Booze. That sounded like a really good idea right about now, he
couldn't help but think, as he walked down the sidewalk heading
back to his apartment. The streetlights were flickering on,
slowly, as dusk settled over Los Angeles. The sunset was pretty,
but it wasn't as if he noticed. All he knew was that he was in a
bad mood, he was hungry, and his feet ached, his fingers ached,
his back ached- hell, everything ached. He might only be twenty
but he felt about sixty years older. He didn't think anyone would
blame him for drowning his sorrows tonight. He'd only made enough
for about a cheap bottle of vodka anyway. Today had not been a
profitable day either. Five whole dollars. That was it. He
couldn't say that anyone had been exactly generous. As the light
had been fading, his guitar just seemed to get heavier and
heavier with each person who passed and didn't throw in a dime.
Not many had even just stopped to listen today. It had been less
So, he was going home. But luckily, there was a liquor store only about two blocks from where he lived so he really didn't even have to take a detour. He would by a bottle of wine or something- whatever he could afford- and he would go home and drink until he either finished the bottle or started to feel a little sick. Then, he would go to bed and sleep it off until noon. And then the whole process would repeat again. It was less than cheery and hopeful, that was for sure. His shoes were scuffing the pavement as he walked, turning the corner, he slunk slowly down the street... Until something caught his eye. Mick's diner. It was a big red brick building with a bright neon sign, standing just on the corner, within sight of the liquor store. It wasn't the classiest of places. He always went there when he'd made a few bucks and it was too early for a drink. His stomach rumbled as if on cue. Maybe he didn't need a beer after all. He took a chance and peered inside the window. Yeah, that was what he needed. The two things in the world that might have a chance at bringing a smile to his face right now: a big, fat, juicy cheeseburger after a long day at work and her. He could see her through the window, sweeping the floor of the almost totally deserted diner. Her black hair was falling out of her messy bun and into her face, and she had to keep stopping to push it back. He smiled just a little. He didn't even know her name, she was just 'diner girl', but every time he went to that diner (which was fairly frequently since he couldn't cook to save his life), he would always look for her. She was sweet, and most of the time, she slipped him a little something extra, even when- especially when- he couldn't afford it. It might be just a little extra cheese on his burger or some fries or just a glass of water. He always made sure to give her a little nod of thanks before he left, he didn't want to get her in trouble, but aside from taking his order, they had never spoken. She was really pretty too. He always daydreamed about what it would be like to talk to her and what it would be like to see her in a nice pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of that grimy old uniform. She had a good figure, he could see that through the window even, and a cute, pretty face. What was not to like about her? Just seeing her inspired him just a little to write something. His song writing had been dwindling to pretty much nothing lately, but she always perked him up a bit. He had just never met someone so kind before. The booze was totally forgotten as he walked into the door of the diner, hoping that this would at least make his night a little bit bearable.
He walked in and sat in his usual spot, slinging the guitar case over the back of the chair and sitting down heavily in the seat. Every muscle in his body was drained of all strength. He really wanted to get home and sleep, but he did have to eat something first. He sat back in the chair, just relishing the moment of being able to relax for a whole ten seconds. He'd been working way too long out there in the heat and the cold winds and everything. He was just ready to drop. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a second or two...
His eyes flashed open as he felt a hand press lightly on his shoulder. Had he actually been asleep? He jumped a little and looked up. Diner girl was standing over him, smiling kindly down at him. "Sorry if I surprised you." She said, her voice soft and apologetic. She removed her hand from his shoulder, a minute too late for him to forget that it had been there. He felt a strange tingling sensation at the spot where her hand had been, and almost wanted to ask for her to put her hand back on him again for some reason. She had never touched him before, he wanted to relish the fact for a moment longer.
"Oh, uh, yeah. Don't worry about it."
"Are you ready to order?" She took a pencil and a piece of paper out of her dusty apron and he nodded, feeling a little sheepish suddenly. He rubbed the back of his head with a calloused hand and nodded. It wasn't a hard decision. He only had five dollars, he couldn't get much.
"Yeah, can I get a hamburger, please? Just the burger." He said sort of sadly.
She tucked the pad back into her apron. It wasn't like there was very much need of that, any dimwit could remember a hamburger, and smiling slightly at him, she left him alone. She didn't want to impose, it was plain to anyone that he was worn out. She didn't want to bother her favourite customer.
