There I stood at the edge of the world. Or so it seemed, as I carefully clung to the boards of the old train trestle in the darkness, with the crisp night air spiraling around me. I moved one foot to let it hang over the nothingness below, and I shuddered. I stood on a piece of old wood about 5 inches wide. My arms were wrapped around a slightly thicker beam directly behind me. Before me was a black abyss; though I could hear the gentle waves of Lake Minocqua beneath me, it was easy to imagine that it wasn’t really there. Anything could be down there in the darkness.
“How do you feel?” Drew asked me, startling me out of my reverie. He was sitting on the railing, looking almost cavalier. I could just barely make out his outline in the dim light from the town beyond. It was a new moon tonight. Otherwise, the lake below us would be glowing with the reflected light. As it was, the lake below us seemed dark and foreboding.
“Excited,” I said, because I did feel that way, a little, “but mostly scared.” No reason not to be honest. “You’ve done this before?”
“Of course.” He says it in a way that sounds so carefree, as if we weren’t about to plummet 10,000 feet to our imminent deaths. Okay, so maybe it’s only 40 feet, but it looks a lot higher at night.
“Of course.” He says it in a way that sounds so carefree, as if we weren’t about to plummet 10,000 feet to our imminent deaths. Okay, so maybe it’s only 40 feet, but it looks a lot higher at night.
Drew inches closer to me in the darkness. His voice sounds closer. His shadow, too, is edging nearer to me.
“Careful,” I admonish him. No sense in accidently bumping me off the trestle before I was ready. He laughed gently and settled himself next to me.
“Don’t you just love it out here?” he asked in a thoughtful way that made me smile. I also shivered a bit, partially from the cold night air, partially from the close proximity. Drew had a way of making me feel completely happy yet nervous in a good way whenever he was within touching distance. And he definitely was now. I would have kissed him, if I wasn’t so damned worried about falling off of the bridge. The wind blew again, causing me to shiver and let out a little nervous laugh. It sounded too girly, which embarrassed me, and I quickly cleared my throat to disguise it. I wasn’t one of those girly girls. Then again, Drew obviously knew that, after spending so much time with me this summer. Still, he always seemed out of my league. He never made me feel that way, but a part of me always knew.
For instance, he had told me about the places he had traveled to with his family. Places where mountains rise up to greet the clouds. Places where there are great expanses of open land without any trees. Places where the ocean waves lull you to sleep at night. Places where, during the day, the weather is guaranteed to stay the way it starts. Imagine that, places where the weather is actually consistent! It is hard to imagine these places, places so much more exotic than Northern Wisconsin, my home. All I could tell him was stories about my hometown of Minocqua, a place that goes by the nickname “Island City” although it is in reality more of a peninsula and with a population that would hardly qualify it as a city in any state outside the Midwest. A place that blossomed in the summer into a booming tourist paradise, where the lakes and streets were crowded and a local girl like me could suddenly feel awkward or out of place. A place which disappeared off the map in autumn and winter, my favorite time to be alive, when the leaves colored and gently fell to the ground, when the town seemed empty of its summery false promises and big-time spenders and opened its doors again to locals who knew each other’s dreams and secrets. A place where one could truly be alone, if you desired, and where you could wander off the roads into unclaimed trails, paths that didn’t hold a single footprint to deny your claim to your own little speck of the world.
I told Drew everything about how I felt about my hometown, all of the disappointments and all of the joys. It was a contradiction, an enigma, but it was my place. He listened to the stories about dealing with difficult visitors in summer, about feeling like you’re the only person in the world when you stand on a snow-covered lake in the middle of winter, about feeling like everyone in town knows your business, about driving 40 miles just to get to your friend’s house because they live far off in the woods down some dirt road and you want to visit.
He especially loved to hear stories about our crazy weather, of a place abused by weather, where a sunrise could never really tell you what the day would hold, but in that way that made life all the more exciting. You could go out in your shorts and t-shirt on a bright summer morning, but be sure to pack an umbrella, swimsuit, and sweater because it could be raining, 100 degrees, or snowing by the end of the day. He laughed when I told him that, but I showed him the proof. Proof in the form of pictures my adoring mother took of me and my younger sister, Emily, over the years. She loved to document every move we made, some of which would later haunt me, others that evoked other emotions, made me smile, laugh, or cry years later. So I showed Drew the childhood pictures of Emily and I in our Halloween costumes with the winter hats atop our heads and mittens on our hands, a foot of snow in the backyard behind us. I showed him the shot of us throwing snowballs and wearing swimsuits and dancing out in the yard the year that I was 12, on that weird February week where the temps rose into the upper 80’s and the 3 feet of snow accumulated over winter melted in two days. Lastly, I showed him my favorite, one in which Emily is sitting in the foreground, making a goofy face while holding a baseball-sized ball of hail. A rainbow is in the background, and you can see me on the porch of our trailer home, laughing and pointing to the thermometer, which reads 40 degrees. On the bottom is the date, which shows that the picture was taken in the middle of July. He agrees that the weather here is as stubborn and ever-changing as my own emotions, which I chalk up to being an Irish redhead and a 17-year-old. He never says it in a mean way, only joking, and I can’t really blame him- I’m the one who insisted it was the case. After all, you can’t really blame a teenage girl for her emotions, can you? My mother always says that you can’t, not really; it would be the equivalent of blaming an infant for reaching for a toddler’s “grown-up” toys, or blaming an old man for shooting the breeze with his geezer friends. It’s just their way; and emotions going haywire- that’s the way of teenage girls.
“Especially Irish redheads?” I always ask her, jokingly.
“Especially Irish redheads named Claire,” she replies with a wink.
“Claire!” Drew is calling me back to the present. “Are you ready?”
Am I? Great question. Below me that abyss is calling my name. Drew guaranteed an amazing sensation, like that of riding a rollercoaster or a plane during turbulence. I’ve never been on a plane, but I did ride a rollercoaster at Six Flags last summer, and I remember the free fall sensation, the feeling of your internal organs rising up into your throat, the light-headed tingling sensation that travels down your limbs. It was a refreshing feeling, but also a terrifying one. Those are the best kinds. They make you feel alive. Those were the words Drew said to me when I agreed to this adventure, and I couldn’t agree more.
“We’ll jump together,” he says, looking into my eyes. In the dim glow from the town behind us, I can see the smile in his deep blue eyes.
He makes as if to jump.
“Wait, no not just yet!” I interrupt. Drew makes a show of nearly losing his balance. “Yeah, right,” I laugh. He makes as if to throw me, and I squeal slightly. Oh, no, I really am losing it, but there’s a place just a few feet away where a board juts out, about a foot lower from our current location. “What about that spot,” I suggest. “It’s wider, looks safer, better to jump from…”
He looks. “No, not there. You know those poles that jut up from the bottom of the lake- the ones that used to support the old railroad trestle before they turned this into a bike trail- there’s a few of them over in that area.”
“The- what?!?” I turn to him in fear. “I’m going to be impaled on a pole?!”
“No, no,” he said, laughing. “We’re fine over here. Seriously, I’ve been here all the time in the daylight; I know where the poles are. This is the safe spot. Over there is…a bit more tricky to navigate.”
“Huh.” Consider me not convinced.
“Do you trust me?” he asked.
Oh, great, pulling the old Aladdin card. I wonder if Disney had foreseen what trouble they would create for us young women over the years, thanks to the ever-trusting Jasmine. I wonder what she’d have been saying if a great dark fall into a cold Wisconsin lake was what awaited her as opposed to a comfy-looking flying carpet…maybe she would be so trusting then, eh?
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I consented. “Let’s go, Aladdin. Get this over with.”
Drew was still laughing as he began the countdown. “Now remember, at ‘1’, push off and just let yourself fall through the air. It’s going to be awesome! 5… 4… 3… 2… 1!”
I let go with one of my tightly-secured arms to hold onto Drew’s hand as we began the count at ‘5’.
