“Is this booth okay?” Shelly asked her newest customers.
Looking at the homeless man in the adjoining booth, one of the men replied, “If that fellow smells anything like he looks, this ain’t gonna work sweetheart.”
Stiffening her neck and her smile, Shelly motioned to one of the nearby servers, “Take these gentlemen to table twenty.” As soon as all three were out of earshot, she turned to the homeless man and laid her hand on his tattered coat. “I’m so sorry about that, John,” she said. He shrugged and swirled his tomato soup with his spoon. “I swear, if this was my restaurant I woulda dragged them out by their ears and given ‘em a piece of my mind.”
John continued staring into his soup. “Well, I better get back to greetin’ my customers. Do you want me to get you a refill on the soup before I go back?” He nodded in reply.
Returning with a tray, Shelly replaced John’s soup bowl and set a key lime pie on the table. “I know you never let me bring you pie, but the key lime is my favorite. I know you’ll love it.” Turning her head towards the door, she said, “Looks like a car just pulled up.” Shelly turned to the brunette waitress nearby, “Bring John a warm up, okay?” Jill, obviously not excited about the idea, barely nodded.
At the end of the night, Shelly noticed John’s table was empty. As usual, he had left a quarter on the table. Although she had told him many times not to worry about it, she didn’t mind anymore. It made her feel like she made a small difference in his life. Putting the quarter in her pocket, she cleared the table and headed towards kitchen.
Before she could push the swinging door open, her manager, Thaddeus, stopped her, “Hey, Shelly, I need to talk to you tomorrow. Can you come in an hour before your shift?”
Shelly hesitated, “Is everything okay?”
“Sure. Everything’s fine,” he assured her. “Tomorrow then?”
“Okay. See you tomorrow,” she walked away wondering what was happening.
The next morning, she found Thaddeus sitting in John’s booth. “Shelly, I believe you know John,” he said motioning towards her homeless friend.
“Thaddeus, what’s goin’ on?” she asked him with a quizzical look.
“See, I told you. This girl pulls no punches,” Thaddeus chuckled. Then turning to Shelly, “This is Jonathan Riley. He is the President and CEO of the entire chain of restaurants.”
“Thaddeus, that’s not very nice,” she scolded him.
“I’m afraid, it’s true,” John replied with a voice Shelly did not recognize, “You’d better sit down.” She sat next to Thaddeus with a look of astonishment as John started to remove his fake beard and moustache. “I know this may seem unusual, but I am what he says and I’m here to tell you that I’m very impressed with you, Shelly.”
John continued, “I’m sorry that I’m not who you thought, but that is not entirely true either. You see, I was once the homeless John that you know me as."
"I know what it’s like not to have a friend in the world,” he said pressing his hand to his chest, “and I also know what it’s like to receive help from someone who sees me for my potential. That’s why I have been coming here almost everyday this summer to see if I could find that potential in one of my own employees.”
By this time, Thaddeus had brought Shelly a cup of coffee which she had yet to drink. Each time she tried to take a sip, she just set the mug back down and shook her head in disbelief. “Shelly, since the first day I started posing as John, you have been the kindest person to me. After the way that you handled that situation last night, I knew that you were the right choice for this new position.”
“New position?” she asked, finally able to speak.
“Yes. One year from today we will be opening a new franchise an hour north of here and I want you to run it.”
“I know it’s a lot to take in, but don’t worry. Thaddeus here as agreed to take you under his wing and teach you everything he knows,” John said pointing to Thaddeus, “You don’t have to give me an answer today, but I hope you’ll consider it.”
For the first time in her life, Shelly was speechless.
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