Adrienne’s name is stitched to the pocket of her white blouse, which is tucked into her short black skirt. Standing behind the counter at Drakeville Diner, she winks at Arthur Coleman and fills his coffee cup. He nods. She tries making conversation, but he looks away in silence. Poor man, she thinks. He barely speaks since his mother passed away.
Adrienne wipes the counter, trying to keep herself busy. Tom Blaylock calls for another slice of blueberry pie.
“Sure thing, honey.” She serves him, trying not to look at his bulging belly. He’s doubled his weight since his high school football days. They had dated a few times. He was obnoxious then, more so now.
“How’s Grace doing?” she asks. “I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“Still as ornery as ever.”
“Has to be, to put up with the likes of you.” Adrienne smiles, wondering how many times they’ve had this same exchange.
Through the large front window, she watches a familiar dark blue Buick LeSabre pull into the handicapped spot near the restaurant’s front door. Checking her watch, Adrienne notes that it’s a little past five.
Rufus Birdsell eases his elderly, lanky frame out of the automobile and shuffles to the passenger side. He opens the car’s back door and pulls out a collapsed walker which he springs to life with a surprisingly quick flick of his wrist. Opening the passenger door, he attends to his wife as purposefully as a doctor preparing for surgery. Together, they inch their way into the diner and to a table by the window.
“Good evening,” Adrienne says to them. Arthur turns to see the couple, but says nothing. Tom stays focused on his pie.
Mrs. Birdsell smiles. Mr. Birdsell is too intent on helping his wife move from the walker to the booth to acknowledge the greeting. Once Mrs. Birdsell is seated, he turns towards Adrienne and offers a proper, “Good evening to you.”
Adrienne watches as Tammy, young enough to still look good in her short skirt, brings two waters, no ice or lemon. It’s Wednesday, so they will split the three-piece chicken dinner special. She’ll get the breast and he the thigh and wing. Mrs. Birdsell will arrange more than half the mashed potatoes and peas onto his plate. They’ll eat in virtual silence, an occasional shrug or sigh speaking volumes. For dessert, they’ll order vanilla ice cream, one scoop apiece.
Tammy whispers to Adrienne. “I want someone to shoot me if life ever gets that boring.”
“Boring isn’t so bad,” Adrienne says. “They have each other. That’s more than most.”
Tammy shrugs. “I guess.”
Patsy Morgan and Evan Mays enter and sit at the counter. They order burgers without onions. They never let go of the other’s hand. Adrienne smiles at them, wondering if they’ll eat their burgers one-handed.
She refills Arthur’s coffee cup. “You want pie to go with that? We got apple, blueberry and strawberry rhubarb this evening. That is, if Tom doesn’t finish it all.” She tries making eye contact, but Arthur’s eyes remain focused on his coffee.
“No, thank you,” he mumbles.
She wants to say more. She’s offered her condolences on his mother’s passing more than once. Even went to the funeral. But what can she say to Arthur, a man in his fifties who had lived with his mother his entire life? They took some of the same classes back in high school. He was different then. Quiet. Certainly not one of the in-crowd. But there was always something about him.
A couple weeks ago, she tried asking if he’d seen any good movies. He stared like she had spoken in tongues.
“No, ma’am,” he had finally said.
Tom pushes himself off his stool, slaps down more than enough money to cover the coffee and two slices of pie and tells Adrienne to keep the change. His voice is loud. Arthur nearly spills his coffee.
“So when are you and me gonna do the nasty”? He stage whispers to Adrienne, making sure Arthur hears him. “You know you want me, girl.”
“Just as soon as your wife gives me the okay,” she says.
Arthur looks up from his coffee. He turns toward Tom and says in a voice so low Tom didn’t know he was being spoken spoke at first, “You oughtn’t talk that way to a lady.”
Tom stares at Arthur. For once, he seems out of words. He forces a laugh that echoes in the small diner.
It takes a few moments after he’s gone for the stillness to return.
“Thanks, Arthur. That was very sweet,” Adrienne says. “Tom’s just a big old windbag.”
Arthur almost smiles and tries to say something. Instead, he pays his bill and walks toward the door.
“Drive safe now, you hear?” For a second, Adrienne thinks he might come back to talk to her. But he pushes open the door and walks into the night.
The kitchen bell tings to let Adrienne know the burgers and fries are ready. She brings the food to the young couple and watches them unhook their hands. Even teenagers in love have priorities.
She removes the dirty plates and cups and wipes the counter clean. Glancing at the Birdsells, Adrienne mindlessly rubs the spot on her left hand where there was once a wedding ring. Nothing wrong with boring. Beats the hell out of interesting.
A few minutes later, Arthur returns.
“You forget something, Arthur?” Adrienne asks.
“W-Would you like to go to a movie with me sometime?” he whispers.
Trying not to show shock, Adrienne says, “I sure would, Arthur.” She looks towards the Birdsells and back at Arthur. “I sure would.”
Wayne Scheer has been locked in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including, Revealing Moments, a collection of twenty-four flash stories, available at http://www.pearnoir.com/thumbscrews.htm. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.