Chapter 1: Another Day Another Dollar
Maybe it’ll come back today. That feeling of fulfillment and population. Who am I kidding? Most days I wake up feeling like I’ve been emptied and as the day goes on it still feels all the more lonely. The only thing I found in common with others is that we are all lonely. I’ve fared better than others, I at least still have some family members. Then comes the guilt for feeling like I have it better than others, I at the very least didn’t lose a child, a spouse, or myself. I did however lose my sister, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about her. Some days are completely unbearable for others around me, especially Emma. She lost both her son and husband in all this.
She can’t make it in to work again today. Luckily a lot of people are understanding these days so it wasn’t a big deal for the big boss to tell her to stay home today. We aren’t exactly swamped either but I still have a rough twelve more hours of work ahead of me. Mulligan’s is a small truck stop diner, the lightning chrome siding and interior compliment every inch of the place. Some of the neon in the windows happened to still be going after all these years, it felt like dining in the fifty’s. There wasn’t much of a view outside the windows, all there was were cars zipping on the interstate and a mulchy cornfield.
“Are you waitin’ for it to cool off before you bring it to me Harper?” Earl’s croaky voice echoed behind me. He broke my vacant gaze into the stainless steel siding of the coffee maker.
“Well you did spill a bit on yourself yesterday, I’m only being cautious.” I joked and turned around to face the old man. He was smiling brightly over his newspaper at me, I could barely see him beneath his dirty old ball cap.
“I’ve been too clumsy lately.” He set aside his newspaper on the stool next to him. I set his cup of coffee down in front of him. He lifted the mug and took a sip.
Earl is a favorite regular of mine, he is one of the people that managed to take the edge off the loneliness. Even on my days off I come in and visit, I might have a bit of breakfast with him at the counter sometimes. Earl was at the age of near complete carelessness, he had been alone long before Thanos came along. I remember the days he brought his wife in for meals, coffee, and pie. She passed a while back of old age. They never had kids, so no grandchildren. So in a sense I and everyone else that frequents this diner are his family.
“Don’t forget to take your pills.” I reminded him.
“Oh.” He popped up a bit and reached into his flannel breast pocket. He slipped a few pills beneath his glaringly white mustache and downed them with coffee “My doctor says I’ve gotta start eating less gluten. What in the hell is gluten?”
“Breads…grains.” I told him.
“Oh, well I guess I’ll be having rye with my breakfast instead of sourdough then.”
“Rye still has gluten in it.”
“So no toast at all?” He begrudgingly asked.
I shook my head.
After finding the best gluten free breakfast on the menu and handing it over to Charlie our main line cook, I set off for the restroom. I adjusted my yellow button up dress in the mirror before washing my hands, I could feel the bun in my red curls begin to slip. At first I didn’t want to take it down but the feeling of running my hands through my hair was too soothing to pass up. Nothing had changed when I came back out to the dining room, no new customers and Earl’s food hadn’t been put in the kitchen window yet. I’m only halfway through my own shift as it is, now I’m fully regretting covering for Emma.
This was how my days usually went. Earl showing up at the crack of dawn, I wouldn’t see a single soul until about eleven, there would be a brief lunch rush and nothing again until people trickled in for dinner. Tonight will be a little busier, it’s prime rib night, a favorite with the locals.
“Are you sticking around for prime rib tonight?” I pestered Earl.
“There’s not gluten in it is there?”
“No, there isn’t.”
“There is a God.” He took a sip of his coffee.
Lunch came and went, without my help Earl managed to order something gluten free. I found myself wiping down the same tables over and over again out of pure boredom and I just about rolled every piece of silverware into napkins in the restaurant. Charlie took advantage of my lack of tasks and had me fill a bunch of ramekins with horseradish for dinner tonight. That took a lot less time than I imagined and I found myself wondering around for stuff to do again. I about leapt over the counter when the bell from the front door rang. Finally some customers!
It was a family of four, a mother and father with a pair of twin boys. They had to be about fifteen because they were both pretty gangly. The mom ordered a salad while everyone else ordered the bacon burger. Not long after I placed their order the mom came up to the counter to order some appetizers, explaining they were hungrier than they thought. I watched her basically eat an entire plate of mozzarella sticks to herself, her boys didn’t seem to mind because they downed a basket of onion rings like a pack of hyenas that haven’t eaten in a week.
