"May I take your order?"
Janice ordered first. "I'll have the seafood platter."
"Okay. And you, sir?" Peter set the menu down on the table. "What would you like this evening?" The waitress's tone went from sunny and cheery, albeit a little forced, to angry.
"I'll have the same," Peter said, and then glanced up at the waitress. "Oh, hi, Autumn. What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Peter," she said icily. "I'm working." With that, she picked up their menus and turned away.
"Do you know her?" Janice asked once Autumn was out of earshot.
"Yeah, I do," Peter murmured, still watching Autumn.
"I said, 'How do you know her?'" Janice reiterated.
"Oh," Peter said, turning back to Janice. "Uh, we went out a few times," he mumbled.
"How long ago was this?"
"Last month," Peter muttered, staring at the tablecloth.
"When last month?"
"Well, the 26th was the last time."
"Last time? The 26th was a week ago!"
Peter gave her a sheepish, innocent grin.
Janice narrowed her eyes. "How many times have you been out with her?"
"Ever?" Janice nodded. "Four."
Janice did not look like she was particularly happy with him right then. She wasn't particularly happy with him right then.
They sat in strained silence until Autumn returned with their food. She was only three steps from their table when Autumn was intercepted.
Peter wasn't even sure what had happened at first. One minute, he was watching Autumn approach the table, glad for her return, but afraid of her inevitable anger. The next minute, someone stepped between Autumn and Peter's line of sight, and this person began to spin her around very, very quickly.
"Will!" Autumn hissed. "Cut it out, I'm working!"
"Enjoy yourself!" he hissed back. "Loosen up!"
"I'm relaxed enough when I'm not working. Please stop, Will, I'm getting dizzy."
"When you're dancing, dancing is all that matters!"
"But must you always spin when we're dancing?"
"Why don't I help you out?"
"Because I'm the one getting paid for the work."
"Where do these plates go?"
"Over . . . uh . . . the nearest table."
"Okay, great." Will finally let Autumn stand still, although it didn't seem to her that she was standing still—the room was spinning too quickly for that. Luckily, Will took the plates from her hands and deposited them on Peter and Janice's table.
"Ooh," Autumn groaned. Her high moan was all that she could manage before any sense of balance she still retained abandoned her, and she toppled backwards.
Autumn knew she wasn't on the floor, but she didn't know where she was.
"Are you okay?" Will and Peter asked in unison.
"Dizzy," she whispered. "Help."
"Open your eyes," Peter told her gently. Autumn opened one eye, and quickly closed it again.
"Dizzy," she repeated.
"Of course you are. Open your eyes," Peter kindly directed again.
Autumn slowly opened her eyes. Not only was the room still spinning, but now it was upside down. "Oh boy," Autumn groaned. "This is like a bad trip. Not that I'd know."
Autumn felt a helping hand on her back. She could feel herself rising and the room slowly flipped over to its rightful position. She looked left and right, and realized she'd fallen right into Peter's lap. "Peter! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to fall on you. I hope I didn't hurt you or anything—"
Peter ended her reparations with a smile. "I'm fine. Are you?"
"I think so."
With his hand still on her back, Peter helped her to her feet. "Okay?"
"Yeah, thanks," Autumn said, and walked away unsteadily without looking back.
Peter, however, was staring intently after her.
"Hi, Peter," Janice called, her voice heavy with sarcasm. "My name is Janice and I was supposed to be your date tonight." Janice plucked her napkin up from her lap and threw it on the table before stalking out.
Peter tossed his napkin on the table and followed Janice, calling after her.
"Carnem!" called Mr. Tebbs, Autumn's boss.
"Yes, Mr. Tebbs?"
"Have you been drinking?" he demanded.
"No, of course not."
"What is wrong with you?"
"I was just a little dizzy, sir."
"Someone spun me around."
"And what about that patron you fell on?"
"He's a friend of mine."
"And did he think he didn't have to pay?"
Autumn looked back at the empty table. "I'll pay for it, sir. It's just two seafood platters."
"It's coming our of your paycheck—"
"Thank you, sir."
"It'll be your last."
"Why should I?" she asked, stopping in the restaurant entrance.
"I'm sorry, I—"
"You spent so much time watching the waitress, I'd think you were out with her and not me. It seems like that's the case."
"I really didn't mean to—"
"But you did. What am I, a replacement date because your waitress friend was busy?"
"No, of course not—"
"You don't need to explain anything. I get the picture."
"How can I explain if you keep interrupting me?"
Autumn pushed past Janice and Peter. Peter watched her run out of the restaurant.
"Peter!" yelled Janice. "You're doing it again!"
"I'm sorry, Janice, I—"
Janice sighed exasperatedly and stomped out of the restaurant. Peter followed her.
"Janice, please wait!"
Janice didn't stop this time—she began to run, leaving Peter standing on the steps.
"Oops." Peter stood there for a few seconds more, and became aware of Autumn sitting a few steps below his stand on the steps.
Peter sat down next to Autumn. "What's wrong?" he asked her once he saw her dejected expression.
"Is it my fault?"
Autumn didn't answer. She was still mad at him, but she didn't need to hurt his feelings. Then again, she wouldn't lie to him. Silence was undeniably her best option.
Will exited the restaurant and descended the steps, skirting around Peter and Autumn. He glanced over his shoulder and realized it was a depressed Autumn sitting on the steps. "Rough day?" he asked. She nodded.
Will turned away and scooted across the street. He returned a few moments later, a street musician in tow.
"Hi, Tom," Peter said to the musician—an accordion player.
"Hi, Peter," Tom replied.
Will bowed to Autumn. "Shall we dance?" he invited, straightening. As he did so, the accordion player struck up the music—"Shall We Dance?" from The King and I.
Once they got the first few awkward steps out of the way and were bouncing in rhythm, Autumn and Will's polka attracted a small crowd, including Peter, Janice and Mr. Tebbs.
"Carnem!" Mr. Tebbs yelled. "What are you doing?"
"Dancing!" she tossed over her shoulder. The polka relieved all her tensions with its fast and furious, whirling pace. Autumn laughed with Will as the crowd clapped along with the accordion.
The grand finale was just that. Will released Autumn, who twirled around twice, her long velvet dress skirt flaring out around her. She stopped and looked at Will. He bowed and Autumn curtseyed in reply—and it seemed the somehow magical, spontaneous, partially choreographed dance number quota was filled for the night.
But when the accordion began the introduction to another familiar movie song, it was clear that tonight held more for the eager crowd. With the opening notes of "Bella Noche" from Lady and the Tramp, Autumn took Will's offered hand. Instead of dancing with her, however, Will used her hand to guide her as she turned her around to face Peter. The music abruptly stopped as Tom reached the end of the intro. By some subconscious signal, Autumn and Peter assumed ballroom dancing position and began a simple waltz.
After allowing them a few bars alone, Will asked an elderly woman from the crowd to dance. As soon as the rest of the crowd spied the second couple, the remaining bystanders quickly paired off, each doing their best to mimic Peter and Autumn or Will and Mrs. McMaltree—or worse, both.
Conformists! Tom chuckled. He loved to watch happy people dance to his music—it was why he was in the business. Speaking of happy people, Peter's girl is definitely something special to him!
Janice and Mr. Tebbs made their way over to Autumn and Peter.
"You can have your job back, Carnem!"
"Keep it," she breathed without taking her star-struck eyes off of Peter.
Aw, puppy love! Mr. Tebbs thought. He scrutinized Peter. Maybe it's not . . . who knows?
Janice looked over at the couple next to them. One was supposed to be her date, the other, her waitress. But somehow, she liked this better. It was . . . fitting.