Thu, 11 Feb 1999
Brenda Jean Carlson
Pie Plates [PG]

Well here's my excuse for those of you who wondered why Griplines 4 isn't out yet. I hope it's decent penance. Special thanks on this one to Kaylee, Dueey and Alicia - who didn't kill me for rudely kicking off from our group chat the night this hit, and for all their betaing and general hassling to get this finished. Also to Dave - for cyberoses of tackiness, though I still refuse to admit I liked them, and to Mit : who started the official "I want a sequal" movement. (I'm THINKING about it - so go away :p)

Standard disclaimers apply. This is a look at the usual for BJC with the help of a slightly different perspective. PG at the very most. Tips and feedback accepted at the door.

see ya...

Pie Plates

BJ Carlson


I had an accidental revelation today.

'Had a revelation.' Oh my, that sounds unbelievably melodramatic, doesn't it? With that kind of opening I'm betting that the half of you who don't know who I am are going to automatically label me as one of those high intensity, overly emotional artistic types. And those of you who *do* know me? Well you're just going to smile, pat my hand soothingly and assume this is all just the result one too many night shifts spent pouring one too many cups of coffee for one too many strangers who, despite their numerous assurances otherwise, don't really go by the name Billy-Joe.

After all, I'm Stacey. Stacey the personable. Stacey the reliable. Stacey the thirty something single parent who's raising her handicapped kid brother alone while going to night school and trying to keep the bills paid by working at a local street cafe along the way. I'm the person who does laundry at three o'clock in the morning cause there's no other time to when I'm home to do it. And the one who wakes up at five a.m. the next morning to go to the local elementary school and argue with Kenny's teachers about his classroom integration vs. the importance that he actually have time to eat his lunch. I am most certainly *not* the type to see God in a window reflection at the local drug store, 'get religion', shave off all my hair and drag myself and the kid off to some nice decorative plantation like those ones that seem to grow en masse somewhere in southern Texas.

I'm best known as the levelheaded sort of person, and for the most part that's still true of my day to day. The only thing I did in regards to windows this afternoon was spend a good forty minutes cleaning ours up when a overly tired parent didn't bother to wipe the ketchup off their three year old's hands. My hair is still quite intact, as well - assuming of course it's still there when I break through the half inch of grease in the shower tonight. Obviously I *don't* exactly take out my calendar and absently pencil in an afternoon revelation because I think that it's going to be a boring evening shift.

She didn't look like a revelation at first, but then the big ones rarely do. It's their nature to come in looking as opposite to what you think they should be as possible. What she *was*, was the answer to a mystery I didn't know I was trying to solve. What she *looked* like was a five foot nine woman with thick soled boots and a surly faced snarl.

"I think I'll let you take this one." Tammy's expression was all too familiar as she passed me the coffee pot. Not that I all that was surprised at the move - by now it's pretty much her habit. Tammy DiMiro may be a snot nosed sixteen year old trying to decide if she really wants to drop out of high school for good, but it didn't take Little Miss Independent more then a month or two to learn that when the 'tired, grumpy' ones come in looking like indignant three years olds, you'd do better to just hand them off to Stacey.

"Please tell me you have real coffee." The sable haired woman didn't even bother to open her eyes when she finally spoke. Her head was draped back against the seat cushion behind her and her eyes were closed, so I assume she must have heard me approaching. Her expression - now that was more interesting - it was a cross of exhaustion and defeat. Everything about her body language fairly bellowed 'don't even *touch* me,' and the affect was only magnified by her unusually pallid skin and dark gray coat.

"Colombian or Maxwell House - but they're both on their last legs and last dredges." To my surprise the words of gentle teasing came almost without a second thought. "I get the feeling, though, that this is one of those times you'd prefer a fresh, double strong set-up. Give me about five minutes, okay, to set up a fresh pot? And then I'll bring it out in the requested two gallon drip I.V.?"

I wasn't the only one startled by the comment. A delicate blue-black brow arched in a high line. Her whole body tensed for a moment - as she tried to decide whether to smile or not - and then seemed to relax as a pair of bright violet eyes stared up at me in disbelief. She pursed her lips for a moment - then finally grinned and shrugged before nodding in affirmation. "I couldn't have said it better myself. I don't suppose I'd be lucky enough to find out you guys make a good, spicy chili as well?"