This family was something nice to see for a change. They all had one another and they looked happy to be in each other’s company. When they were finished eating they left a rather large tip, I was surprised and it made my day a little more bearable. As they left that’s when dinner guests started to trickle in along with our busboy Clinton. He worked most nights helping Emma clean up, he can even step in and order if it happens to get too busy for one person to handle. I needed him tonight because the place filled up completely in about two hours. I guess everyone wants prime rib tonight.
Charlie anticipated a large crowd and was slinging out plates as fast as I gave him the orders. The prime rib special came with prime rib of course, a double baked potato, and mixed veggies. He had made just about seventy baked potatoes earlier that day for the demand. There were a lot of points where I felt overwhelmed but Clinton saved the evening by clearing tables and getting drinks for me.
The night was starting to dwindle down again, Clinton was at full force wiping down the emptying tables. I was working on mopping up a spilt strawberry milkshake underneath one of the tables, the group left without telling me about the mess so it had dried a little bit. They also stiffed me on a tip after being a bit demanding for hours on end. Sometimes I’d like to think these times made people more humble, but I can’t speak for everybody.
Earl was busy thumbing through a magazine, he had hardly moved all day. I always wondered if sitting on those uncomfortable stools made his back wretch, but as of a month ago he started bringing in his own cushion. When his wife died she made him promise to take care of himself while she was gone, he’s been following the direct orders of his doctor ever since. His only vice was coffee.
The bright pink milkshake managed to stain the white linoleum, it was too far gone so I just shifted the table back over it. People don’t really look under there anyway.
“Here Clinton, I have tips for you.” I reached for the wad on cash that was building inside my apron pocket. He just about teleported across the room, I counted out the cash best I could splitting it fifty fifty and handed it over. He thanked me and skipped along to the counter. This was his favorite part of the night, spending his tip money on a burger. Charlie knew the routine and had it ready for him, Clinton sat right next to Earl and as usual they started talking about fixing up cars. It was something they had in common.
“Can you watch the dining room for me Clint? I’ll be right back.” I asked the teen while grabbing his burger from the window.
“Yeah sure.” He gingerly replied taking the plate.
I went off to the restroom to freshen up a bit and do a bit of business. I came back out to see the seat next to Earl emptied and a lonely half eaten burger sitting on its plate. A man was sitting at the very end of the counter with dirty blond hair. My eyes scanned around, Clinton was standing by a corner booth taking a groups order.
I briskly walked across the way back to the counter to help the man sitting at the counter, when I got closer I slowed myself because I was struck by how devastatingly handsome he was. Dirty blond hair styled back and a trimmed darker beard that complimented his brown leather jacket. He had sullen blue eyes, tired. There was something familiar about him.
Earl stopped me before I could get any closer.
“What a looker…” He whispered my way. My face must have gotten at least ten shades redder as I tried to write off the comment and walked to the other end of the counter.
“Hello, welcome to Mulligan’s. I’m Harper and I’m going to be your waitress tonight.” I grabbed and handed off a menu in front of the man.
“Thank you.” He smiled lightly at me and opened the menu.
“Is there anything I can get you to drink? I just brewed a new pot of coffee.” I invited.
“A coffee sounds great right about now, thank you.” He smiled with a tired and sultry voice.
“Ok.” I smiled dumbly back. He was so incredibly attractive I was having second hand embarrassment for myself. I was consciously reminding myself to seem normal as I filled a simple cup of coffee for this man. Before I could actually set the mug down he held out his hand to me, I reluctantly handed it over.
“Thank you.” He brushed his fingers over mine to fully take the mug. I could feel my cheeks warm so I quickly went and turned around to find something to do. I awkwardly stacked glasses on a tray in front of me. I thought I was being slick until my leaning tower I shittily slapped together in thirty seconds toppled over. Five glasses shattered on impact with the floor, I pursed my lips and turned, my cheeks were on fire now.
“Is there anything I can get you to eat?” I asked trying to diffuse my embarrassment.
He leaned over the counter at the mess I just made “Do you need help cleaning that up?”
“Oh no, I’ll get it.” I replied quietly stepping over the glass “We have a special tonight, prime rib and a twice baked potato.”
