This story is by Erik Porter and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Mr. Hogan, I am sorry but your party has not yet arrived. Would you like to be seated.”
Chase Hogan turned on his stool. “I’ll give it a few more minutes.” He raised his nearly empty glass toward the bartender.
“As usual, your table will be ready when you are.”
Chase loved this restaurant. Atop his office building it was a quick elevator ride and offered a full view of the city. With most days tied up in client meetings, phone calls or team strategy sessions, he had little time to get the real work done; the work only he alone could do.
After other lawyers and their staff departed each day, leaving a few eager associates, Chase would head upstairs for drinks and a meal before returning to the office for an all-nighter. No one waited for him at home. His career was his only true responsibility.
A gentle hand swept across his shoulders. A petite woman popped onto the stool next to him crossing her legs to reveal a smooth, tan knee. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”
Chase searched his memory for her name and face. He had seen so many women on that dating app, he couldn’t remember if this was the one he made plans with or not.
Waving the bartender over, “Can I order you a drink?”
Chase never forgot a client’s name or face. Everyday people were a different story. Although he’d been to this restaurant a million times, the staff’s faces blended together in his head as one person. As for names, he’d lose a finger if tortured to reveal the name of the hostess or any server.
His date’s face rang with a tinge of familiarity. The blurry picture in his mind placed her somewhere real, not the dating app. He trusted her confidence over his memory and shook it off. This was his chance to get more out of life than work.
She pursed her lips, “I’ll have…something fun, no fancy. Yes, something fun and fancy, babe.”
Chase snapped his head. Babe? His mental checklist made a tick in the “Nope” column.
The bartender started mixing. “Fun and fancy, coming up.”
Chase couldn’t remember her name but resisted the urge to check the app. It had been on the tip of his tongue until she called him “babe”.
As if she heard his thoughts, “I said to myself, Sara, it’s a special night. You deserve a day at the salon.” She flipped her hair then displayed her burgundy nails. “I know it’s your favorite color.”
Burgundy, really any dark shade of red, was his favorite, but he didn’t remember that being part of his dating profile. Of course, he couldn’t recall her name or face either. Insignificant details were always lost on Chase.
The bartender presented a bright orange drink with pink swirls as the hostess returned. “Mr. Hogan, may I show you to your table?” A server swept their drinks onto a tray and followed them to the table.
Chase’s regular corner booth had a perfect view of the entire city. The hostess offered menus, which Sara accepted and Chase waved away.
“Welcome back, Mr. Hogan, I’m Noel and will be serving you again this evening.”
Sara opened the menu and giggled. “Can we get the calamari? I’ll get the lobster, you get the ribeye, and we can do share-sies?” She bounced her shoulders and smiled at Noel.
“Whatever you’d like.” Chase’s eyes darted around searching for illicit stares from other guests.
“Ooo, and dessert! Have I got a surprise for you!” She made “mmm, mmm” sounds spying the dessert tray at a neighboring table.
He asked Noel, “Could you give us a few minutes?”
Chase placed his hands on the table. “I know it’s our first date…”
Sara reached across and grasped his hands. He winced at her grip.
“First date, aww, you’re such the romantic.”
Chase rolled his eyes. “I’m not trying to be rude, but which app did we meet on?”
“You’re sweet. You want me to tell the story of how we met.”
“Yes, exactly, how did we meet?”
Sara scooted around the booth toward Chase, dragging her place setting with her. She snuggled close and opened her menu so they could read it together.
Chase inched away. Sara grabbed his hand, tighter this time.
“You were reminding me how we met.”
“Oh yes! I love that story.”
Noel returned. “Would you like your usual appetizers to start?”
“We’re going to need…”
Sara interrupted, “It’s our anniversary!”
Chase choked, coughing out, “What?”
“You’re so silly, pretending we’re on our first date.”
“Congratulations, I had no idea, Mr. and…”
“Don’t say Mrs.” Chase downed the last of his bourbon and handed Noel his empty glass.
“He’s a true romantic. It’s our fifth anniversary.” She looked into Chase’s eyes. “Five spectacular years.”
Chase leapt from the booth. “What are you talking about?” White light flashed in his mind and an image of Sara behind the counter at his favorite coffee shop came into focus. “You’re not from an app, you’re my barista, where I get my coffee every morning.”
“Yes!” Sara clapped. “That’s how we met. You tell it so much better.”
“You just make my coffee. I’ve barely said two words to you.”
Sara pouted her lips. “Let’s not fight, it’s our anniversary.”
Chase looked to Noel. “You know me. I’m here all the time. Have you ever seen me with her?”
Without waiting for an answer, he turned to Sara. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you doing this?”
“Because I love you.” She patted the seat. “Come, sit down, you’re making a scene.”
All eyes were on Chase, averting his gaze as he scanned the room. He slumped in his seat, and the bartender rushed over with a fresh bourbon.
“Thank you, Paul.” Chase downed half the glass, and shut his eyes.
Memories flooded his brain. Every visit to this restaurant came rushing forward. First he remembered the bartender’s name and now every meal where Noel had been his server played in his mind. She made him look good in front of clients, catered to their most unusual requests, and laughed at his jokes. She had been there for him at every turn, and he had filed away every one of their encounters as inconsequential. But they weren’t. She was there for many important events in his career. He knew she’d be there for him now.
Sara inched closer to Chase. This time he welcomed her in. “You mentioned a surprise earlier. Noel can take you to see the pastry chef.”
Sara’s eyes brightened. “Yes, my surprise.” Her pouting lips reappeared. “Not much of a surprise anymore.”
“I still don’t know what it is.”
“Mrs. Hogan?” Chase flinched at these words. “I can show you to the kitchen.”
Sara bounced the long way around the booth. “Back in a jif!” She blew Chase a kiss.
Chase watched as two bartenders met Noel and Sara, escorting Sara to the elevator. Noel headed back to Chase.
“You always come through for me, Noel.” He looked into her eyes for the first time. “Such a pretty name.”
Noel smiled. Although he didn’t remember saying that to her countless times before, this time he meant it.
Folding his napkin, “Well, this dinner’s a bust. Would it be inappropriate for you to join me for dessert, as a thank you?”
“No, Mr. Hogan…”
“Call me Chase.”
“It wouldn’t, Chase.” She broke their gaze and brushed non-existent wrinkles from her slacks. “You’re my last table. Shall we say fifteen?”
“Fifteen it is.” Chase rose, deciding whether to shake her hand or hug her. He chose to nod, sidled around her and on a whim caressed her shoulder. Without looking back, Chase headed toward the patio.
He sipped a bourbon and gazed at the city lights so as not to seem like a stalker. He’d had enough stalkers for the night.
After fifteen long minutes, Noel reappeared wearing a new blouse and the same black slacks.
“You look beautiful,” Chase said. He felt like an awkward teenager.
“Thank you. You look handsome.” Noel saved him, making his awkwardness less awkward.
A server delivered a tray of desserts.
“I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I ordered one of everything. Can I interest you in a beverage.” He raised his own bourbon as if she wouldn’t understand.
“Just coffee, please.”
“Make it two, Mark. Thank you.”
Noel smiled brighter. Until tonight Chase never referred to the staff by their names.
They sipped coffee, tasting each dessert but finishing none. Chase asked most questions and listened intently to Noel’s responses. He figured she already knew quite a bit about him.
By the end of the night they enjoyed the city lights by the railing. Hours had passed without a lull in their conversation.
Noel sighed looking across the city.
“What?” Chase asked.
“I was just thinking about next year?”
“Next year? What about it?”
“Maybe we’ll be celebrating our own anniversary.”