Cream & Sugar

Written in response to: Set your story in a roadside diner.... view prompt


Friendship Teens & Young Adult

"Hello y'all, how many do we have today?" 

Her voice was too chipper. I looked over to Max, who was still stretching like a moron; I pretended to not feel the woman's gaze burning into the side of my head. Max looked up, making eye contact, and I looked away. My mouth tasted bad.

"Four, please."

"Would you like a booth, patio, bar?"

"Uh..." I could tell he was looking around at us. "Guys?"

Hannah didn't say anything, so Thalia spoke for her. "Didn't they say there was going to be a sandstorm? Let's get a booth."

"That sandstorm sounds far away, though, right? I didn't really hear where..."

The conversation trailed off. The taste in my mouth got worse.

"I say take a seat inside, okay kids?" The woman's voice went up an octave. My fist clenched inside my pocket, yet I raised my eyes as we walked - well, shimmied our way through the restaurant. They seemed to have jam-packed most of their good tables inside, and by the time we came to our booth Hannah was mumbling about new bruises on her legs. I stayed standing until Max got the hint and asked to sit with Thalia. To my relief, she agreed.

"Give me a holler when you kids are ready, and please make sure to read the menu carefully." The woman gave a bright smile, aimed at me. "My name's Beth."

Beth tried too hard.

Her brisk tone matched her pace as she walked off somewhere. After an awkward beat, Thalia grabbed a menu I didn't know we were given and began scanning the crinkled pages. "Do you guys want to split anything?"

"I'm not that hungry, sure..." Hannah gave my thigh a reassuring rub. I simply glanced outside, watching the sky turn darker by the minute. Our car was parked crooked. The light above me flickered and I felt a headache begin. Max cleared his throat. I refused to look at him.

"I think I'll have wings. Jovian what about you?"

"I need to go to the bathroom." I hated how my voice cracked, trembled at the end. Hannah began saying something but cut herself off, or maybe Thalia had poked her under the table. I barely reached the men's door before hot tears gushed from my eyes, bringing out pent up anger and stress from five hours in the car. I hid in the middle stall, covering my eyes and forcing myself to breath. I should've breathed through my nose, that would've been quieter. I didn't care in the moment, though. All I knew was that I hated this, I hated everything about this and if it were my choice I would've taken the first plane out of whatever state we were in and called this 'bonding time' a failed roadtrip. Highway to hell and everything. Through my snivels I suddenly heard the hinges squeak as the door opened, signalling for me to quiet down and scrub at my face harder.

"Hey kiddo, you okay?"

That wasn't Max. I froze, that stupid cough that you do when you choke on your snot accidentally making me reveal my stall. The sound of water running started, went on for a bit, then stopped.

"Look, bud, I..." A sigh, then a muffled sound I assumed was someone heavy leaning against a wall. "I know times are hard, and 'yer probably in a pickle. I've been in a couple myself, ya' know. I know you don' wanna' tell me nothin', that's okay."

Oh whatever; I gave a pathetic sound of agreement, wincing at how squeaky my voice had become. I didn't know who I was speaking to, but they sounded nice enough to not berate me for crying in the men's washroom, so that was a positive.

"I just want to know somethin', and -" The man cleared his throat, and I imagined his face turning red. I bet he had a kind looking face. "Well, can you just answer one question for me?"

I took a deep breath, trying to control my voice slightly before answering. "Yes, okay. Sir."

"... ya' like coffee?"

Alright, that's new. "Yes, sir."

"Alright, kiddo, here's what I'm gonna' do." His voice turned more confident, almost as if holding back a gruff, proud chuckle. "I'm gonna' order you coffee; a strong black one, with cream and sugar on the side. Now you get to put that cream and sugar, if not that's your choice."

I nodded, then realised and spoke up. "Yes sir, thank you... er, sir."

"Listen, kiddo, life is all about choices." A hint of sadness caught in his throat, and I let a hand touch the stall wall as he sighed before continuing. "Hard choices, lots of 'em. This coffee, how you want it?That's your choice, bucko, and don't you let nobody tell you otherwise."

I listened carefully to his words and allowed a smile; a weak one, but a smile, nonetheless. "Thank you."

"No problem, kiddo."

I didn't know when he left. I never heard a door open. I walked out that bathroom after having given myself time to breath and deciding a chemically scrubbed bathroom wasn't great for my health. When I came back to the table, as promised, a big mug of coffee sat waiting for me. Cream and sugar at Hannah's elbow. As soon as I sat down Beth came scampering over, letting me know we weren't going to be charged for the coffee and taking the rest of everyone's order.

"Man, maybe I should cry more." Max gave me a smile. I didn't return it, and as Thalia looked over Max's smile flattered.

"I - I meant-" Hannah's raised eyebrow might as well have been a slap. "I'm sorry, too soon."

"I'm driving." Not a question. Thalia then turned to Hannah and I, fidgeting with her eyebrow piercing as she asked us about motels and whatnot. I allowed myself plenty of sugar, and poured half the bottle of creamer into my coffee, smiling at the white clouds blooming at the surface.

My coffee, my choice.

"I'd like to be in charge of the radio, then."

September 05, 2021 22:03

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