“It’s gluten free.” Earl chimed in.
“Yes, gluten free…” I added.
“I’ll have that then.”
“Charlie, a prime rib special please.” I called to the window without so much as taking my eyes off of this new stranger.
After I gave the order to Charlie I scrambled to find the broom and dustpan. Clinton came around the counter to hand off a new ticket for food in the window, he turned around and his eyes suddenly widened.
“You’re Steve Rogers!” Clinton blurted at the man. Steve Rogers? Why is that name so familiar?
“I am.” The stranger replied.
“Is that your Harley outside?!”
“It is.” The man took a sip of his coffee.
“Wow! Captain America! Captain America rides a Harley and he RODE it to my work!”
Captain America?! He’s Captain…Steve Rogers…Holy…
Clinton immediately started bombarding the man with a barrage of innocent questions, I was taken aback a bit. By now I would have told Clinton to let the man be but I was a bit too star struck at the moment to react.
“Where’s your shield? Have you ever stopped a bullet? How fast can you run?!” Clinton went on and on.
“Ok ok let him have his peace.” I lightly lead Clinton away and steered him towards his stool where his burger awaited “I’m sorry about him.” I apologized returning to sweeping up my mess.
“It’s ok, he’s just excited.”
“You’ve got a lot of NERVE SHOWING YOUR FACE IN PUBLIC.” A booming voice came from the booth in the corner, a large bearded man stood on the booth seat to be seen.
“If you can’t treat anyone here with respect I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” I called across the room, one of the women in the booth looked embarrassed and dragged at his arm to pull him down to sit. It was very rare that I have to tell customers these things, I wish I didn’t have to but I’m the closest thing to a manager here right now. A long silence passed over the dining room.
“I’m sorry about that.” I apologized.
“No, it’s fine. I get it a lot.” He sullenly replied.
“Prime rib!” Charlie called from behind while placing the plate in the window. I turned around and grabbed the food, I set it right on the counter gently along with clean silverware.
“Thank you, this looks great.” He politely replied.
I tried to keep myself busy behind the counter, I caught myself stealing too many glances at the literal superhero sitting close by. Luckily, I don’t think he noticed. In my mix of trying to stay busy I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day. My stomach was doing belly flops so I ordered the most filling thing I could think of at the moment, the Mulligan House Favorite. It’s a ridiculous breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns and a huge stack of pancakes.
My eyes were nearly glazed over by the time Charlie put my food in the window. I set myself up next to Earl and started a quick round around the dining room to make sure everyone was satisfied before I settle down to eat. The Captain was still working away on his food, I refilled his coffee and gave him a glass of water. Earl happily took some more coffee and I got a lovely glare from the man I scolded earlier when I made it over to his table. I could see the tip slipping away in those moments.
Clinton was deep in conversation with the Captain as I came back, he was holding an emptied plate. I was about to tell Clinton to buzz off again but the both of them were smiling.
“-my dad was always on your side, he had a lot of your trading cards, toys, everything.” Clinton went on and started pawing at his back pockets. He set the plate down and pulled out his wallet to removed a tattered card “He gave this to me.“
I peered over and caught a glance at the card, it was a collectable Captain America card “Do you think you can sign it for him?” Clinton held it out.
“Sure I can.” The Captain beamed brightly. Clinton handed over a pen.
“He would have just loved to meet you.” Clinton bubbled.
“What’s his name?”
The Captain uttered his message silently to himself as he wrote.
“Here you go.” The Captain held up the card.
“Thank you! This is awesome!” Clinton returned the card back to his wallet, he paraded off with the dirty plate.
I began to wipe off the countertop in front of the Captain “I think you made his week.” I told him.
“He deserves better.”
Clinton must have told him about his dad. He was among the many that was lost to Thanos.
“You know, for what it’s worth…thank you.” I uttered, the Captain looked a bit confused “No one asked you to lay your life on the line for any of us and you did anyway, they wouldn’t do the same for you. Anyone berating you about not being able to save us all have no one to blame. At least you gave it a fighting chance.”
“Can I get you more coffee?” I asked trying to lighten the mood.
“Yes please.” He slid the cup closer to me.
“So what brings you out here?” I asked as I poured coffee.
