She leaned up against the glass. It felt cold on her skin. It was a contrast to the warmth radiating from the cup in her hands. She took a deep gulp and went back to staring through the window’s haze. The sign stared back.
As she breathed, the fog thickened against the pane. It covered everything, until all she could see was red flickering outside. A visage from a bygone era. A slowly dying light. She looked away, unable to face it. Another gulp, another burst of warmth.
An empty cup now greeted her as she looked down. The click of shoes against a plastic lino floor pulled her back into the restaurant. A kind looking man, with a smile that hid wrinkles behind it stood at the ready. Without having to ask, the waiter refilled the cup.
“Could I get you anything else? A slice of pie maybe?” he followed up, looking on expectantly. She mumbled under her breath as she stuffed her hand into her pocket and pulled out a handful of change. It was less than she had hoped.
“Um… not right now,” She trailed off. She thrust the cash back into the hiding hole it had come from as she did. It was all she had, and she had to save it.
“No problem, just call me over if you change your mind.” With that he left, and she was once more alone amongst the other diners. Alone with her view of the sign.
She remembered coming here as a kid, the neon shining bright. It didn’t flicker like it did now. It had been a symbol of luxury. A time of splendour. It’s glow had an otherworldly feeling. She had sat in this same booth everyday after school, not wanting to go home, just wanting to escape into the sign, and all the promise that it had.
Yet the sign faded. The tubes leaked, and glass shattered. It had always been replaced, but each time it was a little worse for wear. Yet the dream remained, of escape to that otherworldly place behind the light. Tonight, with 27 dollars and 20 cents in her pocket, she was unsure whether that place existed at all.
But maybe it didn’t matter how much she had. The sign still glowed, its promise of something better still lingered. Excuses wouldn’t get her anywhere. She just had to jump in. Jumping up from the table she grabbed her coat and left a handful of wadded up bills on the table, before sprinting for the door.
She ducked and weaved through crowds, eventually finding herself at a bus station, ready to buy a ticket out of there. After sliding almost all the money she had through a small slot to a man too bored to care about the smile on her face, she was ready to go. She showed her ticket and found her way to her seat, falling into it’s comforting embrace.
She sat awake on that bus for a while, pumping adrenaline keeping her sharp. She thought about whether she should call anyone when she got to wherever she was going, but after a few seconds decided that there was no one worth ringing. The thought was oddly freeing.
She was still awake when dawn broke with a brilliant orange light. She felt like she was finally on her way home.
Things had to change, and she couldn’t keep wishing for some magical means of escape. She had to accept the here and now. But that meant working out what to do, here and now. She looked around the diner and suddenly threw her hand into the air, trying to wave down the waiter.
“Changed your mind about the pie, huh?” He said with a smile.
“No… uh, actually I was wondering if you guys were hiring?” She said, only really realising what she was saying as it left her mouth. Her worry proved unfounded as the man somehow found a way to smile wider.
“We are hiring, yeah. Just let me go get my manager.”
A few weeks later she found herself looking out the window at a view she knew well. The neon sign flickered occasionally, but it’s orange light managed to keep going despite everything trying to stop it. She had just finished her shift, and she was closing up. It was then that Hugh, the waiter who had given her the job all those month ago come out with a couple of pieces of pie in hand. They sat down and giggled away as they ate, and it felt like she was home.