sliders by the sack

 I work the night shift; eleven to seven. That means I see a sampling of the people, vocations and tragedies in my city. Nurses on their way home from the ER or surgery or cancer ward stop for a high-carb snack. Garbage truck drivers come in for pre-dawn coffee before making their smelly rounds. Weary travelers find us open and fill up on grease and comfort before logging more miles. 

We’re a 24-hour, fast-food joint. We sell sliders by the sack and hope with a smile.  At least, that’s how I like to think of it. If you’ve ever worked in the food service business, you know what I mean. You can see desperation in faces; people who are hanging over the edge of despair and just need a reason not to let go. Sometimes they are well-dressed and other times, you can tell they’ve slept in the same clothes for days. They might smile and act like everything is cool, but the eyes always betray them. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading eyes over the years.  And I try to give them a word or two of understanding and a smile that doesn’t mock their troubles but says things are going to be all right. I think that’s what Jesus would do if He worked the night shift at the Castle.

I like the quietness around 3 AM when there’s time to clean up a bit between customers. I do love a gleaming coffee pot with a fresh brew trickling in. In fact, the other night I had just made a fresh pot when she walked in, nicely dressed and running from something. I can tell that look a mile away. 

“What can I get for you, hon?” I said. 
I’ve learned over the years to use endearments wisely. Other women are sensitive to what seems to be a patronizing or condescending tone and rightly so. But my gut told me she needed it. And turns out that was exactly right. 

“Coffee, please.”  She swiped at her eyes and rummaged in her purse.

“Just made up a fresh pot.”  I smiled. “Hope you like it scalding hot.”

“It will be fine, I’m sure. I probably shouldn’t be drinking it anyway.”

“Oh?” I raised my eyebrows just a bit, not too rude, but taking the bait she was subconsciously offering along with her debit card. 

She laid a hand on her flat belly, “I’m pregnant.”

“Congratulations!” I said. “And you know, just a little caffeine isn’t bad. Everyone needs a cup of coffee once in a while.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t think it could do any more damage anyway.” 

I sat her coffee on the counter and handed her the receipt.  “Is something wrong?”

Tears came to her eyes and she grabbed her cup and squeezed it as though it would keep her from falling over. Behind her, the dining area was mostly empty and the drive-thru was quiet. Odd at this time of night, but then I’ve seen enough of Providence to know better than to ask questions. 

“I got the results of my genetic testing today. There’s something wrong with the baby. I don’t remember the name of it. I just walked out of the doctor’s office and started driving. I haven’t even told my husband; I can’t face him. He has wanted a son for so long, and how can I let him know that this baby won’t even realize he’s carrying on the family name? I thought coffee might give the strength to call him.”  She grabbed a napkin from the chrome box and dabbed at her eyes. 

I reached out my hand and patted her younger one. “Honey, you better call that man. He needs you, and you need him. You can face this together. Besides, you never know what’s wrapped up in that little package God’s sending you. Special needs bring extra effort, but they also bring extra reward.”

She looked at me with conflicted eyes. “I want to believe that. My doctor started talking to me about my “options”  today.  I know what he means. Do you think God would forgive me for doing something like that?”

“God always forgives when we’re sorry, but I know He would rather you accept this baby along with His strength to care for it. Regret can be a terrible thing; He wants you to choose life—for the baby and for you.

“You sound like my mama.” She tried a brave smile. “I need to call her too.”

I handed her a couple more napkins.  “Sounds like you have a lot of calls to make. Why don’t you get started and I’ll keep the coffee and the prayers coming.”

So, she sat down in a corner booth and pulled out her phone. As I turned around, I heard her say “Jeff? I’m so sorry, honey. . . .” 

And I wiped up around the coffee pot and thanked God for the night shift, where miracles happen at White Castle.          – VQ              

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