Julia started awake with a pounding heart. She forced her eyes open, deeply offended by daylight creeping in under black curtains. She saw an exposed brick wall— not her apartment. Jesus her head hurt. There was a heavy presence behind her. It was breathing. Its arm rested against her back. She started to swivel her head around, ever so slightly, an eighth of an inch at a time so as not to rouse the dormant creature.
Mid-twist, she saw a Dr. Gonzo poster on the wall and knew exactly where she was. Panic flooded her as she shot up, whipped around, saw stars, and stared at Will in shock and horror.
Thank god he was clothed, and as Julia looked down she realized that she was wearing her stupid brown work dress. Will groaned and covered his head with a pillow. Nausea overwhelmed Julia and she leapt out of the bed and into his filthy bathroom and vomited bright green bile.
She drank lukewarm water from the sink. In a moment of bravery, she glanced at the reflection in the mirror. A ghoulish apparition looked at her, shocked and offended. Dark eyeliner was smeared around the top third of her face. A white line of dried drool spread from the corner of her mouth to her chin. The back of her hair looked like a warped halo. She might never untangle the unholy rat’s nest that protruded from the back of her head.
Will’s room looked like a flophouse. The clock said 8:20 am. Poor Will was sprawled across his bed like a downed scarecrow, his long jean-clad legs emerging from his dirty duvet. His bedroom was filth and chaos. The squalor was almost romantic, in a degenerate opium-addict kind of way.
She collapsed back into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. A faint groan emerged from the lump that was Will, and she drifted back into uneasy half-consciousness.
The next time Julia looked at the clock, it was 1:20 pm. Jesus. Her brain still throbbed. Will was sitting up with his head in his hands.
“What happened last night Jules?!”
“I have no idea.”
She attempted to prop herself up until she was leaning against him. Now she held her head in her hands and imagined that they looked like a pair of ailing Siamese twins.
“I am … so… so sick,” Will croaked. “We need to stay in some night.”
She emitted a sarcastic guffaw at his outlandish suggestion, which proved painful. She slid back down onto her back and squinted up at him, offering weak words of comfort:
“Well – look on the bright side… we are not in a gutter.”
His cellphone buzzed by the side of his bed.
“And hey – you didn’t lose your phone!”
A terrible thought occurred to her. Phone. My phone. Panic rose once again and she leapt out of bed. Where was her purse? It contained her precious bottle of ‘Tylenol,’ which served as her own mobile pharmacy — filled with antidotes for a young life wasted. Nooooooooooo. She threw Will’s laundry around the room, dumping hampers, kicking shirts and jeans.
“Goddamnit Will, I lost my phone! Again! Help me look!”
He hobbled arthritically out of bed and started pushing matter to the side with his foot. After thirty seconds of searching, they fell back onto the mattress, fatigued and winded. She couldn’t believe it. Not again. At this rate she would soon have no possessions.
“We are never drinking again.”
They sorted through the previous night’s activities. There was always a real fear of unearthing something awful. They had been drinking at the Corner Bistro, just around the corner from her work. Julia remembered ordering French fries and a cheeseburger. She remembered the bartender shaking his head as she demanded another pint of Guinness (her new thing) and ominously reminding her that some day she would have to stop drinking — “We all do” — and then —
“OH! Will! Didn’t we go to the East Village! Something… something to do with a party, maybe a birthday party… somebody from one of the art schools… Cooper Union? Come on, don’t you remember?”
He agreed, somewhat, but couldn’t be sure. Julia grabbed his phone and started composing a mass text to his entire contact list. It read: “THIS IS JULIA. WHO HAS MY PHONE. FROM THE EAST VILLAGE. XOXO.” She sent it and crumbled back onto the pillow. She made a brief resolution to stop partying and start writing her book, or at the very least to submit her resume to a Big Person job outside of the food and beverage industry. Last weekend at lunch with her father he had shaken his head and launched into his sad chorus gently questioning her life choices, the fact she was floundering, the fact she was so much better than this. She countered — a lot of my friends are finding themselves. It’s not just me. We are artists. He mumbled something about starving artists actually needing to create art and hesitated as he wrote her another check. She promised she would pay him back. He reminded her to call her grandmother. She felt a twinge of guilt and almost wanted to stuff the check back in his hands, but her life was expensive and she had a nasty habit of blowing her tips each night after work.
