Maybe it never will.
When I’m finally able to feel my hands again, I turn off the ignition and make my way inside. I clock in and wrap my black apron around my waist. It’s just before seven and the morning crowd will be filing in soon. Our town only has two restaurants and Bonnie’s is the only one open for breakfast. It’s usually full of farmers who come in to compare harvest notes or other locals looking to avoid their own kitchens. The work is easy, and a little mundane, but that’s all I can handle right now. There are three waitresses each morning, and we each take eight tables. I prefer the tables towards the front window because people tend to chat less when they’re staring out at the passersby.
I spot my usual group of retired farmers at the table closest to the door. They love to come in right at seven in the morning and stick around until well after nine. I don’t mind them because they can go on and on about the current price of corn and don’t ask for much as long as I keep their coffee cups full. There are four of them, and they always order the same thing for breakfast every morning. I can honestly say there are some days I don’t speak one word to them for the entire two hours they’re here.
“Hey, you, I didn’t even see you come in,” my mom says, wrapping her arms around my waist. I lean my head on her shoulder, taking in the familiar scent of her perfume. She’s been wearing the same kind since I can remember and it always soothes me. It brings me back to a time when everything was okay and all I had to think about was which pink dress to wear that day.
“I was running a little late, so I went straight to my tables,” I say, lifting my head to peek out to the dining room to make sure my customers are taken care of. “It’s nice and quiet today.”
“You could probably go home if you wanted to. We can handle this.” She lets go of my waist and begins brewing a fresh pot of coffee.
I ponder the idea of going home, but I know if I do I won’t be able to keep myself from feeling. I’d just lock myself in my room and cry until my eyes were swollen. At least when I’m here, I can keep my mind on something else.
“No, I’ll stay. I need the money,” I say. That’s not exactly true. I’ve been working here for almost three years and I’ve barely spent a penny.
My mom smiles at me before grabbing the full coffee pot and heading back to the dining room to serve customers. Sometimes I think she’s worried that the only reason I didn’t attend college was because I couldn’t afford it. I hate that she feels that way, but it’s easier to let her think that than it is to explain the truth.
Around ten, Ms. Carter comes in for a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaf coffee. She’s a widow in her mid-eighties. I don’t think she has any family around because she always comes in alone. She’s the chattiest of my customers, but I don’t mind because she’s the sweetest lady on earth and doesn’t pry too much into my life.
“You look tired today, Katie girl,” she says as I fill her coffee for the second time.
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” I reply, then quickly change the subject. “You have any plans today?”
“Just bridge club right after this. You should join us on one of your days off,” she smiles, taking a sip from her freshly filled coffee cup.
We have this same conversation almost every day. Her memory is fading, but kindness still shines through. Some days, she almost makes me smile. Almost.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Carter, but they don’t give me many days off.”
“Well, I should get going soon. I don’t want to be late, Bev Collins will take my chair and I can’t have that,” she says, laying a five dollar bill on the table.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I wave as she walks toward the door.
“Of course, dear, unless I have other plans.” She exits, taking her time getting down the cement step and onto the sidewalk. I’ve always wanted to spend more time with her and hear her story, but I’m afraid she’ll ask about mine.
I wipe down tables and make sure each one has everything it needs before the lunch crowd comes in. I’m usually able to get through breakfast just fine, but I dread lunch. It brings a different mix into the diner and it’s unpredictable.
Almost every day during the summer, kids from my high school came in and found it necessary to sit in my section just to see how miserable they could make my day. I became a joke to them just because I didn’t fit in.
I swear to God . . .
For as long as I live I will never do to others as they have done to me.
I see Morgan walk in with a group of her friends. They sit in my section, eyeing me like they know exactly what they’re doing. Morgan has been treating me differently since the incident with Drew, but I can’t blame her completely. I’ve changed so much, and she has no idea why because I didn’t tell her.
I walk toward them hesitantly, ready to take their orders and get away as fast as I can. “What can I get you guys today?” I ask, keeping my attention on the small notebook I hold in my hand.
