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Diner for Two
The retro pink clock ticked loudly on the wall, Elvis’ hands pointing to 4:30. Still three more hours until close. Even the old-school jukebox in the corner couldn’t drown out the sound of time slowly wasting away. The shimmery teal booths were all vacant, as were each of the pink plastic covered barstools that lined the long, sliver counter. Alana hadn’t seen anyone who wasn’t wearing a pink striped dress and roller skates since this morning. Outside the windows, past the chipping image of Elvis and music notes painted on the glass, Alana could see that there wouldn’t be anyone else coming. The sky was an ominous gray shooting bullets of freezing water at the ground. She could hear the wind howling outside, shaking the windows.
Alana sat at a barstool chipping off her red nail polish bit by bit. She wiped off the pieces that had gathered on her apron, scattering them on the floor. Well, now at least she would have something to do. She had already wiped down every counter, table, and booth six times, refilled all the napkin dispensers, condiment bottles, and salt shakers. She had even organized all the cleaning supplies in the closet by purpose, then by size; she was considering rearranging everything by color just to pass the time. The other waitress, Shelly, had gone out for (another) smoke break. She hadn’t been back for nearly thirty minutes, leading Alana to believe she had been swept away in this monsoon.
After the nail polish pieces were all swept up, and the broom back in its rightful place in the closet, Alana was bored again. She didn’t dare go back in the kitchen, that was Bruce’s sanctuary. Bruce was the middle-aged, very much overweight fry cook, boss, and owner of this barren diner. She didn’t dare disturb him while he flipped burgers for nobody. Besides, she had already asked him three times if they could close early; each time he answered her with a loud grunt, which she took as a “no.”
Seriously, though, Alana couldn’t foresee anyone coming to this diner –or even this town– anytime soon. This tiny beach town, whose population more than doubled with vacationers during the summer months, was sadly, undeniably vacant. Whatever few people still inhabited it, were most certainly in hiding, sheltering themselves from the hideous weather. How on earth did Alana end up here?
Oh yeah. Her parents made her.
Alana’s parents had decided to take a summer-long backpacking trip in Europe. They claimed that they needed an “escape,” an “adventure.” She was convinced they both suddenly hit their midlife crises and were desperate to get out of the house. As a result, they sent her younger brother, Braden, to work on their great uncle’s farm in Nowheresville, USA harvesting wheat or something. Alana thought that she got the better bargain when she discovered that she was being sent to Brandy Beach on the coast. When she was younger, Alana and her family came to Brandy Beach a few times during the summer and stayed in a quaint rental cottage by the shore. For the brief time they stayed, Alana could remember having a blast playing in the sand, swimming in the water, and walking around Downtown. However, she had a feeling her stay wouldn’t be as enjoyable.
“Well, that’s the last time I’m going to take out the trash.” Shelly came skating back into the diner, soaking wet and leaving puddles on the floor behind her. She was in her fifties, matching the theme of the diner, but still managed to look good in the pink and white striped waitress outfit. She was bluffing about taking out the trash, probably in attempt to fool Bruce about going out for a smoke break. She claimed she was quitting, but the rasp of her voice proved that she hadn’t. Shelly rung out her salt-and-pepper hair.
“I’ll get the mop,” Alana said, slipping off the barstool. She nearly gagged from the smoke stench. She’d been working here for two weeks now and still wasn’t used to it. Maybe by the end of the summer she would become immune to it, or merely die of secondhand smoke. She couldn’t decide which was worse: secondhand smoke, or having to stay here for three months.
As Alana mopped up the floor in her roller skates (which had nearly become additional appendages), the bell atop the door rang, signaling a customer. Alana stopped mopping. Shelly stopped wringing out her hair. Bruce peeked his head out from the kitchen.
A dark, waterlogged hood concealed his face as he walked in the door. His black boots sloshed mud and sand all over the white tile, irritating Alana, who had spent the better half of the day cleaning this place up. Her irritation soon turned to anxiety as her mind began to profile him: escaped convict, robber, schizophrenic. She never usually jumped to such conclusions, but something about the weather and deserted town left seemingly everything up in the air. He raised his hand, causing Alana to tense. He took off his hood.
Beneath that hood was a much younger man than Alana was expecting, early twenties maybe. The first thing she noticed about him was the long scar he had from his right eyebrow bone down to the middle of his cheek. Alana found herself staring, but she couldn’t help it.
“Hi there,” Shelly rasped as warmly as she could. She noticed the scar, too.
“Hey,” he said, his voice quite deep.
“Have a seat! Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Alana, grab a pitcher, will you?”
