|This painting is called "The Runaway."|
Lunch With Frank
Was I going to go to jail and rot there for years, until I was old enough to really be on my own? I shuddered as the policeman led me across the street, his hand on my shoulder. We walked through the door of the lunchroom at the end of the drugstore. “Sit down, and let’s get something to eat, Tommy,” he said, sitting down on one of the five green-topped stools.
I nervously sat down next to him, using the step attached to the counter so I could reach the seat. The lunchroom man leaned over the counter, a cigarette in his mouth. I could barely see the heading “Special Today” on the menu behind his head. What was the lunch special?
The lunchman smiled at us, his face looking amused as he glanced at my bundle that I’d dropped on the floor and the coat I held in my lap, and then at the policeman’s face. “Did Frank catch you trying to skip town, son?” he questioned.
I nodded shyly. “He found me at the start of the highway. I’m under arrest.”
“No you’re not,” Frank smiled, putting his feet on the counter step. “We’ll get some lunch and then I’ll take you home. What would you like to have?”
“May I have the special, as long as it’s grilled cheese?” I asked quietly, still feeling a little shy.
“I would like that, too,” Frank said, resting his arm on the top of the counter. “As long as it’s grilled cheese, of course.”
The lunchman laughed. “The lunch special isn’t grilled cheese, but I can make you that if you want.”
Frank nodded, smiling. “Yes, please, thanks.”
As the lunchman went to make our sandwiches, the radio on a shelf next to the menu started to play. It was a man making some sort of announcement. “The police station would like to alert the people of Woodinville that a little boy aged six years old is on the loose. He escaped from his house at sunrise, and was spotted by his neighbor, who told the boy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gordon. Woodinville citizens are to watch all lunchrooms in the area for signs of him, especially the Martin drugstore, which has a lunchroom attached to it. We have reason to believe that the boy is there. Thank you, and please enjoy the rest of your day.”
I glanced at Frank, who was looking at me, smiling. “Do my parents already know you found me?” I asked.
He nodded. “They weren’t worried, and even tipped me off as to where you’d be-- the highway. Did that show at the movies last Saturday really get to you?”
“Yes. It was about a bank robber who escaped from jail and went west. I thought it was cool. Is that why the announcer was talking like I was an escaped bad guy?”
Frank laughed. “Yes.”
I looked at the lunchman, who was back at the counter, leaning his folded hands on top of it and grinning. “Oh. I guess everyone in town knows everyone else too well for anyone to run away.”
Smiling, Frank nodded. “I guess so.”
I looked back over at him. “How come you came to find me instead of daddy?”
“Well, your parents thought you might appreciate being found by a policeman. It’s something neat to tell your friends. Do you mind?”
I smiled a little. “No.”
“I used to eat grilled cheese a lot when I was little, you know” Frank said suddenly. “One time that I will always remember having it was in this lunchroom, a long time ago. I was sitting right here, and eating with another guy. His name was Hank Martin.”
The lunchman smiled. “I used to be a policeman, Tommy. Frank was only seven when I took him here. This place was my dad’s before I took it over.”
I pulled my eyebrows together for a moment. “You ran away, too, Mr. Frank?”Frank nodded. “Yup.” He leaned over to me as I looked at him. We smiled.