Universe W-1234: Muddy Creek 3
Let It Happen
That Guy From The Diner
“Who is that guy?” asks Ham as Brandy hangs the order up in the window between the kitchen and the counter.
“An old friend,” she says, looking for some menus to organize. “I knew him a long time ago. He ordered like three breakfasts, you should be smiling, babe.”
“Yeah, but he also kissed your hand over there, so I’m not.”
Brandy just rolls her eyes. “Jealousy isn’t a good look on you. He’s just an old friend that hasn’t been back to town in years and he was happy to see me. So what?” Then, after she puts the two dollars that the very generous octogenarian left her into her tip jar, “Maybe if you kissed my hand more often, you wouldn’t be so bunchy right now.”
The cooks prepare the dishes quickly. The lunch rush has come and gone and the Muddy Creek Diner is knee-deep into that slow slog between prime mealtimes. Ham Camino, the manager of this fine establishment, scowls as he watches Brandy, his best waitress and lovely ladyfriend, bring some out-of-townish scumbag his food. Ham normally isn’t the jealous type, he swears on his Mother’s grave, God rest her lovely soul, but something’s just off about this. Brandy’s entire demeanor changed when that dude pushed his way through the glass doors, the very same glass doors that Ham used to polish so many years ago. ‘I don’t like this,’ is all he can think as he retreats to his office and loudly slams the door behind him.
Meanwhile, Brandy and her old friend Jack are catching up.
“Your manager seems pretty peeved, what’d you do?” he asks as he sips his steaming hot coffee.
“Oh nothing, he just doesn’t like me making too much small talk with the customers.” He’s also her boyfriend, but she chooses not to mention that little tidbit. “He’ll be all pissy for a while, but he’ll get over it. Just gotta let it happen is all.”
Jack grins, “Always were a fan of letting things happen, weren’t you?” They look at each other in silence for a few choice seconds, both looking away at the same time. Jack takes a bite of his cherry pie, complimentary with any one of the three breakfast combos he ordered. Then, “Wow! This is great, you bake it yourself?”
She laughs. “No dumbass, I don’t make the food. I just carry it across vast distances.”
Suddenly the bells hanging from the door rings, announcing the entrance of some customers. A tall, well-built man with a red flannel shirt and a beard to match is followed by his awfully slender wife, who’s missing at least one tooth, and their chubby son.
“Shit, those are my regulars. I gotta go.” She holds her hand out to Jack, a slip of paper tucked between her middle and index fingers. “Here’s my address, I know I said I’d write it on the check but I kinda need to take that back after you leave, so.”
Jack takes the paper into his wallet. “Awesome, thanks so much Brandy. I owe you for this, seriously.”
“Any time, Jay. Come over around dinner time, let’s say eight o’clock?”
Jack gives Brandy a winning smile, saying, “I’ll be there,” and topping it all off with a wink.
Brandy rolls her eyes but walks away with a tremendous smile on her face. She probably should have mentioned the whole Ham thing, but that’s okay. They’ll meet each other later tonight, and she’ll totally tell Ham that Jack is going to be crashing in the guest room before he gets there.
After taking care of the local yokels, Brandy brings Jack’s forty-dollar check to an empty table. She’s confused at first and a little pissed off, but when she finds the two hundred-dollar bills hidden underneath the neatly stacked tower of dishes, well, she’s much less concerned about Jack’s leaving and not saying goodbye.
A New Vase
Ham walks into the dining room and pauses, eyes stuck to the table like a tongue to a frozen stop sign. “Why’d you set a third spot, are we expecting someone?”
“Ummmm. Yeah,” said without making eye contact. “My friend Jack is coming over.”
A full minute of silence. “That guy from the diner?”
“Yep. He’s going to be staying here for a few days, too. I hope you don’t mind.”
Ham’s bottom jaw drops in a display of just how much he minds; you don’t even want to know what his top jaw does. “Seriously?! No discussion, no, no consultation? Nothing?”
Brandy looks at him from across the table. Silence.
“Does he even know that we’re tog–”
A knock on the door, breaking off the one-sided conversation.
“He’s here!” exclaims Brandy as she prances to the door, her face suddenly beaming.
She is greeted with a bouquet of flowers and a hug from Jack. Jack notices Ham’s angry demeanor mid-embrace, so he does his best to make the situation a little less awkward.
