So, I decided I wanted to finish the whole story before I started uploading anything else, so now I will just spend time editing before I post each chapter.
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"…That's basically it then. We'll keep it simple the first couple days, just a few hours, but if you are willing I'd like to have you working full days with us. It would make things a lot easier." Ben smiled warmly at me. The day before, I had accepted his offer of a job, but they decided that I should rest for the day though I had expressed my discontent and announced that I could start that day. Miranda, however, insisted that I stay at their home and sleep for a while even though I insisted that I could make the drive to the hotel on my own. But Miranda wouldn't hear of it and hid my keys from me. Of course I reluctantly had to agree, I still wasn't feeling my best and I knew that I looked a lot worse than I felt.
I didn't do it just to be back in that plush, sink into, mold to your body, comfy bed.
Ben, Corey, and I had come to the diner around seven in the morning to get ready for the day. Miranda, who had trouble moving around too much these days, was left at home to rest.
Corey had spent the first thirty minutes showing me around and helping me get acquainted with everything, then he and Ben spent the half-hour before opening restocking the kitchen. Apparently they liked to keep all the ingredients where they were easily accessible.
"When the rush hits," Ben informed me, "we don't have time to grab stuff from the back."
"What time does the rush usually hit?"
"I'd say around eleven, that's when things start to pick up. It usually dies down around one, but we get another rush from five to seven."
True to his word the little diner was filled to the brim by 11:05 and people began to line up at the door waiting for a seat. There was an orderly chaos to the Roadhouse: six friends were trying to cram themselves into a booth seat meant for four, a few truckers were chatting and laughing at the end of the counter area, families were trying to restrain giddy children, new parents were attempting to hush grumpy babies, and all this with a symphony of sizzling griddles, buzzing blenders, and a few voices shouting orders above the crowd.
But no one seemed bothered by the commotion, and as I looked around from my spot at the register I could see Ben smiling and chatting with customers, Corey was grinning ear to ear and laughing as he placed orders for his tables, and a general feeling of happiness continued to wash over the place. People who were angry at waiting in line for so long ended up laughing and joking with the others around them as though they were never angry before.
Time passed so quickly in the flurry of activity and I was able to forget myself for a little while, forget the hurts, forget the pains, forget the past, and forget what I had left behind both the good and the bad. For that few hours I could just be. I could be, without thought, without fear, without pain, without suffering, without want, without cares. I could breath.
"Hey, it's break time, pick something off the menu."
My sweet, sweet reverie was interrupted by Corey's statement. I had been running on auto pilot for the last few hours, smiling at customers, asking them about their meal, taking money, giving change, and not once giving any thought to taking a break or eating. But Corey's sudden statement had brought me back to myself and had my mouth watering.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that it's time for you to take a break, you know, sit down, relax, eat something? It's one of the perks of working here; you can have anything off the menu for lunch. Although it is three already, so I guess it would be more like lunch-dinner. So… dinch?" I gave Corey my best confused look even though I knew what he was trying to do. "No? Well, then I guess its linner!" Again, I gave him a very confused look. He returned my gaze with an equally confused stare and continued, "Do you even know what I'm saying?"
I kept my laugh bottled up, "Yes, you are trying to put lunch and dinner together like you put breakfast and lunch together to make brunch, but you are failing miserably at it." I gave him a sly smile, still containing my laughter. Laughing would only hurt right now with my ribs still bruised. Corey had no inhibitions and allowed his amusement to be known.
"Well, I guess you do have a humorous side!" Corey walked over to the now empty counter and sat down.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I followed him to the counter and sat down as he placed a one of the menus in front of me.
"I only mean that every time I have been around you for the past three days you're either mad at me or…"
"Hang on a minute..." I cut him off, "As I remember it, the first time I was here I wasn't mad at you, nor did I act like I was mad at you! As for yesterday morning, you had the stupid idea that grabbing my arm would stop me! And then you had that fiasco with the pancakes, and I remember being near tears since I couldn't hold my laughter and my sides hurt so badly."
