It was only a job. It was only a job. I’m walking down the road in the almost dark using this chant to keep me going. It was only a job. It was only a job. One step after another. I don’t want to go home but I got nowhere to go. But more than not wanting to go home, I don’t want to go back to the diner to face Richard and Shirley.
Shit, Roy. You asshole, showing up and maybe ruining my job.
But the next day, nervous as a squirrel, I open the back door to the diner afraid they’re gonna throw me out. “Hey, Rawling,” Richard says from in front of the grill. “We got a full house this afternoon. The guys are asking for you.”
And then I know everything’s OK. I hang up my purse, pull down an apron, and tie it on. OK, here I go.
I step through the swinging doors. The room’s full and the Rounds, the round guys at the round table, are talking and not seeing me yet. I go to get the coffee pots and Shirley swirls in from the floor behind me.
“Rawling, we got to have a little talk sometime today,” she says. I can barely hear her whisper but my heart grips like I’ve just seen a bear. “Later, right now we’ve got men to feed.”
And then I see that we only got men. “Well, gentlemen, more coffee,” I ask the Regulars. And the jokes begin. Honey, this, and Honey, that, and laughs and laughs, all about me. I don’t even hear it anymore. I just laugh and make jokes back. I don’t hear those either. I’m just thinking about Shirley and having to talk to her later. I’d as soon not.
“Rawling, you gotta be careful,” she tells me. The diner’s emptied out now. “I don’t know what you’re doing with that fella, but you gotta be careful. That boy’s no good and best you stay away from him.”
I tell her I’m sorry for the scene and I tell her nothing’s going on. He’s just somebody I know who gives me a ride home. And then I remember my momma telling the social worker from the school that she only had tea with the boyfriends. I feel a little sick.
“I’m just looking out for you, honey,” Shirley says. And I want to hug her. I’m not sure anybody’s ever been looking out for me.
“I can stay a little late today and help clean up,” I say instead of anything else. And she lights up, gives me arm a little squeeze, and says that’d be a big help.