“And this must be the boyfriend that I’ve heard so much about! Hi man, I’m Jack, it’s good to see you. Thanks so much for letting me crash here while I’m passing through town, I really appreciate it.”
Jack extends his hand to do a handshake, but Ham just stares at him and keeps his arms folded. Brandy pretends not to notice this, but god damn does she ever notice.
Dinner goes smoothly enough, Brandy serves some penne alla vodka and she and Jack talk nonstop; there’s lots to catch up on after nearly a decade of not seeing each other. Jack tells crazy stories about all the different odd jobs he’s worked over the years and Brandy lays down the small town’s latest gossip and drama. Ham doesn’t look up from his food once.
When dinner’s over, Brandy starts ferrying the dishes from the table to the sink in the kitchen. She suggests that Ham should give Jack a tour of the house, to which he obliges, after making a show of dropping his utensils on his plate. When the dishes are all washed and set to dry, Brandy returns to find Ham sitting alone on the couch in the living room.
“Did Jack go up to his room?”
“No,” Ham smugs as he stands and faces approximately ninety degrees away from his girlfriend. “He left.”
Brandy silently waits for an explanation.
“I told him that he should go find somewhere else to sleep while he’s here. I think his coming here to stay with his ex-girlfriend is a little inappropriate, especially when she’s taken by another man. You know, you never ev–”
“What the fuck, Ham?! So what if I used to date him, that was ten freaking years ago! I’ve clearly moved on seeing how your ass is sitting on my couch!”
“You never even told me you dated him!” Ham squeals, pointing an accusatory finger at Brandy. She shoots him a look that strongly implies shut the fuck up, but he keeps talking anyway.
“I only know you dated because he causally dropped it into our conversation when I was bringing him to his room, like it doesn’t even matter, like it has no bearing on what’s going on here at all!”
Brandy shakes her head. “Don’t even try to make this about me, you’re such a jealous prick! You’re a control freak! Every time I so much as look in the general direction of where another guy might be standing, you throw a shit fit! I’ve fucking had it, just get out!”
“But Brandy, I–” he starts to say from the inside of a turtle shell.
“Get the fuck out!!” She lobs a plastic vase, full of water and the flowers Jack brought her, across the room. Ham ducks but still gets soaked.
“Where am I supposed to go?! I sold my place so I could move in with you! I’m not leaving tonight Brandy, you’ll just have to deal with me.”
Brandy roars like a lioness and goes into their bedroom, locking the door behind her. Ham tries knocking but she doesn’t answer, the anger fumes whistling out of her ears block the noise. Ham’s afraid that he may have messed up and that Brandy’s anger is just going to build into an unhealthy resentment over the next few days until she evicts him for good.
And that’s exactly what happens, too; by the end of the week, Jack is sleeping soundly in the guest room and the kitchen table is adorned with a new vase full of flowers.
Jack is just so good to Brandy over the next few weeks. He cooks her breakfast every morning, eats lunch at her diner ever day (much to Ham’s passively aggressive disapproval) and he even buys her dinner when he’s not helping her cook it at home. They start going for romantic walks through the woods together just like they would do as kids, talking about all the fun they used to have before Jack up and disappeared. He even apologizes for deserting her, which she never asked him to do. He really seems to have changed.
One night after they come home from getting ice cream, Brandy tells Jack that he doesn’t have to sleep in the guest room anymore if he doesn’t want to. By sunrise the next morning they’re officially a thing again, making Brandy happier than she’s been in quite a long time. They didn’t plan it this way, everything just kind of fell into place. What better a way for things to go?
Exactly three weeks after Jack showed up in town, the sun rises as it would any other day. Brandy wakes up beside her boo and gives him a gentle kiss on the cheek. She can’t even, this is just too perfect – she needs to capture this moment and post it on her Falsebook. Carefully as not to wake him, Brandy cuddles in close and messes up her hair a bit. Then, snap! All the girls around town that Brandy never speaks to – and Ham, coincidently enough – are going to be so jealous. No tags, no caption, just her and Mister Mystery Man; Brandy’s so giddy she literally skips downstairs and starts breakfast early. There’s nothing like the smell of bacon and pancakes to wake your man up.
A few minutes later, “Daaaamn baby, what smells so good?”
