I heard about it first from Leah, Sarah’s daughter. She can get in a mood at times, that girl, and today it was because she had to sit in the cafe and wait for her mother until we closed down. Finn’s gone off to New York on that fool’s errand, so Sarah is cooking until he gets back. You don’t realize how much you depend on someone until he’s gone. I had forgotten what it was like before Finn came on to cook. Today, everything was late, and I had to send a couple of things back. Darren Harmanson was in for lunch and a little while after I’d served him, he waved me over. He hadn’t eaten a bit of his hamburger. He pulled off the top of it and said, “Now you know that’s not how I like it.” And I thought, I know how you like it, and I’m sure Finn knows how you like it, but I can’t say for sure the proprietor does, or at least that she knows how to make it. It was a lunch hour like that, so by the time Leah stomped in, saying they got let out early because the power went out at the school, we had just about had enough. She seemed more sassy than usual. While we were putting some things away in the back, Sarah apologized for her, said she’s start starting to have her period. And on top of that being difficult — I remember those days with my daughter — I guess she’s a little mad that it’s happening. I guess last night she was going through the house, slamming doors, saying “You never told me this was going to happen!”
That at least helped me be a little more patient, and I went out and offered to get her something to drink. I even offered her a milkshake, but she just pouted and said she wasn’t hungry. That’s when she told me. Maybe it would have made me feel funny, no matter how I’d heard it, but I especially didn’t like hearing it from her. I guess part of it is I felt a little stupid. I’ve been watching them for months, how they talk to each other, how they draw to each other. They end up talking about things you don’t usually hear people talk about so much around here. They’re both a little different, that’s part of it, but a lot is because Sarah isn’t from here. She can’t go on for hours about this person or that person or mutual relatives or what’s going on at the elevator or the tractor plant. They talk about the weather but even that’s different sometimes. They really look at each other when they talk, following close on every thought, like they’re saying the most important thing they’ve ever heard. I guess I saw it coming, but somehow I didn’t. Maybe because she must be almost twice his age, almost the age of his parents, that it seemed like it was wrong, or would never happen.
I guess it also made my stomach sink some — yeah, I’ll admit that — because it felt like it changed everything here. I guess I felt like the cafe was something the three of us made the way it is now, with the regulars, the food Sarah has come up with, that I joke and get them to try, that Finn has cooked. Yes, it’s Sarah’s cafe and there are other people who work here sometimes too. We’re here the most, the heart of it, I think. But now it feels like it’s them and I’m just extra. I know that’s silly — it’s not like anything happens differently while they’re here. To tell the truth I hadn’t noticed anything different in the last week, or however long it’s been.
I tried to insist she must be wrong, it couldn’t be true, even though it all made sense and I thought it could be true. I asked her where she’d heard that. She said her father. At least that girl doesn’t lie. I told her she shouldn’t believe things her father says about her mother, given that they’re still going through court stuff. This was the most awkward conversation I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t know what was the right way to say “because they’re getting divorced.” And I was pretty unsure how to talk about her mother having a relationship with someone other than her father. Leah didn’t have that trouble. She said, “My dad says they’re sleeping together.” I wonder if she really knew what that meant. You have a girl getting her period, you figure there might have been conversations, conversations that would include talking about what sleeping with someone means. But who knows what a teenager thinks. They almost never make sense. I was feeling so bad and awkward I just tried to change the subject, even though she was adding, “I’m pretty sure my dad is right about that.”
I could have asked her how he knew. I”ve always worried that guy is a little bit of the stalker type. I know he’s from an important family here but he doesn’t seem to have the social grace you might expect. Once he came over here and stood outside and glared in the windows awhile. Who knows what he wanted. I don’t think he could see in that well, but there was an old couple sitting in the booth there by that window and he was making them very nervous. I had to step outside to ask what he wanted, and when he was kinda gruff back, I said something rash and unfriendly, like, Stop staring in the window like a peeping tom. I think that’s what I said. I didn’t figure Sarah would mind — didn’t think she’d mind him never coming back as a customer.
I didn’t know what that intent look on his face meant, but he just struck me as someone who was a little too interested in her, in someone he’s getting divorced from. Sarah’s said they haven’t been able to finalize the divorce because of a lot of a shadiness, on his side, about money. And he’s the one from the big family in town. I don’t want to know much about it, but he struck me as someone who could be trouble. And now he knows about her comings and goings, who she’s with. Has he been watching her house? Of course it’s not easy to keep secrets in such a little town, Maybe everybody knows but me — it wouldn’t be the first time. But I didn’t have a good feeling about it.
So all of that made me feel uncomfortable, and bad, and Leah’s grouchy behavior wasn’t helping either. And then she asked for a milkshake after all. I felt like saying, “It’s your Mom’s cafe, go make it yourself.” But I didn’t. I put the smoothest honey in my voice and said, “Sure, I’ll make it for you.” Someone has to break the chain and put the sunshine back in the day. Might as well be me. Hopefully the pit that’s still in my stomach will go away soon. I can fake a smile until then.