The Letter On The Bar

This story will appear in the upcoming collection, Days and Other Stories. To pre order, click here and use offer code dayspre to get half off the cover price.

The Letter on The Bar

    When I left high school, there wasn’t any money in the family budget for me to go to college.  I’m not going to say I didn’t resent that, just a little bit.  After all, was it my fault my little sister Lynn got sick, and that ate up all the savings mom had?  No, but I was sure the one who was going to have the rest of my life wreaked because of it.  So while my friends went off to big state colleges to start their lives full of success and great jobs, I got stuck working at a crappy diner, praying I might save up enough to get some sort of degree at the community college instead.
I always hated working nights at the diner.  I’d get the occasional family, some quiet people, but not many.  No, most of what I got on those long nights were college students from the campus.  Just a few years younger than me, a constant reminder of what I could have done if things had been different.  If Lynn hadn’t gotten sick.
They didn’t tip well, didn’t eat much.  They came in as loud, needy groups, or by themselves laden with books and papers.  I poured their coffee, cleaned up booths covered in ketchup and eraser smudges after they left, and hated each and every one of them, except one.
She came in one night, shaking the rain from her coat as she went.  She sat down at the bar, and ordered a coffee.  She had a bookbag with her, but she didn’t take out any work.

Instead she took out an open envelope, and pulled what looked like a letter from it.  She read it, then must have read it again.  Finally, she pulled out her phone, and started typing.  After a few minutes she put her phone away, finished her coffee, and paid her tab, leaving a quarter next to her cup.  She was gone before I realized she’d left the letter behind as well.

I knew that I should have just left it alone.  Nothing in that letter was any of my business.  But there weren’t any other customers, and my worse nature got the better of me.  I scooped it up, and started to read.

Maggie,
     I’m sorry that it took so long for me to write you, but I wanted to make sure that you could think about this for yourself, instead of letting Mom tell you what you should think about it. Now that you’re in college, I hope you’re away from that.
     Look, I know my leaving was hard on you, and I know that there can never be a good reason to have left you there alone.  You were the only regret I had.  The way that woman treated us, the fear she put us both through.  I know the only thing that made it any easier for me was having you around.  I wish I hadn’t had to leave you behind to deal with her yourself.
     But I had to do what I did.  Mom wouldn’t let me tell you about Becky.  She never wanted you to see her, never wanted you to be the same disappointment I was.  I know this is probably terrible of me, but I’m not sorry that she doesn’t want to see me still.  Becky is too precious for me to share with someone so hateful.  
    Maggie, I know you went through hell these last few years.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t there when Dad died.  But I just couldn’t have Becky around that.  She didn’t need to face that.
When I was going to Pitt, there was this little diner just off campus.  If you can, meet me there on Friday.  

Hoping to see you,
Candace.

Never had I been so happy to realize that I was working on Friday.

When the day came, I waited for the girl named Maggie to show up.  When she finally did, I watched her as carefully as I could without seeming like a stalker.  She kept looking toward the door.  Finally, a woman walked in, holding the hand of a three year old girl.

Maggie got up from her stool, and ran to the woman.  She knelt down to say something to the little girl, then give her a hug.  She was crying.

I watched them sit in a booth, and talk for hours.  Candace looked like she’d done alright for herself, all alone with a baby to look after on top of it.

When I got home that night, I started looking at grant and student loan information.  And I called Lynn, just to see how she was doing.

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