Jeremy took a second job. He got good money from his work with the airline, but he needed extra money if he wanted to get his father into the retirement home sometime soon. It was impossible to delay it much longer, so he applied for, and got, a server job at The Keg, a steak house.
It was a lot more difficult than it was when he was a waiter in college, to take orders, deal with intransigent customers, remember what dish was what and who was who amid the chaos of the dinner shift, all while maintaining an unflappable and friendly air, in the name of the Holy Tip. But his college experience helped him with the airline job, which in turn refined his customer service skills when he was on shift at the restaurant.
He kept fit, but found his legs and feet ached after an evening shift. It was ridiculous. But he was earning in tips, actually earning enough to make a difference. His fair hair and complexion, combined with a healthy, charming smile that he deliberately migrated to his eyes, fooled most of the diners he served.
“This tastes like shit,” a tall man in a suit, after three vodka martinis and two visits to the salad bar, told him.
“Fuck you,” said Jeremy, in his head.
“Sir, I am so sorry!” With a flourish Jeremy removed the plate of strip steak, medium well, with sautéed mushrooms, no other veg, and then asked with an attitude of intimacy: “How can I make this better for you?” He leaned in close.
“Tell them to cook it properly,” growled the man, cowering a little from Jeremy’s proximity, as well as from the slightly disapproving glances from his fellow diners, two co-workers he had thought he might impress with his alpha demeanour.
“Absolutely!” said Jeremy, “and let me offer you a beverage on the house, by way of apology.”
The man looked around at his co-diners. “Coffee,” he said, almost meekly.
“Right away!” said Jeremy, marvelling at the illusion of sincerity he projected.
The tall man left him an enormous tip. It was a combination of his assholery, the lack of support from his coworkers, his level of intoxication, his realization that his server was not at fault, and a very slight attraction to Jeremy that he was reluctant to admit. Anyway it added up to a generous gratuity.
When he got home it was almost eleven. His father was still up, in front of the TV, where he spent most of his time.
Jeremy was truly exhausted, and had an early morning tomorrow, as he was filling in for a friend for the BoD (Break of Dawn) flights.
His father had eaten the meat pie Jeremy had left out, with microwave instructions. The plate of pastry crumbs was still on his TV table. The room was mostly dark, the light from the television flickering and alternately lighting up and dimming his father’s face, with its sagging skin, very large eyes, eyebrows set in a constant “who me?”.
“I’m home dad,” said Jeremy, over the volume of the TV show.
“Get me a beer, faggot, before you go to bed,” said his father.
Jeremy went to the refrigerator. The pain in his legs and feet, his exhaustion, his teetering on a kind of abyss… all faded away as he said to himself, like a mantra: I will work until I have the money to get him out of here. He will be gone. I will not be responsible any more.
If I don’t, I will snap.