Understood

In response to the DP Challenge 

Option 2: A waitress welcomes an elderly regular as he takes his seat at the counter in the diner. The man just got word his wife is dying of cancer. The cook watches through the order window.

The sound of his alarm filled the room as he groggily opened his eyes, groaning aloud when he realized he had fallen asleep yet again in his work clothes. Not that it mattered too much, but he had been planning on reusing the same set of clothes again today instead of pulling on fresh, clean, new ones. It wasn’t that he was messy or unhygienic, it was just that for every article of clothing he pulled out of his drawers, the mountain that was his laundry steadily grew. Eventually he’d have to tackle the mess, but for as long as he could avoid it, he was going to.

He sighed, thinking about all the quarters crammed into the faded pink piggy bank his sister had given him long ago. He’d have to pull the plug out of the damned pig and shake those suckers out if he wanted to wear something decent soon. All he had left was his uniforms, a few shirts, a pair of faded jeans, and hopefully some sweatpants that still fit him. Yeah, he’d be visiting the Laundromat this weekend.

He looked down at his wrinkled and crumpled attire and sighed again, knowing he couldn’t clock into work looking like this.  Reluctantly, he got up and shuffled over to the old hunk of wood that held his clothes, rubbing his eyes with his left hand while attempting to pull his shirt over his head with his right. Mornings were never a favorite for him, especially mornings he had to work. For Callisto, it wasn’t the waking up part that bothered him, but the knowledge of what lay ahead of him till noon that really put him in a bad mood. He supposed he was lucky, not many of his fellow classmates had a decent paying job like he did or had a job as accommodating as his was.

Freshman year at college, living so far from home, surprisingly getting paid well above minimum wage, and a job that allowed for him to be able to change his work schedule around to fit his afternoon classes? He had it all. For a 19 year old that is. So he really couldn’t complain and he really tried not to, but thoughts like those were tricky things and more often than he’d like they’d worm their way into his mind and cloud everything up until he thought left was right, up meant down, and having it good meant needing to complain.

Callisto shook his head in the attempts to clear his thoughts, grabbed his book bag, wallet, and keys, and headed out of his room, amazed that he’d manage to dress himself so quickly without actually paying attention. He passed by the kitchen to grab an apple and granola bar, figuring he’d just eat on the way. Once out on the sidewalk, he headed towards the direction of Mabel’s Diner. As a cook he took pride in his work and thus took pride in the establishment he worked in. Mabel’s, he could confidently say to any stranger, was the best and the tastiest diner the whole town could ever dream of having, and not just because he was a cook there. His lips twisted into a small prideful grin before lifting his apple to them and taking a generous bite out of the juicy red fruit.

He was a damn good cook and while he normally had an unsavory attitude and a permanent scowl on his face in the kitchen, he truly loved and enjoyed working with all the food. It was his fellow coworkers that were the issue. All except one.

But….

He guessed that didn’t matter anymore since she was no longer there.

His smirk faded.

Thoughts of Clara filled his mind as he continued walking. He truly missed her even when he had told her he wouldn’t when she’d had teased him about it one day. Everyone knew she’d be gone one day. She would move on to bigger far better things and sure while most would miss her cheery personality and warm smiles none would dare hold her back because they knew she was meant to fly.

It’s funny how things turned out.

He remembers the last time he saw her. The memory is so imprinted into his brain that every detail, every sound, is alive and fresh as if it had happened a few minutes ago instead of two weeks.

It was a few minutes before his morning shift ended so he was grabbing his things when he noticed his book was missing. What the hell? Where is it?

He blinked. Of course.

He had shown it to Clara when he was explaining the plot to her. It was one of the few times he actually talked to her and had not simply ignored her. He remembered how she had been all smiles as he eagerly explained the meanings behind the words of his favorite book. Her eyes were sparkling and wide as she soaked it all in and he had known that she was basking in the warmth of the knowledge that she had finally gotten him to talk. She promised him she’d read the book.

“I want to know more about the things you like, Call. This way, we can talk about stuff that’s interesting to you instead of me pestering you every break we have to talk rather than let you read in a corner.” 

He glared at her. 

She grinned cheekily back. “You know that hard shell of yours is pretty much cracked by now. You can’t resist this.” 

She did a small twirl, winked at him, and then she skipped off to get the order for the customer who had just walked in. 

He sighed, thinking back to how he had left the book on top of his bag, unguarded from the sneaky energy ball that is Clara. He had thought she would get her own copy, not his. Now he’d have to get it back from her. He sure as hell wasn’t leaving without it. His copy of The Count of Monte Cristo had survived through years of his childhood and he expected it to last all the way to his death. All the dog-eared pages, crinkles, notes on the side, and highlighted passages not only contained precious memories and moments to him, but also seemed to come alive under his eyes and would light a fire within him that combated the dying flames that flickered out as the years went by. If not for this book, the fire in him would have been completely extinguished years ago.

