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She smacked her painted red lips together and they formed a small pout that only made her bottom lip seem plumper. A strategically placed hand on her hip and a cocked right eyebrow—perfectly plucked with the advice from Women’s Journal—completed the indignant look she was attempting. Her long legs stuck out from underneath the powder blue, scratchy cotton uniform. She was wearing blindingly white socks that peeked out from the top of sensible shoes with orthopedic soles.
“What can I help you with, handsome?” Her top lip curved upwards in a smirk. A dark, round mole above her lip made her look strangely exotic.
The man sitting across the counter from her was thick and brawny. He had tight, coiled muscles that expanded across his chest and made his solid shoulders seem even wider. The muscles that only one could obtain from years of hard labor. His face was dirty and his large hands were calloused, the fingernails washed, but never quite free of the brown tint from grease. A red, checked flannel shirt made an effort to cover his barrel chest, but stretched tightly at the buttons. The third button down from his collar—she counted—seemed in grave danger of being flung from its position.
She wondered where it would land. Maybe the pot of coffee on the counter? How interesting that would be.
His gray eyes looked up from his folded hands to her face. His eyes were neither welcoming and kind nor hard and angry; they were a mix of the two. What had this man seen that made his eyes this confusing puddle of emotions?
“Coffee and a slice of cherry pie,” he said gratefully.
Cherry pie showed character. Red was the most romantic color. A woman in red had a greater chance of being asked out on a date compared to any other woman in any other color. The waitress automatically looked down at her faded blue uniform.
“Long night?” She asked casually. He was just another customer.
The man stroked the stubble on his chiseled chin. Yes, his chin was chiseled. A little dimple in his chin appeared when he smiled in agreement. “You could call it that, yeah. More like a rough night.”
The waitress nodded, understanding. Most people didn’t enter the diner at eleven o’clock on a Saturday unless it had been a rough night. “Care to talk about it?” The knife to cut the pie was poised inches above the crust. Her forefinger was stretched out farther along the handle than any of her other fingers. She noticed she needed a new manicure.
“Why not?” The man shrugged, smiling half-heartedly. “Whaddo I have to lose?” His husky voice was extremely attractive when he slurred his words together. His eyes looked suddenly tired. “My girlfriend just left me. Said I couldn’t support her with a job in construction. Said she met some man at her job who was going to school to become a lawyer. Asked me why I couldn’t become a lawyer.”
A girlfriend. The waitress remembered the last time she had dated, three months ago. She had dated too many men to count, too many times to clearly pick out the good times from all the bad endings stockpiled in her memory. She was too old to date anymore. The waitress wondered what had happened. Life happened, she thought thickly.
Pouring the steaming coffee into his chipped mug and sliding the plate of pie across the counter, the waitress said, “Do you take it with cream? Not everybody can follow the same path, either.”
The man looked up from his coffee. “Yeah. Yeah. Nobody can follow the same path. I like that.” He smiled as he took a sip from his cup. The waitress smiled back. Her smile was pretty. Straight, white, even teeth. She knew that, but for some reason she wished that it was more stunning or electric.
The neon OPEN side hanging in the window fizzled and popped.
The door jangled and a tall, lean woman entered the small diner. Her head was bent as she shook out a sleek, black umbrella. Long blonde hair fell in stunning golden waves far past her shoulders. She stood up and smiled a brilliant smile, her blue eyes electric.
The waitress was very aware of herself. She was very aware of how she was leaning on the counter, looking the man directly in the eye. Her shoulders were angled toward the man. The woman who had entered was far more beautiful. The woman who had entered was beyond words. The waitress pushed herself off the counter and busied herself with making a pot of decaf coffee. After that, she would slice the freshest apple pie, and after that, she would wash down all the tables, trying to remove a layer of the sticky, syrupy grime that had accumulated over the years and after that…
He was just another customer.
The woman slid onto the vinyl stool next to the man. There were stools all down the counter that were empty. She smiled, and then turned towards the waitress. “Coffee. I take it black, three packets of sugar stirred in carefully.” She angled her shoulders toward the man, much like the waitress had found herself doing. The woman was wearing a red trench coat that ended at her knees. Her legs were thin and smooth.
The man was going to choose this woman. She was dynamic. She had character. She was lovelier, more elegant. The waitress stood still, holding the coffee pot mid-air, and longed to be on the other side of the counter at that moment. She could smell the woman’s sweet, inviting perfume. The woman was wearing red. The woman would expect a lawyer out of him.
“Excuse me,” the man suddenly said as the woman leaned in to whisper something in his ear. The waitress was terrible at whispering sweet nothings. Her voice was much too loud, too brash, too opinionated. She would speak her mind. She couldn’t tell the man what this woman could whisper. HE looked directly at the waitress. “Can I have another piece of pie?”
The waitress deflated. “Sure, it’ll be up in one sec.”
As she turned around to take the whipped cream out of the refrigerated glass case, the waitress could hear the beautiful woman talking. She wished that her dark, thick hair was down right now, hanging in pretty waves. She had good hair.
Once the pie and coffee were delivered, the beautiful woman stood up to use the bathroom.
“Excuse me, miss?” The man looked softly at the waitress.
“Another slice of pie?” she said tiredly.
He smiled an eye-crinkling smile. “Actually, I was wondering when you got off your shift.”