There were times in every waitress’ life where they could start telling time by the appearance of regular customers, and, for Leanne, Candice and Heath were that kind of customer. She’d long since become friends with the two, who ate a late dinner at the diner Leanne worked at every Friday night after finishing their own work. She could never quite remember what it was Heath did—something profitable, since he nearly always left her a hefty tip—but she knew Candice was a professional welder.
She knew a lot of things about Candice. Fridays were Leanne’s favorite days, and she often organized her entire weekly schedule around them. Her coworkers loved it; she was willing to trade any day for a Friday, and never took them up for vacation days. They teased her about it, too, but she didn’t pay them too much attention. After all, they all had their own favorite customers. It was just that Candice was especially important to her.
(Oh, and Heath. She always seemed to forget about Heath.)
So, it was perfectly reasonable for her to get worried when she happened to look up at the clock and noticed that it was nearing 10PM—and Candice and Heath were nowhere to be seen. Perfectly reasonable.
At first, she thought the clock had gone wrong again. It was an old thing, with a grimy glass cover and hands that always seemed to get stuck on the six every other week, so it wasn’t the most trustworthy thing. She took out the stool from under the counter and climbed on top of it to inspect the clock, and found it to be ticking away steadily. So, it wasn’t a problem with the clock. They were just late.
It happened—not often, but more than once. There were always good explanations for it, but Leanne couldn’t help but get worried every time it happened. She worried that, while she waited at the diner for them, Candice was in the hospital, badly burned by molten metal, in extreme pain or even… She didn’t want to think about it, but, at such times, it was often all she could think about.
Luckily, there were no other customers, and her only coworker was Greg, the chef, who spent all his free time playing online poker on his phone, so she was able to fret freely and without interruption. She paced throughout the diner, cleaning and re-cleaning the tables until they squeaked and shined, unable to keep still. It was all she could do to keep the idea of a dead Candice off her mind.
The door chimed, and Leanne’s head shot up. There, standing in soaked raincoats, were Candice and Heath, hale and whole. She sighed, relieved. “It’s about time the two of you showed up,” she said.
“It’s all my fault,” Heath said, scooting into one of the booths with Candice. Leanne sat down next to them, her order pad out; it was perfunctory, really, because she already knew what they were going to order. “One of the parents didn’t come by and pick up their kid… It was an absolute mess. The police were called and everything.
Oh, right! Heath was the principal of that fancy private elementary school across town. “Oh, that’s awful,” she said, hoping that her relief didn’t show through her voice. “Poor kid. I hope everything turned out alright.”
“He called me over to keep the kid company while the teachers figured everything out with the police,” Candice said, flipping idly through the menu. “I’ve never played so many games of Hangman in my life.”
“She’s great with kids.” Heath was giving Leanne a look she didn’t quite understand, a sort of weird smile. “And people in general, of course, but especially kids.”
“That’s because I am a kid.” Candice had a sweet laugh, one that made Leanne’s heart miss a few beats. “And, as a kid, I’d like a plate of chocolate chip pancakes for dinner tonight.”
“Do you want Greg to make the whipped cream into a smiley face?” she asked with a grin.
“You know me too well, Lee.”
It was only when Heath coughed loudly that Leanne realized she and Candice had been staring lovingly at each other for probably over two minutes. “And I’ll have the meatloaf, of course,” he said, obviously trying to sound annoyed but unable to keep the weird smile off his face. “With no gravy on the mashed potatoes.”
Leanne quickly dropped off the orders with Greg—who seemed annoyed by it; he must’ve lost some big money—and returned to sit with her friends. Even when they got their food, she continued sitting with Candice, talking animatedly while Heath stuffed his face full of food. She noticed that her hand had, somehow, ended up on Candice’s knee, but didn’t do anything about it. Candice didn’t seem to mind, anyway.
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