Robert felt exactly two things every Friday night: hope and dread. He felt them at the exact same time from the moment he walked through the door until he was back in his car at the end of the night, and he felt them about the same thing. It wasn’t a thing, actually, it was a person.
A girl person.
A girl person who was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen up close, who had the largest brown eyes and most adorable set of dimples he’d ever seen and who came into the Hook, Line & Sinker almost every Friday night like clockwork.
A girl person he’d been harboring an utterly insane crush on for the better part of two years.
And, most importantly, a girl person who he was too afraid to wait on, let alone talk to.
“Hey Robert, your girlfriend’s here,” Annie said when he walked past the hostess station with a bin full of freshly rolled silverware. She was seventeen and constantly smiling and one of the few people he genuinely liked at work.
“Yeah thanks, Jailbait. You’re adorable,” he told her dryly, dropping the bin in front of her.
She gave her long dark braid a twirl and offered a cheeky grin. “Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “I know.”
Panic seized his heart for a moment. “You didn’t—”
“Don’t worry, you big baby,” Annie cut him off, rolling her eyes. “I put them in Gino’s section.”
Relief settled over him quickly. “Thank you.”
Hope and dread. Every Friday. Hope that he might see her, dread that she might notice him. Dread that he’d have to talk to her and inevitably fuck everything up. Hope that she’d come back again next week and repeat the whole vicious cycle. It was exhausting.
“I mean, you could just talk to her,” Annie continued, crossing a line through a name on the reservation list. “She seems really nice.”
Robert resisted the urge to follow her gaze over his shoulder. He knew where they were sitting because he’d already heard her laugh carry over the wall and into the server station. She was with her friends again—or maybe the British guy was her boyfriend, he didn’t know—and he could tell from what he’d overheard that they were trying to cheer her up. If he looked in her direction, he’d probably make eye contact. And that would give him and his total creepiness away.
“Yeah,” he muttered, shaking his head and needlessly adjusting the menus. “She does.”
“She’s really pretty too.”
“And y’know, you’re no mutant. I don’t know why you always make someone else wait on her.”
Robert shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to the next and tried not to feel as pathetic as Annie was hinting he was while Gino made his way confidently across the room to wait on The Dimples and her friends. “It’s just easier if I don’t talk to her.”
Annie’s head tilted sideways the way his dog’s had when he had food he might drop. “What’s easier?”
“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head again and running a hand through his hair. “Just forget about it. Am I next? I need something to do.”
He was next and he did have something to do for the next four straight hours. The Hook was always packed on Friday nights and by the time he was ready to cash out and go home, she was long gone and his feet felt like they were going to stay stuck in his shoes when he tried to take them off. Still, he had a little over three hundred dollars in his pocket and the knowledge that his apartment would be empty for the rest of the weekend by the time he got home.
Hank was in the cash room, rubbing his eyes tiredly when Robert knocked on the door. He looked up from his computer with a smile and beckoned him inside. “How’d it go, kiddo?”
“It went fine, Dad.” He dropped tiredly into the chair next to his father and wordlessly handed over his receipts and cash-out money.
They sat in sleepy silence for a few moments while Hank counted and tallied the cash his son had given him, punching numbers first into his calculator—triple checking his math—and then into the computer. Robert almost fell asleep waiting to be excused. “So I heard Jailbait say something to Finn about your girlfriend showing up tonight,” Hank commented casually, not looking up.
Suddenly alert, Robert unslumped from his chair and cleared his throat. “What?”
“She wouldn’t be talking about that cute brunette who comes in here every week…would she?”
“Because, y’know, I do like to meet the girls you go out with, Robert.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, Dad. I know. It’s just…”
“And I guess I’m missing something, because I didn’t think you actually ever talked to that girl.”
There it was. That thing that everyone knew about him. Robert Gallagher: Chicken Shit. “Nope, you didn’t miss anything.”
“So Jailbait was just…”
He coughed again. “Being Jailbait.”
Hank finally finished his counting and accounting and filed the money and receipts into the drawer before he spun around to face Robert. “Jesus, kid. How long have you had a crush on her?”
Robert rolled his eyes as his dad leaned back in his comfortable chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “It’s not really a crush, Dad. I don’t even know her.”
“So why don’t you get to know her? She comes in every week, for godsakes. She seems like a real peach…”
His dad had to be one of the few men under the age of eighty who could refer to a woman as “a real peach” and not manage to sound creepy.
“And don’t give me any of that, ‘she probably has a boyfriend’ crap either—”
“This hermit act is starting to worry me.”
“I’m not a hermit!”
Hank gave him a look. “You’re kind of a hermit. Anyway, I know this probably has something to do with what’s-her-face…”
Robert groaned and rubbed at his eyes. “Oh my God. You know what her face’s name is and this really doesn’t have anything to do with her.”
“But kid,” Hank continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “you’ve gotta get back in the game.”
“Dad, Jesus Christ. This has nothing to do with Nina or anything other than Jailbait not minding her own business and trying to play matchmaker with me and the customers.” He didn’t want to get into the fact that he’d had a crush on The Dimples for much longer than he’d been dating Nina and her unceremonious dumping of him two months ago had only alleviated the twinge of guilt he had felt on Friday nights, wishing he had the courage to talk to another girl. Another girl who wasn’t his girlfriend. A girl who, at this rate, would never be his girlfriend.
Hank was never convinced by his lies.
“Look,” Robert got to his feet and ran a hand over his face. “If I promise not to die alone, will you drop this and let me go home?”
Hank gave his son a long once over and began to grin. “Yeah, sure. So long as you promise.”
“Deal.” They bumped fists and the younger Gallagher headed for the door.
“Oh, hey,” he spun back around to see his dad holding up a brightly colored tangle of strings and beads and dangling silver charms. “Can you put this in the lost and found?” Hank studied it for a few long moments before he shrugged. “Don’t know what the hell it is, but one of the servers brought it back, said she found it on the floor.”
“Sure,” he shrugged and left with a wave and the strings and beads and headed back up to the hostess stand where Annie was shaking out her long, dark curly hair and waiting on her mother to come and pick her up. He held it out for her, “Annie, can you put this—”
“Oh thank GOD!”
Robert turned and had to blink twice before he realized that the voice had come from The Dimples who was charging back through the double doors with a giant smile on her face. “I have had the absolute worst day ever and if I had lost this on top of everything else…” she shook her head and plucked the jumble of colors and charms from his palm and expertly wound it around her right wrist. “Oh you’re just a life saver. Really, if I knew you at all, I’d kiss you.”
Before he could bring himself to utter a word, another woman appeared in the doorway. Robert recognized her too—the blonde bombshell attached to The Dimples at the hip. “You find it?” She asked without ceremony, swinging herself further inside the lobby while hanging onto the jamb. Her eyes dropped to her friend’s wrist. “Fantastic. C'mon. We've got boys to kiss and bad decisions to make.”
The Dimples laughed and rolled her eyes in a way that was almost too adorable. “Thanks again,” she said, calling it over her shoulder as she made her way out the door. “You saved the night!”
“You’re welcome,” Robert said, long after the blonde had driven them away in a cherry red Jeep.
He jumped at the feeling of Annie’s comforting hand on his back. “Don’t worry, Robert,” she said, looking up at him with a sad and sympathetic smile. “There’s always next week.”