The Gathering Place

This is the first chapter to my book The Gathering Place which can be purchased at amazon.com/author/deniseguth.

Chapter 1

Arrogance dripped off him like a foul stench. Amanda understood his anger but the way he was belittling the server bordered on sadistic.

As Amanda Reynolds evaluated the situation, she calmly hurried to quell the disturbing scene.

Brett Harris was a new edition to the crew of lawyers from Donnelly, Craig, Burns and Carson. His chiseled face and blue eyes had caught Amanda’s attention along with all the other women in the establishment. He was sweet at first but as time went on, he developed the lawyer swagger disease that seems to advance with each year and has no known cure. He and his colleagues had made Friday nights at The Gathering Place part of their weekly routine. They had taken up their usual spot at the bar and were deep into their testosterone revelry.

The wait staff knew the best route to take to avoid the bar crowd but there was a new hire working the evening shift.

“How can anyone be so clumsy? Where did you learn to walk? You stupid bit..”  Amanda cut him off before he could continue.

“Hr. Harris, come with me I have something to clean that…

 “This is a five-thousand-dollar suit and look at my Louboutin’s.”

Yep lawyer swagger.

Marcie had a table of six women who had ordered those hurricane glass fruity drinks. Being new she had not yet developed a style of coordinating her body with the weight of the tray. As Marcie turned from the bar Brett swayed back with his hand in an exaggerated movement and she swerved to miss him.  Instead they had collided with a baptism of shattered glass and sticky sweet liquor.

Applause and whoops of celebrator cheers are released as if in one breath. It is a mystery to Amanda why restaurant patrons feel the need to release such tributes at embarrassing mishaps. That, along with a surge of emotions, contributed to Brett’s anger and Marcie’s tears.  Marcie was quivering as Amanda placed herself between her and the brooding customer.  Amanda dismissed Marcie with a quick glace towards the kitchen and returned her attention to the angry figure leering at her.  With a look of dismissal, Brett stormed off in the direction of the restrooms.

Not one to be dismissed Amanda followed as she motioned for the bus boys to begin cleanup of the accident. As the restaurant returned to the normal hum of business, Amanda was determined to resolve this issue quickly. Having spent the better part of her adult life in food service she knew how to handle such situations, or so she thought. She would offer to pay for his bar tab and the dry-cleaning bill.  Contemplating all the possible scenarios to this situation Amanda was lost in thought when Brett Harris emerged from the sanctity of the men’s room carrying his jacket.

“Hello again, Hr. Harris let me help you.” 

“I don’t need your help.” He said abruptly and continue to walk away.

“Mr. Harris if you would allow me…”

But he would not, he stopped to say something to his colleagues and departed.

Amanda had never meet someone she wanted to punch simply for breathing. She tried to see the situation from his point of view but seriously it was an accident. It wasn’t an attack on his person or an insult. She could not understand the level of anger he was displaying.

As Brett Harris leaves the bar he is visibly shaken. The anger that is raging inside of him is not because of spilled drinks. Okay, maybe it was a little he had just gotten the suit, it was because of earlier. The court case he had won had left him disillusioned. Brett Harris had returned to the office hailed the conquering king, winning his first case. Tonight, was for him a celebratory tribute, but it was anything but satisfying. Everything that had happened turned his stomach and left a sour taste in his mouth. When the drinks exploded on him it was as if he exploded. Releasing all the pent-up anger at accepting the honor being bestowed upon him. Getting in his car he wanted to drive and just keep driving. But there was no place to run to.

Then there was Amanda, did she ever take a day off from the restaurant? She was tall, slender, gliding through the restaurant as if on air, nothing ever rattled her. It was humiliating to have her see him embarrassed like that. Brett recalls the first time he came into the restaurant. Amanda was wearing a yellow dress with flowers, she looked like the sun. Gary had introduced him as the new guy at the firm and she had offered him a drink on the house for passing the bar. Taking his arm and leading him Amanda ordered a whisky for Brett and a ginger ale for herself and toasted him. There had been a couple of times after that she had stopped to chat but not recently, he wonders why?

The evening closed without further incident. Two a.m. the dining area looks like a war zone. The early morning crew arrives, needing them to take careful consideration to remove all traces of any glass shards that may still be lingering in the carpet, Amanda sits down to survey their progress, closing her eyes for a few minutes. When she opens them again, she can see the first traces of day usurping the night. Amanda had evaporated into a deep sleep that even the noise of the cleaning crew could not disturb.  Shaking the sleep from her body she goes in search of nourishment.

The kitchen crew is busy cleaning and prepping for lunch. Chef is surveying the daily produce. With a good morning to all Amanda announces to Chef that she will be back before the lunch crowd, but he just waves her on. Stepbrothers can do that I suppose just act like you’re not important. Josh is the Sou chief, he has been to the finest culinary schools and is a master at the art of gastronomy.  Josh is Holly’s son; Amanda’s father had married Holly after her mom lost her battle with cancer. They became a blended family; Josh was 12 and Amanda was 17. Amanda was on her way to college, so they never really got to know each other well.

Amanda’s talents are best lent to scheduling staff and interacting with the customers. The rush of the lunch time hustle is intoxicating for her. The pace that is set, the seamless timing of preparation, the process is an intricate balance of prose and purpose. Interwoven snatches of conversation and glances of expectations keep Amanda poised and hawk like ever watchful for the hint of necessity.