“Just felt like going for a drive, didn’t feel like stopping for a while. Then I told myself I’d gas up at the next gas station and turn around. That was fifty miles ago.”
“I know the feeling, well I at least wish I could just drive places. My car sounds like it wants to burst into flames if I go faster than forty miles per hour.”
He laughed a bit at that. It was endearing.
“I have to say you won’t find prime rib like you’ve got here back in the city.” He added.
“It’s our special EVERY Wednesday, just in case you find yourself coming back out here. Tomorrow is chicken fried steak.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
I decided it was best I probably stopped talking for now, I didn’t want to annoy him. Plus I was pretty hungry, my food has probably gone cold now. Earl was nearly asleep so I woke him, it was about the time he usually should be heading home. He only lived a few miles away but I still always worried, that small interstate had a ridiculously high speed limit for him.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you home? Clinton can watch the store for a few minutes?” I helped him down from his stool.
“No no I’m fine.” Earl slowly shrugged his jacket on that hung off the stool.
“I still think I should.”
“No because then you’d be walking in the dark back to the diner, with all those crazy people out there on the road. I don’t want to worry about you either.”
“Earl I can-“
“I can drive him home.” A voice jumped in from behind. The Captain was standing up from his stool.
“Oh, we couldn’t ask you to do that.” I replied.
“I don’t mind.”
I looked back to Earl “Is it ok that he takes you home?”
He nodded his head and grabbed his cushion. I walked with them up to the register so Earl could pay. He searched his pocket for his keys and handed them over.
“I hope you know how to drive stick.”
“I sure can.”
Earl started making his way out the door, I mouthed ‘thank you’ at the handsome blond man. It was a bit odd to watch such a tall and well-built man fit into an old orange Volkswagen beetle, but at least Earl will make it home safe. Once they left the parking lot I sighed and finally sat down to enjoy my food. Before I was able to even finish the group in the back corner wanted to cash out. Clinton was busy helping clean in the back with Charlie so it was up to me.
“That’ll be $46.75.” I told the petite woman at the register, the large bearded man stood behind her while two other women made small talk off to the side. She handed over a debit card, I swiped it and handed over the receipt after it was done printing. Just as she was about to fill out the tip line the man leaned over, snatched it and crumbled it in his hand while looking at me.
“Babe!” She drawled at him.
It wasn’t a big deal to me if he tipped or not, he wasn’t punishing me, only Clinton, the person that actually served them. The tension started to go away with every step they took out of the restaurant, then the Captain walked back through the door. The man took this as an opportunity to shoulder check the Captain as they walked. I wasn’t surprised when the Captain just went on without so much as acknowledging him, if he did he’d be giving him what he wanted.
“Did everything go alright?” I asked.
“Pretty well, he’s a sweet man.”
“Thank you for doing that.”
“It’s no problem, really.”
“Dinner is on me tonight.” I told him.
“No, no need I can pay for myself.” He approached the register removing a wallet from his pocket.
“No, it’s just a thank you from me.”
“I insist.” He interjected lightly, his sincere eyes bore into me.
“Can I at least pay for your coffee?”
“You’re very insistent…and kind.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“You wore me down.” He smiled. I cashed him out and handed him his receipt. The entire time I was doing this I could feel his eyes on me, I tried to act as normal as I could. In the process of retracting my hand I knocked over the cup of pens we had on the edge of the counter. Beans went everywhere all over the floor because the cup was filled with them to help hold the pens. Why is it that every time I focus on my movements I embarrass myself?
“I’ll clean that up.” I sighed.
“Thank you again.” The Captain bemused.
“Thank you.” I returned. This was it, now he’s leaving. I was a bit let down that he wasn’t going to stay longer, though it’s not like he knows me.
“Prime rib is on Wednesday’s right?” He asked as he was walking out the door.
I felt like a school girl watching him hop on his motorcycle and leave the parking lot in a dust cloud. The motorcycle definitely added to the dreaminess factor. Clinton came out of the back carrying a bucket of ice.
“Ahw did he leave?” He bellowed.
“I’m sure he’ll be back.” I told him, more like told myself. I hope he does, it was implied right?
