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December 25, 2014
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Mystery dinner


“Can I get you something to drink?” A mop of dark hair in his face, white towel tucked into his waistline.

“I’ll have a Jameson on the rocks,” the girl says.

“Two,” the guy says.

The waiter nods and leaves. The room is full of couples, hints of red on most of their clothing. Bottles of wine. Two glasses. Valentines Day.

The drinks arrive and they toast—to each other. They love this place. Come here all the time. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. They recount some of the good times they’ve shared, some funny moments and that one time in the beginning when he was kind of a jerk.

The girl swigs her Jameson and stands up.

“I’ll be right back,” she says. Kisses the guy.

The guy watches her leave, turns back to the room. A woman looks bored, reapplies lipstick, checks her phone.

The girl is alone in the bathroom, lost in her own thoughts. It’s been one of her favorite Valentine’s Days, and she’s had some doozies. Suddenly, there’s a commotion behind her. A struggle. She spins around.

Red shoes under the stall. Muffled movements. Does she go for help? She gets closer to the stall. Closer. Peering under. Another set of shoes. Black loafers. Kissing. Laughter.

She straightens up.

“They were in the stall together,” she whispers to the guy back at the table.

The guy laughs, enjoying the gossipy tidbit.

“Good for them.” The red shoes click by.

“That’s her.” They watch as the red shoes go and sit back down with an older gentlemen in the corner. He hasn’t moved.

“That’s not the guy she was with.” Grins break out over the couple’s faces as they frantically scan the room, checking for empty chairs and ladies waiting for their dates. “Who do you think it could be?”

Their food arrives. Delicious tapas. Bacon wrapped dates. Small plate of gnocchi. Meatballs. Did they want anything else? No, they were doing fine. But leave the menu. As the dust settles, the tables are full again. They missed the culprit.

“It might be that young man over there with the popped collar sitting with the girl with balloons tied to her chair.”

“Could be,” says the guy.

“I’m going to go check his shoes,” the girl says quickly, standing up.

“Do you think that’s such a good idea?” the guy says, but she’s already gone. Across the room. Closing in.

The guy watches with nervous excitement. She deftly knocks a neighbor’s fork from the table and disappears from view.

She pops back up. Pantomiming apologies. She shakes her head. Not the right shoes.

“I think it’s him,” the guy says, gesturing to a man and woman who are deep in an intense conversation. “I remember her checking her phone and looking bored when you went to the bathroom. Now she’s about to cry. Plus, I think the man keeps checking out the woman with the red shoes.”

“Hmmm. I don’t think so,” the girl says after looking the man up and down.

The waiter brings their second Jameson. “Who do you think, then?” the guy asks.

“Maybe him,” the girl says, pointing to a suave guy with slicked-back hair. “I can’t see his shoes. But he looks like the type that takes a girl into the bathroom.”

“Oh yeah?”

The suave guy laughs. The girl shakes her head. Not the right laugh.

The waiter stops by the crying couple’s table and then comes by with the check. The guy gestures for him to come closer.

“Maybe you can help me with something.”

“Shoot.”

“What’s the deal with that couple? Know anything about them?”

Without hesitation: “They come in every now and again. Poor girl. She’s upset. They’ve been fighting since the man got back from the bathroom an hour or so ago.”

Satisfaction stretches over the guy’s face. See that, he gestures to the girl. She rolls her eyes.

“Thanks for coming.”

They nod. “Have a good night.” The guy helps the girl with her coat. He holds the door for her as they walk out and she stops dead in her tracks. That laugh, she says. They turn around to see the waiter pass the woman with the red shoes a napkin. The older gentleman doesn’t notice.

“I’ll bet that’s his phone number,” the guy says as they step out onto the cold street.

“Nice one, Sherlock,” the girl says. They link arms and disappear into the night.

- Zac Stuart-Pontier