I knew something was up from the moment I saw them in the parking lot. We were winding down from a busy Saturday night, I was scheduled to close, but my server friends were waiting for me in the bar so we could all go out together after midnight. We had the bar schedule down pat – we knew where we’d start and where we’d finish. We even had a designated driver.
(PSA: driving drunk is fucking stupid.)
The yawning front windows lot of the restaurant coupled with the halogen lights in the parking afforded us a perfect vantage point with which to watch people come and go. Generally we were too busy to pay attention to the customers, but by 10PM, most everyone had left the building for drunker pastures, which meant that there was an eerie silence where the throngs of the eating masses had once been. I could almost hear ghost forks clinking against long-eaten plates while I walked through the winding mass of now-unoccupied tables.
There were a few stragglers eating, their voices now hushed as the rest of the din had, as though a cork had been popped, suddenly dissipated. Although we were open for a few more hours, the remaining patrons were clearly uncomfortable in the silence, so they began to eat more quickly, suddenly in a hurry to do whatever activity was following dinner.
But there they were, walking through the parking lot. I hoped -in vain – that they’d be picking something up, rather than forcing me to slap on a smile and pretend to give a shit about their wants and needs for an hour.
I was tired – we’d just started clinicals in nursing school, which made me miserable, and my young son was beginning to start various therapies for his autism. I wasn’t able to attend these therapies most of the time, as they conflicted with my school schedule, which only compounded my guilt.
I studied them through the glass window, standing behind the counter of the restaurant, lost in thought. He appeared to be mid-to-late thirties, a sort of gruff blonde guy, with a warm face, the sort who you might expect to see on a cattle ranch in Montana, not a deep dish pizza joint in Chicago. Alone, he’d have been under my radar. But he wasn’t.
Next to him, curled up in his arm, was a small waif of a girl, no bigger than five feet, topping the scales at maybe ninety-pounds, soaking wet with a backpack on. Her normally brown hair was dyed into three segments – black, white, and red, and fell somewhere around her scrawny shoulders. He was holding onto her, not quite daughter-like, but not entirely sexually, either.
I guessed at her age. Thirteen? Fourteen? She’d clearly not gone through puberty, her concave chest told me that.
I continued assessing her as they entered the restaurant, asked for a seat close to the door, and were seated by my manager. Once a student nurse, always a student nurse. I’d been assessing people from the moment I crawled from my mother’s womb – reading people was how I could make fat stacks of cash as a bartender and waitress.
“Becky, it’s yours,” my manager and good friend Rosanne grinned and winked as she told me. “What a bunch of fucking weirdos. Oh, and CARD THEM.”
I went over to the table and said my hellos, studying them as I took their drink order. The girl had to be closer to twelve, although she was surly as hell. She grumbled loudly and finally settled on a water. He ordered a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. “Fucking girl drinks,” I said to myself as I carded him. “Who the fuck drinks that garbage – it tastes like carbonated piss.”
I never made a habit of checking the photos on ID’s. The one I currently had made me look like an overweight Hispanic male, who was possibly taking a shit, so I never got too into the photos. I’d check the date, do the math, and move the hell on. NO ONE looks like their driver’s license photo.
This one said the guy was 47.
“Damn,” I said to him. “You look GREAT for your age.”
He laughed a little and smiled as she glowered at me. Was that…jealousy? I couldn’t tell. I certainly wasn’t going after him – he was my patron in a crappy pizza place. Nothing more.
Besides, I ruminated as I walked behind the bar to grab his Froofy Girl Drink, she’s like twelve and he’s clearly over forty, they can’t possibly be…
No, I decided firmly as I slammed the beer cooler shut. He is NOT an Uncle Pervy. See? He’d chosen a MIKE’S HARD LEMONADE, and NOT a Zima. We ALL know that Zima is the choice of drink of Uncle Pervies (and stupid high school kids) everywhere.
Except, that annoying little voice in the back of my head, no one makes Zima. Mike’s Hard Lemonade is the New Zima. (kinda how Pink is the New Black, but alas I digress)
I placed the water and the Mike’s Hard Lemonade in front of them, studying them as they put in their pizza order. She’d barely speak. He did all the talking. If I were out with my Dad, I thought, I’d probably let him…oh yeah right. I talk paint off walls. But that’s me, this is her.
“What’s up with those weirdos?” Rosanne giggled conspiratorially as she found me at the computer, putting their order into the system. “I don’t know,” I replied. “Is it a full moon?”
A half dozen of my good friends and coworkers yelled, “YES.” Apparently they were having the night I was having.
I went back to the kitchen to start on my side work to the lilting sounds of a Mariachi Band – the kitchen staff always ignored my requests for “disco” and “Ricky Martin,” instead pumping the volume of the chortling horns to 11 whenever I walked in. Assholes.
No sense in leaving it until midnight – even if I got ten more tables, most of this shit could be done between ’em. I wiped down salad dressing containers, shuddering as I got to the thousand island. Just LOOKING at it made me nauseous. Let’s not even DISCUSS the time I accidentally dropped a gigantic tub of the shit on the floor in the middle of the summer, when it practically melted in the 100+ degree kitchen.
No sooner had I finished with the salad dressings and was moving onto marrying ketchup bottles, when my friend Nikki thundered into the kitchen. Nikki’s teeny – been a friend of mine since we were in diapers, but in this case, she, and about three other servers plus the busboy raised quite the cacophony, even over the gentle, soothing sounds of the Mariachi band.
“Oh fucks, Becky, the girl at your table, she’s DRINKING the Hard Lemonade,” she spat out. “Go do something!”
I found Rosanne, who was in the back counting bags of flour, and told her what was going on. I wasn’t about to call the cops – but that feeling of something being not right rose to a fever pitch, thudding loudly in my ears. “Something’s not right, Rosanne. I can feel it.”
Rosanne nodded as we walked to the front of the restaurant. We watched them interacting, the feeling in my gut rising, as the girl continued to try and sneak sips of Mike’s Hard Lemonade from her water glass. Eventually, I had the busboy, Eddie, fill up her water glass with water, thereby removing any hope of drinking it.
The table ate in near-silence, the two of them not interacting very much. I guess it COULD be a father/daughter thing, right? That was, until he squeezed her hand lovingly, passionately. CREEPILY.
I brought them their bill, which they promptly paid, and left me a 20% gratuity. I looked down at the signature as they pulled out of the parking lot. It read, “Dr. So and So.” The signature’s lines were both forced and clearly faked.
Clearly, the man was not a doctor, nor was this his credit card, but they’d long since left. I stood there, staring down at the signature, my coworkers loudly celebrating at the bar over shift drinks yelling at me to join them, my stomach churning and unhappy, my heart somewhere on the floor. Something was up with those two. Something. And I?
I hadn’t done anything.
I hadn’t stopped them.
I hadn’t called the police.
I hadn’t even suggested calling the police.
I clocked out and balled up my apron, the thrill of going bar-hopping with my friends long-since passed.
As I sadly poured myself a vodka/diet, I thought to myself, “sometimes I am not my sister’s keeper.”
I’ve regretted it ever since.