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My Father's Torch
Julie felt rushed and overwhelmed; she shoved things around the kitchen, in search of something her children could eat for lunch. Oreos, apples, and bread: that’s all they had left in the refrigerator. Sighing, she threw an apple and a slice of bread into a faded brown paper bag, feeling sorry that her children would have to share it during lunch-time. Man, what’s taking them so long, she wondered.
“Jason! Marie! If you guys don’t hurry up, I’m leaving without you!” she yelled from the kitchen sink. The running water was light brown in color, and sometimes she wondered if the water they drank came from the toilet they took a dump in. Glancing every second at her watch, she was scatter-minded, searching for her keys. She called out again to her children and rummaged through some drawers. A moment later, they ran down the stairs.
“I call shotgun!” Jason yelled, as he opened the front door and ran to the car.
“Hey mom, what are you looking for?” Marie asked with curiosity.
“Keys. I forget where I put them yesterday,” Julie replied, frustrated. “Man, we’ve got to get going. Stupid keys. Now we’re gonna be late.”
Marie walked over to the couch and reached under the middle cushion. With a matter-of-factly expression, she revealed the keys and smiled. “Jason hid em’ here last night,” she said, handing the keys over to her mom.
Julie sighed, shaking her head. Her daughter was beautiful, with silky black hair that reached her waist and large eyes the color of emerald. She used to wear colorful dresses and blouses, but ever since their father, Jim, died, she only wore black and dark shades of blue. This depressed Julie, despite how depressed she already was. If only she had the money to buy her daughter the things she deserved, Julie thought with guilt.
“Ah, well let’s get going. I don’t want to be late for work again,” Julie replied, grabbing her purse. Marie picked up the brown paper package and rushed out the door. Julie followed behind her and locked the door shut with a sigh of relief.
It was still dark out, and a full moon was clear in the midnight blue sky. The air was chilly, and as a gust of wind blew against her, small goose bumps rose from her skin. When she started up the engine, she glanced at her watch. 5:58 AM. Twenty-two minutes left.
Greenfield Junior High was only fifteen minutes away. When she arrived at the front of the school, she dropped her children off, and after they said their goodbyes, she speeded toward the restaurant. In a small city like Lueneburg, Germany, Lorenzer Cafehaus, the place she worked at from 6:30 AM till noon, was a popular local restaurant with oldies music and leather booths. It wasn’t very well sanitized, but the people came for the cheap booze and food. And, of course, to talk to the waitresses.
She pulled into the deserted parking lot. Inside, she tied an apron over her uniform and looked around the restuarant. There were a few customers: one old married couple eating breakfast, and a young, blond haired man in a suit and tie sitting by a large window. With a grin, she grabbed a pen, a notepad, a menu, and went over to his booth.
“Hello. Welcome to Lorenzer Cafehaus. Are you ready to order?” It was routine already.
“Yes, ma’am. I’d like some tea and toast. Wheat, please,” he replied, looking Julie in the eye. His eyes were a mixture of hazel and light blue. He was clean cut, and he looked successful. She noticed his bare ring finger, and nodded.
In a couple minutes, she returned with his order. He thanked her, and since the place was practically empty, he invited her to sit and have a chat. She agreed and smiled. He glanced at her name tag, and looked back up at her.
“So, Julie,” he took a sip of his tea and continued, “how are you?”
“Stressed. My kids drive me insane,” she replied with a light laugh. “And you?”
“Same here. I have a young daughter, and all she likes to do is scribble on the walls and shove food in my face,” he laughed, and almost instantly, Julie felt some sort of connection with this man. He was muscular and young looking – maybe in his thirties. He seemed tall; sitting down, he was a head taller than she. He was balding at the front of his head, but besides that, he was handsome. He reminded her of Jim, and almost instantly, she trusted him.
“My husband died a couple months ago. He had a severe brain tumor which we didn’t know about, and by the time we found out, it was too late. Ever since he passed away, everything has been difficult. He was our money-maker and supporter, but now that he’s gone, that job is left up to me. Plus, I’ve got two adolescent children to worry about. I’m working three jobs, one here, one at the library, and one at the grocery store just to make enough to barely survive,” Julie spat out, and right when she said it, she regretted being so open with a man she barely knew. She almost felt horrible for complaining.
But, to her surprise, he looked at her with sympathetic eyes.
“I know how that feels. My wife died in a car accident last year. I went through a deep depression for a long time – maybe six months? She had been a successful journalist, and basically it was her success combined with my up and going business that made us wealthy. But when she died, the success was gone. It was only my child, our new manufacturing business, and me against the world. You wouldn’t even believe what I had to do to make things better. I know you’ll do fine; you seem like a strong woman.”
She stared at him and saw that he was bruising on his hands. His features were strong and bold, and he looked like the hardworking type. She felt inspired.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name,” Julie told him.
“Robert Grace. I’m just here to visit. I manage Grace Industries in New York City. Hey, maybe someday you can stop by and check us out. I may even offer you a job,” he told her with a wink. She giggled.
