If you've missed either of the first two installments of this story please click here to catch up.
Clara was anxious to talk to Amy some more but she knew that she needed to tend to her customers first. “Can I get you anything else Henry?” Clara asked leaning on the counter close to him, glancing at his text book.
Henry looked up and she could see his hazel eyes smile. “A refill on my coffee, and a slice homemade apple pie?”
“Sorry we’re fresh out.” She said with a wink, “how about an apple Danish?”
Henry shrugged and went back to his books. Book worm! She thought while getting his refill and Danish.
Clara could hear Mark and Amy still going at it as she worked her way through the diner taking orders, getting refills and helping Pastor Tony get salads and sides. Clara felt bad for Mark, having to take the heat and male-beating from Amy that usually the husband would be enduring. It wasn’t Marks fault Amy was pregnant and due any day, but she was grateful for his help to her friend.
“I can’t find it, Mark!” Amy said frantically, riffling through her purse.
“Find what?” Clara asked as she finally joined their table and sat down.
“My phone! I can’t find my phone.” Amy looked up only briefly to tuck her hair behind her ears again. “I must have left it at home.”
“Ah” Clara knew where this was going, and she didn’t dare say anything.
“I have my phone Amy,” Mark began.
NO! Clara mouthed and glared at Mark hoping her warning would burn into his mind Whatever you do, DON’T SAY IT!
“It will be fine.” He finished giving Clara a quizzical look.
Amy’s head shot up “Fine. Fine? It will be fine?” Amy said, her deep brown eyes darkening a shade or two deeper.
“Yeah, if you go into labor, I have my phone, and the emergency contact list, and the restaurant has a phone. You aren’t going to go into labor, and we’ll be home soon. “
“Nothing is fine Mark. My husband is deployed! Don’t you get that?”
“Amy, shhh. It’s ok, he didn’t mean it.” Clara put her arm around Amy’s shoulder and rubbed her hand in circles, pulling her in for a half hug. “Did you Mark?”
Mark pursed his lips, “I’m sorry, I didn’t” he said looking lost but concerned.
“No, you didn’t realize. Didn’t realize that if I don’t have my phone, and Cory calls I MISS the chance to talk to him. And I never know when the next time I’ll hear from him will be, if I’ll hear from him that is.”
“I understand that Amy, but we won’t be here that long.” Mark glanced at Clara now carefully weighing every word he said. “I don’t want you to miss his call either.”
Amy offered a vague smile, “I know you don’t, but nobody understands how hard it is.” Whether the tears were from pain or hormones Clara didn’t know and didn’t think it mattered.
“We are her for you Amy. You have been through so much, just think, it’s almost over. He’ll be home soon for his R&R and to welcome your baby, then it’s a little over 8 weeks and he’ll be home for good. You’ve been so strong.”
“I can’t wait to see him! And name our baby together.” Amy smiled and wiped another tear. “It’s probably fine, he doesn’t usually call until around 1:00 my time anyway, I just hate being without it, even for a few minutes.”
“Miss Amy,” Mrs. Kurtz piped up, pushing her chair back and standing. “Did you know my Fred was in World War II?”
“Yes Ma’am” Amy said, now dabbing at her cheeks with her napkin.
Mrs. Kurtz made the short walk over to their table, pulled out a chair and lowered her petite frame into it. “Of course, I wasn’t pregnant at the time, and we didn’t get phone calls from them, or computer notes. But I think I still have an idea of what you are going through dear.”
Amy smiled, and took a sip of her ice water, “Was it the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Mrs. Kurtz said adjusting her glasses and fluffing her short but straight gray hair.
“It wasn’t?” Amy asked confused.
Clara noted that Annette had excused herself to the restroom and Kathy had stood up and joined their group, even good old Henry the loner had turned around in his chair showing interest the camera now in his lap.
“It was a sad time though right? With all the men away fighting?”
“Sad? No, in fact I would say it was a fun time!”
“Fun?” Amy, Clara and Mark all asked sharing inquisitive looks with each other.
“Oh yes. Everyone was very patriotic,” Mrs. Kurtz pumped her fist when she said the word patriotic and everyone could see her dull eyes brighten with a smile. “My girl friends and I kept busy. The time went really fast. We’d go to work, come home watch the 15 minutes on the news, that’s how we found out what was going on over there, you know, then we’d go out to the card club or go dancing downtown. It was fun!”
Kathy watched her mother with knowledgeable interest, like she’d heard these words a hundred times, but couldn’t get enough of them, while Clara and her friends continued to stare in wonder. Clara wanted to read Amy’s mind, see how she was justifying what she’d just heard.