Alana skated behind the counter and retrieved a fresh pot of coffee. She poured the black liquid into a mug and handed it to him with a smile, showing all her perfectly white teeth. He barely acknowledged her. Alana ran her fingers through her golden locks. She just curled them this morning, which she shouldn’t have, considering the weather conditions. It looked best curled, though. How else would she have won “Best Hair” this year in the yearbook? The stranger just sipped his coffee, not taking any notice.
“Alana!” Bruce hollered from the kitchen. She turned her back to the counter, wishing the dress she was wearing was shorter, or at least a little tighter.
“Yes?” Alana quickly peeked over her shoulder, still nothing. He replaced the coffee cup in front of his face with a menu.
“Why don’t you go home?” It wasn’t really a question.
“What?” After several failed attempts, she got to leave once a customer finally came in? What kind of joke was this?
“You heard me!” Bruce waved a greasy spatula at her. It was all she could do not to let out an exasperated sigh. These freaking townspeople.
Alana skated out from behind the counter and into the back room where her purse, raincoat, and umbrella were. She took off the roller skates and replaced them with a pair of faux Burberry rain boots. Of course she had never told anyone they weren’t real, no one needed to know that they were fake. Besides, they were cute and looked like the real deal. It felt weird to walk around without wheels on her feet. It took a few seconds to get used to, like getting off a trampoline and remembering the gravity of solid ground.
She marched out from the back room, her rain boots squeaking as she went. Annoyed at being sent home the moment something interesting happened, Alana wanted to make her frustration apparent to Bruce. It wasn’t like he could fire her or anything. He needed all the help he could get with this place and there wasn’t anyone else around to hire.
“Bye,” she said coldly, zipping up her jacket and tucking her golden curls into the hood.
Despite the silence of the diner, no one seemed to hear her. No one even gave a her a last look, not even the mystery man. She thought at least Tall, Dark, and Handsome would express a bit of interest, but apparently not. Whatever, his loss.
The bell above the door jingled as she made her way out of the diner. She looked back through the chipping paint of the windows at the trio gathered around the counter. She rolled her eyes, still irritated. Just as she was about to look away, she caught the man look slyly over his shoulder at her. Alana averted her eyes and smiled to herself. She knew he wouldn’t be able to resist, no one could. Pushing her shoulders back, Alana stepped off the curb and into the downpour.
The sound of rain and the beeping of the alarm clock woke Alana at the usual time. She had exactly an hour to get ready for work, not including the seven minutes it took to get to the diner. Alana turned off the alarm and reached for her phone: three new text messages, a missed call, and a voicemail. This was why she always turned her phone on silent at night, people were always interrupting her beauty sleep.
Alana checked the texts first: one from Mom, one from Dad, and one from Mason, the cute guy she met from the party two weeks ago before she left. They had been talking almost every day since they met. She smiled, there was nothing she liked more than a “Good Morning” text from an attractive member of the opposite sex. After replying to the three messages, Alana checked her voicemail. She hated voicemails.
The missed call and message were from Bruce, telling her she didn’t need to come in to work today. Normally, Alana would have been thrilled not having to work. However, with the weather, there really wasn’t much else to do. Tim and Diane didn’t even have cable. Frustrated, she threw her phone down on the bed. She was already awake, there was no going back to sleep now. Thanks a lot, Bruce.
The house was quiet. Dad’s cousins, Tim and Diane, were at work. Alana got up and threw on a pair of leggings and running shoes. If she wasn’t going to work, she might as well work out. As she changed her shirt, Alana looked at herself in the mirror on the back of her door. She had a thin waist and long, lean legs. Her stomach was tan, emphasizing the tone of her abdominal muscles. Alana smiled at the sight. She would have signed with that modeling agency if her mother hadn’t convinced her it was a scam. Maybe in a few years she would apply to be a Victoria’s Secret model, she certainly looked the part.
Alana grabbed the house key and zipped it into the pocket of her windbreaker before leaving the house. The rain was still coming down as Alana’s feet pounded the pavement. She was glad she didn’t bring her phone to listen to music, it would have gotten soaked. Besides, the rain created a melodic rhythm as it fell. After jogging through the side streets, Alana finally made it to the Boardwalk, the long stretch of wooden sidewalk that stretched from one end of the beach to the other. She used to love walking along here with her family when they stayed in the rental cottage. The wood of the boardwalk was fairly slick, causing Alana to loose traction. To avoid slipping, she decided to run on the sand, instead.
Taking the stairs carefully as not to slip, Alana took off along the beach. Sand, wet from the rain, sprayed up as her Nikes made their way across the shore. Alana couldn’t see much through the rain and lingering haze, but she could hear the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The storm had turned them into violent rolls of liquid thunder instead of the tranquil splashes they were on clear days. How big a difference a little sun makes.
