“Hello, officers. What’ll it be today?” asked Allie, searching for a pen so she could take down their order. She usually tucked it behind her ear but came up empty. Her apron pocket was bare. She patted her hair—nope.
“It’s in your… ahem.” The cop on the right pointed to her chest as he grinned.
Allie’s cheeks flamed as she snatched the pen from between two buttons. It wasn’t like she put it there to draw attention to her… her… Especially not the attention of this guy. The cop was tall and lanky with hands the size of dinner plates and ears to match. He had that predatory feel of a guy who enjoyed perusing the meat market. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“No problem.” He grinned at his partner. “And you thought this would be a boring lunch.”
“It’s never boring with you around, George,” replied his partner, a middle aged, pot-bellied guy with a shiny head and a pair of teddy bear eyes. Leaning his forearms on the table, he pointed to George. “This guy’s always got a story. Some of the things he’s seen working nights would make your toenails curl.”
“Sounds fascinating.” Allie monotone. “If you’re not ready, I can come back.”
“A meatball sandwich,” said George with a note of desperation.
Desperate for food or desperate to keep her around so he could stare at her chest a little longer? Allie raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Yep. I haven’t had a good meatball sandwich in years.”
“Well, you’re not about to get one now.” She jotted the information down and turned to the other cop. “And for you?”
“I think I’ll stick to a burger and fries, no onions. And can we get a couple coffees?”
“Sure. I’ll be right back with those.” The lunch rush hadn’t come through yet so Allie entered their order and took their coffee back right away.
“Thanks, sugar.” George winked.
Allie crossed her arms. The last man to call her sugar had used her good name to create a very bad credit score. Reed, her ex-husband—thank the heavens for that ex—said all the right things and did all the wrong ones. No one had the right to call her sugar. “I’m not your sugar so you can just—”
“Whoa there—I was asking for sugar. For my coffee.” George held up his cup, his eyes wide with innocence.
“Oh.” Allie blinked wondering if she’d misread George from the start. There goes my tip. “Sorry, I’ve had a really bad day and—”
“I don’t need your life story, just the sugar.” George’s flirtatious behavior had disappeared the moment she glared daggers. If that was the worst thing that came from her little outburst she’d get off lucky.
Since when had luck ever been on her side?
“Allie,” called the café owner, William from his perch behind the register. “Get your behind over here.”
Gritting her teeth, Allie silently reviewed the reasons she needed this job. The Star Café always had a table open, usually one of Allie’s, but the locals liked the old-timie vinyl booths and spinning stools at the counter. A cup of coffee was cheep, the food was good and greasy, and the gravy was pretty darn good. Black and white checkered tiles covered the floor and faded posters of Elvis Presley, Tanya Tucker, Stevie Wonder, and Hank Williams, smiled from behind shiny chrome and glass frames. The job wasn’t much, but for a woman who barely had a high school diploma and carried a large amount of debt, it was enough. Right now, enough was good enough to get her through. “Yes?”
“Stop harassing the customers.” He waved his hand, indicating the empty booths. “I’d like to have a few of them come back once in a while.”
Then you should stop charging an extra two dollars for gravy on grits. “I’ll work that.” Allie forced her lips apart in an attempt at a smile.
“See that you do.” He shuffled a couple of papers.
Out of instinct, Allie didn’t move. Her dad had hated it when she left before he’d gotten every last mean thought off his mind. Since they were the only thoughts he had, she was grateful he wasn’t that smart of a man. William had more going on upstairs but his focus was profits.
“Look at this ticket, Allie. What does it say?” he asked.
She didn’t have to lean in or even squint to know what the ticket was for. “Two bowls of soup and a half sandwich.”
“Seventeen dollars’ worth of food walked out of here without paying and it’s coming out of your paycheck, dearie.”
Allie felt the deduction as if it had come from her spleen. “That’s not fair—it wasn’t my fault they snuck out.”
Will smacked his palm on the counter. “Your ticket—your fault.” Will smacked his palm on the counter.
She narrowed her eyes. There was no use arguing with him. Sure, taking the money out of her pay was illegal wage deduction but she wasn’t in a position to put up a fight. Allie turned on her heel to walk away with her chin up.
William’s voice rattled across the café following her like a bad stench. “Bring me a fresh coffee, this one’s gone cold.”
“Like his heart,” Allie murmured to Selina, the other waitress on duty.
Selina waved to let William know she’d heard him and then poured his coffee. “Allow me.” Her eyes twinkled as she deftly switched the decaf with regular. “Let him stay up at night. I’ll be sleeping like a baby.”
She picked up the cops’ order and headed to their table. “Here you go fellas. I hope you enjoy your meatball sandwich.” She set the plate down in front of George just as his phone beeped.
