The crusty old man, no more wise than bitter, took his seat at an empty evening diner on the edge of town. Whether he’d been there before was of no great consequence (for he himself could not recall); the place held a distinct, I shouldn’t be here but what the hell, feeling. It was the sort of place you’d end up when you’ve reached the end of your road. The 20s, or maybe 30s something waitress, appeared equal parts amused and amazed at the crusty man’s furious, bushy eyebrows as he seated himself at the counter.
“What can I get’cha?” she asked.
“Coffee. Black,” he grunted.
He stared out the window as he waited, the sun riding the mountain ridges chasing the dusk. His disposition faded with the daylight. Before long ceramic clinked from the counter, his coffee mug steaming before him.
“What brings ya out ‘ere?” the waitress asked.
“Dunno,” he murmured, burning his chapped lips at the sip.
“Yeah, we get that a lot.” She leaned on the counter opposite of him, receiving no great notice.
“I don’t think I’m supposed to be here…” the crusty codger wondered aloud.
The man kept his gaze on the window, watching watercolors spill across the skyline as the mountains finally defeated the day. Tiny specks grew more daring by the minute, sprinkling across the empyrean, heralding Luna to begin her ascent. The waitress grinned a halfhearted grin, watching the weary traveler with interest.
“I dun’ think anyone s’pose ta’ be here. We jes’ are.” The waitress remarked.
“It isn’t that. It’s different. I really think I’m not meant to be anywhere…” He insisted, his million-yard stare unable to pierce his cooling coffee.
“It’s always diff’ernt luv. But here ya’ are,” she smirked, her eyes aglow in the hum of the illuminating fluorescent sign now lighting the window.
The old coot with crusty brows snorted. He rose from his stool, digging through obviously empty pockets. His face turned flush the longer his fingers scrambled about his trousers, his furious brows softening into something closer to sullen. Perhaps even pathetic.
The waitress simply smiled, and came around the counter. With her hands on her hips, her face shifted into a I’ve told you so many times before scowl that you’d find only on an old friend that knew even your dumbest secrets. The man lowered his head in shame. The waitress came up behind the old codger, wrapping her arms around him as she leaned her chin over his shoulder. Clearly taken aback, the man did his best to look to her.
“No worries luv,” she spoke as, with a single finger, she gently nudged his face toward a Help Wanted sign collecting dust in the window. “If ya’ got nowhere ta’ be anyway, may as well be ‘ere,” she gave him a loving kiss on the cheek as she took his coffee back to fetch a refill. When she returned, she found bushy brow’s cheeks glistening. He sighed. Looking up to her through moist eyes, he stammered as he tried to get the words out.
“I’m sorry. Honestly, I’ve got nothing left. I just–” the waitress placed her finger on his burnt, chapped lips.
“Hush luv. We all go ta’ places like that sooner or later. But we don’t have ta’ do it alone.”
She took a seat next to the old man, pouring a cup for herself as the scars decorating her wrists became apparent. She turned to him, listening to stories of days past he could scarcely remember, of foolish dreams in which he might still believe.
After some time, she shared her own stories of life, work, and the things most people don’t discuss, turning cups of coffee into a lingering kindness. Whether they recalled each other’s names in the morning no could really say, but one thing’s for sure: though neither were well-met to make it through the day, they’d carried one another through another otherwise endless night.