Chili Parlor

Chili Parlor

Clive had been a high school teacher before he got caught fooling around with one of the cheerleaders whose father was enough of a big shot to get Clive terminated. There were rumors that people other than Clive knew about his pigtailed dalliance but never acted on their suspicions or knowledge. There were all the makings for a ripe scandal, which was avoided by Clive’s quiet arrest and premature departure from the school district’s employ.

Clive’s sentence wasn’t harsh, so he didn’t serve any time. He just got fired from his job as a teacher, while his name made the rounds in the gossip circles before finally landing on the local sex offender list.

After he got fired, Clive got divorced and moved and got a job on the other side of the city – in a bad part of town where hardly anybody would know him. He got a job as manager at the late night chili parlor, giving himself the latest shift, figuring being so far away, in a bad part of town and at odd hours, nobody’d ever know.

Mary started coming around the parlor a few nights a week around midnight. She didn’t know anything about Clive’s past. All she knew was he managed the chili parlor and he seemed okay and he was single. So she and Clive started dating. They’d been at it a few months.

Last week Mary came in to see Clive. She could tell something was wrong.

Clive had been to see his lawyer that afternoon, inquiring if there was any way of getting himself off the sex offender list. His lawyer gave him the unfortunate news that it wouldn’t be possible.

Mary ordered a coney dog. She asked Clive what was the matter.

“Nothing,” Clive said. “It’s just been a rough day.”

“Here?” Mary asked.

Clive paused.

“Yeah,” he said. “Here.”

“Anything you want to talk about? Get it off your chest?”

“No,” Clive said. “There’s no point. All I can do is keep coming in and hope everything will eventually work itself out.”

“Okay,” Mary said. “But I’m here to listen when you need it.”

He’d thought about confessing to Mary. He knew he needed to get it out sometime. And, for the both of them, he knew, the sooner the better.

Mary could tell he was struggling.

“What is it? I can wait until you close if it’s something that needs to wait.”

“No,” Clive said. “I was just thinking, Friday is Sheryl’s birthday. I was going to take her out. Her and her husband. You want to come?”

“Sure,” Mary said. “That’s such a sweet thing and you’re such a good guy, Clive. I’m so glad that I found you.”

Clive had lied to his daughter, Sheryl, telling her he’d already told Mary all about his past.

Clive had told his daughter, “Obviously, it’s a pretty sensitive and delicate subject. But she’s okay with it. Mary’s not happy about it, but she understands. She accepts it, but, it being so sensitive, I’d like to keep it between her and me.”

“Okay,” his daughter had said, having learned a long time ago to never trust her father.

On Friday they all met for Sheryl’s birthday at 30 West Bar and Grille. When Mary got up to use the ladies room, Sheryl followed her.

Alone in the ladies room, Sheryl told Mary, “It’s unfortunate what happened to Dad, you know?”

“I’m not sure I know,” Mary said. “You mean the divorce? I’m sure it was hard on you. Sounds like it was real hard on Clive too.”

“No. The other thing,” Sheryl said. “Dad didn’t want me to bring it up. I just want you to know I respect that you’ve been able to accept it.”

“Accept what?” Mary asked.

“The other thing.”

“What other thing?” Mary asked.

“Dad said you’ve talked about it. I don’t want to make a big deal about it. I said I wouldn’t even bring it up. I just want to say I’m in your corner for accepting it.”

“I think I’m missing something,” Mary said.

“Maybe you are,” Sheryl said. “I’m sorry. Maybe I just put my foot into something I shouldn’t have.”

Concerned, Mary said, “I feel there’s something you should be telling me. Something important.”

“I’ve said enough,” Sheryl said. “The rest you can find out for yourself. That is, if you want to know.”

Mary paused.

Sheryl added, “Of course, if you don’t want to know, then this little conversation never happened.”

Sheryl finished washing her hands. She straightened herself in the mirror before walking out. Mary followed her.

At the table, Clive asked, “What took you so long?”

“We were just talking,” Mary said.

“About what?”

“Just girl talk,” Sheryl said.

The next night, Mary showed up at the chili parlor. She ordered a cup of coffee. Clive sat with her and talked about his day and the night before.

“So what did you talk with Sheryl about in the bathroom?” he asked.

“I don’t remember,” Mary said. “I’ve already forgotten what it was, so it couldn’t have been anything important.”

“You’re a lovely gal,” Clive said. “I’m so glad you and Sheryl seemed to get along.”

“And you’re a lovely man, Clive.”

“I feel like I could start all over with you,” he said. “Start over fresh.”

“Like nothing ever happened before?” Mary asked.

“Yes. Exactly like that,” Clive said.

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