Wish You Were Here: A Novel: Chapter 9

[ . . .]

Six months later . . .

Six months into my celibacy, I was still slinging fries at Blackbird’s. Helen had managed to date a busboy, a cook, and the UPS delivery man. He serviced Blackbird’s while sweet Helen serviced him in the supply closet. She rebounded about ten times after Luc while he watched on with indifference. She told me I needed a rebound, too, but from what? A one-night stand and getting stood up almost immediately after by a hot guy with abs?

One Tuesday my mom came down for dinner at Blackbird’s. After our shift she was going to follow us back to my apartment so I could touch up her roots. I was muddling through the beginning of cosmetology school but losing interest with every day that passed, much to the surprise of no one.

I looked over to where my mom was sitting and noticed she was lowering and raising the stupid little tortilla soup flag like it was a toy. Approaching her table I said, “Are you bored?”

“Not at all, sweetie.” My mom had the most pleasant speaking voice and the kindest eyes. She made everyone smile. Helen always said my mom and I were alike in that way. I hoped it was true.

I sat down next to her in the booth, feeling suddenly curious about her at my age. I realized I had never asked her,“What did you want to do when you were younger, Mom?”

“What do you mean? Like, travel?”

“No, as your career?”

She sighed. “I wanted to do so many different things. But times were different back then. I was married and pregnant by twenty-one, and your dad was in dental school. I worked at Penny’s for about six months and then I was your mom . . . and then Chuck’s mom.”

“What were the so many things you wanted to be?”

Jon-Jon walked by, paused, and looked over at me. “Sitting on the job, are we?” he said.

“I’m taking my fifteen-minute, mandated-by-law break right now with my mom. Helen is covering my tables.” Jon-Jon never offered breaks even though he knew we were supposed to get them.

“You need to run that by me first,” he said.

“I couldn’t find you. Papi said you were in the bathroom for half an hour.”

He scowled before walking away.

“What’s his problem?” my mom said.

“Well, that’s him,” I pointed to his frumpy, fat butt and permanent wedgie as he walked away. And then I pointed to his older brother, Jack. “And that’s his brother, who is the owner of this restaurant. Jon-Jon has worked for him for fifteen years.” Jack was an extremely handsome forty-something. He owned three different Blackbird’s locations and Jon-Jon was just the manager of one.

“Oh, I see. Sibling rivalry,” my mom said.

“Yeah, I know how it is.”

“Why do you talk like that, Charlotte?”

“Because Chucky is the golden boy and I work at this place.” I waved my hand around vaguely. “Look around. Look at what I’m wearing.” I pointed to my bow tie.

“I love you, Charlotte. I know your dad is hard on you, but I wouldn’t care if you served tortilla soup for the rest of your life. I just wish you and Helen weren’t perpetually single.”

None of the relationships I’d had were worth discussing with my mom; they’d only met Curtis by accident.

“Everyone says Chucky is so good-looking and smart and was such an athlete. Dad didn’t go to a single one of my soccer games in high school because I wasn’t good enough. Chucky got all the girls in high school. The boys just thought I was awkward.”

She huffed. “Have you looked in a mirror lately? You have grown into a gorgeous young woman. Would you have some confidence, please? Sit up straight.”

I was taking slouching and bad posture to a whole new level. “I just feel like I’m at a dead end.”

“Well, it’s time to make a goddamn U-turn, kid. By the way, I might have gone on your computer dating thing.” She shot me a sheepish look. “Don’t be mad. Helen told me you stopped using it after that Seth guy stood you up.”

“Yeah, I changed my freaking phone number the next day, too. Clean slate.”

“Hmm, that explains it.”

Jon-Jon was back. “Is that fifteen?”

I looked at my imaginary watch. “Nope, only twelve.”

He shook his head and walked away. I looked over and noticed Helen flirting with a patron.

“See, Helen has confidence,” my mother said.

“She’s a freakin’ actress. Anyway, what were you gonna say about the dating site?”

“There was a message from that boy. The one who stood you up. He said his dad had—”

“Wait. How do you know about that?”

“Helen told me.”

I caught Helen’s attention and mouthed I’m gonna kill you.

She shrugged.

“Anyway,” my mother went on, “Seth’s dad had been in a car accident. He’s okay but he had to have surgery.”

All of a sudden my mom knows all about Seth’s family life? Seth, whom I don’t even know?

“So what, Mom. I’m over dating.”

“He’s very cute. He apologized profusely and said he tried calling you. That must have been around the time you changed your number. I wondered why you did that.”

“I have to get back to work.”

“Hold on. About a week ago, he messaged again and said he was hoping you still checked the site. You should go on and read the messages.”

“Maybe,” I said. I kissed her cheek and walked away.

BACK AT OUR apartment, as I put color in my mom’s hair at the kitchen table, Helen went onto my Match profile from her laptop on the couch.

“Awh,” she said.

“What! Read it to me.”

She cleared her throat and began. Her back was to me so I couldn’t see her face but she sounded emotional from the very beginning. “Dear Charlotte, I cannot tell you how sorry I am that I missed our date. My dad was in a car accident about twenty minutes before I was set to leave. I was so worried about him. It was pretty bad, and he had to have surgery.” Helen started sniffling.

“What, Helen? Jeez.”

“He put up a picture of him in the hospital with his dad.”

“Keep reading.”

My mother sniffled. I spun her chair around. “Are you kidding? Are you crying, too?”

“He just seemed really worried about his dad.”

I shook my head. “Keep going, Helen.”

