Carter was late.
Fifteen minutes late, in fact. I poked at my phone, trying to seem busy and important, when in fact I just felt awkward and out of place in the fancy restaurant. Carter had coaxed me into having dinner with him here, despite my reservations—too expensive, too classy—and now he couldn’t even be bothered to show up on time.
To be fair, he hadn’t simply abandoned me. When I first arrived, the maitre d’ took my name and then said, “Miss Cabatu, I’m afraid that Mr. Sutton is running late. He sends his apologies.”
“Oh,” I said, startled. “Did he say how long he’ll be?”
“I’m afraid not,” the man said, with the warm and insincere smile that was so familiar to me. I used it myself on an almost daily basis.
So I waited. I wondered why Carter hadn’t called me, or at least sent a text message. Why rely on the maitre d’? Maybe that was just how rich people did things.
The waiter brought me a glass of wine while I waited. It was good wine, probably; I didn’t know anything about wine. I bought a $10 bottle a few times a year to take to dinner at someone’s house, and beyond that, I had never given the subject much thought. But if I kept spending time with Carter, I had the feeling I would get a thorough education.
I texted Sadie, my best friend, but she didn’t reply. I checked my email, but my inbox was empty. Then I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I drank my wine and looked around the restaurant.
It was packed at this time of the evening—almost 8:00—and I felt conspicuous sitting alone, a single person taking up a whole table. The other customers were well-dressed in a way I had learned to identify as a subtle indication of wealth: nothing flashy, but expensive materials, and well-tailored. I was glad I had ignored Carter’s assurances that I could wear whatever I wanted, and had instead worn a silk dress and pearls. Well, the pearls were fake, but I didn’t think anyone would be able to tell. Carter didn’t know what he was talking about; he wore the same thing all the time, and he was so rich that even if he were under-dressed, nobody would give him the side-eye.
When rich people wore the wrong thing, it was because they were charmingly eccentric. But if you were poor, it was because you had no class and were morally deficient.
I really hoped my pearls looked real.
I was hungry. I wasn’t used to eating dinner so late. I usually had a quick meal when I first arrived at the club, before it got too busy. Even before I started working there, I’d never been able to keep New York dinner hours. I was always starving by 5:30.
My phone buzzed. It was a text message from Carter, finally: Almost there. 5 minutes. Please forgive me!
My irritation evaporated. I couldn’t ever seem to stay mad at him. Everything he did charmed me, and I knew it was just chemicals going wild in my brain, dopamine and oxytocin and the like, but my heart fluttered in my chest anyway. I was even delighted by the way he always used proper capitalization and punctuation in his text messages.
The sad truth: I was smitten.
It had been a little more than a month since I first met Carter at the upscale gentlemen’s club where I worked as a cocktail waitress. This would be our third official date since the evening he showed up at the club and asked me to give him a chance. In the couple of weeks since then, we had exchanged countless text messages, video chatted on nights he was stuck late at the office, and had a couple of makeout sessions in a back room when he came to visit me at work.
It was going well.
It was going really well; better than I had dared to hope. He was busy, of course—running a multinational corporation took, as I was learning, a considerable amount of time and effort—but he made time for me, carving out a few minutes to email me an article he thought I would like or a video of corgis running through the snow. I felt like I was walking on clouds all the time, and my tips at work had increased noticeably. Beth said I kept smiling at the customers like I really meant it. I couldn’t help myself; I was happy, and I wanted to share it with everyone around me.
I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my neck, and turned around in my chair.
Carter was walking toward me. He looked tired, but he broke into a smile when he saw me looking at him, and I felt myself smiling in response, even though I wanted to make him grovel a little for leaving me alone.
He came to a stop beside my chair. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” he said, and bent to kiss me, tipping my head back with one hand cupping my chin. I closed my eyes and breathed in the musky scent of his cologne, feeling his five o’clock shadow scratching deliciously against my skin.
He drew away and sat opposite me at the round table. “Are you hideously angry that I kept you waiting for so long?”
“Yes, hideously,” I said. “You’ll have to buy me something really expensive to make up for it. Like...” I racked my brain, trying to think of something appropriately decadent.
He let me flounder for a few moments, and then said, “How about a Maserati?”
“Isn’t that a car?” I asked, and then felt stupid as soon as the words left my mouth. Of course it was a car. I really needed to learn to think before I spoke.
But Carter just grinned at me and said, “A car manufacturer, yes. You can drive it to work, and to buy groceries.”
I shook my head. “Where would I park it? On the street outside my apartment?”
“It would get stolen in about five minutes,” he said. “We’ll have to think of something else.” He picked up my wine glass and took a sip. “Nice wine. Did you order this?”
“The waiter just brought it to me,” I admitted. Carter would never believe that I had mastered the art of ordering wine. “I haven’t even seen the menu yet.”
He chuckled. “There isn’t one. It’s prix fixe. Did the maitre d’ tell you I would be late?”
I nodded. “You could have just called me, you know.”
“Well, I thought you would be more impressed if the maitre d’ gave you the message, and maybe you wouldn’t yell at me too much.” He took one of my hands. “There was a crisis at the office. I really am very sorry. I don’t plan to make a habit of leaving you stranded.”
Someone, at some point, had taught this man how to apologize and mean it. “I forgive you,” I said, and squeezed his hand. “What kind of crisis?” I was trying to learn a little about his work. I would never understand all the ins and outs of international business, but I wanted to show him that I was interested in his life. I knew his business mattered to him a lot.