#ShortFictionSunday : “Just What You Ordered”
Just What You Ordered
Potatoes. Mashed Potatoes. Every Friday at four o’clock, Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont would wander into Doris’ Restaurant dressed like this place was the Ritz, just to order Swiss Steak and mashed potatoes.
Rita, the hostess, who boasted more than 30 years of loyal service, showed the Beaumonts to their favorite booth in the corner by the window. It didn’t matter that the teal vinyl on the booth benches was split down the middle. The little old couple would sit across from each other, smiling like they were on their first date.
“Can I get you folks something to drink?” Rita asked, handing them menus.
“Two un-sweet teas, Rita.” Mr. Beaumont held up two stubby fingers in emphasis. “Is Amora here tonight?”
Rita gave him a knowing look. “She’ll be right out.”
Just like that, as fast as you could snap your fingers, Amora came out of the kitchen with two glasses of iced tea. She was tall, around five foot ten, bright blue eyes, and black hair coiffed to curl in at her ear lobes.
“My two favorite people,” Amora smiled, putting the teas on the table. “How are we tonight?”
“Fine now. Just fine.” Mr. Beaumont waved a shaky hand in dismissal. “Have you heard from him?”
Amora froze, feeling the blood drain from her face. “From whom, Mr. Beaumont?”
Mr. Beaumont gave her a fatherly, knowing look over his bifocals. “That young man you were going with.”
There it was, like the dolly zoom effect in film, the focus comes right at you and nothing can stop it. She should have seen this coming. It was the same question every week. How could she tell them the truth?
“No, I haven’t heard from him. He’s pretty busy with work.” Amora pretended to erase a pencil mark on her order pad. She couldn’t tell them.
“Then he’s a schmuck.” The last word whistled through his false teeth.
“That he is,” Mrs. Beaumont agreed. “Honey, you deserve better.”
For a minute, it looked like Mrs. Beaumont might take Amora’s hand.
The Beaumonts placed their order, and the evening continued in ordinary fashion. Amora stood behind the counter, rolling silverware into paper napkins, tucking the contents away inside the machined paper bundle.
“‘Mora,” Rita said. “I hate to ask,”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Amora laughed, knowing full well what was coming next.
“My husband is sick at home. My daughter was watching him, but now she’s come down with it.”
“You need me to close for you.” Amora finished Rita’s thought for her.
“Sure, no problem. What are friends for?” Amora lifted the blue plastic bin full of silverware rolls onto the counter. She turned, passing the deepfryer, and like a frog snaps flies out of the air, Amora snatched three french fries from the basket.
“Hey!” Rita threw her hands up. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Amora laughed like she had just played the grandest joke.
Rita tossed her hands in the air in dismissal. “This is the price I pay.”
Amora went back out into the dining room to check on the Beaumonts one last time before handing them their check.
“Now, Amora,” Mr. Beaumont began. “If I ever meet this boy, he and I are going to have a stern talk.”
Amora laughed, knowing that even if Mr. Beaumont spent the rest of eternity giving her ex a stern lecture, at the end of time, it wouldn’t change a thing. “Get in line, Mr. Beaumont.” Amora laughed. “By now there is quite the queue, and I’m at the front.”
Both of the Beaumonts chuckled.
“Take care of yourself,” Mrs. Beaumont said when Amora brought their change.
“Thank you, and have a good evening.” Amora watched them leave. When the bell on the door chimed, resonating for the last time, Amora felt her spirit sink, wishing she could melt into the ketchup-and-salt-crusted, beige tile floor. She glanced back at Louie, the cook, back in the kitchen, swaying back and forth to his favorite Todd Lundgren hits playing though his white ear buds.
Suddenly, the door burst open. Amora watched as a man came in, and sat down at a booth by the window with a distant look in his eye, like he hadn’t even known she was there.
She stood there by the counter, just staring at him, as if there was nothing she could do to make her feet move toward him. I have to move forward. She thought. It is my job. She took a deep breath, standing up straight to her full five foot ten inches, but she couldn’t ignore the uneasy feeling in her stomach. She glanced back at Louie, and he was still bobbing away packaging up left over food. Her eyes darted to the clock by the door: 8:55PM.
Her jaw dropped. How long had she been standing here? Had time really passed her by that quickly?
She looked at the man sitting in the corner booth, staring longingly out the window, and smiled. There was something . . . familiar about him.
“Hello,” she came over to the table, pencil and order pad in hand. “Can I get you something to drink?”
His gaze jerked over to her, like she had truly broken whatever bond had sucked him into the windowed booth. Just when the look of bewilderment had settled on his face, he answered. “I don’t know. Can you?”
Figures. She thought. A wise guy. “I have two legs, and I’m on the clock, so I think I’m able.” Amora unconsciously folded her arms. “Now what will it be?”
Half of a smile appeared on his face. “Do you have iced tea?”
“Yes, we do. Sweet. Unsweet. Raspberry.”
He shook his head like she had overwhelmed him, then looked her square in the eyes. “Unsweetened.”
There it was. Like a magnet, Amora started staring again. He had the darkest eyes she had ever seen.
“Unsweetened?” She asked, trying not to look like an imbecile.
A rumble of tenor-pitched laughter escaped from his mouth. “Yes. Has anyone ever told you look like Elizabeth Taylor?”
Amora closed her eyes, feeling herself blush. “Yes, I hear that at least once a day. I don’t believe it.”
“Don’t. Don’t believe them.”
Amora felt the blow, and remembered her place. “I’ll go get your tea.”
“You’re prettier than she is, was, she’s gone now isn’t she?”
Amora shook her head, trotting to the back to fill a glass with tea. She brought it back to the table, setting it down in front of him. She studied him, noticing how much he looked like an actor from a fairy tale spin-off show she used to love. “Can I ask you one question?”
He grinned like a Cheshire cat, sitting back in his seat. “I think you’re entitled, after I almost insulted you.”
“No, you did insult me, then you turned it around.”
“What’s you’re question?” He took a sip of his tea and nodded. “This is really good.”
“No it’s not. It’s made from powder.” She gritted her teeth. “Do I know you?”
“What’s your name?”