The Last Night
Author's Note- This is a major revision of a short story I posted last summer. It's shorter than the original by a good amount, but I believe I was able to greatly improve it this time around. Enjoy!
"And then, and then, the cow turns to the farmer and goes, 'McDonald. What do you want?'"
The waitress sitting at the counter burst into laughter, destroying the peaceful, near silence that had settled on the diner up until then. A few of the patrons gave her dirty looks, but she paid them no mind.
Tim watched her hopefully as he dropped a hamburger patty on the grill. "Was it really that good? I've been thinking about doing a stand up routine at one of those clubs we have around here. Think I could use that one?"
"Without a doubt," Still grinning, Malory wrapped her hands around her coffee cup. The heat felt good against her cold skin. The diner was kept warm enough to fend off the cold January weather, but it her bubble gum pink uniform with its short sleeved, button up blouse and thigh length skirt was too thin to protect her from even the smallest of drafts. "Do you have anymore? You know, if you're going to do a routine, then you'll have to have more than one joke… Try them out on me. I don't mind." She smiled up at him through her long eyelashes.
Tim chuckled and flipped the burger. "Of course I have more than one joke. I'm not an idiot. Sure you want to hear them?" He scooped the patty off the grill and into the waiting bun. Dropping it onto a plate with a piece of lettuce and a tomato slice, he shoveled a handful of fries onto the plate as well and pushed it onto the counter, ringing the bell next to him. "Order up!"
Julie, the second waitress on duty swooped forward and grabbed the waiting plate, leaving Malory to continue her break in peace.
She shrugged. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to hear them. I love a good joke. So," She lowered her voice, raising her cup to her lips. "You should never keep a girl waiting, stud."
Tim grinned, but did not blush. After working at the diner for nearly two years now, he was used to this sort of behavior. Malory, along with the rest of the waitresses here were anything but shy. "Alright, so there's this man walking down a country road—"
"Hey babe, over here!"
Glancing over her shoulder, Malory spotted one of the regulars, David, waving in her direction and sighed. She didn't particularly want to go back to work at the moment. But according to the pink, neon clock on the wall, she didn't have much choice. "Sorry, Tim. Tell me them later?"
He nodded, dropping a new burger onto the grill. "Your next break."
"Deal," Spinning around on the counter stool, Malory saw that David was now holding his coffee cup up in the air in mock impatience. She grinned and rolled her eyes good-naturedly, grabbing the coffee pot from its station as David grinned back and waved to her with the cup.
Arriving at his table a few seconds later, she began to pour the hot, black liquid into his waiting cup. A heavyset man in his mid forties who worked the graveyard shift at a local factory, he was the only one who ever ordered regular coffee after ten. "Can I get you anything with that?"
"Just my usual."
Malory didn't even bother to pull out her order pad. "A medium rare mushroom cheeseburger with fries and coleslaw on the side?"
He smiled. "That's it, doll."
"Tim's already got it going. You'll have it in a sec.' Seeing that none of the three other remaining patrons, a rumpled looking businessman and a couple deeply involved with each other, appeared to be in need of anything, she made her way back towards the counter to wait for the order.
It was ten forty-five now, fifteen minutes to closing time. Tom silently passed the order over to her and she made her way past the rows of booths to David's seat. As she walked, she let her eyes linger on the couple, enviously watching them lock lips over a long since melted banana split. She had had a boyfriend once, he had brought her on dates to see movies like Dawn of the Dead and Escape from Alcatraz, but they had ended things nearly a year ago.
By the time she arrived at David's table Malory was smiling again. She couldn't afford to dwell on the past. She had moved on since then in every sense of the phrase. "If you drink anymore of this, you'll be up for the rest of the week." Setting the plate down in front of him, she refilled his cup. "You know we make it stronger than most places. What is this anyways? Your fifth or something like that?" She was guzzling coffee as well, but she wasn't about to say that. Besides, it was only decaf.
"Sixth," David said, his tone cheerful. He grabbed a sugar packet, ripped it open, and poured it into his drink. "And if it can keep me up for the rest of the week, it'll be a Godsend. Not enough time in the day, you know?"
Malory laughed lightly and nodded. "Amen, David. Amen."
As if to demonstrate his point, Julie banged a cup against the counter. As if a firecracker had gone off, Malory flinched and the couple jumped apart. The businessman and David simply looked in the older woman's direction.
"Hey! Everyone?" Her voice seemed to bounce off the diner walls. "We're closing now. Please start making your way towards the cash register to pay. We'll be back open at six tomorrow morning. See ya'll then."
The businessman sighed, abandoning his coffee while the couple grumbled, exiting from their booth. David didn't move. As the diner's most frequent customer, he had special privileges and rarely left before the staff did.
Malory gave a drawn out, overly dramatic sigh and slumped against his table. It had been a very long day. But then again, all her days were long. It took a lot of effort for a girl like her to live in a big city like Atlanta.
David chuckled in response to her sigh. "You're just a teenager! Eighteen, right? What are you doing, working all day, everyday? You should be in school! You should be out enjoying yourself! People your age go to clubs, don't they? That's where you should be during at night! Not here!"
Malory laughed, pulling at her shirt nervously.
"Don't give her any ideas, David," Pete, the evening manager, wandered up behind Malory, casually resting his hands on her shoulders. "We need her here. Five days a week, six AM to eleven PM most of those days? Haven't had a harder working waitress since Betty left three years ago."
"Ah, Betty," David nodded. "Has it really been three years? Damn, time goes fast." He paused, catching sight of Pete's hands, chuckling.
Out of nowhere a crash rang out across the diner.
