Flash: Split Checks

Photo by Raphael Renter on Unsplash

“Splitting Image?” I said as I stepped out of my car, looking at the mirror-image neon sign above the restaurant entrance.

Katie smiled at me, making my heart skip a beat, half in fear and half in hope. “You said you wanted to go outside the normal. The place is owned by identical twin sisters and they hire twins and look-similar siblings whenever possible.”

I rubbed my left arm with my right hand after shouldering my purse. “Sounds interesting.”

“Great food and some cool twists on its theme.” She strode across the aisle of the parking lot filled with small cars and minivans with me in her wake. Katie arrived at the entrance first and opened the door for me. I ducked my head and smiled thanks, still unsure about all the protocols.“You’ll love it.”

We’ve eaten enough together as co-workers when the gang of us decompressed after work, she knew my tastes, so I trusted her about that. The inside of the restaurant had a series of columns down the center, and everything mirrored across except the seated patrons. Green carpet, matching booths and tables, light fixtures. The back wall, behind the low partition hiding the server drink station, was an engraved mirror of three swans, two larger ones and one baby, either side of the final column in the room swimming toward each other, with reflections in the rippling water beneath.

The hostess led us to a booth matching an already seated booth with two people on the other side, bringing the patrons back into balance and making me chuckle. Accepting the menu, I asked the woman a burning question, “What happens when parties don’t match?”

Katie facepalmed, but a laugh escaped her as well.

“Well, we seat a new party in the area of their choice,” the woman handed Katie her menu after my date took her hand away from her face, “and if the incoming party doesn’t want to sit at the next appropriate table, well, we make them wait.”

“No,” Katie said surprised, “really?”

“Absolutely, you eat here, you play by my rules.” The woman nodded to the menus. “What would you like to drink?”

“Water for me.” I said.

“Draft beer for me.” Katie picked the plastic holder tucked against the wall and pointed at her favorite on the alcohol list. “I’m not driving.” She looked across at me. “Let me tell you, I’m really liking that.”

“Well, um,” I blushed, stammering. “You’re paying, it’s only fair.”

“I make more,” my younger co-worker stated firmly. “And I asked you out.”

I nod. “Yes, thanks.”

“Do you know what you want to eat, ladies?” our hostess asked.

Katie jumped in, being familiar with the menu. “I’ll have the Apollo Sunshine side salad, hold the peanuts but add extra cranberries if possible.”

“Not a problem.”

“And for the entrée, I’ll have Esau’s wild game stew, split serving.”

“Paper or plastic?”

“The plastic please, the stew doesn’t work well in the paper.”

The hostess grimaced. “Yeah, we are still working finding the right products at reasonable prices for everything.”

“What is the difference between twin and split serving? They have the same price.” I ask, struggling with the unusual size listings on the menu.

“Onsie is an appropriate meal size according to the normal calories an adult male needs each day.” The hostess said. “Twin and split serving are the size serving most Americans expect to get, which is about three times what a person needs, especially a female. Twin brings it out all at once, while split puts half into a bag for you to take home. We deliver the split to you at the end of your meal. Double the meals, double the fun.”

“That sounds … smart.” I glance at my date. “I guess I should order a single, um, onsie.”

“Don’t you dare, girlfriend!” Katie explained. “The food is totally worth a couple days. Half the dishes are even better as leftovers.”

“But, I mean…”

My co-worker narrowed her eyes at me.

“um… what is a good dish?” my voice raised high at the end of the question, more asking if the question would get me out of the dog house than asking the question.

Katie smiled and nodded approval.

“We serve sandwiches, stews, salads, and steaks of various meats.” The hostess gestured at the menu. “If you flip it over, you can find out pasta and seafood list that is available on weekends. Our chalkboard has today’s specials; my personal favorite is the Artemis. Now, if you excuse me, I’ll get your drinks in while you think.” She walked back to the main station, where a party of four just came in.

The Artemis wasn’t on the menu, but I always liked the moon twin as the Virgin protector, so I tilted my head toward the chalkboard and Katie quickly got out of her side of the booth and offered a hand to help me stand. At fifty, my knees have started protesting my long life. I can walk fine and sit fine, but the transition the two states raised protests.

“Thank you.” I said to the thirty-four year old, wondering again why she even was interested in me. A hot shot at work, she already soared beyond me, though not in my management structure, thank the universe for small blessings. Me, I’ve always done well, meeting all requirements, but soaring wasn’t my thing. I like my little world of accounting and human resources, keeping everything moving smoothly for our coworkers.

Her hand remained on my elbow as she guided me to the chalkboard. While the Artemis looked tasty with the choice of game and greens with a moon pie finish, the Pepper & Salt ended up being my choice. I let the hostess know before we made our way back to our table.

“That’s the owner, or one of them, right?” I asked as we sat.

“Yes, the other is the weekday cook.” Katie unwrapped her napkin and utensils. “Denise is the seafood cook and takes over the back on weekends, leaving Deborah in the front. You can tell the difference because Debbie loves to chalk her hair when she isn’t cooking.”

“However did you find this place? It’s new, right?” Oh dear, I dropped into interview mode. Shake it off before I ‘right’ myself out the door.

