The Taste of Freedom

The wine hit the glass like wave. In one smooth stride, with a crisp flick of the wrist, my tall glass of Sauvignon Blanc was poured, and its sweet, grapefruit aroma filled the air. All mine for the taking.

It looked too good to drink. Refreshing even, after the long night we all had. I thanked our bartender as he spun around to put the bottle back in the refrigerator behind the bar, and I picked up my glass to sample. It tasted even better.

My friend Heather came over and took a seat next to me at the bar. Her black uniform was stained in powdered sugar; her shirt disheveled now, her apron in her hand. She walked slowly, like she always does by the end of most nights.

“Must be those old bones,” I always tease.

“I can’t wait until you get old” is usually her response back.

Tonight, I was just as tired as she, although she’d probably beg to differ. The restaurant had been nonstop since we opened the doors at four. Lines filled the dining rooms, the outside deck area, even the street outside. People filing in from everywhere, it seemed. Coming from everywhere. And they never stopped. And we ran all night long until the restaurant had to stop seating at ten.

“You smell like a big shrimp,” Nancy said when she took the stool on the other side of me. “Christian, I’ll take a Cosmo.”

“Not the usual Hoegaarden?” he asked.

“It was a rough night. That’s what you get on a holiday weekend.”

It was a rough night. My body ached. I had blisters on my feet from my new shoes. I smelled like kitchen grease and seafood. My uniform was stained in bruschetta and cream sauce. I had the mentality of a wet mop. It hurt to think of anything beyond the comprehension of asking, “Would you like the house salad or the Caesar?” I was miserable, tired and annoyed.
But I couldn’t complain—it was worth it. And I felt that worth as I sipped slowly on the glass of wine in front of me. Though, sadly, I had to decline when the bartender asked if I wanted another.

“I’ll take another beer,” Heather said, as she moved her empty pint glass to the ledge of the bar. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked me.

“I’m just tired,” I said.

“Well, get over it,” she said, and nudged my shoulder. “It’s Fourth of July.”

“So?”

“Just smile,” she said.

I was thinking about what she said when she called the bartender over once more.

“Say Christian, what are you going to do for your first Fourth of July in the states?”

“Work,” he said and laughed.

“I mean, you’re not doing anything after?”

“Probably go to a house party or something of some sort.”

“Now let me ask you something,” Heather said, “how do you celebrate Fourth of July over there in London?”

It was a delayed response—a very delayed response. Pure silent bliss for a solid 30 seconds. I could tell Christian didn’t know how to respond. Does he take her seriously, or was she just playing around? For dramatic effect, I slowly looked to my left and took my time turning my body to face Heather.

“Oh good, you’re smiling now,” she said to me.

“Did you seriously just ask him that?”

“Well, yeah.”

“HP, are you serious?” Nancy chimed in. She was facing Heather now as well.

Christian thought it okay to laugh now.

“What, I’m serious,” Heather said. “Do you have like, fireworks over there or what?”

Hysteric fits now.

“Will you stop?” she said as she slapped my leg.

“We don’t celebrate Fourth of July over in England,” Christian said.

“Well, why not?”

“Why would we celebrate your independence day? It’s your independence day.”

“No, no, no, I know,” Heather said as she tried to now finagle her way out of the predicament in which she placed herself.

But I stopped listening. Instead I picked up my wine and slowly took a sip, letting the wine sit against the roof of my mouth. I swirled it around with my tongue to bring out its grapefruit flavor. But it wasn’t grapefruit I tasted this time. This time it was something different. It tasted like freedom.

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