Excerpt From The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between by J.W. Nicklaus
The interior lights punched holes in the dead of night, and in the stillness I could hear the buzz of glowing neon from the sign above. I’d hoped there would be the slim chance of some distraction from the empty, laughing darkness that taunted me. Pinching the bridge of my nose between thumb and forefinger, I shuffled through the front door, greeted by the hostess/cashier/night manager, who apparently was thriving on the not-so-delicate thrush of caffeine. Her uniform bore the hallmarks of traditional diner-dom: bobby sox, her skirt hemline right around knee level, and wide, flat lapels on her blouse. She looked me over for all of two seconds before making her vocal appraisal.
“Let me guess…can’t sleep?” Her voice was disarming, welcoming, like a puppy that jumps in your lap. Managing a frustrated grin I hoarsely replied, “That obvious?”
“Your eyes, your body language—yeah.” I should have had some snappy retort, but my mental haze precluded any such response and subsequently I let slip my small window of opportunity for any suitable comeback.
Instead, I yawned.
“Jeez, my only customer and I’m already boring you,” she blurted out. I thought she smirked, but couldn’t be certain in my unwillingly wakeful state. I glanced around the empty dining room and motioned from left to right. “Looks like you’re swamped. Should I come back later?”
Soft brown curls played upon her left shoulder as she turned her head slightly. “Early a.m. sarcasm—I like it. Sit wherever you like, I’m good at finding people in a crowd.” Even in my sleepless haze, I had to admit she was delightful.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll sit at the counter,” I croaked. “I’ll try not to be a bother.” Her hair gently fluttered as she shook her head. “Works for me. Cop a squat and I’ll be right with ya’.”
My mind was made up—she was indeed delightful, in a common denominator kind of way. Having never exceeded the mathematical scope of algebra during my academic career that suited me just fine.