The paint mixer thunked away while Clint tapped his finger tips on the counter. Don Dunham sauntered out to visit. Boxes of bolts, screws, washers, and bits lined the walls, rattling with Dunham’s heavy foot steps.
Tom lined up a series of color chips at the color center and shuffled them about. He originally planned a purple and yellow theme, but soon found himself drawn to fire engine red and a light blue. An orange chip consistently ended up in his collection as well, but he could not figure out how to incorporate it with the red. It went well enough with the light blue, but he was not satisfied with the orange. Perhaps it was too juicy and punchy for a mountain café.
Violet, cranberry, gray, tan: Tom yanked colors out of their homes, kicking and screaming as they clashed with the hodgepodge of chips down below. He narrowed down his selection enough to know that he didn’t want white or yellow. He also knew that picking a coordinating trim paint was out. Not only was this an excessive expense, he didn’t have the stamina to pick out a slew of nit-picky trim colors, let alone neatly apply them to the wall along straight edges.
Light blue surged into the lead with either red or purple clinging to life. The orange laid in the back of the pack, a distant favorite nonetheless. Amidst a flurry of shuffling cards cranberry and gray were disqualified from the race, but orange moved up a few notches, gaining ground on the front runners. Lime soon pulled up alongside the orange and zeroed in on the pack leaders, but then a second thought sent it reeling out of competition.
“Hey Tom!” Clint called from the back counter where he and Don Dunham had run out conversation topics, “Are you about ready to wrap things up or should I order out for lunch?”
“Um, you may want to order out for lunch. Thanks for being so flexible.”
“Oh,” said Clint, staggering from Tom’s excessive literalism. Speaking quietly to Dunham, he said “You mind if I ordered a pizza or a sandwich to be delivered here. I can get one for you too.”
Dunham handed Clint the phone and he ordered the relief supplies needed to survive his exile at the hardware store. Meanwhile Tom shuffled the cards, sometimes pulling more down, occasionally returning them to the rack, but always misplacing them so that his options became increasingly limited. A stock boy on the next aisle over peered at Tom through the cover of rake handles, sighing as he anticipated his afternoon chore at the paint center.
After Dunham clanged his way to the back room to paw at his stomach and make phone calls in private, Clint approached Tom.
“Can I help you pick out colors?” Clint asked.
“That’s very kind of you, but I don’t think you can help me,” Tom replied.
“I am in the paint business, you know. Try me.”
“Well I can’t decide on my theme. I don’t know if I want something bright and startling or something smooth and mellowing. I just put the purple and tan back, but now I can’t find them.”
“I think a café should be the latter—”
“A ladder? What in the world are you talking about?”
“No, no, I said latter with a ‘t’ in it, as in the second option: the smooth and mellow one.”
“Oh, I see.”
“People go to a café to relax, to have conservations, and to have a snack.”
“I think that settles it then.”
“For the smooth, mellow colors?”
“Oh heavens no. I don’t want people to relax in my café. I want them to get in, get charged up on caffeine, and get the heck out there so I have room for more customers. There’s a restaurant in Chicago with the same philosophy. Something like, ‘eat and get out.’ That’s my motto too.”
Clint scratched his head and looked down at the mess of colors below Tom. “So which colors are you going with then?”
“This light blue, bright red, and orange, though I’m thinking of going with a creamier version of orange than this.”
Tom handed Clint the orange card that he couldn’t pass up.
“I don’t think it matters what shade of orange you choose.”
“Yeah, you’re right. They both look so good. I think I’ll stick with the brighter one. That’ll really catch people’s attention.”
“You’re certainly right about that.”
“I’d better get moving then. I’ll grab a gallon of each and be on my way.”
“You have four walls Tom, you may want to consider at least getting a second gallon in order to make sure you cover everything.”
“But then I’ll have paint left over.”
“Exactly. You’re going to need it for touch ups.”
“Worse comes to worse I can always catch a ride back up here.”
Clint gave a slow, labored nod that could have been mistaken for a stretching exercise for his neck, and then strolled back to the counter. Tom zipped off behind him with the leading colors, while the stock boy emerged from hiding and began his day-long task of putting Tom’s mess into order.
Tom tapped on the bell until Dunham emerged and rattled his way toward them.
“I’ll need three gallons of paint, one for each of these colors.”
“Eggshell finish?” Dunham asked.
Tom eyed the prices. “Well, the flat finish is cheaper, so I guess—”
“No!” shouted Clint.
Dunham and Tom stared at him.
“I mean, you can’t use flat for walls. It’s only for ceilings. You need eggshell for the walls. It’s worth the few extra bucks.”
“It’s not that big of a deal Clint,” replied Tom.
“No, you can’t do it. Flat is only for ceilings.”
“Don’t be silly. It doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does. Why would they make eggshell if it didn’t matter?”
“Clint, you’re being ridiculous.”
“No, you’re being ridiculous.”
Clint folded his arms and stared down at Tom. Considering that Clint had provided the ride and had lost the color debate, Tom thought of giving in, but gave one last try. “It’s just a little café. There are windows all over. The paint hardly matters.”
Clint’s eyes bulged. “Paint matters. Eggshell matters. You can’t use flat!”
Dunham cast his lot with Clint, “Eggshell would be a lot better for walls.”
Tom realized that Clint could not be moved on this issue. He had apparently struck a nerve and he didn’t want to tickle it any longer. Besides, he felt powerless before the united front of Clint and Dunham.
“Alright, you win. I’ll take the eggshell.”