THERE WAS SOMETHING about her. Out of all the women in the crowded diner she was the only one worth watching.
He signaled his waitress for a refill of his coffee. Swill, but what did he expect, in a place like this? He wasn’t here for the coffee, anyway. The waitress smiled at him as she topped off his cup. He paid no attention. His eyes were fixed on another.
The woman – no, girl, really – dropped a plastic tub on a table near his and began clearing the dirty dishes, happily humming along to a song only she could hear.
He caught a quick flash of silver next to her cheek. Earrings? No. She flipped her ponytail, allowing the man a better view. Ah. Duct tape. Duct tape held the fraying earbuds together, and was that a first generation Ipod clipped to her waitress uniform? It was. A smile flickered around his mouth. He hadn’t seen one of those since he was a kid. A part of him was impressed that it still worked.
Reuse, repurpose, recycle. He sipped his coffee and wondered what had happened to his first Ipod. Oh, yeah. His brother. He flinched, despite himself, and went back to his observations. Better to keep his focus on what was in front of him and not what lay behind.
The girl was young, not even twenty, but her efficiency showed a maturity beyond her years. Her hair’s the wrong color for her complexion, he mused. Too bleached, jagged fringe she probably cut herself, the ends dried to a crisp. Her shoes cheap and worn. Even her lipstick was wrong. Doesn’t she have a mother? A sister? A friend?
As if she could hear what he was thinking, the girl paused from stacking and turned in his direction. The harsh light did nothing for her features. Worse, it highlighted a fading bruise from a recently blackened eye. Seeing nothing, she resumed her work.
The man looked out the window. Night had fallen. The only thing he could see was his own reflection. Who was that old man with the receding hairline and heavy jowls? A pang of sadness washed through him. It never gets easier.
The sound of cheap china crashing together pulled him back to the moment. The girl picked up the tub of dirty dishes like it was a pillow and headed towards the kitchen.
Yet, through it all, she shines. The man finished his coffee. “Check, please.”