Page 4

 Penelope Ward

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But there was no sign of her as I looked around. The diner wasn’t a big place, so there wasn’t a lot of area to cover. The doors to the kitchen swung open and I could see one other waitress in there, shorter, red hair with...gigantic breasts. No Allison.
Delores came out of the kitchen and the other waitress followed. I could have sworn they were looking over at me in unison and whispering by the coffee station. The other waitress then came towards me with a bit of a maniacal smile.
“Hi, my name is Sonia, I’ll be your waitress today. Can I get you started with some coffee?” she asked in a strong British accent.
“Ugh, sure. That’ll be good. I’ll take a coffee and a salt bagel with butter, please.” I realized after the fact that I ordered the same thing I got last time, having not really looked at the menu. I had no appetite anyhow, once I determined that this had been a wasted trip.
“Sure, thing. I’ll be right back with your order.” She winked.
The waitress walked back over to the coffee station to pour my cup and I noticed her whispering to Delores again, but this time, Delores turned around and stared more blatantly in my direction. The other waitress…Sonia…she said her name was, jumped up a few times, laughed giddily, and then went into the kitchen.
Delores came over with my coffee and smirked.
What’s up with that? Perhaps, she is expecting a big tip again.
When Sonia came out three minutes or so later, she set my bagel on the counter in front of me.
“Can I get you anything else?” she asked with a grin.
What a f**king miserable experience.
“No, thanks…just the check.”
I smiled but inside I felt like absolute shit. For all I knew, Allison didn’t even work here anymore.
I gulped the coffee down and ate half of the salt bagel by the time the waitress came back with the bill. I set my credit card down and she took it away.
When she came back, she was staring and hesitated for a minute before handing it back to me. I opened the leather binder, added a tip and signed my name as fast as I could.
“Thanks, a lot,” I said as I got up from the stool.
The waitress smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Callahan. Have a brilliant day.”
I grabbed my jacket off the back of the chair and headed for the door. The bell chimed again on my way out and I left the diner feeling empty.
As I ran to the car, I realized I should have had the balls to ask if Allison still worked there. But that would have been too random and didn’t feel right. What if I lost the only means I had to see her? I decided I would go back a few more times on different days before I jumped to any conclusions.
The ride back to Boston was slow and painful. It was cold out, but I opened the car windows anyway and let the frigid air hit my face in an attempt to snap out of my depression.
I had to stop at the condo to change back into my work suit, seeing as though I wanted to dress down for the diner, so as not to tip Allison off.
I pulled my jeans off, replacing them with my black Armani pants. Just as I was taking off my shirt, the phone rang. I usually let my answering machine pick up calls to my landline phone, since all of my important contacts have my cell phone number, so its usually just telemarketers calling me at home.
As I slipped my purple pinstriped dress shirt on and fastened the ‘trendy’ suspenders Karyn bought me, I heard a female voice on the machine.
Hi, Mr. Callahan. I got your number from the Boston white pages. I am hoping it’s the right Cedric Callahan, but there was only one. I am calling from the Stardust diner. You were in here about an hour ago. I am so sorry but you must have been in a rush and you left your credit card in the bill folder. Your waitress tried to catch you, but you had already left the area. Anyway, if this is your number, we are open until eleven tonight, so feel free to come by anytime; we’ll hold here for you. My name is Allison; I’ll be working tonight, so you can ask for me.
It was rare to be home during the afternoon. Sonia and I had switched shifts today, so that she could go out with Tom tonight. I offered to take her evening shift instead. Sonia was part-time at the diner and only worked a few nights a week. When the phone rang, I had just stepped out of a relaxing bath, wrapped in a towel and decided to let the answering machine pick up.
A loud British voice startled me. “Al…Al…pick up…you’re never gonna believe—”
I picked up the phone once I realized Sonia sounded frantic.
“Sonia? What’s up…aren’t you at work?”
“Oh my God—yes. Your guy…he was here. Al….Blue Eyes…Blue Eyes was here…except he has a name. It’s Cedric. Cedric Callahan!”
