By Jennifer Anne F. Messing
“Happy birthday to you,” I sang out the familiar tune to the darling little girl, “happy birthday to you...”
Sabrina’s face beamed with happiness as she sat midst her family and friends at Papa’s Country-Style Dining, while a couple of singing servers and I concluded her birthday song. Then she quickly blew out the five candles on her cake. Everyone clapped.
The sweet celebration touched my heart and I knew once again why I’ve enjoyed being a part of our family's restaurant for the last several years.
An elderly lady dining alone at a different table waved to me.
“Need a warm-up on your coffee, ma’am?” I asked, as I approached her.
She smiled. “No thank you, Paige,” she answered, looking at my name-tag. “But thanks for asking. I always enjoy coming here. Will you be working this Saturday? My granddaughter, Abigail, turns six and we’ll be celebrating her birthday here at three o’clock.”
“Actually, I do work this Saturday,” I answered.
“Oh, good!” she said. “I’ll look forward to seeing you then.”
How sweet, I thought, after she left. The week whizzed by and Saturday arrived quickly. We had the usual flurry of customers for both breakfast and lunch. Although it rained all morning, that afternoon, the sun shone.
At quarter to three I saw the elderly lady arrive with six little girls, so I got them seated at their reserved table.
“It’s nice to see you again,” I said to her.
“This is the perfect place for a birthday party! And I’m Helen, by the way,” she said. Then she gestured towards the young girl beside her with long, dark hair, wearing a bright pink dress. “And this is my granddaughter, Abigail.”
“Nice to meet you, Abigail,” I said, smiling. “My name is Paige. And happy birthday!”
“Thank you,” Abigail answered.
“I’m glad to meet you, too, Paige.” I heard a deep male voice. I turned to see a tall and dark-haired, handsome man who looked to be in his early thirties.
“I’m Abigail’s dad,” he said. Then he sat down.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you...”
“Call me Al,” he said, as he looked at me intently. For a fleeting moment I felt a bit self-conscious. I was suddenly glad I’d spent a little extra time that morning fixing my long and curly brown hair.
I had my pen and paper with me, so I asked, “Are you ready to order now? Or, are you waiting for anyone else to arrive—Abigail’s mom?”
“We aren’t waiting for anyone else,” Helen said.
“My mommy went to heaven when I was little,” Abigail said.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, feeling a bit flustered. “I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s not your fault,” Al said. “And we are ready to order. For starters, please bring my mother some iced tea. And a cup of hot coffee for me would be great.”
“I’ll get that right away,” I said.
“And for these hungry girls,” Al continued, “we’ll take the Spaghetti and Cake Birthday Meal for 8.”
“Alright,” I replied.
I appreciated his decisiveness. How fun it was to serve this girls’ party and later sing “Happy Birthday” to Abigail! I couldn’t help but notice how Al treated both his mother and daughter with tenderness and love.
I was standing by the cash register when Al came to pay the bill. He briefly looked at the other baked goods for sale at our front counter, then his gaze fell upon the two fancy business card holders placed right by the register. He picked up one of each card.
“Paige Prentiss, Owner,” he said to himself, reading the first card. Then he read the other, “Paul Prentiss, Owner.”
“A very nice restaurant,” Al said to me then, taking a quick glance around the room. “Attractive decor. And great food.” While handing me his credit card, he added, “You and your husband do a good job.”
I chuckled softly. “You mean Paul?” I said. “He’s my brother.”
Al’s eyes lit up when he heard that. Then he gazed at me for a long moment. “You’ve got a pretty singing voice, you know,” he said, his voice low, “almost as pretty as you are.”
I blushed. “Why, thank you,” I answered. Then I handed him his receipt and a pen, and said, “Would you sign this please?”
He added a generous tip, and then signed it. As he handed it back to me, he said, “Thanks, I’ll surely be back.”
I smiled. “On Tuesdays we have a Fish N Chips lunch special.”
“Sounds busy,” Al said, frowning.
“It is,” I answered, “but afterwards, when things calm down, I take a break at two.”
“Two o’clock sounds perfect,” Al said. “I’ll be here.”
“OK, then,” I answered. “It’s a date.”
About the Author
Jennifer Anne Fabregas Messing is an author, poet, and creative writing teacher who has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Religious Education.
She has over 200 articles, short stories, and poems published in 60 magazines, including: The Storyteller, The Gem, LIVE, Edify Fiction, and Mocha Memoirs. Originally from the Philippines, Jennifer Anne and her husband have three young adult children and reside in Oregon, USA.
You can read her movie review column on the 2nd Friday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette. Her first column will be starting in May.