The Waitress(3)

By: Melissa Nathan


‘Really?’

‘Yeah. Time to move out of the flat and into a house. You can get so much more for your money out your way. How’s your little flat?’

‘Fine.’

‘And the waiting?’

Katie frowned. ‘Waiting?’

‘I mean, being a waitress. The waiting at table.’

Katie shrugged. ‘It pays the bills. Until I get trained up as an educational psych—’

‘Oh yes, that’s right,’ interrupted Hugh. ‘So what happened to your dreams of running your own restaurant?’

Katie pushed the memory of confiding this to Hugh in bed one Sunday afternoon to the back of her mind. ‘Ah, those innocent dreams,’ she smiled. ‘After a few years of work you realise why it was so easy being idealistic as a student. Because you hadn’t worked yet.’

‘Tell me about it,’ said Hugh. ‘Mind you, I’m not doing too badly. Bonuses are amazing. Guess how much –’

‘Oh my God!’ whispered Katie, staring beyond Hugh’s shoulder. ‘Look!’

Hugh looked and turned back, unimpressed. Standing behind him was Dave Davies, champion oarsman, part-time model and lead role in all the best plays during their years at Oxford.

‘He’s come out, you know,’ said Hugh. ‘Completely and utterly gay. His boyfriend’s called Kevin.’

Katie gasped. ‘You’re kidding!’

Hugh sighed. ‘Yes. But a man can dream.’

Then, before she knew it, Katie was enjoying herself with this man who had threatened to do something silly all those years ago when she’d told him It Was Over. Of course, she hadn’t taken Hugh’s threat seriously, but sure enough he did go and do something silly, almost immediately. He went and found solace in the form of Maxine White – and four years on, he was still with her. Maxine White, she of the pointless questions in lectures, she of the stick-thin legs, no bottom, and shoulder-blades like pistons, she of the shiny lipstick and no lips. She of the figure a pencil would be proud of.

Maxine White had been one of Katie and Hugh’s favourite in-jokes for their entire ten months and three weeks together – Katie had been especially proud of the nickname she’d given her: Karen D’Ache – so it was only natural that, almost instantly after their abrupt break-up, when Hugh started taking Maxine seriously, Katie had taken such disloyalty personally.

However, after he had stayed with Pencil for the first year – longer than he’d been with Katie – Katie began to entertain the thought that he might not be doing it to make her jealous. It took until she spotted them introducing their parents to each other at graduation to finally acknowledge that their relationship was probably not a sub-plot in the oeuvre that was Katie’s Life. It took her another six months to regain confidence in the powers of the petite, hourglass figure over the long tall stick look.

Ever since then, whenever she’d seen Hugh at college get-togethers he was with Maxine. In fact, now Katie thought about it, this was the first time she’d seen him on his own, without Maxine in gobbing distance, since that fateful night when he’d dreamily told her that their first son would have to be named after his great grandfather who’d died in the First World War. Until then, as far as she could remember, they’d been happy enough, but his casual reference to the assumption that one day she would be the proud mother of one Obadiah Oswald caused such a strong reaction in Katie that she had yet to fully recover.

The thought of that night still gave her shivers. There they’d been, cosily entwined under his Thunderbirds duvet, when he’d started talking about The Future. She hadn’t known blank terror quite like it since seeing the child-snatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. She’d completely panicked and, there and then, chucked her longest-surviving boyfriend faster than she would have chucked a pinless grenade that had plopped into her lap, and with about as much finesse.

And that was it. They were never alone again.

Since then they’d both discovered all they needed to know about each other through the grapevine. She’d discovered that he blamed her for being a heartless bitch and he’d discovered that she was too busy enjoying herself to blame him for anything. The next thing he was dating Maxine White.

In recent years, the grapevine had withered and died and she’d forgotten about him. She’d also forgotten that if you gave him time, he became a very sympathetic listener.

He concentrated as she listed the merits of becoming an educational psychologist. He nodded earnestly when she told him This Was It, the career she’d been looking for, the reason she’d been ‘waiting’ – yes, in both senses of the word – before choosing the right path. Only last month she’d thought she wanted to be a teacher, but an educational psychologist was the natural progression – and of course, she already had the right psychology degree. It seemed this was meant for her. Most importantly, he laughed at her jokes and even made some good ones of his own. It was nice. Not nice enough to lose all reason and agree to name your first son Obadiah Oswald, but nice none the less.