"You know, the only reason I hired you's 'cause I have a thing for girls like you." The man's twisted grin was half visible under his damp black moustache. Black woolly eyebrows hung above pale green eyes, glassy with lewdness and yellowed as if all the smut he'd ever viewed in his lifetime had stained the whites. Noelle had been working at Nelson's Diner for two years as a waitress, all the while tolerating her boss's inappropriate comments, but tonight she hoped to give him a piece of her mind.
"Like me, Nelson? What are you getting at?"
She glared at him as he rubbed his hands lazily across the food-stained apron that covered his gut, his gaze traveling up and down her. Her jaw clenched in anger, she shifted her weight from one leg to the other in uneasiness.
"You know exactly what I'm talkin' 'bout Noelle. Nice brown hips, thighs, and eyes" This would be the last time he talk to her like she was a piece of meat. "And don't forget that ghetto booty and big soft lips good for-"
"Shut up you...you...," Noelle stammered. Nelson opened his mouth and let out a loud cutting laugh at her attempt to defend herself. "Nelson, don't talk to me about things you ain't never got and ain't never gonna get!"
The southern twang had leapt into her voice--on account of her being raised in Florida--and she hated that it made her sound more like a bumpkin and less like the sharp citygirl she had set out to become when she'd moved out to San Francisco two years ago. Nelson blinked at her, an empty look, and shuffled out of the storage area where they had been standing and into the kitchen. Drunken with anger, dizzy, Noelle staggered over to the metal shelf on the wall above the crates of vegetables to get her purse down.
It was a soft, brown woven sack with turquoise beading, blue, white, and hanging gray feathers and fine embroidering of a desert wind swirling up red clay sand into the air. She had bought if from The EssenceRoom, a coffeehouse slash alternative medicine shop where she buys candles, tea leaves, roots and herbs. She slid her purse off of the shelf and dug around for an emergency cigarette. She had quit earlier in the week, today was Tuesday so it had only been three days, but she knew there had to be one in her purse somewhere. There, huddling in a corner, was a lone cigarette almost completely folded in half. Noelle plucked it out and put the purse back on the shelf. She walked from the back area and towards the back door of the diner that led to the alley, unbending and straightening the ciggy out between her trembling fingers. Usually she smoked out front, but she didn't want to walk past Nelson right now.
Breathing in through her mouth she tried to control her urge to cry, but standing in the littered alley between the grease barrel and the dumpster, she could see the bright cloudless sky and hear birds in the trees nearby and then realized she didn't have a lighter. That's when the sobs bubbled up and the tears filled her eyes. She put the cigarette in the breastpocket of her uniform and bowed her head, letting gravity pull her tears straight from her eyeballs, sending them splashing onto the toe of her pink Converses--never allowing the tears to touch her face. Noelle stared down at her shiny brown legs. She noted that the skin tone of her legs was almost completely even nowadays compared to how blotchy it used to be. Cocoa butter had really helped over the years. She busied her hands in her hair, fluffing and prodding her jet black curls and patting at the hair in front of the thin white plastic headband and wiping at her eyes to fix the eyeliner. She pulled down the hem of her pink waitress uniform and straightened the buttons. Out of her misty peripheral vision she saw a figure coming up the alley towards her.
She could make out that the nebulous figure was a man with light brown hair and wearing all black in the middle of summer--black jacket, black jeans, black boots. She also caught the glimmer of the sun shining off of a metal belt buckle he was wearing. He seemed like he'd have what she was looking for.
"Hey, 'scuse me, you got a light?" The guy must have been in his own little world because he walked a few steps past her doing a doubletake before he actually stopped, as if he wasn't quite sure she'd spoken.
"Oh," he muttered, "yeah."
By that time, her tears were no longer distorting her vision--she could see his face quite clearly now. She couldn't help but stare because of his dark eyes. Like talons they pierced her, but the rest of his face was so fresh and innocent--pouty lips, clear white complexion, a touch of color at the apples of his cheeks--it threw her off. He reached into his backpocket, never taking his eyes off hers, and pulled out a blue plastic lighter. They stared at each other as Noelle patted at her hip pockets for her cigarette. She saw his eyes move from her face to her chest. She followed his eyes down to her breastpocket where the brown filter-end of the cigarette poked out.
