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Rated: E · Short Story · Paranormal · #2278348
The bartender/server might be somewhat forgettable but her advice is not.
She Was Never Wrong

To call it a restaurant would be unfair to restaurants. To call it a bar would belittle the not-so-terrible menu. In England, they'd call it a pub, but leave that pub to the tourists, retreating to something with far more tradition and more old-world charm.

They would be missing something important, but we'll get to that.

The bar area was lined with seven green-topped metal stools across the front and two along the side. Dark green so not as bad as you are thinking, but not much better. Behind the bar were three shelves, filled with the bottles and bric-a-brac you would expect and not remember even with a gun to your head.

The dining area was two deep with tables, all four tops, with two by the front plate glass windows and four more filling out the rest of the small space.

There were two televisions, flat screens which offset the outdated, let's call it, appeal of the place, but none were viewable from any of the bar stools. The bartender or server, often the same person since this place was rarely hopping, would only turn them on upon request. More reason why the locals tended to shy away.

The only regulars were those considered loners.

In short, this was a place where you could drown your sorrows, eat a surprisingly good grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and await the second half of your day's journey, or get a couple night caps with, again, surprisingly good stuffed mushrooms for those lucky enough, and trusting enough, to order them. The rest of the food was solid, but nothing that you would remember ten miles down the road. Unless you got the BLT. That was also a treat.

The only nod to anything satirical in the place was a POOL sign above the back exit door, which led to the two always well-stocked and clean bathrooms. The POOL sign was blue with waves in the Os. Even children understood that this was a joke and that the place had neither a swimming pool or even a pool room.

Tourists would wander in, stop uncertainly at the door, see a couple empty tables or stools and decide they were already inside so why not. They would be rewarded with clean tableware, food only interesting since it exceeded the low expectations except the aforementioned mushrooms and sandwiches, and drinks that tasted exactly as they should. The trick here is to make the alcohol content 10% stronger, no more and no less, than the recipe listed. And this place knew that trick.

There was also Lanelle.

Lanelle worked some afternoons and some evenings and only the owner cared which ones, since so very few people saw her more than once in their lives. She was not especially heavy set or dark-skinned. He voice was neither smoky nor sharp. And she was dressed in her street clothes, which were often as non-descript. Mostly light-blue or rust-colored jeans and a long-sleeved shirt tee shirt rolled up to past her wrists.

She was in her mid-to-late fifties.

Lanelle would hear your story patiently, whether you were a single or a part of a small group waiting for your friend or spouse to join you or return from the bathroom (often commenting "They're really clean" before sitting back down), and then she would dole out advice with the confidence of someone who has heard everything many, many times before.

The key here is: She was never wrong.

--

Pfff. Another three hundred and fifty miles to go. No cell coverage so no music on this stretch. My speaker and cellphone hack, so I didn't have to spend hundreds of dollars replacing the radio in my last legs Bronco, has it's downsides. Nowhere roads in no man land.

That was actually a surprisingly good diner. Clean. The bacon in the BLT was grilled, I think. And there was something tangy but not spicy in the light mayo.

I know I shouldn't drink before a five hour drive, but, well, this is nominally a vacation day. Before a tough weekend.

And only one. A gimlet. Also surprisingly good. When I get internet, I'm going to Yelp that place a five star review. I bet it'll be their first. If they even have a website.

What was the town name? No cell. A good way to stop drivers from googling or texting, though there's really nothing to hit out here.

The server bartender all in one said:

"Listen to her. Really listen. Whatever she says, forgive."

Then, later, as I was paying my bill:

"Give this single pass and never look back. She's the best you will ever find."

I try to picture the woman, the server bartender, and all I get is her rolled up light yellow cotton tee. There was a small scar half peeking out. Was she Hispanic? Black? Not dark.

Her voice was ... I can't recall actually.

Wow, I spent thirty minutes in a restaurant or whatever that place was with only one person and I have almost no memory of her. Except her very direct advice.

And I can't even remember the name of the town.

--

"Your Mom will know. Call her before you get back."