Closing was a breeze because we had less than a handful of customers for the rest of the night. My side work was done hours beforehand. I was so bored I washed the beans I dumped on the floor earlier and set them back in their rightful home. I was rightfully exhausted when I locked the front doors, Clinton was antsy to get home. We both live in the same cul-de-sac on the other side of the cornfield. Sometimes I take him home and to work depending on whether our shifts coincide.
“What are you doing for the rest of your night?” I lead Clinton to my car.
“Playing video games.”
“Don’t you have school?”
“It’s summer.” He laughed.
I don’t really pay attention to the seasons anymore, it’s either snowing or it’s hot to me. I do the same things every day and every week so there wasn’t much room for variety. The five minute drive home felt twice as long, Clinton was already nodding off in the passenger seat. He slumped out of the seat and across his lawn to get to his front door, I made sure he made it safely inside before I turned around completely in the rounded end of the cul-de-sac. My house was on the other side at the entrance of the neighborhood.
It was my grandparents old house, they have been living together happily in a retirement home and left it to my sister and I. She didn’t get to live here as long, only a few weeks, then Thanos came to earth. Her room was only partially unpacked, I left it as is. My parents want to pack up her things but I have yet to let them do it all these years later.
The house was a cozy two bedroom cottage with an unfinished basement. The basement just houses my hordes of crap, laundry room and a work bench my grandpa built that now is covered with more of my crap. I paid to have the exterior painting a light yellow with white trim and dark red accents. My sister had the carpets torn out when we first moved in because they were that putrid green that all grandparents had in their houses. The paint on the cabinets was original, my grandpa painted them a cool mint green. Some of the linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom was coming up, I plan to replace it soon. All the doorknobs in the house were crystal and the tops of the doors were custom made to be rounded at the top like an archway. If any of them were ever to be replaced I would have to pay a carpenter to make them.
I made a beeline for the shower when I unlocked my front door and kicked off my shoes. I left my clothes bawled up in the corner of the bathroom knowing they’d be there until tomorrow. Most of my showers lasted much longer than twenty minutes, tonight I was quick because I wanted to go to bed more than anything else. I didn’t wash my hair, I decided that would be something to do tomorrow when I first wake up but I did brush my teeth. I changed into a tank top and underwear for the night, before I switched off my bedroom light I got my phone out of my apron I so carelessly left on the floor in the bathroom. After having everything settled I launched myself into my bed with a running start. On days like this jumping in bed felt like getting high, last time I worked a double I didn’t even crawl under the covers.
I yawned loudly and unlocked my phone, I hadn’t looked at it all day. The first thing I did was go on the internet and Google Captain America. I knew a little about him, it was only ever word of mouth or the occasional article about what he has been doing with the Avengers. I came to find a lot about him, one fact stood out more than the others. He was born in 1918, older than my own grandparents.
I rolled over on my side and set my phone on the night stand, it was the only light illuminating the room. The framed picture of my sister and I sat there beneath the light, I looked at it every night before falling asleep.
“Wish you were here right now Lex, I can already hear you making a terrible joke about how I go after old men.” I joked lightly in the darkness.
What do you guys think of the banner I made? I'll be making one for Harper's character soon!
More to come!
I woke to the hot sun streaming in my room, it was hard to ignore because it felt like I was baking alive. I groaned and rolled out of bed. Most days I try to avoid using my air conditioning, this was not one of them. After adjusting the thermostat I climbed right back into bed. I had an internal battle with myself about getting up to take a cool shower, it was lost because sleep overcame me when the room started to cool.
It all was a wonderful bliss. Then my phone rang. I wanted to chuck it across the room but I answered anyway.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Harper, it’s Lloyd.”
“Oh hey, is everything alright? Did I forget to lock the diner again?” I sat up, my boss hardly ever called me unless he needed something like a shift covered or something else to do with the diner.
“No, nothing like that…Harper…Earl passed away.”
My heart sank right into my stomach, my eyes started to well.
“Wha-how?” I muttered.
“He passed in his sleep early this morning. They think it was painless.”
My hands shook, I tried to wipe away my hair from my face.
“Who found him?”
“Clinton, he was going over there to help him clean. That’s when he found him.”
“I’m going to close the diner for today. You, Emma, and I are part of his will. His lawyer is requesting us to meet.”