At ‘3’, I stuck my left foot into the air. It was never my trusty one; I was left-handed and right-footed, as I like to say, so I still felt pretty secure.
Then, at ‘1’, I pushed off with my left hand and right foot. Drew pushed off at the exact same moment, but I could feel him falling a bit faster than me- what was that about? Did heavier people fall faster? I’d already forgotten physics from junior year.
As usual, these thoughts and similar silly ones raced through my head. (Should I have put my hair up? Would my bikini top snap off upon landing?) I began the long plummet to the lake’s glossy surface. In a way, I felt that I had the time to allow many thoughts to cross my head. At the same time, it happened so quickly. One second, I was letting go of the trestle; the next, I was plunging into the water. It was cold, as expected, and I landed hard. (There was that physics again- velocity, momentum, gravity, all that good stuff…) In the first moments of the jump, the air seemed to be knocked out of my body as my lungs and other internal organs seemed to fly upwards, but in the last moments, the air came back into me and I was able to scream. As a result, my mouth was wide open when I hit the water’s surface. I plunged in much deeper than expected, losing my grip on Drew’s hand, and slurping up a big mouthful of delicious fishy lake water. I struggled to the surface, sputtering and coughing, always the graceful one. For a second, I panicked. It seemed extra dark down here in the water, beneath the bridge, with the light from the town now too far above us to make a difference.
Continued from last entry...
“Drew!” I called out, twisting back and forth.
Silence. Oh, great, now I lost my only boyfriend. I could just go back to being a misfit without a date. I took a deep breath; better not lose hope yet. “DREW!”
“Over here!” he called with a laugh, swimming up to my side. He had been closer to the shadows of the bridge, so I wasn’t able to see him right away. “How’d you like that jump?” He lifted one hand and brushed my crazy hair out of my face. (Yep, should have worn a hair tie or headband- the curls and frizz would soon dry and spring lose in every which direction.)
“It was actually pretty awesome,” I said.
“Told you so.”
“I’m also surprised about your knowledge of the Minocqua trestle- I thought a southern lad such as yourself wouldn’t concern yourself with such useless information.”
I was picking up our teasing style again- he would bug me about being an emotional Irish wild woman from the Northwoods, and I would tease him about the fact that he was a city boy whose family lived in some ritzy suburb of Chicago. It was also an inside joke to call Chicago “southern”; the first time I suggested to him that anything south of Madison was basically a foreign country, he burst out laughing.
He laughed a little, but then grew serious. “I care about it. I care about this place because I care about you, Claire. I love you.” With that, he reached out again to touch my cheek. Then we began kissing, using our legs to thread water to keep us from sinking. It was a bit awkward, but I loved it anyway. However, my head was spinning. He loved me. That was the first time he’d said it. And I certainly hadn’t said it first. I let the water lap over me, soaking up the love, enjoying the touch of his hands on my shoulders and in my hair.
However, a small part of my mind couldn’t help but wonder if I was supposed to say it first. Romantic love was still a strange concept to me, since my father had led Mom all the way up here years ago only to disappear shortly after Emily was born. Since then it was just the three of us girls. Every once in a while there would be an envelope with a check at Christmastime or a postcard from some far-off destination. They were signed “Paul”, my father’s name, but didn’t say anything else. My mom said she supposed it was just his way of letting us know that he was alive. Then again, she didn’t really mind so much that he didn’t bother to keep in contact with us, even though it killed me. She was a helpless romantic, and they’d never officially married, so she believed he was free to do as he pleased. But why did he go? Didn’t he love us? My mother didn’t really know how to answer these questions; she usually just told us that he was a vagabond, always on the move, not made to settle down. She also said that he had always harbored the secret worry that he wasn’t good enough for us, no matter how she reassured him of the opposite. She seemed to pity him more than anything, and a small part of me always held that against her; I was not so forgiving. Why would he go? Why didn’t he care? Who cares if he didn’t have money or whatever, it’s not like we were rich without him- Mom was an elementary teacher during the year and a waitress in the summer, but we still couldn’t afford to move out of our little trailer home. Besides, even years after he left, my mother never dated anyone else, not seriously, so it didn’t seem like romantic love was truly something desirable; it was certainly something that you could live without.
Whatever the reason that my father left and my mother didn’t fall in love again, it left me unsettled about romantic relationships. If someone could just leave without any solid reason- just up and abandoned their loved ones, then it was hard to desire that type of situation myself. So I just let it be- I didn’t say that I loved Drew back, and I wasn’t even sure if I did love him. How was I supposed to know if I really did, anyway? Sure, he was pretty awesome. I was happy whenever we spent time together. He made me laugh. He made me try things that I wouldn’t normally have done. Take Exhibit A: Jumping off Trestle, for example.
In the shadows beneath the bridge, I couldn’t see Drew’s face very well, but in the streetlights lining the sidewalk as he walked me home, I could see his eyes a bit better, and he looked, well, maybe a little disappointed. I hadn’t said anything after he confessed his love, and eventually he had broken off the kiss, swimming over to the shoreline, where he pulled himself slowly onto the grassy hill that led back up to the trail. I followed along behind him, noticing that he seemed a bit distant, and feeling that it was my fault. I had let him down, hadn’t I, by not returning those three precious words. And why not? Those were important words to most other people. After all, didn’t people write songs and poems about them? Something was wrong with me; that was the main problem. Why couldn’t I just force the words from my throat, say that I love him even if I wasn’t sure; wouldn’t that be better than ruining our relationship?
After all, I didn’t want to take dynamite to what we had; wasn’t I willing to make the itty bitty sacrifice of saying those three simple words? It had taken a lot of willpower on my behalf to get to this point already. Our relationship hadn’t started out mutual; he’d been interested in me first- why? I don’t know; he must be slightly insane. Regardless, by now I finally felt confident and comfortable around him, after three months of dating. Three months that felt like floating on clouds. It’s amazing how quickly life can change. When I first met Drew, I hated him. And I certainly wasn’t his favorite person. He was the snobby rich boy traveling with his stuck-up family to their “summer cottage” for a few months of mindless activities and wasted money. Must be nice, I thought, thinking that he thought himself above me, not noticing that I was also looking down my nose at him at the same time. That all changed over this wonderful summer, but if our relationship changed from mutual dislike to something resembling love, couldn’t it 180 right back to the start again? How secure were relationships, really?
As Drew dropped me off at the front steps to our trailer, he gave me another kiss, but it seemed a bit rushed this time, not as confident. We hadn’t spoken much on the long walk home, even though I told him that I had enjoyed the jump from the trestle, that I was so glad he convinced me to do it, that I liked all of his unique ideas, he still wasn’t satisfied. He needed to hear it back. Maybe he already regretted saying it. Maybe the next words out of his mouth would be, “Sorry; I didn’t really mean it; it was the adrenaline talking…” or something similar. But that didn’t happen yet, so maybe I still had time to repair whatever damage I had done to the relationship, whatever damage I was still doing as I watched him leave. I stood on the porch steps and watched him disappear back into the darkness, and I thought about the first time that I met Drew.
CONTINUED FROM LAST ENTRY
There were few good things about being an “August Baby”, especially when you missed the cut-off for kindergarten and ended up being the eldest student in your class. Others always made fun of you, assuming that you failed a grade or something.
“No,” I’d been reassuring the bullies since 1st grade, “It just means that I’m smarter than you because I’m older.”
Sometimes I got in trouble for my smart mouth, other times I got barely-concealed smiles from parents and teachers who were trying not to laugh. That’s another problem with being a kid- you’re treated differently all of the time. One day you might get yelled at; then, another day, you do the exact same thing and you’re given a piece of candy, or some other kid who does the exact same thing is given candy when you weren’t. It was a confusing world out there indeed, and so my smart mouth helped to protect me from it. Even when my emotions began to spin out of control during adolescence, I was still able to conceal my inner feelings by projecting what my sister Emily liked to consider my “smart ass, hard ass” attitude. That moniker made me smile, but then again, that was Emily’s specialty. She also tended to avoid being too open with others, but she used her delightful smile and humor as her key defense strategy.
