It was Thursday and he was there right on time. Julie Rogers was, as usual pleased to see him. It was one of the things that made the drudgery of waitressing bearable. She had some people, few in fact, that she enjoyed working with, waiting on, Mr Barnes, Julian Barnes, was simply one of them.
He had a huge smile for her, when she approached his table with the pot of coffee.
"Coffee, Mr Barnes?" she asked with a smile.
"Julian, please, Julie," he said.
She gave a cross between a smile and a giggle and said: "Julian."
They had this brief little exchange any number of times. She simply felt that it was kind of insolent to assume to call him by his first name.
"How are you today, Julie?" he asked.
"Oh, better and better," she said working the smile again.
"Ah," he reacted, "Sounds like good news!"
"It is," she said, "Graduation!"
"Well, congratulations," he said.
"I'm afraid I won't be here next Thursday," she said.
"Oh, are you going away?" he asked, frowning just a bit.
"No, it's the graduation ceremony," she said.
"Big family event?" he asked with a smile.
A frown crossed her face and she said: "No, just me; that is me and my student loans!"
"No family? Boyfriend?" he asked, a bit wide eyed. He hurriedly added: "Sorry, Julie, to seem to pry."
"Oh, I know you're not, Mr Barnes," she said then slid into a smile and before he could add the correction changed it to: "Julian".
Her face brightened then, as though putting on a good front but Julian said nothing at that point.
"So, it'll be me and the student loans celebrating! It's been hard enough getting through school without the baggage of a boy friend to deal with. So, what'll it be today? The usual?" she asked, changing the subject.
"No, I think that I'll be risqué today and opt for a ham and cheese omelette," he said.
"The man really knows how to walk on the wild side," she said, her grin widening.
"Got me pegged," he said, and she excused herself to go to the kitchen and put in his order.
She came back with his plate and he said to her, softly and kindly:
"So, out into the world then? New job? Get those student loans paid off?"
Julie sighed and refilled his coffee cup and said: "No, it's waitressing and more looking. The economy is bad and there's nothing out there. So, I'm going to see if they can increase my hours here for the foreseeable future."
"I see," he said, his thoughts going off on a tangent all their own.
She gave a derisory laugh and said: "Strange: degree in economics and public administration all to prepare me to be a waitress!"
"Well, you're a good one," he said, and she knew that he meant it.
"Thank you, Julian," she said, this time with no banter about calling him by his first name instead of the usual 'Mr Barnes'.
Her face brightened and she said: "So, busy day, Mr Barnes?"
He laughed and said: "A bit; things to tie up and then I have a series of meetings to go to."
"A bit of travel?" she asked pleasantly.
"Yes, to Vienna and then to Rome; I'll give myself an extra day or so in Rome to unwind from it all."
"Sounds exotic," she said.
"Usually is," he said.
"Well, look, Julian," she said then, "I have to at least pretend to work here so that they will pretend to pay me and want me to stay on and work more hours for my slave labor pay."
She was wreathed in smiles, as she finished saying it.
"Thanks, Julie," he said, "As usual, you make Thursdays bright!"
She gave him a winning smile and walked away. As she left, he had a vague notion, that swept through his mind, of how lovely she was, even in her waitress uniform. He watched her with ill concealed delight and then paid attention to his breakfast.
During breakfast, he came to a conclusion about what he was going to do, and was pleased with his plans.
Julian Barnes, for a number of years, had used business to deal with the sudden loss, due to an auto accident, of his young wife. Life for years after the event had seemed to be a rather gray experience. His compensation was getting into business, using the advantage of a bit of money that he'd inherited from his grandparents. He found, rather quickly also, that he had a talent for it. This set him on a kind of life path, so that at 36, he was a busy and very wealthy man. The businesses that he gave his time to, also healed the wounds of his loss and he had been able, slowly, to put that part of the past behind him.
Nor had he ever really paid much attention to romance, though with his dark curly hair, and good looks he certainly had the opportunities to do so. But with Julian Barnes it as business. He knew how curative it was for him and he shied away from personal relations.
