“Is there anything else I can get for you?” the waitress with bright blue eyes asked. I was glad that she was the one to serve me today of all days. The little bits of attention I gleaned from her were the best parts of my week. The days that I walked in and found out she wasn’t working were the worst.
“No, thank you,” I replied with a smile. Heat permeated out of the to-go cup and was mildly uncomfortable now, but I knew I’d appreciate it once I stepped outside into the cold air.
“Alright, here’s your check.” She blushed a little as she continued, “You know, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here. It’s so early that I’ve barely got any other tables to serve. You’re kind of my favorite customer.”
Blood flooded my cheeks and I looked down nervously to my drink. I’d been dying to hear her say something like that for the past two months. Part of me knew however that I was just another customer. Up until now we’d barely said a word to each other as I watched her every morning do her job diligently and it was her job to be nice to me. Even so, part of me couldn’t help but want her words to be genuine.
I guess I’m not hiding it very well, I thought. For her to say those things, it has to be obvious. Oh well, I won’t be bothering her after today.
Further forcing the smile, I responded, “I appreciate that, I really do. Unfortunately I’ve got to go catch my bus now. Thank you for everything. You’ve been an amazing waitress these past couple months.”
“I…” she hesitated. “Thank you.” She left the check and went into the back of the small diner. I found myself staring as she walked away, up until the very moment her small frame covered by the tight green uniform as it disappeared behind the door. Usually I’d feel embarrassed for doing so, but might as well savor one last look
If only we’d met under different circumstances, when she wasn’t forced to talk to me.
I’d once fell for a cashier at the local super market. Quickly I learned her schedule and planned my shopping trips around it. Every once in a while I threw in odd fruits or candies, just for a conversational topic. I could still remember her heavenly laugh when I found a pear that kind of looked like me. After a year of mild flirting, I had worked up the courage to ask her out. She looked slightly terrified and turned me down. When I asked why, she explained that she’d only saw me as a customer. I thought maybe I could convince her to give me a chance, but soon she had her schedule changed and I got the message. After that, I never went back; now I had to walk six extra blocks every day to the next closest store.
The bill was five dollars and change for small plate of waffles and coffee, but I left three hundred dollars on the table. It was excessive, but she would certainly make better use of it than I.
As I stood up from my booth in the back, I checked my phone for the time.
I’ve wasted too much time here. If I don’t hurry, I’m going to be late for my last day of work.
The pungent smell of chocolate chip pancakes hit me as I walked past the window into the kitchen and I instantly regretted not ordering any earlier. I heard the sound of whip cream exiting a can and I almost went back to my booth. But I kept going.
A frigid gust assaulted me as I stepped outside. I gripped the cup tightly with both hands and pressed forward.
“Wait!” the waitress yelled from inside the diner. Standing there in confusion, she had to forcibly pull me back in. “Sit down with me for a little while.”
“But I have work…”
“Call in sick.”
“Did you change clothes?” I asked as I took my place in the same booth from earlier. Instead of her green uniform, she was dressed in a thin red sweater and had a heavy dark coat draped over the back seat.
“Yeah, I called in sick after some customer tried to tip me almost six thousand percent without letting me say thank you and ask why.”
“I just wanted to do something nice. I didn’t have much to give, but I wanted to pay you back for everything you’ve done for me,” I explained.
“But I haven’t done anything for you.”
“Smile?” I asked her. When she did, it filled me with warmth like I was seeing it for the first time all over again. “That’s what you’ve done for me. Your smile has brightened my day ever since you’ve started working here and this small amount of money is hardly adequate compensation for that.”
She screamed to the kitchen, “HEY TOM! CAN I GET TWO ORDERS OF YOUR SMILEY FACE PANCAKES AND A COUPLE OF GLASSES OF CHOCOLATE MILK?!”
A bearded man’s face appeared at the kitchen window. “I THOUGHT YOU WERE SICK!”
“JUST GET ME THE PANCAKES!”
He smiled and disappeared once again.
“You really don’t need to be doing this,” I argued.
“I want to be doing this,” she replied back. Her mouth was smiling but her eyes were sad.
“What’s going on? Why are you doing this?” I asked.