I often wondered if the reason we avoided being so open was the fact that we had too much emotion. We both looked the part of your typical Irish-Americans: red, curly, crazy hair, though Emily’s was always more tame than mine, and green eyes, though mine were more hazel than green and Emily’s were a brilliant grassy green that I’ve rarely seen on anyone else. Mom was Irish; her parents actually moved over from Dublin when Mom was a year old. They’d since passed away (Grandpa due to cancer, and Grandma shortly after due to what Mom called “heartbreak”), but we still heard stories from Mom about speaking Irish and English at home (or a hybrid that she referred to as “Irglish”), Grandpa’s obsessive love of Grandma’s cooking, Grandma’s teasing jokes about Grandpa, and the little funny misunderstandings that develop when you’re caught in between two cultures. Maybe it was an inherited trait- our extra emotions- or maybe it was just something we assumed we had due to the stereotypical hair, and so we acted upon it. Either way, it was what we were known for. As a result, Emily made lots of friends with her bubbly humor and I made a smaller group of friends that could tolerate my sarcasm and my “tough love”.
Even back in May, I was looking forward to this August. After all, it was the summer during which I would turn 18. My birthday is August 18th, so this year was my “golden birthday” as they call it, though what was golden about being 18 for one’s entire senior year of high school was beyond me. I suggested dropping out; I would be 18 after all, legally an “adult”, but my mother would hear nothing of it and I respected her too much to disobey her wishes. Plus, I didn’t really have a good reason for wanting to drop out.
“Seriously, Mom, I can take the GED easily enough if I decide to go on to college; it’s no problem.”
Mom, with hands on her hips, her own Irish hair flailing about in its short bobbed waves: “No, and that’s final!”
Emily was 14, preparing to start high school as a freshman in the fall. She had secured a summer job with a few of her other friends working as a camp counselor. It was the first year that she had a summer job, and she was incredibly excited to be working with both little kids and her friends. I was happy for her.
I was working at the same restaurant that my mom works summers. It’s called Gilly’s and it’s on the lake just a mile from our house. I’d been a busser there the last two summers, and I worked on weekends during the school year, but they’d promised me a waitressing position this summer, for which I was incredibly excited. Finally, I’d get reasonable tips, and, seriously, bussing was torture! I couldn’t touch the beer or liquor yet, of course, until I turned 18, so I wasn’t a “full” waitress, I guess you could say. However, I could still take orders, etc. and have another waitress or bartender or whomever bring the booze to my table. It sounded fine to me; I was just excited to move a step beyond cleaning place mats and rushing dirty dishes off of tables. And the tips, of course, the tips greatly appealed.
Mom worked as a waitress, but she was also a chef on the days that the usual chef was on vacation or called in sick. It was a fairly small restaurant, so it wasn’t like they had an official back up chef, just a few college kids and older people who were good at following orders and putting the meals together. And it was the waitresses who made the salads, started up the coffee, baked the rolls, put desserts together, and did other little odd things like that. Mom actually helped to make Gilly’s menu when she first started there 15 summers ago and is the longest working employee, not counting the owners. The primary owner is Mr. Ted Johansen. I’ve actually only seen him twice; he’s hardly ever around. He’s balding, though he’s probably only in his thirties; I know he has two little twin kids- one boy and one girl- and a wife that looks like a supermodel. While he owns the place, he’s usually working (more like overseeing others’ work) at his other two restaurants, one in the Dells and the other in downtown Chicago. He’s never been as concerned with this one as with the others. It’s probably due to the fact that his mom is the manager here. Her name’s Mrs. Johansen, naturally, but she insists that we call her Mary Jane or MJ for short. She’s a jolly woman with a gray bun that sits high on her head and about 50 extra pounds on her that, rather than make her look fat, just add to the Mrs. Clause look that she gives off. Now, don’t get me wrong, she has her mean days, too, but she’s usually relatively pleasant. Oh, she’ll make fun of the customers behind their backs, and she’ll tell it to you straight if you’ve made a mistake, but she usually maintains a rather friendly disposition. Her husband lives in Chicago, and he hardly ever visits, but she says that’s just their way. I like the idea of her running the restaurant, though; I prefer her supervision to Ted’s for sure. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t really need to work, but she likes to do it; Mom’s told me that she admires that trait in MJ and so I admire it, too.
MJ is a constant from my childhood, and a comfort, too, I guess. Since our grandparents have passed away (we’ve never met my father’s parents, and my mother says that she’s never heard from them, either, even when my parents were together), MJ is kind of like a stand-in grandmother for us. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always imagined her as Mrs. Clause, even before her hair went completely gray. She’s been running things at Gilly’s since Mom started working, back before Emily was born and before our father left. MJ’s actually the one who hired Mom. Since then, many bartenders, cooks, bussers, and wait-staff have come and gone, but Mom and MJ have both remained, two constants in an ever-changing bustling restaurant landscape.
Though I didn’t like the actual work of a busser, I stuck with it for a few reasons.
The first reason was for money. Though we didn’t really have much, Mom always believed in giving Emily and me everything that she could. Of course, we weren’t spoiled with extravagant or unnecessary items, but we always had the basic food, clothes, and school supplies we needed. However, it was implied that if either of us girls wanted to go out with friends, to the movies or maybe for ice cream, we would need to provide for that ourselves. So by the time I was old enough to work, I was working. I tried for a couple of years at a candy shop downtown, but the attitudes of the customers, combined with the smells and sights of sweets 24/7 began to make me nauseated. I was grateful when Mom suggested that I work with her and MJ. Bussing paid better than the candy shop, even despite the fact that I would only get 10% of the waitresses’ tips, no matter what percent of the work I did.
The second reason why I stuck with bussing is because of the atmosphere. Yeah, there were some incredibly nasty customers, but you get that everywhere, I’m sure, even in the world beyond tourist traps like Northern Wisconsin. For the most part, it was a positive work environment. My mom was there in the summers, and I loved working with her. I know, I know, most teenage girls seem to hate spending anything besides the mandatory time with their mothers, but I do enjoy spending time with mine; she’s a fairly young mother (she had me when she was 22), and our personalities are very similar. I guess you could just say that we work well together. We never really had that clashing crazy phase that most teenage girls seem to go through with their parental figures. Plus, MJ was there, encouraging me and giving me grandmotherly advice, as always, keeping me in check when my smart ass mouth was about to get me in trouble with customers or other employees. And the other workers were fun.
Kimo, the bartender, is super laidback. He has a perpetual tan, almond-shaped eyes, and a great smile. I had a crush on him when I first started working at Gilly’s, but now he’s really more like an older brother to me. He was born and raised in Hawai’i, where he lived until he was 22, at which point he decided to make a complete change. He flipped open a US map, closed his eyes, and pointed. His finger technically hit Duluth, but he ended up in Minocqua, and, five years later, he still loves it.
Becky is the head chef. She’s the one that Mom occasionally has to sub for. She has a ton of tattoos and piercings, too, though she has to take most of those out when she’s cooking (some sort of law, I assume). She’s really creative and her food is delicious. Though MJ insists that Mom be the only one to make anything whenever Becky’s gone, Becky always backs her up, pointing out to any employee who protests: “You think just anyone can do this job? Are you crazy?!”
Melanie is one of the “kitchen staff”. She goes to school at Steven’s Point and returns here every summer to help out. She usually keeps to herself, but she seems fairly nice. She graduated from Lakeland High School, the same place I’ll return to for one final, torturous year come September.
Donald (“Don” or “Donny Boy”) is also in the kitchen. He’s in his 50’s and he’s sort of a hippie. He has super long, graying hair that he wears in a braid and then tucks into a hair net. He also wears Hawaiian shirts (he’s gotten a lot of grief from Kimo over that), hemp jewelry and capris constantly- no matter the season or temperature.
