She puckers her lips and chews on the inside of her mouth and then says, nodding, “Alright, I won’t eat a salad, even though salads can come with chicken and all sorts of good stuff that someone like you probably never thought of.”
“No. So just give it up,” I say resolutely and then gently jerk my head back in gesture. “Come on, I’ve waited long enough to eat. I’m starving. And I get grumpy when I’m hungry.”
“You’re already grumpy,” she mumbles.
I grab her arm and pull her next to me. She tries to hide her blushing face.
I love the smell of Waffle House; it’s the smell of freedom, being on the open road and knowing that ninety percent of the people eating around you are also on that road. Truck driver’s, road-trippers, hangovers—those who don’t live that monotonous life of society slavery.
The restaurant is nearly full. Camryn and I get a booth close to the grill farthest away from any of the tall windows. A mandatory jukebox—symbolic of Waffle House culture—sits against one of those windows.
The waitress greets us with a smile, standing with a notepad resting in one hand, and a pen ready to write with the tip poking the paper in the other. “Can I get you some coffee?”
I look up at Camryn, who’s already scanning over the menu on the table in front of her.
“I’ll have a glass of sweet tea,” she says.
The waitress jots that down and looks back at me.
She nods and goes to make our drinks.
“Some of this stuff looks good,” Camryn says peering down at the menu with one cheek propped on the top of her folded hand. Her index finger slides over the plastic and lands on the tiny salad section. “See, look,” she glances up at me, “they have Grilled Chicken Salad and Chicken Apple Pecan Salad.”
I can’t resist that hopeful look in her wide blue eyes.
I cave. Totally f**king cave.
“Order whatever you want,” I say with a warm expression. “Really, I won’t hold it against you.”
She blinks twice, mildly stunned I gave in so easily and then her eyes seem to smile back at me. She closes the menu and places it back on the menu holder above the table as the waitress returns with our drinks.
“Ready to order?” the waitress asks after placing our drinks in front of us. The tip of her pen, as if it never really leaves that spot, is still pressed against the notepad waiting to be put to work.
“I’ll have the Fiesta Omelet,” Camryn says and I catch a small grin in her face as her eyes skirt mine.
“Toast or biscuit?” the waitress asks.
“Grits, hash browns or tomatoes?”
The waitress jots the last of Camryn’s order down and turns to me.
I pause for a second and then say, “I’ll have the Chicken Apple Pecan Salad.”
Camryn’s grin shuts down immediately and her face just freezes like that. I wink at her and slide the menu behind hers.
“Livin’ on the edge, huh?” the waitress says.
She rips off the top ticket.
“For today,” I tell her and she shakes her head and walks away.
“What the hell?” Camryn says holding her hands out, palms up. She can’t decide whether to smile or look at me awkwardly, so she ends up doing a little of both.
“I figure if you’re willing to eat something for my sake, then I can do the same for you.”
“Yeah, well I just don’t see that salad doing it for you.”
“You’re probably right,” I say, “but fair is fair.”
She scoffs lightly and leans her back against the booth seat. “It won’t be so fair if I’m listening to you complain about being hungry when we get back on the road—you said yourself that you’re grumpy when you’re hungry.”
I couldn’t really be grumpy towards her, but she’s right: the salad’s not going to do it for me. And lettuce gives me gas—she’ll definitely hate riding in the car with me if I eat this shit. But I can do this. I just hope I can eat the whole thing without letting any one of a hundred complaints about it, which are already tap-dancing on the tip of my tongue, give me away.
This should be interesting.
Several minutes later, the waitress is bringing Camryn her food and setting my plate of blasphemy down in front of me. She refills our drinks, asks if we need anything else and then goes back to her other customers.
Camryn is already scrutinizing me.
She looks down at her plate, arranges the biscuit on the other side of the hash browns and then twists the plate around by its edges to put the omelet in reach. I pick up my fork and poke the salad around a few times, pretending, just like Camryn, to prepare it.
We look up at each other and pause as if waiting for the other to say something. She purses her lips. I purse mine.
“Wanna trade?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say without hesitation and we’re sliding the food across the table to one another.
Relief washes over both of our faces.
It’s not something I would’ve ordered on my own, but it beats lettuce.
Halfway through the meal—well, halfway for her; I’m done with mine—I’m ordering a slice of chocolate pie and getting another coffee refill. And we go on and on about her ex best friend, Natalie, and how Natalie is some over-the-top bi-sexual with huge boobs. At least that’s what I’ve been getting out of Camryn’s descriptions of her.
“So what happened after the restroom incident?” I ask, taking a bite of my pie.
“I never went in a public restroom with her again after that,” she says. “The girl has no shame.”