Julia knew that her father was right. But a lot had happened, and she did not want to rush into real life. She had graduated from Bennington! She had finished something! She was 21— a literal baby! Barely considered an adult in many parts of the world . . . right?!
“Keep telling yourself that,” said Will, shrugging.
This was the second lost phone of the summer. Julia was phoneless, demoralized, puking up strange colored drinks/showing signs of liver failure, and she had to be at her godforsaken job at 4 pm. Will suggested they go and get brunch, and she sighed dejectedly and agreed. He would have to pay as she was now sans wallet in addition to the many other items she was sans — dignity, fiscal responsibility, self-respect, hope for the future, mother.
As they left the apartment she saw it sitting next to a slice of pizza on top of the microwave, almost plugged into the charger. She hadn’t quite managed to make the connection. Julia emitted an involuntary yelp of delight as she noticed that her purse was hanging off of the back of the chair. Her bottle of pills! This was like Christmas! She hadn’t hit rock bottom!
She had a voicemail from her grandma and a new text from someone called “Beard and blue shirt” that said “yo.” She wasn’t ready to respond to either.
Will and Julia clung to each other as they staggered three blocks to an all-day brunch restaurant that served drinks in Mason jars. They ordered two Bloody Marys and huddled into a booth together. Julia couldn’t let go of Will’s arm. She looked up at him and felt overwhelming tenderness. She wondered if some day, after they had pulled their lives together, they would get married and have a family and read paperbacks in bed before they turned the lights out at 10 pm. She imagined him erasing all of the embarrassing scenes he had witnessed over their four years at college from his memory, forgiving her for drunkenly sleeping with his brother, and best friend(s), and finally proclaiming his love for her on some boulevard in a European city.
She brought herself back to reality, dipping at chunks of egg white in hollandaise sauce. She was beginning to feel human.
In the bathroom of the restaurant Julia stared at herself in the mirror for the second time that day and realized that she had done nothing to correct her wild hair halo. It was perilously close to un-fixable. Her boss, evil gay Alex, was going to have a conniption fit. He was going to gleefully harangue her for the entire shift. She splashed water over her face, wiping away the last raccoon-like traces of blurred eyeliner and texted Meghan the bartender: “PLZ BRING MAKEUP THANKS BABE XO.” Everything felt urgent. She looked back in the mirror and tried to claw her way through the rat’s nest at the back of her head and couldn’t and started to wonder if perhaps she would have to cut the knot out and was suddenly crippled with an overwhelming sense of impending doom as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She had to steady herself on the sink.
There were two fresh Bloody Marys at the table, and Julia resigned herself to the fact that she would be late for work. Will had cheered up considerably with sustenance and was planning his night’s adventure. Yes it must be nice to work an unpaid internship two days a week and live off of mummy and daddy’s money. Julia was shocked by her vitriol and smiled, worried she was emitting vibes of envy. As if her own father would ever leave her out to dry. One cab ride to the Morningside Heights, a few tears, and she would leave with forty dollars for ‘transportation’ and a check to cover the rent gap. She always felt a pang of something when she left, some feeling that she was betraying the man who loved her so much. He loved her more than he loved the stacks of books that surrounded him like a fortress, more than fighting with his department co-chair and nemesis about Ovid. Sometimes Julia wondered if she should move back uptown with him and learn to cook and keep him company and remind him to put on a clean shirt and tie after long nights lost in the classics. He was so lonely after what had happened. After this summer she would. Once she got a job in an office, or sold a book, or got an art show.
But she had writer’s block, so a job in an office was going to be the key to getting out of this rut. The way Julia saw it, once she was gainfully employed she could pace herself during nights out because she wouldn’t be catching up with her friends.
She prattled away with inane defenses for her bad behavior. Will countered Julia’s Denial Spiel: “You drink every night at your job! You never have to catch up! You’re just a lush!”
He had a point, that Will. He knew her very well, better than she knew herself.
They hugged goodbye at the subway stop, and he kissed her on the cheek and said they would meet up later. She hobbled down into the world below and felt calm as the smell of the subway enveloped her. An old woman partially hidden by the New York Times looked her up and down, shaking her head, maybe, it was hard to tell, and Julia felt her cheeks flush and remembered she had to call her grandma.
