Story #11 for Story A Day Challenge May 2016
The Polite Thing To Do
Carlos pulled into the restaurant’s parking spot a few minutes late. He was hoping Stephanie was late, too, even later than he was, but she was already there when he walked through the door.
No tables were open, so they waited and chatted. It was their first date.
They knew each other a little bit, from their morning addiction to Starbucks, the one on Tenth Street. They worked near each other downtown. Over time, they moved from recognizing each other while in the line to get their caffeine to greeting each other. One day they were asking how their weekends went and the next thing they knew they had somehow mutually agreed they should get together.
And here they were.
They couldn’t ask how their weekends were because it was the weekend. Fortunately the weather had been stormy lately (flooding in all the low water crossings, of course), so they explored that subject for a while. The rising price of gasoline (another safe subject) occupied their minds for a few more minutes. The acoustics were bad in the waiting area, so they had to lean towards each other and raise their voices a little. Just as they started discussing the current crop of movies (not much to see, in Stephanie’s opinion), the hostess called them to be seated (cutting off whatever Carlos was going to say about movies).
As busy as the restaurant was, the service was fast and they hadn’t even finished going over the problems stemming from the construction on the Interstate and the proposed tax increases for an outer loop before their food came. While the server placed Stephanie’s food in front of her, Carlos stole a glance at his phone that he had set on his leg. He just needed to check a few things; it wouldn’t take but a second or two.
Sitting across from him, Stephanie wondered, What is he looking at? Maybe he had already spilled something on himself? She didn’t ask it out loud in case it would embarrass him.
When the server asked if they needed anything else, Stephanie said, “Some extra butter, please.”
Extra butter? Carlos thought she was vegan. He reached over to get the salt shaker, spreading it liberally over his whole plate, meat and vegetables alike.
He’s not even going to taste his food before he adds some salt? Stephanie picked up her knife to spread the extra butter the server provided. He’s still looking down at his lap. He hardly even noticed how much salt he added. Glad I’m not trying to eat that.
Out of the corner of his eye, Carlos saw Stephanie pour syrup over her pancake short stack. Gingerbread pancakes? That’s what she likes to eat for dinner?
Stephanie cut into the pancakes and began eating in the middle. Carlos was fascinated. He’d never seen anyone do that. He always ate his from the outside in, like any normal person. He tried not to stare.
Stephanie looked up as she brought the fork to her mouth, thinking, I just love the center where all the butter and syrup settle together. Gooey and yummy. It always tastes the best. Carlos quickly looked back down at his phone, trying not to stare at the gap in the middle of her pancakes.
Stephanie took a few more bites. What’s the deal? Is he checking his phone? Really? He can’t even leave it alone for a few minutes?
The server appeared. “Everything okay here, guys? Need anything?”
“Good,” Carlos said.
“Good,” Stephanie agreed. She took this opportunity to get Carlos’ attention away from his lap. “How’s your steak?”
“Fine, just fine. And your, um, pancakes?”
“Really good.” Is he chewing a bit slowly? Maybe he’s trying to dilute the salt level before swallowing. Distracted, Stephanie accidentally dropped her fork onto the plate, getting syrup all over it. She brought up the napkin from her lap to clean it off.
Carlos smiled. Well, that was clumsy, but a little cute.
When finished wiping off her fork, she looked up and grinned. As she returned the napkin to her lap, it fell off onto the floor under the table. She grinned sheepishly, again, before she disappeared to retrieve it.
Hastily, Carlos checked his phone. “YES!” He bellowed, pounding his fist on the table. Startled, Stephanie brought her head up straight, hitting the bottom of the table, making all the dishes bounce.
She rose back up in her seat, gently rubbing her head. “Everything okay, Carlos?”
“Are you all right? I am so sorry.”
“I’m fine, I think.” She waited for him to explain what caused him to strike the table. He didn’t. Eventually, she resumed eating. With the slightest movement possible, he turned his phone over, removing any possibility of temptation of looking at it.
The rest of the dinner consisted of small bites of food from both sides of the table with chit chat about the weather, the predicted continuing drought, and the ghastly amount of trees that were dying across the state.
With the food gone, there was a lull in the conversation. The server offered them dessert, but they declined without hesitation. They were relieved to see the restaurant was still busy, agreeing that the polite thing to do would be to vacate their table and let someone else sit down.
As they got into their respective cars, they both decided to change to a different Starbucks come Monday morning. Yes, they thought, the one on Seventh and Broadway would be a better choice, at least for a while.