Moira was beginning to write the evening off as a total loss when her favorite customer walked through the door.
Blonde hair pulled back into an immaculate bun, bright eyes wrinkled at the edges, and wrapped in a deep blue dress so form-fitting it left little to the imagination, the regular—Angela, Moira had learned long ago from ringing up her debit card—looked delicious.
From where she stood at the front of the restaurant, Sombra shot Moira a sneaky grin. Moira scowled at her, focusing on clearing the table she had already been working on and steadfastly not glancing up at Angela as she spoke to Sombra. She would not stoop to Sombra’s level; nosiness was unappealing and a waste of time when Moira could think on more important things, like whether or not the restaurant was running smoothly, what precisely Gabriel was doing in the kitchen (because sometimes he got a little… experimental with the menu items), and whether or not Akande (known to the regulars as Doomfist for his insane mixing ability and the potency of his cocktails) was misbehaving at the bar. Moira was not someone who held the restaurant in an iron grip, preferring to let the staff be themselves and mingle with the customers, among other things, but she did also have to make sure she had a restaurant to prep the following morning.
So, no, she wasn’t going to furtively sneak glances at Angela from beneath her eyebrows as she cleaned up table four. She had far too much to think about.
Whether or not she overheard things, however, was another matter entirely.
“Good evening, ma’am,” Sombra said, thankfully actually polite. “How many shall be dining this evening?” Sombra could be, and this was Moira resorting to words typically not found in her vocabulary for the sake of accuracy, a bit of an ass. There was no underhanded sickly-sweetness about her meant to infuriate or poke fun: just charming, casual introductions. Moira let her shoulders slump a little, a bit of her tenseness draining away.
“Two, thank you,” Angela’s gentle voice replied, and Moira, arms fully laden with plates, made her way toward the kitchen. She let her thoughts drift a little—what was Angela here for? She worked for a prestigious organization, so far as Moira could tell, and came here frequently with colleagues for a nice dinner and discussion. She rarely came only with one other person, but it wasn’t too unusual. Perhaps it was the elderly gentleman who barely fit in the booth, the one with a long military history—or the other military man, much smaller and quieter, gruff but refined—or maybe it was the woman with a similar medical background to Angela’s, with long dark hair and always something witty to say.
Moira swiveled on her heel as she reached the kitchen door, pressing into it with her back and letting herself catch just one glance at Angela as she was being seated—right at the table Moira just cleaned and vacated.
“That son of a bitch,” Moira muttered under her breath, turning into the kitchen.
She was greeted by a close encounter with Amelie, a startled yelp escaping her. She wavered a little to regain command of the plates balanced on her arms, careful not to let anything fall.
“A word of warning is always appreciated in a busy kitchen,” Moira huffed, and Amelie rolled her eyes.
“Is she here?” Amelie asked, and Moira could feel her stomach drop. No. Why was her staff like this?
“Is who here?” Moira deflected, swerving around Amelie and deftly dropping off the dishes at the dishwashing station. Tonight would be a long night buried up to her elbows in dirty dishwater, but Moira relished the bodily work after a long day of placating picky eaters. It put her to sleep at night.
Amelie’s unnerving gaze didn’t break from Moira; in fact, it scanned her up and down, as if assessing her thoroughly. Moira caught her glance and matched it with a cold one of her own, but Amelie was unaffected.
“She made a reservation for seven a week ago,” Amelie said. “Is she here? Did she make it?”
Moira huffed again. “Who on earth are you talking about?” Moira asked, turning to give her a withering glare. “Is it some important dignitary I was uninformed of?”
“You know who I am talking about,” Amelie said, arms folded, motionless. “Did Sombra seat her at table four?”
Moira picked up a tray and slid past Amelie, around the counter and to the cooking station. “Don’t you have tables to wait, Amelie?” Moira asked.
“I’m already on top of it,” Amelie replied, and Moira shot her another glare. “Is she at table four?”
Moira checked the tickets, setting her tray down none too gently on the countertop and plucking a few dishes. Moira curled her lip—there were only two tickets remaining, and both were for her tables. How Amelie was able to work so quickly Moira was unsure, but where she usually appreciated her expedient and attentive service, tonight, it merely infuriated her.
