“Hey. We got one more delivery for you.”
“Please, not another college apartment,” I thought. “Not another college apartment.”
“It’s on Bittersweet Lane.”
The last delivery was an apartment by campus. I knocked, and I heard a shout through the door, “Pizza’s here!” A blonde with a ponytail in a sorority sweatshirt opened the door. The pungent smell of pot-smoking walked past her out the door. “Alright, pizza guy!”
“I’ve got an extra-large pepperoni,” I said, “It’ll be $15.”
The one at the door had a ten. “I need five more! Somebody!” Her friend got up from furniture way nicer than I could afford and dug a five out of her purse, and they handed me the two bills, and as I pocketed them I gave them the pizza. “Thanks pizza guy!” At that she closed the door and left me standing there with my hand open and empty. It was the third time I’d been stiffed on a tip that night.
I came back to the pizza place for one last delivery, just before midnight, and the manager said, “It’s on Bittersweet Lane.” I know that street. It’s on the west side of town, just middle-class homes; no college kids there. “It’s just a small pizza with onions and tomatoes. Drop this one off and then you’re done. We’re not taking any more deliveries tonight.”
I drove west down Riverside. The lights from Ball State dimmed as the potholes multiplied. I thought I’d swerved to miss one but--ka-thunk--no, I was too late. “It’s a good thing I drive a piece of junk,” I thought, “because Muncie sure is hard on a car.”
I didn’t bother with the GPS for this delivery. I know these streets. Deliver pizzas for a few months and you know your way around a town. Forest Ave . . . Brentwood Lane . . .Greenbriar . . . here it is: Bittersweet Lane. I took a left. Let me look on the receipt. “722 Bittersweet,” it says. “Come around to the back door.” was printed on the receipt. Here it is, 722 Bittersweet.
I pulled into the driveway. The house was dark. There at the side of the house I saw a gate. The neighborhood was as quiet as the losing team’s locker room after the big game. The dog-walkers making one last walk were home in bed now. I only had a street light off Riverside and this dark house before me.
You hear stories of pizza delivery guys getting mugged, beat-up, harassed. The boss always says to be careful. I guess I’d been lucky. The worst I dealt with was obnoxious college kids; one kid met me outside an apartment and then took off running with a pizza without paying. Still, I’m always looking for something worse to happen. I double-checked the address; yeah, this is it: 722 Bittersweet. I grabbed the insulated pizza carrier, looked around, and got out of the car.
I slowly opened the wood fence gate with a rusty creak. I never want to let an angry dog at me, but the yard was empty. I could see a little light coming from the back of the house. I crept around the side, and there was a back door and a little light above the door holding back the dark of the back yard.
I knocked on the screen door. “Pizza guy,” I said in a half-shout just so they knew who was knocking. The back door opened, and a woman’s eye peered through the crack. “Your pizza’s here. I’ve got a small with tomatoes and onions.” She opened the door a little farther. It was a woman, maybe mid-30’s, long dark hair, way out of my league.
“Oh, great. Thanks for coming so late. I was getting hungry but didn’t want to go out.”
“No problem. It’s just 8 bucks for the small.”
She opened the screen door and handed me two bills. “Here. Keep the change. Thanks.”
Back in my car I saw she’d given me fifteen dollars. “I guess that makes up for the last bunch who stiffed me,” I thought as I turned to home.
I’d been delivering long enough that the boss trusted me to bring in the money from the last delivery the next day. The next night the boss asked, “Was that delivery on Bittersweet okay?”
“Yeah, it was fine.”
“It was a little weird, her asking you to go to the back.”
“No, it’s fine. She was a good tipper.”
Three nights later, it was the same. Right at closing we had a call for 722 Bittersweet Lane. The same thing: a small with tomatoes and onions. It was the same dark house with the light on in back. I knocked again, “Pizza guy.”
“You again?” she asked when she opened the door.
“It’s me. I’m usually the only one on the late deliveries.”
“Ok. Glad to know it. You’re the only food I can get delivered this late.”
“Yeah, if you want food at your door at midnight in Muncie there’s a good chance you'll see me.”
“Thanks,” she said as we made the trade of the pizza box and the cash in her hand. “Keep the change again.”
Back in the car I saw it was $15.
She’d call twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, right before midnight. It was always the same order, always the same big tip. On my fourth or fifth delivery, she asked, “What’s your name? I see you a couple times a week. Maybe I should know you by name.”
“I’m Sara. Thanks for the pizza, John.”
“No problem. Compared to the college crowd, delivering to you is a pleasure.”
“See you next time.”
“Sure thing. Have a good night, Sara.”
The next time I was in for work the boss said, “Your girlfriend on Bittersweet asked about you.”
“The one who calls late. She called on Tuesday, when you were off. She asked if John was delivering. I said you were off.”
“She said not to bother. She’d order another night.”
“I didn’t know she was a fan.”
