It'll Break You
In the year 1859 Charles Dickens wrote “A Tale of Two Cities”, a timeless classic that juxtaposed London and Paris both before and during the French Revolution.
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Dickens took the differences of the London aristocracy and the lower class of Paris and used them to write one of the greatest novels in the history of literature.
And when he was finished London and Paris appeared as two sides of the same coin.
Separate but equal. The best and the worst of times.
“Wilson! Will you quit reading that blasted book and get back in here and do your job!”
Wilson sighed as he closed the book he was reading shut and placed it on a cardboard box labeled “Spoons” that he had been using as a foot rest just a moment ago. He stood up out of his seat, dropping his book onto the box with a soft thud, and stretched his arms up above his head.
Running a hand through his slicked back hair he moved to exit the utilities closet he was relaxing in, stopping at the door to scratch the stubbles of his five o’clock shadow. Closing the door behind him Wilson yanked a red apron off the doorknob and put it on, smoothing it out with his hands.
The diner wasn’t particularly crowded at the moment(which was the way it was more often than not), but Wilson didn’t mind. Sure it meant less tips for him but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t prefer the few lazy hours between breakfast and lunch over the dinner rush.
Not that they ever had a dinner rush. Wilson strolled over to the cash register and hopped over the counter smoothly. Whistling an old tune to himself he rang the bell sitting on the ledge of the window that peeked into the kitchen.
Drumming his fingers on the ledge lightly and still whistling as he waited. Not long after a few more rings of the bell a short bald portly man with a bushy beard hobbled up to the window leaning over the ledge on his elbows.
“Well look who decided to rejoin the land of the living.” the old man jeered.
“As charming as ever Roy.”
“You’re responsible for tables two, three, and ten,” he said pushing a notepad and pen over to Wilson’s side of the ledge ignoring the subtle jab thrown his way. Wilson grabbed the notepad and pen raising an eyebrow at Roy as he wrote down what tables he would be working this shift.
“Isn’t table ten in Virginia’s section?”
“She called earlier, said she had to take Spencer to the doctor.” Roy answered as he bent down to pull a tray out of the sink and put it on the ledge. “She should be here around 12:15, you can take your break around then.”
Wilson looked up at the clock in the kitchen and saw that it was 11:35 at the moment.
“Alright. Thanks Roy,” he said as he patted the ledge appreciatively leaving to start his shift.
“Just do me a favor and don’t disappear to the back room to read those fancy books of yours this time.” Roy called out through the window. Wilson paused mid-step and walked back up to the ledge and leaned his right arm up against it.
“Come on Roy, don’t bash the power of reading. I have to entertain myself somehow,” he said with a sly grin. The fry cook shook his head as he dried a plate with a dish rag.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with entertaining yourself, it’s when you get so caught up in fantasy land you forget about your responsibilities that’s the problem.”
“It stimulates the brain.” Wilson rationalized. “Gets the old imagination running, it even helps your subconscious function better throughout the day. You should try it sometime.”
“Yeah sure.” Roy puffed.
“I’m serious.” The younger man exclaimed throwing his hands up in the air for effect. “I was just reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, fantastic read man. You ever read any Dickens?”.
“Do I look like I read a lot of Dickens?” Roy guffawed as he arched an eyebrow at Wilson with a crooked yellow grin.
“You’re missing out buddy-nice to see you brushed your teeth for once by the way.”
“I try.” The old man replied cheekily.
“But like I was saying, it’s classic literature. I mean it juxtaposes the aristocracy of London and Paris’s…”
“And what need do I have to read about London and Paris when I live in Bullhead city?”
“The story applies to all settings!” Wilson exclaimed. “Look at Arizona for example.” He said gesturing towards the outside word with his hand.
“Northern Arizona has pine trees and the like while folks like us down in the south, live in the desert. We’re like two sides of the same coin!”
“Like London and Paris?” Roy asked as he put the plate he was drying in the dish rack.
“Exactly like London and Paris!”
“Yeah well good for us. But while we’re on the topic of coins why don’t you go make yourself useful and make me some money.” Roy chortled causing Wilson’s smile to drop into a defeated but amused frown.
“Yeah, yeah.” Wilson acquiesced as he walked away waving off Roy while tactfully ignoring the old man’s grumblings about good for nothing waiters and their nonsensical bedtime stories.
