It was just another ordinary Tuesday for Anna Samson in the restaurant until she was introduced to the young, charming and mysterious French man, Marc Beal. Since that meeting, her life will soon change for the better. But at what cost?
Never in my life had I felt more lost than I did the summer I’d moved to London. I was twenty-two years old, straight out of University, and I knew no one. Mum and dad were living in the Midlands, most of my friends were living and working nearer to their hometowns and the rest had lost contact since graduating. I, on the other hand, had decided to move away from my family and friends and live the city life in one of the busiest and most expensive cities to live and work in.
Despite recently graduating with a 2:1 in Art History, I still had no idea where to take my career or if there was even a career out there waiting for me. The fact was, I’d taken a degree that I enjoyed, but I’d taken it for all the wrong reasons. I’d chosen it because I’d enjoyed it as a hobby, but that didn’t mean that I necessarily wanted to pursue it as a career. I enjoyed visiting museums and landmarks, but I didn’t want to be working at one of them for the rest of my life.
So, for now, I was paying far too much rent to live in a tiny studio flat in Islington, just bordering Camden, and was working as a waitress at ‘Lucia’s’, a small restaurant run by a first generation Greek family which served both traditional Greek dishes and the more recognisable delicacies which most people might be more associated with, such as burgers and chips. Although my job wasn’t the worst I had found, it wasn’t what I was looking for, considering I had a degree under my belt. However, it was a stable job that would keep me going until I found what I was really looking for. Preferably, I was looking for something within the city centre, but even I knew that it was an unlikely scenario at that moment in time.
Also, working in the restaurant did give me the chance to meet people and to even make friends of some sort. Rena Kara was a year younger than me and was the daughter of Hector Kara, my employer and owner of Lucia’s. There was also Darrien, Rena’s older brother, who was twenty four and engaged to be married to Astrid Nikolas, the daughter of a family friend of more than twenty years. I worked alongside the Kara siblings and the four of us, including Astrid, would meet up outside of work occasionally. These three people were the closest people I had to friends here in London and they were my confidants in needs of crisis, not that there had been many times I’d felt in trouble or danger to that extent so far.
One Tuesday morning, in the middle of May, I’d found myself staring at a crack in one of the white tiles on the kitchen wall as I aimless wiped a dirty plate clean with an equally dirty dish cloth. I hadn’t any idea how I’d come to staring at the crack, but I’d found myself staring at it all the same. The sounds of the busy kitchen was just background noise to me at that point and words went in one ear and out of the other. It wasn’t until Rena shook my shoulder that I broke free of my blank out.
“Earth to Anna, did you hear a word I just said to you?” she asked, an anxious look spread across her olive skin. Rena was a beautiful girl and could be doing so much more with her life than working in her father’s restaurant. It had often been mentioned that she could be a model, she was that beautiful. But she had shook the compliments to one side and said that her family came first and her father’s business was the only ‘career’ she had in her mind at that time.
“Sorry, no I didn’t, Rena. What was it you said?” I answered apologetically. I’d felt guilty for blanking her, as I’d considered her one of my closer friends here. She rolled her eyes and sighed at having to repeat herself, but she gave a reassuring smile to let me know that she wasn’t angry with me.
“Papa wanted me to let you know that we’re starting to get really busy now and that you’re needed out front to wait tables. Also, that if you continue to clean that one plate it will soon break in two.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” I answered placing the, now, clean plate and dish cloth to one side. Rena gave a small giggle and squeezed my arm encouragingly before returning through the doors to the restaurant floor. I took a deep breath, tucking a loose strand of my hair behind my ear and took my notepad and pencil from the pocket in my apron before following her to my designated area of the restaurant.
It was a little after one in the afternoon so it was fairly busy with people arriving for lunch breaks or meeting up with friends. The restaurant was in one of the busier areas for shopping and socialising in Islington so the variety of clientele was fairly mixed; there had only been a couple occasions where there had been incidents where Hector had been forced to remove people from the premise for disorderly or unacceptable behaviour during my time working there. Fortunately it had been no one in the area I had been working in that night.
