Afterthought: A Sententia Short Story (The Sententia)

“I see those bikini straps
around your neck, Elaine! This ain’t Mahoney’s—that’s not part of the uniform, here!”

Mercy only called me Elaine, and said
ain’t
, when she was teasing.

“I’d make better tips if I worked at Mahoney’s
and
I could wear my bikini,” I teased her back.

Mahoney’s was only sort of what it sounded like. It was a car wash, and for many local girls, a coveted place for a summer job, one where you could get a great tan and, yes, make great tips. It was popular because the cars were hand-dried when they came off the belt. And technically their uniforms looked just like ours—polo shirts with the logo stitched on one side. Unofficially, however, as soon as the sun came out, the polos came off and revealed the girls’ bikinis underneath. On sunny days, there was a line of cars by late afternoon.

But instead of shining truck wheels for the summer, I was slinging hash and eggs at the counter of Dad’s diner. We served breakfast “all day” (from 5:30AM to 1PM), and though the work wasn’t always, the company was great. The diner had character—the building and the people, both of which our patrons loved. The mismatched tables and booths were always full, and the aged tin walls echoed daily with laughter.

Working here
didn’t
tip as well as Mahoney’s, but then again, my tips were more dependent on the cup size of the coffees I poured than, well, you know. My aunt much preferred my working this job. So did my boyfriend, not only because he was a regular. Speaking of…

“That boy of yours coming soon?” Mercy called as she whipped by me with arms full of Sunday Special plates—steak, eggs, biscuits, and sausage gravy, all topped with Dad’s special hash. The Special Plus came with pancakes and bacon, too.

“Sooner or later, for sure.” I followed her to the table with the pots of coffee I dutifully tended during my shifts. No cup was ever allowed to cool at Dad’s.

I had Carter Penrose to thank for my part-time job here, weekend mornings and whenever they called me for extra help. He’d brought me to the diner on our first “date” last year. That wasn’t what we called it at the time, and it was a lot more complex than just a simple date, but it was how I liked to think of my inaugural trip to Dad’s. I was surprised they even gave me the job, since I was a Northbrook girl, not a local. But Carter was a popular regular customer, and Mercy was fond of me because of him, and maybe a little bit because of me too. Besides, not many high school kids, locals or not, wanted to get up at 5AM during the summer. Luckily for me, I was naturally an early riser. Not usually
that
early, but still, I liked my job.

Being a waitress was surprisingly hard work, especially so early in the morning, and I only worked the counter and filled coffee cups. It was tiring and more stressful than you think when you’re the one being served. But Sundays, especially sunny ones, I didn’t care how tired I was or how many people we had waiting for tables. Penrose Books was closed on summer Sundays, and Carter always met me at the restaurant. After his enormous breakfast, we’d spend the afternoon at a nearby lake with enough of a beach and a swimming area for me to pretend. It wasn’t the ocean, but it was warm sun and sand. I’d take it.

Today, I was looking forward to it so much, I’d worn my suit under my uniform. It was August, nearly summer’s end, and
hot
. The perfect beach day. I couldn’t wait. When at about ten o’clock I turned around from the coffee machine to find Carter smiling at me from the last seat at the counter, I wondered if maybe he couldn’t wait either. He didn’t usually show up for at least another hour, and that was on days he’d have a leisurely meal while waiting for me to finish my shift. It was a show of my skills that I didn’t spill any coffee as I slid him a mug of regular, black along with a smile.

“You’re early,” I said, leaning over the counter for a quick kiss while I scribbled his usual order on a slip. It was easy. All I had to write was
1c.
(our shorthand for coffee) and
CARTER P.
along with the prices and drop it in the kitchen. “Dad” knew exactly what to load on the plate without my covering the ticket with lots of words.

Carter’s answering grin made me suspicious. It looked good on him, as always, but it spoke of secrets. Ones I wasn’t in on. “Actually, I’m late. I meant to be here fifteen minutes ago.”

Before I managed to reply, or even hand in the order slip which was still on my pad, Mercy was sliding Carter’s breakfast in front of him, hot and steaming.

“Thanks, Mercy,” he said, turning the smile on her. She returned it like she
was
in on it. I didn’t know what was going on here, and clearly I was the only one. I eyed them both.

“Yeah, thanks, Merce…But what’s going on?”

Behind me, Gwen, the other waitress, grabbed my coffee pots from their slots, leaving one full cup on the counter and heading out into the dining room with the grace of a conspirator. Mercy nudged a stool in my direction and pointed toward the coffee waiting on the back of the bar. “Looks like you’ve got the rest of the day off, Lainey,” she said. “Have a cup on me and a good day.” She patted Carter’s shoulder with her usual affection and disappeared when Dad yelled, “Order UP!”