There was a strange quirk in her voice toward the middle of the sentence. A peculiar waver I doubt most people would even know how to hear. I smiled again, nodding, "Chili's a daily special, but we tend to cook it mild for the general crowd. If you like though, I can have Sam add some extra chili powder. And while he's at it, drop a couple of jalapenos in."

"Ah, just go with the stuff as is." She waved her hand non-committally and continued perusing the menu I'd given her. "Throw in an order of cheese bread while you're at it, for good measure." She reached up to rub at her forehead wearily. "Mostly just keep the caffeine coming. I'll let you know about desert after the rest of the food gets here?"

"No problem at all." I placed a glass of ice water before her. "It shouldn't take more then ten minutes to get the bread done. Want to wait for the whole thing or should I bring the soup out here right away?" The benign shrug answered just as clearly as any verbal response would have done: 'I don't really care - go ahead and take your pick. I'm just eating the other stuff as an excuse for not feeling guilty about the coffee.'

Suppressing a strange laugh, I turned and went back to the kitchen, "Hey Sam - we need a cheese bread - - and throw some extra cheddar on." He only rolled his eyes at the order, "Mothering strangers again, Stacey?" The question earned him a thump on the head and another half suppressed laugh. I didn't bother, however, to try and say he was wrong in his assumption.

A lot of people think I'm crazy - that I'm getting out of hand with the empathy thing, but I have a kind of philosophy about why people come to eat in these type of places. It seems to me that what we sell here is comfort - and that even over the food. People come here for the general sense of community.

Oh sure, the regulars like the peach pie, and a bunch of 'em even get hooked on the now famous bagel burger thanks to my evil influence, but I guess I'm talking more about the occasional drop ins who wander in from time to time. In this city of hustle and bustle - of honking cars and high geared living, you can't find a better explanation for why they'd come to a place like this and spend thirty minutes waiting for a burger. Especially when they could go a mile down the street and end up at Mickie Dees just as quick.

"So is she a skinhead or a marine? Notice any interesting tattoos I should know about?" The words were snickered by Tammy as I started replacing the coffee grounds in the brewer. For some reason the comment stirred the Mother Bear in me - and I found myself glaring at her in pointed warning. In truth, I could see where the jibe had come from; but my contact with this woman had left me almost defensive of her for some reason. Short cropped hair and harsh dressing styles aside, this one seem more then a little lost; I couldn't have felt much stronger if someone had said something derogatory about Kenny.

"Look why don't you clock out for tonight, Tam. It almost ten, the rush's mostly over anyway." I was careful not to let the level of annoyance slip into my voice as I spoke. Cleaning up alone would be far preferable to another two hours of her chatter, and besides, the kitchen was all but spotless already.

I could see the hesitation on her face. Maybe she read me better then I'd given gave her credit for. "Oh don't worry about it, Tam. That's why I'm the boss. Go on ...catch the last bus, and then your Dad won't have to stay up so late to come get you." The reminder of the man who rose at six am each day seemed to be enough of a motivator. She nodded and reached for her apron strings.

"Be safe: if you miss it come back and call for a ride. Don't try and walk home alone at this hour." The words fell on deaf ears: she was already halfway through the back door. I shook my head in exasperation and ladled a bowl full of chili, then grabbed a hot pad, the coffee pot, a mug and Sam's waiting cheese bread, heading out toward our brooding customer in black.

"Ah the brew of life." The words were dry as I set the pot and mug before her with an exaggerated flourish. I didn't miss the fact however, that her face was growing more and more drawn every time that I saw her. Again not quite understanding why it mattered, I chuckled weakly at the comment before replying. "You would probably get along well with one of our regulars with that kind of attitude. If he didn't have coffee, I'm half convinced he'd think his life couldn't go on."

She straightened up again and smiled slightly, sniffing at the chili cautiously before reaching for her spoon. "People who love coffee that much are dangerous - don't realize you gotta leave some room in the body for blood." Now we both chuckled as I nodded in agreement. "My friend would probably say the same if pressed on the subject. Of course with him, it would be sometime after the fourth cup."

