Truth be told, I was struggling to come up with a topic for this week’s post, hence why it’s being published so late. I debated writing about the uncertainty of the start of the school, but that would be just a list of complaints and not very creative at all. I considered writing about the novels I’ve finished lately, but I always add the books to my shelves and rate them on Goodreads, and sometime I even write a review, so I didn’t want to be repetitive.
With my laptop literally perched on my lap, I take a deep breath and look around. My home is really coming together; I’m finally feeling a sense of pride in my home and inviting more and more people inside. Last night, for example, I had a small reunion with friends I made during college. It was an absolutely wonderful time, filled with love and laughter and seriously, there’s nothing more I could ask for. They’re all growing into good people with enchanting interests and big hearts, and these are the perfect people to fill my home.
And maybe because I’ve been reading Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (leave me alone, it’s really for a book club I was bullied into), but I feel all sentimental and happy. So I’m sharing a delightfully adorable short story inspired by a prompt from Fresh Boiled Peanuts’ A Writer’s Book of Matches. Enjoy xoxo
A Surprise Proposal
Jenny was standing in front of the large mirror that spanned three sinks in the women’s restroom of the small diner where she worked. She had just finished washing her hands and was waving them about wildly in the air to dry them as best she could. Recently, she read an article about how paper towel dispensers were disgusting germ spreaders, and as the diner had not yet been update with air dryers, she had no choice but to shake her hands above her head. Growing impatient with the task, she wiped her wet hands on her thighs, avoiding the decidedly germ-y apron she’d been wearing for hours now, and pulled her long, dark, wavy hair free from the elastic band that kept it piled high atop her head. Strands were starting to fall and irritatingly cling to the back of her neck or at the crease of her eyelids. She pulled the hair back into a bun, for lack of a better term, and used the elastic band to keep the unruly mess in place. She knew she’d be back in the restroom in just a short time, fixing the bun again. She blew a burst of air upward, exhaled the frustration, and headed back out behind the counter.
She pulled her favorite blue pen from the far pocket of her apron so she had to reach low and across her hips to grab it. She’d read somewhere that people remembered things better in blue ink. Her memory wasn’t exactly bad, but she was always up for taking help wherever she could get it. The cap was badly chewed, a terrible habit she just couldn’t seem to break, so she popped it off with her thumb and let it fall back into the pocket, free to roll around among the lint and spare change and bobby pins. She grabbed the pad from the largest and most centrally located pocket, and set her face in an enchanting smile, ready to face whatever customer awaited her at the end of the counter.
The corners of Jenny’s lips lifted higher and the smile became more authentic. “Terrence!” she exclaimed. Terrence Fischer always came in for a BLT with extra fries and a diet coke between 1:30 and 2:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He had been doing so for the last five years, and had become Jenny’s absolute favorite regular customer. She was surprised to see him now, on a Monday night just before closing time, and especially because he’d been missing in action last week. Truth be told, Jenny was startled by how disappointed she’d been when she’d search the counter fruitlessly. Shoulders drooping, slightly deflated, she would move on to the next customer, or whatever menial task in the back needed completing, but she’d worry and wonder about where Terrence was.
Terrence was a delivery driver for a local furniture company. He spent a lot of time alone in the van, or with some fit college kid just trying to make some cash between semesters, and a lot of time eating fast food. He was sick of the grease and limited options, so one gray Tuesday, he’d wandered into the Starlight Diner, an unremarkable venue he’d passed a thousand times. He walked in through the entrance, running his strong hand through his dark blond hair to rid it of rainwater. It had been crowded, and rather than wait for a harried host or hostess to hurry him to some booth – or worse, a cramped table – to be forgotten about, Terrence had strode confidently to the counter and perched himself on the last and only stool available. Jenny had watched all this from behind the counter, watching the handsome man with interest as her usual clientele was older and typically in a hurry. She walked over and poured him a glass of water. “First time here?” she asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” Terrence said, not taking his eyes from the menu. “You got any specials?”
“You gonna look at me or just bark questions and orders?” Jenny asked. Terrence looked up quickly, and saw Jenny’s hand on her protruding hip. She was no longer smiling.
“I’m sorry,” Terrence said. His cheeks burned. “I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Our specials aren’t any good,” Jenny said. “If you’re really hungry, I have a few recommendations, but if you’re just trying us out or in need of a quick lunch, I’d say the BLT is your best best.”
