A/N: Sherman White previously appeared in Baby Ruth
Sherman White liked to frequent Flo and Joe's Donut Shop to support the local Hillsboro Business. Flo and Joe were both long gone, of course – the shop was now run by an attractive and likeable couple named Marcie and Rob, third generation decedents of Flo and Joe!
The couple had spent a great deal of money in recent years upgrading, expanding, modernizing and renovating the quaint shop, trying to strike the balance between the old and the new. They expanded the business hours from 5:30 to 1:30 to include an expanded lunch menu and Sherman thought they had done a pretty good job which is why he was a regular customer, usually stopping in for a coffee and donut to go on his way to work in the morning.
On this particular morning, Sherman was still half-asleep when he wandered into the shop for his usual. Marcie often manned the early shift but there was also a revolving door of part and full time help that helped run the place.
"Hello Sherm, how can I help you?"
Sherman noticed a new customer service assistant standing behind the counter. She was older than the usual help and she was grinning at Sherman with a knowing smile on her face. Her hair was a streaking brown-blond mix down to her shoulders and it took Sherman a moment to recognize her.
"Almond Joy!" He said with a mix of surprise and humor.
"Oh God," she said, rolling her eyes. "Are you still going to call me that?"
"Joy Almond," he said with a smirk. "I haven't seen you in forever."
"High school only ended twelve years ago, Sherm," she said with a frown.
"That feels like forever to me," Sherman laughed.
"Yeah, me too," Joy admitted. "What's your pleasure?"
"Large regular, cream and sugar, with a coffee roll, to go, please."
"You got it," Joy said with a smile as she poured his coffee from one of the several coffee pots into a Flo and Joe's paper coffee cup and put a coffee roll in a brown paper bag. "It's really great to see you," she said as Sherman handed her a couple of bills and threw another one in the tip jar.
"You too, Joy," he grinned.
Sherman and Joy repeated the same pattern for the next several weeks. Sherman noticed that Joy usually looked up in anticipation whenever the bell tinkled as he entered the shop and Sherman was surprised at how disappointed he was when Joy wasn't working on any given morning.
The place was always busy so there was much time for more than a good morning, how are you, good to see you and have a nice day. There was always banter among the regular customers and Marcie was amused when she learned that Sherman and Joy knew each other from high school.
Marcie often gave the regulars nick-names and she had christened Sherman with "Mr. Holland" from the Richard Dreyfuss movie since Sherman was a teacher at his alma mater St. Anne's Catholic School. He usually wore a tweed suit coat. His wire rimmed glasses and neatly trimmed brown beard added to his scholarly appearance.
Sherman enjoyed seeing Joy each morning and he wished there was more time to chat with his former classmate but he didn't think asking her out would be the appropriate choice either. He was less than two years the widower and that wound still ran deep.
Still, he appreciated Joy's cheerfulness.
As it turned out, it was Joy who mustered the courage to see if Sherman was interested in anything beyond the coffee shop banter.
"Would you want to meet at Johnny C's Diner sometime after school for a coffee or something?" Joy boldly asked one morning as she handed Sherman his usual coffee and coffee roll.
He was taken aback by the unexpected invite. "Really?"
"Why not?" She shrugged.
"Sure," Sherman replied, purposely not thinking about the pros and cons. "How 'bout today at four?"
"I'll see you there," Joy smiled.
She waited until Sherman left the shop before she turned to see her boss Marcie grinning at her.
"What?" Joy asked innocently. "I have a sympathetic heart, that's all."
"He's a widower, you know," Marcie cautioned.
"I know," Joy said with a sigh. "Very sad. So young."
Sherman kept busy at school to keep his mind off his grief so it wasn't unusual for him to still be grading papers or hanging around his classroom after hours in the afternoon so heading for Johnny C's at 4:00 wasn't an inconvenience – it was pretty much right on his way home anyway.
Joy was already seated in a booth when Sherman entered. The place wasn't very busy – a couple of high school kids and other stragglers although the dinner time rush would be starting soon. He slid onto the bench across from Joy and said hello.
"Hi Sherm," Joy smiled, putting her phone that she had been looking at down. "I'm glad you came."
"I'm glad you asked," he smiled in return.
Joy noticed how gentle his kind eyes were, even though they were shielded by his glasses.
"I was so sorry to hear about your wife," Joy said. "She was a couple of years behind us, right?"
"Yeah," Sherman confirmed.
"I thought you liked her sister – Mary, who was older than us."
"I did," Sherman blushed. "But I liked Ruth too and we got to know each other better."
"I'm glad," Joy smiled. "Such a tragedy to die so young."
"She had been sick off and on for a long time."
