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Keep Trying to Kick that Football, Charlie Brown

By Ray Geralds


Peter pulled into the diner’s parking lot and killed the engine. The heater’s rattles and scratches gave way to silence. The check engine light went off. Peter paused for a moment in the silence. It was still early. He pulled his phone from his pocket and considering sending Matt a text making an excuse why he couldn’t make it to breakfast, but wondered if Matt hadn't already seen him pull in. He spied Matt's SUV in the lot, dark blue, and clean. He sat back into the seat, and felt the temperature in the cab already starting to drop. He pulled his hood on, checking in the mirror his receding hairline was covered. His eyes met his eyes and he tried smiling.

Morning sunlight filtered through the diner's windows and illuminated the pearl colored tables, silvered curling steam rising from coffee mugs, and painted each customer with a saintly glow. Murmured conversations matched the perculations of the coffee machines behind the register counter. Another ding of the bell above the door. No one paid any mind as Peter walked in. He sniffed and wiped his nose with his sleeve, pulled back his hoodie, and unzipped his jacket. He saw Matt sitting at a booth alone, concentrating on what he was reading on his phone. Two cups of coffee waited on the table.

Peter slipped into the booth opposite Matt muttering "thanks for the coffee," and sniffling. "How you doing, man?"

Matt glanced up. "Hey, how's life?"

"Can't complain."

Matt looked up, pushed the power button on his phone and put it into his pocket. "I shouldn't read that stuff," he said.

"What stuff?"

"The news. I'm happier when I don't read it."

"Stop reading it then." Peter fumbled with two cups of cream and a packet of sugar. He poured both into his mug before tearing open the baby blue packet of sugar and pouring it into the coffee. Taking a stirring stick, he twirled the cream and sugar into the coffee while he looked for another packet of sugar at the end of the table. "Thanks again for getting the coffees already."

"One day I'll stop reading the news." Matt answered. "I'll stop caring. Can't do anything about it anyway. What am I supposed to do, right?"

"You can't do anything about it." Peter found two more packets of sugar and poured them into the coffee.

"Politicians. Scum of the earth." Matt took a sip of his coffee and watched Peter stirring the sugar into his coffee. "Want some coffee too?"

Peter grinned. "I just want mine sweet today."

"Well, knock yourself out, I guess."

Peter grinned some more.

Matt smiled, and took another sip. "Need to look at a menu? Having breakfast?"

Peter shook his head, and took his first sip of coffee. He puckered, and grinned at Matt.

"What, is it too sweet now?" Matt asked.

Peter nodded and smiled.

Matt chuckled. "Well, the waitress can get you a new cup if you want. Anyway, want some breakfast?"

"No, this coffee is fine. I'll deal with it. I'll drink it. And no, I don't need any breakfast."

"Didn't already eat did you?"

"No, but I'm fine."

"It's my treat."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, man. Know what you want, or need a menu?"

"Yeah, I think I know what I want."

"When the waitress comes back around I'll flag her down." Matt said. He took a long drink. "I need a top off. New waitress here, I think. Haven't seen her before. I thought about giving her your number when I got in and got the coffees."

"Why didn't you?"

"I don't know, just didn't!"

"Is she hot?"

"You'd think so. You think anything prettier than you is hot."

"Anyone prettier than me is really hot."

Matt chuckled and Peter grinned as he sipped his coffee. He glanced out the window at the empty cars facing the restaurant, and blew steam off his cup.

"Here she is." Matt waved the waitress down.

Peter turned and saw her. She smiled, and almost ran over.

"Want to order?" The waitress asked.

Peter looked her over. She had dark brown hair and brown eyes, and he thought her smile would be nice too, if it had been genuine. Under her apron she wore a purple sweater and a denim skirt. The sweater was too large. He wondered if he could leave her his number before he left.

"Two biscuits and gravy, please," Matt ordered. "And two scrambled eggs."

"That it?" The waitress asked.

"Yeah."

"And for you?"

Now she was looking at Peter. He felt ridiculous. His mustard yellow jacket was too big and it was dingy. He wished he had left his hood on now too, it would have covered his thinning hair. He imagined his comb-over wasn’t hiding much in the bright morning light. "Two pancakes please, and, what kind of syrups do you have?" He smiled his best as he ordered.

"What kind do you want?"

"I was thinking blueberry."

"We have that."

"Is it sweet?"

"I think so, yeah."

She wasn't smiling anymore. Her posture was rigid.

"I guess I'll take two pancakes with blueberry syrup, and ah, two scrambled eggs, like my friend."

