“Well, would you look at who it is!”
Bennie recognized that familiar voice the second it bellowed through the café, Calloway Barrow’s confident, southern Texas drawl hard to miss anywhere. Along with it came Calloway’s chestnut brown locks and deep brown eyes, his stature not unlike most of the 20-year-olds in town. Standing at five-foot-six, he had nearly half a head over Bennie Parker’s slight five-foot-two, despite his 19 years of age.
“Miss me, baby blue?” Calloway’s dashing smile and flirtatious banter earned him a snapping of Bennie’s towel and a stern glare.
“If you’re just comin’ here thinkin’ this smize and your…sweet talkin’ garbage is gonna get you any handouts, you’re wrong, Cal,” Bennie made clear, his back turned to Calloway in an instant before he was grabbed and pulled back by the apron. “What—do you think you’re doing? I’ve got a job to be—”
“Calm down, baby blue. I ain’t here for any handouts,” Calloway stated calmly, his dark brown eyes gazing into Bennie’s bright blue ones. “I’m here to see you. It’s been awhile, ain’t it, sugar?” he flirted, that same smug expression returning which Bennie loathed more than anything, hating how his charm worked on anyone who was too dense to see right through it. Calloway could get anything he wanted with that same charm, but not with Ben.
“Been awhile ‘cause you went and got yourself locked up for stealing! Now would you let me get this fine gentleman his Coca-Cola?” Bennie snapped, jerking his apron out of Calloway’s grasp to get back to his job.
True, Cal had gotten himself locked up for stealing, but it was only to help his family, and old man Robins who lived next door owned enough chickens to feed the entire town, that greedy son of a bitch. For that, Cal believed that he should’ve been hailed a hero, but the law didn’t work in his favor.
“Would you just forgive me already, baby blue? You know I didn’t mean it. I served my time and now I’m a free man, you got that? It won’t happen again, promised.”
Those comments went ignored by Bennie, save for an unamused eyebrow raise as he ran back and forth behind the counter fulfilling orders for the patrons of the busy café.
“Let me help ya,” Calloway decided suddenly, inviting himself behind the counter and grabbed one of the spare aprons hanging on a hook. After searching for a moment, he found a pencil and order sheet before Bennie had even a mere second to protest.
“Sir, what can I get for you today?” The man was in the middle of reciting his order whenever Bennie caught sight of it all.
“What on earth do you think you’re doing, Cal?!” he gasped and instantly tried ripping the pen and paper from Calloway’s hands. “Customers are supposed to stay behind the counter,” he snapped through gritted teeth, his speech low enough as not to broadcast it to the entire café. If his boss came in, she would absolutely kill him.
“I’m helping out, sugar. It’s busy and I know what I’m doing, so hold your horses. It’s a favor, and you oughta be thanking me,” Calloway responded cockily before running to prepare the order he had taken. “I’ll be here as long as you need me.”
With Bennie and Calloway the only two working the counter, hours flew by until the pair had hardly even noticed the closing time fast approaching. The nonstop rush had died down only in the last thirty minutes until closing, leaving the two time to converse as they cleaned up the kitchen for the night.
“So you’re telling me you do this every night? All by your lonesome? Golll-llly, I can’t even imagine it, baby blue,” Calloway scoffed as he swept the floor with a broom. The most work Cal had done in a day maybe consisted of babysitting the youngins or helping pops in the field, but even at that, he had time for a break every now and then. “I guess things sure have changed in a year, ain’t they? You know if Helen’s coming back to manage this place or is she gone with the wind? Don’t know what she’d do with the baby otherwise. Is her husband some hot shot architect or lawyer or something? Ain’t no way they’ll be able to feed a little one with one measly income,” he conversed, his ego deflated significantly having tired himself out on his feet for hours.
“She ain’t comin’ back, said so already. No one wants to work at some tiny café that can hardly stand to pay its workers anything decent,” Bennie sighed, wiping the sweat from his forehead and stared across the room at Calloway, still feeling as though he was in some dream. He had allowed Calloway Barrow, convicted criminal and infamously known across the neighborhood, into the kitchen, and even after an exhausting few hours, he was still here helping a run-down Bennie close up the place. This had to be a miracle. “By the way, uh… Thanks for the help today, Cal. I really appreciated it,” he admitted hesitantly, his head hung as he wiped the dishes dry with a towel. “Too many days like this go by with no help at all,” he explained, glancing back over and pursed his lips whenever he returned to finishing the dishes.
No matter how pestering and annoying, Bennie liked to believe that Calloway was a good person at heart. The man had shown him time after time that there was more to himself than the town saw; he was more than just some poor low-life criminal. Bennie just prayed to god that this man could get his life back on track, true and honest. If only the luck would work in his favor.
“You can leave now if you’d like. I can take care of the rest,” Bennie informed as he began putting away dishes.
The two stood in silence for a moment as Bennie waited for Cal to answer.