Earl passed less than ten hours ago and his lawyer is already breathing down our necks? I told Lloyd I’d be at the diner in the next ten minutes. We all decided going to Earl’s house was incredibly inappropriate. I barely scraped myself together to get out the door.
What had just happened didn’t hit me until I pulled into the parking lot at the restaurant. Earl’s car wasn’t parked in the usual handicap spot. He was the only one that ever parked there. I settled for a moment trying to collect my thoughts, Emma’s car pulled in the spot next to me. Her face was beet red and swollen, she had been crying endlessly the last two days. Seeing her like this made me want to cave into myself. I gave her a nod, she wiped her eyes and got out of the car. We walked with each other to the door around back. Lloyd was waiting in the dining room in the biggest corner booth with a man wearing a gray suit. He was sleek and clean, he was out of place next to Lloyd whom resembled a bearded trucker. He often reminded me of Santa Claus.
“Hey girls.” Lloyd said lowly, there was hurt in his voice.
“Hey.” Emma croaked.
Lloyd scoot over for us as we sat. The lawyer gathered some documents on the table and divvied them out to the three of us.
“My name is Michael, and you’re…” He held out his hand to me.
“Harper.” I shook it, he then reached out for Emma.
“Emma.” She replied a bit coldly, she just looked at his hand. He awkwardly retracted it.
“Well…now that you’re all here we can get started.”
“Wait, are we really doing this right now? Shouldn’t we be planning a funeral instead of talking to a lawyer?” Emma interrupted to talk to us.
“I was about to get to that Mrs. Crane, it’ll just be a moment of your time.” The Lawyer replied “In front of you are copies of the will that Earl Stevenson had left, it is short and brief. Each of you have been named to receive assets upon event of his passing.”
I picked up my paper slip to read, it looked like gibberish. There was no focus in me right now, the words blurred.
“We’ll be reading this will in Articles, first one is Funeral Expenses & Payment of Debt, next is Money & Personal Property, down the list to Real Estate, Residuary Clause, Taxes, and finally Fiduciaries. You will all sign witness to the document. You three are the only persons requested in the document.” He began.
I started to stare off out the nearest window. The lawyer took a handful of pens from his satchel pocket and laid them out on the table. Then he unzipped the main compartment of the satchel pulling out a blue folder, he opened it and took a stapled document.
“This is currently the most recent will, dated October 15th, 2017. There were wills before this, they no longer hold legal ground. Shall we begin?”
We all nodded.
“I, Earl Greytak currently residing at 1643 Primrose Lane, Penny Creek, New York, declare this to be my will. Any and all wills before this are expelled. Article One: Funeral Expenses & Payment of Debt. I wish to be cremated at any funeral home of your choosing. The funeral home, arrangements, and things of the like will be paid up front upon receipt along with costs of medical bills should be paid upon receipt from a savings funds. There are no other debts to be paid otherwise. As for my remains, I don’t want to sit in an ern. I’d like Harper Reid to decide what is to be done with my remains.
Article Two: Money & Personal Property. All my funds and personal property excluding my cat, Lemon, and my Beetle will be left to Emma Crane. Lemon the cat will be given to Harper Reid, I know she will care for him greatly. Article Three: Real Estate & Vehicles: I Give Lloyd Mulligan my 1964 Beetle.”
Other small details were squared away in the rest of the reading. I was left wondering what to do next. Do I just go home? Do I get the cat now or later? When is the diner opening again? Emma and I ended up outside quietly standing next to one another. She took this opportunity to light up a cigarette, the smoke blended out her red sticky face. Lloyd was inside still talking with the lawyer.
“I never thought we were that important to him.” Emma commented.
“All he had was us if you think about it.” I replied.
“It’s going to be so weird seeing that empty stool.” She sighed.
“Yeah…how are you doing, really?”
“To be honest Harper, I don’t even know why I’m still alive half the time. Why I put up with my life.”
I felt my eyes start to well, I knew exactly how she felt.
“I’m just tired of feeling like this. I want to feel nothing. Is that so wrong?” She asked.
Emptiness was entirely different than feeling nothing. I wanted to welcome it at times too come to think of it. The growing anxiety and despair of something that has already happened was drowning us. Everyone lost.
“I don’t think I can go back to night shifts, Lloyd needs to hire another waitress soon or he’s going to burn us out.” Emma went on.
