I had this professor at college that said the hardest part about writing was getting started. Isn’t that the truth? His advice: just start writing something. Anything… So that’s what I’m doing. Maybe if I get it all down, caught in plain, black and white letters, it won’t seem so surreal, so hard to accept.
I guess I should start at the beginning, but when it comes to your own life, the beginning is hard to find. I was born, just like everyone else, and I lived, just like everyone else. What’s different about me is that, somehow, I got mixed up in a whole world that few people know about – at least normal people. My whole life I wanted to write the next great American novel, but my life was just too plain, too void of inspiration or any struggle to capture. I know, right? What a problem to have: having too comfortable of a life. But when I moved to Oakport, I got more excitement than I ever bargained for. It all evolved when this sexy and charming man of mystery, Jackson Pratt happened into my life. If there was a place to start, the day I met you, Jackson would be it. So here it is. The beginning…
The restaurant bustled with life. Every table was full, like every night, and the staff, myself included, worked like a well-oiled machine. The dining room was cool, calm, and shrouded in dim light. Market, the restaurant, sat on the edge of a pier right in the middle of the fish market, and the dining room had a beautiful view of the ocean. Three of the walls surrounding the dining room were made out of glass. The ocean water outside was an inky black while the lights of ships in the distance flickered softly like a mosaic. Inside, the guests drank expensive wine and ate immaculately crafted food on simple, white plates. It all seemed so effortless to the customers. The food was always perfect, the mood was always calm and elegant, and the servers were attentive but not assertive. Market was an incredibly well put together restaurant that deserved all the business it got.
Separating the kitchen and serving area from the dining room was a partition made out of glass. On one side of the glass was the graceful and tranquil dining room, while managed chaos raged on the other side. The kitchen line went non-stop from open to close – the never-ending sound of the printer chugging out bills. Servers hustled and ran back and forth across the expo line, momentarily dropping their pleasant demeanor before going back to the dining room. Every night was the same, but there was a comfort in the routine. The bills were big and the tips were terrific, so I couldn’t complain.
Waitressing at Market wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, but sometimes what you want is hard to get. For me, that was landing a plum publishing deal for a fantastic novel. The problem was, despite many attempts at starting, I had never written a novel. Until I could sort that one out, I needed to pay the rent, and Market was a dream waitressing job. Besides, I had a side job writing for a small, local website, but I’ll get there later. This is supposed to be about when I met Jackson.
It was a Friday night, right in the middle of the dinner rush, and only the best staff was on. It took weeks to get a table at Market on a Friday night, and only the customers who liked to spend a lot got a reservation. For us, that meant a good night for tips. What I didn’t know at the time, was that getting assigned to the front section, the section looking straight out at the ocean, would start an unbelievable chain of events.
“Looks like you get the owner’s table,” Lana said to me as I came over to the tills behind the glass.
I remember the words perfectly. Everything about that night and the days that came afterward was etched into my mind with crystal clarity. Not only did they change everything I knew, but they changed me. How could I forget?
“Is that a good thing?” I asked casually. I had been working at Market for three months, pretty much since I moved to Oakport, and had never seen the owner. No one even talked about him. The chef, Gus Irwin, and the GM, Zane, were the only bosses I knew of.
“Oh, tonight is your lucky night,” Lana had been wearing maroon nail polish. I remember it looked really good with her blonde hair and the black serving uniform.
I always thought Lana looked good. Her blonde hair fell around her face in natural-looking waves, but I knew she spent hours doing her hair. It was the same with her makeup. It always looked natural and didn’t draw attention to itself. It just highlighted her natural beauty, which she had tons of, but the makeup kits, hair irons, and products were strewn around our bathroom told a different story. She worked hard to look that natural.
“He never pays,” Lana continued. “Seeing how it’s his money paying for everything,”
“Why is that a good thing?”
“Because…” She looked up from the blue screen of the till and smiled at me. “All he leaves is a tip, and usually, it’s more than the bill. I got him the last time he was here, and talk about easy money. He’s pretty easy on the eyes, too.”
“I need hands,” Chef called out from the expo line. Lana turned around, grabbed the food and waited a moment for Chef to zest a lemon onto it before entering the dining room.
