who would help on the weekends, checked on each table, stopping briefly before moving on like a hummingbird in a field of flowers.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” Hannah cried, nearly mowing over the two-year-old who had been a moving obstacle since his parents were seated.
“Jack! Get your heinie over here now!” his mother growled.
Jack ran toward his mother with a smile on his face, knowing that he hadn’t yet completely worn out her patience.
“Jeebus,” Hannah said, blowing away a few long golden strands that had fallen into her face. “It’s not even a holiday weekend.”
“Thanks for coming in,” I said, pouring sun tea into four tall cups. “I know you had volleyball practice early.”
“I’ll be a senior this year. I can’t believe it.” She sighed. “What are you going to do without me next summer?”
She shrugged. “Mom said she wants to travel together all summer before I leave for college.”
“You’re right. Traveling with Blaire for an entire summer sounds like a form of punishment.”
Hannah pressed her lips together. “I’m sorry you don’t get along with your parents. You’re so nice.”
Hannah didn’t have the impossible-to-satisfy, overbearing evil queen that was Dr. Blaire Fairchild.
“Blaire would lose her shit if a pant leg was peeking out of the dirty laundry hamper, and being forced to wait in any line would turn her into an even worse version of herself. Amusement parks were out of the question. I’m glad you’re doing that though. With your mother, I’m sure it will be fun.”
Hannah’s grin disappeared. “Crap, I need to get the Ashtons cashed out. John Delaney just came in with his munchkins.”
“All five of them?” I asked, turning to see the answer.
John was loaded down with two baby carriers holding his twin sons. His wife, Marie, readjusted their three-year-old daughter on her hip and then leaned down to say something to her two school-aged daughters.
John used to be the girls’ lacrosse coach, but he was now a salesman at a Ford dealership. He was distracted by his children, and I tried my best not to look too long in their direction.
“Or nuts,” Hannah said. “Didn’t they almost get a divorce a few years ago, right before he quit coaching?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t pay attention to the gossip.”
With a bright smile, Hannah rushed the black leather bill presenter to table eight. I filled a small bowl with lemons and then took the drink tray to table twelve.
“Are you all set to order?” I asked, readying my pen and pad.
I glanced at Brent Collins, who had clearly asked the question with an agenda in mind. No longer the Snickers-eating pudgy classmate I’d graduated with, Brent was now the CrossFit instructor down the street.
“He’s been busy,” I said. “You should try the roast turkey. It is exceptionally amazing today.”
“I don’t eat meat. I’ll have the kale salad. What happened to you? Weren’t you in med school or something?”
“You didn’t go to Dartmouth?” he asked.
“I did. So, you’re a vegetarian? So, no egg on the salad? Dressing? Phaedra makes a homemade green goddess with vegan mayo that is pretty badass.”
“Perfect. Dusty, didn’t you hear that Falyn went to Dartmouth?”
Dusty nodded, sipping his tea. Both men were with their girlfriends. All of them had either graduated with me or the year after.
She patted Dusty on the arm. “He did good, didn’t he?”
Dusty smiled. “I sure did, baby.” He looked at me. “She doesn’t know that she’s way out of my league, so I had to put a ring on it, right?”
Two bacon cheeseburgers and two kale salads later, I was dropping off a new table’s order sheet at the window and picking up an appetizer to table one for Hannah.
I liked Hannah, but I barely knew her. She was still in high school, so she was worlds away from where I was in life. She had every opportunity still in front of her. I was running away from anything that remotely resembled a future—at least a set one.
“Just seated table three for you,” Kirby said as she grabbed more menus from behind the bar.
I looked up, and I had to harness the smug smile trying to erupt across my face. “Thank God,” I whispered.
“So, you had a good time with him then?” Phaedra asked, dropping off clean menus.
“It’s personal,” Phaedra snapped. “She’ll tell you if she wants to, but don’t bug her about it.”
“All right,” Kirby said, her eyes bulging for half a second, as she raised her hands, palms out.
Kirby looked at table three and then back at me. “They specifically asked for you.”
“Good,” I said, letting them get settled before heading over.
I stopped at their table. “Sorry. I’ll be right back to top off your drinks.”
“What happened with Dartmouth?” he asked. “Your mom told mine you were kicked out. Is that true?”
My words were stuck in my throat. It had been a long time since someone asked about my past. “No. I left.”
“Leave her alone,” John said, turning around in his chair. His cheeks instantly flushed.
John glanced at me and then returned his attention to his wife, who was unaware, still fussing over the babies.
Phaedra cupped my shoulders, smiling at Brent. “I’ll just get your check, if you’re in a hurry to leave.”
“No, thank you,” Brent said, stumbling over his words. “We’ll just, um … I’m sorry. I was rude. If it’s okay, we’d like to stay.”
Brent’s girlfriend and Hilary were clearly angry with his behavior.
“Good idea,” Phaedra said before walking away.
I bit my lip, feeling a bit nauseous, and I retreated to the drink station.