The light streamed in through the window and Jack fought with the blinds, trying to lower them to block it out. After several minutes of increasing frustration with the cord that refused to move no matter how hard he pulled on it he gave up and put his head in arms on the table in front of him. He heard a noise that sounded like the blinds lowering and looked up to see Ed gently lowering the blinds until they rested on the window sill.
“How’d you do that?” he asked his friend with an expression conveying awe.
“You gotta pull it an angle- something I would have told you if you weren’t so busy grunting at the thing,” Ed grinned at him.
A dump truck drove by and honked its horn, as if the noise it made just from bulldozing down the street wasn’t enough. Jack groaned and put his head back down.
“Can you block out the noise, too?” he asked without looking up.
“Uh, nope- but you can try stuffing some of these in your ears,” he said, handing his friend a stack of napkins.
Jack looked up to see the paper being offered to him and rolled his eyes. “Isn’t it about time we grow out of this?” he asked his friend.
“Grow out of what?” Ed asked him.
“This- this diner a day lifestyle of ours-“ Jack answered, referencing towards the cheap linoleum covered table in front of them.
“Uh, I wouldn’t call it that,” Ed said looking around for a waitress. “If anything it’s too much partying we do, not too much coffee at diners the morning afterwards.”
“Well, whatever it is- aren’t you getting tired of it?” Jack asked, putting his head back down.
“Is this a serious conversation?” Ed asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Huh?” came a muffled sound from where Jack’s head lay buried beneath his elbow.
“I mean, are you seriously asking me this right now?” Ed asked again.
“Uh… yeah- I guess I am. Why?” Jack asked looking up at him with a confused expression.
“Because you know better than to start serious conversations with me before I’ve had my first cup of coffee,” Ed reprimanded him.
Jack looked at him with a slight smile as if to say that was a fair point.
“Ah, here we go- and how are you doing this lovely morning?” he asked the waitress that approached their table, pad and pen at the ready.
“Um, not as chipper as you but, ok I guess,” she answered.
“Good, good,” Ed said, giving her his most charming smile. “Well, I’ll tell you what-I’m gonna make your life easy for you. I’m gonna ask you to start us off with a good, strong pot of coffee and keep it coming while we think of something tasty to order, how’s that sound?”
“Fair enough,” she said, retreating.
The two men sat in silence while waiting for their coffee to return. Ed looked around at the other patrons, listening to the clattering forks and knives as people ate their meals and hummed to himself. Jack remained with his head down in his arms without moving. Ed would have thought his friend asleep if not for the lack of snoring. The waitress returned with a full pot of coffee and poured the two cups out.
“You want me to just leave this here for you boys?” she asked holding up the pot.
“Yeah, that’d be great,” Ed said, smiling at her again.
She put the pot down with a brief “I’ll come back in a couple minutes.”
Ed went about shaking several sugar packets while Jack lifted his head and reached for the cream. After they’d both prepared their brew and taken their first sip Jack sat back as if contented for the moment and Ed looked up from his cup.
“So,” Ed asked, putting his cup down and scooting back on his seat to look at his friend. “What were you blabbing about before?”
“I was asking about this,” Jack said, looking down at his cup as he continued to stir the brown liquid it contained.
“About… coffee? Well, you see back in the beginnings of American history the colonists first started acquiring coffee from the Caribbean island of Martinique and they found that the drink was a good alternative to the tea that the British were taxing so they-“ Ed rattled.
“No, no- not coffee,” Jack interrupted him. “This. Fighting back a hangover from another night of club hopping which was as unproductive as the last twenty and yet, will be the same activity we continue next weekend,” Jack explained.
“Ah, that,” Ed said. He paused for a moment and took another sip before asking “And what was the question again?”
“Ug,” Jack sighed angrily. “This lifestyle- aren’t we getting too old for it?”
“Speak for yourself, man- I’m as a spry as a young pup!” Ed argued with a grin.
“That’s not what I mean, I mean- aren’t we supposed to grow up or something?”
“Grow up?” Ed asked suspiciously.
“Like, stop being starving artists and hooking up with co-eds on ecstasy and get real jobs and real girl friends and start being responsible or something?”
