Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By Linda S. Gunther

It was 4:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon when Gavin Harbison applied the shaving cream to his face and neck. He picked up his razor, preparing himself mentally for his job as waiter on the night shift at the Porter House Hotel. He wasn’t looking forward to it and jumped when Cilla flung open the bathroom door. His hand jerked and the blade nicked his chin.  “Damn it.”

He could see Cilla in the mirror standing behind him in the small bathroom. Her flight attendant’s uniform smelled of alcohol. He noticed a white stain near the breast pocket of her navy-blue blazer. The flowered red, white and blue scarf half-knotted around her neck was crooked.

Cilla shook her head. “Well, dang it, I zipped on home, jazzed about my early landing, hopin’ to find my sweetheart in bed but wouldn’t ya know it, he’s up n’ about, already shavin.’ Dang!” She leaned against the wall by the bathroom door, her hand on her hips.

Gavin plucked a tissue from the top drawer, tore off a small piece and dabbed his bloodied chin, leaving a tiny bit of tissue stuck to the cut. Cilla pushed out her lower lip in a pout, moved closer to him. He turned to her as he shut the top drawer. She reached out, playfully running her fingers through the wild curly dark hairs on his bare chest up to his chin.

“Dahlin’, can’t ya come back to bed for one little ol’ half hour?”

He forced a grin, weary of her once adorable southern drawl, and shook his head. “No can do,” he said, and continued shaving around the white spot of tissue.

She turned away, sashayed through the doorway over to the king-sized bed, stripped off her uniform, threw each item of clothes; the jacket, scarf, skirt and blouse onto the carpet, and then slipped beneath the sky-blue cotton sheets. For a naughty moment she thought of Captain Barry Nelson, the recently hired Southwest pilot who winked at her when she passed him a ginger ale through the cabin door that morning before take-off. She recalled his touch, and how she held her breath when the Captain brushed his hand on her right thigh about two hours into the flight as he angled around her to use the toilet.

“Gavin baby, why you leavin’ so early for work? Why sugar?” She whined. Under the bedcovers she stroked the outside of her thigh, the same spot where the airline pilot had made contact.

Gavin rushed out of the bathroom and pulled on a pair of white underwear which had grayed from too many washings. “I’m going to be late as it is, he said, heading to the closet. “Have to cover one and a half shifts. Marty called in sick.”

She pulled the covers to her chin. “My boyfriend is no fun,” she said, raising her voice, as if shouting it to the world. “We hardly see each other.”

“It’s bull, man,” Gavin said, “I hate working that private banquet room. Corporate geeks always get soused. The tips suck.”

He rushed into the closet, pulled clothes from hangers and stood at the full-length mirror on the wall opposite the bed. “It’s not like the main restaurant where you get solo biz travelers who practically spill their life story if you spend three minutes shooting the crap.”

Cilla pushed the covers away from her face and watched Gavin dress. She liked the waiter’s uniform they made him wear, a crisp long sleeved white shirt with fancy ridged pleats and tiny black buttons, black slacks and a velvet vest that finished above the belt line and tied in the back, showing off Gavin’s small waist and nice butt.

“Diners in the main restaurant are generous,” he said. “A 30-dollar tip the other night from one guy there on his own. Did I tell you that?”

“No,” she sighed, “You don’t tell me anything much,” she said, and flipped on the Ocean Wave sound machine, recalling the musky fragrance of Captain Nelson’s after-shave. Had he touched her thigh intentionally? She wondered, or was he just maneuvering around her at the front of the first-class cabin where it was a tight squeeze. She turned her face into the pillow, nuzzling her nose against the brushed cotton, pretending it was the Captain’s ear.

Gavin sat on the edge of the bed putting on his socks. “God, I hate when they give me the banquet room. Can’t get through another year of law school with those crap tips.”

She sat up, her back against the oak headboard. “Is it true that the typical male thinks about sex every ten seconds,” she said, “or is that just a dang old stupid myth?”