“Is this a joke?” I looked over to Gwen, who was already doing my job along with hers, and she winked at me.

Carter was too busy eating to answer, but the smile in his eyes told me, no, not a joke. It was possibly the most perfect beach day of summer and I had the rest of the day off, enough time to go
to
the beach, the
real
beach. The ocean was calling me so loudly, I thought I could hear it all the way in Northbrook and see it sparkling before my eyes.

I could barely keep the smile off my face long enough to drink my coffee.

We picked the closest one
, at the upper tip of Massachusetts, less than two hours away. We’d be on the sand by noon. There were beaches I liked better in New Hampshire or Connecticut, but which state of the union didn’t matter to me today.
My
state was bliss. I turned up the radio, opened the sunroof, put down the windows, and breathed in freedom.

Summer and freedom. In my mind, the two words meant practically the same thing. Synonyms. However you spelled it, it was perfect. My summer at Northbrook was no exception, the long weeks stretching into months of bliss. In some ways, I spent a lot of it giving up freedom, flitting between not one but three jobs. Together they filled my abundance of free time, the rest of which I filled with Carter.

Today he was driving, so all I had to do was sit back and relax. I let him because he usually drove faster than I did, but we took my car because it was
made
for driving fast on summer days.

Yes,
my
car. I
loved
my car. Loved saying
my car
. I’d ordered it before I left to visit Aunt Tessa at the very beginning of break and it was waiting for me, shiny, new, and mine, all mine, when I got back.

Usually students were not allowed to have one on campus, but my summer residence was an exception in and of itself, and since public transportation was nonexistent in our little rural community, I received a compromise. I still technically wasn’t allowed to have it on campus, and would absolutely not be allowed to use it when the regular school year started again, but for the summer I could keep it nearby and had permission to take it pretty much whenever I wanted, so long as I wasn’t breaking curfew. Conveniently, my boyfriend and his family owned the building right across the street from the school grounds, so I was granted a parking space behind Penrose Books.

“Anything good this week at Fenton’s?” Carter half-yelled over the radio and the wind as we sped down the highway.

I refused to turn the music down, or turn on the air-conditioning, so I shouted back, “Only if your name is Aurora!” I trailed my fingers out the window, letting the wind push them back and forth like waves. It was a little warm, but I liked the fresh air better than the frigid, recycled air from the vents. The ocean breeze would cool us down soon enough.

Fenton Antiques was the second of my three part-time summer gigs, and it was a total coup: hands-on experience at what I hoped would be my future career as an antiques dealer and shop owner. I’d visited Fenton’s a few times last year and learned they were looking for help during the busy summer season. Even fewer people, teenagers or not, wanted to spend their summer indoors dusting antique furniture than wanted to get up early to work at the diner, but I loved both jobs. Obviously, I was, for a number of reasons, crazy. Mr. Fenton, the shop owner, was very knowledgeable as well as very busy. He liked me because I worked for cheap
and
knew a lot about antiques, especially furniture.

Carter’s eyes slid over to me and back to the road. “Spinning wheels?”

I nodded, even though he wasn’t looking at me anymore. “Apparently spinning your own yarn is a thing now. Er, again. The old ones are in high demand.”

“I think you’d make a better Maleficent.”

“Yeah, well, you’re no prince, so you’re probably right.” His answering smile was the whole reason I loved to tease him. And he was right. I’d never be the blond beauty, and couldn’t sing for crap, but I’d rock Maleficent. I started planning my costume for the Academy’s Halloween bazaar as soon as he suggested it. The real question was whether I
could
get him to dress in tights like whatever
Sleeping Beauty’s
prince was named. I was pretty sure my girl Mal tied him up in her basement for a while, too. Could be fun.

I was thinking about
that
so I missed most of the first part of what he said next, but it ended with, “…kill anyone?”

Thankfully, I knew what he meant, and it wasn’t about me. He was asking if I’d seen anything with my Grim Diviner senses. Being subject to visions of peoples’ deaths, past and sometimes future, wasn’t a lot of fun, but it was part of being me. Over the months since I’d learned about my abilities, I’d also learned to accept them. Sometimes even joke about them.

I laughed. “Well, I didn’t check them
all
, but no, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t know if they put someone to sleep though.”

“That’s probably all of them,” he said with a grimace. Carter didn’t much like sitting still unless there was a book or a video game involved. I ignored him.

“There was one thing, though,” I said. He raised his eyebrows in question. “A pitchfork.”

“Jesus! That’s awful.”

“Yeah,” I said. “The man was trampled by his pigs while holding it.”

“Jesus
! That’s
worse
than awful.”

It really was. Speaking of classic movies, I couldn’t help but think of Dorothy falling into the sty. I’d always thought she just didn’t want to get muddy.

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