Lauren opened the pantry door and raked through the clothes which hung from an old curtain rod that was cut to fit and jimmied between the two walls. Her third time through, she realized she’d ironed in front of the TV the night before, so she walked into the den and over to the alcove window where more clothes hung from yet another old curtain rod.
She was thankful her landlord had offered her the one bedroom apartment after Kate moved home to save for the wedding. But she wasn’t crazy about the shoebox of a closet she’d inherited in the deal. Dresses hanging in a pantry? Blouses doubling as blinds? Not exactly features of her dream home. But it’s not like she had a choice. Besides, she’d find something better soon. And no one ever came over, anyway.
Lauren quickly found the uniforms she was looking for. Three of them. Each hanging crisply on a white metal hanger. She pulled out the middle one and considered it in the morning light. They hadn’t changed in 20 years.
When she was little, Lauren had always assumed that the light pink outfits were a blouse-skirt combo until her favorite waitress, Peggy, showed her otherwise one day by lifting her red apron and exposing the buttons which ran all the way down the front. Lauren was delighted. She loved to be in-the-know on little secrets like that.
Lauren also loved watching the busy waitresses in action. Carrying small round trays loaded with waters as they zipped from table to table. Scribbling down orders on the fancy green notepads. But most of all, Lauren loved to watch the waitresses place their orders with the man in the white hat with the five-o-clock shadow who stood behind the window.
They always got every single thing they ordered, exactly as they had ordered it. In mere minutes, to boot. How Lauren wished that she had that kind of power. To get whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it.
Yes. Lauren loved watching the waitresses. And she loved their light pink uniforms. She thought they were beautiful. Glamorous, even. She often wondered how she’d look in one.
And now she knew.
Lauren hung the uniform on the bedroom doorknob on her way to the kitchen where she grabbed a coffee mug from the cupboard to the right of the fridge. She eyed the displaced pantry items that were neatly organized on the countertop below until she located the sugar. Three tablespoons later, she poured her coffee, careful to leave just enough room for the cream before placing the plexiglass pot back on its burner and turning it off.
Lauren drank her coffee in the living room, sitting on the sofa in her robe as she stared at a small color TV. The local morning show. She flipped aimlessly through the channels until she landed on something that caught her eye. She sat up, then adjusted the volume and watched intently as a narrator with a British accent detailed the countless amenities of a picturesque tropical setting.
Lavish hotels. Five-star restaurants. Palatial casinos. Boutique-lined streets where beautiful women shopped for whatever they wanted, as if such women wanted for anything. And the Caribbean Sea, its waters breaking on the white sands of a place called Aruba. Crystal blue and beckoning. Or mocking, perhaps.
During a commercial break, Lauren went back to the alcove window, pushed the clothes to one side and peeked outside where she saw what she suspected she might – a flat gray sheet of frost which covered the lawn behind the parking lot as well as the windshields that stared back at her.
“Looks like I’m walking to work,” she said out loud. The diner was only a mile away and in the time it would take for her windshield to defrost, she’d practically be there. Lauren pushed the clothes back to the center, then grabbed her uniform from the doorknob as she went into her bedroom. Once changed, she looked at herself in the mirror on the door of her real closet. How she ever found such an outfit to be glamorous was beyond her. No matter how young and dumb she was.
She consulted the overcrowded closet until she found the red cashmere coat she’d bought the last time she was in Hunstville. She separated it from the rest of the clothes with the back of her hand and gently pulled it out.
“Now this,” she said, slipping in one arm, then the other, “is glamorous.” With a final and approving nod, she started out the door. Until the reflection of the dresser stopped her in her tracks.
A turn and three steps later, she was at the bureau, staring at the mahogany box which sat on top. It was flanked by two pictures. The one on the left was of Kate and Lauren right after Cal scored the touchdown that put them ahead in the state championship game with a minute to go.
It was one of her favorite pictures. But it also made her sad. The pretty cheerleaders with the victory smiles had no idea that moments later, a last-second field goal would reduce them to tears. Each time she looked at it, Lauren felt like she knew more than she was supposed to. Or like she didn’t know very much at all. She wasn’t sure which. Or, for that matter, which was worse.
The picture to the right of the box was of the waitresses at the diner. Like most times she looked at it, Lauren’s eyes immediately found Peggy, still beautiful after all these years, her thick mane of wavy hair worn up, no longer brunette, but instead a dignified shade of gray. Crow’s feet framed big brown eyes that still sparkled of youth.
Lauren wondered how some things changed so much while others hardly changed at all as she carefully opened the mahogany box.
Inside sat a silver cross pen between two stacks of index cards. The ones on the left were blank. The ones on the right each had something written on them. Lauren grabbed the pen and a blank card and jotted down a single word upon it before placing the card on top of the right-hand pile.
Lauren then closed the box and turned to leave. Her feet took her to work while her mind took her somewhere else, entirely.