“What can I get you today?” Bobby asked the man in the far left four top.
“Just coffee with sugar.” His menu sat untouched in its chrome holder.
“Right away, mister.” Bobby’s fake cheerfulness was more fake than cheerful. It was near eleven o’clock. The last hour of a four to midnight was always the weirdest in a diner off a busy road. Eight to four is the normals with the breakfast club seniors providing color commentary. Bobby rarely worked that shift because of school. And midnight to eight was neither mind numbing boredom or nerve wracking drunken shenanigans.
“We got troubles Bobby?” Lil asked without looking up. Lil always pronounced Bobby’s name like “Barbie” and this always made him smile. She was old friends of his foster mom and made him think of grandma hugs.
“Nay he’s safe as houses Miss Lily. Probably needs caffeine for a long drive. He looks like a Sunday school teacher.” Bobby poured silky brown coffee into a chunky white mug. Lil spared him a look.
“One day I’ll tell you a story about a Sunday school teacher that will curl your hair.” Lil returned to her phone.
“ here you go sir. The specials are meatloaf with mushroom gravy, Salisbury steak, chicken parm with spaghetti and soup of day is chicken orzo.” Bobby set down the coffee cup.
The man was doodling on his paper placemat. He doesn’t bother to make eye contact. “That sounds very special. But no.”
Bobby remembered the sugar and turned. The bell of entrance rings. In walked Fiona, Mel, and Zoe. Sugar forgotten, Bobby gaped. Over her shoulder Zoe tossed him lingering look. Bobby stepped towards the trio then turned and hid in the men’s restroom.
The sound of raised voices shook him from his stall. In the diner a group of high schoolers were holding court in one of the corner booths. The solo was watching him with intensity.
Damn, Bobby thought. Quickly he topped off the solo diner’s coffee and brought the sugar. The diner smiled and looked away. His placemat was a detailed sketch of a sun dappled suburban street. Bobby was captivated.
“I love to draw too.”
“Yeah you do,” the stranger answered.
The crowd of kids yahooed. Bobby took their order of seven glasses of water and an order of fries.
“Millionaire’s special, Ronald,” Bobby told the short order cook. Lil and Ronald cackled knowingly.
“What’s going on?” Bobby asked the three women.
“Finally,” Mel huffed.
“This place has terrible customer service,” Fiona said. “I hope the pie is better than the waitstaff. “
“You promised you’d be nice,” Zoe pleaded. “Bae I just thought I’d I mean we’d drop by to see you on your—“
“Stop i don’t celebrate and you know why. I don’t know how to be a couple I can barely be me. You said you were cool. You said you understood.” His friend/almost girlfriend hurried out and Bobby caught her arm just outside the diner door. Their fragile love was painted by the diner’s neon light. They argued. Bobby punched the glass. Zoe cried. Her friends came outside and called him names. The three drove out of the parking lot and Bobby called for Zoe. Zoe braked on the shoulder and she kissed him before driving away.
Flustered Bobby walked back in. The high schoolers hooted. Lil folded her arms and glared. Ronald shook his head as he scraped the grill.
The solo had left behind his empty cup, a Jackson, and a map of a friendly familiar street that tickled Bobby’s mind. He traced his fingers over the drawing. It was signed happy birthday. A highway of memories, snapshots of Christmases and parties and a mother he could almost remember, all roared passed him. Bobby folded his map and searched the still parking lot.