Final exams are finally over, and not for the first time, Donovan finds himself incredibly thankful that UAA and the university he attends happen to have the same exam schedule because it means all of his friends are just as relieved and ready to celebrate as he is.
And as with anything, they celebrate their small victory with a trip to their favorite restaurant at two in the morning.
Truth be told, calling it a restaurant might be giving it a little too much credit. In reality, it’s an old subway car repurposed to serve as a small diner. It employs four people in total: There’s the manager, a tiny wisp of a lady whose bones look as fragile as a bird’s but if you get on her wrong side, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself on the receiving end of a well-aimed and painful swat; then there’s the cook, a tatted-up felon that used to run with August’s dad. And finally, the wait staff consists of two students, one a ginger male with pock-marked skin. The other is Kayse Cleo.
She beams at them as they enter the restaurant, standing up and placing her hands on her hips. “It’s been ages, boys. I thought you might have forgotten little old me,” she says. She’s maybe twenty years old, with pale skin and an even paler head of dyed white hair. It’s a wild mess of tangled curls, and the red headband she wears to keep it out of her face does a rather poor job of it because she’s constantly having to blow a wayward strand out of the way. There’s a large dreamcatcher tattoo just peeking out of the short sleeve of her uniform, the only bit of dark on otherwise pale porcelain skin.
Each and every one of them, Donny knows, has fallen a little bit in love with Kay at one point or another. Even with the hideous tomato red uniform and short mustard-colored apron, she manages to dazzle with a smile. “How could we ever forget about you, Kay?” Damian says, giving her an equally dazzling smile.
“Your usual spot’s open,” Kay says, a light pink shade blushing across her cheeks at the compliment. Everyone knows she’s got a soft spot for Damian—she always gives him an extra serving of fries. “But don’t drink the coffee—Dogg’s gone and rebrewed the old coffee and the new coffee together again.”
“Hey, quit tellin’ the customers that,” Dogg grunts, wiping sweat off his brow with one beefy arm. “Coffee here tastes like tar anyway, so I’m just saving us a little money by not wasting anything.”
“More like pocketing it for yourself,” Kay mutters under her breath. Her expression of distaste at this has Donny smiling and shaking his head. He’s probably spent the most time with Kay outside of the restaurant. The two share a philosophy course and have worked on a few projects together, so he knows that she’s as smart as she is pretty. He also knows she’s got a rather unusual fashion sense, and it’s taken him ages to try and peg her because it’s always changing: goth one week, prep the next, full on pastel grunge after that…and somehow she manages to make all of it work for her.
“Busy tonight?” Donovan asks her, following her to their usual seat. It’s a long booth that takes up the majority of a wall, the vinyl of the seats worn with age and use. Each of the boys pile onto it, Tay and Emery fighting over who gets to sit next to Damian today (the lucky winner usually gets to enjoy the spoils of Damian’s good charm as he can never finish the fries without resenting the salt-intake the next day) until Tobi pushes them both out of the way and ends the dispute.
Kay snorts at his question, glancing briefly at the only other customer in the place—a tired-looking old man reading a newspaper in a small corner of the subway car. “Is it ever busy here?” she jokes. “I’m just glad we manage to make enough to keep these old rusty doors open, or else I’d be in a world of trouble. Y’all want the usual?”
“Yes, please!” Jem says from beside Donny, giving her his brightest smile. “And can we get a special, too? It’s been ages since you’ve done a reading for me.”
Of all of them, Jem probably likes Kay the most. When Donny asked him if he had a crush on her, he’d simply laughed and said it was nothing like that. Rather, she apparently reminded him of his mother. This was due in large part to the fact that Kayse claimed to be psychic and offered to do Tarot readings for them on occasion, and Jem’s mother had been a bit of a free-spirited type as well. She’d even named Jem after his zodiac sign (Gemini, but spelled with a J just to make it extra special).
Jem’s mother left when he was just nine years old; Donny resents her for it because he knows it left a deep scar on the younger boy’s heart, but Jem doesn’t tolerate any negative talk about his mother. He swears that she didn’t leave just because she was flighty, that she never would have left him if his father hadn’t pushed her away. Donny doubts this, but he doesn’t really have the heart to tell Jem that.
