LK Hunsaker
mainstream fiction featuring the arts, relationships, & romance

 



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Because
LK Hunsaker

This free read is copyrighted and may not be copied/shared without written permission from the author.


“Ask me a question.”

Andrea cupped her chin in her palm and stared through thick lenses encapsulated by heavy purple rims without muttering a word.

“Well?”

“Well what?”

Jack sipped his Coke without releasing his pencil. “Ask me a question.”

“What question?”

“Any question.”

“About what?”

“Anything.” He glanced over at the diner’s door when the bell signified new patrons. They seemed too uninteresting to bother with and he returned his eyes to Andrea. She was waiting for more explanation. “Really. Ask me anything.”

“Why?” Bent forward enough for her elbow to rest on the counter while her palm continued to muffle her words, Andrea’s eyes darted up and down his face.

“Why not?”

“Are none of those the right question?” Oblivious to the girls looking her way and making jokes, she held her stare.

“What?” Jack scratched his head.

“I’ve asked five now. How many do you want? Oh, that’s six. Enough? Seven. Want me to stop? Eight.”

“Wait.” Jack scribbled in his note pad so fast he wasn’t sure he would be able to read it later and numbered one through eight, trying to remember each one. He would decide later which to use.

“Okay.” He took another swallow from the glass bottle and realized he had nothing he could use.” What I mean is … ask me about something.”

Frowning through her scrunched mouth, Andrea scrutinized his face, watching each movement until it made him fidget and consider giving up on this one. It was his first, though. He couldn’t give up without even really starting.

“What do you want out of life?”

Jack nearly choked on his Coke upon hearing the words. That was a real question. It was something he could use. A good start. Writing it down, he added notations:

ANDREA: red, brushed out curls, touching shoulders

“Thank you.” He closed his notebook, turned back toward the counter, and drained the last of his bottle. Signaling the waitress, he handed it to her, watched while she rinsed it three times, dried it for thirty seconds, and gave it back to him with a grin.

“Are you going to answer my question?” Andrea seemed also oblivious to the clean, empty Coke bottle in his hand.

“No.” Jack decided he liked her and would maybe take the time to speak to her again another day. For the moment, he had what he needed and scooted off the stool, waiting until his path to the door was clear before heading in a straight line, pushing exactly the right spot and beginning his three block walk home.

“Not the right one.”

With a sigh, Jack turned toward the crispy voice, hoping it was one of Mia’s good days. “Good morning, Mia. How are you?”

“Why do you ask when you don’t want to know?”

Another sigh emphasized that he wished he hadn’t asked. “I can’t talk now … have something to do.”

“Then why did you ask?”

Continuing toward his destination, Jack knew she would follow him on the dilapidated scooter that squeaked at exact intervals, if he didn’t distract her. “I saw a beautiful red sweater hanging on the coat rack. Think it’s been there a while. Shame, you know. Someone must have left it.” It was wrong. He knew it was wrong, even while trying to hide his pleasure in knowing it worked.

Mia turned and headed back to the diner.

Finding his uncomfortable big wood-slat chair, Jack plopped down and grabbed his black Sharpies, one thick and one thin. In an empty space on the chair’s white-painted flat, wide arm, he began a sketch of Andrea. He decided to put a largely-built man holding a shield on a horse beside her, a hand offered but ignored, and a hint of a castle in the background. The man’s face was handsome and rugged, nothing like his own. The drawing that evolved told Jack Andrea wasn’t the one. He had never been interested in castles and knights.

Picking up a red-orange Sharpie, he added full wavy hair that trickled over her shoulders, enjoying the colorful contrast of the hair against the starkness of the black and white sketch. In his notebook under her question, he added a description of the image, then he rose again to add the empty, washed Coke bottle to the back edge of his kitchen counter, facing it perfectly forward.

***

“Ask me a question.”

The girl raised her eyebrows, further revealing the dark brown pupils highlighted by darker brown lashes, longer than Jack had remembered seeing on a girl.

“Excuse me?”

“Ask me a question. Anything that comes to mind.”

She wiped the grease from her garlic bread on a napkin and studied him, then looked over at the waitress.

