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The guy at the front table looked disturbingly familiar. Something about the way his sandy brown hair curled in front of his ears, and the way his knuckles stood out on the fingers he’d wrapped around the handle of his coffee mug.
I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn’t place where. God knew I’d been around so many guys in my life it was a wonder I remembered any of them, and this might not even be a guy I knew from my past. Maybe he was just someone I’d seen around town.
My gut told me I was wrong, though. He was part of before. Part of the time I wanted to forget.
“Elianna, order up.” Bill banged the bell on the pass-through between the kitchen and where I stood. “Table four. Make sure you give Hank the vinegar this time. You always forget.”
“Because who the heck puts vinegar on mashed potatoes?” I turned my back to the diner to take the plate so I wouldn’t have to look at Mr. I-Know-You any longer. I hadn’t waited on him; he was at one of Kenzie’s tables.
When I turned around again to bring Hank Hannigan his eggs, bacon, and vinegar, the guy at the front table was staring straight at me.
My heart stopped, and I fumbled the plate. I still didn’t have any clue who the hell he was, but the way he was looking at me scared the frig right out of me. I managed to hang onto the plate, just barely, and took a deep breath.
He turned to look out the window again.
“Elianna?” Bill’s low voice behind me snapped me out of the fear-trance. “Hey. You’re shaking.”
“No, I’m not.” I took another breath and tightened my grip on the plate. The bottle of vinegar was right in front of me on the counter. All I had to do was pick it up and bring it and the food to Hank. I didn’t have to go anywhere near the front table. I didn’t have to look at the guy again at all. As long as Kenzie didn’t decide she needed another smoke break before the guy left, I’d be fine. She could handle creeps a lot better than I could.
Bill said something else behind me, but I didn’t pay attention, just picked up the vinegar and walked out from behind the counter. By the time I got to Hank’s table a few feet away, I’d pasted a smile on my face and put a spring in my step. Hank smiled and said something pleasant to me. He didn’t even notice anything was wrong, and I hadn’t expected he would. I had a ton of practice in faking it.
I was careful not to look toward the front table again. My section was the counter and the tables to the left of it, which meant I had no need to see the front of the diner at all. Not that the place was big enough for me to completely avoid it unless I really made an effort. Today, I made the effort. I only had four customers in my section and they didn’t need much, so I kept myself busy cleaning the condiment bottles and wiping down all the surfaces.
Bill, who besides being the cook was the owner and my foster dad, was probably pretty impressed. He didn’t know I was doing it to hide. And to keep from completely losing my shit.