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You, on the side please.
“Can I have the Fiesta Taco Salad and an iced tea please?” Chelsea flashed a smile at the waiter and folded up the menu, sliding it to the edge of the table.
The waiter moved his gaze from her perfectly outlined, ice blue eyes to scribble on his notepad, “Of course you can. And what will you be having tonight?” He held the tip of his black pen to the paper, waiting for Jake to order.
“I’ll have the half pound burger, medium rare, with a regular Coke.” Jake hadn’t even opened his menu; every place around town had burgers, and that’s basically all Jake ever ordered.
The pen moved quickly across the waiter’s paper, “Okay, a taco salad, half pound burger, iced tea, and soda. Will that be all?”
Chelsea straightened up her back a bit, “Actually, can we also get onion rings to start?” She knew that she couldn’t resist the fried goodness of Pepper’s onion rings.
“Sure, your onion rings should be right up!” He shoved the pad of paper in his pocket then grabbed their menus and shuffled off towards the kitchen.
Chelsea and Jake sat across the blue and yellow tiled table from each other; Chelsea crossed her legs on the seat cushion, hating how much Jake shook his left leg. It was a habit of his that she hated; whenever they were sitting, his leg was bouncing. She carefully watched his fingers as they twirled one of the coasters around on the table. He was awfully quiet tonight, she thought, maybe something was wrong.
“Hey is everything alright, you’re not really talking much.” She studied his round face and smooth, pale features looking for a hint of negative emotion.
Jake kept his gaze on the swirling colors of the coaster, “I’m fine. Just…stressed.” His fingers became more rigid and the coaster swirled out from under his fingers, and flew off the edge of the table.
Chelsea laughed, trying to lighten his mood, “Man Jake, my five year old nephew had better control than you!” She leaned down to pick it up from the aisle next to the table.
“I’m not five,” he leaned forward and quickly grabbed the coaster before Chelsea could, “and I can get it myself.” He placed the coaster back onto the table in front of him, readjusting himself on the seat. He knew he sounded cold; he never reacted well when he felt pressured.
Chelsea jumped when the waiter popped up at the table, carrying a basket of onion rings and their drinks, “A tea for the lady, onion rings, and here’s your Coke sir.”
He carefully placed the drinks in front of Chelsea and then Jake before placing the onion rings in the middle of the table along with a small stack of tan napkins. “Can I get you anything else for now?”
Chelsea turned her face up towards his, forging an uncomfortable smile, “Um, no, I think we’re set for now, thank you.” She waited until he walked away to address Jake’s snappy mood. “So you want to tell me what’s wrong now, because you’re definitely not alright.”
“I told you, everything’s fine.” He body language stayed stiff and his face focused on the tiles on the tabletop; his lying was never excellent, but tonight Jake put no effort into hiding it.
She picked up one of the greasy golden rings from the basket and picked off a small chunk to eat, trying to think of something to talk about to break the awkward silence. “So, um, have you submitted forms for housing at Michigan?” She hoped she had picked a good topic, the other night he had seemed excited about college next year.
Jake looked up from the table, catching the anxiety in Chelsea’s eyes. He hated when he snapped at her like that, but sometimes he just wanted her to stop talking, she was so sure of herself and where she was going, and that freaked him out a lot because he didn’t.
Her eyes were focused on him, waiting for his answer. “Well actually, I…I don’t know if I’m going to.” They way that her face changed when he said this, her right eyebrow lifting and her lips tightening, immediately told him he couldn’t tell her his plans now. He couldn’t handle telling her if he was unable to gage her reaction; now he had to think of a way to end that sentence.
“What do you mean you’re not going to?” Chelsea realized she was perched on her elbows, leaning in towards him, and leaned back before grabbing another onion ring to look more relaxed.
“I was thinking… maybe I would…” Jake grabbed an onion ring and quickly bit off half of it, hoping it looked natural and not like he was stalling to find an answer.
Chelsea sighed and picked at another onion ring, “Do you not want to live on campus or something? I doubt you can find anything cheap out there. It’s kind of pricey for housing over there.”
Jake swallowed the food before straightening up to answer, “Oh, what I meant was that yeah, I don’t know if I want to live on campus. I was looking at rooms but I still don’t know if I want to live in a dorm.”
