The Republic Restaurant
Near Ft. Worth Stockyards
Late April 2017
Libby Rain hummed "Deep in the Heart of Texas" as she moved her water goblet from one side of the place setting to the other. It had been a long few days at the front desk of the accounting office where she worked. She had been fielding angry calls all week. Yes, she understood that the ACA penalty was an affront to the personal autonomy the country was founded on. No, she didn't know of a way around it, but she would let the accountant know they called.
She tucked a strand of mahogany-hair behind her ear and fidgeted in her seat. Her little black dress felt smaller than it used to be, but she still rocked it - even if her escort wasn't there to appreciate it. This was supposed to have been the glorious kickoff to her vacation.
Libby moved her glass again, but, this time, her fingers slipped on the condensation. She gasped and sprang backwards as she caught the glass, trying to avoid a spill to top off the lonely scene she made.
The abrupt movement snapped the crystal stem in two, knocking the upper half toward the salt shaker and lower half toward the butter dish. Liquid put out the charming candles, soaked the fancy-folded napkin, and spread across the table. She should have never let Michelle set her up.
Libby sighed and lifted the top half of the goblet, ignoring the shocked silence in the room. She was more interesting than a restaurant filled with stilted conversations. She could practically hear the tsk-tsk of them all as they pitied her. The stem had been a clean break and there was still a bit of water, so she took a sip from the upper portion.
The sight of the broken vessel brought a rushing, sable-haired waiter to an abrupt halt as he crossed the room. He scowled at her hand and then met her gaze.
"Accident," she offered with a sheepish shrug.
"Interesting mishap," he said and grinned. He crossed the granite floor to her two-person table. "May I be of assistance?" He wasn't her server, but he lifted the dish towel draped over his arm.
"Sure," Libby answered. The guy had great eye contact, lovely brown eyes, and his board-chest filled out his dress shirt. That five o'clock shadow on his face gave him an attractive rugged edge. It was probably the only attention she was going to get until she chanced another optimistic rendezvous with a stranger. She let him sop up the mess and then ordered a beverage from the bar before he disappeared. It was turning into a Jack & Coke kind of night.
She didn't know why she was still waiting on the absentee portion of her set-up romantic dinner. Michelle promised an incredible evening. Alone twenty minutes into scheduled date time wasn't her idea of an experience worth getting dressed up.
A bit later, her blonde-haired waitress brought the mixed drink and a fresh water. "Would you like an appetizer?"
"Something cheesy and crunchy," Libby answered. Screw her mild lactose-intolerance. She deserved to eat whatever she wanted. When the server looked confused, Libby picked up the menu, studying it a moment. "Roasted mini baguettes and cheesy spinach dip."
The woman murmured something and trotted toward the kitchen.
Libby sighed and took a drink. She scooped her phone out of her clutch purse, and typed several choice-words to Michelle.
Libby: Where is this $%^&#? I've been stood up. You are never going to do this again. Never. You owe me. You owe me big, Michelle.
She hit send.
"Hello," said a deep voice. "Are you Libby?"
Libby glanced up, straight into the buckle of a dressy black belt. Her eyes traveled from the slim waist, upward and over a broad chest, to meet the blue-eyed gaze of a fit, sandy-haired man. "Yes?" She lowered the cell to the table.
"I'm John Fletcher," he said, holding out his hand.
"I'm me." Libby snorted and then blushed. Someday she would like to know what she was going to say before it was out. Maybe there was a trick to it she didn't know. "Oh, I didn't mean that. I'm Libby. Weird things fly out of my mouth when I least expect them." That sounded awful. He was going to think she was a basket case.
Libby stood up. Her hip bumping the table and she knocked his hand out of the way with her chest. "Oh dear," she said. The flush crept up her neck and settled in her cheeks.
John chuckled. "No, I apologize for being late. I was at a protest that ran a little long." He pulled out her chair. Once she was settled in her seat, he took his. "It was successful." His eyes sparkled when he was pleased with himself.
