I knew the exact moment that Dylan walked into the café for his lunch break the next day. I had just turned away to place an order with the kitchen when I heard – rather than saw – Dylan and his friends enter, because a sudden hush settled over the waitresses and they all turned, as if of one accord, towards the door.
I turned around a little bit slower, just in time to see Dylan and two of his friends saunter in. His shirt was buttoned today, but that didn't stop the female population of our staff from running their eyes over his physique. Some flashed him sultry smiles of interest, but those just went right over his head.
I barely refrained from rolling my eyes. Bimbos, the lot of them. They'd only taken a look at him before panting after him for a scrap of attention. They'd judged him based on how he looked, but what did they really know? They didn't know him at all.
He gave me a small nod of acknowledgement when our eyes met, but didn't come over. I tried to feel relief, but only felt a crawling anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I narrowed my eyes in frustration, but what had I expected? This was the norm. Yesterday had been the irregularity, the exception. It was stupid to expect otherwise.
"Trouble in paradise?" Bertha asked, watching our interaction with a glint in her eye.
I ignored her, turning away to wipe down the counter with more focus than was necessary.
When Mary-Jane next passed by, she and Bertha huddled in a corner for a long time, whispering secretively. Based on the glances that they threw in my direction once in a while, I got the feeling that they were talking about me.
It was nothing new. Over the past year, I'd gotten used to the whispers that reverberated in the hallways that I walked through, and the conversations that stopped abruptly whenever I walked into a room. And whenever Dylan and I were in the same room… There was always an unspoken tension hanging in the air, as if everyone was watching out of the corners of their eyes and waiting with bated breaths for either one of us to snap. I knew there were several rumours floating around about us – about how we'd transitioned from best friends to unspeaking strangers virtually overnight.
Talia's death had taught me one thing. People were voyeurs. And they weren't very skilled at hiding it either.
"Hey." I looked up to see that Marjorie, one of the managers, had sidled up to me. There was a mischievous look in her eyes, even though her expression was serious. "Why you don't take this tray to that table over there?" I understood the mischief dancing in her eyes the moment she gestured towards the table that Dylan and his friends were at.
"I'm manning the counter," I said shortly.
She smiled at me. "I'll take over. You don't mind, do you?"
I kept my face blank and picked up the tray she'd pushed towards me. The other waitresses in the vicinity had all deliberately slowed their movements, trying to hang around for the show that they thought they were getting. Without another word, I headed for Dylan's table. He didn't look up until I was right beside him, and even then it was only to murmur a polite thank you when I placed his coffee in front of him. His friends smiled at me and did the same. The whole ordeal only took a minute or so, and it was all so very civilised that the other waitresses had lost interest and dispersed before I'd even made it back behind the counter.
Marjorie silently took the empty tray from me and vanished through the swinging door that led to the kitchen. Bertha returned to her place at the next cash register and Mary-Jane scuttled away to see to another order. The other staff went about with their work as if they hadn't all been watching my every move with malicious smiles just a few moments before.
I plastered a smile on my face as a customer came forward to place an order.
Voyeurs, the whole lot of them.