I sat, alone, inside the dimly lit, Greasy Spoon Cafe. It was late, and most of the lunch crowd had long ago faded into oblivion.
I was idly thumbing through the pages of some local rag. The paper was yellowed with age, dotted and smeared with a real consortium of beverage and foodstuffs of undetermined vintage. The remnants of some sloppy diners’ meals, no doubt.
An elderly waitress, looking very out of place in a clean cotton summer frock and starched white apron, smiled and handed me a menu. I was tempted to order the pale green stuff that was smeared over the bi-line on page three, but instead opted for a toasted club sandwich and coffee.
She shuffled away and I went back to my paper.
I looked up as the door chimes rang and a young couple walked in. She of medium height, fair hair, and shapely physique, He, a tall and very lean, stoop-shouldered lad, with mop of frizzy, black, hair and what appeared to be a permanent grin.
After much deliberation, they settled on a table in the far corner, and sat down on opposite sides to wait.
She reached over and held his hand, and they gazed into each other’s love-struck eyes. It didn’t last though, for their smiles seemed to turn rather quickly to frowns. I couldn’t make out actual words, but their raised voices carried clear across the room.
Just then, the waitress arrived with my food and coffee, and turned my attention from Romeo and Juliette to the most delectable, clubhouse sandwich this side of Main Street.
Later, when my lunch was reduced to a few crumbs, and my coffee a distant memory, I. glanced back over at the restaurants only other occupied table.
The young man’s chair was abandoned and the young lady sat sobbing uncontrollably into her paper napkin.
I hesitated for a few minutes, weighing up the pros and cons of interfering, then heart beat brains.
I got up from my seat and walked toward her.
She was running short of dry spots on her napkin, and her eyes were beet red. I approached her and said that I knew it wasn’t any of my business, but was everything alright.
She stared up at me, in silence for a very long minute, then, having, somehow, determined I wasn’t the neighborhood rapist, she spoke.
“He broke up with me,” She said and glanced vacantly at the napkin.
The words gushed out of her, and a fresh flood of tears poured down her cheeks.
I handed her my freshly laundered handkerchief. She took it and dabbed at her swollen eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, “You seemed so into each other.” I paused and pointed to my table, “That’s how it looked, from my vantage point, anyway”
She smiled sardonicly. “Ya, mine too! Rex and I were talking about getting married next fall.”
I’ve often been called an old softy, and I guess I sorta am, but, hey, she seemed like a sweet kid and she was clearly broken up about it. The least I could do is lend an ear.
“So, what happened?” I asked.
She blew her nose and sighed.
“I wish I knew!” we’re sitting here making all these wonderful plans, one minute; then the next he says he’s done. never wants to see me again!”
I mulled it over briefly unsure of what to say.
“Listen,” I said, marriage is a huge step, maybe he just needs time to let it sink in.”
She seemed to consider this, because a faint smile, momentarily replaced her frown.
I sat down in the empty spot, and for the next twenty minutes, or so. I, quietly listened, while Stella talked.
She told me about future plans and dreams, Like; taking a train out east to meet his parents, visiting Whistler Mountain Resort to plan their reception party and honeymooning on the beach in Waikiki.
Then she stared, intently, at the tablecloth.
‘But none of that matters anymore!”
“People fight all the time,” I said finally, “are you sure it’s truly over?”
She nodded glumly.
“Yes, says he can’t stand the sight of me.”
Her whole body quivered and convulsed and I sat there feeling utterly useless as the tears started, all over again.
Next thing i knew, old Rex
was there, looming over me, and before I could utter that old chestnut ‘This isn’t what it looks like!” I noticed his big, toothy grin.
He looked at Stella, she looked at him, and they burst out laughing.
Now, everyone deals with things differently, and grief can manifest itself in many different ways, but even a fool like me could see there was something odd here.
Confused? So was I, but the answer was about to reveal itself…
Turns out these two love birds were in a College Theater Arts Program together and the whole thing was an act. There’s was no breakup, this was all part of an elaborate ruse. A Prank played on, unsuspecting suckers like me for practise and giggles.
After their somewhat lenghly explanation, Rex handed me a pair of tickets.and backstage passes to a new production the two of them were performing in.
“No hard feelings?” he asked.
I tried to affect a scowl, but my smile broke through in stark defiance.
“Nope, I’m just glad you two are okay, I said. Then I thought for half a second. “How did you know I would fall for it?” I asked finally. “I could’ve just walked away.
Stella glanced at Rex, then back at me and she smiled warmly.
“‘Cause I’m a good judge of character.”