by Marianne Su
The tray of empty glasses wobbled on my outstretched hand as I came to a stop. My eyes focused on table ten, knowing who I’d find. Breath stalled in my chest for a moment while I studied his face from across the room. His hair was longer than I’d remembered. Strands drifted across his face, hiding the eyes that could persuade me. No. That was then. I forced my mind to recall the last time I’d seen him, the night I’d decided I wasn’t like him.
Table four flagged me down. They wanted a dessert menu. I nodded and turned. One dessert menu was all that stood between me and taking orders at table ten. The heels of my shoes were loud and heavy against the concrete floor despite the Saturday buzz all around. The bartender mumbled something as I slid the tray towards him, glasses clinking. Leaning over the counter to get the menus, I glanced up, looked at him from across the darkened room. All possibility that he’d wandered in without knowing I worked there disappeared when he lifted his eyes to meet mine. The curve of his mouth was barely visible from a distance but the glint in his eye as he held my gaze confirmed the worst: he had no intention of letting me go.
I stood tall, remembering that I was stronger than he thought. I tugged at my short skirt and shoved the notepad deep into my apron pocket. I was not taking his order. I strode between the tables, my eyes trained on him, determined not to give away the rising self-doubt.
“You’re wasting your time here,” I said, leaning forward, my hands resting on the table.
He turned towards me, chin in his hand, eyeing me with those cold eyes I’d come to hate, even when I saw them in my own reflection.
“I could say the same to you.” He grabbed my wrist. Wide eyed, he scanned the room from one end to the other. “All these people and you’re not even a little tempted?”
I pulled my hand away from his. The smell of fresh kill on his breath repelled me backwards. That scent of death triggered my mind to replay images from my memory I needed to forget. I turned on my heels. The cackle of his laughter taunted me from behind. My hands went to my gut, urging the appetite to recede. Instead, it pulled at me, digging deeper. I heard the rush of blood. Not mine. Reason fought with need as I rushed past the bar, away from the crowds.
I tugged at the apron strings and flung aside the costume of the life I’d tried to adopt. My hands braced my head, squeezing, forcing out the anger, knowing that once it started, it would take over and reverse the gains I’d made. Rage pulsed through me, driving its way to the surface, bubbling like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. I needed out.
I was running by the time I got to the kitchen. I sped past the steaming pots. Pushing past the kitchen staff, I gagged on the sweaty smell of their mortality, a threat to my resolve. I kicked open the back door and barrelled into the darkness. Moisture from the misty rain glistened in the light from the street lamps but the cool air didn’t appease the craving. The bang of the door swinging shut echoed in the distance behind me as I ran.
Up ahead in the alley stood a figure. A police officer, his flashlight trained on me, a look of concern on his face. Was I okay, he asked. I wanted to tell him to run, but it was too late to escape me. He stepped closer, telling me this wasn’t a good place to be at night. He was right. I fought the rising urge, the temptation closing in. I tried to swallow the hunger within but there was no escape from who I was. As I lunged, I heard the laughter from table ten drifting from somewhere in the shadows, arrogant and mocking.
Like an addict, I vowed that would be the last time. I tried to convince myself that the victim who lay crumpled at my feet wasn’t a good man, that he wouldn’t be missed. In the tear that I wiped from my face, I felt the hope I needed, the strength of my conscience. I could not give up. I would go back, find that apron and begin again.