My mood perked right up. I had woken up that day with one thing on my mind: money. Moving to Oakport had been harder than I thought it would be. I came into the citywide eyed and bushy tailed after graduating college and figured it would be easy, that there would be tons of free time to pursue writing and make my mark. Instead, it was a whirlwind of a summer with countless hours spent waiting tables, going out to bars and clubs, and a never-ending stack of bills. Between rent, utilities, and my debt from school, I never had enough money, which meant I had to let go of my free time. During the summer I hardly noticed it. Everything had been so new and fun that it had been easy to forget about responsibility.
That morning, I remember waking up to a chill in the air. The cool air drifted in through the open window, and it wasn’t the gentle, summer breezes I had come to know in Oakport. There was a chill in it that made me pull up the covers. It was a reminder that summer was over, and that I had to act like an adult. I had rolled over, picked up my phone, and from the cocoon of blankets that surrounded me, checked my bank account. I had cents in my account and a large number glaring at me from my credit card account. I pushed the phone aside and buried myself in the blankets. Rent was coming up, and if I didn’t have some cash right away, I’d have to plead to Lana to cover me. Again….
I moved with a skip in my step and smiled at the cooks as I picked up the next order.
“Table 23?” I looked down at the bill to confirm, but Chef beat me to it.
“Ya,” He raised his eyebrow. “What are you so happy about?” His voice had a quality to it that cut through the cacophony of the kitchen.
“What,” I placed my hand on my hip. “We can’t be happy at work?” I said stubbornly.
“Ya, ya, ya, save it for the guests,” He slid the food over to me.
I ran the food into the dining room, the shift from the noisy kitchen to the calm dining room was as abrupt as always and dropped it off with a smile. A bit of anxiety bubbled inside of me. I was excited about the big tip out. Most of the bills came out to over a thousand dollars, and that could be my rent right there. But, it was the owner’s table. I knew I was a good server. Hell, if I wasn’t than Zane wouldn’t give me Friday shifts, but what if the owner didn’t like me? The thought crept up in my thoughts and steered me towards the hostess stand.
“Hey Chloe,” I said to the young, bubbly hostess. I looked down at her uncomfortable-looking heels. She was new to the waitressing game. I bet those heels would be retired after a few long shifts.
“Hey Lisa,” She looked so little. I might have just been a handful of years older than her, but the countless hours spent serving put an experience barrier between us.
“I heard the owner was coming into my section tonight,” My eyes glanced to the reservation book resting underneath of her thin arms. “I just wondered what time that was.”
“Let’s see,” She opened the book and started to scan through the list. It was taking her a while, so I leaned over her shoulder and took a peak. There it was, in plain writing.
“In half an hour,” She looked up proudly, not realizing that I had looked over her shoulder.
“Thanks, Chloe,” I turned around and headed through the dining room, more nervous than I was before.
There was only one table left in my section, and they were busy lingering over dessert. I had a few minutes before my next table arrived, so I decided to do a quick check over of myself. I wanted to look my best for the owner’s table and leave a good impression; my rent depended on it. I moved past the expo line, the kitchen, and into the prep hall. A couple of cooks hunched over the stainless-steel counters while loud, aggressive, metal music played from a tiny stereo. The prep cooks were always in their own world. They were free from the constant rush of bills and just worked studiously in the back. They looked like they were having fun.
Just as I was clearing the prep hall, heading for the staff washrooms, I ran into Zane coming from the manager’s office.
“Hey Zane,” I stopped at the edge of the prep hall. The loud music from the stereo made it hard to hear, so Zane guided us around the corner.
The staff lockers lined the tiny corner. The filled coat rack, more evidence of the turn in the weather, pushed into the cramped space.
“What’s up?” He asked with his usual charismatic grin.
Zane and I had hit it off right away. Market was the first and only restaurant I applied to when I moved to Oakport. Under the warm rays of the summer sun, the water gleaming like a thousand tiny diamonds, I dropped off my resume. I was interviewed on the spot. It had been the morning before the doors had opened for the day, and Zane sat me down at one of the beautifully set tables. He had worn a trendy outfit and his hair was neatly parted to the side. His long sleeve shirt was rolled up, exposing a hip looking tattoo sleeve. I don’t like to generalize people, but Zane was a hipster, even if he wouldn’t admit it.
He didn’t ask any of the usual interview questions, but just made small talk about the restaurant and what I wanted. Twenty minutes later, I had a job.
