At home, I was greeted by a very excited dog. Zeus is seven years old, and has lived with me for more than five of those years. A lab/boxer mix rescue from the Heart of Ohio Animal Shelter, his online “profile” proclaimed him “Life of the Party.” My dad had brought him home, explaining to me over the phone that he wanted some friendly, lively company. The Life of the Party chewed up dad’s best leather shoes, ran circles around the dining room table, jumped on everyone who entered dad’s house, and ran away every chance he got. Dad was at the end of his rope, so I took pity on them both and took Zeus off his hands. After a year of strenuous training, for me, not Zeus, we finally reached an understanding. I place anything I don’t want chewed up or eaten at a respectable enough height that he can’t reach it, and he restricts his zooming episodes to my fenced-in back yard. Now in his middle years, Zeus is no longer the menace he had been as a puppy, and with his buggy eyes, droopy face, ridiculous piggy curly tail, and friendly disposition, he’s funny and sweet and finally the kind of companion my dad had wanted. But of course, now he’s mine. He was ready for a walk, and when I dug his leash out of the coat closet, he sat down expectantly by the front door and waited for me, tongue drooping comically to one side.
We were just starting our second loop around the neighborhood, when Zeus began pulling on his leash and whining, his tail wagging furiously. “What’s up, buddy?” I looked down at him. His body was tense, but his little face was lit up with a grin, and he was very decidedly pointing his entire being back toward our townhouse. “What’s the matter?” I asked him again before looking in that direction. A woman stood on the lawn in front of my unit. She stood perfectly still, with only the skirt of her dress moving slightly in the breeze. Well, not dress, gown really. If memory served, it was the style referred to as “grecian goddess” by people who ask celebrities whom they’re wearing on the red carpet. This dress didn’t come off any rack. The rich silk fit like it was made for her, draping perfectly over one shoulder, accentuating the café au lait of her skin and flowing in graceful folds from her waist to the ground. Her jet hair was braided and wound around the top of her head like a crown. The woman stood perfectly still, her eyes looking right at me. The air suddenly smelled like apples. My vision blurred, and my heart began to race wildly. I don’t get anxiety attacks as often as I used to after my mom died, so this one took me by surprise. Something about this woman scared the living hell out of me, and I wanted to get away from her pronto. I blinked and shook my head, trying to clear my mind and my eyes, and willed my legs to get me out of there, but my body refused to cooperate. I was frozen in place. The woman’s amber eyes never blinked as she looked calmly at me and spoke. “Guide,” she said quietly but clearly. “I am here.”
Suddenly, my legs couldn’t carry me away fast enough. I broke into a jog, pulling a confused Zeus with me. Not that I could go very far. I’m not much of an athlete. After a couple of minutes, I slowed down to a brisk walk and then to a regular walk. I was halfway around the neighborhood before my heart stopped trying to punch its way out of my chest and my vision returned to normal. The anxiety attack was subsiding, and somewhere in the back of my still-fuzzy brain I knew I was being ridiculous. So, there was a strange woman in front of my house. She was probably just lost. She certainly didn’t look as if she was from around here, with that gown and hair. I bet she just wanted directions or something, and here I was running from her as if she were an axe murderer. I was shaking my head at my own stupidity, when I rounded the corner toward my townhouse. She was gone. Oh, well, she probably got directions from someone else and was on her way to wherever.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. The caller ID informed me that it was dad. The weird encounter over, and my anxiety attack subsiding, I took a deep breath and clicked Speak. “Hi, there,” I said in my brightest, most optimistic voice. “How was it?” Dad’s rueful chuckle was followed by a sigh. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for dating, sweetie.” Uh oh. “What happened?” I asked, worry churning my stomach a bit. “Nothing happened,” dad explained. “That’s the thing. We ate. We talked about our jobs. We walked around the conservatory and talked about the flowers. Then she went home. I think I bored her, and I’m pretty sure I was bored, too.” “Oh, dad, I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said. “Maybe the second date will be better?” “Oh, I don’t think there’s going to be a second date, honey,” he said. “Cheryl is a nice lady, and she’s very nice to look at, but she’s not for me. I guess I’m just destined to be a bachelor. There are worse things, right?” “Don’t talk like that, dad,” I said, suddenly angry for him. “You deserve to meet someone wonderful, and I totally believe you’re going to fall in love and live happily ever after. You just keep your eyes peeled, so you know her when you meet her.” I was walking through the front door now. “I’m sorry, dad. I gotta go. I have work tonight. Call you tomorrow?” “OK, sweetheart. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m having dinner with Mrs. Moran and Mrs. Wilcox tonight. As long as there are elderly widows with functioning stoves, I’ll never lack for female company. I’ll talk to you later.” I clicked off, smiling to myself. Dad would be alright, with his sunny attitude and kind, generous nature. His parishioners loved him, and I would not give up hope that there was a woman out there worthy of his heart.
I made sure Zeus had food and water, changed into my work uniform (black pants, white button-down, red bow-tie, very original), and headed out for the dinner shift. The Upper Cut is a high-end steak-house, catering to business diners and people wanting to splurge on a special dinner. There are rarely families with kids because the prices are pretty steep. That means dinner bills charged mostly to corporate credit cards, which also means pretty good tips. On a good night, I walk away with $300-$400 in tips, enough to pay my bills and have a little left over for the occasional girls’ night out.
I got my station assignment from Katie, our hostess, and went to the kitchen to say hi to the rest of the staff.