Leann Giles swept into the kitchen, her hand tight around the now empty tray. She liked her job, was thankful her distant cousin, Amber, had been able to give her the position when she’d needed something after leaving her husband. But, that didn’t mean she enjoyed every aspect of it.
Like customers who tried to get a little too friendly.
“You okay there, honey?” one of their cooks asked.
She let out a breath then nodded. “Yeah, fine. Nothing I can’t handle.” She’d just keep her polite mask on when she went back out to serve the rest of their food. And stay as far away from the handsy one as she could.
She’d just take a minute or two to compose herself again, then she could go out and check on each of her tables. She wondered how Lisa was doing right now. Leann had needed to come in before her daughter was out of school, so Lisa was going home with a friend. Her mom would bring her home in the morning.
That riled Leann up more than the over-friendly customers. Lisa was supposed to be with her father this weekend. But, he’d called just before she’d had to get Lisa on the bus to say he couldn’t take her. She’d had to call Kate, Lisa’s friend’s mom to see if she could go there. Thankfully, she’d been able to catch her just in time.
Kenneth was always doing things like this to her. Anything to make her life just a little harder.
“I just seated a table in your section, Leann,” the hostess said, poking her head into the kitchen.
Leann took a deep breath, forced her waitress smile back into place and nodded. “Thanks, Aubrey. I was just about to head out there.”
She scanned the dining room when she entered it for the new table. And saw a man leaning over t help his son look through the menu. She had to smile at that. The boy was probably eight or nine, only a couple years older than Lisa. He wasn’t even ordering off the kids’ section from the look of it. As she headed over there, another couple, older than the man, joined them. The boy smiled at them then ducked his head behind the menu again.
Her mask fell away as she approached the table, a real smile replacing it. “Good afternoon,” she said. “Can I get you all something to drink?”
She could feel the man’s eyes on her as she wrote down everyone’s drink orders, but she didn’t look right at him again. Not at the dark red hair that was swept off his face, hair he shared with the little boy but not with the other two. Maybe they were his mother’s family. But, then where was the mother?
It didn’t matter. It wasn’t any of her business.
When she headed back out with their drinks, she grabbed a piece of candy from the basket in the kitchen. She set it down with the boy’s drink. She always gave one of them to Lisa when she came in. “When your dad says you can have it,” she told him.
He gave her a shy smile, then looked back at his menu. “Are you ready to order?”
When they got around to the boy, she asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to order for the kids’ menu?”
He shook his head, and the father let out a rumbling laugh. “Only if he can order at least two of those meals. He won’t have a problem eating it all, don’t worry.”
She couldn’t help but laugh at that. She remembered her own brother being the same around that age. When she returned to the kitchen with their order, she was still smiling. Then, she saw the order was up for the way too friendly table. She took the tray out and caught the father looking her way again. A smile lifted his lips, and she was sure her own matched it. She set the plates down on the table and stepped back as fast as she could, just barely avoiding another grab for her. She kept that pleasant smile on her face as she asked if they needed anything else.
When she turned around, he was still watching her. She headed over to their table, with the basket of rolls she’d grabbed for them. “I’ll have your salads out in just a moment.”
“Are you okay?” the father asked her. “It looked like they were bothering you.”
Heat flushed over her skin. Had it been that noticeable?
“I’m sure she can handle it,” the other man said with a smile for her. “You don’t need to ride to her rescue, Rick.”
“I don’t,” she assured them. “It’s not a big deal.” The truth was, she could tell Amber, and she’d take care of the problem. But, she didn’t want to make it into a big deal.
When she went back out later with the check, Rick was alone at the table. She’d watched them a few times while they ate their dinner. They had a nice family. There seemed to be a little distance between him and the older couple. She still didn’t think they were his parents. “Where’s the rest of party?” she asked, setting the check folder on the table. “They abandon you?”
His smile widened as he put an arm over the back of the booth and leaned back. “Todd went home with his grandparents. He’s spending the weekend there.”
She bit her lip to hold back the question she wanted to ask. It still wasn’t any of her business. But, he couldn’t quite stop her gaze from going to his hand. No ring. That didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to try to get a date with him. She hadn’t dated since leaving Kenneth, and she doubted she’d start with this man. Even if the way he looked at her made her heart pound a little faster. Kenneth had looked at her like that once, too. Until it was no longer convenient for his own plans to care about her.
“Well, I hoped you enjoyed your dinner. I can take that whenever you’re ready,” she said, gesturing to the folder.
“I’m glad we decided to meet his grandparents here tonight.”
Her cheeks heated at that, at the way he kept his eyes on hers and smiled just a little wider. She couldn’t quite help letting her smile match his. “So am I,” she said then hurried back to the kitchen before he could see how red her face went.
She’d probably never see him again anyway.
Note: Leann shows up in Duty to Protect, but that’s actually her daughter’s story. I also wrote another short story about Leann and Rick that takes place after this that was published in the first volume of the World Unknown Review.