"I remember the first time," Joy replied. "The school did a fundraiser for her. Brain tumor, right?"
Sherman nodded sadly. "The last time it came back it killed her."
"How are you doing?" Joy asked.
"I'm hanging in there," Sherman said with fake enthusiasm.
"You look thinner," Joy observed. "I hope you're not discouraged."
"You tend to lose your appetite when your heart aches," Sherman admitted.
The waitress arrived on cue and the two ordered a cup of coffee and Joy added a slice of apple pie alamode for the both of them too.
"We deserve a treat," she reasoned.
"Like when we were thirteen?" Sherman grinned.
"You remember," she smiled with relief.
"Almond Joy," Sherman smirked. "We rode our bikes to the candy store and I bought you an Almond Joy."
"And called me that too," she laughed, rolling her eyes.
"I can't imagine I was the first," Sherman said.
"No, but you were the most persistent."
"I gave Baby Ruth candy bars to Ruth too," Sherman revealed.
"I'm honored to be included in the same category," Joy said with affection.
"How come we never went out when we got a little older?" Sherman wondered.
Joy shrugged. "So what happened after high school?" She wanted to know.
"Did a year in Ireland with a program working in parishes and schools hoping to spread the Gospel and Jesus to young people, then I attended college at the University of St. Louis in Madrid and lived in Portugal for another year after that before finally coming home and getting together with Ruth," he explained. "Got a job at St. Anne's after she passed away."
"And here we are."
"What about you?" Sherman asked with interest.
"I joined the Army," Joy revealed.
The waitress interrupted to bring the coffee and pie.
"Seriously?" Sherman asked with surprise when the waitress left. "The Army?"
"I went to the community college for a year and worked part time at Bannister Bakeries but I was wasting my time," she said. "So I enlisted."
"Yeah, I deployed to Afghanistan a couple of times. I was a truck driver, administrative sergeant, supply clerk, and part of a security detail," she said. "I felt important being an essential part of the military."
"What was it like?"
"It was a unique lifestyle," she revealed. "Intense, physical demanding and mentally and emotionally challenging but I survived it one day at a time."
"Good on you."
"It was exciting, stimulating, frightening and demanding all at the same time," she smiled. " It could be frustrating, disgusting, hateful and destructive too but it could also bring hope, surprise, validation, and satisfaction."
"You probably had to work twice as hard to prove yourself as a female soldier," Sherman remarked.
"That's true," Joy agreed. "Women have to consistently prove themselves in that environment. I was often singled out because I was a woman and I suppose attractive enough, but I liked it when I felt like a part of the unit and that made me feel like I belonged to something so incredible, it was worth all the other crap."
"Did you get harassed a lot?" Sherman wondered.
"There's a wide range of experiences, both good and bad, for all soldiers, especially women soldiers," Joy answered. "I had to sacrifice a lot of privacy and dignity. I've pissed in front of other soldiers. On some bases there there weren't any female or private facilities so I was very frustrated. The intense heat, the fear of not knowing what might happen next, the lack of freedom and downtime got to all of us but it's hard to gauge the harassment because my sense of normal wasn't normal for a woman in any other job. There was certainly a hostile environment and there were times when I feared for my safety but on the whole I served with great people."
"You answered the call," An impressed Sherman said.
"Whatever they asked of me, I did," Joy confirmed. "I gave my all for the good of the cause and I'm proud of the small role I had in the mission."
"Why did you get out?" Sherman asked. "You must have had ten years in. Half way to retirement."
"I was burned out," Joy admitted. "I needed to decompress. Do something else. I couldn't see myself making a career of it even with all those years in. I realized I was depressed and fried. So I came home."
"You're not going to work at Flo and Joe's forever are you?" Sherman asked.
"I hope not," Joy replied. "But I wanted to do something easy and uncomplicated for a while to get my feet back on the ground. I'm living with my parents and taking it easy. I joined the VFW and American Legion and I'm getting involved in veteran issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and military sexual trauma."
"Wow,' Sherman remarked. "I'm impressed."
"I had some relationships with a couple of fellow soldiers," Joy revealed. "I was always worried that something might happen to them. Nothing did but I came home and learned that you're a widower and that hardly seems fair."
"Life offers no guarantees," Sherman answered. "Ruth's illness rolled over me like tar being laid on a road construction project."
"I'm sorry it happened," Joy offered. "I'm sorry she died."
They had finished with the pie and coffee and Sherman paid the bill and walked Joy to her car.
"Next time I'll bring you an Almond Joy," he said.
Joy smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "We've both been through hell," she said.
Sherman watched her drive away wondering if there was any hope between them.