The staff is locked inside a restaurant after hours.
| Business picked up around seven, and immediately everyone’s mood deteriorated. Most everybody fended only for themselves, and Joann…well, she was being Joann. Every little mishap, few though they mercifully were, was deemed worthy of capital punishment. The general atmosphere behind the Café’s cheery façade was black and mutinous.
Behind the scenes, the kitchen wasn’t in much better shape. Servers screamed at cooks to hurry with their food, cooks screamed at servers that they were doing their best, and dishwashers screamed at Tyrese to get off his damn phone already. Overall the Southern Café, once scraped of the professional veneer seen by its customers, was Pandemonium incarnate and Bedlam all around.
Lauren typed her order into the computer. It was a little past eight, just after the rush, and the bulk of the patronage had either left or were staring expectantly at the servers, their plates empty, for the checks. Joann was on another tirade, this time at the cooks for not changing the oil for the deep fryers. She tasted bile and reminded herself that in three weeks, she’d be at Henderson with her friends checking out college boys, and the Southern Café, with all its drama, would be the punch line of some sick joke. Later, when she could look back on that last night on the job with some perspective, she found that she could almost laugh.
But for now, all she could do was watch while Joann bitched, cooks moaned, and the clouds darkened the evening prematurely for what the weatherman had promised to be a big one.
Eventually, she shut up and stalked off to find another pair of testicles to remove. As soon as she was safely away, Gloria approached J.D.
“Not a jury in the land would convict me…”
J.D. snorted. “When I get through with her, there’ll be nothing they can prove.”
Timothy flipped a burger. “How much longer are we stuck here?”
“Bout and hour.” J.D. put his phone away. “How many are left out there?”
Maddie, at the expediter’s station, leaned out of the window into the wait station. “Not many,” she said, taking a seat on an overturned crate. “The big top and a couple of booths. Looks like someone else just walked in.”
“You’re cookin’ it this time.” Tim pointed his spatula at J.D. “I’ll be back.” He shuffled around Gloria to the bathroom, squawking like a duck.
Gloria leaned around a corner into a room-sized area set just off the rest of the kitchen. “Hey Dish, can one of you get my tea urns—jeez, are you still on the phone, Tyrese?”
Tyrese, at the big sink, turned his back to her. “Do what, baby?”
Gloria sighed and addressed the skinny kid at the front of the machine. “Can you, Kyle?”
Kyle wordlessly navigated around Tyrese. He tried not to hate himself too much as he unloaded the silver tea urns from the drive-thru fridge. At least three times a week, Tyrese decided that he needn’t contribute, and when he didn’t reach this conclusion there was a reason. Kyle knew he needed this job, but he always ended up asking himself the same thing at the end of the day: why am I here? Surely other jobs didn’t allow this kind of crap. Surely some other place would be better. Surely it couldn’t get any worse than this.
But when Joann rounded the corner at that moment it did, and fast.
The newest customer was a cute-enough high school jock wearing a Redwater letterman and a shirt two sizes too small. He glowered at everything. Lauren’s prettiest smile and fresh perfume didn’t faze him.
“Hi! My name is Lauren, and I’ll be your server this evening. Can I get you something to drink?”
“I don’t care.”
“Uh…we have tea, coffee, Dr. Pepper—“
Her smile faltered a bit. “Dr. Pepper, then.”
She tried to tell herself that he’d probably had a bad day so she wouldn’t be too too pissy. But the night had been trying, and patience was in short supply all over. Nevertheless, she turned the perky up to maximum when she returned with the soda. Once again, he paid no mind. Something in the distance seemed to have drawn his attention.
She followed his gaze to Robert, another server who was about her size (and Lauren was in no way a big girl, either).
“Robert? The brown-haired kid?”
“Send him over.”
She was halfway across the room before she realized her mouth was open. “Robert, my table wants you.”
Robert frowned. “Uh…okay.”