“I noticed you gave me the owner’s table,” I asked him beside the lockers.
“Ya. Figured we should show off our best,”
I started to blush. Blushing is one of those things I can’t control, and I do it a lot. It was nice to hear the compliment. Over the months, Market had come to mean a lot to me. The only friends I had in Oakport I met at Market, so it was important that Zane thought I was one of their best.
“Anything I need to know about? Lana was saying he doesn’t usually pay…” I stammered off. I didn’t want to make assumptions. You know what they say about assumptions…
“No, he’s got an account in the manager’s tab. It’s under Jackson Pratt, just ring it up there and don’t bother printing out a bill. He’ll leave cash for your tip, though, he always does.”
“Jackson Pratt?” I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be the Jackson Pratt.
“You didn’t know we were owned by Jackson Pratt?” Zane chuckled.
I couldn’t really say I knew much about Jackson Pratt, but it was hard to live in Oakport and not hear about him. Jackson was the face of Oakport if ever there was one. He was all over social media, and his Facebook page was liked by pretty much everyone I knew. It makes a lot more sense now, knowing that he owned Market, why so many of the staff followed him. At the time, I couldn’t tell you how he made so much money, or what he meant to Oakport, but I knew he was important. I also knew that he was painfully attractive. Well, at least the photos of him splashed all over town were.
“I didn’t know that” I felt more anxious than ever. It wasn’t just our owner, but it was the most well-known man in Oakport.
“Ya, he owns like half the restaurants on the waterfront. Who else could afford this type of rent?” Zane looked down at his watch. “He should be showing up any minute. Don’t worry about it, Jackson is super fine,” Zane patted me on the shoulder and disappeared around the corner. I took a deep breath in, grabbed my purse from the coat rack, and rushed into the bathroom.
There I was, my reflection staring at me from the bathroom mirror. Good ol’ Lisa Timm. The only person I’ve ever been, naturally, and the only person I’m ever going to be, obviously. My straight, ombre hair framed my narrow face. I guess you could say I was pretty, but not in the way Lana was. Lana was always noticed the whole time we were growing up. For me, it wasn’t like that. I blended in, but once people noticed me, well, I didn’t have too hard of a time getting a date. My eyes were brown; a band of freckles stretched across the bridge of my nose, and my tiny mouth could only muster into a cute grin. I wasn’t a show stealer, but I’ve always been pretty happy with how I look because it’s the only way I’m ever going to look, at least foundationally.
I scrambled through my purse looking for a concealer. I noticed a bright red blemish on my chin and felt determined to cover it up. Once I took care of that, I looked at myself and pulled my hair over my shoulder. I checked out my uniform and straightened out a couple of rough edges. I was as good as I was going to get, so with one last look, I marched out of the bathroom and back into the fray.
I cleared my last table, all the while glancing at the large, ornate clock on the wall. It was almost time for Jackson’s table and I honestly felt nervous about it. Looking back at it now, I can say that something was in the air, I just hadn’t realized it. Jackson was like a storm that came rolling into my life and changed the landscape. I suppose I was just feeling the calm before the storm. I just didn’t know it.
On the way back to the expo line, I walked past the hostess stand just in time to see a car pull up at the end of the pier. It wasn’t just any car, though. It was jet black, clean, and simple, but the fluid shape of the metal made it stand out. It looked like something from the future. I stopped beside Chloe and looked through the glass door and down the pier. The car stopped, and the driver’s side door opened. Caught in the pale glow of the lamps lining the pier, Jackson Pratt stepped out of the car.
I watched as Jackson through the glass window as Jackson walked the short distance to the end of the pier and waited while a man got out of the passenger seat. Another car pulled up behind them and a couple of other men got out. I looked towards Chloe, who just gave me a shrug, and I quickly ran to another side of the glass. I couldn’t be there when he walked in. My section was completely clear, and I realized then, that my section had been kept clear for Jackson’s table. I had never seen that done for a guest before, shutting down a full section for their privacy and comfort. Not only was I going to be making some good money that night, but it would be an easy shift too.
I watched from behind the glass as Chloe led the group of men across the restaurant. They were seated at a corner table that got a completely clear view of the ocean outside. I waited behind the glass. They would need a moment to sit down and get comfortable. I stood anxiously at the expo line, not used to having nothing do, and could hear Chef laughing at me.
