Walt…new story…unedited…

“Things will change,” I muttered to myself, “they always do.”

“What’s that, Walt?”

I looked up at my waitress and forced a smile. The rosy-cheeked waitress with auburn hair smiled back. I jerked my head toward the television. 

“The times, they are a-changing.”

“Indeed, they are. Why I remember when gas was .68 cents per gallon. I drove a yellow ’68 Chevelle and had the boys lined up around the block waiting for their turn at the wheel.”

The price of gas alone had shot to record heights under the ‘guidance’ of the current administration. Of course, to hear the media tell it, this was normal after years of standing alone against the rest of the world. 

Retribution, they called it. 

“We can’t tie the hands of our allies for four years, and then expect them to welcome us back with open arms. We must purchase their goodwill.”

I never could understand that kind of hogwash. Buying friendship was illegal, I thought in my simple mind. You can’t purchase friendship from a hooker, why do we buy it from foreign countries? Truth be told, I might not have the anger issues I have now if I could purchase friendship from a hooker. 

But who’s counting?

The auburn-haired waitress made the rounds with a pot of coffee. I pushed my cup to the edge, so she’d refill it. She scrunched up her nose at me and winked. 

“What kind of work do you do, Walt?”

“I fiddle. Sometimes I work on gas lines, or air conditioner systems. Other times, I work on motors or something else.”

“So, you’re mechanical?”

“Um, some. I know a little about a whole lot, I reckon.”

She smiled that cheery smile and nodded toward the back of the restaurant. My eyes followed her herky-jerky motion. 

“One of the girls in the back said you were a soldier. She said you got hurt over there.”

“That was a long time ago,” I said as I peeked at her name tag. “Rebecca, I ain’t been a soldier for many years.”

“Did you get hurt over there?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your limp. Did you get your limp because of something over there?”

“Yeah. I got blown up. Shrapnel cut through the muscle. It never healed right according to my doctor.”

She frowned and poured my coffee stopping just below the lip. Her grey eyes were clear, like a cloudless gray sky. When she met my eyes my heart raced, tiny beads of sweat popped out on my brow.  I cleared my throat. 

“Are you married, Walt?”

“No ma’am.”

“Do you see anyone?”

“Just my doctors, my preacher from time to time. Other than that, it’s me and my dog Chunk.”

She smiled and my tan cheeks burned from all the attention this young woman heaped on me. People had told me my whole life, “boy, you ain’t nothing special. Just a dirty old redneck, ain’t good for nothing.” 

“I get off at noon. Would you want to go to the park with me? We could sit on the bench and get to know one another a little better.”

The words I wanted to say were ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ but what came out was, “I don’t reckon I should. People might think less of you.”

She smiled that smile that could provide enough energy for two other universes. The brightness of her smile could cause the sun to hide its face in shame. 

“I don’t rightly care what people think of me, Walt. The world’s full of people who think they’re high and mighty. Our society could use more people like you.”

I blew on my coffee and took a sip. She stood there, pretty as a picture -like something you’d see in a Norman Rockwell painting, one hand on her hip and the other holding the empty pot by the handle. Her eyes said she would not take no for an answer. I didn’t want to say no, but I didn’t want people talking bad about her should they see us socializing.

“You pick me up at noon. We will talk and get to know one another better.”

She turned and walked toward the counter. Every head in the diner followed her movement. I drank my coffee and looked at my watch. 

It was just after 8. I’d better get started if I was going to pick Rebecca up at noon.

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