it would be at least another three days until the paycheck came, maybe even a week and three days. he could not remember if they'd switched over to being bi-weekly yet. he knew they would eventually and that when they did he was screwed. so maybe he was screwed.
his wallet had a few bills in it, enough, he was hoping, for the plate of fries and the coke he was having. it probably was, though, he'd ordered it enough to know the price and he was feeling old, too. he wasn't. but whatever he'd been doing was catching up to him. his friends were noticing, too. no, they weren't his friends. Kyrstin, the waitress, said "Joe, you look tired" when he walked in. Kyrstin the waitress. keer-stin. like she'd corrected him the first time he'd said her name. he'd thought for while about fucking her. he had, she hadn't. then he had let it go.
"you look as bad as when you used to drink, Joe."
"it's been a long week. and i know it's only tuesday."
"it is tuesday. shouldn't you be at work?"
he looked at the clock. it was one.
"well why aren't you?"
"i requested the day off. my brother's graduating high school."
then Kyrstin walked over to the tables and talked with some other people.
Joe's brother was going to college and was going to be a cop. at some point, Joe's parents used to think he was going to be the cop, then he busted his leg and could never walk the same. that was maybe the reason he felt so old. he'd fallen down stairs when he was drunk. or his friend, Stephen had pushed him when he was drunk, too, at the same time. Joe'd been mad but after he got his job building the new airport runway and after he got an apartment in town, he wasn't so mad.
at that point, a girl named Rosa who Joe had seen working at the mall walked in. she was a pretzel girl, meaning she sold pretzels at the booth. Joe'd gotten in a fight one night and the next day, with a black eye, got a free pretzel from Rosa who felt bad. he didn't have the black eye anymore, so he didn't think she'd recognize him.
"you gave me a free pretzel, once," he blurted.
"yeah it was real nice of you. i remembered it, at least."
"that's good. i'm glad i could make someone happy." she smiled. she was pretty; dark skin and eyes. she might've been hispanic but that did not matter anything to Joe. he was not the type to pick an ethnicity and make it "his type". his friend Stephen did and he'd married an asian girl. he was always telling Joe how "asian sex is the best sex". it was times like that, or when Stephen would steal Joe's cigarettes, that Joe wished he had other friends. but Joe liked to tell people he was just stuck where he was.
"so are you off work today?" Joe asked Rosa, who for a second forget he was there.
"yeah, i requested the day off. my sister is graduating from high school."
"hey so's my brother."
"he goes to memorial, then?"
"that's neat. i'm graduating next year. i wish it was this year."
"i didn't think you were that young."
i don't look it, i guess. that's what my parents say."
"they're right. people tell me i look old."
"it's not a bad thing. it's not a good thing or a bad thing."
Rosa said goodbye and got up to go home and put on her dress. Joe figured he should head out too. he left a handful of bills next to the empty plate, waved goodbye to Kyrstin and left the diner. out on the streets it felt cold for a june afternoon. Joe thought a little about what he wanted for breakfast the next morning. then he reached into his pocket for a cigarette. there weren't any. he took his hand back out, crossed his arms, and walked towards downtown.