All Is Bright (16)

A Christmas Eve story in 24 installments

Sixteen

Officer Pearson sips her coffee and checks her watch, seeing that the time is 9:50. Her coffee feels—if not tastes—good. Nothing against the diner, just that she still hasn’t quite acquired a taste for coffee. She ordered it more than anything for its heat. The fifty-foot walk from the squad car, which she had to park behind an old Ford Taurus, was bitterly cold, and she rushed toward the lit-up storefront as she regretted leaving her gloves on the dashboard. She also knows the temptation to take too long a break—the sergeant had already called her out twice—and wants to keep this one short and simple. A meal might make her linger, and she can’t afford another reprimand. As a rookie, she is still in a probationary period, and can be let go at any time, for cause. Keep it short.

She looks around the room. It’s a decent place, she thinks, maybe a little bit worn down but good enough. And she realizes that it reminds her of the diner back home, where her father and brothers meet for breakfast every Saturday morning, her father always holding court and her brothers reverently laughing along. She could get comfortable here, with the memories of her hometown diner and these people, who seem nice enough, but she has to be careful. Reprimand.

She gulps down two more swallows of her coffee, which has cooled but remains just as bitter. 

“Maggie, I’m just about ready here,” the owner—Dave something?—alls from the grill, where she sees him wrap a burger in aluminum foil, which he drops into a brown paper sack, followed by a dill pickle also wrapped in foil, and a bag of chips. He seems to be filling a takeout order, even though there’s nobody in the diner waiting for one. “You’ll be okay watching the place?”

The woman named Maggie hesitates, and Reggie sees her face turn sad. She is clearly unhappy with whatever the owner said about watching. 

“You’re okay with it, right?”

“Well, Dave, actually…” 

“What?”

“I’m really tired, and I have to open up in the morning, so I should probably be getting home.”

“Sure, Maggie,” the owner says, looking lost and uncertain, taking an almost pained glance at the man in the corner table. “Whatever you want. George, would you mind…”

“Is there a problem?” Reggie says. 

“This order has to get to the courthouse. Usually deliveries are no problem, but I’m the only one working here tonight, and Maggie needs to get home, so she can’t watch the place while I’m gone.”

“I’d be happy—” the man in the corner begins.

“George, I don’t think—”

“I can drop it off,” Reggie says, surprising even herself. She has to leave anyway, she explains, and what she doesn’t explain is her sudden resentment over having to leave, back to patrol where she has nothing to do, and especially having to work on Christmas Eve while everyone else in the precinct—other than the dispatcher—has the night off. She has no family here to spend the evening with, but she could have gone to church, then home to watch A Christmas Story with a few glasses of wine, and enjoyed herself. 

Delivering a burger to the courthouse during her shift would be only a mild rebellion, the slightest assertion of her independence, but at this moment the impulse strongly appeals to her. 

“Really?” the owner says. “You wouldn’t mind?”

“Serve and protect, right?” Reggie says, with a broad smile. “Well, this is definitely serving.”