By Stacey Wallace Benefiel
Published by Stacey Wallace Benefiel at Smashwords
Copyright 2011 by Stacey Wallace Benefiel
All rights reserved.
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For Rob, Gus and Arlo
The boy walked through the front door of the See-Saw diner, pulled up the edge of his threadbare gray t-shirt and wiped the sweat from his sunburned face. He paused, looking around the seating area, which was empty except for Melody and me sitting in a booth in the corner. Satisfied that we were nothing to contend with, he sat down at the counter by the cash register. Shrugging off his dirty orange backpack, he set it on the stool next to him.
The diner owner’s daughter, Amanda, slid a menu down the counter toward the boy. “Let me know when you’re ready to order.”
He pushed the menu away. “Can I have a water and a coffee?”
Amanda nodded, putting the menu back by the register. “Do you want the coffee iced? It’s a scorcher out there.”
Filling a large glass with ice water out of a pitcher with one hand and pouring the cup of coffee with the other, Amanda spoke to the boy over her shoulder. “You been backpacking up the mountain?”
He stared at the back of her head, making no effort to reply. She set the beverages down in front of him. “Coffee’s on the house; I’m going to have to toss the rest of the pot at the end of my shift anyways. You’re the only one drinking it.” She smiled and then went back to the other end of the counter where she’d been refilling salt shakers.
Holding the water glass with both hands, he put it to his mouth and drank greedily. After he’d finished the water he got up, leaving his coffee and backpack behind, and went into the men’s restroom.
He splashed water on his face and dried it with a paper towel, studying his reflection in the mirror. Pushing his greasy, sun-streaked blonde hair back from his hairline, he scratched at the edge of his forehead with his fingernail. The skin peeled back a few centimeters all the way down to the bone. A tiny bit of thick, gelatinous blood rose to the surface.
“Damn,” he said, letting his hair fall back across his forehead, hiding the defect. He turned and pulled his shirt up his back; the space between his shoulder blades was rubbed raw, and the skin above the waistband of his shorts looked dead and gray.
The boy returned to the dining area and put his backpack on the counter, unzipping it. Still standing, he downed the coffee.
“Thanks for coming in,” Amanda said, smiling at him again.
This time he smiled back. He sauntered down to the end of the counter and walked around behind it. Leaning in close to her, he grasped her wrist.