The Good Tipper
Tom walked past the diner’s counter and sat in one of the booths meant to sit four, or maybe six if everybody squeezed in tight. The sun’s glare came in through the side windows and reflected off the laminated chromed-edged tables and onto Tom’s face. He moved from one side of the booth to the other, not because the sun bothered his eyes, although it did, but because he wanted to have a better view of his wife, Emma.
Emma saw her husband and walked to his booth, “What are you doing here, Tom?” she asked.
“I wanted to watch you work. It’s been a while since I’ve come here. … I wanted to surprise you.”
“You wanted to surprise me? Jesus Tom,” she said.
“Yeah, I wanted to surprise my beautiful, lovely wife.”
“Please, Tom. Just tell me what you’ll have?”
“Umm, let me see,” he knew what he wanted, but he went through the motions of picking up the menu and looking it over. “Eggs Benedict and a cup of coffee,” He finally said and smiled.
Emma snatched the menu from Tom’s hands and left without writing his order. He watched her as she walked away; he liked the look of her uniform: light blue with pink embroidery, a pink collar, and a small white apron. Her name stitched in cursive across her protruding left breast. But what he liked the most was that her uniform was tight and short, accentuating her top figure and showcasing her naturally tanned legs.
She is attractive, beautiful even, Tom declared to himself this concept to be true.
* * *
He then thought back to a time when he wasn’t too sure if she was attractive. That’s to say, he always found her to be pretty, but he wasn’t always sure if she was comparable to the women he often found himself eyeing. He was thinking of when his wife first started working at the diner. He was unemployed, and she was paying for his technical-school. He’d come, drink orange juice or coffee, and study. He’d spent hours there, drinking, reading technical manuals, and watching Emma — adoring her. That last part isn’t quite true, but now he thinks it to be true, or wishes it to be. For her part, Emma smiled and flirted with him and made loving gestures at him. Tom would get slightly embarrassed and wished she’d stop, but he secretly liked the attention, even though he told her otherwise. On occasions, she’d sneak him a free piece of pie, kiss him lightly on the cheek, and hand him a little note that often read, “I love you, “or “You’re looking handsome today, babe.” He regrets not saving every love note she wrote him.
During her lunch breaks, Emma would take Tom out back to their car, an old Ford Fairlane, and they’d sit in the back seat where they would partially undress and maneuver their bodies into the most comfortable of positions. He was thinking of those kisses, those notes, and those positions, and then he remembered how shy and vulnerable she was around the other customers. Emma’s vulnerability made Tom feel good; maybe it was selfish of him, but she made him feel like she would always need him, and he liked, loved her for that. But sometimes, her love did scare him, causing him from time to time to act quite coldly toward her.
* * *
Emma brought Tom’s order, set it on the table, and left. She was in a hurry; she had other customers to attend to, but Tom anticipated her saying to him, “I’m glad to see you here,” and “I love you.” But she didn’t say anything, and Tom wasn’t all that surprised.
When he finished with his eggs, Tom closely began watching Emma. He saw how fast she moved around in her white quarter-inch heels. Not only was she fast, moving from one side of the diner to the other, but she could carry three plates in one hand and two pots of coffee in the other; such things she wasn’t capable of doing when she first started working at the diner, so naturally Tom was impressed but troubled by how confident his wife had become.
Maybe Tom stayed longer than he should have, but as he saw how cheerful Emma was around the other customers, always grinning and laughing, Tom stayed drinking coffee and ordering a various assortment of pies. He enjoyed seeing his wife laugh and smile, but he envied the men who caused her to act that way.
He at least wanted Emma to come to him and treat him the way she treated the others, but every time she came, her smile faded away, and she became mechanical.
Tom tried to warm her up, “You know, Emma, you look pretty in your outfit. But I’d rather take it off you. Maybe when we get home?”
“Please Tom, not here.” She said.
“Sorry Emma, it’s just that I haven’t seen you work in such a long time. I like it.”
“You’ve been here for some time now Tom, shouldn’t you get going?”
“Not just yet. There’s still some pie I want to try that I haven’t,” he winked and reached out to touch her right hip. Emma stepped back, and he felt her quiver. Tom quickly removed his hand and thought that maybe it was time for him to leave, but he stayed because he wanted her to take notice of him and his devotion for her.
After he ordered his third pie and drank his fourth cup of coffee, Emma stopped serving Tom. Another waitress began attending him, bringing him coffee and slices of pie. He was hurt.
“More pie, hon?” asked the waitress.
“Yes, please” said Tom.
“What’ll you’ll have?”
“Lemon Meringue.” The waitress began to walk away. “Listen,” he nervously called out to her. “Umm, Sally,” he read her name stitched in pink across her right chest pocket. “Do you know that waitress over there?” He motioned with his head.
“Yeah, Emma. What can you tell me about her?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just … what do you know about her?”
“I can’t say much. I haven’t been here that long. But she’s nice. A good worker. She’s been here a while, and she’s sweet and friendly to me and the customers. Everyone likes her.”
“Does she always work that hard, attending to so many customers?”
“She is the hardest worker here. I know that because she gets the best tips.”
“Oh yeah? She gets tipped a lot? It must be because she’s so pretty.”
Sally turned to look at Emma, who was refilling two cups of coffee on the table of an elderly couple. The warm-colored sunlight behind Emma shone on her hair and body, giving her appearance a saturated soft-focus effect. “Yes, she is pretty, but she gets more than the usual 15 percent because of how charming she is. … She’s really a sweetheart.”