“Why do you all seek to meddle in my life as if I’m some lonely spinster desperate for any sort of affection?” she groused. “And furthermore, have you any idea how this would reflect upon the restaurant if she were somehow to find out about this meddling?”
Amelie watched Moira carefully for a moment. Then, to Moira’s horror, her expressionless face unfolded into a catlike smile. “So she is here.”
Moira picked up her tray and moved as quickly as she could toward the door, avoiding Amelie’s terrifying look. She pressed her back to the door and, throwing on her usual façade of control, instantly rejoined the flow of work. She presented the dishes—all immaculately prepared; Gabriel was at his best tonight—to the table, refilling wines and waters and taking away appetizer dishes.
On her way back to the kitchen, Sombra stopped her. “We have a problem, Boss,” she murmured conspiratorially.
Moira sighed. “I told you,” she said quietly, “you are to call me ‘Moira’ in all circumstances.”
“Yeah, whatever,” she said, waving her hand. “Anyway, we have a problem.”
Moira’s back snapped straight. “What is it, then?” Moira asked. “A troublesome customer? Do we need to ask Akande to remove someone?”
Sombra looked at her for a moment before snickering. “No,” she said on a laugh. “Man, lighten up, Boss.” She elbowed Moira lightly in the ribs, earning a growl. “No, we have a different problem.”
Moira rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll humor you,” she replied. “What’s this problem, then?”
Sombra looked both ways as if she were a child about to be caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Then, she leaned in close and whispered, “It’s a date.”
Moira quirked a brow, her expression dropping into total confusion. “I beg your pardon?”
Sombra not-so-subtly pointed toward table four and whispered, “D-A-T-E. A date. She’s on a date, Boss.”
Moira couldn’t help it. She looked up, neck snapping toward table four. Surely enough, Angela was there, lit by the candlelight at her table, and across from her sat a man roughly Angela’s age, also blond, dressed immaculately, and completely unfamiliar to Moira. She was leaning on her elbows, her hands resting under her chin, her nose crinkled with laughter, her eyes closed and mouth shaped in a wonderful smile.
Moira went carefully blank. She turned back to Sombra. “Do make sure to tell me when there is an actual problem,” she said, and Sombra snapped back as if bitten. “Now, please return to your post.”
Sombra looked unsure, but she made her way back to the front of the restaurant. Moira slid into the kitchen like a shadow, mechanically dumping her dishes into the washing station. Amelie watched her from where she leaned, clearly engaging with Gabriel as he worked, but she said nothing. Moira cleared her last ticket, mingling a bit longer with the table than was completely necessary before squaring her shoulders and marching toward table four.
“I apologize for the delay, ma’am,” she said, giving a polite smile to Angela and receiving a sweet one in return. She turned to Angela’s date. “Sir,” she acknowledged, and he nodded as well. Blast him, he was cute and nice.
“Have you had enough time to peruse the menu?” she asked the table at large, careful to not linger too long on Angela.
“I think so,” the man said. He looked to Angela. “You?”
She nodded, looking up at Moira. “I’ll have my usual, please,” she said, handing her menu to Moira. “And do you have any of the—”
“—Château de Puligny Saint-Aubin Premier Cru En Remilly?” Moira finished. “Yes, we do. The 2015 is acceptable?”
Angela’s beaming smile was enough to send Moira’s head into a tizzy. “Perfect,” Angela said at a near-whisper, her excitement infectious. “Thank you, Moira.”
Moira gave a slight bow, hoping the candlelight masked the reddening of her cheeks. She turned to Angela’s date to give herself a proverbial ice-water bath. “And you, sir?”
He blinked, then looked at his menu. “Right,” he said, as if reminding himself he was actually present. “Can I get the…”
He ordered like a bumbling fool, and Moira forced herself to nod through all of it, writing it all down and giving a small smile at the end. “Your meal should be ready within half an hour,” she said. “I will have the wine brought out immediately.”