She chuckled and I 'yessed!' inwardly, watching her pick up a slice of cheese bread from the ceramic plate. The tension on her seemed to ease even further as she allowed herself a massive bite. Cheering silently, I turned and headed back toward the register with my head held high in smug success. Grouch effect killed: troops we have another victory.

"Shouldn't your Nathan-Guy be here yet?" Sam was pulling pies out of the oven in the kitchen when I returned there. I snagged a couple of peach and one of Raspberry on a whim before going to wash my hands. "He's usually here around 10:30 yes, and for the last time, he's not 'my' Nathan."

Even if I did schedule my evening coffee break around him.

Nathan Dayspring reminds me of a slightly dazed, misplaced puppy. And no: you don't have to tell me how ludicrous it sounds every time I say something like that. Most folks would confess that particular description's the last thing that enters their mind when they see our resident Hulk Hogan wanna be, but he's still the most adrift telepathic ex-mercenary I've ever laid my eyes on.

Telepathic ex-mercenary. Normality just rolled over in its grave. I guess just the last sentence shows how totally this man's warped my perspective. But you know, I don't have enough real friends to get all that picky about the mutant thing, and I doubt the second part will ever really make enough sense to sink in.

You see I don't know that Nathan Dayspring: I barely known Nathan the telepath either. I only know the quiet man who has time to come in and eat pie with waitresses. The Nathan Dayspring I met is a man who makes my little brother smile, and the one I'm coming to know is drowning himself in loneliness.

'You gotta stick with your people.' I heard that said once in high school. It seems the common rule for those who have any dreams of surviving in this town. Of course nobody ever mentioned how you figure out which crowd is yours to begin with, and they never cover what to do when you don't quite fit in with any.

He's mentioned his 'friends' twice since I met him. The first is that reporter gal... Irene? Mrs. Noisy, I call her - though I suppose it's unfair to assume that that's a bad thing. Nate's not a bigger talker himself - in fact at times you can start wondering what his pulse rate is. Given that admission, I guess having a talker around is a good thing in his life. The constant influx of feedback keeps him in the land of the living.

The second friend I've never fact, I have yet to get him to even tell me her name. He mentioned her only once: the day he said she'd been recently hospitalized. There was a...darkness in him at that moment, an unsettled kind of fury I couldn't quite put my finger on. His hurt and anger over the situation - even if I didn't know what had happened - it still shone bright enough that he almost seemed to glow with the fury.

I'm sure you're just dying to ask me the question by now: Am I in love with Nathan Dayspring. The answer's no...but it's not because I couldn't be. It's just that I consider myself his friend above anything else - and along those lines I like to think I that I know him. And know him well enough to see that place in his life is already taken.

Nathan Dayspring's head over heels with somebody. We're talking lock stock and barrel over the falls here. He never talks about it, naturally, but it's practically engraved in his forehead. I see it in those moments when he says nothing and everything: at eleven p.m. when he pushes himself away from the counter and says goodnight like he always does, only to turn back again and reconsider that second cup of coffee that I always feel the need to offer him.

'In love and in absence.' I know the feeling from long experience myself. It's a hole that looms until you can almost feel her shadow in here. It was especially potent for me in the first couple of months after we lost mom and dad; even after running myself ragged trying to pay the rent and take care of Kenny, I still hated going to bed at night. Because I knew it meant I'd have to wake up the next day and live with knowing they were still gone.

Loneliness sucks. Excuse the candor, but it's true. Time *doesn't* make it better and it doesn't even have the decency to lessen like grief does. It just seems to rot in people's lives, till you can almost smell the stench on them. In that way, it's a billion times far worse then fear.

That woman's still in the back booth. Looks like the chili's wiped out and so is the cheesebread. But the coffeepot is only half-empty, and judging by the way her head's cradled in her hands, she's not going anywhere before this shift's over. "You guy's here Stacey." A quiet voice intones behind me, and I look up to see Nathan coming through the front door. "Evening big guy." I smile around the lump in my throat. "10:45 - you're just in time. The coffee's piping hot out of the brewer. Hey - how would you feel about trying peach pie for three tonight?"

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