Lauren chewed on the inside of her lip while Robert tended her table. The jock seemed a bit more attentive and a little less curt, but still glared everywhere. Indignation and fury rose in her. She welcomed it after a long day of smiling.
“Give me your phone.”
She turned to find Joann with her hand out.
“I’m so tired of you kids on your phones instead of workin’. Give me your phone, you’ll get it back when we’re closed.”
“Do you want to find another job?”
“Like you wouldn’t fucking believe” almost slipped out, but her parents’ wrath if she lost her job scared her more than Joann, so she coughed up.
Robert was a little harder to convince, but in the middle of her bitch fit (and in full view of the jock), he submitted. The rest of the staff (all underage except Gloria, and even she was far from thirty) was furious.
For Robert, the night was even more aggravating. The jock left a fifteen-dollar tip and a note.
Aaron 903-555-3894 xoxoxo
“Why the Hell does that ALWAYS happen to me?!” he groaned.
The entire staff was finished and ready to leave by 9:30, a personal best for Tyrese. Just before the door closed at nine, the storm that had been brewing outside unleashed its fury. Kyle and Tyrese had to dump the trashcans in a driving rain (which didn’t help Kyle’s mood AT all).
Just as they were emptying the last can into the dumpster, a white Suburban turned down the alley behind the Café. Kyle turned to see who it was. The tinted windows and lack of decent lighting made it impossible to see who was driving—he could only see a human shape. The truck crawled down the way at a slow walking pace, forced rain to run before the tires in waves, blocked wind from the east. The head inside bobbed around, scrutinizing its audience and the area behind them.
As it passed, the driver floored it and shot down the alley, filling the space behind it with a roar. They didn’t feel quite safe until it turned around the building.
“Dude, that was fuckin’ creepy…” Tyrese whispered. For once, Kyle was inclined to agree with him.
Ten minutes later, as they all waited in the dining room, it seemed distant and unimportant. The four servers that were still waiting for their phones, along with the two remaining cooks and Tyrese, hobnobbed by the wait station. Kyle, too tired to do much socializing, relaxed in a nearby booth with Maddie and Gloria.
Joann, being Joann, had decided that her car was the safest place for the phones. Amidst the exasperated outcry of the staff, she went out into the storm to retrieve them.
The front door closed just as the sky crashed down upon the Café.
Everything went dark. Bright light flashed outside, quickly followed by a horrific boom that reverberated in Kyle’s chest for a while. Screams bounced off the walls. Several smaller flashes, all yellow, illuminated the dining room minutely. Outside, Joann dropped to the concrete, though still protected by the awning by the door. Across the parking lot, the gas station’s big signs flickered a bit then died.
The generator out back whirled to life. The lights came back on row by row. The staff was scattered. Tyrese was in a back corner. Gloria and Maddie hugged each other under their table. Kyle clutched his ears, coiled as far into the corner as he could possibly go. Lauren leaned against a wall with her hand over her mouth. Robert lay in a ball in the servers’ booth. Timothy crouched, ready to bolt. J.D., having already done so and tripped, sprawled across the floor. Blake, one of the remaining servers, stared, wide-eyed, at the gas station’s sign. The other server, Joey, removed his ear buds, looking around with the awe of one who has no idea what has just occurred.
The phone at the front desk started ringing. Joann was pacing in front of the door, her own phone at her ear. No one else moved.
“Oh, this is stupid!” Lauren blurted. Everyone began to relax while she stomped across the dining room on shaky legs and picked up the phone.
“It’s about damn time.”
“Yeah, save it. Listen, the transformer out here was hit by lightning. The locks’re fried.”
Lauren groaned. The locks on all the outfacing doors were electric, as was the drive-thru window. If the lightning had knocked all of them out of commission, those inside were looking at a very long night.
“Please tell me you can get us out of here.” She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“I’ve got to go get the keys and the codes for the doors. I might be awhile. Tell Gloria she’s in charge.”