“Will you please consider giving it another try? And then he sent another message just last week. Hey, Charlotte, just wondering if you’re still on here? I’m giving this one last shot. I’d love to meet you. I’d love to take you out. That is, if you’ve found it in your heart to forgive me.”

I walked over to the couch while my mom was processing. “God, he is good-looking, isn’t he? Maybe I’ll message him.”

“Charlotte, my scalp is starting to burn.”

“Shit.”

I rinsed out my mom’s hair and it was definitely more orange than red. I styled it and then showed it to her in the mirror. I knew I had messed up, but she just said, “I love it!” She hugged me with fervor. Maybe she was too easy on me. Maybe my dad was right. After all, I fucked up her hair and she hugged me anyway.

After she left, Helen waved the phone in front of my face while I did the dishes. “Stop that and call him.”

“Fine.” I dried my hands and went over to the couch. “Get out of here,” I told her. She scurried off to her room, but I knew she’d still be eavesdropping.

I looked up Seth’s number and called him. He answered on the first ring.

“You called!” he said triumphantly. “Can you meet me in Lake Elsinore tomorrow, Charlotte?”

Jeez, just like that. This guy is a character. “Um, hello, hi, how are you? How is your dad?”

“Hello, hi, I’m good. My dad is good. I want to meet you. I’m glad you forgave me. In six months, no one on any website or in life has intrigued me as much as you, and I can’t get your picture out of my head. Do I sound stalkerish?”

“Yes.”

“Well, come to a baseball game tomorrow and we’ll meet and enjoy the great American pastime together.”

“A baseball game in Lake Elsinore? What, like, Little League?” Oh my god, he has a kid.

“The San Diego Padres have a minor-league team called The Storm that plays there.”

I was confused. “Is it like Bull Durham?”

“Yeah exactly!” He sounded excited that I knew what he was talking about. “You wanna go see a game?”

“Um . . .”

All of a sudden Helen popped out from behind the couch where she was hiding. She pointed to the phone at my ear and mouthed, Yes!

“Can my friend Helen come?”

“Why not? Okay, so I’ll leave two tickets at will-call for you. It starts at six. See you there?”

“Okay.”

He hung up right after that. I hit end on the phone and looked up at Helen. “What did he say?” she asked, brushing out her wet hair.

“I thought I heard you in the shower. How long were you hiding behind the couch?”

“Never mind that. What did he say?”

“Not much. We’re meeting him at a baseball game. He said he’d leave two tickets for us.”

“I can’t believe you told him I was going. I’m not going,” Helen said, rolling her eyes.

“You have to. I don’t even know him. This is the weirdest thing in the whole world. I’m gonna drive an hour and a half to go watch some minor-league baseball game with him? What if he stands me up again?”

“You went home with Adam and boned all night in his loft and you think that’s any safer than meeting a dude in a public place where there are thousands of spectators?”

“Why do you always bring up Adam?” I moved off the couch and headed to my room.

“Wait, where are you going?” She stalked after me. “I bring it up because you were different afterward and every time I mention his name, you act like it wasn’t just some one-night stand.”

I turned around in my doorway and stared her down. “I felt extremely rejected by him, okay? I don’t like talking about it.”

She put her hand on her hip. “It’s been way too long to still be thinking about him.”

“I liked him and he threw me out . . . made me feel like an idiot.”

She was looking at me cautiously, treading lightly. I knew she could hear the self-reproach in what I was saying and in how I acted right after that night with Adam. “I could tell he liked you, too, Charlie . . . as much as you liked him. It just wasn’t meant to be. Something was up with him. Who knows what.”

I nodded. Tears filled my eyes.

“Don’t feel bad anymore, okay? I’ll go with you to the game tomorrow even though I hate baseball. I’m sorry I’ve been giving you so much shit lately. That guy looks really cute in his profile. He seems to like animals and he wants to go to a ball game with you, and he didn’t even mind that you wanted to bring your friend. It’s a good start.”

“I know, but who knows anything anymore. I attract the weirdest fucking people. I’ll try to be in a better mood tomorrow.”

“Okay, you still wanna go out tonight?” she asked.

“No, I have the breakfast shift.”

Helen went off to bed and I went into my room and searched for Seth’s profile on Facebook and Instagram, but there was nothing.

THE NEXT DAY at work, I tried to ignore the first-date nerves. The dickhead who requested the al dente avocado from Helen was back, and giving me an earful about how his poached eggs were too stringy. I ran my ass off for him, trying to make sure they got his eggs right the second time, and then he tipped me a dollar twenty-five on an eighteen-dollar check.

When I told Jon-Jon, he said, “He’s a regular, Charlotte. Make the man happy. So what about the tip?”

“I work for tips, Jon. I know that doesn’t matter to you, but he’s extremely disrespectful to the waitstaff here, especially the women. You never have our backs.”

“Do you know how many people would kill to have your job and the great shifts I give you?”

It’s terrible, but I wished our closet caper would have at least hospitalized him for a bit of time. I wasn’t sure I could deal with another six months in that place, with those stupid gimmicks and Jon-Jon’s bad treatment.

“I don’t think we should have the tortilla flags anymore, and these outfits are lame.”

“Charlotte.” He braced my shoulders. I shuddered at his touch. “File a complaint with Jack if you’re that unhappy.”

“Maybe I will.”

“You’re phased. Get your tables closed out.”

“I made twelve bucks this morning and I had to drag my ass out of bed at five thirty.”

“Not my problem,” he said, walking away from me.

Why couldn’t I just quit this stupid job? Oh I know, because I have to pay rent.


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