He had been her favourite customer practically since the day that he had walked in. She didn't know his name, but she did know that he rarely had enough money to pay for anything, and he seemed really nice. It wasn't any kind of trouble slipping him anything extra, honestly. Nobody noticed her much around here, she could get away with quite a bit when she wanted to. She had always wanted to talk to him, but she could never work up the courage. She just hoped that he hadn't caught her staring yet. She always snuck glances from the other side of the room when she was sure that he wasn't looking. He had the nicest, deepest eyes, and the most infectious, boyish smile. But she only snuck a glance over once as she was giving the order to the cook. Today, there was no one else here. He looked battered. Even the marks on his beaten up guitar case seemed to be formed in a frowny face pattern. She looked around the room, her brow furrowed in thought. If there was one thing she was good at, it did happen to be coming up with plans. She was an organized kind of girl. A tall glass in the corner of the dirty dish pile caught her eye and she smiled a little to herself. She might be able to give him a little extra something tonight... Just this once.
She walked over to his table again a few minutes later, clearing her throat quietly to get his attention. He looked up, having been busy looking out the window, almost too tired to think. He was confused at first. This was too early for his burger, he had been to this place so many times, he knew that the cook wasn't even close to that quick. His eyes lit up a little though, when he saw what she was carrying.
It was a tall chocolate milkshake, with a topping of whipped cream and a cherry on top for effect. A blue bendy straw stuck out of it, and he looked around. Who would have ordered that? Then, she explained.
"I just found this laying around on the shelf; I'd hate for it to go to waste. I was wondering if you might be able to choke it down?"Lies, all lies, and they both knew it perfectly well. He smiled gratefully, for the first time that evening, as she set it down in front of him.
"Yeah. I don't think I could ever turn down a chocolate milkshake in need. Thank you." His eyes met hers, and his thank you was earnest. She was far too sweet. Sweet like the cherry on top his chocolate milkshake, which was suddenly disappearing quite quickly. It tasted divine. He didn't delve in long though. She was only turning away slowly and he wanted the chance to say something to her before he was too tired to summon up the courage or the energy. "I don't think I've ever said thank you to you, for all those other extras you give me. I wouldn't want you to get into trouble or anything because of it though..."
She shook her head, her messy bun loosening a bit at the movement, threatening to let her raven locks stray. "No, I've only gotten caught once. I don't think anyone really cares. And I don't expect a thank you anyway, that's half the fun of it." She had seen his slight nods and his smiles as he left most times, and his boyish grin was enough thanks for her. For some reason, she never thought that he was being rude. The less they spoke, the less suspicious it was, and besides, he was so much nicer than most of the other regular patrons. He didn't try to play games of grab ass, and he didn't trip or spill things on her intentionally. He didn't slop all over the tables and even when he was tired like this, his eyes still seemed to be so deep... She was afraid to make eye contact because then she might just fall into those chocolate brown pools and get lost and he'd think she was totally nuts. It wasn't exactly the impression she wanted to give him that was for sure. She stood there for a moment, a silence descending on them, but neither cared. They just looked at each other, as if in their own little worlds. To anyone else it might have been awkward, but neither really wanted the other to leave.
It was only when she heard the cook calling her from the kitchen, saying that the burger was ready, that she had to excuse herself. Julian watched her walk away, and then stared down into his milkshake. He really didn't understand why she was always so nice to him. What had he done to deserve it? He didn't even know her name, they'd never really spoken aside from her taking his order. She did brighten up his mood just a little bit though. Maybe all the people on the street today hadn't given him so much as a second glance, but she restored his faith in humanity just a little.
She was back momentarily, with a juicy cheeseburger, and fries of course. He shook his head a little, smiling though. She just couldn't resist doing that to him for some reason could she? He was almost a little sad though. Now he had his food, she had no reason to come back. Oh well. He sighed softly and fished in his pocket for the five dollars in change he had made that day. She shook her head as he offered it though.
"No, it's on the house tonight. You look like you could use it."
But Julian was absolutely adamant on this point. "Take it. Please. I owe this diner so much already- and one day I'm going to pay it all back. Plus interest. I promise."
She silently took the money from him, sticking it into her apron pocket. Looking around the diner, there were no other customers left. It was only her and him and the cook in the kitchen, singing along to Italian opera radio rather badly. There were no more chores to do. Everything was wiped and cleaned and ready for tomorrow. She decided to summon a little courage and take a chance.
"It's... It's kinda dead here tonight. Do- would you mind some company?" She stammered a little. Bringing food and taking orders was easy, but sitting down and having a conversation with a guy? Not so much. She had never exactly been socially adept, and she wasn't big on rejection, but what was the harm? He looked like he had had a hard day. Maybe he would like some company?
