The Diner

Short stories are not my specialty, but I tried my hand at this one the other day.

In a dusty diner on a rural county road, a man and woman sat across from each other at the booth closest to the door.

The walls of the diner were lined with shelves stocked with infrequently sold merchandise — bags of dog food, cans of tuna. A faded sign by the register, a sheet of paper curling rebelliously against the weight of a scrap of Scotch tape, read, “Sorry. Debit card machine not working, ever.”

The man had a strong jaw and bright eyes that crinkled when he laughed. The woman smiled at him from behind a mane of chestnut hair she kept trying to tuck behind her ear to no avail.

A pause in the lively conversation suddenly signaled to the woman that the man had something uncomfortable to say. In the split second before he opened his mouth, she knew exactly what was about to come out of it.

“So I’ve actually been seeing someone,” he said.

She felt her face fall and tried quickly, in vain, to recover it.

“You don’t have to…” she trailed off, thinking to herself, please, please don’t.

“No, I want to,” he said. He took a couple moments that seemed like hours to craft his next words delicately.

“She’s a music instructor at the college,” he continued, as she felt the blood rush from her face. “She’s divorced as well, for similar reasons.”

“Well, can’t compete with that,” she said, mostly to herself.

With one hand she drummed her fingers lightly on the worn, red upholstery of the booth’s bench, a bandage around her ring finger making a soft thud with each tap.

A rude question came to her mind and very nearly leapt out of her mouth but she kept it in. Instead she laughed nervously to herself and swirled her fork, a crumpled bit of pancake dangling from its end, around her plate in a dismal pool of syrup. He stared at her.

“I just wanted to be upfront with you,” he said.

He waited for her to speak; she didn’t. He ran a hand through his hair anxiously as she eyed him coolly.

“I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere,” he went on. “I don’t want anything serious right now.”

Anger rocketed up inside her throat as she nearly dropped her fork.

“Isn’t that what you decided two months ago, last time I was here?” she asked before she could stop herself.

He blinked in surprise.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I know. I just keep telling myself, don’t get involved with anyone, but then the second someone pays me the slightest bit of attention…”

She softened slightly.

“I can relate,” she said sympathetically.

It would later occur to her he was simply paraphrasing a line from a favorite movie of his.

“I just wanted to be honest,” he said again.

She smiled wryly.

“That’s… awesome. Just great.”

She sipped her coffee and stared down at her now abandoned breakfast to avoid his eyes. The silence was unbearable.

They got up to leave soon after. She fumbled with the buttons on her coat and the two paid their checks separately.

The man and woman got into their cars, pulling away in opposite directions. She cried from behind the steering wheel for a full minute before suddenly stopping and laughing at herself.

He’d exacted his revenge perfectly, almost to the letter.