She scribbled it down. Peter glanced at her name tag. Lucy. She glanced at them both and smiled an automated smile, bubbled "I'll have it right out," then she was away, already behind the counter putting in the order. Peter watched her move, then turned back to his friend. The golden, early light was aging to pale, midmorning light, and the patrons who had glowed like saints in a church painting were turning into the ordinary folk Peter knew from his town. Peter watched the older couple sitting in the booth behind Matt. The old man gummed his food and ignored his wife, sitting behind Matt. From the tilt of her head Peter expected she was involved in something on her phone, unaware her husband was ignoring her.

"Blueberry syrup. Going to pour sugar on it too?" Matt asked. He leaned in and gave Peter's answer his full attention.

"Just how I'm feeling today."

"Damn. Forgot to ask her for coffee refills." Matt said, and swallowed the rest of his coffee.

"She'll be back by, and we can ask her then."

"Yeah."

"So, how have you been, man?" Peter asked.

"Same old, brother. Work. Home. Same old." Matt leaned back and glanced out the window. "Can't complain though, I guess."

"Wife and the kids okay?"

"Yeah. Everyone's okay. Thanks for asking. How about you? Doing okay yourself?"

"Yeah, doing okay."

"Don't you start that job tomorrow? Or did you have training this week or something? How'd it go?" Matt said.

Peter paused and leaned back against the seat. "It didn't."

"You mean you start tomorrow?" Matt's eyes narrowed.

"I don't know for sure, but I don't think so."

Matt sat still, forehead furrowed the way it had been when Peter came in.

"They offered me the job, but never told me when the new hire training was. I mean, they wanted me to come in for it, for training, two weeks ago, but I couldn't make it then, and they told me they'd reschedule my training. But then they never called back. I called them a few times, but couldn't get ahold of the manager who'd offered me the job. The office only told me they'd have him call back."

"And?"

Peter sighed. "I went in yesterday to try to see him, and the girl I talked to said she thought the new hire training was yesterday."

Matt looked away and sat back against his seat. "Dude, I'm sorry."

"It’s alright."

"Have any other options?"

"I did, but when the store gave me that job I called the rest of them and turned them down. I thought I had a job, and didn't want to waste their time."

"So you have to start the whole thing over?"

"Looks like it."

Matt looked down at the table and then back out the window at cars. Peter scanned the patrons. Three old men in overalls sat around a table. One stirred a runny egg, cooked over-easy, into his bowl of grits.

"Dude," Matt said. "That really sucks."

"Yeah."

"Anything I can do for you?"

"No, it’s fine man. I'll get something."

"I know you will."

Lucy walked by their table but was already in the back of the dining room before they had a chance to notice and raise their hands for refills. Peter watched her walk away.

"Think you can get her attention?" Matt asked.

"If she'll slow down enough for me to. She is hot though."

"You think they're all hot."

"Not all of them!"

Lucy came back their way. Peter waved her down. She flashed her smile and stopped. "Refills?" she asked. The word bounced off the table like a tennis ball.

"Yeah, please." Peter asked.

"I'll be right back."

She returned with a full pot of coffee and filled their mugs. Some drops splashed onto the table.

"Anything else?" Lucy asked. "Your food should be out soon."

Peter shook his head and smiled at her, Matt said no. Peter watched her return behind the register. As soon as she was behind the counter she scanned the room again. No one else wanted her attention. She pulled a pen out of her apron pocket and leaned down behind the register, working on something.

"She ain't bad looking," Matt began. "But she's got no time for you."

"Now I know how your wife must make you feel."

Matt snorted as he blew steam off his coffee. "Need me to call her back, ask for more sugar?"

"No, man, I'm alright."

They sat and drank their coffees. Lucy brought their breakfast, and Peter chose not to look at her more than to say thank you. They ate and made small talk. After he had finished his breakfast, Matt pushed his plate to the edge of the table. He leaned over towards Peter and said "I really am sorry you didn't get that job."

"It’s all good, dude."

"It sucks."

"Yeah, but it'll work out. Something new will come by."

"Yeah, but it still sucks right now."

"Yes, it does. I don't really want to talk about it."

"If you need anything, give me a call. Mary and I want to help if we can."

"I will."

"No, you won't."

"I will!" Peter insisted, pushing his empty plate to the table edge.

"I don't mean to piss you off. I just want you to know that if you need anything, you know, we want to help out."

"You didn't piss me off."

"Yeah I did."

Peter paused. "Yeah, a little."

Matt pulled out his phone. "Look man, I need to get going. Mary's asking when I'm coming home." He typed his return message and pushed the phone back into his pocket. "Seriously, you need anything just say so. You going to be alright?"

Peter didn't respond. Matt waited. Peter thought through all the things he wanted to say to Matt, to someone. "Hey," he began. "I'm going to be alright. I'll start looking for jobs again on Monday. It'll be alright.”

