Here is Chapter 4 from “The One That Got Away”. Links to the previous chapters and the full novel follow the excerpt.
Whoever came up with the phrase ‘marrying ketchup’? And why would it catch on as the universal term for the ritualistic ketchup combining procedure in restaurants? I guess enough people thought it was cute and funny. Well, I thought it was dumb and messy. Marrying ketchup…and marrying men, for that matter. It always disturbed me that when you are slopping ketchup from one bottle to another you have no idea how old it is. It sits on the shelf. You could have two year old ketchup in the bottom of your ketchup bottle. And I was not good at it. Marrying ketchup and marrying men. Too much trouble, too messy and ultimately ends up rotting on the shelf anyway. I hate the smell of old ketchup.
I was attempting to fulfill this nightly side-work requirement as the restaurant was soon to close. My co-worker was in the kitchen rolling silverware. A most unusual woman walked in. Actually, she didn’t really seem unusual at first glance. She was actually rather indistinctive. I hastily tried to rid my fingers of the offending blobs of ketchup with a nearby napkin, and succeeded in embedding the remnants into the grooves around my fingernails. I snorted softly in disgust and tucked a wispy strand of hair back into my ponytail before approaching my customer.
“Hello, ma’am,” I began politely, “I am sorry, but the kitchen is closed. We are only open until eleven.” I smiled wanly at the diminutive, unremarkable woman.
“Oh, but I am merely here for a cup of tea, please.” Her voice had a singsong quality to it and the lilt of an accent that I couldn’t quite place.
“Well, there’s a coffee shop on the corner…” I started, but then I realized that they were closed for remodeling. Had I dumped out the hot water yet? I glanced at the back counter. No. It was still there. “Alright, ma’am, but I am required to lock the door in ten minutes. You may sit where you like.”
The woman nodded her head once and the dim lighting reflected her eyes for a moment. They were so shiny and…purple? I had heard that some people have violet eyes, but I had never seen any before. She turned and walked silently to the corner table by the window. She settled herself comfortably and gazed out the window at the passing cars and thinning throngs of people. I found myself staring at her for no apparent reason. I shook my head slightly and washed the ketchup off of my hands. I collected the appropriate items for a cup of tea and set them on a small tray. When I lifted the tray I realized that my hands were trembling. “Stop that!” I hissed to myself. Why on earth was I feeling apprehensive about this woman? I tucked in that same stray hair, clenched my fingers a couple of times and retrieved the tray. I walked briskly to the corner table with a perfect smile in place.
The woman turned her head slowly as I approached and smiled warmly. I could not see her eyes in the dimness. I found myself wanting to see them again. I carefully placed the tea essentials in front of the woman. I was mindful to eliminate any hand shaking that might occur.
“Thank you, Dovey.”
I couldn’t help it. I stood so still for the merest fraction of a moment. The hair on the back of my neck prickled. Dovey? My mind raced in a tumbling rush to the dream I had on the floor of my bedroom.
“You’re…you’re welcome,” I stammered. I offered a weak smile and then quickly walked away and began the mindless task of refilling sugar caddies. My mind was trying to whirl, but I forced it to be blank and concentrate on the simple task at hand. A couple of times I swore that I felt her eyes upon me as I deftly filled and organized, but when I peeked at her she was merely continuing to survey the scene outside the window. Presently, she took her last dainty sip of tea and pushed the chair back softly. She reached for her pocketbook, but I interrupted her.
“No, don’t worry about it. There is no charge.”
She halted in mid-motion gracefully and smiled at me once again. This time I saw the faint sparkle of her violet eyes.
She stood noiselessly and made her way to the door.
“Have a nice night,” I called softly. It was annoying that my voice quavered ever so slightly.
She turned and said “You have an old soul and your daughter can see it. I will have a nice night. Thank you ever so much, my dear.”
I said nothing and stood there stupidly as she breezed out the door.
“Wendy? You about done out there? Who were you talking to?”
My mind snapped back into its normal patterns and acknowledged my co-worker’s voice calling from the kitchen.
“Yeah. Just about,” I answered. “Some lady wanted some tea. She’s gone, now. I’ll lock up.”