by J. A. Zollicoffer
I waited on him again tonight. He comes into the diner every evening, and always orders the same thing. I found out that his name was Vlad, and he always ate his steaks rare.
“Can I get you anything else, Mr. Vlad?” this was a question I asked every night and the answer was always the same.
“No, my dear,” he said with the hint of an accent that I couldn’t readily identify. “And, please, call me Vlad. Just Vlad. The mister part is really not necessary.
He always said that. But I could never call him Vlad. It felt…I don’t know. It felt like if I did that I would be inviting him into my life somehow. And from the way he sucked down those raw steaks every night, he wasn’t a man that I wanted to invite into my life.
Tonight for some odd reason, he wanted to make conversation with me. But when you worked the night shift at a diner, chatting with the customers was just another part of the job, besides it usually led to getting bigger tips.
“So, my dear. Is there anyone… special in your life?”
That slight pause in the question made my skin prickle, and a warning bell went off in my head. Somehow I knew that the way I answered this question would impact the rest of my life, so I countered with a question of my own.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well,” he said as he cut into his steak with meticulous care. “You don’t wear a ring, and no one picks you up from work after your shift is over.”
This last part made me uneasy. How did he know I did have a ride home. “How would you know if someone picks me up after work?”
He must have seen the suspicion in my eyes because he held up his hands in surrender and started to explain. “If you recall, my dear, I’ve been here on several occasion when your shift was over. I just noticed that no one ever picked you up. That’s all.”
His explanation sounded reasonable, but you never really know a person‘s intentions, so I lied. “Well, that’s because my girlfriend works the early shift and can’t come for me every night.”
He saw the lie immediately. I could tell, because a glint sparked in his light eyes, and the corner of his mouth twitched. “Is that so?” he asked. But I could tell he was trying to hold back a smile.
“Yes, that’s true,” I said. “Look, Mr. Vlad. I’ve got to get back to work. If you need something else just give me a call.”
I turned and walked away, but I could feel his eyes on me. I refused to turn back around to see if I was right because I knew I would see the smile on his face that he had been trying hard to hide.
The next night he came in, as usual, but this time he wasn’t alone. He was with a tall, beautiful brunette, and when her blue gaze landed on me, I was stunned for a moment. Without my permission my hand lifted to my head and tried to bring some order to my blonde mane, but that was a useless effort. I was a waitress, and after spending half a shift going back and forth into a hot kitchen the hope for any type of style to my hair was just wishful thinking.
When I could make my legs work again, I walked over to the table they’d chosen and took their order. “Good evening, Mr. Vlad. Would you like your usual?”
“Why yes, my dear, and…” he focused on his tablemate. “You can put whatever my daughter orders on my ticket as well.”
“Your daughter?” It was out before I realized I was going to say it.
“Yes, my daughter.” Again his focus turned to the stunning woman across from him. “Veronica, this is the young woman I was telling you about.” Then he returned his attention to me. “Kelly, this is my daughter Veronica, Veronica, this is Kelly.”
She looked at my nametag, then she extended a long elegant hand out to me, and I was compelled to take it. The moment my hand was resting in hers I felt a little lightheaded. Is this what it feels like to swoon? I wondered.
Her lips twitched into a quirky little grin, and then I heard this sexy, smoky voice. “Nice to meet you, Kelly.”
I swooned again. Don’t say my name like that, I thought. ‘Cause if you say my name like that I’ll swear fealty to you, and never leave your side.
“Nice to meet you too, Veronica,” I was able to get out.
When I realized my hand was still in hers, I slowly pulled mine away, and focused on my order pad. “What can I get for you?”
It was only a quick second, but I thought I saw disappointment flitter across her eyes, and it made me feel warm inside that the absence of my touch did that to the beautiful woman.
“I’ll have a big salad, and a cup of tea,” Veronica said.
She must have seen the confusion in my green eyes, because she chuckled in a sultry undertone, and I felt it in my gut. “What?” she asked. “You thought I would be eating a plate of bloody meat like my father?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Weeeell,” I said, and left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air.
“My father and I have many things in common, Kelly, but his love of rare meat isn’t one of them. I learned to curb my desire for that particular delicacy years ago.”
The way she said it, and the sudden ancient look in her eyes made me think she wanted to say centuries instead of years, but that made no sense.
I left them to go and place their order, wondering who this mysteriously beautiful woman really was, and why she affected me the way she did.
When my shift was over I dropped my stained apron into the employee laundry bin, and headed for the bus stop. My thoughts were wrapped up in the vision of the dark enchantress that had never taken her eyes off of me the entire time she was eating her meal. Why am I feeling this way about a woman I just met? I asked myself. Hmm, I wonder if she feels anything for me? I wondered.
I continued to walk along, not really paying attention to where I was going. The course I walked was a familiar one, and my feet just seemed to know where to go. But suddenly I felt something. Something strange and out of place, so, I stopped walking.
My senses went on high alert, and I started to look around, terrified that my luck had run out and I was about to encounter a gang of street thugs set on torturing me for days before I met with a horrible death of debauchery and dismemberment. Did I mention how my imagination can run away with me sometimes?
“Who’s there?” I demanded, hoping I sounded more brave than I felt.
“Don’t be frightened, it’s just me.” She stepped out of the shadows, and just stood there… waiting.
“Veronica? What are you doing here?” Then I felt anger spark in my belly. “Are you following me?”
She held her hands up, her palms facing me. “No. It’s not what you think. My father told me that you walked home alone at night…” she trailed of as if I should know the rest.
“Yes, I do, but what concern is that of yours?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she warned.
The tone of her voice sent chills up my spine, and I felt like I had to justify my actions. “I don’t actually walk all the way home, just to the bus stop.”
“Still, any distance, no matter how short isn’t safe.” She looked ashamed for some reason. “You never know what kind of creatures lurk in the night, Kelly. You should be more careful.” She hesitated. “Um…can I walk you home?”
Her gallantry sparked my need to tease. “I don’t know. You’re a complete stranger.” She raised her eyebrows at that. “And for all I know you could be one of those creatures in the night.”
She immediately looked crestfallen, and I realized that my joke didn’t go over well. “Hey,” I said. “I’m sorry. I was just kidding around. If…if you want to walk with me I’d be honored.”
This brought the light back to her eyes, and for some odd reason it made me deliriously happy to have made it happen. So, I decided to go back to my teasing.
“I don’t usually let a woman I just met escort me home.” I looked up at her. “But, since I know your father I’ll make an exception this one time.”
Veronica’s face lit up again, and this time she smiled, and It made her look like a kid. I liked that.
“And…um…well, this would give us an opportunity to get to know each other,” she said all shy like. I thought it was adorable.
She offered me her hand, and I stared at the palm, seeing the faint lines that ran across the surface. I saw the lifeline, and how it followed the curve around the base of her thumb, and made its way towards her wrist, where it looked like it was going to disappear into infinity.
Forever is what I thought, and in that moment the reality of having a forever with her was very appealing to me. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it was an omen or maybe it was destiny calling. I didn’t know which, but I took Veronica’s hand, giving myself over to whichever fate chose to guide my life, and I smiled.
It felt right. It felt preordained. If felt like eternity.