“Sure thing, sweetie,” Kay says, ruffling Jem’s hair with one of her hands. “I really like this pink, by the way. It suits you.”
Jem’s smile brightens even further at the compliment; Donny has never seen someone more affected by words of praise than their Jemmie, but he also knows that nobody can be shattered by negative words as easily as him, either. He shakes his head fondly at the younger boy. At least Kay is always kind to him.
“Let me just get your order put in, then I’ll grab my cards and we can start, all right?”
“Thank you,” Damian says. “Our Jemmie here just can’t get enough of your readings, it seems.”
Jem sticks his tongue out playfully at the eldest before settling back into his seat and fiddling with his napkin, ripping it up and tossing the little pieces towards Tay and Emery while August looks on sleepily, his mint-colored hair mussed from having been awakened just before coming here. Donny takes this opportunity to go over and sit on Damian’s other side, away from all the goofing around.
“Ah, to be young again,” Damian murmurs.
Donny can’t help but smile and agree.
“I know of a way to feel young again,” Tobi says, eyes glistening with mischief.
“Oh?” Damian arches an eyebrow.
“Yeah. You know Kay’s got a huge lady-boner for you, right?”
Damian sputters indignantly and Donny has to cover his mouth with a hand to hide the fact that he’s laughing. “I—that’s hardly a way to speak about a woman, Tobi,” Damian chides half-heartedly.
Tobi shrugs, still smirking. “Maybe, but she’s definitely got something for you. Have you ever tried to get her number?”
“N-no.” Damian puckers his lips a bit, cheeks tinged bright pink as he glances briefly in Donny’s direction then away again quickly.
“Why not, man? I swear, if I had a chance with a girl like that…” Tobi sighs. “Let’s just say I wouldn’t waste my youth like that.”
“Maybe you should try to get her number,” Donny suggests, his arm coming up to rest on the back of the booth behind Damian’s shoulders. The older boy leans almost imperceptibly closer, seeming to relax now that the topic is safely off his reasoning for not taking the leap and asking for Kay’s number.
Tobi shakes his head and although his lips are still in a semblance of a smile, it seems a bit strained with something akin to self-deprecation. “Nah, I don’t think I could handle the rejection. Don’t have the nerve.”
Donny frowns, opening his mouth to say something, but Kay is back, setting drinks down in front of them all before pulling her Tarot deck out of her apron and seating herself across from Jem.
“What kind of spread do you want?” she asks.
“How about doggy style?” Tay suggests and if Donny had been closer, he would have swatted the back of his head. Luckily for him, August is right there and is all too happy to perform that service for him, giving the back of the boy’s head a light but jarring smack. Tay pouts, giving his elder a puppy look that’s wasted on him as he rubs the back of his head forlornly.
“Surprise me,” Jem says, and Kay nods before starting to set the cards up. Donny takes his attention away from that for a moment, their voices fading into the background as he looks at Tobi, who is now uncharacteristically quiet as he watches the reading unfold.
Donny lightly nudges his shoulder with the long arm he has draped across the back of the booth and Tobi glances at him. “You never know until you try,” he offers in advice and Tobi shakes his head with a smile.
“Maybe one day,” he concedes.
The rest of the time spent at the restaurant goes as expected: Jem gets a positive reading that assures him that he’s done well on his exams, the food arrives—Damian’s got an extra serving of fries as usual, but he gives almost all of them to Tobi—and before long Emery tries to toss a fry into Tay’s mouth and hits August in the nose instead, starting the greatest food fight the diner’s seen since its opening. Emery, of course, documents the whole thing and ends up with ketchup on his camera lens, much to his dismay.
As Donny watches all of this unfold, he’s once again reminded of the small things and how important it is to celebrate them. He feels Damian’s gaze on him and turns to meet it, knowing the other is thinking along the same lines.
This little restaurant may not be much—it’s small and smells funny and the floor sticks to your sneakers as you walk across it—but it’s beautiful and Donny can’t think of a better place for this small celebration to take place.