Malcolm by Jessica Gadziala

On girls nights, I always had the same destination in mind.

I couldn't go home because it was too far, and I didn't like being more than five minutes away from the bar because the idea of the girls standing out front waiting for me made me anxious. Even if I knew there was always a doorman around.

They weren't in Navesink Bank.

I didn't have as much pull with employees like I did in our town. I couldn't count on the security ensuring the safety of the girls because they were worried about my—and the rest of the club's—wrath.

So I liked to stay close.

The only places in the immediate vicinity that were open twenty-four hours was a chain coffee place, and a small diner.

The coffee place was actually closer, just around the block.

But I never went there.

Not anymore.

I always went to the diner that was a few more minutes out of the way, sitting on it's own lot surrounded by woods.

Was the food worth the trip?

Not really.

Was the coffee better than the chain place?

Fuck no.

It was sludgy and bitter, no matter how fresh it was.

I didn't go for the refreshments.

If I were being completely honest, I went to the diner for one reason and one reason alone.

The waitress that worked the overnight shift.

Before she showed up in town, I had been switching between the coffee place and the diner, depending on when it was that I'd had a meal last.

Then, one night, the waitress that had worked there seemingly since the diner opened was gone, and the new one was there in her place.

That was when I started parking my ass there every week—or every other week, depending on the girls' schedules—instead of bouncing between the two places.

The diner itself was a bit of a dive with chrome fucking everything. It had been a brick building once upon a time, back when it was owned by people who had a little taste. But then it had been bought by someone who just puked cheap 1950s diner decor all over the place.

The outside was jarring enough.

The inside was worse with its black and white floors, bright red booths, pink track lighting, and walls completely covered in old music and movie posters.

It hurt your fucking eyes to walk inside.

Yet every week or so, that was exactly what I did.

"Oh, hey you!" she greeted me when the bell on the door jingled as I moved inside.

Her name tag said Hailey on it, but I suspected it was a work name, not her real one. I'd heard people call her Hailey, and it usually took a few times for her to respond, even if she was standing nearby. Like she wasn't accustomed to responding to the name.

She had a great smile.

It wasn't a customer service one. At least not when she shot it at me. It was open and happy with the kind of straight white teeth that said her parents likely dropped a mint on some braces when she was younger.

She was a slip of a thing. Short, slight, with gray-blue eyes and long blonde hair she kept in various up-styles to go with the food safety codes.

She had it in a braid down her back, but some strands had pulled free to frame her face.

The server uniforms at this place were as tragic as the decor.

She was always wearing a knee-length, button-front bright pink dress with a white apron, white caps on the sleeves, and an oversize white collar.

Just like every other time I'd seen her over the past few months, she had the same delicate silver necklace with a green holly leaf and a set of red berries on. She wore faux diamond studs.

If she stood close enough, you could catch a whiff of a sweet-smelling perfume under the scents of fryer oil and burger splatter that always clung to servers at these kinds of places.

"I was wondering if you were going to drop in tonight," she said as she grabbed me the book that called itself a menu. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served all day. Including sushi, if you were brave. I had never been that fucking brave.

"Busy night?" I asked as she led me back to the corner booth I had a sneaking suspicion she saved for me on Saturday nights, despite never knowing if or when I might show up.

Or maybe that was wishful thinking.

"It was quiet until half an hour ago. It usually dies down before the bar crowd rolls in. Are you coming from work?" she asked as I slid into the booth, facing the door instead of the view of the woods behind me.

"No. I just dropped my cousins off at the bar."

"Ah, you're the designated driver again," she said, shaking her head. "Do you ever get to be the one to have fun?"