Corey scratched his head and just looked at me. My face was burning from my sudden outburst and I looked down at the floor in fear. I was suddenly thrust back into my old house.
Three weeks. Mom has been gone for three weeks. I'm so tired. I barely sleep anymore. I'm running on auto-pilot. Everything I do is routine. Wake up, shower, go to school, come home, make dinner, do homework, lock my door, lay in bed. Dad comes home drunk every night. He slams the door shut around midnight. He stumbles over things, bumps into the table, fumbles up the stairs, hollering at the top of his lungs for my mother. In his drunken state he still thinks she must be somewhere in the house. I am tired. I need to sleep. I have reached the end of my rope. Three weeks. I haven't been able to sleep. Three weeks.
I open my door and yell. I'm not even sure what I end up yelling. Now he is in front of me, now he is yelling at me. I fall back onto the floor in surprise. No. No, that didn't just happen. My lip hurts, I taste copper. No. I am… This didn't happen. He didn't mean to… But he did.
And each time I acted out he reassured me he meant what he did that night.
I blinked and sat there with my head down, certain that I would soon feel the sting of a hit for my 'insolence' as he would put it.
Corey, who at first seemed unfazed by my speech, said quickly, "Pick something off the menu or I will pick it for you." With that, he stood up and walked behind the counter without looking back at me.
"I'm not really hungry…" I replied quietly having lost my appetite. Corey's friendly and welcoming attitude had turned cold. He wasn't looking at me or smiling at me like he did before and it brought me back to the realization that I was just a guest here.
It wasn't that I hadn't known that I was a guest, but the warm smiles and the friendly gestures had made me feel more like I was a friend of the family than a stranger who just showed up at their doorstep. But now with Corey's sudden coldness I felt left out in the snow without a coat.
Corey shook his head in exasperation and without turning toward me said formally, "Ok, thank you for your order of a turkey sandwich and cheesy broccoli soup; we will have it ready in just one moment."
The rest of the day went smoothly; we made it through the second rush with minimal issues and had closed the diner for the night. Corey and Ben returned home after I had assured Ben that I would be able to drive to the hotel on my own. Of course they didn't know that I didn't have a room or even money for a room at a hotel, but I drove off in that direction anyway.
My plan was to spend the night in my jeep and drive to the diner in the morning to help them open. I dug through my stuff in the back of the jeep and cheered a little to myself when I located my old digital watch. It was nearly five years old, but I was hoping the battery would still be working, otherwise I wouldn't have an alarm to wake me up.
My watch worked perfectly and I settled into a routine for the next week. Each morning I would get up at six and drive to the gas station where I would use the bathroom to change into fresh clothes after using a wash cloth to clean some of the grime from my body. It wasn't ideal by any means, but it worked. Then I would drive over to the diner and wait for Corey and Ben to pull up in their white pickup truck, just like they did today.
"Good morning Allie," Ben smiled at me as he walked over to unlock the door. Corey followed him to the door but said nothing to me and he didn't even look at me. I was hoping that my outburst earlier in the week would be forgotten and that Corey would be back to his normal self today, but it didn't look like that was happening.
"Morning Mr. Davenport, morning Corey." I tried every day to elicit some response from Corey, but he ignored me as best he could. It was annoying and tiresome to feel so rejected by someone you depend on so much, and I was very dependent on the Davenports, whether they knew it or not. The only money I had on me was the twenty left after my encounter at the gas station, and I needed to use that to make sure I could have at least some gas in my car to keep up my façade. This meant that I had no money for food or anything else I may need, so I was lucky that they insisted that I eat an ungodly sized meal when I took a lunch break.
"How many times must I tell you to call me Ben before you will listen?" Ben chided genially. I replied to his comment with a smile and walked through the diner door he held open.
The day progressed smoothly into the afternoon. In the past few days I had begun not only tending to the register but also answering the phone, so when Miranda called just after two demanding to speak to Ben, my first thought was that she had discovered my secret.
This may seem a little like I think the world revolves around me, but after a few years of really crappy life, you get paranoid when things start to go your way. In my experience, one good week amounted to at least two hellish weeks to follow. The saying goes: "Take the good with the bad" and I currently had so much good I wondered when the bad would come but as I heard snippets of Ben's conversation I found my fears waning.
