America takes another batch of orders through into the kitchen, where Noh is wearing an assortment of clothing that still isn’t enough to satisfy their health and safety code, and his speakers are blaring Taylor Swift. For what has to be at least the eighteenth time tonight.
“Again?” she asks, shoving the handful of paper at their cook.
“Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate,” Loki says, flatly, from where he’s sitting by their industrial freezer, with an equally industrial-sized tub of ice cream in his lap, and a spoon.
“You don’t work here,” she tells him. “And you have Rocky Road all over your face.”
“That uniform looks great on you,” Loki responds. “Really flattering. The stars and stripes motifs aren’t tacky at all.”
America has no idea why Loki has the dubious title of Best Friend, when it could just as easily be Least Favourite Person Ever. And he really needs to stop showing up at her workplace, eating food products they’re supposed to only serve to paying customers, and making out with her co-workers. He has his own apartment. He could just as easily have his daddy issues and black nail polish in there, away from her and her gainful employment.
In truth, this is the longest America’s managed to hold down a job in a while; she normally ends up getting fired or ragequitting, or a fiery awful combination of both. Her last boss wouldn’t give her a reference, even after the black eye healed.
“It is impossible to do any work without Taylor Swift’s help,” Noh says placidly, like he’s skipped right over America and Loki snarking at each other, and can only hear 1989 and any comments regarding it. America has a horrible suspicion that that’s actually true, but at least he’s still cooking the right meals reasonably quickly, so she’s not going to mess with the system right now.
“Great,” America says, “that’s not weird at all. Loki, be gone when I get back.”
Loki rolls his eyes, like it’s totally fine for him to be eating ice cream he’s essentially stolen at three a.m. in a place he’s not technically supposed to be. Just because it’s a routine by now doesn’t mean that America’s going to just let it stand.
“Good luck with that,” Loki tells her, and turns his attention back to digging out a marshmallow swirl.
Basically: America hates everyone she knows.
During the day, the diner is usually full of tourists, all eager for a New York Diner Experience, wearing their Statue of Liberty sweaters and instagramming every last mouthful of their meal. This would be why America pretty much always works the night shift: the tips are good from tourists who haven’t really worked out the American tipping average yet, but America is not really willing to smile or wish anyone a nice day or pose for vacation photos or any of the other million irritations that come up. By working the all-night shift, she still has to wear the stupid patriotic uniform, but the diners are New Yorkers, who want coffee quickly and often, and to be left the fuck alone. America’s happy to do that part.
The earlier part of the night is late diners, slightly less enthusiastic tourists, and drunk people wanting pancakes and coffee as they head home from a club or a bar. After three, it quiets down a bunch. They actually have a load of regulars after three; not like America knows their names or anything, but she can pick them out by sight easily enough. There’s Lady Lawyer With Anger Management Problems; Guy Who Seems Incapable Of Staying Out Of Bar Fights And Apparently Knows Nothing About First Aid; Science Major Student Who Takes Way Too Many Photos; Hot Russian Redhead Who’s Probably Spying For The KGB (“the KGB collapsed in 1991, America,” David corrects, not looking up from his crossword), and Bitchy German Dude Who Always Seems To Be Arguing With His Boyfriend Over The Phone.
Tonight, they’ve also been joined by Emo Hipster Nerd Student Who Owns A Fuckload Of Scarves. The guy has a twin brother who looks alarmingly like him, actually, but the brother has bleached blonde hair like he’s trying to look like Spike (“Dated pop culture reference, much?” Loki asked, and America threw a frying pan at him) and twitches like he’s got ADD or some kind of terrible drug habit, so they’re pretty easy to tell apart. Emo Hipster Nerd Student likes to drink a lot of cappuccinos and work his way through stacks of trade paperbacks in the early hours of the morning, usually livetweeting the whole process. The free wifi in this place is a curse.
Teddy tends to get the night shifts too; he’s a much nicer person than America will ever even pretend to be, but he’s got all the piercings and the ear gauges and the sleeve tats, which make him apparently unsuitable for the daytime crowd. There’s probably some kind of health law that means he’s supposed to cover the piercings with band-aids if he wants to serve food to people, but no one’s ever tried to make him. He’s leaning on the counter right now, not even subtle about the way he’s eyeing Emo Hipster Nerd Student.
“Why don’t you go over there and tell him about you’ve made your peace with the Wonder Woman reboot?” America suggests, because yeah, okay, she’s mean. “Or about how much you want to fuck Dick Grayson? That should pay off.”
