Although I’d clearly heard words come out of Darrien’s mouth, it was the functioning of those exact words that I was finding the most difficult thing to accept. I muddled over what had just been said in my head for what felt like an eternity, but in reality was just a couple of seconds, and remained confused. I couldn’t understand what had just happened and why.
“Excuse me?” I spurt out, breaking free of the initial shock.
“He won’t let me take his order,” Darrien repeated himself. The frustration in his voice was inevitably building and his irritableness was noticeable as he transferred weight between his feet back and forth awkwardly, his hands in his jeans pockets the whole time, “He’s requesting – no! Demanding to be served by you and you alone.”
“But, why?” I added, confused, “Why me?”
“Beats me. Must have been something you’ve said or done.” He murmured, trying his hardest not to look me in the eye.
“But I don’t know what I’ve done or said to make him so unreasonable! All I’ve done was be in the way since he arrived. If I hadn’t been in that spot at that time for him to open the door into my back then none of this would have happened. I just don’t understand any of it.”
“Look, Anna, you’ve just said it yourself. The poor boy’s most likely feeling guilty about what happened before and wants to make amends. I’m sure there’s nothing more in it than that.” Hector interjected, trying to cool the situation down. I could see his logic, but part of me was a little more sceptical. This man had already apologised so why did he feel the need to apologise again?
“Papa’s right. He just wants to make things right with you. He may just be one of those people who can’t live with a guilty conscience until they’ve confronted a situation and corrected something.” Rena encouraged me. Her smile was warm and comforting. For a moment it almost made me feel a little better and took some weight from my shoulders. Maybe she was right.
“Either that or he’s suddenly decided to become your stalker.” Darrien muttered under his breath. His intention was most likely to come across as a joke, but the reaction from the rest of us was nothing but humorous.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Darrien!” boomed Hector, coming towards his son warningly, “Don’t put such thoughts into her head!”
“That’s absolutely obscene and completely insensitive. How could you even think it was appropriate to say something like that!?” Rena argued back, her warm smile vanishing and replaced with a stern, hard look. Although both she and her father were defending this stranger against Darrien’s frank theory, I’d already begun to calculate the thought in my head. I was suddenly terrified. What if this man had suddenly decided that I would be his latest victim to stalk? Was this man a dangerous person? Would my life suddenly become threatened by the unknowing? Should I now resort to live in fear?
“I was only saying what the two of you were both thinking!” Darrien shouted in an attempt to defend himself.
“Yes, a thought that should have been dispelled from your mind the minute you thought of it.” Hector argued back, barely inches away from his son’s face. These kind of heated arguments between father and son were not rare so neither provoked fear in me. All I could think about was this man.
“Papa, Darrien calm down! Look at the poor girl! She’s practically shaking in the spot out of fear of these allegations.” Rena interjected, pushing her father away from Darrien at arms’ length apart and standing between the two of them.
“But what if he’s right?” I asked, honestly, “What if what Darrien thinks may be true?”
“It’s not true, dear Anna. I swear on my life that it is not.” Hector reassured me.
“Of course it’s not. It’s a ludicrous thought and is more than likely the complete opposite to the truth. You can trust me on this, Anna.” Rena also added reassuringly. She removed herself from between her brother and father and placed her hands on either one of my shoulders, smiling sweetly, “I promise you, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” Darrien added reluctantly, “it was just a thought – a stupid thought at that.”
“But none of you do know though, do you? None of you know this man. For all you know he could be like that.” I retaliated.
“But he might not be. He’s just another customer with a life and past like everyone else who walks through our door. There’s nothing to be scared of.” Rena urged, shaking my shoulders abruptly. This was her way of removing self-doubt from others and for them to snap out of their temporary worrisome state. This was not really helping me at the moment, nor had it ever done, but I knew that there was at least some truth in what she was saying. He was just another customer and I should treat him like so. So what if he’d requested my service, it was just like someone else requesting to be seated by the window or away from the toilets.
“So I should go out there?” I asked questionably, trying to gain the smallest piece of inner confidence I could muster. I could feel my heart racing and I knew I shouldn’t get myself so worked up over nothing.
