Authors: Glenn Stormy
“Order up.” A ding sounded.
Aldrin didn’t understand why Buck insisted on ringing that stupid bell and then yelling out “Order up.” It wasn’t like Aldrin was standing on the other end of town. He was right there. Buck could reach out and touch him if he wanted to.
He shook his head as he grabbed the plate and carried it to the counter by the fridge. He quickly poured a tall glass of milk and then carried both the Sunday Special and the milk over to Jonah’s table.
“Here’s your dinner, Mr. Cade.” Aldrin smiled brightly. “Is there anything else I can get you? Some dessert maybe?”
“No,” the man said as he added salt and pepper to his meal without tasting it. Jonah didn’t bother to look up, say thank you, or give even the slightest grunt. Aldrin waited for a heartbeat, hoping for some sort of sign that Jonah might be the slightest bit interested.
He’d seen the man look at him when he first entered the diner. Aldrin hadn’t imagined that. Now the grizzly ignored him as if Aldrin wasn’t even standing there. Talk about having his work cut out for him. But Aldrin was determined.
“Well, if there’s anything I can get you, my name is Aldrin.”
Jonah paused with his fork halfway to his mouth and raised his head to stare at Aldrin. It was a hard stare that probably would have intimidated anyone else. Aldrin was not anyone else. He was John Aldrin Flores and he refused to let anyone make him feel as if he should tuck tail and run.
Just because he could, and because he didn’t want Jonah to think he had been scared off, Aldrin stood there for another moment or so before flashing another bright smile. “Enjoy your meal, Mr. Cade.”
Once again, Aldrin kept his smile plastered to his face as he walked away, even though he wasn’t really feeling it this time. Sad, miserable people made him feel sad and miserable. His bouncy little bubble was deflating.
After refilling a few coffee cups, including Jonah Cade’s, Aldrin wiped off the counter and then started filling the sugar containers. His mama always said, “Idle hands were the devil’s playthings.” Aldrin wasn’t real sure what that meant except he tended to get in more trouble when he was goofing off than not.
Aldrin felt his spirits start to bounce again as he worked. Despite the monotony of working in a diner, he loved it. He liked meeting and greeting all the people that came in to enjoy the food. He had even convinced Trudy to let him start making pies for the diner after she had tried his apple pie and loved it. Trudy paid for the supplies, but Aldrin did all the work.
Aldrin glanced toward the back booth. When he saw Jonah set his fork down on the empty plate and then wipe his mouth with a napkin, he grabbed the check and carried it over. He set it down and broadcast another one of his winning smiles.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Cade?”
Aldrin’s eyes widened a little when Jonah stood up and the man towered over him by several inches, maybe even a foot. Damn, he was tall. Aldrin had the insane urge to climb the mountainous man.
When Jonah dug a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and dropped it on top of the check, and then started walking away, Aldrin picked both up and waved them in the air. “Don’t you want your change, Mr. Cade?”
Huh, maybe the man wasn’t as grouchy as Aldrin first thought.
“Wow, a tip.” Trudy whistled low under her breath. “Jonah has never left me a tip.”
Aldrin grinned as he slid the money into the tip jar. “I’m cuter.”
Trudy snorted as she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, cuteness ain’t gonna get you out of washing those dishes, so get to it.”
Aldrin laughed as he saluted the older woman. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Don’t worry, lover boy will be back,” Trudy said. “Jonah Cade has been coming in here for the Sunday Special every week for the last five years. He’s never missed a Sunday, not even when we got hit by a nasty winter blizzard a couple of years back. Crazy man lives on top of the mountain where there was even more snow and he done drove all the way down here for the Sunday Special and a glass of milk.”
“Guess he likes the Sunday Special.”
* * * *
Over the next couple of months, Aldrin watched Jonah Cade come in for the special every Sunday evening. At first, he thought the man came down from the mountaintop only for dinner. It took him a couple of weeks after he started attending the local community church to realize Jonah came down for church services and stayed for the Sunday Special.