“So,” He chuckled. “You’ve got Jackson’s table. That explains why you were so happy before,” He leaned against the steel counter and shook his head. Chef Irwin was young but had an attention to detail and work ethic that was rare. He wore bamboo framed glasses over top of a neatly groomed beard; it was obvious that he and Zane were friends. His chef jacket was a little tight around the waist – a visible tell of his love for good food. He was an easy going guy but could turn it up for the sake of perfect plates.
“I can’t believe the whole section is shut down,” I stared at all the empty tables. It was strange to see an empty spot in the restaurant, especially on a Friday night.
“They’re getting a full four-course that I’ve been working on all week,” He chuckled at a couple of the staff who were straining their necks to get a peek at Jackson. “I’m jumping onto line once they’ve ordered,” He nodded his head towards the frantic kitchen line.
“How much does something like that cost?”
“For the four of them? At least three grand.” The steaks alone were nine hundred,” Chef said it like it was nothing.
“Are they eating magic cows?”
“For how good I’m going to make those steaks, they might as well be,” Chef chuckled and turned back to the line. “It’s always a good night when Jackson comes in. Just try not to act too star struck, anyone likes that,”
I knew the name and face, but I still didn’t really get why everyone was so in awe of Jackson. I wasn’t even sure what he did, but at that point, I felt embarrassed to ask.
“I think I’ll be fine,” I turned to leave. Jackson’s table had waited the perfect amount of time before I introduced myself.
“Hey, Lisa,” Chef called on my way out. “You’re looking a little red,” His smile cut through his thick beard.
I walked through my empty station and made sure to smile when I approached. Not too much, though, no one likes a grinning maniac. The smile was just enough to look friendly but not enough to draw attention to it.
“Good evening gentlemen,” The well-used words came out of my mouth. I got nods and smiles for a reply, and Jackson, who had been sitting with his back to me, turned around.
“Hello,” Our eyes meet. There it was: the beginning. “How’s your night going?”
I had seen pictures of him floating around social media, but they didn’t do him justice. Jackson Pratt was handsome in a way reserved for actors. All of his features, his sharp jawline, and sculpted brow and nose, his perfectly combed black hair, seemed to come from the mind of a great artist. His eyes were a deep brown that pulled me into them.
“Pretty good, pretty good,” I nodded my head and stammered a little bit. I could feel my cheeks warm-up as I blushed. “Have you had a chance to look over the wine menu, or do you need a couple minutes?” Even though there were other people around the table, I could only focus on Jackson.
“Does a 2010 Vosne Romanee sound good to everyone?” Jackson looked at the other men and they all agreed. “We’ll do a bottle,”
I leaned over the table to retrieve the wine menu. Jackson, nor the other men with him, had needed to look. As I leaned over, my heart fluttered in my chest as the inches between me and Jackson lessened. It was an intoxicating feeling. Never had I been so attracted to someone before. Everything about him, from his surreal beauty to the way his presence filled the table, made me want him. Jackson radiated out a rare quality: greatness.
“I believe,” Jackson started to rise from his seat after I removed the menu. “That Chef Irwin is already expecting us,” He straightened the bottom of his suit coat. “If you don’t mind,” Jackson smiled, showing off his perfect, white teeth. “I wouldn’t mind popping in the back and saying hi,” Jackson waited for my response.
Obviously, he was just being courteous. He owned the place and was free to do whatever he wanted. While my mind put together a response, I could feel his eyes looking into mine. A strange feeling flooded over me. It was almost like being in a trance as everything seemed to fade away. All the edges became blurry, but the image of Jackson was sharp and distinct. It only lasted for a brief second, but a fire starts in a split second of creation.
“Ya, of course, I mean, it is your restaurant,” I said with a forced laugh. I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks.
We made our way to the dining room. I could see the heads of a few of the guests look at Jackson as he passed. I led the way, but after pausing for a moment as he talked to someone at one of the tables, Jackson kept pace beside me. My breath was short, and I was thankful he couldn’t hear my heartbeat nervously in my chest.
“How long have you worked here for?” His words were perfectly articulated and his voice cut through the ambient noise that surrounded us.