Jules is another waitress, though she’s supposed to be “retired”. She used to be a nurse up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and then she moved down here when her husband died. They didn’t have any kids, and she doesn’t talk about herself much, but she’s always nice to Mom and me. She works here full time in the summer; during the “off-season” (fall-spring or Labor Day-Memorial Day), when the restaurant is only open on weekends, Thursday-Sunday, she is the only waitress who works during that time. She has a bit of a “Yooper” accent, which always makes me smile, but she doesn’t like when you point it out (trust me).
As far as the rest of the staff, it hasn’t been consistent. The employees rotate every year. My first year as a busser, there were a few other college-aged people working. The next year, most of them were gone, replaced by two other college girls and a couple high school students as bussers. This year we were going to be short a waitress; they liked to have five, but there would only be four this summer: Mom, Jules, me, and a UW-Green Bay undergrad named Kim. We had Don and Melanie in the kitchen, as always, and Becky, of course. Plus, they had a new guy named Clark, who was about a year older than me. He was a “summer guy”, meaning that he didn’t grow up here or live around here; his parents had a cabin or second home up here and he was going to be working part-time. That made some of the rest of us antsy about his working with us, certain that he couldn’t keep up or that he would somehow disappoint, but we tried to play it cool. There were two new bussers, Coral and Sara, identical twin sisters who were in Emily’s class at school. They were both sweet and fairly shy. At first I had a hard time telling them apart, with their matching brunette ponytails and glasses, but I eventually figured out that it was Sara who had the faint birth mark on nose, setting her apart, but just barely. That was our summer crew. It would turn out to be a fairly pleasant group, with MJ working as hostess and manager, picking up any other details that were missing. Last minute, MJ also hired an additional part-time bartender, a single mom who worked at another bar down the street, as well. Her name was Megan, and she had helped us out on a few of the busy days last year. She was fairly easy to get along with, passed out free sodas to the other employees, smiled, and worked hard, though she always seemed slightly stressed out. With the addition of Megan, our summer crew was officially complete.
In early May, I began picking up my first waitressing shifts. MJ recommended that I begin my training before the summer season truly began, in order to be prepared when things really got crazy (AKA full-fledge tourist season of June and July). I was still finishing up junior year (B’s and C’s, as usual, except for the A- in creative writing, my favorite subject), but I was covering shifts for Fish-Fry Fridays and Saturday Steak Nights.
For the first few days, Mom was helping me out, “in training” as I was. I had a little notepad where I would jot down the specials in order to read them off to the guests. Then, I’d flip the page over and scribble their orders as quickly as I could. The first few times I did that, I realized I’d made a mistake- I couldn’t read my writing and had to return to the tables, completely embarrassed, and have the customers repeat an order or two. Fortunately, at that time in the season, it’s mainly locals and a few elderly couples who travel around in the spring, so, fortunately, nobody bitched me out for being ignorant. (Although that would happen later on.) My mom taught me to start using shorthand for some of the various menu items, which made it faster and my handwriting a bit more clear. At first, I was a bit clumsy as a waitress. I spilled drinks (fortunately not on any customers), got pasta sauce on my apron and on the place mats as I set down meals, overfilled coffee cups, and tripped over the old-fashioned wooden planking of the dining room floor as I carried large trays toward the tables. Fortunately, this didn’t last too long. Over the first few weeks of work, I slowly started to improve. I began spilling less soda over the rims of the glasses as I delivered drink orders to the tables. I mastered the art of carrying a towering tray one-handed (right-handed, of course, so that I could distribute the dishes with my trusty left hand). I became more graceful while walking across the dining room floor. I got the orders correct on the first try and rarely even needed my notepad to read out the specials. Yes, I was becoming a good waitress, slowly but surely, thanks to my mom’s training and MJ’s constant encouragement. It also helped that with only five waitresses this summer, I was needed more and more often as the month came to a close, and, by the last week of May, I was working nearly every night. Thanks to the additional, if unexpected hours, I was able to work nearly every night and get a lot of hours and experience in a shorter amount of time. By the end of May, I was feeling pretty self-assured. Look at me, I thought, Master waitress, and I’m not even 18 yet. Booyah.
And so, naturally, the day arrived when I would have my most difficult table yet, a table that would lead me to question my abilities. Need I remind you that stubborn Irish redheads do not like to have their abilities called into question.
At a little after 7pm on May 27th, the Saturday of Memorial weekend, the restaurant is still fairly packed. It’s the first official “tourist weekend”, and so, of course, any tourists who are planning to spend a lovely and relaxing summer up in the Northwoods are here to dust out their cabins and empty their pocketbooks. We’ve been busy since we opened at 4:30, and I haven’t had a break yet. Fortunately, though, I’m getting good at this job. I’m making a lot of tips, too. My pocket is bulging. $95 as of my last count, and that’s not counting credit card receipts. Tonight is looking good! It’s certainly my best night yet.
MJ seats another family in my section, a “distinguished looking couple”, as MJ would call them (“snobby rich people”, as I would say) with two kids who look about my age. The entire family has shades of blonde hair, with the mother being the lightest, at a shade of platinum that must have come out of a bottle, and the son with the darkest, almost a light brown. Their facial expressions, clothing, and accessories all scream, “I’m richer than you!” in a bold way that always makes me feel a combination of disgust and embarrassment (not embarrassment for myself, but for them, strangely; I guess that sort of shameless wealth makes me feel uncomfortable about society as a whole).
The mother gives a look around the place, clutching her purse to her chest, as if terrified that someone would jump out and snatch it from her. She looks down her nose as she makes her examination of the restaurant, as though to say, “Really, this place? Honestly, Edbert, this reeks of middle class.” She crosses her arms around her petite frame as if to block it all out.
The father, on the other hand, looks distracted. He’s checking at least two or three phone-like devices while making his way to the table. His name is probably not Edbert; I’ll retract that; he looks more like a Brock or a Preston, with his expensive polo and opposing blonde bulk and obvious money. Maybe he’s a Brock II or a Preston II.
The boy is probably my age, but he has this annoyed look on his face that somehow makes him look younger. He’s wearing some preppy Abercrombie shirt, you know the kind where it actually has the brand name written across the front like he’s some sort of walking advertisement. He could buy the exact same thing at the Wal-Mart down the street for $8, but then it wouldn’t have his precious Abercrombie logo on it. Oh, the tragedy!
And the girl- a bit younger than me is my guess, but she’s trying to look older. She’s wearing 6 inch heels (no, I’m not exaggerating…well, maybe just a little, but man, those things look hard to walk in!), a ton of make-up, short shorts, and a tight, tight tank top that shows off her super slim figure.
I make my way across the restaurant to their table. MJ winks at me as she walks by me to resume her post at the hostess stand. She’ll remain there for the bulk of the busy portion of the night. Then, she may help at various positions, as needed. Her wink isn’t any sort of code, just her way of saying, “Hey.”
I scoop up four menus, quick as a flash, and am at the table shortly. They don’t seem like the type who likes to wait.
“Good evening,” I say, handing the menus around the table, “I’m Claire, and I’ll be-”
“Is the lobster fresh?” interrupts Brock-Preston II.
Seriously. We’re in the middle of the Midwest; of course the lobster isn’t bloody fresh! Why, yes, we just caught it out of the lake this morning, sir, bet you didn’t know lobster love freshwater Wisconsin lakes, did ya?! Instead, I tried to be my lighthearted, fun-loving self (okay, so I was taking a page out of Emily’s book, but that’s basically what I had to do around types like this).
“Well, I’m told it took a jet in from the coast just last night, so it’s not half bad,” I said with a smile.
Brock-Preston II was unimpressed. He sighed a great, annoyed sigh, and glared down at his menu.
“Is anything fresh?” he tried.
“Yes, of course,” I began, “I recommend anything in the Local Fish section on the second page. All caught this morning.” Technically, it was all caught within the last week or so, but we were encouraged to exaggerate on that part. MJ says what you don’t know can’t hurt you.
