The Beautiful and the Damned
Hampton Falls, NH
Two months later
The wig was cheap. It made her head itch. A synthetic material, poorly made. Cyn had found it in the donations bin of a Goodwill thrift store. Probably somebody’s Saturday-night castoff. But it made her feel better to have it on. Protected.
“Brunette tonight, huh?” One of the cooks leaned over the disposal in the sink, trying to fish something out of it. “Thought blondes have more fun.”
“They do, Lenny.” Cyn opened another button on the top of her waitress uniform. “Get better tips, too. Guess I’ll just have to use my other charms.”
“Don’t forget who takes care of you around here.”
Tucking her pad into her waist pocket, Cyn blew him a kiss before heading to the counter. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just remember when you bring back all that green that I’m the guy who does the dishes for you at the end of your shift.” Cyn waved two fingers dismissively, like she couldn’t hear what he was saying. “And snaked your ring from the drain last week when you dropped it!” he shouted after her.
Cyn glanced down at the knotted gold ring on her right hand, rubbing it with her thumb. But she didn’t respond.
“Don’t know how that girl does it,” Lenny muttered to himself. “I swear she bewitches those customers or something.” He plunged his hand one last time into the sink and pulled out a bent spoon before adding it to the pile in the box by the back door.
“Order up,” Marv called from the kitchen pass-through. He sat a plate full of steamed clams on the counter and moved to the next ticket, wiping a greasy hand on his once-white apron.
Cyn deliberately ignored him, returning an empty coffeepot to the coffeemaker. The diner was half-full, but she liked to take her time.
“Yo, Cynsation.” Marv rapped on a dented silver bell. “I said, order up.”
“Calm down, Marv. I heard you.” She rolled her eyes and grabbed the plate. “It’s under the warmer. It’ll be fine.”
Dropping the food at table nine, Cyn noticed the empty mug in front of a burly man sitting on a bar stool at the counter. “Do you need a fill-up?” she stopped to ask.
He paused, half-eaten ham sandwich dripping mayo and bits of lettuce down his shirt. “If you’re doing the filling, sweetheart, then I’m doing the taking. But we could rearrange those positions if you’d be so inclined. My truck’s parked right outside.” He flashed a smile of rotted teeth and half-chewed food particles at her.
Cyn leaned in, making sure that the barely buttoned uniform she wore gaped in the front. “Inclined? I do love a man who uses big words.”
The trucker ogled her hopefully. “You do? ’Cuz I know a million of ’em.”
“Well, I just want you to remember one little word. . . .” Eyes wide, pupils flaring, she said, “Tip.”
~ ~ ~
As soon as the trucker was gone Cyn pocketed his seventy-five percent tip and scanned the dining room, judging the beverage-fulfillment needs of her customers. Table three was a guzzler: he’d already gone through two refills before his meal
had even arrived. But tables four and five were moving at a slower pace.
Marv lifted a hand to ring the bell again, and she fixed him with a steely glare. Throwing both hands up in the air, he slowly backed off and retreated to the kitchen.
But before Cyn could grab the order that was waiting, a blast of chilly air hit her from behind. October in New Hampshire was cold—colder than the idiot who was currently holding the door open for longer than was necessary must have realized.
She turned to watch him come in. Stamping his feet and blowing on his hands, he looked like a glossy-magazine-styled, twenty-something wannabe hipster. Dark hair artfully tousled, with a gray scarf draped carefully around the top of a fitted jacket.
Cyn dismissed him without a second thought.
The door blasted open again, and this time a teenager came in. Young, blond, and full of spoiled-brat swagger. Cyn recognized him right away. Stephen Grant. All hands and no manners. He thought his daddy’s money could buy him whatever, and whoever, he wanted.
She didn’t like the attitude, but she loved making him spend some of that money on her.
Turning back to the still-steaming plate, she checked the
ticket and then dropped the food off at table four. The hipster took table seven. Right next to the back exit.
Stephen sauntered up to the counter and made a show of flipping through the menu even though it was plain to see that what he really wanted wasn’t on it. He cast a calculating look at Cyn, then motioned her over. “When are you going to let me sweep you out of here?”
“Are you insinuating that I’m in need of rescuing?” Cyn flipped over her pad to a fresh sheet and clicked the end of her pen open.
“Yeah. And I can be your Prince Charming. Like the fairy tale.”
“Baby, if this was a fairy tale, I’d be more interested in marrying your father and becoming a queen instead of playing princess to a punk like you.” She leaned in and whispered, “He’s the one with all the money, after all. . . .”
It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but he just pissed her off in all the wrong ways. With his slick arrogance and give-me-what-I-want attitude.
