Sometimes silence cuts deeper than words. Philip laid his phone aside and stared at his desk. It was a half-day Friday, so his students had gone home early and the other teachers were busy in their rooms, doing whatever set up they still needed to accomplish before the full academic season started in earnest. He could hear someone stapling in the hall. Putting up the “Welcome Back!” bulletin board no doubt.
He swiveled in his chair and did a one-eighty, surveying his classroom from one end to the other. Everything looked neat and well organized. Luckily, this year he had been assigned the end room with windows facing southeast. So there would be plenty of bright sunshine for his grumpy morning students, but it wouldn’t face the worst of the storms coming in from the west.
He should be thrilled. Well, he should at least be happy. But his gut felt tight and his chest leaden. A whole month had passed since Kelly had stopped talking to him. Ghosted him was the new slang though he hated the term. She wasn’t a ghost. Just someone he had loved and lost. Simple as that. Life moved on.
Or it should.
A knock on the door turned his attention. Brent, his colleague in the math and science department, stood hesitating in the doorway. A grin swept over his face but was quickly replaced by a concerned frown. “Hey—just wondered if you’d like to grab some lunch.”
Philip climbed to his feet feeling every bit of his fifty-five years. He had been married to a lovely lady who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm twelve years ago, raised his four boys as a single parent to the point where they were now on their own and doing great, a testimony to their creative spirits and his hard work. He loved teaching, been doing it for more years than he cared to remember, but this year it seemed stale and tasteless. Like so much of life. He met Brent’s gaze and forced a smile. “Sure. Sounds good.”
When they entered the small-town diner, Brent nudged Philip toward the red booth in the back. “Might as well get a break from all the noise. We’ll get enough of that starting Monday.”
Philip shifted his body into the booth and looked around. Nothing had changed since the last time he had been here—springtime—when his world was bursting with life and new adventures. Now, late August, he wondered at his naiveté. Who was he to think he could fall in love like a kid and start a new life? He shook his head and flipped open the menu.
Brent made a humming noise as he perused his choices. He tapped a spot and glanced up. “You ever have the Rueben?”
Philip shrugged. “Yeah. It’s okay. Nothing to write home about, though.”
Brent nodded and continued his search. He tapped the menu again. “I’m craving red meat and something salty.”
Philip’s stomach clenched. He had lost five pounds this month, and he knew he needed to eat, though nothing tasted good anymore. Still, a hamburger and fries might restore a modicum of balance to his system. “I’ll have the cheeseburger, steak fries, and a cola.”
Brent waved to the waitress and ordered the same. He watched her tuck her pad into a pocket and saunter away, then he stared at Philip. “So, you going to tell me about it?”
Philip shrugged and wrapped his fingers around the full water glass the waitress had brought. Condensations dribbled down his fingers. He took a sip and pushed the glass aside. “Nothing much to tell.”
Brent leaned back and lounged in the booth like a guy about to tell a long story.
Philip winced. He knew darn well what was coming.
Brent’s gaze floated to the ceiling. “So, you remember my sister, Krista?” His eyes rolled over Philip’s slight nod. “Well, she was an adorable kid. A real sweetheart. But she had the unfortunate luck to marry a louse. A jerk beyond redemption.”
Philip’s eyebrows lifted, but he kept his mouth firmly closed.
“So after the divorce, I took her aside and gave her a little advice. She listened, and she’s been happily married to a great guy for…” Brent closed one eye in concentration. “About twelve years now.”
The waitress sauntered up with drinks, napkins, and silverware they didn’t need. Only the clattering of the cold glasses hitting the Formica table and a tiny hum she apparently carried with her filled the booth.
As she turned away, Philip met Brent’s gaze and sighed. “So, okay. I know you’ll die if you don’t…so go ahead. Tell me.”
Philip leaned forward and clasped his hands. “I told her to think of the best men she had ever known in her life…our dad…a teacher she respected…me, of course…and then figure out what she liked about those guys. Then look for those qualities in a man she might like to date. Ignore looks, education, style, money. Just find a guy who she liked and trusted. Then she’d find she find a real husband.”
