He nervously tapped the peeling, formica table with his fingers.
His other hand wrapped around his second cup of coffee. The second of many for the night.
Simon always picked this booth on a Friday night. He’d tell his mom he was meeting some friends, which was laughable because Simon didn’t have any friends. He’d pack whatever book he was reading — this week, it was Stephen King’s Carrie — and then he’d sit, read, chug copious amounts of over-sugared coffee, all served by HIM.
He was tall with tousled brown hair. A permanent case of bed head, like Josh Hartnett in The Faculty. He had an uneven smile that always crept up whenever he took Simon’s order. He always looked so at ease, so casual. Like he didn’t have a care in the world. White t-shirt that somehow remained clean and crisp despite working at a 24-hour Jersey diner. Slightly worn blue jeans that just fit right.
And although he never wore a name tag, Simon heard Stavros, the Greek owner perpetually seated at the host stand, call him Kevin one night.
Kevin was always friendly. Always chatted Simon up about what he was reading. Kevin was curious but never intrusive.
Kevin could judge Simon for choosing to spend every Friday night holed away in a corner booth at a generic diner, but he didn’t. The one time he asked Simon why he wasn’t out with his friends, it wasn’t snide or rude. Kevin genuinely wanted to know.
Simon responded, without irony, that he liked his alone time. Kevin simply came back with “Cool, me too. I get it.” Took his order. Flashed his uneven smile before heading back to the kitchen.
Another Friday night, 106.7 LiteFM playing the newest Shania Twain and Celine Dion singles. Thrift store cardigan over his favorite Friday the 13th t-shirt. Khakis with rips at the knees. Converse that were starting to get holey. Trying to look comfortable and at ease like he did this every other night of the week at other diners and coffee shops, but with friends.
Simon looked at his coffee mug. His stomach begged him for actual sustenance. He’d just received his paycheck from his part-time job at the local library, so he would order something.
Whenever he’d ask his Mom for money, she’d respond with, “It doesn’t grow on trees. Why do you need to eat with your friends anyway? We have food here. Eat first and then go out. You’ve got to get used to paying your own way.”
Kevin seemed to know Simon’s schedule. Every two weeks, rather than just filling his coffee mug, Kevin would pull out his order pad with a flourish.
Simon wasn’t offended by the use of the word kid. It wasn’t said with disdain or in an attempt to demoralize. Could Kevin be, Simon hoped, even flirting?
The way Kevin handled himself always came across a bit older to Simon, who was a junior in high school. Obviously, Kevin didn’t go to his school. He would’ve seen him in the hallways. But, Simon gathered that Kevin was no older than college aged. Kevin came across as mature, but not to the point that he had a degree and a career and waiting tables was a side job. Or maybe he went to school in another town.
And although Simon had never cared much for athletics, it was evident Kevin played some type of sport. Or had regular access to a gym. Or had just been genetically blessed. One Friday night, Simon had looked up from his book (Koontz’s Servants of Twilight, a real creepy one), to find Kevin reaching up on a shelf behind the diner’s counter.
Simon had caught a glimpse of a toned torso, a well-defined “V” dipping below Kevin’s jeans.
When Kevin had come to fill up his coffee mug, Simon had to pretend he was tying his shoe, because Simon couldn’t bear the embarrassment of looking him in the eye after sharing such a one-sided private moment.
The diner was a bit busier tonight, so Kevin had brought Simon his coffee with a smile, but hadn’t taken his food order.
Simon read a chapter or two, put the book down to rub his eyes, and Kevin quickly came to the table, order pad in hand.
“Hey, Kid. Didn’t mean to keep you waiting, but you seemed really engrossed in this one.” Kevin made a slight nod towards the book. He didn’t flinch at the fact that it displayed a woman’s face, covered in blood. “It’s a good one. Classic King. The movie is crazy too. Piper Laurie screaming ‘They’re all gonna laugh at choooooo.’”
“And, you can see, we’re a little busier tonight than usual.” Kevin motioned with his hand to the busy tables. “My high school’s big football game. Now everyone’s hungry.”
Simon found himself speaking before he had a chance to catch himself. “Why aren’t you there?”
Kevin responded, “I’m here every Friday night like you.” Kevin winked.
Simon almost died.
