“Excuse me, Miss, but we’ve been waiting for an hour.”
Winnie wasn’t surprised. It was another miserable night at the Harborview Bites.
“I’m sorry!” she said, balancing a tray of drinks. It wasn’t even seven yet, and all of her tables were already angry. “I’ll check with the kitchen for you. We’re just a little swamped this evening.”
“Listen,” said the father of the unhappy-looking family waiting hungrily for their dinners, “this is getting ridiculous. I’ve got a mind to cancel our orders.”
No tips tonight.
“I understand, sir. I’m so sorry for the wait. Let me just go check on the food for you!”
Sighing, Winnie wove her way through the crowded restaurant, stepping around tables and chairs and strollers. Suddenly, she slid, and her tray of drinks tilted and spilled. CRASH.
“Oh, my God!” A girl leapt up, soaking wet with a sticky mix of sodas. “I’m drenched!”
“I’m sorry!” Winnie said, beet red. She was soaked too. “I’m so, so sorry! The floor—it’s wet—”
“Yeah, because it’s covered in the soda you spilled!” said the girl’s boyfriend heatedly. “I want to talk to your manager.”
“No, I mean it was already wet. I–I slipped,” Winnie stammered, her face hot. I hate working here. I hate working here. I hate working here. “I’m so sorry. I’ll get my manager right away.”
She bent down, picked up and stacked the empty cups, and hurried back toward the kitchen. Her cheeks were burning.
“Miss, we ordered almost an hour ago!” a woman’s voice cried, and she felt a hand catch her apron tie. “Do you have any idea when the food might be ready?”
“I’ll ask,” Winnie said, feeling like a broken record. “I’ll check for you right now.”
“Maybe she ate it all,” suggested a child at the woman’s table, smirking at her.
A fat-person joke. Ha-ha.
She turned and hurried into the kitchen, biting her lip. This was the worst job in the history of jobs. Why had she ever taken it?
Oh, yeah. Bills.
Bills that needed paying.
Suddenly, one of the other waitresses almost collided with her. She was crying, her face splotched pink.
“Oh, my gosh, Amber. What’s wrong?” Winnie asked, trying to grab her arm.
The cooks on the line were laughing. Amber shook her head and left with the hamburgers she was carrying.
“Were you guys being mean to her?” Winnie asked accusingly, but the cooks had gone back to their work. “Where’s Jack?” Somebody on the line shrugged. “A customer wants to speak to him. Come on.” No response. “Okay. Fine. Where are we with table fourteen and table fifteen? Can I have an ETA?”
“The ETA is ‘whenever’,” one of the cooks said. “We’ll ding you.”
“I’m gonna check the back office for Jack,” Winnie said, disgusted. She set the tray and empty glasses by the dishwasher and went to the rear of the restaurant, fuming.
Jack looked up from his computer when she appeared in the doorway of the dirty, disorganized back office. He was an unfriendly-looking man, lean as a whip and prematurely grey. “Winnie? What is it?”
“A customer wants to speak with you,” she said, untying and retying her ponytail.
“I . . . spilled some drinks. He’s upset.”
“Oh, yeah?” Jack narrowed his eyes. “Look, Winnie, you’re a cute girl and everything, despite . . . you know. The weight. But I don’t keep clumsy girls, no matter how cute they are. Right?”
She nodded, even though she’d never had an accident at the restaurant before.
“Which table was it?” he asked as one of the lights on the desk phone began to blink. “Hurry. That’s a call.”
“Comp their meal. I don’t wanna see you for the rest of the night.”
She closed the office door and left, checking with the line again to see if any of her tables’ orders were ready. They weren’t.
This was such a mess of a restaurant. Disgusting food, long waiting times, dirty tables, asshole staff . . . the list never ended. She knew she should have gone for that job at the secondhand store. She knew it. Then at least she could have bought herself and her family a lot of cheap clothes and dishware.
Discouraged, she went back out onto the floor.
“Well?” asked the boyfriend of the sopping-wet girl. “Where’s your manager? We want to leave.”
“Your meal is free,” Winnie sighed. “I’m so sorry about this.”
“That’s not good enough!” the boyfriend insisted. “I want to speak to him. Face to face. Now!”
“Jeff, I don’t think—” the girlfriend began.
“No, no, no, babe.” Her boyfriend put an arm around her, even though she was drenched in soda. “This was your birthday dinner. What happened is not acceptable.”
Winnie felt a flash of longing for a man who cared about her—even a little. But there was no such man.
“I’m sorry. The manager is busy in the back. He—”
“Get him out here, now.” The boyfriend was not going to take no for an answer. “My cousin’s the health inspector for this county. Charlie Howley. Look him up. I want to speak to your manager.”
Winnie went cold, her anxiety rising. Things weren’t looking good.
“I’ll . . . I’ll tell him that,” she managed. “Please wait here.” Her other tables were glaring daggers at her, hungry.
She went all the way back to Jack’s office, knowing she was a hairs-breadth away from being fired. “Jack?”
“Winnie, I told you I didn’t want to see you again. Unless it’s an emergency—like, say, your water broke—you need to get out of my sight.”
“I’m not pregnant,” she said, gritting her teeth. “I’ve told you that. Please, Jack, the people at table ten really want to talk to you. Please.”
“You can’t make them happy?” he asked, raising his thick eyebrows. “What do I pay you for? Isn’t it for customer service?”
“I’m–I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Jack, one of them says he’s family with the health inspector. He—”
That was all it took. Jack was up and running onto the floor. The Harborview Bites couldn’t afford a serious inspection. It was a sty.
The girlfriend looked embarrassed. The boyfriend looked determined. Other tables on the floor were watching the scene eagerly as Jack arrived, shiny-faced and flushed.
“Is there a problem, sir?” Jack’s voice was whining, brown-nosey.
“That waitress spilled soda all over my girlfriend, and it’s her birthday tonight. Her birthday. We were having her birthday dinner here.”
“I’m terribly sorry,” said Jack smoothly. “Your meal is on the house, sir. And we’ll give you a coupon for a replacement dinner, of course.”
“It’s my girlfriend’s birthday,” the boyfriend pushed. “Her blouse is ruined. My cousin’s Charlie Howley—”
“I completely see your point, sir,” Jack said, and Winnie could see the axe falling. He turned on her. “Winnie, I’m going to have to let you go. You’ve caused too much disruption tonight.”
She felt herself turning pink. Everyone was watching. The tables that had been waiting the longest looked smug.
“All right,” she said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. Then she went into the kitchen, hung up her apron, and collected her purse.
“Oink, oink,” someone hissed on the line.
She pulled on her jacket and rushed out into the parking lot. Jobless.