Ethan worked at Russell’s Burgers. Russell’s was a small-town burger joint with a simple idea. The building looked like a small barn and customers would stand at the window and place their orders by choosing from the menu hanging from the ceiling inside. Because the customers never stepped inside the building, Russell’s was only open during the eight warmer months.
It was probably for the best that customers never entered the building. The white tile floors were yellowed with dirt and age, and the wall had a grungy, grease-stained appearance.
Ethan stood at the window awaiting the lunch rush. Everyone knew that the best food in town came from this less-than-perfect business. The pop and sizzle from the burgers on the grill called his attention away from the parking lot and he began the mundane task of preparing the greasy burgers and fries for the call-in order.
The radio played Pink Floyd quietly in the background as he wrapped the burgers. This job had been his life for several years now. His father knew Russell and pulled some strings to get him the job. It took less than a week to learn the sparse menu, and Ethan felt he could do the job in his sleep. In fact, there were times when he was pretty sure he had. He would space out early in the day and not come to for several hours, which would burn right through the lunch rush.
The bell dinged, and he gazed casually out the window. Rachael, his girlfriend, drummed her fingers on the counter while she waited.
Many times, Ethan had wondered how he could be so lucky in love, while the rest of his life was in shambles. His job sucked. He dropped out of college because of his lack of funds. He lived in his old room at his mom’s house. He drove the same piece of crap car - a 1975 Mustang Mach II – that he had driven in high school. He thought it was cool when he bought it. He purchased the Mustang from his grandpa for 300 dollars, then immediately put another 300 dollars into replacing the alternator and fixing the transmission. The blue had all but faded and began to rust over. Pink car putty was smeared all over the body. He had intentions on sanding it down and having it repainted but changed his mind when he discovered that a paint job cost more than three paychecks.
Still, he and Rachael were happy-ish. She was very reserved and wouldn’t let him below the waist. She wore long-sleeve shirts most of the time and longer skirts, except on girls’ night. On girls’ night she would dress to the nines and flaunt her harlot nature. Ethan’s friends made sure to comment on this—especially Shane.
“Hey babe. What are you doing here?” Ethan leaned out the window.
“I just wanted to swing by and say hey,” she said as she turned to Ethan. With her blank stare came a long, uncomfortable pause. Ethan knew what was coming next. “I was just hoping you would make me a shake,” she finished. She was always coming by and asking for free food.
“Oh, yeah. Sure.” Ethan turned and poured the soft serve into the metal cup. As he worked to prepare the shake he turned to Rachael.
“So what did you do last weekend? You never came by.”
“Oh, on Friday I just stayed home and watched a movie.” She chose not to mention the incident in the bar with the tower of shot glasses she had emptied — and she certainly didn’t mention the crowd around her cheering as she lifted her shirt, exposing her tattoos and her perky C-cups.
“On Saturday I went shopping with mom.” Of course, when she returned from the store she met up with a male friend. He had a huge bed, though he snored and took up most of it. She sneaked out before the night even began.
“And Saturday night I spent the evening playing board games with the family.” She was more role-playing than anything. She pretended to be the promiscuous adulteress and her friend, a douche bag with a Dave Matthews poster on the wall, played a douche bag with a Dave Matthews poster on his wall. Rachael would straddle him until he was soft, and then wait while he rallied. The tattoo on her back was fitting—an angel up her left side and a demon up her right. They met in the middle of her upper back with swords clashing. The tattoo reflected the inner struggle of a preacher’s daughter. A part of her wanted to walk the straight-and-narrow, though another part wanted to experience the secularity of the world.
Ethan handed the shake to Rachael, he couldn’t help but notice her biting her lip. The back door slammed shut. Terry, the manager, and Courtney, the other cook, were in. Quickly, Ethan slipped the wallet from his back pocket where he took his last few dollars to pay for the shake.
“What are your plans for tonight? I get off at four.”
“I’ve got a paper to write. It’ll probably take all weekend, but I’ll call you on Sunday if I finish.”
“Oh, okay. Well... If you need a break just give me a call.” Ethan slapped a rag over his shoulder.
“Okay. I’ll talk to you later. I gotta run. Thanks for the shake.” Ethan leaned out the window slightly, expecting a kiss. Acting as though she didn’t notice his advance, Rachael turned and started toward a car across the small gravel parking lot. The car was a bronze ’95 Mitsubishi Eclipse. It was tricked out, as if it was straight out of a street racing movie. Ethan couldn’t for the life of him recognize the car or the guy with the Fu Manchu.
“Who is that?” He called out to Rachael’s back.
“He’s my study partner.” Rachael bobbed to the car where she slipped in the passenger seat of the vehicle and offered the guy a drink of the shake. Ethan watched in frustration as the car spun out in the gravel before catching grip on the pavement and speeding off. He returned to the grill, feeling a bit more on edge. As if his day wasn’t bad enough having to work at this hole-in-the-wall joint. Now he had to worry about his girlfriend hanging with a Hulk Hogan wannabe. Ethan let his frustration go. Rachael was committed to him. She could have cheated on him when he was off at college. She could have cheated on him while she was at her cousin’s wedding in Kansas City.
Lucky for him his friend Shane was around. He lived next to Rachael; they all went to school together. Shane’s brother was the groom at Rachael’s cousin’s wedding and they had driven up together.
