The coffee’s good here at Sara’s Café, and at 7:45 in the morning the doughnuts are still bubbling in the fryers. That’s why I chose this place. Well, that and the fact that there’s hardly a soul in the building around this time. It’ll be a fine atmosphere for conversation and getting to know one another. My days of first dates at concerts or amusement parks are long behind me; that leaves little diners like this. She said she’d be here by 8:00 and I do believe she will. I hope she will. I’ve been stood up on first dates before, though. Recently. And even at 82 years old it stings like hell.
I can feel the waitress’s eyes on me as I check my watch. It’s 7:50 now and she’s coming over with a pot of coffee in hand. It’s black as tar and wisps of steam gently curl around the pot’s lid. I shoot her a wink.
“Can I top you off, Gerald?” she asks and offers a warm smile.
I politely nod to the cup, and she fills it halfway. She’s a doll and knows my hands shake from time to time. I say it’s a morning thing but it’s more of a nervous thing. I wouldn’t have guessed first dates would make me nervous anymore, but they do.
“Are you nervous?” she asks, plucking the very thought from my mind.
“Oh, no,” I reply in a cracking rasp. I clear my throat and try again, hoping to sound a little more certain, “No reason to be nervous, dear.”
She gives me a half nod, but her eyes move to my right hand for a moment before darting elsewhere. I hadn’t realized it, but I’m gripping the rolled-up silverware so tightly, my knuckles have turned bone white. I set the roll of silverware down and exhale slowly. She squeezes my liver-spotted hand as a parting consolation before migrating towards the kitchen.
Of course, I’m nervous. There’s uncertainty in meeting new people, inherent pressure, and risk of rejection. It’s enough to make anybody’s nerves jitter a bit. I never even thought I’d date again. I was married 44 years before my wife, Eileen, passed away. Forty-four years of having and holding, better and worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. The last several were much more sickness than health for Eileen, though. Forty-four years with her and another eight by myself where I thought I’d never move on. But, time didn’t seem to care if I moved on or not. Time’s ruthless like that. It moved and moved, and lonesomeness has been like a snowball rolling downhill. Every revolution has made the cold ball of solitude a little heavier, a little more unbearable. So, now I seek companionship. I’m in search of a friend I can rely on to battle the harsh loneliness with. A friend who might just need me too.
Behind me, the front door chimes breaking the calm in the diner. My neck creaks like old, wooden floorboards when I turn to look. It’s a young couple, no older than twenty, standing in the entranceway. He’s brushing off the shoulders of her coat with both hands and she’s flashing him an impossibly white smile in return. I find a smile of my own tugging at the corner of my mouth as she gets on her tippy toes and plants a kiss on his cheek. Eileen and I were like that once. We were young and in love and carefree, looking for any excuse to show the other affection. A peck on the cheek. A squeeze of the hand. A lingering look of adoration while the other crossed the room. We had a lifetime of moments like that — I wish I could have bottled up all those moments and kept them forever.
I turn back in my seat and focus on my coffee. My neck is grateful that I do. It’s 7:55 now. Five more minutes.
I take my coffee cup in both hands and slowly move it to my lips, careful not to spill even as my hands tremble. The hostess leads the couple to a table across from me. My eyes wander in their direction, and I watch as he puts her arm around her. I watch as they sit so close together. Their faces touch, cheek to cheek, and they scan a single menu together — like they’re each one half of a whole person. He’s tapping a section of it with his index finger, and she replies with a subtle shake of the head and a million-watt smile. Without looking their hands become interlaced atop their table, like pieces of a jigsaw snapping into place. They’re laughing and joking together over a menu, having the time of their lives — like they’ll have a never-ending supply of these moments.
I find myself grinning like a fool but I’m not here to stare at the young couples. I’ve got an agenda of my own. I check my watch again. It reads 7:59. A minute till she walks in. I know I’m an old man now and I’ve lived longer than some — but I still want more moments like the one that couple’s making, even if those moments can’t be with Eileen. Instead of young and dexterous hands interlacing atop a table, they could be wrinkled and arthritic, but I want moments like that. Laughter so genuine and hearty it’s contagious, smiles that fill a whole room, and conversation that’s warm enough to melt away every layer of loneliness. Moments that make the whole day worthwhile and give it a little meaning. Moments that are worth bottling up and keeping forever.
The entrance door chimes again. It’s about that time now. Slowly, I turn in my seat and look in that direction.
Randy Pitts is a writing enthusiast currently living in Indiana. His passions are lifting weights and writing stories. He hopes to one day have a novel or two published in his name.
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