Samuel parked in the shade where he could see the deli and table that he and Ruth used for their weekly visit and sat back to again battle the memories and decisions, the life that brought him again to this deli and that table.
Why do I do this? he thought and immediately felt the pull of their weekly tradition.
In high school I had options, good options. Mr. Willis offered to train me to take over his store after his son, died, but I couldn’t see spending my life there. I also could not bring myself to learn plumbing and become a plumber like dad.
Mary, the cute cheerleader and Crystal, the rancher’s daughter were interested in me. Crystal was gorgeous and had lots of guys around who wanted her as a trophy. I really didn’t want to contend with them.
Then junior college business and art studies with Ruth seemed to be the choices I’d left myself with. Working with her parents in their Windsong Interiors shop was pleasant, but her mom died early and her dad’s accident left the shop to Ruth. She needed help to keep it afloat.
He sighed. The decision to help her just made sense. We enjoyed the work and each other enough that soon, everyone expected us to marry. So we did.
It wasn’t a bad decision and we never fought or argued, but as we approached our 30’s, it felt like we had taken an easy path by keeping the shop and marrying. We were both haunted by thoughts of what it we’d chosen different paths; without the shop and even without each other.
I should go get in line, he thought. This deli served his favorite sandwich called the “Greek Treat” which was hot crisp grilled gyro meat with tomatoes, onions, spinach, feta cheese and a hand-made tzatziki sauce and the thought of it made his mouth water. It is my only addiction.
In line, his mind wandered. When Ruth got the same disease that took her mom, we knew her time was limited. She worked as long as she could but it killed what little joy she had left. I hired Mitch and Gail to take over running the shop when I needed to stay home to care for Ruth. These were certainly good decisions, but there was no saving her. Even our weekly lunches became too hard and I had to come alone to collect her lunch. Watching her decline was like having my soul slowly shaved away. Her bitterness was becoming mine.
“Hello Sam. Your usual today?”
His friend Sherry’s question surprised him as he realized that he’d made it to the front of the line. “Oh! Sorry and good morning Sherry. I was miles away. My usual is fine. Gotta feed my addiction.”
Sherry smiled back. “I’ll have it for you in just a few minutes. Always good to see you Sam.”
Collecting his order, he thought, and now the hardest part. Sitting at our favorite table to enjoy lunch was always soothing no matter what kind of week we’d had, yet in the year since she passed, I’ve not once sat to enjoy it. But why? Ruth is gone, I’m not happy about it but I’m not happy about life either. Maybe I’m just plain lonely and should decide to stop being such a recluse and reengage living.
Yea, I should do that — next week.
He stepped out into the sunshine, determined to walk past their old table. He was pleased to see that someone already claimed it and the decision was made for him.
“Sam?” The woman said suddenly. “Samuel Weston – is that you?”
He was frightened that he would not recognize this woman who clearly recognized him. “I’m sorry, I. . .”
“Crystal Parsons, from high school. I’ve not seen you, since, well, since High School.” She stood to greet him with a polite hug. Her hair smelled lightly of a fresh forest meadow.
“Crystal – yes, yes! It’s been so long. I didn’t recognized you. How are you?”
Her smile broke through an older face. “After a long time away, I’m back in town. Dad passed and I’m taking over the ranch.”
“And your family?”
“Older brother died in Afghanistan and you recall my husband Larry. He proved to be a bad decision so, after 23 years I was sick of being his trophy. I dumped him.”
No longer 18, Sam could see that life had worn her down. The lines around her mouth and eyes betrayed some hard times.
“I heard you and your wife have the Windsong Interiors shop. I’ll bet with all the growth in town, that that proved to be a great decision.”
“It was; but Ruth passed away last year from the same illness that took her mom and I . . .”
“Oh Sam. I hadn’t heard. I’m so sorry.”
“We knew it was coming so we’d hired a young couple help run the shop. And you’re right, the growth has been good to us.”
“Listen, I don’t know if you have lunch plans, but would you like to share my table? We could catch up. I want to know how the town has grown and could use a friend with roots here.”
His knee jerk thought was to rain check her offer, but something snapped and he answered, “I’d love to. Business has been good. Life has been a challenge and I would welcome someone fresh to talk to.
“How did you find this deli? It’s not exactly on the main drag.”
“One of the ranch hands told me about it, This is my first venture out into new, old hometown. Did you know they have this sandwich called the Greek Treat? I couldn’t resist trying it and I was just about to take a bite when you came out. Since when could we find gyros or feta cheese in our little town?”
He sat, unwraped his sandwich and answered, “Since a few years back. Welcome home Crystal.”