The neon name of the diner flickered. It bathed the street in a soft blue glow, forcing a sense of melancholy on passers-by. It reflected off the wet ground and suggested a mirror diner where things might be better.

Inside, a middle-aged, world-weary waitress in a pale blue dress and coffee stained apron stood behind a counter, off-white and worn. She cleaned the night’s dishes with a trained efficiency: working smart not fast. She’d look up every so often to check on the two men and their coffee cups.

Otis flowed from the speakers at each end of the room. His voice wafted over the booths and created a relaxed yet somehow profound atmosphere.

Seated toward the rear was a man. He sat there smoking his cigarettes and drinking his coffee. It wasn’t anything special, not in terms of coffee, but it was special to him. He sat with his right hand wrapped around the cup and his cigarette sitting lazily between two fingers. It hovered above the white ceramic ashtray.

Over him and his booth a thin haze of smoke hung like a threadbare throw covering a lampshade. It made the woman across from him barely perceptible.

They sat there looking into each other, as if caught in some perfect moment, where only their burning cigarettes and the smiling corners of their mouths could signify any passing of time.

He whispers things to her that he always has. The soft words creep across the space between them and wash over her: how beautiful she is, how he falls into her eyes, how her smile rips through him with pleasure and pain.

She knows it, and she always will.

He stubs out his cigarette and rolls another from his pouch and he sees her do the same. He offers her a light but it’s already lit. She’s already raising it to her lips and dragging on it like she does. He watches her and she becomes more vivid, more real for just a few seconds, then ethereal.

I gotta see to closing, sweetie. You want a re-fill before I do? The waitress surprises him.

No, ma’am. Thank you. He smiles at her, as anyone should.

Well, I need to lock up soon. You just finish up that one and that’ll be fine.

Yes, ma’am.

As she walks away her wake disturbs the haze and the moment wanes. He pulls on the smoke and looks up. Melancholy builds within him.

She’s faded a little and her cigarette’s dying. He stares at her and she’s beautiful, like always. Her smile isn’t forced but he can’t help but think it looks that way.

He stubs his cigarette and puts some cash under the ashtray. She’s still looking at him, the way she always has, always did. He rises and looks at her for the last time that night. Memories come flooding and he breathes in deeply. Her scent finds its way to him from the back of his mind.

He mouths something and makes for the door. He walks and wants to look back but he knows she won’t be there. He doubts she ever was.

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