I don't know what this is. A little one-shot I suppose. I've been working on this for a couple of weeks now so, uh, please enjoy!
PS: I am working on the next chapter of A La Carte. Thank you for your patience!
I never asked why or why not, but I stayed grateful for every moment we spent together.
It started off as a regular day at work. Another wedding; a little over one hundred people, three course-meal: salad, entrée and dessert. Each section of four tables would be assigned to two servers, one senior and one junior. I was the former and not the latter. Being at the job a year already, I knew absolutely everything there was to know.
That's when she showed up; unannounced and unexpected. Her chestnut hair caught my eye immediately and I remember thinking to myself, that's a nice color.
"Please welcome her to the team."
After the wedding's briefing was over, everyone scurried into the ballroom to clear empty liquor glasses. I stayed and studied the seating chart: eight kids meals, four vegetarians, two vegans and one gluten-free meal. I let out a sigh. What a pain.
I looked to my right and she stood staring at me, her hand extended. I wasn't exactly sure what to do. I paused a moment before taking her hand in mine. I could feel how long her fingers were. Piano hands they'd call it.
"Oh, uh...hey. I'm Akihiko."
"It's nice to meet you." She said, smiling brightly. "Looks like we'll be working together today."
"Yeah," I replied, trying to be courteous. I silently wondered if I looked as uncomfortable as I felt. "I know this is your first day, so if there's anything you don't know, don't hesitate to ask."
"I won't." Then she seemed to pause, at a loss for words. I decided to finish the conversation for her.
"I'm going to head into the ballroom. We're going to be starting soon."
She nodded her head, then passed me by with a faint smell of lavender and a warm smile. I remembered thinking, Who smiles nowadays?
It was the little things about her that got me the most.
The way she always said, "Hi, Akihiko!" when she started her shift, the same tune she hummed when she brewed coffee, the way her eyes lit up when she caught sight of the shift's wedding and the way she would always volunteer to do the most tedious task when there was nothing else to do. Always vacuuming, always polishing glasses, always helping me set-up rooms for meetings and other functions. It quickly became our routine when I asked her, "What color?"
Like always, she tilted her head in contemplation. "For the napkins? How about blue?" I noticed how she always picked blue, maroon or black. It was never red, yellow or beige.
Over time we learned a lot about each other. I learned she had a boyfriend, Shinjiro (or Shinji as she called him) and she learned I had a girlfriend, Mitsuru. We were both in serious relationships at the time. Not necessarily deeply in love, but more so comfortable. She was extremely fond of sweets. She liked the chocolate epiphany and hated the crème brulee. Which I found odd since I'm not big on sweets, but crème brulee was my favorite.
Then we became accustomed to one another. We always shared a dessert on break time. She always gave me the last strawberry. I always brought her a drink when she was stuck covering coat-check. It was ironic how with her there were so many always, but with Mitsuru there were never enough sometimes. She was intriguing to say the least and it was then that I realized I wanted to be with her. I didn't know in what way or form, but I just wanted to be around her more.
The next few months were full of laughter and inside jokes. We were always paired together as a team since according to our boss we worked well together. I liked being her partner, so I never questioned his logic.
One fateful day we had to work a double shift together. The wedding went until past two in the morning and we had a shift the next day at nine. Less than seven hours of sleep, go figure. Because of this, the hotel offers employees a room to sleep in overnight. It wasn't the first time I've experienced it, but it was for her. While we discussed it, our boss approached us.
"Who do you want to share a room with?"
I caught the way she looked at me slowly, then the small lump that formed in her throat. "Umm...Akihiko I guess."
Something strange moved in my chest. It was unnerving to say the least. It wasn't weird that she picked me. The other two co-workers working the double shift were both males. She was friendly with everyone, but closer to me.
Since I got off the shift half an hour before she did, I went straight to the room to unwind. The room available only had one bed. No big deal, I thought. I'll just throw a blanket on the floor and sleep there. Since I had some time to relax, I changed into pajamas and turned on the television. There was nothing good on. Just some old movies, re-runs and documentaries. I settled on an old movie and sat on the bed.
Getting comfortable (and into the movie) I heard the door unlock and her walk in. She peered over the corner cautiously at first, then I heard her kick off her shoes and walk into the room.
I waited for her to come closer before shifting my weight off the bed. "You can sleep on the bed if you want. I'll take the floor."
She shook her head. "No, it's okay. There's enough room for two people."
I looked at the bed. It was a king sized bed, there was no arguing with her. I was worried it would be a little awkward, but if she insisted there was no point refusing. "I guess."
She laughed at the falter in my voice and went to the washroom to get ready for bed.
I slept at the opposite side of the bed, right on the edge. I didn't want to seem too comfortable or familiar with her, but for some reason neither of us could drift off to sleep.