“Alright. Can you—”
Joann hung up and marched into the rain.
“—quit being a bitch for three fucking seconds!!” Lauren muttered.
“What’s going on?” Tyrese asked.
“The lightning hit a transformer and fried the locks. Joann’s going to get the keys.” Lauren sank down on the stool behind the desk.
“So what are you saying?” Blake asked.
Lauren shrugged. “We’re stuck here.”
The place was abruptly an uproar. “What”s and “come on”s and “you’ve got to be kidding me”s echoed against the walls.
“What else did she say?” Blake asked.
“Just that she might be a little while. Oh, and Gloria’s in charge.”
“This is so fucking typical!” Maddie groaned. “Why don’t they let the managers keep a set of keys?!”
“So what do we do now?” Kyle asked.
They could’ve heard a pin drop, had one suddenly felt the need. All eyes turned to Gloria.
She looked down at the table for a moment. “Tim?”
Timothy leaned over the half-wall. “Yeah?”
“You wanna start up the grill?”
“Well, you know, it would really piss Joann off.”
Timothy needed no more prompting. He stepped back into the kitchen with J.D. while Lauren took orders. Joey and Tyrese changed the radio from the country music that always played to a Top 40 station that everyone seemed more or less in agreement with. Timothy cooked rib eye steaks and burgers. J.D. readied fries and appetizers. Maddie and Kyle pulled side orders back from out of the walk-in refrigerator. Joey helped himself to ice cream. Blake and Robert brewed more coffee. Gloria and Lauren, after the orders were cooking, stepped up onto a table to the music of Finger Eleven’s “Paralyzer” and proceeded into a lively dance. Blake whistled. Joey, emerging from the kitchen with his ice cream, yelled, “HELL YEAH!!!”
“What’s going on?” J.D. called. Robert informed him, which provoked the question, “Why y’all gotta wait till I leave to get freaky?”
Stolen food does taste better. Lauren drew a deep drag from her cigarette and exhaled into the vents over the grill. Gloria and J.D. were doing likewise.
“So how’s Janey?” Gloria asked.
“Wouldn’t know. Haven’t seen her for two weeks.” J.D. snuffed his cigarillo and lit another.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Lauren said.
“Don’t be. She was sleepin’ with my brother.”
“Did someone tell you?” Gloria asked.
“No, I walked in on them.”
Lauren saw this as her cue to leave, but with Gloria’s cigarette still burning she felt honor-bound to stay. She lit another and tried to change the subject.
“Weird weather, huh?”
“Eh, it’s Texas.” J.D. said.
“But still, it’s…” The words died on her lips. The three passed the moment in an uncomfortable silence. Mercifully, Gloria put out her cigarette and said, “Well, I’m better check out the other monkeys.”
Lauren put hers out quickly. “I’ll join you.”
“Can you bring me my snuff? It’s in my jacket pocket.” J.D. asked.
“Yeah, sure.” She was barely aware of what she was saying. She followed Gloria into the dining room with single minded determination, wanting nothing more that to get away.
“Great!” Joey slammed the phone onto the desk.
“What?” Lauren asked.
“The landline’s out!”
“Does anyone need to make a phone call?”
“I was gonna call Jack about covering my shift tomorrow-” Blake said.
“But does anyone actually need to make a phone call?” She looked around, and no one spoke. “Okay! So who really cares?”
“Still, it is a little creepy being locked in here without a phone.” Robert said. Lauren’s heart melted a bit at his lisp, which made it sound something like, “Still, it is a little cweepy being locked in heuh without a phone.”
“We’ll be fine, y’all,” Gloria said. “Joann’ll be back in a few minutes. We’ll be fine.”
Joey sat back down at a booth where Robert, Tyrese, and Blake were playing cards. “Dude, I can’t wait till the party this weekend. You wanna come?” He looked at Blake. “Jessie’s bringing some cousins. I bet even you could get laid.”
Blake raised an eyebrow. “Uh, yeah, I’m gay.”