"No…Mary Ann said….Stop, I'll send Corey… No, I will…. Just wait…Miranda!" Ben dropped the phone next to the register and hollered for Corey who was restocking the kitchen. "Corey, go pick up your mother and bring her here. She said she was going to start walking here if we don't get her out of the house."
Ben threw the keys across the room to Corey. "Ok, I'll be right back." Corey said shortly. Once he was out the door Ben shook his head and took up Corey's job restocking.
"I just don't understand that boy sometimes" Ben began. I just nodded my head knowing he was talking more to himself than me at the moment. "So, are you going to tell me why my son seems to be avoiding you like the plague? I don't think I've seen him speak more than ten words to you since Tuesday."
I was a little startled by Ben's frankness. I didn't think that anyone else had noticed, nor did I really want anyone to. But if Ben knew what had happened maybe he would be able to help me correct the situation. Surely he would know what I could do or say to get Corey to talk to me again. I explained what had happened and asked Ben what he thought I should do.
"Nothing," he replied, "I'll talk to Corey and fix this."
Though I didn't like that Ben thought he could just sidestep me and fix my problems for me, I felt like I was out of options. "Do you know why he started acting like that? I know I shouldn't have said what I did, but I also didn't think that it warranted his reaction." If I knew what I had done to make Corey act this way I could keep from doing it again.
Before Ben could answer my question, the door opened to reveal Corey and Miranda. Miranda smiled at me kindly, and I noticed that she looked very tire and worn out. Ben walked over and placed his hand gently on her extended stomach as he gave Miranda a quick kiss on the cheek. I watched as Miranda's fatigue seemed to lessen with the contact. One of her hands strayed upward and she cupped his face and smiled lovingly as she looked into his eyes. Ben guided her over to one of the counter stools near the register where I was still standing; he then grabbed Corey by the arm and proceeded to drag him into the back.
"Well, now that it's just you and me I think we should talk a little. My husband seems to think that our son is avoiding you for some reason. Care to elaborate?"
I explained the situation and when I was done Miranda started laughing. I gave her a curious look and she explained, "Well, he isn't mad at you!" Then she began laughing again, "If I know my son, then he is just so confused by you he doesn't know how to react to what you said! He is so used to girls falling all over themselves to impress him and get his attention that someone like you is a major curve ball!"
Just then Ben walked out of the back and told me to go help Corey restock the kitchen then began taking orders from people at the other end of the counter. I turned to Miranda, my eyes pleading with her not to make we go back there. She must have felt at least a little sorry for me because she asked one of the others in the diner to help Corey.
"Damian, could you please go help Corey stock the kitchen? Ben asked Allie to do it, but I need to talk to her."
Damian. When I met him two days ago I thought he was a lost California Surfer looking for the interstate. When he walked into the diner the first thing I noticed were his orange shorts and brown sandals. My eyes traveled upward to his white muscle shirt with a beach scene spray painted on it like the ones you can get at amusement parks or vacation spots. Even though I know that I shouldn't have, I made a few assumptions based on his appearance. Number one: I thought he would be stupid. Number two: I thought that he would have a strange accent. Number three: I thought he would flirt with anything that moved. I was mostly right. Ok, I was mostly wrong, but he did flirt with just about anything that moved.
"Sure Mrs. D"
"Now, Allie, if I know what I know then Corey will be talking to you by tomorrow!"
True to her word Corey was at least talking to me by the next day and over the next week we were talking and laughing more and more. At the end of the week Ben paid me and I used most of it to buy a room at the motel for a night to finally take a real bath and sleep on a bed for the first time since I had met the Davenports.
The next morning I arrived at the diner to find the door open but no cars around. Cautiously, I walked up to the door and knocked, "Anyone here?" It was just a little past the time I would normally arrive, so I thought that Corey and Ben would already be there.
"In back!" I heard Corey holler from the stockroom, he walked out a few seconds later, "Hey, it's just you and I for a few a little while, we may open a little later than usual to make sure we have someone who can cook."