“Thank you, Moira,” Angela chirped, and Moira gave her another small bow, unable to do little else without dissolving into some viscous Irish liquid. Probably pure whisky, but that was neither here nor there.
She retreated once more into the kitchen, her placating smile dropping instantaneously, replaced by an irritated sort of look. She felt maddeningly empty, as if something hopeful and good had been dissected forcibly from her and dropped in the nearest garbage can.
Entering the ticket for table four, she once more avoided looking over to Amelie, who was quietly watching her, still devoid of anything to do. Whatever inhuman power she possessed, Moira wanted a sample of it. The sooner she could complete her work for table four, the better.
Actually, this could work to her advantage. “Amelie,” she said, and Amelie’s long, lithe form came to a full stand. “Could you bring the En Remilly to table four, please?”
Amelie, thankfully, gave a wordless nod and prepped the wine. Moira admittedly didn’t just ask her to pour the wine for table four for Moira’s sake—she was also, incidentally, the best at handling their wines. With that off her chest, Moira allowed herself to focus on other things until the food was prepared.
Moira made rounds, checking her tables and refilling wines and waters, the motions familiar and undaunting. In the tedium of work, Moira lost herself, her usual dry demeanor slipping into a kind, harmless façade that pleased the customers. Sombra shot her glances, but she ignored them. She resisted the urge to order a whisky from Akande.
As she brought more dishes in from the other tables, Gabriel caught her eye from between the tickets. “Table four is ready,” he intoned like an executioner.
“Can you please,” Moira said, “put away the dour demeanor for two seconds and just let me be? You are all meddling in something that is just ridiculous to waste your time on.”
Gabriel shrugged. “I only said table four was ready,” he replied, turning his back to her, and that alone was enough to make Moira snap. She unloaded her tray, pulled a fresh one from the rack, and loaded it with table four’s order.
“I will fire you all,” Moira said, and she was only met with another of Gabriel’s shrugs.
Pushing her way back out onto the floor, she tacked her unassuming smile back on and headed toward table four. As she approached, however, she noticed Angela was staring down into her wine glass, swirling the contents around and avoiding looking up at her date, who was talking avidly.
“I’m just saying, Angie,” he said, and Moira almost faltered in her walk. Angie? For fuck’s sake. “You gotta consider that working at a place like that is just gonna weigh you down. I mean, you just said this was the first date you’ve been on in over two years. That’s crazy, Angie. You’re gonna ruin yourself like that. You know that, right?”
Moira loudly announced herself by standing as close to the table as humanly possible. “Entrees,” she said in lieu of greeting, and Angela jolted a little, breaking from her reverie to look up at Moira and give her a smile, this one more tired than the last. As she set out the food, an uncomfortable silence reigned. Eh, fuck it. Angela was a regular. She’d make this at least a mildly pleasant evening for her if her date couldn’t.
“How is the En Remilly, ma’am?” she asked, topping up Angela’s water and skimping a little on her date’s refill.
That tired smile blossomed into a genuine happy look, and Moira was deeply pleased to see it. “Divine,” she said, taking a sip. Moira nodded, gathering her tray and giving a half-hearted nod to Angela’s date’s “thanks.”
“You know,” Angela said, and Moira stopped in her tracks, unsure if she was being spoken to. She turned a little—and yes, Angela was looking directly at her. “I heard you can get a bottle of this for around thirty British pounds; not counting shipping, of course,” she said. Moira felt a little chagrined. Yes, they charged forty dollars per bottle, plus tax, and that was barely enough to cover shipment costs and expenses.
Moira didn’t know what to say. Was Angela calling her a cheapskate in front of her date? She stood there, leaning forward to show attention, no doubt visibly confused.
“But,” Angela said after a moment, during which she sipped on her wine again. “I love coming here for it. There’s something about the food, the atmosphere, and the company that makes the wine taste better.”
She reached out, grasping Moira’s hand, and oh dear Christ above, Moira was definitely going to die. She could practically hear Sombra having an aneurism, and she was no doubt telling Amelie this very moment what she saw. Or maybe she was waiting, the tiny bastard, for the full scoop before running off to gossip to literally everyone in the restaurant.
