Livia walked into Ray’s Café and trembled. A sea of Orchideans
peered up at her.
“Good morning, Miss Livia!” Cornelius shouted, startling Gaia,
who began to cry.
A bear burst out of the kitchen; a bear in a blue apron. “Who’s
frightening the tiny baby?”
“I didn’t mean to!” Cornie pleaded.
Livia stared at them, blinking away tears.
“Stop it, the both of you,” Jones Fredark growled. “You’re making
“Are you crying?” Ray peered down, his voice a horrified whisper.
“No, no! I’m not,” the tears streamed. “I’m not crying.”
“You made her cry.” Cornelius accused Ray.
“I did not!” Ray yelled. Gaia howled. “I did not,” he whispered.
“Are we going to get something to eat this morning?” grumped a
voice from the rear.
“Get out!” Ray bellowed. “Out! All of you. Crying babies and crying
ladies and you’re thinking about your stomachs.”
“At a time like this,” admonished Cornelius.
“Don’t go!” Livia sobbed. “How can I wait on you if you go
The men who were leaving froze.
“She’s right,” Cornelius said to Ray.
“Yep. She’s right. Can’t do no waitressing if there’s no one to wait
on,” Fredark agreed.
“No,” Livia shook her head and wiped at her wet cheeks.
Ray scowled, “Alright, sit down.”
The men hesitated, looking at each other.
“Sit down, I said!”
Gaia hiccupped and wailed again.
“Shush, shu-shu. Hushaby, Gaia-baby. I’ll be quiet.” Ray held his
fingers to his lips. “We’ll all be quiet.”
“Sit down and shush up,” Cornelius hissed.
“Oh!” Ray beamed. “She likes that. Say it again, Cornie.”
“Sit down and shush up.”
Gaia pealed with laughter.
“How can we order breakfast if we have to be quiet?” asked a voice
from the back.
Livia and Cornie looked at Ray. He held up his hands. “I know.
One at a time, very quietly, you tell Miss Livia here what you want to
eat and she’ll come tell me.”
“Seems simple enough.” Cornie led the nodded assents.
“We’ll start with you, Lefkin. What do you want for breakfast?”
Livia smiled at the man.
“Three eggs, over easy, a side of bacon, biscuits, grits, coffee and a
Livia looked at him, trying not to panic. She walked back to Ray.
“Lefkin wants —“
“No, don’t tell me here. Tell me in the kitchen.” He took her arm.
They walked through the hall and into the kitchen, past the sinks,
beyond the pots of bubbling grits and the oven filled with baking
biscuits to the grill which lined the back wall.
“Now, Miss Livia.”
“Good morning, Mr. Ray.” She grinned. Gaia cooed. Ray’s eyes
shone. “Lefkin wants eggs.”
“And how did he want them?”
“On the side.”
Ray tilted his head. “On the side?”
“And bark gum.”
“Bark gum? You mean tree sap?”
“Yes.” She drew a deep breath, trying to remember.
Ray smiled patiently. “Did he want pancakes to go with his tree
“Pancakes? What are pancakes?”
“Tain’t never had pancakes before? They’re fluffy flour and milk
fried on a skillet. I sprinkle them with cinnamon and powdered
“That sounds good.”
“Sometimes I drizzle berries on top.”
“Would you like some?”
Her stomach growled. Then her nose wrinkled as Gaia made
grunting noises. “Oh. I have to take Gaia outside to change her.”
Ray took a step backward. “Reckon.”
When she returned, there were five platters of food ready to be
delivered. Livia tucked Gaia into the crook of her left arm and picked
up one platter. It took her a moment to figure out how to back through
The men cheered her.
“Here you go, Lefkin.”
“Oh,” Lefkin looked at the men seated with him. “Pancakes.”
“And bark gum,” Livia beamed.
