He hasn’t slept in two days.
To say that Caleb is exhausted is an understatement. He's reached some strange threshold in his tiredness where he can't be bothered to focus on anything, and yet everything irritates him to no end.
He throws his blankets to the side with a huff and offers some apologetic head scratches to a rudely-awoken Frumpkin.
"I'll be back later," he whispers, even though it's just the two of them.
He keeps his eyes glued to the sidewalk and loses count of his steps halfway there. Caleb walks into the 24-hour diner he usually has his Saturday breakfasts at, and pretends like he didn’t cry while tying his shoes just before he left his house. He really needs some sleep, this insomnia is doing weird things to his head.
A strange tiefling with ruby-red eyes is who greets him from behind the counter. "Hello, welcome! You can sit anywhere!"
He finds a booth in the corner furthest from the door (and furthest from the one other customer). It's unnerving seeing his favorite restaurant at night. Less people, less conversations, less noise. Yet, he wonders why he doesn’t come here at this time more often.
Because he's usually asleep.
Caleb tries to make sense of the menu and finds that the gears in his mind seem to be stuck and unmoving. He folds it back up with a frustrated huff. He doesn’t actually need to read it, he has the menu memorized, but it offers some comfort to be able to look over it one last time before he orders. He can't get his tired brain to cooperate with him.
The same waiter appears at his table, and Caleb can't muster the motivation to look up or make eye contact.
"Coffee, please." He knows it's rude not to smile at the person that'll be handling his food and drink, but he's too tired to care. The daytime waitstaff is used to his lack of small talk anyway, maybe this person will be as well.
"Are you sure?" A playful tone in the waiter's voice tells Caleb that he does not, in fact, know Caleb like the others do.
"Yes, thank you."
Caleb lets curiosity (or annoyance) get the better of him. He looks up, into the same red eyes with pale pupils in the middle. He thinks he must look murderous, but maybe not. Nott tells him that exhaustion just makes him look sad.
The waiter smiles when they make eye contact, one fang peeking out from under his upper lip. He looks far too awake for this time of night. "…I'm not usually one to discourage people's own bad habits, but you don’t look like someone who wants to be awake."
"Regular coffee please," he sighs out, hardly giving the waiter time to finish his sentence.
The waiter huffs out a chuckle and shrugs. "Alright, then! Caffeinated coffee for the human gentleman!" Caleb's pretty sure he's not yelling to any person in particular, because he then goes behind the counter and prepares the coffee himself.
He needs the caffeine to get through the morning. Perhaps if he can keep himself awake all night, he'll finally crash and get some proper sleep. It's not the smartest idea, he knows, but… coffee sounds good.
Caleb's mid-yawn when a steaming cup and a small coffee pot appear in front of him.
Caleb nods. He pours a fair about of sugar into the cup, swirling the dark liquid until it dissolves. It takes him a while to realize that the waiter is still standing there. Did he miss something? But the waiter is just watching him with a strange look of… pity? Probably. Caleb has got to look pitiful right now.
"Do you always watch your customers like this?" Caleb says dryly before taking a sip. He's being snippy, but it’s warranted, he decides.
"Do you always put salt in your coffee?"
He can't stop himself from passing out in front of the TV, it just happens, even when he knows it's part of the reason why he can't fall asleep at night. His body should be cooperating with him.
A two hour nap in the afternoon, and then nothing. No sleep that night, no matt how tired he feels.
Exhausted crying takes energy that Caleb doesn’t have. So, he changes out of his pajamas, says goodbye to Frumpkin, and makes his way to the restaurant.
"Ah, it's the salty coffee guy! Welcome back, my dear. I've missed you the last twenty-four hours!"
Caleb winces at the greeting. He has a nickname now. That's fantastic, and he's very excited about it.
He drags his tired, irritable self to the same booth as the night before, and tries once again to read the menu.
The waiter, now wearing colorfully-patterned leggings and an oversized shirt under his apron (was he dressed just as colorful last night? Caleb can't remember - he hardly looked at him), walks over to his table, and seems rather gracious to take the order of decaf coffee.
