Heavy midnight blue eye liner framed the peacock emerald sparkles adorning Lucy’s lids, diminishing the vacant disinterest in her lackluster brown eyes. Some ungifted textile designer had splashed garish red, orange and pink flowers on the fabric of her discount store blouse that was missing the top button. Dried up wrinkles heaved and rearranged themselves across the gap as Lucy stirred the contents of five sugar packets into her coffee with exaggerated motions, sighing deeply with each addition as if the sugar packet weighed the pounds it would add to her generous frame.
From her booth four tables away, Hannah wished she had a button to sew on that blouse. A button in the proper place would mean the other diners wouldn’t be treated to quite so much of Lucy. But she didn’t have one. And if she did happen to have one, she knew she wouldn’t sew it on. It really didn’t matter anyway. Lucy was one of the regulars. She had already flicked her two dollars across the table, sneering, as she always did, that this was all the money she had, and it would have to do for a cup of coffee and the waitress’s tip, and it would be nice if her coffee was kept good and hot!
The lone waitress plunked Hannah’s plate of hash browns and an open hamburger on her table. “Need anything else?” she cocked her head over her shoulder as she turned away. Hannah shook her head, unfolded two napkins across her lap, squirted ketchup on her burger and closed it with the bun top. Other diners provided her only distraction as she daintily chewed each bite 16 times. A drop of ketchup dribbled onto her chin. She put her burger down and dabbed her face with her napkin, knowing full well that she was the only one in the restaurant who would even think of using such manners. She was proud of her social graces and insisted on displaying them no matter where she was. Really, she thought, she would be much more comfortable in a quiet, up-scale eatery, in a place where good breeding was the expected norm. But her hourly wage job didn’t allow for that. Even here, the cost of her meal would stretch her budget, but she couldn’t cook. Her mother had tried to teach her, but Hannah had refused, sure she was destined for such great things that she wouldn’t need to cook. And perhaps greener pastures would be hers – someday. But someday wasn’t now, so for the present she was stuck in this dingy, neighborhood greasy spoon, pretending to enjoy food that wouldn’t keep her healthy for long.
The other diners bounced friendly banter back and forth as they boasted, teased, and ridiculed each other over the racket of the ball game on the TV above the bar. Hannah felt insignificant. They all seemed to belong, not just here, but together. She had never belonged anywhere or to anyone. Intentionally, she had distanced herself from her peers through impeccable speech and manners. Rather than lower herself, she practiced airs and flaunted her manners, pretending toward what she hoped would someday be her own reality. Economics set her apart, too, only the other way around. She was so poor that she could not mix with those on her intellectual level. She could not dress the part, and now, because of that, jobs that offered the salary to afford those clothes were not available to her.
Keeping her knees together, Hannah slipped out of her booth, bent slightly at the hips to gather up her supper and purse, and walked with a model’s poise to Lucy’s table. “May I join you for dinner?” she addressed Lucy’s dyed roots straggling over her pink scalp.
Lucy flopped her large head back toward her right shoulder and turned her listless brown eyes in Hannah’s direction. Her raspy, hollow, chain-smoker-bass grated on Hannah’s nerves. “Now, why would a fine lady want to join me for dinner?”
“I need a friend,” murmured Hannah, not meeting the midnight and emerald eyelids.
“You need a friend?” Hannah was afraid Lucy was choking. “Honey, with your looks you could make a friend out of any man here without even trying.”
“I’m not that kind of a girl,” Hannah whispered, but Lucy heard only too well.
“Hey, boys,” she shouted, “this lady here says she’s not that kind of a girl!” She paused to collect her audience. “Anybody want to teach her?” Lucy waved her coffee cup toward the other tables. Laughter, but no takers.
Hannah scraped out a chair and slumped down, elbows on the table, her shiny brown hair hiding the hands that cradled her lowered head. A tear plopped onto the laminated table top. “I just want to belong.”
Lucy crossed her arms over her ample bosom and leaned back as much as her body allowed. A half smile tugged at one corner of her mouth as she rotated her head from side to side. “And you come to me – me of all people – and ask how to belong.” Lucy kept rotating her head back and forth, back and forth, not sharing her thoughts.
“Will you help me?” Hannah asked, not looking up.
“Well…I’ll give you one piece of advice.” Lucy’s head still rotated. “Always remember that it’s the other person who matters most, not you.”
Hannah raised her head and stared into the faded brown orbs surrounded by midnight emeralds. “That’s all?” she squeaked?
“Uh-huh,” Lucy nodded her head. “That’s all.” She continued nodding. “Now get yourself out of here. Here is where you don’t belong.”
Hannah stared. “Get out!” Lucy ordered.
For the second time, Hannah’s chair scraped across the floor. Digging out her wallet, she threw a ten dollar bill on Lucy’s table. In a polished voice that belied her shaking hands, she said, “That’s for my supper. Thank you for speaking to me, Lucy. I’ll take your advice to heart.”
“Sure you will, honey,” Lucy was still nodding as Hannah slipped out of the diner.
Struggling to keep her assumed well-bred composure intact, Lucy almost tripped over the legs stretched out on the sidewalk two blocks from her apartment. “Oh,” she gasped. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t hurt you, did I?” She looked at the stringy black hair hiding the face of what she assumed was a girl.
The figure propped up against the street light didn’t answer, but Hannah saw a shoulder twitch. “You need something to eat and a place to spend the night?” she asked.
Then she realized what she’d said. It’s the other person that matters was running through her head. Darn! She didn’t have money to feed two people. What was she thinking? But the light pole leaner was struggling to her feet. “Thanks,” she mumbled, and led the way to the McDonalds across the street.