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Think and Grow, Rich
|Jo and Crystal sat in a booth at the G&H diner with three place settings. They both sat on one side, Jo on the outside. Two cups of coffee sat in front of them. Already, Crystal was smiling. They were talking quietly and anyone overhearing them would have swore that they were a pair of schoolgirls, not grown women. Jo knew how to bring out the best in Crystal. She was that kind of friend.
“…And Honey, if you need any help with this one, you just call me. I’ll be happy to lend a hand, or a leg, or anything that will get me next to those muscles. Mmm, Mmm, Mmmm. Why couldn’t he have been at my station?” “Jo, you are such a tramp. Where would I be without you?”
“Oh, really? I saw you peeking back at him. Why do you think I undid your button when I straightened your nametag?”
“Oh, my God. And I was leaning over him to fill the napkins!"
“Leaning over him, hell. Girl, we was in the kitchen watching you work. When you put your hand on that man’s shoulder and reached across him I swear you melted the ice in his glass.”
“I was bad, wasn’t I? It really just started out with a little casual flirt, you know?”
“Hey! This is me you’re talking to. Everybody that was on the floor when he came in noticed him, and everybody else found there way into the kitchen to sneak a peek before he left. I thought Tyler was going to pass out.”
“I was going to ask him about that. What did he mean by ‘Woof?’ Is that a gay thing?”
“I don’t think it’s strictly gay. I think it’s just a reaction to the presence of an alpha male. Chelsea says it all the time.”
“Yeah, I guess she does at that. Actually, I think Tyler was right. Woof! I really didn’t think that he’d come back. Things like that never happen to me.”
“What makes you think he wouldn’t come back? Girl, I keep telling you you’re beautiful. I thought you said that he practically propositioned you.”
“That was just talk.”
“Yeah, who says?” came a voice from behind them.
The ladies looked over their shoulders, Jo looked straight into Rich’s chest. “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm!”
“Why thank you, Jo. Is this place for me?” Rich slid into the booth across from the ladies. He looked into Crystal’s eyes. He couldn’t tell if she had been crying. It was a good thing he couldn’t because he remembered how furious he had been. The thought flashed in his mind that he was glad he knew how to control his temper. He was glad he hadn’t grown up settling things with his fists. What a brute he might have become with all this power.
“We never got around to proper introductions,” Jo put her arm around Crystal’s shoulder “This is my roommate Crystal.”
Rich felt suddenly awkward. “I’m Rich.” He held out his hand and she shook it. “I wanted to thank you ladies for meeting me here. I’m afraid that I wasn’t very cordial back at the ‘Angus.’ I was a bit preoccupied. You see I can’t stand a bully.”
“Neither can we,” Crystal said, “but I hope you didn’t do anything that could get you arrested. The owner reviews the surveillance tapes every morning.”
“Oh, that’s even better. Is there a camera in the parking lot where we met?”
“There was, but some kids broke it.”
Rich smiled at the ceiling. “Thank you.” Then to the ladies “You may have a different boss tomorrow. And Dad thought I was nuts for taking acting classes.”
“What did you do? Wait, if he is in your trunk, I don’t want to know.”
“I do! Tell us everything and don’t leave nothing out.”
“Well, he’s not in my trunk. In fact, I even gave him some money.”
“You did not try to buy him off!” Crystal was suddenly livid.
“No, now hear me out. I heard what you said about the cameras, Jo. And I heard what you said about there being no cameras in the freezer, Crystal. So I just made sure that everything that happened on camera was what I wanted it to see. What was said in the freezer was another story altogether.”
The waitress finally came around and asked if Rich wanted anything to drink and if they would be ordering. She had the slightest hint of the south when she spoke but Rich could barely take his eyes off Crystal. “I’ll have coffee, If you ladies want anything, it’s fine with me. The apple pie is always good here.”
“That sounds good.”
“I'll have coffe and we'd like three pieces of apple pie. Could you put a slice of cheddar on mine?”
The waitress looked strangely at him but said nothing. She simply left to get the order.
“When anybody looks at those tapes, what they see will look like your boss had a visit from a long lost friend! When he opened the door, I shook his hand and gave him a bear hug that took his breath away literally. While I spun him around, I spotted where the camera is in the back room. I made sure that his back was to the camera so it couldn’t see his expression. All the while I was grinning like the Cheshire Cat. My hand was on his shoulder quite firmly. He wasn’t going anywhere I didn‘t want him to go. We walked into the freezer and we had words.”
“Words? I thought you was going to tell us that he was still in the freezer!”
“Jo! Stop that. What did you say to him? I hope you didn’t make things worse.”
“Have a little faith. Even if your boss’ boss doesn’t fire him, He will be a changed man. I’m sorry, but I think I am the reason that he was in a bad mood tonight. But for the same reason, I know damn well that he is never going to treat any of you with anything but respect. I put the fear of God into him.”
