Wednesday, 3 December 2008



By Debby Allen

“One café noir, Sir.” Dana placed a single black coffee down upon the tabletop and dutifully smiled.
Her customer folded his newspaper symmetrically in half, and then removing his sunglasses, glanced up at her with gratitude. “Thank you.”
“Would you like any sugar?” she asked, wafting away a wasp set on tasting the sweet pot of temptation.
“No. No, thank you,” he frowned, as the insect flew angry spirals around his head. “Perhaps sachets of sugar would be best suited on the terrace, don’t you think?” His accent revealed a strong French dialect, but his English language was perfect.
“My sentiments, exactly, but my manager insists…” Dana paused. She really shouldn’t disrespect her employer to a complete stranger. “I… er… am not in a position to comment on that, Sir.”
“Ah, employee regulations.” He stirred his coffee. “So, tell me,” he continued, taking a quick glimpse at her name badge, “what are the restrictions for waitresses working here, Dana?”
“Restrictions?” she repeated, slowly.
“Regarding customer requirements.”
Dana raised her eyebrows in surprise and wiped her hands upon her apron. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you mean.” Or did she clearly understand what he meant? Rendezvous Bar and Café had gained a reputation over the past two years. Dining alone at this popular bistro had never been unusual - at least, not if you were in search of a romantic encounter. The purpose of napkins here, more than anything else, was to simply scribble someone’s phone number or address on the back of. But times had changed, and now there was more on offer. Perhaps this very handsome, continental businessman, dressed in a very smart suit, was here for more than just a chat.
“Oh… no,” Dana stammered, promptly standing upright. “I don’t do… that.”
“You don’t do what?” he repeated, amused by her hesitance. “
“I don’t get involved… with customer requirements.” She glanced down at his wedding finger. A paler band of skin was visible where a golden band of wedlock should have been. Had he removed it for her purpose?
“Isn’t it policy that the customer is always right?” he persisted, taking a sip of his coffee.
“Yes, but…”
“Then my welfare should be your priority,” he sighed, dodging the wasp on its determined return.
“My skills as a waitress are my priority for you, Sir. My personal ones are not.”
“They’re not? Do you think the owner of this bistro would agree with you on that?”
“A high standard of service is what’s required…”
“And that involves my welfare!” he firmly stated as he lifted the newspaper, rolling it into a swat. Dana stood silently at his side, her mouth ajar with disbelief. “If you require personal skills from a waitress,” she finally responded, “then I’ll send Katrina over with the bill. She will see that you get the service you require.”
He shook his head. “A good waitress should always be loyal to her customers. How else is she to receive a generous tip?” Agitated, he threw the newspaper upon the table. “Do you often do this with your customers?”
What on earth was he referring to now - her personal services or her skills as a waitress? “ If a customer was unhappy with me...”
“And are they ever unhappy with you?” He raised a disapproving eyebrow.
Glancing nervously around, Dana stepped away from his side. “I’ve had no complaints, yet.” Who did this arrogant aristocrat think he was, questioning her so intensely? “Look, I’m very sorry that I don’t meet with your customer requirements. I’m just not that kind of woman. And I feel insulted that you would even think that I would…”
He glanced at her and frowned, “would what?”
“Rendezvous with you just because of… As I said, I’ll send Katrina over with the bill and you can make some kind of… arrangement with her. Now, if that’s all, Sir...”
“That’s not all!” he cut in, sternly. “I wish to see the manager.”
“The manager? About what? Is it the coffee?” Dana really hoped it was.
“Am I speaking in a foreign language to you?” His eyes narrowed at her. Could it be a bruised ego that had changed his attitude?
“No, you are speaking perfect English, Sir.”
“So, are you refusing a customer request, then?”
“No, I…”
“Then find me the manager, now!”
With quick steps, Dana trotted inside, her hand against her thudding chest. Once through the door, she didn’t have to look far for the coward of a manager. He had been watching through the window all the time. His lanky figure paced over to her. “What’s wrong?”
Catching her breath, she shakily replied. “I am being harassed by a customer. What are you going to do about it? Because if I have to go out there again, I swear, I will throw his café noir all over his head!”
The manager caught her by her arm, startling her. “You’ll do no such thing,” he growled. Wide-eyed, Dana stared at him as he continued. “That man is Luc Devereaux and he pays our wages! Now, get back out there and give him what he wants before he fires the lot of us!”
She tugged back her arm and had much pleasure in announcing Luc’s request. “He sent me in to get you!” Watching her manager stalk outside, Dana felt satisfaction at his comeuppance. But the shock of her discovery left her with palpitations at the outcome of their meeting. She couldn’t afford to lose her job.
The click of fingers distracted her, as another customer demanded her bill. Hands trembling, Dana pulled the receipt from her apron pocket and passed it over, only for it to be snatched ignorantly from her hand. It was no wonder that this woman had dined alone today. Rendezvous Bar and Cafe was famous for it’s coupling of strangers, but some people needed more than fate on their side. Some, like herself, required miracles, but as Dana had discovered, they didn’t exist.
Her customer, of course, left without leaving a tip, muttering some complaint about waitresses flirting with customers. So much for Luc’s advice on dedication.
