Short Story: Enjoy the Poodle Skirt (Part One)

The bedroom light flicked on, and I blinked awake. No storybook sunlight drifted in through the windows, just Aunt Julie standing in the doorway saying a cheery, “Rise and dine!”    Faster than I could squeeze my eyes shut against the light, I remembered where I was and sat up quickly nearly banging my head on the top bunk. Ignoring this, I carefully rolled out of bed, sprang to my feet, and gave Aunt Julie a good morning hug.

She laughed pleasantly. “Wow, you’re wide awake!”

“It’s day one of seven, and I don’t want to miss a moment!”

Since Dad and Mom were having a staycation for homeschool lesson planning, my older siblings and I got to spend the week helping our newlywed aunt and uncle at their vintage restaurant. My little sister Addie had to stay home with a sore throat, and I would miss her as soon as I thought to. For now, I was too anxious for the adventure to begin.

“Rose might take a little more waking up though.”

My aunt and I glanced up towards the pile of blankets and frizzy curls in the top bunk.

Aunt Julie shook her head then turned to me. “Canary, why don’t you and breakfast get acquainted while Rose is waking up. I’ll be down in a bit to explain your duties and give you both uniforms.” She winked giving me hope that the uniforms wouldn’t be ugly. Weren’t uniforms always ugly?

I hurried barefoot down the stairs into the cozy kitchen and opened the most likely cabinet for cereal. Right on the first try! I wondered if the whole kitchen would be this predictable since Mom and Aunt Julie were so alike.

I was crunching cereal in silence kept company by a pile of fluffy kittens that snored nearby in Uncle Chris’ chair, when Rose and our aunt stumbled into the kitchen. Aunt Julie was wide awake, so actually just Rose stumbled. Her hair was branching out in all directions like a wild tree, and her glasses weren’t quite willing to stay on straight; but I doubted I looked any better in purple-striped pajamas.

“Morning, Canary,” she smiled as she poured her own cereal.

I gave her a milky grin.

“So, girls. Your uncle and Michael are over at the restaurant turning on the heater for us so it’s not so frigid when we get there. We aren’t needed until breakfast, so we have a little time to get ready.” Aunt Julie leaned her elbows on the table.

Breakfast?!! I glanced at the clock. We were up early.

Moments later as we crossed the road to the 50’s diner, I recited the restaurant rules in my head one more time.

Rule one: Keep your hands clean.
Rule two: Careful with the food trays.
Rule three: Visit the soda fountain as often as you like,
but don’t make yourself sick.
Rule four: Enjoy the poodle skirt.

I couldn’t decide which of the last two rules was the best. My pink poodle skirt swirled around me, and I grinned at Rose when I noticed she was watching hers. These “uniforms” were better than I could have imagined. Day one was just beginning.

Day two was already filling up with hungry lunchers when I almost threw away a mystery. I had spent the day before at the the soda fountain counter serving banana splits with hot fudge sauce, root beer floats, and ice cream cones with a cherry on top. Most of my customers were too short to see over the counter. That’s when I missed Addie.

I loved the shiny red bar stools, the exciting smell of creamy vanilla, and seeing every customer as they came into the store. Uncle Chris smiled through his beard as he took orders; and Aunt Julie, Rose, and Michael weaved through the tables serving and wiping them. Everyone seemed to move in time to the jukebox music, and I did a few dance steps myself being careful not to spill any soda.

But back to the mystery. My second day I was rotated to wiping tables which compared to ice cream duty was pretty dull. I did run into a lot of ice cream, but it was just melted drips to scrub at. Still, when I glanced up and saw Rose grinning over peanuts and strawberry sauce, I was glad to share.

“How’s it going, Canary?” Michael greeted me as he hurried by with a full tray of heavenly smelling food.

“Super!” My stomach growled; I couldn’t wait for my own lunch.

I scrubbed this table clean just in time for new customers and hurried to clear off the next table before the bell rang again announcing more hungry people. Lunch hour was busy!

Noticing I had left the previous customer’s menu behind, I hurried to grab it and take it to the trashcan. I stopped short. Something was drawn on it! I studied it more closely and saw that it was a map of the area around the restaurant but the place names were nearly gibberish. Maybe it was a secret code! Deciding it was likely important, even if it wasn’t as amazing as my overactive imagination thought, I slid it into my half apron pocket.

“Canary!” Michael called me, and I looked up to see a family waiting near the table I had just cleared.

I hurried to wipe it and blushed an apology.

When the slow hour between lunch and dinner finally came, I took the map out of my pocket and laid it on the counter. Swallowing a bite of my delicious cheeseburger, I said, “Look what I found.”

Rose and Michael leaned over to look nearly upsetting my root beer float into my lap. (Don’t tell anyone, but my poodle applique’s name is Cocoa. I didn’t think either of us wanted a dousing so I moved the soda aside.)

“What is it?” Michael asked. He hadn’t been given a particular uniform, but Uncle Chris had loaned him some hair gel to help him look more vintage. Halfway through the day it had come amusingly unstuck.

Rose adjusted her glasses. “It’s a map of here, all right, down to the winding road I nearly got sick on.”

“Hey, Uncle Chris! Ever heard of Enrith around here?” Michael said.

Uncle Chris set down the chocolate syrup bottle and came over to look. “I think that’s usually called Elsie.”

Aunt Julie stood next to him with her arm threaded through his. Newlyweds.

“Could someone have drawn an old version? Names are always changing.” That was Rose. Good thought.

“He was an older man, so–”

“What did he look like?” I interrupted Michael so suddenly he nearly fell off his stool. “If he’s one of the regulars, we could return it to him and ask what it’s for. But only if we know what he looks like.”

“I can’t remember right now, but I’ll try my best to point him out if I see him again,” Michael said.

“We all will,” Aunt Julie assured me. “I’ll put this in the cash register temporarily so no one spills soda on it by accident.”

She winked and I smiled in gratitude. Was I being silly to think this map was so important? At the very least, it was too well drawn to just throw away.

Michael noisily drank the very last melted bit of his float. Rose and I exchanged amused glances and returned to our hamburgers. I was vaguely aware of our aunt and our uncle hurrying to finish lunch before dinner hour hit. They were pretty slowed down by the newlywedding, and I giggled to myself before focusing on lunch and my mystery.

Day three was Michael’s turn at the ice cream counter. He seemed to enjoy heaping the cones with ice cream and making silly faces at the little kids whenever he plopped the cherry on top; but he had promised to keep eye out for the “map-man”.

Rose was in charge of wiping tables which left me to the very hungry and slightly dangerous job of serving tables. It was all right, though. Aunt Julie helped me, and I only almost dropped a tray once.

That morning all of us (except Uncle Chris and Michael, of course) had put our hair in high vintage-like ponytails, and Aunt Julie joked that we could almost be triplets. I laughed but knew that since my hair was so straight no one would ever confuse Rose and I.

During the slow hour while Rose was reworking her ponytail, I turned to Michael. “See him yet?”

He shook his head. The map-man didn’t come for dinner either.

Read the conclusion here. 😉


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