Moments later, her boss motioned her over and told her that it’ll get busy soon, so she shouldn’t be chatting with customers. She nodded yes and said her apologies, then gave him his check.
He stared at the check as she walked away from his booth. Grabbing a pen from the inside of his blazer, he wrote twenty-five thousand dollars on the gratuity line of the charge slip. On a piece of paper napkin, he wrote:
That is a tip for twenty-five thousand dollars. I hope it helps; use it wisely.
Placing the napkin on top of the check, and then his charge card on top of the napkin, he walked over to Julie and handed it to her. She read the note and stared at him in disbelief, a dazed look in her face. He didn’t know what she must have been thinking at that moment, but he smiled and urged her to charge it. She kept refusing to take the money, so he went to grab the manager and watched as she charged the twenty-five thousand dollars. He hugged Julie, who looked as if she was about to faint with all the breath she was wasting on thank yous, and left with his charge card in his hand and a God-sent happiness spread over his body.
Julie watched the snow fall lightly onto the pavement in front of the restaurant. Dawn was rising, changing the colors of the sky and the mood of the morning from a midnight blue to a sunkist orange and purple. Slowly, cars inched their way down the street, their headlights making the snow glisten.
Julie watched from the window, sitting in the booth that she sat in with the man – Robert, she believed his name was – fifteen years ago. It felt like an eternity. The restaurant, Lorenzer Cafehaus, was slow this morning, as it was most mornings this time of year. Deciding to take a break from her successful law practice, she had nothing planned and just took her sweet time in the restaurant. She thought about the man, and how his balding head caught the dim light. The suit that he wore that day made him look quite professional, and at this thought, she picked off imaginary lint from her business suit. Remembering the struggle she went through to be able to afford a designer suit and being able to live a very wealthy life, she winced and brushed the thought away. Her children were just beginning their lives, starting families and succeeding in their careers. Marie, as a veterinarian, loved her five dogs dearly, and enjoyed their company. Jason, a journalist, was promoted to editor a few weeks ago. Oh, how they made her proud.
“Are you ready to order?” asked a young waitress, interrupting Julie’s thoughts.
“Yes. Uhm, may I please have some eggs and toast on white bread,” Julie replied with a smile. She remembered when she lived her days as a part time waitress at this same exact restaurant.
“Yes ma’am,” she replied, and Julie glanced at her name tag. Beth, was her name.
When Beth returned with Julie’s toast and eggs, they had a chat – chatting was very common in Lueneburg – and enjoyed each other’s company.
Then, without notice, Beth brought up the fact that she works a few jobs now, struggling to pay for her college education and her rent. Julie listened to this young woman speak about what it’s like working twenty-four hours, seven days a week – she confided in her. No one understood her situation better than Julie did.
When Julie’s check arrived, she knew without-a-doubt what had to be done – what the right thing to do would have been. She signed off twenty-five thousand dollars on the gratuity line of the charge slip, attached a napkin confirming that it was the correct amount, and placed her charge card on top of the napkin. She walked over to Beth and handed her the check. Julie smiled humbly when Beth acted stunned and bewildered with the amount of money. Ha, I must have looked like she did when Robert handed me his tip, she thought to herself quietly. After she had convinced Beth to charge the amount, she gave her a hug and wished her the best. Walking out the door, Julie thought, with all honesty, that there was no better feeling than the happiness you received when you know you did something to make another person’s life worth living.
It felt like forever since her encounter with the waitress, when in reality, it was only a week. Julie sat at her office desk, skimming the newspaper. She turned the pages until she got to the editorials. Oh how she loved reading the editorials. She looked over the articles, until her eyes stumbled upon this one story that caught her attention:
To Julie Richardson
by Beth-Ann Grace
As a child, living life was easy. Money never seemed like a problem in my family. When I was four years old, my mother passed away, and that left my dad in charge of everything. He was so hardworking and so persistent – nothing, even working multiple jobs and trying to survive, fazed him. His name was Robert Grace, manager and owner of Grace Industries, and he died of leukemia when he was forty years old. When I was five years old, I would marvel at his balding head and be curious about his bruises. I didn’t understand, at an age so young, that those were the symptoms of cancer. I always thought my dad would live forever; he was my idol.
When he got sick, we had to sell his successful business to pay for all the medical treatments. We tried everything, and eventually we lost everything too. Soon, he was in the hospital, and I was barely surviving on the streets.
I made it through high school, and decided that attending college would be best. So that’s what I did. But unlike most students, I did not have the parents to support me, so my only option was to work multiple jobs.
I’m still a waitress at Lorenzer Cafehaus, and the one day I’ll never forget is the day a very, very generous woman tipped me twenty-five thousand dollars. No, you did not read it wrong.
But it wasn’t only the money that made me joyous. It was something deeper than that.
To Julie Richardson, wherever you are, I want to thank you for your understanding and sympathy. Because of your compassion, I’ll always remember to carry on my father’s torch.