Kevin continued, “I’m not much of a school spirit guy, to be honest. Never really been my thing. And plus, Stavros would kill me if I stopped working Friday nights. He said before I started working here, Friday nights were dead. Now, he swears that all the high school girls come here instead of TGIFriday’s because they think I’m cute.”
Simon could feel his cheeks reddening. This was the most Kevin had ever said to him in the six months he had been holing up in the corner booth.
And was Stavros—and even worse, Kevin—onto him?
“Anyway, Kid, what can I get you?”
“Broccoli and cheese omelette. Side of fries instead of hashbrowns. Well done, super crispy. The fries, not the omelette. And can I get a chocolate milkshake?”
“Wow, Kid. Living on the edge tonight. They must be paying well at the library.”
Simon looked up, confused. He had never told Kevin he worked at the library. They had literally never had a conversation like this ever before.
“Your books. They’re always library editions. And, I think I may have seen you there once or twice.”
Simon didn’t know what to say. He just sat there, pretty sure he was gawking.
“Anyway, kid. That’ll be right up.” Kevin hastily turned around.
And since Simon clearly had nothing to lose at this point, “Hey, my name isn’t ‘kid.’ It’s Simon.”
Kevin pivoted on his foot, looked Simon straight in the eye, smiled that smile again and responded with “Oh, I know.”
And then he winked again, took a few steps backward, pivoted on his other foot this time and headed towards the kitchen.
Simon, overwhelmed, buried his face in Carrie. He refused to look up and allowed himself to get lost as Sue Snell convinced her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take the shy, religious Carrie White to the prom.
When he heard the kitchen door open, Simon dared a glance, but the kitchen had delegated his omelette delivery to one of the other waitstaff.
As much as he wanted to eat gracefully, lest Kevin come out and see him, Simon was starving and proceeded to shovel egg into his mouth and suck down his milkshake. He feverishly looked around and couldn’t find his favorite waiter anywhere.
After 30 minutes—a full 20 minutes after he had cleaned his plate—Kevin hadn’t stopped by his table, so Simon decided it was time to go. But, he realized, he needed his check. He couldn’t dine and dash. He would never be able to show his face at the diner again. And if he was banned from the diner, he may never see Kevin or his sideways smirk again.
Simon frantically looked around the diner, and not a clean, white t-shirt was to be seen. An older waitress made her rounds, stopping at each table, chatting up the other patrons. She quickly made her way to Simon’s table.
“Y…y…yes,” he stammered. “Did Kevin leave? I want to pay him.” He sounded very forceful and tried to recover. “I mean, I’m sure you’re great, too. But I just want to make sure he gets his tip. He’s, just, always been a great waiter. And I mean, I can give you a tip too. I just. I don’t want him to think I gave him a stiffy… I mean, stiffed him.”
Internally, Simon screamed.
The waitress looked at Simon and then let a small dimple form in the corner of her lipsticked mouth.
“Sweetie, don’t worry about it. Kevin left for the night. But he wanted me to tell you that your omelette and coffee was on the house.” Her smile widened into a half smile, shockingly similar to Kevin’s. “And he wanted me to give you this.”
Lucille took a piece of paper from apron pocket and placed it in his open book, almost so he could use it as a bookmark.
She walked away, humming a song that sounded familiar to Simon that he had heard on the radio ad nauseum over the past weeks. “Crush” by Jennifer Paige.
His heart beating, Simon looked down at the paper Lucille had left for him.
“Hey Simon.” Kevin had written his name in caps. Emphasizing that he was more than just “kid.”
Simon’s heart began to race. It took everything for him not to jump up on the vinyl seat and pump his fist in the air.
Kevin had written his phone number and his AOL Instant Messenger screen name at the bottom of the Simon’s order pad page.
Simon gripped the edge of the table to calm his nerves. He looked up and Lucille was at his table again.
She placed a quarter on the table and nudged her head towards the pay phone tucked away in the diner’s entry vestibule.
Simon grinned shyly as he palmed the change.
As Simon made his way to the pay phone, all the din of the diner faded out. All he could hear over the diner’s speakers was the damn theme song from Dawson’s Creek.
With trembling fingers, he dialed the number in front of him.
“Hello?” Simon could hear the half-smile through the line.
“Ummmm. So. Hi. Is this Kevin?”
“Yes, it’s me, kid. Would you wanna grab a cup of coffee at this diner I know?”