“Do you have salad?” asked the girl with the 6-inch heels. Her voice came out whinier than I’d expected, especially for someone 13 going on 35.
“Yes, on the first page, near the bottom,” I indicated where to look.
I heard an angry little pouting sound from the other side of the table. I turned to Platinum Mother. “I suppose it would be too much trouble to have a calorie count on this menu,” she was huffing. Now, what was I supposed to say to that?
“Um, sorry, ma’am? Maybe I could find out how much calories a menu item has, if there’s something in particular you’re looking at? I could ask in the kitchen?”
“Well! How should I know what I want if I don’t have a comprehensive calorie count!” It wasn’t a question, so I just assumed I didn’t have to answer it.
“I’ll give you a minute to decide…” I was about to turn when Abercrombie boy spoke up.
“Aren’t you going to take our drink order?” he asked. His voice wasn’t demanding, merely a question, but my temper flared. I had forgotten about the stupid drink order thanks to all of their ridiculous questions. I spun back around to face Abercrombie.
“Sure,” I said, “What would you like?”
“Martini, straight up,” he smirked. What- was he trying to get me in trouble now? He obviously wasn’t 21. Before I could say anything, his father glared at him.
“Andrew, wizen up. I think we’ve had enough of your ‘humor’ for the day.”
Want some ice with that burn? I thought to myself, trying not to smile as Abercrombie Andrew pouted down at his menu.
“I want Diet Coke,” said 6-Inch Heels, checking to ensure that her tank top was exposing her midriff for anyone who was interested. “And make sure it’s diet.”
Okey, dokey, tramp, I thought, but didn’t say. Someone get me out of here before the smart ass explodes out of me.
“Do you have any Sicilian wine?” whined Platinum Mother. Perhaps that’s where 6-Inch Heels got it. Her eyebrows were raised, but her eyes were still wandering hopelessly around the room, as though looking for someone to save her from this tragically inept restaurant. “A 1980’s vintage?” she continued.
Knowing next to nothing about wine, except that it appeared to come in three colors- white, red, and pink- I answered in a way that I hoped wouldn’t get Platinum any more distraught and whiny than she already appeared to be.
“I can bring you our wine list,” I said.
This seemed to be too much for her, and she sighed, like her husband. “Don’t you know off-hand?”
No, I don’t know off-hand! I’m 17 years old! I can’t even drink wine, much less serve it! How the hell am I supposed to know about your stupid fancy vintages, you psycho blonde freak!
Instead, I responded in my sweetest voice, “Actually, I prefer to let our guests look at the wine list, so that they are getting exactly what they like best, rather than suggest something they may not like…”
With that, she gave me a sort of shooing motion. I guess that was the signal for me to get the wine list. I tried my best not to stomp off, but I could already feel my ears turning red, my eyes narrowing, as I made my way through the crowded restaurant toward the bar. Another bad thing about being an Irish redhead; everyone knew your emotion just by looking at you. Forget hiding behind smart ass words or humor, it was written right across our faces.
“That bad, yeah?” Kimo asked me, hardly glancing up from where he was stirring up some fancy cocktail. He loaded it onto a tray along with a few other drinks. Jules swooped by and scooped the tray off the counter, saying a quick “thanks” to Kimo.
“Do we have any damn vintage Sicilian wines?”
He laughed, reaching behind him to grab a wine list for me, hardly taking his eyes off the beer he was pouring for another table of mine.
“I doubt we have what she’s looking for, but it’s worth a shot.”
I grabbed the wine list, signaled to MJ to help me with the two pints (that damn age limit) and walked with her as she dropped them off at another one of my tables, the Malreys, whom I adore (they are a local couple, and they order the fish fry and beer every time, like normal people). I also delivered their bill, made quick small talk with them about their fish, and hurried back over to my neediest table.
“Finally,” I heard Platinum say as I rushed up to their table. Seriously? I was gone, what, all of two minutes. I do have four other tables, I heard myself retorting in my head, and, strangely, combined, they’re all less needy and annoying than your family!
Aloud, I said, “Here’s the wine list.”
“Where’s my Diet Coke?” asked 6-Inch Heels.
“I’ll put it in with the drink order when you’re all ready,” I replied, hoping I didn’t sound too snippy.
“Oh, just get it for her now, would you,” ordered (rather than asked) Brock-Preston II.
“Sure, right away.”
“Can I have a Root Beer?” asked Abercrombie Andrew as I turned. I just gave the ‘OK’ sign to let him know that I heard as I made my way back to the bar.
“There’s steam coming out of your ears,” Kimo commented with a laugh as I put in the drink orders.
“You’re lucky it’s not profanity coming out of my mouth.”
“Claire! You know better than that!” Yep, there was my mom. One of the bad points about working with one’s mother is that she had a way of appearing out of thin air at the most inconvenient times.
“Awesome,” I said to nobody.
“I need two Dr. Pepper’s, 4 Miller Lights, an MGD, a 7UP, the microbrew on tap, and three of your special cocktails, Kimo,” Mom said without even looking at her notepad. Yep, she’s just that good.
“Mom, this table is driving me bonkers!”
“Sorry to hear that, hon.”
“Want to take them?” I tried to make it sound promising, as though maybe they wouldn’t be that awful with her as their waitress.
“Sorry, can’t, sweetie. I’m too swamped. I’ve got seven tables now since Kim went home sick.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
She offered me a sad smile as I took off with my sodas. Placing them in front of 6-Inch Heels and Abercrombie Andrew, I noticed one of my other tables trying to flag me down out of the corner of my eye.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, spinning on my heel.
It was the table with an elderly couple, the Coopers, one that I’d seen at Gilly’s a couple of times before. This was my first time waiting on them, but they were really sweet and patient. At least, they had been patient. At the moment, however, Mr. Cooper was waving his credit card in the air.
“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed as I reached the table.
“Sorry to rush you,” Mrs. Cooper said, “but we’re hoping to catch a movie.”
“No, it’s my fault. Be right back!” I spun to the register, rang up their card, and returned it to them, apologizing again and wishing them a great movie. I did this in 40 seconds, flat. Then, before the needy table had a chance to bug me again, I checked in on my 6-top. It was a group of middle-aged local women and a couple of visiting girlfriends. They were having a girls’ night out, ordering mainly appetizers and mixed-drinks. They were a bit boisterous, but not overly so. MJ had arranged them in the back corner, so that if they did get loud, it wouldn’t be a problem.
“Can I get you ladies anything else?” I asked them.
The brunette at the end with the brightly colored sundress raised her glass. “Another rum and coke, when you get the chance?”
“Sure,” I said, taking the empty glass. I also snatched up two empty plates from the appetizers.
“Oh, me, too, please?” said another woman.
By the time I left their table, I had a drink order of two rum and cokes, a vodka and cranberry, a sex on the beach, a cosmopolitan, and a red wine. (“Any red wine, dear!” Now, that’s what I call a customer- Platinum should take notes.) I also had two empty plates and a towering pile of glasses, which I handed off to Coral, who was loitering near the kitchen, before rushing back toward what was certain to be another annoying confrontation.
“She is taking forever!” Yet again, Platinum was complaining about me; ironically, she was doing so as I came within hearing distance. What are the chances?
“Oh, there you are!” Brock-Preston II said, as if I’d been gone for hours. Really, as a waitress you move pretty darn fast. There’s no way that I’d been gone longer than three or four minutes, but that was an eternity to these people, apparently.
“Sorry, sir,” I said, indicating my other tables. He looked down his nose at me, as though confused what my gesture could possibly mean. What, other people in this world than I, his look seemed to apply, how absurd!
“How can I help you?” I asked.
“We’ll just have a bottle of the Merlot,” said Brock-Preston II. “And we’re ready to order.”
“Actually,” interrupted Platinum, looking to B-P II for confirmation, “we’d like to hear the specials.”
“Sure,” I said. I ran through the list. Seared steak with homemade potato salad. Parmesan-encrusted chicken with noodles and Alfredo sauce. And Jambalaya.
