An un-edited, first pass written for NaNoWriMo 2013.
sauntered into the kitchen with dirty dishes in hand and a smile on her face.
It was a slow day at Pop's Burger Joint with Jack, Dag and Charlie sipping
coffee waiting for Ben, the owner, to show and a family of three waiting for
you going to marry me?" Henry flipped the three hamburgers then glanced over at
her with a devilish grin. "This will be ready in a minute." The burgers sizzled
as he smashed them under the spatula onto the grill. Henry reached over and
bounced the basket of hot fries he'd just removed from the fryer.
Henry." She winked at him and continued her path, but with a perky sashay.
still waiting for an answer, Jolene."
gently spilled the stack of dishes into the sink and they clattered on top of
the others already sitting in the water. She placed her hand to hip, leaned
against the sink and once again cocked her head to survey him. He was a total
package, good looks with
sky-blue eyes, chiseled chin, early five o'clock shadow, muscles under a
form-fitting T-shirt, tight jeans almost hidden in an apron and cowboy boots.
"I've told you before—when you get the money to support me in the lifestyle of
the rich and famous." She giggled, shrugged her shoulders and started toward
the front of the restaurant. "By the way, any idea when Ben's
going to show?"
"Nah. He mumbled about fixing something up. He called over an hour ago." Henry plopped
the burgers onto the buns already loaded with tomato and lettuce with a pickle and
onion to the side. A quick movement and he placed them in wax-paper lined, colorful
plastic baskets. Grabbing tongs, he
placed a heap of fries beside the burgers. "Maybe his old truck finally broke
down and he's stranded."
he needs help, he would most certainly call."
and Henry stared at each other, mouths gaping open. They laughed as Jolene
reached over and grabbed the phone.
A pause. She reached up to her ear for the pencil so she
"Oh, hi, Ben. Where are you?" She stuck the pencil back and fingered the
hair around it to make sure everything appeared neat.
A pause. Henry placed the baskets on the kitchen order
window and tapped the bell. It's ring echoed in the
almost empty restaurant. Jolene frowned. Henry grinned and shrugged his
shoulders as he walked toward the dirty dishes waiting in the sink.
me check." Jolene leaned out the kitchen
door. "Jack? Can you go pick up Ben? He's stranded out on
Route 87, just south of town about five miles."
done used up all the gas until Friday, Jo."
pulled back into the kitchen. "Jack will
pick you up in a few minutes. He needs
to get some gas before he heads out. See
you in a few." Jolene placed the phone back on the wall and slowly breathed in,
holding it for a mere second before she let it rush out.
can't be a bad day, Jo." Henry was suddenly behind her, his strong hands slowly
massaging her neck.
pulled away. "Don't." She offered a weak smile. "I better get that order out."
She slammed her palm on the door to push it open.
grabbed the first two baskets and cautiously stacked one on the other. Henry's
grinning face appeared next to the remaining basket and his hand captured hers
as she reached for it.
"You going to tell me what the problem is?"
go. I need to get these to the table before they're completely cold." She
wrestled her hand free. "I'm okay. Don't fret." Jolene offered him a smile and
wrinkled her nose. "Honest." She grabbed the third basket and headed for
the table with the family.
placed a basket in front of the teenage boy. "There you go. One
well-done burger." She grabbed the top basket and placed it in front of
the woman and the other in front of the man.
"Two medium-well. Sorry for the delay, folks.
The boss called."
woman gave her a dour look. "Yes, we all heard. Is this any way to run a
business?" She grimaced and cast a casual glance at the empty restaurant.
"Besides clientele, it is obvious this place needs a good scrubbing." She
waggled her hand and fingers in the air. "All this Arizona dust and grime
collects too easily in here."
man patted his wife's hand. "Now, dear. No need to get
upset." He gave Jolene a weak smile. "It's been a long trip."
need catsup," the teenager whined. He slammed down the empty bottle. A small
amount of catsup squirted out.
leaned to the table behind her and grabbed the catsup and started to hand it to
the boy. Her free hand was already getting out the damp towel to clean up the
patronize me, Ronald. This place is a dump. Your dad should have sold it years
jerked, almost dropping the full catsup dispenser. Dad?