Instead of bringing his coffee and leaving, however, the lavender tiefling slides into the seat across from him. He rests his hand on his chin and smiles like he was invited to sit there.
Caleb definitely has murder in his eyes this time. He's too tired for this. he's ready to shut down whatever meaningless conversation that's about to be initiated.
"So what's your deal, hm?"
"My deal," he repeats. He doesn't recall owing this person an explanation for anything, and yet-
"You've shown up two nights in a row looking like death warmed over. It's none of my business, but you're just really interesting to me and I'd hate myself if I didn’t at least try to figure you out."
Caleb is now sure that this waiter has never heard of him, because then he would know that Caleb isn't a talkative person. He's a little thankful to know that the others don’t gossip about him being a bad customer or something like that. But he's not in the mood to speak to anyone right now.
"You're right," he mumbles.
"It's none of your business."
He's prepared for an annoyed scoff, maybe some saliva ending up in his coffee. Instead, the waiter laughs and slides out of the booth. "Can't blame a person for trying to kill their boredom! I'll leave you alone, then. Enjoy your decaf!"
Caleb sighs. "Wait…"
The tiefling turns back to him with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm sorry, I'm… very tired. A bit grumpy."
He smiles. "That's alright, I don’t expect any of my customers to be full of life at this hour."
Caleb takes a deep breath, thinks, and gestures toward the seat across from him. He's probably going to regret this. The waiter takes the seat, hesitant at first, but quickly makes himself at home once again.
"Are- are you new here? At the restaurant?"
He giggles. "I've been working here for a year. You might call that new, I'm not sure."
"Sorry," Caleb mutters into his coffee cup. "I've never seen you here before."
"And that's probably because you don’t usually end up here at one in the morning." There's a teasing quality in his voice that doesn’t make Caleb feel like too much of an idiot for assuming that he knew every single employee there. "I'm Mollymauk, by the way," the tiefling adds. "But my friends call me Molly."
He clears his throat and makes sure to grab the actual sugar this time. "Caleb," he says, swirling his coffee around in the cup.
The waiter- or Mollymauk, apparently, offers a smile that's warmer, kinder than before. Caleb almost wants to smile back, but he takes a sip of his saltless coffee instead.
"Will I see you here tomorrow, Caleb?"
"I will hopefully be asleep," he admits.
"Hm. That's too bad, I'm starting to get used to having you around."
Caleb decides not to be flattered by that.
He manages to keep himself awake the entire day, for nearly twenty hours. For the first time in days, Caleb is looking forward to bedtime, and immediately crashes once he gets there.
For three hours.
It's still pitch black when he wakes, and he knows that going back to sleep is impossible. His brain is already running wild, and his heart beats faster the more that he looks around the empty room. There's no way he's getting more rest.
Frumpkin perks up the minute Caleb gets out of bed, purring up against him.
Caleb can't help but chuckle. "It's a little early for breakfast, don’t you think?"
Frumpkin meows in disagreement and brushes against his leg.
Maybe he's right. "Fine fine, I will feed you early, but just this once." and he does so, scooping a good amount of food into Frumpkin's bowl and giving his head a gentle pat.
Caleb finds himself heading to the diner without a second thought. He realizes he's looking forward to it this time, looking forward to a cup of mediocre coffee and- nope, that's it. He just wants the coffee. Maybe a cinnamon roll to complement the bitterness. That's all.
Caleb resists the urge to smile when he sees Mollymauk come out from behind the counter with a flourish. "Ja, hello." He's already heading to the same table. It's only been three days and he's already formed a habit - he needs to be careful.
Mollymauk is at his table in an instant. His clothes are just as colorful and patterned as the night before, but his apron is dirtied from a night of working with food and dishes.
"Little later than last time," Mollymauk says. "That's a good thing, I take it?"
Caleb hums a confirmation. He isn't nearly as annoyed by the outgoing waiter this time. In fact, he finds himself not minding the idea of a conversation at all. It's amazing how sleep can improve everything. "Had a few hours' sleep. Woke up hungry."
