This is a short non-entry story I wrote for the CAW SS story competition on the forum side. The challenge was to write a story with no more than 1000 words. It's just a sweet little tale about normal people like myself. This one goes out to everybody who has ever been made to feel unworthy of love.
The ring was burning a hole in his pocket. He slid onto the red vinyl chair in the booth and winced when it pressed against his hip. Would anybody be able to see it, outlined through the material of his suit jacket? Would there be accusations in their eyes if they did?
It wasn’t too late yet. He could take his ring, and his dreams and desires, and leave. He didn’t have to do this. He didn’t have to betray anybody’s trust. He could get up, and leave, and never show his face in the diner again.
Too late. Just as he wiped the back of his shaking hand over his forehead and coiled his body to get up, his waitress appeared with a friendly smile and a laminated menu.
“Good evening, Syd,” she said, putting the menu in front of him with a shy expression. She had such pretty eyes, thought Syd with something like panic. Such pretty eyes in such a plain face. Why did nobody ever mention her pretty eyes when they spoke about Martha Clearwater? They spoke of her selflessness. They mentioned all the good deeds she did in and around town – always so helpful at the church events, and never with a single complaint either. They spoke about her good manners, and the fact that she was too old to be unmarried, but then, who would want her? She was too old for the young new science teacher at the local high school, too young for the weathered lobstermen with their ruddy faces and wrinkled eyes, too classy for the builders who worked for Ed Heeran’s building company, and not classy enough for the one or two rich widowers that dotted the coast of Maine here and there.
She was too in-between, and if that wasn’t bad enough, she was cursed with the affliction of being unimaginably plain. Short and plump, with plain brown hair usually tied away from her surprisingly featureless face. There was simply nothing memorable about her.
But she had such pretty blue eyes.
Syd stared at the menu, remembering the day they met on the rocks on the beach. Her hair had been loose and flying around her face in the stubborn wind, and he almost hadn’t noticed her. She’s simply not noticeable to a travelling salesman. If the wind hadn’t caught his folder and flung the contents to scatter over the beach, he would have walked right past her. As it was, she scrambled to help him pick up the papers of a sale he couldn’t afford to lose. She didn’t just leave it, and him, because helping people was what she did. It seemed to be what everybody expected of her.
Syd swallowed, thinking again of another brunette in another town, waiting for him to come home. The ring felt as heavy as a brick by now, dragging down his jacket.
He wasn’t a particularly handsome man – he had obtained his forty-year-old paunch a few years early, but he kept it in bay most of the time. His hair was rapidly thinning, and he couldn’t see squat without his glasses. They fogged up now as Martha with her pretty eyes patiently waited for him to make up his mind about the order.
Martha watched Syd as he deliberated over the choices in the menu, staring at the page so long that she wondered if he had trouble making out the small print. He was such a nice man. Shy and friendly. He didn’t seem to expect her kindness; he always seemed surprised by it. She remembered the time he had opened the door for her at the local butcher and her heart clenched, just a little. Nobody has ever opened a door for her.
“Should I give you another minute to decide?” she finally asked. His hands were clutching the menu so hard that his knuckles were white.
He looked up, slightly panicked. “No, I know what I want,” he said quickly. “I just… I don’t need more time, I want to…”
Syd swallowed. This wasn’t working. He needed a different approach.
“Can you bring me a coffee?” he asked, and added, “please.”
She smiled and hurried away. Syd felt like banging his head on the table. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
This wasn’t him, he thought stressfully, watching her disappear through the doorway of the kitchen. He wasn’t the type of man to go into diners in small towns and accost the local charity case waitress with the sort of request he had. Sure, maybe she would even say yes – he doubted she ever saw much action, because people were too bloody stupid to see what was right in front of them. They only saw the hard diamonds, polished and cut and shining. They didn’t notice the shy amethysts or the sweet rose quartz.
This is nonsense, he decided and stood up. Be a man, Syd, he admonished himself and strode to the kitchen.
“Martha,” he said, and she spun around, the coffee carafe poised over a cup. “Will you marry me? My mother will be furious. She wants me to marry a girl back home, but I have no interest in her. I want you. I like you. I don’t feel shy around you, even while I blush. You don’t make me feel like an idiot. I….I….I’m in love with you.”
Martha stared at him, the coffee dripping slowly on the floor when it spilled over the rim of the cup while a smile dawned across her face like the loveliest of dawns.
“All right,” she said and put the carafe on the counter. The cook watched with unabashed interest when she moved closer. Syd took the ring from his pocket.
“I hope it fits” he said, the relief sending his heart soaring.