It was Monday night. Maybe, it was Tuesday night. The diner was crowded with the dinner hour. Friends and family gathered around the tables and booths, talking loudly and laughing beautifully. The smell of meals rushed by as orders were yelled back to the two cooks in the kitchen, and the waitresses were all a pink blur, wearing their short, pink uniforms with notepad and pen held tightly in their hands. And there was a song playing on the jukebox. It was definitely The Beatles, but what was the song? It was Can’t Buy Me Love, but then all of a sudden, the diner went quiet. And Jim Morrison came out of the kitchen with his guitar in hand, singing, Happy Birthday.
Laurel had a few choices for her birthday. There was that one Chinese take-out place. There was the large Italian restaurant on the outskirts of town. There were a couple of mom and pop restaurants, small, but the food was always good there. She chose the diner, which surprised her parents, but they agreed to it. And North came with them, but nobody had said that it was her birthday. Granted, it was a small town, but she never left the booth to go to the bathroom. So, there was no way for her parents or brother to tell anyone that it was her birthday, so how did they know? And now everyone was singing to her, and she grinned like an idiot. She glanced over at North, realizing that he was the only one not singing, and that almost dampened her spirits. She looked away from him and smiled more as Heather placed a small, white cake before her with sparkling candles.
“Make a wish,” Heather said to her and then winked. “Make a good wish.”
“Not out loud, Laurel,” her mother said with a large smile on her face. “To yourself.”
Laurel stared at the sparkling candles. She grinned like an idiot again. She took a deep breath but then stopped. She leaned forward and gently blew out the candles, and the diner erupted into loud applause. It was so loud that she jumped, but then Laurel laughed about it as the crowd around the booth departed. Heather stayed behind to cut up the cake, and Laurel was fascinated with how smooth she used the knife to dip in and out of the cake. She was surprised at being given the first piece, and she said, “Thank you, Heather.”
“You’re welcome,” and Heather then distributed three slices of cake to Laurel’s parents and brother. “I’ll leave the cake and knife here. Anyone want coffee?”
“I do,” North said, but then his mother shot him a look. “Soda.”
“Me too,” Laurel said with a mouthful of cake. “Sorry,” and she swallowed the food quickly. “Good cake,” and she licked her lips.
“Laurel,” her father said, trying not to laugh. “Manners, please. Coffee, Heather.”
“Me too,” Laurel’s mother said.
“Be right back,” and Heather walked away.
“Happy Birthday, Laurel,” her mother said.
“Happy Birthday,” Laurel’s father said.
“What?” North realized that everyone was staring at him. “Happy Birthday,” but he did not look at Laurel.
“Thank you,” and Laurel glanced outside to see a light mist of November rain that had started to fall. “Thank you…”
The diner was empty. It was brilliantly lit up a moment ago, but now it was dark. Barely any sunlight slipped into the diner. The booths and tables were empty. The jukebox was dead. There were no pink blurs except one, who stood grimly beside the table, and the other cook, Barry was leaning against the marble counter top, looking off into space.
“Where’s Kelly,” Mr. Freund asked as he closed the menu and handed it to her.
“She’s dead,” the waitress replied curtly. “Before I die, would you like to place an order?”
Mr. Freund was about to respond when Laurel said, “Grilled Cheese and Orange Juice.”
“The same,” Mr. Freund said, not looking too happy at the waitress.
“You’re the hero, right?” The waitress pointed a jagged finger at Laurel. “Some hero. You save that fucking kid, but what about the rest of us?”
“Hey,” Mr. Freund said. “That’s not appropriate.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, teach. Excuse me. Is this some kind of pedophile thing?”
“Jamie, knock it off,” Barry yelled at her before storming into the kitchen.
“Whatever,” and the waitress stormed away from them.
“Jesus,” Mr. Freund exclaimed but then looked at Laurel. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Laurel sat across from him and looked out the window. “Why did you want to have lunch with me?” She glanced at him and then again looked away.
“To talk,” Mr. Freund said. “Just to talk.”
Laurel now looked at the man, who sat across from her. His brown eyes were tired, and there were bags under them. His brown hair was neatly combed back. He didn’t look fifty, and maybe he wasn’t. But he looked aged from everything that had happened, and he pushed his black glasses up his nose, which was obviously a nervous tick. He smiled, and she smiled back.
“So,” Mr. Freund said. “Have you written anything for that contest I had mentioned to you awhile ago?”
“No,” and Laurel jumped as the waitress returned and slammed their drinks down in front of them. “No tip for her,” Laurel muttered, but Mr. Freund heard that and smiled.
“No,” he said as he drank his orange juice. “Laurel, did you know that I had retired?” He watched her nod. “I was actually going to leave town. I don’t know where I was going to go, but I just had enough. And then I saw you save that kid, and...”
“Oh my God,” Laurel exclaimed, looking over his shoulder. “What are they doing here?”
The sheriff and agent walked into the diner. Mr. Freund turned toward them and nodded. The sheriff stepped back toward the double glass doors and pulled them shut. He flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED. Then, he walked up to the agent, and they slowly approached the table.
“It’s okay,” Mr. Freund said, surprising Laurel by touching her hand. “They just want to talk. That’s it.”
Now Online: Lizardian Chapter 41