“Take a Chance on Me”
by Talya Andor
I am a twenty-something waitress at a local open-air cafe. A pair of good-looking young men around my age or older ask for seating on the outdoor patio, and the hostess seats them at one of my tables. I’m apprehensive, because I remember them both from an unfavorably memorable incident about a year ago. They are a mixed-race couple, and the black man was arrested while his date was detained for questioning, so the check wasn’t paid and I covered it out of pocket. I remember they’d both looked so miserable about the whole thing and I haven’t seen them since. From what I’d overheard at the time, I’d been witness to their disastrous first date.
Today they’re seated at my table and they’re both exceptionally polite. The black man – I’ll call him Frank for anonymity’s sake – seems nervous, so I think he’s remembering the same thing I am. They order appetizers and everything seems like it’s off to a good start.
After their entrees have been brought and they’re more than halfway through, I’m hovering on the patio; I know I’m being a helicopter waitress but can’t quite help it. That unpaid check is lingering in my mind. Right when I’m about to bustle up and ask if they want to see the dessert menu, Frank gets up and digs around in a pocket.
He gets down on one knee. “Marco,” he says, “before I met you, my life was a mess. I was involved in some pretty bad situations, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, or much of anything to look forward to. I wish I could say that the day I met you was the first time I was arrested. But, I’m happy to say it was the last.
“I’ve got a lot to look forward to, and a life that I want to build with you. You were able to overlook that terrible misunderstanding on a day the mistakes of my past caught up with me,” Frank continues. “I’m here today because a long time ago, someone helped me turn my life around with a second chance. And I’m here today with you because you gave me a fresh start, a second chance, too.” He pulls a box out of his pocket and holds it up.
I’m not the only person on the patio to have a hand to their mouth. All around me, patrons are riveted to the sight of this unexpected proposal. I don’t have a clear view of Marco, but whatever Frank can see on his face makes him gulp, eyes wide and scared but hopeful, and he pries open the lid of the box to reveal a silvery band.
“Will you be my future?” Frank asks him.
I can’t hear an audible response from Marco, but his dark head is nodding and he’s half-spilling out of his chair as he draws Frank into his arms.
Everyone’s grinning on the patio now, and I give them a good ten minutes of privacy with their new happiness, ashamed at my first assumptions, before I head over to offer dessert.
“Can I get you gentlemen some gelato on the house?” I chirp. It’s not on the house, it’s on me, but I want to do some small thing to make up for watching them like a hawk earlier.
Frank and Marco look up at me, beaming, their hands clasped together over the table.
“Last time we ate here, it was on the house, not by my choice,” Frank says. “We’re paying our own way this time, but thanks for your kindness.”
They did end up ordering gelato and sharing it, and I’m not sure how they found out about me covering their meal before, but they left enough to cover that set aside in cash with a tip on top of their bill – and what a generous tip!
Frank and Marco are regulars now, and they started a new tradition on my cafe’s Facebook page: the Wedding Gallery, for happy couples who had their proposal at our place. They started something of a trend.
I asked Marco later what happened, that day of their first date, and he gave me a shy grin and said “I made mistakes before Frank met me, too. Like him, I had someone there for me to teach me that how we recover from them is what makes us who we are. Our first date got busted up because a cop saw Frank and assumed he’d been behind a local restaurant scam, but he had the wrong guy. Frank was up front about who he was before we met, and so was I.
“From a bad beginning, you can turn it around to a happy ending if you’re both willing to put in the work.”
A/N: Not a true story; format loosely inspired by user tales at Not Always Right. I don’t typically write in first person, but this one needed to be.