“They’ve been open for about three months.” Katie leaned back as one of the waitresses set her beer on the table, then my water. The waitress’ twin delivered food to the couple who arrived before us. “I hate cooking for myself. So I’m always trying to find good places. The split option makes this the perfect place.”

“So long as you remember to eat the leftovers.” I added a teasing lilt to my tone, having seen the carnage Katie and the other coworkers leave in the breakroom’s refrigerator beside my carefully labeled bag lunch.

“There is that,” she smirked at me. “But so far, not a single one of these leftovers hit the round bin. They are too good to miss.”

“Now that is a testament.” I responded. “Last time I cleaned out the fridge, you won the most abandoned meals with six.”

“Oh god,” Katie laughed loud enough people turned their heads toward us, making me scoot down a little. “You actually counted?”

I nodded small and whispered, “of course.”

“Of course.” Katie reached across the table to grab my twisting hands. “Of course,” she said softer. “You are amazing. You know that, right?”

I look at our joined hands and shook my head a little side to side.

“Well, you are. Beautiful, bright and amazing.” Katie squeezed my hands before releasing them. “So together about everything, I stand in awe. I mean, I’ve never been in a cleaner car in my life.”

A sound similar to a laugh escaped me as I sat a little higher. “Thank you?”

“No really. The way you decorate the entrance for every holiday. The way you reach out for birthdays and anniversaries.” Katie’s hands started waving, indicating our main office, the little cards I made sure everyone got. “You hold the office together.”

“It’s my job.” I shrug. “It’s what HR does.”

She shook her head firmly. “Not in my experience, and I worked a lot of places before I landed here. You are really good at your job.”

“Thank you.” I ducked my chin down.

Katie paused, her face getting serious under her blond “Karen” bob. “Are you uncomfortable?”

“No.” I rock my head a little. “I … the temperature is fine.”

“No, no.” Katie inhaled, before waving her hand around and explaining. “With this, the date.”

“Oh, no.” The words rushed out. “I’m fine with the date.”

“You seem uncomfortable, and I know you don’t date much.”

“I don’t date at all, not since I got divorced.” I scrunch my nose. “I’m not sure I dated before then. What…” I knock off the count in my head. “three dates in my life, counting this one. Patrick took me to the prom and he took me out the night he asked to marry me.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.” My date’s brown eyes grew round. “He never took you anywhere?”

“No, we are … were, he died two years ago, both homebodies.” I move my silverware to one side as I see our waitress approach.

“But you are okay with this.” Katie waved her hand back and forth between us. “Dating a woman? Dating me?”

“I guess … no, let me state that more clearly.” I smiled bright at her, but paused until the waitress put Katie’s salad in front of her and my sweet-and-sour soup in front of me and returned us to our privacy. “I am very, very happy you asked me out. I never would have had the guts, and you are amazing.”

“The lesbian thing is okay?”

I laugh, stirring the soup to cool it down, letting my eyes fall to it. “Yeah. I’ve always … well, I think … I like women.”

“More than men?” she pressed, spearing an orange slice.

“Oh definitely. So much more than men.” My smile grew crooked. “But, you know, that isn’t expected, and I…” my voice lowered and took a bitter edge, “I do what is expected. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.”

“Hard-line Christians?”

“Yes. But even more than that,” I try the soup. The sour made my mouth pucker before the sweet teased the edges. “Dad had expectations.”

“Parents always do.” Katie moved the remains of her salad into a smaller pile, the cranberries gleaming in the twin-berry vinaigrette. “Are they going to have a problem if we become friends?”

I sighed. “No, Dad died five years ago and Mom passed before him. It’s why I could get a divorce.”

“Oh.” Katie concentrated on shoveling in the last bits while I had my soup.

Finally, I couldn’t take the silence. “I’m just not as brave as you.”

Katie negated the statement with a wave of her hand. “I have two older brothers who are giving my parents lots of grandkids, and I’m the beloved baby. They breathed a sigh of relief when I officially came out, as I stopped all the teenage angst bullshit once I knew I had my family support. You can take on the world when you got a loving, understanding family at your back.”

I laughed softly. “Would have been nice.”

“Yeah, it is.” Katie nodded. “The fact you are willing to risk it. To break your habits. Wow.”

I pushed the half-finished soup away. I picked up my napkin and pressed it gently against my lips, checking to make sure I didn’t rub too much lipstick off. Finally, my brain came back with an appropriate response to her compliments. I pulled together my insecurities and mashed them down before looking her right in her baby browns. “You are work the risk.”

“Wow.” The blond blushed, the heat rising from her lowcut jacket to the roots of her frosted hair. “You don’t fool around when you give out pretty words.”

“I’m not kidding.”

She reached a hand across the table. “I know.”

“Even if this,” I squeeze her hand, “doesn’t go anywhere. Thank you for reminding me, making me see, I can go after my dreams again.”

She squeezed back.

I think we both lost track of time, certainly of the room, because the next thing I heard was the waitress clearing her throat. We looked over to find her and her twin there with our main entrees. We dropped our hands and pulled them back, leaving the table clear for the food. Her split-serving of the Essau soup gave off a rich meaty smell; my salt-and-pepper steaks-and-eggplant pairing, half-sized with the other half to take home packed away in the back, sizzled on the metal platter.

(words 2,140; first published 1/29/2023)