Authors: Brooke Williams
Word of mouth is the best advertisement, after all. And if you went to a diner and won concert tickets on roller skates, you’d talk about it too. That was one story that was bound to be told and retold.
During the broadcast, I always felt enlivened. I played off of the listeners that came in and truly appreciated them for coming by and saying hi. Cal, in turn, appreciated me and he appeared by my side several times to shake my hand and give me the latest on how many calls they were getting for catering jobs. I could tell by the fact that there were hardly any empty seats in the diner after the first hour that things were going well.
Jim, on the other hand, just informed listeners that I was all talk and no work as often as he could. I tried to lay it on thick and get him back on my good side. “This is the man behind the scenes who always makes me sound good,” I would say. Most people never even glanced in his direction, but one older lady seemed to only have eyes for him.
Thankfully, Jim was married or I might have been able to add matchmaker to my resume.
By the time the broadcast was over, I started to feel the hard work sinking into my bones. Being out in the public was fun, but it was tiring too. I shook hands with dozens of people and plastered a smile on my face for hours on end. I stood by the table and talked on the air as people watched me. It was not something I was sure I would ever get used to doing. I enjoyed it, sure, but I was used to talking in a room by myself with no visible audience.
I felt Jim stir beside me and grunt as he looked at his watch for the third time in 10 minutes. The broadcast had been over for five minutes and he was itching to pack up and hit the road.
I was trying to talk a group of listeners into buying concert tickets at the door for that night’s event, which surprisingly was not quite sold out yet, when Jim started to pull wires from the board and pack up.
Once I was done schmoozing, as Jim sometimes called it, I went over to the counter and asked for Cal.
“Wow, Jared,” he said as he leaned on the side towards the kitchen with his big elbows. “This was more than I ever expected.”
“It was fun,” I said, glancing around the diner and taking in the excitement that still permeated the restaurant.
“Will you come to the new place? For the grand opening?”
“You name the time and date and I’m there,” I said.
Cal nodded. “Good, I’ll contact Marjorie.”
Marjorie was the sales person in charge of Cal’s account. She was also in charge of collecting the fees from Cal so she could pay me for the extra time I had put in.
Cal took one more look around the room and then pulled a check out of his front pocket. “Here,” he said. “I know I’m supposed to mail it to Marjorie, but if you could just save me the trouble.”
“Of course,” I said, taking the folded check and slipping it into my front pants pocket. “Not a problem.” I didn’t look to see how much the check was for because I didn’t even know what he owed.
By the time I got back to the table, Jim had cleaned up all of the equipment and stacked the boxes neatly off to the side.
“I’m not doing yours,” he said, tilting his head to my table of window stickers.
“I would never even ask,” I said, giving him a cheesy grin.
“Humph,” he said, waving his hand in my direction as if to brush me off.
Once all of the items were off the table, I bent to pick up the box and carry it out to the ambulance.
“I can take a short break now,” Chloe said behind me. “Cal said it would be okay since the afternoon shift came in early to help with the crowd.”
Chloe. In all of the excitement I had completely forgotten that she and I were going to talk.
“Great,” I said, trying to hide my error and pretend as if I had been looking forward to it all morning. “Let me just get rid of this,” I hoisted the box up a little higher and headed out to the ambulance.
“That everything?” Jim grumbled as I carried my one box to the vehicle.
“I think so,” I said as I surveyed the rest of the boxes in the opened back of the ambulance.
“Let’s go, then. I get paid by the hour for these things.”
I took a deep breath as I prepared myself for what was to come. “Actually,” I said as Jim crossed his arms. “I’m going to need to stay.”
“What do you mean you need to stay? They paying you extra for something I don’t know about?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I’d never cut you out, Jim.”
“You better believe it,” he muttered.
“I just ran into a…a friend and we’re going to catch up for a few minutes.”
“This friend,” Jim began, moving one hand up to his chin, “it’s a girl, right?”
I put my hands in my pocket and shuffled my feet. “Uh, yeah, I guess so.”
“You guess so?” Jim grimaced. “Either she is or she isn’t. What’ll it be?”
“She is,” I said. “Of course. She is.”
“It’s settled then,” he said. “Hand over the keys to this blasted contraption. I’m leaving.”
“You’re going to drive the ambulance?”
