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Take it All

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Kellerman is quitting smoking for the 38th time. He keeps telling people, and they keep laughing, which is hardly inspiring, but this time it’s for real.

He’s still carrying a pack of cigarettes, two gone from the package, leaving just enough room so that he can shake the pack and feel the cigarettes wiggling around against each other. Sometimes he’ll take out one of the cigarettes and play with it. But that’s just something to do with his hands.

They—Mikey and Lewis, the “them” these days—are at a shit hole diner at the end of a shit hole day. Kellerman had said, “Let’s get something to eat,” and because he always insists he knows a place, Lewis brought them here.

Kellerman has, thus far, managed not to complain about it. Much.

“I mean, it’s a vibrant city. There are hundreds of great restaurants, or at least restaurants that have been remodeled since the Carter administration.”

Lewis cocks his head a little, scratching at his jaw. “Now, see, Mikey, that’s your problem. You get too caught up in appearances, man. This place’s got a lot goin’ on under the hood.”

“Well, it had better, cuz the paint job’s for shit.”

Lewis rolls his eyes, and probably would say something more, but their food arrives, and the waitress’ fingers are still on Lewis’ plate as he begins shoving fries in his mouth.

The number of arguments Kellerman has won because Lewis’ mouth was otherwise occupied has just risen by one, and the rate was high to begin with.

Kellerman would admit, if Lewis hadn’t gotten too distracted by his cheese steak to continue the dispute, that the food isn’t half bad. He tries to eat slowly, because there’s no nicotine in his blood, no familiar dampening of his appetite, and he’s ravenous. He could eat his dinner, and Lewis’, and the entire dessert case, but he’s trying the moderation thing—hence the no smoking. For real this time.

And he should probably lay off dessert—the 36th time he quit, he gained six pounds (the 37th time barely counts; it was over in eighteen hours)—but he has to order something so that Lewis has something to sneak his fork across the table and steal. And it’s worth the extra calories to see Lewis’ smile as he sticks a forkful of stolen meringue into his mouth, like he’s some real slick criminal, like Kellerman didn’t order that pie solely for his benefit. And it strikes Kellerman that maybe Lewis doesn’t know that he’s quitting smoking this time because Meldrick can’t stand the smell, and the thought makes Kellerman kind of happy and kind of sad all at once.

Lewis’ fork hesitates over Mikey’s plate, and Kellerman forces a smile, worried that there’s an expression in his repertoire suitable to warn Lewis off stealing food. He pushes the rest of the pie across the table.

“It’s all yours, Meldrick. Take it all.”