Martha put her hand in the pocket of her apron. It was bulging with tips after only two hours on the job. For weeks now, they’d been going non-stop every day here at the diner, and her little nest egg was growing steadily. Heaven only knew what she would wind up using it for.
Martha stretched the tired muscles in her back. She was getting too old for this kind of work. Though she was only fifty-two, the years of drug use and hard living had taken its toll on her body. But at least she was clean now. She wasn’t even looking for a good time anymore, but was it too much to ask to experience a little happiness now and then? With no man in her life, no kids, no family nearby and no close friends, there wasn’t much potential for happy times. Maybe there was something wrong with her.
The “ding” of the order bell brought her back to reality.
“I’m taking my break,” Martha signaled to Sue, the manager, pointing toward the back, where the emloyees’ lounge was located. Pushing open the door, she saw that Kit was already there, placing her personal items in her locker. “Hey, girl. What are you doing here so early?”
As Kit turned around, Martha could see evidence of recent tears. Kit answered in a subdued voice, “I asked to work some extra hours for the next few weeks. You know, just some extra bills and stuff.”
“Sure. I know how that is,” Martha replied. “Everything okay?”
“It’s okay,” Kit whispered as she hurried out the door.
That was strange, Martha thought. Usually Kit was the friendliest and kindest of the wait staff. Concerned for Kit and a little relieved to have her mind on something other than her own problems, Martha cornered Sue out front. “It’s bad,” the manager spoke in a low voice. “She found out yesterday her five year old, the middle kid, has got leukemia. Gonna need a lot of hospital time, doctors, medicine. Expensive stuff. And you know her husband left a year ago. Hasn’t been seen since.”
“No, I hadn’t heard any of that,” Martha said softly.
“No time to talk now, but.... let’s all make it as easy as we can on Kit. Okay?”
“Sure. Sure I will,” replied Martha.
For the rest of the day, every time she thought of Kit, Martha sensed an intense unfamiliar feeling gnawing at her. When her shift ended, she sat down in the only decent chair in the lounge to massage her aching feet. She tried to pinpoint the reason for her unsettled feeling. She remembered when she had the flu last month, Kit had brought soup to her house, then volunteered to switch days on the schedule with her, so she wouldn’t miss so many days. And Kit was the one who drove her to pick up her car from the garage on the other side of town. She had offered to help her paint her living room, too, but Martha had politely refused the help.
Could it be that Kit needed a friend herself? Maybe that’s why she had reached out to Martha again and again. And why hadn’t she accepted Kit’s offer? Was she that afraid of allowing someone to get close to her? But wasn’t that what she wanted? To make a real connection with another person?
Suddenly she realized what she wanted to do. The uneasy feeling was replaced by a sense of purpose. Reaching into her change purse, she removed all of this week’s tips. She snatched open the door, strode out front, and spotted Kit at the pickup counter. The first genuine heartfelt smile in weeks spread across her face as she walked up to her friend. With her index finger, she pulled open Kit’s apron pocket and tucked all her tip money inside.
“What are you…..?”Kit began.
Still smiling, Martha held up her hand. “Shhhh… You’re my friend and I want to help. For the next few weeks, my tips are yours. Agreed?”
With tears rolling down her cheeks, Kit nodded, then pulled Martha into a solid hug. “You’ll come to dinner tomorrow night, won’t you, Martha? It’s Baby Julie’s first birthday. Will you come?”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she replied.
With a light step and a lighter heart, Martha walked outside.
Her pockets were empty now.
But her heart was full.
And it felt good.
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