The diner was empty but for Jack and the waitress behind the counter. She polished glasses that didn’t need polishing as Jack stared thoughtfully into his mug. The jukebox was playing quietly, another song of love and sorrow and perhaps a pinch of hope… Jack didn’t sing along, but murmured occasional lines softly as he pondered the dark brew in the white mug.
“So what’s the story hun?”
The waitress had left her polishing and now stood closer, regarding Jack with curiosity.
“You come in, drop some coins in the jukebox, pick your songs, order a mug of house blend and sit there watching it go cold as the music plays. You’re clearly not from round here, and I’m guessing you’ve come a long way, and have a ways to go. If you don’t have a story driving you, I’ll eat my hat.”
Jack smiled slightly and looked at the waitress.
“There was a girl,” Jack said, and the waitress grinned.
“I figured there might be.”
“I found her, or I guess we found each other. It was amazing, but brief, and in the end we went our different ways. Our lives were moving us away from each other, and at the time there was nothing we could do. So I lost her.”
The waitress pulled a stool up and sat across the counter from him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked, and he shrugged.
“I don’t know that there’s much to tell.”
“I’m sure there is. What was her name, to start? And yours, for that matter?”
“I’m Jack. And she… Her name is Kara.”
“How did you meet?”
“It was in a diner, not unlike this one…” And Jack couldn’t stop the smile as the memory filled him.
He was travelling, an old fashioned road trip; he’d bought some transport, an old rust bucket of a thing but reliable enough to last, and he’d set out. He supposed it was in the hope that he’d learn something different from what he been taught, something real…
He’d travelled without a destination in mind, finding joy in the journey. He’d stop when he was hungry or tired, finding quirky motels or diners to rest in for an hour maybe, before heading on. If there was a jukebox he’d see if they had any songs he knew, and would nurse a brew as he listened.
And then one day, just as the last song he’d picked was playing, she walked in.
“It wasn’t like time slowed down or any other cliché, but… Suddenly I felt her there. Her presence was palpable, it changed the whole place.”
“What did she look like?” asked the waitress, smiling.
“She was beautiful. Her skin was pale, almost white. At first I thought her hair was black, but as she moved it shimmered and there were flashes of dark, metallic green. I don’t know if it was a dye, or… She moved with a grace borne out of… Not confidence, but simply comfort with who she was. She was beautiful.”
Jack paused, his mind full of her for a moment. Her smell, her voice, her presence… The waitress cleared her throat and he swallowed, blushing.
“And then she walked up to the counter and slid onto the stool next to me. She ordered a brew and sat with her head slightly on one side, listening to the song.”
Something in the kitchen beeped, and the waitress moved off to see to it, returning with two fresh mugs of the dark brew. She placed one in front of Jack and he thanked her, and she slid back onto her stool, two hands wrapped about her own mug.
“So who broke the ice?”
“She did. Well, sort of. She asked what the song was, and I screwed up the courage to tell her. From there we just got talking.”
“And you talked for hours?”
“Hours and hours. They closed the diner, kicked us out in the end. That was the beginning.”
“A good beginning.”
“Yes,” Jack said, taking a mouthful of the brew as his thoughts drifted over the months that followed.
They’d travelled together, drifting where the wind carried them, discovering more about each other every day and night. But in the end, reality caught up with them; Jack’s money was running out, and soon enough he needed to find another job. Kara had obligations to fulfil at home…
It had been beautiful, the most beautiful part of Jack’s life. But it had ended.
He was brought out of the reverie by the waitress’ hand touching his own. She was looking at him over her mug, still cupped in two hands. He gave her a small, lopsided smile and shrugged.
“So, you found something, and it was good, but it ended,” she said. “What has brought you here tonight?”
“I got a job, Kara moved home and fulfilled her obligations. We moved apart, lost touch, even though we didn’t want to. But every day, I thought of her. And soon enough I realised that the only life I wanted was one with her in it. So I’m trying to find her again.”
The waitress smiled. “Did you go to her home?”
“I did. But… She’d already left.”
“To go where?”
“No one knew, or at least, they wouldn’t say. I searched for a year, but couldn’t find a trace of her. So I decided to let fate guide me.”
The waitress raised a puzzled eyebrow, and Jack smiled.
“I’m travelling again now, like before. I go where the wind drives me, and I stop at every diner I find. And at every one I put some songs on the jukebox, the same songs I played on the day we met. I order a mug of the house brew, and I sit and listen to the music. And I hope, with every part of my soul, that before the last song finishes, she’ll walk through the door.”
The waitress’ eyes were wide, and after a moment she whispered the question.
“And she never has?”
Jack smiled, and he wondered if it hid the aching in his heart.
Neither of them spoke as the song that was playing faded. As the first notes of the next song began, Jack turned to glance out of the windows at the night beyond. But there was no pale woman with dark hair, just the shimmering stars drifting in the night sky…
“I like this,” the waitress said, and Jack turned back to her. She was listening, eyes closed, a small smile on her lips. “What is it?”
“Sam Cooke,” Jack told her. “Bring It On Home To Me. An old one.”
“I like it,” the waitress said, and put her mug down. “Do you want another brew, Jack?”
“No thanks,” Jack said. “I’ll be off in a minute. This is the last song.”
“This is the one that was playing…?”
Jack nodded, and the waitress glanced toward the door. He wanted to turn, but forced himself to stay still, wishing to prolong his hoping until the last moment…
As the song faded out, Jack sighed and got to his feet. He rummaged in his pocket and dropped some change on the counter, and the waitress gathered it slowly, thoughtfully.
“I’d better drift on,” Jack said.
“I hope you find her again.” The waitress’ eyes were wide and shining. Jack smiled, and shrugged.
“Me too. Maybe I will. Maybe not. But…”
The waitress grabbed Jack’s hand and spoke fiercely, passionately.
“But you have to follow your heart.”
Jack tried to speak, but found a lump in his throat. He squeezed the waitress’ hand, and she squeezed back, and they shared a small smile. Then the waitress let go of his hand, and he nodded. He shrugged into his jacket and moved slowly to the door. He paused just before he opened it, and turned back.
“I didn’t ask your name, did I? I’m sorry.”
The waitress shrugged.
“I was going to let it slide. I’m Yx.”
“Well then, Yx, thanks for the brew. Best I’ve had in a long while.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“And thanks. For listening.”
“Anytime. Good luck, Jack, and safe travels.”
And with a final wave, Jack stepped out into the night. He took a deep breath as the door swung shut behind him, and dug his keys out of his pocket as he crossed the tarmac.
He settled into the driver’s seat with a sigh and hit the ignition switch. As the light-drive engines began to hum he glanced through the windshield at Yx, who was wiping down the counter top, a cloth in each of her three hands.
“Good brew,” he murmured to himself. “Not quite coffee, but pretty damn close. Maybe I’ll come back…”
Then he pulled back on the controls and his ship rose upward, and Jack glanced down one last time at the Shooting Star Diner. In moments he had left the asteroid’s atmosphere shield, and he punched the thrusters up to full. Yx had been right; he had to follow his heart, and there were so many more places to try…
So Jack headed out into the dark expanse, the words of an old song drifting softly through the ship.
“If you ever change your mind
About leavin’, leavin’ me behind…”