There was a beat of silence, then laughter.
“How the Hell did you miss that?” Kyle asked.
Joey mumbled something unintelligible. His face was suddenly bright red.
Lauren frowned. “I feel like there was something I’m supposed to do…”
“You were supposed to make me a drink. Dr. Pepper, no ice.” Tyrese put a few more sugar packets (which they used in the absence of chips) in the middle.
Lauren gave him a two word response and left the room.
“Aw, babe, why you gotta treat me like that?” Tyrese called.
This made Kyle feel nauseous, so he left to put his tray in the dish window.
“So Gloria,” Blake asked, taking a card. “Why haven’t they canned that bitch?”
“Well,” Gloria took a seat in a nearby booth. “She dated the owner’s son in college. They had a bad breakup, but they hired her not long after that and she’s been assistant manager ever since.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” Robert said. “They gave her a job after their kid broke up with her?”
“Did they feel sorry for her or something?” Joey asked.
“Okay, this makes no sense whatsoever,” Blake said.
“Well,” Gloria said, “and this doesn’t leave the table, but I hear that the owner’s son broke up with her to go out with a nice nursing student.”
“So he broke up with her to go out with another girl?” Tyrese asked. Gloria looked away with a smile playing on her lips.
“Wait a minute,” Robert said. “You mean he’s…”
Gloria started humming a tune to herself.
Blake gasped. “I knew it!”
“What do you mean?” Tyrese asked.
“Yeah, I’m confused,” Joey said.
“And I’m not surprised,” Blake said.
“Come on, I wanna know.”
“Look, sweetie, if you don’t get it, I’m not gonna be the one to explain it to you. Mother fucker!” He slammed his cards on the table and took a drink.
“Hey! That’s mine!” Robert said.
Blake flipped him off. “Suck it!”
“So how do you stand that motherfucker?” J.D. asked.
“You know, I’ve been asking myself that same question for awhile.” Kyle said.
J.D. handed him a Black & Mild. “Why don’t you say something? You’re not the only one who’s noticed how he is.”
“I dunno.” Kyle lit the cigarillo and took a drag. “I don’t like snitching.”
“I don’t like assholes, either.”
Kyle considered this for a moment. “Hmm. Good point.”
Lauren walked out of the manager’s office.
“Where’s my snuff?” J.D. asked.
Lauren paused for a moment, looking lost. “Oh, right. Sorry.”
“What were you doing in there?” Kyle asked.
“I wanted to see if the phone might work in there. It doesn’t.”
“Wait, the phone’s out?”
Lauren and Kyle nodded.
J.D. shrugged. “I guess my dad’ll just have to be mad when I get home late.”
Lauren joined them by the grill and lit a cigarette. “So how’s life treating you, Kyle?”
Kyle looked up at her. “Do you really gotta ask me that?”
“No, I meant at home. In school. You know, not here.”
“Oh. Not great. Could be worse. My mom tried to take away my truck. My dad told her that was fine, she could take me to work. So she dropped it.”
Lauren exhaled. “So what was Jamie so mad about when he left?” Jamie was another dishwasher.
“Jamie left?” J.D. asked.
“Yeah, at, like, eight.” Kyle replied.
“But what was he mad about?” Lauren asked.
“Of course.” J.D. said.
“What was he doing?” Lauren knocked her ashes into the trash.
“The same. Being a jackass. Talking on the phone. Not washing the fucking dishes.”
“Is that why Joann came in here and took all our phones? Because Tyrese was on his?” J.D. rose from the crate he was sitting on.
“Yeah. She took ours first.” Kyle said.
“That skinny little motherfucker! He’s fucking dead!” J.D. took the last drag on the cigarillo, shifting from one foot to the other and shaking his head.
“J.D., calm down.” Lauren said. “It’s okay—”
“No, it’s not fuckin’ okay! That asshole’s not gonna get the shit beat outta him when he gets home for bein’ late!”