Alana ran all the way along the shoreline till the end of the boardwalk then turned around to head back to town. By now, her leggings –the expensive running kind her mother had bought her for Christmas– were soaked and her shoes completely waterlogged.
Lifting her eyes from her drenched attire, Alana could make out something in the distance. A rock? A sand dune? As she drew closer, Alana realized it was a person. It was impossible to tell who it was in this weather, however, somehow, they seemed familiar. Alana followed behind them into Downtown, careful not to make them aware of her presence. Now that she was closer, she could see that the figure wore all black, or at least the rain made it look that way. She couldn’t see their face, for a hood was concealing it. Did anyone own an umbrella around here?
As the figure approached the main drag, they stopped. Alana’s heart raced, partially from her run, but also from adrenaline. Their hooded head began to rotate. Letting out a brief gasp, Alana sprinted into a nearby alleyway to avoid being seen. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to hide, but something told her this person didn’t want to be followed. Maybe it was just the weather or the deserted town getting her on edge. Suddenly, there was a noise, footsteps. Alana couldn’t tell which direction they were going, toward or away from her. Closing her eyes, she focused on her breath, trying to slow it down as not to be heard. She could have run, but she found herself pinned against the brick lining of the alleyway.
The voice was deep and made Alana jump, jerking her eyes open and her body away from the building.
“H-hi,” she stammered.
The hood fell and Alana recognized the face that had been concealed underneath: the man from the diner.
Alana’s cheeks flushed. He was even more handsome than she had remembered, despite the anxiety he gave her. His dark eyes stared at her piercingly.
“Were you following me?”
Pushing her shoulders back in an attempt to regain her confidence, or at least make it seem like she had more than she felt, Alana shook her head. “No.”
“So you normally hang out in alleyways?” She could hear the twinge of sarcasm in the man’s voice. It struck a chord with Alana, causing her to flush again, this time in anger. How dare he make fun of her.
“I was taking a break from my run, actually. I was stretching.” Alana jutted her nose in the air, pleased with her rapid and foolproof excuse.
“In an alleyway?” the man scoffed.
“It’s America, I can stretch wherever I want to.” She found herself defending her phony alibi, as well as her dignity. She wasn’t going to let this guy think that she was following him or that she was weird.
“Sure, but it’s Brandy Beach. People don’t normally ‘stretch’ in alleyways.”
“How would I know?” Alana seethed, irritated with the mocking grin he had on his face. She was no longer afraid of him, just flat-out annoyed. “There aren’t even any people around for me to observe proper townie behavior. Guess I missed that part of the grand tour.”
“Ooh, you’re a feisty one, aren’t you?”
Gross. That was totally something a pervert would say. Alana’s heartbeat began to race again. Still, she held her ground.
“Only in the face of idiocy.”
She regretted them the moment the words left her mouth. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to insult a mysterious stranger in an alley of a deserted town. To her surprise, the man responded with a laugh; not a scoff, but a real laugh.
“You’re something else.”
Then he walked away.
After taking a few breaths to steady her racing heartbeat, Alana peeked her head out around the building. She watched as the man continued down the sidewalk toward the diner. What an idiot. Bruce had told her in the voicemail that she didn’t need to come in today, meaning the diner was closed. This guy would have to find some other place to sit and have a crappy cup of coffee in.
However, that didn’t seem to phase him. The guy tried the door, but it was locked. Alana rolled her eyes. Duh. Apparently the guy really wanted in. He reached into his pocket and grabbed something but Alana couldn’t tell what it was. A credit card? A screwdriver? Something small he could open a locked door with. He managed to get it open and let himself in.
Oh my God, he broke in. Alana felt around her pockets, frantically looking for her phone before she remembered it was still on her bed. There weren’t any pay phones in sight and a majority of the surrounding shops were closed.
Before she could talk herself out of it, Alana sprinted toward the diner. Maybe she could distract him while she used the phone inside to call the police. They had police in this place, right?
Through the painted Elvis Alana could see the man behind the cash register, digging around inside. Cussing under her breath, she knew she had to stop him. Alana mustered up every ounce of courage she had within her.
“Hey,” she said, as nonchalantly as she could. She couldn’t give herself away, or else she would risk being stuck here alone with no hope of rescue.
The man looked up, startled. “H-hey.” Look who was stammering now.
“So do you normally hang out in deserted diners?” Alana sauntered up to the counter, swaying her hips as she went. She had to pull out all the works if she was going to be convincing enough. If there was one thing she knew, it was how to lead people on. “Or is that regular townie behavior?”
