Eating Out / Following Instructions

A beef burger with fries on a wooden board

There is probably a reason I don’t have a boss.

After a panic with our reservation at our chosen establishment, I managed to book a table for six at our old haunt. It was the first time that I’d ever done that, and I was proud in a way, seeing “Helen” written on a little grey tile in the centre of the table. Our table was situated in a llittle nook, with a creaky wooden bench beneath the window and equally creaky chairs on the three open sides. Matt and I sat on the bench – a sort of lover’s seat, just for us two.

The menu was exceptionally limited, though even in spite of that, we all found something to eat. Three went for fish and chips, my mother ordered a chicken kiev and for Matt and I, it had to be the beefburger. I was hopeful that my last burger was an unfortunate accident and that in this establishment – even if it was run by the same company – then things would be different.. Alas, that was some wishful thinking on my part.

Things weren’t as burnt, but they were still at least overcooked and the burger was just as tough and tasteless. Portion sizes were more than generous, but what it had in size it lacked in flavour, and I didn’t think a small salad (salads here were sold as an optional extra side) would go amiss. Not to worry, I can look forward to one of my own homecooked burgers on Tuesday.

One of the biggest problems that I encountered was a lack of conversation, again. My mother and brother talked Wales and farm life between themselves on several occasions, and Matt, his Dad and James talked football. Not to be one to dominate conversation, I sat back and enjoyed my drink.

I took in my surroundings, taking in what had changed since the pub had been given a “new lick of paint” under new management. I studied the bar, taking note of the new glass cabinets and quirky teapot displays.

That was also the first time that I met eyes with the younger barman and I quickly looked away. A little while later and our eyes met again, and again.

God damnit! Stop looking at me, kid.

Of course I wasn’t actively looking and so instead, I played my usual game; the game I know is generally safe for my marriage, renders a woman unforgettable and separates the strong from the weak – after making eye contact two or three times, I ignored him completely.

The ignoring game is a fun little game that some women love to play and truthfully, it’s how some men have come to be a part of our lives. Confident men rise to the challenge, they step up and make themselves known. Shy men don’t.

I left with little more than the knowledge that he probably won’t be fogetting about me anytime soon. Oh well.

Our anniversary was otherwise largely uneventful, though we did end up talking about the different types of confectionery rock by nightfall.

“If I’m not mistaken, I think Liverpool rock is traditionally mint flavoured and, I think, Brighton rock is normally fruity. I could be wrong though” I acknowledged as we lie in bed.

“It makes perfect sense” Matt says with an accepting shrug, “such are the people.” I laugh a fond laugh. Brighton, with all of its acceptance and extravagence, is still very much on my bucket list.

“Can I borrow you a minute?”

I have no objection to being “borrowed” most of the time. After eleven years of living together, being borrowed has become somewhat normal.

“Can you sit in my seat, and I want you to follow the instructions on this document and see if they make sense” Matt says. I raise a newly-shaped eyebrow slightly and smirk at him.

“So in other words, you want me to do your job?”

“Not do my job, no, I want you to test this for me. I have to give it to a new trainee and I want to make sure it makes sense first”. I cock my head slightly.

“So like a test subject? A lab rat? Oh, how wonderful!” I tease. Admittedly, the sarcasm was far thicker than I’d intended.

“Careful I don’t find some treats to train you” he warns.

“Go ahead, careful I don’t bite the hand that feeds me. Hard” I shoot back.

“Then you’re lucky you’re not a real lab rat, because you know where you’d land up.” A tiny yelp escapes me and I break eye contact, looking back to him with a plea for forgiveness. This time, he’s the one smirking. Bastard.

I follow the instructions on the screen, almost raising my own work order for the first time. I input the job description that Matt gives me and he proofreads it.

“Perfect!” he declares, patting me hard on the shoulder, “you were made for this job!”

“We aim to please, Mr S” I reply, stifling a smile. We don’t really, some of us break out in a rash at the mere suggestion of a higher up. Done it once, done it a few times. Never again.

“Next, click the chevron.”

“I thought I was following the instructions?”

“You are, I’m just telling you what’s next.”

“Then I’m not following the instructions” I say, “which is pretty typical for me. now I think” I add under my breath.

.I click through the chevrons, selecting what I think is the correct criteria for a leaking tap.

“And stop!” he says, slapping the desk.

“See? That’s a mistake – that’s what happens when you don’t follow instructions!”

“Mr S, if you don’t mind,” I say, rising from the seat, “you wanted my assistance, and I’m here, assisting you. I’m not working for you, I’m doing you a favour. Now, if you don’t want my assistance…”

“No. Okay, I’m sorry. Please sit down” he sighs.

“I will when I’m ready” I smile. It’s a power move my Dad taught me – don’t lower uyourself until you’re ready.

“You know, I used to look up to you, as somebody in a position above me” I say coquettishly.

“Used to? Ouch!” he challenges. I laugh.

“Well, you know, when you don’t treat your subordinates with respect, then that same respect goes.”

“Sub-” he smiles.

“Do you want my help, or not?”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Please, sit down.”

“Pretty please?”

“Pretty please, Queen Elena, Goddess of the Stripey Socks, ruler of all bar me” he says. Again, a raised eyebrow.

“…Please?” he sighs exasperated.

“Better” I tease, taking his face in my hands and kissing him softly. “I like it when you beg” I add with a wink.

“Brat” he growls, bringing his hand down firmly across my ass.

Yesterday, Matt and I tucked into the slices of mocha cake that my brother had made for us for our anniversary, It was a good effort, but the chocolate cake was dry, the chooclate hadn’t been fully encorporated and the coffee buttercream was thick and overly sweet. Nonetheless, I messaged my Mum to pass on my gratitude.

One thing let to another and my mother and I got discussing cakes. I remininsced upon the chocolate cake that my Dad used to make, and that was the first time since that I think I’ve fully cried.

Not for my Dad, but for my ex, who I said often reminded me of my biological father.

I knew that I wasn’t okay, but I think I’ve been pretending to be okay, sort of because I knew I had to be and because being okay somehow made me stronger. You’re sort of supposed to just forget about them and move on from someone who mistreats you, especially if it’s just online.

Yet, it’s just not that simple.

If there was one thing for your Dad, he was nothing if not generous.

And he was, but so too was my ex.

You see, I don’t question now that he loved me, and I loved him, but he loved me too much and that loving too much comes at a cost of wanting to have, regardless of what it costs the object of desire. That was what pulled me away – I’ve seen for myself how unhealthy that kind of love can be (with my parents), and I don’t want to go back there again. I got rescued from an unhealthy loving family by social services, I can’t be putting myself back in these situations. As the saying goes, once is an accident, twice is on purpose, and three times is a pattern.

I’ve tried to turn it all off now, to not care, to hide it all away and to forget all about him, but the truth is that I can’t. Even if I have to for my own wellbeing, I’m struggling. The stupid part of me just never gives up hope. It never gives up on people.

It is, perhaps, my biggest weakness.

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