“She sounds fun,” I say.
Camryn looks thoughtful. “She was.”
I study her quietly. She’s lost in some memory, poking her fork at the last piece of chicken in her salad. My fork clinks against the plate as I make a decision and set it down. I wipe my face with my napkin and slide out of the booth.
“Where are you going?” She looks up at me.
I just grin and walk away toward the jukebox by the window. I slip the money in and scan the titles, finally choosing one song and pressing the buttons. Raisins In My Toast starts to play as I make my way back.
All three of the waitresses and the cook eyeball me with glaring, unforgiving looks. I just smile.
Camryn’s whole body has locked up on the seat. Her back is rigid, the whites of her eyes blaring at me and then when I start mouthing the words to the fifties-sounding song, she slinks way down onto the seat, her face redder than I have ever seen it.
I slide back into my seat, moving my h*ps all the way down.
“Oh God, Andrew, please don’t sing it!”
I’m trying my damndest not to laugh, but I just sing along to the lyrics with a giant grin plastered all over my face. She buries her face in her hands, her little shoulders, covered by a thin white shirt bounce up and down as she suppresses her laughter. I snap my fingers in tune with the music as if my hair is greased back and when the high-pitched voice comes on, I mimic it, my face all scrunched up with exaggerated emotion. And I hit the deeper notes, too, dropping my chin toward my chest and looking all serious. I never stop snapping my fingers. The further into the song I go, I start to put a little more emotion into it. And by the middle, Camryn can’t contain herself any longer. She laughs so hard under her breath that her eyes water-up.
She’s let herself fall so far down onto the seat by now that her chin is almost level with the table’s edge.
When the song ends—to the relief of the employees—I get one pair of hands clapping for me from the old lady sitting in the booth behind Camryn. Nobody else cares, but by the look on Camryn’s face, you’d think everyone in the restaurant was watching and laughing at us. Hilarious. And she’s so cute when she’s embarrassed.
I prop my elbows on the table and lay my arms across it, folding my hands together.
“Ah, it wasn’t that bad was it?” I smirk.
She slides the edge of her finger underneath each of her eyes to wipe off that tiny streak of black that she instinctively knows is there. A few more laughs still rattle through her calming chest.
“You have no shame, either,” she says, laughing one more time.
“It was embarrassing, but I think I needed that.” Camryn kicks off her shoes and pulls her bare feet onto the front seat in the car.
We’re back on the road again, and taking direction only from Camryn’s pointing finger. Heading east on 44; looks like we’re going to be passing through the bottom half of Missouri.
“Glad I could oblige.”
I reach out and press the power on the CD player.
“Oh no,” she teases, “I wonder how far back into the seventies we’ll go this time.”
I tilt my head over and smirk at her.
“This is a good song,” I say, reaching out to turn the volume up a little and then tapping my thumbs on the steering wheel.
“Yeah, I’ve heard it before,” she says, laying her head against the seat. “Wayward Son.”
“Close,” I say, “Carry On Wayward Son.”
“Yeah, close enough you didn’t need to correct me.” She pretends to be offended, but isn’t doing a very good job.
“And what band is it?” I test her.
She makes a face at me. “I don’t know!”
“Kansas,” I say with an intellectually raised brow. “One of my favorites.”
“You say that about all of them.” She purses her lips and flutters her eyes.
“Maybe I do,” I relent, “but really, Kansas songs have a lot of emotion. Dust in the Wind, for example; can’t think of a more fitting piece of music for death. It has a way of stripping your fear of it.”
“Stripping your fear of death?” she says, not convinced.
“Well yeah, I guess so. It’s like Steve Walsh is the reaper and he’s just telling you that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Shit, if I could choose a song to die to, that one would be at the top of my playlist.”
She looks discouraged.
“That’s a little too morbid for my blood.”
“If you look at it that way, I guess so.”
She’s fully facing me now with both legs pulled onto the seat, knees drawn up, and her shoulder and head lying on the back of the seat. That golden braid of hers which makes her look that much softer always draped over her right shoulder.
“Hotel California,” she says. “The Eagles.”
I look at her. I’m impressed.
“That’s one classic song that I like.”
That makes me smile “Really? That’s a great one; very chilling—kind of makes me feel like I’m in one of those old black and white horror films—Good choice.”
I’m actually really impressed.
I tap my thumbs some more on the steering wheel to Carry On Wayward Son and then I hear a loud pop! and a constant flap-flap-flap-flap-flunk-flap-flunk until I veer slowly off the side of the freeway and pull onto the shoulder.
Camryn has already dropped her bare feet back onto the floorboard and is looking all around the car trying to figure out the direction of the noise.