#31DaysOfWriting: Third Man In

Boys and Burgers

“Where you been?” Scott asked with a mouth full of cheeseburger.

I grabbed a handful of fries from his plate. “Coach stopped me on my way out,” I said in between swallows.

Scott stopped chewing and looked at me. “He didn’t say anything to me.”

I shrugged.

“What’d he want?” Tim asked.

“He wanted to make sure you guys gave me all your fries,” I said and took another handful of fries from Scott’s plate.

Scott pointed to his plate. “You owe me, you know.”

“In your dreams.”

“Seriously, what’d he want?” Scott asked.

“Michigan stuff,” I told him. “And I had to call Christine.”

The whistles, comments and rolling eyes were cut short by Martha’s arrival.

“Me and the boys were starting to get worried,” said Martha. It had only been fifteen or twenty minutes between ‘me and the boys,’ but Martha liked to flatter.

“Yeah, right.” Tim gave me a shove, knocking me out of the booth.

Martha smiled. “Don’t you let them kid you. I saw the anxious looks on their faces and the way they kept looking out the window for you.” She winked at Tim who immediately turned red and looked down at his plate, a goofy smile on his face.

“If we looked out the window, it was because we were afraid something happened to the Nova,” Scott said. He and Mark high fived and I stretched over the table and got Scott in a headlock.

“Okay, boys, you know the rules.” Martha tapped me on the shoulder with her pen. “Burger, well done, lettuce, tomato, no mayo?”

I nodded and finally released Scott and sat down. We watched Martha walk away, her hips swaying seductively. I think we’d all had a crush on Martha since our junior high days. She was in her thirties, slender and shapely and married to Coach. She and Coach had bought Jim’s when they first moved to Branford. Martha once told me she’d always wanted to create a place where kids could hang out without getting into trouble. Like Coach, she didn’t tolerate any crap. From her post behind the counter she kept tabs on the comings and goings, and nobody ever dared to cross her. If you had a score to settle, you took it anywhere but Jim’s. But she also cut you slack when you were short on cash and she always heaped plenty of extra fries on an order.

“Okay, so who’s going to the winter dance next Friday?” Mark asked.

“Hey, Daly, why don’t you ask Martha?” Scott said, throwing a balled-up napkin at Tim, which he caught without moving his head, the way a frog could snag a fly with his tongue without turning his head. Which is why we called him Frog and why he was a great goalie. He could deflect a shot or make a save without even turning his head. Coach said he played by instinct, which is why he’d been courted by U. Maine since recruiters had been given the green light to approach potential scholarship candidates last year.

“Very funny, Singer.” Tim whipped the napkin ball back at Scott, missing his mark as usual, which is why he stayed in the goal, even in scrimmages.

“So, Mark,” I said, “Julie?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged.

“Oh, Mark, you’re my knight in shining armor,” I said in a sing-songy voice, batting my eyes at him. Scott and Tim joined in with a chorus of “Oh, Mark” and assorted kissing noises.

Mark was unphased and shrugged again. “Maybe.”

Unable to get a rise out of Mark, Scott turned to me.

“Okay, so obviously Miller’s the only one who’s got a date.” Scott’s comment ignited another series of whistles and other suggestive sounds.

“Yeah, well, some of us just have what it takes, boys.” I leaned smugly against the back of the booth, deflecting balled up napkins from Mark and Scott.

“Your dad still frisk you on the way out the door, Mil?” asked Tim with a smirk. I elbowed him in the ribs.

“Yeah, but now he’s looking for condoms instead of beer,” Mark said, laughing as he and Tim high-fived across the table.

“Or his lost soul,” Tim said to Mark. Only Tim laughed.

“You’re such an idiot,” said Scott.

“What?” Tim looked around at Scott, then Mark, then me. “His dad’s a minister,” he said, as if that made it obvious.

“Yeah?” Scott countered. “So?”

“So ministers save souls. Lost souls.”

“You’re still an idiot,” Scott told him and took a swig of soda.

“No more searches. I learned my lesson.” I’d taken more than my share of grief over the years for being a minister’s kid. But my friends all admitted that in spite of his standing with God, my dad was pretty cool, and they’d all sought his advice at one time or another.

“That was a rough night,” Mark said.

“You looked like you’d been kicked in the stomach when you got in the car,” added Tim, shaking his head sympathetically.

“It felt like it,” I admitted, the look of disappointment on my dad’s face as clear as day in my mind.

“Can you believe that was three years ago?” Scott asked.

“What was three years ago?” Martha asked as she placed my food in front of me. Scott immediately helped himself to a fistful of fries.

Let’s Chat

Alec doesn’t tell Scott about his conversation with Coach; is this a wise choice? What would you have done if you were him? Do you think Tim cares what Scott thinks about him? Would you?

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