–I’ll never fucking understand why fucking adults think I’m screwing with them when I tell them their fucking plate is goddamn hot. Never fails. Every time. College kid or grandpa. Men more than women, I’ll grant ya, but they all do it. So I got tired of it, ya know? It can’t be their first time in a restaurant, right boss?
Bill, I know. People are idiots. You and I see it all the time. But you also are old enough to understand liability. Of course the plate should not have given that guy third-degree burns, but…
–Isn’t it first-degree?
–I think first-degree is the least worrisome.
That doesn’t make sense, Bill. First. It’s top priority in a burn center.
–Well, it was the lowest level. And I’m sorry it happened, but goddamn.
I know, Bill. Look. Please let me go back and handle it. Look. It’s a quarter to ten. We close in a little over an hour. Maybe just hang back here and you can start on closing.
–I thought he was kidding, Brian. I really did.
I know, I know. Look. We can limit the damage. The EMTs are coming on our dime. Let’s just make sure we look proactive at this point.
–Fuckin’ hate lawyers, man.
We all do.
–I’m not gonna get fired, am I?
He deep-sighed, then stared at me for an uncomfortable four seconds. I watched the flimsy red stick click between the three and the four.
Look, Bill. I’m going to talk it over with HR now that they’ll know about the EMTs coming.
My foodslime-covered kitchen shoe fall from my left knee.
–I’ll just go.
No, please. Don’t. It doesn’t have to…I mean…I’m telling you you’re not—
I flipped a raggedy single on his desk.
–Just mail my last fucking check, Brian. And fuckin’ thanks for the support.
* * * * *
“You did not!” Stacey cried out with that grin that’s all but forced me to hang around with her.
“Yeah. Fuck that place.” We’re at Legs, which sounds like it’d be a strip bar, but they are known for their southern-fried chicken. And lord help us if any of the ladies who work here start disrobing.
“Shit, man,” she said, the smile diminished quickly. “I don’t want to work there if you’re not.”
Stacey’s a real sweet kid. We’d been hanging out for about six weeks off and on. All the girls at that place have to tie their long hair back or pin it up. When we go out for drinks after work–like straight after work, still smelling of gravy and shit–she lets it down. I think she waits until we’re seated because the first time she did it, I felt like I was watching some shampoo commercial and I think she caught me staring. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and bounced a little. I replayed those moments in my head for several lonely nights in those days. Somehow the dark hair gets curlier the longer we stay. If we’re at a table, I usually sit across from her and I’ll get caught just looking at those locks.
“Well, I feel a little bad about just taking off–probably shot my chance at a referral.”
“Yeah,” she said, still examining her tall pilsner glass. She only just ordered domestic bottles before we met and came here together for the first time. The shit these kids don’t know astounds me.
“Think I shoulda stayed?”
She shrugged and looked away, then pursed her lips a little. Almost pouty, but it didn’t last long.
“You’re too nice, young lady,” I stated, then signaled Bobby for two more tall ones.
She grinned and turned to me. “I know. I mean, I know why you took off.” She ran her fingers down the slender glass, wiping away the condensation. “Sounds like you were going to get the ax after you clocked out.”
“Well, anyway…what are you going to do now?”
Bobby put the beers in front of us. Without prodding, Stacey downed the rest of the first and reached for the new one before swallowing.
I offered my glass to be tapped with hers. A small, congenial smile crept across her face.
I grinned, foolishly. Drunkenly. “I have no fucking idea.”
We laughed, then chugged. We got chicken wings, fried pickles, and a big basket of fries. She talked about how unhealthy all that shit was. I told her she had nothing to worry about. I’m pretty sure I actually said “Gather ye rosebuds, Miss Thang” to which she laughed but not for the right reason.
The food was gone in minutes. Some dudes across the bar clapped when a game ended. Nobody else from our restaurant came in, so I was antsy to get the fuck out. Bobby dropped a glass while trying to dry it.
“You gotta any weed, l’il lady?”
She smiled and nodded.
“Well, fuck! Let’s get high. Fuck this bar and their overpriced, fucking flat-ass beer.”
Bobby hollered to us that he heard that.
“It’s actually Gina’s, but…”
“She won’t give a fuck. Just a bowl. C’mon. Drink up. Let’s get out.”
