teeth, trying to keep my voice down. “You can’t just manhandle our customers like that.” “I just did.” He leaned back, too pleased with himself. “Didn’t you hear your boss? She told me to.” I snarled my lip, disgusted. “And you enjoyed it. Because you’re a bully. I don’t go out with bullies.” “Great.” “ Great? ” My voice rose an octave. “You heard me.” Taylor crossed his arms, the polar opposite of annoyed, offended, or angry. I had hoped my public rejection would rob him of that smug smile. “Then why are you smiling?” He touched his thumb to his nose, the muscles in his arm flexing as he did so. “I think you’ll change your mind.” I took a step and kept my voice low as I said, “Not even if I wanted to, and at this point, I certainly do not.” I spun around and minded my tables. The pace picked up as the afternoon wore on, and when it was time to check on Taylor’s table, I noticed he was gone, a twenty-dollar bill left behind. I held it up. He’d only ordered the crappy Cherry Coke, so he’d left a seventeen-dollar tip. I swallowed back my surprise and appreciation and shoved the money into my apron before clearing his table. I took the cup to Hector and then washed my hands. “Do you think maybe you were a little harsh?” Chuck asked. “With who?” I asked. “You know who.” “He’s a jerk. I told him I had it handled. He made a huge scene.” He waved me away. “Dwayne deserved it. Phaedra’s been wanting to kick him out of here for years. Right before you started, he turned over a table.” My mouth fell open. The sprayer silenced, and Hector spoke, “That’s not like Mrs. Phaedra to let someone do that and keep coming back.” Chuck shrugged. “He hasn’t always been like that. His wife left him a few years back. He started drinking all the time. Phaedra’s put up with his tantrums because she felt sorry for him, I guess.” Hector and I traded glances. “And you don’t think Taylor’s a bully for throwing him out like that?” I asked. He shook his head. “I’ve daydreamed about doing that same thing.” “But she’s your wife. You’d just be protecting her honor. I get that,” I said. He pressed his lips together. “You’re right, but you’re wrong.” I furrowed my brow, confused. “I don’t think that Taylor kid is looking for anything easy. Just the opposite. And I think he knows he’s found it.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “It means you’d better hold on tight. Guys like him don’t give up easily once they’ve found a girl like you.” I laughed once. “Let him try.” Chuck smirked, returning to the food on the stove.
“You’d better skedaddle, kiddo,” Phaedra said. “You’ve got to get ready, don’t you?” I looked down at my clothes. “For what?” “Are you going out with that boy in your apron?” “No. I’m not going anywhere with that boy .” Phaedra shook her head and tended to her last table of the night. Only a few chairs were still occupied. It was a few minutes past closing time. Kirby had already swept, and she was now breaking down the ice cream machine. Phaedra’s table signed their check, and she waved as the small family left together to their car parked out front. I sat on the stool at the end of the bar, counting my tips. Kirby happily took a small stack of bills—her percentage for bussing tables and for her excellent hostess skills—as she passed by on her way to meet Gunnar at the door. He bent over to hug and kiss her, wrapping his giant arms around her tiny frame. “Good night!” Kirby said. “Night,” I said, barely above a whisper. Phaedra and Chuck waved to the couple before Gunnar held open the door for his girlfriend. She passed him, and then they walked together to wherever he’d parked her car. I thought about them walking alone in the alley behind the restaurant and how Kirby probably wouldn’t think twice about it. The door