Flushed red with anger, Stephen slammed the menu down. “I want a tuna on rye with a side of pickles,” he said coldly.
“Coming right up.”
She could feel his gaze burning through her back as she walked away. Mentally sighing, Cyn reached up to straighten the back of her wig and kept moving to table seven. “What can I get for you?” she asked, all bright smiles and eager eyes.
The customers never had any idea just how much of an act it all was.
“Coffee. Black,” Hipster said.
“You got it.”
She told Marv about the tuna ticket, and by the time she’d filled Hipster’s coffee, her order was ready. As she picked up Stephen’s plate, Cyn wished she had opened another button. Sometimes that was easier than dealing with him.
Sliding the plate onto the table, she said, “Enjoy your meal.” She was turning to walk away when his voice stopped her.
“I asked for my bread to be lightly toasted.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, that’s the way I want it.”
Cyn gave him an irritated look. “Why don’t you just eat your food the way it is and stop bothering me? That’s not too much to ask, now, is it?”
He seemed to think about it for a moment. Then he said, “Yes. It is.”
“I want my sandwich remade, and this time it should be lightly toasted.”
Cyn reached for the plate. “Sure,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’ll get that fixed right up for you.”
Marv was in the middle of slopping dirty water onto the floor and pushing it around with a wet mop when Cyn entered the kitchen. He eyed up what she had in her hands and shook his head. “Nope. Sorry. I can’t remake anything. Cleaning duty.”
“S’okay, Marv. I got it.” Scraping the plate clean into the trash, Cyn grabbed a new one from the stack on the prep counter. Then she put two pieces of bread into the toaster and went to the fridge to get a fresh pack of tuna, some mayonnaise and relish, and the jar of sliced pickles. When the toaster popped, Cyn carefully inspected the bread to make sure it was lightly toasted before putting it all together. New sandwich in hand, she walked out of the kitchen to deliver it to her customer.
The guzzler at table three was frantically trying to wave her down again as she passed, but she just smiled at him and held up one finger. He could wait another minute or two. It wasn’t like her tip would suffer for it.
“Here you go.” Cyn plunked the plate down in front of
Stephen. “One freshly made tuna on rye, lightly toasted, with pickles on the side.”
He looked up from his phone, feigning surprise at her arrival, and inspected the sandwich. Cyn waited for him to deem it good enough, but he didn’t say a word.
Until she walked away again.
Oh, he’s going to leave me a huge tip for this.
Cyn pivoted back around to face him. “What is it now?”
“I’ve decided I don’t want the pickles.”
“That’s what you have a napkin for. Use it.”
His face cracked a little bit. That smooth, fake smile dissolved into a sneer. “I don’t want them sitting on the napkin next to me. I don’t want them sitting anywhere near me.”
This was moving beyond big-tip territory into straight-up petition-for-sainthood territory.
“Fine.” Cyn picked up one of the pickles. In two crunches, it was gone. She picked up the second one and devoured it just as quickly. Taking a moment to lick her lips, she ran her tongue over her teeth and smiled widely. “Problem solved.”
Stephen looked down at his plate and then back to her. “What about the juice?”
Reaching down, she slowly ran her finger over the left-behind
pickle juice and brought it to her lips. He watched her with wide eyes, never taking them off her mouth as she sucked her finger clean.
Cyn knew she shouldn’t be baiting him like this—it was only going to give him the wrong idea.
And she was right.
With one smooth motion, Stephen gripped her wrist. Jerking her toward him.
Cyn had to consciously unclench her teeth to spit out the words “Let go of me. Now.”
Stephen let go all right. But only because the hipster from table seven was suddenly there, introducing Stephen’s face to the counter.
“Be nice,” Hipster said.
Stephen made a choking noise as his fingers fell away from Cyn’s wrist. “What the fuck, man? Let me up.”
All eyes in the diner were on them now. Even with her ever-rotating assortment of wigs, Cyn tried to stick to normal hair colors and bland clothes. The idea was not to get noticed. So much for not making a scene.
“Thanks,” Cyn said quietly as the guy let up on Stephen’s face. “Just a misunderstanding.”
Stephen stood up and kicked the nearest stool out of his
way. “I’m not paying for that,” he sneered, gesturing to the plate. “And you can expect a call from my dad’s lawyer. Maybe even the cops,” he said to the hipster.
Cyn froze when she saw him size Stephen up and then reach inside his jacket, exposing the gun that was tucked into a side holster there.
“No need.” He pulled out a badge and flashed it. “Officer Declan Thomas. I’m with the Sleepy Hollow Police Department.”