Did she envy them because they had children? Her momentary tug could come from the fact she’d never experienced a leisurely meal with her mother. After the drop-off, her parents never came back. She and her brother were like dogs left at the kennel, except people come back for their pets.
The line was visible through the glass doors. Better to get in line than dwelling on the past. It would make the wait for lunch longer. The multi-colored chalk announced daily specials. Rebel is Disguise had potential. A casual glance revealed the packed interior of the small café. An elderly couple in front of her held hands. Sweet. Her grandparents held hands and often kissed each other on the cheek. They always seemed content in each other’s company. Neither one of them ever made any mention of being unhappy about raising their grandchildren. They could have been traveling the world instead attending school conferences and helping with science fair projects.
The couple in front of her moved sideways to take their place in another line to wait for their food. The attendant nodded at her. Ellie stepped up to stainless steel counter. “Large ice tea, unsweetened, and Rebel in Disguise. “ She ran her debit card through but thought a joke might cheer up the weary employee. “Is the Rebel in Disguise anything like a Rebel Without a Cause?”
The woman looked at her blankly and handed her the receipt. References pertinent to this decade might help. Two sliding steps put her in the next line. Ten minutes later, everyone seemed to be getting their food, except her. Even Eli. Wait a minute, the attendant meant Ellie. No Eli was claiming the sandwich and tea that she was sure was hers.
“I think that’s my lunch. Ellie?” She enunciated her name and got a nasty look from the employee for it. Geesh and she was the one who had her name mangled. Tray in hand, she maneuvered through the cramped seating area. One smallish table to her right. A teen girl texting slid into the chair before she reached it. Nevermind, she didn’t want to sit inside anyhow. Too noisy.
Outside there was the slight hum of road traffic, but not too bad. There was four empty tables. She decided on the one farthest from everyone and was half hidden by the oversized tubs of petunias. Once seated, she placed her cell phone on the table and picked up er tea. As a singleton, as she sometimes referred to herself, she knew how to look busy. A phone, newspaper, a computer were all signs that someone was busy. Not lonely, not alone, but working, not an object of pity, but someone taking a working lunch or possibly waiting for someone.
This apprehension about being alone she needed to get over. Nina usually ate lunch alone, in her office where no one could see her, although her business savvy friend would probably have no issues with eating in the mall food court. After all, she practically knew everyone who worked in the mall. Her confidence could have resulted from having parents who loved and adored her.
Ellie bit into her sandwich which was actually a Reuben made with turkey instead of corned beef. Not bad, but corned beef provided more of a balance for the sauerkraut. The turkey buckled under the more aggressive garnish. Could be she was the more like the turkey than the sauerkraut.
The fragrance of the flowers drifted on the breeze lifted her melancholy a little. Her grandparents loved her even though her brother and she showed up for a visit and stayed a lifetime. Well, in her case, eight years, until she went to college. An occasional postcard would arrive from her parents from some exotic locale. The postmark was usually weeks before. Her grandmother used the postcards as proof that her parents were thinking of her. The cards served more as taunts in her opinion. Look what we can do without two kids hanging on to us. People can’t tuck checks into postcards, either.
A couple sat down next to her. They both were dressed in business casual but were evidently taking a break from work. The man opened the conversation.
“I’m so glad we finally have the chance to meet.”
Argh. A lunch date she would have to witness an awkward day meeting. She read about the popularity of these mid-day look sees due to limited time. At best, only an hour of the day was wasted, and you were already dressed for work.
“Me too.” The woman giggled and flipped back her hair.
Save me. Was I ever that stupid-acting? Probably not, she had been a serious child who grew into a somber adult, not that she wanted to be. Her goal was to work hard, graduate early, and ease the financial burden on her grandparents. A scholarship helped along with a work study job. Most of her life was work, then more work. When you got right down to it, most of the handful of relationships were work, at least for her.