“Order up,” Jim, a young, dark haired line cook said to Martin who appeared in the kitchen.
“Ta, Jim.” Martin smiled and loaded his tray with the chicken marsala, and the beef wellington. “We’re pretty busy this evening, so you and the boys can’t play the travelling corkscrew in the dining area.” Jim groaned in disgust as Martin walked through the kitchen door back into the dining area.
Martin had been working as a waiter at The Gilded Rose, an upscale restaurant a relatively close drive from his flat share, for the past two months. He didn’t really have the time to pick up another job, but his lovely landlord decided to increase his rent by 150 pounds (for the first time in 9 years, for fuck’s sake), and Martin was left with no choice other than picking up another part time job that he squeezed in with everything else that he was doing. He liked it much, much better than his man-with-a-van jobs because the clientele, were, for the most part, much friendlier and left him with decent tips. He was, for the first time in years, eating food that wasn’t pasta, toast, or baked potatoes, which was the biggest luxury of them all. He, thankfully, already had fine dining experience as a waiter, as it was one of the seemingly hundreds of odd jobs he did as he was grinding away, saving money to retake his tests. He was beyond exhausted and was in desperate need of a hot and soothing bath (or a massage), but he put on his professional and proud façade for the sake of the tips that, he felt anyway, was infinitely more important than taking care of himself.
“Here we are, gentlemen.” Martin smiled at the two men at the table before him. “For you, sir, the chicken marsala.” Martin sat down the plate in front of the lanky, red-haired man. “And, for you, sir, the beef wellington.” Martin sat down the plate in front of the brown-haired man. “May I get anything else for you, such as another glass of wine,” Martin asked, referencing both men’s half full glasses of red wine.
“We’re fine for the time being, though if you want to pop by again in twenty minutes, I think we’ll both need our glasses replenished,” the red-haired man replied to Martin with a polite smile.
Martin nodded and left the two men, so he could check up on the other tables that he had that evening.
“So, anyways, like I was saying, I cannot believe you’ve never done go-karts before, especially with how much you love driving,” the red-haired man teased.
“Well, for your information, Manager, I-I really don’t have a valid reason for why I didn’t do that. How about instead of making cheap, though admittedly true, stabs at me, you eat your dinner before it gets cold,” the brown-haired man jeered with a playful smile.
“Alright, you don’t need to get huffy on me, Driver. I’m sure there’s things that you did in your carefree teenager years that I myself have never done.”
“I’m quite sure of that.”
They paused to take a sip of their wine. The Manager, sensing that his Driver was a bit on edge from the seemingly playful banter that had just taken place, decided to change the subject. “Want to play a game, love?”
The Driver stared at the Manager with an incredulous look. He took another sip of his wine and replied, “You do realize we’re at a rather posh restaurant right now, right?”
“Yes, but there’s no laws saying that we can’t have a little bit of a fun while we’re enjoying our incredibly posh dinner, drinking our incredibly posh wine, while taking in the sights of the incredibly posh clientele.”
“So, what is this game anyways? I’m afraid you have me intrigued.”
The Manager gestured to the left of them. “See those two men over there? Tell me their story.”
“Yeah. Like what is their reasoning for being at this restaurant, what are they talking about, do you think they’re together, and whatnot.”
“Oh. Well, they're both men, they’re eating dinner here, they’re talking about something, and it isn’t any of my business if they’re together, right?”
“Fantastic observation, Sherlock.” The Manager smirked at his Driver.
“Oh, so I’m the Sherlock in this relationship? Fine by me. I get an excellent coat and a mind palace.”
“You’re stalling, love. Please continue.”
The Driver snuck a few glances at the couple, took another sip of his wine, and pondered for a moment before continuing, “Right, well, as previously stated they’re both men. The man in the red velvet sport jacket is likely a former service member, given his hair is still rather short and looks rather regulation-y. Additionally, he’s facing the main exit to the restaurant, so likely very recently returned military service member, so he’s still a bit on the edge, or maybe just slightly paranoid about his surroundings. Either way, he most certainly loves the company of the other man he’s dining with this evening. That chap, wearing a well fitted suit and a rather posh watch, works for MI6.”
