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Disclaimer: Not mine
Summary: It's not that she wanted him for herself, she just wanted him to be happy, and she didn't think this was gonna work out. A short story of courtship observed from afar. B/A WAFF oneshot canon-compliant to S10.
Lidia was certain that the first time Robert brought in the middle-aged woman with the streaked hair would be the last.
Yes, she was dressed up to match Robert's spiffy linen suit, in a clingy chiffon outfit intended to accentuate the assets of her tiny body.
But for the duration of the evening she was tense and edgy, drifting towards sullen. The muscles of her face were tight and anxious, and it seemed almost to hurt her to smile. Robert kept up most of the conversation, and his date answered with terse monosyllables. At one point, Robert reached across the little table and covered her hand with his. She looked down in surprise and pulled hers away.
But Robert didn't even seem to notice. As much as he couldn't drag his eyes away from his date, Lidia couldn't get enough of looking at him… trim and so strong in the gray linen suit he filled out magnificently, the delight, awe and raw lust on his face unwavering despite the lack of response from his dinner companion, and the combination so captivating that Lidia couldn't get enough of his sweet face.
It wasn't that she wanted him back…
No. She was as good as middle-aged herself, married with two little ones. And it wasn't as though they'd ever really dated. She'd admired for several years the dashing man who often dined alone. Drank up his flirtation and charming manner, tried not to milk his obvious kindness.
Then he took her dancing a couple of times. She'd pictured in her mind's eye the perfect couple they made, crowed a little inside when they bumped into people she knew. She still counted those evenings among the peak experiences of her life, along with her wedding, the birth of her children, and her husband's proposal.
The fact that they'd just danced, never talked or walked or dined, made her think he only wanted to sleep with her. Which would have been fine too...
On their third date, she expected to go home with him. Instead, he parked at her apartment building, walked her to the door, kissed her on the cheek, said work was getting busy and he'd see her at the restaurant.
She was disappointed, yes, but when she saw him that weekend at his usual table, with his usual flirty smile and ready compliments, she found she couldn't be upset with him.
So she had not right nor reason, especially given her circumstances and after so much time, to be upset with seeing him here with a date, even one so obviously special to him. But remembering how he'd made her feel all those years ago, how it seemed to her he made all his dates feel so special, she resented this lady's attitude.
Didn't she know what she had?
Lidia almost tsk'd when Robert's date asked for separate cheques. Robert didn't blink an eye. But he did walk the lady out with his jacket held strategically in front of his trousers.
Lidia was off the next Saturday, but she left strict instructions to her co-workers to look out for Robert and report back everything they saw and heard.
Her attempt to get filled in the next Tuesday was both surprising and frustrating.
"Was he there?" Lidia was cleaning and setting tables while Cheryl vacuumed. It had taken a few tries before she could make herself heard over the noise.
"Who?" Cheryl, also at one time a devotee of Robert Goren, had lost interest when he had, in her words, 'got old'.
The desultory response led Lidia to conclude that Cheryl had forgotten being asked.
"You were supposed to watch him." Cheryl stilled the vacuum and looked at Lidia blankly. "With his date. Did he come with a date?"
Cheryl rolled her eyes. "Yeah."
Her answer made Lidia so curious that she waited until the vacuum had been put away before continuing her interrogation. "What did she look like?" Perhaps it was a different woman.
"Skinny thing. But she ate, at least. Finished off her share of the wine. Left a good tip." Lidia idly mused that thus was articulated the beginning, middle and end of what Cheryl Baumler found noteworthy in work and in life.
"Did they seem happy?"
"Huh?" Cheryl was polishing cutlery while Lidia folded napkin triangles. "I dunno. Sure yeah, maybe."
"What?" Cheryl stopped mid-polish, surprised into semi-eloquence.
"Who paid the cheque?"
Cheryl frowned at her co-worker. "He paid. She left the tip, like I said." She went back to her polishing. "I'm tired of this," she added.
After her conversation with Cheryl, Lidia still wasn't completely certain it wasn't a different woman. But all her doubts were erased two Saturdays later.
At 6:15 Robert had called to cancel his reservation, so when he came in with her much later, almost 10:30, his usual table was taken. "Anywhere's fine," he said looking down at the little thing he'd guided in with a hand in the middle of her back, dressed in a work-y pantsuit today. She shrugged and nodded up at him.
"Sorry about earlier," he muttered at Lidia as she handed them menus. "We had a call-out."
Fate had gifted them with the tiniest table in the restaurant, but it was Lidia who decided to put their place settings at adjacent corners, rather than across. If his date was uncomfortable, the waitress wanted Robert to notice.
In between serving her other tables, Lidia observed Robert's arm draped across the back of his date's chair. His long fingers reached out to touch her shoulder to punctuate their conversation. In between bites of food his date wore a ready smile, and as the evening wore on the wine, the company, or both, brought a high colour to her cheeks.
When Lidia heard for the first time Robert's date's throaty laugh, she understood why he'd persisted with her. Her jacket shed to show womanly curves that Robert drank in at every opportunity, her glowing smile lit up the room.
She didn't notice them leave. But when she cashed out, she noticed the bill and the tip had been paid with Robert's credit card.
Over the next few weeks Lidia saw them often. She knew the quiet moment when he covered her mouth with his had to be their first kiss. The first time she saw Alex run her fingers through Robert's curls he almost turned to a puddle right there. And the night they came in both dressed so nice, nervous, an early reservation, she knew that night Robert was going to take her home with him.
That was a Friday. The next day, Saturday, Lidia got a call in the late afternoon asking for take-out. The husky female voice ordered two veal parm sandwiches and a family-style insalata mista, dressing on the side. And two Cokes.
"Hi Robert. You here for the takeout?"
If the mis-buttoned shirt, the big grin and the faint hickey hadn't been enough, the fresh shave was a dead giveaway.
"Yeah, that's us," he said softly. She turned and rummaged through the take-out bag, removing the plastic cutlery, adding some napkins and a side of marinara. "How ya been? The kids good?"
"Good, yeah. Geez Robert, I don't think I've seen you clean shaven in… ever?"
He scratched his chin with a far-away smile. "Yeah."
"Your friend…" Robert had introduced them weeks ago – Alex, this is my favourite waitress, Lidia. Lidia, this is Alex, my favourite person – but she didn't want to admit remembering her name… "You've known each other long?"
"A while, yeah."
"She's a keeper?"
"She is. I hope she thinks the same about me."
Robert was still bringing Alex to Marcello's every few weeks up until when Lidia got divorced and decided to move to Florida to live with her mom.
They'd become such a fixture that there was a photo of the two of them over their favourite table. Not Robert's old table, but the tiny one-top they'd adopted as their own.
It was taken the night Alex came in with a modest, sparkly ring on her finger. As she wended her way around the restaurant that night, Lidia had overheard a snippet of their conversation. "Why did you say yes?" He asked.
"Bobby…" And Lidia saw for the very first time the depth of the little woman's emotions. Her face was soft and vulnerable, and her hand trembled as she reached up to touch Robert's smooth chin. "I…" her own chin dipped as she struggled to speak. "You know why Bobby. I – love you," she whispered.
Robert seemed completely undone by those words… and why not? Lidia had seen over the months how closely his fiancée held her feelings in. Then he smiled. "No, Alex… why did you say yes when I asked you out? I know it wasn't… .an easy decision."
"Well I thought about it for a while and I realised… you had my back for twelve years," she said with a smirk, "I thought it was time you had my front."
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A/N 1: Hope everyone had a good summer.
WORDS: 1609 UPLOADED Saturday, August 31, 2013