Ed put down his coffee as if trying to demonstrate what calm looked like to his poor, addled friend. “First off,” he said, “we are not starving artists. Starving artists don’t eat breakfast at diners.”
“You know what I mean,” Jack said angrily, finishing off his cup and grabbing the pot to pour another one.
“Jackson, my friend- calm down! Where is all of this coming from, anyway?” Ed said with a sarcastic tone.
“Don’t call me Jackson! And it’s coming from- I don’t know. I’m just getting tired of it, aren’t you?”
Ed opened his mouth to answer but then saw the waitress coming back. “You guys decide what you want?” she asked them, holding pen over pad.
“Yeah, I‘ll take four eggs over easy, home fries and sausage,” Jack said, folding up his menu and handing it back to her.
“You want toast?” she asked without looking up from her pad.
“Yeah, white,” Jack answered.
She finished writing, took his menu and tucked it under her arm and then turned to the other side of the table.
Ed was leaning over to get a better look at what Jack knew full well were her boobs but Ed was pretending to be her nametag. “Pam?” he asked as he looked up at her with bright eyes and that same cheerful smile.
“Yeah, that’s me,” she answered, obviously not amused.
“What would you recommend, Pam?” Ed asked, flashing a toothy smile.
“Uh…” she hesitated. “I like the omelets,” she answered.
“Perfect!” Ed exclaimed, “I’ll have the farmer’s omelet with egg whites, and instead of the home fries could I possibly get a half of grapefruit instead?”
“Oh- uh, sure,” she said, busily scribbling down what was obviously not the usual request.
“Some of us don’t want to die of a heart attack at age 40,” he said, nodding to his friend across the table. If he’d been looking that way he would have seen Jack glare at him but as was he had his sight locked on Pam.
“Right,” she said, taking his menu and smiling.
“Ah, I knew I could get a smile out of you if I tried,” Ed said. She giggled at him and Ed made it a point to hold her gaze longer than the social norm called for.
“Are you… ok?” she asked confusedly.
“Oh yeah, -uh, I mean- yes. Yes. I was just distracted. Your- uh… your smile was well worth the wait.” He stumbled; giving the air of someone caught staring at their teacher in English class.
“Oh, um- thank you. Thanks! I’ll, uh- I’ll go put your orders right in for you!” she said with a smile and turned away to retreat back to the kitchen.
Ed bent over to get a good look at her butt as she moved away from him. Jack decided he couldn’t stand it anymore and reached out to give his friend a hard punch on the arm.
“Ow!” Ed said pulling back his arm and rubbing it as if seriously injured, “what the hell was that for?”
“For that,” Jack said exacerbated. “That act you have to pull on every fucking waitress we see!”
“I don’t pull it on every waitress,” Ed said, looking again towards the kitchen. “Just the cute ones.” He waved as he caught the waitress’s eye.
“Oh yeah?” Jack said. And then he had an idea. “Well, I bet you breakfast you can’t land her!”
“Oh, really?” Ed said raising an eyebrow at him. “You’re on!”
“And you’re not allowed to reference your Agnes Lynn Stewart Poetry Prize!” Jack jumped, pointing an accusatory finger at Ed.
“First of all,” Ed said pushing his friend’s finger down, “It’s the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, and secondly you didn’t say that before I agreed. A gentleman always sets the terms of a wager clearly at the beginning of the proposition.”
“Yeah, well a real gentleman doesn’t agree before he knows the terms,” Jack said, doing his best faux english accent right back at Ed. “Besides, those are the terms- take ‘em or leave ‘em!”
“Hmm…” Ed said pulling on his imaginary beard. “You drive a hard baragain. But, I am a man of my word and I accepted- so I shall not rescind the contract,” he answered, reaching out a hand.
Jack took the hand that was offered and gave it a hard shake. “Now, back to what I was saying,” he said.
“What was that again? About you wishing you could grow up and finally become a real boy?” Ed asked with a grin.
“Ok, that anaology makes no sense whatsoever- read some children’s literature before you make references to it,” Jack said with annoyance. “Besides, that’s not what I was saying. I was saying that we need to grow up. Stop fucking around with all this.”
