It’s kind of an early post this time around. Instead of my normal every other Friday thing I got hit early with that pesky little critter that many of us know as a muse. I always feel like there’s something I need to be doing and my muse is constantly nagging at me to get something done. The problem is that my muse never tells me what it is it wants; it just wants something. Usually it’ll wait around for a convenient time for me but sometimes it just won’t wait. I haven’t figured out what entertains my muse but whatever it is, I guess I kind of enjoy when it happens. It provides a well needed, albeit short, break to the constant nagging. This time I got the urge to just sit down and write. Nothing in particular, just letting my fingers put down whatever they want. It started out as a few ideas then one thing led to another and I found an old rough draft. It was more of a very basic idea but after a little editing I have a short story. It’s nothing that will go any further but it was enjoyable to write none the less. Regardless, I felt it was post worthy so here it is.
An Invitation Not Taken
It’s a simple looking little restaurant that you happen by, the town’s closest thing to a cybercafé. It’s late at night and you pulled off the interstate to take a break from driving and grab a cup of coffee. As you walk by the large front windows, you look inside to see a sole occupant sitting in the bay window sipping on coffee and browsing the net. You can tell his story just by looking at him. You’ve been there yourself and seen it many times before. He has internet at home but he doesn’t want to be there. There’s a disinterested but isolated look to him. He doesn’t care about what he’s looking at, it’s not about the comp; he want’s companionship. It doesn’t have to be over night, even someone to sit and talk to would be nice. You suddenly realize that you’ve been staring and that you have a decision to make. Go into the truck stop and get a cup of coffee or risk this little restaurant and a conversation. A conversation would almost guarantee a longer stop than you wanted but by this time you have nothing to lose and the thought of stopping for the night sounds nice anyway.
You’re so involved in your thoughts that you don’t remember grabbing your coffee. All you know is that the aroma is like ambrosia to you. You cradle it in your hands breathing in the steam as you sit down in the table next to his. He looks familiar, there’s something about him. You don’t speak up and he doesn’t notice you, for now you just study him. You don’t try and hide it, he isn’t looking anyhow. Maybe it’s the situation that you’ve been in all your life or maybe it’s the look in his eyes as he stares at nothing at all. It’s a lost look and it hurts. He’s young, not more than thirty but more likely mid-twenties. He has so much more life to go and yet he’s lost hope in this little town but can’t bring himself to leave. What is it that keeps him here?
“I’ve seen that look before.” It’s a simple phrase spoken softly but he startles none the less, almost falling out of his seat. He’s been doing this longer than you thought. He looks around not seeing you at first, and when he finally notices you he does a double take. The conversation progresses as you expected. It bounces from topic to topic getting explicit on occasion but staying friendly and never venturing further. It’s sad really. He no longer has hope of finding what he wants; he’s happy with even the brief distraction that you offer. You talk through the night and find that he’s beyond dedicated to his job, addicted would be a more accurate description, and he loves his little town. There’s no way he’s going to leave at this point. He comes here every night hoping for change. This little town has so much potential and for some reason it just won’t grow.
As the sun starts to show over the mountains you see the warm rays flow over his face from the side. You suddenly realize where you know him from. A long time ago he was there to save you. He’s seen so many that you’re sure he doesn’t remember you. Now that the light is on him, you can see the age in his eyes. You never noticed it before; you were too involved in the conversation that you missed it. You can’t miss it now though, he’s tired and only going on because he knows it’s what he was meant for. It hurts more than you thought you could anymore. So many like you, he was there to save them when there was nothing to save. He gets up slowly, his body popping and cracking like he was eighty. He’s given more than his body can handle and as he walks out he offers a smile and thanks you for the company. As he leaves the restaurant he looks back over his shoulder and addressing you as if you were just another regular he smiles and offers one last comment. “I’m not done here just yet Nick. I think I have just a little left in me.” Of course he didn’t forget; he’ll never forget any of you.
Feeling almost foolish for thinking he might forget, you watch him go. As you sit there holding your coffee you think it’s funny; They may never ask for it and most may never see it, but even the rescuer need rescuing some times. You were sent here for a reason. You thought it was to offer an invitation; a simple offer to let it go, to finally rest. You weren’t told who you were supposed to give it to and now you know why. You knew him once even if for only a last couple of minutes. If you were told who it was you would have missed the night. You would have offered the invitation and left when it was turned down. He needed what you offered even if you didn’t know what that was. He needed a little companionship to help him go on. And at the end of the night it was that look in his eyes that let you know he wasn’t going to go tonight. You know this only because it was the same look that let you know he wasn’t ready for you to go. Sipping down the last of your coffee you fade out of this world, content to know that the invitation was still on the table and one day he’d accept it, even if he didn’t want to.