All around the A&T Diner was a din of loud conversations and silverware running against cheap china. Every few minutes one of the men in a paper hat’s voice would cut through it all with a simple “Order up” and another plate would smack against the metal counter. One by one the waitresses, all of them past their golden years, would file behind the coffee bar filled with faces they no doubt saw every day to check the ticket pinned down by the plate of two eggs sunny-side up with hash browns. Rosaline freed the chit and gave it a once over as the man in the paper hat slid a second plate with French toast and bacon in front of her. “Frank, I need a side of sausage.” Without a word a plate with four links of sausage smacked onto the counter, and with equal silence, Rosaline loaded it all up onto a brown tray.
The small watercolor on the wall depicted a view of the outside from across the street many moons ago. Seated beneath the frame Ryu ran his hand through his hair, pushing the unkempt brown locks from his forehead. He hadn’t washed his hair in close to a week but it still wasn’t greasy. Once again he gripped his coffee mug, and put it to his lips as Rosaline set the edge of the tray on the table.”Two eggs…” Ryu put his finger up as she set the place in front of him, “and sausage.” He nodded. “And the French Toast.”
“Thank you,” Melody said as her food was set before her. And with that, they were once again alone with the noise around them. It had been hours since they’d spoken a real word to each other early that morning. Even eye contact had been generally avoided. Needless to say, the conversation hadn’t gone well…
“How long ago was it you were shot? Days? Tonight you’ve got a broken rib, Capin.” Melody folded her arms, closing him out. “With the exception of maybe Aaron, you’re faster than the other boys. At least he has the common sense to recharge his batteries now and then. How long do you think you can keep this up? How long before each of you ends up face down?” Her chest rose and fell.
“It’s not that easy.” He went to put his hand on her shoulder but she dodged him, turning to the dead hearth.
“I’m just saying…”
“You know how this conversation goes, Melody.” This time he grabbed her and turned her toward him. “This isn’t something that I – that any of us – can just walk away from, Mel. If we can stand up, we have to. If we don’t who does?” She said nothing, just stared back at him.
“I know.” She bit her lip, her full green eyes taking him in. He could see an aching inside here there. There was more than a glimpse of something he knew she’d always been keeping for herself, but she wasn’t hiding it now. “But if you keep digging into this, if find out even close to how deep this goes… you’re going to find yourself in a dark hole.”
“What is it?” She shook her head as a tear rolled over her soft cheek and off of her chin. As it disappeared into her lap he knew he should’ve stopped it before it fell. “What aren’t you telling me.”
“Nothing. There’s nothing” She hid her hesitation well but had held it just barely long enough for him to notice. “I just… I can’t bring you back from the dead, Capin.” She put her hand against his face. “And I don’t want to have to try.”
“Don’t,” she said softly, cutting him off. Shaking her head, her long black bangs fell over her face.”Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”
Ryu pushed the plate of remnants back before dragging his recently re-filled cup of coffee towards himself. Lifting it up, he could see her staring back at him over the lip of the mug. Her eyes blinked slowly as a smile snuck back into her lips. It was small, but it was enough. “So…” He cradled the old mug in his hands, leaning over the table. “So you’ll be there for me tonight?”
“You’ll pick up the check?”
“I’ll pick up the tip.”
“I’ll be there tonight,” she replied, nodding.
As she slid out of the booth he met her against the table, her coat in hand. “With bells on?”
“Let’s not push it.” She leaned towards him and kissed his cheek. “I’ve got to get back to the store and open up. I’ll see you tonight.”
“See you,” he said, watching her weave through the diner. Stuffing his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a five and some singles and dropped them on the table before trailing after her. Stepping onto the street he pulled a phone from his pocket and flipped it open. “Wolf.” There was a pause and the phone repeated the name and dialed.
“Hey. I talked to Melody.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say she’s happy about it, but she’s in.” He stopped at the corner and waited for the little white man to light up.
We’re none of us happy about any of it, but good nonetheless. Aaron was quiet for a moment.
“So did you call her?”
There was another pause. Call who?
The light turned and Ryu stepped out into the crosswalk, “For chrissake, I feel like I’m stuck in an issue of Powers. Yes, Vivan.” He could almost hear Aaron’s grin over the line.
Oh, yeah. She’s right here; you want to talk to her?