"What do you mean? Where is your dad?" I was concerned; Ben was always prompt when opening the diner.
"Mom went into labor this morning, so Dad dropped me off here to open and went with her to the hospital."
"Shouldn't you be there with them? The diner can be closed for a day!"
"Tell that to Pops, he refused to let me and my mother agreed with him. So it's just you and me for now. Dad said that we should open as much as we can, but as you already know, I am no chef, and Jim isn't scheduled until one."
"Can't you just call him in earlier?"
"No, there's some strange regulation thing with this social security. He isn't allowed to work more than fifteen hours a week and since it's Friday he has already clocked in the rest of those hours."
"What about Trevor or Damien?"
"Damian has a twenty minute drive to get here and he hasn't had chef training, neither has Trevor. We are stuck."
I thought for a few moments. Miranda had been hinting that Ben wanted Corey to take some more responsibilities, today would be the perfect time to see how Corey works under pressure without there being a lot of stress. If he did poorly then the customers would understand, who would be able to concentrate when their parents are at the hospital.
"Well, then it's just you and me, let's get everything ready. Go stock the kitchen, I'll get the register set-up and come help you. Then I want you to call Damian and Trevor to see if either of them can get in here early. Until they do, you will be doing orders for the tables and running the register. I'll take care of the counter. If you start to fall behind then I'll start putting totals on the receipts. Got it?"
"Uh, sure?" Corey looked at me like I had grown a second head. When he didn't move I rolled my eyes.
"Hey! We have thirty minutes until we open, get your butt moving!"
Corey's face turned into an ear to ear smile, "Yes Ma'am!"
Thirty minutes later Corey is about to unlock the door when he turned to me and asked, "What are we going to serve people? I'm no good at cooking, and we won't have Jim until one, right? Trevor can't come in today, and Damian will be here but he also doesn't know how to cook."
"Do you have a problem with that?"
"No, no problem. I just didn't know you knew how."
I paused for a few seconds before replying to him. "My mother and I used to cook all the time when I was younger. We made cookies and cakes for bake sales, and I helped make dinner almost every night. I know my way around a stove. Granted, this is going to be a much larger stove… well, griddle, but the idea is the same."
Corey just stared at the floor for a moment. That's when Damian showed up.
"Hey, yo, you two ready or what?" Corey must have explained everything to Damian while I was prepping the kitchen.
"Haha, well, ready or not, here they come!" Corey and Damian walked over to the register and I went to the kitchen to make sure everything was hot and ready to go. Orders started flowing in steadily as people filtered in and out of the place. The three of us were working in near perfect synchronization, and since I knew what many of the regulars would order already, most of the cook time was cut in half. I barely noticed when Jim walked up next to me while tying his apron on.
"Well, I guess I had better be watching out for my job girl! You may just end up replacing me soon!"
I turned to flash Jim a grin before I went back to the pancakes and omelets on the griddle.
"Aww, I couldn't ever replace an old coot!" We laughed together for a moment as Jim's steel gray eyes surveyed my work.
"Well, you certainly are efficient! All the regulars are saying they want you cooking from now on. Apparently they get their food almost twice as fast!"
"It helps that I have been serving them for almost a month now." I smiled again as I flipped a pancake.
"Well, you seem to be doing a fine job on your own. I'll try to restock after this rush." With that Jim started filling orders right there with me.
Around seven that evening the diner got a call. Corey picked up and after a few seconds his eyes lit up and he was talking quickly and excitedly with the person on the other line. By the time his conversation was over I already knew what it was about.
Of course, in true Corey Fashion, he climbed onto one of the counter stools and shouted to the whole diner, "Guess what everyone? I'm the proud older brother of Gabriel Andrew Davenport, seven pounds six ounces!"
Everyone in the diner started cheering, and I bet the astronauts in space would have been able to see Corey's smile. It was like the Grand Canyon had suddenly stretched itself across his face.
"Twenty says the smile stays on for only a week before he gets sick of being awake all night."
I grinned ruefully at Jim, "I'll take that bet! He won't last three days!"