“Terry, there’s this jerk outside.” Courtney stood just behind Ethan, watching as Terry, the manager held up a finger to stop her. His eyes remained on his Sudoku puzzle book. He sat in the office, a small room barely big enough for the tiny desk, little chair and portly manager. He had crossed his feet upon the desk as he leaned back in the chair.
“Terry!” Courtney yelled. Her hollering was unnecessary. The little barn wasn’t too big, though Terry’s lack of concern for his staff was grating on Ethan’s nerves.
“I’ll be right with you.” Terry called back, scribbling in the book with his pencil. Ethan looked back and saw Terry pull an ear bud from his ear. Makes sense as to why Courtney felt the need to yell.
“What’s going on?” Ethan thought he would try to help. Everyone knew Terry was completely useless. He only had the manager’s job because his uncle owned the place.
“This guy out front. He keeps...ordering things that... aren’t on the menu for one thing.”
“Well. He asked if the tuna…”
“…was fresh.” Ethan finished for her.
“Yeah. How did you know?”
“I’ll take care of this.” Ethan slid past Courtney and walked to the window. Shane stood at the window, brandishing one of his famous strip club shirts. The gray shirt read in neon-orange letters: “Strip-Mart: You pick ’em, We’ll strip ’em”
“Hey jerk-off. What’s up?” Shane called out as Ethan approached. He paid no attention to the couple of groups standing nearby, or the young children with them.
“What’s up Shane?” Ethan extended his hand and Shane shook it. Ethan could hear Courtney scoff behind him.
“Look I get off at four, why don’t you come by then?”
“Can you hook me up with a cheeseburger?”
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash on me.”
“Who said anything about paying for it? Why don’t you just slide me one. Maybe you ‘overcooked’ one or something.”
“Can’t do it man.”
“Oh what, is that jerk-off Terry here?”
Ethan leaned close, trying to be discreet. “Yeah, he’s in the back.”
“I remember him back when he was the fry cook. He was a douche bag then; he’s a douche bag now.”
“Look, Shane. I got a lot of work to do man. I’ll see ya here in a bit okay?” Ethan said. Shane, the over actor, leaned back with the face of a teen girl in a scary camp movie. Ethan understood this to mean that Terry now stood right behind him. He cocked his head to the side. Through his peripherals Ethan could see that Terry stood a matter of inches behind him.
“Terry. Too close.”
Terry’s eyes shot twin lasers into the back of Ethan’s skull. He could feel them burning a hole through his brain.
“Is there a problem here Ethan?” Terry was always looking for a reason. He would take anything. He wanted to throw Shane off the premises. He wasn’t Shane’s biggest fan, to say the least.
Shane hadn’t been the nicest guy to Terry in High-school. Shane was kind of a dick. In fact, Ethan couldn’t say why he was friends with Shane at all. In some cases, a person was friends with someone to prevent being their enemy. That could have been it. Still, he was Shane’s friend.
“No sir.” Ethan offered.
“Look, I gotta go E-man. Fuck off Terry.” Shane lifted his middle finger up to Terry as he turned his back and started for his car. Ethan returned to the grill. Courtney stood nearby, holding a ticket for an order that came in while Shane was doing his thing. Terry kept his gaze on Shane until he was off the property before he turned to Ethan.
“Ethan. You need to keep trash like that off my lot. If I see him again you’re gone.”
“I got it Terry.” Ethan turned back to Courtney. He took the order. “He’s kind of a jerk, Shane. You just have to take him with a grain of salt. Don’t let him ruffle you. He likes that.”
Ethan could feel the presence of Terry behind him. When Terry didn’t get his way, he would always find something to say about Ethan’s work performance. It was the one thing he had over Ethan.
“Ethan. I think we’ve talked about this. You have to maintain a certain level of personal hygiene.” Terry patted the scruff on Ethan’s chin. “You need to shave before work in the mornings.” He tugged on Ethan’s shirt. “You need to keep your shirt pressed. Listen, this is your third warning. There will be no fourth.”
“You got it. Sorry sir. I had a rough night. It won’t happen again.”
Terry squeezed back into the tiny office, a piggy smile sliding across his face. “Let’s see to it that it doesn’t,” he called over his ample shoulder as he popped a mint in his mouth and returned to his Sudoku and slipped his ear buds back into position.
“I’m sorry for Shane.” Without another word, Ethan returned to the grill. After a moment he sat the spatula down and slipped off his apron.
“Where are you going?” Terry called from the office.
“I’m taking a break.” Ethan stepped out back and stared at the wooded area behind Russell’s. Days like this were the reason he found himself so stressed so much of the time. He chose to keep this job because it wasn’t hard, outside of dealing with Terry. He could occasionally sneak a free burger— not a difficult task, considering Terry was out running errands more than he was in the building.
He chose to stay with Rachael because she was extremely attractive, with her light brown almond shaped eyes and pleasant figure. He could only guess at her figure due to their fairly PG-13 relationship. Sure they made out and were a bit hands-on, but the dry humping was beginning to get old. Ethan assumed that once he was able to take over as manager at Russell’s, he and Rachael could get engaged. Maybe when they did she might loosen up some. Her father would always push her to practice abstinence. Ethan always heard that preachers’ daughters were quite loose. And Ethan was with the only one who had morals.
“Ethan, we have another order. Get in here!” Terry called.