“Jimmy, please? Can’t you make an exception this one time?” Clara asked, following behind her boss as he pulled the chairs off the tables.
“No.” He replied.
She tied her apron around her waist, tucked a few strands of her strawberry hair behind her ears and huffed as she started on the next table. “This is supposed to be the worst snow storm to hit the Midwest in 14 years. Nobody will mind if we’re closed for a few days.”
“No.” He said without so much as even turning around to glance at her.
“It’s not even snowing, and no.” Jim Davis straightened the last set of chairs and took one last look around the diner. With the morning routine nearly complete he walked behind the counter and began pulling out the condiments, seasonings, beverage menus and centerpieces to set on the tables. “This is not up for negotiation.”
“But…I…but” she helplessly stammered.
“Clara, I appreciate the appeal of having an extra day off, and I value your safety, I do. However, I built this establishment in a small town and I did so by being reliable.” Jim checked his watch then turned to go check on the cook and order of the kitchen, “I’m sorry but I have to do what I think is best.”
Clara slid off her stool and finished setting the diner up. She made sure she was extra meticulous with each arrangement, making sure the salt and pepper were to the left of each centerpiece and that the sugar packets were all facing in the same direction. Not that it even matters since I’ll only see 5 customers my entire shift. Clara looked out the window at the clear blue sky and wondered for the tenth time in the last hour if the man had a point, there weren’t any signs indicating the weather report was even valid. What if she’d talked him into closing or potentially closing early and then the whole thing was a bust? He’d never let her live it down.
“Clara,” Jim appeared from the kitchen holding a cake stand displaying a dozen pastries. “I just got off the phone with Jen, she’s sick and won’t be in.”
Clara rolled her eyes, she could have predicted the events of the entire morning. “Sick. Right.”
“Hey, she’s not a manager. I couldn’t run shop without you, especially on my day off. At least you’ll get all of the tips, one of the joys of working in a small town.” He smiled and clapped her on the back.
“Come on Jimmy, the joy of working in a small town diner, the perks of small town life are supposed to be things like closing shop because the community dog was in a hit and run, the owner leaves in a rush to get the resident soldiers wife to the ER because her water broke, or free hot chocolates to everyone without gloves on for the first snow, falling in love with the geeky drummer who proposes mid waitress-ing, stuff like that. Not getting stuck at work on the worst day of the year with crappy tips from your 3 old faithfuls and having to pick up extra hours because your relief is out “sick.””
“You watch too much TV.” Jim laughed, grabbed his coat off the hook by the door, pulled his keys out of his pockets and shoved his stocking cap onto his head. “Now, you know I’d come back in a heartbeat if you need me, but I won’t be at the house today, we’re heading north to look at a possible second location, not planning to be back in town till after close tonight, but there is a possibility we might get stuck due to the weather.”
Clara smiled through a semi serious glare “sure, just run away, why don’t you!” She grabbed her dishtowel and whipped it in his direction but he was already out the door. She watched a moment longer as he crossed the side yard to his property and climbed into his car, honk his horn, then pull away after his wife had run out to the car the wind in her hair and a smile in her step.
* * *
Clara Miller, the small town girl with a dreamer’s heart felt trapped like never before as she sat alone in the booth of her Uncles restaurant and stared at the dancing snow in a daze. The tinkle of the bell above the door pulled Clara from the memories and thoughts that had been swirling through her mind as she watched the snow dart through the sky. “Good morning” she said trying to smile despite her mood, so far she’d made a buck fifty in tips and she’d been open for 3 hours.
Clara looked up just in time to catch her only customer tip his cowboy hat. Well, well, she thought to herself and for the first time all morning a genuine smile played its way across her lips. “Good morning Henry.”
Henry Yodder slowly made his way to his favorite seat, the last spot at the counter, right across from the coffee maker, and down the hall from the restrooms. “I half expected you to be closed today.”
“He’s got a two weeks’ notice policy, which he strictly adheres to. If he can’t give written notice two weeks in advance it’s not important enough to close.” Clara smiled as she put her apron back on and began starting a fresh pot of coffee.
“It’s a good business practice.” Henry said.
Clara raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. Instead her eyes swept his appearance searching for clues. She guessed he was a year or two older than her 22 years. Immediately she spotted the camera case, and again wondered about the cowboy hat. While they admittedly lived in a small town over crowded with farmers, there weren’t many cowboys around. Being the Midwest there weren’t many around for a couple hundred miles. But Henry didn’t strike her as a cowboy, which made her all the more curious about the hat. “What will it be today? The usual?”
“Yes, Ma’am” Henry replied as he pulled a book out of his bag and began thumbing around for a specific page.
Clara smiled in response knowing the window of communicating with him had been closed. At least I’ve got a nice view, she thought to herself. Henry was never much for conversation, enhancing his mystery. She couldn’t quite peg him and that made her all the more curious and interested, to say the least. She smiled coyly at that last thought. Most people around these parts had grown up here, no one voluntarily moved there, and defiantly not as a single 20 something year old. Everyone wondered, but as far as she knew, no one had asked.
After placing Henry’s order Clara slipped into the back room to adjust her pony tail and reapply her lip gloss. Just in case he tossed a glance or two in her direction. It’s irresponsible not to look nice while there are customer’s around, she thought to herself completely justifying her behavior.
To Be Continued . . . Click here for the second installment
I'd love to hear your thoughts, opinions, and theories. Stay tuned for the second installment no later than next Friday. Thanks again to Kylie, Abby, Liz, Beth, and Claire for your suggestions. Hope you enjoy seeing your ideas all woven together.