We Were Once - Page 26

She says, “I’d like that.”

“Me too.” I bring her hand to my mouth and kiss her palm, hoping I can make her feel the same by giving her similar attention to her palm.

We lie back, our hands clasping together between us, and she asks, “What do we do now? Make plans together?”

I could fall asleep right here. I’m not pushing my luck by asking to stay, but after the day I’ve had, I scrub my face to stay awake. “What do you want to do?”

“Surprise me.” Her eyes dip closed, and I know that’s my cue. I sit up and tug her to her feet.

Walking to the door with her tucked under my arm. “I checked the schedule and I’m closing the next four nights—”

“I’ll wait up.”

Just like that, she’s folding into my life. “Yeah?”

We stand at the door, wrapped up in each other. “Absolutely.”

And there I am molding to hers. “Okay. I can come over after?” I kiss her twice—once for me and once for her before I back into the hallway, looking my girlfriend over. “Damn, I’m a lucky man.”

She gives me a solid once-over, leaning on the door with a smirk on her face. “Not as lucky as I am.”

9

Joshua

“How’d your week go?” my mom asks when I clock in.

“Pretty good,” I reply, not elaborating as I slip the apron over my head. She doesn’t need to hear how boring my classes are or how I’ve been spending every night of the last week at Chloe’s. She gives me my privacy—the perks of having a separate entrance into the basement where I live.

She wipes down the counter, and then says, “I need you bussing tables tonight.”

“Why?” I ask with my hand on the kitchen door.

“John called in sick. T will cover the kitchen. Trina and I will serve.”

As much as I want to argue because I never did like bussing, I do it. My mom fought for this restaurant to be a success. I’ll never cause her grief. The locals have given her enough over the years.

When folks didn’t know I was her son, I overheard the rumors. She was called names—wild and reckless—for getting knocked up and having a bastard son. A kid I went to school with repeated his mom’s term for my mom to my face; he called her trash. I was grounded for being expelled, but she never made me apologize for punching the little shit.

His family never returned to the diner, and fortunately, back then, lawsuits weren’t filed for kids fighting on the playground. Last time I saw him, he was smoking weed before a football game. Became the disappointment of the New Haven Ravens when he missed that catch.

Can’t say I felt sorry for him or for hooking up with his girlfriend later that night.

I get to work, wanting the hours to pass so I can see Chloe again.

Some college kids ramble in—loud and wanting service faster than Trina can get to them—around eight. She can usually hold her own. She’s worked here long enough to handle rowdies from the campus. “Hey,” I say, catching her fill up some soda cups. “You haven’t had a break. I’ll cover your tables.”

“Rich, college kids,” she replies, eyeing them. “I need the tip.”

“You got it. Take a break.”

As if I just made her day, she puts a hand on her hip. “You’re too good to me, Josh. Thanks.”

“No worries.”

She delivers the sodas to another table, and I wipe my hands on the rag tied to my belt loop. I learned a long time ago not to judge a book by its cover. I’m a prime example of that cliché. But I can tell by the air of arrogance that surrounds them that these guys take advantage of others who might not have the same privilege.

They’re the future assholes sitting on heads of boards in the city while everyone else does the grunt work. Reminds me of my father.

I’ve never been bitter about other people having money. I’d love the luxury of throwing some cash around like it’s nothing. Who wouldn’t? But I’ll never treat others like my mom was once treated. So despite the pastel-colored collars slipping out from under Yale sweatshirts I couldn’t afford, I ask, “What can I get you?”

“The waitress back,” says the second guy on my right in the booth. “She’s a lot prettier to look at. No offense.”

“No offense taken. It’s true, but you’re stuck with me.” They have drinks, so I prod, “Ready to order?”

A light-haired guy with slicked-back hair on my left says, “You seem to have a chip on your shoulder. We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re just hungry.”

Not looking to start a fight either, so I dust off my shoulder, and say, “It’s just crumbs from cleaning up after our guests.”

He chuckles. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll have the burger, no pickles or mayo. Hold the cheese and a salad with whatever your house vinaigrette is.”


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