“What choice have you left me? I’m certainly not going to stick around and watch you flirt.”
“I’m not flirting…”
“I don’t care what you’re doing, just give me the keys.”
I dug the keys out of my pocket and handed them over. I watched as Jim hoisted himself into the driver’s side, cranked the battery like a pro, and backed out of the prime spot we had chosen when we first arrived that morning.
I no longer had a ride back to my car, but at least Jim hadn’t gone off on a tirade.
I chuckled as I turned back to the diner. Jim was quite a character. He had a gruff exterior and a grumpy attitude, but inside, he was just an old softie.
As I made my way back through the front door, I hoped that Chloe and I would have a chance to chat for a few minutes without interruption.
I surveyed the restaurant and saw Chloe behind the counter, filling another order. I approached the counter slowly, not wanting to get in the way. When she saw me making my way through the diner, she gestured me around the counter.
“This way,” she said, heading back towards the kitchen. “Cal said we could relax in the break room for a few minutes.”
Perfect. We could get out of the way and have some privacy. I would figure out how I was going to get back to my car later.
The break room was small and the floor felt sticky, but it was quiet. Chloe pulled out one of the red, plastic chairs and collapsed off her feet.
“Tired?” I said, knowing what the answer would be as I pulled the other chair out from under the small circular table.
“Exhausted,” she said. “I haven’t seen a rush like that since I’ve been here.
“And how long has that been?” I asked.
“Only about a month.”
“Cal speaks highly of you. He says you’re the best.”
Chloe smiled. “Cal is such a sweet man. He’s really come through for us.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, leaning forward in the chair.
Chloe glanced at me and then down at her hands, which she had piled in her lap. “When I needed a job, he gave me one, that’s all.”
“I see,” I said, not wanting to push the subject too much. “How do you think the birthday party’s going?” I asked, trying to bring the subject back around to Ian.
“It hasn’t started yet,” she said glancing at the wall.
Of course, it was only 10 o’clock.
“But I bet he’ll have a great time.”
“Who wouldn’t,” I said, easing myself back in the chair and making another noise. “I wish I got invited to parties like that.”
“You don’t?” Chloe asked, a look of mock surprise on her face. “What about all those concerts you attend?”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Yeah, those are fun, but that’s different.”
“When I was young, life was simple. All it took to entertain me was a small party favor bag and a couple of balloons, you know?”
Chloe nodded, her eyes clouding over a bit. “I know all too well.”
I hadn’t meant to make her sad. I was trying to distract her from her worries, not bring them up again. I needed to act fast.
“Hey, you wouldn’t want to take Ian…to the concert tonight…would you?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, removing one of her shoes and rubbing her foot with her thumb.
“I mean they always give me four tickets but I only need one.” I didn’t want to admit that I never used any of the others unless my parents happened to come into town. And now, with my father gone, it was unlikely my mother would come for a rock concert any time soon.
“I don’t know…” Chloe said, a worried expression on her face.
“I have three tickets,” I tested. “You can bring someone else. Your husband…a boyfriend.”
Chloe looked at me with a shocked expression and stopped rubbing her foot. “No,” she said a little too quickly. “That’s not possible.”
I shrugged. She hadn’t exactly said there wasn’t anyone, but she had certainly made it clear that she didn’t want to invite him. If there was a “him.”
“It’s really nice of your to offer,” she said and I steeled myself to be turned down. “You’ve done so much for us already.”
“What the car?” I said. “That was nothing. You don’t even use it anyways.”
Chloe chuckled and I knew we were back on track. “If you only knew how much we really did use that thing.”
“I think I can tell,” I said, remembering that the old beater had hundreds of thousands of miles on it.
Chloe smiled. “Okay.”
“Okay?” I asked.
“Okay, we’ll come. We might not be able to stay the whole time. Ian is probably going to be pretty tired. But I can’t pass this opportunity up for him. He’s never been to a concert.”
“Never?” I asked incredulous. It seemed preposterous to me since I attended them on a regular basis. “He hasn’t lived until he’s been to a concert!”
The sad look returned to Chloe’s face as I realized what I had said. I opened my mouth to apologize, but Chloe must have known what I was about to say. She held up her hand to stop me. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. “You’re right. He really has barely lived at all.”