She was looking at him again.
The man sat alone at his table, a black wool-lined coat over a black t-shirt and jeans. Beside him at the table lay a black knit hat. He was reading a book held in one hand, while the other picked up bits of his steak.
Staring at him was more like it. Even one of the other waitresses had noticed. In hushed tones, she’d asked Tiffani, his waitress, what she was looking at.
“He’s much too cute to be a truck driver, don’t you think?” Tiffani had asked.
They didn’t think he could hear them, in the busy restaurant, and them some 20 feet away, but they had no idea just how keen his hearing was.
He tried to stifle a chuckle.
Tiffani was maybe 22. Though she was pretty enough, he had around 10 years on her. Though age wasn’t a big consideration in his choice of women, maturity was. The odds of any woman being on his level were remote, and virtually nil in a young lady of her age. In fact, in all his years, he had only ever met one. And she hadn’t been “into” older men.
This was far from the first time such a thing had happened. He was not a bad looking man. While not especially tall, at 5′ 9″, he was powerfully built and it showed. He didn’t have grossly over-developed muscles like a body builder, but his arms and pectorals bulged enough to prove he used them regularly.
More importantly, he had the confident presence of a man who knew exactly what his body could do.
His hair was short and dark, and he had a very close-cropped beard. He didn’t much care for it, but decided he’d give it a chance before mercilessly lopping it off. Unfortunately, it seemed to attract even more attention from the young ladies.
But more than anything else, were his eyes. He’d been told by enough women to believe them that his eyes were mesmerizing. Large, deep pools, lovers had described them, saying that they were alive with an inner fire, yet calm and peaceful. No one could pick a color out, because they changed with his emotions. His driver’s license said ‘Hazel’, but they were seldom gray. That color only came when he felt nothing.
Tiffani returned to his table, asking if he needed anything else. He glanced up and noticed that she was utterly unable to control her eyes. They were running up and down the length of him like she was trying to scan him into a computer with them.
“Pumpkin pie would be lovely,” he said.
She giggled and scurried away, returning a moment later with a slice on a white plate. She’d applied whipped cream in the shape of a heart around it. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“Here you go, sweetie,” she said.
He nodded, and picked up his fork again. She must have been flustered, because she stood there for a few seconds, then offered him another fork. Her cheeks reddened when he held up the fork he already had.
“It’s ok,” he said, “thank you.”
She practically ran away.
He returned to his book, and cut a chunk of pie off. As he bit into it, memories flooded his mind. The smell of fallen leaves. Apple cider. Halloween. Bonfires. A last celebration with friends before the snows came.
It had been years since he’d been able to celebrate a holiday. He cherished the good times that once had been. The pie was his link to those days, running all the way back to his childhood, and Thanksgiving at his Aunt’s house. Warmth. Family. Football.
Those things could never be again. Too much had happened. But he was determined to build a future just as wonderful. He couldn’t return to what was lost, but he could make something new. Someday, he knew, he would.
Tiffani returned to the table and left his check. This time she couldn’t make eye contact, and kept her gaze on the floor.
He felt bad for her embarrassment. He couldn’t think of a thing he could do to lessen it, though.
Picking up the check, he saw she’d written her phone number on the bottom, and dotted the “i”s in her name with little hearts.
He put his hat back on and left her a $10 tip.
Her number stayed on the table.
As he stepped through the restaurant’s door, another waitress caught up to him and touched his arm.
“Excuse me,” she said, “but Tiffani really likes you. She said she’s thankful for the tip, but doesn’t understand why you didn’t take her number.”
He turned to face her, but remained silent. He just raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just…” she stammered, “Nobody’s ever turned her down. Ever. I don’t see a ring on your finger… are you gay or something?”
“There is a special lady,” he said.
“Well… she would never have to know?” the girl added an inflection to the end, as if asking a question.
“I would know,” he replied. “That’s all that matters.”
Without another word, he turned and stepped out into the night.
“Wow,” he heard her whisper, just before the door closed behind him.
He grinned in spite of himself.
It wasn’t entirely a lie. He didn’t like to lie, but the very lady he’d been thinking of when he said those words had told him it is the best way to get a girl to back off. It didn’t always work, but women generally respected a man’s assertion that he was spoken for.
He hated to lie, it was against his nature. But this lady was special. Very special. That much had been the truth. She was his best friend in the world, and he had a lot of friends.
In fact, he really was a truck driver, though that was only one of the things he did. And on the day he’d gotten his CDL, only one person besides his parents had shown any interest at all.
“I’m proud of you,” her text message read.
The past few years had not been kind to him. He’d lost loved ones. Family members had gotten into trouble with the law. Friends – close friends – had betrayed him. And that was far from the worst of it.
He had endured it all, and kept marching onward. But it had cost him dearly. For the past year or so, his eyes had stayed pale gray. He’d felt nothing.
It was an especially dark time for him, in that he was naturally a joyful person. In better days, he’d often sit and watch sunsets, writing poetry that spoke to the soul. He’d craft gifts of emotional significance for friends and coworkers, just because he could. He’d always been good with his hands.
Most of all, he had an aura of peaceful contentment that suffused the air around him. He loved nothing quite so much as bringing joy to others, or easing their pain when one of life’s trials was upon them.
But in his own dark time, he’d been isolated. Those who weren’t taken from him largely abandoned him, except for those who took the opportunity to thank him for all he’d done for them by stabbing him in the back.