“My breakfast. Sit down, you can watch me eat it if you want.”
Jack comes up and hugs her from behind. “Yeah well, make me some extra crispy bacon to watch, I’m just blind this morning.”
The couple eats breakfast in blissful silence, occasionally broken by the gulp of a swig of orange juice or a complimentary belch. Ham and Brandy would rarely eat breakfast together, he’d always have to be at the stupid diner first thing in the morning. He took, or rather, takes, his management position very seriously over there – much more seriously than he ever took his relationship with Brandy. If she had a dollar for every meal he had to leave in the middle of, for every date cut short and movie missed, for every morning she work up in an empty bed to the sound of the exhaust on his ratty old piece of shit rustbucket that he called a car, she wouldn’t have to work at that shitty diner with him. What a prick Ham is!
Brand nearly chokes on a pancake. “Yes Bae?”
“I gotta talk to you about something. The last few weeks with you have been nothing short of a dream, truly.”
Brandy mentally puts her hands up to her mouth, leaving them on the table in reality.
Jack takes her hands in his, then, “I feel like I’m falling in love with you all over again.”
This time Brandy does choke, but not on a pancake; she chokes on the warm, fluffy feelings that Jack just funneled down her throat.
“I want this to last, so I need to set a rule.”
The choking stops.
“I recognize that you haven’t done this to me since we’ve been seeing each other, but please don’t put any pictures of me online. No Snapchatter, no Instantgram, no Falsebook, no uhhh… Tumbler, if you’re into that. None of that nonsense.”
“Are you okay with this?”
“Maybe,” Brandy says in between bites of pancake. “Why is this your rule?”
“Because I really, really, really hate social media, it’s just not that social. I feel as though it makes the ego a tangible thing, which is potentially very toxic to the human being. It takes away from the direct experience, which life is supposed to be about, and leaves the living to squabble over posting their lives, which they’re missing out on in doing so, to a website that encourages others to miss out on their lives so they can collect and sell the data. It’s just wrong baby, it’s an acidic cycle and I want no part of it.”
Brandy’s quiet for a moment. “You just got kinda deep there, didn’t ya?”
“I’m an untapped aquifer, my dear. So… you’re good with it?”
She sips her orange juice and pretends to think about it. “Yeah, I think I can hang. Speaking of which, wanna go hang in bed for a few before I have to leave for work?”
The dirty dishes remain on the table for the rest of the day.
Jacky D And Brandy
Brandy leaves for work at the same time Jack leaves to do whatever it is that Jack does during the day. She’s not concerned, she knows he isn’t ballsy enough to pull any sidepiece shit. Besides, he’ll be at the diner to eat lunch anyway. She walks into work ready to face the day, her smile as bright as the fluorescent lights hanging above.
Much to her own surprise, Brandy’s workday goes swimmingly. All of her customers are friendly, they all tip well, and Jack hangs out for hours longer than he normally does. Time flies so fast that Brandy doesn’t even realize it when her shift ends, working an extra half-hour by mistake.
It is now, a half an hour past the end of her work day, that she realizes why things are so different at the diner today – Ham never showed up. This might be the first time in the history of the diner that he called out sick. Brandy worries for a moment, but snaps right out of it when Jack shows up, all dressed up in jeans and a hoodie for their evening hike.
They get back into town just after nightfall. Trekking to the top of a mountain worked up quite a mighty thirst in the both of them, so after stopping home and cleaning the hike stench off each other, Jacky D and Brandy decide to go out for a couple drinks. Hand-in-hand they stride into the pub, a local hot spot called Sadie’s. It’s actually a pretty nasty little dive bar, but it’s the only place in town that serves alcohol, so the patrons count their blessings.
The couple sits down at the bar, the ambiance of a local joint set perfectly by the boys playing pool in the lounge accompanied by some classic 80s tunes bumping out of the jukebox. There’s even a drunkard slouched over the counter all the way down the bar – just like old times! Jack orders two whiskey sours and starts gushing before he takes his first sip.
“You know babygirl, when I came into town a few weeks ago I had no plans of staying. I had some cash in my pocket, no job and nothing but time to kill; I was truly a free man, nothing to hold me down. After seeing some old friends, I was planning on splitting, but then I ran into you.”