I do think I hate this man now. I don't believe a word out of his mouth, which is amazing since so many so many words come from that hole. But he is my Dad and don't you have to trust him?

The radio is more static than ballgame. Some stupid baseball game that no one could possibly care about, too. The two boring old farts are talking about a pitcher's weaknesses who is probably a third or a quarter of their ages and has already accomplished...

I never mentioned my Mom, though. Likely an easy guess that I still have one, but not certain.

My Dad is now talking about caves and how much he loves them. This is true. We can't pass a cave on trips like this, unless they are more than five mils out of the way. Why is he telling me this? Oh. He saw a sign for one. Three miles off the highway or whatever they call this two-lane road. Likely they call it "the interstate" out here.

My Dad was in the pool (ha!) when I started talking, OK whining, tour waitress. A light-skinned black woman with a nice face. Janelle was her name, I think. Or Lanette. Not Lanette. Must have been Janelle.

There was no way she was eavesdropping since she was in the back most of the time. I think she also did the cooking, or was stepping outside the kitchen door for a smoke. Or both at the same time? That's not fair. The sandwiches were surprisingly good. As was the coffee. Surprisingly good for such a non-descript place.

"Call her before you get back."

My Dad pulled into the cave entry parking lot. These all looked the same. It would be an annoying and boring hour, wasted, but it was perfect timing.

"You go in. I'll stay outside."

He didn't object, happy I expect to pay the single entrance fee and also to have a break from me and my constant listening, I guess. I wonder if he would exists without someone to hear him prattle?

So I did what Janelle or Lanette recommended. I called Mom.

What I heard changed my life.

All the way back to my Dad's house, I was back and forth screaming inside my head and wondering how that bartender waitress knew, understood, what I could not. My Mom was waiting at his house, to take me away, when we arrived.

What could that waitress have heard or known in our short chatter that made her give me this advice? And why was my Mom so suddenly open to saying what she never had before. Was it the timing?

I made a mental not to go back to see Janelle or Lanette.

But I never did.

--

Everyone gave me the same advice. My two best friends. My aunt. My work colleague. Even my therapist who generally just asks me what I think and then charges my insurance company hundreds of dollars an hour for nodding and repeating. That's the career I should have gotten.

Everyone except Lanelle, the waitress at Elliot's in Braydon. She stood there and listened to me, on and off as she served other guests, for more than three hours and six Bacardi & diets. She said almost nothing, not even nodding and repeating, as I spilled my guts.

Everyone else gave me advice and ideas before I had even explained. They already knew the answer, I guess. Not Janelle. She listened and understood. Even those who knew me well made the wrong call. Only Janelle got it right.

I should have listened to her.

Now, here I sit, three months and a day later, three months and five days after Janelle made the right call, I sit alone. All my fancy things. Everything a man could want, except Joe.

"Tell him the truth," she said. "He already knows, anyway."

But how could he have known? There was no way anyone would have told him and no clues for him to discover it. And why would everyone else I know advise me to dissemble? To take the tough love route and go on the attack? It was my usual, well, not really. I have to admit, now, that my usual play is more passive aggressive, not bold.

Lanelle saw through it all. But how?

Joe's last words to me, ever, were, "All you had to do was admit it. Just tell me. It would have been hard to forgive, very hard, and I might never have gotten there. But lying is D for done. Lying is O for over." Then he got onto his motorcycle and me standing there like an idiot assuming he was being dramatic.

And that was the last I saw of him.

All this. All this stuff. And nothing of value.

--

I pull up a green-topped bar stool. Wordlessly the bartender slides me a menu and then walks over the get the silverware and a glass of water. I half look at her and the menu. In between I glance at the door to the restrooms and laugh. POOL.

My eye catches Staff Pick: Stuffed Mushrooms. Seems out of place for a place like this. Do I trust those here? The server returns, her name tag reads Lanelle. I read it twice since it feels like it was misspelled the first time. As she places my silverware and glass of water, I notice that everything is exceptionally clean. Even the paper napkin is crisply folded. I decide I will risk the mushrooms.

She asks, "What's on your mind?"

I begin to tell her.

THE END













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