He crinkled his brow and shook his head. “I don’t know. I’m not the typical male.” He slipped on his black loafers, and grabbed his car keys and wallet from the bedside table. Bending over, he looked into her tired brown eyes. “Cilla, you are the silliest woman I ever met,” he said, “Do I think of sex every ten seconds? Geesh!” he said, and tousled her red hair.

She shrugged her shoulders and giggled.  He rolled his eyes.

“I was just curious,” she said.

“Sorry,” he said, “but I gotta scoot. Matt’s picking me up downstairs. My car’s still in the shop. Six hundred bucks to fix it.”

“Woo-wee, that is steep,” she said.

He pecked her forehead. “Won’t be home until two or three in the morning if I end up having a drink,” he said. “Depends on Matt. When you bum a ride, the driver’s your guide. Ciao, babe!”

“Bye, sugar. Have fun. I’ll be here waitin’,” she said.

The Porter House Hotel was bustling when Gavin and Matt arrived. Assistant waiters rushed around setting the white-cloth covered tables. There was a chattering queue of people in duos and trios at the restaurant podium. As usual, Gavin forgot the monogrammed cufflinks to his white shirt, part of the waiter’s uniform. He talked Matt into lending him a pair in exchange for a beer at Maggie’s after their shift.

Morton, the restaurant manager, greeted them with clipboard in hand.

“Matt,” he said, “you take the banquet room tonight, the four back rounds closest to the door. Gavin, you’re in the restaurant. Tables 1 through 5.” Morton checked his watch. “You guys ready to go in three minutes?” They both nodded.

Matt curled his lip as Morton walked away.  “Bastard! I was in a good mood until now. Marla’s pregnancy test was negative. Off the hook,” he raised his thumb in the air. “Damn, that banquet room’s hella bad. That’ll cost you two beers later.”

“Sorry,” Gavin shook his head. “That was unexpected. Morton hates me.”

“It’s the opposite, man,” Matt said. “I think he likes you more than you know. You’re too good looking. Geesh, my life as the bad luck waiter,” Matt winced, his shoulders slumping as he trudged in the direction of the banquet room’s massive double doors.

Gavin picked up the iPad from behind the restaurant bar and looked over at Table 5 where a young woman sat by herself. The cute blonde gazed out the window at the lake below. She seemed to squint, the bright orange sun behind her, about to set. He could make out the glum expression on her face, like she was struggling with some decision, her nose scrunched up, her lips pressed together. Maybe she’s in town for the car show at the Coliseum. She could be a model.  Pretty enough, he thought. Her red sweater, black blazer and matching black skirt looked like some kind of uniform.

He noticed the leather briefcase sitting on the seat adjacent to her. Nope, she’s on a business trip. Denver was loaded with high tech companies.

He headed to the bar to prepare a small tray for her and pick up a cocktail menu.

“Move your butt,” Matt kidded as he came up behind the bar and slapped Gavin on his arm with a small white towel. “Champagne, the expensive stuff, for the corporate Neanderthals in the banquet room. So loud, telling dirty jokes, yelling like idiots.”  

“I feel for ya, man,” Gavin said. He pulled out a small tray from the side table adjacent to the bar, grabbed a cocktail menu, poured a glass of ice water and prepared a small plate of sourdough bread and butter for the blonde at table 5.

Matt continued his tirade as he opened the fridge behind the bar and took out three bottles of Veuve Cliquot champagne. “Those guys haven’t even inhaled their salad yet. Drunk as skunks from cocktails, I guess. My tips are gonna suck.” He slammed the fridge shut.

Gavin looked up and glanced over at the blonde. The light from the window had softened. She was petite, her legs crossed. She leaned forward still staring out at the lake. The outline of her body against the backdrop reminded him of an Edward Hopper painting. He watched as a busboy lit the candle at her table.

“Later, dude,” Matt said, walking away from the bar, holding a tall silver cooler full of champagne bottles.

Gavin headed to table 5, balancing the tray in one hand and the iPad in the other.

