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© February 2015
“Why can’t you just accept that it’s over!”
Grace stared at her companion in shock. She hadn’t seen this one coming, and it blindsided her. “But… but… why?”
Long fingers covered her hand and she stared at them, remembering the feel of those same fingers on her skin. Grace looked up into the gray eyes of her partner… ex-partner. “Is there someone else?” She steeled herself for the reply. Those fingers fidgeted. She had her answer. “Anyone I know?” Grace tried to keep her voice even and calm, but all she wanted to do was to fall apart. Just as her world was doing right now.
“I’m sorry, Grace.”
Was she? Grace focused on Verity and looked deeper into her eyes to see the truth of it. It was over. Now that she thought about it, something had felt unsettled for a while, but she had refused to believe it was their relationship. Work? Yes. Family? Maybe. The two of them? No. Now her denial had come back and bitten her in the butt.
Verity stood to leave. Grace looked up into those eyes that had held so much of her trust. “That’s it then.”
“I’ll be by in a couple of days to pick up my things.” With those few words, Verity walked out the door and out of her life.
She hadn’t even been given a chance to have a reaction. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Which one would she have chosen? There was no reason for her not to have a reaction now, but it seemed pointless since Verity had already left the diner.
“Here.” Grace hadn’t seen the waitress approach with a coffee pot. “Looks like you could use another cup.”
“But–” She looked up.
“It’s on the house.” There was a look of sympathy there. She was just glad it wasn’t pity.
“Not your fault.”
Grace’s mouth opened and closed. What could she say that wouldn’t sound stupid or pathetic? “No,” she finally said, “I suppose it wasn’t.” The waitress smiled at her and left her to her coffee.
Grace looked into the murky depths of her mug, hoping to see what her future held. Obviously, it was now a future without Verity. She sighed deeply. Breakups were always stressful and this one was no exception. Grace drank her coffee then stood up. She met the waitress at the cash register and paid her bill. “Thanks…,” she said, momentarily glancing down at the name badge perched over the waitress’s right breast, “…Marley.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied. “I hope things look up real soon.”
Grace hesitated. She looked into Marley’s eyes and saw that she meant what she had said. For some reason, it touched her. Marley had wished her well, and it seemed all out of proportion from a total stranger. She smiled, and received one in return.
As she left the diner her spirits didn’t seem so heavy.
* * *
Marley could see a situation developing at Table 6 from the moment the blonde walked in. The woman’s tense body language was screaming at her and she could see things were going to get ugly. She went over a strategy in her mind in case things did just that, but it turned out it wasn’t needed. The brunette backed down from whatever the blonde had said. In fact, the brunette looked shattered. It was then she realized it was the ‘dear Jane’ talk. Crap. She hated that talk, especially when it was at one of her tables.
Marley watched the blonde stand and leave, adding insult to injury by sticking the brunette with the bill. That was a low blow. Unable to stop herself, she carried the coffee pot up to the table. “Here. Looks like you could use another cup.” It came out as rather lame and she would have liked to have offered her a stiff drink, but coffee was all she had.
“But…” The brunette looked up at her gratefully, and she gave her a smile in return. Marley’s hand hovered over the woman’s shoulder because she wanted to give her a pat, but she thought better of it. “It’s on the house.” The coffee was more on her tab, not that she would tell the woman and make her feel even more in debt. She tried to give her customer her best smile. Cheer up, she mentally offered.
Marley could see the guilt in her eyes. She was trying to find all the reasons it was her fault that the relationship failed. Back behind the counter, Marley watched her drink her coffee, deep in thought. What was she thinking? Was she thinking anything at all? There was something about her that cried out for Marley to help. Or maybe it was the predicament. She couldn’t tell.
The brunette paid her bill and left the diner. Dipping into her own pocket, Marley pulled out a couple of bills and paid for the extra coffee herself. She had known that pain very recently and only too well. Her ex had complained about the hours she kept at work. As if she’d planned it that way. They both knew damned well it was out of her hands, but it was the excuse her ex had used. Marley suspected it was the final straw in a long line of final straws. They had grown apart and it was only a matter of time before the tether line that bound them together would break. Now she was alone, and decided she liked it that way… at least for now.
