Lunch Rush

“What can I get you, honey?” the waitress asks.

“Just some coffee for now,” Ron says. “No sugar, but with a little bit of cream.”

“Just coffee?”

“I might get something else in a bit, depends on how things go. I’m meeting my son any minute now.”

“Isn’t that nice?”

The waitress leaves to go make Ron’s coffee. He checks his watch. 12:03. Jack’s late. Ron sighs. He isn’t disappointed by his son’s tardiness. He’s disappointed that he isn’t surprised.

Ron glances around the truck stop diner. It’s an old diner, or at the very least one designed to look old, with red booths, checkerboard tiles, and turned off neon lights. The woman who went to get Ron’s coffee is one of two workers, the other being a large man cooking eggs on the diner’s grill.

The diner is surprisingly empty, especially considering the time of day. Including Ron and the employees, there are only seven people within the small diner. Four of them, a man, a woman, and two small children, sit together in one of the booths.

Ron guesses that the quartet is a family. Judging by the dead expressions in the parents’ eyes, he figures that the family has been driving for a long time and have stopped for lunch. The older of the two children, a girl that Ron places at around ten, plays with a handheld video game. Her younger brother, who Ron guesses is about five, plays with a superhero toy. Ron smiles, reminded of his own family.

Ron glances around the diner and spots an old jukebox sitting in the corner. A small sign sits atop it, stating that the jukebox accepts three songs for a dollar. Ron walks over to the jukebox and deposits four quarters. A soothing jazz melody fills the diner as Ron returns to his seat.

The waitress sets Ron’s coffee in front of him. Ron blows on the coffee. “Has your son showed up yet?” the waitress asks.

“Not yet,” Ron says before taking a sip.

Ron sits for a few minutes, drinking his coffee and listening to the music flowing from the jukebox. At 12:07, a semi-truck pulls into the gas station across the street from the diner. Ron watches as a man climbs out of the truck’s cab and begins pumping gas. As Ron’s second song begins, the man walks across the street to the diner.

The man sits down across from Ron. “You’re late,” Ron says.

“I ran into traffic on the interstate,” the man, Jack, replies.

“Will you be able to stay for very long?”

“I don’t think so. I need to be in Indianapolis by three and I’m already running late.”

“Sorry about the inconvenience.”

“No, you’re fine.”

The two sit in silence for a few moments. Ron sips his coffee. “Wonder what’s taking the waitress,” he says.

“Why did you want to meet with me, dad?” Jack asks.

“Do I need a reason to have lunch with you?” Ron replies.

“No, I just assumed you had one. This diner is really out of your way.”

“It isn’t that far.”

The waitress returns to Ron’s table. “Is this your son?” she asks with a smile on her face.

“Yes,” Jack says quickly. “I’ll have a cup of coffee. No sugar, but with a bit of cream.”

“Just coffee?” Ron asks.

“I don’t have long,” Jack replies.

Ron shakes his head. “We’ll take two burgers, with extra fries,” he says.

“I don’t have time to eat a burger,” Jack says.

“Leave whenever you have to,” Ron says. “If you have to leave before the food arrives I’ll just take your plate home with me.”

“Fine,” Jack mutters.

“You want anything on those burgers?” the waitress asks.

“Tomatoes, onions, and lettuce,” Ron says.

“No lettuce on mine,” Jack replies.

“I’ll bring those burgers to you as soon as possible,” the waitress says before walking away.

“I still don’t get what you have against lettuce,” Ron says.

“I don’t have anything against lettuce, it’s just a pointless vegetable,” Jack says.

“What does that even mean?”

“What’s the point of lettuce? It doesn’t have any flavor! It just waters down the taste of good dishes.”

“It adds a nice refreshing crunch.”

“We’re at a truck stop diner, dad. The lettuce isn’t going to be refreshing. Even if it was, it still wouldn’t add anything to my burger, or any dish for that matter.”

“What about salads?”

“Salads don’t count.”

