Her naturally straight brown hair was cut short, washed and set in waves close to her head. Her uniform, laundered and pressed, looked smart on her well-proportioned frame and even her fingernails were nicely trimmed and shaped with a clear polish. She had spent the weekend trying to get as clean as possible, but June still felt dirty.
The Reverend Hogan, or Pastor Carl as most folks in town called him, sat on his usual stool at the counter chatting earnestly with a young soldier. June envied their easy conversation.
“More coffee, Pastor Carl?” June held up the coffee pot as an offering.
“No, thanks, June. Gotta get going.” Carl gave the soldier’s shoulder a friendly pat and rose to leave. “Come by the church anytime, Daniel. Always good to see you.”
Pastor Carl had been the local Methodist minister for thirty years and knew everyone in town. Everyone knew him, too. Knew how he’d courted June’s Aunt Emma in younger days. How she kept him at arm’s length and how he never married.
He’d been there for June when her mother died. June wondered if she could still trust him.
As he opened the door Carl glanced over his shoulder and smiled directly at June and she realized she had been staring at him. She felt her face grow warm with embarrassment. The mysteries of the clergy were beyond June’s comprehension and she wondered if Pastor Carl could sense her turmoil.
Her Aunt Emma was a paradox. One minute she insisted that Carl’s divine calling came with a sixth sense and supported all his fundraisers and charity events. Then suddenly she’d refused to be in his company if he got too close. He still carried a torch for Emma and, while admiring his commitment to her aunt, June felt sorry for Carl.
“I’ll have a warm-up, if you don’t mind.” The soldier interrupted June’s thoughts as he held his mug out for her to fill.
“You bet.” June gave him her trademark wink and filled the mug carefully, then dropped her eyes realizing he might think she was flirting. She had to be more careful.
“Name’s Daniel……June.” He glanced at her name tag quickly, not wanting her to think he was staring at her pin-up girl bosom.
“It’s nice to meet you.” June said, raising her gaze only high enough to survey the medals next to his ribbons. Quite impressive, she thought.
“Actually, we’ve met before, June. I was a couple of grades ahead of you in high school.” Daniel waited expectantly as June digested the information.
“Oh. I-I didn’t realize.” June looked up and caught a quick glimpse of his face before her reserve faltered and she dropped her eyes again. “I’m sorry.” She searched her memory bank for the handsome face and finally remembered seeing his picture in a high school yearbook. He came from one of the wealthier families that didn’t cross paths with someone like her.
“No need to be sorry. We were in different circles, but I remember you. You hung out with that black girl. Addy, I think her name was. You both always seemed to be having so much fun.” There was no judgment in his voice, just recall.
“Yes. We did.” June felt both ashamed and defiant about his reference to Addy. She wanted to be good enough for this man for some reason.
“Yeah, I envied you that.” Daniel smiled and June could tell he really didn’t care who her friends were in high school.
“Hey, Toots. How ‘bout another cuppa joe?” A boisterous regular called from table number five. The trucker hassled June occasionally, but a tip was a tip and she needed every penny to make ends meet.
“Sure thing.” June called back over her shoulder and turned back to the soldier, topping off his mug. “Gotta go. You take care…Lieutenant Daniel.” His name rolled off her tongue like silk and gave her a warm feeling.
June headed over to table five and the trucker gave her the once over from beneath bushy eyebrows, his strong body odor turning her stomach. The two companions seated with him were leering appreciatively at June, too, along with every other man in the Diner it seemed and it was onlynine a.m. June sighed, realizing it would be a long day.
“How ‘bout a little smile with that coffee, Baby?” The trucker, a small man with an attitude, pushed June’s buttons this morning. Right now he seemed disappointed at the absence of June’s usual ‘will flirt for tips’ demeanor and decided to let her know. “You had a big smile for the Soldier Boy over there,” he added with transparent jealousy nodding toward Daniel.
He shifted his coffee mug to the hand farthest from June and tried to grab her arm with his other hand as she leaned over to fill the cup. June surprised him and herself. Instead of her usual good natured rejection she involuntarily recoiled, sloshing hot coffee on the table and splashing it up the front of his already dirty t-shirt.
“Hey, Girl!” The wiry trucker yelped and slammed back against the seat, dropping his hand from June’s arm. He swiped at the front of his shirt without thinking about the paper napkin next to his plate and scowled.
June looked as startled as the men around the table. She seemed glued to the floor, blocking the man’s escape from the booth, as a pool of coffee spread toward the edge of the table and headed for the trucker’s lap. The white noise of dishes and people talking created an odd buffer that enveloped June in a protective bubble for a brief moment.
