By Laynie Bynum
Clyde opened the creaky door of the small-town diner and let the fan blow jet-black strands of hair around his face. Beads of sweat cooled to ice slivers as they slid down his spine.
He didn’t think the short walk from the train station to the restaurant would have been so uncomfortable. After all, he’d just survived two years in Korea under the constant threat of bombs and gunfire. The Alabama heat should have been a trivial complaint in comparison.
“Well, hon, are you gonna sit down or just stand there letting all the good air out?”
Clyde looked up and locked eyes with the tall, slim brunette waitress leaning against the cash register. His cheeks grew hot, and this time the warmth was from the inside out.
He’d never seen eyes that color—like the jade carvings they sold in the Korean open-air markets. She belonged on the huge screens at the picture show, not in some nowhere town whose only hope of survival hinged upon its proximity to the rail line between Atlanta and Birmingham.
Ducking his head, Clyde walked up to the counter and slid into one of the diner stools.
“What can I get ya?” Her voice was sweet, musical. Her sprawling accent lazy, just like at home.
His stomach churned with the longing for another nowhere town. One where once his mama sat waiting for him to return from the war, but now an old porch swing swayed alone.
What he wanted he couldn’t get here. No diner tea could compare to Mama’s. Since landing back on home soil he’d tried nearly every one along the track trying to find that single taste of home.
He folded hands in front of him as he stared at her name tag, “Tootsie.” It couldn’t be her real name, but somehow it fit her perfectly. “Just tea, please.”
“You’re in luck,” Tootsie said as she turned to grab a glass. “We’ve got the best sweet tea around.”
He chuckled softly as he took the freshly poured drink. “They all say that.”
She leaned forward, placing her elbows on the counter and daring him with those seductive eyes. “Try it first.”
He lifted the glass hesitantly, but the moment the fluid touched his lips a single tear slid down his cheek. Just like Mama’s.
He stared at her in awe. “How?”
She leaned over the counter, putting her mouth so close to his ear her breath tickled his neck. “Secrets aren’t free, hon.”
A grin crept up Clyde’s face at her precociousness. He checked his watch. He’d miss the next train, the last one he’d have to endure before getting home to Mississippi, but he didn’t care. She was too perfect for him to care at that moment, and there was nothing waiting for him on the other end but a tombstone. “I’ll trade you a date for the recipe.”
She pretended to think about it, fingers toying with the hem of her worn apron, but the smile in her eyes told him the answer was already yes. “I don’t get off for another two hours.”
He stared at the ice bobbing inside his drink, the condensation pooling against the counter. “I can wait if you can keep the sweet tea coming.”
Tootsie sucked in her bottom lip and nibbled at the edge of it. “I’ll brew up another batch.”