Scene One

Lights come up on the Sad Café, a tiny little coffee-shop and deli that is situated next to a large college campus. The lights are dimmed very slightly, in hopes of creating a mysterious mood, and some soothing Jackson Browne is playing in the background. On either side of the stage, there is a table with four chairs. Center stage, slightly farther upstage than the tables, is a counter, behind which is a chair. Chalk menus hang above the chair, displaying the day's specials.

On the chair sits ARTHUR "Art" Sushner, a fifty-something one-hit wonder songwriter. He is a volatile personage, an extremist, without much happy medium. He's angry and bitter, even though it's been twenty years since any of his songs topped the charts, proving that he's definitely one to hold a grudge. No one from the new generation, to whom he caters, seems to have heard of him. Though balding slightly, his appearance makes him out to be slightly younger than he is, and he has very few wrinkles, probably because they're too scared of his formidable personage to dare to make their way across his scowling face. What gives away his age is his crotchety demeanor, and his not-entirely hidden worldliness. He dresses sloppily, knowing that by this time in his own failed career, he has no one to impress. He is also wearing no shoes. He scowls unhappily at the counter, arms crossed beneath him, as BELLE enters.

BELLE is a plain girl of 21, just out of college, working as a waitress at the café. She carries herself well, with every step and gesture giving a sense of her confidence, without giving the impression of arrogance or unpleasant self-centeredness. She's no-nonsense and practical, with a tell-it-like it is honesty, and she's proud of it, too. Though her career and lifestyle is far from what she ever wanted it to be, she isn't complaining, quietly trying to work her way into the world of literature while earning her living at the Sad Café. She isn't unhappy with her life, but she isn't satisfied, and there's a part of her that, even through her confidant exterior, is blaming herself for not working hard enough to get herself to where she wanted to be. She's mostly rational, but has a tendency to be too stubborn to admit her faults until it's too late.

BELLE pulls her hair back as she enters, sweeping it out of her face, and heads towards one of the far tables, cleaning up glasses.

BELLE: Good morning, Arthur.

ARTHUR: (growling) Maybe for you, it is.

BELLE: (without looking at him) Going to be one of those mornings, huh?

ARTHUR: Don't know what you're talking about.

BELLE: Sure you don't. (pauses to do a peremptory sweep with a napkin) I thought you weren't going to come in today.

ARTHUR: 'm not.

BELLE: (glances up) Am I supposed to pretend you aren't here, then?

ARTHUR: (disgruntled) 'M just on my way out. Was gonna collect some things.

BELLE: Mind if I ask where you're going?

ARTHUR: None of your business, kid.

BELLE: I guess that means you do mind. (turns back to the table)

ARTHUR: (pause) What's so great about today that puts you in such a damned good mood?

BELLE: Well, until just a few minutes ago, I hadn't spoken to you, yet.

ARTHUR: Huh. You think you're funny, I bet.

BELLE: That's the idea.

ARTHUR: No wonder you can't get published.

BELLE: (pointedly) I thought you were on your way out.

ARTHUR: (just a little too loud) I'll go when I please.

BELLE: (shrug) You're the boss.

ARTHUR: (muttering) Damn straight I am. (he fidgets for a moment, and then bites his lip and begins to rove around the café aimlessly)

BELLE: (notices, and speaks somewhat more kindly) Want me to help you with something?

ARTHUR: I'll ask for your help when I want it.

BELLE: I know. I just thought I'd make a futile effort in hopes of ingratiating myself.

ARTHUR: I don't need any suck ups.

BELLE: You'd rather I just said what I really thought?

ARTHUR: I would.

BELLE: Well. (pause, as if to consider) I think you're a stuck-up, pigheaded old fart who needs some percoset and sunlight. Oh, and I'd like a raise.

ARTHUR: Fat chance, little girl.

BELLE: (shrug) I was just following orders.

ARTHUR: Feeling better, now?

