She had eyes of gold, lips like rubies and hair that put onyx to shame. Her skin was white, like freshly fallen snow.
Ugh, she's Snow White. I ripped the page out of my notebook and crumpled it, tossing it into the ever growing pile of wadded balls of tripe. The young girl at the front counter was beautiful, true, more like a dark fairy than a fairy tale princess. Something about her screamed danger, even though she looked like a fragile piece of fine china. And the way she moved was like poetry. But I didn't write fairy tales. I didn't want to be a dime store novelist. I wanted to be the next Great American writer, like Mark Twain or William Faulkner.
"More coffee, Miss Alice?"
I was close enough to the counter to hear mom ask. I didn't know why she bothered. Alice never wanted more coffee. I didn't think she even drank the one cup she always ordered. How did I know that? I wasn't nosy or anything, but my mother owned the diner.As a senior in high school, I spent my school nights helping out around the diner and doing homework. Or trying to write The Great American Novel.
It was raining outside. It was always raining when Alice came in, not that she ever seemed to have a hair out of place, or a single splatter of mud on her shoes. She dressed like one of the social butterflies from the upper part of town, a little out of place at the shiny chrome edged counter on the swiveling, red vinyl stool. But my mom and me, and most of the regulars, were used to her. She was a fixture now, like the framed pictures of the World's Fair hung over each of the booths, only a piece of art that moved. She spoke only when spoken to and she always left when the rain stopped, or when the dinner rush arrived.
I had struck up a conversation with her once when I had actually been allowed to watch the counter. My mother knew I was a klutz so she rarely let me handle anything that would cause second degree burns if spilled on myself or a customer. My mother often joked that I should pray long and hard that I didn't pass on my clumsiness to my children. I would joke back that if I was lucky it would skip a generation or two, like the tendency to have twins.
That day, I'd asked Alice why she came to the diner every time it rained.
"I'm waiting for him."
"Him who, Miss Alice?"
"The man of my dreams. He's tall, of course, and he has long, blond hair. And he has the most beautiful smile and a southern drawl."
"Does he know you're waiting for him?"
"No. I don't think he's ready yet."
Her smile had been serene, but her eyes had sparkled as if she had some secret that she was keeping to herself. I had been curious and I still was, but my mother had always stressed that we were an respectable diner, not a roadside bar. People didn't come to spill their life stories over the blue plate special and we had to respect their privacy. So I had just smiled, nodded and moved on to offer booth eight refills on their coffee.
I sometimes wondered if Alice was completely sane. Who would spend two or three hours every rainy afternoon sitting in a diner nursing a cup of coffee, waiting for a man she'd never met? A man that she had obviously pictured in her head, her storybook prince. Yes, Alice was a little strange and I was thinking about how I could use that for a story. Crazy people made interesting characters.
I looked up when the bell rang over the door. It was an automatic response, like that scientist with his dogs. Pavo? Pavic? Pavlov? Anyway, most of the time it wasn't anyone interesting. Frankly, the diner attracted mostly regulars, except on the weekends, so it was rare that I saw a completely unfamiliar face coming through the door on a Tuesday afternoon. Well, let me say that this particular Tuesday was shaping up to be quite out of the ordinary.
He was tall and pale with long, blond hair that was dripping with rain. His eyes were dark, black I thought, and had dark circles like he hadn't gotten a good night of sleep in weeks. His coat was drenched, as if he'd been walking in the storm for a while. My mother would have taken one look at him and shook her head in disdain. Despite the fact that he was undeniably handsome, his long hair and the worn state of his clothes would have made her suspect of all sorts of unsavory things of him. I felt the beginnings of fear tingling at the base of my spine, but dismissed my reaction as foolish. He was probably just a wanderer, a poor, young soul traveling from town to town looking for work.
I went back to my writing, dismissing the man from my thoughts, when I saw Miss Alice swivel towards the door and jump down from her stool. I was surprised. She had only been here about half an hour. She never left before the rain stopped. I raised my hand to bid her farewell, but the words froze in my mouth when she walked up to the young man at the door and smiled at him.
"You've kept me waiting a long time." Her sweet voice was like a whispered caress. It was almost too quiet for me to hear. I strained my ears for his response.
He ducked his head like an embarrassed schoolboy and murmured an apology in a deep voice like liquid honey, complete with a slow southern drawl that would have made any girl's heart flutter.
"I'm sorry, ma'am."
And they stood there, just looking at one another for a long moment. She reached up with her small fingers and touched his cheek, he reached down and ran his long fingers down the side of her face. It was an intimate moment, a connection of souls. Neither seemed to speak again, though I saw their lips quiver as though they were whispering to themselves in wonder. Her smile was brilliant and his was hesitant but hopeful. After that long moment, she put her tiny hand in his and lead him back out the door into the rain.
I stared at the door, my mind whirring in circles. The picture of the tiny, perfectly groomed Alice next to the beautiful but obviously penniless and unkempt man was burned into my brain. I briefly entertained the thought that perhaps she was in danger by leaving with him. A more unlikely pair had never been born. But the way they had looked at each other had left no doubts that there was a soul deep connection made. Right there in my family's insignificant little diner.
I heard a tsking noise and looked up to see my mother standing by my booth. She was staring at the door with a concerned expression.
"What on earth did she go with him for? We'll be seeing her name in the papers, murdered for certain." I frowned and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I was quick to reassure my mother.
"Oh, she knows him. She's been waiting for him all this time."
My mother gave me a sharp look and I just smiled, trying to copy the serene expression that Alice so often wore. It must have worked, at least to certain extent, because my mother sighed and turned back towards the counter. She was muttering to herself as she moved to answer the phone. I looked back at the door and then down at the notebook in front of me.
She had eyes of gold, lips like rubies and hair that put onyx to shame. Her skin was white, like freshly fallen snow. Her eyes sparkled as she turned to see him standing there, her pale, blond champion. His dark eyes locked onto hers and all the hope in his heart shone in his smile. She moved with the grace of a butterfly across the ballroom floor into the arms of her prince.
"Helen, phone's for you." My mother's voice carried across the diner, interrupting my imaginings of a beautiful fairy tale romance. I'd be the next Great American novelist tomorrow, but for once I would let the romantic little girl in me have her fantasy.
"Who is it, ma?"
"It's the Swan boy."
"Hello?" I perched behind the counter, the phone pressed to my ear. Geoffrey Swan was my secret crush, the most popular boy in the senior class. He was tall with dark curly hair that made all the girls swoon. His father was a city policeman. I was curious what he was calling about. Maybe he needed help with this English homework.
"Hi, um, Helen. It's Geoff Swan." Wow, did he sound nervous?
"Hi, Geoff. How are you?" And I didn't sound any less nervous.
"Fine, fine. Just great. Um, I was wondering if you'd like to go to the Policeman's Ball. With me."
For the first time in my seventeen years, I decided that I wasn't going to let the fact that I was the class klutz keep me from going to a dance. I thought back to Alice and her prince and I smiled.
"Geoffrey, I'd love to."