The Little Things that Build Up

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Set your story in a roadside diner.... view prompt


Teens & Young Adult Drama

“Alright!” Harper ignored Detective Knott sliding into the booth across from her. He clapped his hands and smiled at her. “Just got off the phone with the towing company; they’ve gotten the car to the nearest AAA station and they’re going to work on her asap, so we should be back on the road by this time tomorrow.”

Harper grunted, sinking further into her sweatshirt. She could practically feel the sinus infection this rinky-dink, nature-infested town was giving her, her face throbbing like someone had punched her in both eyes. Did she pack her nasal spray? Knott had sworn up and down that this would be a quick trip, so she hadn’t packed much. Christ, did she forget it? She rubbed her cheekbone with her sleeve. Shit. Allergies were the worst.

She wished she was still home at the apartment. Knott said his buddy a few hours away needed his help on a case, and he couldn’t just leave her alone for a few days. Like hell he couldn’t! She was sixteen! She’d lived alone for a long time before Knott waltzed into her life, she’d be perfectly fine!

Knott studied her and sighed. “Look, I know this situation isn’t ideal—"

“We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for your stupid, lemon car—”

“But,” he continued, his eyebrows twitching, the sign that meant he was one smart comment away from snapping at her, score, “this can be a good thing! We’ve barely spent any time together lately, with my work and your… education.”

Harper snorted. “If you weren’t my legal guardian, that would sound super creepy… No, wait! Still sounds creepy. I was right!” She picked up the diner menu and pointed it at him, the laminate refusing to stay straight and going ‘wuba-wuba.’ “Pegged you for a creep the moment we met.”

He pinched his nose. “Don’t bring that up again.”

She stuck her chin up in the air. “You dragged me into the back of your car—”

“I was arresting you—”

“Took me to a secondary location—”

“My detective agency—”

“And proceeded to coerce me—”

“I offered you a plea deal—No!” He ripped the menu out of her hands. “I get it. You don’t want to talk. We don’t have to talk. Just… pick out what you want to eat. Okay?” Harper nodded. He sighed. “Okay.”

Harper waited a second before asking, “How am I supposed to decide if I don’t have a menu?”

Knott’s head dropped to the table, rattling the condiments and drawing the attention of the patrons eating two tables away. Harper took her menu back, grinning before her headache spiked and she winced. “What?”

“What?” Harper repeated, confused.

“What,” he tried again, “has pissed you off this time, Harper?” He lifted his head up just enough to glare at her, though Harper was more intimidated by the light’s glare off his shiny, bald head. “Because I have had it with your behavior today.”

“Well, let’s see…” she pretended to think. “How about… your shitty car broke down in the middle of nowhere, so we have to eat at this shitty diner and sleep in a shitty motel, and to top it all off, it’s going to take all shitty day to get out of here.” She smiled meanly, crossing her arms. “So, why do you think I’m pissed?”

Knott gulped down his half-and-half iced tea, which Harper had ordered for him while he was on the phone. “I don’t buy it. You’ve been pissy all day, ever since Hank called to ask for my help, long before my ‘shitty car’ broke down. So, what’s the real reason?”

“That is the real reason, asshole,” she snapped, her headache throbbing more with every second.

“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady.”

She scoffed. “Don’t bother getting all parental with me, Dad,” she sneered, putting all the vitriol she could muster into that one word.

Knott flinched back, and Harper smirked. But before Knott could snap back, a waitress appeared. She wasn’t the brunette adult who took Harper’s order while Knott was outside; instead, she was younger blonde with a strained smile. “Okay!” her voice was a fake as her smile. She clearly had overheard at least part of their conversation and was attempting to break the tension. Harper scowled. “What can I get y’all to eat today?”

“Ah—” Knott grabbed the menu. He hadn’t looked at it once since he sat down. He scanned the page. “I’ll have the Philly Cheesesteak with fries, thank you.”

“Alrighty!” She turned to Harper. “And for you, sweetie?”

Harper bit down her instinctual venom. She might be a dick, but she refused to be rude to service workers… even when she all she wanted was to kick Knott until he bled. “Just a hamburger, please.”

The lady wrote it down, only for Knott to ask, “Are you sure? That’s not a lot of food…”

She clenched her jaw. “Yeah.”

The waitress scurried away, throwing a concerned glance over her shoulder at us, and Knott sighed. “I get it now.”

“Get what? There’s nothing to get, senile old man.”

“Harper.” His voice was serious. “You’ve never had an adult look after you, so my behavior is probably… irritating.”

“Obnoxious,” Harper added, but admitted nothing.

“That too,” he conceded. “But Harper, I’m only trying to look after you.”

“I don’t need anyone to look after me. I’ve been perfectly fine by myself.”

“Last week you melted Tupperware into the stove burner because you thought you could reheat spaghetti like that.”

“That’s not my fault!” she protested. “You don’t have a microwave! Everyone has a microwave!”

My point is that, if I’m being too clingy or annoying, then just tell me. And we’ll work to fix it. Okay?”


“But I’m not just going to leave you alone for days on end, or not worry about what you eat, or ignore you. I’m not going to neglect you like—” Knott cut himself off, but Harper knew he was going to say like your parents did.

“I don’t want to hear this,” she interrupted, pushing the table into Knott’s gut. She stood, the seat peeling off her thighs. “I’m going back to the motel.”

“But your dinner—”

“I don’t want it!”

The motel, continently enough, was across the street from the diner. She slammed the motel door behind her, momentarily satisfied before the tears started forming again. Stupid, stupid Knott! She hoped he choked on his food!

Whatever. She wasn’t staying here. She’d steal a car and go back to the city, or something. Nola would let her stay with her, probably. Anything was better than here. Harper stormed over to Knott’s duffle bag and searched it. He had to have some spare cash, right? If he was so determined to act all parent-like, he could start by lending her some cash. But Harper didn’t get far into the bag.

On top of Knott’s clothes sat Harper’s prescription nasal spray, looking to all the world like he had grabbed it last minute… like he was going out of his way to look after her.

Harper couldn’t stop the tears. 

September 10, 2021 19:06

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