Marlene sat in the front booth of the diner. It was a nice colour. Duck egg, people called it, and it was comfy. It was leather, feather padded, with a sleek, varnished table. Marlene liked booths. They gave her just the right amount of privacy, but at the same time never emitted any feelings of coolness to a passer by. This one wasn't any different from the last or the next booth, and it would work just fine.
The diner was... bright? It looked as though the architect and designer were mainly inspired by bizarre and fantastical candy shops. The high, swivel chairs at the counter were bubble gum pink. The striped walls, the pattern and colour of blue-white-red pacers. The counter, strawberry laces. Even the black and white, tiled floor's texture reminded her of liquorice. Then there was the juke box, but that was metallic gold. All in all, people would've described it as low-cost, kind of cheap and cruddy, but Marlene liked it. She liked bright colours, and anyone would've said that the woman was in her element as she fit right in with the scene. Her apricot circle dress flared around her crossed legs, reminding the bartender at the counter of a blossoming gerbera flower. Her sandy hair styled into a bouffant and her creamy cherry lips in contact with the straw that stuck out of her soda. 'The kids drink it' she was told. Even though she was well into her 20s, she was still considered a 'kid'. Her youthful appearance often gave her this advantage. Things like free sodas here and there and kinder faces reaching out to her as though she needed to be looked after.
She looked up at the polka dot clock, reminding herself of a scene from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and sighed. 7 minutes late. The waiter, who was just wiping the countertop, immediately glanced up. She was the only customer in the shop and with the most beautiful smile he had seen in days.
"Is everything alright ma'am?" His voice keen and anxious. He stood frozen. She smiled like a movie star.
"Yes, yes." She assured him. Her white teeth so perfectly moulded and textured. "I'm just wonderful." His shoulders slumped in relief and delight. Marlene could tell he found her strange and intimidating. He was staring. He was staring too long. She didn't like him staring.
"Nice outfit." She said.
Not in a nasty way, no, in an innocent sort of way. Only pointing it out. But it was bound to embarrass him. The tips of his pale ears turned amber.
"Y-yeah." You could see him trying to regain his confidence. He looked down at his measly, white diner waiter outfit, cap and all. "Heard about the fire?"
"Yes," She tutted. "Terrible things." He nodded.
"I would think so, ma'am." It was small talk. Small talk. Those moments where people say things, just to fill the air. "Are you waiting for somebody?" Silence.
"May I ask who?"
God, was he annoying. She would've best loved to have given him a knuckle sandwich at that point, but being the person she was, belonging to the people she belonged to, she was controlled. She knew how the system worked and she knew not to blow her cover.
"Oh, is he late?" Marlene's 'friend' was firstly not a girl. Girls never really were her thing anyway. Secondly, this person was hardly just 'friend'. He was her work partner and best friend since the longest time.
"He's... on his way." She didn't smile this time, but her tone was pure sugar.
"Very good. I wouldn't want a lovely lady like yourself-" He was bad at conversation. Even worse at flirting. And he knew it. Marlene could tell by the flustered, ashamed glance he gave when he looked up at her. He tried changing the subject. "A-about the fire." Voice crack alert. 'Richie' as his name tag read, couldn't have been more that 19 at the most. His boyish features still showed. Acne framing the sides of his face and his glossy ginger hair looked like his mother still brushed it for him. In fact it looked like his mother still cooked him lamb chops and mash on a Thursday. His voice got high-pitched and creaky by the time he had reached the word: fire. He cleared his throat nervously. Oh god, Marlene had just wanted the soda. She leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table and marginally laced her fingers. As picturesque, as she could. This only made Richie more nervous.
"About the fire?" She prompted.
"I'll just go fetch you a paper ma'am, hang on there." He scrambled awkwardly. Jesus. She looked down at her freshy painted nails, 'In the Limelight' was the name of the colour, and this time she was very careful not to do any of the sighing she had done previously. Then she peered out of the window at her left side. Outside stood a man. He was making wacky faces and jumping around. She waved him in with fake annoyance. He guffawed. "Bite it." She mouthed to him.
She looked to the counter where another ‘Richie’ clone was cluttering around, trying to clean the coffee machine. She looked back at the man, but he was gone. She could feel the presence of someone sitting behind her. Marlene mentally counted to three, before reaching back and twisting the man’s arm as hard as she could.
"Ooww, Ow, Ow, Ow!! Mar!!" Eric whined rubbing his arm. Marlene turned to him triumphantly. Eric was the male version of Marlene. Handsome, chic, smart, desirable, older-than-he-seemed. Many a person had asked: 'Hey Mar, is that one your steady?' or 'Eric, that your girl? Their friendship wasn't a 'maybe-more-than-friends'. It was a strict friendship, and nothing more. "Way to greet, woman."
"You candy ass, Eric." She snapped, good-naturedly. "You candy ass."
"Calm it." He snorted affectionately. "You done with that soda of yours?"
She shoved it away "Yeah, let's go." The moment they rose Richie resurfaced, newspaper in hand.
"Oh." His happy face changed to one slightly flushed.
"I'm sorry, we really do have to scoot." Marlene apologised. Angel façade back on. "But I'll take the paper, if that's alright with you?"
Richie nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
Eric and Marlene walked out of the diner, crossed the road and down the street to the next diner.
Dear Reader. You often have the notion that you know the characters you encounter. Whether it's the old lady in the bakery or the main character in a story. You come to know them on a deeper level. You think you know Marlene? Do you? Well, dearest reader, you have yet to find out, because Marlene is not the girl you think she is. Marlene Sanders, was born on the 17th of October 1933 and died an amicable, harmonious death many years later on the 23rd of March 2002. Marlene, wife to John Clark, mother to 3 children, and best friend to Eric McCarthy. Marlene born pretty, died pretty, the girl that made the diner waiters and of her day blush. The woman who worked small parts in Hollywood and glamour modelling big time. Marlene and her creamy cherry lips, left the diner that day to set alight yet another building. Study the glowing flames that licked up the walls. Watch it like she was in the pictures. Marvel as the charred pieces of wood, rock and concrete would smoulder and tumble in piles around. Smile, like she did in the diner, at the magnificent mess she had created.