"A protest?" She liked men with political interests. Her phone dinged. She glanced down and then grabbed it before he could see the curse words Michelle had typed about him.
Michelle: Omg. What a *&^%#$$% &$^!^$**% &*%#%&**^&. I'm going to kill him. He said he had something to do earlier, but he would be there.
Libby: Never mind. He's here. And he's hot. Xxxooo
Libby sent the message and dropped the phone back into her bag. She leaned forward in her seat. This could go well.
The waitress appeared with Libby's appetizer and deposited it on the table. She hovered over the handsome new arrival, playing with her hair and smiling. In a sweet tea southern voice, she asked, "May I take your drink order?" Libby rolled her eyes behind her menu.
"H2O," he said. After a moment, he added, "Do you have green tea?"
The waitress shook her head, the corner of her mouth slipped a micrometer. "I can check with the maitre d'. Anything from the bar?" She sounded hopeful.
"Any eco-friendly, EPA-approved brands?" At another shake of the waitress' head, John said, "Just as well."
The server nodded. "I know exactly what you mean," she winked and disappeared.
Libby's gaze narrowed. That's not something she was used to hearing from the people she knew. "You were at a protest?"
John wagged his eyebrows and leaned forward. "PETA. You know the Neiman Marcus in town?" When Libby nodded he continued, "Fifteen models walked the street in front of the store, holding signs. The paint is hard to get out." He held up his hands. An orange substance stained his cuticles. "Owning fur is inhumane. It's important that the world embraces this truth."
"That's... interesting." It's not that she minded an opinion so different than her own, but she wasn't sure she wanted to go-steady with it. She hadn't expected protests and politics the first time out.
The waitress appeared with a tea cup and placed it in front of John. Steam curled from the hot water and two teabags rested on the saucer. He dunked the bags in the hot water. She turned to Libby. "May I take your order?"
Libby startled. The tea-making had been like watching a train wreck in slow motion. "Oh, yes, I'll have the Chicken Caesar salad," Libby answered, "and a ribeye steak. Medium rare, I think." She watched John from the corner of her eye. He shifted in his seat several times while she spoke.
"And you, sir?" The server smiled at him. Good grief. The blonde was laying it on thick. If Libby was more interested in John, she might be jealous, but all the little flags were adding up. He didn't seem like her type.
"I'll have Pasta Primavera. Strict vegan."
Libby met his gaze directly when it strayed to her. She repeated,"No butter?"
"No animal products."
An uncomfortable silence followed. Her phone buzzed in her purse and she dove for the distraction with more gusto than she intended. The silverware jingled when she bumped her forehead on the edge of the table. "Oof," she groaned.
When she sat up, he was scrolling on his own smart phone.
Michelle: How's it going? Is he great?
Libby: Where did you find this guy?
Michelle: That bad?
Libby: How long have we been friends?
Michelle: Three years. Why?
Libby: Do you even know me?
Michelle: You both talk politics all the time.
There was so much wrong in Michelle's last sentence and only so much Libby could cram into a response without being completely rude to the man sitting across the table. She dropped the cell phone back in her bag, but missed the slot. That meant it was lost in the abyss that was her pocketbook - a problem for later.
John cleared his throat. He was probably texting Michelle, too. Libby glanced up. "So where did your name come from?"
"My mother says it just came to her one day while she was staring at the sky," he said and picked at the grime on his fingernails. He scowled.
"Oh." Maybe it was a sore subject, and she was stepping in emotional cow pies.
He looked up. He had such pretty eyes. "What about you?" he asked. "Is Libby short for something? Olivia?"
She laughed. Everyone assumed Libby was short for Olivia."It's kind of a story." She took a sip.
"I'd like to hear it," he said.
"I was born in the tiny town of Freedom, Oklahoma," she began. "My parents visited some caves near there - Alabaster Caverns. While they were hiking, my mom went into labor and Freedom was the closest town." His scowl had lessened. Encouraged, she continued, "Liberty. It's short for Liberty. I was born in Freedom so they named me Liberty. My mom loves wordplay."