I glanced over to Zone A, Rena’s area, which was to the left side nearest to the kitchens. She was taking the order of a young couple, barely in their teens, who were dressed in what appeared to be a customised version of a school uniform. I overheard them order an extra double cheese burger with chips, a ham and cheese salad baguette and a strawberry milkshake to share. That seemed sweet, but that was young love I guessed.
As I approached Zone B, Darrien’s area, I saw that he was clearing away the remnants of a table that had just had a mother and her five kids sat at. The table was covered in array pieces of chicken nuggets, chips and tomato ketchup and I could hear Darrien muttering under his breath at the mess. He wasn’t a huge fan of some of the children that came through the restaurant doors.
My area, Zone C, was by the window and looked out onto the street outside and two of the shops across the road, a cheap jewellers and a discount goods store. Zone C was usually quite busy due to the fact that it was usually a preference for most people who came in. Today was no exception. My area was mostly filled with those who had come from work on a quick lunch break and mostly ordered baked potatoes and salads with either a soft drink or, most commonly, a coffee. The amount of times the same orders were scribbled onto my notepad from Zone C I could have recycled them and used them over and over again without wasting paper. Of course, each of the areas we worked at were rotated along with our shifts but, despite it being the busiest area, Zone C was my favourite to work in.
It began to quieten at around half three and the general buzz that had filled the restaurant a couple hours before had now turned down to more of a hum, which was nice before the rush again in the evening. There weren’t many people left now, other than elderly couples, young mothers with toddlers, and the odd teenager bunking the afternoon off from school. I had just said goodbye to an elderly gentleman who had been sat at a table by the front door, and who had also left quite a nice tip for me, when someone else had come in at the same time the elderly man had been leaving. It was partially my own fault for being where I was at the time, but as they had come in they opened the door straight into my back which had cause me to jerk forward and be pushed into the table, knocking off a coffee cup and the cutlery the gentleman had been using to floor. I yelped slightly at the minor pain in my back and felt the rest of the restaurant staring at me awkwardly.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” a male voice said behind me. His accent hinted that English wasn’t necessarily his first language, but was clear enough that he had at least been speaking it for several years now.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I answered, gripping hold of the sides of the table and straightening my back gently, to assess the extent of any injuries that may have occurred. It was nothing serious in my opinion, though my knowledge of medical diagnosis was limited to zero. I sensed the man coming to my side so I looked over to reassure him I was fine.
Within that fraction of second I turned to face him, my mind was erased and my mouth became dry. I had no reasoning behind my initial reaction, other than the fact that his closeness was perhaps a little off putting. To be completely truthful, it may also have been the fact that this man was very beautiful to look at. He was a tall, slightly tanned man with a slim physique with short black hair and groomed stubble gracing a strong jaw line. His eyes were the lightest shade of brown I had ever seen, almost yellow, which completely contrasted mine which shared more of a resemblance to dirt. I noted the expression on his face as it went from being concerned or anxious to one which I imagined almost mirrored mine: stunned or confused. Our eyes were fixed onto each other’s and an awkward silence rang between the two of us alone. I heard footsteps approaching a few steps away and Darrien’s voice speaking as merely background noise. I shook myself out of my awkwardly frozen state and saw Darrien’s face beside the stranger’s.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt?” he asked, worried. I noticed him give a quick glance and look over at the man beside him, almost giving a disapproving look for the accident he’d caused. The stranger’s eyes remained on me alone.
“No, no. I’m fine, Darrien. Honest. I’m okay.” I answered, forcing a weak smile to try and reassure him. Darrien nodded and backed away cautiously from the two of us. I looked back to him awkwardly not knowing what to say before finally bending down to pick up the pieces of the broken coffee cup and cutlery from the floor.
“Here, let me help you.” He said, bending down also.
“No, no. I’m fine. It’s my job.” I answered, not wanting to look him in the eye again. I’d somehow come across really nervous in front of this man and I couldn’t understand it at all. He was just another customer, like every other customer I had ever seen walk through the restaurant doors before him.
