Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: WILD (11/16/17)
By Jan Ackerson
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It’s a quiet day; after the morning rush of workers getting a quick breakfast and filling their thermoses with coffee, no one comes for a long while, and Lois sits at one of the empty booths, reading a romance novel. One of her socks droops over a sturdy white sneaker.
There’s the sound of a car in the parking lot, and Lois looks out the window, but the driver just parks and examines a map, then pulls back out onto the highway. Lois looks at the clock and sighs. Every day at the diner is uneventful, but a slow day at the diner makes her spirit itch.
At noon, Lois has five booths to serve. She challenges herself by leaving her pad in her pocket and telling Joe all their orders from memory. She doesn’t make a single mistake.
And then in the middle of the afternoon, a rumbling like thunder brings Lois quickly from the kitchen, where she’s been snacking on cold French fries, leftover from yesterday. The noise reverberates in her body, making her think avalanche, even though it’s summer and the nearest mountain is three states away.
It’s motorcycles—two dozen of them, at least, and some of them with two riders. “Joe!” she calls. “Put the fryers down!” and she steps into the diner with her heart slamming against her chest.
They’re marvelous. Clad mostly in leather, even the women, with bandanas around their heads and tattoos on their meaty biceps. The tattoos and the patches on their jackets say Born To Be Wild, and they’re mostly laughing, loud and confident as they fill the booths.
Lois takes out her pad and walks to the nearest booth, where three men and a woman are talking, leaning in toward each other and roughhousing a little. “It’s just me today,” she says, “and Joe in the kitchen. We’ll do our best, though. What can I get you?” She looks at the four of them, then settles her questioning gaze on a big man with a braided beard.
He flicks her pad away, then takes her hand in both of his. “We’ll have burgers with everything,” he says. “All of us.”
“What do you think?” The four at the table laugh, and Lois smiles, a little nervously.
The bearded man kisses her hand. “Strong as you can make it, sweetheart.”
There follows an hour or so of frenzied activity—Lois and Joe work the grill and the fryers together, and she dances between the booths and the kitchen, balancing plates of food, coffee pots, ketchup bottles. At one point, she executes a lovely twirl between booths, to the whoops and whistles of the bikers.
When they’re leaving, one of the men taps her shoulder and nods toward the bikes outside, raising an eyebrow at Lois. Come with us, his look says, and Lois takes a startled step away from the door.
“No,” she says. “I can’t. But…thanks.”
He nods, even bows a little, as gallant as a courtier. When the bikers leave, he’s the last out of the parking lot, and he raises a gloved hand to her before he turns onto the highway.
Lois truly doesn’t want to go with them—but she wants to be the sort of girl who would.
For the next several days, she watches the highway, wondering if the bikers will come back. When there’s a lull, she closes her eyes and conjures up that riotous, glorious melee. She remembers that one of the women had a gold tooth, and that one of the men had stepped from tabletop to tabletop in the crowded diner to talk with the man who had tapped her shoulder, miraculously not spilling or breaking a thing.
And then one day she takes an order to Booth 6 and he’s there, alone, at Booth 9. His helmet rests on the table, and he watches her deliver a meatloaf plate and a Pepsi. When she goes to his booth, her fingers are trembling.
“Burger with everything?” she says.
If he asks again, she’ll go with him.
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