âCUPPA JOE!â Laverne called out toward the kitchen. âHow do you like it, handsome?â
âBlack,â Flip replied.
âNO COW!â Laverne shouted.
âHey, can I ask you something?â I said.
âWell, youâre a little young to be wantinâ my telephone number,â she replied, glancing at Flip.
âNo,â I said. âWhere are we? I mean, what town?â
âHon, youâre right outside the beautiful town of Spartanburg, South Carolina.â
âAnd itâs 1942, right?â I asked.
âLast time I looked,â Laverne said. âSay, you donât get out much, do ya? Iâll be right back with your drinks.â
Laverne left and I kicked Flip again.
âDid you see the way she was looking at you?â I asked. âShe likes you, Flip. Sheâs flirting!â
âDonât be silly. Waitresses just smile like that to get good tips.â
âYeah, but after we track down Satchel Paige, you should ask her out on a date.â
âStosh, I donât even know her!â
âWell, thatâs how youâll get to know her,â I insisted.
I heard a noise outside, so I looked out the window.A bus had pulled up. The words âHomestead Graysâ were painted on the side.
It wasnât long before Laverne came back with our drinks.
âMy friend Flip here says youâre the prettiest girl heâs ever seen,â I told her.
âI did not!â Flip exclaimed.
Laverne smiled. âYouâre pretty cute yourself, Flip.â She giggled. âHow old are you?â
âSeventy-two,â Flip replied.
âHahahaha! Heâs joking!â I said. âFlipâs eighteen. What a kidder!â
âWell, it just so happens that Iâm gonna be eighteen in a couple of days myself,â Laverne said. âWhat do you do, honey?â
âFlipâs a baseball player,â I said. âHeâs thinking of trying out for the Dodgers.â
âStosh!â Flip yelled.
âOh, too bad,â Laverne said. âDaddy wonât let me go with a ballplayer. He says theyâre low class.â
âLow class?â I said. âBaseball players make millions of dollars a year.â
âWhat planet are you from?â Laverne asked.
I glanced up at Laverneâs father in the kitchen. He was shooting dirty looks in our direction. Laverne winked at Flip and said she had to take care of another table.
Flip and I were sipping our drinks when I noticed that the diner had suddenly grown quiet. Nobody was talking. Silverware stopped clickingagainst plates. Nobody was eating. Everybody was looking toward the front door.
An African American kid had just walked in. He looked like he was about my age.
I peeked out the window at the bus parked at the curb. Inside the bus windows, I could see a bunch of black guys. It looked like they were wearing baseball caps.
The kid walked up to the lady at the cash register.
âIâd like to order twenty hamburgers, please,â he said.
Laverneâs father rushed out of the kitchen.
âIâm sorry, sonny,â he said, âbut we canât help you. Ainât nothinâ personal, you understand. You can use the bathrooms out back if you need âem.â
The kid lowered his head for a moment. It looked like he might cry. He was probably hungry. He just turned around without a word and walked back to the front door.
I got out of my seat and caught up with him before he could leave.
âHey,â I said. âWhereâs your mother?â
âAinât got no mother,â he told me. âMy momma died the day I was born. Daddy takes care of me.â
He pointed toward the bus, which was still outside. Then he opened the door and left the diner. When I went back, Flip was standing at the cash register.
âIâd like to order twenty hamburgers,â Flip said to Laverneâs father.