His cigarette smoke joined the dull morning sky. The sun shined from some imperceptible point behind the clouds as the light refracted evenly across the mist. Mornings in Palm Bay were usually like this: gray and quiet. And at the diner, they were always quiet of customers.
Chop the fruit. Chop the vegetables. Turn on the ovens. Cross his fingers and hope that the warmer would survive another day. Unlock the front door. Write a new special. This used to be Cal’s job. This used to be Cal’s job.
He went to light another cigarette until he heard the rusted bell at the door and hastened to put it away.
“Mornin’!” Andy remarked with a half-toothed smile. He was late. As usual.
“Morning.” Micah growled. “Just go get the grill prepped, okay? And be here at 10:00 tomorrow!”
“Sure thing, Mikey.” Andy laughed. Micah rolled his eye and balled his hand into a fist. But he didn’t even bother to correct Andy regarding his name anymore. He just stepped outside and lit another cigarette.
It certainly wasn’t as though Micah missed his brother. Just like Andy, Cal had been late for shifts, showed up wasted on a few occasions, and back-talked and disrespected Micah’s authority. But… even Micah couldn’t deny that Cal at least had known the business. Andy just straight-up had no sense of timeliness.
That’s what happens when you hire someone out of retirement, Dad. Micah thought bitterly. It was going to be another ten hour day for him, until they could hire extra help. But a town of 1,000 had a pretty limited labor market.
They only had one car now, thanks to Cal’s little excursion. So his dad had to walk few miles (Ubers were in short supply in Palm Bay) and probably wouldn’t be there for another half hour. So be it. If Micah was going to open and close, then he thought he at least deserved to take the car. He carried the weight of this place, after all. He kept the place from closing down after Cal…
Micah desperately needed another smoke thinking about the whole thing but he heard the bell on the door and didn’t trust Andy to pay attention to it. And, as Micah had expected, Andy was still lazily prepping the grill.
“Morning,” Micah said gruffly to the old fisherman. “Just the usual, Isaac?”
“You got it! To go today, though,” he said. Micah wrote up a ticket for him.
“Andy! A number four to go!” He yelled behind him. “That’ll be $8.75.”
“Jacking your prices on me again?” Isaac said it good-naturedly, but Micah’s eyes flared.
He’s a customer. He told himself. Keep cool. Keep cool.
“Gotta do whatcha gotta do to stay in business, Isaac,” Micah replied, forcing the change into his hand. Thank God there wasn’t much competition for them. Micah and his dad knew they probably wouldn’t have lasted if there had been. By the time Andy finally finished, Micah was quite relieved to give Isaac his food and send him on his way.
Micah checked the time periodically. 11:00. 11:30. 12:00. Usually, Dad was here by around 11:00.
He tried calling his dad several times, but nothing. Thankfully (or unthankfully, based on the limited revenue they would get for the day) few enough customers came that he and Andy managed to keep things going at a moderately reasonable speed through lunch. Micah took over the grill, and for once, Andy’s inability to move through things quickly proved an asset in keeping Micah from becoming too overwhelmed.
4:00. 4:30. 5:00. Dinnertime was starting; things were getting busier again. Where the hell was Dad?
“Micah,” Andy had left the front.
“What?” Micah responded, vigorously chopping some avocado.
“Your dad just called,” Andy sounded speechless.
It was just one too many points of irritation. Micah slammed down his knife. “Well he’d better be sitting in a fucking hospital bed if he’s not on his way!”
Andy continued, a little shaken but an inexplicable excitement still swelling in his eyes. “He said to close up for the rest of the day and to come home for a party. Your… well… Cal came back!”
“He said he doesn’t wanna come,” Andy took another drink out of his Corona.
Abe looked hesitant. “You… well… what did he say… exactly?” There wasn’t much of a point of asking. If Abe had been honest, he hadn’t been expecting an entirely different reaction from Micah
“He said that he can’t lose a day’s business and that he just doesn’t have time, or something.” Andy left out a few of Micah’s other more colorful descriptions as to why he didn’t want to attend the festivities.