“Sure,” I said. I ran through the list. Seared steak with homemade potato salad. Parmesan-encrusted chicken with noodles and Alfredo sauce. And Jambalaya.
“Well. It’s far too hot for Jambalaya!” exclaimed Platinum. “I don’t think anyone would consider Jambalaya on a day like today!”
Shows how much you know, I thought, noticing Jules carting three heaping portions of it out of the kitchen on a tray.
“I want that chicken!” 6-Inch Heels exclaimed.
“I thought you wanted the salad,” spoke up Brock-Preston II.
“No, these salads are super gross. I want chicken. And French fries.”
“Would you like to substitute the fries for the noodles? Since the Parmesan chicken comes with the noodles?” I asked.
6-Inch Heels glared at me. “I want the fries.”
Okay. That doesn’t exactly answer my question.
“Just order them for her,” Brock-Preston II grumbled, still playing with his various phones and doohickeys.
“I’ll have the boiled walleye,” Platinum said. “I checked the calorie count on my I-phone while I was waiting, and I believe that it will have to do since there aren’t many options here. I need the potato salad, too, of course, not the fries. And a small side salad, before the meal, not along with it.”
“Sure,” I scribbled in my notepad.
“Cheeseburger and fries,” said Abercrombie Andrew.
Platinum sighed, as though he was trying her last nerve.
“I’ll have the ‘Surf and Turf’,” said Brock-Preston II. “Medium-well.”
“What type of potato would you like?”
He looked down his nose at me again (surprising since I am standing, but then again, I am not very tall), as though I was interrupting him with some very annoying trivial detail. He sighed.
“What are the choices?”
Never mind that they are right in the menu. Please, let me repeat them. “The choices are French fries, special homemade potato salad-” (my mom makes that, and it’s so delicious) “- rice pilaf, or a baked potato.”
He chose the baked potato. Not one of them made to hand me the menus, so I had to awkwardly reach around the family to gather them up. Then, I was free to scamper off again. I ran my drink orders for the girls’ night out ladies by Kimo, who promised he would have Megan deliver them, as she’d just arrived to help for a couple of hours. I also asked him about the wine. Jules happened to be standing by the bar.
“I’ll run your wine for you, dear,” she said. “My tables are milking their time right now, so I’ve got a few free moments, you know.”
I had the chance to check on my last table, the ones I’d hadn’t stopped by for over ten minutes (I kicked myself internally at that), but it was a young couple out on a date, and they were still gazing longingly into each other’s eyes when I stopped by. They asked about dessert, and, once I’d read them the options, they asked for an ice cream sundae with two spoons.
“No rush,” the man said, as he leaned even closer to the woman. Gag me now.
I also had a chance to say a final goodnight to the Malreys (who left me a generous 25% tip) and to swing by the Cooper’s empty table. (They left me a not-so-generous $3.25 on their $35 bill, but we were used to that by now with them; they came from a different era, when maybe a couple dollars here or there could have actually supported a waitress. Honestly, they’d probably even haggled over that quarter.) The rush was starting to slow down, but MJ was already preparing to sit another couple in the Cooper’s spot as I hurried to check on the girls’ night group (yes, they had their drinks; no, they didn’t want dessert, but did I mind if they hung out for a while?) and then back to the annoying Richie Riches.
“Is the wine to your satisfaction?” I asked.
“It’s a bit bland,” said Brock-Preston II, looking down his nose at the glass, “But it will have to do. It’s the best you have.”
Ouch. “Okay.” And off again!
I was running around, getting drink orders from the new table (a pleasant if overdressed couple named the Leserns), splitting the check for the ladies, and making and delivering an ice cream sundae for the couple with the ga-ga eyes. I was hurrying back to the ladies with extra waters and their split checks when a loud “ahem” directed my attention back toward my favorite table (sarcasm). Platinum was gesturing me over with impatience, and 6-Inch Heels was making a disgusted face.
“This is not a Diet Coke,” 6-Inch Heels declared, as if she was announcing her discovery of a new planet.
“My daughter needs Diet Coke,” Platinum ordered, “Di-et.”
“It is Diet.”
“Well, it doesn’t taste that way.” 6-Inch tossed her precious blonde hair over her shoulder, daring me to contradict her.
“Okay, I’ll get you another one.”
Oddly, the glass was half-empty, so it apparently took 6-Inch quite a while until she experienced the bizarre revelation that she was chugging non-diet soda. Heaven forbid she consume any calories; we wouldn’t want her to move from a size 00 to a size 0, now would we?
“Uh-oh,” Kimo said as I approached the bar. “What now?”
“Apparently, this Diet Coke doesn’t taste ‘diet’ enough. Can you pour me another, please?”
“Certainly. I’ll pour from the extra diet nozzle this time.” He laughed at his own joke, handing over the fresh soda.
Ten minutes later, I had just finished delivering food to the table where I could do no right. I’d had to bring yet another Diet Coke (“just doesn’t taste right”), another Root Beer, ketchup, mustard, barbeque sauce, A1 Steak sauce, and extra napkins to them, and not all at once, mind you. Every time I brought something over, another item was needed, and so I was desperately rushing back and forth towards the Richie Riches, slowly going insane, and quickly losing my patience. And never once was a single “thank you” muttered; oh, God, no, why would they say that? Then, finally, I was off to check on the food order for the Leserns. The ga-ga eyed couple had left, giving me a generous tip, suddenly in a rush to get their hands all over each other (was ice cream an aphrodisiac?), and there was no new table to replace them, so I was now down to three (thank God). I’d just returned from peeking on the girls’ night out, who were gathering up purses and pushing in chairs, when I heard what could only be described as a gasp from that bloody table.
What now? I felt like bellowing as I approached the table. Instead, I asked, “Is anything wrong?”
“Wrong?” gasped Platinum. “This potato salad is disgusting! It’s inedible.”
“You’re disgusting,” I replied.
My heart thudded against my chest a second later when I realized that I’d actually said those two words aloud. Damn my smart ass mouth. But who did she think she was, insulting my mother’s award-winning potato salad. Yes, it had actually won awards. All of them were local contests, but still legitimate awards nonetheless.
“Sorry, I mean, everyone loves the potato salad. It’s delicious, actually, won awards and all-” Stop it, Claire, you’re making it worse! - “but would you like something else?”
“Where’s your boss?” Brock-Preston II demanded. His wife was apparently hyperventilating, at a loss for words.
Oh, cool the drama, I felt like saying, you’re overreacting. Plus, you really are disgusting. Let’s take a poll of ten people and see how many of them find you at least partially disgusting…
I glanced around, hoping that the dramatic reactions of the Richie Riches weren’t drawing a lot of attention, but a few people were indeed looking over, MJ included.
“I said, where’s your manager?” B-P II demanded in a slightly louder tone.
MJ appeared beside me as if by magic. Maybe she really was Mrs. Clause after all.
“Hi there, I’m Mary Jane,” she said in her persistently pleasant tone. “How can I help you?”
“Your waitress just insulted my wife,” B-P II said with a look of disgust thrown my way.
“I see. How can we fix this situation?”
B-P II looked confused, as though he hadn’t anticipated this suggestion. After a slight beat, he said, “Well. I suppose we will take our check now, and since my wife’s food was inedible, you certainly can’t expect us to pay for it.”
“Of course, sir,” MJ replied. “You know what, sir, we’ll do you one better. Why don’t we take your wife’s meal off the bill and then discount the rest of your ticket by half, since your dinner had to come to this unpleasant conclusion.”
I was slightly jealous of MJ’s ability to sweet talk this evil family so easily. Slightly jealous, yet, at the same time, I was also totally repulsed. How could she do it? Maybe she wasn’t Mrs. Clause, maybe she was a leprechaun or a fairy, tricking people and then acting all innocent and sweet. She was certainly giving me a cavity with all of her sweet-talking. To top things off, I felt like a bad child, standing behind her, my face no-doubt beet red, my frizzy red hair spouting out of my hair tie, hands on hips, eyes narrowed. I felt as if I was gearing up for battle. Calm down, I told myself, it’s just one annoying family. Just smile and forget about it.
