Gina wiped a dirty rag across the table and sighed as she glanced at the clock on the wall. 5:30 pm, that meant she still had several hours before she could leave her diner job. Not that leaving was much better. Home or at work, she was still miserable.
A couple who had sat down twenty minutes ago stood and picked up their suitcases, walking hand and hand as they exited. She sighed again. Everyone who came in to the Daisy Diner, dubbed the “decrepit diner” in her inner thoughts, had somewhere to go. People to see, places to go, but not her.
Nope, the only place she ever went was her worn-down apartment that was worse for wear than this old diner.
She chided herself inwardly for complaining. What good did it do for her other than make her wish for things that she would never have? Better to keep her head out of the clouds and focus on keeping this old place going, while the manager/owner hid in his office.
She tucked the rag in her apron pocket and grabbed the coffee pot, making her way to the table in the back. “Would you like some coffee, sir?” She looked at the man, who to her surprise was quite young. He looked to be close to her twenty-two years.
He looked up and smiled. “Yes, please.”
She poured him a cup and eyed him curiously. It wasn’t often that young folk came through here and when they did, they were either accompanied by a family or were a questionable lot. Upon first glance, he appeared to be neither.
She shook her head. Why in the world was she ruminating on the whereabouts of this man? Why did his story matter when he would be gone by the hour and would never return?
“Sugar and cream are on the table.” She pointed at said objects and then started to walk away, planning to tend to one of the other customers while he had a chance to look at the menu.
“Wait.” She turned and lifted an eyebrow. “I am ready to order now, unless you are busy at the moment.”
She smiled a bit at his words. Pulling out her notepad, she asked, “What can I get for you?”
He tapped the menu with a finger. “I’ll have the burger with fries, no pickles and another coffee.”
She glanced at his cup, still full. “But you haven’t finished your first one.”
He grinned, showing a dimple in his left cheek. “Oh, it’s not for me.”
Oh. She sighed as she wrote down the order. She had to tamp down a foolish bout of disappointment. No doubt, he had a girlfriend or wife lurking somewhere around here. Not that she cared.
Finishing the order, she tucked the notepad in her pocket and nodded. “I’ll have that ready for you in a bit.”
He thanked her, an endearing smile on his face.
By the time, she had the order ready to go to him, the few people still lingering in the diner had left, leaving her, the cook, her manager, and the man as the only people left inside.
She set down his plate of food and the coffee. Unable to stop herself, she asked. “I thought you said the coffee wasn’t for you. And unless I am mistaken, no one else is here.” She wasn’t normally so nosy, but something about this man garnered her curiosity.
He gestured to the bench across from him. “I did not know if you would want food, so I just got you coffee.” He pushed the coffee cup towards her.
Her eyebrows scrunched up. “I am not following. You ordered a coffee for me?” Surely, she was mistaken. She was probably just tired and had not heard him correctly.
He nodded and gestured again to the bench.
She sat down and then stood. “I can’t. I’m working.”
“No one else is here, but me, and you have already brought me my order, so…” he trailed off, looking at her expectantly.
She was torn, part of her wanted to sit down with this stranger, but another part knew that she wasn’t being paid to chit-chat with the customers. Still, some of the work she did was more than she was being paid to do. So technically, she deserved a break. And besides, it wasn’t as if her manager would see her. He barely left his office unless he wanted to refill his coffee cup and he had already done so half an hour ago.
Seeming to know that she was coming around to the invitation, he pointed at the mug. “Coffee’s getting cold.”
She sat down. “Fine, but if a customer comes in, I have to take care of them.”
He nodded. “Then I will hope no one else comes in.”
She outwardly ignores his words, but inwardly she hoped the same thing. Grabbing four sugar packets and pouring them in her coffee, she suddenly realized that she was sitting with a man she did not know at all. “What is your name.”
He dipped one of his fries into ketchup before saying, “Joshua Barrett. And if I am not mistaken, yours is Gina.”
