“How’s your meal?” the waitress asks, leaning over Betty. Betty looks up from the newspaper, which is a week-old copy of last week’s Post, and is therefore an unsatisfying reading experience in a variety of ways. She’s already grimacing in answer as she meets the waitress’ eyes.
The waitress is dark-haired, Betty notices first, a tumble of curls that frames a square-jawed face. She’s got dimples and speculative eyes, and the litany of complaints that Betty had been about to unleash – the bacon’s cold, one piece of toast is burnt and the other is soggy, and she found a fly in the beans – dries up in her throat. “Can I have some coffee?” she says instead, abrupt, and looks back at her newspaper like it’s suddenly become fascinating news that Vancouver airport is one of the unhappiest places on earth.
“Sure,” the waitress says, and out of the corner of her eye Betty sees her eyes slide down Betty’s face. She focuses very intently on the newspaper again.
The coffee is awful, but Betty drinks every last drop, and doesn’t think about why.
“Where have you been going for lunch?” Kate asks, nudging Betty as they swipe in to work together.
Betty turns her head away, pretends to be interested in studying the potted plant in the foyer as they cross towards the elevators, shrugs awkwardly. She can feel her shoulders tensing defensively. “Just a café. I like to get out sometimes.” She’s been to Victoria’s three times in the last two weeks, she didn’t think it was enough to be remarked on.
“Well, we miss you in the cafeteria!” Kate’s smiling, friendly and genuine, no hint of any awkwardness on her face. The sight hurts Betty, the way Kate’s determined ignorance has been doing for weeks. The idea that her confession was worth so little weight that Kate can pretend to normality so easily and convincingly has settled deep into her chest, and every time she sees Kate it twists a little more.
Betty nods, her mouth twisted tight. After a second or two, when she realises Kate is watching her expectantly, she says, “I’ll come today, okay?”
The cafeteria coffee is much better than the coffee at Victoria’s. The next day still finds Betty sitting down at her usual table, the one that wobbles no matter how much paper she stuffs underneath its legs. They have the Star today – still a week old, but better than the Post.
“Hi there,” the waitress says. She always leans in a little closer than Betty thinks is really necessary. Betty minds one minute and doesn’t the next. “If you’re going to be a regular, I should tell you I’m Teresa.”
“Betty,” Betty says shortly, and wishes she was better at this kind of thing. “I’d like bacon -”
“Beans and toast, I know,” the waitress interrupts. “And some coffee, even though you hate it.” Betty’s eyes fly up to her face, ready to protest, but the waitress is smiling. “And I know you’re not here for the food. Which leads me to conclude, by a process of deduction, that you’re here for something else.” Her eyes flick down Betty’s body, lingering at her breasts, and Betty hunches her shoulders again. “Here, I’ll give you my number and you can stop torturing yourself.”
Betty shakes her head instinctively. “I’ve just remembered,” she says, unconvincingly. “I have to… there’s a thing.”
She makes it back to her desk fifteen minutes later, heart still beating too fast.
“Hey,” Gladys says from behind her. Betty barely looks up, she’s too focused on the plans she’s trying to draw up.
“Hey,” she says, without taking her eyes off the screen. Her back’s starting to hurt, but she can feel the end of the design, just around the corner.
“You’ve been back in the cafeteria recently,” Gladys says, perching herself on the edge of Betty’s desk. She’s wearing a tight dress, and Betty lets her gaze flick sideways for a second. Gladys is a beautiful woman.
“Yes,” she says, looking back at the plans. “I was -”
“I’m just going to say something,” Gladys says, and her voice is very gentle but it’s still an emphatic interruption. “You’re a really great friend, Betty, and I wish you felt like you could be honest with us – with me.”
“What?” Betty says, trying to pretend to confusion, but she gives it up a moment later. “I was honest. To Kate,” she says. She’s not really worried how Gladys will take it, almost glad that at least someone’s figured her out. The habit of secrecy is so engrained from her youth that it took a monumental effort to break it, one that she hasn’t been able to repeat, but she finds that she doesn’t mind Gladys knowing.
“I thought so,” Gladys says, and she touches Betty’s shoulder. “Well, Leon thought so, but -”
“You’ve been discussing me?” Betty cries, a little too loud.
“Don’t shout,” Gladys says. “Yes, but only recently, and it wasn’t gossip. We just thought you might have…” She pauses. “You’re one of my best friends, Betty, and I want you to be happy, and I thought you might be missing lunch because you were… being happy.”
Betty finally looks away from the plans, looks up at Kate. “Uh,” she says awkwardly. “Thanks, princess.” She must sounds comically unsure, because Gladys grins, nose wrinkling.
“There,” she says. “That wasn’t so traumatic, was it?”
“I… don’t tell anyone,” Betty says.
“Not till you’re ready, but Betty…” She trails off, and Betty nods.
“I know,” she says, trying for self-deprecating humour. “Not on the farm anymore, it’s fine, no one’s going to send me to ex-gay camp.” Saying the words out loud still makes a slight shiver run down her back.
“Yes,” Gladys says. “It’s fine.”
Betty goes back to Victoria’s the next day. Teresa smiles at her as though nothing has happened, and Betty feels her mouth twitch into an answering smile. “I changed my mind,” she says. “Can I have pancakes and maybe your number?”
Teresa glances around the empty café and says, “I’ll go one better.” She leans in. It’s a warm press of slick mouths, both of them wearing lipstick, and when Teresa draws back Betty finds that she is clutching at Teresa’s bicep.
“Sorry about before,” Betty says. “This is kind of… I’m trying something new.”