Good food, good show; bad food, bad show. And everything in the middle. It was just the way things worked.
Joe’s was a small, vaguely fifties-style diner which sat on a corner a few streets away from our pitch. Its blinking red sign looked worryingly close to giving out altogether, its J only illuminated in sporadic bursts, and the parking lot was mostly empty. It neither demanded attention nor looked like it intended to. That, along with the fact that it was the first food outlet I’d come across – Rule Number One of my system – was perhaps the reason I found myself drawn to it.
A bell tinkled overhead as I pushed inside, the cool blast of air conditioning sweeping over me the moment I stepped over the threshold. Tile squeaked underfoot, the squared pattern so regular and rhythmic it seemed to induce cross-eye if I stared too long. Lined up at the counter was a long row of bar stools, about half of them occupied, while worn red leather booths made up the opposite wall. Once inside, it was difficult to shake off the feeling that I’d stepped inside a lackluster window of the fifties where everything was compressed and condensed into a small space.
Still, it wasn’t like I wasn’t used to it. I’d lived in a trailer almost my entire life.
I took a seat on one of the stools, ending up sandwiched between an empty seat and a young-ish guy to my right, who was trying to remain absorbed in his open textbook while chomping down on the burger on his plate. I didn’t pay him much attention at first, instead just grabbing a menu from one of the holders and letting my eyes scan over the laminated card.
I guess I must’ve been pondering a while, though I wouldn’t have noticed myself. It was only down to the menu’s sheer length, boasting every type of burger I could imagine plus ten more – and that was without even starting on the milkshakes – that I found myself in such a deep thought. I just didn’t expect to be pulled out of it so abruptly by the voice of the stranger beside me, who’d finally looked up from his reading.
“Don’t even think about leaving this place without trying the curly fries.”
I blinked, not realizing initially that the voice was directed at me, and looked over. “Excuse me?”
It was only then that I got a better look at the boy, now that I had an excuse to look right at his face. He was fair, his milky complexion lightened beneath the diner’s overhead spotlights, with a head of dark blonde hair swept into a neatly messy style. It looked ruffled, yet at the same time calculated and very much intentional. A lopsided half-smile was curling his lips, but there was somehow an impossible symmetry about this, too; he seemed to have a polished air about him, even if it was accidental.
“Sorry,” he apologized with a sheepish smile, “I’m butting in. But you looked like you were on the brink of a decision, and I couldn’t let you escape without at least tasting the curly fries. They’re legendary. Ask anybody.”
His eyes flickered momentarily around the room, as if I was going to do just that, instead of staring blankly back at him.
“I’ll let you get back to deciding,” he said, when I still hadn’t given him any sort of response. “It’s a pretty intense choice, anyway. Just… bear in mind about the curly fries, okay? You’re not in Sherwood if you don’t eat Joe’s fries.”
He looked about to turn back to his textbook, as well as his plate, which – I now noticed – was piled high with a hearty serving of those very fries. I couldn’t see exactly what subject the textbook was on, but it seemed to be something important, judging by the way he’d been engrossed just seconds beforehand. Now, though, my voice made him pause. “What’s so special about them?”
YOU ARE READING
For seventeen-year-old Corey Ryder, life on the road is all she’s ever known. A trainee trapeze artist in her aunt’s circus, she’s never found herself in one place for more than a few weeks at a time. For her, it’s a way of life. But when a tragic a...