“Okay, I get that, but there’s no reason to upset everybody else, is there? Please, just sit down.”
He moved as if to go around the oven and into the dining room, but instead he dropped the cigar butt into the trash and dropped back down onto the crate.
“I’ll go get your snuff.” Lauren said.
“Please do.” J.D. took the soda Kyle offered him and drank.
“Another soda, Mr. Claythorne?” she asked in a British falsetto.
“Sure, thanks.” Kyle said.
Lauren walked out of the kitchen. She saw Tyrese and felt sick. Joey saw her and asked, “What are they doing back there?”
“Just sitting, smoking, talking. What are you doing?”
“Losing. Oh! Wait, no, still losing…”
“How long has Joann been gone now?”
“About forty-five minutes,” Gloria said.
“Damn! Where do the owners live?”
“Nearly in Genoa.”
“Oh. Well, fuck!” Lauren sat down and took a drink from Maddie’s soda.
“So what are the guys talking about back there?” Maddie asked from behind her PSP.
“Nothing interesting.” She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “We had to stop J.D. from stomping Tyrese’s ass.”
Maddie giggled. “No shit? What for?”
“Tyrese is the reason Joann took our phones away.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No, I’m serious.”
“What did Timothy say?”
“Timothy wasn’t in there.”
“Wait, then where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
Maddie frowned. “Gloria, do you know where Timothy is?”
“He’s not in the kitchen, and he’s not in here.”
“Does anybody know where Timothy is?”
The game stopped. “Did he go to the bathroom?” Blake asked.
“Uh, maybe.” Robert said. “Why don’t you go find out?”
“No, if he’s in the bathroom, let him be,” Gloria said. “He’ll come out in a minute.”
“I wonder if he went to get some food,” Maddie said. “I’ll go check.”
Lauren stood up so she could leave the booth.
On her way into the kitchen, J.D. and Kyle came out with some macaroni and cheese. “Hey, have you seen Timothy?” she asked.
“No.” J.D. said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I think he came through a little while ago.” Kyle said.
The kitchen was oddly silent when she walked through it. She rounded the bend around the pastry shelf into the drive thru and kitchen area in a queer quiet that was completely deviod of comfort. She walked a little quicker.
“Tim?” She spoke softly, reverently. There came no response. She eyed the silver door to the walk-in refrigerator. She debated the idea, and hearing nothing around her, she pulled the door open and walked in.
The cold took her in harshly but almost completely. Another door on the opposite wall, to the freezer, was ajar.
She stepped toward the door. The small hairs on her upper arms stood up. She reached forward and pulled the door open. The freezer was completely dark. She flipped the switch by the door a few times, but to no avail.
“Tim?” Her voice grew even smaller. “Are you in there?”
There was nothing but the cold, dull roaring of the freezer. She closed the door and stepped around a metal shelf of pans to the main door. She pushed. The door didn’t move. She pushed harder and hurt her wrist. She slammed into it with her shoulder.The door didn’t move.
“Hey!” She said. “This isn’t funny. Let me out.”
There was another moment of unbearable nothing. She hit the door. “Stop it, you guys! It’s really cold in here!”
Still there was nothing but the cold and silence. She banged against the door, she kicked it screaming, she backed up, bumped into a corner and ran forward to kick it, but nothing happened, no one came, there was no response at all.
“LET ME OUT OF HERE!!!”
A shadow came over her from behind, and the rest was darkness and pain.
“Aha! Full house, bitches!” Joey laid down his cards one at a time. Robert cursed. Tyrese grabbed his soda too hard and broke the styrofoam. Blake stood up.
“I’m out, fuck this shit.”
“Maddie’s been gone awhile.” Lauren said.
“Not really,” Gloria said. “Give her another minute, then you can go look for her. In the meantime, help me figure out how to work this stupid thing.” She picked up the PSP.
Robert dealt the cards. “Deuces wild.”
“Why the fuck you gotta say ‘deuces’?”