“Is she? I see. I’m sorry for bothering you, Sally. I don’t want to get you in trouble. … I just felt like talking to someone.” For some reason unknown to him, Tom wished he hadn’t said that last sentence.
“It’s okay hon,” she smiled and placed her hand on Tom’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back with your piece of pie.”
Emma continued working, and Tom continued watching her. As he saw her interacting, smiling, seeming to be happy, he wondered if it was an act or not.
As soon as Sally came back with his Lemon Meringue, Tom asked her one last question, “How easy is it to put up a front when you’re working? I mean, you must have those days when you don’t want to be nice or charming to some of the people who come in. How easy is it to act like you care?”
Sally looked puzzled, but then she smiled and replied, “Sometimes it ain’t easy. Especially when I first started working here. But after a while, it became easier, real easy, to deal with certain types of customers — and even co-workers for that matter. It sometimes surprises me how easy I can go through the motions and not even realize that I’m doing so. But hey, it ain’t all bad. On the other hand, I get to meet new people and make new friends. … Like you.”
“Thanks Sally. Thanks for the pie. It looks good.”
“You’re welcome, hon. Anything else you need, you let me know,” Sally said.
Tom looked down at his coffee and piece of pie. He then heard Emma laugh, and he turned to look at her. She was serving a man. A young man, maybe in his mid thirties. She stood, slightly leaning back and with a small bend in her left leg. The heel of her left shoe was raised; the tip touching the floor. It almost looked as if she was trying to dig her white flats into the floor as the tip of her shoe gyrated back and forth.
He, the man, talked to her as if she were an old friend, and she looked at him as if she had known him his entire life. Tom didn’t know if she was taking his order or not. He assumed she wasn’t, then assumed that she was. Suddenly, he didn’t like Emma’s uniform or the way she wore it. He felt that it was too tight and too short for her. He desired walking up to her, giving her a kiss, and introducing himself as her husband. But he felt ineffectual, so he stayed in the booth, watching them.
After a while, the red-vinyl bench in which Tom sat on started to feel very uncomfortable. It had depressed. He could feel deformed lumps of padding. He scooted over, but found that the rest of the bench had significantly warmed up because of the sunlight.
Tom returned to his original position. He’d rather be uncomfortably seated in something that had become familiar and manageable. He looked over to his wife.
When Emma left the man alone, Tom stared at him. He didn’t like the way the man looked at Emma as she walked away, with a smile on his face. Tom noted that the man was younger than he was, he had a nice built, and he was good-looking. He hated to admit that, but it was true. He looked like Clark Kent, with his slick-back hair, dark-rimmed eyeglasses, and dark casual suit.
When Emma returned to the man, Tom paid attention. She brought his plate and drink, and she carefully placed them right in front of him, leaning in close. Tom didn’t know if her shoulder had brushed up against him. As she stood back up, Tom waited for her to leave the man. But she didn’t, at least not right away. She stayed and talked for some seconds. She laughed, played with her hair, and always kept on a smile. Tom didn’t know what to think. Did she know this man, or is she just angling him for a good tip? That has to be it. He looks like a good tipper.
As Tom looked at them, Emma turned around, and she stopped twirling her hair. She didn’t lose her smile, but it change (changed). No, when Tom thought about it, it wasn’t her smile that changed but her eyes. She quickly turned to look at the man. She told him something, and they both laughed, and she left him to take care of others. The man again looked at Emma as she walked away. He still had a smile; Tom didn’t.
After clearing up the table where the man had sat, Tom could see Emma picking up several dollars that the man had left and shoved it down her white-apron’s pocket. A good tipper, he assumed. Then Emma walked towards the cash register, filled out something, headed towards Tom, and sat down in front of him, “Haven’t you’ve been here long enough? How many cups of coffee can you drink?”
Tom wanted Emma to smile at him, to be kind. He wanted her to play with her hair or reach out to touch his hand. He wanted her to treat him as if he were a good tipper and was going to leave her a million dollar tip. “Honey, I’m not here for the coffee. I only wanted to spend a day watching you work.” he then reached out to hold her hand.
“It’s not comfortable for me having you here. It puts me on edge, Tom.”
“Why? It didn’t before.” He looked at her chest, saw how it raised and lowered with every breath she took; it reminded him of the first time she slept next to him. He observed with wonder her exposed upper-body for several minutes and noticed how she slept with her eyes slightly ajar. He carefully placed his hand over her heart as her chest peacefully heaved with the gentle rhythm of her breathing.
“That was then. This is now. I can’t concentrate if all you do is ogle me. This is my place of work.”
“I’m sorry if I make you uncomfortable. It’s just that with my job and yours we hardly see each other. And I do love seeing you. I do love you.”
“Please Tom,” Emma’s face seemed to be distressed over something; she then pulled her hand away from Tom’s grasp.
“Please what? … I can’t come to the diner my wife works at and tell her how much I love her
“Stop it. I don’t want to hear that. Not from you.”
“Not from me. What do you mean not from me? If not from me then from whom? Emma, I am your husband. … Who was that man? That man sitting over there.”
“Stop it Tom. Not here. When we get home, we’ll talk, but we can’t talk here. Not now. Just leave me alone and let me work.”
“Talk about what? Hear what? What’s wrong honey?”
“Stop. Don’t call me that. Not here. Just leave already,” Emma said, stood up, and placed Tom’s bill on the table. She then turned around and went to attend to another customer.
Tom sat in the uncomfortable booth, and with the sun now glaring into his eyes, he strained to focus his view of Emma. It seemed to him that the farther she got from him the happier she became. Confusion came over him with the change of Emma’s demeanor as she approached a customer. She grinned and showed no evidence of distress.