"So you're not from here?"
"No, Woodward, Oklahoma. It's near the panhandle. Work brought dad here a few years ago and I came with. Ft. Worth has been good to us."
He murmured something agreeable about Ft. Worth.
"Where are you from?" Maybe they could find common ground.
"San Francisco," he said. Common ground might be improbable.
The food's arrival saved them from more trying any more small talk. As she cut into her food, John stood.
"Excuse me," he said, with a pallid expression and strolled toward the restrooms.
Libby shrugged at his retreating back. The sear marks on the ribeye were outstanding. And she wasn't going to a fancy place like this without ordering her favorite meal. As she slid the bite into her mouth, she sighed. It was perfect. She took a bite of the side salad, savoring the contrast of the Caesar dressing.
Her phone dinged and then dinged again. It was probably Michelle, swimming in freak-out mode. Libby decided to give her an update. She rifled through the recesses, but couldn't find the phone. She placed half the contents on the table.
Michelle: I take it you don't like him?
Michelle: Is it really that bad?
Michelle: I'm so, so, so, so sorry, Libby. I swear I'll make it up to you.
Libby: At least the food is decent.
Libby didn't realize John had returned until she heard him gasp. She glanced up from the palm-sized screen.
"I hope that's a water gun," he said, his voice almost a screech, glaring at the pile of the stuff from her handbag.
"Um, this is Texas," she said and glanced around. Most of the couples at the surrounding tables grinned at their plates. Some of the men had napkins pressed over their mouths. It was still Ft. Worth. She hadn't been transported to another city. She couldn't possibly be the only licensed conceal carry in this place.
"It's purple," he stuttered.
"It's a purple Glock," she corrected. "Birthday present," she added, "from my mother." Maybe that would make it more palpable to him.
His mouth fell open, his gaze bounced from her to the gun and back again. Libby waited as he collected himself. This was not a successful blind date.
"Those kill people," he said.
"No, they only kill when someone pulls the trigger." She stood. "It hasn't killed you the whole time it's been sitting on that table."
John shoved his hand into his pocket and dragged out a fistful of cash. He dropped the green wad on the table. "I've had a lovely time, but I think we had better call it an evening," he said.
Libby's jaw slacked. She watched him hurry toward the exit, but just before he ducked out, the flirty waitress pressed a slip of paper into his hand and then dashed away. Libby hoped John left enough for a decent tip. She didn't plan to.
A fellow diner winked at her as she settled back in her chair. She was going to finish the delicious spread and make the best of the leftover awkwardness.
Her phone dinged.
Libby: He doesn't like guns.
Michelle: You shot him? Now I have to find a new personal trainer. Lol.
Libby: ... You're funny.
Michelle: Did you really show him your Glock? On a first date?
Libby: It was an accident.
Michelle: You and your accidents.
Except for the text arrival chimes at random intervals, she finished her meal in a comfortable quiet. It wasn't the best end to a blind date, but it was the inevitable end to that one.
"Can I get you anything?" The brown-eyed waiter was back.
Libby asked, "You're my waiter now?" She straightened in her seat.
He shrugged. "She said something came up." He pointed to the empty salad bowl. "May I take that?"
"Sure." Libby beamed up at him. She guessed the other waitress didn't feel up to serving at her table after the deplorable behavior. Probably a smart move. The waiter was more interesting anyway.
"I saw your weapon," he said. Libby braced. She didn't really want to listen to another tirade. "I've never seen a purple Glock," he chuckled.
"I don't think the last guy had either." Libby's mouth twisted in a sardonic grin.
"I'm Rand." He held out his hand. "There's a twenty-four hour gun range not far from here. You're my last table tonight." He paused. "Would you like to go?"
Libby raised an eyebrow. "That sounds wonderful." Another incoming message caught her attention.
Michelle: You okay?
Libby: Things are looking up. Text me tomorrow.