"Yeah, it will be. Keep going man. If I hear of anything I'll let you know."

"Thanks."

"Breakfast is on me," Matt said as he stood up. Peter wiped his mouth one more time and stood up after him. "Are you going to give that girl your number?" Matt asked.

"She might have a boyfriend."

"She might."

"I think I might ask her anyway."

"Do it." 

The two walked to the register. Lucy straightened up and smiled and rung their meal up. Matt pulled his billfold out and flipped a credit card out. She glanced at Peter and smiled as Matt signed his receipt. Peter returned her smile. She looked down, but Peter followed her glance and saw a pad of napkins she had been drawing on. He tried to get a better look but Matt stood back up and turned to him, blocking his view.

"Hey, take care man." Matt patted his shoulder. "And good luck this week."

"Take care, Matt."

And then Matt was gone out the door. Lucy was bent back over her napkins drawing again.

"Mind if I ask what you're drawing?" Peter asked.

Lucy's head jerked up. "Sometimes I just draw things around here, sometimes people around here."

"That's cool. Are you an artist?"

"Yes. Well, trying to be. Doing as much as I can."

"Like, when you get the time you mean?"

"Yes." She smiled, but Peter saw the impatience in her eyes.

"Well, I know you want to be left alone. I won't bother you anymore. I'm Peter."

"Nice to meet you, Peter."

"You're not going to show me your art?"

She shrugged. "I mean, if you want me to."

"Well, can you be an artist and not show off your work?"

"Okay," she said. "You asked."

She slid the napkin over and Peter looked at it. It was a caricature of Matt and Peter drinking their coffee. Matt seemed aloof in her rendering. He sat looking at his phone. She had depicted Peter as eating an enormous stack of pancakes, and had drawn his head cartoonishly large, with only a few hairs strung over his head.

"Jeez, you made me look like Charlie Brown!" He said. She had her hands in her pockets.

"I wasn't finished with it," she said. "I would give you a few more hairs, probably."

"Probably?" Peter chuckled. She wasn't smiling. "No, I like it." Peter said to her. "Its funny."

"You actually think so?"

"Yeah, I like it."

"You think its funny?"

"Well, what else should I think about it?"

She shrugged.

"Hey," Peter said. "Think I could have it?"

Her eyes narrowed. "You want it?"

"Well, if you don't mind, of course. It is me. Maybe you'll be famous one day and I'll have an original Charlie Brown drawing I can brag about."

She chortled. "I mean, if you really want it, I guess you can have it." She slid it across the counter to him.

"What are the chances that I could get you to sign it for me, and maybe, ah, maybe sign it with your numbers?"

She paused and looked at him, eyes still narrowed. He put his hands in his jacket pockets. She cracked a smile. "My numbers?"

He sniffed and smiled. "Your number. Can I have your number?" He turned to face the door. "You don't have a boyfriend or anything already, do you? I'm sorry if..."

"I don't have a boyfriend."

Peter faced Lucy again. "Well, if you get some time, I thought I could get you a cup of coffee or a drink or something."

"I won't want coffee."

"Well, okay. Whatever you did want though." She didn't say anything, so he continued. "You know, its fine. I didn't mean to bother you. Have a great morning."

"Here," she said, and bent down over the napkin. She wrote something. Peter wondered if she did everything with the same angry speed. She folded the napkin in half, and handed it across the counter. "Don't open it yet. It’s not my number."

Peter tried to smile, and took the napkin. "Okay, well thanks anyway. I hope you have a great morning, Lucy."

"Thanks, what was your name again?"

"I'm Peter."

"Okay."

Peter nodded and she smiled. He walked out the door to his car. He turned the car and the heat on, and unfolded the napkin. Underneath his caricature she had written Keep trying to kick that football, Charlie Brown.

He could see into the restaurant. She was helping another customer. He watched her smile, and then he watched the smile disappear when they had turned away from the register. She was starting a new drawing on a new napkin. He watched her scan the room and watched her eyes settle on a customer. Then she bent over her napkin and drew. He couldn't tell, but he imagined she would slow down and draw deliberately on the napkin, the pen curving a profile out of the paper, and marking whatever truth she had perceived about her subject in her quick glance. He looked at the napkin in his hand again. It was a good caricature, but he crumpled the napkin and threw it to the floor.

"It'll get better. Things will get better."

He said it aloud in his car. His voice sounded lost in the heater’s rattle. The check engine light was on. His breath floated in the air and traveled away from him. He took another look at Lucy drawing on her napkin, and put his car in reverse.

October 12, 2019 02:57

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2 comments

Ed Trainor
22:43 Oct 15, 2019

Good story. Well written.

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Gerad Vandegrift
14:59 Oct 17, 2019

Thank you!

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