“Wouldn’t know, I’m not a townie.” The man backed away from the register, trying to draw her attention away from what he was doing. It wasn’t working.
“Oh really?” Alana walked along the side of the counter, dragging her fingers along its shiny surface as she went. There was a phone on the wall right by the food window. It was a good distance away from the register. If she were quick enough, she might have enough time to dial 9-1-1.
“Yeah, really. I moved away a long time ago.” The man watched her suspiciously. Alana kept her cool, even though she was freaking out on the inside.
“Then what brings you back here? Can’t imagine it was the weather.”
The man let out a laugh. Apparently she was still charming even when she was scared out of her mind. Alana could barely hear her own voice amidst the sound of her thudding heartbeat. She walked closer to the phone, and the man walked closer to her.
Alana snatched the phone and managed to dial 9-1 before the man seized her wrist.
“What do you think you’re doing?” His voice sounded more unsure than threatening. His grasp was strong, causing her to drop the phone. It landed on the tile with a loud thud.
“Nothing, compared to what you’re doing.” Alana’s chest was heaving with apprehension. The man was handsome, but he was also tall and broad-shouldered. She had no idea what he was capable of or what he would do.
Suddenly, he let go of her hand. “And what is that?”
And what is what? It was painfully obvious what he was doing here. Alana merely glared at him.
“Wait, do you think I’m robbing this place or something?”
Rhetorical question. She wasn’t stupid. “I saw you break in.”
“Break in?” He seemed genuinely confused. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a shiny, silver key. Alana knew it belonged to the diner because of the music note keychain attached to it. All the diner keys had them. Bruce didn’t look like it, but he was a sucker for matching accessories. “Does this look a forced entry to you?”
“How did you get that?” He must have stolen it that day he came in.
“No, it’s not. You don’t work here.”
“I own this place.”
“Wait,” Alana said, swallowing the bitter liquid and setting down her coffee mug. The coffee really was bad. “What?”
Levi (she now knew his name) had just explained this to her but she still couldn’t quite comprehend. “Bruce is my dad.”
Alana couldn’t see the resemblance at all. Levi sensed this. “I know, hard to believe. How could I be related to such a charmer like him?”
Alana laughed. She was kind of glad Levi wasn’t a thief, he was undeniably attractive. She had never seen anyone with more enchanting eyes. She thought they were brown, but they were a deep blue, navy almost.
“So you two both own this place? Technically I have two bosses?”
“Yep. My dad and I signed the papers when I was 18, not realizing I would get bored of this town and need to get away.”
“How long ago was that?” Alana was secretly trying to figure out his age.
“About five years.” He was 23, exactly five years older than Alana. “Yeah, I’ve been away for a while.”
“What did you do while you were gone?” Alana sipped her coffee, deliberating the normal age difference between couples.
“I tried out college, but I was never one for hitting the books.”
“Where’d you go?”
Alana almost spit out her coffee. “Are you serious? You got in there without ever ‘hitting the books’?” She was planning on going to UCLA in the fall, and she thought that was decent.
“I got good grades, I just never liked to study.”
Alana sat back in her pink, plastic barstool, pursing her lips. She hated people like that; people with no work ethic. “Well, good for you.”
“Not really. I got expelled.”
Oh, a bad boy. One more thing to add to the list of attractiveness. This guy was just full of surprises. “What’d you do?”
“I hacked into the grading system.”
“So that’s how you got good grades.”
“No, actually. People paid me to change theirs. For a technical school, they didn’t really have as great a security system as you’d think. They had to have known we were all capable of hacking it, just thought we never would. I didn’t get caught for a long time. I probably never would have if someone hadn’t ratted me out.” He had a look of distain on his face.
“I’m guessing that didn’t end well.”
“To say the least.”
“So then what’d you do?”
“Well, the grade-changing market treated me very well so I had time and money to spend.” He poured himself more coffee and offered some to Alana. She shook her head. “I decided to travel. I’d only really been here and Massachusetts, no where else. I decided to give Europe a try.”
That was a weird concept. Alana had never realized how lucky she was. Aside from the vacations to Brandy Beach, Alana’s parents had taken she and Braden to some pretty cool places. Florida, Hawaii, even Mexico. Sure they were on the continent, but they were still great experiences.
“So have you been over there until now?”
“No, I met a man while I was in England. He was from the states so we immediately hit it off.”
Oh God, I should have known. He’s gay. The seemingly-perfect ones always are.
