2 Years Earlier
"You're late, Benley," my manager informs me, tossing the apron my way.
I catch it in one hand without lifting my eyes from the tiled floors. "Like I care," I mutter under my breath as soon as he turns his back on me.
He stiffens, making it obvious that he heard me. "Look," he sighs, his back still to me, "I heard some talk from your co-workers. I heard about the rough break-up you're going through, hence my patience with you. But you gotta stop making a habit out of being late. I can't cover for you for much longer."
I instantly feel like crap. Before I can take my words and attitude back, he's already tending to a customer.
I run a hand down my face, exhausted. I spent the entire night drinking away my sorrows. It didn't work.
How did I end up here?
I'm supposed to be in law school, married to the girl of my dreams. I stuffed up. Now I'm just a failure who can't even face his own parents. It's too humiliating. It's bad enough I have to show my face around here, knowing that everyone knows.
"MacAllister!" Liam, one of my co-workers, snaps me from my thoughts. "Table 6 is waiting." He tosses me my name badge before shoving me out of his way.
I glare after him. He always thinks he's the top dog around here just because he's a charmer. The customers love him.
I tie my apron around my waist furiously and put on my badge before storming off in the direction of table 6. My anger spikes when I see that it's a couple on a date – something that I don't have anymore.
I console myself before approaching them. The guy immediately gives me his order. It's the girl flipping through the pages of the menu like a moron that keeps me waiting. She squints down, trying to understand the foreign words.
"You ready to order, ma'am?" I ask, my patience wearing thin. Clearly, she doesn't belong here.
She nods, lifting her eyes to mine. "I think I'll just have a water and a hamburger—"
"She'll have a Zymarika too." Her boyfriend finishes for her, sending her a grin.
I roll my eyes. A hamburger? At this restaurant? Is she stupid? Thank goodness for her boyfriend or I would have lost my cool by now.
"And to drink?" I ask, pretending to jot down her order. My boss, Meg, insists that we write down every order to prevent making mistakes and displeasing our customers. If she had to look at my notepad now, all she'd see would be doodles of a broken heart instead.
The boyfriend turns to look at his girlfriend. She just shrugs, taking her time.
I tap my foot impatiently, restraining myself from acting on the current emotions I'm feeling.
"I'll take a coke," she finally says.
I frown. You've got to be kidding me!
"I mean," she hesitates at seeing my face before changing her order, "I'll take a chocolate milkshake."
I merely stare at her. If she wasn't so annoying, I'd find her cute with her blonde hair, doe eyes and simplicity. But, right now, I can't see past her annoying nature.
"No, no, wait! I'll take the fudge, choco moco espresso."
I mentally sigh. It's going to be a long day.
"That's not on the menu," I tell her abruptly.
"How about just an espresso to-go?" She questions, unable to decide.
"But this isn't a 'to-go' order. You're sitting," I point out, beyond irritated.
"Okay." She stutters. "Um, jeez, this is strenuous exercise, no pressure...um...a—"
Before she can finish, I flip out. Rage fills my mind as I think back to Bex and Oliver. I throw down my notebook and badge, not really knowing what I'm doing. "I quit!" I shout at the top of my voice, making sure everybody knows.
I see her flinch and almost feel guilty about it. Unaware of what I'm doing, I barge out the restaurant, attracting a large audience along the way. I don't miss the curious gazes of three friends not sitting too far away from table 6, ducking behind a menu.
I drop my head in my hands, sitting on the curb outside the back of the restaurant. It's been a couple of days since I quit. I'm here to beg for my job back. I have since realized how stupid I was to let my emotions get the best of me. I have bills to pay.
Still, I can't quite make myself do it. It's too degrading.
Liam would love the sight of me groveling. I thought my pride had been knocked dead after Bex and Oliver...I was wrong.
I can't even go to my parents for help. They'll lecture me before helping me. Like I don't already know how much I've messed up. I'm stuck without a job, without a girl, and without a friend. My future isn't looking bright.
I've never felt so defeated and worthless than I do right now.
"'Sup, Looney Tune."
I turn my head to see familiar doe eyes staring down at me in pity. "What do you want?" I snap, wishing to be left alone.
Just great! The girl I treated like garbage is standing right in front of me. Of all people?
"I'm here to lighten your world," she replies in ease, a genuine smile on her face.
I scoff. "Really? Because you're kind of casting a shadow over me." I tell her, gesturing to her silhouette and then to the sun.
She takes a seat beside me, unfazed by my comment. "I'm sorry about the other day."
"Shouldn't I be the one apologizing?" I ask, puzzled. "How'd you find me anyway?"
"I've been stalking this restaurant for days," she confesses, unashamed.
"Why?" I frown. "Do you want to kill me for being a jerk?"
She shakes her head. "You give yourself too much credit; I've been treated much worse." She jokes.
I stifle a grin. "Why are you here?"
She shrugs. "You've been on my mind. I know I don't know you, but are you okay?"
Her concern for someone she doesn't even know is touching to me. It's not something I'm used to seeing.
"Where's your boyfriend?" I question, skeptical.
"Don't have one," she answers calmly, picking at her nail polish. "You didn't answer my question."
"I didn't want to."
"Are you okay?" She stubbornly asks a second time.
"Far from it," I admit, twisting my head to look at her. I never really looked at any other girls when I was with Bex. I didn't have any reason to. But now I'm free to look, and I like what I'm seeing. She seems too good to just pass by.
"Thought so." She nods, tossing her long, blonde hair up into a ponytail. "What's wrong?"
I hesitate before launching into my story.
There's something comforting about her presence. Maybe it's because she makes me feel less alone in the world, or maybe it's because she, a stranger, seems to care more than my girlfriend or best friend ever did.
Never did I think I'd find a real friend in her.
Never did I think she'd restore my faith in people.
Never did I think that she'd leave.
But she did. She did all three.