“Hey Mel, I need four heart-attack specials with sauce, two princess melts—naked—and a Thursday special.”
I slapped my food ticket on the stainless-steel line for Mel to pick up. Mel yelled his response from the other side of the kitchen window.
“Heard! Is there a full moon tonight, or some kind of burger shortage we don’t know about going on?”
“Fuck if I know, Mel, I haven’t had a break since lunch. Hell, I’ve barely had time to keep my tables bussed right all day.”
Someone shouted across the diner, interrupting my conversation with Mel.
“Hey lady! I could use some service over here. This table is dirty.”
I rolled my eyes and scrunched my face so only Mel could see. He laughed and added my ticket to the rotating wheel just over the smoking, flat-top grill. I grabbed the tray of plates for table eight, turned around, took a deep breath, and shouted my response in my sassiest voice.
“Well, toots, why would you want to sit at a dirty table? I woulda sat you at a clean table—if you’d’ve waited—like the sign by the door says to.”
I smiled nice and big at the loudmouth trying to make my day harder. Loudmouth’s face turned bright red as all eyes turned to look at him.
“Aw c’mon now, lady. I didn’t mean nothing by it. Looks like you’re plenty busy, so I figured I’d just take a seat on my own and…”
“Wait for me? Why, that’s so thoughtful of you. Why don’t you do just that and I’ll see you in two shakes.”
Loudmouth sat down and quietly stared at his dirty table while I dropped table 8’s food.
“Long day Sophia? Need help taking care of that?”
Regulars are such a blessing!
The good ones always made sure you were looked after and safe. The real good ones made sure no one messed with you. One step too far and any of my regs would take care of business mighty quick-like. I loved them and they loved me back.
“No worries sweetie, I got Loudmouth read like a book. But I’ll let ya’ know if he gets out of hand.”
I shot my regular a quick wink, and walked past the serving station, grabbed a tea pitcher and extra napkins for table 10, before wiping table 13 where Loudmouth sat. My mental list of things to do whirled through my mind.
Table 8 needs their check soon. Check on table 7’s appetizers. Table 10 was ready to order, table 5 needs ranch dressing. After that, Loudmouth can order, but I’ll drop him the last of the coffee pot—before taking his order and starting a new pot.
Halfway through my list, I heard Mel’s voice in the ruckus.
“Hey, hey! Look at what just came in the door! Jakey, my man!”
A chorus of regulars greeted my brother as he walked into the diner and sat at his regular place at the end of the counter. His smile always made my day. It reminded me that deep goodness and innocence, which couldn’t be spoiled, remained in the world.
The regulars knew and loved Jake and they made sure strangers didn’t mess with him, either. They all knew about his autism, and they all had a special place for him in their hearts.
Jake smiled and waved at all of them as he passed before starting his evening routine. He wiped the chair, opened his backpack, and took out his placemat, special silverware, and cloth napkin roll.
Next, he wiped the counter, put down his placemat, and arranged his silverware just the way he liked. Satisfied, he closed and hung his backpack on the special hook under the counter which Mel had installed just for him. With a smile, he sat and clasped his hands while he waited for tonight’s dinner.
I walked over and stood on the other side of the counter and handed him a menu.
“Good evening, sir. May I suggest today’s special? Every Thursday night, our special is chicken fried steak with cheesy grits and green beans.”
He nodded and leaned in so I could give him a quick peck on the cheek. I smiled and mussed his hair before going to put his order on the line.
“Love you, kiddo”
“Love you too, Sophia.” Don’t forget you owe me a rematch on our game, tonight!”
“I didn’t forget. Just remember to charge the controllers before I get home, ok?”
I hoisted the tray of food for table 4, grabbed two extra sides of ranch for table 13, a slice of apple pie for Loudmouth, and headed back out onto the floor. The diner closed in three hours and I hoped Loudmouth would be the worst of the day’s surprises.
An hour before closing time, I wished I had a diner full of Loudmouths.
I wondered if Mel had been right about a full moon. Our diner sat just off a main highway and, as one of the only places open until midnight, we got our fair share of the I-was-only-going-to-have-a-drink-or-two-at-happy-hour-but-oops crowd. Most of the time, it wasn’t too horrible and nothing a little sass and some tough love couldn’t handle. Not tonight, though.
Tonight, I struggled to keep from killing someone. It was all I could do not to use heads to open doors as I tossed their drunk asses out. Not even the local officers showing up for their graveyard-shift coffee and pie helped. The dickhead comments were beyond absurd—
“You’re so pretty. Bet you’d be even prettier if you smiled.”
“Hey beautiful, what time do you get off tonight?”
“Can I get your number?”
“Baby, you’re prettier than a new set of snow tires!”
“Are you wearing space pants? Because your ass is out of this world.”
“Hey bitch, don’t talk to him. He’s mine.”
“I don’t tip because it’s their JOB to wait on people. I don’t get tipped for doing MY job.”
By the time we closed, I had slapped hands away from my ass—and invented some new curse words to describe the worst of that night’s League O’Dicks.
Taintscum was tonight’s special-feature dickhead who’d actually managed to grab a handful of ass, before getting kicked out of the diner. The guy had meant to grab mine, but got a handful of Mel’s by mistake.
I finished up my side work and headed out, locking up the diner for the night. This was the best part of these nights for me—the world quiet and the stars bright. I could be with my thoughts and the gentle breeze, and no one wanted anything from me. I took a long deep breath of fresh air and started walking.
Our little, two-bedroom rental wasn’t far from work. I had deliberately picked it just for that reason. If Jake was having a bad day, I could run over for a few minutes during a break to check on him or take care of him. It wasn’t the nicest place in town, but it was ours, and we had made it comfy and cozy for the both of us.
I’m so hungry. I hope Jake left me the piece of pie I sent home with him earlier…
A bright light came up behind me, interrupting my thoughts. Thinking it was a diesel rig attempting to park away from the truck stop, I turned around to wave it away.
Weird. I can’t hear the engine…or even see where the light comes from.
I put my hand in front of my face and tried to move to the other side of the street.
Wait a minute…I can’t feel the ground underneath my feet anymore. I looked down and saw nothing but the light and panicked.
Did I just die? Oh shit! What about Jake? Who will take care of him?!
A strange, sleepy calm descended on my limbs and the world grew fuzzy at the edges, like an old photograph.
I just want pie, dammit. Without any dickheads to ruin it. I think I forgot table 5’s ranch.