“Seriously- where is all this coming from? Last night when I came to pick you up you’re all blah and won’t tell me why, then when I get a few drinks in you you’re all “my life sucks, no one wants me, wah, wah, wah”,” Ed said in his best baby voice, throwing his hands up to mock his friend further.
“Don’t make the baby voice or I swear to Christ I will shove this fork into your eye!” Jack exclaimed, brandishing the fork for effect.
“Woah- woah- hold on there, partner. We’re all friends here-no need to get violent,” Ed said making a push up motion with his hands in defense.
“I just,” Jack said, looking forlorn again,” I just feel like…”
“Like what?” Ed asked him, concerned for the first time in the conversation.
“Like real life has to begin sometime, you know?” Jack said. “Like there’s gotta be some point where we stop, look at life for what it is, and accept it.”
“Accept what, exactly?” Ed asked, confused.
“That this isn’t real life. That we have to grow up, get real jobs, and stop living with our grand dreams of being published and having our work assigned in progressive liberal arts colleges and all that bullshit,” Jack spat.
“Wow. Dude- lighten up- you’re not even thirty yet!” Ed said.
“No, and thank god- cause I always thought that by the time I hit thirty I’d have a real job, a real apartment if not a house to live in, and a wife or at least a fiancé to share it with!”
“Ok, first of all- life milestones don’t happen the way they do in the hallmark commercials, so get that out of your head right now!” Ed argued.
“I know,” Jack moaned.
“Don’t interrupt me-“ Ed snapped. “And secondly, you already have a real job and a real apartment.”
“Bicycle courier is not ‘a real job’ and a 400 square foot room in an apartment I share with you on the wrong side of the river is not ‘a real apartment’,” Jack said making quotation marks with his fingers.
“Says who?” Ed asked.
“Says everybody,” Jack said with a grimace.
“And everybody is…?” Ed continued.
“Just- everybody, you know! My parents, the world, the-“
“You’re gonna base your life assessment on Jack and Judy?” Ed interrupted.
“I know my parent’s names, dude,” Jack sighed.
“Yes, but you’ve obviously forgotten their place at the head of a generation so backwards that they took child-rearing advice from a guy whose own son offed himself,” Ed argued.
“Not true- that is totally not true, it was his grandson and he had schizophrenia,” Jack interrupted.
“Whatever, the dude was still crazy and your parents, like may parents, like everybody’s else’s parents totally bought into it, thus feeding us unrealistic expectations that we could be anything we wanted to be, thus setting us up for failure when our first novels didn’t win the Pulitzer,” Ed rattled.
“Yeah, well…” Jack trailed off, not really knowing how to rebut that.
“Ooo- ssshh, ssh!” Ed snapped at him and then immediately turned toward the window and leaned his head back as if listening for something.
“There you are,” Pam the waitress said as she set the first of two heavy plates down on the table. “You get the over easy and you get the egg white omelet,” she said, setting Ed’s plate down in front of him. “Will there be anything else?” she asked as she looked up at Ed with a smile which immediately wilted upon seeing him not paying attention.
“I hear the birds outside our window and roll over to see if you are awake. But you’re not there,” Ed said in a dreamy voice. “Then I remember- you’re not there. You left me alone with a photo album full of you because you didn’t want to be reminded of me. I think sometimes I’ll burn those photos, those dreams that never came true. It would be satisfying to watch them go up in smoke, like the feelings you had for me. But then I think you might want them someday, so I’d better not. I roll over and try to go back to sleep but the birds keep chirping, reminding me that you’re gone.” Ed finished in almost a whisper, then turned to look at the waitress with a tear in the corner of his eye.
“Oh my god- are you ok?” she asked, putting a concerned hand on his shoulder.
“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine- I just… I think of that sometimes when I hear the birds outside,” Ed said.
“I don’t hear any birds,” Jack muttered, taking a mouthful of egg.
“Oh, that’s beautiful,” Pam said, not hearing Jack. “Who wrote that?”
“Oh, I did,” Ed said, wiping away the not-quite tear from his eye.
“Oh my god- you wrote that? Really? That’s so beautiful!” She said, putting a hand to her chest as if overcome by the poem’s beauty.
Jack rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, but Ed ignored him.