Walking down West 4th street, Julia glared at the ice-cold Marc Jacobs shop girl. The stare-down was a daily occurrence. She hated Shop Girl, whose platinum blond hair was usually crowned with a satin bow or veil that Julia imagined snatching and stuffing into the girl’s smug mouth. The violent impulse frightened Julia. Shop Girl was ethereal and pale and stately, and for the dreaded few seconds their paths crossed Julia felt like a bloated UPS delivery person in her brown outfit.
Acting as a psychoanalyst, in addition to drinking partner, Will had decided that Shop Girl touched a nerve because she reminded Julia of her late mother. Mummy had been glacial and British and came from an ancient aristocratic family. She was the type of Brit who possessed a hollow double-barreled name and no fortune. She had carried herself like a princess and bewitched Julia’s handsome young father during their undergraduate careers at Oxford. He had relentlessly pursued Julia’s mum for years, writing dazzling lyric poems, unfazed by her string of foppish beaus. They were not such an odd pair – Annabelle Gore-Dexter had complemented her brilliant, befuddled, coffee-stained husband. And Julia was a constant disappointment, a whirlwind, drinking and smoking pot in middle school – totally un-aristocratic. Mother and daughter had fought and fought and fought until one day her mum was gone.
Their last exchange haunted Julia. Disgust and tired disappointment and those three words: “You look puffy.”
A year later, Julia remained puffy and disappointing. And she was nine minutes late.
Her boss’ eyes, beacons of evil British snark, glistened in the dim restaurant light.
“What happened to you, Miss Julia?”
Oh for fuck’s sake. He was sitting at the bar with a condescending smile. Probably on his fifth glass of champagne. Prick prick prick prick prick.
“Sorry, the subway is so unpredictable recently! Sorry! I practically ran here!”
Alex picked up his champagne glass.
“You don’t look like you ran. You don’t look sorry. You look tired today, really awful. You have this negative aura, darling.”
He sauntered away without another word. Alex and his crystal-loving, new age bullshit. He was already showing indications that this was going to be a Very Nasty Drunk night – leaning on the bar, waving his champagne around for effect. Who did he think he was?! Well, the owner, yes—but still. She closed her eyes. The imprint of his chest was seared onto her retinas, the brilliant white of his wifebeater hopping around in the darkness, replacing melancholy and mourning with loathing. His wifebeater. He always had to prance around in a tank top and cargo shorts. Full of venom, she went to the back of the restaurant so she could start folding napkins and complaining with the other waiters.
“Oh and put some makeup on, won’t you, darling??”
Startled, she whipped around. He had re-emerged near the bar for god knew how long. That was so Alex—lurking in the shadows, watching her mumble with her eyes closed like a lunatic. She mimicked him as she walked away. Daahhling. Dahhhhlinnngggg. It was astonishing how much lower her maturity sank upon entering the restaurant. The atmosphere was so conducive to being bitchy. There was no air conditioning. The only real light came from the millions of tiny candles that she had to relight every time there was a breeze or a customer laughed too much, or blew them out, which was a frequent occurrence. She walked into the kitchen so that she could check the schedule.
In the back room, Julia grabbed a stack of napkins and absent-mindedly started folding them, not bothering to line the corners up. She had reached the critical level of apathy—she no longer gave one solitary fuck. She hurled a poorly-folded napkin on top of the pile, as if driving the thought home, and was sad to watch it blow off of the side of the table, caught in the fan’s crosswinds. She was not going to pick it up.
These were dangerous times. Julia knew that she was next in line to be ‘ejected,’ as Alex so eloquently put it. She fantasized about beating him at his own game. She would storm out flamboyantly, maybe after throwing one of his beloved mango margaritas into his vast, lean chest, or overturning an unsuspecting customer’s table while they picked at their Homemade Pappardelle Duck Pasta.
Meghan was lighting dozens of the little votive candles, and Julia stared at the patterns the flames made on the stone walls. It was quite gothic. She imagined herself trapped in the basement of a haunted medieval castle while her lunatic captor clanked around maniacally upstairs, sentencing her to a life of slicing bread and folding napkins. Fragments of conversation drifted in and out of her ears… Marcus’ audition for The King & I had gone “really well”… Sean just didn’t know about the age gap between himself and that architect… Yuki really hoped she
got cast in the off-off-off-Broadway play… god they were all fucking actors, weren’t they?
