The blueberry pies haven’t been made. Ms. Kate comes in early every morning to make the pies fresh from scratch. And they weren’t made. There goes my breakfast.
“You’re late Nina.” Manager Rodriguez didn’t even look up from the crossword.
I eye the empty pie displays as I walk around the counter. Every day, even on her rare days off, Ms. Kate makes the pies. I’ve worked here for three years and I have never seen them empty except after every slice had been sold.
“There was an accident on Main Mr. R. Closed the whole stretch from the Wolftrap intersection to the Victory cross.”
“It must’ve happened just after I got here then.” Mr. Rodriguez’s head was still in the crossword but I could feel his side glance as I tied my apron on. He didn’t believe me. But I was pretty sure he didn’t believe anyone between thirteen and twenty-nine. Good thing I was nineteen.
The bell chimed and I was mentally tired but willing to get a tip so I turned. “Did y’all see the mess on Main? Wish I could’ve seen what happened. The sidewalks were blocked too.” Tio will not give me a tip, nor do I want any from him. He comes around the counter and puts his bag away before putting his own apron on.
“You don’t say?” I eye Mr. Rodriguez not even acknowledging Tio.
“No pies today?” Tio grabs a rag and starts the unnecessary task of wiping the counter. Though his cheerful, early bird tone was upbeat, I could sense the undertone.
“Kaitlin isn’t scheduled today.” Mr. R finally stood up ready to go to the back office now that he didn’t need to watch the door. When had the schedule mattered to Ms. Kate?
A 24/7 diner without pie. I wonder what would happen if we took the Mona Lisa from the Louvre? We could get by while it’s still early but the moment it hits lunch hour we might as well close. There’s a reason why we only offer pie for desert.
“Looks like dry cake for deserts!” I didn’t want to say it but Tio apparently did.
“Hey now, I make a mean mud cake. I can also make a pumpkin pie.” Right on cue chef Sam’s voice came from behind me in the kitchen.
No one, not even Mr. Rodriguez wanted to acknowledge Sam’s proclamation. Even though we knew his mud cake was dry as a dessert and he couldn’t bake any kind of pie to save his life, every employee has agreed to never tell him. He was too good for that. I looked at Tio and he at me. We would have to not only tell customers why we didn’t have any of our specialty blueberry pie but we would have to convince them to not eat the “mud” cake or the pumpkin pie. Great. Tio and his six feet self, got around the counter and turned on the small, mounted tv; the soft sound of commercials truly signaling the start of my shift.
We had our usual morning regulars wanting coffee and maybe an egg sandwich. I kept watching the clock, hoping that any minute Ms. Kate would come rushing in, flushed from oversleeping, but ready to bake some pies. But as we came ever closer to noon, she never showed.
Lunch rush hit and of course the day we had no edible deserts was the day everyone wanted one. It got to the point where I would switch from telling people that we were sold out to saying a crazy customer in the morning trashed the deserts in a fit of rage with the manager. Only to the very good regulars did I say that our employee who made them didn’t come in.
The great thing about being a diner close to the center of town (and with actually decent service) is that we got all the gossip around the area. We knew when stores were going out of business, which secretary supposedly slept with the police chief’s daughter, or when there was a wreck on the main road. Between refills and orders I would catch snippets of this morning’s crash. Whenever I looked over at Tio I could tell his ear was straining as well. Unfortunately we were packed for the lunch block and I couldn’t get much detail outside of a car crashing into the thrift shop. I sent a good vibes to the shopkeeper Tanya; Odds are the place was a total mess.
As I was topping off drinks at the booth closest to the tv, I was hoping that the lunch time news would be covering the crash, but of course Mr. Rodriguez’s office phone decided then to ring. That phone was basically the mascot to the diner next to Ms. Kate’s pies. You can hear the thing throughout the whole diner. Locals would always smile when hearing it, while out-of-towners would jump, startled. I was used to it so I barely heard it, let alone when it stopped. I finished filling drinks and started to ask if I could get anything else when I heard glass shatter.
I turned to see Tio frozen, looking at a regular. He had dropped a plate. Luckily it looked like it was a finished and empty dish, but Tio never dropped. The regular was Jimmy. He was a paramedic in town that usually had the grave yard shift, grabbing a coffee before he went in and before we had a shift change. Seeing him here during lunch must mean he didn’t have work later. I wondered if he was part of the scene on Main. He would probably be just about to get of work if it happened early enough in the morning.
