Shirley’s Diner is not a romantic place with its cracked vinyl seats, worn formica tables and pocked steel counter. However, my greatest lesson in romance took place inside those four walls.
I noticed the “reserved” sign when I started my shift that night. “It’s booked for a Mr and Mrs Stanford.” Macey informed me. “They specifically asked for the corner window-table.”
I picked them out as soon as they shuffled through the doors. A couple of old-timers accompanied by a fortyish man in a charcoal suit. Not our usual type of clientele. “See you later Gramps, Gran. Have a good time.” The suited man left them at the counter and I showed them to their table. Two frail figures in shiny polyester and faded crimplene.
I placed laminated menus on their table. “I’m Katy. I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order.” The old man was a true gentleman.
“Thank you Katy. We appreciate your help.”
I was busy at the counter when the delivery came in. Six ruby-red roses immersed in cellophane and curls of ribbon and a package wrapped in cream and gold. I knew instinctively they were for her. “Alice Stanford at the corner window-table.” I signed for them and looked across to their table. The old man was looking expectantly at me, his eyes shining behind thick, horn-rimmed spectacles, a comical fluff of silvery hair sprouting above his ears.
I picked up the flowers and gift and carried them over to his wife who was an effigy of crumpled skin, cling-wrapped around animated bones. Her rheumy eyes sparkled like diamonds in a wrinkled cloth. “Oh Reg. You shouldn’t have.” They held hands across the table, a union of knotted veins, liver spots and the warmth of many years together. They were oblivious to me as I brought out a chipped cream jug for the roses and carefully placed the velvet blooms into water.
When I returned to take their orders, Alice was opening her gift with stiff, arthritic fingers. Reg looked up at me. “Katy, dear. We would like two burgers with mushroom sauce, no onions and two chocolate fudge milkshakes.”
I had to ask them. “Are you folks celebrating a special occasion tonight?”
“Our sixtieth wedding anniversary.” Reg said proudly.
“Congratulations. That’s really awesome.”
“This diner is very special to us.” Alice had a voice as soft as a baby’s blanket. “We had our first date here, held our engagement party here, brought our children and our grandchildren here.”
“Of course it’s changed a lot over the years.” Reg continued the story. “Not what it used to be, but I wanted to bring Alice back for memory’s sake.”
The diner got busy around then and it was only after taking a dozen orders that I got back to them. “Two chocolate fudge milkshakes.” Alice touched my arm as I placed the drinks in front of them.
“Katy. Have a look here.” An album lay open on the table between them. “Reg made this wonderful book about the special events in our lives.”
Reg smiled. “My great-granddaughter helped me. She’s very creative.”
Alice turned the page with clumsy fingers. “Look at the diner back then.” History unfolded before my eyes as black and white photos told the story of love. Alice and Reg dancing to the juke box, their engagement party, milkshakes on a Saturday evening, outings with toddlers, various anniversary celebrations.
“This diner holds so many special memories for us.” Reg looked up at me. “This was our table. We always sat here.”
I learned about true love that night. I saw it in the way Reg cut her burger into small bite size pieces, in the way he raised her hand and kissed it. I saw it in the way she looked at him, the adoration as she touched the roses and then his cheek. I saw it in the affection between them, the way they talked to each other and their appreciation for their life together.
I would like to say I kept in touch with them, but I never saw Reg and Alice again after that night. However, the impact of our brief encounter changed my life. I’ve been married for sixteen years now and whenever I feel the sparkle fading, I think of them and make adjustments. They showed me that romance can last forever
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