“We have so much good to celebrate tonight. Sarah Jane picks up your drink so we can all make a toast.” She giggles and picks up her virgin Shirley Temple.
“To the start of new beginnings,” I say. I can’t express in words to my family how thankful I am for their support today and how grateful I am that their new business venture is taking off with new opportunities.
“Here, here. Everyone takes a sip, then let’s order. I’m starvin’,” Uncle Terry says.
“I know this is everyone’s first time at The Stardust. Trust me; you can’t go wrong with whatever you decide, it’s all wonderful.” I pick up the menu. I don’t need to look. I know the thing by heart. I memorized it before I even started my first day of waitressing here three weeks ago.
Derek bumps my leg under the table. I look at him, and he points with his chin over to the bar. My eyes follow, and I spot the grumpy man, Jack, who is Sophie’s uncle. He’s staring at me with a half-scowl on his face, which seems to be his favorite expression. I see Sophia Georgina, now known as SG, looking at her phone standing by the hostess table. “SJ, there is Sophie over by the bar,” I say. I wonder if he’ll scowl at Sarah Jane too.
She spins around in her chair, “Oh my goodness, Sophie.” She doesn’t ask permission, she bounds out of her chair and runs over to hug her friend.
“Sorry guys, that was rude, I’ll be right back.” Leslie gets up and follows quickly after Sophie.
“Who’s that, dear?” Aunt Betty asks me.
“That’s Sophie, Sarah Jane’s new best friend from school, Sophie Phillips.”
I watch Sarah Jane and Sophie. I watch her uncle scowl down at the girls who are acting like they didn’t just see each other today at school. He looks back to me no longer frowning, but still a serious look on his face. He’s very handsome; I bet he’d be a knock out if he’d smile instead of frown. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been dressed in an expensive suit. His hair touches the collar of his dress shirt. It’s dark brown, with some grey starting to make an appearance on the sides. It looks like he ran a hand through it this morning and hasn’t given it another thought. His messy longer hair is unexpected with his beautiful sleek, slim-fitting suits.
Derek whispers to me, “Is that her dad? What’s up with the nasty look on his face, and why is he staring you down? What’d you do?”
I giggle and whisper back, “I’ve met him twice, and that is the only facial expression I’ve seen him have. It’s her uncle, and I think he’s harmless.”
“Aunt Annie, I wanted Sophie to see your new haircut. Isn’t it pretty and chic?” she asks Sophie, and everyone at the table holds in their laughs.
“Hi Sophie, what do you think?” I shake my head back and forth. It’s going to take some time to get used to the lightness I feel every time I turn my head.
“I love it, Ms. August. Has it really been ten years since you’ve had a haircut?”
I start to answer, but Sarah Jane beats me to it. “Yeah, Jenny would get upset when she would cut her hair, so she stopped cutting it.”
“Here you guys are. Nice to see you again, Sarah Jane and Leslie.” Ben Phillips, Sophie’s Dad, smiles wide at Leslie. She smiles back, and I notice she blushes all the way to her blond roots.
“Dad, this is Ms. August, Sarah Jane’s aunt. Remember me telling you about yoga? She hasn’t had her hair cut in ten years, and today she got a haircut.”
“Really?” He looks at me with his kind eyes. “I think we met a few weeks ago. Hi, Ben Phillips, Sophie’s dad.” He’s tall with light blue eyes and blond hair, the opposite of his brother.
“Hi, Ben.” I glance at grumpy, and that makes Ben chuckles, “This is my brother, Jack. I know you’ve already had the pleasure of meeting him, I believe.”
I smile at Jack. I don’t know why I always want to laugh at his serious expressions. I don’t find them intimidating at all. I find them cute and funny. He must be a softy inside, that’s what my gut is telling me.
“Are you guys related to May Phillips by any chance?” Uncle Terry asks.
Jack swings his head to Uncle Terry. “She’s our mother, how do you know her?” His tone is serious, no-nonsense.
Uncle Terry smacks Derek on the back with pride. “We are getting ready to do some work for her at her house. Your mother’s a tough negotiator, great woman, and we enjoyed getting to know her.”
Ben puts his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “What kind of business are you in?” Ben asks Uncle Terry.
Uncle Terry puffs up his chest, “We’re the second generation to own the paint store over on Nation Street. We’ve decided, since my son here, moved back to Ohio, we are branching out. We quoted and won the job of painting and wallpapering her entire estate. We start the week after next. Did you boys grow up there? It’s a beautiful piece of property.”
“Oh no,” I hear Sophie say. She grabs ahold of her dad’s hand.
Ben winks down at Sophie, “That’s great, and yeah, we mostly grew up there.” He nods to Uncle Terry and Aunt Betty and looks at Leslie with a sly smile on his face. “We’ll let you guys get back to your dinner. It was nice to see you again, Leslie.” He winks at her, and again, I watch her blush.
Ben hasn’t let go of Jack’s shoulder. Jack hasn’t noticed because he is scowling hard at Uncle Terry. Ben squeezes his shoulder and tells Sophie to tell Sarah Jane she’ll see her at school on Monday. Jack swings his scowl to me. I stare into his dark eyes, and he stares right back into my blues. I hear Leslie schedule with SJ and Sophie, a time to call and text each other on her phone. I smile at Jack. I can’t help it; I start to giggle. His scowls and frowns make me smile every damn time. I can’t help it or control it; I have no idea why. Derek kicks me under the table.
Jack breaks our staring contest and looks at Derek. He gruffly asks him, “How many years have you been painting houses like mine?”
Derek sits up from slouching down in his chair. “I grew up in a paint store. I’ve taken jobs on and off since I was twelve, I’m almost thirty.” He shrugs his shoulders. He’s struggled with the decision to come home after coming out to his parents. He needs this, heck the whole family needs this job to help them heal after the last few years.
I speak up, “Your mom’s house is in good hands with Derek.” I wave my hand around and motion toward Aunt Betty and Uncle Terry. “Your mom picked the right people to trust with the job.”
He actually takes the scowl off his face. He looks over my hair, my face, and then my eyes. He nods and walks away without uttering another word.
“Whew, I can let out the breath I’ve been holding. May said to expect push back from her son, Jack, and that we should ignore his protests. I’m hoping his unpleasant looks are worse than his actual bite; I can handle nasty looks.” She picks up her glass of wine and takes a drink. “He’s seemed okay with us, I think, thank goodness.” Aunt Betty smiles softly at Derek, knowing how important this is for him.
“Why wouldn’t he be okay with us? Did anyone else catch it when he called her house, his? Wonder what’s up with that?” Derek says.
I laugh when SJ giggles and speaks loudly, “SG says he’s a teddy bear, she says he acts grouchy, but he’s a teddy bear.” She shrugs.
“Ben Phillips seems nice.” I smile to Aunt Betty and give Leslie a raise of my brows. She tucks her long, straight blond hair behind her ears and looks to SJ. “He seems very nice. Sarah Jane likes him; you said he was hilarious at your sleepover. Didn’t you say he wanted to hang out with you girls all night?” She turns red and nudges SJ in the chair beside her. I’m sure she can feel me looking at her. Sarah Jane starts telling everyone about her first real sleepover at Sophie’s house. I don’t pay attention because I’m too busy watching Leslie look anywhere but at me. Interesting.