So getting it back was a must. He’d gladly buy her a copy and bring it in the next day, she just couldn’t have this one. So he walked over to the order window and peered out, searching for the short curly-haired ginger. He sees her by the far end of the counter and is ready to call out to her when he notices the old man in front of her. Callisto had no idea what his name was but he recognized the man. He always came by every two weeks and he always came when there were few customers so that he could chat more with Clara. She had that kind of effect on people, drawing them to her, and forcing them to open up and speak their hearts out.

He figured she wouldn’t mind him interrupting and opened his mouth again to call her over, but something peculiar happened. The old man’s shoulders began to shake and one of his hands slid up to cover his mouth. Callisto’s gaze shifted towards Clara and saw that she was trembling as well. Were they laughing? 

And then he heard the soft sobs.

No. They were crying. And by the looks of it, Clara and the man weren’t going to stop anytime soon.

He felt…a little bad… but he didn’t know the man and he knew Clara had a weak demeanor and cried at everything. It couldn’t be too bad, right? He could interrupt them just for a small moment, right?

But he stood still and watched as two sets of shoulders heaved, a hand reach out to clutch the other’s, and two heads lift up to shoot teary stares at the intruding spectator.

Shit. 

He backs away from the window instantly and curses again, this time aloud. He’s not good with crying and comforting. It’s not his thing nor does he ever want it to be his thing. Some people were born with that ability but he had no use for tears. They made him uncomfortable and squirmy and he always felt like such a tool when people expected him to do something other than flinching away from them.

He’d have to get his book another time since he didn’t know when they’d be done with their cry fest and if he didn’t leave soon he’d be late for his afternoon classes. He swore and punched his bag. Then he picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, clocked out, and then stormed out the kitchen and through the front doors, only looking back for a brief second. He sees her red hair tossed over her shoulder and her pale tear stained face gazing at him as her hand begins to comfortingly rub the old man’s shoulder. Callisto eyes lock with hers for a brief moment and then the doors slowly shut completely. She is gone and he hurries off to his class.

The next day he found out about the accident. He learns about how a few hours after he’d left, when her shift had ended, she’d been hit by a drunk driver. He pictures her crumpled body on the road and his breath hitches for a moment. His eyes water slightly, but he does not cry. He will not cry. He moves on.

More silent than ever, he continues life, and regrets ever speaking to her. If he hadn’t then it wouldn’t hurt this bad. He expressed his feelings of regret aloud once, but his sentiments aren’t exactly appreciated by the others. Soon his co-workers become nastier than usual. They don’t understand. And he doesn’t care if they don’t. It doesn’t matter to him. He’ll be fine.

Except…

He’s not fine. And he’s worried that he never will be. He didn’t really want to be friends with Clara, but he became so anyways, despite every instinct of his screaming for him not to. Deep down, he doesn’t regret a single second, but on the surface he’s still a pile of rage and grief. He’d opened himself and that had been ripped away from him.

“Hey mister, are ya going to stand there all day?”

Callisto is pried away from his thoughts.

“Mister?”

He looks down. There’s a young boy staring up at him with wide brown eyes.

“What did you say?”

“I asked if you were going to stand there all day. You’re kind of blocking the entrance and I really need to get in or my mom will be mad.”

Callisto looks over to where the boy is pointing and deadpans. He’s in front of Mabel’s. How he got there without getting run over or something befuddles him, but wordlessly he shifted out of the boy’s way. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

The apple in his hand is long gone, but the granola bar is still in his pocket so he pulls it out and munches on that as he follows the boy into the diner. He makes his way over to the kitchen, clocks in, and dumps his bag in a corner. It’s time to work. And he should only be focused on work.

Hours later, at the end of his shift, he hears the doors open and sees the regular old guy come in. His steps are heavy and he seems more aged than usual, but he takes his usual seat at the far end of the counter. Callisto, with his bag already slung over one shoulder, pauses, then walks over to the man.

“Hi.”

Terrance was just settling himself onto his regular seat when he noticed a young man stop before him.

“Hi.” he hears.

He looks up into the young man’s face and recognizes him. He was the teen from two weeks ago. The guy Clara had told him about the day of her….  He swallows hard. He doesn’t want to think about that. Instead he responds.

“Hello to you as well.”

Terrence watches the young man nervously shift his weight from foot to foot. He wonders what the boy wants, but says nothing. He only observes the tense muscles and the locked jaw.

“I…I….Bye.” And just as the boy was about to dash off, Terrence calls out. “Wait. I have something of yours.”

The kid turns to look at him and Terrence gets a a full on piercing glare. “What do you want?”

Ah yes. There is the wariness that Clara told me all about.

Terrence lips stretched upwards for a bit before reaching into his jacket and pulling out a book. “Here. I believe this is yours, right?”

Callisto couldn’t believe it. There was his precious book. He had thought about it after Clara’s accident and longed to read it, needing something to keep him afloat, but he didn’t know where it was. He couldn’t very well ask Clara and besides…he didn’t like remembering the last time he saw her. It made him feel emotions he didn’t like feeling.

