Small Mountain Town

Natalie set down a plate of eggs and burst into tears. The old man at the table stared at her and scooted the breakfast plate away from his now sniffling waitress.

“I’m so sorry.” Natalie smiled desperately and made a valiant attempt to wipe her eyes. “I’ll get you a refill. Sorry.” Natalie turned away and hustled for the back where she could properly get a handle on herself.

“What the hell Nat? That guy say—“ Garry was on her heels as they stepped onto the plastic mats of the diner kitchens.

“No, its…I’m sorry. I—“ She hiccupped around the words and another fresh wave of prickling stung her eyes. She was apologizing too much, something she did too often. The self-criticism didn’t help her attempts to stop the tears.  “I just can’t take it anymore.” She looked up at her boss wishing she could explain.

“Take what?” Garry was now realizing he was facing down a crying woman, and wished he’d stayed out of it, safe with the dinner rush.

“This place, this town. The stupid tourists and the hippies coming up here to commune with nature and then eating burgers and tipping lousy. I can’t stand it here; I was supposed leave years ago.” Natalie sobbed while Garry looked on with absolute terror. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

Garry gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder, praying she stopped soon. They both had customers to get to and the hiccupping young woman in front of him showed no signs of pausing the hysterics to serve pie and all-day breakfast. “I’m sure if you just take a second, get some water…whatever brought this on will …stop.” The last words were a plea.

“That’s the problem.” Her voice rose in pitch as her lower lip trembled. “Nothing brought it on, I was just taking down some girl’s order and I realized it.” Her head felt muddled, like a headache was coming on. She had to get out of here; at least that much was clear. Natalie drew a shuddering breath and gripped the sides of her stained apron, drawing it over her head.

Garry’s brows knit together. “What’re you doing?”

“I can’t stay in this tiny mountain town the rest of my life. It’s been in the back of my head for months; now I can’t ignore it.” She bundled up the apron slowly and handed it to him. “I quit.” Natalie sighed, those words felt so very good to say, it was if a pressure departed and she could think soundly again.

The apron hung loosely in his fingers as Natalie walked around her old boss. Her eyes were still swollen but her expression was serene. A few of the diners stared at their waitress as she walked past them and out onto the dirt road.

Garry went to lean against the diner’s bar, apron still bundled in his hands as he watched Natalie through the window. His waitress went out of sight just as someone cleared their throat next to him. He turned, expecting to deal with some hiker who hadn’t gotten their food. Instead a young teenager looked up at him. She was short and skinny, with makeup raccoon thick around her eyes.

“You hiring?” She asked. There was something triumphant in her tone, like she already knew she’d get the job.

Garry snorted. “How old are you?” Natalie had both confused and royally annoyed him, thus he was inclined to look all gift horses directly in the mouth.

“Sixteen.” The girl said.

“Sure.” Garry sighed as another family entered his restaurant.

“I am.” The girl said definitively and Garry found himself inexplicably believing her.

He looked at her and handed her the apron. “Lucky you, my weekend coverage just quit. If you don’t fuck up tonight, you get the job.”

The girl just smiled and pulled the apron over her head.

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