“I can make you one,” I said.
Dalton tossed his menu on the table. “Just bring me a water,” he grumbled. “It’s not the same.”
I took their menus and leaned in toward Dalton’s face. “You’re right. Mine is better.”
As I withdrew, I heard a couple of them giggling like boys.
One of them said, “Whoa.”
I stopped at Don’s table on the way back to the drink station. “You all right?”
Don hummed, “Yes,” while chewing on his steak. He was nearly finished. His other plates, all but the cheesecake, had been scraped clean.
I patted his bony shoulder and then made my way around the bar. I filled two plastic cups with ice water and one with sweet sun tea, and then I began making Dalton’s Cherry Coke.
Phaedra pushed through the double doors and frowned at the sight of a family standing near Kirby’s podium. “There’s a wait?” she asked. She dried her hands on the dishtowel she had tied around her waist as an apron.
Phaedra had been born and raised in Colorado Springs. She and Chuck had met at a concert. She was a full-fledged hippie, and he tried to be one. They would sit in on peace rallies and protest wars, and they were now the owners of the most popular downtown café. Urbanspoon had listed The Bucksaw Café as its number one pick for lunch, but Phaedra would take it personally when she noticed waiting customers.
“We can’t have great service and no wait. Busy is good,” I said, mixing my special cherry syrup into the Coke.
Phaedra’s salt-and-pepper long hair was parted in the middle and pulled back into a wiry bun, and her wrinkled olive skin weighed down her eyes. She was a wisp of a woman, but it wouldn’t take long to learn she could be a bear if you crossed her. She preached peace and butterflies, but she’d put up with exactly zero shit.
Phaedra looked down as she said, “We won’t be busy for long if we piss people off.” She rushed off to the front door, apologizing to the waiting family and assuring a table soon.
Table twenty had just signed their check. Phaedra rushed over to thank them and bussed their table, quickly scrubbing it. Then she motioned for Kirby to seat the family.
I loaded up the drinks on a tray and then carried them across the room. The crew was still looking at the menu. I inwardly grumbled. That meant they hadn’t decided.
“Do you need a minute?” I asked, giving each man his drink.
“I said a water,” Dalton said, holding up his Cherry Coke with a frown.
“Just try it. If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you a water.”
He took a sip and then another. His eyes popped open. “She wasn’t kidding, Taylor. It’s better than the real stuff.”
Taylor looked up at me. “I’ll have one, too, then.”
“We’re all having the spicy turkey panini,” Taylor said.
“All of us,” Taylor said, handing me the laminated long sheet.
“Okay then. I’ll be back with your Cherry Coke,” I said before leaving them to check on my other tables.
The dozens of voices in the packed café bounced off the windows and came straight back to the bar where I was mixing another Cherry Coke. Kirby rounded the counter, her shoes squeaking against the orange-and-white tiled floor. Phaedra was fond of random—fun portraits, trinkets, and off-color signs. They were all eclectic, like Phaedra.
“You’re welcome,” Kirby said, tucking her shirt into her skirt.
“For the tray stand? I already said thank you.”
“I’m referring to the gaggle of hot firemen I seated in your section.”
Kirby was barely nineteen, baby fat still plumping her cheeks. She’d been dating Gunnar Mott since her sophomore year of high school, so she took extreme pleasure in trying to fix me up with every halfway decent-looking man with a job who walked through the door.
“No,” I said simply. “I’m not interested in any of them, so don’t even try your matchmaking crap. And they’re hotshots, not firemen.”
“Yes, a big one. For starters, they fight wildfires. They hike for miles with huge packs and equipment; they’re on the job seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day; they travel to wherever the fire is; and they saw through fallen timber and dig fire lines.”
“Do not say anything to them. I mean it,” I warned.
“Why not? All four of them are cute. That makes your odds fairly fantastic.”
“Because you suck at it. You don’t even care if they’re my type. You just set me up with guys, so you can date them vicariously. Remember the last time you tried to set me up with someone? I was stuck with that slimy tourist for an entire evening.”
“He was so sexy,” she said, fantasizing in front of God and everyone.
“He was boring. All he talked about was himself and the gym … and himself.”
Kirby ignored my resistance. “You’re twenty-four. There is nothing wrong with putting up with an hour of boring conversation to experience three hours of amazing sex.”
“Ew. Ew, no. Stop.” I wrinkled my nose and shook my head, involuntarily imagining dirty talk that included the words repetitions and protein. I put Taylor’s cup on a tray.
I swung by the food window, tray in hand, seeing that table thirteen’s order was sitting on the shelf cut out of the wall separating the bar from the kitchen. The heat lamps above warmed my hands as I grabbed each plate and placed them on the tray, and then I rushed the food to the table. The author and her assistant barely noticed as I placed the beef and feta cheese salad and chicken club on the table.
“Does everything look all right?” I asked.
The author nodded her head, barely taking a breath while she chatted away. I carried the final Cherry Coke to the hotshot crew, but as I walked away, one of them grabbed my wrist. I looked over my shoulder, glaring at the man with the offending hand.
Taylor winced at my reaction. “A straw?” He loosened his grip. “Please?” he asked.
I slowly pulled one from my apron and handed it to him. Then I spun around and checked on the rest of my tables, one after another.
Don finished off his cheesecake and left a twenty on the table, as he always did, and the author left twice that. The hotshot crew’s signed receipt was merely rounded up to the next dollar.
I tried not to wad it up and stomp it into the ground. “Dicks,” I said under my breath.
The rest of the afternoon was nonstop, not unlike any other afternoon since the Urbanspoon app had decided to put The Bucksaw Café on the foodie map. As the hours passed, I served more firefighters and hotshot crews, and they all left decent tips, as did the rest of my tables, but I couldn’t shake the bitterness for Taylor, Zeke, Dalton, and Trex.
Fifty-one cents. I should hunt them down and throw the change at them.
The streetlights shone down on those walking past the diner to the two-story country-western bar four buildings down. Young women, most barely twenty-one, trotted along in groups, wearing short skirts and tall boots, as they enjoyed the summer night air—not that August had the corner on skin-baring clothes. Most locals would shed their layers for anything over forty degrees.