They slid into their booth with goofy smiles, careful to avoid further tearing the rips in the red pleather seats. Rudy’s Cafe had been their favorite little food joint since college. It was the highlight of a random road trip James and Alex had gone on and the two friends made the hour-long trip back once or twice a year ever since.
James picked up the laminated menu and began searching for what made his stomach growl the loudest. Alex already knew what he wanted so he scanned the rundown cafe to see if anything had changed since their last visit.
Rudy’s Cafe had opened in 1981 according to the story on the back of the menu and the decor had never quite made it out of the decade. White and black linoleum tiles checkered the floor. Every inch of the walls and ceiling was covered with 1980’s memorabilia or movie posters. A life-size image of “The Fridge” stared at Alex from the door of the men’s restroom.
The high-pitched guitar intro of Sweet Child Of Mine had just begun when their waitress arrived. Alex guessed she somewhere in her 40’s. Her blonde hair had shades of red in it and hung down past her shoulders. The half smile that lifted her round cheeks made her blue eyes seem kind.
“Hi fellas. My name is Jenny and I’ll be your server today. Can I get you guys started with something to drink?”
Alex asked for water with lime and James ordered a sweet tea from behind his menu. There was nothing else for Alex to do while he waited for his friend so he continued to look around the restaurant. He was staring at the Goonies poster on the ceiling above them when James finally spoke.
“I used to love that movie.”
Alex looked down to see his friend looking up.
Jenny returned with a glass in each hand. After setting their drinks in front of them she slid into the booth next to Alex and scooted him over with a playful bump and pulled out her order pad.
“So fellas, have you decided what you want?”
They both smiled. After writing down their order Jenny slid back out of the booth, tucked the pen behind her ear, and walked back toward the kitchen.
Alex took a sip of water before asking the question he had held on their drive there. “So are you gonna ask Grace out or what?”
James rolled his eyes. “We go out. We meet up for coffee or to go the movies.”
“Dude. You guys hang out. But neither one of you knows if you are actually dating.” Alex threw up air quotes on the last word.
James took a deep breath and stared at the Empire Strikes Back poster that met the back of their table.
“I don’t know man. I keep getting mixed signals.”
Alex laughed. “All girl signals are mixed to guys. I wish they would just come out and tell us what they want. That would make life a whole lot easier.”
“Maybe that’s why they don’t. Guys love a challenge. If girls made things easy for us we’d probably just get bored.” James sighed before continuing, ” I just don’t know what to do. Feels like kindergarten all over again. The girls run from the boys and we are supposed to know which ones are running cause they like being chased and which ones are just trying to get away. I don’t want make a girl feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to give up on a girl who wants to feel like she is worth being pursued either. The problem is that I can’t ever figure out which is which.”
Jenny had arrived halfway through James’ rant with a pitcher of water and was filling Alex’s glass with a smirk. Just as she turned to leave Alex got an idea.
“Hey Jenny. Can I ask you a question?”
Their waitress half-turned back and put a hand on her hip. “Ya just did sugar.”
James rolled his eyes, which made Alex smile even wider.
“Well then let me ask you another. How are guys supposed to know if a girl is playing hard to get or when she really is not interested?”
Jenny’s eyes sparkled as a wide grin spread across her lips. “Scoot over honey.”
She joined Alex with another little bump that was totally unnecessary because he had already slid to the far end of the booth.
“Girls will give you signs sugar. You just gotta learn how to read them.”
James snorted. “Women seem to think that the tiniest clue is as clear as day to guys. Well I got news for you, we don’t want clues. Why can’t women just make it clear? Sometimes a guy just needs a big sign that we can read from across the room.”
The smile on Jenny’s face dropped away with a slight head shake. She leaned in and rested her folded hands on the table.
“Oh honey… No you don’t. What you are asking for is for the girl to be the man and that aint never a good thing.”
James stared to object, but Jenny waived his words away with her hand.
“Listen. That uncertainty you feel, that fear, that’s important. Without it, what you do wouldn’t be brave or bold. And honey, girls like a little bravery in a man. There are women out there who take that challenge away from a guy, but you don’t want nothin’ to do with them. The girls with ‘the big sign’ pick men with weak hearts so that they can manipulate and control them. And some fellas want that. But I don’t get the sense that you’re one of them. You get a girl like that and you’ll both be fighting for the lead. And that don’t ever end pretty.”
Alex opened his mouth to say something, but Jenny kept going after a short breath.
“And don’t go thinking us gals have it easy. Waiting for you boys to figure anything out is no picnic. And then there’s the ladies who have let themselves get caught only to be let go because all the guy wanted was to see if he could catch her. It aint easy not knowin’ what kind of man is doin’ the chasin’ or waiting for to get chased at all.”
Silence fell over the table as the two friends let the words of their waitress sink in. Jenny slid out of the booth and picked up the pitcher of water.
“I should go check on your food.” She turned to leave, but James’ voice stopped her.
“You said that girls give signs, but what if I don’t ever figure out how to read them?”
Jenny’s eyes seemed to search the boys in her booth. They must have found something of worth because she took a step back towards them and lowered her voice into almost a whisper.
“Let me tell you a little secret. You’re assuming that women always know what they want, but we don’t. Sometimes we are trying to figure it out at the same time you are. Sometimes a girl only runs because she’s forgotten how good it feels to be caught.”
As Jenny spoke her last words her smile returned. She winked just before she turned and walked away. After a few moments of silence Alex began laughing.
James pulled his eyes away from where Jenny had just been asked, “What’s so funny?”
“I was just wondering why we couldn’t have had her as our waitress while I was still in college.”
James chuckled. “Yeah. Better late than never though.”
“So what are you gonna do?”
James rubbed his forehead until a crooked smile tugged at his lips.
“Two things. First, I’m gonna stop playing chase with Grace. It’s time to catch her and find out what she wants.”
Alex nodded in approval. “And the second thing?”
James smiled wide. “I’m gonna give Jenny a very big tip.”
Copyright © 2013 Adam Drake