Marley completed her shift without further disruption, trudging home both tired and sad. The breakup at Table 6 persisted in her head. Why did life have to throw that at her? Wasn’t life hard enough without everything else ganging up on the poor woman? “C’mon, Mar, let it go. She’ll get over it.”
* * *
Grace wandered around aimlessly before she forced herself to go home. The key slid into the apartment door way too easily for her liking and she was left standing in the doorway of an empty home. “Damn,” she muttered before she stepped inside. There were so many of Verity’s belongings scattered about that stamped her presence on the room. Now Grace just wanted them gone.
Before she knew what she was doing, Grace started to collect Verity’s knick-knacks and put them into a pile. The thought of her ex wandering around the apartment to collect her stuff spurred her on to ensure the visit would be as short as possible. She didn’t think she would be up to anything more.
Grace finally found herself in the hall closet, ferreting around the top shelf. Her hand rested on a cardboard box and pulled it forward. Oh, God. Instant memories flooded her as she remembered what was in that box. Photographs, and lots of them. Grace had always meant to sort them and put a precious few in frames, but time always seemed to have been against her. Instead, they got put away for another time, collecting dust in the hidden depths of the closet and her mind.
She lifted the box down and took it with her to the sofa, sitting down with an uncoordinated thump. Reluctantly, she removed the lid and studied the images lying haphazardly in the box.
“Oh, Lord,” she whispered as she lifted the top photo. It was an old picture of her grandmother, taken years ago. The yellowing of the image made it look almost sepia, like one taken a hundred years ago. It wasn’t quite that old, but close to it. The aquiline nose and high cheekbones of the young woman staring back at her marked her as family. It was something that Grace also possessed and she could quite clearly see who she had inherited those features from.
Grace put the photo aside and picked up the next one. How young she looked. She was barely out of college when the photo was taken in front of her parents’ home. She stood there, hand-in-hand with her first love, Sandra. The smile seemed so out of place for the circumstances. Her parents didn’t know what to say when she “came out” to them. They still didn’t. Since that day, their relationship had become more formal. It still hadn’t changed. Sometimes she missed the early days when she actually felt part of the family instead of some distant relative who happened to visit a lot.
The time passed by quickly as Grace viewed each photo, remembering most with affection and one or two with a few tears. A handful of photos were of her and Verity, laughing and enjoying themselves. They were a few bright islands on her sea of despair. They had been good together, so why did it fall apart? Had she done something wrong? Had the relationship gone stale? Was there someone out there more exciting to Verity? She finally decided it was probably all those things, and more. What she would have called stability, Verity probably called boredom.
Grace mulled over whether to give Verity the photos, but decided she wouldn’t want them. After all, she was the one who told her goodbye. She shoved them back into the box and returned it to the top shelf. No, these were her memories.
She walked into the kitchen, looked in the refrigerator and tried to work up an appetite. Instead, she settled for a coffee. Damn it, Verity! She couldn’t eat and couldn’t think because her lover had called it quits. It was going to be a long night.
* * *
Work had been hard. Grace’s facial expression had drawn a number of comments and an even bigger number of questions. She told nearly everyone that her grandmother was sick. The unfortunate few who were close to her heard the truth, and her closest friend offered her a shoulder to cry on.
The thought of returning to an empty apartment was daunting, but she couldn’t accept the offer from her friend. It was only delaying the inevitable. But the trip home became a journey of indecision. She found herself once more at the diner, seeking its anonymity. When she walked in she was met by the same waitress who had offered her the coffee. What was her name? Grace glanced at the waitress’s breast. Marley.
“Back again?” she asked politely.
“It seems so.” Grace didn’t know why she ended up in the place where the breakup took place.
“Your usual seat, or would you prefer a booth?”
It sounded like Marley was trying to steer her away from the scene of the crime, and she was tempted to do so. “No, the same table.” Marley looked at her with surprise then a smile.
“No problem.” She turned on her heel and led the way to Table 6. “Coffee?”
Grace sat down and looked up at her. “Please.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It was like she was trying to face her demons and own the space she was now occupying.
A cup and saucer appeared in front of her, quickly followed by a coffee pot that filled the cup with the hot brew. “Brave woman,” she muttered.
“I don’t know many people who would come back here so readily after what happened yesterday.”