“I can do nightshifts.” I offered.
“Really? That would be so great of you.”
Instead of waking up to the sun I woke up to a rather overweight yellow striped cat standing on my head. Lemon is very affectionate, if he’s not within five feet of someone he might spontaneously combust. He’s also in a new house so I’m the closest comfort he has now. I never had a pet growing up so this will be change a of pace, hopefully a good one.
Lemon settled himself under the covers next to my legs after several minutes of struggling to crawl. He was now a living lump. I yawned and sighed knowing I was in for another double shift today. It’s been a handful of days since I last worked so I can’t complain too much. I needed the money if I wanted to get my floors redone.
Part of me wished Lemon could come to work with me, maybe if he were a kitten I could toss him in my apron. Now I’m imagining lugging a bowling ball around in my apron.
Emma looked drained when I arrived to take over at work. It was her last night shift ever and it still spent her. She gave me a tired cheery hug and slugged out the door. Lloyd was in the kitchen cooking, Charlie must be out for the day.
“Hey Lloyd” I called from the other side of the window, he glanced up and waved.
“Hey Harper, I know you just came in but can you do me a favor?”
“Yeah sure.” I replied.
“There’s a case of fries in the freezer, can you bring them to me. I’m a little behind.”
“Yeah I’ll be right back.”
I went around the counter to the kitchen door, behind the dish pit is our freezer. I always hated walking in there because it was so instantly cold, sometimes it was hard to find things in there even though it’s always right in front of me. Luckily I found the fries quickly and brought them to the kitchen. I went around and checked on tables, I brought out condiments, drinks and food.
It was a small rush, technically only half a rush because Emma was there for the first half. Then it died. Lloyd and I pulled out every piece of movable furniture and deep cleaned behind it. That passed time enough for the dinner crowd to trickle in. They come early for prime rib night.
Clinton walked into a mad house, Lloyd put him in the kitchen and started training him on the spot because he was that desperate for help. I was out on the dining room floor by myself. The time passed though, four hours felt like one. My double shift was a little halfway over and I had a skip in my step. I was in a good mood and I ran with it. It was still strong when I noticed the heavy set bearded man that was antagonizing the Captain last week came in.
This time he was by himself without the women, he ordered the prime rib and a chocolate shake. He looked a bit drunk but not terribly. I’ll probably regret serving him but he hasn’t done anything wrong enough yet. It was nearing nine as I wiped down the food window, some gravy had spilled everywhere slopping up the bottoms of any plates that touched it.
“Hey Earl, are you wanting prime rib tonight?” I called out.
When I was met with silence my good mood was sullied. I now remembered Earl was gone, I was talking to him out of habit. No one was there. My eyes immediately started to well, I quietly sobbed without trying to make any noise. My back was facing the entire dining room as I slowly choked myself, trying not to breathe was difficult, I thought it might help keep myself quiet.
“Are you alright?” A voice came from behind, I turned quickly to face a handsome blond I met last week.
“Oh I uh-“ I wiped my tears with my hands “I’m fine.”
He didn’t look convinced, he hardly let his eyes off of me as he sat down on the stool he sat on last week “You sure?” he asked.
I nodded my head and reached for a menu from behind the counter. He politely took it and skimmed around for a few moments before smiling at me.
“I actually came for that prime rib again.” He admitted. He looked just as he did the last time I saw him, wearing that leather jacket and unshaven face. I adored it.
“Ah a regular customer.” I sniffled out a smile.
“I know I’m late everyone don’t mind me!” Charlie’s booming voice called out at the entrance. I moved out of his way when he trudged around behind the counter and into the kitchen.
“I’m free!” Clinton came running from the kitchen.
“It’s been a long day.” I admitted to the blond man.
“Tell me about it?” He replied.
I wasn’t sure if he was asking or making a joke about his day as well.
“Tell you…about my day?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. My skin flushed, he wants to know about my day? I felt flattered.
After putting his order in I completely unwound. I started with my morning and about how Lemon tried to suffocate me. That this shift was a double and I was switching to nights. I mostly told him about Earl. There were many memories to share, and as I told him the less upset I was. I wasn’t crying, I was laughing some here and there about some of the things Earl has said and done.
“It just feels out of place, his empty seat.” I looked to the empty spot.