Teddy turns to her, cheeks flushed, expression a little curious. “How do you-”
“You spend a gross amount of time talking about comics,” America reminds him. “I know more than I will ever want to know.”
Really, she should put more effort into listening to David; the guy’s a genius and knows stuff that’s probably far more useful than whatever Aquaman’s up to at the moment. America really needs to stop tuning him out when he speaks.
“I’m not gonna interrupt him,” Teddy says, still flushed. His crush would be cute, if America had patience for cute. She really, really doesn’t, though.
“One of these days, you’re going to have to tell him how much you want him to bind you to his headboard with one of those terrible scarves,” America tells Teddy.
“I don’t have to at all,” Teddy tells her quickly, reaching for the coffee pot; it looks like Overly Fond Of Eyeliner And In Need Of A Haircut Guy With The False Arm – look, no one said these had to be pithy – is running low on coffee, and nobody wants that to happen again.
“I will absolutely set him up with Loki,” America threatens, and ducks out to go and get another platter of pancakes from Noh before Teddy can respond.
America has never pretended she can’t be hypocritical, but she’s also a hell of a lot better at subtlety than Teddy is. Which is why nobody’s plaguing her to ask out Weirdly Graceful Trust Fund Student, who has dark hair and blue eyes and a purple hoodie she seems to save for wearing out to diners at four in the morning. America frankly really wants to take her home, eat her out, and refuse to make her breakfast at whatever godawful time they wake up, but she keeps this thought to herself. Trust Fund Student sometimes hangs out with Guy Who Seems Incapable Of Staying Out Of Bar Fights, and America would like to be certain they’re not banging.
Taylor Swift is giving Lana Del Rey a run for her money when America heads into the kitchen, and she hates that Noh has made it so she can think things like that. Noh himself is wearing the disturbing cut-off shorts again, and not a whole lot else, and he and Cassie seem to have cracked open the Southern Comfort. It’s lucky their management doesn’t show up that often, really.
Cassie carefully places the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae – who the fuck orders ice cream at four a.m. anyway – and pushes it toward America, spiking the order slip neatly. Most places America had worked at before had upgraded to something a bit more digital, but here they’re still using order pads and bitching about each other’s handwriting. Noh picks up the next order as America collects the sundae with one hand and a club sandwich with the other, and frowns at the writing. America decides to get out of the kitchen before he realises that it says: make some fucking pancakes and stop playing that song about woods.
She delivers the food to the students cramming for some kind of history exam tomorrow they are clearly not going to pass, since they’re too busy making out to actually study, and looks around to see if anyone else wants more coffee. Guy Who Seems Incapable Of Staying Out Of Bar Fights is looking mournfully at his cup, so America drags herself over, topping both him and Weirdly Graceful Trust Fund Student up, and eying the stack of bloodied paper napkins on the table between them.
“You don’t have something we could turn into an icepack, do you?” Trust Fund Student asks, looking up at America with those big blue eyes. America was born with a heart made of stone, as Loki keeps reminding her, so no amount of Disney blinking is going to work on her, but she still shrugs and says she’ll go ask.
“They’re not sleeping together,” David says quietly as America passes. He’s doing three lots of Extremely Cruelly Hard sudoko simultaneously, the puzzles spread on the counter in front of him. America raises an eyebrow. “I read body language, Chavez,” he reminds her. “You’re good, but you’re not that good.”
“How’s hooking up with Loki going?” America flings back, and doesn’t look at him as she passes back into the kitchen.
Somehow, Cassie and Noh are listening to that song again, dancing at their respective food stations.
“I’m going to take a hammer to your iPhone,” America warns Noh, as she rummages in the freezer for some ice cubes that she can wrap in a clean dishtowel. Noh puts his hands over his ears, regardless of the fact the burgers on the grill in front of him are going to need flipping in a moment. Cassie just giggles.
America finishes sorting out her crappy icepack, and adds: “you don’t have hella good hair, Noh,” before she goes back out.
She gives the cold dishtowel to Trust Fund Student, since Guy Who Seems Incapable Of Staying Out Of Bar Fights now has his bleeding face pressed to the table; that’s going to need a load of disinfecting when they’re gone.
“Thanks,” Trust Fund Student says, fingers brushing America’s wrist, and David just looks satisfied when she returns to the counter.
“Is this the one about the British boyband guy?” America asks, long-suffering.
