By Tony Wassom
It was the first Sunday of the month, and the woman entered the restaurant through the revolving door. A lunch crowd had already arrived, and the din of the room reminded her why she and her husband always preferred eating outside.
“Table for one,” she said, fumbling with the gold band hanging from her necklace.
“Right this way, ma’am. Your table is ready.”
She sat on the patio, under an umbrella; this would always be their table. James brought her usual drink and gave her a moment to look at the menu, though he knew what she would order. She sipped her mimosa, calm in the knowledge this would be the last time.
“Anything look good?”
“Oh, you know me, James. Everything looks good. But, I think I’ll stick with my usual.”
“I kinda figured. Your salad will be right out. Can I freshen your drink?”
“Yes, dear, that would be wonderful.”
James disappeared through the glass wall as the woman reached into her lap and opened her purse to get her medication. The sun momentarily glimmered off the nickel-plated barrel and reflected on the underside of the umbrella. She touched the steel, then closed her purse and took her meds. Just as she finished her last pill, James appeared with her salad and a new mimosa.
“This one’s on me.”
“Oh, James, you shouldn’t have.”
“Only for my special customers,” James whispered and smiled as he turned and headed back inside.
The woman put her fingers on the stem and lifted the flute as if to toast, her lips forming a sad smile: Happy Anniversary, love. See you, soon.
James appeared just as she was finishing her salad, a plate of breaded fish and French Fries on the tray as well as a to-go box.
“Thank you, James.” As he turned to leave, she continued, “I won’t be needing the box, this time.”
“Feeling extra hungry, are you?”
“No, I’ll be going to the park today, and I don’t think the food will keep.”
James took the box and the empty flute from the table. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know.” He smiled, but he knew something was different.
The woman sat in her seat, as others came and went, smiling and nibbling on her fish and chips. Finally, she motioned for James to bring her the check.
“I hope everything was wonderful, today.”
“Oh, James, it was magnificent, as usual. Can you bring me the check, dear?”
“I would, but your bill has been paid.”
“Yes. A lovely young couple on the other side of the window asked if they could pay for your lunch.”
“I’m…I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything,” James smiled at the woman. “Just go enjoy your day in the park.”
“I at least need to tip you…”
“Not necessary,” James interrupted, “they took care of that, too.”
“Who were they?”
“I don’t know. They paid cash and asked us not to make a big deal about it. I think they just wanted to do something nice.”
The woman sat, looking up at James. For the first time in five years, tears filled her eyes. She felt again. Love, hope, purpose: all the things missing came rushing back to her in that moment.
“Are you okay?” James handed her a clean napkin to wipe her tears.
“Yes, I think I am.” Her words were broken. “Thank you, James.”
“You’re very welcome. See you next month?”
She looked down at her purse, and a happy smile appeared on her lips.
“Yes, I believe you will.”