Tip Jar

Along rolled the evening, and through the toasts and the bouts of dancing and the cake, the bartender was kept busy.  Tactfully she kept her visits short, after all she had no intention of hanging around his station like an infatuated teenager.  There was a classy way to go about this.  Whatever this was.  And then it was last call and last dance and the floor was crowded with couples swaying to “Unchained Melody.”   Partnerless, but not forlorn, she made her eventual way back to him.

The busboy had just delivered racks of clean glasses.  He was drying them, deftly spinning them with one hand against a white towel in his other, holding them up to the light and then lining them up on the bar.   His tip jar was crammed full of change and bills, and one single Pokémon card.  She wondered if he’d keep it, wondered what he’d do after he was done working tonight.  She wondered what he was like in the dark…

“You can’t dance, can you?” she asked him.

He paused and looked confused.

“I mean,” she amended, “if I wanted to dance with you.  Tonight.  Now.  That wouldn’t be allowed, would it?”

His mouth slowly widened in a pleased smile, and his eyes ducked shyly behind it, a little bit of red creeping up from his collar.  “No, I…I couldn’t dance with you now.”

“Do you dance?”

“Not very well.”

“Would you?” she pressed.

He nodded.  “If you asked me.”

She nodded back, studying the gap in his sleeve, above where his cuff was fastened with simple silver cufflinks.  Sleek, she decided, was the word for his appearance.  He didn’t have the worn, seedy polyester look of the other waiters and bartenders.   His shirt was crisp, his belt shone tight and trim at his waist, the bowtie was tied, not clipped, and the cufflinks were a touch she liked very much.  He looked less like a worker and more like a guest who had tossed off his dinner jacket and good-naturedly stepped behind the bar to lend a hand.

He kept working, let her look at him, just as at ease in her gaze as she’d been in his.  “Thanks for keeping me company,” he finally said.

She looked away and studied the dance floor a moment, her lips rolled in, thinking very intently about keeping his company, and how comfortable she felt in it, even in silence.   Then she turned back to the bar.  Reaching across she deftly plucked the ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket, and took a fresh cocktail napkin.  She wrote her name and her cell phone number, folded it carefully, and put it in his tip jar.  “I had a really good time tonight,” she said.

He studied the jar, then looked at her, slowly drying a glass.  The way he could hold her gaze and look both confident and vulnerable at the same time was slowly undoing her.  “I did too,” he said softly.

“Bye.”

He smiled, his eyes crinkling deliciously at the corners.  As the ballroom lights came up, finally she saw they were blue.  She didn’t go back to the bar again, but as she and the girls gathered up purses and shawls and headed out, she allowed one last glance from the doors, in time to see him reach for the tip jar and fish out the napkin with her phone number.  She watched him, with something that felt very much like affection, as he unfolded it, read it, chewed on his bottom lip, then folded it again and pushed it into his back pocket.

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