He smiled, perking up at her question. "No, I wouldn't mind at all." He tried not to sound too excited. It wasn't like he'd been daydreaming about this for weeks, just wondering what it would be like to talk to her. He didn't know why he'd never asked her to keep him company before. He was usually quite good with women. He flirted with them on the streets all the time for a few extra bucks, and he'd never had trouble getting a date. He didn't know what was so different about her, but he was glad that she was interested in chatting with him. He could use that tonight.
She smiled back at him a little and slipped into the booth across from him as he took a big bite out of his burger. It looked as if he hadn't eaten in months, the way he'd almost finished half of it by the time that she could blink. She couldn't restrain a small giggle at the sight of it. He wasn't a big guy by any means. She had to wonder where all of that was going. He looked up as he heard the laugh, and smiled back at her a little, covering his mouth with the back of his hand, realizing that he had to look like a pig to her. He was just so hungry, and the food was so good...
"Sorry." He apologized.
She shook her head. "It's fine. You have immaculate table manners, really. You should see some of the people that come in here, with sauces dribbling down their chins, eating four or five burgers, three plates of fries and god knows how many milkshakes before dessert."
He swallowed and chuckled. "Not to be gross, but I could probably pack all of that away right now. I haven't eaten all day. Here, have some fries. I don't want to be the only one eating." Julian pushed his plate closer to the middle of the table, allowing her to steal a fry or two. He didn't mind sharing. She had given it to him after all, it was only fair. "I'm Julian, by the way."
She nibbled on the fry, only having taken one out of politeness. If he was starving she didn't want to steal all his food. She smiled at his name. Julian. She liked that. It wasn't Matt or Brad, or Josh, or anything dull like that. "Madeline. But everyone calls me Maddy, of course."
"Madeline." He repeated. She got butterflies as he said it, liking the way it rolled off his tongue. She averted her gaze, looking down at her hands for a minute so she wouldn't let herself get carried away.
"So, uh, you're a musician?" She nodded to the guitar case, trying to start up a conversation.
He sighed, not smiling for the first time that she had walked up to him. "I wouldn't call myself a musician, a struggling one, perhaps? I don't even know anymore."
"Not a good day, huh?"
"No, not at all to be honest. You're doing a pretty good job of turning that around though." He didn't want to dump all his problems on her and let her realize how much of a loser that he really was. Even though she had probably already guessed that he had no money, and that was bad enough. The way she smiled though, as he said that, made him smile again. Yeah, she was definitely turning his bad day around, sitting and chatting with him.
"Well, I think you're definitely a musician. I mean, I don't think there's one day I haven't seen you with your guitar. You obviously have a passion for it. That's all that matters- whether you make any money at it or not." She shrugged. She wouldn't usually give an opinion like that to a stranger, but he didn't feel like a stranger to her. It was so easy to talk to him- usually it would take an hour or two for her to really relax and be able to say what was on her mind. But not with him, for some reason. They had known of each other for longer than an hour or two though, so did that count? Either way they seemed to click, and it was refreshing after so long to have a real conversation with someone. Madeline wasn't the type to have many friends, she hadn't spoken to anyone her own age in so long. That just made it doubly wonderful.
"It's complicated... I've been doing this for years now, playing my music on the streets, and I'm not getting anywhere, it's kind of frustrating. But thank you for the faith in me anyway. You're very sweet."
She blushed a little at that, and it made him smile yet again. She was quite adorable in his eyes. She twisted a piece of hair around her finger several times before she managed to recover from being complemented by someone like him. It was small, she knew, and it was a bit of an overreaction to be so flattered, but she couldn't help it. Men like him were hard to come by.
"I'd like to hear you play some time..." She said rather sheepishly. Arranging to see him again would be good. It would be a shame to only see him every now and again at the diner, now that they'd spoken. He came in often, but she didn't always have time to chat like this. She really was curious about his music too. She imagined he had to be good if he played his guitar so often, and his voice was smooth and soft. She liked the way he spoke. She could only imagine his singing voice would be even better.
Much to her delight, he nodded. "Well, I'm usually at the park, around the corner if you ever want to. Private shows cost extra though." He winked at her. "But enough about me. Tell me about you. What do you do when you're not here?" He didn't want to come off like a total jerk, only talking about himself, and he did genuinely want to know. All he knew was her name so far and how nice she was and how pretty and soft those lips looked, and how shiny her hair was. He wanted to reach out and touch her to see if she was as appealing to his fingertips as she was to his eyes but he figured that would be way too creepy for a first meeting.
