Every bar has its regulars, and every tender has its regular diners. Mine in particular range from the, “Three bloody marys is lunch-” to “It’s 5:59p.m., could I order three glasses of happy hour red wine and three burgers? But don’t put it in until 6:15p.m.” to “We’ll start with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Grande Dame, please.” The regulars that star in this particular tale are of the latter breed.
About two years ago, this couple would come visit me once a week. Over time, we got to know each other quite well as they would typically close the bar with me at night. Stories of their past lives would emerge and reveal that both were recently divorced and had found the other in some sort of spirit animal finding vision quest in Taos.
We’ll dismiss it as a yoga retreat.
Their life was in a constant state of celebration. On that note, I’d pop a bottle of the bubbly to start, and course out their weekly three-course meal paired with wines, always finishing with a salad a la European. Neither of them into sweets, they’d finish with a cordial; him with a ruby port and her with an Irish cream liqueur.
By the time the liquid dessert course came around they were both well marinated. Both would relish in each other’s gaze whispering sweet all-to- mushy nothings for all to hear. Amorous smiles and gentle facial caresses punctuated by an occasional sip of their cordials would this couple signal for the check, and depart as I placed bar stools on the bar top. Making their way to the front door, I’d peer around the corner and watch as he held the door open with one hand, and place the other at the small of her back as he guided her out. Passionate, romantic and old world.
Privy to witnessing such an electricity between them, it was no surprise when the gentleman asked me to make a reservation as was ready to ask for her hand on bended knee.
“Absolutely! How exciting!” I squealed. “What time?”
“About 7:30p.m. would be nice, and could you recommend a good table?” he asked.
I laughed as I thought he was joking with me. They’re my regulars. My bar regulars. Why on Earth would he want to sit in the main dining room? He must be joking. I giggled as I continued with the reservation.
“Ha! Right. I’ll set you up at the bar for 7:30p.m.-”
“No, actually I would like to sit in the main dining room,” he said.
“Oh. Very well, I’ll recommend a good waiter for you,” I answered. “But, you don’t think that she’ll suspect something is up if you sit out there?”
“No, I don’t think so. She has no clue!” his shrieked.
“Alright then, I’ll reserve a lovely little corner table for you in the main dining room,” I responded as I edited the notes on the reservation.
“Perfect. Wait, one more thing. Will you bring out our dessert?”
“Of course! A ruby port and an Irish cream it is then,” I said.
“No, no, no- an actual dessert. The creme brulee should do-” he said.
Now, as I stated before this couple wasn’t into sweets. Dessert was always imbibed, not served with a spoon. I couldn’t help but to cringe as my picturesque romantic image of the two of them began to crumble. Not only was he proposing in a restaurant, but not even in their usual spot. And like that wasn’t enough, he was now going to ask me to put a ring in a dessert? At this rate, I’m expecting a heart-shaped cut diamond solitaire from Jared. But, these were my regulars, my bar regulars and I was being asked to partake in a very special moment in their lives. What was I supposed to say? No?
“Creme brulee it is…” I responded with my voice trailing off.
My mind was spinning with vomit-inducing Christmas commercials of women sniffling “a hundred times yes!” while taking the ring. I recoiled at the mental image of crashing the token of his eternal love and devotion through a layer of burnt sugar and submerging it in the vanilla custard beneath. Please tell me this was not an image that was going to be realized before my very eyes! Not this couple, please. I fished for the ring reveal.
“So would you like me to put the ring in the dessert then?” I probed.
“Goodness, no!” he exclaimed in near horror.
“I actually have handmade and hand written love poems that I would like to come out with every course. The last one will contain the ring.”
I held back my lunch as it came charging up like a geyser from my stomach. This phone call had to end, STAT.
“Sounds great! See you then!” and like a gavel did I slam the receiver down.
A few days passed and the big night was upon us. I briefed the server about the plans and retrieved the handmade, hand-written love poems that had been dropped off. Each was labeled with the course that they corresponded to. Tempted to steam the envelopes to read their words of love did we refrain. The damages would be too obvious and this is someone’s life we’re contributing to, right? Right.
The clock struck 7:30p.m. and the couple came in through the front door. The miss beginning to make her way to the bar was rerouted by a grasp of the hand. She looked at her hand, then at her beau with a confused look. From a distance I saw him grin as he pulled her to their table. The miss and I met eyes as I waved in a fashion replicated by a sailor’s wife to her husband’s ship setting for sea.
Champagne was brought to the table as per usual, and the first course and envelope went out. As they sipped their champagne and were presented their appetizers, the waiter placed the envelope on her empty bread plate. The miss looked at the waiter, then at her beau and smiled. I read her lips as they said, “what is this?” She read her poem and smiled. Folding her card in half and sliding it back into the envelope, she leaned over the table and gave him a kiss.
Their entrees came out with the second envelope prompting the same reaction, as did the third. The main event was near- fat lady was to sing. I zipped about finding the envelope with the ring enclosed, walked over to the kitchen line and reached for the creme brulee. I walked over to the table and finally said my hellos. The miss stood and gave me a hug and her beau followed suit.
“I have dessert for you-” I announced.
The miss looked terribly confused as she looked at her beau.
“Dessert?” she asked.
“Oui! Le creme brulee,” I said as I set the creme brulee at the center of the table, sliding the envelope over toward her. I was about to dismiss myself when the miss struck up conversation with me as she opened her envelope.
“So how’s your night going my dear?” she asked as she slid her index finger under one corner of the envelope and opened it.
“Pretty steady. Boring without you two!” I said as a means to provoke an endearing response, only to sneak back to the bar.
“Yeah, it was a surprise to me too. We never sit out here, or have dessert!” she exclaimed.
“I know,” said her beau. “I just had a sweet tooth tonight I guess,” he continued as he smiled.
“Well, I don’t think I’ll be having any. But you go ahead darling,” she said as she laughed, inching out the card from the envelope.
“Well, on that note- bon appetit!” I said as I leisurely pivoted, watching her slowly opening the card…oh come on, I’m a girl- I had to sneak a peek, discretely of course.
She looked up at her beau as she opened the card, and looked down as soon as it was opened. She went to read the card when her eyes caught the sparkling ring tied to the red ribbon used to bind the card together. Her eyes widened but her jaw did not drop, nor did she reveal a smile. Not a tear was shed, not a shriek deafened the dining room. The only gasp that was heard, came from the table beside them who had caught a glimpse of the ring. But the gasp was not from the miss. More reactions were heard coming from behind me, than from in front of me.
Yet, the miss wasn’t reactionless, per se. She was still looking down at the card. Her paralysis soon subsided to reveal her response. She pressed her lips together as her eyebrows raised as she shut the card. The anticipation in the room was as dense as the creme brulee that sat on the table, untouched. I glanced at her beau whose eyes were open nearly as big as his smile as he awaited for her response. A tingling sensation shot up my spine as she lifted her head. The miss took a deep breath only to look back and make eye contact with me, not her beau.
Surprised, I looked back her. Did she need something? Her eyes locked with mine as I made my way back over to the table; my heart racing like a jack hammer inside my chest. I slowly approached, forcing a smile and a look of attentiveness, to generate an answer from her without my asking for it. My attempts to avoid walking all the way back to the table failed as I was now table-side. Me, with the same look on my face. The beau, with the same look on his.
Her eyes softened, then melted into a look of despair as she opened her mouth and said:
“May I please have a spoon?”
Shocked, I nodded only to dart over to a busser and pawn the mission off on them. I turned back only to find that the miss and beau had left just as quickly- creme brulee still untouched.