Idiot. Moron. I hate you.
“So you’re from Tulsa?” Henna asks, and I start tucking into my lunch.
“Yeah,” Nathan says, smiling faintly. “Before that, Portland. Before that, Fort Knox, Kentucky–”
“Army dad?” Jared asks.
“Army mom,” Nathan answers. “Dad stayed in Florida. Five postings ago.”
“Must suck,” I say, trying to keep any heat out of my voice. “Moving to a new school five weeks before graduation.”
He runs a hand through that mop of hair. “Little bit,” he says, meaning a lot. “And a kid dies my first week.” He glances around the table. “Not that that’s in any way suspicious.”
He smiles. The others laugh. “But wow, though,” he says, more quietly. “I hope whatever it is this time isn’t too bad.”
My phone buzzes, two seconds before Mel’s does, too. We both look.
BOLTSOFFIREBOLTSOFFIREBOLTSOFFIRE!!!!! COMING TO FAIR!!!! I’LL DIE IF I CANT
GO!!!! PLEASE CONVINCE MOM!!! PLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASEPLEASE!!!!!!
“That can’t be right,” I say, showing the others the text. “Bolts of Fire? At our crappy little county fair?”
“Yeah,” Henna says. “I saw it online somewhere. They’re coming for some little girl’s cancer last wish or something.”
Nathan’s staring at us. “You guys aren’t … fans or anything?”
“All right,” I say, later that night, putting extra slices of cheesy toast on a plate for the really, really fat family at table two. “He is pretty.”
“And nice,” Jared says, dumping sprigs of parsley on our waiting orders. “And a little bit tragic.”
“And new.” I heap the plates up on my tray. Jared does the same for his section. “I don’t stand a chance, do I?”
“You’ve got the same chance you’ve always had, my friend,” he says, and disappears into his half of the restaurant. We work at Grillers, a steakhouse for cheap dates. The kind of place with all-you-can-eat shrimp, all-you-can-eat fries, and all-you-can-eat cheesy toast, which, to be fair, is really awesome cheesy toast. The restaurant’s so old it’s still split down the middle when one side was smoking and the other non. Now it’s all non, but we still divide the table service that way.
It’s Tuesday. It’s slow. Jared and I are covering the whole place.
“You know,” he says, when we meet back at the waitress station (still called the waitress station even though it’s only us two waiters tonight), “this thing with Henna only really came up when she started dating Tony. And now she’s going to Africa after graduation. And then Nathan comes into our lives to catch her eye when she’s single and you’re still ‘gathering your courage’.” He eats a french fry off a plate. “Ever thought you only really like her because there’s always something in the way of actually getting close to her?”
“I think that all the time.”
“Seven wants more raspberry lemonades,” Tina, our manager, says, looming into the waitress station. She sets down the two pots of coffee she’s used on her refill run and takes a slice of cheesy toast off one of my plates. “I swear they put crack in these,” she says, eating it.
I deliver my plates, I get three more raspberry lemonades for table seven, I bring enough extra cheesy toast into the restaurant to feed the entire population that has ever lived on this planet. Grillers is high volume, fast turnover, and even if the tips are cheap, there are a lot of them. It’s a great job. It keeps gas in my car. It gets me out of the house. I work a lot of shifts with Jared. I’m lucky, too: Mel works the tills at a twenty-four-hour drugstore, fighting off meth heads who’ve lost track of what year it is, and Henna makes coffee at a drive-in Java Shack that doesn’t even have its own bathroom.