“Move outta my way!” The trucker shoved his shoulder against June’s hip, forcing her to step back. He slid out of the booth just as the brown liquid welled up on the table’s rim, broke and cascaded over the edge. The steaming coffee hit the indentation where the trucker had been sitting and sent splatters up the back of the seat. June watched it ooze its way across the front of the red leather seat, gravity pulling it toward the floor.
“Yeah. That’s just great, Doll.” The trucker gestured behind her, wiping his hands on his pants. “You gonna wipe that up, or what?” He was working himself into a full-blown rage and his tone snapped June out of her daze.
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” June knew her apology would never be enough.
“Where’s the owner? I wanna see the owner!” The trucker bellowed, silencing the other customers and embarrassing everyone but himself. The smug look on his face told June he could be every waitress’s nightmare.
What welled up now were the tears in June’s eyes. She fought them back, knowing they would only serve to fuel his tirade.
“What’s wrong with you, Gal? You actin’ like you ain’t never waited tables…or flirted.” He added the last with a sneer. “I know you been around the block, Honey, so don’t play coy with me.” He obviously wasn’t accepting the spilled coffee as an accident. June’s slight had set him on a course of revenge, the scorn in his voice escalating.
“Give it a rest, Harvey,” one of his tablemates tried to calm the little man down with some camaraderie, “it was an accident. Wipe yer pot belly off and sit down.” Harveyglared at him, unappreciative of the joke at his expense, then turned to June.
“I’ll have your job with this kinda service.” He was just plain pissed off now and not backing down for anything.
“And are ye collectin’ jobs now?” Paddy had come out of the kitchen at the commotion and stood with fists on ample hips, looking at the wet mess, remnants of breakfast, angry customer and June.
“Yer girl tried to burn my jewels off.” Harvey drew himself up to his full five foot five with indignation and Paddy knew where this was going. He sighed and decided to end this before it started. Keeping a disturbance to a minimum was worth a free breakfast.
“June. Git a rag and clean this up.” Paddy barked at her out of the corner of his mouth and June gratefully scurried away.
“Would ye like another breakfast – on the house, of course?” By the mostly empty plate Paddy figured the man should be full, but the offer would exhibit good intentions on his part.
Harveyhesitated for a moment, smarter than he looked, and winked slyly at his two companions.
“Yeah. Yeah, but I want it to go…..and I ain’t payin’ for this mess here.” He stood back and bobbed his head at the table, then added, “and I want my friends’ bill taken care of, too.” He crossed his arms over his chest, legs apart, in a challenge stance.
Paddy sighed, “Done.” Paddy knew when to cut his losses and headed back toward the kitchen before the man could insist on ‘breakfast to go’ for his friends, too. Hell, he might insist on the whole damn Diner eating free at the rate this was going.
The men smoked by the jukebox near the door while June cleaned up table five, ignoring them as best she could. Every once in a whileHarveywould point toward June and the men would snigger. She willed Paddy to hurry with the food so they would leave. One of them popped a coin into the jukebox andDinahShore’s voice filled the room with “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” as the men continued to laugh.
“Order up!” Paddy’s familiar voice sounded from the kitchen and June hurried to the pass-through window to wrap the food, placing it in a paper bag for carry out. She set it carefully on the front counter, nodding at the men to come and take it. Harveymade no move. He stood glaring at June, defying her to refuse delivery service.
June swallowed hard, picked up the bag and started around the counter, her eyes downcast.
“I’m headed that way.” A strong masculine hand took the bag from June’s grasp and she looked up, surprised. His eyes. It was his eyes that made Lieutenant Dan so striking. How had she missed those clear blue pools that reminded her of the water she’d seen in tropical paradise vacation photos?
“Thanks.” June smiled gratefully up at the tall handsome soldier who smiled back at her. Then she watched him walk over and shove the bag atHarveywith a look that dared Harvey or his cronies to make more trouble.
Harveysnatched the bag and gave June one last scowl before he and his friends slithered out the door toward the field next door where their trucks were parked.
“Gonna miss those big tippers, eh?” Daniel gave June a wink as he came back and retrieved his uniform cap from the counter, tossing a generous tip in its place. He paused and extended his hand, adding, “Last name’sFairmont, by the way. Daniel Fairmont. I’ll be in town a few days, June.”
June was too dumbstruck to respond, first by his blue eyes and next by his chivalry.
“Sure,” was all she could choke out finally as she wiped her hand on her apron and reached for his, strength and warmth transferring to her in their brief contact.