But that didn’t matter, not when Angela was looking at her like that, like she’d given Angela something irreplaceable and special, something that informed a happy moment in Angela’s life. She looked at Moira like the secret to something incredible lay within her, and Moira choked on a reply. What could she say to a look like that? What could she say to any of it?
She bowed low, closing her eyes. “I am deeply humbled to hear it, ma’am,” she said. “We are honored to receive your patronage so loyally.”
When she looked up, Angela was beaming again, and that was a nice change.
Silently, she took her leave, retaining her composure up until the very moment she disappeared from view. Then, she nearly dropped her tray, looking up at Gabriel as if she’d just caught someone murdering someone and was unsure how to talk through the shock of it.
Gabriel smiled at her, giving her a thumbs up. “And you thought it was meddling,” he said cryptically, fixing up a few more meals.
The rest of the evening flew by in a blur. Angela’s tired smile made several comebacks, and she drank more wine than was her norm. She and her date left pretty shortly after their meal, and without Angela’s customary dessert. Moira caught Angela’s eye one last time as she picked up her tip—a whopping 30% of the bill, what kind of crazy salary did this woman receive—and couldn’t help but give her a smile, which Angela returned.
Customers came and went, and pretty soon, it was half past eleven, and closing began. The restaurant had already closed up, but since the bar stayed open a while longer, there was still plenty of work to be done. Moira was busy counting the register as Gabriel came out and started working on the tables.
Sombra was blissfully quiet, which Moira didn’t trust, but Akande was not. “Moira,” he called in his booming voice, and Moira flinched, dropping a few quarters on the floor.
Picking them up and replacing them in the register, she resumed counting and called back, “Do not bark at me, Akande. I can hear you just fine.”
“I made you a whisky.”
Moira’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “Sombra,” she hissed. She finished counting, closing the register, sealing the money, and whirling around to face Akande. “I will pay for the whisky, so don’t even think about using your tips for it.”
Akande smiled, patting the register. “Too late,” he mocked, and Moira inflated with irritation before suddenly deflating, her whole body falling into a slump and her feet trekking toward the bar. She settled in, and Akande shuffled the glass of whisky in front of her.
“Loch Lomond?” she asked, and Akande gave her a glance as if to ask, “don’t you know me by now,” which was fair. With a sigh, she resigned herself to tucking in, sipping the whisky and yawning a little.
“Today felt inexplicably long,” she hummed, swirling the ice in her glass.
Akande nodded, sliding past the bar to pick up bar glasses left on the tables. “I got this,” he murmured to Gabriel. “Go ahead and start on dishes.”
Moira’s back straightened. “Wait—”
“You,” Akande said, pointing at Moira, “do not move.”
If this had been anyone but Akande, she may have somehow won the argument. Since this was Akande, she just sighed again, taking another sip of whisky and swiveling a bit on her chair.
Satisfied, Akande cleared more of the tables as Sombra straightened the menus and swept the floor, and Amelie washed the windows. “I can understand how today seemed long,” Akande said, voice much quieter. “It didn’t seem like her date was going well, though, if that’s any consolation.”
Moira groaned, banging her head against the counter. When she raised her head, she was met with Akande’s disapproving look, which she did nothing to avoid. “Why can’t I just be left alone?” she asked no one in particular. “I’m well off. My life is serviceable. I have a restaurant I love, staff I can actually stand to be around, a cat at home that brings me little dead things—why can’t I just be content with that? Why do I have to do this every single time she comes into the restaurant?” She glared at Akande, then Amelie, then Sombra, and sent a glare at the kitchen door just for Gabriel. “Why do you have to do this?”
“Because we love you, Boss,” Sombra said, standing on a table.
“Why,” Moira asked, “are you on the table.”
Sombra pointed up. “Cobweb,” she said, as if that somehow fixed everything.
“Get down,” Moira said, and, pouting, Sombra replied, grumbling to herself in Spanish.