“But, you were worried about him right? Consumed with what was going on, and being separated?”
“No, everyone was in the same position. Everyone helped each other out. We were all very patriotic. I didn’t really know to be scared. I didn’t know what I do now about what he was doing, he couldn’t tell me in his letters you know. He told me about the fun he was having, sent pictures of him and his friends, and I kept busy and lived with my parents so I …”
“Clara” Tony called through the order window, “The delivery guy’s can’t get the back door open.”
Clara reluctantly tore herself away and walked back to talk to Pastor. “What do you mean they can’t get it open? Why not?”
“It seems to be iced over. I’ve tried pushing it from the inside, but it won’t budge.” Tony pushed the top edge of his hairnet back to the middle of his head and scratched the top of his head in deep thought.
“What are they delivering? I’m surprised they didn’t call off till tomorrow.”
“It’s Jim’s produce guy, I guess this is their last stop then their done for the day. But since they came, if they don’t bring it in we’d get charged for redelivery.”
“Have them bring it through the front.” Clara said glancing towards the driveway again. In the short time since she’d shoveled her work had been negated. The wind had picked up significantly and she could see country drifts forming across the roads and there was a good sized drift beginning to form in front of the door.
Clara ran to the corner and grabbed the shovel and her gloves, went outside and quickly began shoving the snow into haphazard piles around the awnings two rickety poles. By the time the truck had pulled around to the front and reversed up to the door her hair and clothes were liberally covered in snowflakes.
“Clara,” Paul Richard Harrison the II from Paul’s Produce and Perennials walked up to her. “What about this weather?”
“I know, it’s insane. I honestly thought the whole thing would be a bust. That the weather guy’s had it wrong on this one, but now I think they underestimated their predictions.” Clara had been so distracted by the snow and the iced over back door that she hadn’t even expected to see her ex boyfriend. Now she was kicking herself for not having mentally prepared.
“Yeah” Paul said looking up at the snow, “it’s like a party in the sky.”
Sometimes, no response was the only response to Paul. She tilted her head and let the snow land on her face and blinked rapidly when a few touched her lashes.
“You think Jim will ever get rid of that old thing?”
Clara pulled out of the snow induced trance and looked at Paul, trying to catch up to the conversation.
“That.” He said pointing at the awning.
“Oh, yeah I don’t know. I was just thinking about that this morning though.”
“He needs to but I’m not volunteering to do it. I wouldn’t touch that job with a ten foot pole.”
“Sorry?” She asked looking at the awning again confused. Then she spotted some wires she hadn’t seen before, “You think the awning is there because of the wires?” She asked, looking at the placement of them. It didn’t appear that it supported them in any way but the wires were running directly underneath it.
“Nah nothing like that, but I figure it’s the electric and phone line. It would be awful tricky to get the awning off without nicking those wires.” Paul puffed up his chest and stood a few inches taller. His cockiness making it’s typical appearance.
Clara was over this conversation. She was ready to get her fruit and get rid of the fruitcake already. “You have a delivery?” She prodded.
“Yeah, it’s a big one too. His whole weekend shipment, though I’m thinking there might be a lot of waste now with this storm here. Probably won’t be much business. A smart businessman would close up shop.”
“Actually, a smart business is one that is reliable. I think it’s admirable that he’s remaining open for the patrons who might need the company or want a quick cup of coffee to wake them up for the rest of their drive.” Clara’s defense of her uncle was less sentimental or sincere as it was just a comeback. She really couldn’t stand the way Paul always had an answer for everything even though 90% of the time he didn’t have anything of import to say. Though now that she’d said it, she noticed her friends inside, and felt a sense of comfort that she’d been able to spend time with them today.
“The fruit” Paul said walking back to his truck.
Clara let herself back into the diner and began brushing off as best she could. Paul used a dolly to bring in several smaller boxes, then returned to his truck. Clara wasn’t paying much attention, intentionally. Assuming he was done or nearly done she went back to the counter and started getting drink refills.
“Miss Clara dear,” Mrs. Kurtz called. “Why is he reversing? He’s not going to hit us is he?” She continued almost in a panic.
“What?” Clara turned around, just in time to see the large produce truck hit one of the poles supporting the awning as though it was in slow motion. He stopped, pulled forward a foot and parked the truck again. “What is he doing?” She asked in dismay, grateful to the pole for withstanding the hit. She shouldn’t have been shocked, nothing Paul ever did made sense.
