Ani looked at the solemn faces around her and nodded, grateful that they were even concerned for her welfare. As a few more patrons wandered into the bar, the three of them went off to get their orders knowing the large number of empty tables left no excuse for poor service on a night like this.
Ani found herself watching the faces of the women who were being escorted in by the men. She noted how they hesitated at the end of the long hallway and peered carefully about the room with unease before they stepped foot into the bar. Some of them were dragged into the room by their partners and Ani could see the couples arguing quietly as they came towards her. Trying to put them at ease, she gave the women her biggest smile and was astonished when she got the once-over back.
“What’s with these women anyway?” she asked Ed as she picked up the glasses of draft and the rum and coke and put them on her tray.
“They think you are a stripper and are just waiting tables at night.”
Ani stood staring at Ed with her mouth open and shaking her head. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. It’s been a long time since we had a female waitress in here. It’s either that or they might think you’re competition.”
“Competition! For what?”
“For their man Ani. Come on! Surely you know that!”
“But Ed! Take a good look at these guys. Do you honestly think I might be interested in any of them?”
“I don’t think you would be. In fact – I’d hope you’d have better taste than any of these guys who come in here. But these women think they’ve scored the man of their dreams – and you are definitely competition for anyone.”
“I’ve never been competition for anyone Ed. Believe me.”
“You may not think so and the little I know of you I figure you wouldn’t think like that anyway. But you probably have been and never known it.”
Ani shook her head and took her order out to her customers. The man looked embarrassed when he tipped her a quarter while the woman glared at her before attempting to look aloof. Ani smiled at her anyway and moved on through the rest of her section.
At 8:30 Jan started buzzing about the room checking on the patrons and testing the microphone. Having already almost taken out everyone’s eardrums when she dropped her tray on Thursday night, Ani stayed clear of the bar while Jan did his thing.
Patrons straggled in; mostly single men who sat forlornly at their tables and made circles on the table with the bottom of their sweating glasses. When a threesome of middle-aged women came into the room, nearly all eyes swivelled in their direction before focusing on their tables once more.
Much to her surprise the women selected a table in Ani’s section and happily ordered their drinks. She suddenly felt like a member of the group when one of them spilled the contents of her purse and the four of them burst out laughing. When the other women in the room eyed them suspiciously, it made them laugh even harder. Ani’s spirits lifted with the happiness of the small group and she eyed them appreciatively as they chatted casually with one another.
“Those gals come in every Saturday there is a band,” Ed said. “They like to dance and the men know they don’t have to take them home afterwards. So everyone is safe.”
“At least they are treating me nicely. If looks could kill – the other women in here would have succeeded.”
Lighting a cigarette, she turned her back to the bar and leaned both elbows on it so she could look around the room. Behind her Ed grabbed his ice bucket and headed into the kitchen for a refill. Taking a long, relaxing drag, Ani watched her section and the few people who were in the room. It was an entirely different crowd compared with the two nights she had already worked. Those nights the room had been filled with males of every age, but tonight it was mostly an older crowd, and Ani guessed around 40 and older. She knew she stood out like a sore thumb with her age and being the new waitress. She wondered why she even thought of it as a ‘crowd’ as there were more empty tables than occupied.
Behind her Ed dumped his bucket of ice into the sink and spoke to her in a low voice, “Look sharp Ani, here comes Jan.”
Straightening up she turned and saw her third boss coming down the steps from the kitchen and looking about the room. She threw Ed an appreciative look and stubbed out her cigarette. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the band filing up onto the stage and suddenly the lights dimmed and Jan’s voice boomed out into the room. “Ladies and gentlemen! Put your hands together and welcome Wayne Mack and His Trucks!”