“Moira,” Akande said, and Moira looked at him, feeling very tired. “You answered your own question. You said your life is ‘serviceable.’ Do you really want to live that way forever? If there’s a chance you can make it with someone, if only to make yourself happy, and maybe if that someone is her, don’t you think it’s worth a chance?”
Moira laughed drily. “She’s a friendly woman,” she said. “You’re reading too much into things. There’s no way she’s actually interested in me.”
“Well, you could ask her yourself,” Amelie said, and Moira scoffed into her whisky.
“And when would it be a bright idea to do that?” she asked.
“Now,” Amelie said, and a cold chill shot through Moira. She hopped up from her seat, slamming her whisky on the table and folding her hands behind her back. There, in the doorway, stood Angela, still in her nice evening dress, hair still in that fluffy bun, looking very shy and somewhat amused.
“I—” Moira began, choking on her sentence. “We’re closed.”
“I’m sorry to intrude,” Angela said. “The door was unlocked, so I thought it was okay to stop in for a moment.”
Moira shot a glare at Amelie, who disappeared like a vapor into the kitchen. Akande suddenly became laden with shotglasses and had to excuse himself into the kitchen as well. Sombra settled down on a tabletop, staring interestedly between Moira and Angela before Amelie called for her from the kitchen. Groaning, she hopped off the table and, winking at Moira as she passed, entered the kitchen too, leaving Moira alone.
Okay, well. They were just reading into it. Moira straightened her back, plastering her customer-friendly smile back on her face. She could handle this. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked. “If there’s a concern with the meal—”
“No concerns,” Angela said, smiling. “Everything was perfect, as usual. Thank you, Moira.”
“Then may I ask the purpose of this visit?” Moira asked, trying desperately to slow her heartbeat. The whisky was failing her now.
This time, it was Angela’s turn to freeze. She looked down at her feet before chuckling, standing up taller. “I don’t know,” she said. “I wanted to see you. I wanted to tell you my date went poorly. I wanted to let you know I wouldn’t be seeing him again, and I don’t know why you need to know any of that.”
Moira nodded slowly. “Well,” she said, brain clogging up with frantic thoughts. “That’s…” There was nothing there.
“And I’m so sorry if I’m disturbing you,” Angela said. “I just… I wanted you to know. So… now you know.”
Moira nodded again. “Indeed,” she said. “Now I know.”
“Okay,” Angela huffed on a breath. “I’ll just be going, then.” She turned toward the door, her hand reaching for the handle—
“Wait,” Moira said, already moving two steps forward before she could even stop herself.
Angela turned on a dime, looking at Moira with hope and trepidation in her eyes. “Yes?”
It was right there. By God, it was right there and she couldn’t say it, she had to say it, this may be her only chance to say it—
“Would you like to go out with me?”
Moira blinked. Angela blinked.
“Did you just—”
“I did, did you—”
They watched each other for a moment before Angela dissolved into nervous giggles, hiding her face in her hands. Moira also chuckled, feeling a desperate urge to hide in the kitchen but also feeling unable to move.
After their laughter subsided, Angela fixed Moira with another smile and another look, like the one from before, when she grabbed Moira’s hand. “So,” she said quietly. “Is that a yes?”
Moira bit her lip before grinning. “Yes,” she replied, and it felt so easy now. “Yes, it is.” Angela lit up. “And you?”
“Of course,” she replied. She stepped forward, closer, and Moira’s heart seized up again, but all Angela did was reach for Moira’s hand. Moira slid their hands together, squeezing gently. She stared down at their entwined fingers before looking up at Angela, who met her eyes at the same time.
There was a booming yell from the kitchen, the sounds of clapping and cheering audible through the door. Moira did not look at the window in the kitchen door, but Angela did, and what she saw inspired in her another laugh—a laugh Moira would never tire of hearing.
“Just promise me one thing,” Moira whispered, and Angela looked at her.
“Hmm?” she asked, not letting go of Moira’s hand.
“Promise me we will not have to eat here.”
Angela’s peals of laughter filled the entire restaurant, and Moira did not feel quite so hopeless anymore.