I glanced up from my spot at the corner of the diner as the bell above the door jingled merrily as a happy looking couple made their way towards the counter. Their light voices were heard clearly through the humid air. They were young, I observed, especially the girl, who looked miniature next to the muscly, well-built cowboy who was obviously her beau.
"C’mon, Timothy!" The girl pulled at the cowboy’s arm. "We have to hurry. Ma’maw is gonna be awful upset if we’re late to help her catch crawdaddies." Her not naturally black hair danced around her petite face in a flattering fashion as she bounced up to order, dragging her boyfriend with her.
"Now Jess," I cringed as he put his tattooed arm around her, obsessively. "Calm down, sugar bug. We got time. An’ plus I gotta talk to you ‘bout that, ‘member?" He let his arm drop and slip his hand in his pocket. The girl looked at him confusedly. Timothy bent down ever so slightly and kissed her rather roughly.
My eyes went back to my plate and the paper. I concentrated on reading the newspaper in front of me as I heard them order, gather their food, and walk across the dusty tiled floor to the red upholstered booth across from me.
The cowboy took his hat off and wiped his brow. They set the plates of food on the outdated table and slid into the booth, Timothy purposely knocking into Jess. The girl laughed and shoved the man’s broad shoulder playfully.
Popping a French fry into her mouth, she turned to face Timothy.
"What did ya wanna talk to me ‘bout, Tim? I know crawdaddy fishin’ isn’t the most fun thing to do durin’ a heat wave like this, but Ma’maw needs your muscles to help us with the traps. I’m sure she ‘preciates it." Jess’ eyes were big and genuine and she had a sweet, joyous smile on her mouth.
I watched as a fat, lazy fly buzzed around the cowboy’s head, creating an unwanted annoyance in the tense moment. Timothy let out a sigh.
"Listen, Darlin’ I know your Ma’maw needs help and your dad is always too busy to help her. I can help some other time, but I’m tired of bein’ pushed ‘round by her. Plus, some of the guys and I were gonna go down to the lake and go swimmin’ today."
The girl’s face fell.
"But, Tim… You told her you’d be there. She’s ‘spectin’ us to be there in half an hour. By this time she’ll have the traps pulled out and ready to load into the truck."
I looked back to my wrinkled newspaper, grimacing at the boyfriend’s obvious priorities and selfishness.
"I know, hun. I said I’ll do it another time. I have better things to do, okay?"
I couldn’t help but glance back over to the table where Jess was trying hard to look brave. Timothy placed a hand under her chin and lifted her face towards him.
"Hey, babe, don’t be so down. You don’t even like crawdaddies anyway. How ‘bout you ditch the old lady and come with us to the lake. I know how much you love the water."
The saddened girl shook her head.
"No, Tim. You run along and have fun, but I can’t go. I should go home and go help Ma’maw put away the traps."
I watched in suspense, hoping the boy would have a change of heart or have some sense knocked into him, one of the two. To my great displeasure all he did was shrug and grab his bag of food before hurrying towards the door. I wanted to get up and slap the boy, make him apologize to the lonely girl he left, and force him to catch crawdaddies all night long.
I sat there, stroking my white beard and shaking my head in disbelief. Slowly and carefully I folded up my newspaper, trying to read the emotions Jess was displaying. It almost looked like she was afraid. I tucked my neatly folded newspaper under my arm, grabbed my weatherworn cane, and made my way over to the girl’s booth. I smiled widely and nodded at Jess when she noticed me.
"Hello dear, may I sit with you for a moment?" Jess smiled, her eyes still filled with sorrow and a hint of fear.
" ‘course ya can."
I nodded my thanks as I sat down on the other side of the sticky red booth. After a few moments of awkward silence I spoke up.
"I couldn’t hope but overhear your conversation about your grandmother. I’m sorry your beau isn’t going to help you."
The girl looked up at me shyly.
"Yeah me too, but that’s okay. He’ll help another day and I know he loves me, so it’s fine."
I took a deep breath of musty, hot air.
"Beg my pardon, but it didn’t sound like he loved you to me."
Jess laughed rather tensely.
"Timothy loves me very much. He tells me constantly."
I looked intensely into her eyes.
"Is that what love is? Just a few words? It seems to me, love is a bit more than that."
Jess turned her head away, looking past my abandoned table, out the large smeared window, onto the busy street. I continued.
"Jessica, what do you think love means?"
Her gaze tore from the window and met mine in a blank stare.
"I ‘spose love is bein’ there when someone needs ya the most, right?"
I chuckled lightly.
"Close, my dear, close." I looked into the air in a thoughtful expression. "Where I’m from, Jessica, love simply put is laying down one’s priorities for someone else’s. It’s being selfless and dying to your own desires." I looked back at the girl who was listening with full attention. "How I saw your cowboy acting towards you earlier was not love."
Jess nodded sorrowfully.
"Everything you’re sayin’ makes perfect sense. Tim will come ‘round. He just had plans is all."
"However, leaving you and your grandmother against his word was not selfless. He was putting himself before you."
We both looked up as the bell jingled loudly and Timothy came rushing through the glass door. He came hustling over to the booth.
"I forgot my hat." He managed to mumble, slightly winded.
Jessica reached down and took the worn hat that had been sitting on the red seat beside her. Timothy shot me a glance, but didn’t say anything.
She slowly rose from her seat and timidly walked over to Timothy, his hat in her small hands. He wasted no time in trying to take the hat from her, but she didn’t let it go.
"What’s goin’ on, babe? I gotta go. I’m late already." Timothy said in a hurried, uncaring tone. I spectated as Jessica took a deep breath and said;
"You don’t love me, Tim." She looked like she might cry at any moment.
I was anxious to see what Timothy would do with this reaction from his submissive girlfriend. He shook his head.
“‘course I do, darlin’. I tell ya all the time, don’t I?”
"But that’s just it. Tellin’ me doesn’t mean nothin’. Love, Tim, is puttin’ someone else before yourself and that has to be done, not said."
Timothy laughed, clearly not getting how heartfelt Jessica just was with him.
"I’m serious, Timothy. Show me ya love me and come help Ma’maw like ya promised." The girl was shaking and was obviously not accustomed to being this assertive. The humid air felt almost suffocating, making the moment still more uncomfortable.
Timothy put his arm around the dumbfounded Jessica and kissed her quickly.
"Silly girl, I love ya, but I gotta go. We’ll talk about this later." With this remark Timothy took his hat out of her limp hands and rushed out the door.
Jessica turned back towards me and sadly sighed and gave me a small smile.
"I’ll talk to him later ‘bout it. Until he can show me he truly loves me, I’ll take a little break from spendin’ so much time with him." I gave her a comforting smile.
"That’s progress, dear. Well done."
She turned away and faced the window.
"Thank you for showing me what true love meant. I never knew what it was like to be…hey… where did you go?" Jessica looked around but only saw a few words written in ketchup on the edge of her plate, John 15:13.