“They’re all about the British boyband guy,” Teddy replies, rubbing at his eyes. It’s nearly five in the morning on a Saturday, and only Noh seems awake, cheerfully drinking Coke Zero and wearing a tiny fluorescent pink top that America is reasonably sure came from the women’s section of Forever 21.
“Only some of them,” Loki says, from where he’s sitting on top of the dishwasher. His eyeliner is smudged and there’s a rip in his jeans that he’s not talking about, and he’s eaten about half a loaf of bread since he got here. He’s not exactly sober, but he’s making more sense than he did an hour ago.
“I miss when they were all about John Mayer,” Teddy sighs, and then adds: “what has happened to me,” scooping up plates of fries and heading back out.
Last month was Nicki Minaj month; America privately misses that one, but she’s not telling Noh that, because he’d somehow see that as winning. And this is still better than that week when he and Cassie only listened to Let It Go.
“Is Teddy’s painfully obvious crush in tonight?” Loki asks.
“No,” America replies, poking her head back out into the diner to check no new customers have arrived before she goes to sit beside Loki. “And you don’t give a shit about anyone else, so.”
“I have a wide and varied heart,” Loki replies, deadpan, rubbing at the raw split in his jeans with a chipped thumbnail.
Under the safe cover of Taylor Swift being a nightmare dressed as a daydream, America pokes Loki in the side and says: “Odin, Thor, Leah, Valerie, Sigurd.”
“I have no idea who you’re talking about,” Loki snips neatly.
America keeps no one in her life she doesn’t want to deal with, but she’s apparently the only person with that attitude. Loki, for all that he’s a bratty asshole, collects people who damage him every time he gets close to them. He damages them worse, of course, and then America gathers the jagged pieces and leaves him to fit them all back together. Shitty metaphor, sure, but it’s too early in the morning for this crap.
“Okay,” America says, sliding back to her feet. She’s probably not supposed to have sneakers as part of her uniform, but no one’s tried to stop her wearing them. Cassie finds the concept that anyone would even try hilarious. “You should probably get some sleep, and leave some of that bread for the morning toast rush.”
“Fuck the morning toast rush,” Loki says, and Noh sniggers, like he hasn’t considered it in the past.
“I like the tattoos,” Trust Fund Student says.
She’s alone today, drinking black coffee and bent over an iPad. America hasn’t spent the last ten minutes watching her idly French braid her hair: she’ll fight you on that one.
America’s been pouring her another mug of the cheap shit they call coffee here; she’s too collected to startle when Trust Fund Student reaches out a forefinger to trace around the star inked on the inside of America’s right wrist.
“Maybe I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like being touched by strangers,” America suggests, keeping her gaze and her voice steady.
“Maybe you are,” Trust Fund Student agrees, but she doesn’t look away, and she doesn’t move her hand.
“I could have you banned for this,” America says, even though they’ve never actually banned anyone from coming here and she’s not completely sure she has the authority to do it.
“That would be a great loss,” Trust Fund Student says. “I’ll miss your terrible coffee and listening to the same Taylor Swift album being played constantly in your kitchen.” America lets her gaze drop to Trust Fund Student’s coffee cup, which has easily been refilled four times tonight. Trust Fund Student shrugs. “Clint likes it here, but I don’t think he has functioning tastebuds,” she says.
“How is Clint?” America asks, trying the name on for size, despite the fact she doesn’t care. Sure, they might lose some late night coffee-and-bacon-sandwiches revenue, but sooner or later the guy is going to get some kind of skull injury he won’t come back from. He has that kind of look.
Trust Fund Student rolls her eyes. “I’m letting his ex-wife deal with him tonight,” she says, which is one of those answers that creates more questions that America still isn’t going to ask. Heart of stone, her.
“You came to his favourite diner anyway,” America remarks.
Trust Fund Student tips her head to one side, those eyes big and blue and not even the slightest bit innocent; it’s kind of great. “Not for the coffee,” she says.
“So, you came here to touch strangers without asking?” America suggests.
Trust Fund Student grins. “Something like that,” she says. “Can I get the cheque, please?”
“What did you want, her to leave you her knickers as a tip?” Loki asks.
“I’m regretting telling you this,” America says.
“You didn’t tell him; I did,” David remarks, not looking up from his copy of Time.
“Oh, yeah.” America twists to look at him. “Remind me that I’m going to kick your ass next time I can get away with you needing a day off without me having to cover.”