Grace stared at her and saw no malice. “I couldn’t go home,” she said quietly. “At least, not yet.”
“Looking for a cup of liquid courage, huh?” Marley patted her shoulder and walked away. Grace watched her go, her gaze giving her body a cursory glance. While the coffee was passable, Grace came more for the company. Unlike her work friends, Marley didn’t pass judgment or get melodramatic; she gave her sympathy then left her in silence. Grace wanted the company, just not the chatter.
Suddenly, the cup was empty. When did that happen? Marley strolled up with the coffee pot and offered her more. Grace nodded. “Can I also get a donut?” She thought about that for a second. “An iced one with sprinkles, if you’ve got one.”
“Sure, can do.” Marley grinned at her. Was that a silent comment on her choice of comfort food? At this point, she didn’t care. Marley disappeared behind the counter and emerged with a massive donut, covered in pink icing and sprinkles.
Grace looked at it then at Marley. “Expecting me, were you?” she joked.
“Yep. Had your name all over it.”
Grace laughed. “Rrr-ight.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying.” She put the plate down and left Grace to her delicacy. She watched Marley saunter back to the counter. Was she flirting with her? In a way, it felt good. Her ego had taken a blow when Verity had uttered those harsh words.
Grace picked at the top of the donut, collecting loose sprinkles and popping them in her mouth. She looked up and saw Marley winking at her. The heat of a blush started at her chest and traveled all the way up to her hairline. Oh, Lord. She felt like a teenager. It was too early to be thinking past the implosion of her current relationship, but damn it felt too good to ignore.
She now felt shy about eating the donut. When her head bowed over her food she surreptitiously glanced up to see if Marley was looking. Sure enough, she was. She just couldn’t take a bite with her watching. When Marley went to serve another customer, she took a healthy bite and chewed quickly. It tasted sooo good and sinfully decadent. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a donut. It was on her “banned” list while she was in a relationship. After all, she didn’t want to lose her slim figure, thereby her partner. It was a stupid thing to think, but that’s the way she was. Now, that was no longer true and she could eat for herself.
Grace jumped when Marley muttered those words from behind her and right into her ear. When did she pass her? Had she been so wrapped up in the sugary sweetness that she zoned out from reality? Apparently so.
“Errr, yeah. Just what the doctor ordered, in fact.”
“Good.” Marley patted her on the back and continued on to her station behind the counter. She had touched her… again.
When the last crumb passed her mouth, she sat back and sighed. That was some big donut. Marley appeared by her table holding the coffee pot.
“No more thanks. That filled me right up.” Grace knew she had prolonged the journey home long enough. “The bill, thanks.”
“Sure,” Marley said cheerfully.
Grace squinted at Marley’s receding back. What was she up to? She was being way too cheerful to just say goodbye. Grace pulled herself up short. What did it matter to her? Grace stood and walked down the narrow aisle between the tables. She drew out her wallet. “What do I owe?”
Grace pulled out some bills and slapped them down on the counter. “That should cover it.”
“Do I order in another donut?” Marley handed over the change. She almost sounded hopeful.
Grace smiled and added the coins to the tip jar sitting next to the cash register. “Hmmm.” She tried to sound thoughtful, playing the game of tease that Marley had started earlier. “Maybe.” Grace grinned at her and left, feeling a little happier.
On her way home, Grace thought about the past two contradictory days and came to a couple of conclusions about her life. Firstly, she would go on without Verity. The photos brought into fierce clarity that Verity had been a small part of her life, which had been full of wonderful memories and soul-wrenching disappointments. This breakup was one bump in the road that she was still traveling.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, that there would still be someone out there who would love her and tell her she was beautiful. Verity’s breakup had made her feel sadly lacking in all departments. Wasn’t she pretty enough? Not romantic enough? Not sexy enough? Her emotions had taken a battering and she doubted her worth as a woman and a lover. Marley had changed that.
Marley. Grace didn’t know what to make of the woman. She had definitely been flirting with her, but was that because of the breakup or because of her? Did she want to know? It seemed way too soon to be thinking of another relationship. Verity hadn’t even moved out of the apartment. But, still…
Grace smiled. Tomorrow she would go in search of another donut and find out.