Friday 20 April 2018

Table for Two

by Rebecca Redshaw

herbal tea

Jill sat at the small round table in the corner of Lois' Cafe as she did every Thursday afternoon from four o'clock to five-fifteen. Since the accident, this hour and fifteen minutes were her only private time. Except for Lois, the owner/waitress/philosopher/and unofficial comedian,  Jill rarely spoke to anyone.

As she removed her tailored cloth coat a man in dark glasses with striking blond hair turned his head towards her. "Getting a little cold out there?"

Space was an unknown commodity at the corner café, so the tables were situated close together.
"Just a bit," Jill turned her face away from the stranger as she sat down and retrieved the library book from her bag.

"Nice to have the afternoon off, don't you think?" The man sipped his espresso and looked out the window.

Jill really didn't have the afternoon “off”, but she ignored his  question because she knew what would happen. He'd ask to join her table and once he saw the scars on her face would, somewhat embarrassingly, make some excuse to leave soon after. If he chose to tough it out for the duration of a casual cup of coffee, he might notice her limp as she walked to the ladies’ room and mercifully he’d be gone by the time she returned.

This scenario was new for Jill. After living a relatively healthy young life with only the usual skinned knees as a kid and acne as a teenager, she learned the accident seemed to bring out the worst in
well-intentioned people.

Jill had always been quiet, a quality often misunderstood as shyness or disinterest.  She didn't date much in college preferring to use her studies as an excuse and upon entering the work force nobody seemed to pay much attention to her. Then she met Jimmy. They dated for two years and she was thrilled with his attentions. He was persistent in discussing commitment and marriage almost from the first night they met.

"Jimmy, I hardly know you. Can't we take things slow for a while?"

But he never did anything slow. He liked fast sports, downhill skiing in the winter and jet skiing in the summer.

 "Come on, Jill you can do this just hold on," Jimmy admonished her when she hesitated getting on the jet ski.

"Be careful, please," she shouted but her words of caution were lost as he revved the motor and they took off across a passing boat's wake. That was the first time he scared her. His eyes glistened with the  thrill of speed and she remembered seeing that same look the night of the accident.
Unfortunately, Jimmy drove like a maniac at every opportunity and her asking him to slow down only made  it worse. Verbally abusive to other drivers he took pleasure in seeing how close he could
tailgate before the offended driver either pulled over out of fear or took Jimmy's challenge in a very dangerous race on the freeway.

Since the accident, her Thursday afternoons at the café were not really "time off" as the stranger assumed but time waiting for trains between appointments. She remembered the day she went back to work. "You see, Mr. Harrington, my physical therapist needs to see me for at least two hours, twice a
week and if it's alright with you, I can maintain my routine every Thursday and Saturday afternoon from one to three..."

"Enough, enough already," Mr. Harrington cleared his throat huskily, shuffling papers and never looking at the once pretty, young woman. "As long as the work gets done but you know I really can't give you any more special treatment from now on."

"No, sir, Mr. Harrington. My PT told me that I have six more months of  rehab and then, whatever else can be done to improve my walk, I'll be on  my own."

Jill knew he hated looking at her since the car accident ten months ago. Once her hair grew back in and she could restyle it to cover the scars, the only visible affectation of that night would be her
noticeable limp. As she closed the door leaving behind her flustered boss, she sighed in disbelief. "My God, what would he do if he knew that after I left the fitness clinic I waited for the next train to go uptown to see my shrink."

This afternoon Jill had walked hesitantly through the crowded café. She'd been coming to this same place for six weeks now and Lois saved her a small table in the corner and brought herbal tea and a slice of lemon cake without Jill even having to order.

"How are you today, Lois? Read any good books?" That's how their friendship had gotten started. Jill always had a library book with her and read to pass the time. It took away the
awkwardness of eating or drinking alone which she hated.

"No, sweetie, those teenagers of mine had me down at the station house last week. Prank stuff, ya know?  I grounded them for two weeks and believe you me," she bent over the table as she straightened the salt and pepper shakers, "the punishment's all mine."

Jill smiled as she dipped her tea bag repeatedly in the metal pot. Lois  was the only person she had met that never once asked her about the scars or the limp and she loved her for that. Jimmy had left her before she was released from the hospital, the jerk. At the thought of Jimmy, Jill shuddered a little and pulled her sweater tightly around her shoulders.

"You catchin’ a cold, honey?" Lois refilled the hot water container. "I can tell Bernie to turn up the heat or ..."

"No, please don't bother. I'm fine."

"Maybe you'd like to change seats?" the stranger scooted his chair back as if to get up.

"No, no, that's not necessary," Jill said a little too loudly.

Lois stood between the two tables her large form blocking their view.  "Say, have you two met yet? You should you know. You both like books. There're too few of us in-tell-ec-tu-als left!" She exaggerated each syllable and tilted her nose to the ceiling evoking laughter from both customers.

"Samuel, Jill. Jill, Samuel." The two customers smiled at one another. "Com'on. The owner will spring for another espresso and another pot of tea. On the house." Lois headed towards the kitchen.

 "Thanks, anyway, Lois but It's time for my train. Nice meeting you, Samuel." Jill buttoned her coat, gathered her book bag and walked towards the front door knowing he was watching her walk and wishing Lois had never introduced them.

