Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.
But you did notice.
We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.
I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.
But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.
To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.
Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.
Maritza the Waitress
PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.
“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.
He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.
He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?
“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.
Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.
“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.
“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”
His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.
“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”
With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.
By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.
“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.
“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”
“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.
He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.
“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.
“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.
Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.
“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.
I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.
“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”
Wincing, I shake my head.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”
“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”
“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.
He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.
I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.
“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.
“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.
I am not a “ma’am.”
“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.
“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”
“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.
The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”
I bet he’s military.
Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.
Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.
“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.
I’m going to have to get creative.
Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.
Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.
“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.
The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.
But I’m not one to judge.
LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.
“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.
“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.
Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.
“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.
Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”
His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.
“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”
I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.
Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.
Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.
He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.
“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”
She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”
“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.
“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”
“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.
“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”
“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”
“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”
“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.
She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”
“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Maybe I remind him of an ex?
I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.
“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.
Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.
“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.
“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.
“I saw you. Answer the question.”
Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.
My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.
“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.
Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”
His dark brow arches and he studies my face.
“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”
He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.
“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”
The audacity of this man.
The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …
I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”
“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”
We both glance at his empty plates.
“More eggs?” I ask.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.
“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.
He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.
“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.
“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.
He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”
“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.
Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.
But just like that, it disappears.
His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.
“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”
I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.
He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.
“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”
When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.
“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”
“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.
Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.
For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.
“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.
I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.
Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.
But I stand corrected.
“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.
I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”
I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.
“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”
“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”
“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”
“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”
Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.
Exhaling, I get back to work.
I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.