Author's Note:

1. To any readers not from the US, Waffle House is a chain of 24 hour diners that are mainly around gas stations and interstate exits. Though there isn't much to say in terms of health or cleanliness, Waffle House offers a LOT of food for very low prices and is very, very delicious. Hashbrowns, burgers, melts, waffles, even steak. It's all really good and it's a lot of fun to go early in the morning or late at night.

2. This is absolutely my favorite of all my stories. It came out exactly as I wanted it to and I love it like a child. I don't care if it's absolute crap because, in my eyes, it's absolutely perfect. That being said, any constructive criticism is appreciated. Enjoy!


"The frier's a mean son of a bitch. It takes a shit lot of doin' to actually get it to heat up enough to make toast. We basically have to get into it's guts and twist the propane valve every so often. Sorta like a clutch. You followin'?"

"Sure thing."

"Right. Now, the fridge is brand-fuckin' new. We got it from up top when the old one kicked the bucket. Don't mess around with the thing. Put in what you need to be cold, take out what you need to be warm. Don't go messin' around with any of the wires and shit in the back. We don't need it any colder and we sure as hell don't need it any more broken."

"Right. Uh...You really don't have to warn me about that. Playing around with the wiring on the refrigerator wasn't exactly my reason for applying."

"I'm sure it ain't, but Sandy makes sure I tell all the newbies about it. We had a bit of a spectacle involving the guy you're replacing. He said something about converting it to a freezer so we could save some money. He got his dumb ass electrocuted, we got our dumb assess sued for damages, and the fridge got it's big ass fried. You and it are a package deal."

"That's certainly reassuring."

"Don't push it. You're the newbie, remember? You're on trial status for the next three months. You fuck up and we and the pavement kiss your ass goodbye."

"Aye aye, Capt'n." Joe made a mock salute.

Harper rubbed the sleep as best he could out of his eyes. He'd been working the night shift for three years and he still doesn't wake up until around two thirty. What a disgrace.

The newbie said his name was Joe. Didn't mention his last name, but it wasn't a big deal. As long as there was a face to point to when something fucked up and a name to yell at to get it fixed, having only a first name was fine and dandy. Joe looked about twenty-five. Five-nine, 190 pounds, brown hair, boring. He had a face that made you want to get drunk with him, but eyes that didn't care if you did or didn't. He looked disheveled, as everyone did on the night shift, but he didn't look tired like the other newbies were. At least he's off to a good start.

"Those are the little love-bumps that give this place a personality. Now it's time for me to take you back and show you the orientation video...Alright, look. Have you ever worked in any place like this before?" Harper asked.

"Yeah. I spent next to six months at an IHOP in Tennessee." Joe replied.

"Thank God..." Harper sighed and put a relieved hand on his coworker's shoulder. "IHOP and Waffle House are cut from the same cloth. You know basically all you need to know. The only difference is that orientation video's a fuckin' nightmare."

"You sound like you know from experience."

"Yeah, I've worked here just long enough to pick up a flourish or two."

"No, I mean about IHOP too."

"Oh yeah, that. Yeah, I spent a few months in an IHOP. Didn't really get a feel for it." Harper put his hand on the counter and rubbed it, sentimentally. "It's old, dirty, and a bitch-and-a-half to clean, but this place is the only home I've got right about now."

"Let's just say I know what it's like to have to look for a home," Joe said, "and leave it at that."

"You got it, newbie." Harper squeezed Joe's shoulder and smiled. The kid was alright.

Harper walked over to the cash register to check the money for what felt like the thousandth time. For now, the Waffle House was empty and stewing in the kind of comfortable, secret silence you can only find after 1 A.M. It was a glowing, florescent bubble (or cage) left to shine like a fallen star in the middle of the pitch-black midnight of the Arizona desert. The three lonely souls left to guard this golden castle of fried food and broken dreams were high school-dropout Harper, newbie Joe, and prick-with-a-heart-of-gold Jason, who at the moment was busying himself with staring at the chocolate pie and wondering how much he could eat at still make it look whole.

