Maria looked out across the dance floor. Couple swayed as the bluesy ballad continued. Another Valentine’s Day with no date. No male friends offering to accompany her to the Sadie Hawkins Dance or to even dance with her after they’d danced with their wives or girlfriends. Even her best friend Susan hadn’t attended. They usually danced the fast dances together where no one could tell who really partnered with who. Yes another lonely-hearts day for her.
She knew the potential outcome. Signing up to work the dinner rush and then during the dance hours kept her busy. Why tonight was hitting her harder than usual, she couldn’t say. Maria knew the number of Washburn Falls eligible males dwindled with each Sadie Hawkins dance. A couple might find their third or even another couple to form a quad with. She didn’t envy them. She compersively enjoyed seeing others enjoying their joy. Loving more than one was fine by her. Some chose to be monogamous. Most of Washburn Falls’ citizens embraced what pairbondings worked for those that chose them. At the last local LBGTQ chapter meeting, Chad Penndel, Washburn Falls mayor elect, announced same sex pairings were legal in the town’s eyes. She had applauded along with the others in attendance.
Maria picked up the tray full of dishes she’d cleared and made her way back toward the bar and kitchen entrance. The house lights came up and the dance floor emptied. She blinked, standing still until her vision got clearer. That’s when she saw them coming toward her, Chad Penndel and Nick Black. Washburn Falls’ two most sought after bachelors.
Chad reached Maria first. He waited until Nick moved up beside him before he spoke. “Maria, come on and sit down with Nick and I. We want to talk with you.”
“I-I got work to do. Tables to bus.” Maria held up the tray of dishes she carried. “Couples are going to want more drinks. Maybe more food. If I’m not taking orders, I miss out on tips.”
Nick took a hold of the tray. “The other servers can take care of them. What Chad and I want to talk with you about is important. “
“Right,” Chad began, pointing to an empty booth. “You haven’t taken a break yet. Come on. A short break isn’t going to hurt. Besides Chef put some soup aside for you. You need to eat.”
Chad moved forward until he stood by the booth. He watched as Maria glanced from him to Nick and back. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth. He could see each breath she took as her chest rose and fell. Her short breaths, fleeting glances and worrying her lip spoke louder than if she’d voiced her concern. He knew that look. He’d been there himself. Two years earlier when he returned to Washburn Falls, ready to take the first job offered him. Ready to hole up in a small studio apartment and keep to himself. Nick hadn’t let that happen. He’d challenged him to take small steps and TLC himself until he gained the confidence he needed to take on the head bartender job. Nick had taught him concern, care, and yes love. He loved Nick a lot. Some thought they were a couple. Neither of them bothered to correct people’s assumptions. The LGBTQ citizens knew differently. They trusted him to take care of them and embrace the diversity Washburn Falls offered all its citizens. Now if the rest of the damn world would learn how to do that maybe they all could worry less when they ventured outside the valley and mountains that surrounded Washburn Falls.
“We just want to talk with you. Nothing bad,” Nick offered, tugging at the tray Maria held on to tightly. “Please, let go. I’ll take it into the kitchen and bring back your soup.”
“Seriously?” Maria asked, letting go of the tray.
“Yes,” Nick replied, adding as he turned, “Be right back with the soup.”
“Bring some bread and cheese too. She needs a meal not just a quick snack.” Chad sat down on the seat closest to him.
“A break is one thing. A meal period gets deducted from my work hours.” Maria started after Nick.
Chad stood up, quickly following Maria until he caught up with her. He laid his hand on Maria’s shoulder as he caught up with her. “No deductions. Just sit down with me. I can explain while Nick gets the soup, bread, and cheese.”
He felt Maria’s shoulders rise and fall as she took several quick breaths. She glanced back at the kitchen door Nick had gone through. She sighed and faced him. “Okay, I guess. This better be good Chad.”
Chad pressed his lips together to keep from smiling. What he and Nick had discussed was good. Good for them. Good for Maria. It was presentation that was going to communicate just how good it was going to be for all three of them. Would she believe them?