BELLE: I was feeling fine, actually, until you rained on my parade. Are you sure I can't help you with something?

ARTHUR: I told you, when I need you, I'll ask for you.

There is a short pause, in which BELLE goes around the counter and begins to write in chalk on the signs. ARTHUR paces in front of the counter, sighing to himself, and then, grudgingly, turns to BELLE

ARTHUR: (grudgingly) Belle, where did I put my-?

BELLE: (without looking up) They're in the kitchen. You want me to get them for you?

ARTHUR: (unhappily) Yeah.

BELLE: (grinning) Okay. (she exits for a moment, then returns with a pair of weather-beaten shoes, which she deposits neatly on the counter.)

ARTHUR: Uh, yeah. Thank you.

BELLE: Any time. (shaking her head and smiling, she returns to the signs, and pauses before speaking again) Going to see that girlfriend of yours, today?

ARTHUR: (startled) Huh? What girlfriend?

BELLE: (smiling knowingly) You know, the one that keeps sending you those anonymous flowers?

ARTHUR: Don't know who that is.

BELLE: Oh come on, you can't tell me you haven't seen the roses that keep appearing all over the café. Unless you think I bought them, in which case you're an idiot, because you know I don't have the money.

ARTHUR: No, I mean, I don't know who sent them. Don't know her.

BELLE: Sure you don't.

ARTHUR: (getting agitated) It could be some stalker, for all I know. I don't know the woman. Who's to say it's a woman, anyway?

BELLE: I'm to say it's a woman, men don't usually send other men roses. Although, there was this one time when my roommate's cousin-!

ARTHUR: Listen to me, I don't know who it is. You're the one who sees who drops 'em off. You tell me who it is.

BELLE: (shrugs) I don't know. Some kid from the florist shop comes by and leaves them on the counter almost every morning. You've got an admirer, isn't that sweet?

ARTHUR: (mutters) Crazy stalkers. I bet it's a prank from one of those college friends of yours.

BELLE: (patronizingly) That's ridiculous, Art. None of them have the money, either.

ARTHUR: (sigh) Well, if that florist kid comes by again, I don't want any more of those flowers. Give him a free cappuccino and get him the hell out of the café.

BELLE: Even if he's just come in for a sandwich?

ARTHUR: You know what I meant!

BELLE: (grinning) All right, all right, Arthur, I'll stop. Go on out. I'll be here when you get back.

ARTHUR: You'd better be. (raising an eyebrow) And you remember what I said-!

BELLE: Yes, yes, no more flowers. I heard you. Get out of here before you scare away the customers.

ARTHUR: (turning on his heel, muttering) Scare away the customers. One of these days, you know…

ARTHUR exits, leaving BELLE smiling to herself as she wipes down the counter. After a moment, she looks up to be sure that he's gone, and then reaches into her jean pocket and pulls out a small stack of envelopes. Dumping them on the counter, she begins to tear them open, and with each envelope, her face falls a little bit. As she does so, JEFFREY enters, wielding a bouquet of roses before him.

JEFFREY is an upbeat young man in a pair of khakis and a uniform shirt from Jasmine's Florists. He's not incredibly attractive, but neither is he ugly, being instead refreshingly plain, clean-shaven, and a bit young-looking for his actual age of 21. He walks with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. His life is good. He loves his girlfriend. He has food. He has a job. He's getting coffee. In his mind, he doesn't really need a hell of a lot else. He's an optimist and a romantic, naïve to the point that those around him are half-afraid to disillusion him from his idealistic endeavors. He's a good friend, but not incredibly self-sufficient, and often comes to BELLE for help, especially in matters of women. At the moment, he's both fulfilling his duty by delivering his burden, and paying his usual morning visit to his best friend. It's all part of the routine.

Unheeded, he deposits the roses on one end of the counter, and then walks around the counter to BELLE, glancing over her shoulder.

JEFFREY: Anything good in the mail, today?

