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Chapter Six – The Springs Diner
The Springs Diner was a big restaurant, not a one-counter roadside place like the one on Route 30. The Magnusons must have known that Route 100 was going to be a big thoroughfare one day and they built it right on the corner of 100 and Pierce. I started waitressing there the year it opened. The Springs Diner quickly became the place to go and thirty years later, it’s still full of regulars. With two big rooms full of tables and booths and a long counter in the back, we had a big menu and plenty of room.
Despite its size and popularity, I got to know the regulars pretty fast. My morning shift people were mostly guys eating breakfast before their jobs, too lazy to get their own food, or just in a hurry to get out of the house.
Jimmy’s brother, Stu sometimes came into the Springs Diner when I was on my shift. He’d nod at me as he came in and if I wasn’t busy at another table, I’d go over to him and talk for a minute before I took his order. Stu was twenty-five and was a slightly older and more muscular version of Jimmy. Thin, but strong with a body that worked every part in his job building decks.
“What’s up, Jes?” he’d say, just like I was one of them, I thought. I liked that and wanted to belong there with Jimmy and his brothers and dad.
Jimmy and Stu both had messy brown hair, messy because I don’t think either one of them spent much time combing it into place and, from a distance I sometimes thought I was looking at Jimmy when it was really Stu. It happened the first time Stu came into the diner, about six months after I had started working there. I had had a fight with Jimmy the night before and was feeling shaky about the things we had said. I had felt like we had been on the edge of breaking up, just like you’d feel if you were standing up high on something that looked down and briefly lost your balance, just enough to feel the electric jolt run through your body that gave you a look at what was so close to happening. And I hadn’t gotten over that feeling the next day at the diner. So I was going through my morning there working the words we had said through my head in the order we had said them, each time thinking the last words would come out differently.
And while I was waiting on tables and working those words through my head, Stu walked through the door to the diner. Something in my head tricked me and I was sure then that Jimmy had come to the diner before work to apologize or do something to make things right. I had felt an overwhelming relief wash over me as I sensed his presence and when I looked up I must have had that look on my face, when I looked at Stu with my shaky body and sad eyes. And for a minute I thought I was looking into Jimmy’s eyes, showing him my soul and thinking he was going to do the same.
That’s when I noticed that Stu’s eyes were green, not brown the way Jimmy’s were and I felt the horror of my mistake, but it was too late. I had shown Stu my vulnerable self and he had seen the weakness. I knew that he would never bring it up, but Stu saw my face and looked back at me, straight into my eyes. He hadn’t laughed, the way some people might laugh when there was a simple misunderstanding. His look said something different, like he was reading something in my face, like I was showing him something that was interesting and maybe even useful.
I was uncomfortable seeing Stu stare at me like that, but it was over a second after it started and by then I had realized my mistake and was trying the best I could to stop shaking and say something that would carry us out of the moment.
Stu never said a word about it, only, “Hi Jes” and he made his way over to the counter for breakfast. But I got a creepy feeling about it. Ever since that day, I’d always look twice to make sure I was looking at Jimmy, not Stu, before I said anything and the first place I’d look was in the eyes to check the color.
Since that day, Stu would always say, “What’s up Jes?” and not much of anything else. If he looked at me differently, I hoped it was only because he knew that someday we’d be related once Jimmy and I got married.
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