“For MI6? How the devil did you know that?”
“Trust me, Manager. He works for MI6. There’s no reason why he would be wearing that watch because it doesn’t go with the vibe of his suit; he clearly cares a lot about the man he’s with, especially knowing how much he’s on edge given how many times that poor sod is looking at the exit. He likely saw some terrible things during his time serving and the MI6 chap is protecting him as the military chap learns to grow more comfortable with his surroundings and adjust back to the civilian life.”
“That was- “
“Absolutely,” the Manager breathed. “And you- “
“Well, you did call me Sherlock. I figured I would flex my deduction muscles a little bit.”
“And you know for all of that based upon a few glances?”
“Quite. I mean, I have to be observant as a diver.” The Driver raised an eyebrow and winked at his Manager.
“Hello, gentlemen. Would you care for another glass of wine, or, perhaps a glass of cognac?” Martin asked, taking their empty plates and placing them on his tray.
The Manager blinked at Martin; he was wondering when Martin would be coming back. He assumed that Martin had the power to read minds because he had hoped Martin would be coming back after the Driver was done with his brilliant deduction.
“Oh, sorry, yes, a-ah can you bring this to table, please?” The Manager handed Martin a folded piece of blood red paper. Martin unfolded the folded paper and nodded blankly, taking the hint from the Manager’s uneasiness.
“Well then. That wasn’t suspicious at all, Manager.”
The Manager blushed a delicious shade of red that paired with his fiery red hair perfectly. “What do you mean by that, Driver? I don’t’ think it was suspicious at all.”
The Manager stood up from the table, feeling his heartbeat vibrate throughout his entire body. The Driver’s brownish eyes grew wide at the sight in front of him. The Driver gasped and immediately put his hands over his mouth as the Manager got down on one knee and pulled out a small, black box. The Driver’s eyes grew even wider, if that were even possible.
“Driver, we’ve known each other for what seems like a decade, but has only been four lovely years. Since then, we’ve been on some fantastic adventures and have made some memories that are sure to last a lifetime. Over the past two years that we’ve been together, we’ve grown together and I want this growth and love to last a lifetime. I want your silly face and your preposterously gorgeous and utter mesmerizing brownish eyes to be the last things that I see before we fall asleep together in our bed, wherever we might be in the world, and I want them to be the first things to greet me when I wake up with you for the rest of my life.” He blinked back tears, took a deep breath, opened up the box, which revealed a smart looking gold band, and continued, “Driver, would you do me the honor of being my husband?”
The Driver stood up, looked around at the clientele of The Gilded Rose who looked back at him with tear clouded eyes and baited breath, and said “Of course, Manager. You’re all I need in this lifetime; I love you so incredibly much.”
The Manager stood up, placed the band on the Driver’s ring finger, and kissed him passionately. The entire restaurant, including all of the wait staff who happened to be in the dining room, started applauding and cheering as the two recently engaged men kissed. After a few minutes, the men sat back down and Martin came forward with two champagne flutes and a bottle of Vilmart “Grand Cellier” Brut.
“Chaps,” he began, wiping tears from his eyes, “allow me to be the first to say congratulations. I’m so glad that I was able to be part, albeit a small part, of this momentous moment in your lives. To be honest, I’ve been putting off a promise I had made myself because I, naively, thought that love was, well, dead. You have both inspired me to keep that promise that I made myself and I thank-you so much for that.”
The Manager and Driver looked at each other, then at Martin, and as one unit, stood up and embraced Martin. “It isn’t dead, Martin,” the Driver began, beaming at Martin with a smile and gleaming eyes that could power Fitton, “It is the furthest from dead. I know you’ll find it. You’re worth it; you matter and you’re incredibly important. Go out and find it.”