“Yes. Go out there and be your normal self. Don’t let irrational fear take over your mind.” Hector announced, coming to my side and pushing me towards the kitchen door. I took one quick glance back towards Rena who smiled at me nervously. I took a deep breath before pushing the door open and entering the main floor of the restaurant.
It was quiet now with barely anyone around. I glanced over towards the booth I had seated the man in. He had a book open on the table in front of him and he was reading tentatively. I stood motionless at the door briefly before drawing another deep breath and strode towards the booth. The short walk seemed to take much longer than it normally did, but I knew this was purely down to irrational nerves.
As I got closer I noticed his eyes racing along the pages quicker, a sense of eagerness surrounding them as he registered each word. I stopped just before him and cupped my hands in front of me by the table. He continued to read on. I waited awkwardly. Part of me felt like I should interrupt his flow of thought and ask him the scripted question of ‘Can I get you anything, sir?’ but another part felt like I should wait until he was ready. I remained stood there for at least two minutes before he finally turned the corner of the page and closed the book. He sighed with relief and placed the book in front of him on the table and then looked up at me with a content smile on his face. I’d forgotten just how beautiful this man was in the short time I’d been apart from him.
“I’m sorry. I just had to finish that chapter. It was too good not to finish.” He apologised genuinely.
“That’s okay,” I squeaked with embarrassment. I cleared my thought and forced what I could of a genuine smile in return, “I can’t leave a chapter unfinished either. The suspense is devastating.”
“I agree. Finishing half way through is just as worse as leaving a chapter on a cliff hanger. Writer’s are very clever when it comes to keeping their readers in suspense.”
“I often find myself having to go onto the next chapter just so I can find out what happens next because the suspense is too much to bear, even if it’s the middle of the night and I have to work the next morning.”
“I have spent many long nights reading and reading until a book is finally complete for my mind to fully relax and for my body to shut down to rest. Books like that are treasures to find.” The pure interest and passion in his voice was admirable. I’d not met someone as articulate and enthusiastic about something so particular before and it intrigued me. In normal circumstances I would have called myself quite the book worm, but within a minute of conversation with this man, my previous notions about myself were far from what I’d originally thought. I smiled in response and suddenly remembered why I was there in the first place.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” I asked politely. My nerves were still intact but the conversation was gradually making them reduce enough for me to do my job properly.
“Ugh, sir?” he scoffed, “Only men of authority should be addressed ‘sir’.”
“I was just being courteous.” I added, feeling slightly embarrassed; no one had ever commented on me calling them sir or madam before.
“Courtesy is to be polite or considerate. No one I have ever met who is addressed as ‘sir’ has deserved politeness or consideration from others.”
“Then I apologise for my insensitivity.” I added quickly. I was starting to feel uncomfortable again with this new conversation as I wasn’t sure of how to respond to it. I wanted this to be over and for me to just take his order and return back to the safety of the Kara family.
“No, I apologise for my insolences and broad-minded opinions.” He apologised again, a hint of calmness returning in his voice, “I do not mean to make you feel discomfort in my presence.”
“You’re not making me feel uncomfortable.” I lied. He chuckled under his breath and tilted his head to one side as he looked up at me intently.
“I know you’re lying, but I won’t argue with you.” He responded smirking. I felt myself suddenly blush and found it difficult to keep my eyes on his. However, I fought my insecurities and forced myself to smile and be undefeated.
“Is there anything I can get you?” I asked him again, purposefully removing the forbidden word from the scripted question. He smiled confidently in return.
“What would you recommend?” he asked coyly.
“Today’s lunch time special is a ham and mozzarella Panini with a side salad and a choice of either chips or jacket potato. We also have a wide selection of burgers which are very popular.” As I uttered each scripted word I knew how robotic I sounded and that it was obvious I had repeated this same phrase to customers all day. But the man continued to smile at me all the same.
“For a Greek restaurant your menu doesn’t sound very Greek.” He joked, sarcasm dripping off each word.