“Well,” he adjusted his cap and headed for the door, stopping at the jukebox and inserted a coin. He punched two buttons and called over his shoulder, “see you next time, June.” He smiled to himself as the song ‘I’ll be seeing you’ echoed faintly through the door behind him.
“You don’t find many of ‘em like that any more.” Beatrice hung over the counter and winked at June. She’d worked for Paddy for twenty-two years and knew a good man when she saw one.
“No.” June murmured watching through the glass as Daniel Fairmont’s broad shoulders disappeared past the window. “No, you don’t.”
“Ladies!” Paddy yelled, tossing another plate under the warming lamp in the serving window. “The customers won’t be leavin’ ye nothin’ but scraps if ye don’t get to servin’ up this food while it’s still hot.”
June snapped to attention and Beatrice hurried along the counter refilling coffee cups on her way to the window. The air had cleared a little, didn’t seem quite as oppressing to June now. She listened to the jukebox as she set another table and decided maybe it would be a good day after all. June felt like she’d just been hugged, even though Daniel had only shaken her hand.
Her back against the wall, June stood holding her breath and tried to slow her heart to a normal pace. The Methodist church building hadn’t changed much over the years but it felt strange to be standing outside Pastor Carl’s office door like a teenager again. She could hear him rustling papers on his desk around the corner and realized she could still leave without him knowing she’d even been there. She started to edge back along the wall toward the hall exit and stopped dead.
“Come in, June. I’m just finishing up my sermon for this Sunday and need a break.” The pastor’s voice emanated from the room like a disembodied spirit sending chills up June’s spine. She took a deep breath and eased her way back, stepping through the open doorway.
Pastor Carl didn’t look up as he continued to shuffle papers and June relaxed a little.
“Haven’t seen you in church for a while.” Carl said and, realizing too late that church attendance wasn’t a relaxing topic, added, “How is your Aunt?” He looked at June finally and noticed her pallor. Something was very wrong.
“How…how did you know I was out there?” June ignored his question. Maybe Aunt Emma was right about Carl’s divine connections.
Carl smiled and beckoned June toward a comfortable chair across from his desk.
“Sit down, Dear.” He couldn’t contain his amusement. “I saw your reflection in the glass.” He pointed out the doorway across the hall at a large framed picture, then settled back and folded his hands across his expansive middle, waiting for June to share something more pertinent.
June looked in the direction Carl had indicated and saw a huge picture of Jesus Praying in the Garden. Illuminated in the glass was a reflection of the opposite wall with Carl’s office door in the center, and June immediately blamed Jesus for betraying her.
Then she remembered why she had come and slid into the chair, allowing a pencil sharpener in the shape of a miniature church on the front of the desk to capture her attention.
“So why am I blessed with your company today, June?” Carl’s soft voice broke the silence and reminded June of his past support. She could do this, she told herself. She needed to do this.
“I…I need to talk to someone.” June blurted, swallowing the lump in her throat. She tried not to cry as she fidgeted with the handkerchief in her hands, but a small tear escaped the corner of her eye.
June dabbed at the tear as Carl got up, came around the desk and closed the door. On his way back he touched June’s shoulder in a fatherly fashion and then sat in the other padded chair next to her.
“Has something happened, my dear?” Carl’s first thought was of Emma. He worked to maintain a professional approach, all the while praying silently. June hadn’t been to see him in years.
“Yes.” She swallowed again and sniffled, wiping her nose which had started to run.
“What is it, June? Tell me.” Carl leaned forward, resting his elbows on the arms of the chair, hands folded, and thought of his dear Emma. Please let her be all right, he prayed, suddenly fearful that June was the bearer of bad news.
He tried to refocus on June, hoping she had come to ask for rent money from the church’s discretionary fund or some other assistance. He would help her. Despite his concern and love for Emma, he knew she unfairly withheld assistance from her niece.
The room was silent and he could hear the heartbeat of the old Seth Thomas clock ticking loudly on top of the book case. Sometimes it took people a little time to work up to a subject. Carl was a patient man, used to waiting. He’d been waiting for Emma for almost forty years.
Suddenly the dam broke. All the tears June had been holding back, all the anguish and pain burst out in sobs. Along with them the whole ugly story of her date with Ralph spilled forth. She left nothing out. Carl did not interrupt, but the flush creeping up his heavy jowls indicated he was moved by June’s tragedy. When she had sobbed out her last sentence Carl took her hand gently.
“Did you report it to the authorities?” Carl already knew the answer.
“No!” The idea horrified June and she pulled her hand away, fearing she’d made a mistake in coming to Carl.
“No. I don’t want anyone to know. It’s done. Over with. No one needs to know.” She sat miserably, trying to calm down and wringing her hands, then added in a little girl voice, “Do they? I just feel so bad.”