But here it was. In the hands of a stranger. He reached out for it and clasped it into his hands, fighting the urge to press it close to his chest and instead held it by his side and nodded.

“Where did you get it though?”

“She gave it to me.”

Terrence watched the distrust fade away from the boys eyes into sadness. He knew this boy shared the same pain as his although he was sure the boy knew how to hide it far better than he did.

“Why?”

“She said that I needed it.”

“Huh? Explain please..”

Terrence leaned forward and told Callisto what had happened two weeks ago.

He had been so depressed walking into the diner and was relieved to see that Clara seemed to be already waiting for him. He had much to tell her and he knew that she could offer him some comfort, something to make the hurt go away.

“My wife is dying, Clara.”

She gasped. “What?”

He looked into her eyes sadly. “She has cancer.”

“Oh Terr.”

His shoulders slumped and he looked back down miserably. He held his tears at bay. “I don’t know what to do. I want to do something, anything, but there’s nothing that can be done. It’s not fair. It’s…oh god.”

And then he broke down, sobbing.

He heard her start to cry to and regret washed over him. He didn’t want her to cry. He didn’t want to trouble her but he couldn’t stop himself. He felt her trembling and lifted his head to tell her not to cry to him when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. A young man was watching them. He noticed that Clara had seen him too. All too quickly, the boy disappeared from sight.

“Who..”

“That’s Callisto, a friend of mine. He’s the cook here and I guess he was looking for his book.”

“Book?”

Clara grinned slightly, “Yeah his book.”

Then Terrence heard the sounds of loud steps stomping across the diner. He turned to look, but the door was already closing on the young man by the time he got all the way around. He shifted his body back towards Clara, giving her another questioning look.

“It’s something important to him and well.. I have it.”

Curious, Terrence rubs at his face, feeling better now that he has something to distract him from  being sad. “Why do you have it?”

She too was beginning to wipe away her tears. “I wanted to read it as soon as I could, so I took it. ”

“Won’t he be mad?”

“i’m sure he already is, but that’s fine.”

He raised his eyebrow.

“He’ll mellow out,” she says confidently.

He shook his head. “Where is it?”

“Right here.” And then she pulls out a worn-looking book from underneath the counter. He gazes at it and then runs his fingers over it. It’s so old looking. He flips through a few pages and sees all the markings. It’s very obvious that the book is dearly loved. He keeps flipping as he begins to feel a strange comforting warmth settling in his belly when he reads a few lines here and there. Oddly, he begins to feel much better than before. Clara seems to notice and pushes the book closer to him.

“Take it.”

“Wha? No!”

“Seriously, it’ll be fine. Borrow it and give it back in two weeks. He won’t mind too terribly and I feel like you can really need it. I know it brings him peace, maybe it’ll bring the same to you.”

“I can’t just take it…”

“Please, Terr, for me. Take it, read it, love it, like he does. I’m sure if he knew how badly you need peace right now Callisto would ask you to borrow it as well. I’ve only skimmed through it a bit and I already love it. I already know the plot so I skipped to the end just to read the passage Call had told me about. It…was moving.”

He looked from the book to her earnest face and then back to the book. It called to him. He sighed then took the book and gently placed it into his coat. Her smile grew so much he swore her lips would split in two and her eyes took a happy shine to them. Then she squeezed his shoulder and began to talk of other random things. He knew she was trying to get his mind of his beloved Haley.

As he finished explaining, Terrence carefully studied the expression before him. Callisto seemed…happy?

“Are you okay?”

“Hmm? Oh oh yeah, I am. I was just thinking about her giving this book to you. I was mad, you know. Really mad..but..well I wouldn’t have stayed mad…I could never. And knowing she gave it to you because she thought it’d bring you the peace it brings me..well, I’m happy in a way”

Then Callisto closed his eyes for a few seconds before glancing over at Terrence again. “Did it?”

“Did it what?”

“Did it bring you peace?”

Terrence eyes rose to the ceiling, thoughtfully. After a few moments he answered. “No. It brought me..something… more.”

Callisto nodded. He understood.

“The last passage…it…” Callisto cut him off with another nod. He understood that too.

Both Terrence and Callisto stayed quiet for a few more seconds, searching each other’s faces for something they didn’t even know they needed.

Then Callisto lips curved up into a genuine happy smile. His eyes smiled at Terrence and then he turned and left without another word.

Terrence eyes were filled with warmth as he watched the boy leave. Sometimes some things don’t need to be said. They are just understood.

     “As for you Maximilien, here is the secret of my conduct toward you: there is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another.  Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.  It is necessary to have wished for death, Maximilien, in order to know how good it is to live.

     Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that, until the day God deigns to reveal the future to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.” 

-The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

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Posted on October 25, 2013, in My Writings, Prompts/Challenges, Short Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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