Levi continued. “He was on a business trip. He was meeting a computer whiz to hire for his company. Turned out the geek he interviewed was a dud, seemed much better on paper.”
“Shame he went all the way to England to find that out.”
“Yeah, except it worked out for me.”
Alana looked at him quizzically.
“I told him about MIT–expulsion and all–and he practically hired me on the spot.”
“You’re kidding!” Geez, this guy had everything, and he wasn’t gay!
“Yeah! I’ve been working there for a couple years now. It’s great. I even have my own office.”
“That’s so awesome! So what are you doing back here, then?” Brandy Beach was the last place anyone like Levi would be expected to be.
“Well, my dad has been having money troubles, what with the market and this weather and all. I’ve been trying to send him money for a while now but he won’t except it. I think he’s still upset that I up and left him alone with this place. I came back for the summer to try and help him out.”
“So the cash register...you weren’t taking money, you were–”
“Putting money in it.” Levi finished the sentence for her. “Yep. It was the only thing I could think of.”
“We do register checks, you know. Bruce probably knows there’s extra money.”
Levi shrugged. “Yeah, but who would question it if it’s in the register? I mean, come on, it’s Bruce.”
It was Alana’s turn to shrug her shoulders. Bruce was very stingy. It wasn’t difficult to picture him turning a blind eye to free money. “Yeah, that’s true.”
“So what about you?” Levi’s navy eyes stared right into hers.
“What about me?” Normally she would have loved the opportunity to talk about herself with a cute guy, but nothing she had to say would even compare to Levi’s life story. She felt belittled, embarrassed. Two feelings she hated most.
“You’re obviously not from around here.” He was most likely referring to the ‘stretching’ in the alley. Alana broke his gaze and stared at the countertop. “I would have noticed a pretty girl like you.”
Alana looked up into his eyes again and smiled, confidence restored. “Well–”
“Wait,” Levi interjected. “Let me guess.” He placed a hand on his scruff-covered chin. “You are stuck here for the summer because your parents made you, otherwise you’d be somewhere sunnier. California maybe?”
Alana nodded, impressed. He continued. “Let’s see. I’m guessing you’re just out of high school.” This took Alana off guard. Usually people thought she was older than she was. She got into 21-and-older club with her cousin once, and that was when she was only 16. She felt the need to defend herself.
“And why is that?”
“Well, if you were a college student, your parents wouldn’t still be making you do things like work for a summer in a flooded beach town.”
Alana was silent.
“You’re athletic, so I bet you played a sport in high school. Volleyball, most likely. You’re tall, but too girly for basketball.”
How did he know all this? Alana had made Varsity volleyball freshman year and was captain both her junior and senior years. She was nominated for captain sophomore year, but the (former) star player was too insecure to let that happen. She also ran track in the spring all four years and won several medals on the long jump, but she didn’t want to bring it up. Besides, he probably already knew.
“Bruce told you all this, didn’t he? Or Shelly?”
“No,” Levi scoffed. “You’re just easy to read.”
Easy to read? No one she had ever met had classified her as that. It was always things like: stunning, gorgeous, clever, smart, tall, etc.
“And by that you mean predictable.” In high school, the only thing predictable about her was her success, but that was something she worked hard for.
Levi could tell she was offended. “No, no, I don’t mean it like that. I’m just saying.”
“Well, keep your ‘sayings’ to yourself.” Alana didn’t care how attractive he was, she was sick of hearing about Levi’s fabulous life while he derogated her own. It was bad enough that she was stuck here for the whole summer while she could be anywhere else. She got up from her barstool and stormed out into the current one outside.
Alana laid on her bed, tossing a volleyball above her head. It was the ball from the state tournament this past fall. They won, Alana making the final serve. The ball made soft clunks as it hit the ceiling. How dare Levi talk about her like he knew her. Who did he think he was? Even though he worked as a computer hacker genius in some corporate firm with his own corner office, he still looked like a deadbeat. She may be “easy to read” or whatever, but at least she looked fabulous in the process. He was probably lying the whole time, anyway. She should just forget about him.
Alana set the ball down and reached for her phone. She never responded to Mason’s text.
Hey, sorry! I’ve been busy.
His response was immediate.
I figured. how are you?
Alana groaned and tossed the phone onto the bed. Seriously? Even Mason thought she was easy to read. She was questioning everything about herself now, something she never used to do.
Then, she thought of something. Alana never necessarily broke the rules. She didn’t really need to, she was just so good at getting what she wanted she never had to take that route. She thought of something that was not generally condoned in the workplace, something no one would expect from her. This was a diner with two bosses, two owners.
And she was going to have an affair with one of them.
(The young, hot one, to be exact.)