Note: There are 12 sections to this story that will be posted starting December 26, ending on January 6, the day of Epiphany. “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.
The jingle bells hanging on the restaurant’s front door announced the arrival of Ruby and her grandpa. Thomas yanked open the door of the diner. He shrugged off his jacket, adorned with the eagle emblem depicting the Ripley Village Fire Department where he had spent most of his working days. Ruby, cold, sleepy and grumpy, and didn’t care who knew it, wrapped her jacket around her tighter than ever.
“Good morning, Sunshine!” said Betty to the two damp customers splashing into her diner. She had everything ready for the day. She was especially ready to greet her best friend Tom, an early Saturday morning regular.
“Good morning,” said Ruby. Raindrops hung from the bill of her hat. She didn’t really know, or care, for that matter, which of the two of them Betty was referring to as Sunshine. It was too early for her, plain and simple. But her mom said to be polite.
“Mornin’ yourself,” said Thomas.
“Coffee?” said Betty. Thomas looked sideways at Ruby, relaying the question with a look and a smirk. Ruby rolled her eyes and tugged the bill of the cap down. “Just one, Betty. You know how I like it.”
“How about some OJ for you, Hon?” Betty’s offer was met with a look and a nod.
Betty hustled across the dining room to get Thomas’ coffee and pour a glass of juice. She efficiently took care of the handful of early customers as she went. Betty raised her eyebrows, looked back over her shoulder and said, “So, Tom, who do you have with you there?” Knowing full well who her young, sleepy, unhappy-to-be-here customer was, she ambled back to Tom and Ruby with a tray loaded with orange juice, steaming coffee, a small pitcher of cream and a couple of cinnamon rolls.
“You know Ruby,” he said, “my favorite granddaughter.” Ruby rolled her eyes, which were getting quite a workout that early Saturday.
“I’m your only granddaughter, Grampa!” she said. Tom and Betty chuckled.
Betty squinted at Ruby’s hat. Her glance took in the red dot of paint on the bill. She gave Tom an ah-ha kind of look and said, “Ooo, you got one of the old ones. Vintage, as they say. Red Sox, eh?” Betty put a grimace on her face, then pointed at her own Yankees cap. “Think we can still be friends?” She grinned and gave Ruby a hug that removed any hint of ill will on her part.
Ruby rolled her eyes. She had no clue what vintage meant or what the Yankees had to do with anything. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be friends with this perky lady in the diner. It was too early.
“I got it from my grandpa.” Ruby wasn’t about to admit that she loved that old hat. She remembered Grampa covering his face with it playing peek-a-boo. Then he would cover her feet with it and make them ‘disappear.’ She’d giggle. She was four, or maybe three. She didn’t remember. She loved the hat, red splotch and all, simply because it came from him. And she wasn’t going to say it out loud here to this strange lady, but deep down beneath her damp hat, hair and morning grouch there was no doubt she loved her grandpa.
Ruby fingered the red paint splotch and pulled the bill of her hat down even more. She wasn’t sure she was going to enjoy this early Saturday morning breakfast routine, even if it was with her favorite grandfather.