“I’ll give you a few minutes to look over the menu, and if you have any questions about the dishes, my name is Robert,” the server says. His eyes meet mine, and his mouth opens slightly before he looks away quickly, only to look back at me. It’s this dress and the damn cleavage. I offer a small, awkward smile, and he returns it, red creeping up his neck and spreading to his cheeks.
I expect him to look at Hardin, but then I remember that due to the way we’re seated, it’s Landon and I that look like a couple, and Hardin’s with Lillian. My stomach flips again.
“Hey, man. Take our order, or go,” Hardin says, interrupting my thoughts.
“S-sorry,” Robert stammers and leaves the table in haste.
All eyes move to Hardin, mostly showing disapproval of his behavior. Karen looks embarrassed; Ken, too.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be back. It’s his job,” Max says with a shrug. He would think Hardin’s behavior was acceptable.
I scowl at Hardin, but he doesn’t seem to care, he’s too infatuated by those damn blue eyes. As I watch him with her I feel like he’s a stranger to me, as if I’m intruding on some private moment shared between a loving couple. The thought causes bile to rise in my throat. I swallow it down, and I’m thankful when the server, Robert, returns with the wine and ice buckets, this time bringing another server along, likely for moral support. Or protection.
Hardin watches him the entire time, and I roll my eyes at his audacity: glaring at the poor guy when here he is, acting as if he doesn’t know me at all.
Nervously, Robert fills my glass to the brim, and I quietly thank him. He smiles less shyly this time and moves to fill Landon’s. I’ve never seen Landon drink except at Ken and Karen’s wedding, and even then he only had one glass of champagne. If I wasn’t so distraught over Hardin’s behavior, I’d turn down the wine and not drink in front of Ken and Karen, but I’ve had a long day, and without the wine I don’t think I be able to make it through this dinner.
Ken covers the top of his glass and says, “No, thank you,” when Robert comes his way.
I look up at Hardin to make sure he isn’t readying a snide remark about his father, but once again he’s talking quietly to Lillian.
I’m so confused right now—why is he doing this? Yes, we were fighting, but this is too much.
Taking a big sip, I find that the wine is cool and crisp and deliciously sweet on my tongue. I’m tempted to just gulp it all down, but I have to pace myself. The last thing I need is to get drunk and emotional in front of everyone. Hardin doesn’t decline the wine, but Lillian does. He rolls his eyes at her, teasing her, and I force my eyes away from them before I turn into a puddle of tears on the beautifully stained hardwood floor.
“. . . MAX WAS scaling the wall—he was so drunk that he had to be pulled down by campus security!” Ken says, and everyone at our table laughs.
Everyone except Hardin, of course.
I twirl my fork around my pasta and take another bite. I focus on how delicious the freshly made noodles are, and how they look wound around the tines of the fork. Otherwise I’d have to focus on Hardin.
“I think you have an admirer,” Denise says to me. I look up and follow her eyes to Robert, who is clearing the dishes from the table beside us, his eyes on me.
“Don’t pay him too much attention; just a waiter wanting what he can’t have,” Max states with a sly smile, surprising me with his callousness.
“Dad.” Lillian glares at her father.
But he just gives her a smile before cutting into his steak. “Sorry, sweetie, I’m only stating the truth . . . A girl as beautiful as Tessa here shouldn’t be looking at anyone working in hospitality.”
If only he’d stopped there, but oblivious—or immune to—our discomfort, Max continues his degrading remarks until I finally drop my fork onto my plate with a clatter.
“Don’t,” Hardin says to me, speaking to me for the first time since I arrived.
Shocked, I look at him, then back to Max, weighing my options. He’s being a jerk, and I’ve had almost an entire glass of wine. I should probably keep my mouth shut, like Hardin said.
“You can’t talk about people like that.” Lillian looks at her father and he shrugs.
“Fine, fine,” he grumbles, waving his knife a little and chewing on his steak. “Far be it from me to upset anyone.”
Beside him, his wife looks embarrassed as she wipes the corners of her mouth with a cloth napkin.
“I’m going to need more wine,” I tell Landon, and he smiles, sliding his half-empty glass over to me. I smile at the gesture. “I’ll wait for Robert to come back to the table. Thank you, though.”
I can feel Hardin’s eyes on me as I search the restaurant. I don’t see the server’s blond hair, so I reach over, grab the bottle myself, and fill my glass. I half expect Max to make a comment about my manners, but he refrains. Hardin is staring coolly across the room, and Lillian is talking to her mother. I’m in my own world, a hallucination in which Hardin is sitting next to me, his hand on my thigh, and he leans in to make some cheeky comment that makes me laugh and blush feverishly.
My head is a little fuzzy as I clear all of the food off my plate and finish off my second glass of wine. Landon is in conversation with Max and Ken about sports, of course. I stare at the printed tablecloth, trying to find faces or pictures inside the black and white swirls. I find a cluster that resembles an H, and my finger traces the pattern repeatedly. Suddenly I stop and look up quickly, paranoid that he may have seen me tracing the letter.