The Drifter

It's been a little while (almost 4 years!) since I wrote one of these for The First Line, but it sure did feel good to get back into it! My fifth attempt, February 2017. 2013 words.

Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. He was working one of those jobs one day when fast-talking New York City girl Summer Madison walked into the diner and sat at the counter.

“I don't suppose you have espresso, here?”

“Nope, sorry. Fresh out.”

Summer let loose a deep sigh and rested her chin on her fist. She placed her clutch on the counter. “How old is that coffee in the pot,” she asked, pointing toward to pot under the food window.

“You know, I’m not really sure. I’m the dishwasher, just out here getting a refill of soda to take back to my damp dungeon.”

Summer giggled, batting her eyelashes. “So where’s the person?”

“Over there,” he nodded toward the windows behind Summer. “Making googley eyes at her boyfriend of the week.”

Laughing into her hand, she turned her head to see where he’d nodded. “They look very much in love.”

“Oh they are,” he chuckled. “And they will be until the end of the week when her husband gets home.”

“Husband? Where is he? She doesn’t look like she’s more than sixteen years old.”

Eddie snorted. “He’s a truck driver. Over the road Monday morning until Friday evening. Gets to spend the weekend at home with his wife and two children.”

“Two children?” She gasped, dribbling coffee down her chin. Eddie snatched a napkin out from under the counter and handed it to her. “Seriously, how old is that girl?”

“I don’t know for sure, but old enough to be married with children and a long list of affairs.”

Summer set the napkin on the counter. “Is the whole town as fresh as she is?”

“From what I’ve seen in my occasional trips out there,” he gestured toward the small town beyond the windows. “Yes. This town is full of not-so-secret secrets. It’s actually quite comical watching everyone tiptoe around thinking they’re above it all.”

“Aren’t you from this town?”

Eddie laughed, “Hell no. I’m just passing through, working to make enough money for the next leg of my trip.”

“Really? Where are you headed?”

“Any where but here,” he said, filling up her cup.

“How long have you been here?”

“About a month. I’m pretty sure I’ll have enough in about,” he paused to calculate his earnings minus his expenses. “Um, three more weeks. Then I can watch this town disappear in my rear view mirror.”

“And where will you go next?” She asked again, hoping for a better answer this time.

“Eh, haven’t really thought about it much. I tend to go where the wind takes me.”

“Do you think you’ll ever settle down?”

“Maybe. Gotta find the right woman, first. So far, haven't been lucky with that.”

“Could it be that you’re never anywhere long enough?”

Clutching his stomach, he bent over laughing harder than he had in a long time. “Could be. But I doubt it. My philosophy leans toward ‘You know it when you know it,’ or even ‘Love at first sight.’”

She raised an eyebrow, surprise shooting from her eyes. “I did not have you pegged as a romantic,” she said slowly. She let her eyes run the length of him, paying close attention to his facial features. A romantic. His tough guy exterior did not announce the soft heart interior. She was intrigued.

“Well, unless I want to have to skip town sooner than I’d like, I’d better get back to my dungeon and get to work.” He filled her cup one last time, tipped his hat, and disappeared into the back of the diner.

Summer was in town for just the week and she made a point to stop into the diner each day after she was finished filming her scenes. She sat at the counter, ordered a fresh coffee, and hoped she’d catch a glimpse of the dishwasher. Every evening, after she’d spent as much time as she possible could, she’d head back to her room disappointed. It wasn’t that he was all that handsome, or that she’d felt some spark that wouldn’t die. No, it was that he was so different from anyone she’d ever met. She wanted to talk to him more, his views on life and love intrigued her and she found herself replaying their conversation every day.

Her last day in town was Saturday. She packed her suitcase, what little she’d brought, and headed to the diner. Her plan was to park herself at the counter all day - or at least until she had to leave for the airport - and wait for the dishwasher’s arrival.

Turns out Fate was in her pocket that day. As she walked into the diner, she was taken aback by the noise inside. That was what registered with her first. The waitress from that day was in a screaming match with a man twice her size - both in height and weight. Half the diner’s patrons were standing behind the waitress and the other half were standing behind the man.

The rest of the diner’s employees were standing behind the counter, though the dishwasher looked like he was ready to jump over the counter at any minute.

All eyes - except for the two fighting - swung in her direction as she walked through the door. She gave a half-hearted wave and a smile and inched her way toward the counter. She propped her suitcase against the stool and stood in awe of the spectacle playing out in front of her.

“I have it on good authority, Sally!”

“Well I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but it’s just not true!”

“Really? One would think two kids and a job at the diner would keep you so busy you’d fall into bed every night out of sheer exhaustion. But according to my source, you’re lucky to catch an hour of sleep each day. Too busy with your ‘boyfriends,’” the man used air quotes to help get his point across.

Oh no!, Summer thought to herself, clapping a hand over her mouth in shock. This was the husband, the truck driver who was gone all week. And apparently the cat was out of the bag.