All eyes snapped in the direction of which the noise had come from to discover a fallen bus boy bin, its contents spilled everywhere. Forks had bounced across the floor. Plates had shattered. Food had splattered on the wall.
"Shit!" Julie glared at the mess, her nose wrinkled with disgust. She dropped the pack of silverware she was holding, letting it land on the counter with an angry crash. "Dammit! Not again! Pete! You've got to get that damn table fixed!"
Malory too frowned at the mess on the floor. "I thought you fixed that a while ago, Pete."
"I did. But I just kind of… repaired it. Maybe I should get a new one…"
"Yeah," Julie said, her tone harsh. "Yeah. I think that would be a wonderful idea. If I have to clean that up again, I'll scream. Do you see the applesauce on the wall? That is applesauce, right? Eck." She stomped off into the kitchen.
It was silent in the diner for a moment. Then David began to speak. "Well," He put his hands down on the table as if he had just finished Thanksgiving dinner and stood up. "I'm off. Got to get to get to work. See ya'll tomorrow night!" Nodding towards Malory and Pete, he dropped a wad of cash on the table and headed towards the door.
"I'm off too," Pete gave Malory an absent farewell pat on the shoulder and then walked off to get his coat.
David pushed the door open. "Night Tim!"
"You know what?" Julie asked, reappearing from the kitchen with the mop and a broom.
"What?" Tim's coat was half on.
"I'm not going to clean this up." She dropped the mop and broom on the floor. "Malory is."
Malory, who had been heading back to the counter with the coffee pot, stopped. "What?"
"You were just on break. I've been working my ass of for the past two hours and I really don't feel like spending another hour cleaning it up." She moved behind the counter to grab her coat.
"I was just working!" Malory put the pot back on its warming pad. She headed towards her own coat. "Make Kim clean it up. She never went off. And besides, I've been here longer than she has."
"Kim already left," Tim gave her an apologetic smile, his coat fully on now. "Peter waved her off once we closed. Just like you said, she wasn't doing anything. We thought we were done for the night. She didn't need to be here."
"See ya'll tomorrow!" Julie breezed by, slipping through the front door without a second look at the mess she was leaving behind.
Malory groaned. This was the last thing she wanted to do after being here since six in the morning. "Tim?" She eyed him hopefully. "I'd owe you for a lifetime."
He smiled again, but shook his head. "Sorry, Malory. I'd love to help you out, but technically cleaning's in your contract, not mine. Besides," He grinned. "The girlfriend's waiting for me at home. You understand why I wouldn't want to keep her waiting, right?"
Malory nodded reluctantly, smiling as well. "Yeah. You go. Have fun."
"Thanks. I'll do you a favor next time."
"It's a deal,"
"And if you talk to Pete tomorrow, I bet he'll give you at least an hour of overtime for this."
"He better," The idea of an extra hour of pay made the prospect of the job ahead of her slightly more bearable.
She didn't move from her position until the bells tinkled on the door, announcing Tim's departure. All alone now, she sighed and slowly made her way over to the mop and broom.
It was just after midnight by the time Malory finished. Slipping on her coat and giving the front door lock a quick twist she stepped out into the blustery, January night. It was worse than she had expected. She shivered, pulling her coat tighter around her and adjusting her scarf to cover more of her face. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to help her legs. It was times like these when she truly realized how unpractical her uniform was. It worked fine during any other time of the year, and the minimal fabric never got in the way while she worked, but the skirt did nothing to shield her legs from icy weather and her leggings, made out of thin cotton, could only do so much. The leg warmers she was wearing for the walk home helped as well, but it didn't do away with the chill all together. Luckily, it wasn't a long walk from the diner to her home.
Even in the residential area where Malory had found a room to rent, Atlanta was a busy city. However, the late hour had significantly reduced the crowds. In fact, it had almost removed them all together. Besides for a few other late night stragglers stumbling home from a late night at a bar, Malory was all alone on the sidewalk. The quiet felt good after spending her afternoon and night in the bustling diner. Malory closed her eyes for a moment and smiled, reveling in the peace that was surrounding her.
But there was something wrong.
Her eyes snapped open and she stopped dead in her tracks. While she didn't know what it was exactly, she could feel it. The hairs on the back of her neck were straight up and suddenly she was on full alert, her muscles tensed and ready if a quick escape became necessary. Was there someone following her? Something? Malory glanced around nervously. There were streetlights, but there were also hundreds of shadows that someone could hide in. She saw nothing. But that didn't mean anything at all.
Malory stayed where she was, slowly, carefully continuing to survey the street around her. Yes… She was almost sure of it now. Someone was following her. Of course, she hadn't heard anything on her way home, but she wasn't naïve of the world around her. Having lived almost her whole life in the city, that hadn't been an option. She knew perfectly well there were people in the world that would wish a girl like her, coming home in the middle of the night, harm. And on top of that, she also knew what it felt like to have someone's eyes trained on her, and there was no doubt in her mind that someone was watching her now. Or something.
Her mind immediately jumped to the options she had. She could run. No. Running wasn't the answer, at least not yet. She couldn't let the person following know that she suspected anyone. She had to keep on walking at a normal pace. And she had mace… but that was in her purse, back in her room. She hadn't bothered to bring it with her tonight, thinking she wouldn't need the bag. It wasn't a payday. Malory did know a little self-defense, but she was also aware of how slight a person she was. Unless she caught the follower by surprise, she wouldn't stand a chance. So what could she possibly do?
Her only option seemed to be to keep on walking and deal with any problems that arose when they occurred. Malory took a step forward.
As the strong, calloused hands yanked her roughly into the alley, she wondered if anyone would ever find her. They never found the runaways.