Philip nodded. “I found a woman I liked and trusted. It just turned out, I was wrong to do so.”
Brent shook his head. “You found a woman you wanted to like and trust. Big difference, man. Real trust takes time. Everything real takes time.”
“You think I was too quick to trust her?”
“With your heart. Yep. But that’s not a fault really. Just a painful lesson. Funny thing is…Krista’s second marriage is so much better than her first. Probably because she really appreciates him, and he really appreciates her.”
“Our wounds make us weaker. More uncertain.”
Brent whistled low.
The waitress pursed her lips tight as she centered the plates on the table before the two men. She darted a glance from one to the other, measuring their moods. “Everything okay?”
Brent smiled. “It’s lovely.”
With a hesitating smile, she swung away.
Brent lifted his burger and inspected it like a scientist doing a data check. “Think this will give me a heart attack?”
Philip shrugged. “Only if you inhale it and five more like it.”
“Wisdom of Solomon, man.”
They ate in relative silence while the rest of the diner bustled in noonday chatter. A tired mother shoveled food into her mouth while bouncing a toddler on her knee. Two teenage girls laughed behind their hands, their eyes darting to four construction guys perched on stools at the counter, their bare arms coated in dirty sweat. One middle-aged man, his left hand stretched out holding a phone, appeared to be scrolling through messages…or the day’s news. His face remained impassive though his right hand carried a soupspoon to his mouth, and he swallowed a mouthful at all the right intervals.
Philip dropped his half-eaten burger on the plate and shoved it aside. He took a long slurp of his soda and tapped his fingers on the table. “I really should get back.”
Brent wiped his mouth and shook his head. “Where? You got some hot date waiting?”
Philip’s jaw clenched.
Brent washed his last bite down with the soda. “Look. I’m not trying to be cruel, but you’ve wasted enough time, waiting for what ain’t gonna happen. She made her choice. So you gotta move on. Now, I know you still feel a bit sore about things…but I do have another sister…and she’s…”
Philip’s eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding!” He waved his hand at the diner as if encompassing that part of the world. “This whole thing was a setup?”
“Not exactly. But…just let me say this. Sometimes other people can help us see things more clearly than we can see for ourselves. If you get what I mean. I could’ve told you that Kelly wasn’t your type. Or rather…you weren’t her type.”
“You could’ve, huh?”
“Yep. And being the decent, good-hearted man that I am—a friend indeed—as they say. I think I might know a good match when I see one.”
“So? What’s the condition? I know you’ve got something…”
“Just give my sis, Ronda, a chance; that’s all I ask. She’s not a beauty…on the outside. Kinda the runt of the family. Real shy because of it. But she’s got a heart of gold, is smart and knows how to get things done. She’s got love to give…but too many guys are looking for that magic chemistry…that cute chick. The spark. You know what I mean. They don’t know how to make a friend and fall in love with a beating heart.”
Philip took a fry and chewed it thoughtfully. He took a sip of soda and stared at Brent. “So what…you set us up on a date? Wouldn’t she feel kinda weird about going out with a perfect stranger?”
“Naw, nothing like that. Just come around to dinner tomorrow. She always comes on Saturday nights and helps out. She’s a good cook—if that interests you.”
“I’m a good cook…I don’t need… But…yeah, what the heck. It’ll be better than sitting home alone.”
Brent polished off his burger and fries with relish. He waved at the waitress for the check. A grin spread wide over his face as Philip took the last bite of his burger and slurped down the dregs of his soda. “You liked it?”
“Yeah. It was surprisingly good. Best thing I’ve eaten in a while.”
“Guess you’re going to live, eh?”
Philip nodded and stretched, his stomach full for the first time in months and his heart a touch lighter. “Yeah. I think I’ll live…”
Books by A. K. Frailey
Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels
OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF
OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ
OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI
OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)
Science Fiction Novels
Last of Her Kind http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg
Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN
It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz
Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l
My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8