“Like I always tell you on these late runs, just be careful. You don’t know what her thing is.”
There is was later that night, just before midnight, a call for 722 Bittersweet. A small with onions and tomatoes. I knocked on the back door.
“Hi Sara. I’ve got your pizza.”
“I’m glad you’re working tonight, John.”
“I’m usually on Wednesdays. So you really like this tomatoes and onions?”
“If you find something that works, you may as well stick with it.”
“I’m an Italian Sausage guy.”
“I’ll remember that, John. Thanks.”
A couple weeks later the boss said, I’ve got your last delivery to Bittersweet. She must have company. This time she ordered a medium. I looked at the receipt taped to the box. It was a medium, half Italian Sausage and half tomatoes & onions. My heart rate jumped up a notch. Around back at the house Sara opened the door into the dark night.
“Hi John. Are you done for the night? Can you come in for a second?” I took a second processing her question. You hear stories, the lonely woman inviting the pizza guy in for something more. Maybe this stuff actually happens. She must have followed my thoughts. “Keep your mind out of the gutter, John. I just thought you might like something to eat.”
“I’m done for the night. I guess I can take a slice.”
I stepped in. An open laptop computer was on the kitchen table. Headphones lied to the right of it. “Do you want something to drink?”
“Do you have a Coke?”
“I think Pete left a couple cans. Let me see.” She put a cold can on the table. She pushed aside the computer and put a couple plates on the table. “Have a seat, John.”
“I just thought. I don’t know. I see you every couple days, maybe you’d want something to eat.”
“I’m around pizza almost every night, but I still get hungry when I smell it.”
“Good. I just appreciate you coming so late. I’m usually working late, and no one usually wants to cook at this hour.”
“You’re just, one of the only people in Muncie who knows me by name.”
I saw the framed wedding picture on the wall above the table. I guessed she was five years younger in it. “What about your husband?”
“Oh, Pete’s a coach. He’s at the next job now, across the country. We came here last year, bought this house. This was going to be the place. We were going to put down roots, start our family here. He was going to create his legacy at Ball State.”
“It didn’t work out?”
“He took another job right away. He said it would be just a year, then it would lead to the next better place, wherever that is. I’m supposed to watch this house until whenever. I think he’s more married to coaching than me, so this got me out of his way for awhile. But that’s enough of my sad story. What about you, John? What’s got you driving around pizzas late at night in Muncie?”
“I started at Ball State. My mom and dad split up and my money for school disappeared with their divorce. They moved on with different lives, and there was no place for me to go home to anymore. I said I wasn’t going back, so I work this job and another, and I take classes as I can.”
“I thought you look a little older than the average student.”
“Yeah, I’ve been at this awhile, another year and I’ll graduate.”
“Where are you from?”
“Small town. You wouldn’t know it. It’s the sort of place if you go there you really don’t have any desire to go back.”
“Well, isn’t this the strangest dinner? Two lonely people sharing a pizza at midnight in Muncie.”
“What were you doing on the computer?”
“I transcribe things. I make a little money transcribing audio to text.”
“Can you make good money doing that?”
“Not really. You probably do better delivering pizzas. I tell myself it gives me an ear for dialogue. I transcribe a lot of interviews and speeches. During the day I work on my screenplay. That was my major in college, screenwriting. I keep trying to quietly kindle that little dream here in this lonely house. Pete pays for everything, but I figure I could make a couple extra bucks with the transcribing. Around midnight I get really tired of it and call for a pizza. That’s what brings you to my door.”
“Can I ask why you send me to the back door?”
“Come here. Look.” She led me to the living room and turned on a light. It was filled with boxes. “I don’t think I can make it to the front door. Pete, when he emptied out his offices here, just left a lot of his coaching stuff in the front room. I don’t know; I never bothered trying to move it.”
I saw Sara a couple more times, taking her small pizza to the door. It was always the same generous tip to end my day. A couple weeks after our dinner the boss said, “Your girlfriend on Bittersweet must be mixing things up. This time it’s an Italian Sausage.”
I drove to her house. I saw a for-sale sign in the yard. The light was on over the door in the back, but the light inside was off. I saw an envelope taped to the door. It said, “John, Pizza Guy.”
I tore it open. “Dear John, Thanks for all the pizzas. I saved up enough from transcribing to rent a small place in California for a few months. I’m going to see if my screenplay is any good. If Pete cares about me he can find me there. You probably don’t realize it but your gentle face was a gift to me all of these late and lonely nights. It’s sounds strange to write it, but I’ll miss you. I think we could have been good friends. This last pizza is for you. - Sara.”
Tucked in the letter I saw $15.
I drove to my little apartment. It’s really just one room. A bed, a tv, a couch, and a little table to eat at. I sat at my little table and ate most of the pizza Sara bought me. My empty stomach was happy for the food, but it tasted bittersweet.