By Melissa L. Webb
Madison Monroe turned and watched as the cook slid three plates of food in front of her. She quickly scooped them up and gracefully headed over to table two with them.
It was a slow night and she was going to earn a decent tip even if it killed her. Which with this crowd, it might.
Royce’s All-Nighter didn’t cater to the best people in Nebraska, just the best people at causing trouble. She didn’t know why that was.
The diner was nice and the people who worked there were decent. However, night after night, lowlifes and scum came through that door.
In the end, she chalked Royce’s clientele up to what you get at night in a small town like Gunther. Nothing but trouble.
“Here’s two double cheeseburgers, one chicken fried steak, and a round of beers,” she said as she smoothly slid the order on the table. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
The three men stared at her, grins plastered to their pocked faces. “I’m sure we can think of something else, sweetheart,” the guy closest to her cooed as he ran a hand down her bare arm.
She quickly pulled away, his clammy touch still ghosting along her skin. Pushing down a shiver of revulsion, she glared at the men.
“Listen up,” she began, but the words were barely out of her lips before her boss was standing beside her.
“Maddie, can I have a word with you?” he asked casually, smiling at her.
She nodded with a sigh, following him to the back, away from prying customer ears.
“Look, Maddie,” Royce said as soon as they were alone, “I know those guys are jerks, but you need to keep your temper.”
She stared at her boss, a look of disbelief clearly written across her face. “I will not just stand there and let them treat me that way.”
“I know it sucks, but you have to. In this economy, we have to put up with every customer we get, even if it’s slime like that.”
Her boss sighed, his eyes softening. “Why don’t you take a break? Step out back and cool off a little, okay?” he told her and headed back onto the floor.
Maddie turned and made her way past the cook and dishwasher. They both adverted their eyes quickly, giving her no reason to turn her anger on them. She silently prayed that they would say something. Her temper just itched to have a go.
They stayed quiet as she passed, and with the anger still boiling inside, she slid out the back door. Stepping into the crisp night air, she breathed deeply, letting out the negativity that had been building inside of her.
If only she didn’t need this job so badly. She absolutely hated it here. Who really wanted to spend their lives serving drunks and jerks anyway? However, money was money, and she had no place else to go.
“If only life was a fairytale,” she muttered darkly to herself as she let the cool breeze wash over her, numbing the pain inside. “My prince would come for me.”
She sat down on a plastic crate outside the back door and stared into the dark woods surrounding the diner. More than anything, she longed to be somewhere else, free from this life.
If Nancy, the other night waitress, had been in town, she would have called in sick. And…it wouldn’t have been a lie. She was sick, sick of this job, this town, this life. None of it was her anymore.
She had changed. Nothing else had.
She let a sigh escape her lips as she rested her chin in her palms. This was the life she was given, she needed to face that. She was stuck, and it was never going to get any better.
“Unhand me, you Savages!”
Maddie’s head snapped up as she scanned the tree line in front of her. Who was out there?
“I said, let me go!” the voice yelled, unseen among the trees.
She didn’t even think about it. She was up off the crate and headed into the trees before she even realized what she was doing. Voices grew louder as she moved deeper into the woods. Drunken laughter filled the air as a stream of obscenities cut through the night. Someone was pissed.
What the hell was going on out there?
Light from the moon filtered through the trees ahead, and she stepped out into a small clearing, stopping with a gasp. A small group of Royce’s regulars stood grouped together, laughing at something between them. They taunted it, like a child with a bug.
“What are you doing?” she called out, scolding them like a bunch of schoolboys.
The guys turned to look at her. “Well, hello, Miss Madison,” one of them called to her. “We aren’t doing anything except having a little fun.”
“Yeah, it’s the small pleasures in life that really mean the most,” another slurred.
Laughter filled the night again as they all got a kick out of that comment.
“Listen up, assholes. None of this is amusing. Now get out of my way before I do something we’ll all regret,” someone spoke from inside the circle of men.
“Oh, how cute. It thinks it can take us,” one of the men spoke as they all laughed harder.
Maddie moved closer, trying to get a better look inside the circle. She peered in and gasped at the sight. A midget stood there, his arms crossed over his chest. The men had boxed him in, toying with him like a cat with a mouse.
“What the hell are you doing?” Maddie yelled, outraged at what they had been doing. She shoved at the men, parting them before her.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. How can you treat someone like this?”
“Aw, Miss Maddie, we were just having some fun.”
“Fun?” she cried. “This is not fun, Carl. This is harassment!”
“We weren’t gonna hurt him none.”
She glanced around at the men. “Go home! All of you. Now. Before I call the police.”
The men just stared at her through a haze of alcohol.
“Now!” she snapped.
“Okay, Maddie,” Carl said as they turned and reluctantly headed back to the diner. “We’re sorry for the trouble.”
She watched them go, shaking her head at the stupidity of it all.
Gunther’s finest hard at work.
She was so sick of this town. What she wouldn’t do to find a way out of this hellhole.
“I could have handled that myself,” a voice stated, harsh words in the night.
She turned around and stared down at the tiny man. She might have though he was a child if it wasn’t for his face.
Dark eyes stared back at her as he shifted uncomfortably under her scrutiny. “What’s the matter? You’ve never seen a freak before?”
“Sorry,” Maddie whispered, pulling her eyes away from the scar. It curled up the corner of his mouth, causing a permanent smirk on half his face.
“Look, girly. I don’t need any pity. You hear me? Just because I’m tiny and ugly doesn’t mean I need a woman to fight my battles for me.”
Her eyes snapped back to his face and locked with his dark ones, anger blossoming in her chest. Was every guy in this town a creep? “Look, I would have done that for anyone, regardless of who they were, because it was the right thing to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, turning around, “At least I get paid inside for dealing with jerks.”
She stepped out of the clearing with her head held high. You try to be a good person and this was all the thanks you get.
“Wait a second,” the small man called softly from behind her.
Maddie turned, folding her arms across her chest. “What is it now?” she snapped.
“I’m sorry. I’m not used to showing people kindness…because I haven’t received any in years,” he told her and took a step closer. “Where I come from is a dark place, one where a dwarf has to look out for himself. I’ve forgotten that some people actually care. That some are willing to stand up for what they believe.” He bowed slightly. “Thank you for your kindness.”
Maddie felt her anger weaken, then fade as she stared into his eyes. They contained such sadness. Life had been cruel to him. You could see it without even looking at the scar. “You’re welcome.”
He turned then, heading away from the diner.
“Hey, are you going to be okay?” she called to him.
He stopped and turned slowly, staring up at her. “You are a very strange girl. You don’t know me, you don’t know the things I may have lived through, yet you are concerned enough to inquire.”
“I’m strange? That’s funny coming from you,” she said with a frown.
He smiled then. A real honest-to-goodness smile. It made his scar less severe. He looked much younger with it on. “I like you, Miss…”
“Maddie. Maddie Monroe.”
“Well, Miss Maddie Monroe, my name is Percival, and you have made a friend in me.”
She raised her eyebrows. Percival? What kind of name was Percival? Who was this guy?
“Take care, Miss Maddie,” he said, turning once more. “And don’t worry about me. I’ll be as okay as anyone in the world truly is.” He disappeared into the trees, leaving no trace he’d even been there.
She shook her head, heading back into the diner. Why couldn’t she just have a normal night at Royce’s?
© 2013 Melissa L. Webb
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