“I dare you to write from the point of view of a forgotten family member”
Straightening my bowtie in the mirror, I gave a smirk at my reflection. Sleeves were tucked taut, my brown hair up in a ponytail… everything on my uniform looked orderly. I was ready for the night ahead, personally. I smiled at myself, excited for the night, and for what to come. Visions danced in my head of the rush of dinner, of whom would be in the dining room. Faceless people throughout the night, most of them, but there were a few faces I could picture clearly. I smiled to myself and left the bathroom, ready for the night to bring in the rush.
Heading out into the dining room, I took a tour around the tables, making sure the busboys had taken care to set up them up proper. Silverware was straightened, yes, one or two wine glasses needed a quick polish, but otherwise, everything was satisfactory to my eye. I exhaled, completely ready for the night.
“What does your cousin like to eat?” asked Jose as I walked through the kitchen. “I want them to get the finest here tonight. Finest food for the familia of the finest waitress.”
“He’s only nine, he doesn’t have a ‘refined palate’,” I giggled, appreciating the cook’s charm. “He’ll eat whatever you put in front of him. He does love mac and cheese, so if that is on the special for tonight…”
“As a matter of fact, it is,” he winked at me, tapping the lid a small container at the end of the night’s prep food. “And the cake Eddie made up for him? Girl, is he going to love it.” I smiled at the cook in appreciation, before heading upstairs to the boss’s office.
I was doodling a balloon in my checkbook when John came in, ready to start the meeting for the evening. Although he came from his office, he had a towel draped over his shoulder as he did when he was working in the kitchen. A small sweat stained the towel, and the sight of his notepad meant he’d been crunching numbers all day. The seating chart was underneath the numbers sheet, and he pulled it to the front as all of us closed our books.
“Busy night tonight ladies, busy night,” he started. “We have a lot going on tonight. It’s Friday, so the out of towners will be coming in. At least 30 reservations downstairs, a few of them pretty big.” I blinked in surprise, not realizing there were so many reservations as he went down the list of the biggest parties. “Be. on. your. game. tonight. I also don’t want any broken glasses tonight. We need those for tomorrow. Anything broken, and it comes out of your check.”
I hoped my bangs hid my eyebrows raising. What was he so panicked about tonight? I could sense that the other staff were becoming tense as well.
“As soon as we are halfway through the night, I want you to start pulling. Start setting up for tomorrow. That graduation eighteen top will be up here around 7:30, but as soon as they’re done, this place needs to start getting set up for the wedding brunch. I’ll be tapping a few of you individually to set up. As you can see it’s a mess, so this place needs to be spotless before anyone even thinks of closing out.
Composure tonight. It’s going to feel like you’re running around with your heads cut off, but I need you to stay composed.” He checked his watch, then scanned the reservation list. “First table should be here in five to ten. Get ready for insanity.”
As we dissipated, my heart sunk. I’d forgotten about the wedding tomorrow. Of course it collided with my big night. I exhaled—I hoped not too loudly— and began to head downstairs.
At the top of the steps I stopped, and turned back to the office. Letting the other waitresses and a few hostesses pass by, I nervously approached the doorway to John’s office. Feeling someone waiting from him, he turned to greet her.
“What’s up, Elise?”
“I’m really sorry to bug you with this tonight, I know it’s going to be chaos,” I began, “but I told you it’s my cousin’s birthday tonight, right? You saw them on the reservations?”
“I did, 7:15,” he said.
“I know you wanted us to work our butts off tonight, but am I still going to get the chance to serve them?” I asked. “It’s my cousin coming in’s birthday, and I want my entire family to enjoy it tonight.” John pursed his lips.
“Serve them, yes, but not entertain them,” John told me. “I’ll try and not pull you for setup until later, but you can talk with them at home. You’re here to work. As long as I see you working the rest of the night, I’ll let you get some time with them.”
“Thank you,” I let out a sigh of relief, my mind already whirling. “I really appreciate it.”
I’d gotten what I wanted, but I was scared of it all clashing. Taking the back steps down to the Everything could come together in the most horrible way, where I would be swamped, and I wouldn’t get to see my cousin or the rest of the family. I wanted to make his birthday special, I wanted to make sure that… I got to spend time with him, and that he saw me doing well. He was my favorite cousin, partly because I didn’t get to see him that much and we had an awesome time when we were together.
“Are you ok?” asked Tracey at the waitress station. The older waitress could sense my tension. “You look like you need a cigarette.”
“Just… anxious for tonight,” I told her.
“Aren’t we all,” was her reply as she shoved her check book in the pocket on her apron.
Water and ice cubes pouring into the glass. Silverware clinking. In the entrance hallway before the hostess booth I could hear people shuffling. Just the ambiance of the restaurant made me feel as if the evening was shifting into nighttime. I’d not seen a clock in hours, but I could somehow sense that the time had come, and it was somewhere near 7:15.
After checking on an elderly couple I was serving, I excused myself from the table to check on the reservation list, and there they were. Aunt Beth let out a whoop as the hostess turned her around and she saw me.
“There’s our favorite niece!” she yelled, probably a little too loud. I beamed, hugging her. As we pulled apart, Justine the hostess handed me the menus for my family, and I swung back around to lead them into the dining room.
“And there’s my favorite birthday cousin,” I said, as I hugged my cousin Chris. He gave me a fist bump, and I asked him how his birthday was. He wore a nice jacket, but underneath I could see the “Nerf Wars” print on his tee shirt. “Don’t tell me you…”
“Mom and dad rented out a whole place, and we had like twenty people shooting everywhere, it was amazing,” he raved as he sat down. “Next time you come up we’ll play in the basement.”