I pulled a rag out of my apron and went over to clean up the glass since Tio wasn’t budging from his statue impersonation. I was bending down to the glass when I heard the soft voice of the news anchor drift over to me.
“The tragic car accident, killing a pedestrian on the sidewalk happened early this morning around five thirty. The driver was intoxicated and lost control of the car, jumping the sidewalk hitting the young woman before crashing into Thrift Stop on Main Street. The young woman was taken to the hospital where she was later pronounced dead. She was twenty-three. Police still haven’t released a name yet due to the ongoing investigation but expect to release one later today”
I don’t know why, but I stood up from the glass pile on the ground and turned to the tv. Someone had died. That was why the road and sidewalks were blocked off. I wondered if it was a regular at the diner, and if I knew them. In this town, working at this diner, it was fifty-fifty.
“It was Kate.” I think I got whiplash turning to Tio so fast. I almost thought I had imagined Tio speaking too.
“Did you say something Tio?” I would play ignorant. I don’t know what I heard, if I heard him speak anything. I gave a small confused smile. Tio, sunshine personified, wasn’t smiling. The six foot gentle giant, was now a tragic, stone statue. With each passing millisecond without him replying another beat faster my heart went.
“I was telling Tio I was at the scene this morning. It was my rig that took the woman to the hospital. I had just finished describing her.” I had forgotten that I was in the diner till Jimmy spoke up. No one was yelling for service so I assume I wasn’t desperately needed.
I heard my voice ask, “What did she look like. We see a lot of people come through every day.” I didn’t want to know. I don’t know why I even spoke up. I’ve barely said ten words to Jimmy before and never out of context of an order.
Jimmy gave me and Tio a look. He hesitated, but continued anyway. “Blond hair, probably shoulder length. I don’t know, it was pulled back into a furry hair tie.”
On Ms. Kate’s birthday I had come to the diner early because even on her birthday she would bake the pies. It was all to give her a stupid gift that I bought last minute but knew she would like. And she did. She loved it. A pink, furry scrunchie. Would think I gave her diamonds, the way she hugged me, and danced around the diner, flour still on her face.
“Her face was badly bruised by the time we got her, but I couldn’t forget her eyes. They were the bluest eyes I had ever seen. There was a bit of gold eye make-up, I think, on the side of her eyelids.”
I had never seen eyes like Ms. Kate’s. They were blue yes, but just saying they were blue was like saying air was just oxygen and not the magic substance that gives everything on this planet a life to do and be anything. There was the gold makeup that she wore religiously, because “If I wear gold, then I will feel like gold.”
Jimmy must’ve caught on somehow that we did in fact know or thought we knew this tragically fated woman because he immediately started back-pedaling.
“Oh no, I highly doubt you know her. Besides you see countless people in here every day. There’s no way to keep track of every face and name. In fact she was probably from out of town. If you live here, you know that nothing is open before six, six-thirty.”
I wanted to believe that. But if you work in any type of customer service, you end up noticing everything about any person you see just out of habit. Even out-of-towners. If they had a striking feature about them, be it their face shape, article of clothing, makeup, or attitude, odds are I would remember. But the problem was that Ms. Jane wasn’t a regular. She was a co-worker. Practically every shift I saw her. I talked to her. I would eat a slice of her pie to “test for poison.” I intentionally went out of my way to dislike her for the first few months of working here because I was the new kid and I saw her as Ms. Perfect. After three years, I knew when her birthday was, she knew mine. I’ve gone on long soliloquies about my degree courses with her. She walked me home because her apartment was the same way just a little farther past mine. Her smile lit up the room, and actually got me to like mornings as long as she was there to smile as I walked into work. She was a bit taller and a bit older than me, but I didn’t care. She always smelled of pie filling or some other kind of sweet. Her hair was shoulder length and it was like gold in the early morning sunlight. From employees to patrons, everyone liked her. I liked her. I’ve worked three years at this diner with her and not once have I told her how much I appreciate her. How much I liked her. And now she wasn’t here.
“Nina, Tio!” I think we both jumped at our names. I know I did. We both turned around to see Mr. Rodriguez at the door to the employee’s lounge/office. His face was pale. His eyes though trained towards us, seemed to look past and out the window. I heard a giant sniffle. I turned to Tio. He was crying.
I put a hand to my face to check to see if I was crying. I wasn’t. I looked down ashamed and confused. I didn’t think I was in denial. But then I knew. Looking at the glass on the ground near my feet that was once a plate, I realized I wasn’t in denial. I was shattered.