The Place was new when Carl first met Beth, smiling sweet sunshine as she took his drink order, scribbling it onto a pad. A Manhattan, he would remember later, not because the drink was especially good, but because it was the first thing he said to her, stumbling and stuttering to say five simple syllables: “A-Man-hat-tan-please.”
She smiled again. He was glad to have stuttered, if she thought it was cute. It wasn’t until she had vanished out of sight that he remembered himself enough to be embarrassed.
He had things he was supposed to do, reports to write and e-mails to answer. Whiskey aside, this was intended to be a working dinner, but now, there was only Beth. He ordered two more drinks and dessert just to talk to her more. Each time she smiled, his stomach hopped around and his heart threatened to stop. She made small-talk better than anyone he had ever met, made him feel at-ease and comfortable when he usually felt stilted and clumsy around pretty waitresses.
Her little skirt was just long enough to be decent while showing enough leg to get his imagination working, her black shirt just tight enough to quietly display the outlines of two round and perfect breasts, but all of that, all of the stuff men described when they talked of Beth in the locker rooms of the world, was irrelevant. Her smile was all he could see. Gorgeous dimples, a hint of lipstick, and white teeth with the slightest irregularity to them. This imperfection made her beautiful where she might only have been perfect.
She laughed at his funny jokes and lightly scolded him for his bad ones, she winked as she brought him a third drink. At the end of the night, when he left her a slightly excessive tip, she snuck a peek and smiled and said “thank you,” in a soft voice.
He was smitten that day, and knew it, as he left The Place and walked into the crisp Denver air. Later that evening, as he rushed to complete his work on time, he resolved not to go back to The Place again, and laughed at himself for being so distracted by a Waitress.
He kept his resolution for two weeks, but then traveled to Nashville and saw a sign for The Place. When he walked in, Beth smiled, said his name, and that was that.
In Moscow, Carl asked her how her day had been. In Tokyo, he told her a joke, and she giggled — giggled! In Boston, he tipped her extravagantly, and she winked as he walked out the door. In Rome he tried to talk to her in Italian, but his lamentable efforts merely caused her to shake her head.
In Brussels and Hong Kong, he was seated in Brad’s section, and his disappointment caused him no end of confused introspection, such that when next he came to The Place, in Denver again, he specifically asked to sit in Beth’s section for the first of many times, which earned him a smile and an extra slice of pie when she thought the Manager wasn’t looking.
When he was in Rio De Janeiro, Beth wasn’t working, which was quite the shame, but in both Kansas City and Houston, there she was again. She shrugged coyly and fluttered her eyelashes when he asked what she was doing that was so important in Rio, but she promised never to abandon him again.
In San Antonio, she sat down at his table and shared a slice of cake as The Place was closing. The thin, angular Manager in Detroit refused to let him sit in Beth’s section, so he left, but in Athens, Beth and her Greek Manager apologized and comped his bill.
It was in Oxford that she hugged him. It was a quick hug, nothing serious, but that instant, her arms wrapped around him, her breasts pressed lightly against his chest, her auburn hair in his face — that instant lasted hours, and plagued him day and night for weeks, until he finally came to terms with what it meant.