Clearing away the crockery, attempts to overhear their conversation was drowned by the traffic as it passed by in the mid afternoon rush. The discussion came in dribs and drabs of sentences lost here and there. She’s got what I need, she heard him say. Send her to me on your way back in. Luc’s voice had been reprimanding. It was clear Dana was in for a scolding for refusing his advances. But he had no right to harass her just because of his position in the business, and she would tell him so… and threaten to take him to court for unfair dismissal, if need be.
“Sit down,” he commanded of her. Before she could even straighten her skirt, his interrogation began. “How long have you worked here?”
Making herself as comfortable as she could under the circumstances, Dana took a deep breath. “Five years. But that does not give you the right…”
He held up his hand to silence her. “This kind of conduct is not acceptable at my bistro’s in France. ”
Was he speaking of her outspokenness?
“English women would do well to use French ladies as role models,” he continued.
“Oh, please!” laughed Dana. “You may be my boss and you may be rich and handsome...”
“Handsome?” he cut in with a grin. “You think so?”
Dana pursed her lips. He was mocking her. She made an attempt to continue. “But all of that does not give you the right…”
“To make you manager of this bistro?” he interrupted, a smug smile upon his face. “Oh, but I think it gives me that right, entirely.”
Speechless, she watched as Luc silently enjoyed the shock he had just bestowed upon her. “Manager?” she whispered.
“Did you have something else in mind?”
Embarrassed, Dana lowered her head. “I thought you were here for romance,” she murmured. “This bistro has become a popular pick-up joint since…”
“So I gather,” he noted, disapprovingly. “I see it has lost a little bit of class. Perhaps you could bring back a little French respectability and style to the place.”
A wide smile spread across Dana’s face. “I think I could do that.”
“Think?” Luc responded. “A manager has to be sure of herself and confident at all times.”
“In that case, I know I could bring back a little French respectability and style to the place,” she nodded enthusiastically. “And sachets of sugar. They shall be used on the terrace at all times.”
“A simple solution to a very annoying problem,” he approved. “You do realise it would also mean a lot of extra hours for you.”
“Oh, that’s ok. I can put in the hours. I’m not married or anything.”
Luc leaned his elbows on the table. “Or anything?”
Dana shuffled, embarrassed at her confession. “I’m not in a relationship,” she mumbled, averting his deep stare. “So I can give you all the hours you need.”
His eyes burned into her but she had nothing to be ashamed of. The right man just hadn’t come along yet. She promptly glanced up at Luc – or had he?
She immediately shook the thought away. He was a married man, even if he did try to disguise the fact.
“So, I won’t be wearing that café noir upon my head if I offer to take you out tonight… just to clarify your role in the Devereaux business, of course?”
Dana glanced again at the pale band of skin upon his left hand. His eyes followed her.
“Ah, you are a quick thinker, Dana, and very observant. Two of the attributes of becoming a good manager.” For a moment, they held each other’s stare. Intense, chocolate coloured iris’s stared back at her.
“I am a widower,” he informed her. “Today, I realised it is time to move on.”
“Today?” she whispered.
“About twenty minutes ago,” he nodded, “when a beautiful waitress came to my table and served me.”
Dana lowered her eyes and pushed her hair behind her ears.
“How is it,” he persisted, “that a stunning woman, such as yourself, remains unattached?”
She sat up straight, accepting the compliment with grace. “Perhaps I choose my men wisely.”
“And what is your preference?”
“Oh, you know, dark, rich and handsome… a little like yourself,” she teased.
“I can see the resemblance,” he grinned. “So, perhaps you will do me the honour of dining with me this evening and allow someone else be the waitress tonight.”
“I could do that,” Dana responded with excitement. How long had it been since she had been wined and dined?
“We could go dancing. I hear a new club has opened up in the high street.”
Dana giggled. “I thought this was a business arrangement?”
“I’m planning for the future. I would say that was a business arrangement, wouldn’t you?”
Silently, Dana smiled. If Luc was in her future as well, she had a lot to look forward to.
“Then, I will pick you up at seven-thirty.” Luc passed her a pen, and like many other strangers before her that day, Dana scribbled her address on the back of a napkin. For years, she had watched on in envy as so many other couples had found love at the Rendezvous Bar and Café. But today, it had been her turn – her turn to meet a very handsome man and her turn to find romance.
Folding her details over, he placed them in the left breast pocket of his jacket, next to his heart. Standing tall, he kissed the back of her hand. “Remember, after working hours, you are no longer my employee –you are my date.”
Dana rose to her feet and glanced up at him. Could he feel her quivering with excitement as he held onto her hand? “And you are no longer my employer, Monsieur. Devereaux.”
“And that is why I promoted you, Dana” he smiled mischievously. “I sense our working relationship will be very…passionate.”She watched as Luc strolled away, the man who had just turned her life around in the space of half an hour. Luc Devereaux, the dark, rich and handsome man she’d been waiting for, had just walked into her life. And Dana couldn’t wait to hang up her apron, and start living!

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