“Wha…what? How do you know it was HIM?” I shouted into the phone.
“Delores recognized him immediately. She pulled me aside and Oh my God, he was actually how you described him: piercing blue eyes…hair you want to run your fingers through…sexy as all hell. He was dressed down, too, Al…he looked so friggin’ hot. And get this: he ordered the salt bagel and coffee again so there was absolutely no doubt that it was him.”
“Wait…how did you get his name?” I was shaking. Words cannot describe how devastated I was that I was not working today. So. Utterly. Pissed.
“Ok, here’s the best part. Are you ready for this? He paid with a credit card. That’s how I got his name. But when he went to sign it, he rushed off so fast…he friggin’ left it here! I am standing here holding Cedric Callahan’s credit card!” Sonia screamed into the phone. She better be out of Max’s earshot.
Cedric Callahan. Oh my. The name certainly suited him.
“Are you going to try and look his number up, call him…so we can let him know we have his card?” I asked.
“Well, I figured since you’d be in here in an hour, I’d wait…to give you time to get here, unless of course, he figures it out first. Allison, you better get your ass up here in case he comes back.”
I didn’t know how I felt about this. I had been waiting hopelessly for this guy to come back to the diner for weeks. I was fairly certain that he was a one-time thing and that I would never see him again…ever. Now, he would definitely be coming back.
“Ok, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I hung up the phone without waiting to hear her response. I needed to get out of my house as fast as possible AND make myself look decent. I grabbed the blow dryer and shook it through my hair faster than ever before. I stopped to put on under eye concealer, eyeliner and mascara, which I never bother to do when I am working at the diner, but I had to look my best in case he came in tonight. I hated having to put on this ugly uniform, but threw on a short fitted navy cardigan to cover the top. I dabbed on a few spots of mauve colored lipstick, threw on my corduroy beige pea coat and slammed the door behind me.
It was a cold fall day outside and the chill of the air hit my still damp head hard. I grabbed my knit hat out of my tote. Waiting for the commuter rail train seemed to take forever as my heart pounded out of my chest in anticipation.
Seven stops later, I exited the train and walked (well, jogged) the two blocks to the Stardust. My heart was pounding as I entered the chaos of the diner lunch crowd.
“Al!” Sonia rushed over to me. “He hasn’t come back yet. I just searched the white pages on my phone and found this listing in Boston. It’s the only Cedric Callahan in Massachusetts. It’s gotta be him.”
“Did you call?” I asked.
Sonia grinned. “No, you silly bitch…I am going to let you do the honors.”
“Me? I don’t want to call him! You do it…please?” I begged. I was so nervous. I couldn’t imagine what I would do or say if he picked up.
“Nope…no way. Come on…this is your chance to talk to him and then when he comes in, it’ll make it easier to strike up a conversation because you will have already spoken.”
“Sonia, we don’t know anything about this guy. You are assuming he is not married and that he is heterosexual. I am not getting my hopes up and I really don’t want to call him, nor do I expect that he would be thinking about anything more than getting his credit card back.” That was a lie. My hopes were totally up. I didn’t see a wedding ring that first time, so I was pretty sure married was out. Gay, though, that was certainly a possibility.
“He is not bloody gay.” Sonia laughed. “You said he was staring at you. Any normal hetero single guy would be checking you out. Come on, make the call…now! Just do it and get it over with.”
She handed me the cordless diner phone and I reluctantly grabbed the slip of paper from her hand that had his name and number written in pen. Without thinking it over, I grabbed the phone and dialed the number…6-1-7…5-8-9…9-6-5-8.
Riiing...Riiing...(My heart is thumping hard.) Riiing…Riiing…Riiing… Hello you have reached the voicemail of Cedric Callahan. Please leave your name, number and the time you called and I will get back to you as soon as I can. BEEP. (Heart Thumping)
I don’t remember exactly what I said, because I was so nervous. But I don’t think I sounded like an idiot. The gist was that he left his card, that he could come get it until closing and that he should ask for me. Done. That was over with. Phew. Ok. Now, the wait begins. How am I going to get through this shift?