“It’s fine, Jeana. He’s harmless.” The waitress gave Jack a smile, told him they were acquaintances, careful not to reveal how they were acquainted, and moved to other customers.

“Any question?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm.” Jeana picked up the glass she had poured her Coke into and took a swallow. Returning it to the counter, she again wiped her fingers on her napkin and found his eyes. “Do you like children?”

Children. Jack pondered the question while writing it in his notebook. He couldn’t see it working, but it was interesting, none-the-less. Under the question he wrote:

JEANA: dark, short, curly

Getting up, he drained his bottle, stood, waited for the smiling waitress to come rinse and dry it for him, and walked in a straight line toward the door. He knew Jeana was watching, but he was glad she hadn’t asked further questions. Too many questions only muddied the water.

The squeaking of Mia’s scooter brought a sigh, but he greeted her as though he wanted to greet her.

“Not the right one, either.”

“How do you know it’s not?” Jack tried to keep his annoyance hidden. “You didn’t even hear her question. How do you know it’s not?”

“What question? Who said anything about a question?” Mia shrugged and scooted past him, turning at the corner.

Pushing her out of his thoughts, Jack continued the three blocks to his apartment, trudged up the three flights of stairs, and plopped onto his uncomfortable wood-slat chair. Pulling out his black Sharpies, he sketched a girl sitting atop a Mercedes Benz, her bare feet propped at the edge of its hood, and her hands triangled behind her. In the background, pyramids developed, along with a sphinx, its head looking too life-like. She wasn’t the one, either. Egypt was too sandy. Jack didn’t much like sand.

Finishing the sketch with a dark brown Sharpie, he gave her short, curly hair. Then he added the Coke bottle beside the rest.

***

“It was there and then it was gone. Someone actually took it while I was here eating.”

Jack turned an ear to the conversation at the table behind him; three girls … well, two girls and a woman whom he guessed was their mother. She had the same nose as one and the same mouth as the other. Her hair was nothing like either.

“Oh Amanda, stop it.” The girl with short, straight hair rolled her eyes. “You lost it like you lose everything. You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached.”

“And you’d lose your ability to speak if there weren’t clichés. But I didn’t lose it. I hung it right there on the coat rack when I came in and it was gone when I left. That’s not losing, that’s stealing. And it was my favorite. The perfect color of red and you know I can’t wear many reds.”

Red … on the coat rack. Turning away, Jack swallowed a sip of his Coke.

“It doesn’t matter what you wear.” The short-haired girl snickered. “Everything makes you look pale as a ghost.”

“So I like to be inside. And it’s better for your skin not to get brown as an Indian when you’re not supposed to be.”

“Look who’s using clichés now, and you can’t say that anymore. You might offend a Native American you’re calling an Indian.”

“Why?” The younger girl brushed hair back from her face, long full hair that fell in dark blonde waves. “I didn’t say there was anything wrong with Indians being brown since they’re supposed to be, only that you shouldn’t be and you’ll look old faster.”

“So what?” The older one leaned back in her chair, nursing a cup of coffee. “My fiancé chose me because I like to be outside with him camping and hunting and fishing. He doesn’t care about my skin color or wrinkles.”

“Maybe not, but you will and that’s what matters.”

“And you say that because you don’t have a fiancé.”

“Girls.” The older woman pulled her eyes from her book, finally as annoyed as patrons around them were getting. “Eat your lunch and stop this quibbling. I want to get to the travel agency while they’re still open.”

Jack flicked his eyes at the cover of her book when she re-opened it to continue reading. A Scotland travel guide. He scribbled it in his notebook along with notes about the girls. He only caught one of their names and used “Miss Cliché” for the other. A question. He didn’t have a question from them, but he was afraid to ask. Maybe if he could ask the younger one alone, he would. He felt sorry for her and thought she might have a good question if she were allowed the space to ask one.

When the waitress took his Coke bottle to rinse and return, Jack told her about seeing Mia with a red sweater like the one the girl was talking about.

“Did you?” She carefully touched his forearm for a moment. “Thank you, Jack. I’ll suggest she go to Goodwill to look for it.”

“After I leave.”

“Of course. Do you have your question yet?”

“No. That older one knows how to use a gun. I heard her.”