This was Ben's son? The one who'd walked out twenty years ago and hadn't been
heard from? She righted the bottle and
quickly swiped the towel to clean the table of the offending catsup.
woman glared at Jolene. "It's too late
now, Miss—" She squinted to read the badge. "Miss
Jolene. When Ronald inherits this joint, the first line of business will be to
terminate all employees, gut the place and make a respectable restaurant." She
once more glanced around the room. "If that idea is even a
possibility." She pursed her lips and stared down at her burger. "You
twit! I didn't want tomato! Did you hear me say tomato?"
ma'am," Jolene offered. "You asked for the Big Burger, medium-well. It comes
with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. If you'd like I can—"
the woman sneered. "You'll get me another. Yes, I know. You'll take this back
behind the door and remove the tomato, wait thirty seconds and then bring it back
out. I'm not stupid. I can take the damned piece of tomato off myself."
straightened her back. "If there is anything you need, let me know." She walked
away, headed for Jack. She reached in her pocket and pulled a five from her
this and go get gas. Then head out on 87 and pick up Ben."
glanced around Jolene at the threesome in the booth. "Whut ‘bout them? That there is his
kin. Why can't he go git'em?"
you do, don't you dare mention that Ron is in town." Jolene cuffed his shirt
near the top and scowled at him. "Do you hear me? Not one word."
Jo. I don't say nutin." He pulled an imaginary zipper
across his lips. "Our secret." He snapped the bill
from her hands. He turned to the other two men. "You keep drinking that java.
I'll be right back." He lumbered out.
Jolene!" Fingers authoritatively snapped in the air.
turned to stare at the teenage boy who was summoning her. The
arrogance. She approached the booth with apprehension.
there something I can get?"
ordered a well-done burger. When I say well-done, I don't expect to see any red
or shade like that in the meat." He held up the catsup slathered burger. "See?"
He pointed to an extremely small section of possibly palest pink burger, or, it
could be catsup bleed-over.
other time I'd tell the little snit to suck it up and eat the damned burger but
this is Ben's grandson. I'd best be
nice. Jolene glanced at the woman and the smirk told more than she wanted to know. Jolene
sorry. I won't bill you for that."
course, you won't," the woman said. "And you'll bring Ronnie Junior another
one, properly cooked." She hesitated. "For free."
one is no charge, ma'am. If Junior wants another, I will need to charge for it."
Jolene shrugged. "House rules."
let it go, Lori." Again Ronald patted his wife's hand to comfort her. "Junior
gets another sandwich and I'll pay for it. No reason to cheat them out of all
their profit." Ronald closed his eyes
and ever so slightly shook his head before gazing back at Jolene. "How long before my father shows?"
flipped her wrist to check the watch on there. "Taking into account how slow
Jack moves, it will be probably close to twenty more
minutes before your father arrives." She smiled politely. "Would you like more
"Absolutely not." Lori reached for a napkin, stuck it in the
remaining coffee and turned the cup over on the sauce. "That has to be the
worst coffee I've ever been served."
sorry to hear that, Mrs... uh..." Jolene stumbled trying
to remember Ben's last name. Masters! "I'm sorry, Mrs. Masters. Most people
around here consider our coffee one of the best in the area."
name is Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Ronald J. Stewart." Lori cocked an eye at Jolene. "Your
impertinence has been duly noted."
inhaled deeply. "Mom left Dad when I was three and took back her maiden name.
She had mine changed since Dad wasn't paying any support."
don't owe this woman any explanation. Your father disowned you over twenty years
ago when you tried to make amends and be his son." Lori waved her hand to dismiss Jolene. "Just
let us know when the bastard shows up."
ma'am," Jolene replied. I'll agree to anything
to get away from this table and away from her. "I'll get another Big Burger,
right away." She grabbed the basket from in front of Junior who had continued
to eat the French fries.
headed for the kitchen and dumped the food in the garbage pail by the prep
need another Big Burger basket. This
time, make sure it is well-done with no indication of any pink inside." She
placed a hand on Henry's left arm, feeling the muscles ripple under the T-shirt
as he slapped a burger on the grill. "Just don't burn it." She hesitated. "Do you know who those three
people are?" She didn't wait. "That's Ben's son. That's Ronald."
J. Masters?" Henry cast a casual glance out the serving window toward the booth
where the three people sat.