“It’ll be easier to make friends if you’re living in student housing though, I think you would like it better.” She ripped open a packet of sugar and dumped it onto her tea, watching the individual crystals sinking down to mix with the rest of the drink.
“I know but I’ve been living in a house with four other people my entire life, it would be a nice change of pace to be able to live alone.” Jake peeled the wrapper off one of the straws on the table and stuck it into his drink, taking a long sip.
“You can just get a single room. Food would be cheaper that way too.” She studied his face, trying to gauge how he was going to react to what she said. It was nights like this she worried about him; she hated not knowing when he was going to snap and get mad at her.
“Its not that simple, Chelsea! I mean, the majority of housing on campus is double rooms. The chance that I could get a single room is tiny. Not everything is as easy as you think it is.” His face was hard now, and Jake wouldn’t let himself look at Chelsea. He was mad now, but he needed to get that out. She was always suggesting things, she always thought there was a way to get things done; but in Jakes world, nothing was as easy as it was for her and she needed to know that.
“Oh, sorry.” Chelsea nervously scanned the room. Whenever she got into an argument in public, even a quiet one like this, she felt like everyone was watching her. But tonight the only face she saw looking at her was the one of their waiter. He was standing by the drink station in the corner, and it took them a few seconds to break their gaze. She continued to watch him as he filled up a drink for another table; he was tall and had to hunch over the fill the drink, his shaggy brown hair covering his eyes from Chelsea’s view. He looked up and caught her eye again before jumping back. The cup he was filling overflowed onto his tan hand while they were looking at each other. He smiled nervously before grabbing a napkin to wipe off his hand. The spill and the face he made after it overflowed made Chelsea giggle.
“What are you laughing at I’m serious. You always think things come easy for everyone, that there will always be a simple way to get things done. But you’re wrong. Why can’t you see that?” The sudden intensity of his voice caught her off guard.
“I was just laughing at…. Well, it doesn’t matter. I do know that.” And as quickly as the happiness had come, it was gone. He was upset and Chelsea knew this argument wasn’t going away easily. “I know there isn’t always an easy way but seriously, do you think the world is out to get you? You’re like…a perpetual pessimist. Can’t you ever try to see the brighter side of things?” She was annoyed that he was mad at her because all she was trying to do was help.
Jake started to say something when the waiter walked over with two massive plates balanced on his forearms, “Okay, so we got the Taco Salad and the burger. Do you want more drinks or are we good here for now?” He tilted his body towards Chelsea, making a point of asking the question directed towards her.
“No, I think we’re good for now,” Jake answered in monotone, his face expressionless.
“Well just flag me down if you need anything.” He pulled out the pad of paper and walked towards a table of people who had recently been seated.
“Will do.” Jake grabbed the ketchup bottle, squeezing a mass amount of it onto his burger.
“Geez Jake you could have said thank you. He’s a really nice waiter. You’re pissed at me, don’t take it out on other people.” Chelsea unwrapped the green napkin that held her silverware and placed it on her lap, then picked up the fork and started stabbing food onto it, not waiting for a response from Jake.
Jake put down the burger and finished the bite he had taken, “I’m not pissed at you Chelsea.”
She continued to stab food onto the fork until a mouthful was positioned on it, “That is a load of crap and you know it.”
“No, it’s not. I am not mad at you. I’m just frustrated.” He calmed down his tone to sound more sincere. He was mad at her, but his reaction to her tonight was really bad because he was freaking out about the army.
“Well then could you tone down the attitude? It’s kind of embarrassing to get yelled at by your boyfriend in public.” She ate what was on the fork, and took in two more fork-full’s while he talked.
“Sorry. Really, I am.”
“We should eat fast, I have homework to do before tomorrow. I have to be at church early in the morning and ill be there all day too.”
“Okay.” He picked up the burger again and focused on eating until it was gone. “You gunna finish that?” He had cleaned off his plate in a matter of minutes, but Chelsea’s was still covered in food.
“Probably not. There was a lot of food.” She flagged down the waiter as she took a sip of tea, ready for him to bring a box and the bill.
“Yes ma’am, are you ready for the bill?” He had hurried right over to their table when he saw her looking.
“Yes, and could I get a box to take this home?”