“Yes, but it’s my fault that you’re now picking up broken coffee cups from the floor.” His accent hinted towards that which I thought was possibly French; perhaps French Canadian, I couldn’t be sure.
“Honestly, it’s fine. I’m nearly done.” I retaliated. I reached over to get one last piece from under the table and as I came back up, hit my forehead on the underside of the table. I groaned and closed my eyes through the minor pain now moved from back to my head.
“Now look, I’ve made you hit your head too.” He responded worriedly. He took the remains of the coffee cup from my hands and placed them back onto the table, before taking my hands and lifting me to my feet. He then took hold of my face and turned it gently to face his as he examined my forehead. He looked closely and intensely before smiling weakly and gazing back towards me, “you’ll be fine. You’ll most likely get a small bump but no bruising, hopefully. Nothing too traumatic.”
“Umm, thank you.” I answered, feeling awkward and not wanting to fix my gaze with his. I’d only just met this man, yet he somehow made me feel like nothing I’d ever felt before, “Did you want anything? I mean, did you want to order anything to eat or drink?”
“That is usually what people come to restaurants to do.” He answered smirking and snickering playing. He placed his hands in his pockets and tilted his head to the side slighting, gazing at me all the same. I felt like such an idiot at that moment, of course he’d come in to eat.
“Okay. I’ll take you to a, err, clean table and one of us will be with you shortly.” I answered, moving before he could say another word. I didn’t know where to seat him. A lot of our smaller tables where in Zone C but part of me didn’t want to serve him for unknown reasons. Instead I sat him just inside Zone B with Darrien. Maybe he would sit and enjoy his food, leave and forget about me if I left him to his business. I couldn’t be sure, “Are you okay with a booth?”
“I’m fine wherever.” He answered beside me. I moved across so he could slide into the booth. He sat himself on the side facing the kitchen door, opposite the window, and his gaze never left mine.
“Good. One of us will be with you shortly to take your order.” Like before, I turned away from him before he could add anything else and headed towards the kitchen. I passed Darrien, who setting out fresh cutlery on a table he’d just wiped down but I didn’t look at him. I burst straight through the kitchen doors and was met by the anxious expressions of Rena and her father.
“What happened, Anna?” Hector asked with his thick Greek accent, “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m not. I keep telling you all, I’m fine.” I snapped. My mind was all over the place, I couldn’t think straight.
“What about that guy? What did he do?” Rena contributed, coming towards me and taking hold of both my hands. I saw her glance up to the bump that was forming in the top corner of my forehead and a sad look draw near in her eyes.
“He didn’t do anything. It was an accident and he wanted to make sure I was okay. Nothing serious, honest.” I answered.
“We just want to make sure you’re okay. You looked a little uneasy before. What did he say to you?” she asked.
“He just said he was sorry and that he wanted to help.”
“Well, where is he now?” Hector questioned.
“In a booth in Darrien’s area.” I murmured, wanting to be done with this conversation.
“He’s still here?” Rena exclaimed.
“Well he did come to eat, why shouldn’t he still be here.” I answered, “Look, can we just drop it, please? There was a minor accident, it’s all sorted now and we have another customer who Darrien will soon be taking an order from. Who can complain about that?” just then the kitchen door opened and Darrien entered looking uneasy.
“What’s the matter?” Rena asked her brother, sensing something may be wrong.
“It’s that guy.” He answered, shuffling from one foot to the other. There was almost a sense of aggression or frustration in his voice as he spoke and it made me feel a little uneasy.
“What about him?” Hector asked, a little confused; he had been the only one out of the four of us who hadn’t yet seen this man or witnessed the incident personally.
“He won’t let me take his order.” Darrien replied.
“What?” Hector exclaimed, “What does he think this place is? Does he think it’s just a place to hang out? Does he think he can just sit there and not order anything? Well?”
“It’s not that he won’t order anything, papa. It’s the fact he won’t let me take his order.” He confessed, looking over at me anxiously.
“Why not?” I asked. I could see where this was headed and I wasn’t sure if I liked it.
“He said he’ll only let you wait his table, Anna.” He announced.