“Umm– Just the last few months. I started back at the end of May,”
“I guess it’s been awhile since I’ve been here,”
I shrugged. I could feel him looking at me, but I couldn’t make eye contact. Between the embarrassments from blushing, which would only lead to more blushing, and the undeniable attraction I felt for him, I couldn’t bear to make eye contact. We were almost at the expo line.
“Well, there’re lots of servers here,” I kept my eyes towards the expo line. “You could’ve not recognized me,” I couldn’t help it. I stopped and turned to him.
A playful look moved over Jackson’s face and a small smile crept from the corners of his mouth.
“I would have remembered you,” He turned away, and headed towards Chef Irwin.
I stood at the expo line waiting for Jackson. He moved towards Chef and the two men embraced in a firm handshake. Jackson stood taller than Chef Irwin. He stood taller than most men and seemed to command authority around him. His suit, a well-made black suit, was simple but expertly tailored. It draped over his athletic body and highlighted Jackson’s shoulders and narrow waist. He seemed to move silently and his steps carried with them the grace of a gymnast. I caught myself staring at him. I realized that I didn’t need to wait for him, and unsure of what to do, I ran outside.
The cool night air was refreshing in my lungs. I took in a couple deep breaths, each one helping to push away the trance that Jackson threw over me. The two prep cooks were sitting on plastic milk crates and smoking.
“You smoke Lisa?” One of them, Devon, asked me with a confused expression.
“No,” I shook my head.
“Oh,” The other one replied. “What’s up?”
“Just getting some air,” I rubbed my bare arms with my palms. It was a chilly evening.
“Right on,” Both of their heads dropped and they went back to staring at their phones.
I needed a minute. I walked to the end of the alley and looked at the ocean through a chainlink fence. I had no idea what I had felt. It wasn’t normal that was for sure. I had served lots of cute, charming guests before, but none of them had that effect. Just being around Jackson, taking his drink order, had cast some sort of spell over me. I hardly knew anything about the man, and we had only said a handful of words to each other, but I was falling harder for him than any man I knew in the past. What the fuck, I scolded myself. This wasn’t like me at all, and I was acting like a child. I gave the dark, endless ocean a lasting look and headed back inside.
I went to the till and rang up their wine. It was over a thousand dollars. I couldn’t imagine spending that type of money on a single bottle of wine. Retrieving it took me into a locked part of the wine cellar that only Zane could get into.
“He must be having a good night,” Zane leaned back and held out the bottle. “It’s the most expensive bottle we have in the house,” He handed it over to me, and I held it carefully.
The rest of the night went smoothly. Every Time I went to the table, I had to push away the thoughts and feelings I was having for this stranger. Jackson, aside from a couple of pleasantries, was too wrapped in his discussion with his guests to notice me much.
My section was kept clear. I spent most of the night waiting in the back, thinking if I should tell Lana about the intense feelings I had around Jackson. Lana and I had grown up together in the small town of Olympus, and we had been tackling the big city together. We used to tell each other everything, hanging onto each other’s’ secrets like they were treasures. As we got older, and we realized it didn’t matter what boy we had a crush on, we still confided in each other. Lana was a like a sister to me, but as I rehearsed in my head what I would tell her, it just made me sound crazy – a stalker in the making. I decided to keep it to myself. It wasn’t important, that’s what I told myself, he was just a hot, charming, and sexy guy. That’s all.
Jackson’s guests headed towards the exit a couple of hours later. Jackson lingered at the table, rifling through his wallet and leaving several bills under the menu. He walked up to me on the way out. His presence felt even bigger in the almost empty restaurant. The flame started to flare up again.
“It was nice meeting you, Lisa,” Jackson extended his hand towards mine. His strong, firm fingers grasped over my own, and I swear it felt like electricity. There was something about his touch that coursed through my muscles and covered my skin with goosebumps.
“It was great meeting you Mr. Pratt,” I felt weak saying his name.
“I’m sure I’ll see you around.” He gave a small, impossibly charming smile on his way out. Once he was out of the doors, I could breathe again.
Still spinning from Jackson, I slowly started to clear the table. Sitting between the empty plates and wine-stained glasses was a small stack of bills. I looked around first and picked up the money. There was enough there to cover my rent for the next three months.
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MONIQUE McMORGAN-UPCOMING BESTSELLING AUTHOR
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