Brandy doesn’t know if she wants to drink more or if she’ll just continue getting drunk off Jack.
“I think that’s when my plan changed.”
The latter. Unfortunately, that’s when a very sobering voice calls her out from across the bar.
“Ham?” she asks, half in disbelief and half in apathy. “What are you doing here, you don’t drink.”
“Yeah? Well you said you don’t fuck exes, but uh…” He uses the half-empty bottle of booze in his hand to point to Jack. “I guess we’re both liars.”
Jack, taking this as a cue to be chivalrous, says, “Look buddy, just sit back down, this ain’t your business. Me and the lady–”
Ham interrupts him, slurring, “Fuck you an–” hiccup “and that cunt.”
‘Are you fucking kidding me you selfish, irresponsible, oblivious piece of shit asshole?!’ is what Brandy thinks, but she only says, “Ham!” in a shocked fashion.
Jack takes a step towards Ham, saying, “The fuck you just say, big man?” in a way that makes Brandy swoon internally. However, she does not want a fight, so she attempts to step between the men that she has arguing over her. This when she gets shoved by Ham and trips over a barstool, landing on the grimy floor.
She hears Jack say, “That’s fuckin’ it,” but she’s not entirely sure what transpires next. Before Brandy can stand herself back up, Ham’s on the ground with a bloody face and the bar is silent. Jack helps Brandy up and holds her tight, protecting her from any further harm. After a tense few seconds of staring out the window in deep contemplation, Jack speaks.
“Brandy, why don’t you go home. I’ll help mister manager over there get cleaned up, and then I’ll meet you at the house.”
‘Oh my god this man.’ “No Jack, you don’t have to do th–”
“Seriously, it’s fine.” They share a long, passionate kiss, still the center of attention judging from the continued silence in the air. “I’m sorry for all this. I’ll see you soon.”
“Okay, okay.” Brandy walks to the door but dramatically stops when she’s halfway outside to look back and say, “See you soon.”
The walk back to her house is a cold and lonely one. What in the hell just happened? She got so caught up in the moment, her new boyfriend defending her against Ham, drunk Ham no less. What was up with that anyway, why was he so drunk? Did he spend the whole day at the bar? Yeesh.’
By the time she gets home, Brandy is so awake from all the excitement and commotion that she decides to wait up for Jack.
And that’s exactly what she does, she waits.
For hours, sitting alone in her house. Waiting.
knock knock knock
Brandy leaps across her house and opens the door for… Ham?
“What are you doing here, where’s Jack?”
Ham leans against the house, clearly not as sober as he could nor should be. “Luhk, Brahnd, I… I wan’ned to apologize. Whad I sayd wuz dooshey, I shouln’t have tried t’fite yer Jack, ‘nd I ‘specially shouln’t ‘ov shoved you. I jus–”
“No, you shouldn’t have. Where is he?”
“Wait,” as he peers over her shoulder into the empty house, “he’s noh’here?”
“No, he said that he was going to clean you up and then he’d meet me right back here. It’s been hours…” she says, looking at the ground. An all too familiar feeling rises from the bowels of Brandy’s slowly cracking heart.
“Hey, hey no don’ cry. I’m shory. I shouln’t have come ‘ere, I juss, I…”
Brandy looks up at him, tears streaming down her face. “What, Ham? You what?”
“I miss you. An’ I luhv you. An’ I loss mai motel key an’ I haff nowheres else to sleep.”
Brandy just stares at him, that stupid drunken mess.
“Look, I wan’ tah be togetter again, or at leas friends, but tonite issn’ the time t’talk ‘bout thah. If I coul’ sleep in yer guest room, I wou’really ‘preciate it. I haff nowheres else t’ go.”
Brandy sighs, then hugs stupid Ham Camino with his stupid awesome name. What the hell, might as well let it happen. “Fine, you can stay tonight. I missed you too, I just…”
“Ih wuz mai fault, all mai fault. I’m sohry. Le’s go insyde.”
They unhug and Ham slinks inside, barely making it to the guest room before old boy passes out. Brandy, still at the door, looks out into the forest, an eerie mist floating amongst the trunks of the trees. She can almost make out a figure leaning against an oak tree past the treeline, like someone’s there, watching from the distance, trying to decide whether or not he should come back home. After a brief moment, Brandy closes the door, making the decision for him.