“I think I can be the judge of whether or not we can lose a day’s business,” Abe replied sternly. He glanced over at Cal, who was talking to his Aunt and working on his third burger. “I’ll… I’ll go talk to him. Let Cal know I’ll be back soon, okay?”
Sweat poured down his neck as he stood over the grill. He’d already burned himself a few times trying to keep pace between the customers in the restaurant and the take-out orders. Finally, he packaged up a few that he was sure were not correct but couldn’t care less and walked back to the counter to check for new customers.
His dad was standing in front of the register.
Micah took a deep breath and dug his fingers into his palms as he approached. “What can I get for you, Sir?”
“Micah, please – “
“Sir, I’m in a rather unfortunate position. You see, all of my employees decided not to come to work today, so I’m running a diner on my own,” Micah took a tone of aloofness and didn’t meet his father’s eyes. “I’m pretty slammed so I suggest you order and I will have it ready for you as soon as possible. I’m really quite busy.”
“Can we please talk outside?” Abe asked calmly.
“I have a diner to run,” Micah snarled. “Which no one else in this family seems to realize. Now what would you like, Sir?!”
Abe turned around to face the small group of locals who were still waiting. “Folks, we’re closing up early tonight. Your food is on us and if you want more, come to 6330 Alvarado Way.” He turned back to Micah. “Now, after we finish theirs, we need to talk.”
Micah had already almost caught by then, but he was now wishing he hadn’t gone as quickly. With Dad’s help, it only took them ten minutes to churn out the rest of the out-standing orders.
“I have to go,” Micah growled, lighting up a cigarette as he locked the back door.
“Micah, please come celebrate with us,” Abe allowed himself a smile. Micah maintained immense focus on the smoke pouring in and out of his lungs. Abe continued. “Cal wants to see you. I know you’re still angry at him.”
Micah stopped and looked his Dad up and down. The corner of Micah’s lip curled upward slightly and he felt a desperate urge to extinguish his cigarette against his father’s neck.
“What the fuck do you want from me, Dad?!” He finally burst out. “I’m not understanding. What about all this shit could I possibly be angry about?!”
“I just want you to be with us, and – ”
“$10,000 and a Jeep…” Micah chuckled spitefully, blowing the smoke in his father’s direction before lighting a fresh cigarette off the smoldering one between his teeth. “And you let him go. You let the dirty, thieving son-of-a-bitch go.”
“Micah, listen…”Abe replied gently.
“No!” Micah burst out. “Don’t you get it?! That’s all I’ve ever done is listen! Well I’m not gonna fucking listen anymore!” He paused only to relish in the dismay spreading across his dad’s features. “All these years… Ever since I was a kid… All I ever do is slave away for your damn business! ‘Oh yes, Dad! I’ll work tonight, Dad!’ Every day I work my fucking ass off for you! And what do I get for it?!”
Abe closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly. He looked as though he was about to respond, but Micah continued.
“But then… then that little son-of-bitch comes home, after doing God knows what and going God knows where, and you decide you’re gonna shut down business for a day and throw him a fucking party?!” Micah shook and balled his hands into a fists. “Well you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t wanna take part in this little celebration, when frankly, that bastard oughta be arrested!”
“Micah, please listen to me for a moment,” Abe spoke quietly, and Micah saw a glisten in his father’s eyes. Micah felt another wave of rage pushing him to extinguish the cigarette against his dad’s skin, but Abe kept talking. “I’m so proud of you. Do you know that?”
“Oh please spare me your fucking compliments,” Micah snarled.
“Micah, everything I’ve built, everything that this is,” he indicated the silent diner, “it’s all yours. It’s all for you. I’ve been training you because… well, because I want you to be able to have it.”
Abe sighed as his son lit up yet another cigarette. “Micah, I love you so much. Anything you ask for – anything you want, you have everything! If you want something else, just ask! And you’ve felt like you’re slaving for it?”
Micah began to walk towards the car. “I really have to go,” he snarled, but his dad still followed him.
“Micah… please. He’s your brother, and he’s finally back.” A tear slipped down Abe’s cheek. “We’re a family again. Won’t you please be part of it, too?”
*Inspired by Luke 15:25-32.