On The Way Inside

"What are you going to have?"

"I haven't decided yet."

He sighed, not too loud, and looked around the restaurant impatiently. There weren't many other patrons in the place. "If she comes back can I go ahead and order? I'm starving."

She didn't look up from the menu. "That's fine."

The waitress came, deposited their coffee and a carafe of cream, asked if they were ready to order.

"We need a little more time, thanks," he said, pleasantly.

When the waitress was gone, she said, "I thought you were going to order."

"I'll just wait. It's fine." He stirred sugar into his coffee. "I don't want to get it and be eating if yours isn't ready yet. They'd probably hold it back anyway and it'd just get cold."

She turned an oversized, laminated menu page, and remarked, "I think maybe the chicken sandwich. What time do we need to be there?"

"Two. But the lawyer said be early."

"Plenty of time."

He looked at his watch. It would depend on whether the kitchen was on the ball. And then, there was traffic. "Chicken sandwich sounds good."

"Is that what you're having?"

"Steak and home fries."


He shrugged. "Last good meal for a while." Three years, if he didn't catch a break.

The bell over the door rang as it was pushed open, and a young couple entered. Clean-cut, respectable, like they'd never done anything wrong in their lives. He watched them pick a booth on the other side of the place, one with a little privacy.

She was still studying her menu. "Maybe the pasta salad."

"Either one." He was beginning to feel queasy, a sinking sensation in his stomach. He drank some coffee, realized it was probably the worst thing he could do, and then drank some water to compensate.

The waitress reappeared. "You folks ready?"

"I think," she said slowly, having clearly left the decision to the last possible second, "I'll have the chicken sandwich."

"And you, sir?"

He hesitated. His stomach was tied up in knots, now. But he couldn't bear the thought of leaving this place without having something good. He'd just force it down and hope for the best. "Steak, medium. Home fries and slaw."

"Great," the waitress said with a smile. "Shouldn't be long." She retreated towards the kitchen.

He stared out the window at the near-empty parking lot. Few cars passed on the road beyond. He imagined the town was giving him his space, letting him alone, and he was grateful. Across the restaurant, the young couple laughed. They were holding hands across the table.

He turned back, and she was looking at him.


"I think I should have ordered the pasta salad."

"Oh, for fuck's sake, Alice, just make up your mind, would you please?"

"There's no need to be rude about it, just because..." She trailed off. They had a tacit agreement not to talk about it, at least not directly.

Eventually their food came. They ate in silence.

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