Robert fidgeted a bit. “It sounds better than ‘twos’.”
“Naw, it don’t. I don’t like that word.”
“Why are you trippin’ over that?” Joey asked.
“I had an old homeboy who would always try to call the second spot in rotation. Like every time. Even if it was just three of us.”
“Rotation?” Joey asked.
“For the blunt.”
“It just pisses me off.”
“Yeah, well, we’re not gonna go over what pisses me off.” J.D. said.
Tyrese looked around. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
Lauren sighed. “You guys, please—”
“Don’t act like you don’t know what the fuck I meant by that.”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“Guys, Joann’s here.” Gloria stood up and grabbed her purse. Robert packed up the cards. Tyrese took the plates to the dish window. Kyle turned off the music. J.D. turned off all the lights but the front, by the desk.
Joann parked her red Ford Focus in the parking lot. She pulled her hood up over her head and slung her purse over her shoulder. As she opened the door, they all began to gather around the front desk, jackets on, ready to go. She stepped into the rain, slammed her door, and ran toward the Café with the keys in her hand.
A white Suburban careened across the parking lot, tires squealing, motor screaming, and it began to swerve and skid on the wet concrete after hitting Joann and rolling over her.
Everyone screamed. Many of them ducked. The few that didn’t, J.D., Gloria, and Blake, moved backwards for the kitchen, staring ahead with everybody else. The Suburban righted itself and roared out of the parking lot, turning right toward Leary.
The silence was huge and cruel. Lauren and Blake were hyperventilating. Gloria had tears in her eyes. J.D.’s breath was ragged. Kyle and Tyrese were hiding their faces, squirming. Robert collapsed. Joey stared forward some more and vomited on the glass door.
“Robert!” Lauren whimpered. She knelt beside him and cradled him. Her breath was coming too fast. “Robert, get up. Please…get up. Get up, please…”
Robert moaned. He blinked and looked up into her shining eyes.
Gloria wobbled over to them. “Lauren, you’ve got to calm down. You’re going to pass out.”
“Where the fuck did that truck come from?!” Kyle whimpered.
“Come on, Lauren, get up. Go sit in a booth.” Gloria pulled Lauren off the ground. Blake helped Robert to his feet and into a booth.
Kyle jumped up and ran to the blinds on the far left window. He pulled the blinds down one by one, until the windows all across the front of the Café were covered. J.D. turned the lights back on. Lauren fell into the booth with Robert.
Tyrese put Joey into a booth. Gloria went into the kitchen and came back out with some paper towels and some Lysol.As she passed a trashcan she pulled it along to the front door and she began to clean the door. She moved her hands too quickly and almost made a bigger mess. She was trembling. Kyle went to her and hugged her from behind. She stared out at the crumpled body in the rain, tears rolling down her face, her breath hiccuping with nearly silent sobs.
J.D. sat down in a dining chair. No words seemed appropriate, or wanted. The silence was manditory, at least until Tyrese asked, “How are we going to get out of here?”
No one spoke. J.D. shifted in his seat. Robert curled up in the corner of the booth. Joey looked down. Kyle and Gloria rocked back and forth together. Lauren laid her head down on the table and put her arms over her head.
“Someone please help us…” she whispered.
“Maybe we should flash a light over at the gas station.” Blake said.
“No, that wouldn’t work. The bank’s in the way. No one would see it.” Joey said.
They were huddled in and around the server’s booth. Every now and then, J.D., who was standing, glanced fitfully at the parking lot through the door.
“What if we broke a fucking window or something, man?!” Robert asked.
“With that psycho out there?! Our cars are on the other side of the building!!” Tyrese said.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” Lauren said.
“Surely, someone will be by here eventually, right?” Kyle asked.
“That could take hours!” Blake said.
“What else can we do?!”
“There’s got to be something! We can’t just sit here all night!” Joey said.
“We don’t have much choice,” Gloria said. “We have food, water, bathrooms. We’ll wait.”