Jonah still never talked to anyone, sitting in the church pew closest to the door and getting up to leave as soon as the closing prayer was over. A couple of hours later, he would arrive at the diner. Aldrin had no idea what the man did during those couple of hours or where the man went after he was done eating, but he assumed Jonah went home.
Jonah Cade was as regular as clockwork, but Aldrin did notice a few slight changes in the man’s behavior. When Jonah came into the diner, he paused in the doorway and scanned the room like always, but now, his eyes landed on Aldrin and stayed there for a moment before he moved to his regular booth.
His responses were always the same.
“Good evening, Mr. Cade,” Aldrin would say.
Jonah would reply with, “Coffee, black,” without even looking at the menu, or Aldrin. “The Sunday Special, green beans, no carrots. Milk with my meal.”
There was never any other response. Jonah pulled out his book and read until his meal arrived. He did leave a twenty dollar bill every time, something Trudy said he never did in the past. Considering the Sunday Special was nine-ninety-five and came with coffee, Jonah was leaving better than a ten dollar tip.
After several weeks of this, Aldrin decided to up his game the next time the man came in. He waited until Jonah entered the diner, looked around, stared, and then walked to his booth before following him.
“Good evening, Mr. Cade,” Aldrin said as he set a menu down in front of the man. “How was your day? Mine was lovely. I got to watch a small herd of deer eating in a pasture while I bicycled to work. I don’t think I have ever been that close to deer before. Have you?”
The man actually paused with his mouth open and stared.
Aldrin brightened his smile.
Jonah snapped his mouth closed and dropped his eyes to the light gray Formica table. He held out the menu. “Coffee, black. The Sunday Special, green beans, no carrots. Milk with my meal.”
“I’ll have that right out to you, Mr. Cade.”
This time, Aldrin paused with his mouth open and stared. The man had said thank you. It was a small thing, a common courtesy for most, but it was a deviation from their normal nonexistent conversation. Overjoyed at the response, Aldrin almost bounced toward the counter.
“I need one Sunday Special, green beans, no carrots,” Aldrin said as he hung up the order slip and spun the little metal holder around so Buck could see it. He grabbed the coffee pot and carried it back over to Jonah’s table, pouring the man a cup of coffee. “Your meal will be ready in just a few minutes, Mr. Cade.”
The man grunted. It was better than saying nothing at all.
Aldrin didn’t try to engage the man in any more conversation. Getting something more than the usual out of him was enough for now. It might take awhile, but Aldrin knew he would eventually work the man up to full sentences. He was tenacious like that.
When Jonah’s meal came up, Aldrin grabbed the man’s milk and then carried both to the booth. “Enjoy your meal, Mr. Cade.”
Aldrin almost jumped for joy. Two thank-yous in the same day. He felt as if he had won the lottery. Still, he knew not to rush the man. Jonah Cade was like a feral beast. He had to be approached carefully, slowly. Aldrin needed to earn his trust. He couldn’t do that if he pushed too hard.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Cade?” Aldrin asked when he went to take the man his check.
“No.” Jonah stood, but he didn’t immediately move away. His smoky gray eyes peered down at Aldrin with an intensity that made his breath catch in his throat. “Thank you, Aldrin,” the man murmured just loud enough for Aldrin to hear him.
Aldrin stood there with his mouth hanging open and his heart beating just a little faster as he watched Jonah toss a twenty dollar bill down on the table and then walk away.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Trudy said as she walked over to stand next to Aldrin, staring at the closing front door just like Aldrin. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that man say thank you before.”
Aldrin grinned. “Told you I was cute.”
Aldrin glanced up when the door opened and Jonah walked in a week later. He met the man’s eyes, sending him a bright smile. For a moment, it almost looked like relief in Jonah’s eyes, but Aldrin knew he had to be wrong. What did Jonah have to be worried about?