The Manager nodded and hugged Martin again. “He’s right, Martin. I know it is sometimes incredibly difficult to be vulnerable in a dramatic moment, I mean, look at what I just did, but sometimes, if you don’t take risks, calculated and educated or not, you’ll not know what you could be missing. The first time I looked at the Dri-, I mean, my fiancé,” The Driver gave him a quick peck on the cheek “I knew he was something worth fighting for and towards. I wasn’t going to give up easily. There’s no way I could’ve.”
“I know. And, well, I have fought for what I wanted; I spent thousands of pounds and years trying to become a pilot and while I am one, and a captain at that, I just feel like I’m missing something. But, I really don’t want to get into it right now; I doubt you guys would want to hear the silly and likely stupid misadventures of a captain who moonlights as a sodding waiter. I’ll go get you your check; I imagine you’ll probably want it soon.”
“Martin, please; please don’t try to be hard on yourself. Your tenacity and drive are wonderful and really, really show. I can only imagine how exhausted you must be. Look, Martin, we care a lot about you and we want you to be comfortable in your own skin.” The Manager took out a pen and a small piece of the red paper. As he was writing on the paper, he continued, “Look, here’s my mobile; we would love to take you out to dinner or grab a pint sometime. It is apparent that you put everything else in the world ahead of you and you don’t need to be so self-sacrificing; the world will still be there if you sleep in one day or take a long bath.”
Martin began to tear up again. “You don’t really have to do this; I mean, you barely know me.”
“Ah, Martin, but we do. You remind me of myself when I was your age: working tirelessly, never taking care of myself because there was so many other responsibilities that needed to be done; I don’t want to see you walk down that path any longer. So, about that promise that you mentioned…”
“It isn’t important.”
“Yes it is, Martin. You know why? Because you’re important.”
Martin blushed. “Well, the promise was that if I saw something that truly made me feel alive, like really, truly alive, I would askoutsomeoneIworkwith.”
“That’s beautiful, Martin. It isn’t anything to be ashamed about.”
“No; of course not. When you’re in a constant loop of doing the same thing every single day, you relish every single moment that makes you feel alive; I understand that all too well.”
“Well, thanks, chaps. I’ll go bring you your check.” Martin smiled and hugged the two men again.
The two men sat back down. “I can’t believe you planned all of this out for me,” the Driver said, referencing the brut and the two flutes.
“You’re absolutely worth it, love. I had called the restaurant ahead of time making sure that they had this brut for this occasion. The flutes are ours, too.”
“What you said to Martin was just so incredibly powerful; he was such a wonderful waiter. I’m glad that we’ll be able to support him during this turbulent time.”
“Ha, you said turbulent.”
“And? What about it?”
“Well, he said that he’s a pilot, and a captain. So, y’know, turbulent, turbulence?”
“Oh bugger off.” The Driver smiled and took off his band. “This band is gorgeous; it makes a powerful statement without being too flashy.”
“Look inside it.”
“Yeah, inside it.”
The Driver flipped the band so he could see the inside of the band. Engraved around the inside of the band read the words “You are the driver of my heart.” “You sod; that’s so romantic.”
“Well, it’s the truth, love.”
“Here’s your check, Chaps. I imagine you’ll be taking the brut and the flutes home with you?”
“Indeed, Martin.” The Manager smiled at Martin. “So, when are you going to ask out your coworker?”
“Tonight; I am afraid I won’t have the courage to do so in the morning.”
The Manager pulled out a card out of his wallet and gave it to Martin with the check. “It’ll go well, Martin. Your future beau will be incredibly lucky to have you as a boyfriend. Trust me.”
Martin nodded and turned on his heel. A few minutes later, he returned with the Manager’s card and the receipts. “Here you go.” He sat down the card and the receipts. “Again, I just wanted to thank-you chaps for a lovely time. I’ve been a waiter off and on for nearly five years now, and you both have been the best customers I’ve ever had the good fortune of waiting on. Thanks again for letting me be part of this huge event in your lives. I would say I hope you both have a lovely rest of your evening, but I already know you will.”