As he approached, the blonde looked away from the window, brushed a strand of long hair away from her eyes, draped it behind her ear and offered him a weak smile.

“Glad you’re here,” she said. “I’m starved.” Her voice was clear, a creamy, smooth tone, her eyes a blue-green. “I haven’t eaten anything today. Just coffee,” she said. “Slept the whole flight and missed lunch. Airplane food. No big deal, right?”

He noticed the raised dark beauty mark to the side of her left eye. Her lashes seemed long and curled up, but didn’t look fake, and so far, not one ‘dang it’ came from her lips. He had grown weary of Cilla’s southern drawl.

As he placed the tray on the table, his hand slipped. The tray came down hard. An ice cube escaped the water glass and slid off the table onto the blonde’s lap. Oh no. What’s going on with me? he asked himself. I’m a nervous wreck. He was a second-year law student, had played the prosecution in numerous mock trials, was a master at exuding confidence.

The blonde picked up the ice cube from her lap and placed it on the tray. Her nails were manicured with a pale pink polish, her hands small, her fingers dainty and no wedding ring.

“May I get you another server?” He grinned.

“No. I’ll stick with the one I have,” she said, getting his joke. She brushed the hair again from her eyes, a thick lock that seemed blonder than the rest, like a streak of sunshine. “Looks like we both had a long day,” she said. “Any specials?”

He couldn’t take his eyes from hers.  Crystals, they were like pale bluish green crystal prisms, tiny kaleidoscopes changing color from moment to moment. Maybe it was the glow of the candle on the table.

“The specials?” she asked, hinting that she noticed him staring a little too long.

He fumbled with the iPad, awkwardly managing to hit the screen with his index finger. “Of course, we have some specials.  I’d highly recommend the grilled shark, the kind that melts in your mouth, sprinkled with a dash of cilantro and sitting in a light butter bath, drizzled with a zesty lemon sauce.” He closed his eyes thinking of the flavor of the dish, his favorite in the restaurant. Did I just attempt to seduce this woman with the special?

He could feel his face heat up. She’s onto me. Her scooped-neck red sweater showed a hint of light brown freckles at the start of her breasts. The glow of the candle played off her front teeth which seemed to glisten in the candlelight.

He cleared his throat and looked at the iPad. “We also have the filet mignon special that comes with a side of scalloped potatoes, and….

“No.” She waved her hand in the air.  “I hardly ever eat red meat, but the shark sounds delicious, especially the way you described it.” He thought he noticed the tip of her tongue brush her upper lip. “I’ll have the shark.”

“Good choice.” He marked it on the iPad.

 “Do you have champagne by the glass? She asked. “I don’t drink wine or cocktails but I do have a weakness for the sparkling stuff.”

Her napkin slid from her lap onto the royal blue carpet. He bent down to retrieve it. As he placed it back on the table, he unintentionally brushed her thigh before he straightened. Get a grip, he told himself.

“I could probably pour you some Veuve Cliquot, our best. They’re drinking the pricey stuff in the banquet room,” he whispered. “I think I could swing it with my connections.”

“Would you do that for me?” She said, her eyes wide. The streak of ultra-blonde hair escaped from behind her ear and fell over her eyes. “I won’t forget it,” she said. “You’re my personal spirit guide, aren’t you?”

“Wait, was that a joke?” he said.

She bit her lip. “The word personal or the word spirit?”

“I’m hoping you meant the word, personal.”

She smiled.

“I did,” she said. She took a sip of water, dipped her fingers in the glass, plucked out an ice cube and slid it down the side of her neck and up again. “Kind of hot in here, isn’t it?” she said.

He raised his eyebrows. “Yeah,” he hesitated. “Uh, yeah, it’s warm in here tonight.”  He wanted to catch the drips running down her neck.

He pulled himself from the fantasy. “Would you like Caesar dressing or oil and vinegar?”

“What do you like?” she asked.

“Me?” I prefer oil and vinegar.”

