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  • Years ago, I got my first serving job at a high end restaurant in Glasgow, the kind of place that had a French name, but not necessarily French food, and where the staff wore polished shoes, and scraped the crumbs off your starched table cloth onto a silver platter in between courses. Every time I walked through its doors, I had the impression of entering a parallel universe.

    Having naively shown up with no experience, I was convinced they only gave me the job because I had an “American” accent. (And sure enough, I had gotten away with a lot of things that summer, thanks to that) Still, I was grateful for the work, and wanted badly to prove myself.

    One evening, a young couple came early to the restaurant. They were the first to arrive, and had reserved the corner table, the most private spot in the dining room. The woman held a bouquet of roses in her arms, and the two moved stiffly in their formal clothes. After taking their orders, I stood vigil in the shadows, keeping a careful eye on the water and wine in their glasses, and re-emerging to fill them lest their contents fall below a certain level for too long. I had been taught how to do this in the previous weeks, and as I watched the couple, I felt a new pride in my practiced attentiveness.

    Later, I was pouring wine for another couple when I glimpsed the man at the corner table get up from his chair and bend towards the ground. It looked as though he had knocked something over (perhaps the butter knife, or the salt shaker that I had set too close to the table's edge) and was going to search for it under his seat. I felt a flash of panic, and silently chided myself as I rushed over.

    As I approached, he looked up at me with bewildered eyes, and his surprise caught me off guard. “Sir, is everything all right? Don’t worry about it, please, let me get that for you...” When he did not say anything, I turned to the woman sitting opposite, and saw that she too had her mouth agape. Not until I followed her gaze down to the table did I understand what was happening.

    On the white linen sat a small box lined with blue velvet, its hinged top bent back to reveal a ring nested inside. The man had not been reaching under his chair, but getting down on one knee.

    Horrified, I retreated to the kitchen, and only then noticed the cake waiting in the fridge, the words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” emblazoned in red icing atop a small field of butter cream roses. The cake is laughing at me, I thought, and none of this is real. The dining room was full by then, and to my relief, no one dropped anything on the floor for the rest of the night.

    When I could not put it off any longer, I went back to the corner table carrying the water pitcher and one last apology. The man said to me, “Luckily for you, she said yes!” And I saw the woman go red in that momentary eternity before we allowed ourselves to laugh.

    That summer, someone fell in love with me. I had stayed in Glasgow just because I wanted to fall in love with him too, even if I had never been in love then, and did not think I knew how. He was older, from a very different place, and expected unspoken things from us that my younger self could not fully understand.

    Though he wanted to, I forbade him from coming to eat at the restaurant where I worked. I dreaded the thought of waiting for his glass to empty, and of having to fill it up with something.
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