‘Briefing’ happened at 5:45. There was some kind of menu change and the bar had only one bottle of the rosé, or sauvignon blanc. Julia wasn’t sure—she was distracted by the gorgeous Asian lady who lived in the brownstone across the street. The woman was supervising some boxes being moved into her house, dressed in all black and 5-inch platforms and giant turquoise earrings. She wasn’t a nemesis like Shop Girl – she was fabulous. Julia imagined hanging out with her, wearing diamonds, sipping on dirty martinis without leaving any lipstick on the glass, gossiping about their art gallery. Then weekends in Montauk, with their handsome, Ivy League-educated, venture capitalist husbands, Biff and Chip.
“I said, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TELL OUR CUSTOMERS IF THEY ASK ABOUT THE SKATE?!!”
“It’s a fish…?”
“It’s… fresh water –”
“NO! HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING FOR THE PAST FIVE MINUTES?! The skate is not – NOT – freshwater, and if you DARE ignore the briefing EVER again YOU… WILL…BE…EJECTED!”
Right. Alex carried on a little longer, and Julia focused on the bulging pectorals that seemed to grow larger and more swollen the longer he shouted. She murmured her apologies and promised that she would go over the menu after the briefing. And the wine list. And yes, she would work the front and the patio. And put on some foundation or blush or something, darling, because you are pasty and those bags under your eyes… Julia felt a muscle in her face spasm. She walked to the back room with the rest of the waiters. Morale was at an all-time low and they avoided eye contact with her – survivor’s guilt.
Once Alex went to his office next door she could start sneaking tequila shots with Meghan and playing hangman on the back of the bar’s paper napkins. She peaked out from behind the curtain and watched Alex and Laurent talk quietly as Alex nursed his latest glass of champagne. Probably his eleventh. He slid off of his stool and sashayed out of the restaurant so he could go to his lavender-scented office and do whatever he did there. Julia imagined his activities incorporated restaurant inventory with his love for yoga, crystals, champagne, and recreational drug use. A weird scene, but not one she could necessarily condemn.
Once he left, she burst out from behind the curtain and skipped up to the bar. Meghan was gazing lovingly into the mirror, pretending to rearrange the liquor bottles.
“Megs, that was awful! I can’t take that guy anymore, I’m serious.”
“I know, baby, I know… but listen. This is sort of a hard thing to say. Well, here— have a drink.”
They both ducked down beneath the bar and took a shot of tequila.
“Oh fuck it, let’s have another, eh?”
Meghan was Canadian, a fellow lush, and always made sure Julia was drunk enough to get through the shift. She was an angel. They had another shot. It was Patron Platinum and it slid down like water.
“Listen, Julia, I’ve gotta tell you something. It’s… um… I heard Laurent and Alex talking just now, and…” She stopped for a second. She winced. “I think they’re going to fire you after tonight’s shift.”
Julia tipped backwards. There was a brief lurching movement in her stomach —but maybe it was the Patron. Her heart stopped for two beats, and she waited for the flood to burst forth. Meghan stared. Julia stared. She waited. Nope, nothing. She felt light. She shrugged.
“Well, shit. Shit.”
“I mean, I dunno what to say. I thought I should tell you? Hey, cheer up! Baby! I suppose we should just get wasted, eh?”
They dipped down for another tequila shot and took two more for good measure. A robust start to the evening. Julia found herself not wanting to think about anything. She stood up, got a bit of a head rush, and looked out at West 4th street. An attractive group of boys walked by. She winked at one. Feeling immediate regret, she blushed, and then imagined Alex in some crazy Pilates-based cocaine orgy. She started to laugh. Hysterically. Meghan laughed with her. Then she panicked. She was going to be unemployed. She imagined her dad’s face, his sad eyes, his dejected shrug and suggestion that maybe she could come back home. Her cheeks flushed as her heart sped up. She felt insane. She couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol or the bad news. Maybe Meghan had misheard them. Maybe she could try really hard tonight and save herself. Her hands started shaking. No, she could never redeem herself! Alex was drinking champagne; he was going to be drunk. Fuck, he was drunk, he was a Very Nasty Drunk. And so was she. Not nasty, but drunk. It was a lost cause. She looked outside—the Asian Lady had gone. Vanished. Just like Julia was about to… vanish? She started laughing again. Meghan slid her a water glass filled with white wine.
Julia walked to the back, with a strange bounce in her step. Her entire left side slammed into the wall. She stared at it, offended. Everyone was out to get her today. She shoved the glass of wine into the back station, behind the extra candles, but only after a long and greedy gulp. Wine dripped down her chin. She peeked into the restaurant and shit, she had a table. Of course she had a table.