I lowered my arms and took on a more approachable stance, trying to look less like the bad guy and more the innocent victim of a crazed family, which I certainly was.
“Claire,” MJ was saying, “Would you please get this family their bill, with the corrections? And I believe they deserve our special cards.” She smiled and gave me a wink, albeit a wink that promised a talking to in the near future.
“Of course.” I hurried off. I nearly jammed my fingers typing up their ridiculous bill. They’d bought a bottle of our most expensive wine, and now they were getting it half-price all because I’d let my tongue slip. Well, it was their fault, really, if you thought about it. Maybe they were born with some sort of terminal disease- one called stupidity. They didn’t have to be so mind-numbingly rude and obnoxious. They could have just behaved like normal people at a restaurant. And now they definitely wouldn’t tip me, and for what? For something as silly as an accidental slip of the tongue. I honestly hadn’t meant to call Plantinum disgusting, though she was. I swear I don’t usually insult the guests; this was a one-time thing. Chalk it up to a bad day. These people just made me so frustrated that I felt like my face was on fire. They were just oozing money, but, you know, they probably did stuff like this all of the time- make some dumb comment just so that they could get their way and get a bunch of free stuff. Then all of us nice, hardworking people have to pick up the slack and pay for their own idiocy. If it wasn’t this, it would have been something else. Spoiled brats.
And, of course, MJ wanted to give them the “special cards” which was code for the little coupons we gave out for a free dessert. She probably wanted me to give them four of the coupons, for Pete’s sake. Not that any of them deserved a single free thing at all, much less the delicious desserts, most of which my mother made, as well. Platinum would just hate them. 6-Inch wouldn’t even eat them since they actually contained calories, though I ached to tell her how much fat was in that Alfredo sauce. And who the hell is so desperate about their soda being “diet” and then orders French fries? There’s a lot more saturated fat in those fried potatoes than in 16 ounces of soda, girly. Enjoy the Aspartame.
I took a deep breath and tried to stop my inner rant. I’d give them the coupons and the special reduced check. Forget that they didn’t deserve it- people got things that they didn’t deserve all of the time- wasn’t I used to that by now?
And so, of course, I gave them the check and the coupons, apologized again, and watched them leave without leaving me a penny. Afterward, MJ lectured me about my sharp tongue and my smart ass words. She lectured me in a way that made me acknowledge my wrongdoing but that also didn’t make me feel like an evil person. She had me finish up with the Leserns and leave early- around 8:30. It was dying out by that time anyway. Even my ever-popular mother only had four tables by that point. She would lecture me too, a bit, in her own way.
“There’s always going to be people like them,” she’d said later that night, when she got home. “People that think they deserve something, people who think that they’re better than you. But you’ve got to be the bigger person, Claire. You’re so much better than them. Remember that.”
Oh, I’d remember that evening, all right. The way the family acted as though I’d physically abused them as they made their way out of the restaurant. They all refused to look at me, all except for Abercrombie Andrew, who gave me a little, ironic smile. What- was he trying to make fun of me? It didn’t seem like it, but I still wasn’t happy with him or any of the members of his ridiculous and horribly spoiled family. It was immature of me, but as he glanced back for one last smile, I stuck my tongue out and narrowed my eyes at him. Idiot.
And so that was how I met Drew.
CONTINUED FROM LAST ENTRY (5/2)...
CONTINUED FROM LAST ENTRY (5/2)...
When Abercrombie Andrew returned to the restaurant over a week later with three matching Abercrombie bros, I had almost completely erased the scars his awful family left on my memory bank. Almost. Besides, he didn’t really give me a fair shot, as he’d dyed his hair dark brown and wore it so that it kind of hung in his eyes in a “I’m a boy band playa trying to look like a sexy rock star so all the girls fall for me” kind of way. Sadly, I was instantly lured in.
You can imagine my surprise when he greeted me by name.
I did a double-take and stopped midway through reading the guys the specials. Huh, pretty sure I don’t know anybody that attractive, certainly nobody I went to school with; maybe he’s just reading my nametag and trying to be cute. Funny. Any-who.
“Uh, hi,” I replied awkwardly and continued through my spiel. I grabbed them their drink orders and it wasn’t until they were finishing their sandwiches and asking about dessert that he finally spoke up again.
“Do you remember me?”
I spun my pencil around in my hand before tucking it behind my ear, pretending to look thoughtful. Nope. Not a clue. “Sorry,” I said, “I do see a lot of people in here.”
“I was here about a week ago…with my parents and my sister…” As he continued speaking, he seemed to become a bit nervous and fidgety. “Let’s just say that things didn’t end so well…”
“Oh! Abercrombie Andrew!” His friends burst into laughter. I felt my cheeks burning with a raging blush, instantly wishing I could grab those words and stuff them back down my throat.
Andrew chuckled, too, before he said, “You can just call me Drew. Everyone else does.”
“Yeah, and he’s not such an Abercrombie freak as the rest of his family is,” one of the other guys, a blonde guy built like a linebacker, added.
“I’ll vouch for that,” spoke up another one; he was lanky with really dark hair.
“He’s actually almost normal compared to them,” said the last one, a dark-skinned guy with dreads. He laughed. “’Compared to them’, are the key words there.”
They continued to laugh.
“Sorry, Ab- I mean, Drew. Um, did you guys want dessert?”
Drew had brought the free dessert cards that MJ had forced me to give to his family. Fortunately, these guys all seemed to enjoy the food and the dessert. They were still laughing and joking with me as they left. And they actually left a generous 30% tip. Imagine that- rich, tourist boys leaving me a generous tip. Maybe there is a God. Along with the tip, I was surprised to see a piece of paper that read, “Sorry about my family. They overreact to everything. Would you like to hang out sometime?” There was a phone number at the bottom of the paper. For a moment, I felt my face grow warm; was this attractive guy asking me out? Then, I shook my head, realizing that he was likely just being nice. I crumpled up the note and tossed it out with the rest of the trash. However, for the rest of that evening, I felt myself drifting back to the bits and pieces of conversation that I’d shared with Drew. I remembered him throwing me a gorgeous smile when I was on the far side of the room, passing out sodas for a family of five. I recalled turning from the bar only to see him hurriedly glance away. He’d been watching me while there with his friends. I’d told myself that he was just a nice guy with a guilty complex thanks to his overbearing family, but I suddenly doubted my confidence in this assessment. Maybe he really did want me to call him. Could it be? At that point, I hurried over to the garbage bin, thinking I could retrieve the note. Unfortunately, it was buried under an hour’s worth of nasty leftovers, used napkins, and swept up dirt. Oh, well.
Three days later, it was a busy Friday night in early June. I’d slept in and spent the day sitting in a lawn chair in our backyard. It was my special spot and always had been. It was underneath a large oak tree with ample limbs, providing enough shade that I wouldn’t burn on a sunny day, but enough sun that I wouldn’t feel like a vampire. It was a sunny and mild day, in the mid 70’s with a few puffy clouds breaking up the cerulean sky. On afternoons like these I liked to spend some time alone, relaxing in my spot. I was writing poetry, one of my favorite hobbies. I enjoyed writing about what I observed, not just outdoors but also people in the restaurant.
During the school year, I’d write about the little things I noticed in the hallway, like the short freshman boy dragging a backpack that was too heavy for him because his parents likely told him to take as many difficult credits as he could in his first year. Or the group of sophomore girls trying to impress the upper-class jocks, leaning against their lockers while batting their mascara-coated eyelashes and fluffing their thick hair. Or the grunge kids in the corner of the lunchroom, mocking each other and laughing, wearing black clothes and sunglasses, kicking their boot-clad feet onto the lunch tables, despite the lunch ladies’ constant complaints.
