Oh, no. No. She noticed me, didn’t she? She saw.
But it’s so nice to eat in a restaurant now and then. It’s warmer than a fast food place, the furniture is cozier, there’s something more generous in it being trusted you will pay when you’re done than putting your money up front. It’s so much less likely there’ll be the guy rambling about Iraq and the Federal Reserve to the baffled university student who can’t find a graceful way out of this and doesn’t want to just bolt for the door.
But she saw me.
I just tapped my glass. It wasn’t on purpose, I was just fiddling around because the hand wasn’t needed for the book and it has to do something and it’s either fiddle with the cutlery or touch the glass. But the glass was almost empty, just soda-stained ice and the straw left, and now … yes, she’s come. What if she thinks I’m beckoning her over to demand a refill?
She dips her head and smiles and I just know she’s thinking I think she’s there to jump to my whims. Diet Coke isn’t much of a whim, but it’s the contextually appropriate one. I don’t want to be one of those customers. I want to just fade into the background and someday, eventually, pay my check. I can’t save the situation. “Thank you,” I say, before she opens her mouth. One.
“Would you like a refill?”
“Thank you,” I say, fumbling the first word so it comes out in three syllables. Two. She grins and takes the glass and I’m panic-stricken that she doesn’t remember it’s diet I was drinking. “Er, that’s Diet Coke,” I say as she recedes, marking myself as someone who beckons the waiter over and barks out refinements of my demands. Why oh why did restaurants stop putting slices of lemon in diet soda? It saves so much agony in making sure the waiters remember who the freaks are who care about the difference. “Thank you,” I pitch after that, whether she hears it or not. Three.
I shouldn’t have said anything. She surely remembers. There’s just me at the table, there’s no complicated ordering going on. I wouldn’t dream of it. I didn’t change soda mid-meal, unless now she thinks I did because I specified and now what must she think of me? At this point she’s got to have figured my only saving grace being that I didn’t demand things be sent back to the kitchen, and is working up such a sarcastic blog post about me that’ll go up on the Internet somewhere I won’t even see. Good heavens. Why don’t I flee? No, that would be worse, clearly worse.
I see her again. She’s got the soda. Maybe it’s diet. Maybe not. “Thank you,” I say, as she gets near the table, and she nods. Four. Does she mean the nod? Is she just putting up with me? Does she suspect how this is all a horrible mistake? Is she aware how much less tense I’d be if she just hadn’t noticed me? How much I wouldn’t have felt under-served? How I could’ve paid and been on my way to have something embarrassing happen at the video store instead? I can’t explain any of it, that’d just take up her time and it’s not like she can un-pour the soda.
“Thank you,” I say again, as she walks off to patrons who she hasn’t got every reason to hate. Five. I said “thank you” five times for a soda I had no reason to care about getting until it was too fraught with emotion to not get. I have to do something with it. I take a sip, and then a longer one. If she looked back at my table then she knows the soda was used for its intended purpose. The crisis is passed. I can wait a decent time and then hope she brings the check.
“Oh, you are thirsty,” she says, taking me by surprise. “Would you like another?” Something has stolen ten minutes and two-thirds of the soda, and my hands are resting on it again.
“No, thank you,” I say, and realize I forgot to say the “no” part out loud.