Sounds of sausage, bacon, eggs, and hash browns sizzling on the grill filled the air. The aroma of breakfast drifted like invisible fingers, pulling at the nostrils of the motley group gathered for a quick, economical meal before heading off to their various destinations.
Steve, shift manager at the chain fast food restaurant, walked briskly through the area, his eyes taking in everything while managing to smile and offer praise and encouragement to his crew.
A voice raised in anger at the drive-through caught his attention. A customer was yelling at Lindsey for giving him orange juice instead of coffee. It was her first day, and Steve was pleased at how she remained courteous. When the customer drove off, he noticed the quiver of her lips. “Good job, Lindsey. Don’t take it personal, okay?” he said, patting her shoulder.
Hearing his name, Steve drew away from Lindsey’s side. “Mr. Roberts, Claire’s on the phone for you.” Nathan held up the phone, and grimaced.
Steve sighed, and listened on the phone for a couple of minutes. “Your grandma was sick two days ago, Claire. Yes, okay, I understand your mom’s worried, but we do need to talk about your attendance. Well, tell your mom and grandma I said hi to them, too. No, I don’t want sickie germs spread around here, and how you’re just being considerate.”
Hanging up the phone, he got the attention of those closest to him. “Can anyone stay for a couple of hours past their shift? Claire’s not coming in.”
“Mr. Roberts, I mean, like, Claire’s always doing this. It’s not fair. My boyfriend’s picking me up when I’m off and we’re going to the mall, else I’d stay,” Hailey said, with a flip of her head and roll of her eyes.
“I have a class at eleven. Sorry,” Nathan said. “What’s with Claire anyway? It’ll be a madhouse with our double cheese burgers half price sale today.”
“I know, I know. Let me call and see if Lily can come in early,” Steve said, his shoulders slumping.
“I’ll stay, Mr. Roberts,” Lindsey offered.
“Can you? I’d appreciate it.” Steve flashed Lindsey a relieved grin.
Hailey uttered a soft gasp. “Seriously? That lady just smacked her baby for spilling her juice!”
“Keep your voice down, Hailey,” Steve said, turning to survey the customers, his eyes falling on the mother and child in question. The two-year-old had tears in her eyes, but the mother was mopping up juice from the table and gently wiping her little hands. Steve didn’t see anything amiss.
“Joe’s here,” Nathan said, nodding his head toward the homeless man standing at the fringe of the customers at the counter.
Steve held out his hand and Nathan dropped an expertly wrapped breakfast sandwich in his palm. Steve smiled at the customers as he stepped from behind the counter. He took Joe’s elbow and gently propelled him towards the door.
“Thanks, Steve,” Joe said, taking the sandwich. “Reckon I could git a cup of coffee? Won’t bother ya again today, no sir. God love ya, yur a good man, Steve. God love ya.”
Steve returned with a coffee and watched Joe saunter off with a shuffling gait. The old guy turned and raised his hand in farewell, giving Steve a toothless grin.
The lunch crowd hit with a maddening pace. The sound of meat sizzling on the grill was music to Steve’s ears. He jokingly told his wife he wanted to coin a new commercial slogan, “Plop, plop, sizzle whiz! Oh, what a relief it is!” after the old Alka Seltzer commercial. Or, “Fizzle! Sizzle! Drizzle!” after the Snap! Crackle! Pop! commercial for Rice Krispies. His wife just laughed.
Flipping burgers for a living wasn’t as bad as some people thought it was. Most of the teenagers he worked with were good kids. He enjoyed them, and even though he was only thirty, some called him Pops.
The lunch crowd dwindled giving Steve and the afternoon crew time to clean up. Angie hummed as she pushed a broom across the floor. While wiping tables, Jeremy made funny faces at a little girl eating an ice cream cone. Josh did a mini-dance as he emptied trash containers, and an elderly couple at a nearby table lightly applauded.
By the time Steve headed out the door for home, the sound of burgers sizzling on the grill for the supper crowd serenaded his departure. The smells still had the power to make his mouth water.
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