"Ooooh, are we ordering actual food this morning?"
"I believe so."
Mollymauk returns with a cinnamon roll, a coffee cup, and a little pot of coffee. "Congratulations on your sleep. Is that why you've been so out of sorts the past couple of nights?"
Caleb gives a reluctant nod as he prepares his coffee with what he's positive is sugar.
"Well, you're looking better. I'll leave you to your breakfast."
Caleb's feeling more rested, more sociable, and rather happy about having slept in his own bed for the first time in a week. So he makes a decision that he might regret.
"Do you have a… lunch break of some kind? At… four in the morning?"
Mollymauk brows knit together a bit in confusion.
"You wanted to know my 'deal'. Would you like to join me? I could use the company."
That's it, he realizes. That's why he was so ready to come back at this crazy hour. Mollymauk is the only non-feline he's spoken to in a while. He's been so hung up on trying to sleep that he hasn’t had the time or energy to talk to people.
Caleb motions to the bench across from him, and he swears the tiefling actually beams.
"I thought you would never ask."
"So your friend moved away?" Mollymauk asks as he takes a monstrous bite of his sandwich.
Caleb pulls his cinnamon roll apart with a fork. He tastes a bit and nods. "Just to the other side of town."
"I'm sure it's hard sleeping in an empty house."
"Empty bed," Caleb corrects. "It's hard sleeping in an empty bed."
"Ah," Mollymauk says. "Is it normal for roommates to share a bed?"
"I'm not sure. We always did. We've lived together since we were teenagers, didn’t always have room or money for two beds."
Nothing but silence comes from the other side of the table. Caleb looks up to find Mollymauk staring at him. At first he thinks it's concern or pity in the other person's face, but then he sees that it's simple interest. Like Mollymauk is trying to figure him out. He's thankful that Mollymauk doesn’t ask for details, because he's not ready to delve into the dark, bottomless pit that is his past and he's not sure he's quite awake enough to stop himself from rambling like a fool.
They finish their food, and Mollymauk slides out of the booth with some reluctance. "I've got to get back to work," he says with a pout. "But perhaps we could talk again sometime? You're quite interesting when you're not completely sleep-deprived."
"Hello, Jester." She's his favorite waitress, and it took a while for that to make sense to him. She's talks a lot, sometimes doesn’t stop talking, but she also seems to understand that he's not trying to be rude when he doesn’t engage in conversations with her. She's one of few people who understands.
"I heard you put salt in your coffee, Caleb. That's really gross!"
"Ah, you've talked to Mollymauk?"
"I mean, of course. I see him almost every morning!" She brings him to a table that is not the one he's been sitting at. There's far more people in the restaurant now that it's not the middle of the night, and it takes some getting used to.
She brings him his usual Saturday morning order of coffee and a cinnamon roll. "So you know Molly now, huh? He's pretty sweet," Jester says with waggling eyebrows.
"Ja, he is," there's no meaning behind merely agreeing with her. Mollymauk is a very nice person.
"Are you two gonna kiss?"
Caleb chokes on his coffee. "No," he says, almost defensively. "Has he said that?"
"No! But like, he's been talking about you a lot and I think you two would be a super cute couple."
Has he? Well, that's… interesting. Caleb finds himself smiling as he asks, "Have you spoken to him today?"
It's an innocent enough question, and he decides to ignore the thought of he and Mollymauk being a couple. He's never thought of himself as relationship material. Then again, he never thought of Nott as relationship material and now she's married.
"Naw, he doesn’t work weekends." She's about to leave him with his breakfast and his own questions of how he managed to make a friend by merely not sleeping, when the door jingles.
Apparently Molly is much more colorful when he isn't working, and he still somehow pulls it off. He approaches the two of the with a grin.
"Molly, what are you doing here?" Jester asks as Mollymauk pulls her into a quick hug.
He sits on the other side. "Caleb and I happen to be taking the opportunity to talk during daylight hours."
Jester gasps. She looks from Caleb to Molly, then back to Caleb, an impossibly big smile on her face.