Louis drove down the stretch of highway. It was dark out. Really dark. He had the high beams on but it didn’t seem to penetrate very far into the void ahead of him.
He was getting tired and antsy. The miles weren’t going by fast enough and he started to think he could push a hundred miles an hour without too much of an issue. He hadn’t seen another car in quite some time.
Ahead, he saw a glow. It was kind of yellowish. He wondered what it was. He sped up, watching the white dotted line on the road flow faster. He got close enough to see that the glow was coming from a tall sign. The base had two rows of yellow lights that ran from the ground up to the circular sign that read “The Oasis Diner.”
Closer still, he could see the diner itself, bright with lights flooding out to the gravel parking lot and sitting in a bubble of night. He pulled in to the parking lot.
The front of The Oasis was mostly large glass panels running the length of the building. Louis could see a counter and booths inside with one person wiping down tables.
Louis shut the car off and walked over to the chrome and glass door, which opened easily when he pulled on the handle. Despite being November, the air outside was still quite warm. When he walked into the diner he was hit by a wintery blast of air conditioning.
The waitress looked up when she heard the door. She didn’t stop wiping down the table she was at but she did look up and smile. “Hi, welcome to The Oasis. Do you want a table or would you prefer the counter?”
Louis wasn’t good with choices. He looked at the booths, with boysenberry purple colored benches and the salmon colored tables that had what looked like hollow boomerangs in light blue and pink. Then he looked at the counter, which had the same color and design as the tables. The stools were the same boysenberry color, but with round muffin shaped cushions.
“I don’t want to get too comfortable, so I’ll sit at the counter. Thank you.”
Louis thought if he didn’t have a back to slouch against it might help keep him awake.
The waitress raised an eyebrow at that but gestured to the empty counter. “Take your pick.” She straightened up and hooked the cloth she had been using to wipe tables into the tie strings of her apron. She went behind the counter and placed a menu in front of Louis.
“Would you like something to drink while you peruse our menu?”
She smirked. “Of course. Be right back.”
Louis wondered what that was about. He read through the menu. He didn’t think he was very hungry, but after reading through the menu he realized that he could, probably should, eat something.
The waitress came back and set a cup of coffee down along with a small shallow bowl of creamer containers.
“See anything good yet?” She asked
“Yes. Just about everything. What’s a ‘Monte Cristo’?” He asked.
“Depends on where you get it. Here, it’s French Toast covered in sliced ham, sliced turkey, and Swiss cheese. Served with maple syrup.”
Louis thought about that. “And that’s good?”
“Some people swear by it.”
“All right. I’ll try that.”
“And you want fries with that?”
“Here’s a tip,” said the waitress, leaning down conspiratorially, “When you’re done with Monte Cristo, run the fries through the maple syrup.” She winked.
“Okay. I’m sold. Monte Cristo with fries, please.”
She wrote it down on her pad, tore off a sheet, and stuck it to a rotating metal device which she turned so the paper disappeared in the back.
“You look beat, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Ah, that’s because I am beat. I’m trying to write a novel in thirty days but things keep popping up. I was supposed to be writing tonight, but had to help a friend out here in the wilderness.”
“Why are you writing a novel in thirty days?” She asked.
Louis explained NaNoWriMo again.
She nodded. “And what do you win if you finish?”
“Nothing. There’s no prizes or anything.”
“And I can tell people I did it, I guess.”
“So, bragging rights.”
“Well, also, there’s the satisfaction of having done it. Knowing that I set out to do something and actually do it, well, that’s kind of nice.”
“Okay,” she said. “That makes sense.” She looked down at his cup. “You want some more?”
She filled his cup again.
“How far behind are you?” She asked him.
“Oh, several days. It will be hard to catch up at this point. I’d have to spend hours writing to come close.”
“What’s your book about?”
“Ah, it’s stupid.”
She tilted her head sideways a few degrees. “Then why are you writing about it?”
Louis took a sip of coffee, looking at her over the rim. The head tilt reminded him of a cat and he found it very hard to resist. He tried to read her name tag, but he couldn’t make out the letters. Rather than risking her thinking he was staring at her breasts he looked back down at his coffee.
“Okay. You know Dungeons & Dragons and other role playing games?”
“Well, it’s like that. A group of adventurers wandering around an underground tunnel system fighting monsters and gathering treasure. Stuff like that.”
“For what reason are they doing this?” She asked.
“Oh, fame and fortune, I guess.” He sighed. “That’s another problem I have. I go to these write-ins, you know? People gather together and write and then maybe talk. Other people talk about their stories like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. They seem so full of themselves. I can’t talk like that.”
“Because your story sucks?”
There was a ding that came from somewhere.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said the waitress. She went to kitchen.
