BY NANCY BOYCE
Copyright is held by the author.
IT’S AMAZING how a single left turn can change your life.
I was still feeling hurt when I left the office. I had argued on the phone with my boyfriend Josh. How could he say I was rigid, that I wasn’t spontaneous? Why just last week, I had done laundry on a Thursday night. I’m not rigid.
I followed my usual route north from work to the highway. I was about to signal right to go home, but found myself signalling left. East was home. Left would take me west and who knows where. Left it was. I thought to myself, who’s spontaneous now?
I had forgotten how bad traffic could be going west through Toronto. As I neared Yonge Street, I felt that familiar panic. I was perpetually lost when I was in the west end. The east end of Toronto is where I’ve spent all my life, where I was born.
Screw east! If I was going to get lost in my thoughts, I might as well get lost for real.
As I drove west from Toronto, the traffic subsided and the sun started to set. I was tired and hungry, so decided to pull into an all-night diner at a truck stop. It wasn’t the type of place where I’d normally eat. Truth be known, I’d never been to a truck stop.
I wasn’t sure where I was headed or why I was there. I was still angry with Josh. My anger had brought me to a place that was completely out of my comfort zone and that made me even angrier.
I felt reckless and was itching for a fight, okay, maybe just a good argument. I was never much for physical violence. Hitting that boy when I was a teenager was an isolated incident. Sure I hung out with the tough girls at school, but that was for my own protection. Josh was my protector now. Damn Josh! I could take care of myself.
I parked close to the door. I wasn’t really that tough.
The sign over the door read, “Nifty Fifty Diner.” How original. Walking through that door was like stepping back in time — although before my time. Chrome edged the red vinyl stools and the long white Formica counter. The juke box was playing, “Don’t break the heart that loves you.”
“How fitting,” I said. Oops, had I said that aloud?
I dropped onto a stool and tried to resist the urge to twirl. I was supposed to be in a bad mood, but my mind was too busy taking in my surroundings as if I was a tourist. I turned back to the counter and came face to face with the waitress, actually nose to nose.
“Have a nice ride, Doll?” she asked, smiling. I read “Sam” on her name tag, which I assumed was short for Samantha.
“I twirled, didn’t I? I was just taking in the surroundings,” I said, trying to explain. I felt a smile spread across my face. Mostly it was embarrassment, but there was something about Sam. Her smile was infectious.
“Coffee to start?” Sam asked as she slid a cup of coffee in front of me.
I don’t even drink coffee, but there I was drinking it black. I didn’t know how much more I’d be driving and thought, when in Rome…
I glanced at the menu. There didn’t seem to be light entrees available. They didn’t even list the fat, calories or carbs. I was definitely out of my element. I thought, I’m drinking coffee and I’m headed west, why not eat real eggs and bacon?
“I’ll have the all-day-breakfast,” I declared, “the hungry man’s special.”
Soon I was dipping a corner of my white toast into the yolk to savour it. There were no options for whole wheat toast. It had been years since I’d eaten a whole egg.
I thought of Josh and remembered I was supposed to be angry. I placed my elbows on the counter and started stabbing at the yolk with my toast. The home fries were salty, so in no time I had finished my coffee, which without me even noticing, was automatically refilled.
I looked around. The place was no longer busy. I caught a swirl of white out of the corner of my eye. Sam was twirling on the stool beside me.
“This is fun,” Sam said. “You know, Doll, you kinda stand out here. Where’re you headed?”
“I’m not sure,” I said and I meant it.
“I’m finished my shift. Want to talk about it?” Sam asked, kindly.
“Talk about what?” I asked.
“Whatever’s bothering you, Doll. The way you were stabbing those eggs, I figure something must be wrong.”
“My name’s Suzanne,” I said as I shook Sam’s hand, “but Doll will be just fine.”
Sam grabbed a pot of coffee and a couple of mugs and headed for a booth, indicating I should follow. We talked for what seemed like hours. Finally, I told her what Josh had said.
“That’s what this is all about?” Sam asked, incredulously. “Well, aren’t you the drama queen?”
I didn’t answer, just looked down. It did seem rather trivial when I said it aloud.
Sam seemed deep in thought for a couple of minutes and then she said, “You know, Doll, he might be onto something there, no offence.”
“None taken,” I said, sarcastically, although I knew she said it without malice.
“Look,” Sam said, “I think I know why he got to you so much with that comment. You know you’re rigid and deep down it bugs you.”
Sam was more insightful than I gave her credit for.
“I think you’re right. I want to be more flexible, more spontaneous, but I don’t deal with stress well and it’s my way of handling things. I like my life to be orderly,” I explained.
“You’re a successful career woman. I don’t think you’re giving yourself credit for the amount of stress you really do handle. Perhaps there’s some middle ground,” Sam suggested.
“I’m drinking coffee. Is that a start?” I asked, laughing.
“You don’t normally drink coffee? You must have had half a dozen cups. That’s an awful lot for someone who doesn’t drink coffee,” Sam said with concern.