Maddy merely gave a modest shrug. "I don't do much, actually. I take night classes at the university to study for my psychology degree. And then in my spare time, I mostly just stay at home with my dog. It's really not that exciting."
Julian was fascinated with those few small sentences though. It told him a lot, and knowing about her meant a lot to him. She had been so sweet to him, it almost seemed callous to be clueless about her. "Psychology? So, you're studying to be a shrink or something? That's impressive."
She smiled brightly at the encouragement. "Yeah, I do want to be a psychologist. I'm in my second year. Most people don't think it's interesting, but I enjoy it a lot. And don't worry, I'm not about to start asking how everything makes you feel."
"No, that's really cool." A psychologist? So she was smart, too? That was always a refreshing quality in a pretty woman: brains. In his experience, it wasn't something one encountered often, a mixture of the two. "And you have a dog?"
She nodded. "Yeah. A Rottweiler, his name is Fluffy."
He chuckled. "That's an interesting name for a male Rottweiler."
"I got him from a shelter when I moved out of my parent's place almost a year ago, to keep me company. The name was part of the deal."
"I love dogs, but I could never have one. I can barely take care of myself right now, much less anything else..." He said quietly, but he quickly tried to brighten up the subject. He couldn't help adding stuff like that in though. He had just had such a bad day. Even if she was making him feel lots better, his problems still haunted him a bit. "Anyway, what do you do for fun?"
"Oh, I write sometimes. Poems, stories and stuff like that. Nothing terribly exciting. I play the piano a little, and I sing in the shower but that is about the extent of my musical abilities."
"I'd love to read something of yours. If you don't mind."
Madeline usually didn't show anyone else her work. Ever. Rarely anyone had read it, and even fewer said that it was actually good. She didn't think it was much good either, but right now, she just really didn't want to say no to him. "We can trade. I'll show you something of mine if you play me a song. How's that?"
Julian grinned. That would mean he would get to see her again and he couldn't argue with an arrangement like that. "It's a date then."
Neither of them had said anything about a date but Julian thought he would be bold. Maddy blushed at the suggestion and looked down into her lap. To Julian, her slight shyness just made her that more attractive. And what was better, she didn't say no. The last fry had been picked off the plate, and there was no singing coming from the kitchen, so assumedly the cook had already left. She slid out of the booth without making eye contact and grabbed a pair of keys out of her apron pocket.
"I'd better lock up now, I guess. We don't stay open very late on weeknights and my manager would kill me if he had to start paying me overtime for this." She chuckled a little and slipped in back of the restaurant to grab her things, still with her cheeks slightly rosy. She got asked out by guys at the diner- mostly slimy, drunken, unattractive ones, on occasion. Maybe once a month or so. She was a bit of a plain Jane and the uniform didn't help but she didn't mind it. Her reaction usually wasn't like this though. A date with a guy like him? Did he really mean date or was that just an expression? She couldn't imagine getting that lucky. She hadn't been on a date in months. Especially not with a nice guy, either. Of all the times she'd been daydreaming about that... It took a minute for her to compose herself and act half decently normal again.
She came back out, shrugging on her jacket over her greasy pink dress, the classic uniform that was about as frumpy as oversized sweats but not anywhere near as comfortable. He smiled at her and slid out of the booth. It was time to say goodbye, apparently. He wished that it wasn't. Suddenly, he had a brain wave.
"Do you live near here? I just didn't see a car outside."
"Yeah, I live about three blocks away. Why?"
Jack smiled. "I'm four blocks away. I always walk past this place coming back from the park, that's why I come in here so often."
"Oh, really? I'm surprised we haven't passed each other then." She opened the door and he shouldered his guitar case. They both slipped out into the dark night of Los Angeles. "I always walk to work. It saves on gas." She locked the door behind them and slipped the key into her pocket, standing there for a moment when they should be parting ways. She didn't really want to say goodbye quite yet.
Jack already had that covered though. "I could walk you home, if you wanted. Women really shouldn't walk around alone at night out here."
"Okay." Her heart skipped a beat at his offer and she turned in the direction of her apartment. "Provided, we're going the same way, of course. I live up here." It didn't bother her that a near complete stranger would know where she lived, she wasn't paranoid like that. She was just glad that she'd get a few more minutes with him. She didn't like walking alone anyway.