She dropped the façade and somberly asked, “Why are you about to kill yourself?”
A jolt of electricity hit me as I leapt out of the booth. I turned to run outside, but her hands gripped mine hard and pulled me back down. She had the strength of a woman who worked hard for her living.
Her voice was hard as she said, “I’m not going to let you go this time. Tell me what’s wrong.” The way she said that…
“What do you mean this time?” I asked, readying myself to run.
Her brow furrowed. Reluctantly she explained, “I… I’m a time traveler. Shut up and let me explain before you say anything. It’s not anything amazing; I can only go back a day or so. It’s never been enough to let me change anything important, except for this. I could tell when that something was up last time, but I let you go. Later tonight, I saw on the news that you had jumped out of you had jumped off the roof of your six story apartment building. Deep down, a part of me knew you were going to, but I still let you do it. Immediately I broke down in regret. I’m not a perfect person.”
She took a breath, fighting off tears, and continued, “I’ve had these powers all of my life, and they’ve been a nightmare. I struggled and watched my mother die thirteen times before I realized there was nothing I could do. My brother? I only managed four. She had terminal cancer and he got into a car crash and was put on life support, but I’d broken my phone and it took them over a day to get ahold of me. He was braindead on arrival and I watched as they pulled the plug on him four times, unable to do anything. Since then, I haven’t used them once. That is until now. For you. I can save you.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about your mom and brother, but I think you need to see someone who can–”
Her hand grabbed mine and my vision went dark as my body spun out of control. Next thing I knew, I was standing up and checking my phone for the bus.
I sat down.
“Do you believe me now?” the waitress asked as she came out of the back room, out of her uniform. She yelled once again for pancakes as she took her place across from me.
“I thought you said you traveled back a whole day?” I asked slowly, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.
“Up to a day.”
We sat there in silence as she let it sink in for me. There was no way. This was like something from a Sci-Fi novel. This didn’t happen in real life. If… If it was real, just thing of the potential.
“No,” she said, reading my face. “I wasn’t given this ability to make my life easier. I don’t want to make my life easier. When I was younger, I used them to pass tests or win contests, but each time left me feeling emptier. It sounds silly, but there’s a special feeling in knowing that everything you have is because of your hard work and not mystical power. As I said though, I can and will save you. If I can’t use these powers for something good, then what’s the point?”
Something in her dark tone let me know that she had considered suicide as well. For whatever reason, she hadn’t done it, but it was still there, waiting for her to be vulnerable once again.
I spoke up, “I… I’m sad and pathetic. I’m twenty three years old and I’ve never been in a relationship. My parents died when I was younger, so I was raised by my Grandmother. I was an only child and she was the only family I had. I’ve hated my life for years now. Hated myself. I dropped out of college because I wanted to write, but it was a lot hard than I imagined and I gave up pretty fast. After that, I started working on an assembly line making car parts. I never had the guts to quit or the ambition to move up the ladder. A few nights ago, my Gran died and I realized she was my last reason for living this life that I despise.”
My eyes stung and tears rolled down my face. Hearing myself say it out loud, I knew it was incredibly pathetic. I was only twenty three and I’d given up? There are people out there with harder who never once complain.
Instead of criticizing me or trying to comfort me, she asked, “So, what did you want to write about?”
We sat there for hours as I told her the stories I’d never written. I had the best breakfast of my life as I recounted all of my ideas. Some of them made her laugh, some made her sad, and some she told me just weren’t very good. That hurt, but she didn’t say all of them were bad and that gave me hope. Then I asked her about her life, about her family, and about her ambitions. When she was younger, she wanted to be a physicist and figure out what her ability was all about, but gave up when her mom passed away. We cried, we laughed, and eventually the owner finally kicked us out.
She walked me to my bus stop and we stood there in silence. I told her I planned to quit my job and finally write my novel; she congratulated me. She told me she was going to go back to college and study to become a physicist. I thought that was wonderful.
As I stepped onto the bus I hesitated. I asked scrounged up the courage to ask, “Would you like to get a coffee and talk again sometime?”
She replied with that smile I loved, “I’m not a big fan of coffee. How about dinner? Tonight?”
“I’d like that,” I said and she handed me a piece of paper with her phone number.