The waiter had a mustache that curled up on each end. A handlebar, yes. As Susie selected each course from the menu he made a face, judging, good/bad. Handlebar was happy with her polenta rapini choice but not exactly pleased with the grilled radicchio. He told her he felt her order overall leaned too bitter. So, not convinced but also not (suddenly) wanting to disappoint him, Susie subbed in butternut squash soup for the salad. She wanted the Cynar mint-bourbon cocktail but the waiter just shook his head in a quick no. “No, no,” he said and stomped his Doc Martened foot just a little bit. He said that if she really liked bourbon she would get the Stag cocktail, as it was his favorite. He could drink so many of them, he said. Not that he did. But he could. It was very bourbon forward and she liked bourbon, yes? Susie did like bourbon, it was true. She often did drink many bourbon drinks, especially if she’d walked to the restaurant, which she had this nice spring evening. Bird song dwindling, the smell of dirt in the air. And so she also changed that order, suddenly unable to think for herself and unwilling to disappoint this server with the poor-decision facial hair.
Her date, who by this time was obviously impatient to have his own choices assessed, said, “Hey, what about me?” Pretending that it was a joke that was funny, but that they all knew was actually passive aggressive. They all laughed.
“Oh, you’re next,” the waiter said pointing a finger in his direction like a little pistol.
It was a blind date. Not that Susie usually was down for such things. She actually really liked eating alone at the bar. And she also really liked the cute bartender, even if he was probably gay. She was a near-regular here but really didn’t know the waitstaff because she was normally perched on a stool with her back to them all, chatting up the bartender who was sweet but not judgmental and who really truly made her the best Manhattans she’d ever had set neatly on a napkin. What she hadn’t noticed when she and her date were seated—they met right outside the door to the restaurant, arriving simultaneously at the restaurant’s front door. In her past, Susie would have thought that meant the date was fated to go well; she was well beyond those beliefs now—what she hadn’t noticed was that they had been seated right beside someone she knew.
Oh god, oh god, oh god. Jack, she thought now, realizing the situation. Jack, who Susie had dated successfully for a few years, many years ago. Jack, who was now looking over at the order-and-assessment process going on at her table with a bemused smirk as Mr. Handlebar took a stance, his feet more than shoulder width apart, like taking her date’s order was a sport he’d trained for. Jack inched his hand up near his mouth and gave a wispy fingered wave her way, mouthing hello, or maybe hell, Susie couldn’t tell. It looked like Jack was also on a date? He had on a tie and a nice blazer and also sported some fancy facial hair like all the guys did these days. Jack never wore nice clothes so she raised her eyebrows at him and then nodded solemnly. She then tried to turn her chair slightly more toward her date so that she could engage with him without garnering the assessment of Jack or the waiter, who had finally left the table after approving all of the date’s desires without one issue.
“I know him,” Susie said.
“The waiter?” her date said.
“No, no. The guy at the next table. Know him. Jack.”
And her date—whose name was Scotty (not Scott) took a look behind his own back and said—too loud. “Oh hey. Hi Jack, buddy how’re you doing?” He then stood up and walked over to the table, took a step and did a hearty handshake. “You know Susie? Cool.”
And Susie saw it coming like the trainwreck that it was as Jack opened his mouth. She knew. He said, “Hey, join us? Why not?”
And Susie found herself at a table with a petite blonde named Rach (not Rachael) and Jack (former lover, good in bed, yes) and Scotty (not Scott) who had already polished off one bread basket and was now holding the empty basket aloft and scanning the room for our waiter, who would surely advise against more bread before the first course came, yes?
Susie saw her simple, friendly bartender over in the far corner, diligently shaking and stirring everything up. He also had imaginative facial hair, but it didn’t seem forced on him—or he didn’t seem to care if it stayed or went. He had his head down and his cheeks were rosy. Susie longed with all of her might to go sit with him. She just wasn’t cut out for dating life.
“So,” Scotty said, nodding at Susie, “She good in bed?” And they all laughed again like what he said was funny.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness (University of Nebraska Press) and two short story collections, Whiskey, Etc. and Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn House Press). Recent work appears in Ploughshares, New England Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Booth. She serves as a senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018 (with Aimee Bender), and co-editor for the forthcoming anthology Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton, February 2023).