Ron laughs. His second song fades out and an old swing song starts playing. Jack groans. “What the heck is playing?” he asks.

“Don’t insult Sinatra,” Ron retorts.

Jack notices the jukebox sitting in the back of the diner. “Don’t tell me you did this,” he says.

“Three songs for a dollar.”

“Which song is this?”

“Number three.”

Jack walks over the jukebox and puts a dollar in. “What’s so wrong with Sinatra?” Ron asks when Jack comes back.

“Nothing, I just prefer music that came out in the last fifty years,” Jack replies.

“What do you listen to while driving”

“Talk radio, books on tape, that kind of thing.”

“What kind of music, I mean?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

The children at the other table start fighting over the video game. Jack sighs and Ron smiles. “Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” he says.

“What do you mean?” Jack asks.

“You kids fought all the time when you were that age.”

“Nonsense. I was a perfect angel.”

“Sure you were.”

Ron’s final song fades out and Jack’s first begins playing. Ron sighs. “You’d rather listen to this newfangled punk crap than the classics?” he asks.

“Where do I even begin,” Jack says. “First off, Nirvana isn’t punk. They’re grunge.”

“Same thing.”

“No, they aren’t. Secondly, newfangled? Who says that?”

“I do.”

“While we’re on the subject, Nirvana isn’t ‘newfangled’. Kurt Cobain died in 1994.”

“How many songs did you select?”

“Three.”

“So I’m going to listen to this garbage for a while?”

“No, you’re going to listen to this amazing music for a while.”

The waitress returns with a cup of coffee and two plates of food. “Bring the check by whenever,” Ron says.

Ron sinks his teeth into his burger. “I really don’t have time to eat,” Jack says.

“The burgers are really good,” Ron says with a mouth full of food.

Jack sighs and takes a bite. “Not bad,” he says.

“They’d be better if yours had some lettuce.”

“Don’t start.”

As the two devour their burgers, Jack’s second song begins. On the other side of the diner, the boy starts crying. “Does that bring back memories?” Jack quips.

“Not really,” Ron replies.

“You were a pretty strict disciplinarian,” Jack says. “You’d slap the shit out of me if I made a scene like that.”

“Language.”

“God, that kid is annoying. I think I’ll go over there and say something.”

“Just let them be.”

Jack ignores him and walks over to the family’s table. The parents are trying to silence the crying boy. The sister ignores them and continues playing her game. “What seems to be the problem?” Jack asks.

“I’m sorry, we’ve been on the road for hours and the kids are a little tired,” the father says.

“I lost my Superman,” the boy babbles.

“We can get you a new one, just stop making a scene,” his mother says.

Jack reaches down, grabbing a Superman toy sitting on the checkerboard tiles. “Is this yours?” he asks.

The boy rips the toy out of Jack’s hands. “Billy, what do we say?” his mother says.

“Thank you,” the boy mutters.

“You like superheroes?” Jack asks.

The boy nods. “Me too, kid,” Jack says before returning to his table.

Ron smiles at him. “What?” Jack asks.

“Nothing,” Ron replies. “How’re your kids doing?”

“Good, I guess. I’ve been putting a lot of hours in at work, trying to start a college fund for them.”

“Make sure to spend as much time with them as you can. You’ll regret not being around all the time by the time you’re my age.”

“I know.”

“Will you guys be able to come over for Christmas this year?”

“I don’t know, depends on my work schedule. I’ll try to make it.”

“That’s all I ask.”

Jack glances at his watch. “Shit,” he says. “I have to go.”

He slams a twenty dollar bill down on the table and runs to the door. “Use it to pay for lunch,” he says.

“Keep it, I can pay,” Ron shouts.

Jack doesn’t hear him. He runs across the street and hops into his truck. He speeds out of the truck stop, leaving Ron alone. Ron stares at the half-eaten burger sitting across the table from him and sighs. In the back of the diner, Jack’s second song ends and a new song begins. An old swing song by Frank Sinatra, one that brings a smile to Ron’s face.

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