by Jim Bates
English Breakfast Tea
Larry looked up, “Okay, I’m pretty psyched. I’m going to try something different.
His wife of fifty years looked at him across the small table and smiled, “What, not beans and rice, like usual?”
They were having their first lunch, their first real outing, since the pandemic started six months earlier and they were both a little giddy.
“Nope. I’m having the salmon with roasted spinach and fried yucca.”
“That’s very adventurous for an old fart. ” Shelia grinned.
He laughed. It was Saturday and the middle of August with a bright sun, a light breeze and the temperature in the high seventies. It felt good to be at their favorite restaurant, Café Enya, a quaint little place in south Minneapolis. Larry had made reservations three days earlier, just to be on the safe side. They were seated outside, all by themselves.
He’d also printed out the menus they were both perusing.
“What are going to have, my dear,” he smiled, feeling suddenly very romantic. The sidewalk seating on a quiet street made him imagine they were in Paris or somewhere exotic; someplace they’d probably never ever get to, not at this stage of the game, especially with the pandemic and travel restrictions in place for who knew how long. Minneapolis would have to do and that was fine with him. At least they were together. That counted for a lot, especially after the scare they’d had last year with Shelia’s breast cancer and her courageously winning the battle with it just before the pandemic hit. Right now they were happy to be alive, relatively healthy, and, more importantly, able to share a nice meal together.
“I’ll have the curried chicken,” Shelia said in answer to his question.
“Like always,” he laughed. “Look who’s in a rut.”
Shelia smacked him on the arm and then pointed. “Better put your mask on.”
Larry looked up and saw their waitperson coming toward them. “Okay, got it.” He slipped his black face covering on as Shelia put on her floral one, the one she had made for herself when the pandemic had started last March.
A young black man came up adjusting his red face mask and said, “Hi. My name’s Roland.” He handed them each a menu. “We’ve cleaned the menus so they are ready to go for you.” In spite of the mask the old couple could see his eyes crinkled up in a smile.
“Thank you very, much,” Shelia said and then held up the print-outs. “My husband was a jump ahead of you.”
Roland looked at Larry and gave him the “thumbs up” sign. “Well, good for you! In that case, would you like something to drink?” He tucked the menus under his arm.
“Water would be fine,” Larry said.
Shelia could see her husband grinning. He was having a good time being out. I was nice to see.
“And we’re ready to order,” she said.
“Awesome. Let me know what you want, and then I’ll bring your water. How’s that sound?”
“Great,” Shelia said.
After they’d given him their orders, Roland was about to step away when Larry offered, “This is our first outing since the pandemic began. We’re pretty excited.”
Roland paused and turned to them. “I’m glad to see you here,” he said, the sincerity evident in his voice. “Business is still pretty slow.” He looked around at the empty tables. Then he waved his hand to nothing in particular and said, “At least it’s a nice day out. That counts for something.”
Shelia nodded and agreed, “It certainly does.”
“You got that right,” Larry added.
“Okay, let me go get that order in and bring your water. I’ll be right back.”
Larry and Shelia had a lovely lunch. They chatted with Roland and learned that he had a girlfriend and they had a baby and the three of them lived only a few blocks away. “Within walking distance,” he told them.
After their meal was over Roland brought the bill and Larry used his credit card to settle up. As they were getting ready to leave, Shelia said, “What a nice young man.”
“No kidding,” Larry said, then paused, thinking, then said, “Say, I was wondering. Since this is our first time out in six months, how about if we do something nice for him?”
what? Leave him a big tip?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”
Shelia smiled, stood up and leaned over the table and hugged him. “Perfect. Go for it.”
Larry took out his wallet, thumbed through the bills and said to Shelia, “You
want to contribute?”
He and Shelia stood up, put on their masks and got ready to leave. By now a few other diners had shown up and Roland was getting busy. Larry waved at him, “I left the bill right here,” he pointed at the table.
Roland waved, “Thanks so much. Come again.” Then he went back to taking an order.
Shelia looked at Roland, “Just put his tip under the plate.” And he did.
A few minutes later when Roland was clearing their table, he noticed the bills. Curious, he picked them up with a trembling hand and counted them. Then he counted them again. “Oh. My. God,” he said out loud. Embarrassed, he looked at the nearby customers and smiled. “Sorry about that. I’ll be right back.”
He ran around the corner looking for Larry and Shelia but didn’t see them. On his way back to the restaurant he took out his phone and made a quick phone call. “Katrina? Hi. It’s me. No, everything is alright. In fact, it’s fantastic. Guess what happened? No, I’ve still got my job. Get this. A customer just gave me a super tip. Two-hundred and twenty dollars! Can you believe it? Yeah, it’ll help out a lot. Just thought you’d like to know. Yeah, love you, too. Give little Naomi a hug from her daddy. See in four hours.”
Roland hung up and took a moment. He hadn’t felt this good since the pandemic began. He and Katrina and their little girl just might make through the Covid -19 crisis after all. Thanks to people like that old couple. He went back to work, the smile behind his mask never leaving his face. Life had suddenly gotten lots better.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. His collection of short stories, Resilience, is scheduled to be published in 2020 by Bridge House Publishing. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.
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