By the time Lydia arrived at the Piled High Diner in Arlington Texas, she had driven 1800 miles, consumed her road stash of pretzels and chips and was ready for a meal. She stepped out of her car, her home for the last 48 hours, rumpled her matted locks into big hair and walked inside. The jukebox played ‘Crazy’ and the half dozen patrons – all cowboys – gave 27 year old Lydia an approving nod as she sat down at an empty booth.
“Call me Maggie hon, I’ll be your waitress. Y’ain’t from round here are you?” Maggie said as she sat down with her customer. Like she had done for 35 years with anyone who arrived alone.
“I knew the moment you walked through the door. Call it my sixth sense. Yankee?”
“Where you headin’ by yourself?”
“Just traveling. Starting over,” Lydia said.
“So are you a Thelma or Louise? I’m a Louise fan myself, waitress and all. Let me guess, Thelma? Victimized right? I get that. Been waiting tables since I was 20. Never got a raise. Or a thank you come to think of it.” Maggie laid out a paper mat with silverware in front of Lydia. “Our lunch special is chicken fried steak with gravy & fried okra and a slice of chocolate cream pie.” Leaning in, she whispered “the pie is good, but not as good as when we had our pie chef.”
“Money. Took a job as a rodeo clown. Makes $50 grand a year I hear. If you don’t mind getting gored by the bulls saving some fool bull rider.”
“I’ll take the lunch special and skip the pie.”
“Sure hon.” Maggie headed to the counter and placed Lydia’s order.
Ten minutes later she returned with a steaming platter of fried food and a slice of chocolate cream pie in a to-go box. “Just in case you change your mind. Pie is love. Can’t have a meal without love.” Maggie winked.
Lydia’s eyes welled up in tears.
“What’s the matter hon, something I said?” Maggie sat back down across from Lydia.
“Pie and I, we have troubles.” Lydia confided as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Worked 8 years making award-winning pie. Got my boss glowing reviews in the Boston Globe and a fancy pastry listing in some who’s who directory of pie. Never once did he let on that I was his secret ingredient. Pitiful pay too. I made him famous and what do I have? Left with my clothes, two hundred dollars and my pie recipes – all in my head. Just in case I bake again. But that won’t happen. I’m done with pie. Starting over brand new.”
Maggie touched Lydia’s hand. “So, you’re running away from pie?”
“And you believe that?”
“What do you mean?”
“You think you left Boston to run away from pie?”
“I don’t mean to pry hon, but maybe you’re runnin’ from something else? You gotta know what you need. Then protect it. So nobody can take it away.” Maggie offered.
Lydia twirled a bite of chicken fried steak in a dollop of white gravy. She thought about her perceived enemy. Pie. Then piped “Don’t you want to be appreciated for your hard work – a thank you or a raise? I mean you keep your customers coming in?”
“Tips hon. That’s how I’m appreciated. Tips. And no one takes advantage of me either – at least nobody I don’t allow,” Maggie added. “Too bad you’re done with pie. We could use someone like you. You could talk to the boss if you like? Tonight’s our big night. Rodeo half mile from here ends at 10 and we’ll have hundreds of cowboys waiting in line for pie. Cowboys love pie. What do you need? Some kind of award or something?”
Lydia laughed, her confidence building. “If I make pie, and I’m not saying I would, I’d want $15 per pie. And I’d need a nameplate in the pie case. Nothing fancy. Could read ‘Lydia’s Pies’. What do you think your boss would say to that?”
Maggie gently squeezed Lydia’s hand. “My guess, the boss would give you two choices. $15 per pie and no nameplate or $10 per pie with ‘Lydia’s Pies’ on the pie case.”
Lydia mulled her options. What did she need? Money? Recognition? Appreciation? Some combination? She looked at Maggie. “I’m ready to talk to the boss.”
“Hon, you are talkin’ to the boss. So what’ll it be?”
~~Fiction by J Wadsworth