Look at him. He comes in here on almost a daily basis for breakfast, takes the same seat, in the same booth, and places the same order. He always faces the door—he says it’s a lingering habit from Vietnam. And I always wait on him. He’s a good tipper and not demanding; he minds his own business. All he wants is to eat, read a book, literary journal, or some short stories in peace—maybe even scribble notes for a story he wants to write. And now this happens.
Suzanne and Janice are sisters and some-time lunch customers. They love drama, and are not quiet about it. Today they made their breakfast debut. We were busy, and the hostess had no choice but to sit them in the booth directly in front of Ian, with Suzanne facing him. Seeing this, I thought, He is not going to be happy. I hope this doesn’t affect my tip.
Much to my surprise, Ian didn’t seem to mind. He just went about his routine. I refilled his coffee and was about to take the ladies’ orders, but they had already started with their drama du jour. I knew better than to interrupt; I just brought them their usual coffee and water for starters. They didn’t acknowledge me.
“What’s the problem with Kyle this time, Suzanne?” asked Janice.
“Same as always. He’s so anal. God forbid I move one thing out of place, I get the rolling eyes and “why can’t you be more careful” look.
Sounds like Ian. He gives me the same look if I don’t deposit his plates at precisely the correct spot on his table, or refill his coffee when it reaches the prescribed level in his cup. But I don’t take it personally.
“Why do you get so upset, Suzanne? You’ve been seeing him for over a year, and it’s not like you haven’t noticed this before. I mean, isn’t that one of the reasons you two don’t live together?”
Suzanne broke into tears. Not uncommon with either one, but more so with Suzanne. Janice played the role of big sister and handed Suzanne her napkin. “What’s the real problem, Suzy?”
Suzanne answered between sniffles, “He asked me for the key to his apartment—said it’s not working for him anymore.”
“And what caused that?” Janice asked matter-of-factly. “Something else must have happened for him to take such a dramatic step.” She knew Suzanne.
“Well…I wasn’t happy with his eye rolling incident last Friday, but didn’t say anything. He asked me Saturday morning, before I left for work, if everything was okay.”
“And you said what?”
“I told him nothing was wrong. But I sensed Kyle wasn’t buying it, because he remained silent. So to convince him, I said I would be over Sunday morning and we would meet our friends for breakfast. He seemed good with that response. We kissed and I left for work.”
“And did you see him Sunday?”
“No. I texted him Sunday morning and said I had to clean the cat boxes and do some vacuuming around my place.”
“YOU’RE SHITTING ME,” Janice said, and quickly covered her mouth. The owner came over and asked Janice to keep her voice down, especially if she was going to use profanity, as there were children seated near them—not to mention Ian, who slammed shut the book he was reading. He was clearly annoyed.
Janice apologized and continued in a lower voice, but not low enough. My sole counter customer was a good eight feet away, and he was able to follow the conversation.
“How did he respond?” Janice asked.
“He immediately called me and asked if that meant I wasn’t coming over at all that day. I told him I would try, but didn’t think it would happen.”
“And he said what?”
“He said he would go to breakfast without me, and that he was sure he could find something to do for the balance of the day, and hung up. Just hung up, without waiting for a response!”
"And then what happened?”
“I texted him back about twenty minutes later and said I would finish up changing the kitty litter, take a quick shower, and come over. Kyle wasted no time in texting me saying he had already made plans to meet up with other friends after breakfast, and wouldn’t be available for the rest of the day. Can you believe it, Janice?”
“Yes, I can. And you can’t blame him for that, sis. After all, you did blow him off. But how did you respond?”
There was dead silence which—to me, the other customers within earshot, and most especially Ian—was a relief.
Suzanne raised her head, and in a dismissive tone stated, “I sent him a text.”
“And what did you say in this text?” Janice asked apprehensively.
All of us held our breath. I even saw Ian look up ever so slightly.
Janice about choked on her coffee. The counter customer put a napkin to his mouth to catch the food he was spitting up, and Ian dropped his fork, closed his eyes, and bowed his head shaking it back and forth. I had to walk away. I can only imagine what Ian was thinking. He had been through a number of breakups. In fact, I’ve lost track of how many women had sat across from him. But that was then, and this is now. I’m sure the conversation he was hearing was nothing he hadn’t heard before. He had been on both ends of that discussion.
“Christ, Suzy. No wonder he asked for the key back. Wouldn’t you?”
Suzanne didn’t respond directly to Janice’s question. That didn’t surprise me. “Well…I called several times Monday to apologize, but he wouldn’t pick up and didn’t respond to my voicemails. I sent him a text that night and asked if this meant ‘keep in touch.’”
Janice waved me over to ask for more napkins.
“And how did he respond?”
“The next day he sent me the text asking for the key.”
I suppose that was the “keep in touch.”
“I called again, and asked him to call me at work. He sent another text saying no more conversation was necessary, and that I should mail the key back that day—and he emphasized ‘today.’”
“And did you…mail the key back?”
“Yes. I figured there was no sense prolonging the inevitable.”Janice nodded in agreement. She asked, “Does he now have the key?”
“Yes, and he sent a text thanking me.”
Janice hesitated asking the next question, but asked it anyway: “You didn’t make a copy… did you, Suzy?”
Suzanne fired back, “No. I’m not a fucking stalker,” and reached for the pile of napkins I had placed at the end of their table. There was a pause as she cried into the napkin and blew her nose. She continued, “Why can’t I keep a guy, Janice?”
My counter customer mouthed to me, “I can’t believe she just asked that question.”
“I’m forty, and have never been engaged, let alone married. I mean, you and Scott are happy.”
“Yeah, we are. But remember, he’s number three.”
Ian had been there, but only once… and that lasted thirty years.
Janice excused herself to use the restroom. I’m not sure if she really needed to use it. Perhaps all of this was too much even for her.
Ian was finished as well. As he was collecting his belongings, he happened to look up and crossed Suzanne’s gaze. She stopped drying her eyes, glared and asked indignantly, “What are you looking at?”
Knowing Ian could be quite sarcastic, I’m sure he wanted to respond with “Nothing,” but restrained himself. I was relieved. Thank you, Ian. Instead, he just stammered, “I’m sorry. I’m…” Then stopped. Guess I’ll never know what he was going to say. Perhaps he didn’t either.
Suzanne gave him an unforgiving stare, which Ian ignored. He had been there before, too.
I manned the cash register, and Ian paid his check. All he said was, “Trisha, I am so…done… with crazy.” His quiet, resolute tone reassured me. I nodded.
He left me a bigger-than-usual tip.
L.D. Zane served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. At 65, his life is quieter now. He lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is a member of The Bold Writers. His short stories have been published in, among others: Red Fez, Indiana Voice Journal, Remarkable Doorways Online Literary Magazine, The Writing Disorder, The Furious Gazelle, Slippery Elm, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Drunk Monkeys, Pour Vida Zine, and here, in Potluck Mag. His website is: ldzaneauthor.com.