The twenty something or other whistled to himself as he strutted over to table ten where an interracial couple in their early thirties sat looking over their menus.
“Welcome to the Sugar Bowl y’all, my name’s Wilson and I’ll be your waiter today. Can I get you folks some coffee to start off?”.
The man asked for coffee while the woman answered that she was fine with just water. Writing down their drink orders he walked away to give them a few moments to decide on what they wanted to order.
Making his way to the other side of the diner he noticed that table number two was now occupied. In this case it was a suit wearing Caucasian in his early forties, and his young son who couldn’t be older than nine. The waiter silently noted that the father was at that moment having a pretty heated phone conversation and seemed to be completely ignoring his son who was looking down at his lap playing unenthusiastically with a SpongeBob action figure.
“Welcome to the Sugar Bowl, my name’s Wilson and I’m…”
“Yeah great look, we already know what we want.” The father cut in covering the mouthpiece of his phone with his hand. Wilson quirked up an eyebrow at the man but kept his mouth shut only slightly lifting his eyes up to show the man he was listening.
“I’ll have the eggs Benedict.” he continued looking for the briefest of moments at his son. “And he’ll have waffles.”
Wilson wrote that down and turned towards the kid.
“Would you like any whip cream or fruit on your waffles?”
The kid opened his mouth to answer but his father beat him to it before any words could come out. “No. He’s fine.”
The boy shut his mouth quickly hanging his down and resting his chin on the upturned palms of his hands, his elbows resting on the table. Wilson looked over the two, shaking his head to himself as the father gave all his attention back to his phone call.
“I’ll grab you a coloring mat and some crayons bud,” he assured as he left before he could see the small smile forming on the boy’s face. Noticing the man at table ten waving him over, Wilson moved back to their section smiling at them with his pen and pad ready in his hands.
“Ready to order?”
The man nodded his affirmation and looked at his wife sitting across from him. When she didn’t meet his gaze he looked back up at Wilson.
“I’ll have the french toast.”
“And what would you like ma’am?”
“I’ll have the strawberry crepes please,” she said quietly.
Wilson wrote down their orders and parted from them with another nod. He went back to the cash register and tore out the two slips of paper that had his table’s orders on them. Sliding them over the ledge for Roy to come and grab, ringing the bell for good measure.
He didn’t bother to stop to chat with the fry cook because he saw his co-worker Javier leading a young man and woman to table number three. Wilson jogged over there and patted Javier on the back, flashing his new customers the most charming smile he could muster.
“Welcome to the Sugar Bowl. My name’s Wilson and I’ll be your waiter today, would y'all like some coffee to start off?”
“No thanks,” the man with short brown hair and calm blue eyes said.
“Yes please,” the woman breathed as she pulled her long black hair into a ponytail.
“Rough morning?” Wilson asked with a laugh causing the woman to smile and the man to chuckle.
“Long morning,” she corrected smirking at her companion across the table, further amusing Wilson.
“You two aren’t from around here are ya?”
The duo shook their heads causing Wilson to once again laugh to himself and rest his pen on top of his right ear.
“Well welcome to Bullhead City,” he said offering his hand out for them to shake.
“Pleased to meet you, what brings ya’ll to our part of town?” he asked as they each shook his hand.
“We’re co-workers.” Scott explained. “Her father died recently and I agreed to drive her to the funeral.” Wilson’s eyes widened slightly as he turned to Nicole.
“Where you guys from?”
“Aberdeen, Washington.” Scott stated.
Wilson let out an impressed whistle. “That’s a mighty long drive. Why not fly?”
“I’m not a fan of flying.” Nicole answered. Scott only nodded his head in a way that suggested it was something he heard often.
“Your dad lived in Bullhead?” Wilson inquired as he changed the subject.
Nicole shook her head. “No. Phoenix.”
“We got there early and decided to kill some time driving which is how we ended up here.” Scott further replied.
“I don’t really get along with my family.” Nicole stated somewhat darkly.
Wilson gave them both a small southern smile.
“Well we’re glad to have you here. I’ll go grab your coffee.” The two nodded their appreciation as Wilson walked back to the cash register.