Stacey told Bobby thanks as I flopped a twenty on the soaked bar.
I woke up alone on Stacey’s couch and had a beer in my hand. Of course, it wasn’t upright and was now nearly empty, but my shirt was soaked. Must’ve been high as fuck not to care whenever that happened. The TV was on, but it was a fucking exercise video series infomercial. Each testimonial after the other made me want to die or at least take a huge dump. I hadn’t done that—not the level that was brewing so early in the morning, anyway—at Stacey’s before. A plan quickly entered. I found a ten at the top of my left pocket. When she came out of her bedroom in a bra and sweatpants, I suggested she snag some of that gourmet coffee from the corner.
Don’t get me wrong, though. She looked great, but I felt like total shit. And I had to take one.
She complied and I was able to mask my embarrassing shit with some of her perfume.
By the time she came back, I’d found another shirt I’d left or that she’d stolen. “I got you a mocha. Is that alright?” she asked.
I was standing at the open refrigerator door. “Sure. Thanks for going. Man, what a night, huh?”
“You. Were. Hilarious, though.”
I looked up at the closed freezer door. Nothing but her words had caught my attention. “Really?”
“Oh my god, yes! Gina told me after you passed out that she was sorry for ever saying anything bad about you.”
What a thing to tell a person, huh? I had no choice but to play it cool and be appreciative. Of course, I didn’t give one absolute fuck what her stringy roommate thought of me. I knew she thought I was too old to be hanging around their apartment, and I suspected she had a bit of a crush on Stacey herself.
“Really? Didn’t she say once to you that I was the kind of guy who probably gives out Busch Light to kids at Halloween?”
“She was kidding.”
“Well, anyway. I’m glad she’s finally warming up to me.” I didn’t actually give a shit though. I’ve learned that no two female roommates seem to have the same system in place when it comes to guys they bring home. Some are way over the top with friendliness, and others seem to pretend I’m invisible. Only one ever actually flirted with me, but I shut that down pretty harshly. I don’t even think I went back after that one.
So it was no surprise that Gina was standoffish toward me. Again, don’t care, but that divide made for some unwanted commentary from the girl I did like.
About a week later, though, I knew I’d never probably have to deal with Gina anymore. I had stayed again at Stacey’s place. We were both exhausted after working together, so we just picked up some movies and this bad-ass baked spaghetti that somehow tastes better than anything my grandma used to put out at Thanksgiving. We both crashed on the couch during the first movie, and I woke up around two with her head in my lap. Not sexually or anything. Drooly, actually. So, I carried her to bed and we slept for another handful of hours.
When I woke up, I didn’t feel tired, which was rare. I wassomehow motivated to do something nice. That sounds like I don’t do that very often. Anyway, I ran out to the store to get some breakfast shit—for Gina and even a guy if one was in her room—and made it back before anyone else was awake. I put a pot of coffee on, quietly cleaned the dishes we’d all tossed in the sink, and then prepared to cook the one thing I know how to make well: omelets.
“I gotta pee!” Stacey announced as she rushed behind me toward the bathroom. She left the door open and the sound of her urine hitting the water–a sound that I absolutely cannot stand unless it’s my piss—put a dent in my mood. Taking the high road, though, I made myself a cup of coffee.
“What’s all this?” she asked. I’m not sure I heard her flush, which was also a little fucked up.
“Just thought I’d make everybody breakfast. You like omelets, right?”
That felt like a no, but I wasn’t going to offer anything else.
She turned on the TV and curled up under a blanket she once told me her grandmother made for her.
I was in the middle of making hers when she sighed loudly and said “Man!” in a jealous way.
“What’s up? What are you watching?”
“These houses are insane. Man, I wish I was famous.”
I stirred the eggs and tried to imagine what she wanted in hers without asking.
“You wouldn’t be worried about losing your privacy? Your independence?”
“Nah. Fuck all that,” she said coolly.
“Well,” I said, still not looking away from the stove. “Tell me this: Would you rather be Harrison Ford-famous, or like, guy-who-can-make-a-pancake-look-like-Harrison-Ford-famous?”
Nothing. Then, sadly, “Who’s Harrison Ford?”
Even though she said she loved it, it was the only omelet I made for her.