It took her quite a while to deliver each platter, but eventually,
every man at Lefkin’s table had a plate. She smiled at them and they
sheepishly grinned back. Then the sound of soft grumbling drew her
attention to the other forty-five tables filled with hungry men.
Ray came into the hall balancing four platters and deposited them
at the next table.
“I didn’t order this,” a smallish man complained.
“Yes, you did.” Ray assured him.
“But, I don’t like pancakes.”
“I do,” Fredark piped up. “I’ll trade you my sausages for your pancakes.”
Ray touched her elbow. “There’s more plates to be delivered.”
“Oh! I liked how you carried more than one plate at a time. Can
you show me how to do that?”
“Reckon. But you’d do a might better using both hands.”
“I’ll help. I hate pancakes. I mean,” Cornie reached for Gaia. “I’ll
As she was pulled away, a slimy trail of syrup continued to connect
her to Livia’s shirt.
“Why aren’t you wearing an apron?” Ray asked in a disapproving tone.
“I don’t have an apron.” Livia’s voice trembled.
“No worries, Livia. We’ll fix you up.” Ray reached behind the door
and presented her with a maroon piece of fabric with strings.
“How does it go?”
“This goes here.” He pressed the fabric against her chest and then
realized where his beefy fingers were. “Um. Here. You hold it up. And I’ll,”
he pulled two strings away from the top and tied them behind her head.
“Sorry. Caught your hair. It’s beautiful — your hair.” He took a step
closer, his hands still behind her head.
“Oh Ray, you beast! Thank you!” a voice catcalled from the onlookers.
“And you tie these behind you.” He reached behind her back.
They both released the apron and it fell to the floor.
“It’s huge.” Livia bent to pick it up.
“It fits me just fine.”
“She’s a dainty thing, Ray-boyo. It won’t fit!” someone shouted.
“It’ll fit just fine,” Ray growled.
The crowd cackled, nudging and winking at each other.
“What if we wrapped it around me?” Livia pulled the sides behind
and around to the front and tied it. The string still streamed to the floor.
“Here.” Ray pulled the strings behind her and with her in his arms,
Livia liked the way she felt in his arms. He wasn’t much taller than
her, so when she tilted her head up, they were nose to nose. “I like the
way you smell.”
His hands stilled and he looked at her mouth.
“Am I all done up now?
“Hmmm.” He liked the way her lips moved when she spoke.
“That’s it; I’m going to Nuffers to eat!” a voice groused.
“Wait!” Livia turned to them. “Wait. I can do this. Don’t go. Just
give me a chance. Just sit down. Lefkin, can you ring up their bills
since you’ve finished eating? Fredark, you put a carafe of coffee on each
table. Ray, you go start cooking and I’ll bring out the plates.”
Most of the men got their breakfasts by the time the lunch crowd
began to enter Ray’s.
Cornie came into the kitchen and had to shout over Gaia’s squalling.
“She won’t stop crying!”
“Did you try singing?” Ray asked.
“Dry as whiskers.”
Livia sighed. She knew exactly what was wrong. Her nipples had
begun to leak as soon as Gaia started crying. “She’s hungry.”
“Well,” Cornelius handed the infant to her mother. “Great place to
be hungry. Café and all.”
Gaia clutched at Livia’s apron.
“Oh.” Cornie paled.
“How do I — where do I?”
Ray blushed. “Oh.”
She was yanking at the strings behind her. “I can’t untie this.”
“I’ll help.” Ray embraced mother and child.
“Sorry.” Ray squirmed. “I can’t see. You hair is in the way.”
“Let me help.” Cornie stood behind her.
“Don’t hurt her!”
“I wasn’t hurting her, Ray.”
Sally walked into the kitchen to find Livia sandwiched between the
two men. “I don’t mean to interrupt anything.”
The men sprang away from Livia like magnetized poles. Her apron
had two streams of wet running down the front. Gaia was sucking
madly on the greasy maroon fabric. The Earther looked at the Spa’Lab
and burst into tears.
© Evelyn Rainey