Julia wished that she had some gum or something. She knew that she was suffering from serious tequila breath. She breathed deeply, inhaling three times, slowly, hopefully, steadily. It was some old couple. Probably from the city, but not from the Village. The man looked grumpy and anal. He would probably tell Julia off when she opened the wine incorrectly. She walked up to the table, a sweat breaking out over her upper lip.
“Hi, how are you this eve– today??” Her voice cracked.
“Good,” the old guy murmured, without bothering to look up.
“Can I start you off with any, um, drinks?!” She screamed ‘drinks’ with a high-pitched, alien wail.
“Yes, two cosmopolitans. Is that OK honey.” Directed at his wife—not a question.
Ignoring his wife’s nods, he glanced at Julia for the first time impatiently. She wondered if he saw how sweaty she was becoming. A drunken waitress melting over him and his wife, desperate, sentenced to unemployment, dropping silverware left and right, walking into walls.
“All right, I’ll bring those right away!” She was keening again.
OH GOD oh god she was really quite tipsy already, what had she been thinking?! She had forgotten her order pad. No problem, she could write the ticket once she got to the bar. She would just tell Meghan. Two cosmopolitans… metro – no, cosmopolitans. Or had he said metropolitan? Wait, no, he had definitely said cosmopolitan. She was sure. She wasn’t sure. Had he said metropolitan?! She started to panic again. She went to the back station and emptied her glass of white wine.
“Megs, I think I need two… um… cosmopolitans. Is there a big difference between a cosmo and a metro?” She raised her hands to the sky. A “halleluiah!!” or “oy vey!” seemed appropriate.
Meghan took a sip of her own ‘water’ and raised an eyebrow quizzically. Somebody tapped Julia’s back. Her heart sank even lower. Oh god. She couldn’t even see straight. She couldn’t possibly be this drunk already. She had the constitution of an old sailor. A true alcoholic tolerance, the rip roaring Hemingway of the restaurant world. Was this what it was like to go
insane? She turned around too quickly, catching her apron on the edge of the bar. Fucking shit fucking apron. It was Laurent. He looked at her with his creepy expressionless gaze.
“Just so yoooou know, zer ees a VIPee coming at nine, whoo yoooou vill serve. Alex’s verrrrrrry good friend. Table twoooo. D’accord?”
Julia grunted a reply, trying not to let any of her tequila-wine breath waft in the menacingly sober Laurent’s direction.
“Yes, yes absolutely,” she murmured, looking at her shoes. She saw four shoes. At least two of them were his, she realized after a moment of panic. She twirled back around to face the bar. Meghan was sporting a soporific drunken expression of her own. The restaurant was going to run smoothly tonight. I’m being ironic, she said, out loud. Megan and Julia stood frozen, smiling at each other, until Julia remembered her impending unemployment. The color drained from her face, and Meghan’s face mirrored hers sympathetically as the smile melted, so that her face became a Greek mask, frozen in eternal terror. Jesus.
“JUST MAKE TWO COSMOPOLITANS!!!!!” She ran into the employee bathroom, slamming the door behind her. She couldn’t breathe. She splashed water on her face and stared in the mirror, reeling in her thoughts. OK, she wasn’t that drunk. Just overwhelmed. Maybe this was her moment to storm through the establishment, throwing cocktails left and right. Her heart started to slow a little. Life was so unfair. She hiccupped. She hated Alex more than any person she had ever known in her life. So maybe she wasn’t the greatest waitress. Maybe she could have tried harder. But she did the damn job with minimal customer casualties. Maybe one, two, or three bottles, maximum, of red wine poured on the city’s elite. She got decent tips. And he was going to fire her, just like that. Well, she didn’t need the stupid job anyway, not really. She collected herself, straightened her apron, and went back out into the restaurant. She had to bring Anal Retentive and his wife their cosmopolitans. They were ready to order, but before the old man had finished inhaling, Julia made a sharp about-face and raced to the back station for more wine – except it was finished – christ! She saw other tables being seated in the front room. Anal Retentive arched his neck around, looking for her. Shit. She noticed Marcus slumped in a corner listening to music, and begged him to cover her section.
