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couldn't tell the difference between Piat d'Or and Zinfandel (whatever that is!).

James didn't treat me in any of these unpleasant ways. It seemed almost too good to be true. He liked me. He liked almost everything about me.

When we first met we were both living in London. I was a waitress (more of that later) and he was an accountant.

Of all the Tex-Mex joints in all the towns in all the world, he had to walk into mine. I wasn't a real waitress, you understand, I had a degree in English, but I went through my rebellious stage rather later than most, at about twenty-three. Which is when I thought it might be a bit of a laugh to give up my permanent, wellish-paid job in Dublin and go off to the Godless city of London and live like an irresponsible student.

Which is something I should have done when I was an irresponsible student. But I was too busy getting work experience during my summer holidays then, so my irresponsibility just had to wait until I was good and ready for it.

Like I always say, there's a time and a place for spontaneity.

Anyway, I had managed to land myself a job as a waitress in this highly trendy London restaurant, all loud music and video screens and minor celebrities.

Well, to be honest, there were more minor celebrities on the staff then amongst the clientele, what with most of the staff being out-of-work actors and models and the like.

How I ever got a job there at all is beyond me. Although I might have been employed as the token Wholesome Waitress. To begin with I was the only waitress under eight feet tall and over eighteen. And although I might not have been model material, I suppose I had a certain, shall we say, nat- ural kind of charm--you know--short shiny brown hair, blue eyes, freckles, big smile, that kind of thing.

And I was so unworldly and naive. I never realized when I was coming face to well-made-up face with the stars of stage and television.

More than once I'd be serving (and I use the word in its loosest possible sense) some table of people (and I also use that word in its loosest possible sense) when one of the other waitresses would elbow me (sending scalding barbecue sauce

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into the unfortunate groin of a customer) and hiss something like, "Isn't that whatshisname from that band?"

And I might reply, "Which guy? The one in the leather dress?" (Remem- ber, these were the eighties.)

"No," she might hiss back, "the one with the blond dread-locks and wearing the Chanel lipstick. Isn't he that singer?"

"Er, is he?" I would stammer, feeling untrendy and foolish for not knowing who this person was.

Anyway, I loved working there. It thrilled me to the middle-class marrow of my bourgeois bones. It seemed so decadent and exciting to wake at one in the afternoon every day and go to work at six and finish at twelve and get drunk with the barmen and busboys afterwards.

While at home in Ireland my poor mother wept bitter tears at the thought of her daughter with the university education serving hamburgers to pop stars.

And not even very famous pop stars, to add insult to injury.

I had been working there about six months the night I met James. It was a Friday night, which was traditionally the night the OJs frequented our restaurant. "OJ" standing, of course, for Office Jerks.

At five o'clock every Friday, like graves disgorging their dead, offices all over the center of London liberated their staffs for the weekend so that hordes of pale, cheap-suited clerks descended on us, all wide-eyed and eager, looking for the stars and to get drunk, in any order you like.

It was de rigueur for us waitresses to stand around sneering disdainfully at the besuited clientele, shaking our heads in disbelieving pity at the attire, hairstyles, etc., of the poor customers, to ignore them for the first fifteen minutes or so of their visit, swishing past them, earrings and bracelets jangling, obviously doing something far more important than attending to their pathetic needs, and finally, after reducing them near to tears with frustration and hunger, to sashay up to the table with a huge smile, pen and pad at the ready. "Evening, gentlemen, can I get you a drink?"

It made them so grateful, you see. After that it didn't make a blind bit of difference if the drinks orders were all wrong

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and the food never came at all, they still left a huge tip, so lucky did they feel to get our attention.

Our motto was "Not only is the customer always wrong, he is likely to be very badly dressed into the bargain."

On the night in question, James and three of his colleagues sat in my section and I attended to their needs in my normal irresponsible and slap- dash fashion. I paid them almost no attention whatsoever, barely listened to them as I took their order and certainly made no eye contact with them. If I had I might have noticed that one of them (yes, James, of course) was very handsome, in a black-haired, green-eyed, five-foot-tenish kind of way. I should have looked beyond the suit and seen the soul of the man.

Oh shallowness, thy name is Claire.

But I wanted to be out back with the other waitresses, drinking beer and smoking and talking about sex. Customers were an unwelcome interference.

"Can I have my steak very rare?" asked one of the men.

"Um," I said vaguely. I was even more uninterested than usual because I had noticed a book on the table. It was a really good book, one that I had read myself.

I loved books. And I loved reading. And I loved men who read. I loved a man who knew his existentialism from his magic-realism. And I had spent the last six months working with people who could just about manage to read Stage magazine (laboriously mouthing the words silently as they did so). I suddenly realized, with a pang, how much I missed the odd bit of intelligent conversation.

Because I could raise the stakes in any conversation on the modern American novel. I'll see your Hunter S. Thompson and I'll raise you a Jay McInerney.

Suddenly the people at this table stopped being mere irritants and took on some sort of identity for me.

"Who owns this book?" I asked abruptly, interrupting the order placing. (I don't care how you want your steak done.)

The table of four men were startled. I had spoken to them! I had treated them almost as if they were human!

"I do," said James, and as my blue eyes met his green eyes across his mango daiquiri (even though he had, in fact, ordered a pint of lager), that was it, the silvery magic dust was sprin-

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kled on us. In that instant something wonderful happened. From the mo- ment we really looked at each other, even though we knew almost nothing about each other (except that we liked the same books) (oh, yes--and that we liked the look of each other), we both knew we had met someone special.

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