Thank You For Your Service
Lynnie Danvers was surprised to see the "Navy Retired" ball cap atop the mystery customer's head when he came into the diner on Veteran's Day. He was a regular now, having eaten at the diner most days for the past several months. Lynnie had waited on him many times and while he was polite, he was not particularly talkative. He usually read the newspaper or a paperback book while eating and he left a generous tip each visit.
Lynnie often wondered about the mystery customer. Was he someone once famous now hiding out in the hills of West County? Was he on the lam from some crime? Was he in the witness protection program? Lynnie was never sure what to think but now, seeing him wearing a military ball cap, brought new insight to the guy she didn't know.
Lynnie wouldn't have thought he was a retired Sailor from the way he looked – his hair down to his shoulders, a thick beard covering his face. He wore old jeans most days with plain non-descript sweatshirts, occasionally a plaid jacket and once in a while a worn brown corduroy suit jacket but there was nothing specific about the guy that gave Lynnie a clue about his background or story.
The diner had been a buzz saw of political debate and conversation in the months leading up to the just concluded election but not once had this guy volunteered his opinion, especially when it came to military concerns. Lynnie wanted nothing to do with Politics after what happened a few days earlier. She had to call in sick on Wednesday morning, too depressed to get out of bed following the shocking and unexpected results.
Once she was able to gather the strength to return, even the most die-hard supporters of the Orange candidate knew enough not to rub it in Lynnie's face least they got hot coffee poured in their lap.
The diner wasn't very busy on this Holiday Friday. Lynnie arrived at the mystery customer turned Sailor's table and filled his coffee cup from the pot in her hand.
"Good morning," she said as (fake) cheerfully as possible given her post-election foul mood. "Happy Veteran's Day. Thank you for your service."
The guy nodded slightly but seemed to ignore her specific greeting. "I'm thinking a ham and cheese omelet this morning," he said.
"Sure," Lynnie replied. "Home fries and toast?"
"Wheat," the mystery customer said. "And a large orange juice."
"Okay," Lynnie said pleasantly, leaving his table to place the order.
She observed the Navy Retiree as she went about her duties. He was reading from a dog-eared old paperback – some sort of sports novel it looked like – and she wondered what his military story might be. Did he march in the Veteran's Day parade down in Greenville earlier that morning? Was he happy with the election results? Was that why he was wearing his ball cap? Out of support for the new Commander-in-Chief?
Lynnie returned to the Retired Sailor's table a few moments later with his glass of orange juice.
"You've been in here plenty of times but I never caught your name," she said, placing the glass on the table.
She should have remembered it from the number of times she ran his debit card but she was drawing a blank.
"Denis," the customer replied.
"Someone said you live up in the old Grandison place?"
"I do," Denis confirmed.
Lynnie nodded and returned to the counter not sure why she was so interested in this guy who had been coming to the diner for months. She interacted and engaged with everybody she saw in the place more than once but with him she had maintained her distance and caution because of his disinterest and detachment, but now she was fascinated by his very presence.
The military ball cap made her want to talk to him. Lynnie enjoyed a friendly banter with most of the regulars but Denis hadn't been particularly conversational so she hadn't bothered chatting with him much. Now she couldn't stop looking at him.
Lynnie brought The Retired Sailor his food when it was ready and he smiled his appreciation.
"Do you need anything else?" Lynnie asked.
"No, thanks, I'm good," Denis smiled politely. "As long as there's ketchup!" He took the bottle from the end of the table and poured some onto his omelet.
"Okay," Lynnie said, leaving to attend to the scattering of other customers in the small diner but she found herself drifting back to Denis' table to refresh his coffee. "Everything okay?" She wanted to know.
Denis glanced up from his paperback. "Everything's great, thanks," he said.
Most guys liked to flirt with her, tease her, and razz her, forever interested in her social life or asking leading questions that might get her to volunteer something about her personal life but Denis never behaved that way in all the times he had been present on her shift. Normally, Lynnie would be okay with that – she often grew tired of the sophomoric rhetoric and innuendos delivered by frustrated husbands and lonely men trying to feel alive again – but a part of her felt rejected and hurt that Denis wasn't playing the same game. Apparently, he was more interested in his stupid book than he was with her!
Lynnie figured she was only a few years younger than The Retired Sailor though most people said she looked much younger than her years. Make up and yoga helped her appearance but there were days when her legs and feet ached and she noticed the roots in her bleached yellow hair showing their brown origins. It took too much work to try to keep looking young and sometimes Lynnie wondered if it was worth it especially since the prospects of landing a good man felt more and more unlikely in her present situation.
"Everything okay?" Lynnie asked Denis one more time when he was getting close to cleaning his plate. "More coffee? Another OJ?"
"I'm fine," Denis smiled. "Thanks."
She tore his order sheet off her pad and started to place it on the table but Denis already had his debit card out.
"I'll just run this through," Lynnie said, taking the card from his grip.
"Okay," he said, returning his attention to his book.
Why was she so annoyed by his lack of attention and interest? Lynnie went to the cash register to run the card while nearly seething as she gave the oblivious guy a death stare. Why did she care if he didn't notice her? Why did it matter that he read his book instead of interacting with her or anybody else in the diner whenever he came in?
Lynnie noticed that Denis Coleman was his full name according to the debit card receipt. She brought the card and receipt back to the table and handed him a pen.
"Thanks," he said as he wrote in his usual generous tip and signed the receipt. "Have a nice day." He put his debit card back in his wallet as he stood.
"You too," Lynnie replied. "Happy Veteran's Day and again thanks for your service."
"And thank you for your service," he smiled as he headed for the door, apparently amused by his little play on words.