The little girl sat at the counter, in the seat never taken by one of the regulars, acting as if she’d done this every day. On second glance, he realized that she wasn’t a little girl, she just
wasn’t very tall.
“One moment,” he said, attaching table five’s order to the order carousel.
“Not a problem,” she said, smiling at him. He froze, stopping the carousel mid-turn. Her face was more beautiful than any he’d ever seen (and he saw a lot of face), prettier than any model. He doubted that even an angel could have such a beautiful face. And yet, as he looked at it, there was something just not quite--
She looked down at the counter. He must have just been imagining it.
“Hank?” someone in the kitchen called. Without looking away, he twisted the carousel another quarter-turn.
He sidled up to the counter. “So, what‘d you like, miss?”
She looked a little puzzled. “What…do I like?” she asked, looking at the menu as he pointed it out.
“If ya need a few more minutes--”
“That,” she said, pointing to something apparently at random. “I’ll have that.”
“Chocolate malt,” he said, leaning over to see, “Good choice. Nothing to eat, then?”
She sat there, so still she looked frozen, then a blank look crossed her face for just a fraction of a second.
“No, nothing like that,” she said. “Not tonight.”
Hmm. She was definitely an odd one, he thought as he set the glass down in front of her. She kept looking to the door, then back to her drink, stirring it sadly. He never noticed her drinking any of it, just stirring it until all of the ice cream melted.
“Not thirsty tonight?” he asked.
She winced, looked at the door, and then stared at the melted malt. “Just don’t feel like…” she trailed off. He left her to herself.
“We’ll be closing soon,” he said, watching her stir what had, two hours ago, been a chocolate malt.
She sighed, glancing at the door again.
“That’ll be a dollar sixty for the malt,” he added. She pulled out a very wrinkled and slightly torn five-dollar bill and handed it to him, then headed for the door.
“Your change?” he asked. She grabbed it, leaving a quarter for tip, and left. The bell over the door jingled.
Not two minutes after his shift started the next day, she was there. She sat at the same stool, ordered a malt, and sat there, stirring it, staring at the door. He kept an eye on her as he took care of the other customers. Once, she caught him watching, and ate a spoonful of malt, keeping her eyes down.
Around three in the afternoon, during the slow period, he glanced at her and her three-hour old malt.
“You going to stay here all day?” he asked. She didn’t look up.
“It’s not a problem, is it?” She looked morosely at the door.
“You waiting for someone?”
She smiled. “My true love.”
“Really now?” He hoped that his voice didn’t betray how surprised he was. “He going to meet you here?”
“Yes,” she said. “Definitely.”
She sighed. “I wish I knew. Soon, hopefully.”
She ate another spoonful of room-temperature milkshake and made an involuntary face.
“Ya know,” he said, “If you’re going to stay till closing, ya might want ta order another malt.”
She turned her face up to him, keeping her eyes on the counter, and smiled. “How about I pay for one, and you don’t serve me one? I don’t think I’ll eat it.”
Mrs. Table Three motioned to him, and waved her empty ketchup bottle. “Be right there,” he mouthed at her, reaching under the counter for another.
“So who’s this man you’re waiting for, hun?”
“He’s tall and blonde,” she said.
“He got a name?”
She paused. “Jasper.” She said the name like a revelation, like a caress. “His name is Jasper.”
Mrs. Table Three yelled, “Sir!”
“Keep your bloomers on,” he muttered, stepping out from behind the counter, “I’m coming.”
She was the only one there at closing time.
“Two malts?” she asked, handing him a wad of loose bills and coins. He started grabbing change out of the register, then thought of something.
“You coming back tomorrow?” he asked.
“Without a doubt,” she said.
“How about I put the change on your tab? It’ll be easier on the both of us.”
“Sure?” she said, almost like a question.
He grabbed the pad he kept all the regular’s tabs on. “Your name?”
“Alice?” This time is was certainly a question.
He shrugged. “If you say so.”
The bell jingled as she opened the door and a rush of cold air blew in. “Night, Alice.”
From that day onward, Alice was there, showing up just after his shift started, sitting at that same spot, the one that the lights never seemed to illuminate, and ordered a malt that he never delivered. She just sat there, looking at the door, waiting, always the last one to leave.
She added a few dollars to her tab when it was running low (the only one of the regulars to be ahead on their tab), and left every night with a “Goodbye, Hank.”
It was very sad.
It might have been a few days or a week later, but she came in smiling. Rain pounded on the windows, adding a strange background noise to the usual chatter of the diners.
“Alice,” he said as she sat at her stool.
“Good evening, Hank!” she practically sang.
“You’re in a good mood today,” he observed.
“I like rain,” she said simply.
But nothing new, nothing different happened that night. Despite that, she didn’t seem disappointed as she left.
“Alice? Alice?” She was staring at nothing, a blank look at her face. Was she having a fit or something? “Alice?”
“What?” she asked, finally breaking out of it.
“Whew, you gave me quite a turn there. Just dozed off, did you?”
“Of course. Sure,” she said. As he went to take care of someone at table one, he thought he heard her mutter, “Wow.”
“Alice, I don’t mean to pry, but are you sure he’s still coming?” he asked tentatively a few weeks later.
“He’ll be here. It’s going to rain on Thursday.” This wasn’t an attempt to convince herself that he was still there. She said this very matter-of-factly, as if she was saying, “the sky is blue,” or “This is Monday.”
And it did rain on Thursday, much to his surprise. She came skipping, almost dancing, and settled at her seat.
“it’s raining,” he commented.
“I know,” she said. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
It wasn’t much later, while Hank was refilling another of the regular’s decaf, that he came in. And immediately, Hank knew that this was who Alice had been waiting for.
Partly because he was tall and blonde. But mostly because Alice got off her high stool and walked over to him.
“You’ve kept me waiting a long time,” she said.
Jasper ducked his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he replied.
She held out her hand, he took it, and they turned and walked, hand in hand, through the door. The bell jingled as it swung shut.
NOTE: Yeah, it's a litle weird. I was in a mood.
Alice and Jasper are from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series.The image for this story was made by ~angelic-ailsa of DeviantART, and can be viewed here (and was used with permission). It was the inspiration for this short story, and I thank her forletting me use it.
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