The waitress smiled. “Wait here a moment.”

Jack watched carefully while she spoke to the women and returned.

“Did they have a question?”

“Yes.” She stood close and lowered her voice. “What did your parents teach you about religion?”

“Oh.” Jack paused in thought, then wrote it in his notebook. “Thank you.” He stood and gathered the book and the bottle.

“Any time, Jack. See you tomorrow.”

He considered “tomorrow” while making his way to the door. Maybe he wouldn’t be back tomorrow. Maybe he had found the right question. He wasn’t sure, but his chair would tell him.

“That’s not it, either.” The chuckling of Mia’s voice annoyed him like the girls were annoying the diners, and he pretended not to hear.

Their photos emerged as stick drawings, with the girls in different dinghies on a lake shielded by mountains; Amanda heading toward the shore and Miss Cliché toward the sun setting in the distance. The mother sat on an easy chair on a dock, oblivious to anything except her book.

He would be back “tomorrow.” This time, he wasn’t even inspired enough to add color to their hair.

***

“What’s wrong, Jack? You don’t seem yourself today.”

With his chin propped in his palm, reminiscent of one of his earlier interviewees, he sighed. “Today is three weeks. I’ve been collecting questions for three weeks and it isn’t working.”

“Maybe you’re making it too complicated.” A grin accompanied another touch of his arm and she moved to smile at another patron and take his order.

A twinge hit his stomach and Jack studied the big, bulky guy she talked to. His tank top showed every muscle and his hair had a gorgeous light wave to it that added depth to the dirty blondeness.

He turned to Jack. “What are you staring at, buddy? Ain’t you too young to be bald already?”

“TJ, leave him alone.” The waitress didn’t set a hand on TJ.

“I don’t like to be stared at by a guy, especially by a girly guy. Have you ever thought about lifting weights, kid? Maybe it would help you grow some hair.”

“My hair grows.” Jack’s voice was too soft, more ammunition for TJ.

“Yeah? Then where is it? You look like an albino basketball.”

Albino? Jack frowned. He had dark green eyes and yellowish skin. Albinos had pink eyes and pinkish white skin. TJ wasn’t the comedian he thought he was. He needed to pay more attention to detail.

“Or is it invisible? That’s it. We just can’t see it, right?” He chuckled, ignoring the waitress telling him to stop.

“I shave it.” Jack reveled in TJ’s shock.

“Why would you do that? Is it clown orange or something?”

“It doesn’t grow the way I want it, so I shave it.” Listening to the silence around him, Jack wasn’t sure whether it was because he shaved his hair or because he answered the question. He never answered questions. He only asked them.

In the pause, the waitress asked if he was done with his Coke so he drained the last swallow and watched her rinse it three times and dry it. The big man said nothing more and Jack didn’t look at him again. Back home, his chair turned the man into a giant hawk. He wrote the question he most remembered underneath. “Why would you do that?”

***

Unsettled by the throwing off of his schedule – the question he wrote on his chair didn’t count – Jack went to the diner earlier the next day. He had to make up time.

Casting his glance at a table of girls wearing all black with wildly colored hair of different shades, he paused in his path to his stool at the counter. And then he noticed it was occupied. His stool was occupied. Stopped, he read the back of the invader’s shirt. It was of a place in another state; a place he had never heard of in a state he had never visited. He had never visited any other state. He didn’t think he ever would.

“You’re early.” Surprise reflected in the waitress’ voice.

“He’s in my place.”

“I’m sorry, Jack. I didn’t expect you to be here yet. I’ll ask him to move over.”

“No.”

“No?” She stared. “It’s all right. He won’t mind.”

“No. It’s not mine anymore.”

“Of course it is. This is my diner. It is if I say it is.”

Jack looked at her eyes, not remembering noticing them before. They were green. “Yours?”

“Yes, it’s mine.” She touched his arm. “Are you surprised?”

“Yes.”

Smiling, she let her hand slide to his and guided him to his stool. The invader didn’t mind moving but he gave Jack a funny look.