“We cater to popular demand and the satisfaction of all customers who enter the premise regardless of culinary preference.” I answered smartly. He responded with a smirk and an acknowledgement of wisdom in my words.
“I see your point. But I don’t care for specials or what the offer of the day is. What I want to know is what is good here. Not what you want everyone else to order.” He cleverly replied. I could see it in his face that he was trying to crack me and leave me feeling unsure or uncomfortable, no matter what he’d previously said about not wanting me to feel discomfort in his presence. However, the reality was, I no longer felt nervous in front of this man. In the contrary, I found his presence and company quite endearing and welcoming. Rena and Hector were right, he was just another customer and I shouldn’t be afraid of him.
“I see. You’re obviously far too intelligent to see past of devilish plans with the specials board.” I answered wittily. He chuckled in response, perhaps marvelling in the fact I had called him intelligent, I was unsure, “Well, if I was to choose anything from the menu it would be the Balsamic Chicken.”
“Sounds good. I’ll have that.” He answered with a smirk.
“Unfortunately it’s one of the dishes on our evening menu so won’t be available until after six o’ clock.” I added sarcastically.
“Oh, the suspense.” He joked. I chuckled to myself and cocked my head to one side just like he had to me.
“Just a little. I was looking forward to it. Now I shall have to wait.”
“Wait?” I asked questionably. Was this man seriously prepared to wait around, or come back later, until he could order the dish I had mentioned? My thoughts of him being like any other customer was slowly beginning to diminish again.
“Like I mentioned with the book before, the suspense of wanting to know what something will be like is disastrous to one’s health. You have planted this seed of intrigue into my mind and now I must see it through. It’s within my nature to investigate such wonders.”
“Is that why you requested me to serve you?” I gushed without thought. As soon as the words had left my tongue I wished for them to return. I had just broken an unwritten rule for waiting staff; don’t question the customers. Well, it was one of rules enforced by Hector; whether it was the same in other restaurants I couldn’t be completely sure. He looked back at me questionably.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, intrigue entering his thoughts. He appeared to be enjoying himself far too much and it nerved me.
“You say it’s within your nature to investigate things that intrigue you. Since what happened before when you first came here, do you find some sort of intrigue in me as a waitress that Darrien simply could not fulfil in serving you?” he gazed up at me with intent, almost as though he found wonder of my inquisitiveness, or maybe perhaps that I was talking complete nonsense and he found it amusing to toy around with.
“You are a very intelligent woman. The boy, Darrien you say his name is, does not have the same, how can I describe it? Vibe as you. Yes, I do find myself intrigued by you, but purely because you seem to be the sort of person I would be able to connect with on a higher level. You were kind, apologetic and innocent before. Darrien, in comparison, is too informative and acts as though he’s the bigger man, even though he is merely just the waiter and –”
“Are you saying that being a waiter is demoralizing for an individual?” I interrupted appalled by his statement.
“Of course not! I did not mean it to come across that way. I apologize profusely.” he urged, realizing what he had just said, “I sincerely hope I have not offended you too much.”
“I would be lying if I said you hadn’t.”
“Then I am dearly sorry. Words sometimes come out of my mouth without me thinking them through first. It is a terrible trait of mine, and one of which I am ashamed of. All I can do is apologise and hope that you can accept it.” I could tell that he was trying to make amends, yet again, but I didn’t know how to react or respond. Instead I brushed it away and dismissed it.
“Unfortunately, if you’re not willing to order anything to eat at this time then I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave; others may want your table shortly.” I told him flatly. I was no longer in the mood to play around with his coy, clever questions. What surprised me most was the fact that he himself was surprised by my response.
“I see. Well, I guess I shall have to come back another time when the Balsamic Chicken is available.” He responded, taking his book and beginning to slide out of the booth. I moved to the side so to clear the space for him to stand and looked away from him. He stood before me momentarily until I looked back up at him. He was smiling. It confused me, “Until we meet again.” He turned on his heels and headed towards the direction of the door. I stood frozen to the spot as I watched him go. As soon as he was outside he didn’t turn back to face me, not even as he passed by the window. And then he was gone. Well, at least for now.