“Ain’t got nowhere to be… My folks ain’t too concerned either. Why’d I leave now?” Calloway asked, his voice showing not a single trace of sarcasm or banter.
After another half an hour, Bennie’s eyes could hardly stay open as he leaned against the counter, Calloway accepting the duties to flip the “open” sign, lock the main entrance, and close the blinds. The radio still bellowed quietly throughout the room as Bennie watched, the two reveling in the silent conversation. Calloway hummed along to the instrumental jazz playing, bringing a begrudging smile about Bennie’s face.
“You know this song?” he asked amusedly, arms crossed over his chest as he leaned back against the counter.
“Of course I know this song. One of my favorites, sugar.”
“Mine too.” A silence. “I ought to get home though, but it’s been swell, Cal. My folks will be wonderin’ if I got held up by some criminal like you,” he teased half-heartedly. “See you ‘round,” he said finally, looking up into Calloway’s eyes and gave him a pat on the shoulder before he headed out, Calloway close at his heels.
“Tomorrow,” he spoke up suddenly. “I’m comin’ in and helping you tomorrow, 7 A.M. sharp. You won’t be disappointed,” Calloway promised confidently, and immediately, Bennie was doubtful.
“O-kay… I’ll see you then. 7 A.M. tomorrow,” he agreed skeptically, waving goodbye as he and Calloway headed in opposite directions.
Whenever Calloway arrived back home, he wasn’t surprised to find that no one had waited up on him. The lights were all off as he slipped to his room, shared with his older brother, Ivan, who he found awake strumming quietly at his ukulele.
“Hey,” Cal greeted briskly, stripping out of his dirty clothes, leaving him in an undershirt and shorts. He took a seat on his own bed opposite Ivan’s and watched for a moment, the music calming his busy mind immensely. “How was your day?” he asked quietly and curiously, biting his nails as he awaited an answer. At home, Calloway could be an entirely different person. Rather than his loud, charming self, Cal was more relaxed, open, and sincere, qualities that only developed with certain people and after quite some time. Not only was Ivan his brother, but he was his best friend, and they told each other everything. His brother closest in age despite the four year difference, the friendship was bound to happen as they shared the same room since Cal was born.
“It was good,” Ivan answered vaguely and shrugged, though to Calloway, it was obvious that something else was on his mind.
“What’s goin’ on?” he asked quietly, getting himself adjusted under the covers and laid on his side facing Ivan. “Everything alright?”
Ivan sighed and visibly thought for a second before he spoke up, his words hesitant. “Discussed movin’ out today. Don’t wanna leave you guys, but you know, I’m gonna ask Virginia for her hand real soon. Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, Champ.”
As disappointed as he was, Calloway didn’t show it. “That sounds mighty fine if you’re askin’ me. I’m happy for you two,” he said, turning onto his back and stared at the ceiling in thought. “You know, I’ve got my sights on a real nice person too…” he stated quietly.
“Really?” Ivan asked in surprise and disbelief, his full interest showing. “Who is she? Do I know her?” he asked quickly, anxious for an answer. Calloway bit his lip and remained silent for a second, almost afraid to carry on. Telling his secret would either bring his friendship with his brother even closer or tear it to shreds, and he wasn’t so sure that he wanted to risk it.
“You don’t know them,” he answered, leaving it ambiguous enough before Ivan asked questions.
“Okay, so who is she? What’s her name, and what’s she look like? C’mon, Champ, I’m more excited about this than you are!” he teased, hitting the bed beside him excitedly. “Would you tell me already?”
“Ivan, remember whenever you promised to be around for me no matter what? Right after I came back home and ma and pop and I got into that huge argument? You said you were on my side no matter what. Did you…really mean no matter anything?” he asked, dropping the biggest hint possible with his statement.
“Of course, Cal, what…? I have no idea, so just tell me and… I’ll be happy no matter who you’ve decided to get together with. As long as you’re happy, bud,” he explained as he crossed the room to stow away the uke. “So…” he pressured, nudging his brother before climbing back into his own bed.
“I…You know, it doesn’t even matter, Ive. I’ll tell ya some other time, okay? I’m tired,” Calloway decided suddenly, his blanket drawn to his chest as he curled up around himself. “Nighty night.”
“Cal, what…? Why can’t you just tell me? You think I’ll go tell ma and pop if you, I dunno… Were shacking up with some married woman or… Some divorcee?” Ivan interjected, sitting up on the edge of his bed, antsy for an answer. “Cal, just tell me already, would ya?”
“Ivan, I said I’m goin’ to bed. I’m done with this conversation. Just… Go to sleep already. I’ll tell ya in the morning,” Cal promised snappily, his face buried in his pillow as the room fell silent.
“O…kay, Cal. Suit yourself,” Ivan mumbled in defeat, tucking himself into his own bed and stared across the room at his younger brother. “Night, bud,” he sighed, turning onto his other side to stare at the wall in thought, his mind exploring all of the possible women Cal could possibly have his eye on.