“Oh. Okay,” Terrence said. Jenny grabbed the menu from him, spun on her heel, and walked to the kitchen window. She felt his eyes on her and was satisfied. When she returned a couple of minutes later with his plate, she made small talk, asking about his job and his home. He ordered more fries and stayed for three hours, talking with Jenny. It had been a standing date ever since.
“What a pleasant surprise this is!” Jenny nearly sang. She was laying it on thick, but she didn’t care; she really missed him. “Where have you been?”
Terrence twitched his lips. It was a pathetic attempt at a smile, and though Jenny no longer had to wonder about Terrence, her worry increased dramatically. He looked thinner and paler. Everything about him was muted; no brilliance shone from his hazel eyes, no contagious laughter boomed from his wide mouth, and Jenny thought if she blew on him hard enough, he’d simply turn to dust and float away. He mentioned something about being sick, but he’d downplayed it so much that Jenny stopped asking about it. She felt like a real asshole now. “Hey Jenny,” he breathed. She could hardly hear him and had to lean in close across the counter.
“Terrence, what’s wrong?” she asked.
He blinked rapidly. His eyes were filling with tears, glistening in the light that came from overhead. He released a shaky breath. “Do you think I could get some water?”
“Of course. Right away,” Jenny said and returned in an instant with Terrence’s request. He drank greedily from the glass and Jenny watched it all with worried, narrowed eyes. He was shaking. She reached out and grabbed his free hand to stop the shaking or else she’d start crying. “What’s going on?”
Terrence drained the glass and set it on the counter before he even acknowledged Jenny had spoken. Drinking the water, or at least the time it had taken to do so, seemed to strengthen some resolve within Terrence. He smiled and said, “Could you come around the counter and sit with me for a minute?”
Jenny fulfilled his request with haste. They spun on their stools to face each other, Jenny’s knobby knees knocking into Terrence’s. He marveled at the contact and Jenny waited patiently for him to come back to the present moment. When he finally lifted his head to meet her gaze, he cleared his throat. “Jenny, the best part of my day is when I see you,” he said. He took her hands in his, and Jenny held them tightly to stop the tremors. He laughed and said, “The days I’m not in here, I must drive by a million times and try to get up the nerve to walk in. Sometimes I’ll even park and watch you through the front window, rehearsing what I’m gonna say in my mind, but then I chicken out and drive away.”
“You are always welcome at my counter, Terrence,” Jenny said.
“Do you remember when that kid spilled the chocolate milk in the booth there?” Terrence asked, flicking his head in the direction of the booth in question. “It went everywhere and the mom was mortified and she started screaming. The kid was crying and it was a mess.” Terrence dropped his gaze to his hands in Jenny’s. “You walked over there, all sunshine, and wiped it up, talking to the miserable little girl about how you just spilled a bowl of ice cream in the back and everyone was laughing and you felt bad. The girl talked to you about the ice cream and stopped crying, and the mom had stopped screaming to eavesdrop, and you came out with the best-looking ice cream sundae I’d ever seen.” He laughed again, softer this time. “Do you remember that?”
Jenny shook her head. “No, not really. I’ve been here so long it all starts to blend together.”
“Do you remember when John’s son was killed overseas, and you were driving three meals over to the house every day for a month?” Terrence asked.
“Yeah,” Jenny nodded. She was speaking slowly, trying to figure out where all this was leading.
“And do you remember when Paige was flat broke and you let her eat here without limit and it all came out of your paycheck and tips, but you didn’t complain once, not even when Paige didn’t pay you back?” Terrence’s face was flushed and he was speaking faster.
Jenny placed her warm hand on his cheek. “Terrence, what does all of this have to do with anything?”
“You’re a good woman, Jenny,” he said. “We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over these last five years, haven’t we?”
Jenny nodded, but the question was rhetorical. Terrence took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I got some bad news last week. I’m not going to be around as long as I thought I’d be.”
Jenny’s heart broke. She brought her other hand to Terrence’s face and held it lovingly. “Oh no,” she gasped, trying not to sob. “What is -“
“What little time I have left, I want to spend with you.” Terrence, moving fast as lightning lest he lose his nerve, kissed Jenny’s mouth. Then he got down on one knee. Jenny covered her mouth with her hands, shocked into staying still. He pulled a small, velvet-covered box from his back pocket and raised open the lid. A simple silver band with a small diamond winked at her. “It’s not what you deserve, but with time being as short as it is, it was the best I could do.” Terrence cleared his throat to steady his voice. “Jenny Allen, will you marry me?”