That changed when she came into his life.
He’d know her before, long ago. While they hadn’t exactly been close, they shared a kinship of spirit. Her entire family had a certain quirky fervor for life that resonated with him, but that trait was especially strong in her.
She too had been through some very difficult times, and she was still dealing with the legacy of those events. Despite that, when they reconnected, she still went to great lengths just to try to make him smile. Words could not convey how much that meant to him.
Of course, she was beautiful. She had lovely long hair, and eyes of a curious color. They were partly brown, but a rainbow of other hues was present as well. Even in photographs, they shifted, their earthy tones making an exact identification impossible.
People say that the eyes are windows to the soul. In hers, he saw whole worlds of possibility. Her spirit shined through. Just like his.
She had a medium build, and though many others might say her sister was prettier on a traditional scale, he didn’t think so. She had a face that even in her youth showed a certain nobility. Her eyes, always full of wonder, sat beneath a brow that wrinkled in a way that made it look like she was either in a perpetual state of surprise, or deep in thought. He suspected a bit of both, and it was the cutest thing he’d ever seen.
He stepped into his hotel room and sat on the edge of the bed to remove his boots. The waitress was completely forgotten. As he lowered himself to the floor to begin his workout routine for the evening, he thought about the future he was trying to build. He wanted the special lady to be a part of it more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life.
She’d given him back his spirit, helped him learn to love his life again, instead of merely surviving it. She’d reminded him of what a real friend was.
Starting with pushups, his mind drifted. He briefly pondered an invention he’d been working on for the past few weeks. It was as far as it could go for now; he needed parts that he could not get access to on the road to actually build the contraption. But he knew it had the potential to change the world.
Even without that, he had a bright future ahead. Though he was a truck driver today, he was very well educated. There were more letters after his name than in the name itself. He had a powerful work ethic as well, and longtime acquaintances were sure that he would be a rich man again, some day. It was just a matter of time, and hard work.
All in all, he had a lot to offer a potential mate. One dear old friend from days gone by had assured him that he could literally have just about any woman he wanted.
But the only one he wanted was not looking for a relationship.
Such is life, he thought, switching to sit-ups.
It wouldn’t be long until he had his own truck. The company he worked for had a lease program, though he’d have to work there a few months more before he qualified for it. He intended to pursue the option, though, because once he had a truck that was his own, he could nearly quadruple the amount of money he could make.
Combined with the income he could produce during his downtime, he expected to be pulling in a solid six-figures within a year. Not that he really gave a damn about money.
In truth, he wanted a house again. A place of his own, where he could re-build his family. And he wanted to have the resources to help others, as he once had. Despite all that had happened to him, that was still his greatest joy. She had restored his faith in humanity, which was essential to his belief that people were worth helping.
To do any of that, however, or to even purchase the materials to forge his dreams and visions into reality, he’d have to work very hard. He was up to the challenge, though.
He’d done it before. This time may take a bit longer, but it was far from out of reach. In that, he knew he was fortunate.
Rising, he changed into sweats and put on a pair of sneakers. He just wished he could think of a way to repay her for all the kindness she’d shown him. For the vast difference she’d made in his life.
He was himself again, because of her. More, he was a better man. Stronger, smarter, more capable. And while he was always joyful, he was truly happy for the first time in ages.
There was only one way, he knew, to come even remotely close to returning the favor for her. But that, too, would take time. Perhaps the rest of his life. If he was lucky.
For the moment, he was content to be the best friend to her he could be. And, because of her, be the best friend to all the people he cared for that he could.
Once again, he strove to live the best life he could live.
All it had taken was one special lady’s kindness and compassion.
He checked in with a few friends, to see how they were doing, and to offer words of comfort for those who were ill or had suffered a misfortune. A few received jokes, others encouragement, and still others wanted to discuss events of interest in their lives. He extended congratulations on new babies, excitement over news of engagements, and insight concerning new opportunities in their lives. There was talk of philosophy, a bit of politics, and a touch of science. After an hour, he was sure at least a dozen people were smiling who had not been before.
He wondered if she was smiling. But she was at work, unreachable. Even when she wasn’t working, she was very busy.
Stretching, he hoped she’d have time to call tonight. Hearing from her was the highlight of his day. It literally made him smile just to see her name on his phone.
She was the best friend he’d ever had. His only fear was that admitting how much he missed her might negatively influences their friendship. He didn’t want to do anything to freak her out, or drive her away. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing that precious connection.
Though he could carry on, and live a very happy life without her – he was more than strong enough to do it, he knew – he dreaded the possibility. She magnified his happiness in a way he’d never known.
It was an honor to be friends with a person like that.
He just wished he knew how she felt about him. He wished she had more time for him, though he understood why she didn’t.
He laughed to himself – he’d never in his life been the type to waste time on wishes. Dreams were one thing; to be realized or discarded depending on the circumstances. But wishes? Silliness.
She brought out a side of him he’d never even known existed.
And her smile… he loved to make her smile, partly because he enjoyed making people happy. But more because her smile took his breath away.
He threw out another random compliment on Facebook. They made people happy in general, but they were really for her. She loved compliments, and he loved complimenting her. It was absurd in a way that only close friends can achieve, and he was glad for that.
Shutting down his computer, he grabbed his coat. He smiled again as he opened the door. Then he set off for his evening run.
He vanished into the night, thinking about the future.
It was a real adventure.