As Traci savored each bite of the burger (which, she had to admit, was really rather average), she wrestled with the guilt of being in this diner in the first place. She really couldn't afford to eat out, with the bulk of her scholarships going towards her rent and tuition. She just really needed a break from the instant mac 'n' cheese and Cup O'Noodles she had every day. She had eaten so much better when she had lived in the dorms, with its mandatory food service. She'd moved into an apartment because told herself she wanted the "freedom," but now she missed the food, the social life, and, honestly, the real freedom from having to cook, pay bills, and clean house. Her mom had warned her not to leave the dorms, and now the only thing keeping her from going back was not wanting to admit that she'd been foolish.
Still, she'd been pretty successful so far with staying afloat. This was the first time in two months that she'd enjoyed the luxury of a meal out, and there'd been plenty of opportunity. Though she'd had to take out student loans to make it through and was working at the Macy's for as many hours as she could spare from her studies, she'd avoided building and carrying balances on her credit cards, something that none of her friends had managed to do. With any luck, she would graduate and start her real life without that hanging over her head; she already had enough to deal with without that.
Anne leaned way back in her chair, one arm snaked up on the table to tease the remnants of the spaghetti with her fork. "Come on, Traci. He's poison. You know that. You've got to get rid of him." Anne regarded Traci with concern on her face, but she didn't see, her own head bowed over her meal. She played idly with a french fry.
"But I love him." She didn't mean to make that sound whiny, but it did.
"No, you don't. He's comfortable. And he's there when you get home. And he's probably a decent screw. But you don't love him." She deliberately dropped her fork on her plate noisily, to try to startle Traci into a reaction.
Traci ignored her. She really didn't want to think about it, and she knew why. If she actually thought about it, she'd agree with Anne, and she'd have to do something about it. John really was a complete loser. He lived in her apartment rent-free, mooched off her food, didn't have a job or go to school. He was an expert at manipulating her, making sure that she knew he'd be homeless and starving if she threw him out. But to do something about it meant confronting him, starting a fight, putting her foot down. It was so much easier to let things go as they were.
"All he's doing is distracting you," Anne continued as her friend remained silent. "Your grades are dropping. You're exhausted. And he's just sponging up all that you make from working all the time."
"Yeah, yeah." Traci continued to stare at the french fry. She'd heard this all before, and deep down, she knew Anne was right, but she didn't want to admit it. John was getting in the way. Time was running out, though. She had two terms until she got her degree, and she needed to get her life back on track again: finish school with a decent GPA, take the LSAT, start applying for law school, figure out what she was going to do if she couldn't get in. Everything was getting so… urgent.
Anne stared at her friend. They'd been best friends since they were juniors in high school and she knew her moods and attitudes, and right now, Traci was lost. "Hey, now, this isn't like you. What's wrong? What aren't you telling me, girl?"
Traci threw the french fry onto her plate. "There's just so much to do. I guess I'm not ready for college to end yet."
Anne nodded. "I know the feeling. My week's been taken up by getting ready for career fairs and interviews, when I'm not working on my thesis. I'd give anything to be a freshman again. But," and she picked up her fork and waved it at Traci, "that doesn't give you an excuse to let John walk all over you. You didn't have a problem with telling Drew to take a hike. Where's that Traci spirit?"
"Yeah, you're right." And she was. Traci knew it. She just didn't feel very in control of her life right now, but she needed to overcome her fears and move on. This might be just the right thing to get her going. She just wasn't sure. She looked around the diner at anything, anyone other than her friend.
A tall busboy covered in a long apron approached the table. "All done with those?" he asked in a clipped English accent, pointing at Anne's plates.
"Yeah, take 'em, thanks." Anne dropped the fork on the plate. The busboy piled the dishes in his plastic bin and turned to leave.
"Wait," Traci called. "Do I know you?"
The busboy turned only his head back as he retreated. "I'm not from around here." He grinned and vanished into the kitchen.
Traci's brow furrowed in confusion. "Anne. Do busboys in diners normally wear suits and ties?"