“From what little I knew of him he was very kind.” The man added.
Some silence passed. I decided to ask my bold question.
“How was your day?” I asked.
“A little bland, I’m too stuck in a routine. This evening is much better.”
I was hoping he was talking about me, wondering if he was interested in the food instead. Charlie put his food in the window and when a grabbed it a phone rang. The Captain was quick in answering the ring coming from his jacket pocket. I set the plate in front of him.
“You sure?” He buried his face in his hand “No, I haven’t talked to Tony. He wants to be left alone.”
I couldn’t hear the voice on the other line but I eavesdropped anyway finding busy work to look…well…busy.
“Banner might…no, tell him I’ll be there in about an hour.” He sat up from his stool and hung up.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to go on short notice. Something came up.”
“Oh well let me box this up for you.” I replied a bit saddened. He just got here.
“Thank you.” He was out the door before I knew it and handing me cash. I didn’t realize he handed me a fifty dollar bill until after he rode off on his motorcycle. My mood dropped again, then came a face that dropped it further.
“I’m glad the fuck left, I was about ready to kick his ass.” The bearded idiot took a swig from a flask right in front of me. He was drinking the entire time he has been here apparently.
“Ok, that’s enough you need to leave please.” I told the drunk.
He looked bewildered “Are you kidding me?”
My heart paced in my throat but I doubled down.
“Please leave,” I raised my voice a bit.
“I haven’t even got my food yet, bitch!”
“You already ate and paid! Just leave or I’ll call the police!” I demanded.
He glared me down and turned on his heels to leave, there weren’t any cars in the lot besides mine so I assumed he didn’t drive. Clinton stood behind me.
“Did you see him drive a car here Clint?” I asked watching the man walk beyond the parking lot.
“I don’t think so, he walked here. I’ve kinda seen him around the last week.”
“He was here last night, he wasn’t drunk though. Emma said he’s been coming in and leaving big tips for her.”
“Hmmm, well I don’t want some drunk asshole driving on these roads.”
“I don’t even think he has a car.” He told me confidently. I told myself to just believe it and move on. I did however think about calling the police anyway, but they’d probably write it off. He hasn’t done anything truly illegal besides hang around a little drunk. No skipping out on his tabs either it seems.
We didn’t have a single customer the rest of the night. Clinton fell asleep after cleaning the last table, he was lying in a booth. Charlie was on his phone in the kitchen area, nights like this made me wish I brought a book or something. My mind either went to the handsome Captain or how much I’d like to be talking to Earl.
“Aaaaaaannnnnnnnnnd WE’RE CLOSED!” Charlie clapped his hands in the kitchen.
“See you around Charlie.”
“See you tomorrow night Harper.” He waved slipping in his jacket. Everything was done for the night, all side work done. All the lemons cut, even all the dishes were done. All that was left was to take the trash out. Nights like this were great, I basically just got to leave.
I decided to let Clinton sleep in the booth while I took out what was left of the trash. It was about seven bags, I tried to drag them all out at once but their ties broke. Two at a time I guess. I kicked open the back door and dragged the bags. I used the others to prop the door open. The dumpster was literally right beside the door. Normally I just swing the bags from the doorway into the garbage but the lid was closed. I groaned loudly and stepped out to open it.
I heaved the bags over and went to reach for the others waiting for me. A firm yank to my hair pulled me to the ground.
I yelped out at the pain because it wouldn’t release. I was dragged a few feet by my hair, I clawed my nails into the hands gripping it. I frantically looked up to see and smell the drunk bearded man I had kicked out of the restaurant.
“Let go! HELP!” I screamed out. Once he let go of my hair I tried to get up but I was met with a swift kick to my stomach. It knocked the wind out of me, I writhed on the ground trying to breathe. The man straddled me feeling up my thighs beneath my dress uniform. I screamed and kicked, his nails were like talons.
“HELP!” I screamed in a complete panic now. He was just too heavy to move.
Ready to call out again I felt the weight remove itself. I scrambled to my knees to see the man in a chokehold headlock held by none other than Captain America.
As man flailed around the Captain hardly struggled holding him. The man eventually went limp, the Captain tossed him to the ground like he was nothing.
“You alright?” The Captain knelt down in front of me.
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