“What if someone tries to come in?” Blake asked.
“How?” J.D. asked. “We can’t get out.”
Joey jumped up. “I can’t take this!”
“Where are you going?” Gloria asked.
“To the bathroom!”
“You’ll have to get some paper towels from the office,” Lauren said.
“Fine!” He went into the kitchen.
“J.D., can you go turn up the music?” Gloria asked.
“Sure.” He whispered, and he walked across the room to the radio controls. “Forever” by Chris Brown slowly grew in the room. J.D. walked back to the booth, grabbed a chair, and sat down heavily. Robert dug in his jacket pocket for a cigarette and lit one up.
“Robert, what about the fire alarm?” Lauren asked.
“Fuck that fire alarm.” He took a drag and handed it to her. He passed one to Gloria, and one to Blake, who turned it down, so he lit it himself. J.D. pulled out two cigarillos and handed one to Kyle. They shared a silent moment together in their grief, listening to the music. Eventually, Blake started to quietly sing along, and Lauren joined him.
Two more songs played, and in the middle of the third, Tyrese said, “Joey’s been in there awhile.”
“Maybe he wanted to cry in private.” Lauren said.
“I’ll go see what’s wrong with him.” Robert said. “He’ll probably talk to me.”
Lauren got up so he could go. He dropped his cigarette butt into the trashcan.
She sat back down. “I feel awful.”
“Why’s that?” Gloria didn’t look at her when she asked. She stared at a spot on the table.
“We were saying awful things about her,” She said. Her eyes filled up with tears again. “We were ruthless.”
“Don’t trip about that.” Tyrese sat down beside her and put his arm around her. “You didn’t know that was about to happen. None of us did. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Yeah, but you did.” J.D. knocked the cherry off his cigarillo and put it back in the pack. “You’re the reason Joann took up our phones. You’re the reason she put them in her car. You’re the reason she’s dead! She wouldn’t have left if it hadn’t been for you!!”
Tyrese jumped up and punched J.D. in between the eyes. J.D. swung to hit him in the gut, but being larger, he didn’t move in time before Tyrese punched him again in the chin. He recovered quickly, and when Tyrese moved to hit him again, he deflected it and hit him in the nose.
“Stop it stop it STOP IT STOP IT!!!” Gloria jumped up and slapped the both of them. “Both of you mother fuckers just knock it off RIGHT NOW!! Do you hear me?!”
J.D. glared at Tyrese for a moment and sat back down. Tyrese left for the bathroom to clean up his nose. Blake followed so he could help.
Kyle heard a car coming down the road. “Hey guys! Someone’s coming!”
He ran to the door. Gloria, Lauren, and J.D. got the idea and followed. J.D. raised the blinds on one window. The car came from the north, shooting down the road that ran beside the Café. They waved, trying to get the driver’s attention, but the car never slowed. When it passed the gas station, J.D. lowered the blinds. They all went back to the server’s station with a new sense of hopelessness.
Lauren remembered something. “I’m going to find Maddie.”
“Holy shit! How long has she been back there?” J.D. asked.
“It seems like forever, but it’s probably only been a few minutes.” Lauren went into the kitchen.
The music played on, and the three people remaining in the room were silent. A song played, then two, and then Gloria asked, “Do you ever stop and ask yourself, ‘what the fuck am I doing here’?”
Kyle looked around the dining room. “Every day of my life.”
Gloria looked out the front door. “They’re taking entirely too long in that bathroom. I’m going to get them.” With that, she left the room.
Kyle and J.D. sat there quietly. They didn’t speak, for they had nothing to say to each other. A few songs played, they drank soda, occasionally they lit up some smokes.
It was only when the smokes were gone did they realize how long it had been since they’d last seen Gloria. They looked up at the clock. It was 11:43. A shiver went through them and they were swept with a sense of what it was to be truly alone.
“They’ve been gone too long,” Kyle said quiety.
