Yvonne sat in the dimly-lit restaurant, the white napkin draped across her lap, her smartphone on the table, and alone.
The table was set for two; the silverware glistened under the soft, dissipating light of the chandelier that hung above, swaying slightly in the draft blowing in from the cool autumn evening breeze. Someone – a maitre d’, perhaps – had opened the windows. The soft sashaying of the weeping willow just outside belied the convulsions her insides were currently going through.
She was far from the only one in the restaurant; the other tables surrounding her were filled with laughing, chewing, happy patrons. And for some reason, she had been placed directly in the middle. It felt like a spotlight, somehow. Yvonne had never felt comfortable in front of people.
So in that way, she was actually kind of glad that the seat on the table across her was empty. Empty, with no one staring at her, judging her, listening to what she said, watching her mouth while she chewed.
No, she was perfectly happy to remain in silence, her hands folded on top of the meticulously wrapped napkin, her eyes burrowing into her phone, willing it to ring. She could’ve stayed there forever, if she wanted to.
Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes passed. A waiter shot her a sympathetic look and re-filled her water glass twice. She watched the cubes of ice slowly disappear into the cloudy water as they succumbed to the balmy heat of autumn. The phone stayed in its same, unyielding state, the napkin stayed pristine, the dishes remained white, and the seat remained unfilled. Yvonne slowly grew sleepy; the weeping willow continued its low hum against the windowsill.
If she had a watch, she would’ve checked it, if only to add one more thing to her roster of things-to-do-when-stalling-for-time. Unfortunately, her wrists were bare, and she had little to do but sit, staring at her lap. Yvonne wasn’t one of those people who pretended to be engrossed in her phone whenever there was an awkward moment; for one, the small screen made her dizzy, and secondly, it reminded her of middle school where she would always spend her lunch bent over her sandwich.
She had been tormented mercilessly in school. It wasn’t a period in her life she often wished to re-live, but sitting by herself, those dark days brought themselves out in frightening clarity.
The memories were still frighteningly vivid, even fifteen years later. Yvonne shuddered involuntarily as the old fears dredged up within herself; cold sweats started forming on her forehead and she wiped them off with her napkin that had, finally, become un-pristine.
The beat of her tormentors’ feet as they raced up the sidewalk. The burst balloon. The spilt milk. The small, little things, that stacked up against her every day until she could finally, nearly, bear it no longer.
If only they could take a look at her now. Sitting up proudly in the face of sure defeat once more, only this time, there was classical piano playing in the background and everyone was dressed in tuxedos.
There was little doubt in Yvonne’s mind that she could sit here, alone, at this table forever if she had to. Because she had done it before, countless times. Occasions where she would’ve had to block out everyone, everything, every sound, and be at peace by herself — because she didn’t want to see what would happen if she woke up.
She fingered her smartphone and set it down again, letting out a contented sigh. She signaled the waiter for more water; he filled up her glass, but not without an impatient glance at the opposite side of the table. Yvonne couldn’t care less; she would wait until closing time, and if he still didn’t come until then, she would simply leave a tip, stand up, and leave the room. She smiled a little at the flustered face of the waiter that she would surely get to see.
Yes, she thought to herself, she had grown. She was no longer the sniveling wimp that her enemies had made fun of for so long. Instead, she was strong, she was proud, she was confident, and she was —
Someone touched her shoulder. Yvonne turned around with a start, and saw his face. She immediately buried herself in his arms, letting the tears finally fall. “I’m so glad you came,” she whispered.
Across the dining room, someone finally closed the windows and the continuous roar of the weeping willow deadened into a steady murmur. And everyone continued eating.