Because of her physical therapy plus working on Saturdays, the week flew by for Jill. Thursday, as she walked into Lois', dripping from the rainstorm outside, she was surprised to see Samuel as she had the week before, sitting at the same table staring out the window. Knowing Lois, Jill was sure she had told him she stopped in every Thursday. She was also certain, even if Samuel hadn't seen her scarred face as she left the week before, he had surely seen her limp. Why was he here? Her therapist had told her not to be self-conscious about her appearance and to try and make new friends, date even, 'because in time things would get better.'

“Things,” thought Jill as she left the woman's office. “What does  anyone know about
'things' and how people treat you when you look different.”But there sat Samuel. Lois with her own bustling style was walking towards Jill's table with tea and cake in hand.

"Let me put that wet coat and umbrella by the door, sweetie. No one will bother them, I'll see to that. You remember Samuel, don't you? Sam, it’s Jill. You met her last week."

"Of course," he started to get up from his chair as she passed. "I'd recognize that perfume anywhere. 'Obsession,' isn't it?"

"Pretty smooth, this one." Lois patted him on the back and he grabbed her hand.

"Marry me, woman, and we'll runaway to some exotic island, what do ya' say?"

"What and leave the good life at Lois' Cafe? Not a chance, buster. Just 'cause you're handsome and charming and probably, available," Lois winked at Jill, "doesn't mean you can have your way with me."

Their repartée brought a smile to Jill's face.

"Let me go now so I can tend to the customers who actually tip when they leave this joint."

Jill turned her face away and sipped her tea. Her thoughts raced about Sam. Part of her wanted to talk to him, to get to know him better. The sound of his voice startled her.

"Why don't you join me?" Samuel pushed the empty chair at his table gently with his foot. "You can bet Lois will not rest until we at least pretend to do as  she says."

His voice was gentle and soft and he spoke ever so slowly. And Jill knew that he was right. For whatever reason Lois had made their meeting her personal  challenge. Leaving her books and handbag at her table, Jill placed the untouched lemon cake and tea cup beside Samuel.

"Lois tells me you're a reader, too," Samuel stared out the window. "I read everything I can get my hands on."

"Maybe you'd like to read this one. I've just finished it." Jill reached for the book behind her and set it between them on the table.

"Thanks, but I don't think..." Samuel started to explain but Jill  interrupted. "Oh, please don't feel obligated out of pity. I can always go back to my own table and..."

Sam reached for her hand, "Whoa, whoa, tiger. Where did that all come from? Don't you know the reason I'm not sure?"

"Please don't make me say what we both know to be true. I know I don't look like other girls you may date, that's fairly obvious."

"Jill, Jill, how would I know? We have a misunderstanding here that I want to clear up right away before either of us says anything we'll regret later."

"Later? Regret?" Jill's voice cracked. "I don't see what you're talking about."

"Precisely, Jill. I don't see. When I said I read anything I can get my hands on I meant it quite literally. Don't you know I'm blind?" Samuel  turned his head towards her and she
looked at her reflection of astonishment in his dark glasses. After a few moments of awkward silence, Jill blew her nose unceremoniously into the paper napkin.

He clapped his hands together once and laughed. "I think it's swell that you thought I was being a jerk. Usually, I reserve that right since people pre-judge me all the time because I'm different. But you wouldn't know about that, would you?"

Jill's eyes widened in amazement. Samuel had no idea about her scars or her limp. He liked her!
Just then Lois arrived at the table and placed the check in Samuel's hand. "Sorry to tell you kids this but a certain someone's train leaves in five minutes. Time to pay the piper."

"I guess I better get going," Jill started to take the check, but Sam held tight and placed his other hand on top of hers."I have a better idea. Stay and have dinner with me. Word on the street is that Lois makes a killer chili especially good on rainy nights."

Jill hesitated, wondering what her shrink would say if she canceled her appointment for a date.

Sam leaned forward and whispered, "If you'd rather not..."

"No, please, I mean, yes. It's just that I'm surprised." She felt a bit giddy. "Let me make on phone call."

Walking towards the pay phone in the back Jill saw Lois waiting with open arms to give her a hug.
"See, honey, Lois knows a lot more than waitin' tables. She knows beautiful people when she sees 'em."

Jill kissed the rosy cheek of the plump woman and turned to call her therapist.  She hesitated and turned to Lois.."Thanks for opening my eyes to what's really important, Lois."

"Don't be silly, sweetie. I'm just tryin' to open up another station at my busy time. I don't want you two hoggin' up two prime tables."

Jill glanced toward the front of the cafe where Samuel waited patiently, "Lois, my friend, I have a feeling it will be a table for two  for some time to come."


About the author:

Rebecca Redshaw is a published author and playwright who lives in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to extensive articles and short stories published in national newspapers and magazines. Her play, A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel was commissioned by the Clallam County League of Women Voters and has been produced successfully at numerous venues.
Rebecca was awarded First Prize in the 2009 Lakeview Literary Review for her short story, Somebody Special and her short story, “Mrs. C” won 2nd place in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition. Currently, she is at work on her fourth novel, The Girls Go Fishing and eighth play, Into the Wind.

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be
doing something else."


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