Grabbing a pot of coffee and a coloring mat he made his rounds providing his tables with their drinks and telling those who ordered that their food was on the way. Wilson rotated back to Scott and Nicole and was busy writing down their orders when he overheard table ten’s conversation.
“Why won’t you talk to me Mikaela?”
“I mean, I said I was sorry. What more do you want me to do?”
“You spent the week at your mother’s house for Christ Sake. This is the first time I’ve seen you since I…”
Wilson stopped paying attention to them so that he could hear what Scott and Nicole were ordering, reading it back to them to make sure he got them right. Once he was satisfied that he did, he went back to the cash register and gave Roy their orders. The cook slid him the dishes for table ten in return.
Balancing the two plates of french toast and crepes on his arm he nimbly walked over to Hector and Mikaela who were seemingly in the middle of an argument.
“Alright here you go, enjoy,” he said as he placed the plates carefully on their table.
Hector muttered a quiet thank you and he and Mikaela quickly resumed their heated but hushed argument. Another ring of the bell summoned Wilson back to the counter where Roy supplied him with table two’s meals. He grabbed the two plates with one hand balancing them as carefully as he could and grabbing a TV remote from behind the counter with his other.
When he reached their table the father didn’t even look at Wilson since he was still on the phone but the boy smiled up at him as he finished coloring the lines on his mat. Wilson placed the plates on the table and shook the TV remote to make sure it still worked. Once he pressed the button to turn it on, he scrolled through the channels until he found Nickelodeon. Which at that moment happened to be playing SpongeBob.
“Enjoy.” Wilson said as he tucked the remote into the pouch of his apron. The kid gave him a small smile as he started to cut up his waffles but he focused mainly on the television. The waiter winked at him and rubbed the back of his neck as surveyed his other two tables.
He saw Nicole talking animatedly about some topic while Scott gave her his full attention with a small smile camping out on the corner of his mouth that oozed warmth.
But when he turned towards his other table he saw Hector slam his fork on his plate.
“Damn it! I know what I did was wrong but at least I’m trying to do something to fix this!”
Mikaela clenched her own silverware as she glared down at her plate, the curls of her hair covering her face but her lack of a response did nothing to stop Hector’s spiel.
“I’ve been apologizing non-stop. I took you out to your favorite breakfast spot, I’ve sent flowers. And still you can’t even look at…”
“I can’t do this anymore Hector.”
Hector froze, whatever other words left to his speech left dying in his throat.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“I don’t understand.”
Mikaela sighed as she put her utensils down on her plate and ran her hands up and down her face. “The only reason I agreed to see you today was to give you these.”
She pulled out an envelope and handed it over to Hector who yanked it quickly out of her hand and ripping it open pulling out a few sheets of paper. His hands started to shake as he read the contents of the paper.
“I want a divorce Hector.”
Mikaela grabbed her purse from her side and slid out of the booth as quickly as she could, Hector too shaken and too busy staring at the sheet of paper to say anything or make any sort of move to stop her.
Wilson shook his head deciding it wasn’t right to stare at the man in such a vulnerable state plus the ring of the bell signaled that table three’s meals were ready. The waiter went over there and grabbed the two plates, soon returning to his last table, handing Nicole her steak omelet and Scott his pancakes.
“Bon appetite folks.” Wilson said as he wiped some sweat on his forehead away with the back of his hand. The two said their thanks as they dug into their food, he only gave them a thumbs up in response.
He went over to tables two and ten to give them their checks. The father, while no longer talking on the phone was texting furiously while his son watched SpongeBob. Hector on the other hand had his head in his hands so Wilson discreetly slipped him the check.
He wasn’t expecting a very big tip from either table to say the least.
At that moment a woman in her late twenties with her hair pulled up in a bun and bags under her eyes walked in and waved at Wilson.
“Hey Virginia. Everything all right with Spencer?”
“He’s fine.” She said as she walked up to him and gave him a hug. “Just needed to get him vaccinated before school starts next week.”
“He’s starting fifth grade right?”
“Yes sir.” Virginia answered proudly as she hung up her coat on the rack by the door. “Let me go and change in the back and then you can go on break.”
Wilson watched as she disappeared into the back and once she was gone he went to the now empty tables two and ten to pick up the bills. He noted that both tables only had enough money on them to pay for the meals themselves, no money for tips. Huffing silently he took the money over to the cash register and punched in the correct set of numbers causing the bottom to pop out.