“I’ll say they have,” J.D. said. “Should we go find them?”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Bathroom first."
They stood up and walked to the bathrooms. On the way, J.D. grabbed a large knife from the pie table and put it in his pocket.
Kyle didn’t hear anybody as he approached the men’s bathroom door, and the room was empty when they went inside. They knocked on the women’s bathroom door once or twice before going in and finding it unoccupied as well.
They heard a crash coming from the kitchen, and they went to check it with growing fear in their hearts. They found a large pan lying on the floor near the sink. Holding it by the handle, Maddie was sprawled on the floor, covered with blood, bruises, and bits of food.
“Maddie!” Kyle knealt beside her. She was wet to the touch, and smelled of turnip greens.
“What the fuck happened to her?” J.D. asked.
“Maddie?!” Kyle asked.
She groaned, and her eyes fluttered half-open.
“What happened to you, Maddy?” Kyle asked.
She looked at him, looked at J.D., widened her eyes, looked back at Kyle, and at J.D. again. She trembled a little bit, and her eyes rolled up to the back of her head.
Kyle looked up at J.D. He’d pulled the knife from his pocket. Kyle stood up and stepped away from Maddie.
“So,” J.D. said softly. “You like to hit girls.”
“Don’t play with me, you bastard! You saw the way she looked at you!”
“Me?! You were the one she was giving crazy looks!”
“Fuck you! I didn’t do it! You did!”
“I DID NOT!”
J.D. lunged forward with the knife in front of him. Kyle dodged him and went to hit him with the pan on the floor. He missed, and J.D. knocked it out of his hand. He knocked Kyle down and sat on his legs. He leaned over him with the knife, trying to penetrate, and Kyle had both hands on J.D.’s, pushing up. He saw the pan beside him. He reached out quickly and hit J.D. in the head. J.D. screamed. Kyle knocked him over and took the knife. He stabbed him in between the fourth and fifth rib. J.D. sucked in a harsh breath. Kyle stabbed him again in the stomach. J.D. coughed up a bubble of blood. He stabbed him again and again and again, not noticing where it stuck until the blade grazed his leg and left a small cut.
Kyle picked Maddie up and carried her into the dining room. He laid her down on the floor next to the server’s booth. He dipped a napkin in a cup of water and wiped her face with it.
“Maddie?” he asked. “Maddie, wake up. Please, wake up.”
She opened her eyes. He held her in his arms. “Maddie, what happened to you?”
“I went to the walk-in to find Timothy.” Her voice was a croak. As she spoke more, it grew fainter. “The door got stuck. I was trying to get it open and I knocked over the shelf. Everything fell on top of me.”
She coughed up some blood. Kyle realized she was bleeding from several deep cuts, and a few puncture wounds.
“So it was an accident? No one hurt you?”
Maddie closed her eyes. Her voice was barely a whisper. “No one. I was alone.”
Kyle sat there holding her, feeling numb with guilt, shame, horror, unable to move, unable to think, and Maddie made a choking sound and trembled, and then she stopped breathing and grew still.
Kyle didn’t know that the police would carry Joann’s body out of the rain half an hour later. He didn’t know that they would later arrest Aaron Wargrave, a Redwater Varsity running back, for her murder. He didn’t know that when Timothy went to the storage room in the back of the kitchen to find some more potatoes for french fries, he found the old drive-thru window behind a sack of flour, unlocked and not far from the employee parking lot. He didn’t know that the rest of the staff would follow him one by one (or in pairs, like Joey and Robert) through that window, into their cars and home, with a few (Lauren, Tyrese, Gloria) calling the police to report the murder. He didn’t know that Timothy left the stove on, and that by three o’clock the Café and everything inside it would burn to the ground.
Kyle didn’t know and he didn’t care. All he knew was that the knife was sharp, that the veins on his arms were shallow, and that was all that mattered.
Completed Sunday, December 06, 2009 at 10:05 P.M.