"She keeps an inventory, y'know." Harper said, still counting the bills.

"She's the manager of a damn Waffle House. Just how good at math do you think she is?" Jason said, also refusing to look over.

"She's good enough to write your paychecks." He moved on to the coins. Jason opened his mouth to retort, but closed it, remembering what happened last time.

They again lapsed into not quite so comfortable tranquility, listening to the desert sounds from the confines of their metal cage (or coffin). During these calm moments, Harper often found himself repeating thoughts by accident, as if he had been here so long that the act of daydreaming itself had become repetitive.

He finished his task, yet again, and scanned the diner. Jason had abandoned his crusade against Sandy the Night Manager (herself absent tonight) and slid into the nearest chair, pulling out his cell phone to check the time, ignoring the clock above his head for both the ease of reading digitized numbers and the simple act of doing something. Joe was sitting on the counter-top, flipping a quarter in the air and catching it on the top of his hand, most likely trying to predict the outcome.

After some time, a beaten-up old van putted its way into the abandoned parking lot. It stopped reluctantly in one of the spaces near the window and backfired in protest of being driven at all.

"Finally." Harper said.

"Dammit." Jason said. He got up, put his hat back on, and stood with his arms crossed next to the grill. Joe hopped off the counter with a newbie's enthusiasm and put the quarter in his pocket. He stood still, realizing that he had no idea what to do. He looked to Harper with a pleading look.

"Don't worry. Just watch us." Harper reassured him.

"Thanks. Sorry, it's more different than I thought. Whole different layout."

"Can you make a burger?"

"Yeah."

"Can you make hashbrowns?"

"No."

"Alright. In that case, just hang back here for a while. We'll handle this."

"Cool." Joe said. He leaned against the counter trying to look calm despite the look of mild terror in his eyes.

Four boys, all aged about twenty, piled out of the car. Two of them stumbled when they hit the ground, the driver teetered for a second before regaining his composure, and the fourth simply stood rooted in place. He took a step and toppled over onto his side.

"Shiiiiiiiiit." Jason hissed. "This won't be fun."

The three helped the fourth onto his feet, then stumbled to the door. They each reached for the handle, bumped hands, then found it necessary to combine what little brain power they had among them to open a glass door.

Once they got inside, the driver, being the most sober, shuffled over to the counter while his friends piled into a booth.

"Hhey...Lemme ged uh...table fer four..." He said, staring emptily with his bloodshot eyes.

"Sir, you can seat yourself." Harper said patiently.

"Oh...okhay...Hhey, can we get some shots over ad our table?"

"No, sir. We don't sell alcohol here."

"Fhuck, really? Shit...I thought tha...can we get some...beers or somethin'?"

"Yeah. No problem." Harper said. "Just go sit down and we'll bring 'em to ya."

"Alright!" the drunk said weakly. He shuffled to the booth and sat down. Harper and Jason simply stood in place, both with folded arms. Joe looked from them to the four in the booth, who were sitting in various stages of passed-out.

"Aren't you guys supposed-" Joe began before Jason quickly held up a hand to silence him.

"Just hold on." He said. They stood in silence with Joe looking confusedly back and forth.

"Hhey!" one of them finally shouted, remembering that the building that they were in sold food. "Waiter!"

At this, Harper took out his notepad and pen and walked casually over to the edge of the table.

"Hey guys. How're you doin' tonight?" he asked, cheerily. They mumbled in response, each of them in differing levels of coherency.

"What can I getcha?" He asked.

"Ohkay..." the driver said. "I want...ah...water...with some chili and...hashbrowns..." He handed the menu to Harper. "Please..."

"Alright. You ready?" he asked the others. The two boys sitting across from the driver both muttered that they'd like the same thing. "Okay. Got it." Harper said. He glanced over toward the boy beside the driver, who looked asleep. "What about him?" he asked, pointing with his pen.