She pushed her chair back a little and crossed her legs. He noticed the slit on one side of her skirt, which seemed to have edged higher up her thigh. Her legs were tanned, firm. She wore black patent leather high heels.

“I’ll go with your choice of dressing,” she said.

His eyes wandered back to her legs. He poked the iPad. “Great. I’ll be back.”

He found a reason to return to her table at least eight times over the next hour as he juggled the other four tables which were thankfully singles and one older couple. He brought her the salad and champagne which he had begged Matt to pour for him. He filled her water glass two or three times, then coaxed Matt for a second glass of Cliquot.

He noticed the blonde had taken out a book from her briefcase but seemed to never open it. Each time he stopped by to check on her, they had a short conversation. First, it was about the weather. Then about her business trip, coming from New Mexico. She was a technical writing manager. He mentioned his heavy class load at Law School. She brought up the subject of how small the rooms were at the hotel but were so tastefully decorated and mentioned being impressed with the linens, the paisley tapestry bedspread and the elegant matching drapes.

“I always ask for Room 624,” she said “because I love the view of the garden in the back. Nice and quiet, a contrast to the aggressive high-tech men I spend my days with.”

“I haven’t seen the rooms but I know they did a major renovation last year,” he said.

He came by at the end of the meal as she took the last bite of strawberry cheesecake. She caught him watching her and smiled. Her eyes seemed to twinkle, the kaleidoscopes migrating color, her smile incorrigible. “Can I get you more coffee?” he asked.

“Yes, please,” she said.

“When he came to pick up the bill, he saw that she had signed her name which he couldn’t make out, and scrawled 624 to charge it to her room.

She shuffled around a little nervously with her briefcase, stuffing the D.H. Lawrence novel back inside. For some reason, she appeared flustered. The white cloth napkin fell from her lap as she stood, her body close to his. His thoughts ran wild.

She bent to reach for her briefcase and purse, gathering them from the chair beside her. Without eye contact, she said in a hushed voice, “Room 624 has that lovely new décor.” She opened her purse pretending she was looking for something. “You can experience it firsthand if you like.” She snapped her purse shut. “What time does your shift end?”

Although she had flirted with him throughout the evening, her words still sounded surreal. This hadn’t happened before, not in the three years since he’d been living with Cilla. The blonde straightened and looked up at him. She stood about 5’4” in her patent leather heels, to his 6’ 1” and noticed a peachy scent of perfume.

“My shift ends at 11,” he said. “I had some other plans but…”

“You want to see my room, don’t you?” she whispered, noticing another waiter pass by. She opened her briefcase and pretended to look inside for something. “See you at 11:01, then?” she said zipping up the briefcase. “I’ll leave the door slightly ajar. My name is Nicky.”

He nodded feeling a tinge of guilt. She stepped away from the table. He watched her hair swing from side to side as she exited the restaurant, two men in the queue at the hostess station turning their heads to watch her walk by. A woman with confidence, he thought. Sophisticated.

He spent the rest of his shift serving deserts to two overweight business men from Phoenix at Table 3 and poured at least three rounds of coffee refills to a tired looking middle-aged couple who never said a word to one another at Table 4. He got through the night wondering how the blonde’s sheets would feel pressed to his naked body. He’d need to tell Matt that he had something come up and they’d catch that drink after tomorrow night’s shift. He’d take a cab home later. He had the logistics figured out.

The room was dark when he entered. He crept in between the sheets and felt the smooth skin on her leg. She had been waiting for him and he could feel her anticipation growing as he lightly slid his fingers on the inside of her thigh. She gasped. “You are one bad boy,” she said in a raspy voice.

“Madam, I beg your pardon. I am your personal waiter. Always at your service.”

Cilla buried her head in the crook of his neck. She liked the space between his chin and his shoulder. It was a warm, safe place. “You’re home earlier than you said, aren’t you?”

“I skipped the drink with Matt.”

“Oh, why?” she whispered.

“Dang, you know why,” he said. “Because I love you.”

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