Chapter 2: Taking Steps
I could feel my mouth becoming dry as the Mustang slid into a spot in front of the obnoxious white building. It stood on a corner lot, bordered by a First Care clinic on one side, and a car dealership loudly claiming to have the best prices around on the other. When I first got my driverís license, I had gone to see ĎDealmaker Dave,í as he advertised himself in the local paper, about test driving a used Jaguar convertable.
Iíve always had a thing for the car. Not that I would spend the attrocious amount of money on actually purchasing one, but Iíve always thought that it conveyed a certain class. It was the style. It was like the difference between a hot neon Kawasaki race bike and a classic Harley Cruiser. Itís the feel, the look.
Dealmaker Dave wasnít as excited as I was about test driving the car, however.
He gave me the same look as the family of four in the White Castle as I walked in. Perhaps I read too much into it, maybe itís self consciousness. The father and mother watched as Pete swung open the door, loudly proclaiming the entrance of his royal bodyguard as I strode in, surveying the crowd for suitability. He slipped in as the door swung closed behind him, the regular noise of people chatting away reduced to the din of burgers sizzling away their fat on the hot grill and workers in blue shirts yelling back and forth to each other in the regular workaday chatter of fries and Cherry Cokes.
Itís the look of hope and disapproval. Hope that their children, watching us with their own apprehension and admiration, would not end up like the two pie-eyed teens that sauntered into their mists. In a cruel twist of fate, these two Woodstock day trippers turned suburban yuppies somehow found it within themselves to disapprove of the two characters they were viewing that so obviously had the munchies.
I pulled on the collars of my ratty jean jacket, pulling it back up onto my shoulders and continued on past the family of four to the order window, sauntering coolly and purposefully. I heard Pete giggle behind me and tossed a smile to a group of girls gossiping in the corner. The surroundings were sharp and vivid, as I stood behind a little boy with his mother in line. White brilliance shone off the walls and sparse furnishings typical of the smaller Castles. The full glass partition opened like a window over the grill where two Assistant Managers double-teamed twenty burgers, one laying them down as the other flipped and passed them on to a short, skinny girl with buns, ketchup, and relish.
The little boy looked up to me, his mouth open, as his mother tried to keep him faced forward. Looking down, I smiled at him, giving a little wave and a ĎHií, which caught a nervous look from the mother, and a big grin from the boy.
Before I realized it, I was standing at the counter, looking into the eyes of a cute sophomore. The giddiness I was feeling helped mask my nervousness. Regardless of images, reality sat in the back of my mind, reminding me of my so far uneventful male-female relationship life. I was stupidly grinning.
"Did you want to order?" Her tone indicated that she had already asked me and I had missed it.
Pete suddenly appeared at my side, making sure I got enough and the right things.
"Yeah, 15 burgers," I began.
"Fries, donít forget fries, man. God, I love those fries," Pete looked at the girl behind the counter, "Donít you like the fries?"
"Theyíre OK, how many you want?"
"Four, and two Cokes," I replied quickly. Too quickly.
"No, man, we gotta get at least six, yeah, six fries." Pete was uncharacteristically chatty, I decided. "And four Cokes, man." I told him he couldnít eat that much, and drink two Cokes. He was poking me in the side. "Yeah, six fries, four Cokes."
"Six fries and two large Cokes," I finished, stupid grin on my face, watching the numbers on the register blip and light up as they climbed and climbed. Five-sixty-four.
As I paid and got my little plastic number Ď53í, I had to wonder. Why 15 burgers? Thatís not an even number.