During the summer, the words change, but the mood remains the same. I want to capture everything, show how beautiful the most simple gesture, look, or word can become. My mother has always told me that this trait of mine reminds her of my father, who she claims is also a writer, but I try not to acknowledge her when she compares me to him. I didn’t run out on my loved ones. I will always be here for my family. I doubt I’ll ever move out of Minocqua because I don’t want to leave my family and my home. This is my beloved hometown, and, though it no doubt has its downsides, it’s always been beautiful to me.
I arrived at Gilly’s at 4:00, and, as expected, it was already nearly a full house. By 7:00, I had 19 tables under my belt and nearly $150 in my wallet. A very successful evening. Fortunately, I had some rather easygoing customers that night. And some excellent tippers. One of my favorites was an elderly couple that had brought their three young grandchildren in for dinner, to “give their parents a break”, in their words. They treated the kiddos to the kid’s portion of fried fish, two kiddie cocktails apiece, and their choice of dessert. They were very kind to their grandkids and tipped me generously.
As they were leaving, the oldest kid, who was probably about seven, looked up at Grandma and remarked, “When I’m a big kid, can I be a cool waitress, too?”
The grandmother had in turn smiled at me and told her granddaughter, “Of course, when you’re a big kid, I’m sure you’ll be an excellent waitress just like the lady we had tonight.” She even offered me a wink. Adorable! Now, why can’t everyone be like that?
By 9:30pm, the rush slowed down enough that I was allowed to leave. I typically walked home unless the weather was awful. On those days, I’d wait for my mother, who was nearly always the last waitress to leave, and, as a result drove her car. “Do you expect an old lady like me to walk two miles home after being on my feet all night?” she always grumbled when I asked her why she didn’t just walk. That made me laugh, mostly because she was barely even 40, not what most people would consider old. My belongings were hanging on the metal hooks near the back door of the kitchen. I brushed past Donald, who was sweeping the kitchen floor and singing a Bob Marley song, despite the fact that death metal was pouring out of the radio that sat on the shelf behind Becky.
“Cut that pot-smoking happy music, you old hippie!” Becky was yelling at him, waving her spatula. She tucked a stray piece of purple hair back under her tie-dyed handkerchief with her pinkie. She would continue cooking for any remaining guests until the kitchen officially “closed” promptly at 10:00. (Don’t spread this around, but, for locals, she might stay open until 10:15, if she’s in a good mood, that is.)
“’Don’ worry…be happy!’” was Don’s reply.
“Good grief,” Becky said and cranked up the Slayer. I could see her smiling, though. “Good night, honey!” she called out to me as I grabbed my purse and sweater. She liked to call everyone “honey”, despite her gruff appearance.
“Good night, guys!” I replied and stepped out into the cool evening breeze that blew off of Lake Minocqua. The gentle lapping of waves on the shore and some chatter from the nearby bars were the only sounds to fill the evening. I breathed in deeply, enjoying the evening, and grateful to be walking home nearly $200 wealthier after a satisfying and hard day’s work. I had to cut across a darkened parking lot on my normal route home, not that that was an intimidating experience in a small Wisconsin town, but it always made me clutch my purse a bit tighter in the summer months. You can never know who will show up in our peaceful little town this time of year; muggers could very well be a possibility, though still highly unlikely. Needless to say, I was very unwilling to part with my hard-earned cash. I would probably beat a mugger lifeless with my purse. Just saying.
“Hey!” a voice called out, breaking up my quiet evening walk.
I leapt into the air, brandishing my purse before me. Maybe I would have to beat someone with it, like some kind of agitated granny.
“Don’t attack!” the voice called again, with a bit of a laugh this time, and I saw a shadow step out from behind a parked car. The shadow gradually took on human-like qualities and then, an instant later, Drew stood before me. I felt my body relax a bit, but I still wondered why this random guy was sneaking up on me in a darkened parking lot. I also felt my face heat up a bit. Was I embarrassed? Did I like this guy? Certainly not. Must just be the adrenaline from the near-mugging.
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to seem cavalier but probably coming off a little annoyed.
“Just thought I’d say ‘hi’,” he replied.
“Are you stalking me?” I asked before I could stop myself. Ugh, what a stupid thing to say; now he certainly thought I was insane, if he didn’t already. “Sorry, that sounded rude,” I tried to backtrack. “It’s just not every day that I’m jumped in a parking lot.”
“Well, I’m not planning on, uh, jumping you, so you don’t have to worry about that,” he said, sounding a bit nervous. “I just thought I’d see if you were interested in hanging out tonight.” He’d stepped further into the glow from the streetlight by now, and I could tell that he was a little embarrassed himself, his tan face looking a bit meek and reddish, as well. His hands were tucked into his pants pockets, and his sweatshirt hung unzipped. I couldn’t help but think to myself that he looked strangely vulnerable in that position. As the moments dragged by, during which time I wondered what on earth I was supposed to actually say, he cleared his throat awkwardly and said, “Sorry, I guess, you already gave me your answer when you didn’t call my number this week. This was rather presumptuous of me…thinking you’d be interested at all, especially after my family, I’ll just be going…” He turned on his heel and began walking away.
I felt myself slowly unlock from the frozen state I seemed to be in and clear my throat. “Wait!” I called after him. “Wait! When, exactly, did you hear me say that I didn’t want to hang out with you,” I said, hand on one hip. If this guy was going to seriously ask me out, he might as well let me respond. We could see where the cards would fall later on; I was willing to at least give it a try. Plus, guys weren’t exactly lining up at school to ask me out. My friends and I were kind of a shy little group of band members and artistic types. There was Amie, the daydreamer who spent most of her free time in the art room painting or making pottery. She didn’t talk too much besides to ask us about our own artistic ventures. There was also Margaret, the trombone player, who was incredibly shy and usually the only other person at my lunch table besides Tony, our huggable homosexual poet. He liked to wear black and stay “under the radar”, in his words. Unfortunately, all three of them were too busy to spend much time together this summer. Amie went to stay with her cousin, Amber, at her apartment in New York City, to “live the city life” for the summer and see if she could sell any of her artwork out east. Margaret was at band camp in Florida for the first half of the summer, and Tony was taking college classes down in Milwaukee for the summer. He was always at the top of the class, likely the only student in our entire class to take college classes before their senior year. That left me, and now, potentially a guy who actually wanted to spend time with me. It was unusual, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea.
“You mean, you want to hang out?” he asked.
“Sure, why not? I don’t have any plans.”
“Okay, cool,” he said and went on to explain that he and some friends were having a bonfire at his friend Tom’s parent’s cabin out in Lac du Flambeau.
“You have a car, right?” I asked. “I was planning on walking home, but Flambeau’s a bit of a hike.”
“Of course,” Drew replied. He gestured toward an old blue Ford truck with just a hint of rust along the wheel wells.
I grinned, and choked down a bit of a laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Your car’s just not what I was expecting.”
“I see, and that’s because…you know me so well?”
He laughed. “Come on, let’s go.”
“I don’t know…my mother told me not to take rides from strangers…”
“It’s okay; I already talked to your grandma.”
“Yeah, the older lady at the hostess booth in Gilly’s?”
I burst out laughing. “Oh, that’s not my grandma- that’s MJ! She’s just a family friend; we go way back!”
“Oops…I just assumed, I guess since you two seemed so comfortable together, from what I’d seen.”
Still laughing, I walked with him over to the truck. “That’s okay; she actually is like a grandmother to me, in a way. My mom does work there, though; I’ll just stop in and let her know where I’m going, so she doesn’t worry if I’m out late.”
We walked back across the street and stopped in at Gilly’s, giving my mother a quick explanation and introducing her to Drew. On our way out, MJ made eye contact with Drew, moved her hands toward her eyes and then pointed at him, giving the old “I’m watching you” signal. Drew swallowed loudly, but I just laughed and waved. Then, we were off, driving in an old pick-up down the forested roads of northern Wisconsin, the windows down and a loud classic rock station turned up high. It was an unexpected but enjoyable beginning to a relationship that was only just beginning to blossom.