Louis sipped more of his coffee. She was right. His story sucked and sucked hard. What was he thinking? He was thinking that it would be fun. It would remind him of his childhood. Most importantly, it was supposed to be easy. How hard could it possibly be to write about a bunch of fantasy figures fighting monsters underground?
Pretty hard, it turns out.
The waitress came back and put a plate in front him along with a side plate of very hot fries. Then she put a container of maple syrup down.
“I’ll let you eat in peace,” she smiled as she went back to wiping down the booths.
He looked at Monte Cristo dubiously. Okay, it did look pretty good. He poured some syrup over it. Then he cut off a corner and bit it into it. Yeah, this was pretty good. He practically inhaled it.
The waitress went behind the counter again. “So, how was it?”
“Every bit as good as you said it would be.”
She nodded her head towards the fries.
He picked one up and mopped up some syrup then put it into his mouth.
“Yeah, okay, this works surprisingly well.”
“Always trust the happy waitress,” she said.
He looked up at her and gazed directly into her icy blue eyes. He saw something in those eyes, then. Something old, something painful.
“You’re not very happy, are you?” He asked.
“So are you headed into the city?” She turned away.
“Towards it, but not into it. It’s a few miles off.”
She looked wistful. “I’ve always wanted to see the city,” she said.
Louis looked up from his plate and right into her icy blue eyes. “Why don’t you go, then? We’re not far from it.”
She looked away, towards the plate glass windows. “I had my chance, a long time ago.”
“It couldn’t have been that long ago,” he said.
“Sometimes I think I’ve spent eternity here,” she said, looking at nothing. She wiped her hands on the towel at her waist. “I had the opportunity, once, you know. Some guy came in here and offered to take me there.”
“And you turned him down.”
The waitress nodded.
Louis ate another fry.
She shrugged. “I felt like I had a duty, here. Didn’t want to leave anybody in the lurch. A lot of it was fear. Some random stranger comes in, saying he can change my life if I just hop into his car. It doesn’t sound like a very good idea, does it?”
Louis had to agree, it didn’t sound like a safe plan.
“So, I didn’t go. I stayed here. I envy people who, you know, say they have no regrets. I have many. Too many.” She started wiping down the counter.
“So, um, what do your friends think of your writing?”
“They’re supportive, I guess, but they don’t really care.”
“Why are you doing this then?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “When I was younger I would write all the time. For a while I thought I would be an author, you know? Write stories, sell books, maybe get a movie deal or something.”
The waitress had taken her hair down and smoothed her golden hair back, putting it in a ponytail again. “Go on,” she said. “I’m listening.”
“Then life got in the way. I got older, got a job working ludicrously long hours. Moved. Got married. Got divorced. Kept working. There never seemed to be any time. Worse, when I did have time to write, ideas wouldn’t come. Once I could have thought of something and have several hundred words written down. Then it was gone. When I heard about this NaNoWriMo thing, I thought maybe if I treated it like a holiday, a special occasion, it would help me think of things again.”
“But it didn’t, did it?” The waitress asked softly.
“No. It sure didn’t.” He agreed.
She poured him another cup of coffee.
“Would you listen to a bit of advice?”
“At this point? Yeah, sure.”
“Okay. It doesn’t matter to anyone else if you succeed or not. It matters to you, and that’s okay. You don’t win anything if you finish this at the end of the month. But you also don’t lose anything if you don’t get the right amount of words. Maybe, sure, you lose the bragging rights or whatever.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s more than that.”
“Not done,” she said. She took a breath. “So, make the month yours. Treat it like a holiday. Write when you feel it. Don’t write when you don’t. When you don’t, let your mind wander. Scribble, read, do whatever you want. Take a walk. If you don’t make your thousand words a day, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing.”
Louis stared at her. “Yeah.”
“And if you think your story is too stupid to talk to someone about,” she continued, “then maybe it’s not the story you should be writing.”
“Okay,” he agreed. “I will take that to heart. Listen, I need to get going. Can I have the check please.”
“Sure, here you are.” She put a slip of paper onto the counter.
Louis looked at and then took a ten dollar bill out and put it on the counter. Then he took a twenty dollar bill and put that next to the ten. He got up and headed towards the door while the waitress put his plates in one of the gray bins.
“Hey,” she called out to him.
Louis turned towards the counter.
The waitress waved the twenty dollar bill. “Is this because you feel sorry for me? I don’t need it if it is.”
“You have my sympathy,” Louis said. “But the twenty is for being one of the most important people I’ve met.”
Louis opened the door and stepped through. He stopped and turned to the waitress again. “Take a bit of advice from a stranger?”
She smiled and shrugged. “It would only be fair.”
“Sometimes we have to make our own opportunities,” said Louis. He headed towards his car.
“Drive safely,” she said.