"Nope. It is Ronald J. Stewart." She smiled at Henry's
confused look. "He goes by his mother's maiden name. Did you know they left Ben
when Ronnie was like three years old?"
he didn't make another appearance until after his eighteenth birthday."
jerked around to see Ben standing by the frig, his
grin barely noticeable through all the stubble and whiskers. "Nope.
She done left me, taking little Ronnie with her. I tried to find her but she
didn't want found. Then one morning, this kid comes in and tells me he's my son
and how I owed him." Ben hobbled across to a chair and sat down. "I told him he
could start by washing the dishes if he was looking for a job. No, sir-ree-bob, I wasn't handing over money for nothing. I'd
rather give it to Jack."
Jolene glanced at her watch. "I told him to go get you." She frowned. "How'd
you get here so fast? There's no way Jack got you."
tugged on his whiskers and llet out a small laugh.
"By the time I walked back to the truck, well, she kicked right up when I tried
the ignition. So I drove on in." He paused. "You sent Jack?" Ben frowned.
"Hell, woman, I saw his clunker sitting at the edge of town when I drove in.
He's probably still walking to it."
burger is ready." Henry handed the basket to Jolene. "Well-done
but not burnt. It's slow right now so give me a few minutes and I'll go
pick up Jack and bring him back to the restaurant." He pulled the apron off.
"I'll drive by Smitty's station just to make sure he
hasn't made it that far and is getting gas."
"By the way." Jolene turned to Ben while holding the basket
of food. "Why'd you come in the back door?"
shrugged. "No reason." He stretched up to gaze over the kitchen pick-up
counter. "Is that them out there?" He reached for the basket. "Let me take it
"No way." She pulled the basket away from his hand. "I've
had to deal with Junior this morning and I will take it out to him. Besides, I don't want you horning in on any
possibility of a tip."
snickered. "IF he is anything like his mother, he can squeeze a nickel so tight, Jefferson from the front side will be answering the
door of Monticello on the back side."
laughed. "I wasn't really expecting a tip." She hustled out of the kitchen and
placed the new Big Burger basket in front of Junior. "Hope this meets your approval, sir." She
ignored the snide look he gave her. "Perhaps you'd like to cut it in half. You
know, just to be sure it is cooked all the way through before you cover it with
you treat all your customers with such impertinence, young lady?" Lori dropped
the hamburger into the basket letting the contents fall willy-nilly atop the
fries. With elbows on the table, she raised one arm and pointed a highly
polished and well-manicured fingernail. "If you don't like serving the public,
find a job elsewhere." Lori turned to Ronald. "If your father was here, I'd
have this... this... I'd have her fired."
I just happen to be the owner and this is my best waitress. She's been with me
for almost ten years now. If you don't like the food or service..." He pointed at
the entrance. "There's the door and don't let it slap your ass as you're
leaving." He glanced down at the table. "And don't mind worrying about paying
"Hi, Dad." Ronald stood and offered a hand to shake.
"Hmm." Ben eyeballed the hand. "I take it you finally got
around to read the mail I sent."
it last week when I drove to Jerome to..." Ronald inhaled deeply. "When I went to
visit mom's grave. She wanted to be buried in the family plot there. I go there
once a month to check mail."
your mom moved back home, even though your Aunt
Charlotte claimed she had no idea where you and your mom were thirty-some years
ago." He gripped the wood bar on the back of the booth. "That woman didn't like
me from the first time I dated Elsa. She's lied to me every day since."
"About the letter. Exactly what did you mean by—"
"This hain't the time or place to discuss
that letter. You staying somewhere close cuz I
don't ‘spect you want to live at my place. It hain't all fancy like."
saw a place out near U. S. 40 where I'm sure we can get a room for the night."
He glared at his wife knowing full well she was about to complain. "For a
night, you'll survive." Turning once more to Ben, he realized introductions had
been ignored. "This is my wife, Lori, and this is our son, Ronnie Junior. This
is my father, Ben Masters."
told me grandpa was dead!" Junior glared at his father.
more Ronald took a deep breath. "For all practical purposes, he is. Now, let's
leave before this scene gets any worse."
my hamburger," Junior whined.
it up and take it with you. Or leave it. Your call."
Ronald helped Lori from the booth and gently urged her toward the front door.
watched the three leave. "On the bright side, things just keep getting worse
and more complicated. Sure glad I did
what I done this morning. Makes it all a lot easier. I got witnesses."