“Thank you,” Ed whispered. “I just- uh-hem. I think of it sometimes. I’m so sorry- that must be so weird for you. You come with a delicious breakfast and your patron is crying,” he said, straightening his plate as if embarrassed.
“Oh, no! Please don’t- I liked hearing it, even if it did make you sad,” Pam said, giving his shoulder a little squeeze.
“Thank you,” Ed said, looking up at her with puppy dog eyes.
Jack cleared his throat again, taking a sip of coffee.
“Oh, oh- I’m sorry, you probably want to eat your breakfast in peace. Just- just let me know if you need anything else,” Pam said, backing away sheepishly.
Ed smiled at her again, the same sad expression on his face. She smiled back and turned towards the kitchen again. Ed watched her walk away and Jack hit him again.
“Ow! Why the hell do you keep doing that?” Ed asked.
“What’d I just say? No mentioning the damned poetry!” Jack sputtered.
“But I-“ Ed started.
“No, no- you want to pay for breakfast, that’s fine with me, dude!” Jack said, taking another mouthful of egg.
“Eh-hem! Can I talk now?” Ed asked.
Jack just glared at him as he chewed.
“What you said was no mentioning the award- you didn’t say anything about reciting a poem,” Ed said with a satisfied expression.
“No way- no freakin way! You knew what I meant!” Jack yelled.
“Sshh- sshh!” Ed shushed him fearfully as he looked toward the kitchen to see if she’d heard. After a brief moment during which nothing happened he let out a breath and went about cutting up his omelet. “You know well enough to clarify all expectations before shaking on it.”
Jack banged the table in exacerbation but Ed went on with his breakfast as if nothing had happened. After no reaction from Ed he went back to eating his breakfast, angrily shoveling mouthfuls of egg onto his tongue.
“You’re such a baby, maybe you should grow up,” Ed said, still looking down at his breakfast.
Jack made a fist over his fork and then threw it at Ed’s head as hard as he could. Ed looked up just in time to dodge and watched as the fork went flying over his shoulder and landed on the floor several feet away with a clatter. He shot an angry look back at Jack.
“Oh-um- Pam?” Jack asked, waving to the back. The waitress saw him and came jogging over.
“I am so sorry- I must be the biggest klutz in the world, I swept my fork right onto the floor and then- as if that wasn’t bad enough- I kicked it when I went to pick it up,” Jack said referencing to the fork across the way. “Could you be an angel and get me a new one- there’ll be a huge tip in for you!”
“Oh, no, no” Pam said, bending down to get the fork and coming back to the table with a new napkin full of silverware. “Really, it happens all the time.”
“Oh, thank you so, so much!” Jack said in his most sincere tone. “And- if you could grab the check for us when you get a chance, that’d be great.”
“Oh, you don’t need anymore coffee?” she asked, looking at the nearly empty pot.
“Oh, no- one pot’s enough,” Ed said. He flashed her his most brilliant smile and hers quivered a tiny bit around the edges as she looked at him. “Thank you,” he said in a sickeningly sweet voice. Well, at least it sounded sick to Jack.
“You are such an asshole!” Ed snapped at his friend as soon as Pam had made it to the kitchen. Jack just smiled as he chewed his home fries. Ed glared at him for a moment more and then went back to eating his breakfast.
A minute later the waitress came back with her pad from which she ripped the top sheet of paper. She looked at Ed with a smile as she slid it to his side of the table and walked away before he picked it up. Ed reached down to pick up the check but Jack slapped his hand over it and snatched it out of his reach.
“Hey!“ Ed sputtered with a mouthful of grapefruit.
Jack just grinned at him and then looked down at the check. In a split second his expression went from bemused to enraged as he crumpled up the paper and threw it at Ed’s head. Ed didn’t duck this time and caught it as it bounced off his forehead into his lap. He unfolded the paper and smiled as he saw the word “Tori” written on the bottom of the check with a big smiley face a seven digit phone number.
“You are such a dick!” Jack said as he pushed up from the table and started walking to the counter at front.
“Don’t forget, you promised to give her a big tip!” Ed called after him.
Jack held up his middle finger over his shoulder as he walked away and Ed giggled at him.