Julie had just cleared his table, when one of the other waitresses, a brassy redhead named Flo, said to her: "Rich as Croesus, that one!"
Julie looked at her and said: "Really?"
"Really," Flo said with a laugh, "And he likes you!"
Julie laughed it off, saying over her shoulder: "Then why doesn't he give me a job and get me out of this sweat shop!"
They both laughed at the idea and Julie simply dismissed it. For her, Thursday breakfast for Julian Barnes was simply a positive part of the drudgery of her job, a part that she looked forward to, that pleased her. It was as simple as that.
For that Thursday Julie had her hair done special. It was a splurge, one that she knew she couldn't afford but she vowed to put in some extra time at the restaurant to accommodate it. She normally wore it long in a pony tail, which was easiest for her but now it was sweeping down her shoulders.
She wore an old dress but the thought ran through her head that she only had old dresses. She had become a kind of second hand shop maven, in her constant trudge to get her degree and get her life going on a better kind of path. She liked the way that she looked in the dress, however. Her roommate, Kay, had invited her to join the family after graduation for a dinner out and she'd accepted, having no other plans but wasn't all that comfortable with the idea. She let it be, however.
Julie Rogers was, at the age of 23, having started school a little bit later in order to get the money ready, dark haired and lovely. She wasn't happy about the lack of opportunities for jobs but she knew that with the prevailing economy that was almost a given. She was also resigned to the restaurant, while she looked. She did quiz herself about moving someplace but didn't have any destinations in mind.
The graduation was exciting in its own way, at least exciting for what it represented for Julie and her hard work at getting herself into and through school. She promised to meet Kay by the student union, after getting her cap and gown returned and all. She had smiles for everyone, though the constant reminder of family groups caused her to sigh a bit, as she gave in the cap and gown and returned to go to the student union to meet Kay.
It as then that she saw him. Julian Barnes was walking toward her all smiles.
"Mr Barnes, Julian!" she said with a surprised smile on her face.
"Congratulations to the graduate!" he said.
"Do you have someone graduating here?" she asked.
"Yes, I do," he answered, "You!"
"Ohhhh," she said getting choked up.
At that point she followed her instincts and wrapped her arms around him to give him a hug.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said, with tears in her eyes.
"Plans?" he asked pleasantly.
"Oh, my roommate Kay asked me to join her and her family for dinner," she explained.
"I was hoping to take you out to dinner to celebrate myself," he said.
Julie flushed and said: "Oh, I'd like that; I need to ... uh ... just need to..."
"Yes, tell Kay," he said.
She laughed at how rattled she was, not even being able to finish the sentence.
"Oh, you've got me so rattled," she said, "It's so nice of you to be here."
"Tried to find you earlier," he said, "So you'd know that someone is here for you."
"Oh, but I know it now!" she said, grinning, and putting her arm through his to walk to the student union.
Kay was non-plussed to see Julie coming along walking arm in arm with a really, really attractive man.
"Kay," Julie said, as Kay detached herself from a group of people and went toward where Julie was coming. "This is Julian Barnes."
"Oh," Kay said, "You mean scrambled eggs, turkey sausage and an english muffin?"
Julie was embarrassed but Julian was equal to the situation: "The very same!" he said.
"He asked me out to dinner to celebrate," Julie said beaming.
"How nice!" Kay said, and then, her parents approached. She turned and said: "Dad and Mom, you know Julie and this is..."
But before she could finish, her father said: "Julian!"
"Howard!" Julian said.
The two apparently knew each other from a business association.
There were greetings all around and in the end it was decided that Julie and Julien would, indeed join Kay and her parents for dinner out.
Julie was tingling from the fact that she wasn't just a 'hanger on' at Kay's party but had her own escort to take her to dinner.
He said: "I'll drive, if you don't mind."
"Good," she said, "I don't have a car!" and laughed.
"Walking keeps me in shape," she said next and was embarrassed by what she said.
He simply looked at her, grinned and agreed by shaking his head.
She was thrilled, when they got to the parking lot and found his lovely white Lexus.
"Lovely!" she said.
.... There is more of this story ...