Carl ached in sympathy for her brokenness and put his hand on the arm of her chair, but did not touch her again.
“What can I do to help you, June?” Carl knew June. Knew she was a good girl at heart, and knew she needed a woman to talk with, to lean on.
Then Carl felt both ashamed and excited as he thought of Emma, and what he was about to do. He shrugged his shoulders, feeling his Angel Conscience chastising him for being self-centered while his Devil Conscience complimented him on his two-fold idea.
“June, I think you should move back in with your Aunt. She’s alone in that big house and it would be good for both of you.” Carl decided to jump right in.
June looked at him as if he had turned into a Dance Hall girl. Pastor Carl knew that she and her Aunt were at odds and had not even spoken in months. Emma would have no compassion for June’s indiscretion with Ralph.
“Emma doesn’t have to know about Ralph. Not right now.” Pastor Carl gave June a knowing look.
June shivered. It was as if he could read her mind but she nodded in acknowledgment, clinging to a ray of hope for the first time since Ralph had abused her.
“Let’s just work on repairing relationships and building self esteem right now, ok? I know you’re a good girl, June.” The pastor’s positive attitude was encouraging.
In that instant June knew she could count on Pastor Carl. His willingness to show her a little human kindness confirmed his sainthood in June’s book. June didn’t know why Emma refused Carl’s attentions, but June knew she did not want to end up alone like her aunt.
Drying her eyes June nodded at Carl, squaring her shoulders.
“I’m not exactly Aunt Emma’s favorite person, you know.” She didn’t have to remind Carl of the challenge Emma presented.
“Well,” Carl spoke slowly, his emotion difficult to hide, “neither am I.” His shoulders slumped and June felt both sorry and angry at the way her Aunt treated him. Emma had been stringing him along for years and he never gave up. June admired his tenacity. She and Carl had a lot in common.
“Maybe we could help each other get on Aunt Em’s good side.” June waited tentatively to see if her presumptuousness had offended him. Maybe he had given up.
Carl beamed at her.
“Yes. Yes, we could, my dear. Two against one.” Carl slapped the arm of the chair twice gently.
June was relieved to see that Carl hadn’t lost his sense of humor and could use her help, too. He reminded her of a puppy waiting for a treat with his new found enthusiasm. She reached out and patted his arm this time.
“Moving to the house isn’t going to work though.” The concern on June’s face told Carl not to push too hard or expect too much for now.
“Just to reconcile with Emma would be a comfort, don’t you think?” Carl wasn’t sure if he was referring to June’s comfort or his own, but this goal seemed to empower them both.
“Well, June said. Neither of them could lose what they never had.
“I’ll be calling on Emma with church business next week. I can bring your name into the conversation then. Appeal to her Christian charity, or duty maybe. I’ll think of something, June. We’ll get her thaw out.” Carl turned red, not meaning to imply Emma was cold, but he’d already spent close to forty years courting this woman, making no progress.
Poor Carl, June thought. She must help him, help Aunt Emma. There had to be some real love in the world. If not in her life, then for Carl and Emma. Carl had a way of bringing out the best in people. Always inspiring them to help others, it was time he became the beneficiary of some help.
June no longer focused on herself, or Ralph, and she felt lighter. The idea of matchmaker appealed to her. She had accepted Carl’s mission.
Ralph, Johnny, Chick and Max sat drinking coffee at table five while June busied herself with stacking dirty dishes. They’d been there for over an hour and she’d avoided eye contact with Ralph so far. She just wanted them to leave, and they would be soon. Going far away. They shipped out forEuropetomorrow and June would be glad to see them go.
The door to the Diner opened and the Lieutenant surveyed the room for a seat. Spotting the Boys at table five he walked to the back of the Diner and they scrambled to stand at attention as he approached.
“At ease, Boys. Please sit down.” Daniel took off his cap and placed it beneath his arm. “We’re not on duty. Just here for a friendly cup of coffee.” He stood expectantly but no one said anything or asked him to join them.
“Well,” Dan took a step backward, “carry on, Men.”
June was at his elbow in an instant. “I have a seat at the counter open and a nice hot cup of coffee with fresh apple pie if you’re interested.” She smiled up at him and put her hand in the crook of his elbow, giving a little tug and he followed her to the counter.
“Looks like the Lieutenant is muscling in on your territory there, Ralph.” Johnny nodded toward the counter and Ralph’s gaze followed with a frown.
“Yeah. He can have her. Used goods go cheap, you know.” Ralph lightened up and winked at the others with a crooked smirk. Johnny jumped in, not wanting to lose out on a little gossip.
