A harried waitress (coolant leak, late fall) delivered a pair of menus, double-sided and legal-sized, plastic laminate curling up at the edges. The Bird did not raise her hands to take the menu, and a moment later the waitress laid it on the table in front of the frail teen before hurrying back to the kitchen.
“Know what you want?” The Bird replied that she’d never eaten here before; Double-J grunted, jabbed his finger at a line about a third of the way down on her menu. “Chicken parm’s pretty good — ”
The Bird replied that she didn’t eat meat. “Didn’t know you were vegan.” She replied that she wasn’t a vegan, she just didn’t like the taste of meat. “That so?” Nod.
Double-J wiped the back of his right hand across his black moustache. “They got an eggplant parm too.” The Bird asked if it was good; Double-J shrugged. “Dunno. Never had it.” He then leaned forward across the table. “Don’t like the taste of eggplant.”
The Bird blinked, looked down at the menu again, finally deciding that she had enough money for a salad (Double-J telling her he’d never had a salad here, but said he’d heard they were good) and a glass of water. Double-J considered ordering the chicken parm, but the peckish impulse overruled the puckish and he ordered his usual — “Italian sausage, no onions. And a Coke.”
Double-J glared back at the waitress’ question. “No, regular — ” he leaned back in his chair, pated his round belly — “Like being fat.”
The waitress left, slightly embarassed but even more annoyed. The Bird told Double-J that she didn’t think the waitress had been insulting him; the burly teen ran his left hand back across the thin black wires of his hair. “Might not’ve been what she was thinking, but it was in the back of her mind.” He wave his right arm in a sweep across the restaurant’s dining area. “Everybody in this town, think they’re so polite ‘cuz of not saying what’s on their mind. But really, it’s just dishonesty, putting up false pretenses. Five thousand people, all just putting on a show, saying one thing but acting entirely different. Seems to me, Bark Bay needs more people like me, calling people out.”
The Bird then asked if that was the reason he’d agreed to meet with her, to call her out; Double-J snorted. “Nah. Nothing personal, but seems to me you’re pretty harmless.” The waitress arrived, handed him his Coke, left briskly. “Honestly, my first instinct when you called me last night, said you was worried about the fencing team — ” she nodded quickly, head bobbing in the fashion Double-J remembered from that practice in the fall when he said she moved like a bird — “wanted to say, sorry but that ain’t my concern no more. I’m done with team, done with school, and with any luck, done with this damn town come summer.” He raised the plastic tumbler of Coke to his mouth without looking, stopping as the translucent plastic straw struck him in the cheek; he snatched the straw with his other hand, threw it down, drank deeply as tiny pools of brown carbonated liquid formed around the straw 0n the table.
The tumbler was half-empty when he turned his attention back to The Bird. “Don’t really know what changed my mind — guess I decided to find out if everyone’s still as messed up as they were when I left.” He smiled, contorting his face in a way which made his dark moustache seem to frown. “So, tell me, my avarian friend. What’s on your mind?”
The Bird cleared her throat, and with eyes looking down at the table, began to speak.