“If you brought any with you, we can maybe play when I get done tonight,” I whispered to him. He grinned.
Everyone was seated along the back of the dining room, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Aunt Beth, Uncle Garret, Chris, his younger sisters Avery and Kaitlin. They were here, and everything was busy, but going fine so far. “Crowded tonight?” asked Aunt Beth.
“A little bit,” I said. “The weekend arriving, a wedding tomorrow, so it’ll be a little busy tonight. Can I get you anything to drink?” Taking everyone’s order, I began to get down to business. Anxiety of waiting for them to arrive had passed, yet another strain of anxiety—that the next hour or two would go smoothly and I would get to see them— began to arise.
The kitchen was all up in arms as I walked in to grab appetizers and bread for my family. Jose didn’t even smile as he loaded the window with appetizers. He, John, and two others were just a flurry of food, sweat, and spatulas. Every pan behind the window had something in it. The ticket line was completely full. That eighteen top upstairs must be here, I thought. Saying nothing to distract them, I took the appetizers and ran.
“So what do you recommend?” Uncle Garret asked after I listed off the specials.
“I want the kabobs!” Chris exclaimed. I immediately scribbled it down, adding the mac and cheese before he even said. Getting the rest of the family’s orders, I dashed to the register to punch it in.
“Listen, that eighteen top is disappearing, and Katie is slacking,” Tracy said as I entered the last item. “I’m swamped right now. Can you help her clear?”
I swallowed, and my eyes began to narrow. Not now, of all times… of all the times please… I thought. But Tracy had a mean streak, and I did not want to get screwed by her, so I nodded. She gave me a pat on the shoulder and immediately dashed away, probably to sneak a smoke. I shouldn’t have thought that, but as I looked at my family’s table, I knew this would be taking me away from them. Forlorn, I headed upstairs.
“I feel like I pulled something,” Katie said to me as she bent over to pick up a knife on the ground. The upstairs was quiet except for us, and the busboys, clearing the table as fast as possible. A ten top had called in, and for some reason, Adam had allowed them in for tonight.
“I have to get back to the kitchen,” I said to her, not really caring. My bin was mostly full.
“Can you run this bin down?” she said, not looking at the bin to her side. She had been putting dirty dishware in my bin, not realizing, and had only a few things in hers. I showed her this, and her response was to take her bin, a few forks and knives in there, and dump it into mine. I winced at the sound of it all clinking together, but picked it up and headed down the steps.
“Bring it back as soon as you can!” she said as I left.
“I have customers right now, but I’ll try,” I said, looking back in her direction. All of the busboys had disappeared.
They were unloading everything, but backed off as soon as I came. Breezing by the window, I saw some of the dishes my family had ordered coming to the window. The busboy closest to me ignored my tap on the shoulder. “I can’t sort this now,” I told him. “You do it.”
He ran off on me, and I looked at him as he went, more than slightly annoyed. Seeing no choice but to help the dishwasher, who was already in the weeds, I began to unload the bus bins. If only for a few minutes, as to let the food prep guys expedite my family’s food.
“What the hell is this?” John said as he tossed a hot dish in a soapy sink. He grabbed the dishwasher’s hand, who was tossing a broken wine glass into the trash. I froze as he looked at me. “What did I say today, damnit?”
I had no words for him, but somehow muttered an apology. My only response was to flee, and I fled upstairs with an empty bin. When I told Katie, she shrugged.
“Not my fault,” she said apathetic. I scoffed, but continued to load up another bin.
I froze again when I came back down. The window was empty. I had forgotten about my food. The dishwasher was beginning to catch up, but I was getting in the weeds. I looked out the door to see my family in the back enjoying their food, smiles on their faces as Aunt Beth sipped on her wine.
“What happened to my food?” I asked Jose.
“You were here, and then gone,” he said. I went to go address the family, give them my apologies, but Adam grabbed my arm.
“I know it’s chaos, but I need you to get a message to everyone,” he told me as he threw sauce on something in a pan. “Get your heads out of your asses, and get the food out when it’s ready! I don’t know who it is, but I can’t have people waiting for food. Not tonight!” I nodded, and headed out to the dining room.
Everyone was fine, but my night was coming crashing down around me. I watched Chris mock sword fight his sisters with one of his three quarter eaten kebab, and my aunt and uncle deep in a discussion over the other side of the table. I wanted to go over and address them, but I saw another of my tables, the elderly couple from when they came in, asking for their bill.
I washed my face after I took care of the bill, and continued on with my night.
It was maybe nine, and I had barely gotten to talk to Chris or any of them. They’d left, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. Noone had sent any messages in to me either. In my panic, I had missed his birthday cake, I had missed talking to them, seeing how the girls were. And the worst part was, they had enjoyed themselves all the same, even if I had not been there. I wanted to cry, but couldn’t. I knew Chris’s birthday had gone on fine, but for some reason, I felt as if it were my birthday that were being ruined.
I set up the dining room upstairs silent, not talking to any of the waitresses or busboys. I did not look up to see if they were as miserable as I was, and none of them seemed to notice my misery either. I was just wishing the night would end.
As I clocked out, I didn’t care to see what I had made in tips. I just took it and shoved it into my pocket. I looked over at the table where they had sat, wishing that maybe if I could do it all over again, I would have gotten them to go somewhere else for the birthday dinner.
Walking to my car, I felt sad and forgotten.