If workplace gossip spreads like a wildfire, then restaurant workplace gossip reacts like a firecracker thrown into a dry clearing in a Florida swamp in the middle of a July drought — doused with accelerator. Fast, loud, explosive gossip that rages long after the firecracker’s impact.
Thanks Red Bull Man. Thanks a whole lot.
I decided to ignore all the texts for the time being. There would be time to respond in person. About 36 weeks or so. I wondered if I would even keep my job at the restaurant. I had signed on full-time at the newspaper as a news assistant but had kept a few restaurant shifts just to pass the time, make friends and earn some extra cash.
Crap. The newspaper.
How would I explain to my new boss at my “real” job that I would need to take maternity leave in the spring to have the baby of a man who she had never heard of who coincidentally did not want to have a baby? What about the few friendships I had started to form in the newsroom? The connections I was trying to make in a fledgling industry where seasoned veterans were dropping like flies? Would there be a job waiting for me after my maternity leave?
I started to freak out a little. Maybe the busboy was right. Maybe I was f—- ed.
It occurred to me that I looked like a character from a bad Lifetime movie as I sat on my unmade bed, head in hands, having my first parental economic meltdown. I resented the fact that there was no crescendo of meltdown music underneath my whimpering though. No wisecracking roommate who was terrified of babies but would end up bonding with mine over a slasher-movie marathon and cheesy popcorn. No remote control to change the channel.
Another text message.
“Oh Lord. What now horrible, horrible people?”
New message from Brian Dole.
“We still on for dinner? I’m leaving work now.”
Dinner! In the hubbub I had totally spaced on the fact that I had made plans with my ex-boyfriend-turned-friend-sort-of Brian to go out for seafood and Happy Hour. While 99 percent of me was pretty sure I couldn’t face him in this condition – ever – one percent really wanted some salmon and a virgin daiquiri, which would be a laugh to order.
I looked at my phone’s keypad for a few. Could I go and just not tell this man, whom I had dated for five years? If I ended up not going through with having the baby, he would never have to know. We could probably even get back together, move to Arizona and have a few planned babies of our own. This whole episode would be one of those life lessons that a woman keeps to herself and references in shrouded terms when preaching to her teenage daughters about abstinence.
Yes. Yes, this could work. Go eat salmon. Overdose on bad sugar in a fake daiquiri. Enjoy myself. Not ruin Brian’s weekend with the news that the future mother of his children was already the mother of someone else’s child. It could work.
My grandiose plan was interrupted by my phone ringing. It was Brian.
“Hey yourself. Did you get my text? What’s the plan? Am I coming to pick you up or what?”
The barrage of questions was grating. Brian was a elf-proclaimed high-strung, high-energy individual that couldn’t sit still. In college it was cute. He was a go-getter with lots of balls in the air. He was also a people pleaser, to an impossible degree.
About a year into the relationship I started to realize the negative effects of this personality trait. Brian couldn’t say “no” to any invitation. Most weekends I found myself driving across the great state of Indiana to attend (his) family birthday parties, followed by a professional basketball game a few hours the other direction and late-night drinks with friends in Ohio. If I had to work all weekend, he would go without me. It became our most frequent argument.
“I was hoping we could just hang out here this weekend. I get off work at 5. We could go see a movie and relax,” I would plead.
“5? What am I supposed to do the rest of the day?”
“I don’t know. Homework. Laundry. Relax. Watch TV?” I knew I was grasping for straws.
Big sigh and eye roll from him.
“Kate. I don’t have any homework this weekend because it’s already done. I’d rather my mom do my laundry. And if I’m going to watch TV, I’d rather do it on the big screen with my Dad.”
“So you’d rather drive 2 hours there and back than just wait here until I get off work? And what am I supposed to do when I get off work and you are gone?”
“Gee, Kate, I don’t know. Homework? Laundry? Watch TV??” Brian Dole could be so sarcastic.
“Fine. Go. But it wouldn’t kill you to sit still for a weekend.”
“You don’t know that it wouldn’t.”
Big sigh and eye roll from me.
So he would go. I would work. We’d send a few scathing text messages the first day he was gone, followed by apologies all the next day and a make-up-make-out session when he got back in town. This went on for a few years. After I graduated from college and got a job an hour from Muncie, our love-hate argument reached a fever pitch. I always dreaded Thursday nights, when he was likely to lay some awful weekend news on me.
“I’ll be in Cincinnati all weekend with my Dad. We are doing a football weekend, hitting up the college and pro games.”
“Okay,” very measured on my end. “And how long have you been planning this?”
“Just a week or so. My dad was able to get tickets.”
“You expect me to believe that a few days ago your Dad was just like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s spend hundreds of dollars and drive all over the damn place? Sure, why not?’ Whatever Brian.”
“See. This is why I don’t tell you things. Because you act like this.”
“I act like this because I was planning to see my boyfriend this weekend. I’ve turned down lots of plans already.” Lying. I was working in Shelbyville, Indiana covering city government. Seeing my boyfriend on the weekend was about as exciting as my life got in those days.
“Well call those people back. I’ll see you next weekend.”
I always felt like I was a small piece of the 1,000-piece puzzle that was Brian’s life and he was my whole 4-piece one. His puzzle was of a beautiful and intangible abstract-shape painting. Mine was of a pony.
But despite his inability to snap his events calendar shut when it began overflowing times and dates, Brian was a stand-up guy. A hard worker. Good to his mother. Smart. The life of the party. A good ole’ boy from Delphi, Indiana, population 1000-something, who worked in the kitchen of his grandpa’s restaurant on college breaks and golfed with the hometown cronies. Chiseled good looks, as if God had made a cookie cutter especially to mold Brian, then locked it up in glass case in Heaven’s museum for all to admire for eternity.
I loved him but always felt that I was hiking in four-inch heels backward uphill with a backpack full of encyclopedias to make him love me back.
“Kate? Am I coming to get you or what? Are you hungry? Want to do it later? What do you think? Are you still there?”
“Oh yeah, sorry. I’m here. Yeah. Sure. I’ll finish getting ready and see you in a few.”
I moved cautiously toward my closet. What to wear? This clearly wasn’t a “trying to get him back” occasion. It was just food. And being with someone who made me feel comfortable.
I threw on a sundress and flip-flops. It was early September in Central Florida and the evenings still packed a sticky punch. My hair was matted against my neck from the serious Z’s I had been sawing. I grabbed a hair tie and decided to move on.
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