The man in the booth at the far end of the diner looked tired. He had faint circles under his eyes and looked generally scruffy, as if he had been working for days with no sleep. Eloise had seen other people with this look before but it seemed to make people more intimidating. Something about this strange man was oddly comforting. She liked the way he leaned over the table, writing feverishly into a thick black leather bound book. She stood by the door, watching him as he took his mug of coffee and sipped, still writing.
"Is there anything I can do for you hon?" A blonde waitress had walked over and was standing in front of Eloise. She wasn't old and she wasn't young. She had the ageless quality of a person who had seen more of life's hardships than she should have. Eloise knew this look well too. It was one she saw every morning on her face.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" The waitress repeated, not exactly impatiently but clearly not liking the loitering. Eloise looked back at the man.
"I'm meeting someone. He's just over there." Eloise waved her hand in the general direction of the man who, luckily, hadn't noticed her yet.
"You and about everyone else who comes in. Do you want anything?" Clearly the others who came to see the man were not good tippers. "Sure, I'll have a slice of apple pie with ice cream." Eloise knew what it was like to live on tips.
"Sure thing. I'll bring it right out." The waitress disappeared behind the counter and Eloise cautiously walked over to the booth at the end.
"I hear they serve a great pastrami sandwich," she said, repeating the words she had been taught. The man looked up from his writing and motioned for her to sit.
"You're right on time Eloise. Please, sit down." Putting his book on the seat next to him he gave her his undivided attention. She took a big breath and began.
"They tell me you can help me." Her hands were shaking and she quickly clasped them so he wouldn't notice. Before she could continue the waitress brought her pie and a fork. Eloise thanked her and picked up the fork, taking a bite of the warm pie.
When the waitress was out of earshot the man responded. "I can help you. What do you need?" His voice was calm, even, as if he dealt with semi-panicked people every day. The more she thought about it the more Eloise was convinced this was actually the case.
"I'm tired," she began, "I'm physically and emotionally exhausted. I live my life in a daze. I go to work and I sleep. I'm…alone. What I want is to be unable to feel the pain that fills my life."
"I assume you mean physical and emotional pain?" is all he says, not put off by her somewhat ridiculous request. Eloise nods, finding herself unsurprised by his question. He picks up the book, hiding it from her eyes, and leafs through it.
"If you want to be free from pain, emotional and physical, a man needs to fall in love with you." He closes the book firmly.
"A man needs to fall in love with me? But, how is that a task for me?" She asked, confused. When they told her about the man her friends had told her about the deal. You ask for something you want and the man tells you what you have to do to get it. This seemed different.
"That's the deal. For a man to fall in love with you I imagine you'd have to do something. Men in reality don't fall in love with women for nothing, not real love." Eloise went back to eating her pie, thinking. The man was watching her, seeing her reaction.
"Well," she said finally, "I'll do it. I'll get a man to love me. It isn't as if I don't want a man to love me. I just don't know how."
"The how is up to you. All I can promise is that if a man falls in love with you you won't feel pain again. All I ask of you is the details, the how you decide on."
"You want to know exactly how I go about seducing a man?" Eloise felt a little put out by this request. It was her business what she did with men, even if she wasn't outgoing or adventurous.
"That and why you want what you do. I want your story. I want to know what makes you who you are." His serious expression betrays no emotion, no indication of thoughts.
Eloise nodded. "I'll be back. There will be something to tell then." She stood up, leaving a ten dollar bill on the table. It is far more than the pie cost and she heard the waitress exclaim as she walked out the door.
"I don't know where to meet a man, not one who would love me. I've tried starting conversations in places I feel comfortable, like the library. They haven't led anywhere." She sighed. Two weeks had passed since her first meeting with the man. Now, once again, she sat in front of him, a hot cup of tea and a poppy seed muffin in front of her.
He took a sip of his coffee before jotting something in his book. "So, you've tried to meet a man, any man, but failed. You haven't found the how yet. Care to tell me about the why?" His pen was poised over the white page, ready to record her words, the tragic backstory that had made her who she was.
"When I was young, in high school, I got sick. It wasn't the kind of sick that people could understand. I was tired and in pain. Sometimes in class I would have such an intense shock of pain that I would shout. I was given detention more than once for 'causing a disturbance'.
"No one believed me. The doctors I saw told me there was nothing to worry about. 'You look fine,' they'd say, 'it's probably just growing pain.' I would sit in my room in the dark at night, praying I wouldn't die. It suddenly seemed more possible.
"Eventually I found a doctor who took me seriously. I was in college by this time. She did a blood test and found that I had an autoimmune disease, something rare but not fatal. I found out I had an incurable disease with very few treatments.
"When I got out of college I took the first job I could find that allowed sick time and had good insurance. Never mind that I hated it, I needed the health coverage. I never made any friends because of my disease. I never felt up to doing anything the other people my age wanted to do so I was never asked to join them.
"So that brings me up to today. I'm still in a job I hate. I'm still sick. I still carry emotional scars from being alone. I just want an end to the pain I've been experiencing for over eight years and can look forward to experiencing for the rest of my life."
She felt relieved after telling him this. It was something she hadn't completely told anyone, not that she'd had anyone to tell. Eloise looked up from her hands. The man's face hadn't changed.
"Do you think that the pain leaving will make you happy? Will it really change anything?" His question seemed more like a writing prompt than the answer to her life story.
"I don't know. I have thought about it. If the pain is gone I figure there could be two outcomes." This wasn't a theory she ever wanted to share with anyone. Often she thought about what she would tell a friend, if she had one. Something about the man made her want to tell him her deepest secrets.
"Oh?" was the only further prompting he supplied. Eloise was a little disappointed. If she was going to spill her soul the least he could do was feign interest.
"Well," she continued, "I could either be happy, free to do what I couldn't because of pain, or there would be a void, some kind of nothingness where the pain was. The possibility of this scared, scares, me but I decided it's worth the risk. Even nothingness without pain seems better than now."
*The concept of these segments was derived from The Booth at the End, a short internet series. I figure I've written just about everything else on here I might as well include some fan fiction. So, hopefully this was enjoyable (at least as much so as it could be). More to come!