The waitress walks by again and pours Julio another glass of water. He looks down as if he’s a young child in a time-out, and mutters a ‘thank you.’ Although he doesn’t look up, he assumes that the waitress is probably a mother or, worse, a single mother; a single mother who has two or three, maybe even four children—or teenagers, such as himself—to take care of; a single mother who has to work a double shift or two (if not more) jobs to make ends meet at home or to save up to send her kids to college. The waitress smiles and walks away.
Julio can’t take it.
His intention wasn’t to become a criminal. It was only to fit in, which is why he joined the football team, which is why he came to Denny’s with some of his teammates “the guys” after their first big win of the season, which is why he’s here right now.
He looks up and sees another family, a fourth family, occupying the booth across from him. Julio had been sitting by himself helplessly for the last few hours, and the booth across from him was sat and dined on by four separate families. He planned on sneaking out with the second family (they were also Hispanic), but he made the mistake of going to the restroom to pee. When he got back, the family was gone; their table was already being wiped down by one of the waiters.
Usually shy and withdrawn, Julio turned into a different person around the guys: he became talkative and boisterous with them. He conjured up dozens of sexual escapades with girls, giving them vivid details of his supposed sexual encounters (even though he was still a virgin and had never even kissed a girl). He also bragged about how ‘so wasted’ he gets every weekend (he was drunk only once, and that was from taking a sip of his aunt’s Sangria).
He didn’t enjoy lying and found it exhausting, but the way he saw it, it was just the name of the game. He wanted acceptance, desperately. Plus, he was enjoying himself—until someone, pushing his finished plate aside, announced, “So y’all ready to dine and dash?”
Julio laughed nervously, but then he noticed the guys were looking over their shoulders, checking if the coast was clear. They were serious. Julio thought they were going to storm out right then and there, but not to make it obvious, each walked out of the diner, gingerly, one by one. He checked his wallet discreetly, hoping to have enough money to pay for all their meals, but he barely had enough to pay for his dinner alone.
As his teammates got up to walk individually to the front entrance, the floor manager occasionally glanced over and made eye contact with a few of them on their way out.
“Just gotta’ get my wallet,” one said. “Just need to get some air,” another said.
One of them tipped his hat and gave the floor manager a smile on his way out the diner, but when he was outside in the parking lot, Julio saw, he gave the middle finger to the establishment.
Julio knew that the floor manager worked a second job because he had recognized him from McDonald’s, where he was also a floor manager. Thin hair, thick glasses, greasy attire, and borderline obese, Julio couldn’t imagine the floor manager having a regular life outside of his workspace. It seemed to him that the floor manager was also making an extra effort to attend the tables near him. He checked in with each of the four families who dined since Julio was there.
At one point, just when Julio thought no one was looking, he stood up and was ready to run out the door; but before he could take a single step, the floor manager appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“How is everything?” he asked.
“Good! Fine!” Julio answered, immediately sitting back down.
“Great,” said the floor manager, giving a thumbs-up.
He was getting ready to sweat. The walls in the diner started closing in, and this proximity caused Julio a shortness of breath, a near panic attack. It also wouldn’t be a surprise, Julio thought, that the country fried steak and eggs he ate earlier would resurface its way all over the diner table, the floor, the cushioned-seats.
Feeling sick, he murmured a prayer he didn’t know the complete words to. Afterward, he dipped his fingers in his glass of water and began to sprinkle droplets on his face.
The single-mother-of-four-waitress returned. “Well, I’ll be checking out, but someone else will come over to take care of you,” she said, pouring Julio a final glass of water. “It was a pleasure serving you and hope to see you soon.”
It was past midnight. Even the floor manager had left to go home. Before he did, he waved to Julio, but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t even smile. But, by this point, Julio was numbed, drained both mentally and emotionally. His backside was drenched with sweat, and he was sure that there was a deep dent beneath from where he sat.
He thought about his life and figured that he had nothing else to lose. He didn’t know if he’d ever be the same, but this no longer concerned him. He accepted his fate (whatever that may be) and was ready to begin his new life as a criminal. He considered this a rebirth. After looking side-to-side and once over his shoulder, he grabbed his glass and poured the water onto his head as if he was baptizing himself. The only two people in the diner, an elderly couple, perhaps in their 80s, watched in startled amusement.
Then Julio leaped out of his seat and ran to the door. He ran as if his life depended on it.
About The Author
Ernesto Reyes is an M.F.A. candidate at Fresno State where he studies creative writing and teaches first-year composition. His short fiction has appeared in the San Joaquin Review, Flies Cockroaches & Poets, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Better than Starbucks, Mannequin Haus, and elsewhere. He lives in Fresno, CA with his family.