He agreed, shockingly, reminding Julia that not all human beings were pure evil. She walked through the kitchen, not bothering to acknowledge the perverted cooks, not flinching when William the sous chef touched her lower back, and lit up a cigarette by the trashcans in the yard. She inhaled, and suddenly everything became very clear to her, in a drunk kind of way. She stared up at the small hole of dusky sky. Yes, she knew what she needed to do. She needed to avenge herself, avenge everyone who had ever underperformed and disappointed, who had lost a mother and fallen victim to an evil boss. She was going to sabotage Alex’s VIP table. Time was of the essence. She wished she had some LSD. She could just slip it in their cocktails. Too bad she didn’t carry acid around with her on a daily basis. But WAIT. She did have Valium. Surely that wouldn’t kill them. A pill each, crumbled up with the sugar at the bottom of their champagne cocktails. It was perfect. She was going to do it. Like a woman possessed, she grabbed her purse and started rummaging through it. Sweat dripped down her temples. Finally, she found her ‘Tylenol’ bottle. She poured pills of all shapes and sizes out on top of a cardboard box frantically. She watched as two Adderall rolled away down the gutter and into the drain. Damnit. Well, there was no time for goodbyes. This was her moment. She found two of the Valiums, and shoved them in her pocket, so excited that she almost left her pill collection out in the open.
She had to steady herself and sat on a crate as she heard her phone in her purse. Texts from Will and “Beard.” She scrolled through her contacts to the G’s and looked up at the nearly-night sky and listened as the phone rang and rang. Finally there was a confused English “hello?” on the other end.
“…Julia?! Julia, is that you? Is everything okay?”
Of course— it was nearly one a.m. in London. She slurred out an apology. Her grandma was simply happy Julia had called — she had been ever so worried.
“I think about you often—”
Her grandma’s voice caught and once again Julia felt the wind knocked out of her, such a punch in the gut that she was nearly sobered. She felt an urgent need to end the conversation and promised she would definitely call again and yes, maybe she would come to England for a while. She hung up and the floor swayed as she realized that she had just drunk dialed her 78-year-old grandmother.
Julia slapped each cheek and re-entered the restaurant with the air of the deranged. She rushed through to the front room, pausing only to glance at the clock. She had an hour.
She snuck up behind Marcus, pinching his left love handle, nearly causing him to drop a table’s appetizers.
“What the fuck?!” he hissed underneath his breath.
“Sorry baby!!! I’ll help you out, I feel much better!” She said this loudly, causing several diners to turn around in curiosity.
“You reek of alcohol, Julia. Seriously. Find some mints or something, Alex is back…”
Alex could go fuck himself!!! Nothing could stop her! She started mechanically waiting on the tables in her section, skipping around in a drunken haze. Now drunken single-mindedness and loathing overtook melancholy. Alex maintained his post at the bar, slinging back glasses of champagne. Each time she walked by to order a drink or settle a check, he would make some
nasty comment about how puffy her eyes were or how badly her hair needed some highlights or how awfully nervous she looked.
The VIPs arrived exactly at nine. They were two older gay men. One of them had a loud, abrasive English accent of doubtful authenticity. The other one was hideously ugly. Alex grabbed her arm, pulling her uncomfortably close to him. She hoped that once combined their alcohol-drenched breaths would be negated. In any case, he was too drunk to notice, she reckoned. Or maybe she was too drunk to realize how obviously drunk she was. Whatever.
“Listen, Julia. The one on the left is a… dear friend, and a very… respected… thespian. So do me a favor and don’t… fuck up, okay??”
“Oh yeah, sure, of course,” she replied. She jerked her arm out from his grasp and trailed after Laurent as he sat the VIPs at the restaurant’s prime table. She watched them squeeze into their seats, the candlelight illuminating the ugly one’s deeply-etched wrinkles in fantastic detail, so that his face bore a striking resemblance to the restaurant’s gothic stone walls. She stood there for a few seconds, simply staring, almost forgetting where she was. Somebody dropped a knife and she jumped, lurching for the men.
Now they stared and said nothing.
“How are you this evening?”
The ugly one nodded. Well, here went nothing.
“So… can I start you off with drinks tonight?”
“Yes, well, what’s good?” asked the thespian.
“Well, if you like champagne, the champagne cocktail here is superb.” Oh please, please, please. She didn’t say anything else for fear of jinxing it.
“Yes, we’ll have two of those.”
Julia nodded, and her heart leapt. Triumphantly, she wrote 2X CHAMP. COCKTAIL in large letters on her pad. Table 2. She gave the slip to Meghan and leaned across the bar.
“Oh, and I think I need some more water, you know??”