Sonia was smiling at me. “See…that wasn’t so bad! Good luck, bitch…I am heading out. Sonia kissed me on the cheek, grabbed her purse and headed toward the door. I knew she was eager go shopping for a new outfit for her date with Tom tonight, before heading to the apartment to get ready.
“I can’t believe you are leaving me. Have fun,” I said smiling.
“You too…call me if you snog him later…cheerio!” Sonia winked and left.
The slower late afternoon turned into an unusually busy evening at the diner. All of the booths and tables were full and the orders were non-stop during the dinner hours. I was so busy; I shouldn’t have had time to notice who wasn’t here. But of course it was all I could think about. Every time I would hear the bells chime at the door, my heart would stop for a second.
Maybe it wasn’t the right phone number.
Maybe he had no idea he left his card here and would not be coming in tonight after all.
At about 7:30, I took my dinner break. That was the good thing about working at a diner: I could have my choice of anything I wanted for dinner. (That might be a bad thing depending on how you look at it.) I usually try for a salad with grilled chicken, but tonight…tonight I was going to eat my nerves away. I opted for a Reuben sandwich smothered in Thousand Island dressing, banana milkshake and chocolate cream pie for dessert. I was going to throw down.
I sat down next to one of the regulars, Mr. Short, who was ironically, ridiculously tall, at about six foot seven. The other patrons call him Big Bird behind his back. Mr. Short is such a nice guy though and would probably find that funny.
“Hi, Mr. Short…mind if I join you?” I sighed and sat down before he could respond, because we sit together like this many times when he’d come in for lunch during my normal shift.
Mr. Short is a Vietnam veteran and widower. Since his kids all live in different states, the diner is like home to him and he has breakfast, lunch and dinner here. I enjoy keeping him company when I’m on duty.
“How ya doing tonight, Allison? It’s nice to see you here during the dinner hour.” Mr. Short looked at my tray full of food and lifted his brow.
“I know…a different variety for me, right?” I laughed.
“Yes…I should say!” he laughed.
“I am a little preoccupied with something tonight, so I am thinking food might help me calm my nerves.” I took a huge bite out of the sandwich and again, glanced at the door. This would not be the right time for Blue Eyes to walk in.
“Anything I can help you with?” he asked.
“No, no…I am fine, really,” I said taking a big gulp of my shake.
He opened the newspaper. “Ready for your horoscope?”
Mr. Short and I often checked our horoscopes during lunches together and he would always read mine to me.
“Yup…shoot,” I said.
Mr. Short read for me and I listened intently as I took another huge bite out of my sandwich.
“You may receive word from a friend today with a career tip or inspiration for a new hobby. Whatever the case, Gemini, a friend will play a significant role in your life bringing forth business opportunities.”
“Interesting. I’ll keep it in mind,” I said.
Mr. Short gestured silently that I had dressing on the side of my mouth and I wiped myself with a napkin.
“Are you sure you are okay, Allison?”
“Yup,” I said with my mouth full of food, as I wiped it again.
I could never admit to what I was really obsessing over tonight. It would sound so stupid to him, really, admitting that I was nervously waiting for a man who would probably never show.
I changed the subject and started asking him questions about Vietnam, his favorite topic, which inevitably led to as long of a story I was willing to sit for.
The crowd in the diner died down after about ten. At that time of night, it was more about cleaning up and restocking for the next morning. There were a few stragglers sipping on coffee and eating pie, but for the most part, the real work was done for the night.
I finished wiping down the last of the empty tables and grabbed the broom from a side closet to sweep the floor behind the counter as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” played. I was crazy all right. I thought about how stupid I felt looking at the door every thirty seconds tonight, when, even if he had come in, he would have taken his card and gone away just as fast back to his cosmopolitan life. It might not have mattered even if he came in. Why was I obsessing over this guy anyway? Was there something truly missing in my life that I had to create this imaginary drama? Is the significance of him all in my head?