She wondered silently how he had come to that conclusion, until he pointed at the spot on her apron where her name tag sat. “Oh, yes. It’s Gina Fortlin.”
He nodded and then bit into his burger. She watched him eat for a moment, taking small sips of her overly sweet coffee, before she broke the silence. “What brings you to the Daisy Diner, Joshua?”
He pointed at his plate. “This.”
She rolled her eyes. So, he was a comedian. “Besides the food. Are you going on vacation or a business trip or…” She scrutinized his outfit. Nothing about it—a plain tee and cargo shorts—gave her a clue of his destination. Not that his destination would matter to her at the end of the day. But they were sitting here together, so she thought that she might as well make conversation.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, rubbing her finger against the lip of her mug. How did he not know where he was going?
“Well, I just felt like going somewhere, so I packed a bag, got in my car and left.”
She made a face of disbelief. He laughed at her expression. “I know it sounds weird, dumb even, but it’s nice. I don’t have to worry about making plans or following a set schedule. All I need to do is find gas stations and restaurants to stop at.”
Despite the irresponsible nature of his trip, she felt a wave of envy. He could travel as he pleased with nothing holding him back—well at least for the time being—while she had no one to take her place at work even if she wanted to leave for a trip.
And speaking of work… She stood. “I should get back to work and let you finish your meal.”
“Wait.” He touched her hand. “I wonder, do you ever get to get away from this place? I can’t imagine that it’s all that fun working here all the time.”
“No, it’s not. But what else can I do? The Daisy Diner needs me and I, well frankly, even if I wanted to go somewhere, I would have no idea where to go.”
He wiped his hands on his napkin and took a sip of his coffee. “You could go anywhere.”
She shook her head. “I can’t. Now, it was nice to meet you, but I have to go.”
She started to walk away for the second time when he presented the most outlandish idea. “You could go with me.”
She turned back, mouth agape. “I don’t even know you.”
“Well, let me remedy that. You know my name is Joseph. I am twenty-four. I am a writer. I have two sisters, a dog—”
She stopped him with an outstretched hand. “Thank you for the offer. I know you meant well, but I cannot go with you.”
He looked genuinely confused at her words. “Why not?”
Why not? Well for starters, she still did not know him, even with the random facts he had spouted out. Secondly, she could not leave her job. And the biggest reason, the one she would not admit, was the fact that if she did go somewhere with him or without, she would begin to hope for more than her life offered. A steady job, albeit a lousy one, and whatever else it was thay she had.
“Gina, you never know what you are missing out on until you try it.”
Precisely why she shouldn’t leave. Leaving would only make her inevitable return worse. “I can’t leave the diner; I am needed here.” She didn’t even know why she was even entertaining this conversation still.
“They can live without you.”
“And if they can’t.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, that’s their problem. This is not your diner, is it?” When she shook her head, he continued, “Then it’s not up to you to keep this going.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Why do you want me to go with you so much? Are you some type of murderer that lures people away from their jobs and kills them in the woods?”
He laughed, as she had intended him to and raised his hands innocently. “I would never. But to answer your question, I want you to come because I want you to see the world outside of this rusty diner. And because, even though I have known you for less than an hour, I find myself wanting to get to know you. I want to see the places I go through your eyes.”
She smiled sadly. “You make it sound so easy.”
“It is as easy as you make it. Pack a bag or don’t. See the sights. Meet new people. And if you find somewhere or someone you like, then you can leave this place behind. If you don’t, you can just return here at any time.”
She considered his offer for a moment. It might be a stupid decision if she went with him, but if she did not, she might grow to regret staying. Truly, nothing at the diner or her apartment was worth staying for, and it was not like she had any family who needed her. Plus, she had a good bit of money saved up since her dingy apartment costed nearly nothing.
And maybe she was making a big mistake and agreeing to go with him. But wouldn’t it be worse if she spent everyday miserable, just getting by in life rather than truly living.
“So, what do you say?”
She smiled. “It looks like you have yourself a travel partner.”