“I’ll take a cob salad with the dressing on the side,” Abby replies. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see a smile spread across her lips.
“You?” I ask, pointing my pen towards Dana.
“What’s the soup today?”
“Okay, I’ll take a bowl of that and a side salad,” Dana answers, crossing her arms over her chest.
Morgan’s the last one to order. I briefly glance down at her, but the second I see her eyes staring up at me from over the menu, I focus mine back on the notebook. “And what can I get you?”
She rolls her eyes slowly, making sure the whole table sees it. “Duh, I’ll take the same thing I always get.”
“I don’t know what you always get,” I say, looking up to see Abby and Dana with smirks on their faces. I can feel my bottom lip tremble.
Two years ago, I became Kate Alexander, the loser girl who will never leave Carrington; the girl who will always work in the diner with her mother. I hate how they treat me like something less than them just because I’ve changed. I guess not being ‘just like them’ is a crime.
She starts to play with her nails, keeping her eyes off me like I’m nothing. “I want a garden salad with Italian dressing on the side.”
“I’ll be right back with your order,” I mumble as I turn my back to them.
I’m not more than two steps away when a voice behind me stops me. “Kate.” I spin on my heels to face her. “You better leave the tomatoes off my salad this time,” Morgan smiles, quickly beginning a conversation with the other girls at the table.
As I walk into the kitchen, I hear them whispering and giggling. When I hear them say my name amongst their whispers, tears prick my eyes. How can my best friend turn on me simply because I’ve changed? When I needed her the most, she wasn’t there.
I quietly deliver their food to the table and ask if they need anything else, but they just continue to talk like I don’t even exist. When Morgan decides to join in, it feels like someone stuck a knife in my heart and twisted it. I don’t like to consider myself resentful, but I always wonder what would’ve happened if she hadn’t left me that night.
The worst was the day Drew and two of his football buddies came in and sat in one of my booths. Drew had been in the diner enough times before and after the incident to know exactly which section was mine. He usually didn’t sit in an area where I had to wait on him, though. He would sit and watch me from afar, but on that particular day he decided it was time to cause more trouble for me than he already had.
My whole body tenses the second I see him from across the room. He smiles at me like we’re old friends, and I instantly feel sick to my stomach. I know I can’t do this. I don’t see one day in my future where I will ever be able to face Drew without having the panic and horror of that night hit me.
I walk to the kitchen to find my mom filling a glass with ice water. “Mom, I feel sick. I think I’m going to have to go home,” I say, placing my hand over my midsection.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry you’re not feeling good, but we’re swamped out there. Can you stick it out for a little bit longer?” she asks.
I peek through the window in the door-every table is full and a few people are still waiting inside the door. I’m waging an internal battle with myself when the other waitress on duty comes flying through the door, throwing her notepad on counter.
“It’s a zoo. Where are all these people coming from?” she says, placing her hands on her hips.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. “I’ll stay,” I say hesitantly. I hate letting people down and can’t say no. “Can you take table ten for me, though?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” she answers, using the back of her hand to wipe her forehead. The weight of my chest starts to ease up.
When Drew and his posse figure out what I’ve done, they start taunting me as I walk by. “Hey, Kate, are you going to take our order? I think you already know what I like!” Drew yells as I walk past. Just like that night, I want to run away and never come back, but I can’t. This job is the one of the only things I have left that keeps me going.
I continue to serve my customers like Drew isn’t even there. It’s hard to do, though, when he’s forcing himself into my life. Every time I see him, I want to scream and hit him until my fists hurt so much that they go numb. I can feel his eyes on me, but I don’t look in his direction even once; I’m not going to give him the gratification. I think it really bothers him that I’m the only girl who doesn’t acknowledge his existence.
I’ve always wondered if I’m the only girl he’s ever hurt, or if there might be others. I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt if he did it to another girl after me. It was the one reason I almost came forward, but in the end I knew it wouldn’t matter because nobody was going to believe me.