Paul hopped out of the truck walked up to the pole, shook it, and when he did small avalanche of snow plummeted down and landed smack in his face. Everyone must have been watching because the diner exploded in laughter, and Cara heard Henry’s camera going off again.
“Oh Clara,” Mark called, “Are you swooning and wishing you’d never called it off between you two?”
“Uh, no.” Clara laughed, though turning a bit red. She glanced quickly at Henry who had an arched eyebrow but quickly regained a composed uninterested expression.
Meanwhile Paul had unloaded a heavy box and was stumbling around in the snow.
“What’s he doing, trying to get himself killed?” Kathy asked as Paul stumbled towards the other pole.
“Wish we had a video camera, this would be great for America’s Funniest Home Videos!” Mark blared.
“Mark, help the poor guy out already!” Amy said through bouts of her own laughter.
Mark did and Paul had finally placed the box in the back room. Everyone surreptitiously sipped their drinks and exchanged stolen glances while he was in the dining room. Even Annette had let a smile slip. Conversations resumed and the wind outside seemed to howl more loudly.
“Do you hear that?” She asked Amy and Mark. “Did the wind just pick up or am I delusional?”
“No, it’s the awning; I can hear it whipping in the wind now.” Mark said looking outside.
Mark and Clara stood and went towards the front of the room. “Do you think he damaged it?” She asked squinting in an effort to see it through the snow.
“Nah, it’s probably just lighter now that he’s knocked off all of that snow!” Mark laughed at himself and Clara smiled.
“Well Paul, we sure appreciate you coming in today. I’ll let Jim know, I’m sure he’ll send along his gratitude. “Pastor Tony and Paul reentered the room.
“No problem, my dad makes sure he’s at the top of the list every Thursday and Monday.” Paul shook the pastors hand and made his way towards the door.
“Clara, pleasure to see you. As always, tell mom high for me.”
Clara gritted her teeth and smiled or rather grimaced in response. It was comments like that which caused them to break up in the first place. After three weeks, you just don’t start calling your girlfriend’s folks “Mom and Dad” didn’t seem natural.
“Stalker” she muttered to Amy after he was safely out the door.
Everyone returned to their conversations, Clara started telling Pastor about how Paul had dumped snow on his face. Only Henry seemed to be watching, through the lens of his camera, as Paul threw the truck into reverse and smacked into the other pole.
Paul pulled forward, parked the truck, opened his door and looked back to make sure the pole hadn’t fallen over. With one quick glance a backward wave, and a honk of his horn he pulled out of the driveway and disappeared into the snowy countryside.
“What an idiot!” Henry said.
Everyone was shocked. Clara wasn’t sure which was more startling, the pole that was now slightly bent, or the fact that Henry had just bellowed out candidly.
The women sat frozen in place snickering and glancing amongst each other. Mark, Henry, and Tony all walked towards the window.
“I can only imagine what Cory is going to say when you tell him about this!” Clara said to Amy, sitting down at her table.
Amy smiled and laid her hand on her purse the naked feeling returning. “He has a few Paul stories himself, this can just add fuel to the fire!” She said laughing. “He really isn’t going to believe this though.”
“Should we check, just to be sure?” Henry said to the other guy’s.
“I think it’s stable. I think the snow will support them.”
“Is there enough snow around the poles though, the wind seems to be blowing the snow, should we add some more, pack them in?” Mark inquired.
“I think we should leave it be. I’d hate for one of us to fall and cause more damage.” Tony said.
The sound of the wind blowing the awning had everyone on edge. Though their decision had been made they continued standing guard at the windows, watching and listening to the storm.
“It’s gotten pretty dark out since we’ve been here.” Amy said, probably in observation of the fact that she’d said, only a short time before, that she was walking home. Just then the wind howled so loudly the building collectively held it’s breath, there was a loud metal scraping metal sound and the first pole wrenched out of place and fell to the snow covered ground.
Clara wasn’t sure who said it, and didn’t care. She grabbed Amy’s hand and said a quick prayer, Lord, you brought me to work today for a reason. Lord, keep me, us, safe. Everyone sat watching, mesmerized, and immobilized. There weren’t any plans of action being discussed now, just eight pairs of eyes glued to the scene.
The bent pole didn’t last long, Clara figured it had only been about three minutes before it met it’s match. With one fell swoop the wind took it out, and brought the awning crashing down.
Everyone gasped as plowed over the wires and smashed into the building then hung there swinging back and forth covering the top have of the door like a metal curtain, and cloaking the bottom half in snow.
“Everyone ok?” Pastor Tony asked looking around, struggling to make eye contact while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
To be continued...
To be continued...