“Let me top you off, Sweetie.”
Her bony hand, with fingernails chewed to the nubs, gripped the glass carafe full of average, but piping hot, coffee.
Her other arm grabbed Trevor’s shoulder, as if to warn him of the incoming onslaught.
Trevor thought it was part-awkward, part-endearing that she called him Sweetie. But weird as shit that she touched him.
But she did every time.
She always smelled like cigarette smoke, but carried a charm that covered the strong scent and the awkward exchanges.
Florence was on her crooked Ron’s Diner name badge, but she hated being called by her God-given name. She insisted on Flo.
“And for you, Pops.”
No one is quite sure who had been a regular at Ron’s longer, Flo as a waitress or Pops as a customer.
“Thanks, Sweetie,” Pops always joked back.
Flo awkwardly grabbed Trevor’s strong shoulder for good measure, and returned to the kitchen.
Likely to light up another smoke out back.
“So, tell me, son. Why has your week been so shitty,” Pops asked.
Wearing the same boots and pants he wore the night before to the Titans game, Pops fidgeted with the pocket knife in his left pocket, and tapped his toe repeatedly with his right foot.
“Well, it’s embarrassing to talk about, but…” Trevor started and stopped.
He took a sip of his now hot, but still average, coffee.
“I don’t know Pops, I’m not sure you’ll understand.”
Before the period on the sentence could exit his lips, Pops jumped in.
“Son, do I need to remind you my story and my failures.”
Trevor was comforted, and leaned in on his forearms. His eye contact shifted from the stain on the inside of his coffee mug to Pops’ firm gaze.
“No, I remember. Okay, so. I, uh, think I really screwed things up with Katie. She’s super pissed, and I think it’s over between us,” Trevor said.
“Oh Trevor, I’m really sorry to hear that. What’s the story,” Pop responded.
Pops almost always called Trevor by a variety of pet names.
But when things got serious, Pops called Trevor, Trevor.
“I lied to her Pops,” Trevor said, his eyes darted back down to the light brown stain inside his half full mug.
A flood of shame, anger, regret, defensiveness, and sadness hit him like a winter wind when you’re dressed for fall.
He sat back against the booth, head rolled back, eyes at the grease covered ceiling tiles, “And I’ve been lying to her for a long time.”
Pops knew what to say next, but he didn’t say a thing.
His heart expanded like the aperture in a camera lens when the light of the sunset floods in, taking in maximum capacity.
Trevor felt his presence, and noticed his silence.
So he continued.
“She doesn’t fucking get it. She doesn’t get me. And she’ll never understand the pressure I face from every side. The pressure to be perfect. To have my shit together,” Trevor said.
The young couple with the two-year old daughter in the high chair behind Pops was now offended.
“Hey man, our daughter is right here,” the dad hollered.
“I’m really sorry,” Trevor apologized.
“It’s fine, Trevor, keep going, what doesn’t she understand…”
Pops knew exactly where he was leading Trevor. He’d been Trevor after all.
With more composure this time, and a deep breath, Trevor leaned back in.
“I got caught, Pops. She found my weed. And I told her months ago I’d never smoke again.”
Flo’s nubby fingernails didn’t catch the mood of the moment.
“Let me top you off, Sweetie.”
Trevor wiped his brow, he was nearly sweating at this point from his outburst.
And Pops leaned back, metabolizing the moment on one hand, and flashing back 18 years in an instant on the other.
He’d always seen himself in Trevor, but never this specifically. And never in this much anguish.
“Son, I’ll be back in a second, gotta use the restroom,” Pops excused himself.
Fresh off the basketball game the night before, and fresh off Trevor’s emerging disclosure and beginnings of truth-telling, Pops felt lightheaded.
The flimsy fake wood door closed behind him. He peeked under the two stalls to be sure he was alone.
Pops grabbed the pedestal sink, turned the cold water on, and splashed his face four times before looking up and staring in the mirror.
The deep, dark eyes. The rugged wrinkles. The gray eyebrows.
The scars on his soul had healed, but they still stung when triggered.
And the particular, seering memory of that day 18 years ago was never more than an inch below the surface.
It was 10 days after Mimi’s funeral. Long after the casseroles, his sons, his grandkids, and the in-laws were gone.
And Jim was left to figure out how to be a great dad and grandpa. And now a great mom and grandma too.
Jim sat alone at their table for six. The same table that watched four boys grow up eating fish sticks, macaroni, grilled cheeses, and countless taco nights.
He couldn’t take his eyes off Donna’s seat.
He hadn’t allowed himself to grieve her loss yet. After all, he had to be the strong one.
But in his isolation, the stillness, and his desperation, the sadness made its way to the surface.
It started with a single tear, but that one salty stream erupted into an avalanche of emotion.
Jim laid his head down on the table, and sobbed.
It poured out until the sadness evacuated and made room for the anger.
He slammed his left fist on the table, then launched into a full tirade.
“Fuck,” was the only thing he could scream as he grabbed Donna’s chair and launched it into the china cabinet that Donna’s grandfather had built before his passing.
He was nearing the end of his rope when the home phone rang.
Even though cordless phones were the norm, he and Donna never moved past their mustard yellow rotary phone.
It hung on the wall opposite the china cabinet, its tight coils long gone as the frayed mess now lay loose on the floor.
He let the call go to the answering machine.
“Hi, you’ve reached the Barnes residence,” Donna’s voice piped through the room.
Jim slid down the wall in a heap on the floor.
Donna’s now-deceased voice invited the caller to leave a message.
“Um, hello, Jim…if you’re there, please pick up…it’s time we talk about what happened…Jim….”
From the ground, Jim reached up and reluctantly picked up the phone.
He knew he couldn’t avoid it any longer.
“Linda, I’m here.”
The last person he expected, or hoped, would call.
“Jim, we need to get together. I can’t keep your secret any longer.”