“Of course! I’ll be right back with both of those for you!”
Chelsea watched as he walked away, trying not to focus on how touchy Jake had been. When the waiter walked back with the bill she immediately went for her purse; she had money and was ready to pay but was kind of hoping Jake would at least try to stop her from paying.
“Here’s your bill,” he placed the slip of paper in a sleeve and then pulled out a take-out box, “and let me get this ready for you.” He lifted her plate and scooped the leftover food into the small white Styrofoam box carefully as Chelsea pulled her wallet out of her purse, pulling out two twenty dollar bills and placing them on top of the bill.
“Can I get some change please?” She replaced her wallet on top of her purse, keeping it waiting for the change.
The waiter hesitated, looking a little confused, “Oh, sure…I’ll have the change for you in a second.”
“Thank you.” Chelsea grabbed the iced tea again, taking a long sip of the cool drink. Jake hadn’t said much to her, and she knew he was lying about not being mad at her. She still didn’t know what was making him aggravated, and she hadn’t yet decided if she wanted to find out. “Jake are you ready to go?”
“He hasn’t brought the change back yet.”
“I know, but here he comes right now.” The waiter handed Chelsea the change, giving Jake a strange look as he did, and then gave her a copy of the bill with something scribbled on top of it. “Thanks so much!” Chelsea pulled six dollars out of the wad of change and put it under the ketchup bottle for his tip and then stood up from the low-lying table. “Now are you ready to go?”
Jake stared at the wall across from the table, trying to figure out how he was going to survive the drive home, “Yeah I guess.” He grabbed the blue hoodie he had brought along and stood up slowly from the table, pulling the keychain out of his pocket as they walked towards the door. Jake watched angrily as the waiter waved and smiled at Chelsea as they walked out the door, “I think he likes you.”
“Why, because he treats me well?” She heard the edge of her voice and wondered if he could tell how mad she was. Their first dinner date was a disaster in her eyes. Jake had been set on doing the ‘gentlemanly thing’ and in reality all he did was drive her to the restaurant she had picked and she paid and tipped!
“No, I think he likes you because he was always smiling when he came over to the table.”
Chelsea decided to try to end the date on a good note so the night wouldn’t be totally ruined, “You’re just being jealous, he was just a happy waiter!” She walked a little closer to him and tried to grab his hand.
“What are you doing?” He shied away from her advance, putting his hand in his pocket and tightly gripping the keychain in the other.
“Well, I was trying to hold your hand.” She slowed down her pace to look at him, why was he acting like this; they always held hands.
“I never hold your hand. I’m not…I’m not a close person. You know that.” He kept his face blank and continued walking to the car.
Chelsea quickened her pace to catch up to him, “What are you talking about Jake. I could kind of buy the ‘I’m not mad at you’ crap you tried to feed me but this is just ridiculous!” She couldn’t handle any more of his attitude tonight so with that she was done. She followed him to the car, opened the door for herself, and sat quietly in the front seat fighting back tears as he drove her home.
Neither of them talked the entire way home, quiet melodies from the radio and the hum of the air vents the only sounds in the car. When they pulled up to her house there were no cars in the driveway; Chelsea’s parents were still out. He put the car in park and unlocked the doors, staying mute as she exited the car.
“Well, thank you for the ride, I guess.” She avoided eye contact with him; anything could set off her tears at this point.
All he said to her as he started to back out onto the street was, “Yeah.”
She waited until he was halfway down the block before she opened the door to her house. As she set her purse down on the stairs and carefully pulled off her shoes, tears started wandering down her cheeks. She walked up the carpeted steps to the bathroom, peeling off the clothes she had put so much thought into. She turned on the shower, letting steam fill the small blue room. The night had been a disaster; he was mad at her and wouldn’t tell her why.
Chelsea locked the bathroom door behind her and stepped behind the shower curtain. Letting the steaming water drench her body, she hoped that the heat would help to soothe her nerves and clear her memory of the terrible date. As the tears streamed down she remembered the small piece of paper sitting in her jeans pocket. She jumped out of the shower and pulled the receipt out of the pocket of her jeans lying on the floor. Water pounded on the shower floor as a smile spread across her dripping face; there on the paper in front of her was a telephone number followed by a name, Brendan.