“Used goods, eh? So you scored on Friday? Way to go, Ralphie!” Johnny put his thumbs into his armpits and puffed up his chest in a bragging maneuver that got Chick nudging him to stop. An older couple in booth four were looking at them and shaking their heads disapprovingly.
Ralph glanced over at the Lieutenant again, just as June slid a nice big slice of fresh pie in front of him, and tried to think of some other way he could show June who was boss. Who did she think she was, flirting with a lieutenant anyway? She’d never do better than Ralph once in a while and she should know it.
Ralph got up and strolled toward the jukebox, keeping an eye on the counter. He dropped a coin into the slot, pushed the buttons for “Shoe Fly Pie” andDinahShore’s voice rang out across the Diner. He sauntered back toward the Boys, going indirectly near the counter and June. When he got close, Ralph sidestepped and put his arm around June’s waist in a familiar fashion, pecking her on the cheek like the kiss of Judas.
“So Baby, you gonna miss me when we ship out tomorrow?” His eyes dared her to challenge him as she looked into them for the first time since the night he had raped her.
“Go away, Ralph.” Her eyes bore into his in defiance, but he finally won as she dropped her gaze first, cheeks burning.
“Whatsa matter, Junie – your heart breaking? I’ll be back.” Ralph wanted Dan to see her for what she was, broken and used….and belonging to him.
The Boys sat in the booth, watching Ralph stake his claim and Johnny let out a whistle in admiration.
“I think the lady said to go away.” Dan set down his cup firmly. June’s reaction indicated she obviously didn’t belong to Ralph and it shed a whole new light on Dan’s options.
“Lady? I don’t see no lady anywhere.” Ralph had gone too far and he immediately knew he’d made an enemy.
“If we weren’t in uniform, Soldier, I’d ask you to step outside.” Dan’s tone reflected authority now and Ralph knew he was in trouble. The Lieutenant stood up, towering over Ralph and pulled rank by facing him full on. They were no longer just guys having coffee. Ralph snapped to attention and saluted, holding the pose as Dan took his time to return the sign of respect for the uniform, but not the man in this case.
The room was silent and the blood crept up Ralph’s neck. It was all he could do to keep from slugging the Lieutenant outright, but he knew the consequences. Thirty days in the brig didn’t sound like a good way to go off leave. Then he’d probably end up in a different unit, too. Lose Johnny, Chick and Max having his back. He stood for a full thirty seconds as the entire Diner stared at him. Finally the Lieutenant dismissed him, but not his attitude.
“Straighten up, Soldier. As you were.” Dan nodded toward the Boys and Ralph scurried over, sliding into the booth without further comment. Chick leaned over and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Geez, Ralph. You don’t wanna make an enemy of an officer. What were you thinkin’?” He sat back having stated the obvious and nobody said anything until Ralph threw a bill on the table.
“I’m leavin’.” He headed toward the door as the others scrambled to follow, careful to give a wide berth to the lieutenant and June.
After they left June busied herself wiping the counter, too embarrassed to continue their conversation, but Dan took her elbow gently.
“I guess you and Ralph aren’t as tight as everyone seems to think.” He tried to read her expression and went on. “Lucky for me. I was disappointed when I heard you might be spoken for.” Dan smiled and the dimple in his right cheek creased slightly reassuring June.
“No. We’re anything but together.” June shook her head to emphasize her words and blushed.
“Well then, Miss June,” Dan hesitated for a moment as if weighing his next comment while June waited until he asked, “would you mind if I wrote to you?”
June didn’t know what to say. This handsome lieutenant was actually interested in her and June’s heart skipped a beat at the thought.
“Order up!” Paddy yelled from the kitchen window, glaring directly at June.
“I have to get back to work.” June headed toward the window and picked up two plates from under the warming lights and looked back over her shoulder. “I’d be honored to support our military with a soldier for a pen pal…Dan.” As his name rolled off her lips June’s heart skipped a beat. She went off to serve the customers in booth two with Paddy still glaring at her, but she no longer noticed him.
Dan left money for the pie, coffee and a huge tip and headed for the door with an unmistakable spring in his step. At the door he stopped, fished a coin out of his pocket and dropped it into the jukebox. As he disappeared through the door the Diner buzzed with the sound of dishes clinking and conversations in progress, but all June could hear was ‘I’ll be seeing you’ coming from the jukebox.
World War II was becoming very real for June. She couldn’t bear the thought of Dan being over in Europenow, in mortal danger. His letters would be all she’d have for assurance that he was still alive. That he would be seeing her again.