“I’m fine, but I could use some fresh air,” I replied.
Sam smoked while she leaned against the outside wall of the restaurant. I stood a few feet away trying to breathe deeply. For some reason I couldn’t get enough air. There was a heavy pressure on my chest right between my breasts. The pressure kept increasing until I was gasping for air. I started to panic. My face felt hot and the back of my neck was wet. I turned to Sam and said, “I don’t feel very good.”
I heard voices and things came into focus slowly. I was on a sofa with a blanket over me. Sam was talking to an EMS man, a rather handsome one at that.
Sam sat next to me and brushed hair off my forehead. “Hey Doll, you collapsed. How’re you feeling now?”
I mumbled, “I’m okay,” while the EMS man took my pulse and blood pressure and listened to my heart. He pronounced me fit and then I heard him speak with Sam by the door in hushed tones.
Sam returned and sat next to me again. Her smile was bigger than ever.
“He’s very handsome,” I commented.
“Yes, he is,” Sam said, dreamily. She gave me a little shove on the shoulder. “I’m sorry you got sick, but then again, I’m kinda glad.”
“Did he ask you out?” I inquired, excitedly.
“Yes. Dan’s one of my regular customers. I guess he didn’t want to ask me out in front of his buddies. I think he’s a private kind of guy. Oooh, I’m so excited.” Sam squealed.
I propped myself up on one arm. “I’m so happy for you, Sam.”
“Hey, I think it’s best if you camp out here on the sofa. I’m not working until tomorrow night, so we can both sleep in.”
“Let’s go shopping,” Sam said, brightly.
Sam had managed to find some herbal tea at the back of one of her cupboards and I was sipping it slowly. Her apartment was over the restaurant and every once in a while smells would waft up, smells that didn’t sit well with my uneasy stomach.
“What kind of shopping? I normally shop for my clothes in Toronto or Montreal or even New York,” I said.
“Well, Miss Hoity-Toity, I’m sure you can find some sportswear to your liking. You’re kinda wrinkled and dirty from your fall,” Sam answered. “Also,” she stretched the word out to add emphasis, “I know a nice little jewellery shop. I noticed that you’re quite unadorned.”
“Sounds like fun,” I said.
Sam was right. The jewellery store had a great selection.
“I’d like to try on that one, please,” I said as I pointed to a diamond and sapphire bracelet. The saleswoman fastened the bracelet around my wrist gently. I held it up to the light and admired it.
“I think I should be kind to myself after my near death experience,” I said.
“Near death? You only thought you were dying. It was severe indigestion and anxiety!” Sam exclaimed.
“Close enough,” I said, laughing. I slapped my credit card down on the counter.
“Wait, look, there’s a matching ring,” Sam said.
I tried the ring on and fell in love with it too. I had to have the matching set. I’d have them sized later. I noticed Sam eying a colourful brooch. I signalled the saleswoman to include that as well while Sam was busy looking at other jewellery.
As we drove towards the clothing store, a red sports car with dealer plates cut in front of us. We stared in silence for a moment and then almost in unison said, “I’ve always wanted a car like that.”
“Follow that car!” Sam exclaimed, “Let’s go for a test drive.”
Sam and I took turns driving the sports car. There was no room for the salesman, so we were glad that he trusted us. We took the car out onto the highway with the top down. I don’t know how Sam didn’t get stopped for speeding. I loved driving a vehicle with manual transmission again. It made me feel in control.
“Well, Sam, it’s time I got back to my normal life. It’s been a blast. I’m so happy we met.” Sam was dressed in her uniform ready for her evening shift. I hugged her as I dropped the brooch in her pocket.
“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you all weekend,” Josh said. It was noon on Sunday and finally I had turned on the phone ringer.
“Away,” I said, “sorting out some things in my head.”
“I’ve been worried sick,” Josh said.
“I was pretty upset with the way you criticized me on the phone on Friday,” I said. “I can try to be more flexible, but you need to understand the type of life that I lead. I work a lot of hours and I need order in my life.”
“I know that. All I meant was that I’d like to go out for pizza sometime. You won’t even step into a place that doesn’t have exactly your type of food,” Josh explained.
“We could do pizza, as long as I get my own. I can’t stand the greasy meat you like on yours,” I said.
“Great, how about I pick you up tonight?” Josh asked.
“I’ll meet you at Bel Cibo’s at 6 p.m.,” I said.
Josh was standing outside the Italian restaurant as the red Mazda Miata convertible slowed. He turned to watch the car and saw a dark haired woman with a large hat and sunglasses wave a bejewelled hand at him. He was intrigued. He approached the car and placed his hands on the door as he leaned in to speak with the driver. His look of shock soon turned to a smile.
“I’m just waiting for my fiancée,” he said.
“Oh, you’re engaged?” she asked.
“Not officially, she hasn’t given me an answer yet,” he said.
“Well then, dump her and come for a ride with me,” she beckoned.
Josh eagerly jumped into the car and Suzanne sped off.