“Will do,” David says, placid, and turns a page of his magazine, content in the knowledge they don’t have enough staff for that to ever happen.
“I really don’t understand how this anecdote doesn’t end with the two of you shagging in-” Loki trails off, screws up his face.
“There is nowhere in here to bang,” America reminds him. “We don’t even have a breakroom; we have to keep our personal belongings in a box in the kitchen.”
“Noh keeps eating my emergency candy,” David says.
“There’s a back alley!” Loki finishes triumphantly.
“By the dumpsters?” America asks, dubious.
“You’re much too picky,” Loki sniffs.
“I love it when you give me details I don’t want to ever know about your sex life,” America tells him, and then twists to look at David again. “Hey, so-”
“No,” David says, without looking up. “Always indoors, always in an apartment belonging to one of us, no more details, I hope Loki dies a protracted death involving syphilis.”
“They’ve created cures for syphilis,” Loki says, “I’m surprised you don’t know that, since you know everything, David.”
“I’m pretty sure this conversation was about me to begin with,” America says, but it’s sit with them or go watch Noh and his Daisy Dukes make grilled cheese to a soundtrack of Taylor Swift’s many break-ups.
Wow, but her life sucks.
The alley behind the diner mainly has dumpsters and nothing else in it; it would be a great place to sneak a cigarette, if any of them actually smoked, but the only butts are from Loki and his obnoxious habit of turning up at the back door and making himself at home. Rich people, for real. It’s also a place to sneak five minutes away from customers that aren’t absolutely full of Noh’s feelings about mainstream pop, and breathe whatever passes for fresh air in New York.
“Well, isn’t this a coincidence,” Trust Fund Student says, in skinny purple jeans that make her thighs look amazing.
“You trying for a meetcute?” America asks, pushing herself upright from where she’s been leaning against the wall.
“Might be a bit late for that,” she replies, smirking. “Also: dumpsters.”
America’s wearing a sweater over her ugly uniform blouse; at least the shorts she wears instead of the mini skirt that was her other option – ah, sexist work clothes, alive and well in the service industry – look kind of great with it.
“Well, that’s that, then,” America says. “We’re screwed. Can I get you some coffee?”
“Please, please do not do that,” Trust Fund Student says, and kisses America.
Despite the dumpsters and the sound of taxis beeping angrily at each other back on the street, it’s kind of exactly amazing. America kisses her back, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth and biting enough to make Trust Fund Student make a dirty noise in the back of her throat and press her back into the wall. She’s warm and constantly shifting under America’s curious hands; her soft t-shirt slides easily under America’s palms, and, oh, hey.
Pulling back, Trust Fund Student looks at America with her eyes bright and her mouth wet and swollen. “Hi,” she says, “you’ve got your hand in my bra.”
“I do,” America agrees, and thumbs her nipple for the way it makes her eyelashes flutter. Semi-public groping? Maybe Loki has a point.
“Not that this isn’t great,” Trust Fund Student says, “but you have your hand in my bra and I have no idea what your name is.”
Yeah, of course she has a Hello, My Name Is America name tag. No, of course she’s never fucking worn it.
“I guess that needs addressing, Weirdly Graceful Trust Fund Student,” America agrees.
“Archery,” she says, and: “we should probably deal with it, Hot But Mean Diner Waitress.”
“I can’t believe my epithet doesn’t involve how great my thighs look in these shorts,” America remarks.
“I can’t believe you don’t mention my boobs that you seem so fond of,” Trust Fund Student responds, pressing into America’s hand a little.
“We both fucked up there,” America agrees, and waits until Trust Fund Student’s smile softens and she adds: “Kate.”
“Kate,” America says, turning the word over in her mouth, trying it on for size, for shape. With any luck, she’ll be saying it a bunch later. Kate arches an expectant eyebrow, and she adds: “America.”
“America,” Kate repeats flatly.
America shrugs. “You can go back to calling me Hot But Mean Diner Waitress.”
Kate seems to genuinely consider it. “Bit of a mouthful,” she decides at last. “Your neighbours might not appreciate it.”
“The walls are pretty thin,” America tells her, “they’re not going to appreciate anything.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Kate says, and giggles; her breast shivers in America’s hand and damn, but she is this close to abandoning Teddy and Noh to deal with Consistently Angry Eyepatch Guy and anyone else who’s turned up. “Hi,” Kate adds, “America.”
“Hi, Kate,” America responds, and grins until Kate leans in and kisses it off her face.