She laughed nervously. Soon the cigarette was between her fingers and her lips. He raised the flame to the cigarette. Noelle closed her eyes and took the first drag, savored the calming effect, opened her eyes, and he was standing there looking at her with dark blue eyes and with body language that said he hadn't been walking to anywhere important before he'd stopped to help her.
"Thank you. I've been trying to quit actually, but now you've gone and messed me up."
One side of his mouth went up in a sad smile. "Smoking...uh, I've been trying to quit for the longest," he replied.
Noelle spoke. "If you smoke with me, I won't feel so bad about falling off the wagon."She raised an eyebrow at him.
He chuckled, mumbled "Oh yeah? I guess." He shuffled over to where Noelle was and stood right beside her. He patted at the pockets of his worn black jeans and came up empty. "I must have forgot my smokes," he said looking at the dusty brick wall of the building adjacent to the back wall of the diner, blue with stripping paint, which they had their backs against.
Noelle studied his profile. He had a strong jawline and his top lip stick out just a tiny bit further than his bottom lip, and he had a little brown freckle at the corner of his right eyebrow. The black leather jacket was ill-fitting, too large for his frame, but that may have been because his shoulders were hunched. A strong energy or aura surrounded him and stirred jealousy within Noelle; she felt that she had no real presence in a room, in a crowd, in the world. And it was like he knew he had a strong presence and was hiding, cloaking himself in shadowy faded black clothing that was technically gray. And he just stood there, beside her, as if he was waiting for her to make the choice to walk away from him. Noelle dropped the cigarette to the ground and crushed it under her toe.
"I work in here. In Nelson's Diner as a waitress. You ever eaten here?"
He turned to look at her with that same slightly surprised look, unsure she was addressing him and not someone else. "No. I don't go...I've never been in there."
"It's not half bad. I can personally say that the service is good," she laughed, "it's the management that's messed up. And for two years I've been putting up with Nelson's demeaning comments. You'ld think I would have more dignity. But the thing is," her voice took on a sad tone, "he knows me better than anyone in this city. He knows i'm too stubborn to leave." He nodded as if he knew and studied the earrings hanging from her lobes; strings of white clay beads that stood out against her cinnamon skin. "Your a really good listener, uh," she folded her arms across her chest self-conciously,"so, what's your name?"
"Edison." His name seemed forced like all six letters had sharp little corners that irritated his throat on the way out.
"I'm Noelle." She stuck out her hand to shake his. Amused, he shook her hand with a small smile. He watched as a delicate breeze played with her curls and, almost imperceptibly, caused her full black eyelashes to flutter about her brown eyes. Noelle thought a formal handshake would counter the informal circumstance of their meeting.
"Yo, Ed-i-son!" A gravelly male holler came down the alley. Noelle saw Edison's initial reaction to the man; his lips parted and his jaw dropped a bit in a mixture of surprise and embarassment but he quickly composed himself. Noelle turned to see the scarecrow of a man, his t-shirt and jeans hanging off of him, his face lined like a topographic map. The man walked up to them smiling jovially. "Eddie, what's up man?" Edison glanced at Noelle's wary expression, looked back at the man and shook his head with a serious look suggesting it was not a good time. The man's smile immediately turned into grimace.
"Oh I see. You got a pretty girl here and now your too good to talk to me."
Edison couldn't look him in the eye.
The man looked to Noelle. "How are you, ma'am?"
"Fine, thank you," she answered, politely smiling. He looked back at Edison standing there mute.
"That's alright," the man smirked, "I'll see you later, won't I Edison?" The man walked away snickering, continuing down the alley. The smell of sweat and beer lingered.
"So who was that?"
"Friend of the family," he mumbled.
"Noelle! Break's over! Get in here!" Nelson yelled from inside the diner. "Well, I gotta go. I hope you'll drop in sometime."
Edison smiled. This smile was less restricted; his teeth were showing. "Bye," he said. Still standing against the wall he watched her walk to the backdoor of the diner. Then she span around and called out "Do you have any tatoos!"
He shook his head 'no'.
She disappeared into the diner. He disappeared down the alley.