Ever since he noticed Jonah coming to the diner for the Sunday Special, he found himself watching for the handsome man. Besides the guy’s astonishingly good looks, there was something about Jonah that called to Aldrin on a basic level. He felt the need to make sure Jonah was okay, to speak to him so the man wasn’t so alone, and to do his level best to see the guy smile.
Oh, how he wanted to see Jonah smile. It had become his goal. He wanted to see those smoky gray eyes twinkle with merriment and discover if Jonah truly did have dimples as Aldrin suspected he did. The only thing that would top that would be to hear Jonah laugh. Aldrin just bet it would sound as deep as whisky, and be as warm as water left out in the summer sun.
Once Jonah was seated in his normal booth, Aldrin walked over with a menu and his pad. He knew what Jonah was going to order, but he always wanted to give the man a chance to try something else.
“Good evening, Mr. Cade. How are you today? Have you ever seen a herd of buffalo before, like real live buffalo? I watched a documentary on the wild ones in Wyoming. I think it would be so cool to see one in real life, don’t you?”
Jonah glanced up and stared. “Coffee, black,” he finally said. “The Sunday Special, green beans, no carrots. Milk with my meal.”
Aldrin smiled. “Right away, Mr. Cade.”
“Thank you, Aldrin.”
Aldrin still had a smile on his face as he turned and walked away. He could swear Jonah had been on the verge of a smile. Aldrin put in Jonah’s order and then took the man some coffee. He wanted to say more to the man but the door to the diner opened and a couple of people filed in.
Aldrin huffed. “I’ll have your meal to you just as soon as it’s done, Mr. Cade.”
“Thank you, Aldrin.”
Wishing he had more time to spend with the man, Aldrin reluctantly went back to work. By the time Buck hit the bell and shouted out that Jonah’s order was up, three more groups of people had come into the diner and the place was hopping. Aldrin was too busy running from booth to booth to stop and talk with Jonah.
But there was always next Sunday.
He had a mere moment to drop the check off with Jonah, shoot him a smile, and say, “Have a nice night, Mr. Cade.” Before he could say more, Buck was calling out that another order was up.
Aldrin sighed as he dropped his head down to his chest.
“You work too hard.”
Aldrin’s head came up just as fast as it had dropped. Had Jonah said something to him? “I like my job so it’s not too bad,” he said, fishing for more words. “But nights like this make me wish I fished instead.”
“Fishing is nice,” Jonah said without looking up at him. “I like to fish.”
“Me, too. I—”
“Order up, Aldrin!” Buck called out.
“I have to get back to work. You have a good night, Mr. Cade. I’ll see you next Sunday.”
Jonah gave him the barest of nods.
When Buck called out to him again, Aldrin growled and walked back toward the front kitchen area. He shot Buck a deep glare as he checked the order slip, and then grabbed the plates and carried them to the appropriate table. The smile on his face was plastered on so tightly that his freaking cheeks hurt.
By the time Aldrin had a moment to breathe and head back toward the back booth with his dirty dish tub, Jonah was gone. Aldrin’s heart sank as he stopped at the edge of the table. After Jonah had spoken to him above and beyond his normal dinner order, Aldrin had been hoping for so much more.
Aldrin reached down and started gathering up the dirty dishes, stacking them into the small rubber tub he used to pick up dishes to take to the sink. When he went to pick up the check, he paused.
Sitting right on top of the check was Jonah’s usual twenty dollar bill, but on top of that was a small figurine of a deer. It was stunning, made of wood and small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. Aldrin didn’t think he had ever seen anything so perfectly carved.
He smiled as he remembered telling Jonah about the deer he had seen while bicycling to work. That had just been a week ago. Aldrin slid the wooden deer into his pocket and then grabbed the check and the twenty dollar bill.
He had a bounce to his step as he carried everything back toward the kitchen. He had never gotten such a fantastic tip before. He didn’t even care that he had a crap ton of dishes to wash.