Nobody but Him

By: Victoria Purman

This was the beach, not the country. Julia knew their wallets would be bulging from trust funds and successful jobs. Not that she was into crass generalisations or anything. They just saved time.

Scanning the table she wondered which of the women sitting there had called her waitress. She figured it was the younger of the two, natural blonde hair, of course, pert, pretty, privileged, perfectly symmetrical features. The Princess.

Julia hardened her smile. ‘I’ll just take these empties back to the bar and I’ll be right with you.’ She bumped her way from chair to chair through the crowded Saturday night dining room, taking care to steady her tray as she went. The happy and relaxed conversations of the other diners in the century old pub weren’t enough to drown out the hoity-toity complaints from what looked like Lord and Lady Muck and The Princess.

‘Can you believe the service here? That waitress was positively rude. Mum, did you see the look on her face?’

Julia could hear The Princess winding up for a full display of outraged condescension but gritted her teeth and kept walking. Blowing badly behaved tendrils of curly brown hair from her eyes, she approached the bar, behind which stood her best and oldest childhood friend Lizzie Blake, pouring a round of drinks.

Lizzie’s wry smile revealed she’d heard everything. ‘Don’t let ’em get to you, Jools.’ Lizzie reached behind her for a chilled bottle of water. ‘You’re doing a brilliant job.’ Lizzie threw her a huge grin and a dramatic wink and handed her the tray of drinks she’d just prepared. ‘Here. Back you go.’

Julia narrowed her eyes and leaned on the bar. ‘This is all your fault, you know.’

‘I know, I know, you are doing me a massive favour. If my regular waitress hadn’t come down with the worst flu of all time,’ Lizzie mimed quote marks in the air, ‘I wouldn’t have begged you for help.’

‘If you weren’t my BFF, there’s no way I would’ve taken this gig serving drinks and food, however delicious, to wankers like the people at table thirteen.’

‘I owe you, Julia. Big time, obviously. What say I cook good old spaghetti bolognese tomorrow night? Would that make it up to you?’

‘You’re playing dirty now.’ Julia managed a smile but couldn’t hide the tears welling in her eyes at the mention of her mother’s favourite recipe. She reached across to squeeze Lizzie’s hand. Lizzie squeezed hers right back.

‘Give me those drinks, you slave-driver.’

‘You know how grateful I am for this, Jools. You’ve got me out of a really tight spot.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ Julia arched her eyebrows and smiled as she picked up the tray. ‘And I promise to be super careful so I don’t accidently drop them all in the lap of that pretty young thing over there.’

‘Good girl,’ Lizzie smiled in reply and hurried off to take orders.

The beachside pub was really humming. The winter long weekend had brought more people than usual to the town, everyone relishing the chance of an extra night away from suburbia to relax and take in the sea air. Half the tables were filled with local families in their jeans and warm jumpers, corralling their boisterous children. The regulars propped up the bar, their glasses leaving watery rings on the counter like signatures, while the weekend visitors dominated the end of the dining room closer to the fireplace. Julia took a second to glance around before asking herself for the tenth time: what the hell am I doing here?

Two weeks before she’d been sitting in a stylish and dimly lit bistro in Melbourne with her work colleagues, drinking the finest Australian wine. Now she was serving it to the sort of people who’d made her life hell as a teenager in this town. People exactly like Lord and Lady Muck and their Princess, city people with enough spare cash for a holiday home and a couple of European cars. People who were increasingly snatching up every spare piece of land in the beachside strip, sucking up all the nice weather and the good times and fun on holidays and weekends, then leaving when the season turned. She’d spent every summer trying to avoid people like them. And now, here she was, their maidservant. She couldn’t deny that it grated. Big time.

Julia glanced down at her prim white shirt, the boring knee-length black skirt, her black-stockinged legs and sensible black flatties. Black had always been her signature colour. It was soMelbourne. It was so not Middle Point.

A cackle of laughter pulled her out of herself and snatches of conversation floated above the crowd to her as she made her way back to table thirteen.

‘Country service, honestly.’ The Princess’s voice was like fingernails down a blackboard. ‘I knew we should have gone into Victor Harbor.’

So why didn’t you? Julia said under her breath as she gripped the tray.

‘Really, Amanda, that’s enough.’

What was that? A male voice, a deep, interesting, admonishing male voice cut right through the complaining. Julia’s ears pricked up. Sexy guy, she decided. She manoeuvred to the table and tried to find the possessor of that growl. One look at Lord Muck, with his tan corduroy jacket complete with professorial leather elbow patches, enormous grey eyebrows and sagging cheeks, and she decided it couldn’t be him.

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