Sometime later…It must have been going for eight o’clock.
There was still daylight coming in through the windows of the restaurant, but it now had a much darker hue. The long twilights of June. They can go on forever, it seems.
I was in another lull in customer action, and I was thinking about my interaction with Banny, of course.
Of what I’d seen.
Or what I’d thought I’d seen.
“Steve? Do you have a minute?”
It was Louis who had spoken up behind me.
I turned around, and saw Louis standing there, as expected.
But he wasn’t alone.
Standing beside Louis was a girl about my age. She was of medium height, svelte, and she had dark brown hair.
She was wearing a McDonald’s uniform.
She had a nice smile. I took in her delicate nose, her dark eyebrows, her brown eyes. All of her.
Diane. Diane Parker. I had been so discombobulated by the visit from “Banny” that I had forgotten all about Diane Parker. The new girl.
“Diane Parker, meet Steve Wagner,” Louis said. “Steve Wagner, meet Diane.”
I managed to compose myself, to put thoughts of the strange visitor—of everything that had happened today—behind me.
This was the way I wanted the summer to be. I wanted to meet new girls. I wanted the summer to be filled with promise. Not with bizarre and unexplainable phenomena.
“Louis tells me you’re his best cashier,” Diane said. She gave me another little flash of that smile. There is nothing like being seventeen and having a girl smile at you like that. Nothing.
“I know a thing or two,” I said.
“Well,” Louis said, “you can show that thing or two to Diane. I’ve assigned her to work with you, so you can teach her the ropes. Tell her everything there is to know—everything that you know—about working a McDonald’s cash register.”
By that time, the cash register crew was down to Jenny Tierney, Diane, and me. The other cashier had already left for the evening.
Jenny Tierney didn’t pay much attention to us. Jenny had already been introduced to Diane, and she didn’t seem very interested in getting to know her. That was just fine with me.
The lull in the customer traffic continued—a small miracle for a Saturday night—and I had the opportunity to talk to Diane about topics that had nothing to do with the nuances of customer service at the Golden Arches.
Diane was, in fact, a senior at South Clermont High School. I asked her about sports and cheerleading, and she mentioned that she didn’t participate in any extracurriculars.
“You must study a lot, then,” I said.
She shrugged. “I guess so. I’m third in my class now. In academic ranking, that is.”
I was taken aback. I had no idea what my class ranking even was. I was no slouch, academically, but nor would anyone have described me as a “brain”. I was slightly above average, grade-wise, but nothing to brag about.
“Have you picked out a college yet?” I asked her. In the 1970s, college was by no means the assumed post-high school destination that it would become in later years. If she was third in her class, however, it was probably safe to assume that she’d be going on to college.
“I’m going to UC,” she said. (Nationally, “UC” most often refers to the University of California. Everyone in that part of the world, though, understood UC to mean the University of Cincinnati.)
“Me, too,” I said. “Have you thought about your major?”
“I’m interested in the medical field,” she said.
“Nursing?” I asked, and immediately regretted the assumptions my guess entailed.
“No. I want to go to medical school. What’s the matter? You don’t think that women can be doctors?”
“Sure,” I said. “Of course. I just—”
“You just assumed that since I’m a girl, if I’m interested in something medical, it will be nursing.”
I started to fumble out a response, and she laughed. “I’m just messing with you, Steve. I’m not mad. But never assume that girls can only pursue certain careers, and other career paths are reserved for the boys. It’s nineteen seventy-six, after all.”
We hit it off well, I would have said. Diane was a fast learner. And although I was indeed something of an expert on the cash register, there turned out to be little for me to show her.
While I was helping Diane figure out one of the few points she hadn’t already grasped, I happened to turn halfway around, and I could see Louis standing in the doorway of the manager’s office. He was smiling. He gave me a quick wink, and disappeared into the office.
Yeah, Louis was in my corner, all right.
Louis might be twenty-three, but he was by no means oblivious to what was going on with the high school kids. Moreover, he clearly had his preferences among us. Louis didn’t want to see the blustering Keith Conway end up with yet another pretty girl.
I was thinking, though, that I might not have so much to worry about. Diane was third in her class. She was going to be a doctor.
Certainly a girl with a resumé like that could see through the superficial charms of Keith Conway, I thought.