The Driver and Manager looked at each other and winked. The Manager smirked and said, “Oh, you have no idea, Martin. But, seriously, please ring me if you would like to grab a drink or do dinner with us. It’ll be our treat.”
“I promise I will, chaps. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement.”
The Manager signed the receipt and slipped Martin a 50 pound note. Martin’s green blue eyes widen as he pocketed it. “Have a lovely evening, Martin.”
The Driver gave Martin a hug and produced a 50 pound note himself. “Good luck with that phone call tonight, Martin. We’ll be cheering you on that it’ll go over well.”
Martin stood dumbfounded; he just made a night’s wages in a span of two minutes. “Thanks, chaps.”
The Manager wrapped his arm around the Driver’s waist as they walked out of the restaurant together, leaving Martin staring at them with still wide eyes.
“I can’t wait to get you home, Manager.” The Driver’s eyes grew dark.
“Oh, why might that be the case, love?” The Manager asked, unlocking the door to their car.
Both men got into the car and the Driver replied in a purr, “Your heart isn’t the only thing I enjoy driving.”
A few hours later, Martin was done with his shift and was in his attic room lying on his bed and staring at the pale green walls. They’re right, thought Martin, I do need to take charge of my life; I need to take care of myself. He pulled out his mobile, and made what might become the important phone call of his life.
“Hi, Arthur. It’s Martin.”
“Skip! Why are you calling? Its nearly 10:00pm.”
“Well, um, I-I needed to ask you something.”
“Do you need help with anything? You know how much I love helping, Skip.”
“Well, kind of, I guess.”
“Brilliant! What do you need help with, Skip?”
Martin took a deep breath, and remembered the words that the Manager had said to him hours earlier. “Wouldyouliketododinnerwithmetomorrow?”
“What’s that, Skip? I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch that.”
“Would you like to do dinner with me tomorrow?”
“Oh! Wait. Is this a joke? Did Douglas put you up to this?”
Martin winced at Arthur's comment. “No, never, Arthur. You mean too much to me for me to do something as inconsiderate as that. I just really want to do dinner with you tomorrow.”
“Like a date?”
“Yes, Arthur. Like a date. I want to go on a date with you.”
“Skip, I would love to go on a date with you. How about I pick you up at 8:00pm?”
“That certainly works for me; I just have a few man-with-a-van jobs tomorrow, but I’ll be done long before 8:00pm.”
“Oh, and Martin.”
“Yes, Arthur?” Martin knew Arthur was being super serious as he almost never called him Martin.
“Thanks so much for asking me. I’ve been wanting to ask you out for a while, but I, well, didn’t.”
Martin felt his ears get hot. “That-that’s incredibly sweet of you, Arthur.”
“Wear that dark blue jumper, too. The one you wore when we had that day off in Frankfurt.”
“Why should I wear that jumper, Arthur?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see, Skip. I’ll see you and that jumper tomorrow at 8:00pm. Goodnight!” Arthur hoped Martin could just feel the subtext coming out of that statement.
“Looking forward to it. Goodnight, Arthur.”
Martin ended the call and smiled an electrifying smile. He hadn’t felt this happy in months. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the piece of red paper that the Manager had given him. He punched in the numbers and decided that in lieu of calling him, he would send him a text message. “Hi. This is Martin,” he typed, “Thanks so much for your advice. I have a date with my coworker tomorrow evening at 8:00pm. I’m nervous and excited and anxious and so incredibly relieved that something finally good happened to me. Do let me know when you’re both available for that drink or dinner that you mentioned tonight; I would love to talk to you both again.”
Martin set his mobile down and curled up with a book about the history of aviation until sleep came settled in; and for the first time in months, slept peacefully and with a smile on his face. A smile that Arthur, along with the beginning stages of Martin’s path of taking his life back from the world, had planted.