He accepted his Coke and turned to listen to the three girls in black. They were talking about cars. As he listened, he could see them become the cars they were wishing for and wondered what car he would want if he wanted one. Noticing his stare, the girl with long hair dyed red with black tips watched him in return, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t laugh or look annoyed or complain. She studied him.

Another asked what he wanted.

“Ask me a question.” He hoped two of them would ask so he could catch up from the day before.

The two others exchanged looks but the one with black tips only stared. Jack took another swallow of his Coke and waited.

“Like what?” The one with medium length blue and purple streaked hair tilted her head.

“Anything.”

They exchanged looks again.

The waitress with green eyes interrupted, talking to the girls. “If he wanted to go out with you and you had to know one thing first, what would it be?”

Jack stared at the waitress, his eyes wide. She wasn’t supposed to interfere. She never interfered.

“Oh.” The third girl, the one with longer hair than the second but shorter than the first, grinned. “That’s easy. What do you do for relaxation?”

Gathering himself, Jack wrote it down. It wasn’t right, but he wrote it down anyway.

“I know.” The second girl leaned back in her chair and wrapped her legs up in a knot in front of her. “What do you feel when you’re near the ocean?”

The ocean? They weren’t anywhere near the ocean. Why would she ask that? How could he answer if he had never been there? Still, he wrote it down and put “TONYA” beside it after the third girl called her that, complimenting her on the question.

“Thanks, Jenifer. Yours was good, too.”

Jack scribbled “JENIFER” beside the other question.

The two pushed the girl with the black tips to ask. She didn’t. She shrugged and went back to eating her salad.

Perfect. He only wanted two questions. Now he was caught up. They weren’t the right questions – somehow he knew without drawing them on his chair, but he would be back tomorrow.

Finishing his Coke and waiting for the bottle to be returned, he walked to the door and was stopped by the girl with black tips. She stood directly in his path and found his eyes. “Why me and not someone else?”

“What?”

“That’s always what I want to know. Why me and not someone else? I mean, there are tons of girls out there. What makes us choose one person over another?”

Jack felt himself blinking too often as she stared with soft blue eyes and long lashes.

With another shrug, she left the diner alone and gave Mia a hug when the scooter woman stopped by the entrance.

The question buzzed his head while he walked to the apartment. He drew not girls, but three cars: a sports vehicle with lots of room for others, painted maroon and cream, a blue and purple streaked sleek van-like vehicle, and a sporty red convertible with black accents. Why a convertible? Why did the other two choose cars that held many while the girl with the black tips chose something with so little space? What would make her wonder why someone wouldn’t choose her over others? Why not?

Why would anyone choose him over others, or would anyone? They hadn’t yet. Was that what she meant?

Shoving his hand against the sides of his head, he tried to block out the questions. There were too many. He was supposed to only get two and he got three and too many more badgered him.

He wouldn’t return to the diner. There were too many questions. His shelf of Coke bottles was full, anyway. He wouldn’t go back.

***

A knock startled him and Jack stared at the door. No one knocked on his door. No one. The stare didn’t make it stop and he pushed himself off the uncomfortable wood-slat chair where the Sharpies lay topless and dried out. Shuffling over, he jumped at the next knock, then leaned in to look through the peephole. Green eyes stared back. He recognized them but not the hair.

Jack left the chain hooked and cracked open the door.

“Hi, Jack. My Coke supply is getting overloaded so I thought I would bring some of it to you. Six days, right? You’re getting behind. Can I come in?”

The waitress? Frowning, he unhooked the chain and opened the door only an inch or two further. She had hair … uncovered hair. He had never seen her without the tight bandana wrapped all the way around it.

“Can I come in?” She smiled, nodding down at the six-pack of Coke bottles in their cardboard holder. He didn’t have a whole holder full of bottles.

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” She followed as he slid backwards into his apartment. “Wow, look at this.” The waitress set the holder on a table and moved her eyes from his wood chair to his walls, both covered in black and white sketches with traces of color, except one wall that was still blank. “This is beautiful, Jack. I didn’t know you were an artist.”

“I’m not.”

She returned her green eyes and raised her eyebrows.

“I scribble.”

“Oh. Well, I like your scribbles.”

He stayed silent while she walked around studying his walls.

“So.” She turned back. “Aren’t you going to ask me for a question, Jack?”