Once he was done putting the appropriate bills in the right slots he slinked over to an empty booth and plopped down in it, leaning his head back against the seat and closing his eyes.
“Roy would kill you if he saw you sleeping on the job.” Wilson’s eyes fluttered open as Virginia sat across from him now dressed in her uniform and apron. A mischievous but tired grin adorning her face.
“Technically since you’re here I’m now on break, so old Royal can bark all he wants but I have a right to rest my eyes for a little bit during my government mandated time of rest.”
Virginia rolled her eyes at her co-worker grabbing her pen out from it’s resting spot on top of her ear and putting it on top of her notepad. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You seem all melancholic and the like.”
“Well…” Wilson started as he crossed his arms on the table in front of him and rested his chin on it. “... it’s been a melancholic sort of day.”
“What happened?” She asked as she looked down at her notepad scribbling something on it.
“My first table of the day-which was actually supposed to be yours, your welcome by the way- ended up being a married couple that got divorced in the middle of breakfast.”
“Then my second table had real father of the year material.” Wilson spat out sarcastically as he sat up and smoothed his hand through his hair. “I mean the guy was all dressed up in his monkey suit and was on his phone the whole time completely ignoring his own son’s existence. I mean if my grandpa caught my daddy neglecting me like that he would have taken out his belt right then and there to remind him the hard way where his true responsibilities lie.”
Virginia looked up from the notepad with an arched left eyebrow. “The last time I saw you this heated was when Roy said his boating magazine was a better read than any of Mark Twain’s books.”
Wilson ignored that remark deciding it was better to just tilt his head back and stare up at the ceiling. “I don’t know....... I guess times like these just make me wonder if Roy’s right and there ain’t no such thing as a happy ending in real life........ Maybe I do read too much.”
Virginia said nothing as she tapped her pen against the table lightly. “What about them?” she asked motioning towards table three.
Wilson turned around and saw Scott and Nicole still talking to each other.
“Scott and Nicole? What about them?”
“They got any flaws or tragedies surrounding them?”
“Well they’re in town for her father’s funeral but other than that no, not really. They're good folk, seem pretty close.”
“They seem more than close.”
Wilson whipped his head around and stared at Virginia whose top lip was now quirked up into a knowing smile.
“What are you playing at?”
“Just look at them.” She exclaimed motioning her hand in their direction. “Whenever she teases him he just shows her a small smile like he knows something she doesn’t. And whenever he chuckles there’s this little twinkle in her eye. Heck she’s even got her feet stretched out on the seat next to him.”
Wilson squinted his eyes to focus his vision and once he did he discovered that all that she was saying was true. “You saw all that in the past five minutes?” he asked incredulously.
“That’s not the point,” she shook her head with an amused but exasperated sigh. “The point is that for every sob story and tragedy, there’s a happy ending.”
She laughed to herself as she stood up to slide out the booth.
“Sometimes you gotta take the bad with the good.”
Wilson smiled to himself as he shook his head and a few moments later he too stood up and stepped out of the booth. He walked up to the register and grabbed tables three bill and made his way back over there dropping it on their table.
“Thanks for joining us today ya’ll, it was a pleasure meeting you.”
“You too.” Scott said as Nicole smiled. Wilson grinned in return as he walked away.
“Let me pay.” He heard Nicole said.
“I got it.” Scott insisted.
“You paid last time.”
"You paid for gas."
"You're driving me to my father's funeral."
“How about this.... I pay for the food and you get to pick the radio station in the car.”
“............Deal. I was getting tired of listening to country anyway.”
Wilson walked over to the register with a little smile on his face and heard Virginia yell to him.
"Me and Javie are going out for drinks after work, you wanna come with!?”
“Sure!” He replied as he waved at Scott and Nicole as they walked out the door side by side.
Wilson sauntered over to their table whistling an old tune to himself when a few minutes later he saw a 2003 Dodge Dakota drive by the window. Scott was sitting in the driver’s seat and Nicole was smiling at him with a twinkle in her eye.
He could have sworn he heard country music coming out of the car but his mind could have been playing tricks on him. He reached their table to grab their bill and noticed an extra twenty dollar bill underneath the check.
They left a tip.
Wilson laughed quietly as he muttered to himself.
“It was the best of times.”