He checked it quickly. “Check please.”
“Gotta go?” asked his partner.
Allie watched their little exchange. “I’ve got it right here.” She held her ground. She couldn’t afford to pay for two meals in one day.
“Your turn for the check.” The partner nodded to George.
“Right.” He glanced at the bill and fished a twenty out of his wallet. “Oh no.”
“What?” Allie brought her hand to her hip. “Don’t tell me—you don’t have enough.”
“No, I have the check. I just don’t have enough for a tip.”
She sighed, her shoulders hunching forward. “Have a nice day officers.” With a half-smile and a shaking hand, she made her way to the counter where she dropped off the bill and the twenty for William to enter into the system. He liked to do each one himself to make sure they weren’t discounting items behind his back.
She made it behind the counter before she noticed George behind her blocking her in. Her breath came in shallow gulps—she hated being cornered. “Do you need something?”
“A to-go box.”
“Right.” They were under the coffee maker. “Here you go. Anything else?”
George shuffled his feet. A mighty accomplishment considering the size of them. It was a good thing he wasn’t hairy—he’d be mistaken for a sasquatch. “Look, I feel bad about not leaving a tip. I have money in my PayPal account. Can I send it that way?”
“I don’t accept PayPal.” She smirked. Going around him, she refilled coffee cups in the dining area.
“I know. I’ll donate it to your favorite charity.” He held his phone up. “Just tell me where to send it.”
Allie considered him. Last week a group of kids had shown up and painted over the graphitti on the side of the apartment building next door. What did their shirts say? “Teens on Target.” Let them have the five bucks. A warm feeling spread over her. At least something good would come out of this day.
George did a quick search on his phone. “I can’t find out how to donate to them but there’s a raffle. If you win you get to have lunch with Beau Dubois, Beau Aiken and—holy cow! Anthony Green.”
The names were vaguely familiar to Allie. She leaned in to glance over George’s phone and saw pictures of the two actors and the baseball star. That’s right. Anthony green played for the Braves. Beau Aiken was always in the gossip rags at the grocery store. Beau Dubois … he’d done a series of spy movies with lots of hand-to-hand combat, electronic gear, and espionage. Reed had taken her to see one about six months before he took off with her credit card and that dancer. She’d liked the movies—Beau Dubois was pretty nice to look at for hours on end.
“I’ll make you a deal,” said George, leaning into her.
Rolling her eyes, Allie stepped back and then around the counter. The more distance between them the better. “What?”
“If you win, we go together.”
“You can go by yourself.” She could care less about having lunch with some uppity Hollywood heartthrobs and a jock.
“If I go by myself then I’m not leaving a tip am I? But if we go together, then everybody wins.”
I never win anything. This would be the easiest deal she ever made. “Okay.”
“Sweet.” The cop filled out a short form and hit purchase. “I’ll be back in on the seventh to let you know if we’ve won.” He disappeared through the cloudy-glass door.
“That was exciting.” Salina cleared the cops’ plates.
Allie picked up their cups and followed her back to the dishwasher. “You know he’s never coming back, right?”
“I know.” She laughed. “But at least he donated to the charity for you.”
“Sure. Sure.” They deposited their dishes in a rack and headed back up to the front.
Saline was still in Optimistic Land. “And who knows, maybe you’ll get to have lunch with that dreamboat Beau Aiken.”
“Didn’t he just get a divorce?” asked John, one of their regulars. He hadn’t shaved in days and his white whiskers glinted in the light.
“Yeah, for like, the third time.” replied Salina.
“Beau’s single. It’s Anthony who’s married and to some Latin model,” threw in Freddie who sat opposite John.
“Look at you two gossiping like teenaged girls.” Allie topped off their drinks.
“You need to pay attention to the world, Allie,” admonished Freddie. “It pays to keep up.”
“Yeah, because what happens in some actor’s personal life is going to affect me.” Allie put their check on the table.
John shook his head. “You’re a sweet girl—those guys would be lucky to buy you dinner.”
Allie laughed. “It’s a lunch and it’s not going to happen. My galaxy and their galaxies are in two different dimensions.”
“Never say never, darlin’,” added Salina.
Allie shook her head. “I’m not lucky in love or money. Besides, I’ve already married and actor and look how that turned out.”
“Reed isn’t an actor, he’s a con artist.”
“Same thing.” Allie got a laugh out of the group which caught Will’s attention.
He glared over his bifocals “Just the food, Allie—these folks didn’t come in for a show too.”
“We’ll be praying for ya, Allie,” John said quietly behind his cup.
“Thanks.” She smiled. That was sweet, but in her experience, God didn’t put much stock in luck.