BELLE: (sighs, and shakes her head) Rejection notices, every single one of them.

JEFFREY: (shrugs) Well, I guess they just didn't deserve your books, then.

BELLE: (laughs derisively) If you say so, honey. (she tosses the letters into the trash below her, sighs, and turns to JEFFREY) How about you? Anything good?

JEFFREY: (grinning) I got a letter from Max, today.

BELLE: Oh? How's the little French princess doing?

JEFFREY: She's doing well. Her father took her shopping in Paris, yesterday. And she's been visiting the museums. They're thinking about taking a detour to Belgium. She's coming home on the twenty-fifth, though.

BELLE: (startled) Of February?

JEFFREY: Of May, unfortunately. (he sighs) Gives me time, though.

BELLE: Time for what?

JEFFREY: To plan the homecoming party!

BELLE: (shaking her head) You're the perfect boyfriend, Jeff. It's almost scary, actually. How long have you been waiting, now?

JEFFREY: Six months.

BELLE: (to the air around her, beseechingly) Six months? You're a psycho.

JEFFREY: But I'm a cute psycho.

BELLE: If you say so, honey. You want a cup of coffee?

JEFFREY: Actually, I just came by to drop off the roses.

BELLE: Arthur says he doesn't want any more.

JEFFREY: Yeah, but this lady paid me to deliver them, and that's what I'm going to do.

BELLE: (slyly) What does the lady look like?

JEFFREY: (shrug) I don't know, like anybody else. Why do you ask?

BELLE: Because Arthur desperately needs a girlfriend.

JEFFREY: I'm not sure any girlfriend desperately needs him. I mean, how do you not like roses? They're…pretty.

BELLE: (nodding) They are pretty. (smiles) When I was little, my mom used to surround herself with flowers all the time. She was kind of a poetic woman.

JEFFREY: I'm not surprised.

BELLE: Only, after a while, she realized that a woman who surrounds herself with flowers is lovely and glamorous while the flowers are alive. Once they all die, however, she becomes a woman who looks like she's living in a morgue.

JEFFREY: (chuckles) Well, don't worry, I'll come by and dispose of them again, if you like, once they're dead.

BELLE: Nah, I'll take care of it. (sigh) We have more flowers than customers around here, anyway. At least I'm not lonely.

JEFFREY: Plants don't talk like customers do.

BELLE: They don't have to. They just have to listen.

JEFFREY: To what, your stories?

BELLE: Well, nobody else will.

JEFFREY: Aw, don't be bitter, Belle. You'll get a break one of these days.

BELLE: One of these days, maybe. And then I'll get one book deal, with some down-on-their-luck, desperate publisher looking for a last chance. After that, nobody'll take me, and I'll be like Arthur, a one-hit wonder with nowhere to go except a little old campus café.

JEFFREY: What exactly is his story, anyway? I've heard all sorts of things.

BELLE: He used to write songs for rock bands. He's still got a pretty blown up ego about it. Thinks he's awfully special because Donny and the whatsits sang one of his love songs.

JEFFREY: What happened to him?

BELLE: He stopped being good.

JEFFREY: Come on, it doesn't work that way.

BELLE: Sure it does. One day he woke up and he couldn't write anymore.

JEFFREY: You're messing with me, now.

BELLE: (sigh) Well. That's the way Arthur tells it, anyway. He's awfully bitter about it.

JEFFREY: He seems like a pretty bitter character in general.

BELLE: Welcome to showbiz, kid. (smiles) Listen to me, they way I talk, you'd think I know something.

JEFFREY: You've had your share of rejections, too.

BELLE: (rolls her eyes) Thanks for reminding me.

JEFFREY: (flustered) No, I was just trying to say that, you know, you kinda know where he's coming from. So you shouldn't say you don't know anything.

BELLE: Huh. God forbid I end up like him.

JEFFREY: You won't. You certainly won't. I have faith.

BELLE: (sigh) I hope you have enough for the both of us.

Fade to black