The silence had built for several moments before Debbie finally broke. “Well, don’t you have anything to say? What the fuck are you going to do about this mess?” Debbie demanded.
Brian ignored the outraged redhead across from him and calmly, at least on the outside, stirred his coffee. “Do?” he asked. “Why the fuck do I have to do anything?” He waited for the explosion.
“Fix this!” Deb hissed, sitting back in the booth in a huff.
Brian smirked, tongue firmly tucked in cheek. “You know, Deb,” he began, tone conversational and with just enough of a mocking edge to raise the hairs along the back of Deb’s neck. “I must say, I’m shocked and appalled that you let little Sunshine escape the family fold so easily.” He fought to hide his grin as Deb sputtered and glared.
Debbie leaned forward, invading Brian’s space. “I didn’t let him distance himself from the family asshole! You were supposed to figure it out long before now,” Deb shook one long red-tinted nail in Brian’s face, happy to replace the smirk with a scowl.
Looking at his face, the unhappiness he couldn’t hide from her showed. After all these years she could read him, despite his best efforts. Debbie softened her tone and approach. She patted his hand. “You going to tell me what he did?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
Brian’s face went blank. “What makes you so sure he did anything?” he replied, voice casual and bored.
Debbie let out a snort of disbelief. She got up from the booth and stood at the table, looking down at Brian. “You expect me to believe that you all by your lonesome pulled yourself out of that fucking self-pity party for one you were holding? Ha!” she laughed. Reaching out she grasped his chin and forced his face back to hers. She smiled down at her pissed off boy. “He learned it from the best that’s all I got to say. This was a manipulation worthy of the master, and that’s you.” Deb’s smile faded and once more Brian was treated to the threatening finger. “Now you fucking fix this, and bring Sunshine home!” she warned.
Debbie stood there waiting. Brian looked down at the table. For a split second, Deb could see an unusual flash of insecurity cross his face.
Brian looked back up at her, face once more unreadable. “Yes, well, I might need a little assistance with that,” he softly said, and Debbie sat back down.
Justin handed his Professor his last assignment of the semester. Silently, he hoped that he would be here next semester, attending school. No brilliant ideas had come to him and the bill for classes had already arrived. The best he had been able to do was to apply for financial aid and he was still waiting to hear about that. School, over the past months, had proven a most welcome diversion. Despite his lack of sleep and any real appetite, Justin knew he had done well.
Casting one last glance at the PIFA building, Justin started towards his bus stop, flipping open his ringing phone. Glancing at the display, and forcing a light tone, he answered. “Hey Deb,” he said.
“Sunshine!” Deb exclaimed, and at the older women’s voice, Justin did manage a small real smile.
He quickly frowned however at her next words.
“Listen sweetie, I hate to ask but I need a really big favor.” Deb’s words were hurried and Justin could hear the diner’s hustle in the background.
There was only one answer he could make and he knew it. “Of course, what can I do, Deb?” Refusing to help his surrogate mom was not an option.
He could hear the sigh of relief in her voice. “Today was the last day of your classes, right?” she asked, and Justin’s stomach tightened in dread.
“Hum, yes,” he mumbled.
Deb rushed on. “Well, Bobbie, the new waiter I hired to replace you, he up and quit today, Sunshine, leaving me with no notice. I hate to ask sweetie, but I’m really in a bind here.” Deb’s tone was regretful and Justin already knew he was sunk.
“I’ll be right there, Deb,” he said, picking up his pace as his bus approached. Justin sat gratefully in his seat, leaning his forehead against the bus’ window, he closed his eyes. He was in trouble. He went straight to the diner, bypassing his usual stop to get there. How was he going to work back at the diner and keep it together? Of course, the diner was packed, and he immediately grabbed an apron and pad and started pitching in. He helped Debbie with the crowd until it petered out. Thanking him, Deb asked him to come back to work tomorrow. She was pleading, and Justin couldn’t say no.
Daphne looked up as Justin came in the door, dropping his things on the floor at his feet. One look at his face and she knew something bad was up.
“What’s wrong, Justin?” she demanded.
Justin fell onto the futon, lying down; he put his head on Daphne’s leg. “I’m working at the diner again. Deb called today. One of the waiters quit on her with no notice and she needs me. I went to talk to her and ended up helping out, that’s why I am so late. I start back first thing in the morning,” he replied gloomily, face pinched with nerves.
And all she could do was say, “Oh no,” and run her fingers soothingly through Justin’s hair.
The enthusiastic welcome back by the diner’s regulars helped Justin get through the morning. He was flattered, and the tips would certainly help, but none of that did anything to still the sickness churning in his stomach. The fast pace of the breakfast crowd helped and prevented him from fleeing the diner, despite the overwhelming desire he had to run. So when the bell rang and the first of the gang arrived, Justin was somehow able to focus on the table’s order he was taking.
He heard the squeal behind him. “Baby!” and smiled over his shoulder as Emmett hugged him from behind, placing a noisy kiss on Justin’s cheek. “Welcome back babe,” Emmett whispered in his ear before moving to the gang’s regular booth. Justin smiled apologetically at the table in front of him and finished taking their order.
Luckily, when Ted and Michael came in he was in the kitchen, and he only offered a small smile when he sat four waters down on their table. He felt him when he entered the diner. Justin didn’t need the bell to announce Brian’s presence to him. He didn’t look up or stutter in what he was doing, but it took everything, especially, when he heard Brian’s voice.
Justin went to the order window, his back to the room. He closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath, trying to prepare himself for seeing him again. His voice was pleasant, but not that different than what you would hear from any other waiter. “Morning guys, what can I get you?” Justin stood straight, pen posed and ready. He could feel the weight of the hazel eyes examine him. He couldn’t have been prouder of himself. Justin met each of the gang’s eyes as he took their orders, even the unreadable ones.
“Be right back,” he said, smiling briefly before turning away to turn the order in. Justin grabbed the full coffee pot, coming back and filling all their cups, thankful that his hand did not shake. He glanced up, startled at Brian’s voice.
“Just leave the pot, Sunshine.” Blue eyes locked with hazel both blank. Justin just nodded. He didn’t see the glances exchanged, the guys looking from him to Brian and back again, all he could focus on was moving forward and walking away.
Justin’s breath left him in a whoosh of relief as he watched him leave. Brian didn’t glance back and Justin’s hand shook now as he pocketed the twenty left on the table. It hadn’t gone too bad he thought, but he ached anyway. Brian had looked so good, and Justin missed him.
Brian stood out of sight, looking in the diner’s windows, watching Justin move about the room. He felt a jolt of relief that the blond was finally back within reach. Let the games begin, he thought, and his lips curled in a smirk…
To be continued...