"It's weird you know." She said at four in the morning.
I turned over to face her. It was hard to make out her face in the lack of light. "What is?"
"Sleeping together in the same room."
I thought of holding my tongue, but curiosity got the better half of me. "Haven't you ever slept over at Shinji's?"
I heard her breath catch, then slowly leave. "Not really..."
I secretly wondered what this Shinji was like. I assumed they had been intimate, judging that they had been dating for years now. Was he the kind of guy that simply sent her home afterwards? "So I'm the first guy you've slept beside?"
"Did you ever sleep over at Mitsuru's?"
I contemplated telling a lie, but instead said the truth, "No."
"So I'm the first girl you've slept beside." She laughed louder than I cared for.
I couldn't help but laugh in response. She got me there. "I guess so."
"Since we're up," she started, "let's tell scary stories."
We stayed up until five talking. As much as I wanted to sleep, I just wanted to keep talking to her. I knew I would regret it the next morning, but I also knew if I fell asleep I'd regret it for the next while to come.
Mitsuru broke up with me a few months later. I never did tell her about the sleepover at work and had no intention to. Nothing happened after all. It wasn't on bad terms, hell, strangely enough it was mutual. Secretly mutual.
Sometimes people fall out of love, she said one day over dinner. I want to focus on myself.
And I wanted to reply, since when did you ever focus on me?
Just that past Christmas I spent an entire paycheck on everything she wanted.
I suppose I felt the same way but never voiced it. I guess I was scared of what she would say, or afraid of being alone. None of that seemed important then. I nodded my head in agreement and we finished our meal in silence. It's strange how you can spend all the time in the world with someone and then one day it's over. Just like that. It makes you wonder what it was all really for.
I tried to keep the breakup to myself as long as possible. But then one night I couldn't anymore. It was at work around a week later. I was appointed bartender for one of the smaller functions and she came to visit me during our downtime.
She turned to me strangely. She always gave me that look when I asked that question. Then like always, she turned her head ever so slightly. "Good. How about you and Mitsuru?"
I hesitated, feeling a lump in my throat. I disguised it by tidying up the bar. "Good. I guess."
"We kind of broke up." As soon as I said it, I wish I could have took it back. What had I hoped to achieve by telling her this?
Her expression was unreadable for the first few seconds, then she gave me this look of sympathy. "Oh...Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I guess. I'm just focusing on myself now."
"Maybe one day you'll get back together. You never know."
I quietly laughed. I had to give her points for trying. "I don't think so...It's like every day that passes, the feelings I once had for her just turns into hate."
I couldn't answer. I didn't know the reason, myself. Why was I feeling hateful towards her when the break up may have been what I wanted all along?
"I just feel that way."
She didn't say anything.
I remember the day she left. She wasn't expecting school to be as hard as it was. The last two weeks before she left were bittersweet. As much as I wanted her to stay I had no right to voice that opinion.
It was ten minutes before the end of our shift. I spent the past seven hours mentally preparing myself for what I would say to her. Would I shake her hand? Give her a hug? Where did appropriate end and inappropriate begin? I hated having to watch her say goodbye to everyone else. It was almost like she was a visitor— someone temporary, not one of us anymore.
She came to visit me at my bar before she left. I felt jittery, like I had caffeine running through my veins. After making small chat about how busy it was that night, she asked, "Do you think if I didn't...or if you didn't...Do you think we could ever—?" She stopped, sensed my hesitation then laughed. "You know what? Never mind."
I tried not to look away. "I think we could."
Her eyes said, me too but her lips said, "Bye."
She reached out her hand and I extended mine, paused, then gripped her hand in mine. She squeezed lightly for a brief moment before letting go altogether.
"It was nice working with you."
She smiled then turned away and pushed through the service doors, taking her piano hands with her.
And after she left every wedding reminded me of her.
I met her again two years later on a busy street downtown. I didn't get the chance to check the weather forecast before leaving the house that morning. By the time I was done work at the hospital, it was coming down really hard. I ran with my coat pulled over my head to a nearby awning. Just my luck, I muttered bitterly.
Then I saw her exit a café across the street. She was alone, wearing a beige trench coat and white umbrella, her chestnut hair much shorter than before.
I don't know why I suddenly ran after her, each step closer caused my heart to beat faster. I ran right up to her, causing her to stop and stare at me. My mouth opened to speak, but I couldn't find the questions I wanted to ask. How have you been? Want to catch up over coffee? Are you still dating him? More importantly, do you even remember me?
A smile was all she said as she extended the umbrella over my pathetic display. Then it was replaced by,
"How have you been, Akihiko?"
I never asked why or why not, but I stayed grateful for every moment we spent together.