The Gathering Place had been Amanda’s grandfather’s dream, and that desire was echoed in her father, Robert Reynolds. Josh and her father had built the business into a community hub that generated a sense of accomplishment that surpassed monetary recompence. Sitting on the corner of Main Street and Elm the restaurant is a mecca for the after-hour work force.

 It is a living breathing entity that attracts and resonates acceptance. The people are the atmosphere creating a sense of hospitality that emerges as a beating heart. As you enter, the hostess area greets you with fresh flowers and tiny mints.  On both sides of the room there are booths lining the walls six to the left and eight to the right. In the middle are twelve tables. A small room behind the booths is the overflow area, also used for larger parties and the Sunday Buffett. The bar has seating for twenty, it is long and sleek made with cherry wood. The well-stocked shelves offer libations in a price range for all patrons and the kitchen is nestled behind the bar.

Stomach grumbling, Amanda grabs a muffin and a bottle of cold brewed coffee and steps outside into the awakening city. The air is brisk as she strolls the two blocks to her apartment. Early mornings are her favorite, the day is caught between dreams and reality. That nocturnal song of slumber lifting as the melody of the morning caresses the senses. The exchange is a rhythmic tangle of thought and action. Each weaving the intricate pattern of desire and denial. The grace to release one and embrace the other is a daily struggle. You can feel the shackles of regret as bodies succumb to the relentless siren of the day.

Arriving at her apartment she drinks in the refuge of coastal hues. Amanda longs to live by the beach but for now she must take solitude in the façade of imagination. Her couch is sea green with studs along the borders, amber colored pillows adorn the seating area.  Paintings of serene beach cottages cover the walls. The bath and bedroom are decked in blue stripes and lighthouses. The balcony has a rectangle box filled with sand where she buries her toes sipping margaritas.

Late at night when the city sighs and rest to slumber Amanda distract herself with sounds of ocean waves and dreams of lounging in a hammock suspended between trees.

Discarding clothes soiled from dirty dishes and spilled drinks, the shower is a welcome friend removing the traces of food preparation and messy patrons. Her hair reeks soaked in the aromas that permeate the halls of the business. Lingering longer than she should trying to dissolve the last 24 hours from existence it is half past nine when she emerged from her watery respite.

Choosing a cool cotton top and standard black pants with flats, Amanda absent mindedly opens the fridge staring at empty shelves not sure why she is surprised there is no food. 

As she returns to the restaurant, the daily specials are proudly displayed on the folding chalk board outside the entrance.

Soup of the day: Lentil. $5.99 with crackers or sourdough roll.

Lunch Specials: Fish Sandwich, on a Kaiser roll with chefs’ special sauce and fries $10.99

                          Sriracha Beef Lettuce Wraps with cucumber slices and ranch dressing. $8.99

The flowers and condiments have been arranged on the tables with placemats and the silverware is tucked in napkins. Beverages are brewing, the wait staff is putting the finishing touches on the stations. Half hour to go before the doors open to a stream of suits and high heels.

Amanda had been so engrossed in the activities she did not see the figure sitting in the back corner of the bar. As recognition startles her she hears the title music from the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” echo through her being.  Amanda’s life always seems to be set to music. No one else hears this music, it is internal. The ballads of losses, the symphonies of love, the hard rock of hard knocks, swaying and immortalizing moments in her life. This one will be no different.

 The energy is electric as she approaches the shaded figure. The air is different around him the pomp and posturing from last night has been replaced with cool indifference.

“Good Morning, Mr. Harris.” Without greeting he simply states,  

“I’d like to apologize for last night.” the words were coming from his mouth, but they were someone else’s sentiment.

“No apology is necessary; it was an unfortunate mishap.”

He continued speaking as if he did not hear Amanda.

“Yesterday.” he said, “was a trying day and the ‘mishap’ was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Ignoring the way, he emphasized “mishap’ Amanda graciously offers a complimentary dinner. “The bar tab from last night has been settled.” She continues, “I would appreciate it if you would allow me to pay for the dry cleaning of your suit. Also how did your shoes fare?”

“That won’t be necessary, I can handle the charge myself.” There was an unsettling compromised look in his eyes. He clearly wanted some type of restitution, but some unseen force was at play here.

The lunch crowd is filtering in, seeing his determination, Amanda acquiesces. “Mr. Harris there is no expiration date on the offer should you change your mind.”

“I won’t.” he says and excuses himself.    

The ballad that is lunch begins. Servers quoting specials as the patrons respond with requests. Lunch turns into early dinner reservations and finally finishes with fattening deserts and night caps. As the last table leaves, Amanda bids goodnight and locks the door at half past two. The city shifts into a half moan, shop lights are dim, streetlamps illuminate a foggy film of grime that is settling on the pavements. Amanda melts into the bed too tired to even shower. Her dreams are filled with strange images of a mysterious figure just on the edge of recognition.  A dance like a bullfight ensues, Amanda is the matador the figure is the bull his eyes are red like blood. He charges, she swerves, as she swerves, Amanda catches his tail and turns him around. The eyes now clear, he comes and stands beside her like a docile animal and Amanda leads him as they walk along.

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