It was the annual Tap Staff Christmas Party at the steakhouse where my boyfriend Felix and I both worked. This party was particularly special to us as a couple because it had been exactly one year prior, at that same party, that we had begun our courtship.
Now we were together and basking in the supposed perfection of our relationship. The whole thing had been a whirlwind of fun and excitement, particularly in the past eight months or so.
In the days leading up to the staff party, all Felix could talk about was the annual awards given out at the party. All the staff members in attendance were given voting forms for different categories. Some awards were silly, some were more traditional. Felix was convinced we’d win the Couple of the Year award that year.
“Rina and Trevor are our biggest threat, because he’s got the kitchen staff and she’s got the bar girls,” Felix reasoned as he pulled into The Tap parking lot for the party. “But you’ve got the hosts, and I’ve got the whole dining room voting for me.”
“But Greg and Greta are dining room servers too,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but they’re old news,” Felix replied. “Nobody cares about them.”
We filled out the voting sheets as soon as we entered the restaurant. Then we had drinks in the bar, before sitting down in the dining room for a homemade turkey dinner with all the fixings. It was delicious, as usual. Then it was the time to announce the winners.
First Shala, the restaurant’s buslady, won an achievement award. Everyone cheered loudly as the adorable little south Asian lady accepted her prize. Even with her limited English, she ran a tight ship at the back of the Tap. She made sure the glasses were always polished and the cutlery always rolled. The general manager had to lean down to give her a hug.
As they gave away a few other prizes, I began to get nervous. I didn’t really want to win the Couple of the Year award. I didn’t want to have to stand up in front of everyone to accept the prize. I’d start shaking, and I wouldn’t know what to say. Plus, there was the rumour that the Couple of the Year award was actually cursed. All of the couples who had won previously had broken up. I didn’t want that for me and Felix.
“And the Couple of the Year award goes to… Greg and Greta!!!” Our manager announced. The dining room erupted into applause. I glanced nervously at Felix, whose hands weren’t moving. Shit.
“That’s outrageous! I can’t believe that!” Felix exclaimed after we’d snuck away from the dining room into the empty restaurant kitchen after the awards were finished. “Who would vote for Greg and Greta!? Really?!”
I shrugged. I’d voted for them. Not because I thought they were a better couple than me and Felix but because voting for myself felt like cheating. And I’d actually thought we’d win, so it wouldn’t matter. I decided to keep that a secret. I tried to console Felix, “it’s no big deal.”
“It is!” Felix exclaimed. I had never seen this competitive side to him before. Never so intense. He was actually visibly upset. “I bet they didn’t even count the votes! I bet it was rigged! It must have at least been a tie.”
I pulled Felix close to me and whispered, “well, if you really think that, then let’s count.”
Felix’s eyes followed the direction I discretely nudged my hips. The counted and discarded voting ballots were lying in a messy pile on the back bar. His eyebrows shot up. “Do you want to?!”
I had kind of been joking. Really, counting the voting ballots seemed kind of insane to me. It really wasn’t a big deal. What difference would it make? But if it would make Felix feel better, then why not? He really wanted to. With me standing guard, Felix grabbed the entire stack of ballots and shoved them into his suit jacket. “We can’t count them here. We have to leave the party.”
“Now?!” I exclaimed. The drinking and music in the bar had literally just started. We hadn’t even been in there yet! “Why can’t we do it after the party?”
“Because I can’t wait!” Insisted Felix. “I need to see these.”
With an apathetic nod, I agreed to leave the party early. To be fair, in those days, I didn’t really care where I was, as long as I was with Felix. We put on our coats and made a quick exit out the back door, careful not to raise suspicion about our whereabouts.
Felix drove us to a parking lot nearby. I took the stack of ballots, and he made a tally chart on the back of a blank sheet of paper. He was so serious about this.
“Okay,” I began, “the first one is for us!”
“I knew it!”
“Two for us. One for Rina and Trevor. Greg and Greta. Greg and Greta. Rina and Trevor. Greg and Greta…”
I quickly skimmed through the remaining sheets. A sinking feeling hit me as I realized that there was a good chance we hadn’t even placed second. I nervously bit my lip. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
“No, no! Continue. We have to count every single one.”
“Greg and Greta. Us. Greg and Greta. Rina and Trevor…”
When we finished all the ballots, my suspicions were confirmed. We’d come in third. By at least 10 votes. If I hadn’t really felt like a loser when we’d lost the first time, I sure did now.
Felix grabbed the ballots from my hands angrily and ripped them up. He stormed out of the car and crammed all the papers into the nearest public garbage can. When he returned to the car, I tried to reassure him, “who cares? The Couple of the Year Award is cursed anyway.”
As it turns out, the Couple of the Year award is not cursed. Maybe our coworkers knew what they were voting about that year. Greg and Greta are now currently engaged to be married. And Felix is engaged too. Except, not to me.
Funny how things work out.