The driver shook his companion. "Chauncey! Chauncey! Man, get the fuck up!" Chauncey picked his head up, a red handprint on his face from where he had slept on it.

"Chauncey...Whatdaya whant, man?"

Chauncey looked around the Waffle House, unabashedly astonished that he had managed to end up here.

"Hey!" Harper clapped his hand together to draw his attention. "You're in a Waffle House. What do wanna eat?"

Chauncey rubbed his eyes, glanced at his menu, then said,

"Iwhwantagrasyfangermltssss..."

"What?" Harper asked.

"I what...auh grssy fagremalter..."

"Man, I can't understand a word you're saying."

"Harper!" Joe shouted.

"Hold on a minute." Harper said to his customers. He turned to Joe and shouted back "What!?"

"He said he wants a smothered double!" Joe said.

"How do you know!?"

"I'm good with people!"

Harper turned back to the table. "So you wanted a covered double hashbrown?" he asked. Chauncey nodded his head violently before laying it back down on the table. "Alright. It'll just be a few minutes." He flashed a portrait smile before turning away and dropping it. "Oh Jesus..." he sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Jason. Get out the hashbrowns."

"I'm on my break." Jason said.

"Like hell you are. You make the food and I'll do it the next two times. Deal?"

"Whatever." Jason stood grumpily out of his chair and shuffled over to the grill, making a show out of his reluctance to get to work. After the food was cooked, the customers satisfied, and the bill paid (in quarters, dimes, and pennies), the four boys clambered back into the car and drove off.

"Should we have let them go like that?" Joe asked, pointing to the near-collapsing vehicle driving off down the dusty highway.

"What, drive drunk?" Jason asked. He held up his hand with a finger extended. "One: this is in the middle of the Arizona desert at 12:45 in the morning. What in God's name would they be in danger of running into?"

"I'm more worried about that hunk-a-junk fallin' in on 'em." Harper chimed in.

Jason raised another finger. "Two: It's not our place to be tellin' the customer's what the hell they're doin' with their lives. They come here for food, we give them food. Simple as that, s'long as we get paid."

"That's...kinda cynical, don't you think?" Joe asked.

"Don't listen to Jason, Joe." Harper said. "When he's not pissed at someone, he's pissed at something. You'll learn to tune him out."

Jason extended his arms out at the two of them, middle fingers set flying.

"Fuck both of you." he said. He stomped off to the bathroom, making more of a show of it than necessary.

"It's cynical, sure, but it's how we stay in business." Harper said. "We handle our shit and they handle theirs. Besides, Jason's right about one thing. They're not in as much danger as you think. Worst that'd happened would be a ticket." He paused, fishing for something to say. "So where ya from?" he said, falling back on an old standby.

"I...oh..." Joe put his hands in his pockets. "I don't really like to talk about it...if that's okay with you."

"That's peachy with me, but lemme tell you, it ain't healthy to run from the past. Someday, it'll bite on the ass harder just for runnin' from it." Harper said. Joe laughed and gazed out into the night sky.

"Hard to run from something that refuses to chase you..." he said, mysteriously. "So what about you?" He asked after a while. "What's your story?"

"Me? Ah, not much to tell." Harper said. "Grew up just fine. Me, dad, mom. I went to school like everybody else. 'Cept...my senior year, my dad got cancer and died. I had to drop out to take care of my mom. She's got dementia. Don't know up from down some days, but she's alright most of the time. I'm workin' here as a second job. Savin' up for to get my GED." He shrugged. "Y'know how it is."

"Yeah...I'm sorry about your mother." Joe said.

"Why? It ain't your fault. As the sayin' goes, shit happens."

"Yeah...but I can't help feeling bad for you."

"Don't. All you need to do is stay friendly and maybe provide a shoulder to lean on. Just to get my feet back, alright?"

"Got it." Joe said, smiling. "So...what you do want to do after you get your GED?"

"That," Harper said, "is a story only for my friends. Do a good job and you may here it some day, newbie." Harper returned the kid's smile.