She cast a quick glance back at the dishwasher, looking for his reaction to her revelation, but he only had eyes for the fighting spouses.

“Tony,” the waitress whined, obviously changing tactics. “You know you’re the only one for me. You’re my one true love.” She took a step closer to him, but he shot out his hand, warding her off and took a step back.

“You aren’t playing your games on me anymore, woman,” he said shaking his head emphatically. “I’m on to your game and I know you’ve been doing this for as long as we’ve been married!”

Every patron of the diner drew in a shocked gasp. Summer could hear their murmurs of disgust and disappointment. “For shame!”, "She didn’t!”, “That girl is trouble, didn’t I tell you Ethel?”

“I’m changing the locks, Sally. You can live with your mother. The kids are staying with me!” With that, he swung around and walked out of the diner.

“That’s fine you bully,” Sally yelled after him. “I never loved you anyway. I only married you because you knocked me up!” Tears were pouring down her face, but Summer could tell they weren’t tears from a broken heart. They were angry tears. “What are you all staring at?” She yelled at everyone, eyes shooting angry daggers at anyone stupid enough to catch her eye.

The cook, who it turned out was also the owner, stepped out from behind the counter and approached her. “Why don’t you take your break, now, Sally?”

She growled “Fine,” at him and stalked out of the diner.

“All right, folks. Let’s get back to our tables and finish our food.” He gestured back to the dishwasher. “Eddie will be around in a moment with fresh coffee.”

After Eddie finished filling up coffees, teas, juices and sodas, he returned to the counter. He stopped in front of Summer and smiled. “Nice to see you again. What will you have?”

“Um, a cup of coffee and blueberry pancakes with bacon. Extra crispy, please.”

“Sure thing.” He put her order in the window and then returned with a cup of steaming coffee.

“So, interesting morning here, huh?”

He nodded. “You could say that. Personally my adjective would be shit storm, but whatever floats your boat.”

Summer laughed. “I was trying to be polite.”

“No need. That was a completely screwed up situation and I still can’t believe almost the entire town was here to witness it. That’ll be enough fodder to get everyone through ‘til Christmas.”

“No doubt.” Summer sipped her coffee. “So, I guess this means you’re on serving duty until Sally gets back?”

“Looks that way. And since she’s madder than a hungry bear, I doubt she’ll be back today.” He nodded his head toward the food window. “He’ll be calling in Linda. She won’t be happy, but she’ll appreciate the extra cash.”

“I’m glad I got to see you before I left,” Summer began. “Heading home to NYC this afternoon.”

“Is the movie all finished, then?”

“No, just my part,” she said, smiling. She pulled out her business card and slid it across the counter. “If you ever find yourself up my way and feel like grabbing a coffee, give me a ring.”

He tucked her card in the front pocket of his jeans. “You never know,” he said, winking.

“Order up, Eddie.”

He turned, picked up the plate and set it down in front of her. “Butter? Syrup?”

“Yes to both, my job is done here,” she grinned.

They continued to chit-chat while she ate her breakfast, further cementing Summer’s decision to give Eddie her contact information. He was a good guy, one she’d like to get to know better. Not that she expected it to happen, she was after all leaving in a few short hours. The timing was just off, as it usually was for her. Someday.

A half hour later, Linda walked through the door and took her place behind the counter. Eddie stuck out his hand after clearing Summer’s plate and refilling her coffee. “Nice to meet you, Summer. Take care of yourself.”

“You too, Eddie. I hope the next stop on your journey is as interesting as this one has been,” she grinned.

He released her hand and headed to the back of the diner. Into his damp dungeon as he’d once referred to it.

Summer smiled, took a few more sips of her coffee and then decided to leave well enough alone. She paid her check and left a hefty sum behind for Eddie. Slinging her purse around her shoulder and grabbing her suitcase, she strolled out of the diner without a backward glance.

She’d been back in NYC for six months when her phone rang that evening. On her way out the door for another red carpet event, she answered her cell expecting it to be the limo driver downstairs. Sometimes they were so impatient.

“Hello?”

“Summer?”

“Yeah? I’m on my way down right now.”

“Um, yeah, this isn’t who you think it is.”

That made her pause. She pulled her phone away from her ear to check the number. It wasn’t one she recognized. “So, you’re not the limo driver?”

“No. This is Eddie. We met in a diner a few months ago…”

“Find yourself in my neck of the woods, did you?”

“Something like that. About that coffee…” he trailed off.

“Where are you staying?”

“Got no plans, just yet.”

“Why am I not surprised,” she laughed. “Let me ditch my limo ride, one sec.” She walked out of her building, spoke quickly to the limo driver, sent a short text to her manager (who would be very angry) and put the phone back to her ear. “All right, I’m all yours. You want just coffee or something more?”

“Something more,” he said, voice dropping to a husky drawl. “Most definitely something more.”

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