“Did you ‘Bitch-slap’ him? Tell me you ‘Bitch-slapped’ his skinny white ass. Oh, sorry, no offense.”
“None taken. Believe me, I thought about it but I’m not a violent person. At least not once I stop to think.”
Something Rich said had caught Crystal’s attention and she sat there enrapt. Jo, on the other hand, was like a fight fan at ringside. “Don’t stop there! Tell us what happened.”
Rich looked into Crystal’s blue eyes and for a brief moment his own eyes wandered, following the light of her smile, down to the perfect line of her chin, onto the sparkling glint of her golden pendant, to the opening in her blouse. He caught himself as his glance crossed the horizon and the waitress brought their order.
The ladies dug in like they hadn’t had a break all day. Rich answered Jo. “I think It‘s better for you if you‘re legitimately surprised when you go back to work. I do want to hear exactly what happens. Especially if Jerry has a relapse or simply continues to misbehave. I’ll do more than bump his head against the ceiling.”
“Against the ceiling? Now you got to tell me more than that. This pie really is good.”
Rich smiled at Jo. She was a lovely woman herself, with her hair done in corn rows and long tight braids. “I will say I thought about putting his head through the roof of the cooler. Instead I wanted to get here and begin my evening having coffee with two beautiful women.”
“’Begin your evening.‘ Oh, now that sounds good. But Honey, I got to go to work tomorrow. But this is her Friday so she’s got two days to fun and frolic.”
“Oh, I know I’m in trouble when mama uses my middle name.” She took a hurried drink from her coffee and set down her fork. She looked back and forth at Rich and at Crystal then she got that mischievous look in her eyes again and winked at Rich. “I’m gonna go now so you two have a nice talk or whatever two consenting adults choose to do.”
Crystal’s mouth opened but no sound came out as her roommate rose and walked out, waving cutely from the door and vanishing.
“SO, how’s your pie?”
“Good. It’s good.” Crystal looked at her plate lost for words.
Rich reached across the table and softly took Crystal’s hand. She looked into his eyes, unsure of the way things were going. She saw compassion in those eyes and wondered if she had really found her gentle giant. He didn’t smile, he seemed somehow sad.
“Crystal, I know that this has been a very strange day for me and this is not the evening I had planned when I left the restaurant. I hope I wasn’t misreading you. I felt we were both fairly obvious. If I was wrong, tell me. I’m not sorry I came back for you tonight, though.”
“To be honest, I flirt with most of my male customers. It helps with the tips, but…” She paused and took a sip of her coffee. That pause almost broke Rich’s heart. He was used to rejection from years as the “nice” guy, that is, the nice “fat” guy.
“Oh.” He couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice.
“but I don’t tell them when I get off.”
“No. And I’ve never caught myself watching the clock, hoping against hope that they would come back… until today.”
It was Rich’s turn for stunned silence. Crystal squeezed his hand in both of hers and leaned closer.
“I admit that there have been a few that I’ve been attracted to, but none of them had what you have.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere.” He leaned in and the world grew smaller. “What do I have?”
“You have the most beautiful blue eyes, and a chest a woman could run barefoot over.”
A grin started slowly and widened as Rich felt his face go scarlet. His free hand covered his eyes and he shook his head, laughing. He moved his hand and smiled at Crystal. “Oh, the shit that settles in the crevasses of your brain. I don’t believe I was about to say what I just thought.”
“It must have been good to make you blush like that.”
“I had this friend who was very outspoken and very gay. One of his favorite catch phrases was this smarmy leer and then he’d say ‘Fuck me where I stand you animal.’ and that was the first thing that ran through my mind.”
“With that body I can understand that.” She smiled her own knowing smile and giggled.
“I was just thinking that you do seem to have that effect on gay men. The busboy at the Angus saw you come in and came back to tell me I had an ‘S - I - R prize’ at my station. Then he gave out with this breathy ‘Woof!’ then he went into the kitchen to drool over you unseen.”
“He’s really a sweet kid, in his early twenties. I tease him all the time asking him if he wants to make a U-turn. He just looks at me and says. ‘But Mom…’ Besides, you can’t blame him for looking.”
“You know I don’t think of myself that way. It is nice to hear that someone finds you attractive, even if they woof. Actually I never thought I’d deserve a woof. I guess I finally made it.”
“What exactly is a ‘woof‘? Jo called it a sexual response to an alpha male.”
“I just thought it was a classic line from a great movie. You know, when Madeline Kahn is in the cave with Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein.”
“So when are you dragging me to your cave?”
“Actually I had something a little more civilized before we got to the primitive. Oh hell, I got to buy a cooler.”
“I’m not sure where that came from, but let’s get the check and go buy a cooler so we can get to the primitive.”
Rich let go of her hand and waved to the waitress who saw his wave and strutted over to the table and with a hand on her hip said “Well, it is you! I wasn’t sure, you look so different.” The southern accent was in full bloom now and a true smile graced her tired features.