“Juliaaaaaa… you’re crazy! That’s like your millionth!” Meghan was obviously drunk, spilling her mixers all over the place and dropping cherries right and left. She filled up a glass with ice and white wine. In the back station, Julia swigged down half her drink with the swagger of an ancient sailor. Her vision began to blur. Her legs were wobbly.
She leant on the bar, trying to make it look intentional, while Meghan made the two fated champagne cocktails. This was the moment. Her moment. In a fugue state of determination Julia placed the two tall glasses onto a tray and glided into the employee bathroom like a ballerina, the greatest cocktail waitress of all time. She placed the tray and the two drinks next to the sink and fumbled around in her pocket for the pills. She held them in the palm of her hand and stared at them intently for what could have been half an hour. The two white pills looked menacing under the fluorescent light. Like shields that little Lego soldiers might use. What a weird analogy. She slapped herself and shook her head. All she had to do was crumble up the Valium and sprinkle them into the drinks like… like… confectioners sugar. They were difficult to break up. She tried biting one in half. Now they were partially dissolved on her tongue– this didn’t help. She looked in the mirror, the pills sticking to her sweaty palm. Was she really going to roofie these two old guys?! She had to. She gulped. The noise of the restaurant seeped in under the crack of the door. A humming, disapproving noise, like a million tiny Alex’s berating her puffiness and potentially criminal act, punctuated with the clinking of knives and forks. People were wondering where their waitress was. She looked at the pills once again.
No — she couldn’t do it. What had she been thinking?! She was, quite simply, far too drunk. That was all there was to it. Everything was over. It was pointless. She was fired. A disappointment. She couldn’t roofie two old guys just because she was fired. She slumped against the wall. She felt nauseous. The walls were uneven. She wondered what she was going to do tomorrow at four. Probably she would sleep and cry, in fetal position, starving, alone. She thought about what could have been. Drinks with the Asian Lady. Lunches in Mantauk. Winters in Aspen. Julia sighed, hiccupped, and washed down the remnants of the pills with the thespian’s cocktail.
Resting half-slumped against the tiny bathroom wall was, in fact, Julia’s last foggy memory of the night. She stumbled out into the restaurant, trying to balance the remaining drink on the tray. She hesitated, unsure of where she was going or what she was holding. Suddenly she remembered her job, and, as if illuminated, she began the long journey towards the VIPs, repentant and ashamed that she had ever dreamed of drugging them. Her feet seemed to be screwed on backwards. She had to stop for a moment, to regain her balance, and found herself staring down into the contents of the champagne glass, at the millions of amber bubbles that swirled around, hurtling towards the sticky sugar vortex that was lumped at the bottom. A lemon twist was perched expectantly on the edge of the glass. She wondered if lemon twists had feelings like hers, if this lemon twist had a name and a wife waiting at home with little lemon twist children. The chatter in the dining room became quieter as the customers wondered why one of their waitresses was talking to a drink in their midst. Julia looked up at the hundreds upon thousands of anonymous faces that surrounded her. They were smiling – they understood. They wanted her to do better, to move back uptown and look after her father. She smiled back. Now she knew what she had to do. She changed directions, and pranced with the poise of a prima ballerina, her beautiful champagne cocktail elevated high above the heads of the diners. She turned the corner. There was Alex, lurching over the bar, champagne flute in hand.
“CALL ME PUFFY AGAIN!!!!” In an instant, all the millions of amber bubbles and the lemon twist were launched out of the glass and through the air, landing perfectly over his face and prominent chest, which shone in the candle light.
She was going to have one hell of a hangover in the morning, which she announced to the stunned restaurant. Alex started screaming; everything descended into chaos and commotion. But soon Meghan and Julia found themselves sliding into a cab together, Brooklyn-bound in search of Will, away from the horrible place forever. Julia lay with her head in Meghan’s comforting Canadian lap and imagined she was a little girl once again, a fresh life spread out before her, and so much time to make her mum proud.
Clementine Amidon is a Frances Perkins scholar and member of Mount Holyoke’s class of 2016. She studies English and French. Clementine enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including the New York Observer and the Huffington Post. After graduation, she hopes to forge a writing career, and will follow wherever the words lead her. Clementine is the mother of a 3-year-old pirate called Dominic, and as a result she has no hobbies and no clue what she enjoys doing in her free time.
Clementine served as a Media Editor for the Blackstick Review.