He stared.

“You’ve asked everyone else. Did you find the right one?”

“No.”

“Why haven’t you asked me?”

He continued staring. He didn’t want more questions.

“My name is Kara. Are you going to write it in your notebook?”

Nodding vaguely, he went to pick up the book he hadn’t opened in three days. “My Sharpies are all dry.”

She grinned. “Well, it’s no wonder. Guess we’ll have to get you more. You still have a blank wall.”

Glancing at the wall, he returned his gaze, studying the way waitress Kara’s red hair fell at the top of her shoulders.

“Come to the diner tomorrow, Jack. You still need to ask me for a question. I’ll provide the Sharpie. What color do you want?”

“Red.” He was still looking at her hair, but he caught her smile.

Heading toward the door, she stopped and brushed the top of his head with her hand. “It’s growing in.”

“I haven’t looked at it.”

“It looks nice. You should try letting it grow.” And she left.

***

Six days after waitress Kara’s visit, Jack looked in the mirror he had hidden under his bed. It still wasn’t growing the way he liked, but he frowned and left it alone, shoving the mirror back under the bed.

And he went to the diner. His stool was empty.

“Hi, Jack.” Kara set an open bottle of Coke in front of him. “I have six for you. Do you want them all?”

“No.”

Turning for a moment, she turned back and set a red Sharpie on the counter. “Well?”

He looked at her eyes and the strands of hair falling out the sides of her bandana which hadn’t before. “Why do you wear that?”

She seemed surprised at the question. “So my customers don’t find hair in their food.”

“What about this part?” Slowly, Jack reached out to slide fingers down the free strands.

“I guess sometimes you have to take a little chance.”

“Yes.” He let it go and picked up the Sharpie.

“Yes?” She grinned. “Are you ready for a question?”

“No. I have too many.”

“Do you?” Moving around the counter, Kara sat on the stool next to him. “How about some answers, then?”

“Only one.” Jack put the Sharpie down again.

“Okay.”

Which one? In a panic, he rushed through the questions he’d been given, preparing for this moment for weeks. Still, none of them were right.

Waitress Kara sat quietly waiting through his racing heartbeat and thoughts of escaping through the door and grabbing Mia’s scooter and racing with it to Goodwill where they kept a lost and found section for everything Mia brought them. They did it because Jack told them. He saw her “find” something every day and give it to Goodwill as a donation. He was proven right when a customer complained one of the decorations in the store had been stolen from her front yard. Her name was on the back for proof. He was less crazy after that.

“Jack?” Kara touched his arm. “What should I answer for you?” Her voice was soft.

“Will you go out with me?” His voice shook but it was out loud. He had asked. But it was too simple. He didn’t want to be simple.

Her hand slid to his. “You have to answer one question before I answer you, okay?”

“No.”

“Jack, it’s okay. Just tell me why. Why are you asking me instead of someone else?”

It was the girl with black tips’ question. The one that made him think too much.

“Don’t think about it. Just answer me. Why are you asking me?”

“Because you wanted me to ask.” It was too simple. He felt his face grow warm because she wouldn’t understand. He meant so much more. He meant because she wasn’t avoidant of him, because she saw who he was and it didn’t matter, because he could talk to her more than anyone else, because her eyes were green and he noticed, because her hair was red and it didn’t matter even though he didn’t like red hair, because she liked his hair that didn’t grow right, because she found him when he stopped visiting the diner, because washing his Coke bottles three times was okay, because she didn’t interfere until he needed her to interfere … but he couldn’t tell her all that. It was too many answers.

“Yes.”

He looked at her green eyes. She had pulled the bandana from her head and her red hair hung freely. “Let’s take the chance together, Jack.”

“Yes.” And he knew what to draw on the blank wall, but he would need more than the red Sharpie for her hair. He needed green for her eyes and yellow for her blouse and blue for her jeans and purple … for her diner. It wasn’t purple but it needed to be. Maybe he would ask if he could make it purple.

Note: this story was written as part of a reader-involved activity. More of these activities will be ocurring from time to time. Sign up for the newsletter or check my blog on occasion for information on when they happen. Comments are always welcome in my guest book.

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