Rich looked up at her and his eyes grew wide. He stood up and hugged the petite woman. “Loraine, I’m sorry I just wasn’t paying attention. Besides what are you doing on this side of town?”
“This one’s closer to where I live than the one over on Tayler Street. And after you quit your job and stopped coming in there wasn’t any reason to stay.”
“You’re so sweet to say that.”
“It’s true.” Loraine stood with her arm around Rich and spoke to Crystal like a daughter even though they’d never met before. “Sweetheart, I saw the way you were looking at this man the same way he was looking at you. So I know you weren’t thinking past tonight but you should.”
“Yes, you should, but not tonight. Tonight you should enjoy yourself and whatever he has cooked up.”
“Who said I had anything ‘cooked up‘.”
“I’ve known you for three years and no matter how you change the outside, the inside is still you.”
“I’ll have to remember that. What’s the damages?”
“After what y’all did for me do you really think you’ll ever pay for anything on my shift?”
“Yes.” With that, Rich defiantly took a twenty out of his wallet and dropped it on the table.
Little Loraine snatched up the bill and put it back in his hand closing the big man’s fingers and holding his fist closed around it. “I don’t care how big you get, you will not refuse my hospitality.’ She looked into his eyes not with anger but with a thousand times more feeling.
Rich knew and understood that he was verging on insulting one of his oldest and dearest friends and lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry, Hon. You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Yes, I know. Now you two run along.” And she patted his stomach. Feeling its firmness, she gave it a little poke. “Y’all have ruined a perfectly good belly.” She leaned over close to Crystal and whispered “No matter what he looks like, he is one of the kindest, most gentlest men I’ve ever met and if I was twenty years younger, I’d have taken him home a long time ago. So Y’all be good to him.” She looked over at Rich and said loud enough for him to hear, “even if he isn’t as soft and cuddly as he used to be.”
Loraine walked back behind the counter and resumed her chores, filling the cups of the two solitary patrons still remaining in the small diner. Rich looked down at the crumpled twenty in his hand and shoved it wordlessly into his pocket. Then he offered his hand to Crystal who had scooted to the end of the booth’s seat.
“She’s a sweet lady. She really cares about you.”
“We’ve helped each other through some dark times.”
“Let’s go get your cooler and see what you’ve got cooked up.”
“Cooler? Oh, hell.” Rich hurried to the door and held it open for Crystal. She took the cue and hurried out the door. Loraine smiled after them and wiped the counter.
In the car, Crystal watched the shadows from the streetlights pan across the man with whom she had become so fascinated. She had been attracted to his muscles and his deep blue eyes. Now she had some clues to his personality. He was attracted to her physically. He had made that very clear. He had a strong sense of right and wrong. Then again everything about him looked strong.
She thought of how that little old lady had his affection and she was as devoted as a friend could be. Strange, she didn’t recognize him so she couldn’t have seen him in a long time. Crystal smiled as she of what Loraine had said. She was well aware of her own attraction to this ‘alpha male’ and the thought that he could be a good man as well as a good fuck made her laugh.
“What? We’re in the car for five minutes and you don’t say a word, then you giggle. You have a cute laugh, by the way.”
“Oh, I was thinking.”
“I could tell. That’s why I didn’t say anything either. I had some thinking to do too.”
“You tell me what you were thinking about and I’ll tell you what I was thinking about.” and she put her hand on his thigh.
A strange sound came from the big man’s throat and his right hand covered hers. “Not that I mind,” He began, “but I cannot concentrate on driving and I think I know what your thinking, but I have a confession to make. We‘re going to a hotel.” He turned into a shopping center.
Crystal looked out the window. “There’s no hotel out in this part of town.”
“I have to pick up a cooler, remember? And while we’re here maybe there’s some things you’d like to have. A change of clothes for tomorrow, I know I need to get some mouthwash and that sort of things.”
“I hadn’t thought about it. Look I can’t afford to be buying clothes and things. I gotta pay rent.”
He pulled into a parking space and turned to her. He let go of her hand and reached across her shoulder. “Crystal, I’ve been around waitresses all my life, sisters, classmates, and friends and I was never able to help them through the hard times. I want you. I think that’s been clear from the first time I saw you. But I also want too make you forget your cares for a while. Will you let me be good to you?” She turned toward him and he leaned toward her to steal a kiss that was freely given.
The seatbelt halted his progress abruptly. His eyes widened and they both began to laugh. She undid her belt and climbed out of the car. “Let’s go get a cooler.”
He shook his head and fumbled for the seat belt catch. He still wasn’t used to doing the ordinary things with his new build. He opened the door and struggled to climb out of the car. It was easier and harder at the same time. His strength made things easier but his bulk made things a little clumsier. He stumbled in his first steps.
“Well, cut him off or buy him another.”
Rich held out his hand as he walked next to Crystal. She took his hand. “Careful you don’t fall.”
“You be careful I don’t fall on you.”
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