I love the way her name feels in my mouth. Sometimes I whisper it to myself in the bathroom because I wouldn’t dare to mispronounce it. I sometimes sing her name – draw it out like an opening note to a song. I’ve been told I am tone deaf on more than one occasion, so I know my rendition could never do her justice. Her name is a line of poetry, a preface to some long lost tale, an easily remembered melody.
She comes to the diner every Saturday morning for our 3 for $3 pancake special. She orders her coffee black and plays with her paper napkin – opening it up, folding it diagonally, opening it back up, folding it again – before resting it on her lap. Every Saturday she gets to the diner, sits beside the window, and orders three blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup.
“My dad raised me to only like the real stuff,” she told me once.
By the time I finish pouring her cup of coffee, her fiancé is pulling into our lot. He drives a dark blue BMW with a dented bumper that looks like a harelip. They’ve been coming here every Saturday for the past month and I think I’ve uttered his name only three times. His teeth are crooked: the top row are spaced out; the bottom looks like a car crash. I don’t understand how she can be with someone whose smile never looks straight. He orders a cup of black coffee and three plain pancakes with a side of bacon. He doesn’t have a preference for maple syrup.
Sometimes I imagine her walking in here alone on a Tuesday or Friday evening. Those are the nights I have the closing shift. It’s just me and the kitchen staff until 9PM. I think she’d like to see me without my apron.
The first time she came in here, she was wearing a yellow sundress and a pair of pink flip flops that matched her fingernails. She ordered a Bloody Mary. It was a Wednesday at two. Scarlett’s driver’s license was out of state. Her signature’s a capital “S,” lowercase “c” with a makeshift star at the end. Scarlett’s last name is Thompson. Mine is Adams. She’s twenty-five.
“Rough day?” I asked when handing back her license.
“It’s five o’ clock somewhere, right?” she smiled without showing teeth. She had a small scar on her upper lip. At that moment I wanted to know the dangers she had met with her mouth.
She was halfway done with her drink when her friend walked in. Scarlett didn’t stand up to greet her but instead shielded her face with the menu. “You pain in the ass!” her friend said when taking her seat. Scarlett put down the menu and let out a laugh. Her laugh made other customers turn back and look at her. Her laugh made her friend laugh. Her laugh made me want to hear her laugh again and again.
When I took her friend’s drink order, Scarlett was still laughing.
“Has anyone ever told you that your laugh is awesome?”
This made her friend hide behind a menu and release a chuckle.
“And I’m the asshole?” Scarlett asked. She looked up at me and I found the sky in her eyes. “Very few people think my laugh is awesome. It usually gets me in trouble,” she nibbled on her straw before taking a sip.
“Well, those people suck and should loosen up.” We both shared a smile. I thought about asking for her phone number, but when I saw the Mercedes symbol on her car keys, I asked for her friend’s drink order. I’m not much of a car guy, but I know a Mercedes looks and drives better than my 1999 Toyota Corolla. I’ve never taken an economics course, but I know waiting tables at a diner doesn’t get you a Mercedes. There are no shit box Mercedes. There are only shit box Toyotas. I know that for certain.
Scarlett ordered our American Chop Suey special but picked out all the green peppers. A couple bites in, her friend stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. I thought about joining Scarlett, but she seemed busy, using her right hand to excavate for elbow pasta that hadn’t touched any peppers, and using her left hand to scroll through something on her iPhone. When she brought her fork to her lips, I noticed a tattoo of a compass on her forearm. The needle was pointing somewhere between South and West. I thought it was cute how her tattoo had no sense of direction. It made me wonder if she felt the same way.
“How is everything?” I asked. Her friend was still out smoking.
“Good,” Scarlett mumbled mid chew. “I’m a wicked picky eater! But trust me, I really like it.” She wiped her mouth clean before taking a sip. Her Bloody Mary was running on empty.
“Another?” I pointed to her glass.
“I better not,” she laughed again, but this time it was quieter. “I’ll have a water though.”
“Sure thing,” I said grabbing her glass. “Maybe the next one can be on me some night,” I said under my breath. My heart was in my throat.
“What was that?” Scarlett asked. I could see her friend putting out her cigarette.
I cleared my throat, but my heart was still pounding. “I said ‘sure thing.’” I went to the back of the kitchen and threw her glass in the sink. The burger grease infested water splashed up and sprinkled some of the dishwashers and myself.
“Come on Eric!” one of them yelled and slapped me with the crusty towel hanging off his apron. I rinsed off my hands at another sink that had a half empty bottle of berry blast dish soap.
I placed their check on the table with Scarlett’s water before returning to the kitchen. I don’t know why I went to the kitchen. I feared never seeing her again and lost my chance of having one last conversation or shared smile. They both paid cash and left me a combined fifteen-dollar tip. It was generous, but not Mercedes money. They probably left me a huge tip that night because they know I don’t have Mercedes money. They probably thought I never saw or touched Mercedes money. It’s funny how some assumptions aren’t far from the truth.